With the World Series having ended on Wednesday night and free agency set to begin just five days after the completion of it, all of baseball will soon have the opportunity to acquire players who have hit the open market. There are 149 such players, per the MLBPA, and since the Mets dealt away veterans on expiring contracts during the 2017 season, the only player from the team’s roster who’s in that group is Jose Reyes.
Some roster moves have already been made. After spending the final month of the season with the team, Nori Aoki was already released, a move made earlier than necessary as a courtesy to him since the team obviously wasn’t going to tender him a contract for next season. They also outrighted five players to make some room on their 40-man roster: Wuilmer Becerra, Tyler Pill, Erik Goeddel, Travis Taijeron, and Phillip Evans. There’s still some maneuvering to be done in terms of protecting players for the Rule 5 draft, but for now, let’s focus on where the team’s Opening Day roster might stand at the moment. And Evans was brought back on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
The Mets have already made it official that they will pick up their team options on infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, who seems much more amenable to playing non-shortstop positions than he did when that change was first proposed, and left-handed relief pitcher Jerry Blevins. Both moves make sense, as those two are likely to be worth enough to earn their relatively modest salaries.
A year or two ago, it would have sounded nuts to predict that the Mets’ starting rotation might be the biggest issue heading into this offseason, but here we are. The top of the rotation still looks great, with Jacob deGrom coming off another solid season and Noah Syndergaard having been dominant in the brief time that he was not injured in 2017. That Syndergaard injury looms, of course, but he made it back to the mound for some short appearances toward the end of the season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be good, so long as he’s healthy.
But from there, the rest of the rotation is a mess. Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler—who once upon a time formed the hypothetical “five aces” rotation with deGrom and Syndergaard—were all ineffective and injured during the 2017 season. Simply relying on those three to round out the rotation now seems foolish. Depth pitchers like Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and Rafael Montero weren’t great in terms of results, either, and rookie Chris Flexen looked overmatched when he made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. That doesn’t mean that he’s doomed, but he might not be ready to be an average-or-better major league starting pitcher right now.
Simply put, the Mets have to bring in some help for the rotation this winter, and if they end up with too many healthy starters, one or more of them will have to work out of the bullpen.
Like many of his teammates, Jeurys Familia was hurt for much of the season and didn’t pitch all that well when he was healthy. The team traded away Addison Reed, which made sense once it was crystal clear that the season was going nowhere, and brought in AJ Ramos, who has one year of team control left before hitting free agency. Alongside Blevins, it’s conceivable that Ramos and Familia could make a strong back of the bullpen, but the Mets can’t just rely on their in-house options to fill the other four slots, assuming they carry a seven-man bullpen. Bringing back Reed would be a very good idea, but regardless of who exactly they acquire, the Mets need to acquire at least a couple of legitimately good relief piitchers.
For lack of a better term, the Mets have a bunch of fifth infielders on their roster after you get past starters Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario at first and short, respectively. Whether or not Smith is ready to be a positive overall contributor to a major league team is an open question, and if the Mets are serious about contending as soon as 2018, they might need to bring in someone at the position, but it definitely doesn’t sound like they’re inclined to do so.
At second and third base, that mix of fifth infielders—Gavin Cecchini, Wilmer Flores, Matt Reynolds, T.J. Rivera, and Asdrubal Cabrera—might be able to work as starters at one of the two positions, but even that proposition seems a bit risky. David Wright had a couple of surgeries that he hopes will get him back on the field, and I’m the last person to doubt him—but there needs to be a real plan for a scenario in which he isn’t able to return.
And behind the plate, the Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki duo seems most likely to be the Mets’ plan. They were both passable if unexciting major league players in 2017, but the problem is that the Mets can’t just stick with “this might work” options at every position. The free agent market for catchers isn’t going to blow anyone away, but maybe there’s an upgrade to be found somewhere.
The biggest assumptions about the Mets’ outfield in 2018 are that Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes will be healthy. If so, that’s a great pair of corner outfielders, and they might even be able to roll with Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo as the regulars in center field. Nimmo’s bat showed a lot of promise in 2017, though his defensive acumen in center field is not in the same league as Lagares’s. With Nori Aoki released, the team does not currently have a fifth outfielder, which means they’ll need to bring in at least one outfielder. And perhaps they want something more of a sure thing in center field. Once again, it would be okay to see the team stick with the in-house options if—and it’s a big if—upgrades are made throughout the rest of the roster.