What can you say about the 2021 New York Mets that their fans themselves have not already said? The team went from wildly outperforming even the most optimistic expectations through the All-Star break, to becoming one of the most abysmal franchises in baseball yet again by the season’s closing days.
With this year being what it was, I feel it necessary to emphasize the importance of the season to come. Technically speaking, the New York Mets have Jacob deGrom under contract with the franchise for three more seasons. But when you really study his contract, you realize that he has a player opt out clause after next year…meaning that the Mets have exactly one year to prove to undisputedly the best pitcher in baseball, that he’s on a championship contender. Let’s face it, if he were to opt out for a bigger paycheck there isn’t a team in baseball who wouldn’t offer every last penny they had to the surefire Hall of Famer…and really enjoying Queens doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough to keep him from moving on.
After taking it all in I believe it is time to reveal my opinions (that nobody asked for) in a little series I’m calling “The Offseason Dissection”. In an effort to examine what the Mets have now, and where they need to be come opening day of 2022, I’ve broken this team down position by position. I’ll talk who needs to stay and who needs to go. So with out further a do, let’s begin with the individual whose job that’ll actually be:
In just the last 12 months, the New York Mets have gone through a trio of General Managers. Brodie Van Wagenen, former Jacob deGrom agent, was fired from the role in November of 2020 just hours after new team owner, Steven Cohen took over the franchise. Then there was his replacement, Jared Porter, who held the position for all of a month before getting canned during an investigation into him sending unsolicited text messages to a female journalist. His replacement, Zack Scott, was unlikely to retain the role anyways but further cemented that with a recent DWI arrest.
So the Mets must begin their offseason by figuring out just who, will be figuring out the rest of it.
Thus far they’ve been linked to Milwaukee Brewers President, David Stearns; Los Angeles Dodgers Assistant GM, Brandon Gomes; and Brad Pitt impersonator, Billy Beane. Of the trio, Stearns is the boring yet rational choice…Gomes is the youthful (just 37) yet unproven option…and apparently Beane is the most handsome and likely to star in a “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” remake. As much as I’d love to see Beane get his actual Mets redemption tour, I think the youth movement in baseball will extend to the front office and Brandon Gomes will sabermetric-sell his way into the role.
After figuring out who’ll be figuring out the roster, the Mets’ next point of order will be figuring out who’ll be figuring out how to play the roster. With the Mets choosing not to extend Luis Rojas’ contract as skipper, it’s time to address the pretty sizable elephant in the room…
Is this Carlos Beltran’s job to lose?
Beltran, a la Jared Porter, held on to his first tenure as manager of the New York Mets for about as long as the Mets held on to 2021’s 10th overall draft pick, Kumar Rocker. Hired in November of 2019, Beltran stepped down in January of 2020 when he somehow became the only player-casualty of MLB’s investigation of the Houston Astros’ “player driven” cheating scandal. Both of his suspension-contemporaries, AJ Hinch and Alex Cora, have since been reinstated in managerial roles and allowed to proceed with their lives as if nothing had ever happened…something Commissioner Rob Manfred would like us all to do as well.
So outside of experience, which is about as relevant in baseball today as chewing tobacco, there isn’t really an argument to be made against Beltran. Especially not when the Mets are clearly trying to re-assemble the most exciting baseball team in recent memory…2017’s Puerto Rico World Baseball Classic Team…
As mentioned before, Jacob deGrom is a Met for at least another season. Outside of him, they’re guaranteed to return a rotation featuring the always heartwarming, Carlos Carrasco; rookie standout, David Peterson; and late-in-life All-Star Taijuan Walker. They’ll have negotiations about resigning Noah Syndergaard, but ultimately I believe the relationship may have run its course. Much more likely is that the Mets retain fellow free-agent, Marcus Stroman. This is a strong foundation from which to work, especially considering the high marks they put up as a unit in 2021, but there’s always room for improvement, especially for a would-be contender.
They could chase big money arms like Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman and Robbie Ray in free agency, offering short-term deals that coincide with the end of deGrom’s extension. Cohen has made no secret of his desire to build a super-team in Queens, but this is a team that has traditionally preferred to make their big time splashes in the trade market as opposed to premier free agents, and I expect that trend will continue.
The Mets’ farm system is position-heavy with no impact arms projected to arrive in the big leagues anytime soon. The beauty of this though, is that with several of their positions being manned by their core of stars, the prospects destined to play those positions are obvious trade assets that could bring back big-league talents in short order. The names that come to mind almost immediately for the Mets to target are the Cleveland Indians’ young power pitchers (Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac) and the Baltimore Orioles’ John Means; because of their teams’ rebuilding status. Bieber is obviously the most attractive name there…for non-Justin related reasons…but any of them could theoretically prove to be an ultra-effective second option in a pitcher-friendly ballpark like Citi Field.
The Mets’ bullpen has been a sore spot for the franchise for quite some time, but again they have the foundation of something to build around with the talented arms of Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo and Miguel Castro as well as talented upstarts like Joey Lucchesi and Drew Smith.
I can see the Mets looking to spend some added time driving up the free agent price of a guy like Matt Barnes or Ken Giles, before eventually bowing out to continue to build a pitching staff via trade.
On the trade market, the plethora of young talent at a wide-array of positions for the Mets is a major advantage. They’re a workable trade partner for essentially any franchise who wants to bolster their future at a specific position. The obvious best look for the Mets in the bullpen would be to work on splitting up the late inning power couples in St. Louis and Milwaukee, Giovanny Gallegos or Jordan Hicks and Josh Hader or Devin Williams respectively. Neither team appears to be in the market to spend big anytime soon, so a trade for a near-ready prospect should suit them both perfectly.
James McCann remains a sturdy and serviceable backstop in his early-30s. He was hardly a head-turning addition for the Amazin’s a year ago, and his play in the first year of a four year deal definitely explained why. He’s going to continue to do the job in Queens, and operate as a transitional talent for what is likely the Mets’ sole untouchable minor leaguer, Francisco Alvarez. The 19 year old isn’t slated to arrive in the big leagues until 2023 at the earliest, leaving just enough time for McCann to ultimately serve as his backup for a year or two.
As far as McCann’s relief, the Mets could definitely afford to do something in the way of adding some run production for the 40-50 games a year you’ll have to rest McCann. They could bring in another veteran a la Yan Gomes or Matt Weiters to do the job, but I’d love to see them wait out the non-tender deadline on December 2nd, and see if they can’t snag themselves a surprisingly available talent like the Twins’ Willians Astudillo or the White Sox’s Yermin Mercedes.
At this point it is very important to note that for the most part the New York Mets’ infield is going to be a relatively dry run of “it’s _______’s job for the foreseeable future”. It’s part of the reason that a prospect-obsessed lunatic like myself is so keen on the Mets unloading what they’ve got in the farms for talent to compliment the pieces they do have in place already.
That starts right here at First Base with the Polar Bear, Pete Alonso. Alonso isn’t going to ever turn heads defensively in a National League that today features some of the best defensive talents at first that the game has ever seen. But that isn’t why you draft, promote and eventually resign a guy like Alonso. In his first two full seasons (we’re going to exclude the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign), Alonso hit a grand total of 90 homers with 214 RBIs. Not only is First Base his indefinitely in Queens, so is the heart of the lineup.
This opinion is going to be shockingly controversial for a wide-array of Met fans…Javier Baez is really good and needs to be retained at all costs. If you’re anti-Baez because he strikes out a ton, welcome to the MLB in 2021. If you’re anti-Baez because he gave you a thumbs down, it’s a blessing your baseball dreams got dashed years ago. If you’re anti-Baez because you think he’s going to cost you a lot, this is where you’re wrong…
Heading into the 2021 season, the Chicago Cubs had absolutely no intention of trading Javier Baez. They were actually planning to continue to build around him as their franchise cornerstone as opposed to Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, or Wilson Contreras. Baez informed the club that he had no intention to resign with them because he wanted to be a Met and play with Lindor, so they opened up trade negotiations. He made it public that he’d refuse to secede shortstop to anyone but Lindor on the Mets, forcing all other teams needing a shortstop to back out. He got his trade at the deadline and almost instantly tried to hammer out an extension to stay with the Mets and play alongside Lindor. Does that sound like the kind of guy who is going to now try to instigate a bidding war for the Mets to keep him with Lindor?
One of the most exciting and dynamic players in baseball history desperately wants to be a New York Met and turn the flashiest double-plays you’ve ever seen with his BFF while they hit in the heart of your order…LET HIM!
Heading into the offseason the New York Mets have a few very viable options to man third base for the upcoming season. Jeff McNeil, now displaced from his typical home at Second Base because of Baez, can slot down to the hot corner pretty easily. J.D. Davis has proven to be a somewhat reliable glove with a fair amount of offense too. Heck, even Luis Guillorme can make a claim to more games here given his defensive prowess down the stretch in 2021.
But to be frank, this is the one exception to my bid to keep the infield in tact from last season. The Mets have the financial flexibility to make a pair of splashes in Free Agency, and the first should be right here. Remember that nod to Team Puerto Rico in the 2017 WBC? Well this is where I think it continues for the team in Queens, adding the final piece to that all-exciting puzzle. The Mets will be pushing very hard to recruit and sign Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros this offseason, with the intention of moving him to Third Base.
It might seem like a spoil of riches to have three of the games elite shortstops playing for your team at once, but for a Mets franchise looking to capitalize on a less-than-stable NL East, going all in has to be the objective here. Correa provides another potent bat to the order, gold glover on the field and will follow their current trend of promoting exciting high-octane baseball.
Why would Correa want this? Well, he remains very close friends with both Baez and Lindor. He’s continued to maintain a close mentor/mentee relationship with Carlos Beltran (actually what led to Beltran signing with the Astros to close his career). Plus he, like most 20-somethings in the public eye, has an overwhelming desire to be liked and desperately needs to leave the Astros organization to do so. I called the Lindor/Baez pairing years ago as the dawn of the NBA-esque desire of players to join their friends on superteams, and was pleased to know I got something right…Correa signing too though, means the landscape of baseball is changing faster than anyone could’ve imagined.
With his two Puerto Rican brothers in arms flanking him on either side, the door is left open for Francisco Lindor to be everything that the Mets thought they were getting when they executed a trade for him a year ago. The pressure will be way off his shoulders offensively, likely getting looks at the top of the order in front of guys like McNeil, Alonso, Correa and Baez so as to see more hittable pitches. Defensively, what a statement it is to have a pair of gold glove shortstops step aside to allow you to continue to man the position out of sheer respect.
Despite only being in Queens for about seven months longer than Baez, and theoretically a year before Correa, this has been made to feel like Lindor’s team from the moment he arrived. He was the catalyst for the trade negotiations to land Baez, and he’ll be the go-to reason for Correa and a potential host of other Puerto Rican ball players following suit.
Lindor inked a 7-year extension with the Mets that kicks into gear this upcoming season, which kept him from leaving the squad in free agency this offseason. He’s now unquestionably going to be the face of the franchise going forward, and it’ll be up to the Mets to ensure that the next seven seasons yield something tangible for a franchise that’s been ringless since ’86.
The Mets’ outfield has a strong foundation out on the corners, with Dominic Smith finding a long-term home in Left Field the more playing time he gets out there and Jeff McNeil likely transitioning to Right Field to accommodate the infield’s superstar trio. That means in all likelihood, allowing Michael Conforto to walk in free agency and instead focusing your efforts on tracking down a new Center Fielder. Brandon Nimmo has been serviceable up the middle, with spurts of brilliance sprinkled in, but I believe better options are available both in the free agent market and on the trade front.
The top free agent Center Fielder will undoubtedly be Starling Marte. An elite athlete, strong defender, and additional top of the order bat would be super helpful for the Mets. That being said, a lot of suitors will be reaching out to the former Oakland A, and he’s likely to command a contract a bit to rich for an outfielder already in his thirties. So another strong option available this year will be former Washington National, Michael Taylor. He’s nowhere near the hitter that Marte is, but Taylor can be a gold glove caliber player and potentially another high-impact base stealer at the bottom of the order to setup the superstar bats the Met have at the top.
Alternatively, the Mets could choose to work another prospect package (or one centered around either J.D. Davis or Dominic Smith) to land them a trade for a Center Fielder. Depending on what the Mets are willing to give up, we could see them in-play for Byron Buxton of the Twins or Ketel Marte of the Diamondbacks; but much more likely would be for them to set their sights on Bryan Reynolds of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Ramon Laureano of the Oakland A’s. Both are increasingly likely to get moved this winter or next trade deadline, and the Mets could sneak in and nab one early in the offseason to rapidly bolster a position of need for them.