Have the Mets already whiffed on free agency?
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.
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.
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!