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A final grade for the Mets’ offseason

The team made good moves, though an even better offseason was within reach.

St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

With the season finally upon us, it’s time to come up with the last grade for the Mets’ offseason. Here’s a roundup of the transactions we’ve graded so far:

  • Eduardo Escobar signed to a two year, $20 million deal: B
  • Mark Canha signed to a two year, $26.5 million deal: B+
  • Starling Marte signed to a four year, $78 million deal: A+
  • Max Scherzer signed to a three year, $130 million deal: A-
  • Chris Bassitt acquired from the A’s: A
  • Adam Ottavino and other bullpen additions: D

Ungraded Moves

There are two notable moves made since the last grading article, one a completed trade and another nearly so. The first was a swap with the Yankees, where the Mets acquired Joely Rodríguez in exchange for Miguel Castro. Rodríguez, for those unaware, has bounced around a lot—Pirates, Phillies, Rangers, Orioles, and Japan for a couple years—before having something of a 2020 breakout. His ERA was a little ugly last year, but the underlying peripherals were still strong. The Yankee’s released him at the end of the year, likely due to a previously unknown contract clause, but quickly signed him to a new deal.

At 30 years old, Rodríguez is no spring chicken, and he’s not actually under team control until 2025, as was originally suggested immediately after the trade. Still, he’s a good fit on a Met roster that was in desperate need of a left-handed reliever. He’s slightly more LOOGY-ish than you’d want in the era of the three-batter minimum, but he’s a definite upgrade over Alex Claudio, who he is effectively replacing in the Mets’ bullpen. As for Miguel Castro, he is a pending free agent with major control problems whose performance took a steep decline after the foreign substance ban last season. Some stuff models still quite like him, but he’s semi-redundant given Adam Ottavino, who fits a very similarly infuriating niche.

Left to my own devices, I’d probably overrate this trade as I quite like Rodríguez. He was one of the relievers that I thought would’ve fit very well in the Met bullpen (indeed, I signed him in this year’s SBNation Offseason Sim), and I also don’t see the loss of Miguel Castro is all that significant. However, the Mets don’t exactly have excess bullpen depth to be trading away, and they’d likely have been better off just signing Rodríguez as a free agent in the first place. That has to ding the grade on this move a bit, and it gets a B as a result.

Second, the near-trade of Dominic Smith to the Padres merits discussion. Reportedly, the Mets nearly sent Smith to the Padres in exchange for Chris Paddack, Emilio Pagan, and Eric Hosmer, with the Padres covering a big chunk of Hosmer’s money. The deal seemed near completion, and there was even speculation that Hosmer himself might be flipped to another team for a better fitting piece, such as a true fourth outfielder. Instead, the deal fell apart because the Mets were seemingly unwilling to take on the money owed to Hosmer.

That news came on the same day that Jacob deGrom’s MRI results revealed a stress reaction in his scapula, an injury that will necessitate a months-long stint on the IL. Since then, Max Scherzer has suffered a hamstring injury, Taijuan Walker got shelled in a spring training game and cited knee pain, and Jordan Yamamoto was DFA’d. Tylor Megill is going to start Opening Day for a team with a payroll north of $250 million and effectively four players on the roster who are best used at first base or DH: Smith, Robinson Canó, J.D. Davis, and Pete Alonso.

Frankly, this seems like a huge miss. At the amount of money the teams were discussing, Hosmer has some utility, even if only as a bench bat. Paddack has struggled, but there’s enough intriguing characteristics to seem fixable. Pagan would’ve slotted nicely into a shallow bullpen. Meanwhile, the highest tax bracket—the only one the team has yet to breach and presumably the big driver behind declining this trade—inflicts an extremely modest penalty with no additional effects on draft capital or IFA spending limits.

There’s a chance that Dom Smith makes good on his status as a former top prospect, and he’s certainly looked very good in spring training with a healthy spring. The more likely outcome is that he’s basically a league average or slightly above hitter as an inflexible bench bat that doesn’t fit this roster. That’s not a good enough reason to not make this deal, and the resulting grade on the offseason needs to be adjusted down to reflect what appears to be a penny wise, pound foolish decision.

Comments on QO free agents

On top of all the usual obstacles, the Mets were dealing with an additional one this offseason; rather than losing a second round or later pick for signing one or more QO free agents, the Mets would lose a first round pick thanks to their failure to sign Kumar Rocker. There are some arguments as to why the team should’ve been willing to give up that pick, especially for certain free agents, but in my mind such a penalty made avoiding QO free agents necessary if at all possible.

That meant names like Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Robbie Ray, and Nick Castellanos were all non-options for the Mets, restricting their choices at the top of the market significantly. Despite that, the team managed to land a good amount of high-end talent without surrendering any of their desperately needed draft capital to do so. Even if this predicament was of their own making, the front office deserves some credit for navigating their way through without ending up with a noticeably worse team.

Final Grade

As a change of pace, let’s start with the positives. The Mets addressed their major needs in the outfield, adding one of the best players on the market in Marte and capitalizing on concern about the health of another very good secondary piece in Canha. They bolstered their infield depth with the universally beloved Escobar. No flashy bullpen additions were made, but Ottavino is a good gamble, Rodríguez is a good fit, and the set of NRIs is better than usual. They also traded for Chris Bassitt, a perennially underrated top-20 level starter and, oh yeah, signed Max Scherzer.

Now, for the negatives. Despite spending a lot of money, the roster is incomplete—not in the “held together by spit and glue” way like many Mets rosters of the past decade, but still in a state that leaves you wanting more. The bullpen is probably fine, but that’s not what you should be hoping for when you want to be a high-level contender. The rotation, which seemingly had adequate depth a week ago, probably could’ve used another addition. Same with the lineup, which might wind up a bat short, and the bench remains extremely inflexible. All of these problems had relatively easy, affordable solutions but seem to have been neglected in favor of avoiding the highest level of luxury tax penalty.

There’s also a question of what we’re really grading here. The Mets didn’t do anything all that inventive this offseason, they just dipped into the pockets of their extremely rich owner after he seemingly felt spited by his first attempted foray into free agency. That’s a very good thing, teams should spend more money generally. But there aren’t any brownie points to be added for cleverness or extra skill in my opinion.

Synthesizing all of this information down into one final letter grade is always a challenge, but feels particularly hard this given for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the Mets made real upgrades to a team that badly needed them, and we’re looking at an exciting, if flawed, roster that should contend for one of the byes in the National League. That’s enough for me to look past some of the process flaws and penny pinching on the margins and give this offseason an overall A-.