Have the Mets already whiffed on free agency?

Mets GM Sandy Alderson

Is everyone enjoying the high-stakes poker game of the major league baseball offseason? Are you thrilled to be watching different front office strategies reveal themselves?

I’ve been watching, but I can’t say that I’m thrilled or filled with joy. The two trends that I’ve recognized so far are very familiar to Mets fans:

  • Some teams target players who can provide great bang for their buck, and move on them aggressively.
  • Sandy Alderson’s Mets wait to see how the market develops, by which point all the shrewd gets are gone.

I’m not talking about Shohei Otani, who I see as an electric arm with severe blowout potential who’s unlikely to hit MLB pitching without daily reps. I’m not talking about Zack Cozart or Yonder Alonso. I’m not even talking about Carlos Santana (although I’d happily give him the contract the Phillies did, if Dominic Smith were the key to a big trade).

Here’s a short list of players targeted by more aggressive teams, who I wish the Mets had gotten to first.

The list

Tom Koehler, Dodgers. The Mets always crushed him the second time through the order, but he often looked great for a few innings, with adequate velocity, a good breaking ball, and good control. Given the Mets’ current pitching talent, their single biggest need is multi-inning relievers. Who wouldn’t bet $2M to see if Koehler can be that?

Doug Fister, Rangers. A candidate to start or pitch in long relief, Fister would have given the Mets a vital safety net. A towering control artist with good movement, Fister got back to his former effectiveness late in 2017 after a bad couple of years. The Rangers only needed a one-year offer to grab him in November.

Wily Peralta, Royals. Why not see if this young, hard thrower can make it as a reliever?

Welington Castillo, White Sox. The only way the awful White Sox get their man without outspending the league (which they didn’t) is to court him hard and fast. Castillo has a spectacular arm and some pop, making him roughly twice as good as Travis d’Arnaud.

Matt Adams, Nationals. If the Mets are looking for a stopgap for Smith, how about a one-year deal for a platoon bat who crushes righties? Wilmer Flores can face the lefties.

Tommy Hunter, Phillies, or Hector Rondon, Astros. Hunter used to be one of the worst relievers in baseball. Just recently, he became one of the best, ditching his flat heater in favor of a cutter. Rondon is the opposite — bad recently, but a history of excellence, which he could rediscover if he stays healthy and if the 2018 baseball is less juiced. The important part is that these guys were had for two-year contracts at reasonable prices. Others in this category included Luke Gregerson, Steve Cishek, Joe Smith, and Pat Neshek.

Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and the rest of the Marlins’ fire sale. I doubt Stanton wanted to come to Queens in the end… but who knows, there may have been a moment when it was possible. More likely, there was a period of opportunity before Jeter found a taker for Stanton’s contract, when the Marlins were desperate to cut payroll and an aggressive move for anyone else on their roster would have paid off.

Are these all amazing moves? Risk-free moves? No-brainer moves? No. But they are a heck of a lot better than what’s currently on the Mets’ plate.

What’s currently on the Mets’ plate

The Mets don’t have anyone in a long-reliever role. They have lots of young guys still hoping to make it as starters. Do you like Robert Gsellman‘s odds of being a reliable two-inning reliever in 2018? I don’t.

Kevin Plawecki might be improving, but the Mets have a definite weakness at catcher, which they could have addressed by throwing Asdrubal Cabrera money at the problem. Instead, they handed that money to Cabrera, who is a better defensive third baseman than T.J. Rivera, Wilmer Flores, or Jose Reyes, but could probably be replaced by some combo of those three without weakening the position overall.

Rumor has it that the Mets are trying to talk Jay Bruce down from four years to three. What?! The only thing that separates Bruce from the bargain bin of low-OBP lefty sluggers is his tenuous grasp on the mobility to play a just-acceptable right field. Surely the Mets can find a cheaper, shorter-term option to cover Michael Conforto‘s absence in the outfield, and the same is true for a stopgap for Smith.

And finally, Anthony Swarzak? I’d be fine with 2/$14M for one of the relievers I listed above, but a guy with Swarzak’s history — durable but awful, then good but hurt — should come at a discount. Those extra few dollars matter in terms of meeting various needs on a Wilpon budget.

What do you think? Should the Mets be spreading their limited dollars around, saving them all for Jake Arrieta, or just waiting to see what falls into their laps in February? Have they already missed out on the most cost-effective ways to improve the team, or are comparable deals still to be found? Sound off in the comments!

David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
  1. Edwin Pena December 28, 2017 at 2:07 pm
    The Wilpons suck by nature and are dragging the team down with them.
    How about a Merry Christmas and Happiest of New years by selling the team ???

    That would change things around quick. Oh, and SandyPuppet man ? Get rid of him too. Minaya could do a better job alone, actually, Santa could also.

  2. Bart December 28, 2017 at 11:32 pm
    They should read locate the Mets to Arkansas since they are small minded so they should go to a small market because that’s how they that’s how they work
  3. DaveSchneck December 29, 2017 at 6:25 pm
    It is still too early to determine whether the Mets have whiffed. While I have no confidence in this ownership to commit enough financially, there are still moves to be made, and hopefully Alderson can spend whatever he has wisely to upgrade for 2018 and position them properly for 2019 and beyond.
    • argonbunnies January 4, 2018 at 3:33 pm
      I do trust Sandy to not spend outright crazily, but I dunno about spending wisely. Bringing back Cabrera doesn’t seem like that to me. Nor does failing to move aggressively on any of the bargains listed above.

      I’m sure he’ll grab some players at some point such that the Mets enter 2018 with 25 major leaguers, but let’s not lower our standards to the point where we’re giving that kudos.

  4. Jim Cooper December 31, 2017 at 3:33 pm
    The Wilpons disgrace us all. How do they even go to cocktail parties knowing that they are viewed for what they are by others – cheapskates!
    I thought that Alderson would help after the Commissioner put him in place to try and bring sanity to this Organization, but he drank the Kool-Aid and I guess wants to keep his job, so he is the face of this terrible franchise.
    Sell the team, please!
  5. argonbunnies January 4, 2018 at 3:46 pm
    The Wilpons are a big part of the problem, but other teams have won with less revenue and/or worse owners. Mets payroll in the Alderson era has generally bounced around the middle third of the league, which is pretty weak for an NYC team, but not as bad as what the Pirates, Rays, A’s and others have had to deal with. Those teams saw their fiscal situations as obstacles to be overcome with cleverness and innovation. Alderson hasn’t attempted anything clever or innovative in 7 years.

    He’s a fine GM for a huge-budget team that needs to simply avoid catastrophe and outright waste. But he’s clearly not up to the challenge of elevating a mid-level payroll to an elite team, even given an enormous period of time to plan for exactly that.

    Alderson’s re-signing with the Mets guarantees a future only as bright as the Wilpon budgets. Which, if you believe Steve Phillips, are reactive to what the Mets expect to bring in. Accordingly, a mediocre past yields a mediocre projection, which yields a mediocre budget. The players vastly exceeding expectations to make a playoff run is the only way out, and it appears to be a short-lived solution.

    If you’re a Mets fan, Wilpons + Alderson is a match made in purgatory.

    • DaveSchneck January 4, 2018 at 7:24 pm
      To follow up the comment above, I don’t trust Alderson or the Mets to make improvements, but given the stagnated offseason across MLB, it is still possible, so judgment will b deferred (as difficult as that is).

      I understand that Alderson (and any GM) is hampered by this ownership, but my biggest issue with his regime has been the lack of the performance of their system. Yes, they did deal off a bunch of pitchers to contend in 2015 and 2016, but Fulmer was the only difference maker to date. Whether it is the GM, the head of scouting, or player development, it is very hard to compete annually with both limited funds and limited prospects. While drafting is a crap shoot and most picks don’t pan out, how different would this team be if Nimmo was close to Yelich, Cecchini close to Panik, Plawecki close to Austin Barnes. Or even two of the four.

      • argonbunnies January 4, 2018 at 8:37 pm
        Great point. Conforto looks like a good pick, and Syndergaard looks like a good trade acquisition, but deGrom and Familia were Minaya guys, and that’s about it for impact farmhands over the Alderson era.

        I blame some of the struggle on Vegas. Sandy and the Wilpons should have done whatever it took to keep the AAA team in Buffalo. Young players can’t develop skills that translate while playing in such a weird environment.

        That certainly isn’t the whole story, though — it’s like you said, there’s something off with scouting and player development (not to mention the refusal to tank in 2011-2013). I was looking over the Yankees’ successful moves in their abrupt rise, and there are several good ones, but really, by far the biggest developments are Judge, Severino, and Sanchez going from “potential major leaguers” to MLB All-Stars in matters of months.

  6. Dan B January 7, 2018 at 7:33 pm
    For a long time I have been saying on this blog that the Mets will never have prolong success as long as the Wilpons own the team. Not only do they not invest in the team in down years, but they don’t always make the best decisions. I don’t think they attract talent on the field or off. They ended up in Las Vegas because they angered triple AAA people and didn’t invest enough in the minors (at the same time telling people they’re not buying free agents because they wanted to build from within). When was the last time the Mets made a creative move? They invested in developing starting pitching just as the league was moving away from relying on starting pitching. In addition, they seem to be behind the times in protecting pitcher’s health (as any of us who remember Joe’s rants can tell you). The problem isn’t that they spend like a middle tier team, they don’t get the most for their money and they never out think anyone.
    • argonbunnies January 7, 2018 at 11:50 pm
      Fully agreed on the list and pattern of problems. I think some of that is clearly on the Wilpons, but aren’t some other parts the baseball people’s job?
      • Dan B January 8, 2018 at 3:20 pm
        I could excuse one or two mistakes but the Mets have a habit of repeating similar mistakes. They claim to be investing in developing players but short change the minor league system. They claim to be developing pitcher’s, but short change investing in injury prevention. And their strategy always seems to be repeat what ever the last World Series winner did rather than create a new strategy that is ahead of the curve. I don’t believe they surround themselves with quality employees or if they do, they don’t listen to their advise. Why do certain teams in every sport league do well over the long term while others continue to struggle? Some owners are better than others.