Mets: Previewing the Free Agent Names the Mets Should Be Chasing This Offseason
The New York Mets are heading into what should be their most active offseason post-Maddoff scandal. Fred Wilpon has assured fans that financial constraints are behind the franchise since Spring Training. Sandy Alderson has followed suit, pledging that the Mets will be real players in free-agency.
Credibility of the front office is debatable—as is the extent of available funds—but the fact that the Mets have plenty of holes to fill before the 2014 season remains. Playing the free agent market has its inherent risks, but it will also present some intriguing candidates this winter.
The Mets’ record currently sits at 73-85. A pace good enough to finish—at best—third in the National League East. The most recent string of success has surrounded the team with some sorely needed positive vibes. You could even argue that things are finally looking up in Citi Field, considering.
As of September 26, the New York Mets have won nine of their last 13 games.
David Wright is back in the lineup. Travis d’Arnaud is beginning to put his early big league struggles behind him. Youngsters like Vic Black and Wilfredo Tovar have made the most of their early opportunities. Even Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang have been impressive recently. So—it’s all good in Queens.
So much of how the Mets will proceed this offseason hinges on perpetually developing circumstances. What kind of budget is Alderson up against? Will any younger players show enough to justify an impending Opening Day roster spot? Matt Harvey’s 2014 status is still a question mark and Lucas Duda has failed to fully seize a golden opportunity.
Ambiguity is abounding.
Weaknesses at shortstop and in the outfield are especially glaring. The franchise could also use a first baseman and, since Harvey’s injury, reliable depth at starting pitcher too. Assuming ownership’s promises are heeded—several free agents, in particular, meet the organization’s expectedly judicious standards.
The Mets’ recent surge has unintentionally created an additional question mark. If the season ended today, the Mets would finish with the 11th worst record in MLB–rendering their 2014 draft pick unprotected. Something the team implied to be the deciding factor in bowing out of the Michael Bourn sweepstakes last winter.
Free-agency is all about shrewd investment. The options on the market must fit New York’s goals in the short term and, most importantly, continue paying dividends through the very last year of the contract.
Substantial improvement to the major league roster will rely on a prudently employed strategy for all potential acquisitions, truthfully—something that should be abundantly clear to a franchise burned by a myriad of foolish contracts before.
The following players fulfill the above criteria. Slides are broken down by position of need and the choices represent the top candidates at each respective position—most exclusions should be considered secondary options. Other exclusions are the result of concerns regarding age or anticipated price-range.
Now, please, allow me to present to you—the free agent names the Mets should be chasing this offseason.
All following statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
Kendry Morales (Age: 30)
Of all the free agents at the position, Kendry Morales is likely the most accomplished hitter not named Justin Morneau. His OPS has steadily declined since 2009, but his .812 career OPS speaks to his proficiency in the batter’s box.
Morales has spent significantly more time at DH than first base. 2009 was also the last season he saw full-time defensive duties, but he has received spot starts at the position every year.
Even with league average defense, he would represent a substantial upgrade for the Mets and provide them with a credible middle-of-the-order power threat. His .480 career slugging percentage would trail just David Wright for the team lead.
James Loney (Age: 29)
That’s not to say he isn’t a viable option at first base.
At 29 years old, there is still some room for improvement. Loney is coming off a season with a .778 OPS and a WAR of 2.5—production levels the Mets would be happy to boast at the position.
Given his age, and assuming his comes with a reasonable price tag, he’s as good a candidate as any to take over first base at Citi Field long-term.
Notable Exclusion: Justin Morneau
Current Positional Outlook
Duda was unable to emerge as much more than a contender—if not the front-runner—for the everyday first baseman duties since being recalled in August.
Josh Satin is too old to be considered a prospect at this point, but he could complement Duda to form a respectable platoon at the position and save the organization money in the process. Their lefty-righty splits support such conjecture, though the willingness of Mets’ brass to go this route is uncertain.
Even an affordable platoon at the position is less than ideal for a team aspiring to be legitimately competitive. Luckily, there some free agent first basemen capable of filling the void.
Jhonny Peralta (Age: 31)
His .822 OPS in 104 games prior to suspension speaks for itself and dwarfs league average production at the position. Peralta has accrued a career total of 24.9 WAR—his glove is middle of the pack according to the defensive metric dWAR.
Alderson should have his fingers crossed, hoping the Biogenesis scandal can lower Peralta’s value on the open market. The team has more to gain at shortstop than any other position.
Mets shortstops combined to post an OPS of .572, second-to-last in all of baseball.
Stephen Drew (Age: 30)
As previously noted, it won’t require an all-star to increase the Mets’ production at shortstop.
Stephen Drew’s .768 OPS and 2.8 WAR in 2013 would fit the bill quite nicely. Drew is another former first round draft pick with mediocre defense and an above average bat for his position.
Notable Exclusion: Yunel Escobar
Current Positional Outlook
Wilfredo Tovar—described as very similar to Tejada in the talent department—made his major league debut this September. The sure-handed shortstop has a major league-ready glove, reportedly, but the development of his bat will decide the breadth of his professional baseball career.
The Mets are already conceding offense at multiple positions across the diamond and Tovar is still very young, with plenty of time to refine his approach at the plate. Depending on how the offseason breaks, the team can ill afford another light-hitting bat in the everyday lineup.
The trade market has been and will continue to be monitored, but the team may lack the talent necessary to acquire an accomplished offensive weapon. Depth at the minor league level is limited—and the franchise has very little to offer potential suitors without creating new problems in need of remedy.
At the right price, the free-agent market features a couple of players that would make for interesting targets.
Shin-Soo Choo (Age: 31)
Early reports are pegging Choo to seek a long-term, six-figure salary. It’s a price that would eliminate the Mets as potential suitor, if true. But I wouldn’t expect super-agent Scott Boras to propose anything less at this point in time.
Choo is everything the Mets could ask for and more. He boasts a career OBP of .389 and Alderson justifiably loves his patient approach at the plate.
The outfielder enters the offseason with an OPS of .890—he was worth 4.0 WAR in 2013.
He’s the perfect fit for the Mets at this point in time, with pure top-of-the-lineup potential and still seemingly in the prime of his career.
The only question remaining is his asking price. The Mets should do everything possible to avoid going beyond four years with any player, even one of Choo’s caliber. With that said, the 31-year-old is the closest you get to a sure bet in terms of production.
If it takes an extra year to sign Choo, is it reason enough to take a pass on a legitimate long-term solution in the outfield? Probably not.
Hunter Pence (Age: 30)
In the very plausible event that the Mets lose the Choo sweepstakes, Hunter Pence is a very good option to fall back on.
The outfielder has put together an undeniably solid career, though his awkward style of play has been the source of some humor. He matched Choo’s 4.0 WAR in 2013 and owns a career OPS of .814.
Corey Hart (Age: 31)
Corey Hart is the type of power threat that any team would be lucky to have in the middle of their lineup.
He may not get on base as often as Choo, but Hart would give Wright the lineup protection he’s been missing. From 2010 to 2012, he posted slugging percentages of .525, .510 and .507 respectively.
Hart is also more than capable of sliding down to first base if the situation calls for it. He has played 105 games at the position throughout his career.
Knee surgery cost him the entire 2013 season. If he can be had on the cheap, the Mets’ hapless everyday lineup would instantly become formidable.
Notable Exclusions: Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, Nate McLouth, Curtis Granderson, Michael Morse and Marlon Byrd
Current Positional Outlook
The Mets’ play in 2013 has created some waves across the tireless New York media, even managing to steal some headlines—of the favorable variety, if you can believe it—from their Bronx rivals.
Manager Terry Collins credited improved outfield defense for the team’s turnaround. From June 16 to July 12, the Mets had the third best record (16-10) in baseball. Sudden prosperity was a welcome surprise following an abysmal 24-39 start to the season. The success also proved to demonstrate the value of defense and run prevention.
They soon came back down to earth, however—and that it ended when it did was probably for the best.
What the Mets gleaned following the relatively short-lived run is of equal significance. Fourth outfielder-types are vastly more effective in a limited capacity. The Mets played the majority of their innings with at least two players fitting the above description in their outfield all year—and the remaining games provided a vital dose of reality.
The Mets need to address their offensive woes and inking a free-agent corner outfielder seems to be priority numero uno.
Be it Mike Baxter, Rick Ankiel (yes, that happened), Collin Cowgill, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Andrew Brown or Eric Young Jr.—their weaknesses became increasingly apparent with heightened exposure. Players like Brown and Young Jr. have some bench value, and for that, they could have a place on the team next year, but these are the modest roles they’re best suited for.
These free agents, however, can slide seamlessly into the everyday lineup.
Bronson Arroyo (Age: 36)
The Mets aren’t looking for an upper-echelon starting pitcher, unlike their strategy at other positions of need.
Bronson Arroyo is a dependable starter and proven innings-eater. He’s exactly the type of rotation-piece the team would be thrilled to enter 2014 with—and he’s already expressed open-mindedness regarding a future stint in Queens.
Since 2005, he has failed to eclipse 200 innings pitched just once, settling for 199 IP in 2011.
He has managed to fly under the radar as an above average starting pitcher for several years. The 36-year-old owned an ERA of 3.60 in 2013 and a WHIP of 1.14. Arroyo’s age should set the table for a short-term deal and keep him comfortably within the Mets’ price range.
Scott Feldman (Age: 30)
Scott Feldman is a Hawaii-native and I assure you that his intrigue does not end there.
The former Texas Rangers product stands at 6-7, 220 pounds and is coming off of easily his best season in the big leagues. Feldman split time between Chicago and Baltimore in 2013, pitching to the tune of a 3.51 ERA in the process.
Is it finally all coming together for the big righty? His owns a career ERA of 4.55—a testament to his inconsistency, but also the reason he should be affordable this winter.
At best Feldman earns a spot in the major league starting rotation and at worst he provides decent Spring Training competition. If the Mets like him and the interest is mutual, he should be theirs for the taking.
Scott Downs (Age: 37)
The Mets can begin improving their bullpen by signing Scott Downs.
On a short-term deal, there’s room for him in every bullpen.
In 713 career innings pitched, Downs has 550 strikeouts, a 3.48 ERA and limited left-handed hitters to a .218/.286/.317 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line.
Boone Logan (Age: 29)
His strikeout numbers have only gone up since 2010, a strong indication that there’s plenty of mileage left in that pitching arm—and culminating with an impressive 11.5 SO/9 in 2013. The specialist has held lefties to a .690 OPS in 716 plate appearances.
Logan’s career ERA is 4.39 and he has struck out 304 batters in 303.2 innings pitched.
Latroy Hawkins (Age: 40)
Here’s a familiar name who deserves a new Mets contract.
The 40-year-old has been the most consistent arm in the team’s bullpen all year, evidenced by his ERA of 2.97 in 69.2 innings.
Latroy Hawkins is popular in the clubhouse, he admirably filled the team’s closer role and has almost taken the decision to re-up out of the franchise’s hands with his performance. Resigning Hawkins to a one year deal should be feasible.
Notable Exclusions: (SP) Tim Lincecum, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett, Hiroki Kuroda, Bruce Chen, Josh Johnson, Bartolo Colon, Dan Haren, Phil Hughes; (RP) Fernando Rodney, Edward Mujica, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit
Current Positional Outlook
The Mets planned on entering the offseason with plenty of depth at starting pitcher.
The team lost more than the ace of their rotation when Harvey hurt his shoulder. Young pitching assets—formerly presumed to be expendable—may now be more valuable within Queens than any package they are likely to fetch via trade.
Starting pitching was the unequivocal strength of the franchise. Successive injuries to Jennry Mejia and Jeremy Hefner only expounded the problem. The Mets are no longer deep at the position—they’re looking to free agency for help.
It’s fair to pencil in Jonathan Neise, Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler for some reliable innings next year. But even if Mejia completes his rehab in time for Spring Training, the form of a player bouncing back from injury is difficult to predict. At least a couple innings-eaters must be brought in to compete with in-house options to fill out the rotation.
Given the historical nature of relief pitchers (fluctuating year-to-year performance), they will also be in the market for some precarious bullpen talent.
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