Mets Should Avoid The Rush
Momentum is a powerful force. Last year we saw two teams thriving on elite starting pitching dominate the playoffs with the Nationals, riding their aces’ coattails and ultimately bringing home the prize.
It is common in professional sports for General Managers to play follow-the-leader. We are seeing this played out in the astronomical contracts being given out to this summer’s batch of free agents. Gerrit Cole was probably the best pitcher in all of baseball last year and young to boot. The Yankees overpaying him before their window started to close was a desperately needed move. The Stephen Strasburg signing seems even more aggressive, and both deals have a high possibility of being organization-crushing deals as time goes on.
The prospect of bringing back Zack Wheeler was one every Mets fan should have craved. However, the numbers for him too simply were out of proportion. Even Kevin Gausman, who was waived by the Braves last year mid-season and sported a 5.72 ERA, got a one year deal for $9M.
If the Yankees ever come back to the Luxury Tax Threshold, it would mean that their one new acquisition, who only plays once every five games, will make 18% of the total payroll for their 26 man roster.
The Mets need a fifth starter and in Metsland, the fans and players have become accustomed to being deep in starting pitching. There are calls for the Mets to spend their money on another quality starter to solidify their rotation. With this absurd trend in overvaluing starting pitching, that may not be the best use of their money.
Let’s assume that Steve Cohen isn’t riding in within the next couple months and exploding their payroll way above the threshold (because if he does, all bets are obviously off). Let’s assume the rough target is to stay below that threshold, at least until this team shows it can compete. Then the Mets would be far better off going against the tide rather than with it, and overpaying in the free agent market for a starting pitcher.
Moves for the Mets to make
1) Sign a quality back-up catcher – We are only one season removed from a running theme of being decimated by injuries. Brodie may see names penciled into positions, but Mets fans should not get comfortable to think that hex has been lifted. We are also only one season away from when our catching situation detonated our entire season. Ramos was solid and healthy last year, but he has a significant injury history in addition to his defensive challenges. We could scrape the bottom of the barrel with Nido-caliber back-ups, but Ramos himself only has one year left. The Mets may have an answer down the road in Alvarez, but he’s too far away to worry about in more ways than one. The back-up catcher role should not be minimized on this team. The best opportunity the Mets may have at competing this season may be in the bounce back of several formerly elite pitchers. That alone may make the defensive/back-up catcher role the most cost-effective way of solidifying the rotation and this team for 2020. There are multiple options for players to come here on 1-2 year deals at a relatively low cost. Signing a Castro or Chirinos should be a priority for the Mets, realizing that otherwise, they would head into 2021 with zero major league catchers in the organization.
2) Sign one quality relief pitcher – While Will Harris may be the best choice and should be the target, getting both he and another catcher may put them over the threshold. A Dellin Betances would be enticing, and a reasonable gamble, a Craig Stammen would probably be the safest bet for a bullpen who probably will not allow them to compete no matter what they do unless they see Edwin Diaz or Jeurys Familia return to prominence.
3) Unless you can trade Dom Smith for a controlled, quality starter/high end reliever, the Mets should probably stay in-house for that fifth starting spot. This is a spot that disappears when you make the playoffs, and there are very few teams who have 5 quality starters in their rotation. The Mets have, although they are not locks (and maybe not even ready), three guys who are projected to be decent MLB starters who are scheduled to break into the league this season; David Peterson, Franklyn Kilome and Kevin Smith. They should wait to scoop up the two best cheap reclamation projects who aren’t sitting in chairs when the music stops. Then the most efficient move would be to let Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, the two reclamation projects and Peterson compete in Spring training for that final spot in the rotation. Lugo would be the default and most reliable choice if no one else steps up. However, if any of the others become serviceable, then you can keep Lugo in the bullpen where he has been dominant and you rotation and bullpen could both be strong. Gsellman would be the ideal choice, as he’s seen success as as starter back in 2016.
4) The last piece to consider, should there be a few coins left in the cookie jar (and his value falls in a market that doesn’t seem to be too good for SS), would be to sign Jose Iglesias to be your utility infielder. Literally one of the best gloves in the entire game, and still maintaining a decent bat, he would be a strong support system for a defensively challenged team.
Now is not the time to be throwing good money at decent players, or even decent money at low-end players. The Mets have a chance to compete in 2020, but a better chance in 2021. This year is a compromised season financially because of past decisions. Do not further compromise the next season chasing the latest trend.