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Staff AAOP: A little bit of the bubbly

Building a Mets team that will celebrate a championship with a little bit of the bubbly.

It’s been a while since we saw the Mets celebrate a clincher with a little bit of the bubbly, and 2019 was as close as we’ve gotten in a while. For this AAOP, my task is to build the next Mets team that can soak in a little bit of the bubbly. I recognize that only about three people who read this are going to understand this meme, but I refuse to stray from my own brand.

The last time I did an AAOP was in 2016, coincidentally also the last time the Mets had a bubbly celebration. In that one, I traded Robert Gsellman, Marcos Molina, and Jhoan Ureña for Andrelton Simmons, and people thought I gave up too much value for Simmons. Then Simmons went on to be a down-ballot MVP candidate. The lesson here is that assessing trade value is nearly impossible because nobody actually knows anything—except for me of course, because that trade was awesome.

I have refrained from doing an AAOP the last two offseasons for a number of reasons, the main ones being:

  1. It’s really hard.
  2. I didn’t have the time.
  3. The Mets were bad.
  4. I am a lazy bum.

Thankfully, things are different this year. Well, I’m still a lazy bum, but now there is a legitimate chance to build a good Mets team for 2020, so I am a more inspired lazy bum than I have been in recent years.

That said, doing an AAOP now is harder than it used to be. Putting myself in Brodie Van Wagenen’s shoes is a lot harder than putting myself in Sandy Alderson’s shoes, mostly because those were much more affordable and offered a lot more support, but also because Alderson’s teams and payroll limits were easier to navigate. Now I have a strict budget, and I have to improve this flawed, 86-win Mets team without subtracting too much value from the current team or its farm system, and without straying too far from the bounds of reality. As someone who can’t even make a sandwich without hurting himself, this is a daunting task. But I’m going to give it a whirl.

The Mets have already hired the manager to oversee this team: Carlos Beltran, a brilliant and innovative mind who really has a way with words:

Moving stuff. We are going to win one for him, and we are going to rewrite our story. Beltran is going to enjoy chewing gum and drinking a little bit of the bubbly at a World Series parade.

Non-tender Joe Panik

Non-tendering Local Man Joe Panik is a sin, but I Write Sins, Not Tragedies. I bet you had High Hopes that there would be a Panik pun in this section, but Hey Look Ma, I Made It through without making a pun. Now, you might be saying, “But It’s Better If You Do!” but you should just Say Amen that I didn’t even try it.

Decline Juan Lagares’ team option

/furiously googles a band with “Lagares” in its name

I guess the Mets are going to be...Lagar-less in 2020? I don’t know. Anyway, it’s tough to say goodbye to Lagares, but it’s actually not and I don’t really know where I was going with this sentence.

After those moves, I am left with around $168 million on the payroll, including arbitration and the league minimum salaries. Lukas gave us a $185 million payroll limit with roughly $5 million of leeway, so I’m going to view $185 million as more of a speed limit and $190 million as a hard cap. Sorry folks, but if you give me wiggle room, we might as well be on an Australian children’s show because I am going to wiggle.

So even if I view $190 million as my cap, I am left at roughly $22 million left to spend, which is not even close to enough. So now I have to cut some payroll.

Trade C Wilson Ramos, RHP Jeurys Familia, RHP Kevin Smith, and $13 million to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Sam Tuivailala and RHP Juan Then

I don’t think you can trade Familia at this point without packaging him with others and hindering your own return in the process. That’s why this return is light, and why the other team is the Mariners, who are tanking hard and have shown a willingness the last few years to take on some veterans with usefulness in hopes of selling them off at a later date for something better. They did this with Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce, and Anthony Swarzak just last year.

So they’ll take Familia off our hands while we eat much of the contract, and they get a useful major league catcher/DH who they can flip with some potential future value as well with Smith. In return, we receive Tuivailala, who had a 2.35 ERA last year in an abbreviated season after an Achilles injury. That’s probably not indicative of his true talent, as he had a 5.07 xFIP, but he had previously been a decent middle reliever for the Cardinals and Mariners in 2017 and 2018. The 27-year-old reliever not necessarily a bullpen ace-type, but he’s a reliable setup man and he’s only in his first year of arbitration.

Then continues the trend I started in 2016 of going after throw-ins with 80-grade names. He’s a 19-year-old lottery ticket, but for this exercise we can pretend we got him into the deal by doing the Dude Where’s My Car routine with Jerry Dipoto.

I like Ramos a lot as a person, but I still wake up screaming from nightmares about watching him play defense, and I can’t put up with this another season. An AL team would be good for him to DH for every now and again.

As for Familia, I don’t know what he has left, and I’m not particularly interested in finding out. As you’ll see, the bullpen is going to basically be a page one rewrite.

The money traded there is all out of Familia’s contract, so we’re trading the entirety of Ramos’s contract to them, while the Mariners get Familia on functionally a 2-year, $10 million deal. Of course nobody would pay him that on the open market, but getting Ramos and Smith offsets the contract for Seattle, and they did take Swarzak on a one-year, $8 million contract last year after all. We still are on the hook for $6.5 million of Familia’s salary in each of the next two years, but we are clearing the rest from the books this year and next, which comes out to $5.17 million both years.

In total, this moves opens up $14.42 million more in payroll space for 2020. But we can still clear a little more.

Extend Michael Conforto for 6 years, $117 million (8/15/20/25/25/25)

The Mets should extend Conforto yesterday, if yesterday was 2015. If you figure that 2018 is basically Conforto’s floor, he’d probably get well over $100 million on the open market. He has already expressed his interest in signing an extension, so this is a slam dunk.

This also lowers Conforto’s projected salary for 2020 by $1.2 million.

Extend Marcus Stroman for 4 years, $58 million (9/15/15/20)

Stroman is a a fellow Long Islander, so I am biased in wanting him here forever. However, allow me to coherently and articulately lay out the argument for making him a Met for life:

Argument over.

Figuring out an extension for Stroman is tough, given the irregularities in his performance over the years. You can argue this is on the light side, and you may be right, but it’s not a stretch to see him agree to something in this neighborhood. Plus, Stroman seems to like it here, so he might not need to be convinced too hard to stay.

His 2020 salary drops $2.8 million from his projected arb price of $11.8 million, which means the two extensions clear up an even $4 million for 2020. Now let’s go to work on adding some players.

Trade Dominic Smith and RHP Junior Santos for CF Jackie Bradley Jr. and RHP Marcus Walden

I’ve never been a Guy Who Likes SNY Trade Proposals. That’s never been my brand. But here I am, putting this in my AAOP (not the Cole Hamels part):

Frankly, I’ve caught myself completely off-guard with this. This changes everything I thought I knew about myself. Do you know what this means? I have to completely transform my own persona now. I’ll have to start viewing Robinson Cano not hustling as a personal affront. I’ll have to start talking in an extreme New York accent. I’ll have to develop a deep-seated admiration for Brett Gardner. This is gonna be wild.

Anyway, I assume some will dislike this trade because a lot of Mets fans overvalue Dom Smith, in my opinion. I like Dom a lot, but he just doesn’t have a place on this roster. He’d be the backup first baseman and the second or third in-line for outfield starts, and he shouldn’t really be playing the outfield at all, anyway. He would be beholden to strict pinch-hitting duties unless multiple guys get hurt, and he deserves better.

Unfortunately, a 1B-only bat with moderate success in a fairly small sample just doesn’t have that much trade value in today’s game. The years of control are probably the most enticing thing about Smith. Bradley is actually more valuable than people might think, especially if he’s shielded from lefties. He’s an elite defender who is an above-average hitter against righties, and that’s a good fit on this roster. This allows him to slide into an indirect platoon with J.D. Davis, where Davis plays left and Nimmo plays center against lefties (Nimmo doesn’t actually have platoon splits, even though the Mets inexplicably think he does).

Bradley is like if Lagares actually stayed healthy and lived up to what we hoped he’d become. Bradley was a 5-win player as recently as 2016. His bat has regressed to a 90 wRC+ each of the past three seasons, but he has still been a 2-3 win player each year—which is honestly the best we could probably hope from Smith—and he still has the upside of that 5-win 2016. He’s a starting player on a good team.

For the Red Sox, they are looking to shed salary, and Bradley’s projected arb price is at $11 million. There’s talk they may non-tender him, but it would make much more sense for them to tender him and then trade him. That high arb price along with Smith’s years of control allows us to negotiate Marcus Walden into the deal in exchange for lottery ticket Junior Santos to even it out.

Walden is a reliever who did decent work for the Red Sox last year, with a 3.81 ERA in 78 innings for the team and good peripherals. He’s 31, so he’s not any kind of prospect, but he’s a decent middle/late relief guy on a minimum contract to add to the bullpen.

Sign C Robinson Chirinos to a 2-year, $12 million contract (6/6)

Chirinos is getting up there in age, but he showed no signs of aging last year with a 113 wRC+. Chirinos will likely be cheaper than Ramos, and he is probably a better player at this stage. He has always been an above average hitter, and while he’s not a great defender, he is comfortably better than Ramos. For instance, both had the exact same DRC+ last year, but Chirinos was worth 2.6 WARP to Ramos’ 1.6. Defense matters, and Ramos is not going to get better at it. This is an upgrade at catcher for a cheaper price than what we had before.

Sign SP Wade Miley to a 2-year, $16 million contract (7/9)

Here is your signature fifth starter. Miley has a decent track record of being a classic fifth starter, so let’s sign him to be the fifth starter. The Mets should sign Gerrit Cole and make Steven Matz their fifth starter, but whatever. Here’s Wade Miley.

Sign LHP Will Smith to a 3-year, $39 million contract, with a $13 million team option for a fourth year and a $2 million buyout (11/12/14/2*)

So I’ve got a novel idea for a baseball team whose bad bullpen kept them out of the playoffs: signing the best reliever on the free agent market. Bold, I know.

3/39 is the contract he signed, so it’s the contract we give him. The last $2 million of the contract comes from the fourth-year buyout.

Sign RHP Joe Smith to a 1-year, $2.5 million contract

Joe Smith has been a Former Met But Also A Future Met for what feels like the better part of a decade now, and it’s time for the prophecy to finally be fulfilled.

Sign C Russell Martin to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract

The Mets need a backup catcher better than Tomas Nido, and Martin has expressed his desire to play in 2020. According to Baseball Prospectus, Martin is actually still a well-above average defender by the metrics, and while the 85 DRC+ he put up last year is not good, it’s something Tomas Nido can only dream about reaching. This is also an upgrade.

Minor league deals with NRIs:

LHP Wade LeBlanc

LeBlanc is a good NRI guy because he can double as starter and reliever depth.

RHP Brad Brach and LHP Luis Avilan

Brach may or may not get an MLB deal, but I’ll always take the under in today’s free agent market. Both these guys did good work for the Mets last year when deployed correctly, and are better depth than your average Jacob Rhame.

RHP Carson Smith

This AAOP is actually just a 2,600-word plan to corner the market on every reliever named Smith in baseball.

OF Billy Hamilton

Hamilton is a good guy to have as a 5th or 6th outfielder, especially in the 26-man roster era.

Lonnie Chisenhall

Chisenhall missed all of 2019 with injuries, but would be interesting to gauge in spring training.

Joe Panik

SURPRISE HE’S BACK! Bet you were getting Paniked that there were really not gonna be any Panik puns here. Don’t Panik! I always have a trick up my sleeve. Seriously though, Joe is a good guy to bring back on the cheap so that we don’t have to Panik if someone goes down on the infield.

Let’s look at the team I built:

Total Payroll: $188.025 million

I went a little over, but it’s fine.

The focus of this was obviously the bullpen, which is completely revamped now with three high-leverage relievers, three reliable medium-leverage relievers, and whatever Edwin Diaz and Gsellman are. The Mets still like to build their bullpens with the structure of Closer—Eighth Inning Guy—Seventh Inning Guy because Fred Wilpon lives in 1956. Teams don’t really do that anymore. It’s more about stacking good relievers first and figuring out their roles later.

Overall, we didn’t reinvent the wheel here, but the team is good enough that we don’t really need to. We have upgraded at catcher and solved the weird Ramos/Nido conundrum there. We added the patented 5th starter. We have almost a whole new bullpen. We improved the team defense. All the holes on the team were reasonably addressed without trading any good players or squandering the farm system.

The only other thing that could’ve been added was a star like Rendon, Lindor, Betts, Cole, or Donaldson, but there was just not enough room in the budget to do that and plug all the other holes.

Now if you excuse me, I have to go defend the Wilpons in a beat reporter’s Twitter mentions and watch some SNY original programming, because apparently that’s who I am now.


Have you enjoyed chewing gum today?

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