It’s difficult to find too many reasons to be positive about the state of the New York Mets right now. This season has gone from early season elation to pathetic disarray in an incredibly short amount of time, and the club and fans alike have been forced to already start thinking about 2019 and beyond.
From the team’s standpoint, this is a complicated situation given the current state of the front office. When GM Sandy Alderson was forced to leave his post (presumably for good) due to health problems, his top three lieutenants, John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi were tasked with running the baseball department as a three-headed team, not an ideal solution for an organization that will be making crucial decisions between now and the end of the month.
The most pressing situation currently facing the Mets is what to do with their top two starting pitchers, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard ahead of the trade deadline. If the pair were to be made available they would easily become the two most sought-after arms for contenders, and New York could conceivably bring back a haul of young talent to accelerate a potential rebuild. The thing is, Ricco flat out said last week that he doesn’t consider tearing down to completely rebuild a real strategy, and I think he’s right that this team can be turned around without moving their pitchers. And that isn’t limited to just deGrom and Syndergaard. Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are both pitching better than they ever have, and in Seth Lugo, New York has the type of versatile swingman every club could use. If I were running the show, those five pitchers would pretty much be the only untouchables on the roster, because it’s a lot easier to find hitting than pitching, and this team already has one of the better pitching staffs in the game when healthy.
So who can be expected to be moved? Virtually everyone else should be in play, starting with second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and closer Jeurys Familia.
Both Cabrera and Familia are free agents at the end of the year, and both could seriously affect pennant races down the stretch. Cabrera has enjoyed one of his better seasons in 2018 and would be a fit for a team like Arizona that needs to upgrade their infield offense. Relief pitchers, particularly closers, are always in high demand in July, and while multiple teams could use a late inning reliever like Familia, I have my eyes on a familiar foe who makes a world of sense for both Cabrera and Familia in a package trade.
The Atlanta Braves surprisingly lead the NL East right now, and while they are sort of a year ahead of schedule, an uninspiring first half from the Nationals has Atlanta in prime position to take advantage. The Braves’ July shopping list includes third base and starting pitcher, but first and foremost, a closer. Familia has been somewhat up and down in 2018 but he’s far and above better than anything the Braves currently can finish games with, and also has past postseason dominance against the Dodgers and Cubs, two potential playoff matchups for Atlanta, on his resume. Cabrera has not played an inning at third base this year but proved he could do it last season, and he’s better than Johan Camargo whom the Braves have been playing every day. Sliding Camargo into a utility role is something that would make Atlanta a deeper team and something they’d like to accomplish before the deadline.
Atlanta’s system is stacked and they have the bullets to make this trade, but doing business in division is always tricky. These teams have dealt before (you’ll remember New York acquiring Kelly Johnson from their southern rivals in consecutive seasons), but those deals involved players of very little consequence. The Braves would understandably be loathe to surrender third base prospect Austin Riley and then have to play him for the next several years, but the Mets may be able to pry a pair of the Braves heralded minor league pitchers away. Kolby Allard, Joey Wentz, Max Fried, Touki Toussaint and Luiz Gohara could all be in play, as well as in intriguing young catcher Alex Jackson.
Moving Cabrera and Familia should be the most pressing order of business for the makeshift front office, but they have several other pieces who could go in smaller deals.
Lefty Jerry Blevins is having a dreadful season, easily the worst of his career, but a specialist who has a track record of dominating left handed hitters is always someone you can find a trade partner for. Heck, remember when the Amazins’ took a flyer on Eric O’Flaherty three years ago?
Another intriguing trade candidate is surprisingly Jose Bautista, acquired for nothing when his career looked over a month ago. In 37 games for the Mets, Bautista has hit .256 with a .435 OBP, and his right-handed bat could be an intriguing bench option for contenders. The same could be said for fan favorite Wilmer Flores.
If New York decides to consider moving players they control beyond 2018, several other names could be changing addresses. Third baseman Todd Frazier has not lived up to the two year deal he signed last winter, and while the Mets would likely move him if a team wanted to acquire him for leadership purposes, they’d in all probability have to offset some of his 2018 salary. The same would go for trainwreck righty reliever Anthony Swarzak.
Converted relief pitcher Robert Gsellman was a revelation early in the season, but he’s been in a weeks-long slump and his value has trickled down seemingly by the day. With that being said, a young righty who throws 95 with a power sinker and has had success in both the rotation and bullpen will undoubtedly be an arm other teams ask about.
The trickle-down affect on the big league roster after all/some of these players are moved is what the Mets need to use to their advantage. The day after Cabrera is traded, second base prospect Jeff McNeil has to be promoted; there simply is no excuse if he isn’t. Across two levels this season, McNeil has hit .344 with 17 homers and 23 doubles, while reaching base at an absurd .415 clip. New York needs to use August and September to find out if he can be a long-term contributor.
I would also argue the team should be doing the same thing with first base prospect Peter Alonso immediately. The former Florida Gator dominated in Double-A before being moved up to Las Vegas recently, and while Dom Smith had seemingly been promoted for his last real shot a few weeks ago, New York isn’t even playing him every day right now. Keeping their young players in the minor leagues for too long has been a trend for this organization, and one that really needs to change.
Looking at the Mets projected 2019 everyday lineup, you would likely be encouraged with Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto in the outfield. Ideally, Alonso and McNeil can patrol the right side of the infield, but, as I just said, there is only one way to find out if they can, and it’s not watching them in Las Vegas. Between Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce, you’d have to hope the Mets can round out their starting outfield, and while shortstop Amed Rosario is only 22 years old, he needs to seriously step it up. Devin Mesoraco has made a world of difference with the pitching staff since the Mets acquired the veteran backstop from the Reds in the Matt Harvey trade, and while I’m sure the team would like to re-sign him, his own injury issues make it tough to rely on him without keeping Travis d’Arnaud or Kevin Plawecki (or both) as backup plans. As a whole, that team does not exactly sound like a playoff team does it?
This year has further exacerbated the point that New York’s offense is far too dependent on Cespedes, whose health is just not something the team can rely on. To that affect, I firmly believe the Mets need to make one hell of a run at Manny Machado in free-agency.
I know, I know, but hear me out.
The last three runs of relevance this franchise has experienced have been jump started by the acquisition of a legitimate impact bat. Trading for Mike Piazza in 1998 led to four straight winning seasons, a trip to the NLCS and coming up three wins short of a World Series championship in 2000. Signing Carlos Beltran to a massive free agent deal in 2005 was the start of four straight winning seasons as well, and while it’s hard to feel this way after collapses in ’07 and ’08, for a three year stretch the Mets were one of the best teams in baseball. At the deadline in 2015, the trade for Cespedes propelled this team to a National League pennant, and a second straight postseason berth the following year.
Signing a free-agent of Machado’s ilk (and price tag), is something Alderson was vehemently against, but with him not being the primary decision maker anymore, I wonder if that will change. Minaya having a more prominent voice now makes me hopeful, because it was he who signed Beltran to begin with, and he knows first hand that sometimes you have to look for help outside the organization.
Signing Machado would be interesting, because while he’s won Gold Gloves at third base, even a platinum glove in 2013, he insisted upon playing shortstop this year. Defensive metrics would tell you he’s a better third baseman, but to me, his position in Queens would be irrelevant. If he is at third, and Frazier isn’t moved this month, you can find a team to trade for one year of his contract. If he wants to play shortstop, well, maybe Rosario is traded. Maybe he’s moved to second base if the team doesn’t think McNeil is ready. Or maybe he’s sent back to the minor leagues to regain some confidence. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. This team needs an impact player to reengage the fan base and reignite the offense. A 26-year-old perennial All-Star in his prime will be dangling on the open market, and we’re talking about a team in the media capital of the world. There is no excuse to not be involved.
Machado would immediately make the Mets everyday line-up legitimate, and with their dominant starting pitching, this team would be well on their way to competing once again. But the bullpen still needs some attention.
First year manager Mickey Callaway has been a complete disaster, but provided he isn’t fired, he could actually seriously help in this regard. Cleveland relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are set to be the top two relief arms available in free-agency next winter, and Callaway has strong ties to both from his days in the dugout. With Familia gone the Mets will need help at the back of their bullpen, and signing at least one of Allen and Miller will make a world of difference.
Beyond that, in today’s game, the best relief corps possess multiple weapons that can go multiple innings. The Mets had that in Lugo and Gsellman, and even Paul Sewald to an extent, when they were winning early in the year. New York also has several power arms in the organization who could potentially contribute next year, in Drew Smith, Jacob Rhame, Gerson Bautista, Jamie Callahan and Tim Peterson. They will be in search of a lefty or two though, as P.J. Conlon is likely not all that inspiring.
I understand I’m probably being far too optimistic and confident in Mets ownership to put together a team like this, but drinking the kool-aid for a minute, a 2019 Mets team that looks like this should compete for a division title:
CF Brandon Nimmo
3B Manny Machado
RF Michael Conforto
LF Yoenis Cespedes
1B Peter Alonso
C Devin Mesoraco/Travis d’Arnaud/Kevin Plawecki
2B Jeff McNeil
SS Amed Rosario
SP Jacob deGrom
SP Noah Syndergaard
SP Zack Wheeler
SP Steven Matz
SP Jason Vargas? Other veteran addition?
RP Cody Allen
RP Seth Lugo
RP Robert Gsellman
RP Drew Smith
RP Tim Peterson
RP Anthony Swarzak (Hopefully 2016 version)
RP An outside lefty addition
Things obviously look bleak at the moment for the Mets, but at least for one day let’s all dream about best case scenarios instead of dwelling on the negatives, and I really can’t envision a better outcome for the Mets between now and opening day 2019 then the one I’ve just outlined.
Photo credit: USA Today Sports