Look, the Mets aren’t going to spend shit. We know this, and still, we hope that something magical happens this off-season. Well, I’m not going to do my AAOP that way. I’m going to try to be realistic about what I think the Wilpons will allow to happen, and it isn’t all that fun. But I think that, with some common sense and some luck, this plan could actually work. Let’s dig in.
The three areas for improvement:
- Relief Pitching
- Starting depth
- A backup catcher and backup center fielder
The ‘good’ news here is that these three areas don’t require an insane shakeup of the core of the team. By my count, the team needs one starter, three relievers, a backup catcher, and a backup outfielder to fill out its 26 man roster. This is all based upon health for the usual suspects which, of course, isn’t promised. But this gives us a good place to start.
The addition of Carlos Beltran as manager also likely improves the team, if only marginally. Given some regression to the mean both by overachieving hitters and by underperforming relievers likely comes out in the wash, in terms of wins and losses. That means that the Mets were 3 wins away from a one-game playoff for the second Wild Card spot, or 4 wins away from securing the second spot. While the goal shouldn’t be to just add 4 wins, that’s a good place to start.
My primary goal, aside from keeping the price down to Wilpon-appropriate levels, was to eliminate the need for two things: Brodie to do any trades and not start the season with any sub-Gsellman relief pitcher on the roster. Brodie got lucky with J.D. Davis, but pretty much borked any other trade he touched, with the verdict still somewhat being out for the Cano/Diaz trade. So, I wanted to take that off the books.
As for the bullpen, we all know what a crap shoot assembling a relief corps is. But when I look at the additional arms I picked up, I see relative consistency. Plus, there is absolutely no way that Edwin Diaz or Jeurys Familia are as bad as they were in 2019. Or, if they are, this whole thing is done anyway, so at least we didn’t sink a ton of resources into a bullpen for another bad team.
But if this bullpen is decent, or even 10% worse than league average, this team has a fighting shot at the playoffs. Jed Lowrie for Todd Frazier likely isn’t a one to one trade, but if they use Lowrie as a super sub, that’s a very useful bench piece. If Jeff McNeil and Davis get the bulk of the playing time at third base and left field, respectively, that will be an upgrade over much of what the Mets were running out at various points in 2019. This team could be a contender without a major facelift. It’s risky, but with the Wilpons footing the bill, until some salary relief comes, this is the type of team that will be assembled.
Here are the Mets’ very basic salary commitments, rounded up slightly to account for unforeseen increases:
$48 million in arbitration eligible players
$116.366 million in guaranteed contracts
$3 million to their pre-arb players
That gives them $167.5 (again, slightly rounded up) as the base payroll. We’ve got around $20 million to spend. Let’s figure this out.
I’m going to be dull and sign Brad Brach to a 2 year, $4.5 million contract (2 this season, 2.5 next). He was solid for the Mets, wants to be here, and won’t break the bank.
As for a backup catcher, I’m signing Martin Maldonado to a 2 year, $9 million contract (4 in 2020, 5 in 2021). He’s a former Gold Glove catcher who has a little pop. Look, he’s not Yasmani Grandal, but he’s certainly a better backup than Tomas Nido was, and will give the Mets a viable option if/when Ramos hits the IL for whatever reason.
Michael Pineda gets a three year, $26 million contract from me (8, 10, 8). He’ll come cheaper due to his drug-related suspension, but he has two qualities that I want from the fifth starter: a low walk rate, and a relatively low stolen bases against number.
Charlie Tilson will be my backup center fielder, as he is likely the youngest and cheapest of the free agent bunch. I believe he can be had for a 1 year, $1.1 million contract. He is nothing special, but he’s a decent defensive outfielder that won’t take too much to get in the door.
In keeping with the boring plan, I’m signing Jerry Blevins to a 1 year, $1.2 million contract. Blevins wasn’t a total disaster against right-handed pitchers, and with the new 3 out rule, I wanted another lefty that could potentially get righties out. Plus, he’s cheap! Remember, Wilpons money.
Finally, I’m continuing my trend of bringing back former Mets by signing Collin McHugh to a 2 year, $9 million contract (4.5 each year). He’s the swingman in the rotation, and he allows a little flexibility in case of injury.
That’s $20.3 million in new money, added to the $167.5 million, putting us at $187.8 million. It’s a little higher than I would like, but it also fills all the spots on the roster without relying on any of the recent Quad-A talent we’ve seen make the shuttle between Syracuse and Queens. And while I’m sure that many of those familiar faces will pop up over the course of the season, this gives the Mets a blueprint that doesn’t involve the Chris Mazzas or the Corey Oswalts of the world. And hey, Lukas said $185 million, give or take five, so I’m still within my rights.
Hopefully, the Wilpons can shake loose a few extra bucks to replicate their early 2019 strategy of signing as many bargain basement veterans as they can. This time, with more emphasis on the pitching side; a couple of veteran starters that could be stashed in Syracuse to start the season would be a very pleasant surprise.
A bench of Lowrie, Luis Guillorme, Tilson, Dominic Smith, and Maldonado covers just about the entire diamond without substantial defensive downgrades in the short term. Lowrie and Smith are likely two of the better hitting bench players in the National League, and should get not insubstantial playing time across a number of positions throughout the season.
Diaz, Lugo, Gsellman, Familia, Brach, McHugh, Wilson, and Blevins provides the team with a veteran bunch who will, hopefully, limit the need to bring in too many of the usual suspects for extended periods of time. Most importantly, all of them have some level of effectiveness against both handed hitters, with Blevins being the weakest in that regard. But even Gordo looked halfway decent against righties last year (.233 vs .188 BAA, with three less strikeouts and two more walks), and so he shouldn’t be a black hole in that situation.
Pineda for Zack Wheeler is likely a slight downgrade, but a full season of Stroman is better than half Stroman/half Vargas, so starting pitching is looking not too different from 2019. If they can replicate that health? Woah, doctor.
And the core of the team remains strong and, for the most part, young. With Lowrie on the bench in case Father Time begins to take Robinson Cano’s at bats, there’s a little insurance there. And, if the gods smile down on Yoenis Cespedes, a bench role for him wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with, either with a mid-season trade of Dom Smith (which will break all of our hearts) or a Guillorme demotion (if Lowrie is healthy), or some other seemingly logical move at the time. I hope we are in a position to figure that stuff out. I truly do.
This isn’t about building for the future; the Mets have a window that likely closes when Conforto and Syndergaard reach free agency. But it also sacrifices nothing; this is a Band-Aid. This gives Brodie another couple of years to figure out how trades work, and a few more drafts to stock the farm before making serious changes in 2022 and beyond.
The 26 man roster:
- Jacob deGrom
- Noah Syndergaard
- Marcus Stroman
- Steven Matz
- Michael Pineda
- Edwin Diaz
- Seth Lugo
- Jeurys Familia
- Robert Gsellman
- Justin Wilson
- Collin McHugh
- Jerry Blevins
- Brad Brach
- Pete Alonso
- Robinson Cano
- Amed Rosario
- Jeff McNeil
- Michael Conforto
- Brandon Nimmo
- J.D. Davis
- Wilson Ramos
- Jed Lowrie
- Dominic Smith
- Martin Maldonado
- Charlie Tilson
- Luis Guillorme