The 2019 Mets: An Early Look At What Needs Changing
NEW YORK, NEW YORK: The 2018 New York Mets season has been an atrocity of epic proportions and there’s no way around that. After an incredible 11-1 start to the season, the Mets are 33-60 since to put them at 44-61 overall. They’re currently sitting 14 games back in the NL East and 14 games back of the second wild card spot. After injury after injury and continued turmoil behind the scenes that starts with ownership, this season was dead before August even hit. The team traded closer Jeurys Familia to Oakland and second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to Philadelphia. The sell off should’ve been greater if they’d found deals they liked for Devin Mesoraco, José Bautista, and Jerry Blevins for starters. Nonetheless, those guys are pending free agents anyway, along with the two they traded away.
The Mets notably hung onto their prized pitching pieces from the rotation (Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler) and their two main bullpen pieces (Seth Lugo & Robert Gsellman). Supposedly the Mets plan to contend in 2019 so they wanted to hang onto this pitching that finally seems to be clicking together. A rotation headed by deGrom, a healthy Syndergaard, and the new and improved Wheeler is a pretty good starting attack. Their numbers may not show it (especially Gsellman) but I really like Lugo and “Gman” in the pen and think they could become lockdown weapons very soon. Here’s my problem with keeping this pitching: What’s the point of having it if they team continues to not score for them? The offense MUST be addressed but the Mets made many questionable offseason moves last winter that will for sure hamper their ability to maneuver in the upcoming free agent market.
Whether Mets fans like it or not, Todd Frazier will be back at third base next season. Amed Rosario was once the top prospect in baseball so he will get a very long leash at shortstop. The outfield is set with Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, Juan Lagares, and by mid season, Cèspedes back in the fold. That’s five guys to rotate in the three outfield spots, plus I’m sure Bruce and/or Ces’ will get some time at first base as well. First base appears to be settled as well as the Mets have Dom Smith just waiting for an everyday opportunity, Wilmer Flores swinging a decent bat as always, and Peter Alonso waiting in the wings at AAA just waiting for his first call up. That leaves catcher and second base as the only positions where the Mets aren’t locked in to someone. I’d assume that Kevin Plawecki will be brought back and that Travis d’Arnaud will return after a reworked deal after missing this season due to Tommy John surgery. I’m sure those guys will be given last chances to mark a claim on the position. That leaves second base to upgrade unless Jeff McNeil shows in this upcoming two month audition that he can stick here and keep hitting like he did at AA/AAA this year. If McNeil succeeds, that’s great, but if he doesn’t, the Mets still have to fill that hole and the free agent options aren’t all that great.
The Mets can get by with a rotation lead by deGrom/Syndergaard/Wheeler and complementary pieces rounding out the rotation, as long as they do sign depth and make smarter signings and not waiting til March to give the likes of Jason Vargas a multi year deal like Sandy Alderson did this year. The offense needs some sort of speed and pop added to it and the bullpen needs a major makeover behind Lugo and Gsellman. Thankfully the Mets will have a lot of options on the bullpen market this winter as that class is deep. The main question is will they spend? The easy answer would be no but the added heat on ownership this season and the inevitable hiring of a new outside the organization GM and a pledge to contend next season has me thinking it’s too hard to believe that no money will be spent to upgrade the team. The team could use more offense in my opinion but with all the attractive superstars on the market that will be commanding seven figure deals, I don’t see the Mets jumping in that pool, especially with the Cèspedes contract blowing up. Their best bet to be able to indulge somewhat will be with bullpen pieces since they need a few. Something tells me the team rolls out an offense that looks eerily similar to the one we saw open this 2018 season.
As much as the Mets could use a Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in the lineup, they’re not shelling out $300+ million contracts to anyone. They probably wouldn’t even shell out the $90-125 million it’d take to reel in Arizona CF A.J Pollock, who would fit this team perfectly. Machado would make the biggest difference but unfortunately when they don’t even attempt to make a run at him, they’ll say they’re comfortable with Rosario and Frazier manning short and third, respectively. As if the Yankees didn’t switch their top prospect (Gleyber Torres) to second base once he was called up to keep veteran Didi Gregorious at shortstop. The Mets could 100% get away with that and I believe Rosario’s tools would translate even better at second, even though I’m a fan of his game at shortstop. They’ll likely sign a veteran who can play multiple positions, like Marwin Gonzalez, who plays every position for Houston outside of pitcher and catcher. He’ll also only be 30, won’t command major money, and is having a down year this year after having a killer 2017 season during the Astros’ World Series run. I also wouldn’t shocked to see the Mets revisit the idea of Eduardo Nunez, granted he opts out of year 2 of his deal with Boston.
With current thinking and current team structure, I’m looking heavy at bullpen arms because a dominant bullpen is what every team wants these days and it seems to be the way towards building a winner as well. According to Spotrac, the Mets have $92.5 million committed to payroll for the 2019 season, but that doesn’t factor in arbitration raises for guys like deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Conforto, Plawecki, and Matz for starters. Let’s assume after all the arbitration raises and rendering of contracts, the team adds about $30 million, so that puts payroll at $122.5 million before any outside additions are made. The payroll opened the 2018 season at $150 million even though the team was intending to lower payroll from 2017. The slow moving dry market last year allowed the Mets to get a couple of additional players for cheaper than they expected which in turn obviously moved the payroll up. I’m going to go ahead and assume that the 2019 payroll will land somewhere between $140-150 million again, so that’s leaves about $20-30 million in spending money for outside free agents.
I can’t lie, Jeurys Familia gave me lots of anxiety when he came in to close games although he was one of the best closers we’ve had and he had killer 2015 and 2016 seasons in which he amassed a total of 94 saves and a cumulative 2.2 ERA. Unfortunately though, when it came to huge moments and lots of pressure, Familia would tend to fold up and disappear. Nothing more evident than the three blown saves in the 2015 World Series against the Royals and allowing a game winning three run homer to a pinch hitter in the top of the 9th in the 2016 NL Wild Card game against the Giants. All of that being said, I wouldn’t mind Familia returning but not as the closer. I just don’t see Familia returning to the same team he spent his entire career with up until the trade to Oakland two weeks ago and not be the everyday closer again. Plus I’m sure there’s another team out there that will be willing to guarantee Familia the closers job.
The other sticking point is that this regime and since the Madoff scandal, the owners as well, have been reluctant and refuse to hand big money contracts out to closers, which is understandable. So that line of thinking probably doesn’t help Familia’s chances of being brought back to Queens.
I’d make a run at Adam Ottavino from Colorado who sports a 1.40 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and a 13.5 K/9 ratio. He’ll be 33 by the start of the 2019 season, so he won’t command many years or dollars at all. I also can’t totally see him re-upping with Colorado thanks to how much they spent on their bullpen additions last winter and how they gotta work on a new deal with 2B D.J LeMahieu and perhaps extending 3B Nolan Arenado’s contract longer. I can see Ottavino possibly being had for something similar to what the Mets signed Anthony Swarzak for last winter (2 years, $14 million). Although I could see Ottavino topping that slightly.
Next I’d go after an older lefty who’s recently dealt with injury problems that we could get for cheaper than expected but not that cheap since they’re still household names and many teams will still line up for. The two guys I have in mind are new Yankees reliever Zach Britton and currently DL’d Indians reliever Andrew Miller. Miller will be 34 and is coming off an injury riddled season but should be returning within the next two weeks for the stretch run in Cleveland. When healthy, Miller is an absolute buzzsaw on the mound and one of the best relievers in the game who can close and/or go multiple innings, which is why Cleveland paid such a hefty price in 2016 when they traded for him and gave up outfield prospect Clint Frazier and pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, both of whom are the Yankees’ top prospects and amongst two of the best prospects in all of baseball. Miller is currently dealing with a knee injury and not something related to his arm, fortunately. If he can come back healthy down the stretch run and be dominant again, teams will be lining up regardless of his age and he’ll definitely see at least 3 year offers.
The case with Britton is he just returned from Tommy John surgery a month ago and is still shaking off the rust and getting back into the flow of things. He’s been a little shaky since his return but that’s expected and he has had some real nice outings as well. He’s younger than Miller at 31 years old and may command 3-4 years, where if it goes to 4, I’m out. I’d max out at 3 years on either of these guys but no 4 year deals for relievers. If you can add two of these three guys to the bullpen to go along with Lugo and Gsellman, you have the makings of what should be a dominant bullpen. And hopefully one or two of the many young bullpen arms the team has acquired the last 2 years can evolve into something special as well, that’d be a nice added treat.
Do I think these moves catapult the Mets back to the postseason? No, but I believe it gets them slightly closer but ultimately it’s on the offense to pull a 180° and be healthy/fantastic in 2019 or the new GM has to pull off some magic and make some difficult decisions on who truly deserves to stay and contribute and replace them with adequate players. This team could absolutely use a Machado or Harper but the Mets just won’t open their wallets that wide and will watch other big market clubs have no problem paying those two superstars. Meanwhile I think most fans would be okay with that, if the Wilpons would just do what they gotta do and cut bait with Jason Vargas and Jay Bruce and rid those contracts off the books because those were TERRIBLE moves by Sandy Alderson and they need to vanish as soon as possible. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening whatsoever and both guys will play out their contracts in Queens.
Hopefully the new GM is creative and can make something of this roster come Opening Day 2019.