I have participated in this contest for several years now and this was one of the more challenging years to map out a viable course. After the turbulence of last year, it’s hard to have much confidence in the current makeup of the roster. Lindor, McNeil, McCann, Dom Smith, and Walker all saw dramatic drop offs in production. Nimmo and deGrom were great when they played, but given the numerous injuries, who is to say what they can provide going forward. It would be nice to assume 2021 was just a bad dream and each will go back to the players they were in prior years. However, I don’t think it is wise to assume last was just an aberration. With everything that happened, it is very challenging to assess the players we have on the roster. Moreover, this uncertainty significantly reduces the stock of these players when it comes to the trade market. We cant trust them and we cant sell them at fair market value. So what can we do?
There is a compelling argument to be made that the Mets should blow things up and look to rebuild. With the failure to sign Rocker, the team is hamstrung when it come to signing free agents with qualifying offers. Given this handicap, now would be the perfect time to punt on the upcoming season and sell off assets for future value. However, if this off-season is truly about building for 2023 or 2024, the most logical step for the Mets to take is to trade Jacob deGrom for a boatload of prospects. Intellectually, I understand that might be the smart move. However, I do not have the heart nor stomach to trade a homegrown pitcher that has risen to the pinnacle of the sport (in my defense, this franchise doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to trading hall of fame caliber homegrown pitchers). If I’m keeping deGrom on my team, the rebuild strategy doesn’t make a lot of sense. As Mets fans, we know intimately half measures don’t work. If deGrom stays, the Mets need to go for broke and try to build a champion. That was my chosen course
In response to the challenge, I strived to build as much roster flexibility and depth as possible. I built the pitching staff with an assumption that injuries will occur and I will need plenty of options to plug into the rotation as my pitchers invariably go down. In a similar vein, I also tried to anticipate injuries in my everyday lineup. I specifically targeted position players that could play multiple positions. I have a bias towards defense, so I also assigned a lot of value to populating the roster with players that are plus defenders As you will see, I definitely dig into the farm system to build my team. I was not shy about trading mid level prospects, but I did try to keep as many top prospects as possible. The 2022 draft was a consideration, so I decided not to sign anyone with a qualifying offer in place.
When looking at free agents, I established my contracts through the crowdsourced predictions found on Fangraphs. They provide three different predictions (one from an editor, one the crowdsource average, and one for the crowdsource median) for free agents, I always selected the highest of the three to try and be as realistic as possible. For trades, I used baseballtradevalues.com to establish fair value for all the teams involved. I was obsessive about getting the values to equal out as close as possible (specifically, I made sure the Mets never came out ahead when entering deals into their calculator). As you will see I made a lot of complicated moves. I realize the sheer number of pieces involved would make many of these moves difficult to swing in reality. However, I didn’t obsess about the likelihood that these deals would actually be made. My focus was trying to build trades that fit the needs of each team involved. If they worked out on paper from a value proposition standpoint, that was good enough. I tried to build a winner, so I intentionally used all of the allowable budget. The available budget is one of the key differences in this year’s contest parameters then previous years. As you will, see I take full advantage of Steve Cohen’s money by eating some bad contracts in exchange for adding talent. If I cant sign top free agents and don’t want to kill the farm system, my only resource was to throw money at the problem. This was one of the key’s to my strategy.
I offered contracts to Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo, Miguel Castro, Brandon Nimmo, Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, Tomas Nido, Jeff McNeil, Joey Lucchesi, Drew Smith, Pete Alonso, and Luis Guillorme
I declined to offer contracts to Jose Peraza, Robert Gsellman, Trevor Williams, and Jose Martinez
I exercised the club option on OF Kevin Pillar
I made qualifying offers to both Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard.
Signed Javier Baez to a 4 year $80M contract
Comment: Baez is perhaps the most high ceiling/low floor free agent on the market. I think Baez might be the most likely player in free agency to win an MVP award, but he is also the most likely to completely crater offensively. Javier is elite with the glove which provides at least some bankable floor. This signing is a roll of the dice, but in the end I’m won over by his entertainment value. If I’m going to take on risk, it might as well be with one of the most exciting players in the game. The crowdsourced salary seems a little low. I would add a fifth year if that was needed to get the deal done.
Signed RHP Kevin Gausman to a 4 year $88.8M contract
Comment: Having accepted a qualifying offer last year, Gausman was not eligible for a qualifying offer this go around. This made him very attractive to me. Gausman was 6th in this year’s Cy Young voting after having a fantastic year. Indeed, he has been one of the better pitchers in baseball in the last year and a half. His recent success does appear to be traceable to noticeable differences in approach. I think it can be sustainable.. Gausman turns 31 in January, so a four year deal seems appropriate.
Signed LHP Brooks Raley to a minor league deal
Comment: Raley debuted in 2012 and was out of the league after 2013. Raley reinvented himself in the KBO and remerged as a pitcher with a great strikeout to walk ratio. With that elite ratio, he should be successful. Unfortunately, the good peripherals have not translated to actual success since his return to the big leagues. He might luck out with a major league contract, but I’m guessing he would take the minor league deal if given an opportunity to win a job in spring training. Maybe he still can figure it out.
Signed INF/OF Marwin Gonzalez to a minor league deal
Comment: Gonzalez was a solid contributor for the Astros for a number of years. However, he has really struggled to hit in the last year and a half. He can play seven defensive positions, so he definitely has value if he can make enough contact at the plate
Mets acquire CF Byron Buxton, 3B Josh Donaldson, LHP Taylor Rogers, and C Mitch Garver for 3B Mark Vientos, OF Khalil Lee, C James McCann, OF Kevin Pillar, and INF Gregory Guerrero
Comment: I told you there would be a lot of moving pieces. In Buxton, the Mets are getting one of the most talented players in the game. However, he is also one of the least durable. He is probably the best defensive centerfielder and the game and a true five tool talent. His ISO was .340! However, Buxton was limited to just 61 games last year. Lost seasons have become the norm for him. As the IR is part of the Mets identity, I figure I should embrace it by signing a player made of glass. Buxton is a free agent in 2023, so the Mets are only getting a rental player. The same can be also be said for impending free agent, Taylor Rogers. Rogers is one of the better relievers in the game. He has experience as a closer and throws gas from the left side. Mitch Garver broke out in 2019, hitting 31 home runs and suddenly discovering the art of pitch framing. He was limited to just 68 games last year, but, when he did play, he continued to play well on both sides of the plate. He has two years of control. Finally, the Mets also acquire 3B Josh Donaldson. Donaldson remains a very good player. He offers good power and a strong walk rate. His defense showed indications of decline in 2021, but he is still seen as an above average defender by Outs Above Average. The problem with Donaldson is his bloated contract. Heading into his age 36 season, he his owed $21M each of the next two years. The deal also includes a $8M buyout on a club option in 2024. Although the contract is ugly, he should still be a good player next year. By taking on the contract, I was able to reduce the haul going back to the Twins. Still, the Mets are giving up two top ten prospects in Vientos and Lee. Vientos emerged as a true power hitter in 2021. That said, he does have question marks about his defensive role. Lee has yet to produce at the major league level, but he showed elite plate discipline in AAA. McCann was terrible last year. He is included to take some of the sting out of Donaldson’s contract. After another last place finish, this deal makes sense for Minnesota. The Twins have to sell their pending free agents like Buxton and Rogers for prospects. Getting out from Donaldson’s contract should also provide flexibility as they retool.
Mets acquire RHP Germán Márquez and C Elias Diaz for SS Ronny Mauricio, 3B/OF J.D. Davis, RHP Tylor Megill, C Tomas Nido, LHP Thomas Szapucki, and 3B Jaylen Palmer
Comment: Márquez is a great pitcher that has had the misfortunate of pitching half his games at Coors Field. Despite this fact, he has produced very good numbers. He has the filthy stuff of a true ace. Márquez is on a team friendly contract that extends two more guaranteed years and includes a club option in 2024. The deal also provides the Mets Elias Diaz. Diaz is a solid catcher. He had above average offensive production in 2021 and is considered a good defensive catcher. Diaz only has one year of control. The Mets give up another top ten prospect in Mauricio. He is raw, but he possesses the tools that could make him a star. Colorado also receives Megill. Tylor started like gangbusters last year and then petered out as the year went along. Despite the finish, he showed the stuff to be an above average pitcher. J.D. Davis will absolutely mash in the thin air of Colorado. If the DH is added, his defensive shortcomings won’t be as impactful. Colorado is obviously in sell mode. This deal gives them a top prospect and valuable controllable players in Davis and Megill.
Three Team Deal between the New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers
Mets acquire 2B/OF Whit Merrifield and RHP Scott Barlow from Kansas City
Royals acquire LHP David Peterson, OF Alex Ramirez from the Mets and LHP Alex Vesia from the Dodgers
Dodgers acquire RHP Edwin Diaz from the Mets
Comment: Merrifield is a very nice player. He steals lots of bases, makes a lot of contact, and hits for enough power to keep a defense honest. He also brings a lot of defensive flexibility, playing 2B and all three outfield positions. He will be my right fielder. He has two years of control and is super cheap. Barlow was a stud high leverage relief last year. He has closed games and has great peripherals. He comes with three years of control. In return, the Mets lose a back of the rotation starter with five years of control, a toolsy prospect (another top ten prospect), and Edwin Diaz. Diaz has no value to the Royals, so the Dodgers were brought in to the trade to make it work. With Kenley Jansen a free agent, LA is in the market for a closer. The Dodgers are sending KC a promising reliever with high leverage potential in Vesia. Part of my motivation for this deal is my dislike of Diaz. I’m so tired of reading articles about how Diaz is actually a great reliever. The guy has the best press agent on the planet. Every time he has a meltdown on the mound there’s a new editorial up within 24 hours that highlights how good he is. I’m tired of it. I get it, he has lights out stuff and unbelievable peripherals. However, if you actually watch the games, it is clear Diaz has chinks in his armor. Edwin will go stretches where he is unhittable. However, he is incapable of making adjustments and will get tattooed every time his mechanics get out of whack. You can see these meltdowns coming like a freight train coming down the tracks. Okay, enough of my diatribe.
Mets acquire RHP Kyle Hendricks for RHP Jose Butto, RHP Tony Dibrell, and RHP Colin Holderman
Comment: My plan initially had Noah Syndrgaard accepting the qualifying offer. With him signing for the Angels, I was forced to look elsewhere for pitching. I decided to go after the polar opposite of Syndergaard. Hendricks and his 87 MPH fastball were instrumental in the Cubs championship team. He has been consistently one of the better pitchers in the game ever since he entered the league. Last year, represented the first blotch on his resume. A deep dive into his game logs reveals he had a very similar season to Taijuan Walker. Hendricks was having his typically good year until about July when things began to nosedive. As a soft tosser, the assumption immediately is that the league has caught up with him. However, with Kyle’s track record, I’m giving him a pass on last year. A lot of pitchers struggled with stamina after the abbreviated 2020 season. I think he will bounce back. Hendricks has a reasonable contract that guarantees two years and includes a club option for 2024. Hendricks comes pretty cheap (at least according to baseballtradevalues.com). Butto and Holderman have outperformed their pedigree. Dibrell has some decent stuff, but he has not shown consistent results.
Three Team Deal Between the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Toronto Blue Jays
Mets acquire LHP Madison Bumgarner and RHP Humberto Mejia from the Diamondbacks and OF Randal, Grichuk, and RHP Nate Pearson from the Blue Jays
Diamondbacks get 2B Robinson Cano from the Mets and RHP Chad Dallas and INF Otto Lopez from the Blue Jays
Blue Jays acquire RHP Carlos Carrasco from the Mets and RHP Luke Weaver from the Diamondbacks
Comment: I know, I know, I know, two three team trades in one offseason? I’m stretching credibility with these deals, but again they do pencil out on paper. Cano, Bumgarner, and Grichuk all represent salary dumps. I’m exchanging two years of Cano for three years of Bumgarner and two years of Randal Grichuk. However, if you ignore the money, Bumgarner and Grichuk both add value to the roster. Bumgarner has tons of mileage on his arm, but he is only 32 years old. Grichuk provides right handed power off the bench and is yet another player that can play all three outfield positions. In exchange for eating the most money in the deal, the Mets get two major league ready pitching prospects. Nate Pearson throws triple digit heat with a mid-90s slider. He has gotten a cup of coffee each of the last two years, but has struggled with control. He has been mostly a starter in the minors, but he seems likely to be used in relief in the majors. He has high upside if he can ever harness his stuff. Mejia projects to be a back of the rotation starter and is close to reaching that potential. Toronto gets two starters to fill out the back of their rotation as they look once again to contend next year. The Diamondbacks get salary relief and mid level prospects.
LF Brandon Nimmo - $6M
CF Byron Buxton - $7.3M
SS Francisco Lindor - $34.1M
1B/DH Pete Alonso $7.3M
3B Josh Donaldson - $21M
2B Javier Baez - $20M
RF Whit Merrifield -$2.75M
C Mitch Garver - $3.1M
2B/OF Jeff McNeil - $2.8M
1B/OF Dom Smith - $4M
INF Luis Guillorme -$600k
OF Randal Grichuk -$9.3M
C Elias Diaz -$2.6M
RHP Jacob deGrom - $20.5M
RHP Germán Márquez - $11M
RHP Kevin Gausman - $22.2M
RHP Kyle Hendricks -$14M
LHP Madison Bumgarner - $23M
RHP Taijuan Walker - $7M
RHP Scott Barlow - $2.4M
LHP Taylor Rogers - $6.7M
RHP Seth Lugo - $3.7M
RHP Trevor May - $7.75M
RHP Miguel Castro - $2.6M
RHP Drew Smith - $900k
RHP Sean Reid-Foley - $600k
LHP Joey Lucchesi - $1.6M
LHP Brooks Raley - $600k
RHP Jake Reed - $600k
RHP Yennsy Diaz - $600k
RHP Jordan Yamamoto $600k
RHP Nate Pearson - $600k
RHP Humberto Mejia - $600k
INF/OF Marwin Gonzalez - $600k
C Patrick Mazeika - $600k
Total Salary - $249.6M
Well, I definitely shook up the roster. I think I succeeded in creating a very athletic team that should be very good defensively. If healthy, Buxton, Baez, and Lindor all would be considered favorites to win gold gloves. The team should also run the bases exceptionally well. Donaldson, Lindor, Alonso, Buxton, Baez, and Garver should provide plenty of power. In terms of how the offense is constructed, the big flaw lies in the predominance of right handed bats. Assuming the DH is in place next year, McNeil or Dom Smith would likely be in the lineup most nights. The balance of lineup would be much stronger if one or both them could return to their 2020 forms. The other big concern with this team is durability. Buxton, Nimmo, and Garver all come with a checkered history when it comes to injuries. I tried to counter balance this concern by populating the roster with guys that can legitimately play lots of positions. The team has four players that can play center field, three players that can play plus defense at short, five players that can play second, four players that can play third, and six players that can play corner outfield position. Adding Diaz, gives the team a viable starter as a backup to Garver.
The rotation has a chance to be vey good. The trio of deGrom, Márquez, and Gausman could be as good as any top three in baseball. Hendricks and Bumgarner have great track records as top pitchers on championship teams. There are obviously questions about what they have left in the tank. Hendricks had a pretty atrocious second half last year. Bumgarner bounced back last year from two dreadful years. However, he is at best a slightly above average starter at this point. The pitchers added allowed me to move Taijuan Walker to the bullpen. Invariably, injuries will push him back into the rotation. In addition to Walker, Lucchesi, Yamamoto, Mejia, and Pearson are waiting in the wings to fill in when needed.
I think the bullpen should be strong. Rogers, Barlow, and Lugo should be pretty formidable closing out games. May, Castro, and Smith should continue to be valuable relievers. If he harnesses his stuff,Pearson could be a future closer.
In the end, I think this would be a pretty entertaining team, that could be very successful. For better or worse, my rotation is all under contract for the next two years. With club options, all five starters could be brought back in 2024 as well. Taking on the salaries of Bumgarner and Donaldson could certainly present challenges in 2023 and 2024. Nimmo and Buxton will be free agents after this coming season and there will not be a lot of salary coming off the books. If the plan is to keep payroll static, that could limit options finding replacements. I did drop a lot of prospects in these deals. Mauricio, Vientos, Lee, and Ramirez in particular degrade a system that was not the strongest going into this offseason. That said, I was able to retain our top two position prospects in Alvarez and Baty and our top pitching prospects in Allen and Ginn. With the Rocker compensation pick and us losing Conforto and Syndergaard, the Mets will likely have two first round picks and three second round picks in the 2022 draft. This provides an opportunity for us to immediately restock system.