New York Mets' 3 Biggest Missed Opportunities of the Offseason
The New York Mets have had a productive offseason in many respects, but they still missed out on a number of opportunities that would have improved their team in both the short and long term.
The Mets addressed many needs this offseason, especially with their signings of Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon to bolster their outfield and starting rotation respectively. While filling these holes was necessary, the Mets missed on a number of opportunities to improve the team, especially since the signings of Granderson and Colon were geared to improve the team in the short term.
In early January, I laid out four areas in which the Mets needed to make further acquisitions, and they successfully completed two. They added cheap, veteran arms for their bullpen by signing Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde, and they added veteran depth to their starting rotation with the acquisitions of Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan.
The team clearly doesn’t have the funds or desire to approach big-money players such as Shin-Soo Choo, Robinson Cano or Masahiro Tanaka, so I do not classify the failure to sign players like them as a missed opportunity.
Looking back at the offseason, here are the Mets’ biggest missed opportunities, although some of them could still be fixed.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Trading for One of the Arizona Diamondbacks' Shortstops
Considering Ruben Tejada’s poor performance in 2013 and lack of upside, the Mets missed on the opportunity to trade for a shortstop of the future.
Earlier this offseason, the Mets made what seemed like a bluff when special assistant J.P. Ricciardi told the Hot Stove Show's Rob Bradford and John McDonald (h/t WEEI.com) that the team was happy with Tejada at shortstop. With the season approaching, it appears as if this is actually the case.
The Mets could still sign Stephen Drew. But even if they did so, it would be on a short-term deal, still leaving the Mets with a long-term hole at shortstop.
The biggest opportunity the Mets missed was making a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks for one of their two young shortstops, Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings.
I wrote earlier this offseason about what it would take for the Mets to trade for Owings (as I prefer him to Gregorius). Any trade would cost the Mets significantly, as they would have to sacrifice major league-quality pitchers such as Dillon Gee or Jenrry Mejia, or a prospect package built around the major league-ready Rafael Montero.
While trading one of their key pitchers would cost the Mets dearly, the team’s stable of young pitching is its strongest asset, and sacrificing their greatest strength to fill one of their greatest weaknesses should definitely have been considered.
Even though trading for a young shortstop would cost the Mets assets, it still would have been a better option than overpaying for a shortstop in free agency.
While the Mets could still sign Drew, doing so on a contract of greater than one year could be a mistake. Drew is solid and unexceptional, and there are better options available in the 2015 free-agent class.
Hanley Ramirez will be a free agent, and signing him could be the first expensive acquisition the Mets have made in years. Jed Lowrie will also be a free agent, and is a much more complete hitter than Drew. Comparable players such as J.J. Hardy and Asdrubal Cabrera will also be available, so overpaying for Drew now would be a mistake.
With limited free-agent options available at the shortstop position, the Mets had the opportunity to trade for a shortstop that would be under team control for years to come. Whether it was the slick-fielding Didi Gregorius or aggressive-hitting Chris Owings, the Mets should have dipped into their surplus of starting pitching and pursued one of the two shortstops.
Trading Ike Davis or Lucas Duda
After another atrocious defensive season from Lucas Duda in the outfield, the Mets went into the offseason with two left-handed first basemen (the other being Ike Davis) who reach base often but who failed to tap into their power in 2013.
While the Mets were rumored all offseason to prefer trading Davis, including this report from the New York Daily News' Andy Martino, the fact that they haven’t traded either is a big mistake. Both players are in their late 20s and have very similar profiles, and even if the Mets may claim they will try Duda in the outfield again, the outfield is already crowded, and he doesn’t belong there anyway.
While one of the two could end up being dealt during spring training, they still missed out on the opportunity to make a trade when the market for a first baseman was hot. Teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers were ideal matches for trades, but both moved on as Mets general manager Sandy Alderson remained firm in his negotiations. The Rays ended up re-signing James Loney, and the Brewers eventually signed Mark Reynolds.
Now, there is only one realistic partner still available, and that is the Pittsburgh Pirates. As I wrote on Monday when I predicted how the situation at first base would play out, the plan to give Davis more at-bats in spring training could have multiple motives:
Giving Davis more at-bats could potentially help him get in a rhythm for the season, but it could be an excuse for the Mets to showcase him to other teams and remind them of his power. Having more at-bats in spring training should give him opportunities to beat up on lesser pitchers trying to make a roster, and potentially convince a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates to pull the trigger on a trade.
This is further substantiated by a report from ESPN’s Jayson Stark on Tuesday, who wrote that “the Pirates continue to monitor Ike Davis’ status in Mets camp.”
While the Mets missed on their opportunity to capitalize on the offseason market, Alderson has proven he is a patient and effective negotiator. Having both Davis and Duda heading into the season makes little sense, and unless the Mets can pull off a deal during spring training, not trading one of them is one of their biggest missed opportunities of the offseason.
Signing a New First Baseman
While the Mets should have traded at least one of Davis or Duda this offseason (as discussed in the previous slide), they missed out on the opportunity to sign a better option than both of them.
I made the case earlier this offseason that neither player's future should be in New York. Regarding Davis, I wrote:
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.
As for Duda, I wrote that he also could potentially thrive in a smaller market:
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.
Getting power production from first base will be essential to the Mets’ success in 2014, and while both Davis and Duda have the potential, it cannot be expected at this point based on their past performances.
The Mets should also have signed a first baseman because the options on the market were not only better than both Davis and Duda, but also not overly expensive.
Corey Hart missed all of 2013 with knee injuries, but prior to that was one of the most consistent hitters in baseball. He has never batted below .260 in a season and has the patience and power Sandy Alderson covets, exhibited by his .857 .OPS over his last three active seasons. While Hart would be a risky signing coming off of an injury-plagued season, he ended up signing with the Seattle Mariners for just one year and $6 million (with the ability to earn more with incentives).
Kendrys Morales could still be signed by the Mets and would be a drastic improvement over both Davis and Duda. Outside of a freak injury in 2010, Morales has been a powerful and consistent hitter at the plate. In 2009, he was one of the best hitters in baseball, sporting a .306/.355/.569 line with 34 home runs and 108 RBI.
Since coming back from injury he hasn’t reached his previous level of production, but has been consistent and better than both Davis and Duda. In 2012 with the Angels and 2013 with the Mariners he hit .273 and .277 respectively with 45 home runs combined, playing many of his games at the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. He is also a switch-hitter, which would give the Mets more lineup flexibility as both Davis and Duda struggle mightily against left-handed pitching.
Morales is still a free agent, and while the Mets seem intent on using one of Davis or Duda this season at first, there is still a realistic situation in which the Mets could sign him. If both Davis and Duda struggle early this season (or whichever one of them is not traded) and the Mets are playing well, teams could also stay away from Morales because of the draft pick they would sacrifice by signing him. In this scenario, the Mets could sign Morales for a discount following the MLB draft in June.
The Mets missed out on the opportunity to improve at first base for the 2014 season, but, with Morales still available, the opportunity is there. While the best-case situation would be for Davis or Duda to grab the reigns of the starting first-base job, that is far from a certainty, and not improving at first base could kill any hopes the team had for the playoffs for 2014.