Coming off a season that began with such promise but ultimately ended in a disappointing 74-88 finish, New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson enters a critical offseason for his regime. When he took the reigns almost two full calendar years ago, the Mets were in the midst of a financial nightmare in the aftermath of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal, and while that issue is behind them, financial flexibility is something the organization still lacks.
Left fielder Jason Bay and left hander Johan Santana are owed a combined $50MM in 2013, roughly $30MM is already committed to four other players (David Wright, Jonathon Niese, Frank Francisco and R.A. Dickey) and with several others (most notably Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy) due for significant raises through the arbitration process, it is difficult to imagine New York being overly aggressive in the free-agent market.
What that all means in laymen terms is that Alderson will have to get creative in improving his club this winter, namely by way of trades. Let’s take an in-depth look at what the Mets front office should be doing these next few months, from the eyes of someone who follows the club on a daily basis.
1) Lock Up Your Stars
Though free-agency and other player movement is prohibited until 10 days after the conclusion of the World Series, Alderson can’t just sit back and wait. Prior to diving headfirst into the elaborate job of improving the rest of his roster, the third year GM must first and foremost find a way to sign his own stars to long-term extensions. Third baseman David Wright has been the face of the Mets franchise since arriving midway through the 2004 campaign, and the Norfolk, VA native is coming off what is arguably his best overall season since ‘08. He has one year remaining on the six year extension he signed with the club in the midst of the 2006 season, and while the Mets hold a $16MM option on him for 2013, they would be much better off ironing out a new long-term extension with their unofficial captain, thus avoiding a circus similar to the one they endured in 2011 with Jose Reyes.
Right handed starting pitcher R.A. Dickey has captured the hearts of baseball fans everywhere with his incredible story, unprecedented success with an unpredictable pitch and overall charisma, and there may not have been a more underpaid player in the sport in 2012. Like Wright, the Mets hold an option on Dickey’s contract, but after he went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and an NL high 230 strikeouts, picking up his $5MM option seems to me like it would be a slap in the face. Dickey has rapidly become somewhat of a cult hero among the New York fan base, and getting him locked up to an extension would show the fans the team is serious about retaining their most identifiable players.
While not as imperative as locking in Wright and Dickey, buying out first baseman Ike Davis’ arbitration years and signing him to an extension would be prudent for Alderson. Davis clearly has a future with New York as a dangerous left-handed power threat and talented defensive player at position three on your scorecard. Inking him to the same type of deal the club signed with starting pitcher Jon Niese last January would allow the Mets to lock in his contract value, which will be beneficial when planning their budget in future years.
2) Address the Outfield
The Mets got a few spurts of production from their group of outfielders in 2012, most notably an early season run from Kirk Nieuwenhuis, but as a whole the group was an incredible disappointment. Left fielder Jason Bay continued to infuriate fans for the third straight year, and at this point may actually be the worst free-agent signing in franchise history. Andres Torres failed to successfully replace Angel Pagan as the team’s everyday centerfielder, and for a short time in midsummer right fielder Lucas Duda actually had to be sent to the minor leagues after failing to provide the power New York was counting on from the left handed slugger. It’s obvious the Mets need to find a standout outfielder, someone who they can pencil in the lineup on a daily basis. Where are they going to find one?
Well, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a plethora of outfielders, more than they need for only three positions, and have given the impression that they’re willing to move almost anybody in the right deal. Right fielder Justin Upton and centerfielder Chris Young both project as good fits for the Mets’ needs, and the team should at least entertain discussions, even if Arizona insists on a valuable starting pitcher such as Niese or Dillon Gee.
3) Find A Leadoff hitter
Shortstop Ruben Tejada enjoyed a breakout year in 2012, and while he hit leadoff for the Mets for the majority of the season, nobody is going to mistake the Panama-born infielder for a leadoff hitter. Finding a bona fide speed threat to hit atop their everyday line-up and—in all probability—play somewhere in the outfield is another task awaiting Alderson, and one that may be more difficult than the two we previously listed. The Mets do not figure to bid on free-agent speedy centerfielders Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino, and neither of the Arizona outfielders we suggested as good fits for Queens would be fit to leadoff. My hunch? Alderson will attempt to work with former colleague and current Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, given that the A’s possess a valuable asset in veteran centerfielder Coco Crisp, and have historically been an organization that values on-base percentage over speed. Crisp has a career OBP of only .329 and moving him—presumably for a power arm in the bullpen, think Bobby Parnell—would allow Oakland to move Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes back to his normal position.