Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 10/8/13
The Mets just completed their fifth straight losing season and are now getting ready to begin year four of the rebuild that began when Sandy Alderson took over as GM after the 2010 season. There’s a fallacy which states that New York teams can’t undergo rebuilding processes here, because the fans are too impatient to tolerate it (somehow people believe both this and the equally absurd notion that New York fans are smarter than your average fan base).  As the Mets have shown, this simply isn’t true. New York fans are no different than anyone else – you can rebuild here, you just have to show that there’s an actual plan in place and move in a positive direction. By and large, Alderson has just that. He’s smartly traded valuable veterans (i.e. Carlos Beltran, R.A. Dickey, Marlon Byrd) for important young blue chippers (i.e. Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, etc.), refrained from handing out exorbitant contracts to free agents who have already peaked, and used the latter half of the past few seasons to evaluate players for their viability as long-term assets. Through all this, Mets fans have generally proven that they can endure a rebuild. Now, however, the time has come for actual results. The Mets have a number of valuable pieces in place (though not nearly enough to be considered real contenders yet) and roughly $40 million coming off of the books heading into the offseason, meaning the time has come to start making significant improvements to the roster and get north of the .500 mark. The potential to do that is very real, but it will require risk-taking the likes of which Alderson has justifiably avoided over the last few years. Even with Matt Harvey now ruled out for the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, the Mets’ biggest strength going forward lies in their starting pitching. Wheeler, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee constitute what should be a very strong core next year, and when Harvey returns in 2015, he will likely be joined by other young hurlers such as Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, or Jennry Mejia. The Mets have a number of valuable pieces in place (though not nearly enough to be considered real contenders yet). New York’s young and inexpensive depth at starting pitching is the crowning achievement of the Alderson regime so far, and it allows them to become real players on the trade and free agent market in order to acquire some legitimate position players. And that’s a very good thing, because the Mets’ offense as it currently stands is about as intimidating as Justin Bieber. David Wright is obviously the heart and soul of the lineup, but his lack of protection makes it far too easy for opposing teams to pitch around him. The rest of the lineup consists of players whose talent and production makes them far more suited to be role players than pivotal starters. The right side of the infield is the most difficult to forecast. Ike Davis was thought to be the first baseman of the future, but his maddening inconsistency has his future with the team very much in doubt. And Lucas Duda is steady enough, but has a far lower ceiling. Both players will be dangled in trade talks this winter, and next year’s starter will likely be the one who draws less of a return from other teams. Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy had a decent enough season at second base, but his lack of power (.415 SLG), on-base prowess (.319 OBP), and average-at-best defense make him another trade candidate. Should Alderson find a good return, Murphy is a definite candidate to be shipped out, at which point the team would likely move NL stolen base champ Eric Young Jr. out of the outfield and back to his natural position at second. Young was a pleasant surprise after coming over from Colorado, proving to be a better than expected defender in left field and injecting some much-needed speed into the top of the order. But if he’s to remain in the outfield, his skill set makes him far more suited to a fourth outfielder role, especially given the lack of power elsewhere in the outfield. Juan Lagares emerged as a future Gold Glove winner in center, provided he can hit enough to hold onto a starting job. But his lack of power and alarming strikeout rate means that if he’s the full-time starter next year, New York has to find corner outfielders who can make up for that lack of production. And their current options of Young, Matt den Dekker, and Andrew Brown are nowhere near good enough to do that. That’s where Alderson will have to really devote his focus this offseason. Shin-Soo Choo will undoubtedly be his No. 1 target on the free agent market to play right field, but he’ll be looking for a contract similar to Hunter Pence’s new 5-year, $90 million deal.  Choo fits many of the criteria that Alderson and his staff covet (great on-base numbers, gap-to-gap power, and solid defense), but it’s unlikely that they’ll be willing to go that high for a player on the wrong side of 30 who struggles mightily against left-handed pitching (.612 OPS this year). There are similar concerns with the other big names on the free agent market. Jacoby Ellsbury would be an ideal leadoff man, but his age, injury history, reliance on his speed, and lack of power (he’s never going to approach his 2011 numbers again) make him exactly the type of player that should be avoided when it comes to handing out huge free agent deals. That makes it more likely that Alderson will continue to go for the lower risk signings that have been his bread and butter. Right fielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Jhonny Peralta, both coming off 50-game PED suspensions, could be willing to sign for shorter-term ‘prove it’ deals. Also, don’t rule out a return for older players who were traded away in recent years like Carlos Beltran and Marlon Byrd, though that’s admittedly less likely. Compounding the ambiguity in all this is that the lack of superstars on the market (Robinson Cano is really the only one) will mean that most teams will be taking the same approach as the Mets, targeting mid-level free agents on less risky deals, which will only serve to drive up the prices on those players. International stars like first baseman Jose Abreu and starter Masahiro Tanaka could be possibilities, but the most likely avenue of acquiring new bats will be the trade market.  Several big names have already been floated as potential trade pieces, including Miami superstar Giancarlo Stanton, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez out of Colorado, and the Dodgers’ Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. All will be expensive and come with their own risks, but you have to give something to get something. The Mets have built up their assets in terms of both talent throughout the organization and payroll flexibility, and now it’s time to invest them. As Mike McDermott would say, you can’t lose what you don’t put in middle, but you can’t win much either. This is where Alderson must start to move away from his conservative approach. He was wisely stated that just because he has gobs of money to spend this offseason, it doesn’t mean that he has to spend it all. But he has to start taking some risks, because the time is ripe for the Mets to start showing marked improvement, and the fans’ patience won’t last forever.
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