It is remarkable how different this offseason feels from last year. If you had told me this time last year, we would wind up with 77 wins I wouldn’t have believed you. We had a promising young team and a new owner swinging the cash. We made some flashy moves, but of course almost all our offseason moves last year look bad in hindsight (most did at the time too, but that is a whole other story). It shows that the important thing isn’t winning the offseason but winning the actual games.
I began working on my plan for this year and it was basically set. I looked at who underperformed their xWOBA (i.e who I’d expect to have a big improvement offensively next year). Lo and behold two of them were on the same team: Max Kepler and Josh Donaldson. They also play positions we are looking to upgrade in 3B and OF. Due to Donaldson’s contract they shouldn’t require any valuable assets. I was then going to sign Gausman, Marte, and Matz (rectifying a mistake from last year). A few other minor moves to round out the bullpen and bench and I was set.
But, that whole offseason plan, and most of the AAOPs I’ve seen, is built around the idea that 3B is a major weakness for us. Essentially that JD needs to go. I think he is very unfairly maligned. He obviously has his defensive weaknesses. But, since he came to the Mets in 2019 he is 31st in wRC+, right ahead of Justin Turner, Paul Goldschmidt, and Max Muncy. Turner obviously has more defensive value, but Muncy and Goldy would probably be just as bad at 3B as JD. If JD was healthy and played 1B he is an all-star level player. He has a BIG bat.
If I thought I could get a return that reflected this I would move him since Alonso blocks 1B. But, I can’t so he is staying. Also, our problem last year wasn’t run prevention. We were 9th best in runs allowed but 27th in runs scored. I am not trading an elite bate. Tough cookies guys, but it is my AAOP so you are going to have to deal with it.
Now before I get into the meat of my plan a few more things that guided my process.
1. I am not signing a FA with a QO. We need to build up our farm and giving up a first round pick is a price I am not willing to pay.
2. Related to 1, but I am not going to weaken our farm system by trading top talent unless I have a way to get back prospects in another deal.
3. I am looking at Fangraphs’ and MLBTR FA predictions to inform contracts
These self-imposed restrictions made it pretty difficult to make trades. Anyone want to give up something good for Dom? Carrasco? Cano? Walker? Anyone…. So a little bit by necessity my plan revolves very heavily around the free agent market.
First things first I offer QO to Thor and Conforto. They both reject. I know the rules say Thor will accept, but since he already declined I am going to take that as given. If that is an issue you can just say I didn’t offer him a QO and my plan would be the same.
Options: I am declining Pillar’s option.
DFA/Non-tenders: I am saying goodbye to Drury, Peraza, Sisco, Gsellman, Martinez, Stock, and Oswalt
Step 1: Two Aces
The two best pitchers without QO are Stroman and Gausman. If I was picking between the two I’d pick Gausman as I think he has much more upside. I view Gausman as a risky #1/#2 and Stroman as a solid and less risky #2/#3. But, I don’t have to pick between them! That is right, I am backing up the brinks truck. I am giving them both 5 years and 105M. That is higher than the median Fangraphs estimate for both (4 years 76 for Gausman and 4/72 for Stroman), in line with MLBTR for Stroman (5/110), and lower than MLBTR for Gausman (6/138).
They slide into the rotation as the #2 and #3 pitchers. Rotation is now deGrom, Gausman, Stroman, Carrasco, and Walker. We have Trevor Williams, Tylor Megill, and Peterson in AAA. That rotation has great upside and also great depth. The rotation is basically set at this point.
Step 2: Getting a long-time target
I’ve wanted Starling Marte on the Mets for a long time. He is a complete player with really no holes in his game. I prefer high batting average and high OBP players, and he fits that mold. He is the only good CF on the market, which just happens to be our biggest need. I am signing him for 4 years and 72M. That is right in line with Fangraph’s median estimate and a bit lower than MLBTR (4/80).
Step 3: Can he? Yes, Canha.
I am not starting Dom in the outfield again. Last year I argued that even if he is a 120 wRC+ bat his defense caps limits him to a bad starting player. Nothing that happened this year changed my view. So I need another starting outfielder. Like Marte, Mark Canha is another high OBP player. If we go back to use the same metric we use to look at JD, wRC+ over last 3 years, he is 40th sandwiched by Luke Voit and Marcus Semien. He plays about average defense in a corner and has been remarkably consistent. I am signing him for 2 years 22M, right in between the Fangraphs and MLBTR estimate (2/20 and 2/24).
Step 4: Signing the best FA on the market
Whoops, wrong Seager. I am signing Kyle Seager to a 2 year 24M deal. He bats lefty so will play against tough righties, if JD is injured, if JD is DHing (or the DH comes to the NL), etc. Good defensive third baseman who is an above average hitter. Also a really good leader and locker room presence. The cost is exactly what MLBTR and Fangraphs predicts.
Step 5: Getting another long-time target
Confusingly we now have most of our starting outfielders being righties. So, I am looking for a left-handed outfielder that can play all 3 positions. Say hello to good old Joc Pederson!! He has underperformed his xWOBA the last two years which makes him a good buy low candidate. I am signing him for 1/6M.
Step 6: Bring back Loup
Not much to say here, 2/10M.
Didn’t make any trades which isn’t really fun. As I explained I wasn’t trading JD or prospects. Thought about trading Megill or Peterson. But, wanted the starting pitching depth especially since Walker and Carrasco are likely only here for one more year. Other trade options were Nimmo, McNeil, and Alonso. Considered Alonso but didn’t want to start a riot.
I think this team is really strong. Great starting pitching and position players. It might seem like a weak bullpen, but bullpens are volatile and almost no bullpens are really that great. We have 4 high quality arms in Diaz, May, Loup, and Lugo which is more than most bullpens. Prospect pool is untouched. I think the downside of this team is age. No one who is a key member of the team is under 25, but that is the downside of trading from a weak farm system for so many years.
One other objection might be that it ties up money long term. That is somewhat true, but to me not a big concern. At the end of the day you have two currencies in baseball: prospects and money. I've paid for things with money, the result is we should have cheap young talent coming through to plug wholes as they emerge. If instead you paid for things with prospects now you are going to have money to spend later, but no prospects. Tying up money vs decimating the farm is somewhat 6 of one and half dozen of the other. I say somewhat because if you look at how sustainable success has been built it is almost always anchored by a strong farm, so my preference is always going to be to spend the money and spare the farm.