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A final grade for the Mets’ offseason

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The Mets did a lot of good things, but one major mistake mars their performance.

MLB: 2019 Spring Training Media Days Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the winter, I assigned grades to the Mets’ major transactions:

*Note: No grade was given in this article, since it was written before this series was conceived, but this was a great move

By-and-large, these grades have held up. There were concerns regarding what would happen to Jeff McNeil when both Cano and Lowrie were acquired, but the Mets held on to him instead of using him as a tool for dumping salary. Now, he’ll likely enter the season as the starting 3B before eventually shifting back to left field, demonstrating the value a flexible, good, young hitter has.

Additionally, I expressed some concern about the Mets misjudging the reliever market and allocating resources in a sub-optimal manner. That seems true to a degree - Joakim Soria, arguably better than either option the Mets added, signed for only $15 million over two years - but neither Familia’s or Wilson’s contract are particularly ugly. Both have risks, but also have a track record of production in the late-innings, and are being paid market rates to bridge the gap to Edwin Diaz in the ninth.

The deGrom Extension

The one big component of the Met offseason that I’ve not previously discussed is Jacob deGrom’s extension. After months of speculation, with hope for a deal seeming to wane by the day, the Mets finally inked deGrom to a five year, $137.5 million extension. The contract includes $52.5 million in deferred money that will start being paid in 2035, adjusting the present-day value of the contract down to around $100 million. It’s an undoubtedly great deal for one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Still, it’s tough to give the Mets a ton of credit here. First off, this was a deal that should have been completed much earlier in the offseason, without dragging out the process and risking alienating a star. As recently as last week, the Mets’ offer was in the range of 3 years, $90 million with a cheap player option that contained ‘escalators.’ That’s a patently laughable contract for a player of deGrom’s caliber. Further, the fact that deGrom did not already have an extension, after years of indicating he wanted to stay with the team, is ridiculous in its own right. The Mets could have xeroxed Corey Kluber’s extremely team friendly extension with the Indians and handed it to deGrom two years ago, locking up a Cy Young pitcher for relative pennies. Instead, they were once again penny wise and pound foolish, and wound up paying double.

To be clear, I am not deriding the extension in any way; deGrom deserved to be paid, and he’ll still deliver surplus value on this deal in all likelihood. The end result here is a good one, but the process the Mets took to reach this point was at best sub-optimal. Were it not for David Wright’s lobbying, it’s possible deGrom wouldn’t have gotten an extension at all. Given these factors, I’m not going to give the team a ton of extra credit for taking what should have been an easy task that they knew they had to get done and dragging it out until the eleventh hour with as much Mets-ian drama as possible. To translate that into a grade, slap a B on it.

The one Black Mark

In terms of improvement from baseline, this was a very good offseason for the Mets. They made a big splash, adding Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz for a moderate sum and one significant prospect, and continued adding with generally good free agent supplements. At the same time, the team hasn’t dealt away or blocked any of their best young pieces, a mistake they’ve also made in the past. Some of the peripheral, depth-building trades were questionable, but the team also did a much better job of building minor league depth than it has in years. And, of course, they got the deGrom extension done in the end.

Despite the creativity and aggression the new front office group showed with these moves, there’s still one black mark on the Mets’ offseason; their refusal to spend at the top of the market. Two generational talents were available this offseason, and the Mets never even feigned interest in either of them. Even worse, they let one of those talents sign with a division rival, lowering the Mets to a third place projection (as well as the third highest salary) in the division.

Brodie Van Wagenen did a lot, but if the end result was to trade away half of a weak farm system just to finish third in the division, there wasn’t much point at all. Adding either Machado or Harper - both of whom are projected to blow the value of their contracts out of the water - would have changed the narrative about the Mets’ spending habits and, more importantly, made them the presumptive favorites in the NL East. This would be less of an issue if Harper had wound up outside the division, but the Mets’ failure to block the Phillies followed by their subsequent failure to respond (by signing Dallas Keuchel, for instance) hurts the assessment of their offseason.

Conclusions

To summarize:

  1. The Mets addressed their holes with a flurry of generally good moves, adding good players at reasonable prices, and made a big baseline improvement over the 2018 club.
  2. Despite this, the Mets are only projected for third in the division, and will have to fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot.
  3. The Mets could have added a true superstar in free agency, one that would have made them a clear favorite in the division. They chose to make cheaper, shorter deals with lesser players instead.

Is this team better than it was at the start of the offseason? Undoubtedly, the Mets have probably added ten or so wins this offseason, and this is the most exciting opening day in a couple years because of it. Is this team a playoff favorite? Not really, they’ll need to claw their way into the postseason, either through a tight division race or as a wild card. Could the team have done more? Absolutely, there were great opportunities the team passed on in favor of more frugal moves.

Based only on the moves the Mets made, I think they’ve earned a solid A- (an A with more optimal reliever signings). However, the not-quite-good-enough final product combined with the clear missed opportunities to push the team over the top has to ding the grade. As such, the Mets earn a B as the final grade on their offseson.