General manager Sandy Alderson has a big offseason ahead of him.
MM Assistant Editor
As the Mets' 2013 season comes to an end, they will be nearing what could be a fascinating offseason. The Mets have not had a winning season since 2008, but after rebuilding for the past five seasons, the Mets could be ready for a transition season in 2014.
To put together a winning team, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and his assistants will have to decide which players could be part of the solution, and which players could be traded in exchange for solutions in other areas.
The Mets have a good number of pieces to build on for the future, but there is also a lot of work to be done in certain areas. Here are six reasons why Mets fans should expect big changes to occur this offseason.
1. The Mets Will Have More Money to Work With
The Mets' finances in recent times have not been particularly good at all. For a few too many seasons, the Mets made poor financial decisions with the contracts they gave to certain players.
Most of the mess, though, should fall on former Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who during his six-year tenure signed quite a few bad contracts. Pedro Martinez, Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez and Oliver Perez are all good examples of lucrative contracts given by the Mets that did not end up paying off too well.
Two more big contracts, though, have remained through this current season.
Former two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who has not pitched all season, is on the final year of a six-year $137.5 million contract. Santana has a $25 million option for 2014, but it would make no sense at this point for the Mets to keep him for another season.
The other large contract was that of Jason Bay, the former Mets outfielder. Bay had signed a four-year $66 million contract prior to the 2010 season, but performed so poorly for the Mets from 2010-2012 that both sides mutually agreed to end his contract a year early and make him a free agent.
The good news is that both Santana's and Bay's contracts will be off the books after the end of the 2013 season. That will be around $41.5 million that the Mets will save in 2014. This means the Mets could use this money to improve other areas of the team. The Mets were not really able to do this for years while the bad contracts existed.
Going forward, David Wright's contract will be the only particularly large contract the Mets will have. More financial flexibility is always good for a team to have, and hopefully the Mets will be able to take advantage of this.
2. The Mets Should Be Closer to Contention
The Mets have not had a winning season since 2008. Ever since Sandy Alderson became the Mets general manager, the Mets have clearly been on a rebuilding path to success. For the past five years, the Mets have not had much financial flexibility, so they have used that time to develop young talent in the minor leagues.
With the 2013 season nearly over, the Mets' top prospects are getting closer and closer to being ready for the major leagues. Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler are both mainstays in the pitching rotation for the future, along with the veteran southpaw Jon Niese.
Prospects such as Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero could make their major league debuts sometime in 2014. Syndergaard split 2013 with Single-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, while Montero was with Binghamton and later Triple-A Las Vegas. Montero has a chance to make the Opening Day 2014 roster.
As for Syndergaard, the Mets may bring him up next June—similar to what they did this season with Wheeler.
With rising pitching stars in Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard and Montero, plus veteran presences in Niese and Dillon Gee, the Mets' future pitching should not be too much of a concern as long as everyone stays healthy. The bullpen should continue to be anchored by Bobby Parnell as the closer, with Jeurys Familia and Josh Edgin expected to be among the young arms in the bullpen.
Offensively, the Mets as an organization are not as strong. They have a third baseman in David Wright, a young catcher in Travis d'Arnaud and a second baseman in Daniel Murphy. Beyond those three players, the other infield and outfield positions could all be up for grabs.
Now that the Mets will have more money to work with in free agency, they could go and sign a slugging outfielder to protect Wright in the lineup, or find a shortstop that can play reasonably well.
The Mets should be expected to bring in at least one notable hitter from free agency this offseason. A second notable hitter would be a bonus. The Mets could also use the trade market to acquire the offensive talent that they could really use. Time will tell how Alderson goes about putting together a winning team in 2014.
All in all, the Mets have young talent that is either on the major league roster or very close to being on the major league roster. They will need to use free agency and/or the trade market to fill in the remaining holes. After doing so, competing with the Braves and Nationals in the future could become more and more of a reality.
Matt Harvey's elbow injury could have significant effect on the Mets' 2014 plans.
3. The Need of Pitching Depth in Light of Matt Harvey's Injury
After Matt Harvey ended up suffering an elbow injury in late August, he was shut down for the season and facing the possibility of missing the entire 2014 season if he decided to have Tommy John surgery. However, on September 17, Harvey decided that he will avoid surgery—at least for now—and opt for a six to eight week throwing program to hopefully rehabilitate his elbow.
In case the program does not work out and Harvey will get surgery later, this would open a huge gap in the Mets starting rotation. The Mets could be forced to sign or trade for a veteran starting pitcher in the offseason because of Harvey's injury. It is a possibility that Sandy Alderson will probably explore.
With Wheeler, Niese and Gee all expected to be in the 2014 rotation, this would mean that the Mets may need to find two more starting pitchers in the offseason instead of one, depending on Harvey's status. Jenrry Mejia could be an option, but has yet to pitch in the major leagues for a full season. If the Mets keep Carlos Torres, he could be another possibility. Beyond that, the Mets do not have another proven major league starter in the organization.
It will be interesting to whether or not Harvey will end up having surgery in the winter, and if so how it will affect the Mets offseason and future plans.
Could this be the end of Ike Davis at first base for the Mets?
4. The Conundrum at First Base
First base is a position that was supposed to become a strength for the Mets, but has ended up as a weakness this year. Ike Davis hit 32 home runs and drove in 90 RBI in 2012 with a strong second half, but struggled mightily for much of this season and may not even be the Mets first baseman in 2014.
Despite his poor performance, Davis should be in line for a raise through arbitration. The Mets could give him that new salary or elect to non-tender him, making him a free agent. This will definitely be one of Alderson's toughest decisions to make this offseason. Will Davis get back to hitting the way he did in the second half of 2012? Or will he struggle as badly as he has in the first halves of each of the last two seasons?
Davis, though, is not the only piece to the puzzle at first base. There is also Lucas Duda, whose days in the outfield appear to be numbered. If that is the case, the Mets will have to trade or release one of Davis or Duda.
Despite his struggles, Davis is the more proven player and has usually provided good defense at first base, as well. Duda has not had as many opportunities at first base and is certainly not as proven offensively. But if the Mets simply get tired of Davis and want to try a full season of Duda at first base, they could very well take that route.
Duda, though, would probably be best off playing first base or being the designated hitter for an American League team.
Other internal options include Josh Satin and Wilmer Flores. There is the possibility that both Davis and Duda get traded and/or released, which would leave Satin or Flores to compete for the starting job at first base.
Satin is more likely to be a platoon candidate, while Flores is not a natural first baseman. That would be another interesting development in itself. The Mets could also bring in a first baseman from free agency or the trade market, but with so many internal options, that probably is not as likely to occur.
The Mets will have to figure out what to do at first base with all the options they have. It is too difficult to predict an outcome right now.
Ruben Tejada played well in 2012, but after a very poor 2013 season, the Mets may need to rethink what to do at shortstop.
5. The Mets Could Use a Better Shortstop
First base is not the Mets' only offensive position of concern. Shortstop has become another problem as well.
At shortstop, it seems like the Mets' plan was to have Ruben Tejada as the shortstop of the future after the departure of Jose Reyes following the 2011 season.
Tejada had a solid season in 2012, but really struggled early this season. He was batting .209 with 10 RBI, a .267 OBP and a .262 slugging percentage before being demoted to the minor leagues after being activated from the disabled list. Tejada was recently called back up and should get the bulk of the playing time at shortstop for the last two weeks of the season.
In Tejada's absence, journeyman infielder Omar Quintanilla filled in at shortstop for well over three months. Quintanilla is batting .226 with two home runs, 21 RBI, a .313 OBP and a .291 slugging percentage for the season. Quintanilla has done well as a fill-in starter and regular backup, but he should not be the long-term solution at shortstop.
With Gavin Cecchini still years away from being in the major leagues, it is important for the Mets to address the state of their shortstop position for at least the next few seasons. Signing a free agent could be a short-term option, while the Mets could also choose to stick with the young Tejada for another season and hope that it works out better.
Juan Lagares should be the one safe bet among current Mets outfielders that could start in 2014.
6. The Outfield Needs a Big Makeover
The outfield is the Mets' most pressing issue offensively. Juan Lagares could very well be the Mets center fielder of the future, but left field and right field are both still up for grabs.
Lagares was initially a platoon center fielder, but with improved hitting and breathtaking defense, he has certainly earned the starting job he now has. If any current Mets outfielder could be a lock to start in 2014, it would be Lagares.
Lagares' defense is already above average. If his hitting continues to improve, the Mets could have a very solid role player anchoring the outfield. For the season, Lagares is batting .256 with four home runs, 30 RBI, a .295 OBP and a .371 slugging percentage.
The other two outfield positions are now the larger concerns. Eric Young Jr. has played reasonably well as the Mets left fielder since June with a .256 average, one home run, 21 RBI, a .331 OBP and a .338 slugging percentage since being acquired from the Rockies. He has also brought some much needed speed with 38 stolen bases this season (30 as a Met).
The Mets did not have this kind of speed at all in 2012, so that has been one upgrade this season. Young could be better off as a fourth outfielder on a more elite team and if the Mets can find an upgrade at left field, Young could be sent to the bench.
Right field this season was mostly handled by Marlon Byrd until his trade to the Pirates in August.
Going forward, none of the Mets' right field options look particularly promising. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and Andrew Brown all do not have significant experience as everyday players. The Mets could also choose to go with a more defensive oriented outfield if they feel like Matt den Dekker's defense would be good enough to make up for his weaker bat. Being that Lagares has a very good and accurate outfield arm, the Mets could put him in right field and den Dekker in center field if both are in the outfield.
In the minor leagues, most of the Mets' remaining outfield prospects, aside from den Dekker, are not close to being major league ready. Such outfield prospects would include Cesar Puello, Cory Vaughn and Brandon Nimmo, among others.
Nonetheless, the Mets could really use a significant upgrade in the outfield this offseason, and if any outfield position is most likely to look different in 2014, it would probably be right field. Lagares has proven himself to be an everyday center fielder and Eric Young Jr.'s speed could be enough to keep him in left field.
There is no clear cut starter right now in right field for 2014, so look for the Mets to find an answer there.