The New York Mets had a storybook 2015 season. They captured the division crown over the favored Washington Nationals, returned to the postseason for the first time since 2006, and claimed the NL pennant for the fifth time in their history, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs along the way. Their tremendously talented starting rotation paved the path to the World Series, along with key contributions from, among others, Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy.
The legend of the 2015 Mets became less grand, however, as the Kansas City Royals defeated the Mets in 5 games in the World Series. The Mets held a lead in every game of the series, but the resilient Royals capitalized upon defensive miscues and bullpen issues to eke out torturous victories. Murph, the NLCS MVP and provider of countless hilarious gifs (and frequently awful defense) over his years of service with the Mets, booted a key ground ball in Game 4 to allow the Royals to score the tying run. Cespedes, the prized midseason acquistion, developed a habit of kicking misplayed fly balls all around the outfield. Even Wright, the longtime star and captain of this beleaguered ballclub, made a few crucial errors on the way to defeat.
The Royals are no doubt an excellent ballclub. They came 90 feet away from tying up the San Francisco Madbums– sorry, San Francisco Giants, in last year’s World Series, and have quality players at nearly every position. But it seems that, more than anything, the Mets beat themselves in the World Series. In addition to the predictable defensive mistakes that have plagued the Mets all season long, the offense shut down when it was most needed. Excluding Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, and David Wright in Game 3, the bats just didn’t get the job done.
So now, the Mets head into the 2015 offseason with several goals. They are likely to lose Murphy and Cespedes, as well as backup infielders Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe and several other expendable pitchers (bye, Bartolo. I’ll miss you always). But for a team that should have a renewed focus on defense after a disastrous World Series, these losses provide an opportunity for GM Sandy Alderson to build a more fundamentally sound team. Alderson has done a great job at acquiring the building blocks for a contender. Now, he must prove he can provide the finishing touches to the roster.
With that said, here are several moves which could be the focal points for the Mets this offseason, and which would be beneficial in New York’s quest to return to the postseason and avenge the championship loss.
Acquire a utility infielder
Going into the 2015 season, the question of who would play shortstop for the Mets loomed. Wilmer Flores had more power and prowess at the plate than the better-fielding Ruben Tejada, but neither seemed like the long-term solution. Amidst frequent switching back and forth between the middle infield positions, the two performed decently. Still, if the Mets are going to be serious contenders in 2016, they need to find a decent backup infielder who can provide solid defense around the diamond. This is especially important considering the uncertainty surrounding David Wright’s long term prospects at third base. Someone like free agent Asdrubal Cabrera, most recently of the Tampa Bay Rays, comes to mind. I also wouldn’t be shocked if the Mets went after Ben Zobrist, who was fairly good during the postseason for Kansas City. Also to be considered is how prospects Matt Reynolds and Dilson Herrera might factor in. If Alderson deems Reynolds and Herrera can be serviceable backups, he might focus his attention elsewhere.
Find a centerfielder/ fourth outfielder
Curtis Granderson showed he was worth his contract this year, leading the way for the Mets in both the regular season and postseason, and it seems like Michael Conforto will be penciled in as the #3 hitter for the next 10 years in New York. While left and right are covered, though, centerfield remains a question mark. Juan Lagares appeared to be the long term solution in center after two seasons of dominant defensive play. The 26 year old was given a four year contract extension before the 2015 season, but a ligament tear in his right elbow sapped his once-lethal throwing arm of much of its strength and Lagares ended up ceding his starting role to Cespedes after the Cuban’s arrival. Though Cespedes will likely be gone, it’s unclear if Lagares can return to prior form or if he requires Tommy John surgery. Therefore, the Mets will be looking for a versatile outfielder who can man center, especially if Lagares is deemed to need surgery. Someone like Dexter Fowler or Austin Jackson would provide New York with something it’s not had since Jose Reyes– a true leadoff hitter. Colby Rasmus, another potential target, would add some lefty pop to the Mets lineup. It’s possible that the Mets could go after Jason Heyward, but he would come at a high cost and likely shift Granderson over to center, which would not be an ideal defensive alignment. In terms of trade targets, there have been rumblings that the Yankees are interested in dealing Brett Gardner– would the Mets be interested in bringing the speedster across town? Prospect Brandon Nimmo is also an intriguing option, but doubts linger about his defensive capabilities in center.
In 2015, Jeurys Familia had one of the finest seasons as a closer in the history of the franchise. Slotted in to replace PED lover Jenrry Mejia at the back end of the bullpen in the first few days of the season, Familia starred, saving 43 games in the regular season and five more in the postseason. Familia became the first pitcher to blow three saves in one World Series, but that figure is misleading; in two of those appearances, Familia didn’t give up a hit. Though in recent years there’s been a bit of a revolving door at closer for the Mets, it seems like Familia is the clear choice for the role next season and beyond. Outside of him, though, questions abound. The most reliable relievers in the postseason for the Mets were probably usual starters Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon and midseason acquisition Addison Reed. Niese will slot in as a fifth starter (at least until Zack Wheeler’s return), Colon is likely gone, and Reed is eligible for arbitration. That leaves the Mets with quite a few spots to fill. Assuming that Reed accepts arbitration, the returning members of the Mets bullpen from the World Series roster will be righties Reed and Hansel Robles, lefty Sean Gilmartin, and Familia. Logan Verrett will likely serve in long relief, and it’s possible Niese will return to the ‘pen after Wheeler returns. The makings of a solid bullpen are here, but for it to be elite, the Mets will have to invest in a quality setup man and perhaps a shutdown lefty. Internally, southpaw Josh Smoker could be an option. The 26 year old had an impressive 2015, advancing to AA ball with a heater in the mid-nineties. In addition, Josh Edgin and Jerry Blevins both will return from injury, and it seems likely the Mets can find two or three decent lefties out of the bunch to place in the bullpen. External options for a setup man are intriguing but expensive. Darren O’Day and Joakim Soria will likely fetch impressive contracts on the open market, and potential trade targets like Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel would cost the Mets some of their most prized prospects. It’s up to Sandy to determine whether a devastating one-two punch of Familia and another top reliever would be worth giving up yet another prospect from the shrinking farm system.
The Mets have work to do if they want to be playing baseball again in October and November in 2016. But the heart and soul of the team is only going to get better. The rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz will be together for an entire season (barring injury– please, knock on any wood you can find) and will have another year of development under their belt. Hopefully, New York can find the right pieces to complement their staff.