Grading New York Mets' Moves so Far This Offseason
The New York Mets have been pretty active in free agency this winter. Despite that Matt Harvey will miss the 2014 MLB season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Sandy Alderson and the front office are moving ahead with their plan of infusing this roster with productive players to be competitive.
It’s been a painstaking process watching Alderson maneuver his way through the offseason since he joined the organization. Heading into this winter, the biggest free-agent signing he made was bringing in Frank Francisco on a two-year, $12 million deal.
Alderson has changed his tune, keeping his promise that money coming off the books from bad contracts would be reinvested in the major league roster. Not all of the money from the Johan Santana and Jason Bay savings has been spent yet, but New York is showing its willingness to once again hand out multi-year contracts.
Let’s take a look at New York’s report card with the moves it has made so far this offseason.
Non-Tendering Jordany Valdespin, Omar Quintanilla and Justin Turner
The Mets cut ties with four players prior to the non-tender deadline. Jordany Valdespin, Omar Quintanilla and Justin Turner are no longer with the organization, but New York re-signed rehabbing Jeremy Hefner to a minor league deal.
It’s no surprise that Valdespin finally wore out his welcome in Flushing. He’s had a number of behavioral issues, but the most recent one was seemingly the last straw.
After hitting .188/.250/.316 in 66 games last season, he was told to pack his bags for Triple-A Las Vegas. He proceeded to throw a tantrum in the locker room, including yelling profanities at manager Terry Collins, according to Marc Carig of Newsday.
He then served a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, which ended his 2013 season and tenure with the Mets.
Quintanilla filled in admirably for Ruben Tejada at shortstop, but he always seemed to be an expendable piece. He provides solid defense, but his .222/.306/.283 line in 95 games played wasn’t enough to retain him at a higher salary.
Turner was the most surprising cut made by New York. He was a bench player but was liked in the clubhouse and by his manager. He was valuable because he could play every infield position, also making brief appearances in the outfield. The organization said his "lack of hustle" was the reason for his release, according to a report from ESPN New York.
The Mets could have used Turner and Quintanilla for middle-infield depth this season, but they can find cheaper and/or younger players to fill that role elsewhere.
Signing Brandon Allen to a Minor League Deal
This signing is one that will not make headlines going into spring training, but it’s one that could end up being significant at the first base position.
Allen was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the fifth round of the 2004 MLB draft, but hasn’t turned into the power bat he was expected to be. However, he’s still young (turning 28 in February) and has put together a .278/.378/.524 line through five seasons of Triple-A competition.
He’s been bouncing between Triple-A and the major leagues since 2009, but hasn’t truly gotten his chance. Allen hit 17 home runs and drove in 76 runs through 119 games played for the Tucson Padres last season, and he can be a source of motivation for Lucas Duda and Ike Davis in camp.
His minor league deal includes an invite to big league spring training. At this point, the Mets expect Davis to be with them when position players report to Port St. Lucie next month. With him, Duda, Josh Satin and now Allen, it could be an open competition at first base.
There is a chance he comes out of nowhere and wins a big league roster spot out of camp, but he will likely be starting the season with the Las Vegas 51s, along with Eastern League MVP Allan Dykstra.
For a team that doesn’t have highly touted prospects in the upper levels of the minors at this position, this is a good depth signing.
Signing Chris Young to Start the Outfield Makeover
The one-year, $7.25 million agreement made with outfielder Chris Young was the first move to remake New York’s outfield. Since he's coming off a year in which he hit .200/.280/.379 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI, it can certainly be argued that Alderson overpaid for his services.
However, this can also be viewed as a bargain when looking at free-agent prices this winter. It’s not a multi-year commitment and is still for a reasonable price, which could allow the Mets to reap huge benefits if Young bounces back with a big season.
He’s a career .235 hitter who averages almost 150 strikeouts per season, but his power potential and defense are what made him attractive. Over the course of a full season, Young has averaged 24 homers and 73 RBI throughout his career. That was better than any of their internal outfield options at the time of his signing.
Young can also be a plus defender. As a starter with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 and 2012, he posted a 25.9 UZR rating in over 2,000 innings of play.
While this wasn’t the huge splash fans were hoping for, it could very well be significant. Young is entering his age-30 season more motivated than ever to re-establish himself before hitting free agency again next winter.
If he can provide the type of power numbers Marlon Byrd did last year, this signing will be worth it.
Claiming Ryan Reid off Waivers from Pittsburgh Pirates
The Mets bullpen currently has a lot of young arms to choose from, and Ryan Reid is another one to add to this list.
New York claimed Reid off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates right before Christmas, adding the 28-year-old to what is already a deep group of relief arms. Drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the seventh round of the 2006 draft, Reid didn’t make his MLB debut until this past season with Pittsburgh.
He threw 11 innings over seven appearances, posting a 1.64 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and seven strikeouts. Reid is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, spending his last three seasons in Triple-A with different organizations. He’s posted a 14-6 record with a 3.57 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 186 strikeouts over 108 appearances (194 innings pitched) in that level of the minors.
Reid isn’t the veteran reliever with closing experience Alderson is in search of, but as the old adage says, teams can never have enough pitching. He’ll likely be in spring training to be a part of an open competition for some of the last available bullpen spots. If he doesn’t make the big league team, he’ll create some depth for New York in Triple-A Las Vegas.
Signing Bartolo Colon to Fill Harvey's Spot
It was a big blow to “the plan” when the Mets found out Harvey would be sidelined for all of 2014.
To fill his spot in the rotation, New York agreed to sign Bartolo Colon to a two-year, $20 million contract during the winter meetings. Similar to the Young signing, this agreement may have made a few fans scratch their heads, but it was a shrewd move by Alderson to bolster the starting staff.
Despite being 40 years old, Colon had a tremendous year for the Oakland Athletics in 2013. The big right-hander went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 117 strikeouts in 190.1 innings pitched. He placed sixth in American League Cy Young Award voting and earned an All-Star selection for the first time since 2005.
He does bring questions with his age, weight and history of PEDs, but it was a risk worth taking for the Mets. Outside of serving a suspension in 2012, Colon has been durable since missing the entire 2010 season, starting at least 24 games each year.
With the high costs of pitching in this winter’s free-agent market, Alderson needed to find a short-term and reasonably priced solution that would help stabilize the rotation with a proven arm, yet not block any of their minor league pitching prospects.
This two-year deal provides the ideal stop-gap—Colon can be used as insurance for when Harvey returns in 2015, or if another pitcher gets hurt. He could also be favorable trade bait come July if he performs well on this team-friendly deal.
Signing Taylor Teagarden to a Minor League Deal
The Mets announced via Twitter on January 6 that they signed Taylor Teagarden to a minor league deal with an invite to big league spring training. He will likely compete with Anthony Recker and Juan Centeno for backup catcher with Travis d’Arnaud penciled in as the starter.
Teagarden spent the last two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles after starting his professional career with the Texas Rangers. He appeared in 23 games in 2013, hitting .167/.180/.300 with two home runs and five RBI.
Like some of the other moves the Mets have made this winter, this is purely for organizational depth. Mike Puma tweeted that New York had no interest in bringing back free agent John Buck, but was open to adding to the position.
Whichever catchers don’t land a spot on the Opening Day roster will be sent to Triple-A to start the year. At this point, Recker’s experience and familiarity with the staff from last year should give him the upper hand in the competition.
If Recker ends up becoming d’Arnaud’s backup, Teagarden would likely be a placeholder and insurance policy while Kevin Plawecki works his way through Double-A Binghamton.
Signing Curtis Granderson to Be Their Big Bat
The greatest need for the Mets was to find a power bat to protect David Wright in the lineup.
Their answer was Curtis Granderson, agreeing to a four-year, $60 million deal with the outfielder. He was limited to 61 games in 2013, producing a .229/.317/.407 line in 214 at-bats, but his successful track record made the Mets comfortable enough to sign him.
Granderson has hit at least 19 home runs in a season seven different times, including two 40-homer seasons with the New York Yankees. It’s not expected that he’ll continue hitting home runs at that rate in the more spacious Citi Field, but somewhere between 20 and 30 bombs is not an unrealistic number.
He provides the protection for Wright that Terry Collins desired. Instead of pitching around the third baseman to get to an unproven and inconsistent Ike Davis, opponents will have to deal with Granderson instead.
Similar to the situation with Colon, the free-agent market for position players is overpriced this winter, to say the least. Jacoby Ellsbury signed a $153 million deal, Shin-Soo Choo netted $130 million and Robinson Cano cashed in the most with a cool $240 million.
Considering how much money other teams have been spending to get elite power bats, the Mets lucked out with Granderson. His injury-filled 2013 probably dropped him into the Mets' price range. He’s also a great veteran clubhouse presence to help Wright develop and be an example for the young players.
There is risk with his propensity to strike out and increasing age over the life of his contract, but it was another risk worth taking to beef up their lineup.
There are still questions to be answered before this team hits the field for the start of the regular season, but this winter activity by the front office is refreshing to see. The moves made thus far this offseason have given Collins the most proven talent to work with since he became manager.
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