Winter report card: New York Mets
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.
New York Mets
2012 Results: 74-88, 4th place in NL East (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: RHP Manny Acosta, OF Jason Bay, SS Ronny Cedeno, RHP R.A Dickey, OF Scott Hairston, C Mike Nickeas, RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Ramon Ramirez, RHP Jon Rauch, C Kelly Shoppach, C Josh Thole, OF Andres Torres, RHP Chris Young
Key arrivals: OF Andrew Brown, C John Buck, OF Collin Cowgill, C Travis d’Arnaud, IF Brandon Hicks, LHP Pedro Feliciano, LHP Aaron Laffey
Coming off their fourth consecutive losing season and still dealing with significant financial woes, the Mets have certainly made major headlines this winter, both via the eight-year, $138 million extension to which they signed David Wright and the blockbuster that sent Dickey to the Blue Jays as part of a seven-player trade. Aside from those two moves, they’ve done little to help their cause, though it’s somewhat telling that the bulk of the free agents listed above — Cedeno, Hairston, Ramirez, Rauch, Shoppach and Young — remain unsigned. Most of them are usable, affordable roster supplements, but whether the Mets can actually afford them is another matter.
As wrenching as it was to part with an NL Cy Young winner who has emerged as a face of the franchise in his three seasons in the Big Apple, general manager Sandy Alderson did net a good return from Toronto. D’Arnaud, who turns 24 on Feb. 10, should be a cornerstone of the rebuilding process, a two-way catcher who ranks among the top 20 prospects in the game. The only hitch is that his 2012 season ended last June 25 due to a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee; he didn’t undergo surgery but he didn’t return to action, either. The Mets figure to let him get back into the swing of things and squeeze him for an extra year of service time by farming him out to start the year, with Buck, who was flipped by the Blue Jays after being acquired in the 12-player Marlins blockbuster, keeping the seat warm. Though the 32-year-old hit just .192/.297/.347 in 2012, his career line (.235/.303/.405) and defense are adequate enough for him to slide into a backup/mentor role after d’Arnaud arrives. The other key piece of the Dickey deal, 20-year-old righty Noah Syndergaard, is a high-upside power righty who is years away from the majors, but another promising arm for an organization that is reasonably well-stocked in them.
Beyond that, the pickings are slim. Laffey is a serviceable swingman who made 16 starts and six relief appearances for the Blue Jays and put up a 4.56 ERA in 100 2/3 innings, though his strikeout and homer rates (4.3 per nine and 1.5 per nine, respectively) suggest regression ahead. Feliciano averaged 86 appearances with a 3.35 ERA for the Mets from 2007-2010, but a torn shoulder capsule cost him the last two years, and he may well be done. Cowgill and Hicks were spare parts for the A’s last year; the former, 26, is an outfielder who hit just .269/.336/.317 with one homer in 116 PA for Oakland last year after a similarly feeble stint with the Diamondbacks the year before, while the latter, 27, hit .172/.243/.391 with three homers in 70 PA. Brown, 28, hit a nothing-to-write-home-about .232/.302 /.429 with five homers in 126 PA for the Rockies.
Some of the aforementioned free agents may still return. Hairston, who hit .263/.299/.504 with 20 homers in 398 PA for the Mets in 2012, is said to be deciding between the Mets and Cubs, with the Yankees a longshot. Given the Mets’ current outfield situation (more on which momentarily), he’d certainly figure to get at least as much playing time as he did last year. The always-fragile Young, 33, put up a 4.15 ERA in 115 innings last year, his heaviest workload since 2008; he could fill out the rotation behind Johan Santana, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Matt Harvey. Cedeno, who turns 30 on Feb. 2, could help an infield that’s sorely lacking in depth, though his track record suggests he’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate last year’s line of .259/.332/.410, via which he set career highs in both on-base and slugging percentages.
Unfinished business: Out here in the fields. Mets outfielders hit a combined .238/.309/.386 with 47 in 2012 en route to the second-lowest OPS of any NL team. Take away the work done by Hairston, and that slugging percentage drops to .355. Yet aside from cutting bait on Jason Bay, letting Torres depart after a disappointing season and adding Cowgill, they’ve done nothing to improve the situation. As it is, their starting outfield consists of Mike Baxter (.263/.365/.413 in 211 PA), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.252/.315 /.376 in 314 PA) and Lucas Duda (.239/.329/.389 in 459 PA), all of whom are suitable to one degree or another as part-timers, but stretched as regulars.
With no real shot at contending, New York would be foolish to trade anyone of value — a pitching prospect, say — and signing free agent Michael Bourn to a short-term deal is almost certainly beyond the team’s means; this is a franchise whose finances have forced Alderson to haggle with Hairston over a couple million dollars and to crack wise about the futility of the situation in public. The team was said to be interested in Grady Sizemore back in December, but the 30-year-old former All-Star missed all of 2012 due to a microdiscectomy in his lower back and microfracture surgery on his right knee after playing in a combined 104 games in 2010-2011; he could be out until midseason, and he’s not exactly a quick healer. If the Mets are to find an upgrade or two, Alderson is going to have to either get particularly creative or convince the Wilpons to loosen the purse strings a bit.
Preliminary grade: C-. The Mets received a fine return in the Dickey deal, and they did well to retain Wright, but Alderson has been hamstrung by budget concerns that have prevented him from filling out the roster.
An earlier version of this article referred to Kyle Lobstein, a Rule 5 pick from the Rays who was subsequently traded to the Tigers, and omitted Laffey and Brown.