In New York, the Yankees get most of the headlines and most of the buzz, and rightfully so. They have been one of the best teams in baseball for the last three years now and are always looking for ways to stay on top. Overshadowed by this, the Mets look to continue rebuilding in their first full offseason with Sandy Alderson in charge.
The Mets are coming off a 77-85 season, which yielded them fourth place in the National League East. Unfortunately, with a lot of long-term contracts, they aren’t able to do much this winter except strengthen a few small things. The plan should be to sign guys to short contracts who are just placeholders and to decide which homegrown players are going to make an impact down the line when they are ready to contend.
Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, their two top pitching prospects, will probably start the year in Double-A, so they are about a year-and-a-half to two years away. Until then, they have Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee, JJonathon Niese, and R.A. Dickey as their only five major league-ready starters. Then need to acquire some depth, even if it’s on minor league contracts, because no team gets through the season with just five starters.
They already have signed Frank Francisco (3.36 xFIP in 2011) and Jon Rauch (4.56 xFIP in 2011), both of whom are coming off good seasons with the Blue Jays. They also trade outfielder Angel Pagan to the Giants for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez (3.47 xFIP in 2011). All of these small moves are good, as it fortifies the back end of their pen without giving up too much.
Probably the most controversial issue surrounding the team was Jose Reyes and whether they were going to be able to retain him. The star shortstop wanted a long-term deal for over $100 million, but with the financial issues that the team is facing, it was just too big of an investment. Although Reyes hit .337/.384/.493 in 2011, there is still plenty of risk in giving him the six-year pact the Marlins wound up forking over.
First of all, he is a speed-first player who uses his legs to steal bases and leg out infield base hits. While this makes him a dynamic player, he has a history of hamstring problems in both legs, which should definitely be a red flag. Despite being 28 and entering what should be the prime of his career, Reyes has only averaged 98 games over the last three seasons. That is way too little time spent on the field for a guy who would be the face of the franchise.
There’s not much they can do to replace Reyes, but they can reinforce some of the areas around him. Ruben Tejada will take his place at shortstop, and he is a good defender who hit .284/.360/.335 in 96 games in 2011. These numbers are very good, but I’m not sure he could keep them up in an everyday role.
In order to avoid over exposure, they should sign a guy like Jack Wilson who can caddy Tejada. Wilson and the Mets have been in contact for much of the winter, but nothing has come of it yet.
As far as replacing Reyes’ production, they will be getting a healthy Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, and Jason Bay back. Coupling this with the fences being brought in at Citi Field, offensive production should be as good as it has been over the last few years. Also, as I mentioned above, the brass has greatly improved a very weak 2011 bullpen, which should help them close out games they weren’t able to last season.
Going forward, there’s not much the front office can do. There’s no use in trading anyone at the moment because they are either young enough where they can help the team down the line when they are ready to compete, or they have unmovable contracts. One guy who has been the subject of much trade speculation is David Wright.
Wright had something of a down year, playing only 102 games and hitting .254/.345/.427 (.342 wOBA). I’m not saying these are bad numbers, but he has posted a career .383 wOBA. With the fences being moved in at home ballpark and a clean slate of health, Wright should be able to bounce back and re-establish some value. And with one year left on his current contract, a midseason swap for prospects could be in order.
The Mets could very well be done for the winter. They could make a few minor league deals, maybe sign a spare infielder, or another back end starter, but that’s it. Alderson and the Mets are just going to have to wait until some of their top-tier prospects are ready to make an impact and for the big contracts expire. That’s when they will be able to make bigger moves and build the team the right way.