The New York Mets still need to add key pieces to their roster this offseason in order to take a step forward in 2014.
The team has made it clear this offseason that they are not just interested in the future but also the present by signing players like Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon. However, without further additions to the roster the 2014 Mets will not contend and the signings made thus far this offseason will be fruitless.
The Mets need to acquire players paying mind both to their current roster and the future of the club. They still need to improve in multiple areas, and there are options available in both the free-agent and trade market.
Presented here are missing pieces that the New York Mets could still land that would help the team compete in 2014 without hindering their long-term chances of contending.
A Starting Shortstop
The Mets need to field a shortstop in 2014 that is not Ruben Tejada if they want to have any chance for contention in 2014. Mets special assistant J.P. Ricciardi recently said in a radio interview that the team was happy with Tejada as their starting shortstop. Despite this, it is possible he said it for negotiating purposes to try to get leverage with free agents and other teams.
As I laid out in my previous article, the Mets would not be able to get Owings for cheap, and they would have to sacrifice some of their starting pitching to entice Arizona. Sacrificing their current rotation would threaten the Mets’ chances in 2014, but with promising pitching on the horizon it’s a risk worth considering.
The Mets could also construct a similar deal for Arizona shortstop Didi Gregorius, but he has less offensive potential than Owings and is valued highly by Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers (who once compared Gregorius to Derek Jeter).
The Mets making a deal with Arizona for one of their young shortstops is possible but not likely, as Mets general manager Sandy Alderson may prefer to stick with Tejada rather than sacrifice the team’s starting pitching.
The Mets could also try to trade for a shortstop such as the Oakland Athletics’ Jed Lowrie. However, trading for Lowrie would cost the team dearly in terms of prospects and financially, as he is coming off a career year (.290/.344/.446) and is due for a payday in the near future.
A shortstop the Mets could acquire in free agency is Stephen Drew. His name has been picking up steam in rumors recently, as Peter Gammons noted that a rival general manager of the Mets believes the team is interested in Drew’s services.
The Mets are playing the waiting game with Drew, as they are intelligently avoiding overspending on the shortstop. Kevin Kernan of the New York Post wrote that Drew is seeking a three-year deal while the Mets are unwilling to go beyond two years.
The Mets could be helped by the fact that the market for Drew is dwindling. As Peter Gammons’ tweet below states, the New York Yankees are no longer a potential landing spot for the shortstop.
Drew could fall into the Mets' lap if they remain patient, but I believe a return to the Red Sox is more likely.
The Red Sox have one of the top prospects in baseball in Xander Bogaerts as a potential shortstop, but Boston would be best suited bringing back Drew—in the short term.
Bogaerts is capable of playing shortstop, but the Red Sox cannot rely on young third baseman Will Middlebrooks. He has impressive power, but as a 24-year-old in 2013 hit just .227 and reached base at a .271 clip. Boston manager John Farrell indicated the team’s stance on the infield situation earlier in the offseason, stating via NESN, “I’m hopeful [Drew] is back. It buys us some time, whether [Bogaerts] is the guy going forward next year at shortstop or if he’s at third base.”
If the Red Sox can keep Drew, it gives them much more stability in the infield while they attempt to defend their championship. The Mets only want to sign Drew if it is on a short-term deal, but that is the same situation the Red Sox would be willing to sign him.
Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe summed up the Stephen Drew situation well:
“Let's say Stephen Drew is unsigned a few weeks from now. What a hammer the Red Sox have. They don't necessarily need Drew but still could make good use of him. They can offer him a one-year deal, take it or leave it. If he balks, they'll take the draft pick when he finally signs with another team. The only way the Red Sox lose is if Drew waits until after the draft to sign, and that is unlikely.”
If Drew is forced into signing a short-term deal, odds are he will see defending Boston’s championship as a better situation than signing with the Mets.
Veteran Arms in the Bullpen
The Mets have had bullpen issues for years, and have plenty of questions going into the 2014 season as to who will pitch at the end of games.
Bobby Parnell was truly great as the Mets closer in 2013, pitching to a 2.16 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in 50 innings. He was one of the team’s most valuable trade assets going into the midseason trade deadline but the Mets chose to keep him. Parnell proceeded to get hurt and undergo neck surgery in September.
Despite Sandy Alderson stating he expects Parnell to be ready for the 2014 season, he is still a huge question mark going into spring training. The rest of the bullpen last year was made up of older arms such as LaTroy Hawkins and David Aardsma who are either gone or cannot be relied on in the future.
There are bullpen pieces that the Mets could acquire in the open market, but they should be wary of overspending or being dependent on the success of relievers acquired this offseason.
The Mets have been burned in the past, as they have invested in relievers such as Francisco Rodriguez and Frank Francisco who did not live up to the expectations of their contracts. These two pitchers are evidence of how relievers, outside of the recently retired Mariano Rivera, are among the most inconsistent entities in baseball from year to year.
One good option could be 36-year-old Grant Balfour. The Australian flamethrower was great for the Oakland Athletics the past three years, pitching to a 2.53 ERA while spending the last two years as the team's closer.
Balfour signed a two-year $15 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles in December, but surprisingly failed the physical. Balfour claims he is fine but the physical could concern teams across baseball and lower his price. If his price drops significantly, the Mets would be wise to try to sign him.
Outside of Balfour, the big-name relievers have either been signed or are not worth a significant investment. The Mets should try to follow the St. Louis Cardinals' model of building a bullpen. The Cardinals have been successful by hoarding young hard-throwers and piecing them together in their bullpen, and the Mets are in a situation where they can try the same thing.
Some of the Mets’ major-league-ready prospects are pitchers who have either been moved to the bullpen already or are starters who will likely move to the bullpen.
Trotting out a bunch of unproven rookies in the bullpen is a risky strategy, but putting together a successful bullpen is far from a refined process. The Mets would be best served sticking to cheaper acquisitions to fill out the bullpen (like they have made with Ryan Reid and Joel Carreno) and letting pitchers such as Jeurys Familia, Jeff Walters and Jack Leathersich compete for the other bullpen spots in spring training.
A Legitimate First Baseman
Rumors have been flying around this offseason about how the Mets want to trade either Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, but New York would be best served by replacing both of them. Specifically, they should target free agent Kendrys Morales.
Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reported that they would prefer to trade Davis to Duda. This report indicates that the Mets are likely to head into spring training with one of the two as the starting first baseman.
Despite the Mets’ insistence on sticking with their current options at first base, neither Davis nor Duda should be the starting first baseman if they want to compete in 2014.
Davis has high power potential that makes him appealing to many fans and is what the Mets are trying to sell to other teams in order to get a valuable asset back. He has the potential to become a premier first baseman, but with the media pressure and his inconsistent play the past two seasons, it would be best for both the Mets and Davis if they parted ways.
Duda has big power as well but hasn’t been able to translate it into games. In the past three years, Duda has recorded more than 300 at-bats but has failed to hit more than 15 home runs. He does a great job of getting on base, but it doesn’t compensate for his lack of production in other areas of the game. With Duda’s passive personality, he also might have a better chance of thriving outside of New York.
Many teams have categorized Morales as an average first baseman. It has reached a point this offseason where agent Scott Boras has desperately tried to reach out to teams such as the Mets about Morales’ services, via Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. Morales is now being severely undervalued leaguewide.
The Cuban slugger has both a high ceiling in terms of production while also being a consistent force at first base. Prior to a freak injury in 2010 following a walk-off home run (in the below video), Morales was one of the most complete hitters in the league. In 2009, he hit an impressive .306/.355/.569 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI.
After missing all of 2011, whether Morales would come back as an impact player was a major question. While playing with the Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Mariners he hit .273 and .277 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, while hitting 45 home runs over the two-year span.
While his numbers are not overwhelming, they are still very solid and show that Morales still has power potential and a feel for hitting following his injury. Also, he was playing in the spacious Safeco Field in Seattle, a park with a reputation for diminishing home runs.
Morales has also shown that the injury was a freak occurrence and that he is not injury prone, evidenced by his recording more than 500 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons.
Morales’ defense is a concern, as he is best suited as a designated hitter. But with the switch-hitter’s power and consistency at the plate, the Mets would be better off sacrificing defense at first base and signing Morales. Also, Duda would be the first baseman if Davis is dealt, and he is far from a ringer in the field.
The Mets seem intent on sticking with their current first base situation, so signing Morales this offseason is unlikely. Signing him would also cost the Mets a draft pick, but because of their top-10 protection it would be outside of the first round.
Because of how Morales would cost any team that signs him a draft pick, there is a scenario within the realm of possibility that ends with the Mets signing Morales. If teams stay away from him because of the draft pick compensation and the Mets first baseman fails to perform (whether it be Davis or Duda), New York could sign Morales after the draft in June.
Morales is an inexpensive option superior to the current options at first base, and it would be wise for the Mets to sign him as soon as possible.
An Additional Veteran Starting Pitcher
While not a pressing need after the Bartolo Colon signing, the Mets could still find an additional veteran starting pitcher to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Right now Jenrry Mejia looks like the front-runner for the fifth spot in the rotation. If he stays healthy, he should earn it easily. Last season in his short stint in the majors, he resembled a young Pedro Martinez in both appearance and as a pitcher. This was especially the case in a start against the Washington Nationals, seen in the video below:
However, Mejia has failed to stay healthy throughout his career. Bringing in a veteran arm would not only force Mejia to earn a spot in the rotation, it would provide insurance if he is hurt.
A veteran arm would also provide insurance for the rotation as a whole. The newly signed Colon has always had trouble staying on the field, as he has failed to pitch 200 innings in a season since 2005. Jonathon Niese also missed time with injuries last year, and starting pitchers in general can go down with elbow or shoulder injuries unexpectedly. Having as much pitching depth as possible is never a bad thing.
This is less of a need as the Mets have a number of young starting pitchers with promise on the cusp of making the big leagues such as Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom. However, prospects are far from sure things and relying on them exclusively for pitching depth is risky.
Also, the Mets would be better off letting their young pitchers develop in the minors as rushing them could stunt their development. Having veteran depth would let the Mets be patient with their prospects and be better set for long-term success.
Veteran arms that could fit for the Mets include Jason Hammel, Chris Capuano and Johan Santana.
Hammel is coming off a rough season for the Baltimore Orioles, as he allowed a career-high 22 home runs in just 139.1 innings. The South Carolina native could be an ideal option for the Mets as his poor performance in 2013 will make him inexpensive. Hammel has had success at the big league level, and as a low-risk option he makes sense for the Mets.
Capuano is a name most Mets fans will remember, as he had a successful 2011 season for the team while logging 186 innings. After solid seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers the last two years, the team declined Capuano’s option and made him a free agent.
If Capuano could be had for the right price, he is an ideal option for the Mets as a veteran who could compete for a spot in the rotation and slide into a long relief role. The market for Capuano may pick up, however, and put him outside of the Mets' price range.
Santana would be an ideal option. His tenure with the Mets was full of highs and lows, and after missing the final year of his contract due to injury, Santana may move on from New York.
If the Mets can re-sign Santana to a minor league contract for next season, he would be a perfect low-risk and high-reward option. If he is willing to take a chance at resurrecting his career with Mets, the team should let him, as it would make for one of the more compelling storylines of the 2014 season.
The Mets have made major strides this offseason, but they still need to land pieces if they want to compete in 2014. The team is weak at shortstop, first base and in their bullpen, and adding a veteran arm would help them tremendously.
Despite the need to acquire more pieces, it is possible the team stands pat. Mets fans should hope otherwise, as pieces that could improve the team are out there and ready to be had if the Mets want them.
All statistics courtesy Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.