2015 will be the year A New Hope leads the Mets into contention. Let me be clear: I'm not one of the folks who advocates not improving the team this year. I don't want to cheap out and punt the year for the future. However, since the injury of Matt Harvey, the New Hope, we need to be realistic about 2014. So this plan will not be my best effort for winning in 2014 - if 2014 was the last year of baseball ever I would have a different plan. This plan prioritizes long-term improvement over short-term improvement. I want to get quality players that will help in the long run more than I want stop-gap solutions, even if it results in my having fewer overall quality players.
I know, I know. Eric Young Jr. is supposed to be a useful bench piece, good defense, good speed. I've seen his highlight reel catches. But he registers a career negative UZR and does not seem to have much of a throwing arm. Since he can't hit, he is not that useful. Your eyes can deceive you - don't trust them.
The rest of these are pretty much no brainers, except possibly Justin Turner, but I am tired of his below-average at everything, terrible-at-nothing skill-set. We can do better.
1) Jacoby "Lando" Ellsbury, 6 years, $105 million.
This is all about long-term improvement. Jacoby does not seem to be getting a lot of love from Mets fans, or really from anybody, but I look at all the free agents this year and next year and I don't see a better option for an offensive player except for Robinson Cano and possibly Shin-So Choo. Jacoby has a reputation as a mostly defense, mostly speed guy who has not hit that well except for one fluky year. However, in the new reality of baseball is there are about 10 elite hitters and after that it quickly falls off to a bunch of guys who hit about as well as a 1998 middle infielder. I know everyone wants a clean-up guy who can hit 30 home runs - so do I. However, since that is not available, I'll take offensive prowess wherever I can get it. So consider wOBA, the stat that includes all offensive skills, including running. Jacoby was #54 in the league in wOBA in 2013, which was a somewhat down year for him. He finished within 10 percentage points of players who are thought of as sluggers, including Adrian Gonzalez, Kendry Morales, Andre Ethier, Dominic Brown and Adam Jones. Combine that with near-elite defense and you have a very good player. At this price, I want him. He can be our Lando Carissian - sure we aren't going to send him to defeat Darth Vader or on a tricky mission to blow up a heavily guarded shield generator, but he's good enough to lead the assault on the Death Star if no one else is available.
2) David "Wedge Antilles" DeJesus, 1 years, $3 million.
DeJesus, like Wedge, has trouble standing out from the crowd and is famously under-rated (case for DeJesus, case for Antilles), but when you compare his steady performance to all the pilots who are getting shot down 30 seconds into the battle, he starts to look pretty good. DeJesus has shown the ability to be a decent hitter and defender and could make a good platoon player. At this price, he's a decent sign. He's our Wedge Antilles - a minor player in the grand scheme of things, but also the only pilot besides Lando who makes it into the core of the Death Star and back alive.
3) Matt "R2-D2" Belisle, 2 years, $6 million
Mostly I want to let the young arms in the system fill out the bullpen, but Belisle is under-rated and could be a good addition to the pen. Don't let his 4.32 ERA fool you - he pitches in Colorado. His FIP last year was 3.03 and over the last four years has ranged between 2.78 and 3.33. He can be our R2-D2 - he helps Luke carry out his missions and never asks for any of the credit.
Escobar feels like a likely trade for the Rays - he is set to make $5 million on an option this year. The Rays could probably afford that, but trading him for younger, cheaper players feels like a Rays move. They have Hak-Ju Lee in the minor leagues, so Ruben Tejada could be a stop-gap for him and useful depth once he takes over. Davis gives the Rays a young cheap 1B/DH and they badly need a young, cheap hitter with some potential. That's Davis. He's a gamble but he comes cheap, which is helpful for the Rays. I imagine the Rays would prefer Lucas Duda here, so I sweeten the deal with Domingo Tapia to get this done. The Rays can't help themselves around young, cheap talented pitching and Tapia still has potential to be a dominant reliever.
Escobar can be our C3PO. Yes, he's known as a complainer with a bad attitude who feels no hesitation to insult people he feels are inferior to him. He also does not seem all that useful at first glance. However, he is a skilled translator and is handy to make a diversion when you need him to. Escobar can field and he's an OK hitter. That's good enough to be our starting shortstop.
Sean Rodriguez fits our bench perfectly - he can play OF, 2B and SS in a pinch and he rates out positively at both 2B and OF. He also has a career .750 OPS vs. LHP. He should play every game where a lefty starts, spelling David Murphy in left or Daniel Murphy at 2B. He's our Nien Nub - he can co-pilot the Millenium Falcon when Hans Solo and Chewbacca are needed elsewhere.
Why no Starting Pitcher?
Easy answer here - I am prioritizing 2015. In 2015, we have potential starters of Harvey, Wheeler, Gee, Niese, Mejia, Monteros, De Grom, Syndergaard. And that does not account for the possibility of Mateo, Mazzoni or Fulmer breaking out and making a play for a spot. We don't want to sign a multi-year starter contract here. And the one year options, like Josh Johnson or Roy Halladay, have the possibility of being real turds. I would much rather fill in some spots with minor-league deals if I have to, but really I would rather plug in Mejia and Monteros this year to see what they can do. Yeah, I know they want to start Monteros in AAA and Mejia also has minimal MLB experience, but I say:
Let's see what the young kids can do, and please, the last thing we should do is get a mediocre pitcher on a multi-year deal. It makes no sense. So don't tell me signing Bronson Arroyo is the will of the Force, unless you don't want me to send you a pizza roll.
So that brings us to:
Minor League Deals:
I put these in order of desired pitcher. We'll sign two tops.
1) Johann Santana
3) John Lannan
4) Aaron Harang
5) Eric Bedard
We want this pitcher to be our "Uncle Owen." Good character and only has to survive about as long as Uncle Owen does in the movie. Then we are done with him.
So where does that leave us? Here's the roster:
A total of $80,550,000 with a tiny bit of creative structuring for the Ellsbury contract ($3 million deferred, but to be paid in 2015 with the savings from Johan and Bay dead money gone). The line-up goes something like this:
Duda/Satin (or Flores)
Not bad. This a team that could have a decent, if not good, line-up. It also brings us a much improved defense, with three strong defensive OFs and a much better player at SS. The bullpen could be really good if the young power pitchers pan out and the rotation might end up doing some good things. Most importantly it sets up for 2015 with Ellsbury, Belisle and Escobar carrying over to the new team without breaking the bank.
The big thing is Matt Harvey comes back, of course. But we can also make some more additions to help out if our stingy owners decide to invest. We should look for improvements at 1B and SS. We can also make a move for a top shelf OF if we can get one to fill in the spot left by DeJesus (Puello could get this job as well). For IB, we are finally looking to get our Chewbacca - a big oaf whose primary talent is clobbering stuff. Here are some suggestions in order of most desired and least realistic to least desired and most realistic.
6) Lucas Duda pulls a Chris Davis and becomes a stud.
5) Kevin Towers decides Paul Goldschmidt does not play the game the right way and trades him for "Scrappy" Daniel Murphy and "Proven Closer" Bobby Parnell.
4) San Francisco tanks and they make Brandon Belt available in trade
2) Trade for Edwin Encarnacion, who very likely will end up being available.
1) Sign Adam LaRoche.
At SS, we are looking for our Princess Leia - seemingly delicate and graceful, but also a surprisingly good fighter with a hard-nosed attitude and strong leadership skills. We have some really good options. We can keep Escobar on for $5 million if we take his option. We could also sign under-rated studs Jed Lowrie or JJ Hardy, which would give the Mets some more offense. We also would have the option here of doing both of those things and jettisoning Daniel Murphy and moving Escobar to 2B (they would actually save money by keeping Escobar over Murphy).
So think of it this way - early 2013 was like Star Wars: A New Hope with the emergence of Matt Harvey. The end of the season turned into Empire Strikes Back - Luke's hand was sliced off and David "Hans Solo" Wright ended up frozen in carbonite. We're starting 2014 by getting Hans out of carbonite but Luke has still not arrived on the scene. And then, suddenly in 2015, this happens:
So in 2015 with the help of some new blood with massive space cruisers (Carlos "Admiral Ackbar" Gonzalez?) and some surprisingly plucky Ewoks (Syndergaard, Monteros, Puello, Flores, for example) it could be the year we finally blow up that damned Death Star for good. May the Force be with us.