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AAOP: Back to the Future with Uncle Steve

As far as we know, Uncle Steve and all of his untold billions cannot buy a time machine to bring back to the future Ted Williams circa 1941 and Pedro Martinez circa 2000, and have them star on the 2024 New York Mets. But a combination of his wallet and some newly-acquired prospect capital very well might just give the Metropolitans their contemporary equivalents. And at least he wouldn't need to rely on pulling a Biff Tannen and use an almanac to bet on the correct outcomes on sports to make his fortune.

(POV: you're Uncle Steve in the DeLorean traveling back to 2000 to bring Pedro Martinez back to the future to pitch for the 2024 New York Mets).

Anyway, here are what I assess as our team needs going into this offseason, in priority order:

1. 1 Ace

2 1-2 Mid-Rotation Starters

3 Outfielder

4. Set-Up Man

5. Designated Hitter

6. Backup First Baseman/Outfielder

Believe it or not, the Mets actually have less holes to fill coming off a 75 win season than when they won 101 games the year before because there are no impactful impending free agents coming off the books. Despite the disappointing 2023 season, the Mets have a solid core, especially in the infield, and the sell-off of pricey and mostly underperforming veterans over the summer bought prospects and payroll flexibility, which provides the new President of Baseball Operations David Stearns the opportunity to retool and reload quickly back to contention rather than tear it all down and rebuild.

Note that the values of extensions and free agent contracts are derived from a combination of sources (mostly Fangraphs and MLB Trade Rumors Top 50 Free Agent Predictions, as well as my own imagination. Trades were vetted using baseballtradevalues.com.).

Also note that I’ve also designed this AAOP as current through the date of its publication, so players I was initially considering while writing this AAOP (like Michael Conforto, who exercised his player option with the San Francisco Giants) are now off the board from consideration, to keep it as real as possible.

Some housekeeping matters to start with:

First, the qualifying offers for impending free agents: None.

Second, the club options: decline on Daniel Vogelbach.

Third, the player options: Adam Ottavino declines. Omar Navarez accepts.

Fourth, the non-tenders: Tim LoCastro, Phil Bickford, John Curtiss, and Denyi Reyes. Offer minor league deals to all four.

Extensions

1. 1B Pete Alonso – 9 years/$216m. AAV: $24m. Full no-trade clause.

Unfortunately, the Mets didn’t lock up the Polar Bear over the last two offseasons. Last year, I proposed extending Alonso for 8 years/$168m, which is what Matt Olson received from the Braves. The year before that, I projected an extension at 8 years/$135m. Now with Scott Boras as his agent a year before free agency, the Mets are going to have to pay an open market price to keep the most prolific homegrown power hitter in franchise history, with a shot at 500 home runs, in orange and blue for the rest of his career. Which ultimately amounts to a difference in pennies for Uncle Steve, but still, frustrating nonetheless from a surplus value perspective.

I modeled this extension after what Prince Fielder received from the Detroit Tigers in free agency about 12 years ago (9 years/$214m). Both have strikingly similar profiles as first basemen, with Fielder having superior on-base skills (Fielder career .382 vs. Alonso career .342), but Alonso is head and shoulders better defensively and has a slightly higher slugging percentage (Alonso .528 vs. Fielder .506). Ultimately this is a deal that has to get done; there will be some give and take on both sides in negotiations, but Alonso gets his desired years and a total guarantee above $200m, while the Mets lock in cost certainty and secure first base over the long-term, and end up paying Alonso an AAV over the length of the contract that is only $2m more than he would have made in his final year of arbitration.

Free Agents

1. SP Yoshinobu Yamamoto – 9 years/$225m. AAV: $25m. Full no-trade clause.

Yamamoto is the Japanese version of Pedro Martinez, and short of Uncle Steve funding the invention of a time machine, Yamamoto is eerily similar both in stature and in stats. His body of work in Japan speaks for itself and his accolades so far need no introduction here. Only 25 years old, Yamamoto can be an ace for the next decade. I’d slot him as the #1 in the Mets rotation right now, even ahead of Kodai Senga, who performed masterfully in his debut season stateside and is apparently recruiting Yamamoto to join him in Queens. There will surely be a bidding war, and Uncle Steve should authorize Stearns to outbid any other team in the running to make it happen. Even better is that the posting fee to Yamamoto’s NPB team, the Orix Buffaloes, does not count towards the luxury tax.

2. SP Shota Imanaga – 5 years/$85m. AAV: $17m.

Imanaga may be overshadowed by Yamamoto, but is accomplished in his own right. He throws multiple pitches, including an elite changeup, and has playoff experience pitching for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in the NPB, as well as starting the World Baseball Classic championship game against Team USA this year. He is also apparently known as "the Throwing Philosopher" as per his Wikipedia page, which would be great if he is able to provide mentorship to the other pitchers on the staff, which is what deGrom, Scherzer, and Bassitt were able to provide in 2022 to great effect. He’s the #3 behind Yamamoto and Senga, and rounds out a 1-2-3 of Japanese star pitchers to front our rotation. I’m surprised that the contract projections have Imanaga costing more than Senga - - maybe because Imanaga is a lefty - - but to account for that, there is no opt-out clause that Senga has after 2025.

3. SP Erick Fedde – 2 years/$6 million. AAV: $3m.

Some of us may remember Fedde as a middling starter and reliever for the Washington Nationals. However, last season, he went over to South Korea to start for the NC Dinos of the KBO League, and absolutely dominated to the tune of a 2.00 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 180 1/3 innings, winning the Choi Dong-won Award - - the KBO equivalent of the Cy Young. Other pitchers that started in MLB like former Met Chris Flexen have elevated their game in the KBO before returning back, and have received contracts once returning ranging from 2 years/$4.75m for Flexen, to 2 years/$5.5m for Merrill Kelly and 3 years/$9.125 for Josh Lindblom. So this contract for Fedde seems in line with that. He’ll be the #5 in a 6 man rotation to help ease the transition from NPB to MLB for Yamamoto and Imanaga, while keeping Senga in his usual routine.

4 RP Reynaldo Lopez – 3 years/$30m. AAV: $10m.

With Ottavino gone, Lopez becomes the set-up man for Edwin Diaz. A hard thrower averaging at 98 mph, Lopez had a 3.27 ERA between three teams last season, with a strikeout rate about 30%.

5. DH/OF/2B Whit Merrifield – 2 years/$18m. AAV: $9m.

Merrifield provides defensive versatility in both the infield and outfield like Jeff McNeil, but here I’m having him predominately DH, rotating with the next free agent signing below while also occasionally spotting Starling Marte in left field. He fills the gap left by Mark Canha as a veteran high contact hitter that still has something left in the tank. The two year contract bridges the gap until the next wave of top outfield prospects like Drew Gilbert, Ryan Clifford, and possibly Jett Williams are ready.

6. OF/DH/1B Adam Duvall – 2 years/$16m. AAV: $8m.

Duvall is one of those players that is always mentioned in rumors connecting him to the Mets but they never come to fruition. But now they do. More power-oriented than Merrifield, Duvall takes Vogelbach’s spot on the roster. He is an offense-first 4th outfielder and power bat off the bench at this stage in his career that will rotate between DH and left field with Merrifield and Marte, while also backing up Alonso at first base.

Trades

Only one trade in this AAOP, and it’s for this generation’s Ted Williams, sans the flying ace part.

1. 2B/SS/3B/LF Ronny Mauricio, OF prospect Alex Ramirez, and SP prospects Justin Jarvis, Coleman Crow, and Landon Marceaux for RF Juan Soto, extend Soto for 12 years/$456m. AAV: $38m. Full no-trade clause.

When this generation’s Ted Williams, that is only 25 years old, is on the trade market, even with only a year of team control left, you do whatever it takes to land him and sign him to a long-term deal. Luckily, we have the prospects and the money to make it happen. The San Diego Padres had a similarly disappointing season as the Mets in 2023, but are reportedly on shaky ground financially, as they needed a $50m loan to cover payroll costs and are looking to cut costs going forward. This gives teams looking to acquire Padres players some leverage in trade negotiations, but for a player like Soto, only teams that have the deep pockets to sign him long-term will most likely be interested.

I was at Ronny Mauricio’s (#4 Mets prospect on mlb.com) major league debut against the Seattle Mariners this past September and saw him have the highest exit velocity hit of any Met this season. Some may say he’s the next Vladimir Guerrero (notwithstanding his son of course), but I fear that he’s the next Javy Baez - - no plate discipline combined with a low on-base percentage. He has value, but I don’t believe that he fits the organizational hitting philosophy, and we already have Baty and Vientos who can play third base, with prospects Luisangel Acuna (#1 prospect – thanks Max!) and Jacob Reimer (#13 prospect) right behind them. OF prospect Alex Ramirez (#11 prospect) took a step back in 2023 and has been overtaken by newcomers Gilbert and Clifford in our farm system, but is still young nonetheless and gives the Padres someone that can be major league ready in their outfield making the league minimum by 2025. The other three pitching prospects were acquired for Canha (Jarvis - #15 prospect), and Eduardo Escobar (Crow - #29 prospect, out with Tommy John, and Marceaux – not ranked), so they weren’t in our farm system for too long to begin with, plus there are higher-ranked homegrown starting pitching prospects in our system like Mike Vasil, Blade Tidwell, Christian Scott, and Brandon Sproat.

A lot of the trade packages I’ve seen on other AAOPs look a little heavier than what I am proposing, but baseballtradevalues.com values my package at 32.5 against Soto’s current value at 22.9 so it finds it to be a "moderate overpay." This is intended to account for the possibility of a potentially trade bidding war with other teams like the Yankees and the Phillies. This reminds me a bit of the Johan Santana and Francisco Lindor trade talks in years past before they were dealt to New York - - the trade packages for both were somewhat lighter than anticipated by the Mets fanbase. Given the circumstances, this package should get it done.

As for the Soto extension - - he turned down 15 years/$440m (AAV: $29.33m) with the Nationals in 2022 two and a half years before free agency. Offering Soto an extension $16m more in total money for 3 less years for almost $10m more in AAV is not something I think he would refuse.

Final thoughts on two other parts of the roster:

Francisco Alvarez – we should explore extension talks after this season assuming he continues to perform as he did during his rookie year. But it’s not necessary now and I really didn’t have room in the payroll to explore this anyway, as I still want to maintain some payroll flexibility for midseason additions.

Brett Baty/Mark Vientos – whoever wins out in Spring Training gets to start at third base, the other goes down to AAA. They both make the league minimum so I put them both down on the spreadsheet, I really can’t decide this in the offseason. May the best player win. And no, I was not enamored with the external options at third base that would require a long-term contract without the stats to back it up (looking at you, Matt Chapman with a career .329 on-base percentage). The best-constructed teams have a few young players making the league minimum in any event.

Starting Rotation – The front 3 - - Yamamoto, Senga, and Imanaga are the only long-term locks in the rotation. Quintana is a free agent after this season, and I’m comfortable with him as a #4. I’m not committing too much either in money or years to the back-end of the rotation in hopes that some of our top pitching prospects start coming up and contributing possibly by the end of this season, if not the start of 2025.

Bullpen – I moved Joey Lucchesi to the bullpen because we needed a second lefty in there with Brooks Raley, instead of making him the 6th starter. I actually think Megill’s stuff plays better in the bullpen but only having one lefty in the bullpen bothered me. If David Peterson was healthy I probably would have made him the 6th starter, put Megill in the bullpen, and optioned Lucchesi to AAA. I didn’t make any free agent/trade additions to the bullpen besides signing Lopez to replace Ottavino because the current crew performed respectably enough this past season, and I non-tendered the fringe arms that were out of options.

Roster Versatility – Jeff McNeil and Whit Merrifield can play multiple positions both in the infield and the outfield. No more DH-only types on the roster. Every position has a competent backup if needed.

Full 26 man roster below, with just under $4m to spare.

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