Its only been five weeks since the last time the Mets played a baseball game, but the club has spent those five weeks looking for ways to get over the top of the mountain and win the 2016 World Series, exactly 30 years after their last championship.
They will begin to do so at the Winter Meetings which technically begin tomorrow morning at the at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Mets are already projected to have a $92-95 million in payroll for 2016 with players currently under contract, projected salaries through arbitration, and players earning the league minimum. That’s all without adding new talent.
And the Mets need to add and replenish some of the talent lost on the big league roster.
Yoenis Cespedes, Jerry Blevins, Eric O’Flaherty, Bartolo Colon, Bobby Parnell, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Tyler Clippard, and Daniel Murphy are all free agents.
The Mets added OF Brandon Nimmo, RHP Seth Lugo, and RHP Robert Gsellman to the 40-man roster in late November to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, which takes place Thursday morning at the Winter Meetings. They did not protect Matt Bowman or Wuilmer Becerra, so they could conceivably taken in the Rule 5 draft by other teams.
The 40-man roster currently stands at 39.
The Mets have already signed RHP Jim Henderson, RHP Stolmy Pimentel and infielder Ty Kelly to minor league contracts, but have yet to sign anyone to a Major League deal this winter.
That could change this week, as team insiders insist they will be active in their attempt to fortify the roster this week in Nashville.
However, the front office will be missing a key presence to their contingent in Nashville this week, as Sandy Alderson will stay in New York as he undergoes treatment for cancer.
Instead, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon will join assistant GM John Ricco, manager Terry Collins, Vice President, Player Development & Amateur Scouting Paul DePodesta, and special assistant JP Ricciardi as the continent for the Mets at the Winter Meetings.
The Mets have identified three primary needs as they head to the Winter Meetings, with hopes their activity can lead to solutions as they look ahead to Spring Training.
Their goal is to lengthen their lineup by improving their contact rate, reducing their strikeouts, and lengthening their lineup with a greater ability to get on-base.
They also want to create a lockdown formula in their bullpen, and improve their overall defense behind their championship-caliber starting pitching, the latter they hope will make them more efficient and lengthen their outings.
Here’s a look at how the Mets hope to reach those goals this winter…
On second thought…
The have been prepared to let Daniel Murphy go via free agency for a few years. He has never been named in any discussion about the future at second base for the organization, instead preparing the position for Dilson Herrera, their best second base prospect in the organization.
Ricco said as late as Friday the team is prepared to go into Spring Training with Herrera as their second baseman.
DePodesta also said at the GM Meetings in early November the club is ready to hand the baton to Herrera.
However, Ricco made it quite clear on Friday they are hoping to sign Ben Zobrist to a multi-year contract. And if they fail in their pursuit of Zobrist, would be open to bringing Murphy back as their plan B.
That suggests the Mets are not quite as comfortable with Herrera as they say they are.
One way or another, the Zobrist situation is expected to resolve itself by the close of the Winter meetings on Thursday. But the Mets have prioritized Zobrist as their top target this winter. So until he signs with the Mets or another club, their other pursuits could be slower to develop.
If Zobrist becomes a Met, that closes the door on a reunion with Murphy, and at least gives the Mets flexibility with Herrera, who has two player options left.
Strategically, the Mets might be wise to sign Zobrist, even if it’s for an above market value deal for the 34-year-old super-utility player. They would procure a second pick before the second round of the 2016 first-year player draft next June, and that could prove significant considering they traded a lot of top talent to acquire Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard, they could lose talent in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, and they relinquished their first-round pick in the 2015 draft to sign Michael Cuddyer last winter.
While the Mets want to win-now, this is not a front office who loses sight of the future, especially with a payroll that’s going to escalate organically through the arbitration process over the next few years.
Center of attention…
It remains unlikely the Mets will retain Cespedes, although his market has been very slow to develop over the first five weeks of the off-season. The star 30-year-old outfielder has said publicly he will seek a six-year deal this winter, and that’s just not a deal the Mets are likely to entertain.
But if he struggles to find that six-year deal and his demands come down, the Mets should consider him on a shorter-term contract. He has said he wants to stay with the Mets, and the two sides re-negotiated a part of his contract which originally stated the Mets had five days to sign him, or he had to be released (meaning he couldn’t be re-signed until next May). So, the door is definitely open, and the Mets know what he’s capable of doing for their team on both sides of the ball.
Whether or not they do remains to be seen, but signing Cespedes obviously assigns Juan Lagares to the bench as their fourth outfielder.
In the meantime, the Mets would like to find a left-handed hitting center fielder to complement Lagares in order to maximize their production from the position. Lagares has proven to be effective against left-handed pitching, but struggles against right-handers, so that left-handed bat will presumably aim to complete that package.
The Mets have been linked to Dexter Fowler, Gerardo Parra and Denard Span primarily this winter.
Fowler has reverse splits, is tied to draft compensation, and strikes out a lot, so he seems like a less likely target than Span.
But Span is coming off major hip surgery he underwent in August, so it remains to be seen how that impacts his range and speed, two of his strengths as a player.
Parra would be a safer bet if he is interested in being a platoon player in center field, which is not his natural position to begin with. People inside the organization have raved about Parra for a few years, and they actually attempted to acquire him from the Brewers in July before they called up Michael Conforto.
Certainly, Parra and Lagares would give the Mets a premier solution from a defensive perspective, but the offense might be a little more mysterious than a combination of Lagares and either Fowler or Span.
Penning two needs…
In five games in the World Series, the Mets bullpen gave up 24 earned runs in 51 1/3 innings, allowing 47 hits and 17 walks while blowing all three save opportunities they had, arguably costing them a World Championship in 2015.
In the process, the Royals outscored the Mets 15-to-1 in the seventh inning and later in the World Series. The Royals had eight extra-base hits, the Mets had none.
That needs to get better, and they know that.
The Mets have Pimentel, Henderson, Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, Erik Goeddel, Hansel Robles, Sean Gilmartin, Carlos Torres, Logan Verrett and Jenrry Mejia under control, although Mejia will not be available for the first 99 games of the season as he completes his second PED suspension.
Familia, Reed, Torres and Mejia are eligible for arbitration, and they are projected to net about $12 million combined through the process this winter, although the Mets will only owe Mejia 63 games worth of salary, or about $1 million assuming he agrees to terms similar to that from 2015.
If the Mets want to create the lockdown formula they seek in the bullpen, then they’re going to have to consider adding another significant salary to their bullpen through free agency or trade.
The Mets have been linked to Darren O’Day, Joakim Soria, and Steve Cishek in free agency. O’Day seems very unlikely however, as the Orioles are reportedly re-signing him ahead of the Winter Meetings.
Cishek would be an interesting high-upside move after he was non-tendered by the Cardinals this past week. He struggled in Miami early in the season, but excelled in St. Louis after being traded, but the Cardinals clearly didn’t see the value in spending more than $7 million through the arbitration process with him.
Any team that signs Cishek would have him under control for two more seasons through arbitration. He has a good history as the Marlins closer despite his deep struggles with them in 2015, and he could be a valuable weapon against right-handed hitters with his .588 opposing OPS.
Cishek also might be the least expensive option for the Mets to consider as well, although he won’t be cheap in all probability.
The Mets also really need to procure a left-handed specialist. Gilmartin is really a crossover reliever and best suited for long relief. Jerry Blevins is still a very good fit to fill the need, and there’s reportedly mutual interest in a reunion for 2016.
Antonio Bastardo is also a free agent and could be a very attractive left-handed specialist as well.