Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has shifted gears from trying to create a Championship-caliber team to trying to give the one he has every opportunity to capitalize on its potential. That vision, and the fortitude to stick to his plan, are why he might be the best general manager in the game.
Entering this offseason, the Mets had a few question marks (most notably second base and shortstop) with which they could have done a number of different things. Would they give a youngster a shot to run with the role and spend big money elsewhere? Would they make a flashy acquisition to take over the spot?
As it turned out, the Mets’ front office wasn’t going to pursue either of those routes. As the offseason progressed, fans were constantly disappointed by the mundanity of the moves being made. A boring veteran here, a boring veteran there. In just about each and every case, the Mets avoided risk and overpaid a little for a safe investment.
It was not until the end of the offseason, and the re-acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, that the big picture became clear: the Mets were building a versatile, deep, disaster-proof roster. A roster that is a testament to the brilliance of Sandy Alderson, who was able to do all of this while battling a cancer diagnosis. A roster that is only possible thanks to the Billion Dollar Rotation.
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Instead of handing the second base job to Dilson Herrera, a young prospect with a world of upside, the Mets traded for Neil Walker, a reliable, known quantity. Walker has posted between 2.4 and 2.7 WAR four of the last five seasons (with one season of 3.7 WAR sprinkled in). They did so at a not insignificant cost — trading Jon Niese, an above-replacement level pitcher who had two cheap options left on his contract after this year (only $10M for 2017 and $10.5M for 2018).
Instead of handing the shortstop job to Wilmer Flores, the Mets signed Asdrubal Cabrera, a reliable, known quantity. They did so at a not insignificant cost — a two year, $18.5 million contract, a sizeable guarantee to a player who only got a one year deal last year, and in an offseason where upside plays like Ian Desmond ended up with only a one year deal as well.
To bolster the rotation and replace Niese, the Mets brought back Bartolo Colon, a reliable, known quantity (he has thrown 190+ innings and posted 2.5 to 2.8 WAR the last two years). To platoon with Juan Lagares, the Mets brought in Alejandro De Aza, a reliable, known quantity (he has posted a wRC+ between 96 and 106 each of the last four seasons). They bolstered the bullpen, but passed on Darren O’Day or a trade for Aroldis Chapman.
Aside from Yoenis Cespedes — a deal too good to refuse — you get the picture.
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But here’s the beauty of it: Sandy Alderson doesn’t have to swing for the fences anymore and find interesting pieces by bringing in free agents (Chris Young, Marlon Byrd, John Mayberry) or relying on untested rookies. He is no longer has to try to win the $/WAR Championship by outsmarting everyone and landing the best investments. Alderson has a team poised to compete for a World Series title and he has shifted gears toward giving that team the best chance to win.
All of the above risk-averse moves, taken together, have given the 2016 Mets a roster with an enormously high “floor” for its performance.
According to ZiPS, the Mets have a whopping 12 players projected to put up an OPS+ of 97 or better in 2016. They have no less than 19 players who are projected to be able to put up 1+ WAR if pressed into service for 600 at bats.
On the pitching side, the Mets have 15 pitchers projected to have an ERA+ of 100 or better, a figure which does not include Zack Wheeler (96 ERA+), Bartolo Colon (87 ERA+) or Rafael Montero (93 ERA+).
The Mets may lack in stars beyond Cespedes and their quartet of ace pitchers (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia and Noah Syndergaard) but I’ve never seen depth like this on a Mets roster.
The Mets and Nationals are projected by ZiPS, Steamer, and Vegas, to be pretty close in talent in 2016, but the way that they get there is much different. The Nationals have Bryce Harper (who will likely be the best player in the National League again) but they only have five (compared to the Mets’ 12) players projected to have an OPS+ of 97 or better. Stated differently, Eric Campbell probably won’t make the Mets roster but he would be the sixth best projected hitter on the Nationals.
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This versatility doesn’t just exist as an abstract concept — it has real-life tangible benefits. The Mets are equipped to handle a long term injury in the infield or in the outfield. If Wright goes down for an extended period of time, this year’s backup is Flores instead of Eric Campbell or Daniel Muno. If Cespedes is hurt, the player pressed into action is Lagares, not John Mayberry or Darrell Ceciliani.
The Mets will also be able to play just about every game with a platoon advantage. The outfield platoons have been much-discussed, so here is a look at the infield ones:
Walker and Duda have been weak against lefties in their careers — although Duda was better against them last year — while Flores has feasted on left-handed pitching in his career (only his 2015 split is pictured above). Against righties, all four of the Mets starters have been good to great. Ruben Tejada is a versatile backup, equally effective against righties and lefties, while Eric Campbell has mashed lefties in the minor leagues and is the ideal long-term replacement on the roster for Wright.
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There are areas in which the team is somewhat shallow — like starting pitcher, before the hopeful return of Zack Wheeler — but the overall picture is clear. The Mets are a machine designed to grind across that finish line in first place no matter what. If this was 2013, Dilson Herrera and Wilmer Flores would have gotten their chances. But today, all eyes are on the (team) prize.
Not every team could afford to spend upwards of $35 million dollars on the likes of Walker, Cabrera, Colon, Bastardo, De Aza and Reed, but then again, not every team has a World Championship-caliber core making under $100 million. The Mets have unique advantages (the Billion Dollar Rotation) and disadvantages (Wright’s health) and this offseason’s activities have taken both of them perfectly into account. Aside from Cespedes, no player got a commitment longer than two years (and Cespedes may be gone after 2016 anyway), so the Mets have maintained their versatility for the next few years.
Sandy Alderson may have passed up on the opportunity to have a 100-win season, but in doing so he made it much more likely that they could have 92 wins this year and for many years to come. With the Mets window now just opening, this will prove to be wise indeed.