4 Offseason Moves the New York Mets Clearly Should Have Made
After a surprisingly strong first month of the season, the New York Mets are now 17-25 and sitting in a disappointing fourth place in the NL East.
This offseason was a very busy one. The highlights for the Mets were signing star David Wright to an eight-year, nine-figure extension while also trading 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
Surprisingly, despite the poor record this season, those two moves have paid off. Wright has gotten on base all season, even though he consistently has no protection from the hitters around him. And Dickey has already allowed nine home runs and 28 walks in 62.0 innings en route to a mediocre 4-5 record, 4.50 ERA and 1.31 WHIP.
Nonetheless, the Mets are bad. Really bad. There was a lot that could have and should have been done this offseason to improve the roster at hand.
Here are four moves the Mets clearly should have made this offseason:
Sign Michael Bourn
Bourn has been superb on his new team, and the Mets lineup desperately could have used his presence.
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The well-documented reason why the Mets did not want to sign Bourn was because he was a Type-A free agent. Signing Bourn would have meant the Mets would give up their first-round draft pick (No. 11) as compensation.
Add in the fact that the 30-year-old Bourn wanted a five-year deal while the Mets were only willing to do a three-year deal, and the Mets felt Bourn was not worth the trouble.
There is some validity to the Mets’ reasoning.
A No. 11 pick can produce a superb player and potential All-Star down the road. And the 2013 draft is very top-heavy with power pitching, which GM Sandy Alderson certainly covets.
But there are two overarching reasons why the Mets still should have signed Bourn this offseason: The Mets have an awful lineup, and the Mets have a recent propensity to draft high schoolers in the first round.
The plan for the Mets has always been to contend in 2014. They have patiently spent little to nothing over the years so that the team now has the money to spend when they are ready (next offseason).
But why not start a year early? Bourn may be a speedster now in his early 30s, but even if his speed declines, he is still a great hitter and incredible center fielder.
Furthermore, reason No. 1 for signing Bourn: The lineup is awful. Following a 7-5 victory on May 3, the Mets have scored more than four runs just once in 15 games since. Even then, the Mets only managed five runs that game.
Other than Wright and Daniel Murphy, the team has no hitters. John Buck’s pleasantly surprising April has vanished, and Lucas Duda’s pleasantly surprising .436 on-base percentage in April has become a .222 on-base percentage in May.
Bourn would have been a much-needed addition to the lineup. He is currently hitting .305 with five doubles and five stolen bases.
Mets leadoff hitters, where Bourn presumably would have hit, currently rank 30th in batting average, 29th in on-base percentage and 29th in slugging percentage. The Mets are so desperate that they are even hitting Murphy at leadoff now.
In the end, the Mets decided that the No. 11 pick was too valuable to sign Bourn.
Which brings me to my next reason for signing Bourn: The Mets’ recent tendency to draft high schoolers in the first round.
There is nothing particularly wrong with drafting high schoolers. They are usually talented, athletic and raw, and scouts drool over what “could be” with a high school prospect.
But again, the plan for the Mets was to contend in 2014. A high school prospect will not even sniff a major league roster until the end of this decade, simply because he needs more time in the minors to develop.
On the other hand, a college prospect is much more major league-ready. The Mets should draft a first-rounder who will be ready to produce for the team by 2015 or even 2016.
Even more, who was the most recent first-rounder out of college to make the Mets roster? Matt Harvey. And the most recent high school first-rounder to make the Mets roster? Lastings Milledge, who recently signed a three-year deal with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
No one outside the Mets front office knows for sure who the Mets are looking for at No. 11. But based on past history, that No. 11 pick is not worth the trouble. The Mets should have been willing to part with it for a player who is ready to help the team now and beyond.
Moreover, the current roster is terrible. Aside from Murphy and Wright, no one is worth being on a major league roster.
Bourn alone would not have turned this team around. But if the Mets supposedly have the money, they should spend like the big-market team they are.
When this rebuilding process comes to an end in the coming years, Bourn’s presence at the top of the lineup would have helped the Mets win a lot more games for years to come.
Trade Ike Davis
Davis has gotten off to a nightmare start to 2013, but he potentially had a lot of trade value this offseason.
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This idea was never talked about this offseason, but it is worth mentioning now.
The organization stuck with Davis through his horrendous start to 2012. According to a recent tweet by Marc Carig of Newsday, the Mets have no plans to demote Davis after an even worse start to 2013.
However, the Mets could have arguably gotten a quality package if they traded Davis this offseason.
After Davis’ abysmal first half of 2012, he bounced back strong. Davis finished the season with 32 home runs and 90 RBI. The 90 RBI is even more impressive considering the poor state of the 2012 Mets lineup.
Davis finished 2012 with a lot of momentum. He was a powerful 25-year-old lefty who hit 20 home runs after the All-Star break, and 32 total that season, while providing quality defense at first base. Davis also finally recovered from a nagging ankle injury that left him out almost all of 2011.
If Alderson desired, he could have sold that idea to plenty of GMs who needed a left-handed hitting threat.
On the other hand, the GM that Alderson sold that idea to may have been himself.
Alderson desires power hitters, and Davis certainly fits that bill for a very cheap price.
It is clear now, though, that Davis should have been traded.
The Houston Astros have traded every tradable asset not named Jose Altuve in an attempt to build up promising prospects for the future. They now have gone from one of the worst farm systems to one of the best farm systems in a few years.
If the Mets’ plan was always to contend in 2014 and beyond, why not trade Davis when his value was at its peak and also build up high-ceiling prospects?
Trading Davis could have brought in several quality prospects who theoretically could contribute in the next year or two.
Instead, the Mets kept Davis. The result has been a nightmare.
Davis is hitting .152 with four home runs and nine RBI as well as an incredible 48 strikeouts in 138 at-bats. Davis ranks tied for 13th in the majors in strikeouts, yet only one player above him has fewer at-bats: Colby Rasmus with 137 at-bats. But at least Rasmus is slugging nearly 150 points higher than Davis.
In fact, Davis has been even worse as a cleanup hitter, garnering just nine hits in that spot all season. The Mets’ cleanup hitters altogether rank dead last in the majors in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
To put these struggles into more perspective, Mets’ cleanup hitters have an OPS over 50 points lower than the next worst team, the lowly Astros.
The front office, though, should not be blamed too severely for not trading Davis this offseason. While there was distinct evidence in favor of signing Bourn, there was no evidence that Davis would have gotten off to this kind of start again.
The Mets perhaps could have gotten a good package of prospects in exchange for Davis this offseason. Instead, they are stuck watching him struggle helplessly at the plate for the foreseeable future.
Be More Cautious with Johan Santana
Santana is due $25 million this season, and the Mets had no reason to try to rush him back before testing him in every way possible.
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If there is one thing the Mets are especially terrible at, it is diagnosing injuries.
Johan Santana slowly went through moderate throwing drills this spring training for the first time in months after being cleared to throw. When Santana’s progress went nowhere, another MRI revealed a tear in the capsule of his throwing shoulder, which would require season-ending surgery again.
The Mets have mishandled injuries on countless occasions over the years; Santana’s case is just one of many.
Last year, Jenrry Mejia was diagnosed with forearm tendinitis after a start on March 11. Then, on March 26, Mejia was diagnosed with elbow inflammation and shut down for two to six weeks after lingering pain.
Mejia hasn’t been the same since. After reaching the majors in his previous two seasons, Mejia is now in Class-A Advanced, where he let up five hits and three walks in 3.0 innings in his only start.
This was all after the Mets took far too long in 2011 to realize that Mejia needed Tommy John surgery, too.
Ike Davis is another recent victim.
After a promising start to 2011, Davis rolled his ankle in a collision with Wright in early May. It wasn’t until late June, however, when the Mets finally found cartilage damage in Davis’ ankle and shut him down for the year.
For some reason, the Mets are terrible at handling injuries and handling youngsters. Just the mention of Generation K may bring shudders to some of the 90's Mets fans.
But Santana’s case is different.
The team already knows how fragile he is now, and the front office knows that it is taking on a $25.5 million cap hit for his services.
Therefore, there was no reason to try to rush him. Even if the Mets were way out of contention by the time he returned, a healthy Santana would have given Mets fans something worth watching.
Instead, the Mets will now pay him a grand total of $48 million to rehab his shoulder. Santana is set to miss all of 2013 after rehabbing the entire 2011 season.
The Mets completely mishandled Santana this spring training, though. They have no one to blame but themselves.
Once again, the team wrongly diagnosed a player, and this time it cost them big bucks. If the team was much more practical and careful with Santana’s return, he could potentially be pitching sometime this season.
Considering Santana provided the first no-hitter in Mets history, fans surely would have loved to see a productive Santana provide one swan song effort in a Mets uniform.
Sign a Couple Established Relievers
Parnell has been the lone bright spot in a season with another embarrassing bullpen.
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Another theme of the Mets’ season so far has been a terrible bullpen.
After the 2012 bullpen finished second to last in ERA, Alderson got rid of almost every reliever and signed a lot of underachievers and nobodies to low-risk, minor league contracts.
Considering the flakiness of a reliever year to year, this strategy is actually not a bad idea. A reliever on a one-year contract has more incentive to perform well and potentially get a big contract next offseason.
However, the current Mets bullpen has only three established relievers: Bobby Parnell, Brandon Lyon and a 40-year-old LaTroy Hawkins.
Parnell is doing very well, and Lyon and Hawkins are pitching decently.
Other than those three, though, there are no quality relievers.
The next best choice is perhaps Scott Rice. Yet in classic Mets fashion, they are going to throw Rice until his arm falls off; he is on pace for almost 100 appearances. Also, 13 walks in 20.2 innings does not bode well for the rest of his season.
In the end, Parnell may be the only reliever the Mets can rely on. He has an incredible 0.93 ERA and 0.67 WHIP, but Parnell has also already blown two of his eight save chances.
Again, buying low-risk relievers is not an entirely bad strategy. Occasionally, you may find a diamond in the rough who turns out to be a key part of the bullpen for almost no cost. But when your bullpen consists almost entirely of low-risk players, then there will be struggles.
The stats don’t lie, either: The Mets currently rank 28th in bullpen ERA, one spot above their 2012 ranking. The problem is lack of talent in the relievers, not overwork.
The rotation is not to blame for leaving the relievers out to dry.
The bullpen only ranks 11th in innings pitched. Two of the top three bullpens (according to bullpen ERA) rank much higher than the Mets in innings pitched, so there is no reason why the bullpen should be fatigued, either. With the exception of Rice, of course.
If the Mets had signed a couple quality, veteran relievers, this year’s bullpen could have been a lot different. Those veterans would provide consistency and leadership for the younger and more inexperienced relievers.
For example, Mike Adams signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason. Adams currently has a 3.00 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15.0 innings.
Randy Choate signed a three-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he sports a 1.42 ERA in 14 appearances. Jeremy Affeldt re-signed with the San Francisco Giants, and he has a 2.38 ERA in 11.1 innings.
There were plenty of reliable, consistent relievers on the market this offseason. If the Mets were able to sign a couple of them, that would have brought much-needed stability to an inexperienced bullpen.
Instead, the Mets have surrounded Parnell with pitchers who cannot be relied on.
The newly revamped 2013 bullpen is not much better than the 2012 version. Expect the Mets to once again rank toward the bottom of almost all bullpen rankings.
Stats and info via: ESPN.com, mlb.com, milb.com.