The New York Mets entered the winter with some major holes to fill, and they have done a lot of work to date. A blockbuster trade and a couple of key free agent signings have improved the roster, but the team still has quite a bit of work to do in order to contend for a National League East title. The Mets made waves when Brodie Van Wagenen said after a press conference a few weeks ago that the Mets viewed themselves internally as the favorites to win the division, a statement that was met with fair criticism. While the team is much improved, there is a lot of work to be done. Let’s start by recapping what the Mets have actually accomplished with 2018 coming to a close:
The Trade: The Mets made their first big swing in early December, when they landed Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Seattle Mariners for a package of three players and two prospects. The cost in terms of prospects was heavy, including two first round picks in Justin Dunn and Jarred Kelenic, but the Mets landed an eight time All Star in Cano and the best closer in baseball in 2018 in Diaz.
The Signings: The Mets followed up the trade by bringing back Jeurys Familia on a three year, $30 million deal to serve as the primary setup man for Diaz. This signing gives the Mets two elite arms to shore up their bullpen, which was a significant weakness for much of last season. The Mets also decided not to overpay in a deal for J.T. Realmuto by simply signing Wilson Ramos to a two year, $19 million deal with a team option for 2021. The deal comes with some risk since Ramos is injury prone, but he upgrades the Mets’ lineup significantly and has shown ability to handle a wide variety of pitching staffs. Ramos’ familiarity with the division through stints with the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies is also an added bonus.
If the Mets went to camp on the strength of these moves and a few minor transactions, they would get about a B for the offseason. The Mets have improved their roster to the point that they should be a factor in the division, but they have not eliminated enough ifs to justify making up a 13 game deficit on the Atlanta Braves. The Nationals are also a threat, even with the looming loss of Bryce Harper, thanks to moves to bolster their rotation in the form of Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez. If the Mets are serious about contending this year, they need to take their B offseason to an A, and that means spending some more money in free agency or swinging trades to fill their remaining needs. There are three primary areas the Mets need to address in order to have a complete offseason.
Add A Center Fielder: The Mets currently have their corner outfielders locked in with Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, but center field is an open question. Juan Lagares is penciled in to start in center at the moment, but he has a very lengthy injury history and hasn’t hit enough to justify being more than a fourth outfielder on a winning team. The Mets have added depth pieces in Rajai Davis, Braxton Lee, and Gregor Blanco but they need a player capable of supplanting Lagares as the every day center fielder. A.J. Pollock would be a perfect fit for the Mets, and if he comes off his demands for a seven year deal worth over $100 million they should be interested. Even if Pollock goes elsewhere, the Mets need another body out there to fortify their lineup.
Add More Bullpen Arms: The Mets have done a good job adding to the back end of the bullpen with Diaz and Familia, but they need to add even more help to a unit that was among the worst in baseball last year. Manager Mickey Callaway likes to carry seven or eight relievers all year, and the Mets have four they can count on right now: Diaz, Familia, Robert Gsellman, and Seth Lugo. The Mets also have only one lefty in the bullpen, youngster Daniel Zamora, who has a very limited big league track record. Adding a proven lefty, perhaps by dealing Kevin Plawecki for one, is a must. The Mets also need another guy who can work multiple innings out of the bullpen to fortify the middle of the group so the Mets only need to rely on one guy from a group of youngsters (Tyler Bashlor/Drew Smith/Tim Peterson/Jacob Rhame) at a time. A guy like Adam Warren would be a perfect fit for the Mets, and waiting to add a guy with late inning experience on a one year deal (such as Shawn Kelley) could make sense as well.
Add Rotation Depth: The Mets’ starting rotation is very good, but they don’t have much depth behind their starting five. Lugo has been mentioned as a depth option, but the Mets need him to fill out the bullpen right now, and the only starters on the 40 man roster with big league experience outside of the current rotation are Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, and Drew Gagnon. The Mets should not only add a veteran or two on a minor league deal to add depth to their system, but they should explore signing a big league free agent to upgrade over Jason Vargas in the five spot. One potential fit could be lefty Gio Gonzalez, who has had notable success at Citi Field in his career, and could probably be had on a two year deal.
If the Mets add Pollock, Warren, Gonzalez, and trade Plawecki for a left handed reliever the Mets have had an A offseason. While Bryce Harper would be nice, the Mets can still succeed even if they don’t sign him. The Mets have to continue shopping for premier talent now to upgrade their roster and not simply start dumpster diving to keep payroll at a reasonable level. The time to go for it is now, especially since this is the last year that the Mets have all four of their young starters under team control. Settling for Cano, Diaz, Familia, Ramos, and a bunch of bargain bin fill ins is not an acceptable offseason.