John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Ok, let's be honest, any bold predictions for the Mets this offseason come with a qualifier, considering they are locked in already at so many positions and likely won't make the kind of big-splash moves that would raise the payroll significantly.
So while I'd love to predict that the Mets will sign free agents Anthony Rendon and Aroldis Chapman, in addition to re-signing Zack Wheeler, I don't think they'll actually make any of those moves.
Furthermore, Brodie Van Wagenen has gone public saying he won't trade either Noah Syndergaard or Edwin Diaz, and while someone could make an offer that would change his mind, I think he'll stick to that declaration. Also, with the farm system depleted at the upper levels, the Mets don't have top prospects who are close to the majors to trade, either.
Finally, they may not need dramatic improvements anywhere but the bullpen to make a leap forward from last season.
With all of that in mind, let's call these my 5 Boldly Realistic Predictions, if you will, for what the Mets could do this offseason to try to turn an 86-win team into division champs in 2020...
1) Trade Dominic Smith to the Red Sox for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a top prospect
I'd rather not trade Smith if I'm the Mets, after he established that he could be a really good major-league hitter last season, but there's just no place for him to play, even if he improves enough in the outfield to be adequate defensively, which is no sure bet.
So this could be a chance to finally get a true starting center fielder in Bradley, who is still regarded as an elite defender as he turns 30 next April. He's not an impact hitter and he can be awfully streaky, but he did hit 21 home runs and 28 doubles last season and walked enough to have a .317 on-base percentage despite a .225 batting average.
As such, he's still an asset in Boston. But the Red Sox are going to be looking to lower their MLB-high payroll, and Bradley probably will earn somewhere around $12 million in his final arbitration year as he heads for free agency.
The Mets would only be guaranteed of having Bradley for a year, where Smith has five more years of control. And that's where it would be vital that they get value in a prospect -- ideally a pitcher -- as a second piece in the deal.
They should have an edge in finding the right guy, considering that two of their top executives -- assistant GM Allard Baird and minor league director Jared Banner -- were hired away from the Red Sox only a year ago.
Maybe they ask for an established reliever like Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier, but the Red Sox will be trying to win in 2020 and their pen is thin already. So the Mets probably have to get a prospect instead, and Thad Ward is a highly-regarded pitcher that scouts think could help the Mets as a reliever by the second half of next season.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2018 out of the U. of Central Florida, Ward was a college reliever who started for the Sox in the minors last year, pitching to a combined 2.14 ERA in low and high Class A, with 157 strikeouts in 126 innings.
"They stretched him out as a starter (in the minors last year) but he's a slider guy who could be more dominant as a reliever," said one scout who saw Ward last season. "He could move up quickly if they put him back in the bullpen."
2) Trade Wilson Ramos to the Rangers for a minor league pitcher
The key here is finding a team that will take Ramos and the $10.25 million he'll earn in 2020 on the final year of his contract. And as a team that will be looking to contend in 2020, the Rangers have a huge need for offense at the position considering that 36-year old Jeff Mathis hit .158 with a .433 OPS as the primary catcher last season.
Ramos could be a solid bridge for the Rangers until top catching prospect Sam Huff is ready, perhaps by 2021. And with DH as an option at times, the Rangers could keep Ramos fresh, which will help him both offensively and defensively.
For the Mets, meanwhile, Ramos got some key hits during their hot streak in August and put up solid numbers all-around, hitting .288, but 103 of his 133 hits were singles and his lack of speed is a drawback.
More to the point, he's a defensive liability and by dealing him for a prospect the Mets could move on and…
3) Sign Yasmani Grandal
The Mets wanted him last year (after giving up on trading for J.T. Realmuto) but moved on when Grandal turned down a reported four-year, $60 million offer. And he still makes sense for them at catcher after having a solid season with the Brewers, hitting .246 with 28 home runs and an OPS of .848.
I have to say, however, that I was influenced on this decision by Adam Fisher, the former Mets executive who made this suggestion on SNY's Baseball Night in New York show, and then convinced me that Grandal is better defensively than the reputation he earned after the Dodgers sat him the 2018 postseason, and one of the better pitch-framers in the majors.
The switch-hitting catcher has also been very durable, missing little time over the last several years. At age 30 last season, Grandal caught 137 games while proving versatile enough to play 20 games at first base as well.
4) Sign Cole Hamels
In truth, Tanner Roark seems like more of the type of free agent the Mets will be in the market to sign as a fifth starter to replace Wheeler. And at age 33 he would be serviceable, a durable innings-eater in recent years who pitched to a 4.24 ERA for the Reds last year before being traded to the A's and finishing the season in the AL.
But I'm trying to find ways to be bold here, and I think it's Van Wagenen's nature to go for big names when he can, so maybe there's a short-term deal to be made with Hamels. The former World Series MVP for the Phillies is the sexiest name below the first-tier free agent starter.
The left-hander had a solid season for the Cubs this past season, pitching to a 3.81 ERA over 27 starts, but he was limited by shoulder fatigue in September. Heading into his age-36 season, he might not find a multi-year deal on the market, in which case the Mets very well could see him as an ideal fit for one year at, say, $10-12 million.
"It would be a gamble," said a major league scout, "especially the way he finished. But when he was right I still saw him pitch at a high level at times last season. He's still got the great change-up and he knows how to pitch."
5) Sign Drew Pomeranz, Will Harris
If the Mets are serious about improving their bullpen, they can't simply count on bounce-back seasons from Diaz and Jeurys Familia, and need to sign two free agent relievers.
Would it be bad karma to sign the guy who gave up the World Series-losing home run? Nah. Will Harris had a great year, pitching to a 1.50 ERA in 68 appearances in 60 IP. And as a curve-ball specialist who throws strikes, he'd be a good complement to hard throwers.
Pomeranz, meanwhile, is especially intriguing, A mostly mediocre starter for several years, the 30-year old lefty was a revelation as a reliever late last season, after the Brewers acquired him in a trade-deadline deal with the Giants and put him in the pen.
He pitched to a 2.38 ERA in 25 appearances, while racking up 45 strikeouts in 26 innings, as "his stuff played up big-time in the pen," according to one NL scout.