Happy New Year everyone. Here’s a little something to ponder as you take down the decorations and re-start that fitness program: the end of the holidays means we are halfway through baseball’s offseason. In a little over six weeks, the 18-wheelers will be rolling out of Queens towards Port St. Lucie, carrying both equipment and the hopes and dreams of many Mets fans. I think there is genuine reason for hope in 2017 and not all of it resting on the health of starting pitchers.
As it stands today, the 2017 Mets will enter the season with seven players including Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Addison Reed all in the final years of their current major league contracts. Now I understand that Bruce could be traded and that they have an option on Cabrera, but they are not committed to any of these players beyond 2017. And, with the exception of Reed and possibly Reyes, they have highly-rated prospects either on the 25-man roster now or knocking on the door ready to take their places.
Depending on how you look at it, GM Sandy Alderson has either done a good job in positioning the Mets to jettison some more expensive contracts, replacing them with cheaper and just as productive players at the same time that his starting pitchers (and his closer) will begin to cost more money—OR he has set them up for an unsustainable run back to the World Series, as several of those aforementioned seven will have great seasons as they put on an extra “push” for a new contract.
Is that last statement just some type of urban legend that has grown up among baseball fans? Maybe there is a way to find out.
I am not a sabermatican nor do I play one on this blog. Plus to keep this readable, I focused on Wins Above Replacement or WAR, a stat that I must confess I don’t fully understand but does make sense to most otherwise serious baseball observers such as myself. And to keep this as current as possible, I picked those free agents that got a 3 year or longer deal after the 2014 season. My post, my rules!
So, true or false, do players tend to produce better results in their walk years? Let’s take a look at the Class of 2014:
Nick Markakis: Nick was a near replacement-level player for Baltimore in 2013 with a 0.1 WAR. He followed that up in 2014 with a 2.0 WAR and got himself a four-year deal with Atlanta, which was a surprise, as the Braves also began a rebuilding process the same offseason. Verdict: TRUE
Nelson Cruz: Yes that Nelson Cruz, a former Mets farmhand. He posted a 4.6 WAR, also for Baltimore in 2014, his best ever, converting that one-year pillow deal with the O’s into a nearly $60M deal with the Mariners. To his credit he has kept hitting, but 2014 has been his best season to date. Verdict: TRUE
Chase Headley: Never much of a fan of his, and not just because he is the first counterpoint to my argument. He WAR’d 1.4 with the Padres in only 77 games in 2014, which was way down for him from his previous campaigns. The fact that it was the Yankees who signed him only slightly mitigates my theory. Verdict: FALSE (with an asterisk because he was injured in ’14)
Jon Lester: OK this one doesn’t really count in that unless his arm fell off Lester was going to get his money anyway. He had a weird 2014, bouncing between Boston (2.7 WAR) and Oakland (1.9 WAR). While statistically 2014 was a down year for him, he still finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting and had a champion in Chicago named Theo Epstein who immediately signed him to a four year deal for the eventual World Champions. Verdict: FALSE
Victor Martinez: This one could go the other way, but Victor missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL. He started off slow in 2013, but rebounded the second half of that season. He then tore up opposing pitching in 2014 to the tune of a career-best 5.4 WAR. This convinced Detroit to resign him to a long term deal. He hasn’t come close to that kind of production since. Let the buyer beware. Verdict: TRUE (even though his hot streak began in 2013)
Pablo Sandoval: Speaking of caveat emptor, the Red Sox have really taken a bath on this guy. After a 3.4 WAR with the Giants in 2014, the Sox gave him a big deal and the lovable, rolly-poly “Panda” has done a Jason Bay on them. They should have looked at his 2012 and 2013 stats a bit more closely and not what he did during a contract year. Like Martinez, there isn’t much chance he will turn in around. Verdict: TRUE
Andrew Miller: Now we come to a pair of relief pitchers. After a somewhat lackluster career, Miller began to achieve his potential, just in time for a big contract. He posted an at the time career-best WAR of 0.9 in 2014, getting him a big contract from the Yanks. Miller’s best days were still ahead of him as this past offseason would prove. However for the sake of this argument the verdict is TRUE
David Robertson: Hey, aren’t the Mets interested in this guy? He followed up a good (2.9 WAR) 2013 with the Yanks with a poor-ish (1.2 WAR) 2014 in the Bronx. They let him go, pursuing Miller instead. The White Sox grabbed Robertson and now are by most accounts trying to trade him. Cleveland aside, that 2017 AL Central could be a dumpster fire. Verdict: FALSE (and I hate relief pitchers)
Ervin Santana: Speaking of dislike, this guy has never been one of my favorites. His appearance is somewhat off-putting and while he is generally a bad pitcher, it seems the Mets run into him at the wrong time when he is pitching well and he gives them fits. Remember his seven shut out innings against them last September in that must win game against the Twins? (That was the Granderson two homers in extras game BTW). He had a decent 2013 but could only get a pillow deal with Atlanta for one year in 2014. He was bad that year, but the penny-pinching Twins somehow gave him a three year deal anyway. Screw him. Verdict: FALSE
Melky Cabrera: Eww. And people actually wanted the Mets to sign this cheater. Remember when he was tearing it up in 2012 for the Giants and then the secret to his success was revealed? He got suspended for 50 games. That didn’t stop the Blue Jays from giving him a two year deal after the 2012 season. He was bad in Year One and (surprise) much, much better in Year Two. This fooled the White Sox into giving him a three-year deal that they no doubt regret now. Can we get the Mets moved to the AL Central? Verdict: TRUE
Max Scherzer: This one is False, but only because Scherzer “dropped” from a 6.7 WAR in 2013 to a 6.0 WAR in 2014. Max is a great pitcher. Unfortunately, he is also a Washington National.
So that’s 11 players and 6 Trues or 55%. Does this mean that the 2017 Mets can depend on better than career norm years from four of their seven pending free agents? Maybe its more likely that one or two of them will, but just how good will they be? Could Lucas Duda hit like Nelson Cruz did in 2014, slashing his way to a 271/334/525, 40-homer season? That would go a long way towards returning the Mets to the post season. Maybe Grandy pulls a Victor Martinez-like 30+homer, 974 OPS season out of his hat. Those types of performances can be franchise altering, for both the team that benefits from the performance and the team that pays for it in subsequent years.
The point is (I think) is that a big year from an unlikely source is not impossible, especially considering the extra motivation these players have to turn this type of performance into unimaginable riches. But, would those riches come from the Mets? Our would they be content to sip champagne with them after a deep post season run and then let them go? It makes for interesting conversations during an otherwise dreary part of the year, so please, sound off below.