The New York Mets have been busier this offseason than in recent ones, but there is still work to be done on the Mets roster before spring training begins next month.
General manager Sandy Alderson has already acquired Curtis Granderson and Chris Young for the outfield while adding Bartolo Colon to the rotation fill in for the absence of Matt Harvey.
Despite these moves, the organization would like to bring in another starting pitcher on a minor league deal to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. They would also like to acquire a veteran reliever to fill the role LaTroy Hawkins occupied in 2013.
Then, there’s the elephant in the room at shortstop. The Stephen Drew sweepstakes are still going on, and it looks like the Mets are the only logical suitor. Hopefully that is the case because potential backup options for Ruben Tejada were erased on Jan. 13 when Cesar Izturis signed with the Houston Astros and Ronny Cedeno inked a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Here are the best free-agent options left for the Mets to consider based on ability, versatility, affordability and fit in the clubhouse.
The “Amazins" have been linked to Alfredo Aceves since the start of the offseason, as Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe tweeted on Nov. 13. Aceves would provide some flexibility for the Mets pitching staff because he has the ability to start and relieve, but also comes with a little baggage.
Evan Drellich of MassLive.com reported last summer that Aceves and the Boston Red Sox couldn’t agree on a potential injury he had suffered. The hurler said he hurt his oblique on the road against the Seattle Mariners and thjat his 2013 season might be over.
Boston wasn’t convinced Aceves was actually hurt. After posting a 4.86 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP in 37 innings of work following a 5.36 ERA in 84 innings pitched in 2012, he was outrighted to Triple-A and moved off the 40-man roster.
It turned out Aceves' season wasn’t over after all. He started eight games for the Pawtucket Red Sox, going 4-2 with a 4.25 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 48.2 innings. He was eligible for arbitration this winter, but Boston didn’t want to pay around $3 million for his services.
Aceves would come cheaply for the Mets, which is probably why the team showed an early interest. However, if it wasn't at all concerned about his 2013 numbers, he probably would have already been signed. New York just went through a similar situation with Frank Francisco.
It would be better to stay away from Aceves. Alderson wants a veteran reliever who can have a positive influence in the clubhouse. That’s something Aceves can’t provide.
The Mets are already familiar with Daisuke Matsuzaka because they essentially gave him a tryout at the end of 2013. Dice-K spent most of his season in Triple-A Columbus for the Cleveland Indians. The righty was then released after going 5-8 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 103.1 innings pitched.
Matsuzaka’s tenure with New York couldn’t have started much worse. He allowed 15 earned runs in his first 12.1 innings of work, including three starts.
After losing those first three starts, Dice-K finished the season with three wins in four starts, allowing four earned runs over 26.1 innings. It was a dramatic turnaround that gave him hope to return to New York for the 2014 season.
Dice-K remains an option, but there haven’t been reports of Alderson or anyone else in the front office having had any dialogue with his agent. In reality, there isn’t a huge market for him, so New York is able to investigate other opportunities before making a final decision.
There are more enticing options out there, and they should be pursued first before the Mets settle on Dice-K.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted that a group of starting pitchers the Mets were considering during the winter meetings. He mentioned Bartolo Colon, Bruce Chen, John Lannan and Paul Maholm. New York already has Colon, and they’re looking for more.
Chen and Maholm are likely out of the picture because there is a decent chance that the two can land a guaranteed contract somewhere. However, Lannan will likely command a minor league deal, putting him up against Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
The southpaw made $2.5 million with the Philadelphia Phillies last season, but only made 14 starts for the big league club. He went 3-6 with a 5.33 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 74.2 innings of work.
The fact that Lannan is left-handed should already make him attractive to the Mets. Jonathon Niese is the only starter in their who is a southpaw, and there aren’t many options in the minor league pipeline. Lannan also has ties to New York, having grown up in Long Beach and attended Chaminade High School on Long Island.
If one of the younger arms beats out Lannan, he would provide a solid insurance policy in Triple-A if any of the incumbent starters hit the disabled list.
Kyle Farnsworth is the most experienced of the relievers on this list. The hard-throwing right-hander has spent 15 years in the majors and his 2013 performance could play into New York’s hand for a potential deal.
In his third year with the Tampa Bay Rays, Farnsworth posted a 5.76 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 29.2 innings prior to being released by the organization in August. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates a few days later, adjusting back to the National League well with a 1.04 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 8.2 innings.
Farnsworth would bring a lot of experience to a mostly young Mets bullpen. He’s spent most of his career pitching at the end of games, notching 25 saves for the Rays as recently as 2011.
He doesn’t throw his fastball 96 miles per hour like he did at the start of his career, but he still brought the heat last season with an average velocity of 92.6 miles per hour.
The other key to Farnsworth being attractive for New York is the $1.25 million salary he made in 2013. His performance last season doesn’t call for much of a raise in any future contract negotiations. Alderson is looking for a reliever at around the same salary Hawkins had last season, which was $1 million. That should make Farnsworth a very real possibility for the bullpen.
The Mets have been linked to Mitchel Boggs since Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted the connection on Dec. 9. The right-hander may be the best fit to come in and fill the role Hawkins has now left open upon signing with the Colorado Rockies.
After being a crucial part of the bullpen for the St. Louis Cardinals as a setup man from 2010 through 2012, things quickly fell apart in 2013 when he filled in for Jason Motte as the closer. In 14.2 innings of work (18 appearances), he posted an atrocious 11.05 ERA and 2.46 WHIP, including 15 walks allowed.
That performance earned him a trip to Triple-A Memphis. He didn’t fare much better in 18 appearances there, putting together a 5.70 ERA. He eventually was traded to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for international signing money. Talk about a fast fall from grace.
Boggs spent some time in the Rockies’ minor league system, but appeared in nine games in the big leagues before the season was over. He had a 3.12 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 8.2 innings pitched.
That wasn’t enough for Colorado to tender him a contract, however, as he was cut back in November, making him a free agent. Landing Boggs would mean the Mets hope for a big return on a small financial commitment.
Boggs could likely be brought in on a minor league deal with a spring training invite for a low base salary if he makes the big league squad. It would be similar to the deal Hawkins signed last year, leaving a tremendous upside and little risk for New York.
Freddy Garcia’s name came up during the winter meetings, but it was quiet on this front until recently. He's now emerged as a very real possibility for the Mets to sign.
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York feels that Garcia could be a good fit for the “Amazins” because of his ability to start and relieve:
The bottom line is this: Even if the candidate the Mets sign on a minor-league contract ultimately ends up earning the fifth-starter's role over Mejia and the prospects, that pitcher must be capable of swinging over to the bullpen once Noah Syndergaard is promoted in June or July anyway, assuming the other rotation members remain healthy.
Garcia is looking for a team willing to take a chance on him. He spent 2013 with the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves, doing time in both the majors and the minors. In 17 appearances (13 starts), Garcia went 4-7 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 80.1 innings pitched in the big leagues.
Pursuing the 37-year-old right-hander would be an interesting move by Sandy Alderson because it could give the team an insurance policy in multiple respects. The depth he would provide the starting rotation is clear. However, if the reliever New York eventually signs doesn’t perform—like Brandon Lyon last year, Garcia could shift to the ‘pen when the prospects are ready to contribute.
It should be no surprise that Stephen Drew is the best remaining free agent on the market who the Mets could sign. They’ve been linked to him since the winter meetings, but are currently in a staring contest with his agent, Scott Boras.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a market for Drew outside of New York and the Red Sox, but Boras says otherwise. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reports the shortstop’s agent claims to be in contact with five or six teams.
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports the Mets' front office is divided over the value Drew would bring, and have gone public recently about their willingness to use Ruben Tejada as their Opening Day shortstop.
This has been a saga that will be dragged out for a while longer, similar to the Michael Bourn negotiations from a year ago. Until there is an identifiable market for Drew, New York doesn’t feel comfortable offering more than a one-year contract.
Unless a different team comes in to start a bidding war, this will be a game of chicken between Boras and the Mets. There is no doubt that Drew would be an overall upgrade for the team. He hit .253/.333/.443 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI while providing solid defense for Boston last year. However, there is no need for the Mets to overpay if they're the only bidder.
The Mets have already overpaid this offseason to land Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon to their respective deals. The longer they can hold out with Boras, the better. There is no reason for them to offer more than one year to Drew, so that’s where they should stay until someone else forces them to get serious, or else back out of negotiations.
If the Mets don't sign Drew, they were interested in other veteran backup options at shortstop, but that market has dried up with both Cesar Izturis and Ronny Cedeno off the market. It will be interesting to see how that affects New York's pursuit of Drew moving forward. The longer he's without a team, the more his asking price will drop, playing into Sandy Alderson's hands.
Matt's Mets opinion has been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Yahoo! Sports, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.