With the team’s merry-go-round of general manager candidates and general inactivity, the offseason trajectory for the Mets had not been trending in the right direction heading into Thanksgiving weekend. In the span of just a few hours, however, the team drastically altered the course of its immediate future with a flurry of Friday night moves that cost over $120 million in guaranteed money.
The Mets added a trio of hitters—infielder Eduardo Escobar and outfielders Mark Canha and Starling Marte—in rapid succession, striking quickly under new general manager Billy Eppler to overhaul the team’s offense. Beyond the cluster in which these additions occurred, perhaps the most striking aspect to the moves is that they seem so ... pragmatic?
This is a franchise whose dysfunction and at times downright buffoonery has spawned its own adjective—”Metsiness”—to illustrate its tendency to stand in its own way. But in adding three quality, if not cream-of-the-crop, free agents who receive plaudits for their clubhouse presence, New York has quickly infused a degree of competency and stability that will go a long way toward raising the floor for the franchise in the years to come—and could be a catalyst to a quick turnaround following a disappointing 2021.
First, a look at the players who have been acquired. Marte is the most impactful (and expensive) of the bunch. A two-time Gold Glove award winner entering his age-33 season, he led the majors with 47 stolen bases last season and set career highs in wRC+ (134), on-base percentage (.383) and walk rate (8.8%) while splitting time between Miami and Oakland. Handing out a four-year deal to a 33-year-old center fielder is a dicey proposition, yet Marte remains strong enough defensively to stay at the position for the immediate future, and his offensive profile—especially when factoring in an improved batting eye—is one that could age well. Marte undoubtedly had other teams after him, and agreeing to a fourth year might have been a deciding factor in the Mets' being able to land him.
Canha, another former A's outfielder entering his age-33 season, has been among the most underrated hitters over the last few seasons. He’s batted .249/.366/.441 over the past four seasons and is strong defensively. He, Marte and Brandon Nimmo should form a formidable defense in the grass.
Aside from a miserable, pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Escobar has been an above-average regular since 2017, with at least 21 home runs in each non-abbreviated season. His ability to play any position except shortstop in the infield gives New York some flexibility going forward, as they're going to have to make some hard decisions about a few of their incumbent position players.
The trio’s arrival in Queens complicates matters for Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith, whose paths to playing time are now murkier. Even if the Mets don’t add any more pieces, there is no clear path to regular at-bats for any of them. Having too many competent hitters is a good problem for a team that scored the fourth-fewest runs in the majors last season.
These additions may help the club’s run prevention as much as it does the offense. The Mets had fielders playing out of position frequently last season, with McNeil and Smith frequently manning the outfield. Though a primary third baseman throughout his career, Davis is not strong defensively, and Escobar should represent an upgrade at the hot corner.
Those defensive improvements should help attract more pitching, which the Mets assuredly still aim to do. The team is reportedly eyeing Kevin Gausman as a priority, as well as Jon Gray after missing out on Steven Matz (much to the chagrin of owner Steve Cohen).
The offseason is still in its early stages, but with this trio of acquisitions, the Mets have now spent $124.5 million on major league free agents, while the rest of the National League East has spent a combined $8 million—all of which went to new Braves catcher Manny Piña. As things stand, the defending champions are surely the team to beat in the division in 2022, but they are not without their major question marks this winter.
And it’s not as if Atlanta had a stranglehold on the East all season long—quite the opposite, in fact. The NL East, as a whole, was perhaps the most disappointing and least formidable in the league. In being aggressive on the free agency market, the Mets have positioned themselves to be the best-equipped club to give the Braves a run for their money. Given the need for depth across multiple positions, the decision to add Marte, Canha and Escobar for the money it would likely have taken to sign somebody like Kris Bryant appears to be a wise decision.
New York still has lots of needs, and these moves are not without their fair share of risk. But the Mets went from looking like a rudderless, captainless ship to a team with a semblance of a plan over the course of Black Friday. Given how the second half of the season collapsed like a house of cards, that’s progress enough.
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