It has been 7 long years since the Mets made the end-of-season tournament. That's too long for most everyone's liking. However, there are signs that drought is coming to an end: an enviable crop of strong, young arms, a still very much in his prime franchise player, and renewed financial flexibility. There has also been some troubling news: the team's 24 year-old ace is set to miss the 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. However, that doesn't mean the team can just sit on it's hands until 2015 and count their chickens before they hatch (or return from the DL).
The 2013 season saw the Mets' offense stifled with various forms of regression and disappointment (12th in wRC+, 14th in wOBA in the NL) while the pitching was promising, yet middling as a whole (8th in ERA, 7th in FIP in the NL). With Matt Harvey on the shelf for 2014, it would be naive to expect us to contend for a division title. However, even though we will be without Harvey, I aim to put the pieces in place so that when he returns, the team is ready to take the step into legitimate contention with him.
Don't Just Plug Holes on Offense:
In 2013 the Mets got sub-average production from more than one position on offense. Chief among them were SS, the OF, and 1B. Omar Quintanilla put up roughly replacement level production at SS. Ruben Tejada saw his young career falter to the tune of a 48 wRC+, a handful of early season errors, and a July demotion. Marlon Byrd conversely saw his career reach new heights with a 136 wRC+ and a 4.1 fWAR. However he was traded at the deadline and therefore needs to be replaced. The in-season acquired Eric Young Jr. saw early success with the Mets (107 July wRC+) but ended the year looking more suited for a 4th OF role (85 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR). At 1B the Mets simply gave too many PAs to a flawed and incomplete player in Ike Daivs (90 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR).
Coming from Texas is SS Elvis Andrus in exchange for 1B/DH Lucas Duda, RHP Rafael Montero, RHP Gabriel Ynoa, and OF Brandon Nimmo. The 25 year old Andrus is coming off a season that saw him struggle at the plate to the tune of a 78 wRC+. However the only peripheral stat that showed any noteworthy decline was his ISO (dropping from .092 to .060). He maintained his Gold Glove caliber defense and still was worth 2.8 fWAR. In the trade the Rangers get a slugger they need to replace Nelson Cruz's bat, a pair of moderate upside arms with polish (ranked as B- and C+ respectively at the start of 2013, but have since only seen their stock rise) so they can move Alexi Ogando back to the pen, and a B- rated OF prospect. Additionally, they also free up SS for Jurickson Profar by moving Andrus' contract. The SS is set to make $6.475M in 2014 before his 8-year, $120M extension kicks in (which pays accordingly: $15M per year through 2020, then $14M per year through 2022, then a $15M option for 2023 that vests with 550 plate appearances in 2022 or 1,100 PAs in 2021-22 combined). That gives Texas the financial flexibility to sign a premium FA OF they need. Now this does represent a risk for us, but that's why we're getting the two-time All-Star without paying through the nose. Also worthy of note, although the contract does run through at least his age-33 season, most people were just fine with signing the similarly-profiled Jose Reyes through at least his age-33 season. At the very least, this acquisition represents a long-term answer to the SS position by bringing premium defense at a premium defensive position. For those who might be worried about his bat, Dave Huggens seems like the perfect hitting coach to help Andrus creep that OBP back up to the .345 neighborhood. Andrus' extension also has 2018 and 2019 player opt-outs. If the talent going Texas' way seems a bit light, add in the toosly yet troubled Jordany Valdespin. Also coming our way in the deal is $15M. I won't be counting this as a lump sum deductible from the 2014 payroll. Instead, I will use it to offset the payroll $3M this year and offset Andrus' cost against the payroll through the end of his extension to the tune of $1.5M a year.
Quintanilla is non-tendered and re-signed to a minor league deal and goes to Las Vegas. Tejada is also non-tendered unfortunately. In a perfect world, we would keep him, but we have a budget and can't give out $1M to a not-so-young player who was never that good to begin with. Plus with Andrus now in the fold, Tejada would only be an increasingly expensive bench piece who doesn't bring a premium glove or bat anyway.
Finally Fix the Outfield:
To replace Byrd's contributions, Carlos Beltran returns to Queens for a second tour of duty on a 2-year, $30M contract (backloaded to $14M in 2014 and $16M in 2015). The future Hall of Famer and occasional giant mechanized intergalactic warrior's bat adds instant offense (132 wRC+ in 2013) and should serve as a middle of the order presence. Although Beltran has seen his defensive abilities decline with age, his bat should be more than enough to make him a positive contributor overall. It might be a bit of an overpay based on the $5M/WAR model, but I'm willing to pay a premium for a bat that ranked 20th in the MLB in wRC+ as recently as last year for the OF. Less importantly, but also of note, he is a respected and knowledgeable presence inside the walls of the lockerroom - one that can only help youngsters like Juan Lagares navigate and develop their skills. Baltran also serves as insurance against Cesar Puello's breakout 2013 season proving to be medically induced or non-repeatable. Since we can now afford to be patient with him, Puello starts the year in Binghamton with an eye to a June promotion to Las Vegas.
Additionally, OF/3B Nick Castellanos is acquired via trade with the Tigers in exchange for IF Daniel Murphy, SS Gavin Cecchini, and RHP Luis Mateo. The B+ ranked Castellanos is a top-50 prospect and will add increased balance to our system with regard to elite, young hitters versus elite, young pitching. However, he had a less than impressive debut for Detroit who needs help at 2B. A 48 wRC+ in 14 PA's should normally be pushed aside as nothing but a small sample, but it does show that he probably can't step immediately into the league and be an impact bat. This is noteworthy because reportedly, owner Mike Ilitch is desperate for a championship ASAP due to declining health. In the deal, the "win-now" mode Tigers essentially trade potential offense in the OF (where they can spare it) for actualized offense at 2B on the cheap (where they need it). They also receive two B- prospects from our system, one of whom carries premium position upside (SS prospects are like gold), and the other who might be able to contribute as early as the stretch drive from the pen. The two prospects going the Tiger's way also prevent them from gutting their farm. From our perspective, we get a potential All-Star level bat to build around for the OF. For 2014 however, he goes to Las Vegas to work on his patience (only a 9.1 BB% in 595 AAA PAs). If the talent going Detroit's way seems a bit light, add in C+ rated (and rising) C Kevin Plawecki.
Finally, OF/2B Kelly Johnson is signed to a 2-year, $5.75M contract to play LF (backloaded slightly to $2.75M in 2014 and $3M in 2015). Johnson is coming off a 101 wRC+ and 1.2 fWAR year for the Rays and should be good for a near league-average bat. He also provides insurance in case Wilmer Flores can't step into the newly vacated 2B spot.
With Beltran and Johnson in the corners, that leaves CF. Juan Lagares will enter his first full season as the starter. Lagares has the makings of a Gold Glover fielder in CF (33.1 UZR/150) so even if his bat doesn't develop further, he should still provide more than enough value. Young will get most of his starts as a 4th OF vLHP since he has a 118 career wRC+ against them (as apposed to a 78 wRC+ vRHP) . He will also provide additional depth at 2B.
Figure Out First Base:
To fill Duda's vacated spot at 1B, in comes COF/1B Corey Hart on a 1-year, $4M contract with a mutual $7M option for 2014. A career COF, Hart makes the move to full-time 1B after having surgeries on both his knees in 2013. When on the field, he hit - to the tune of a career 117 wRC+ and .354 wOBA. Having played 857.1 innings at 1B in 2012, the position won't be completely new to him either.
Josh Satin was impressive in his late-season stint, but with a .379 BABIP, it wold be shortsighted to give him anything more than a bench spot. The victim of being cheap and having options, he starts 2014 in Las Vegas. The enigma that is Ike Davis is non-tendered and given a $2M take-it-or-leave-it contract and a spot on our bench as the primary pinch hitter. If he doesn't start where he left off last season, he goes down to Vegas (likely never to return) and Satin gets the call.
Bring in a Backup Catcher:
Anthony Recker finished the 2013 season with a 89 wRC+. Along with a moderate reputation behind the plate, he's a fine depth catcher, but not someone you can feel comfortable giving 300 PAs to. With Travis d`Arnaud's injury history, you don't know if he'll need extended time off and be in a situation to give your back up more playing time than usual. Enter C Jose Molina on a 1-year, $2.25M contract. One of the premier defensive catchers in the game, there is no one better to tutor our budding pitch framer. Molina is coming off a 69 wRC+ season but his value doesn't come from his bat; it comes from stealing strikes. Recker goes to Las Vegas along with Juan Centeno.
Fill out the Bench:
Molina, Davis, and Young are already in the fold. Re-joining are IF Justin Turner and COF Andrew Brown. Turner doesn't bring much but he is cheap, can fake it at multiple positions, and had a career high 98 wRC+ in 2013; there might be something to having a guy who is loved in the clubhouse too (probably not, but who knows). Brown is another nothing special guy. He's cheap and is coming of a 95 wRC+ in 2013. They will make $800K and $500K respectively. Matt den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Zach Lutz go to Las Vegas while Wilfredo Tovar heads back to Binghamton.
Additionally, UTL Jeff Baker is signed to a minor league contract. Baker was somewhat surprisingly designated for assignment by Texas. He has is a career 96 wRC+ bat but reached a 143 wRC+ in 175 PAs last season. He will play 2B for Las Vegas but could serve as a bat off the bench if Davis and Satin falter.
Add Depth to the Rotation:
Nothing can replace Matt Harvey for 2014. Pitchers worth 6 WAR don't come around often. However, the 2013 rotation wasn't a complete one man show. LHP Jon Niese partially tore his rotator cuf in June. However, he came back fairly strong and put up respectable numbers for the year (3.71 ERA, 3.58 FIP). RHP Dillon Gee had a tale of two seasons. Prior to June, his lowest monthly wOBA against was .374 - after, his highest monthly wOBA was .328. He finished the year with a 3.62 ERA and 4.00 FIP. RHP Zack Wheeler had his hiccups in his rookie season (4.14 BB/9), but overall was successful (3.42 ERA, 4.17 FIP). RHP Jenrry Mejia finally showed us all what the scouts were raving about way back when with a brilliant five start stretch. In these five games he put up a 8.89 K/9, 1.32 BB/9, 2.30ERA, and 2.46 FIP. However, he had to be shutdown due to bone spurs in his elbow. Even though the procedure is fairly common, it does highlight how Mejia is still very much a non-guarantee. He will be on a innings count in the neighborhood of 110 IP. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka was picked up off the scrap heap and he showed why he was there in the first place. He preformed to the tune of a 4.42 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 4.81 xFIP; he is cut lose. RHP Jermey Hefner made large strides posting the league's best ERA from June 9th to the All-Star break, but partially tore his MCL in August and will require Tommy John surgery as well. RHP Carlos Torres came out of nowhere to serve as a fill in (4.89 ERA, 4.88 FIP) but is better as a rubber-armed option out of the pen (1.47 ERA, 3.51 FIP). One full time starter and more depth is needed.
Coming from the cross-town rival Yankees is Phil Hughes on a 2-year, $15M contract. The deal does represent only a $100K pay-rise, but Hughes should jump at the two-year commitment. The 27 year-old righthander struggled to a 5.19 ERA. However, that mark was not the result of his K/9 (7.48) or BB/9 (2.59), but instead his unseemly 1.48 HR/9. That HR/9 is largely due to playing his home games in Yankees Stadium and its 1.244 HR factor over the last 5 years. Moving to Citi Field and its 1.095 HR factor (average over the last two seasons with the new fences) and away from the AL East could do wonders for his overall line and makes him well worth the $7.5M per year commitment. In addition, Hughes has stated that he wouldn't be against moving to the pen. More on that later.
Also joining the team is Josh Johnson on a 1-year, $3.5M contract with $250K bonuses for every 20 IP and a $4M team option with same incentive bonus structure for 2015. Johnson will likely find guaranteed contracts for 2014 few and far between. Our deal gives him the chance to earn up to $6M in 2014 and, if the option is exercised, $6.5M in 2015. It's doubtful he will get a better offer coming off a season that saw his HR/9 and ERA skyrocket to 1.66 and 6.20 respectively and visit the DL twice (once for tricep inflammation and once for a forearm strain).
Hughes and Johnson will battle for a spot in the rotation with the loser going to the bullpen. There they will stay until injury creates an opening in the rotation or Mejia needs to be shut down. While Hughes has expressed that he would be okay with a bullpen role, Johnson has not. However, with his injury history and recent performance, it might just be the place for him to re-find success. This gives us a quality weapon out of the pen as well as insurance for Mejia in case his fragility continues and the inevitable innings limit casualties. When Harvey and Hefner return for 2015, they also give us two potential trade assets or the core of a potent bullpen.
Finally, RHP James McDonald is signed to a minor league deal. The former Pirates property elected free agency after the Pirates optioned him for assignment. Unlikely to find a guaranteed contract, he should see opportunity with Harvey going down, Gee and Niese not being iron men, and Mejia's fragility and innings limit. McDonald had a very difficult 2013 on rout to a 6.07 BB/9 and 5.76 ERA. However, there were some positives to take away. In the 29.2 innings he saw, he had a 7.58 K/9 and a .30 HR/9. He heads to Las Vegas.
Top-Off the Bullpen:
The 2013 season found the Mets finishing 22nd in the MLB in bullpen ERA at 3.98 and 27th in FIP at 4.02. RHP Bobby Parnell had a great year in his first season as closer (2.16 BB/9, 0.18 HR/9, 2.16 ERA, 2.33 FIP). He is due for a $3.2M arbiration award. RHP LaTroy Hawkins also played well (1.27 BB/9, 2.93 ERA). However, I'm not interested in paying the 41 year-old the $3M or so it would take to keep him. LHP Scott Rice was a pleasant scrap heap find and represents a fine LOOGY (.214 wOBA against lefties); he will make somewhere in the neighborhood of the league minimum. RHP Scott Atchison was as mediocre as mediocre can get (5.56 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 4.37 ERA). The 37 year-old is non-tendered and will not be brought back for the $1.3M he has coming to him via arbitration. RHP David Aardsma was a fine speculative grab, but he didn't deliver (4.31 ERA, 5.27 FIP); he is let go. The newly acquire RHP Vic Black showed fantastic promise (8.31 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9). Set to make league minimum, he finds a spot as a middle reliever. Somewhat unfortunately now a full time reliever after a June elbow surgery and modest results as a starter in AAA was RHP Jeurys Familia. The prospect had mixed results in the role (6.75 K/9, 7.59 BB/9, 51.5 GB% in 10 IP), but still has the movement on his pitches that made him an attractive prospect just one season ago. Set to make the league minimum, he will hopefully find a home in relief. RHP Gonzalez German displayed a live arm with solid results (8.7 K/9, 0.3 HR/9) during his debut. He will battle with Familia for the 7th spot in the bullpen with the loser going to Las Vegas to work on their control. With the aforementioned Torres and whoever ends up losing the battle for the open starting spot, that leaves one more spot to be filled.
Coming from the Dodgers is LHP J.P. Howell on a 1-year, $3M contract. Howell put up strong peripherals (7.84 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, 0.29 HR/9) on root to a cromulent season (2.18 ERA, 2.89 FIP). As a lefthander, he is tougher against his own kind, but doesn't come with a disproportionate track record against righthanders. Therefore he adds depth after Rice, but doesn't come with the shortcoming of just being a second LOOGY.
Also joining up is RHP Joey Devine on a minor league contract. Devine sat out the 2012 season recuperating after needing his second Tommy John surgery of his career. When on the mound however, he has put up great numbers (career 9.07 K/9, 0.31 HR/9, 2.75 ERA). Since he had the surgery in April of 2012, it's likely he will not be ready for the start of the season. The hope is he can follow in the footsteps of Joakim Soria and Joe Nathan, both of whom have had two TJ surgeries, but have since comeback to pitch well.
This team as constructed should show some progress record-wise in 2013 (probably around a 3 or 4 win improvement) by finding a long-term solution to SS and bringing in some offense. The real payoff is in 2015 when Harvey returns. With the exception of Howell, ever acquisition in this plan has a contract that runs through at least the 2015 season. It's then that we'll have Castellanos, Puello, and Syndergaard set to deploy, still have Beltran's bat, a loaded bullpen thanks to Johnson and Hughes, and the expected continued progression from Flores, d`Arnaud, Wheeler, and Mejia. That's what division titles and trips deep into October are made of.
(Click images to embiggen)
Additional notes to the staff: If the small backloads are a non-starter or the FA contracts are found to be wanting, I still have $12M remaining of the $15M coming from Texas that can be used to offset any needed increases or adjustments.
Guaranteed Contracts: $33.55M
Contracts via Arbitration: $9.3M
Contracts via Extensions: $2M (I'm filing Ike as an extension since he was technically non-tendered)
Contracts via FA/Trades: $36.975M - $39.475M (depending on performance bonus awards, including $3M of the $15M coming from Texas that will be used to offset costs this season)
Total 2013 Payroll: $81.825M - $84.325M (depending on performance bonus awards)