Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
"Could we get better defensively? Sure," Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said Monday at Citi Field after introducing Carlos Beltran as the 22nd manager in team history.
The above answer came after Van Wagenen was asked what he might focus on this offseason as he puts the team together for 2020. He also mentioned a desire to add depth to the starting pitching and "fortify" the bullpen.
Adding starting pitching depth shouldn't be too difficult, nor should fortifying the bullpen. When it comes to improving the defense, though, it could require a multipronged attack.
As a team in 2019, the Mets were worth -93 DRS (defensive runs saved). That was 29th of 30 teams. The only team that was worse than the Mets when it came to DRS? The Orioles, who went 54-108.
So yes, the Mets definitely need to improve their defense as they look to take the next step in 2020. Here are three things they can do to try to accomplish that...
Sign Yasmani Grandal
Barring something unexpected, the Mets seem locked in on the infield with Pete Alonso at first base, Robinson Cano at second base, Amed Rosario at shortstop, and Jeff McNeil at third base.
Of the above players, only McNeil was above average defensively in 2019 at the position he's expected to play most of the time in 2020. While Rosario made strides at shortstop during the second half of the season, the Mets will likely have to get creative if they want to get substantially better on the dirt.
In what would've been one of his first big moves as GM, Van Wagenen attempted to sign Yasmani Grandal last offseason. However, Grandal rebuffed the Mets' offer (reportedly $60 million for four years) and wound up signing a one-year deal with the Brewers worth $18.25 million. Again a free agent, Grandal is not attached to the qualifying offer since MLB rules prohibit a player from receiving it two years in a row.
This past season for the Brewers, Grandal -- known as an elite pitch-framer -- graded out as just above average overall defensively. However, he was the second-best pitch-framer in baseball.
Grandal saved his team 19.4 runs with his framing ability alone, behind just Austin Hedges (26.0). Mets catcher Wilson Ramos was 97th out of 113 catchers in 2019 when it came to saving runs with pitch-framing, worth -4.7 runs.
And Grandal's offense sure doesn't hurt, either. He slashed .246/.380/.468 with 28 homers and 26 doubles in 153 games in 2019.
To sum up, the Mets should do everything they can to sign Grandal this offseason (something SNY contributor John Harper recently suggested). Doing so would mean trading Ramos, which is easier said than done. But with just one year and $9.25 million left on his deal (including a $1.5 million buyout for 2021), moving Ramos shouldn't be impossible.
Find a true center fielder
With the Mets having declined Juan Lagares' option for 2020, their current center field options on the roster are Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto.
Nimmo was worth -2 DRS in center field in just 284.2 innings there in 2019. Extrapolate that over a full season and you get a player who you can hide in center, but shouldn't be there full time.
Conforto was worth -4 DRS in center field in just 268.0 innings there in 2019. Extrapolate that over a fill season and you get a player who really needs to be in a corner outfield spot.
So what should the Mets do?
With McNeil expected to be at third base, the corners are open for both Nimmo and Conforto. There is of course the question of J.D. Davis, but we'll get to that later.
In an effort to further strengthen their defense up the middle, the Mets should really be looking to bring in a legitimate center field defender. They don't have anyone close in the minors who fits that bill, so they'll have to go outside the organization. And when it comes to free agency, the pickings are slim.
Free agent Brett Gardner was worth -2 DRS in 820 innings in center field in 2019, which was the first year of his career where he was not a positive in center. But he might be the best free agent option. An option on the trade market could be Manuel Margot of the Padres, who has been an above average defender in center field since making his big league debut in 2016. He was worth 6 DRS in 943.1 innings there in 2019.
Do not play people out of position
This is where J.D. Davis comes in. And where the idea of avoiding regularly using Nimmo and/or Conforto in center field comes in.
Davis was among the worst defenders in baseball last season in both left field and at third base. Things were worse at third base, where he was close to unplayable.
If the Mets think Davis can improve in a big way at third base and/or left field, maybe they'll roll with him. But if not -- and if the team doesn't trade either McNeil (they shouldn't) or one of Nimmo or Conforto (they shouldn't), it's hard to see where Davis fits every day on the Mets in 2020.
Far too often over the last few seasons, the Mets have tried to hide players at defensive positions where they're not set up to succeed. That isn't the end of the world for a team that has plus defenders at a bunch of key positions elsewhere on the diamond. But that hasn't been the case with the Mets. As a means toward taking the next step in 2020, playing people out of position regularly needs to stop.