by Paul West
After going for it at the trade deadline, putting together a second half which largely validated that decision, and falling just short in the end, the New York Mets enter the offseason walking a tightrope. They have the talent to contend, but holes to fill; their division rivals are now World Series champions; and their remarkably talented core are now, collectively, a year older. Their window remains open, but it’s yet to be determined how wide–and whether they’ll make the moves to step firmly back into contention. Here are five things they can do to help vault them back into baseball’s upper tier.
Re-sign Chili Davis
The Mets’ latest hitting coach had a lot to do with the team’s transition from a limited-outcome offense to one that can strike in many ways, extend at bats and win without the home run, and score late in games. His contract expired this week, and reportedly he’s in search of a multi-year contract. Anyone who remembers their struggles under recent hitting coaches should understand that Davis has more than earned a multi-year deal; moreover, the Mets’ young hitters would benefit from continuing to evolve under the tutelage of someone who clearly helped improve the team-wide approach.
Re-sign Zack Wheeler
Once the team’s most promising pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler took a while to truly establish himself; but at this point, it’s more than clear that he’s done just that. Still just 29, Wheeler has become a consistent source of solid outings and has not put together consecutive strong seasons. He’s expressed an interest in exploring his options as a free agent–but that’s probably in part because the Mets are notoriously tight-fisted as a franchise, not to mention the fact that they openly shopped him as last season’s trade deadline approached. He might not be the ace some hope he’d become, but he’s a better secondary or tertiary option than most teams have in their rotations (ESPN lists him as fourth in WAR among free agent starting pitchers, a hair behind Hyun-Jin Ryu). The Mets rose to contention in large part thanks to strong pitching, and if they hang on to Wheeler, they’ll still have one of the most talented starting rotations in either league. Wheeler would be a loss they’d be hard-pressed to fill.
Don’t tinker with the infield
Aside from Anthony Rizzo–who happens to play the same position as Pete Alonso, their biggest rising star–and Anthony Rendon, whom they probably aren’t getting, the free agent market for infielders isn’t exactly show-stopping. Furthermore, the Mets actually have a solid infield to take into 2020. Amed Rosario really settled in on offense and defense in the second half, providing a glimpse of the starting-caliber shortstop the Mets hoped he was becoming. JD Davis is clearly an asset at the plate, and his strong throwing arm and decent hands can make up for middling range at third (see: Turner, Justin). Jeff McNeil is a viable defender at second, while continuing to emerge one of the best line drive hitters in the game. Despite widespread frustration over his injury-wracked 2019, Jed Lowrie is still a versatile, switch-hitting veteran with a solid glove who can provide depth at three infield positions. (postscript: after a thorough shellacking on social media–by people who otherwise liked the article!–I’ve added a mention of Robinson Cano. I’d opted to leave him out as I think he’s more a tertiary depth piece and hitting mentor than anything else at this point; but I also concede that I should have mentioned him. Alors, voila.)
Stockpile bullpen depth
The Mets were, in a top to bottom sense, the better team in the 2015 World Series; but they were beaten by the Royals’ human wave attack of strong relief pitching, helping usher in today’s era of game-shortening (not in a literal sense, of course) bullpens. Their woeful June, and baffling tendency to cough up late leads, was the result of a bullpen both underperforming and overtaxed. It bears noting that bullpen woes were one of the major themes in a season where home runs came with remarkable ease; this is why the Mets shouldn’t give up on 25-year-old closer Edwin Diaz just yet. But Seth Lugo can’t pitch every game, and a team that was one of the best in baseball at late-inning scoring should find a way to lock things down in the final innings. They needn’t make a splashy trade or spend a ton of money, either; there are numerous solid relievers on the free agent market, and a lot of the best bullpen arms come unheralded–here’s where scouting and development come into play.
Trade for Starling Marte
Starling Marte seems likely to be traded by the Pirates, despite the fact that they recently picked up his team option. The Mets recently punted on Juan Lagares, and have an outfield full of corner outfielders–aside from Brandon Nimmo, who still isn’t clearly an everyday player despite his speed and occasional power. The insertion of Marte into their already dangerous lineup would give the Mets one of the most potent offenses in the National League; and while he’s far from elite defensively, he’s as good as Michael Conforto and others the Mets employed at the position for much of last year. Nimmo is a good option as a late-game defensive replacement, and Marte in center would let Conforto return to the corners, where he’s become quite solid. It would also clear the way for the possible return of Yoenis Cespedes on the other corner. Imagine this lineup:
- Rosario, SS
- McNeil, 2B
- Alonso, 1B
- Marte, CF
- Conforto, LF
- Cespedes, RF
- Davis, 3B
- Nido, C
With that kind of lineup in place, the pitcher-friendly Tomas Nido could remain behind the plate in the event Wilson Ramos was used as part of a deal to bring in Marte. This would give the Mets a balance of power, speed, and threats from both sides of the plate. It would also involve less bloodletting than trading for Mookie Betts, desirable though his addition may be.