This week former Mets wunderkind Doc Gooden proclaimed the pitching staff the 2016 team has the stuff on which dynasties are built. That lofty praise is accepted as common wisdom by most fans and the results the team has seen from Messrs. Harvey, de Grom, Syndergaard, Matz and Wheeler are certainly enviable. However, what about the lineup the team will provide to match these golden arms? Will they be able to put up enough offense to give the Mets a chance to win on a nightly basis?
The biggest and most surprising acquisition of this off-season was the eleventh hour contract signed by Yoenis Cespedes. His market never developed as his agents had hoped and he opted to take a variation of what's come to be known as a pillow contract – a one year deal designed to allow him to reestablish his value as one of the game's top sluggers. In other players' cases, these contracts are low cost one year deals designed to let a player prove his worth after either an off-year or an injury-lost year in order to cash in with a longer term deal the following season.
What differs here are two aspects. First, the one year deal is monstrous – the largest in team history. Although some of it is structured as signing bonus and some as salary, the net result is a $27.5 million payday for Cespedes to help try to let the Mets go for it all in 2016. Second, the deal is for three years with a player opt-out. It's a little puzzling in that the risk is really more on the Mets than it is on Cespedes. If he produces as everyone hopes, then he could very well test the market once again. However, if he either doesn't produce or decides he really likes it here, then the Mets are on the hook for two more years of $23.5 million per season. I'm betting he never tests the waters as he found this year that the AAV of contracts exceeding $23.5 million are not exactly cluttering up agents' desks. I'd pencil him in for 2017 and 2018 as well.
The next highest valued player is the former face of the franchise, David Wright. While everyone holds their collective breath wondering what his spinal stenosis means for his playing future, the fact remains that the Mets are on the hook for $20 million, $20 million, $15 million and $12 million that makes him a very well paid player through the end of the 2020 season.
The next player earning big bucks is Curtis Granderson. His first year in the blue and orange was not what they'd hoped for him when they gave him the $64 million contract. Last year he earned his paycheck and also somewhat surprisingly thrived in the role of leadoff hitter given his paltry stolen base numbers and high strikeout totals. Oddly, a solid 2016 might put him squarely on the trading block in 2017 as he might be appealing to another club needing a one-year answer in their lineup.
Newly acquired Neil Walker is as good as gone for 2017. He's already earning more than Daniel Murphy ever did and even with a great contract year season the fact remains the Mets have inexpensive options for next year. There's Dilson Herrera, Wilmer Flores, Gavin Cecchini (with Asdrubal Cabrera shifting to second...it doesn't seem like anything Walker could do would keep him in Queens. In fact, if Herrera is tearing it up in AAA I wouldn't be surprised to see Walker peddled in July.
Asdrubal Cabrera seemed to be something of a panic move in that he's not exactly Ozzie Smith with the glove and his offense was a tick below what Wilmer Flores provided last year. Still, with the overall weak up-the-middle defense any step in the right direction to correct it is probably welcome. He's not getting overpaid and he could shift to the other side of the infield if Cecchini can build on his stellar season in 2015 with a full season in Las Vegas.
Next on the payroll pecking order is big Bartolo Colon. He's also gone at year's end (if not sooner) as Zack Wheeler assumes his role as starting pitcher in his place in July.
This season is pivotal for Lucas Duda who's earning a modest $6.725 this year, but another 25-30 HR season could net him close to $10 million in 2017. Again, the money to pay the pitchers has to come from somewhere and they may well decide he's potentially going to cost more than he produces. Still, with a team somewhat bereft of sluggers it may not be prudent to pull the trigger in favor of the unproven (and thus far not power-hitting) Dominic Smith.
Alejandro De Aza is overpaid to sit on the bench at $5.75 million, but I've come to terms with it thinking about what Juan Uribe earned last year in a similar role Uribe got 397 ABs which were probably expected for De Aza at the time he was signed but delivered 14/43/.253 while being paid $6.5 million. De Aza would likely deliver that or better if given the same number of Abs. Unfortunately for the Mets the premature signing at this price point was rendered somewhat superfluous with the reacquisition of Cespedes. It's all water under the bridge and it's likely De Aza won't last the year in a Mets uniform anyway.
I've probably been more critical of Ruben Tejada than anyone, but the $3 million he's earning this year isn't going to bankrupt the team. In a way, it's money more well spent for his defined role than the nearly double that allocated to De Aza. Still, you have to wonder if a minimum wage guy like Matt Reynolds could achieve the same .255 average with no speed and no power that Tejada provides in hopefully very limited playing time behind Cabrera. I can't see him having a future with the team with Gavin Cecchini at minimum wage knocking on the door.
Just as it's a pivotal year for Duda, it's also a critical one for Juan Lagares. He's set to earn $4.5 million in 2017, $6.5 million in 2018, and $9 million in 2019 with a 2020 option for $9.5 million with a $500K. The money is modest for a Gold Glove caliber outfielder but excessive for a 4th outfielder. Success on the field could lead them to keep him and trade the more expensive Granderson. Or another way to go is keep the starting outfield intact for one more year and trade Lagares. Finally, at $4.5 million for 2017, that's still less than they're paying De Aza for this year, so they could just keep him.
While none of the rest of the offensive players will earn significant money in 2016, there are still things to consider. For example, would moving Travis d'Arnaud to another position make sense? What about shifting David Wright across the diamond where he might not have to be as mobile as 3B would require him to be? Those decisions could impact Lucas Duda's future with the team as well.