As a fan-base we've been living on the idea of tomorrow. "If we survive the lean years, we'll see a fruitful tomorrow", "We just need to be patient", "Let the kids grow and we'll get back there". That was the mantra. That was what we told ourselves to hold ourselves over. Then we won the division and made it all the way to the World Series. As it turns out, things can change fast. Now the question is: How do we get back, and this time win it? Now we're living for today.
The 2015 season should teach us some things. Chiefly among them: pitching is king. A strong and deep staff can do wonders to paper over cracks elsewhere. You can get by with mediocrity as long as you have three aces. Thankfully with our "four aces", we have that covered - and with Zack Wheeler due for an All-Star break return from Tommy John surgery, we're even stronger. The second lesson is: you can only do so much without a better than decent offense. We don't want to just get by, we want to excel. Last season saw the Mets progress on offense, but still not shine (99 wRC+ good for 5th in the NL, but thanks mostly to deadline acquisitions). The playoffs should also show us two other areas we need to address: defense and the bullpen. We don't need Gold Glovers at every position, but giving your opponent more the 3 outs in an inning can be deadly. In a similar vain, you can't give up leads once your starter leaves every night. These are the areas I will look to address while not mortgaging the future.
Don't Get Cute Restoring the Offense:
The 2015 season saw a Mets offense finish the year without many holes. Curtis Granderson had a noteworthy return to prominence (132 wRC+, 5.1 fWAR), Lucas Duda continued to be a solid slugger (133 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR) with elite power (.242 ISO), and David Wright triumphantly returned to the field (133 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR/600PA). Michael Conforto had a solid rookie season (134 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR), Wilmer Flores had a promising year (95 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR), and Travis d'Arnaud continued to be productive when on the field (131 wRC+, 12.8 Receiving Runs). There are areas that need to be addressed, however. Daniel Murphy is a fine player, but one that we can improve upon with the money it will take to re-sign him. We thank him for his services and let him walk, more than happy with the compensatory pick he'll yield. Yoenis Cespedes lit the world on fire, but is 30 and looking for a mega-contract. These two players also don't necessarily contribute positively on the other side of the ball. Murphy is a scratch-level 2B and Cespedes is best suited for a corner (career -17.6 UZR/150 in CF). The final area where we can improve is the bench. Last season we leaned heavily on two deadline acquisitions to boost our bench. We need the versatility and insurance a good bench can provide.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is:
OF Jason Heyward is signed to a 9-year, $183M contract. The structure of the contract pays out as such: 19/19/19/20/20/20/21/22/22 with opt-outs after years 7 and 8. The outfielder is coming off a 121 wRC+ season and brings Gold Glove level defense. The young FA is brought in to play CF but the transition shouldn't be too difficult for him since he tracks the ball well, takes good routes, runs well, and has had promising results in limited time in the position in the past (career 11.1 UZR/150 in CF, 18.4 in RF). It's likely only a two-year stay in CF anyway with Granderson's contract set to expire after the 2017 season. That would allow Heyward to slide over to RF opening up CF to Juan Lagares or Brandon Nimmo. Heyward is a 5-tool stud and to top it off, he'll only be 26 on Opening Day.
Heyward brings comparable offensive value to that of Cespedes (career wRC+'s of 118 v. 121) while bringing one of the best gloves in the game. He doesn't have as much power, but he strikes out less and has elite contact ability (6.5 SwStr%). He costs a lot of money, but the Wilpons promised if the fans showed up they'd spend again. There's no one better to spend on. Plus, I don't know about anyone else, but it would add a certain level of schadenfreude to win a championship with a former Braves franchise player to-be as a key contributor.
UTL Ben Zobrist is signed to a 3-year, $48M contract to play 2B. The versatile utility player has been one of the most consistent players in the game over the last half-decade putting up no worse than a 114 wRC+ and playing all over the diamond. He steps in for the departing Murphy. The affectionately named "Zorilla" will be 34 on Opening Day, but this is the type of signing teams hitting their win-peak make. Plus, he's not exactly untradeable down the line if that turns out to be the best course of action in the future. He's coming off a 123 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR season and brings more than adequate protection against a prolonged absence of Wright from the lineup; he also allows us to go without a SS-sub on the bench. He had a bit of a down year defensively if UZR is to be believed, but he's always been lauded for his defense both by the eye test and metrics so I'm willing to bet he'll continue to be a plus defender. The third year isn't the most desirable, but it'll likely be necessary to push our offer over the top of some others that will probably offer more money per year, but fewer years.
Get a Little Cute Filling Out the Bench:
Ruben Tejada is non-tendered but brought back on a $1.5M contract with a $1M bonus for 50 GP. Tejada had himself a nice season (95 wRC+, 1 fWAR), but his injury puts a large question mark around him. I'm not going to count on him being ready for Opening Day, but I don't want to lose him for nothing either. If he makes a full recovery, he loses nothing. If not, we covered ourselves a little.
UTL Kelly Johnson is re-signed to a 1-year, $1.5M contract to be a super-sub off the bench. Johnson hit to the tune of a 107 wRC+ last season and is capable of playing five positions. He should be good for league-average production with the bat and acts as a safety blanket around the diamond. Along with Zobrist, we have enviable versatility on our roster.
In a 3-way trade, in comes C Carlos Perez and RHP Victor Alcantara with 3B Jhoan Urena and IF LJ Mazzilli going to Oakland and C Josh Phegley, LHP Blake Taylor, and OF Victor Cruzado going to Los Angeles of Anaheim. I've acquired the now 25 year old Perez in three of my previous four AAOPs and my affection for the player remains; he's a good defensive catcher whose bat is still developing (38 Caught Stealing%, 82 wRC+). In the trade, Oakland makes a value move. They have Stephen Vogt coming off a 115 wRC+ year and can add an intriguing power 3B bat to their prospect corral for the price of some redundancy. The Angles likely aren't comfortable with the possibility of pushing the defense-first Perez into an everyday role if they can't bring back Chris Ianneta. Phegley gives them a cost-controlled option coming off a 106 wRC+ season who carries a bit of positional flexibility should Jett Bandy be ready. Oakland also gets a C-rated, organizational depth prospect, as do the Angels along with the recovering, yet intriguing Taylor.
Perez pushes Kevin Plawecki down to Las Vegas to continue developing. "Plaw" likely has more ceiling to reach; Perez is likely always going to be glove-first. I'd rather have Plawecki playing every day in AAA in hopes he reaches his maximum potential. Catchers are getting very rare. If we can add to our strength at a non-prohibitive cost, it'll only give us more options in the future. Also coming our way in the trade is the 21 year old Dominican, Alcantara. He has a mid-90s fastball, slider, and change. He has command issues, but he had a 8.27 K/9 in 136 IP last season in High-A ball. He's the type of pitcher most farm systems have three or four of; a possible back-end guy who likely ends up a relief prospect. Alcantara was given a C+ grade by John Sickel's entering the 2015 season. He's a nice lotto ticket to help recoup some of the depth pieces moved out last deadline.
In a cost-cutting move, 1B/LF Michael Cuddyer is traded along with RHP Zack Thornton, 1B/DH Jayce Boyd, RHP Matt Bowman, and $5M to Baltimore in exchange for 3B Jomar Reyes and RHP David Hess. Baltimore makes this move as they are likely to lose Chris Davis but have no one to plug into that 1B/DH role and the FA rout is fairly barren. Here they get Cuddyer at a much more sensible $7.5M price tag and a potential bullpen contributor in Thornton. They also get organizational fillers in Boyd and Bowman. Coming our way is chiefly salary relief, but also two modest prospects who are far removed from the bigs. Reyes helps recoup some of the value moved in Urena. He has similar power-potential but is younger, has more questions on defense, and rawer. The 21 year old Hess is a moderate-upside pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and curve offerings. If things go right, he's a potential #4 pitcher in three to four years, but more likely becomes a middle relief prospect. Like Alcantara, he helps mitigate some of the pitching prospect pool loses from last deadline. Both Reyes and Hess received C+ rating from Sickels entering the 2015 season.
OF Lagares, OF Kirk Nieuwnhuis, and 2B Dilson Herrera round out the bench. Lagares needs to show his elbow is healed. Without his other-worldly defense, he's nothing more than a 4th OF. Fortunately for him, he should have an opportunity to do so seeing time vLHP (career 112 wRC+ vLHP) spelling Conforto and Granderson (Heyward would slide over to RF) in addition to regular days off. Kirk is a capable 5th OF who brings some power (.180 ISO in 2015). Herrera takes Tejada's spot on the bench and will likely see 200+ PAs with Zobrist moving around, the team having to manage Wright's workload, and Duda's comparative weakness vLHP. Dilson is very young (22 years old on Opening Day) but he tore up AAA to the tune of a 138 wRC+. I want to bring him along slowly and not rely on him to be an every day player out of the gate. If he shows he's beyond a doubt ready in 2015 (or 2016), all of a sudden we have a nice trade-chip in Zobrist for the 2016 offseason or beyond. If Tejada is back for 2016, Herrera goes down to Las Vegas to percolate and gives us even more depth.
Additionally, 1B/OF Garrett Jones and UTL Jeff Baker are signed to minor league deals. Last season Jones was release by the Yankees in August and Baker was released by the Marlins in July. Baker has a career 126 wRC+ vLHP (97 in 2015) and Jones is only a year removed from a 100 wRC+ season. They'll head to Las Vegas as possible emergency call-ups.
Tinkering with the Rotation:
Plainly stated, we have an embarrassment of riches. Matt Harvey put up a 136 ERA+ over 189 IP (8.94 K/9, 1.76 BB/9), Jacob DeGrom put up a 145 ERA+ over 191 IP (9.66 K/9, 1.79 BB/9), Noah Syndergaard put up a 114 ERA+ over 150 IP (9.96 K/9, 1.86 BB/9), and Steven Matz put up a 164 ERA+ over 35.2 IP (8.58 K/9, 2.52 BB/9). Jon Niese struggled to a 89 ERA+ over 176.2 IP. However, we only need Niese for a 5th starter's role until Wheeler gets back around the All-Star break at which time he'll head to the 'pen. I'm willing to role the dice with him since he's only a year removed from a 101 ERA+. Additionally, he should stop throwing his curve and only sparingly throw his change (get it to >10% of pitches). It's hard to think of Niese without his curve, but it was worth -9.8 RAA last season; the change -3.1 RAA. In its place, he will pick up the "Dan Warthen slider". It's not a miracle cure-all pitch, but merely not throwing the curve should help quite a bit. If the slider can become even scratch in terms of RAA, he's way ahead. His repertoire is now fastball/slider/cutter/show-me changeup. Beyond the starting five we have RHP Logan Verrett, who had a promising debut (7.6 K/9, 2.83 BB/9, 3.59 ERA), and RHP Rafael Montero, who pitched limited innings but could still make good on his promise. Verrett and Montero will go to Las Vegas. RHP Bortolo Colon was entertaining and chewed up a lot of innings (194.2 IP). However, with Niese already under contract and Verrett a workable option in AAA, he's allowed to seek other opportunities.
Rebuild the Bullpen:
For the second year in a row the bullpen wasn't a weakness for the team (11th in the MLB in ERA, 10th in FIP), but hte playoffs exposed our lack of depth. RHP Jeurys Familia emerged as a dominant force (9.92 K/9, 1.85 ERA, 2.74 FIP) with a filthy sinker/fastball/slider combo. RHP Addison Reed was acquire after the deadline and was surprisingly effective. His $5.7M price tag via arbitration is a bit pricey for a guy who got by on BABIP (.270 after the trade) and an uncharacteristic up-tick in K/9; he's not tendered a contract. RHP Hansel Robles proved himself to be an MLB option (10.17 K/9, 3.67 ERA). RHP Carlos Torres took a step back, but was still useful (7.49 K/9, 2.81 BB/9); he's tendered a contract ($800K) and kept as the long-man until Niese gets pushed out of the rotation. RHP Akeel Morris had an interesting year in AAA (10.74 K/9, 2.45 ERA) but isn't ready (4.60 BB/9). LHP Sean Gilmartin was a nice surprise coming from the Rule-5 draft (8.48 K/9, 2.83 BB/9, 139 ERA+); he'll head to Las Vegas as the likely first call-up. RHP Tyler Clippard was fantastic after being acquired (.183 wOBA in Aug) but had a less than stellar end of the season and playoffs (.358 wOBA in Sep/Oct). As a pending free agent, he'll be allowed to search for greener pastures. We need four more arms.
Coming from the Padres is RHP Shawn Kelley on a 2-year, $10M contract with a mutual option for a 3rd year at $5M. Kelly has flown under the radar a bit in the past getting traded twice, but has finally started to make a name for himself with his fastball/slider combo recording a 149 ERA+ over 51.1 IP in 2015. For his career, he has a 10.22 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, and 3.67 ERA. The third year option likely pushes us over the top as he's likely to be a popular target this offseason. He slots in nicely as a high-leverage option.
Joining up on a 1-year, $700K contract is RHP Gavin Floyd. Floyd is a reclamation project after going under for Tommy John surgery in 2013 and then breaking his elbow each of the last two years. He's had success as a starter in his career (7.05 K/9, 101 ERA+), but he's several years removed from that. The idea is a smaller workload in a new role in the 'pen can get him back to those results. Floyd's contract includes an opt-out if he doesn't make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training.
LHP Jerry Blevins is re-signed to a 1-year, $1.4M contract. The lefty had a very frustrating season breaking is forearm twice so he will be affordable. He's brought back for the same reason he was signed originally; he has a career 8.44 K/9 and he's good against lefties (career .256 wOBA vLHB).
RHP Buddy Carlyle got hurt early on in 2015. He is non-tendered, but re-signed to a 1-year, $700K contract to round out the bullpen. He was a useful pitcher in 2014 (8.13 K/9, 1.45 BB/9, 1.45 ERA) and the hope is he can return to that this season. If not, he carries very little risk as he didn't cost much.
Additionally, RHP Jenrry Mejia is non-tendered and given a take-it-or-leave-it 1-year, $700K contract with a $300K bonus if he reaches 20 IP. He's unlikely to get any offers this summer after backing himself into a corner of his own making. Leaving aside the vague morality questions about his decisions, he's been a good reliever (9.42 K/9, 3.65 ERA in 2014) and if he can help us in the push for the division for cheap, we should try to make the best out of a bad situation.
Finally, LHP Josh Edgin is traded to the Marlins for their Competitive Balance Round A pick. Edgin should make his come back from Tommy John surgery some time in the first half of the season. The Marlins make this trade because they've traded their Competitive Balance Round pick twice in the past and would rather pay a player $600K to contribute to the MLB team than pay a prospect decent money in the draft. On our end, the draft pick helps compensate for the pick lost in signing Heyward. The Competitive Balance Round A takes place after the 1st and the Compensatory Round, but before the 2nd round (Round B takes place after the 2nd). The Marlins pick is the 5th of 6 selections in Round A so it's between 5 and 21 picks removed from the 1st rounder we have to forfeit for signing Heyward (after you factor in the 16 declined qualifying offers that could turn into comp. picks).
Additionally, RHP Alexi Ogando, RHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Evan Meek, and RHP Vic Black are signed to minor league contracts. Ogando was out-righted by the Red Sox, Detweiler was released by the Rangers, Meek pitched in South Korea, and Black battled injuries. Ogando's slider stopped working sometime in 2014; pairing him with Warthen might do wonders. Detwiler was a useful flex pitcher before his walks ballooned in 2015 (5.55 v. 3.23 career BB/9). Meek was a fine bullpen arm until he got homerun happy (1.16 HR/9 in 2014). Black was an interesting fireballer found on the scrap heap until injures derailed his career. If any of these guys can find their groove, they'll provide good surplus value. If not, we risked nothing.
This team is poised to have a repeat of last season's second half. The lineup is strong and the defense is solid. It's hard to overstate the impact Heyward will make and Zobrist is as steadily good as they come. The pitching is even stronger and the bullpen is deeper. Wheeler is coming back to give us five pitchers with #2 ceiling or better and the bullpen has dynamic arms with legitimate options waiting in AAA. The roster can handle multiple injuries as there is depth throughout. To top it off, we didn't give up anything of significant future value and we helped mitigate the draft pick loses that come with spending in free agency. This is a deep and powerful team that looks to be a force for the next half decade.
Additional notes to the staff: If the total payroll is deemed excessive or the small backloads are a non-starter, drop Carlyle and plug in Gilmartin.
Additions: Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Shawn Kelly, Gavin Floyd, Carlos Perez, Alexi Ogando, Ross Detwiler, Jeff Baker, Garrett Jones, Evan Meek, Jomar Reyes, Victor Alcantara, David Hess
Departures: Michael Cuddyer, Addison Reed, Jhoan Urena, Zack Thornton, Josh Edgin, LJ Mazzilli, Matt Bowman, Jayce Boyd, Victor Cruzado
Guaranteed Contracts: $65.55M
Contracts via Arbitration: $15.6M
Contracts via Restructuring: $2.9M - $4.2M (classifying Tejada, Mejia, and Carlyle here)
Contracts via FA/Trade: $36.1M
Total 2016 Payroll: $120.15M - $121.45M