The 2019 Mets were an erratic bunch, a team that could go toe to toe with the Dodgers in one series and get swept by the Marlins in another. Although few individual performances went as anticipated, the team overall did about what was expected of them: most projection models had them at 83-89 wins, and they finished with 86.
Now for the next task: how do the Mets go from a wild card contender (86 wins) to a wild card favorite and division title contender (92 wins)?
The Current Team
The Mets have an interesting array of assets to keep, trade, or shuffle around the field. By my estimation, the best use of the current roster would be:
(I’m sure that some of that assessment will be controversial, but in brief: I saw a free swinger who did little damage on fastballs and showed minimal range in Robbie Cano; I saw a terrible fielder with a great arm and bat in J.D. Davis; and I saw a player miss his entire age-35 season in Jed Lowrie.)
Can the Mets land a fifth starter, set-up man, center fielder and depth in free agency? Possibly. Brett Gardner, Tanner Roark, and Will Harris would add up to a significant cost, but if the Wilpons figured that would push them into the playoffs, I’m sure they could afford it.
Does that sound like a 92-win team to you, though? Aside from Harris (possibly the best free agent reliever out there), I think the Mets need to aim higher.
If I had to pick one free agent to target, it would be Madison Bumgarner. He’s not the strikeout pitcher he once was, and his flyball ways are dangerous with today’s rubber rocket ball, but he limits walks, takes the ball, and is as clutch as they come. Plus, the Mets cannot hit him at all, and his top rumored suitor is the Braves.
If the Mets can’t spend big in free agency, then I’d target Tyler Clippard to stabilize the ‘pen and Michael Pineda to hold down the #5 spot (with Robert Gsellman making starts in AAA to hedge against injury).
Stay away from Starling Marte. Kazmir fiasco architect Jim Duquette recently proposed a swap of Andres Gimenez, Franklyn Kilome, and either Mark Vientos or David Peterson. That package might be appropriate for Marte three years ago, but it’s not appropriate for Marte now, and if he costs anything like that, the Mets should pass. Starling used to be a gold glove speedster with no plate discipline and good contact ability. Now he’s an average-to-below center fielder with no plate discipline and good contact ability.
I’m honestly not all that high on any of those prospects, but I think the Mets ought to hold onto them to fill other needs.
I am pretty high on J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, and Noah Syndergaard, but I think trading them might get the Mets players that would greatly upgrade the team. Here are a few trade ideas:
Noah Syndergaard for Byron Buxton and Tyler Duffey
A risky move for both teams, as Buxton could still wind up as an All-Star or a tragic flame-out. He may never stay healthy, and he may never hit much. But he’s still one of the fastest men in the game and one of the best defenders. The Twins, in a great position to contend, may need a proven starting pitcher with ace potential much more than they need Buxton. Depending on how both players are viewed, the Mets might also ask for the Twins’ curveball-specialist reliever.
Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, Jed Lowrie and cash for Corey Kluber or Jose Ramirez
Reports claim that the Indians need to cut payroll and do some level of rebuilding, but they’re not in a position where they have to tank to do so. I would think the ideal fit for a team in this position would be players who have proven themselves as major leaguers and who still have tons of service time left at cheap salaries. Dom and J.D. might be exactly what Cleveland is looking for. If so, the Indians might be persuaded to move their high-salaried ace, or even their former MVP candidate (though his contract is a great deal, so perhaps not).
If the Mets hold onto Thor and still need a center fielder, they could consider offering Kluber or Ramirez for Buxton and Duffey. A three-team trade with additional prospects involved might be the best way for each team to get what they want.
Dominic Smith for Tyler Naquin
I realize that many of the above scenarios are improbable for various reasons, but I think this one has a real chance. Naquin’s bat and health are no sure thing, and he’s about to stop being cheap as he hits arbitration, but all the defensive metrics love him. Smith can pinch hit and share time at 1B, LF, and DH in 2020. Then Dom can take over 1B when Carlos Santana leaves in 2021, and he still won’t be arbitration eligible.
What are your thoughts on how to improve the Mets roster? Zany trade ideas obviously welcome.