Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The New York Mets.
The Big Question: Can the Mets finish with 80 or more wins for the first time since 2008?
After abstaining from the free agent market last off-season, the Mets jumped in and signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million deal to patrol the outfield at Citi Field. The Mets had some newfound financial flexibility with Johan Santana and Jason Bay’s contracts off the books. They also added starter Bartolo Colon with a two-year, $20 million deal – their answer to losing Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery.
However, the Mets didn’t do a whole lot aside from signing Granderson and Colon. They signed Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. He’ll play opposite Granderson in right field.
The Mets will be relying on a lot of young players, including top prospect Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate. In his first taste of the big leagues last season, d’Arnaud struggled, posting a .548 OPS in 112 plate appearances.
The bullpen is another area of youth. Bobby Parnell is expected to be the closer after recovering from a neck injury during the second half of the 2013 season. Parnell has been quite reliable, averaging at least three strikeouts for every one walk and posting a sub-3.00 ERA in three out of the last four seasons. Behind Parnell, Scott Rice and Kyle Farnsworth may be the only members born prior to 1986.
What else is going on?
- The Mets are reluctantly going with Ruben Tejada at shortstop to start the season. Many expected them to wind up with Stephen Drew, who is still a free agent. Tejada posted a .519 OPS last season and the team wasn’t thrilled with his conditioning. Something will give between now and the trade deadline; it’s unlikely the Mets stick with him at shortstop, especially if they are competitive in the first half.
- Lucas Duda and Ike Davis are battling it out for the job at first base. The loser will wind up on the bench and likely traded. Duda posted a .767 OPS in 384 plate appearances last season, spending a majority of his playing time in left field. Davis had a nightmare season, posting an even .500 OPS before a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas in mid-June. When he returned to the Mets on July 5, he was much improved. He didn’t rediscover his power stroke, but he cut down on the strikeouts and drew more walks. From July 5 through the end of the season, Davis drew 38 walks and struck out 35 times in 170 plate appearances.
- The Mets have another positional battle in center field. Juan Lagares was great there defensively last season, but left a lot to be desired with the bat. The Mets lack a lead-off hitter as well, and that could spur them to give Eric Young, Jr. a shot. In the event Young beats out Lagares, Lagares could start at Triple-A. Young would start in left, Granderson would move to right, and Young would move to center.
- The Mets are hoping Zack Wheeler can be to them in 2014 as Harvey was last season. Wheeler made 17 starts in 2013, finishing with a 3.42 ERA in an even 100 innings. He walked a few too many – 44 unintentionally – so he would have to improve his control. But he’s 23 years old and the sky is the limit for the right-hander
Prediction: The Mets are better than they were last season, even without Matt Harvey. They could go back and forth with the Phillies between third and fourth place throughout the season, but I have them ultimately finishing ahead of the Phillies in third place in the NL East.
We heard back in December that Jason Bay could be headed to Japan, but the veteran outfielder confirmed to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca today that his playing career is basically over.
Bay hasn’t filed any official papers yet, but he told Davidi that he can’t see a scenario where he will come back. While he was intrigued by the possibility of playing in Japan, he feels like this is a good opportunity to focus on his family.
Bay was released by the Mariners last August after he hit just .204/.298/.393 with 11 home runs and 20 RBI over 236 plate appearances. The 35-year-old compiled a .229/.314/.373 batting line after signing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets in December of 2009. The two-time All-Star will walk away from the game with a .266/.360/.481 lifetime batting line to go along with 222 home runs and 754 RBI. The Canada native won the National League Rookie of the Year Award with the Pirates in 2004.
Greg Johns of MLB.com is reporting that Jason Bay could sign with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Central League.
Bay — who appears to be more than done as a major leaguer — was released by the Mariners in August after he hit a mere .204/.298/.393 over 236 plate appearances in 2013. He’s 35. Personally I have a hard time seeing him hitting in Japan either, but if someone wants to pay him, good luck to someone who is reported to be one of the nicer guys in the business.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson recently said he won’t target players expected to take home a nine-figure contract, like Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo, but he did state that the 2014 season will be “a new day” for the franchise. Newsday’s Marc Carig writes that Alderson spent 45 minutes on the radio, between WFAN and ESPN New York, reassuring fans that the team will have an active off-season, especially compared to their dormant winter following the 2012 season.
“No,” Alderson said of skimping on players. “No way. Why would we want to do that? I’ve got to watch all those games too, you know.”
The Mets are reportedly seeking a veteran to lead the rotation and another veteran to slot into the back of the bullpen, as well as a shortstop and a corner outfielder to take the place of Lucas Duda when he takes over first base full-time. They have also explored the possibility of trading Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy.
After opening up the 2009 season with a payroll approaching $150 million, poor play from the team and the Madoff scandal forced them to cut it down to $93-94 million over the past two seasons. Additionally, they were paying off the end of the Johan Santana and Jason Bay contracts, reducing their flexibility even further, but both are off the books now.
The Mets have some money to spend this offseason with the contracts of Johan Santana, Jason Bay, and Frank Francisco coming off the books, but don’t expect them to go after any of the big ticket items in free agency.
If Alderson stays true to his word, it’s safe to assume this takes the Mets out of the mix for players like Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shin-Soo Choo. There could be others, depending on how the market plays out.
While Choo would be a great fit for the Mets, Alderson’s comments ultimately don’t come as a big surprise. However, it’s unclear whether this is due to his philosophy/valuation or ownership’s unwillingness (or inability) to spend big. It could be a combination of both factors.
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York was told by a “Mets insider” earlier this month that the team plans to use a similar approach as the Red Sox did last offseason, signing multiple mid-tier free agents rather than splurging on one player. They are also expected to be active in the trade market.