– The K Zone –
March 27, 2019
Recapping the Mets’ Offseason by Mojo Hill
With Spring Training coming to an end as the teams are all gearing up for the grind of the regular season, the New York Mets are coming off one of their more active offseasons in recent memory. New General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has gone out and worked hard to make this team a “win now” contender after a miserable 77-win season last year. The question is, has Van Wagenen really done enough to make this a playoff team?
While the Phillies undoubtedly had the best offseason in the NL East, adding four All-Stars including superstar Bryce Harper for 13 years, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Mets had the second best offseason within the division, and one of the better offseasons in all of baseball.
To start off, the Mets didn’t really lose any key pieces via free agency. Their six free agents were Jose Lobaton, Devin Mesoraco, Jose Reyes, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins, and Austin Jackson. Losing Blevins (signed with the Athletics) hurt a little bit because of the lack of left-handed bullpen depth, but Blevins had a down year and was aging anyway.
The Mets did a good job to fill and upgrade that void, signing Justin Wilson to a two-year, $10 million contract and Luis Avilan to a minor league contract. While Wilson has had control problems the last couple years and Avilan has had some health issues, both are proven quality options that allow the team to not have to rely on the talented but unproven Daniel Zamora for a left-handed reliever. Zamora will now likely start the year in the minors and act as a solid depth option rather than the only lefty in the bullpen. The Mets made this upgrade without breaking the bank, too, as they practically got a steal by snagging Avilan on a minor league contract.
So far, the only free agent the Mets have resigned is backup catcher Devin Mesoraco, who is really just depth and isn’t even a lock to make the team out of Spring Training with the presence of Travis d’Arnaud and the new addition of Wilson Ramos.
And according to a report from Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, Mesoraco has requested his release rather than being sent to Triple-A Syracuse. And he may retire if the Mets do not grant his wish. If the Mets lose him, it’s no big deal, because d’Arnaud and Nido are both superior options as a backup.
Update: According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Mesoraco has been placed on the restricted list and gone home to Pittsburgh, meaning that he is retiring after the Mets failed to grant him his release, as he would rather not play in Triple-A.
Another player who ultimately ended up electing free agency at the end of November was utility infielder Wilmer Flores. Flores ended up signing with the Diamondbacks for one year and $4.25 million with a club option for 2020.
While Flores was a fan favorite for many, in large part due to his crying on the field and walkoff home run two days later in the Mets’ 2015 division title run, losing him wasn’t too much of a burden either. Flores was never a great player, posting a career high fWAR of 1.7 in 2015 and regressing down to 0.5 in 2018. He was essentially a league average bat without a true defensive position. He was awful at third base and shortstop, below average at second base, and not a good enough hitter to be playing first base regularly. With the emergence of Jeff McNeil, there really wasn’t a spot for Flores anymore.
In early December, the Mets made their biggest move of the offseason, a blockbuster trade that sent outfielder Jay Bruce, right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak, right-handed relief prospect Gerson Bautista, top outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, and top pitching prospect Justin Dunn to the Mariners for eight-time All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano and All-Star closer Edwin Diaz.
This trade was a good sign of Van Wagenen being aggressive early, but it also raised some concerns as many fans were not nearly as happy about the trade as others. The positives of the transaction were that they got rid of the bad contracts of the not-so-good Bruce and Swarzak. They also obviously acquired one of the best second basemen in baseball, albeit one who’s 36 and has five years and $120 million left on his contract, as well as a hard-throwing 24-year-old who was arguably the best closer in baseball last year.
The negatives? The Cano contract is still quite large, and could get ugly fast if Cano declines. They also had to part with their first-round pick from the 2018 draft, Jarred Kelenic, who has a serious amount of upside and potential and could develop into a real star in this league. Dunn was also a really high upside starting pitcher, so his loss hurt a lot as well. Bautista was just a throw-in, and is still very raw and unpolished, but even he still has potential with a triple-digits fastball.
This trade really set the tone for what Van Wagenen is trying to do with this team. His goal seems to be to create a short-term “win now” contender, sacrificing long-term success to build a team that can compete and win in the near future. This was an extremely aggressive move, as the Mets took a huge risk by unloading two majorly talented prospects for a strong but arguably light return.
Shortly after the trade, the Mets claimed right-handed pitcher Kyle Dowdy off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 Draft. The 26-year-old is a hard thrower with a fastball in the mid-90s and a strong cutter in the upper-80s. While he has an impressive arsenal, the results haven’t quite matched up with the stuff, as he had held a 5.15 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A last season. After posting a 5.56 ERA and 1.94 WHIP this spring, Dowdy’s roster status is not exactly set in stone.
Update: Dowdy was claimed by the Texas Rangers, so that last bullpen spot appears to be going to righty Tim Peterson, who made his MLB debut last year and posted a 6.18 ERA in 22 appearances, imploding after a strong start.
While the Mets took another risk by claiming Dowdy, who ended up having to be sent to Texas with his quality stuff but unproven results, they made a high-profile signing just the next day to bolster their bullpen with the signing of old friend Jeurys Familia.
Familia spent his whole career with the Mets until he was traded midseason last year to the Athletics for Will Toffey, Bobby Wahl, and international pool money. But Familia, who loves playing in New York as it’s all he’s ever known, was thrilled to come back and re-sign for three years and $30 million. With an elite closer in Diaz and a dominant setup man in Familia, the back end of the bullpen was beginning to look scary, aiding a bullpen that was the team’s biggest weakness in 2018.
The Mets capped off a big month just four days later by signing free agent catcher Wilson Ramos, another huge addition to offense, providing a strong right-handed presence with some pop in a position of weakness for the Mets in recent years.
The Mets went into the offseason with the catcher position as one of their top priorities, behind only bullpen depth. They went after three top catchers on the market, making offers to free agents Ramos and Yasmani Grandal, as well as having discussions with the Marlins about J.T. Realmuto. Ultimately, they settled on a two-year, $19 million contract with Ramos after Grandal reportedly declined their offer of four years and $60 million. While Grandal is likely the slightly better catcher, Ramos isn’t much worse and came on a much better contract than what the Mets were looking to give Grandal. While Grandal would have been nice, Ramos was ultimately a win for the Mets as they acquired a top-ten catcher in all of baseball.
Rolling into the new year, the Mets did not slow down, making three trades in the first week of 2019.
The first was the acquisition of center fielder Keon Broxton from the Brewers for prospects Adam Hill, Bobby Wahl, and Felix Valerio. None of the prospects they traded were huge names or anything, but it was still odd to trade some guys with upside for essentially another Juan Lagares.
The second trade they made almost immediately after was trading catcher Kevin Plawecki to the Indians for minor leaguers Walker Lockett and Sam Haggerty. While Plawecki wasn’t great and declined defensively in 2018, this return still felt light for a guy who is a better hitter than the average Major League catcher and had become a solid contributor. The chances of Lockett or especially Haggerty ever helping the Mets win games is very slim.
However, it did make sense for the Mets to trade one of Plawecki or Travis d’Arnaud after Ramos was signed. D’Arnaud is a much better pitch framer and a better offensive player when healthy, but has always had trouble staying on the field. Ultimately, the Mets chose to take the risk of d’Arnaud staying healthy to be the primary backup over Plawecki.
The Mets made yet another trade the same day, with this one possibly being the oddest of the three. They acquired third baseman J.D. Davis from the Astros for prospects Luis Santana, Ross Adolph, and Scott Manea.
Davis murdered Triple-A pitching last year, but has struggled immensely in his limited time in the Majors to the tune of a 60 wRC+ in 181 plate appearances. He’s a strong guy who hits the ball hard but can be beat easily by a good fastball. He’s also not particularly great at any defensive position, although he does have some versatility.
In some ways, Davis is similar to what Flores was, except that Davis hasn’t even proved that he can be that yet. And while the Mets didn’t give away any superstar prospects for him, they definitely overpaid, particularly with the inclusion of Santana, a 19-year-old second baseman who was among the Mets’ top 20 prospects and has a .329/.426/.465 batting line in three minor league seasons. He definitely has some upside, and to throw in two decent prospects along with him just for a mediocre, unproven bench bat was quite baffling. It looks even worse when you see that a similar player to Davis such as Matt Davidson was still available on the free agent market.
The Mets continued to bolster their bullpen with the signing of Justin Wilson in late January, as previously discussed. To make room for Wilson on the roster, they designated former first-round pick Gavin Cecchini for assignment after he missed most of the 2018 season with a foot injury. Somewhat surprisingly, he cleared waivers and was sent outright to the Syracuse Mets.
Among many other transactions, the Mets made a lot of small minor league signings to bolster the depth that they so severely lacked last season and which led to their demise.
The Mets bolstered their outfield depth with not just the acquisition of Broxton, but with minor league signings like Gregor Blanco and Rajai Davis. Not that these guys are much good or anything, but it at least means that in case of an injury there will be no more Kevin Kaczmarski or, God forbid, Tim Tebow type players getting called up to the Majors.
The Mets also improved their infield depth, most notably with the signings of Lowrie and Adeiny Hechavarria, and of course the Cano trade. Lowrie’s presence moves Todd Frazier to a bench role, creating substantial depth at the third base position. Unfortunately, both are hurt right now, but both have begun activity of some time and should not be out for a drastically long period of time.
Hechavarria is a weak-hitting shortstop with a good glove who could replace Amed Rosario if he happens to get hurt. They also already have Luis Guillorme to fill that role, and after a strong spring, he appears to have won that job over Hechavarria to begin the season. And there’s always Jeff McNeil, who can play third, second, and corner outfield.
Finally, to wrap up the offseason, the Mets made the move fans had been begging for, signing ace pitcher Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $137.5 million extension after a historic season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award.
Overall the Mets have built a much more versatile and deep team than in years past. There will be no more room for shenanigans like John Mayberry Jr. batting cleanup or James Loney starting at first base. This is a real competitive team that is going to give the other three competitive teams in the NL East a run for their money. With the new additions along with stars such as Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto, this team could be magical and full of talent on both sides of the ball. Don’t count out the Mets this year, because this is a scary group of players who are hungry to bring a title back to Queens for the first time since 1986.
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