With the 2014 Mets season in the books, despite yet another losing campaign for Terry Collins the general consensus is that things will be better next year. A lot of people will point to the September finish above .500 as reason for optimism…or the tie for second place with the Atlanta Braves…or the fact that David Wright and Curtis Granderson were pretty much ineffectual most of the year…or that the solid production coming from the catcher and shortstop positions didn’t happen until later in the year…or that the bullpen instead of being a hodgepodge of washed up veterans now includes some formidable young power arms. All of these things are most definitely reasons for guarded optimism.
Now throw a few more probabilities in the mix…moving in the fences yet again…a return to health for Matt Harvey, Bobby Parnell, Vic Black and Juan Lagares…the continued development and maturation of Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores…and hopefully a new approach against left handed pitchers for hometown slugger Lucas Duda…these factors also help make even the most jaded fan feel the club has turned an important corner.
There are, however, some contraindications that might temper that enthusiasm among the fans. First, there was the proclamation by GM Sandy Alderson that the club may be looking to in-house options for addressing their current holes. Most people are assuming that since Wilmer Flores defensively did not embarrass himself that the job is his to lose (with Matt Reynolds needing a second solid season in the minors to prove it wasn’t just the Las Vegas effect on his numbers). To most people it then meant that a corner outfield position was the only glaring void that needed to be filled, but a hot September by Matt den Dekker and a few long balls by Kirk Nieuwenhuis may lead the Mets into further inertia when it comes to addressing this need.
Let’s look at the numbers. Over 107 August-September ADs den Dekker hit a very respectable .290, though with no home runs, 6 RBIs and 5 SBs while playing his usual solid brand of outfield defense. He cut the strikeouts way down – 21 over that span – and got on base at a .392 clip. His track record has shown that he needs time to adjust to each new level and it’s possible that at age 27 he’s ready to show he’s a major leaguer. His best minor league campaign did feature as many as 17 HRs (twice) and as many as 24 SBs.
Nieuwenhuis is not quite at that same level. During the same August-September period he slashed .273/1/5 with 3 SBs in about half as many ABs. He whiffed 16 times and over his 112 ABs – roughly the same as den Dekker – he’s K’d 39 times, almost twice as much. For his major league career he has 489 ABs with a .241/13/58 with 169 Ks. That sounds an awful lot like a replacement level player to me, yet the Mets are talking about the man as if he is potentially part of the outfield solution. His high water mark for power is 18 minor league home runs, but with the lower batting average and increase strikeout totals, if I have to choose one of these two players (who are both left handed and reminiscent of the Ike Davis/Lucas Duda dilemma) I go with den Dekker.
Still, would potentially 10-15 HRs from den Dekker and 15-20 HRs from Wilmer Flores be enough? You might bank on a rebound year from Curtis Granderson but David Wright is not even a lock to be healthy enough to play. To me, any way you slice it you need to bring in a legitimate power bat to provide what’s missing, especially with David Wright’s health being a big question mark.
The problem is the team will likely want to hedge its financial bets until they see more fannies in the seats. (It never occurred to them, of course, that putting a better product on the field would help in that effort, but that’s a topic for another day). I don’t foresee any Carlos Gonzalez or Matt Kemp types on horizon. Expect instead to see the Scott Van Slyke, Jonny Gomes, Michael Cuddyer or Josh Willingham type of acquisitions and then they’ll call it a day. I can see a blockbuster happening…but only after they prove they can win. It’s kind of a tail wagging the dog approach, but such is Moneyball without money, Queens edition.
If you held a gun to my head and asked me to predict what would happen, I would venture the following:
- They keep Daniel Murphy in his pre-free agency year until the All Star break as a hedge against David Wright’s health while letting Dilson Herrera build up some gaudy numbers in Sin City (unless Wright starts the year on the DL – then Herrera comes north)
- They do not find a taker for Bartolo Colon’s contract and he remains in the rotation at least until the All-Star break (after the Super Two deadline coincidentally passes), then he’s gone for some low level prospect
- Dillon Gee is the odd man out as his numbers are almost a carbon copy of Bartolo Colon’s, but for less than half the price (even factoring in a hefty raise) and he’s 13 years younger. Despite his health issues more teams will be interested in him than in big Bart. Although Niese makes more and sometimes butts heads with Terry Collins, he’s the sole lefty until Steve Matz is ready
- The starting rotation will include Jacob de Grom, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon and Rafael Montero, with Matt Harvey staying for DL/Extended Spring Training in Florida
- The very second Bobby Parnell proves healthy enough to pitch Jenrry Mejia is a goner as he shows too much personality for this team to feel comfortable having him in a Mets uniform
- That B level outfielder acquired through trade or FA acquisition will be a platoon partner with Matt den Dekker
- Kirk Nieuwenhuis becomes the left handed Andrew Brown, forever on the shuttle back and forth to Vegas
- Eric Young, Jr. has stolen his last base for the Mets
- Ruben Tejada may join Eric Young in the “too costly for the bench” category, but the ongoing nervousness about Wilmer Flores’ defense might extend his Mets life one more year. Still, it must be awfully enticing to the powers that be to consider a Wilfredo Tovar who is on the 40-man roster would play for $500K whereas Tejada would cost about 4 times that much after his arbitration hearing this year.