The Mets have a few glaring needs going into this offseason. Despite the numerous promising young players rising through the minor leagues and onto the 40-man roster, there are a few positions that will need to be filled for the team to be competitive in 2014 and beyond. The foundation seems to be there, with an emphasis on young pitching. Third base is locked up, catcher and center field look promising, and the bullpen has young hard-throwing arms that could minimize the amount the team needs to spend in that area going forward.
For my plan, I limited myself to a payroll of about $90 million, give or take a little bit. The Mets had a payroll of $93 million last season, which means they would technically be cutting payroll. It’s actually unclear whether they will actually get to $90 million, but for the purposes of discussion, we will set it at that. Frankly, despite a valuation putting the Mets at $2 billion, I am still not convinced the Wilpons are going to fork over enough money to fill the Mets’ holes.
Here is a breakdown of the money the Mets owe to current and former players next season.
The Mets face a few tough choices to make in terms of arbitration. There are quite a few players that are teetering on the edge of being non-tendered. Here is a breakdown of who I would tender a contract to, before making any trades.
Scott Atchison: The Mets did not quite get what they wanted out of Atchison. After a dominant season with the Red Sox, he posted a 4.37 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and 4.02 xFIP. With his age, he just isn’t worth the $1.3 million he is projected to get through arbitration.
Justin Turner: Turner puts up a decent batting average but not much else. He has served his purpose, but a .260/.323/.361 line isn’t good enough for a significant bat bench getting 200 plate appearances per season, even if he only makes $800,000.
Trade Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada to the Tampa Bay Rays for Yunel Escobar
Lucas Duda has worn out his welcome in New York. As someone who will likely never play average defense at any position, he is destined to be an American League player, splitting time between first base and designated hitter. For the always-crafty Tampa Bay Rays, he fits in well. After a .299/.348/.430 season, James Loney has priced himself out of Tampa, who has a few more urgent financial needs to attend to. Putting Duda in a permanent position could work out well for Tampa, as could a chance to start over for Ruben Tejada.
On the Mets’ side, they get a solid shortstop at a good price. He put upleague average production last year, hitting .256/.332/.366 with a 97 OPS+ and 100 wRC+. That isn’t great (although it’s above average for a shortstop) but the real value comes from Escobar’s stellar defense. He has played ten runs or more above average three out of the last four seasons, including 17.5 runs above average in 2013. At best, Escobar is a four-win player and at worst he is worth 1.5 wins. Either way, his two $5 million club options over the next few years make him a very attractive option.
Net salary change: +$2.2 million
Trade Wilmer Flores, Gabriel Ynoa, and Hansel Robles to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Andre Ethier (Dodgers pay half of contract)
The Dodgers will reportedly be shopping both Ethier and Matt Kemp this winter, and it makes sense for the Dodgers to eat at least a portion of both of their salaries. Enter the Mets, who have prospects to spare. Given the right situation, giving up Wilmer Flores makes sense, and this is definitely one of them. Ethier is signed for the next four years at $71.5 million. However, if the Dodgers pay half to ship him off, suddenly the contract is a good value for the Mets, with Ethier’s salary ranging from $7.75 million in 2014 to just $9 million in 2017. Not bad for a three-win player.
Net salary change: +7.25 million
Trade Ike Davis to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later
Sorry Ike, but you’re time is up here. The Mets should tender him a contract to at least get something out of him, however much that may be. His value is rather unknown at this point, but he doesn’t fit into the plan.
Net salary change: -$3.5 mm
Sign Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39 million deal
Napoli originally got this very same contract from the Red Sox last offseason, but due to health concerns, it was negotiated down to just a one-year deal with a base salary of $5 million. While he strikes out at a high rate, he can handle first base better than Kendrys Morales, who would just be a more expensive version of Lucas Duda. A three year deal worth $13 million per year would be more than fair for Napoli, who will turn 32 at the end of the month.
Sign Corey Hart for one-year worth $5 million, with $3 million in possible incentives
When healthy, Hart is a 25 to 30 home run hitter who can get on base at a decent clip. His health concerns will lower his price, but the Mets could score big by signing him to an incentive-laden contract with a low base salary to man right field. In 2012, Hart hit .270/.334/.507 with 30 home runs with the Brewers.
Sign Tim Stauffer for one-year and $1.5 million
Tim Stauffer is another player who, when healthy, is worth far more than what he might get as a free agent. The 32 year-old could be effective either in the rotation or out of the bullpen, depending on who steps up. Last year for the Padres he put up a 3.75 ERA in 69.2 innings.
Re-Sign LaTroy Hawkins for one-year, $2 million
Hawkins definitely earned a spot on the 2014 Mets, posting a 2.93 ERA over 70.2 innings. Soon to be 41, Hawkins still has the velocity to pitch a few more years.
Minor League Contracts
Scott Rice- You’d have to be crazy to not offer Rice a minor league contract at minimum after the year he had last season.
John Lannan- Lannon had been a solid rock in the Nationals rotation until 2012 when he was unexpectedly pushed aside to the minor leagues due to the plethora of depth the Nationals had. Lannan had a 4.00 ERA in 128 starts for the Nats in 2007 through 2012. Since then, he has been on an off in the minors, but could be a steal if he returns to old form.
Aaron Harang- Aaron Harang may have struggled badly last year, but he is still a bounce-back candidate for 2014. In 2011 and 2012, he combined for a 3.62 ERA in 350.1 innings.
James McDonald- Another bounce-back candidate who could provide depth for the Met rotation is James McDonald. McDonald, 29, had a 4.10 ERA coming into this year in over 120 appearances until the wheels fell of in spectacular fashion this year. Nonetheless, McDoonald, unlike some of these other signings, is still relatively young and could easily bounce back.
Yorvit Torrealba- The Mets need a backup catcher, and Torrealba fits what they need: a cheap veteran. This isn’t where the Mets need to spend any more than the minimum, as Juan Centeno may make the team over any veteran that is signed.
Clint Barmes- Barmes would provide a solid backup up the middle.
Here is a breakdown of the proposed roster:
In the end, I was able to put together a team with a total salary of $88.1 million, slightly below my original self-imposed cap. Under this plan, with major upgrades at shortstop, first base, and both corner outfield positions, as well as added depth to the starting rotation, the Mets could certainly compete for a playoff spot. In addition, keeping all but two significant prospects would still have the organization in good shape going forward, with the possibility of continued improvement after the debuts of Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. Hopefully it will be a busy offseason for the Mets as they look to build on the foundation of young players currently in the organization.