The New York Mets started the offseason with a surprising, mometary bang, as they managed to cox veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer out of Colorado and to New York on a two-year, $21 million contract. Since then though, Sandy Alderson and the Mets have been relatively quiet in regards to free agency and the trade market.
That mentality must be changed if New York is shifting from a rebuilding mode into win-now mode, as indicated with the Cuddyer signing.
The Mets are clearly not one aging, injury prone outfielder away from contending in the National League East, let alone playoff baseball. Though the Mets finished second in the National League East in 2014, their 79-83 record put them 17 games behind the Washington Nationals, who continue to be the dominant force of the division, boasting a strong crop of youth as well as talented veteran stars.
The most obvious place for an upgrade for New York is at shortstop. Actually, an upgrade would be the incorrect choice of words. The most obvious place where change is the only option for New York is at shortstop.
Wilmer Flores posted a relatively meager .251/.286/.378 slash line over the course of 259 at-bats last year, but he did manage to play his teammates Eric Campbell and Rueben Tejada for the consistent starting spot at shortstop — though, that is an achievement not many would be proud of.
Unfortunately for New York, the talent in the current crop of free agent shortstops is limited if not non-existent. The best of the best are the declining Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew and Jed Lowrie come with potential large sum commitments and very little production — Drew in particular had an abysmal 2014 with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees as he hit below the Mendoza line — though either of the three could certainly represent a minor improvement if they were to be signed.
The other option Alderson could look to execute is a trade, with the Chicago Cubs coming up as a potential suitor. Joe Maddon‘s Cubs are filled with depth at the position with All-Star Starlin Castro as the established starter and top prospects in Javier Baez and Addison Russell backing him up — all three would be considered expendable in this case, but whether Alderson would give up what is necessary is a completely alternate story.
Another weak point for the Mets’ development could be the budget currently in play. New York’s payroll could bump up against the $100 million mark once raises are given to arbitration-eligible players. That leaves little wiggle room to add an impact free agent off of the market, leaving a trade as one of the only possibilities if the Mets are in fact now in a win-now mode.
That only holds true though, unless they manage to shed some of the bigger salaries taking up dead space on the team. Pitchers Jonathan Niese, Dillon Gee and Bartolo Colon, who will earn somewhere north of $21 million combined (depending on what Gee receives in arbitration), are all on the block, and should all looked to be dealt in the coming weeks.
The lack of activity between these players should likely gain headway once names such as Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, and Justin Masterson fall off the free agent market, and the trade market opens up for teams still looking to add depth to their rotations. While that process is occurring, the Mets have to be aggressive and explore all options whether pursuable in the near future or not.
Yes, there is a plethora of impact bats available, especially at their (former) position of greatest need, but Alderson inking Cuddyer was a clear signal this is no rebuilding year for the Mets, and that October is a viable goal.
There is reason for optimism, though. Starting pitcher, Matt Harvey, who is set to return from Tommy John surgery in 2014, anchors a rotation that also boasts the 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, as well as the top prospect in their system, the 24-year-old right-hander Zack Wheeler. First baseman Lucas Duda had a breakout season, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 92 runners making the Mets worries at first base practically disappear leaving one less problem to solve this offseason.
But the Mets need something more, someone much more impactful who can anchor the middle part of the lineup or backup the three potential aces in their rotation — and it can’t come from moving in the fences at Citi Field in order to raise power numbers for hitters and put the pressure on their young studs in their rotation.
No, the answer isn’t adjusted dimensions, and it’s not Cuddyer and a meek shortstop out of free agents. The Mets opened the winter with a bang, but Alderson still has a lot of work to do if the Mets goal is in fact to make the playoffs. Currently, New York is going down without putting up a fight, and that must change, and change quickly if they want goals that seem hopeful to become realities.