Now that the offseason is upon us and we’ve gone almost three days without any baseball at all to distract us, thoughts of 2019 are dancing in our heads. As AAOP season is set to begin and we all play armchair GM, an evaluation of the Mets’ 40-man roster situation is warranted.
Lukas Vlahos analyzed the potential cost of the decision not to bring up Peter Alonso in September, weighing an extra year of control against the value Alonso could have provided the team in the short-term. As Alonso destroys the Arizona Fall League in the early going, let’s now tackle the 40-man roster argument. Another angle to consider when evaluating whether the decision to not give Alonso major league reps in September was a mistake is 40-man roster management and the risk of losing a potentially valuable player for a month of Alonso in a lost season. Former Braves and Mets executive Adam Fisher argued that Alonso occupying a roster spot potentially costs the Mets one of their own prospects or the chance to add a free agent in the offseason.
I want to push back against that argument, but also provide a candid assessment of where the roster stands so that you can draw your own conclusion about whether calling up Alonso in September would have been worth this risk.
Let’s take a look at the current Mets 40-man roster.
Mets 40-man roster, October 2018
There are a few categories of players to consider when thinking about who will remain on the roster and who will not (or should not) be on the roster. The easiest place to cross players off is to look at who will be a free agent this offseason.
Players who will be free agents
Unless the Mets decide to resign any of these players, they will not be on the 40-man roster next season. Of course, some of these spots will need to be replaced by players that will fill similar roles, but we’ll get to that later.
Next, let’s take a look at other places where cuts could be made. Where I differ the most with Adam Fisher probably lies in who he and I view as expendable. He is very generous about the amount of dead weight on our 40-man roster, listing only “Drew Gagnon, maybe Chris Flexen, Rafael Montero, Jack Reinheimer, P.J. Conlon” as potential candidates to cut off the roster. When I look at the list of players above, I see far more expendable players than Fisher does.
Players that really don’t need to be on the 40-man roster next year
Rafael Montero (60-day DL)
Bobby Wahl (60-day DL)
Phillip Evans (60-day DL)
Eric Hanhold (60-day DL)
This is—in my view—conservative. These are players I feel fairly confident the Mets would not lose to another organization, should they be cut. Aside from this list, there are other fringe players on the roster that one could make an argument for leaving off the roster, such as Paul Sewald or Luis Guillorme. You may quibble with one or two of these and that is fair. But even if you take a couple of players off this list, that is at least ten or twelve players that do not need to occupy space on the 40-man roster next year.
In addition, the Mets have one or two arbitration eligible players to whom they may choose not to tender a contract.
Possible non-tender candidates
Travis d’Arnaud (60-day DL)
Both d’Arnaud and Flores have significant injury concerns heading into next season. d’Arnaud got Tommy John surgery early in the 2018 season and has had trouble staying healthy his entire major league career. It may very well be time for the Mets to move on from relying on him as an option at the catching position.
We learned recently that Flores has arthritis in both of his knees, which potentially explains his prolonged slump toward the end of the season. While Flores remains optimistic that the arthritis will not affect him too much, his future is uncertain to a degree. I am doubtful that the Mets will non-tender him, nor do I necessarily believe they should, but for this exercise I am presenting it as an option that would free up another roster spot.
Now let’s address who needs to be added to the roster to field a complete team in 2019. Some of the potential candidates I listed above to remove from the roster are on the 60-day disabled list, but there are also players on the 60-day disabled list that may need to be added back to the roster. David Wright, although he has not used the r-word yet, has almost certainly played the final major league game of his career, and therefore will not have to be added back to the roster. But other guys will be.
Players on the 60-day disabled list to be added back to the roster
Again, I am being as generous as possible here. Since there is no 60-day disabled list in the offseason, Yoenis Cespedes will need to be added back to the 40-man roster and Juan Lagares will almost certainly be ready to go on Opening Day, barring anything else unforeseen. T.J. Rivera is another fringe candidate that the Mets could choose to cut from the roster, especially considering the fact that he suffered a setback this summer that resulted in him not playing in the major leagues at all in 2018. That said, he was a valuable utility option and bat off the bench for the Mets in the past and still may be again, so in the most conservative scenario, he gets added back to the roster.
Finally, the Mets will obviously need to address some holes via free agency or trade and those players will need to be added to the 40-man roster.
By most estimations, especially if the Mets choose to non-tender Travis d’Arnaud, the Mets need to address the catching situation in the offseason. They also should sign Manny Machado, but I’ll just be nice and call it a generic infield bat. And even if you believe, as I do, that Brandon Nimmo is a perfectly adequate center fielder, with Cespedes still likely sidelined most of the year and Jay Bruce potentially seeing some time at first base, the Mets will likely need an outfielder in some capacity. Arguably the greatest need, however, lies in the bullpen, where the Mets should probably sign at least 2-3 relief pitchers to build a somewhat adequate relief core. So, by my estimation, 5-6 roster spots will be filled by players acquired via free agency or trade this offseason.
Now, between where we have subtracted and where we have added, let’s take a look at where the roster stands.
We’ve removed 15 players from the roster and between players that would need to be added back from the 60-day disabled list and addressing the team’s needs, we’ve added nine players. That leaves six spots on the roster to play with, plenty of room for Peter Alonso to be added and still have spots to spare. None of this represents a real change from the situation on September 1st, so given the above, the argument that calling Alonso up to the major leagues would have foolhardy falls flat. In fact, right around the time when this debate about 40-man roster construction was raging, the Mets easily found a roster spot for Jose Lobaton, who had to be recalled with Devin Mesoraco dealing with his ongoing neck issue.
Simply put, the 2018 Mets were a 77-win team with poor organizational depth. The argument that such a roster holds far too many diamonds in the rough to risk losing at the expense of giving the team’s top prospect a chance in the major leagues is a perplexing one at best and an outright disingenuous one at worst.