Winter Report Card: Mets put focus on short-term moves in off-season
With less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we're checking in to see how each team has fared thus far this off-season while acknowledging that there's still time for that evaluation to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2015. Now up: the New York Mets. You can find all previously published Winter Report Cards here.
90–72 (.556), first place in National League East (Hot Stove Preview)
RHP Tyler Clippard*, LF Michael Cuddyer^, RHP Dillon Gee, IF Kelly Johnson, LHP Jack Leathersich, 2B Daniel Murphy, LHP Jonathon Niese, OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis, LHP Eric O’Flaherty*, RHP Bobby Parnell*, LHP Alex Torres, RHP Carlos Torres*, 3B Juan Uribe*
LHP Antonio Bastardo, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, OF Alejandro De Aza, 2B Neil Walker
(*free agent, still unsigned; ^retired)
Off-Season In Review
Coming off a surprise World Series appearance, the Mets favored short-term solutions over any attempt at long-term building. With all their team-controlled starting pitching, that may not be ideal, but it’s difficult to find fault with that approach given that the results appear to set New York up nicely for another postseason run.
Everything stems from that young rotation, which features Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz and will get Zack Wheeler back from Tommy John surgery during the year. None of those pitchers will be older than 27 on Opening Day. Because of their starting pitching depth, the Mets were able to trade Jonathon Niese to the Pirates for Neil Walker’s walk year, making a costly reunion with Daniel Murphy (now with the division-rival Nationals) unnecessary. Unless you believe that Murphy’s post-season power surge is going to carry over to 2016 in a big way, Walker is actually an upgrade: He’s at least Murphy’s equal at the plate, and he's superior in the field. Walker will make $10.55 million via arbitration this year and could net New York a draft pick next winter if it thinks that prospect Dilson Herrera, another former Pirate, is ready to take over the keystone in his age-23 season.
Because the front office didn’t spend big on second base—though, to be fair, it did go hard after Ben Zobrist, who chose the Cubs instead—the Mets had enough money to make an offer to Yoenis Cespedes when his market failed to develop. That was a massive stroke of luck, as was Michael Cuddyer’s decision to retire, freeing up both a misused roster spot and likely most of the $12.5 million he had remaining on his contract. Still, Cespedes’s desire to return to Queens, where he was hailed as a savior at last year's trading deadline and as a conquering hero after a monster August, also played a large role in his eventual acceptance of what amounts to a pillow contract. By our calculations, Cespedes was worth a $150 million deal, but New York got him on a three-year, $75 million contract that is likely to play out as a one-year, $27.5 million deal due to an opt-out after this season. That was a smart play by Cespedes, who wasn’t finding suitable offers among a crowded free-agent class this winter but will be arguably the most desirable player in a drastically thinner field next year. The Mets, meanwhile, get to retain their big deadline addition and cleanup hitter at a reasonable price.
On the other side of the ball, New York re-signed veteran innings-eater/mascot Bartolo Colon for his age-43 season, paying him $7.25 million to keep the fifth spot in the rotation warm until Wheeler is ready. The team also re-signed lefty reliever Jerry Blevins for $4 million, then bumped him down a spot in the bullpen hierarchy by signing fellow southpaw Antonio Bastardo to a two-year, $12 million deal. Bastardo, who is entering his age-30 season, was one of two elite lefty relievers available as a free agent this winter along with Tony Sipp, who returned to the Astros on a three-year deal at the same annual salary.
Less encouraging was the Mets’ decision to give 30-year-old shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera a two-year, $18.5 million deal that has an $8.5 million option for 2018. While Ruben Tejada is coming off the broken fibula he suffered in the postseason, he’s expected to be on schedule in camp, and it’s not clear that Cabrera will be an upgrade on Wilmer Flores, who is just 24 and could show improvement on both sides of the ball with regular playing time. It's understandable that the Mets want to have depth at the position, and Cabrera did have a nice season for the Rays last year, putting up a 105 OPS+ and playing better defense than he has in years (albeit still below average even by the most favorable fielding metrics). Still, New York continues to underrate its in-house options at shortstop. Tejada and Flores combined for a league-average performance at the position last year (97 sOPS+) that was enough tohelp the Mets get to October. Given that the two will earn less than $4 million combined this year and are both still shy of their age-27 season, it’s difficult to see how spending money on Cabrera makes any kind of sense.
Meanwhile, the one-year, $5.75 million deal New York gave Alejandro De Aza to be a lefthanded bat off the bench was also poorly conceived. De Aza is a subpar defensive outfielder who will be 32 in April and has only a modest .274/.338/.418 career line against righties.
Unfinished Business: Righthanded setup man
The Mets obviously don’t need any help in their rotation, they have an ace closer in Jeurys Familia and they nabbed one of the top lefty relievers on the market. With Walker and Cespedes in the fold to go with a full season of leftfielder Michael Conforto and (potentially) healthy seasons from catcher Travis d’Arnaud and third baseman David Wright, their lineup is in good shape as well. If New York is missing anything, it’s an ace righthanded setup man. Former closer Addison Reed did nice work down the stretch and into the postseason before things unraveled in the 12th inning of Game 5 of the World Series against the Royals. Hansel Robles and Erik Goeddel put up good numbers as rookies last year, but their lack of postseason exposure spoke volumes about manager Terry Collins’s trust in them. Outside of those three and Familia, the Mets don’t have a righthanded pitcher on their 40-man roster who made as many as 15 major league relief appearances last year.
The pickings are slim on the free-agent market, but Tyler Clippard—brought to Queens last summer in a deal with the Athletics—is still available in free agency, as most teams are apparently scared off by his history of heavy workloads and his struggles down the stretch last year. A compelling alternative might be Tim Lincecum, who is looking to reboot his career but has been unable to find a team willing to give him a chance to make its rotation.
Preliminary Grade: B+
Short-term solutions weren't going to get New York an 'A,' but bringing back Cespedes was a coup, and the Walker trade was a nifty solution to one of its primary concerns coming into the off-season. The rotation is obviously the engine driving this team to contention, but the Mets did a nice job tuning up their roster for another deep drive to October.