Say what you will about the Mets’ offseason, but they sure did a lot. We already graded ten separate transactions, summarized here:
- Signed Trevor May: B+
- Signed James McCann: B
- Traded for Francisco Lindor: A+
- Traded for Joey Lucchesi: B+
- Signed Aaron Loup: C
- Traded Steven Matz: A
- Signed Jonathan Villar and Albert Almora: A/B-
- Signed Kevin Pillar: B+
- Signed Taijuan Walker: C+
We mentioned in some of these articles that grades would need to be re-evaluated in the broader context of the offseason. Trevor May’s contract looks good given how the reliever market developed, so his grade stays the same. Meanwhile, the decision to sign Aaron Loup still looks questionable given what better options have subsequently signed for. There’s a longer discussion to be had regarding the James McCann signing, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Ditto Francisco Lindor.
Beyond that, the Mets made several other moves. Acquiring Jordan Yamamoto for next to nothing was an excellent way to build additional starting pitching depth after his surprising DFA. Inserting themselves into the Andrew Benintendi trade to snag Khalil Lee, a high-end prospect at a position of organizational need, was also a shrewd move. Both of these trades earn an A, fitting into the kind of smart management around the roster margins that competent teams excel at.
The Mets were also active on the minor league signing front. Jerad Eickhoff is an interesting gamble on Triple-A starter depth, while Mike Montgomery, Trevor Hildenberger, and Tommy Hunter could all be potential bullpen arms at some point. Sam McWilliams also fits into that conversation, though he’s a prospect rather than a cheap veteran (and also technically a major league deal). On the hitting side, Jose Martinez was a good bet on a bat-first bench player before his unfortunate injury, while Brandon Drury, Mallex Smith, and Caleb Smith are all useful veterans to have in the high minors. The one thing really missing from this pool is a better 3rd catcher type - Rene Rivera, come on down - but this is a good group of signings that also deserves an A.
Holes in the Bullpen
Before we get to larger questions about resource allocation and overarching strategy, let’s examine the roster as it is right now. The lineup should be at least good, probably great, and possibly elite if things break right. The rotation looks to be much improved behind Jacob deGrom relative to last season’s disaster, with both high-end additions (Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman) and improved depth. On the bench, the Mets have a diverse group of players that bring enough speed, power, and defensive versatility to give manager Luis Rojas some real flexibility. Then there’s the bullpen.
Coming in to this offseason, the Mets had only two reliable relievers - Edwin Diaz and Seth Lugo. Sure, there’s some latent upside to Miguel Castro, Robert Gsellman, and Drew Smith, and saving a spot to gamble on a bounce back from Jeurys Familia or Dellin Betances could’ve made sense, but realistically this roster needed two (and probably three) reliever upgrades. Instead, the Mets’ only real addition was May, an addition that was quickly negated by Seth Lugo’s injury. It’s not as if the Mets elected to sign several mid-tier options instead, as the only other addition was Aaron Loup.
The pitfalls of heavily investing in relievers are oft-discussed, and it seems like some top-tier arms (Trevor Rosenthal, Brad Hand) might’ve chosen other teams where a closer’s job was available. Nevertheless, that leaves plenty of second tier relievers - Alex Colome, Archie Bradley, Kirby Yates, Justin Wilson, Jake McGee, Darren O’Day, Yusmeiro Petit, among others - who could’ve been added at reasonable prices. Instead, Familia and Betances (both of whom look like toast so far in Spring Training) along with waiver claim Jacob Barnes and NRI Mike Montgomery are all in line for opening day jobs.
Simply put, this is a major failing. A brief inspection of the Dodgers, Padres, or Braves depth chart reveals much stronger bullpens assembled without ludicrous expenditures. That the Mets chose to largely sit out this market - and continue to sit out, with options like Shane Greene still available - is puzzling, speaking to either a likely-misplaced confidence in internal options or a stubborn cheapness that feels a bit too familiar. In all likelihood, an acquisition will need to be made here at the deadline, meaning the Mets will expend more prospect capital simply because they didn’t pay a couple million dollars for a couple more reliable arms.
The Lindor Extension
A brief note on the Lindor extension: it’s Good. Things got pretty contentious when both sides drew lines in the sand in the final days before Lindor’s opening day deadline. Was Lindor’s $385 million asking price ridiculous? Yes. But so is drawing an arbitrary line in the sand when dealing with a super star of Lindor’s caliber, doubly so when you based your entire offseason around trading for him in the first place. That things came this close to breaking down deserves criticism. That said, the deal did get done. Perhaps the team deserves a modicum of credit for coming off their hardline and meeting Lindor in the middle, leaving the grade on the original move unchanged.
There has been plenty of discourse regarding whether Lindor is “worth it”, and those discussions will likely continue. Some fans will argue that the Mets overpaid, citing dollars-per-WAR and postulating on the effects to long term roster construction. (I don’t this was an overpay, or a big enough one to matter, but let’s not spend 800 words on that here.) Others will correctly point out that it’s just money, something Steve Cohen has plenty of, and that protecting his finances isn’t how they choose to be a fan. Perhaps both sides are right and are just trying to enjoy their favorite team through the lens they find most enjoyable, even if neither side will never be able to convince the other.
Bottom line, Francisco Lindor is a Met, and will be for a long long while, perhaps forever if he goes into the hall wearing a Mets’ cap (knock on wood). On the field, that’s nothing but a huge win.
To CBT or to CBT
The Lindor extension should eat through the rest of the space the Mets have under the CBT (still waiting on Sportrac to update). That would make their offseason vision clear, particularly with regards to their decision to sign McCann early. It also raises the subsequent question; how much, if at all, do we penalize the team for refusing to blow past the tax in favor of making the team even stronger?
Clearly, there were avenues the Mets could’ve pursued had they thrown caution to the wind. George Springer would’ve been an instant upgrade, as would a variety of bullpen arms or a handful of starters. Even lesser additions like Jackie Bradley Jr. could’ve helped. Projections systems at Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs have the Mets as the 4th best team in baseball, but there is a fair gap between them and the top-rated Dodgers and Yankees.
That said, it’s difficult to penalize a team too much for following the same financial trends as the rest of the league. It’s also possible, perhaps even likely, that Steve Cohen’s approval as owner depended on a promise to not totally blow up the cap, at least not immediately. Given these factors and the fact that the team the Mets wound up with is excellent despite their unwillingness to spend over the cap, I won’t penalize them for that decision. That said, I’d understand if some readers disagree.
By no means was this a perfect offseason. The Mets failed to adequately address the bullpen, never added a starting-caliber center fielder, and should’ve acted sooner to sign a better starting pitcher. Nevertheless, the offseason was a successful one, as the team rebuilt an organizational depth chart bereft of pitching, added a top-5 player in the sport, and managed to do so without decimating the farm. That’s impressive work no matter how you slice it.
This offseason will have drastically improved the Mets in both the short- and medium- term. They’ve locked in a superstar for the rest of his career at relatively minimal prospect cost and a plenty reasonable financial one. They even managed to add back a real prospect in Khalil Lee and have the richest owner in the game to help mitigate the financial burden. That’s enough to earn an A-.