After playing through the 2012 season, the Mets could be looking at lineup with young talent around the infield, a young leadoff OFer, a potential franchise catcher, and 4 very good pitchers, all young, cheap, and under team control for years to come. This young core is almost complete, but unfortunately lacking a few key pieces that have to be added from outside the organization and at a high (either dollars or traded talent) cost. To be true contenders, the Mets would have to add two middle-of-the-order-hitting OFers (1 LH and 1 RH) and an SP1.
This is the big one. Of course, the Mets cannot build their entire strategy around one player being available and having the ability to sign that player. However, if Kemp makes it to free agency, the Mets have a hole in the middle of their lineup, they are lacking a true star, they have a need in the OF, and they will have money to spend. Kemp answers all of those problems and really would be a perfect fit for the team. How do the Mets sign him with so many questions around baseball about the future of the franchise? Sell him on NYC and what it means to win here. Sell him on how being a star in NYC is bigger than being one anywhere else. Sell him on being the centerpiece and leader of a young group of talented ballplayers poised to go on a run for multiple years. Also, pay him more money than anyone else. With costs low for the team across the board, the Mets can afford to splurge on one shiny new acquisition next year. And, they can afford a big contract going forward because most players on the roster won’t see significant raises for at least 3 seasons. For the few players that do, there will be more than enough room in the budget in the coming years.
- Trade a package of prospects built around Jeurys Familia to Kansas City for LF Alex Gordon.
- Trade a package built around Lucas Duda to Tampa Bay for James Shields.
After adding the new pieces and building on the foundation established by the end of 2011, I would expect the 25-man to shake out as:
SP1 James Shields (9)
SP2 Drew Pomeranz (0.5)
SP3 Matt Harvey (0.5)
SP4 Jonthan Niese (1)
SP5 (R)Zach Wheeler (0.5)
Josh Thole (0.5)
Josh Satin (0.5)
Kirk Nieuwenhuis (0.5)
Justin Turner (0.5)
Rex Brothers (0.5)
Jenrry Mejia (0.5)
Dillon Gee (0.5)
Brad Holt (0.5)
(R)Darin Gorski (0.5)
This lineup carries a price tag of $56.5M. Add in the $12M incurred by trading Bay and Santana at the deadline in 2011 and that brings the total to $68.5M, leaving plenty of room for Sandy&Co. to add 2 veterans for the bench as well as have the freedom spend whatever they might want on a proven closer. The Mets can bring in an established closer for 2-3 years while Mejia, Brothers, and Holt mature until they’re ready to lock down the late innings for the team.
Kalish slides over to RF and settles in as the full-time leadoff hitter after winning the job in the middle of 2012. I’d expect Tejada to play very good defensively and give the Mets Placido Polanco-like production from the #2 spot (decent average, high OBP, solid contact, light power). I would expect Gordon to continue hitting like an all-star and Kemp to continue challenging for the Triple Crown and MVP Award. Davis should continue his progress as a legitimate major league slugger and will have a shot at a monster RBI year with Kalish, Tejada, Gordon, and Kemp all getting on base at a high clip in front of him. Grandal should do well behind the plate and handle the pitching staff as well as provide some decent pop from the 6th spot. If Havens progresses at the same rate as Ike did when first called up, he could become one of the better offensive 2B in MLB in his first full season. Arenado will likely struggle as a rookie, however he figures to hit with some power and continue to not striekout much at all. Hitting at the end of the lineup should take pressure off him.
Shields comes in and leads the rotation for two years while Pomeranz, Harvey, and Wheeler (making his rookie debut in 2013) mature. Niese hopefully continues improving and provides solid production as one of the best #4 pitchers in MLB. The bullpen stays almost the same from the end of 2011, only adding in another needed lefty in rookie Darin Gorski. Depending on who is the closer in 2011 and who is available to close in 2012, the team might decide to make a change (I’ve left the spot intentionally empty for now).
The team as structured could contend for a playoff spot as early as their first year together. I wouldn’t expect miracles and believe it will take a year’s experience before they are truly championship contenders in 2014. The young pitchers will likely have to go through some growing pains before they are truly ready to lead a push towards a title. However I expect that they could steal a wild card berth in 2013.
Going forward, the payroll should be relatively stable for a few years, with only a few extended contracts signed and most players making less than $1M per year. The organization would have the flexibility to keep this group together for a long time with team-friendly extensions OR add replacements if needed, something they could do with excess money to spend and very tradable players (from a financial standpoint). Once the better players are getting to the point that they deserve expensive contracts, the more expensive players on the team will be nearing the ends of their own deals – turning the page will be just natural attrition. Just when Gordon's and Kemp's contracts are coming to and end, Davis and Arenado(?) should be mature enough to move up in the lineup. I don't think it's outrageous to project a future lineup featuring a 3-4-5 of Havens-Arenado-Davis. I think Grandal can also become a middle-of-the-order run producer, however I would never expect the team to rely on a catcher to hit higher than 6th given how many games most catchers wind up missing due to the wear and tear of the position (Piazza was the once-in-a-lifetime exception). If the FO is doing its job in player development, in 3-5 years when replacement talent is beginning to be needed, the team will have a pipeline from its farm system ready to move up. A young and talented major league roster with few holes buys the FO time to revamp the farm to where it needs to be.
Whether the specific players mentioned are acquired or not, the Mets would be best-served to proactively fill as many of the team's holes with young talent sooner rather than later. After a foundation is established, the team will have excess resources and flexibility to go out and add whatever final pieces they need.
As we've seen in the past, building a young core and then supplementing it with veteran talent can pay serious dividends. All in all, everyone has the chance to win: The owners get a low payroll, the FO gets a young, talented, and flexible roster to work with, and the fans get a great team to root for – homegrown talent, great pitching, a coupe of stars mixed in, and hopefully a winner.