By Mike Lalor, Contributing Writer
Major League Baseball will hold its 114th annual Winter Meetings from December 6th through the 10th in Nashville, Tennessee. For baseball fans around the world and those within the industry, the annual Winter Meetings are an exciting time where many teams shape their rosters for the coming season through trades and free agent signings. In anticipation of the closely-watched player movement, let’s take a look at the two local teams and gauge what their interests, needs, and targets may be as they head down to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in the Music City.
New York Mets
2015 finish: 90-72, 1st National League East
- NLDS: Defeated Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-2
- NLCS: Defeated Chicago Cubs, 4-0
- World Series: Lost to Kansas City Royals, 4-1
Free Agents: RHP Bartolo Colon, OF Yoenis Cespedes, 2B Daniel Murphy, RHP Bobby Parnell, LHP Jerry Blevins
When we last saw them: After losing to Kansas City in the World Series, the Mets were left to reflect on a highly successful 2015 season and the 5th National League Pennant in their 54-year history. Days after the World Series, the Mets immediately — and deservedly — extended Manager Terry Collins’ contract for 2 years. They also extended a one-year $15.8M qualifying offer to NLDS and NLCS hero, 2B Daniel Murphy. Murphy elected to turn down the qualifying offer and explore free agency; should he sign with another organization, the Mets are guaranteed a compensatory draft pick.
- An impact, middle-of-the order bat
- Middle Infield help – defensively and offensively
- Corner infield depth…bench help
- Bullpen help
A dynamic 3-6hitter and OF help. OF Yoenis Cespedes is now a Free Agent after his July 31st acquisition ignited New York’s offense and drive to the playoffs. The Mets will move on here, as they will not spend the money required to compete for, and retain, Cespedes. The Mets may start the ’16 season with Michael Conforto in left, Juan Lagares in center, and Curtis Granderson in right. Granderson was the Mets’ catalyst and offensive MVP in ’15, Lagares won a Gold Glove in 2014 and displayed his upside in the postseason, with his ability to hit and defend, and Conforto is an up-and-coming young player, who will play in Flushing for years to come. The Mets would like a platoon-partner for the right-handed hitting Lagares.
Looking at the OF holistically, without Murphy and Cespedes, the Mets will be thin in the middle of the lineup with 1B Lucas Duda, LF Conforto, and C Travis D’Arnaud. Due to injuries and age, Captain and 3B David Wright will not be the same type of offensive player that he was in his prime years – so another bat, whether that equates to an OF, or a middle INF, is a need for the Mets.
Middle Infield help – offense and/or defense. The Mets are exploring options to shore up both middle infield spots. SS Wilmer Flores can play 2B, as can young 2B/SS Dilson Herrera, but Mets would preferably start the season without a productive, veteran bat in the middle. On the defensive side, either Flores or Herrera will be an upgrade at defense over Murphy. SS Gavin Cecchini, the Mets’ first round pick in 2012, had a strong offensive season at Binghamton (AA), but still has room to grow defensively…he’s probably still two years away.
Corner INF / Bench. The Mets will also need to consider another corner infielder to spell 3B David Wright, as he enters ’16 a year older, while managing chronic back problems. 1B Lucas Duda is productive…but also streaky, and from time-to-time needs a day off to regroup physically. He hit lefties better in 2015, but having a right-handed depth option at 1B is important. A healthier Michael Cuddyer in 2015 may be the answer there.
Bullpen. The Mets bullpen is a work in progress after closer Jeurys Familia. Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed may play into the equation, but it’s obvious that the Mets need augmentation here, either from outside — or inside — the organization. Jenrry Mejia’s two suspensions for unauthorized PED use last year negatively impacted the Mets by the time they reached the World Series.
Potential Targets:The Mets met with Free Agent OF/INF Ben Zobrist (Royals) this week, and like with many teams, Zobrist would be a perfect fit. He’s a winning player, who could immediately slot at 2B, and spell the starters in the OF…in fact, his best defensive position may be RF, according to coaches and scouts. SS Ian Desmond (Nationals) would also fit well for the Mets – an impact bat and a strong fielder who had a down year, placing more pressure on himself to perform than normal. Desmond is known to be a good clubhouse fit and team-oriented leader. Veteran INF Juan Uribe definitely helped the Mets chemistry in the clubhouse, and brought a calm, winning approach with him. As a backup to David Wright, Uribe would again fit well. If not Uribe, the Mets would like a third-base backup who can also substitute in across the middle of the infield.
In the OF, Denard Span (Nationals) and Gerardo Parra (Orioles) would be attractive targets to pair with Lagares in CF.
Similar to Ben Zobrist, many teams also have interest in Free Agent reliever Darren O’Day (Orioles). He also would immediately slot in behind Familia and stabilize the bullpen. Another potential option is RHP Joakim Soria (Pirates). The Mets may look to bring Free Agent LHP Jerry Blevins back, pairing him with 2015 Rule 5 acquisition, LHP Sean Gilmartin. If not Blevins, the Mets may look elsewhere in a market filled with Free Agent left-handed specialists, including LHP Tony Sipp (Astros) and LHP Antonio Bastardo (Pirates).
The Mets would be smart to reach out to veteran RHP Bartolo Colon and explore his interest in coming back on another 1-year deal working as a spot starter and bullpen arm. Colon likely still wants to start, but his presence would again provide the Mets veteran leadership and an insurance policy for a young starting staff that may again battle innings limits and now, possibly, regression.
Way Ahead: The Mets will be contention for the next several years, as long as their starting rotation of Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Jonathan Niese stays healthy. By mid-season, Zack Wheeler will return, after missing the 2015 season due to “Tommy John” surgery. Citi Field will be very busy at the turnstiles in 2016, and the Mets need to borrow a page from the Royals, who stayed hungry and aggressive after losing to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the ’14 World Series. The Mets lost three leads in the 8th inning or later in the World Series – the first time that had ever occurred, and it was because of their defense and bullpen. Shoring up those areas, and adding an impact pat will place the Mets in a strong position to defend their National League East championship against Washington, gain entry to the National League tournament…and not over rely on the strength of their pitching to get back to another World Series.
Best wishes, prayers, and thoughts: On Friday, Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon announced that General Manager Sandy Alderson will receive upcoming treatment for a treatable form of cancer. As you recall, Alderson collapsed during a November press conference shortly after the World Series had concluded…and we wish him a strong and rapid recovery. Assistant GM/VP John Ricco will lead the Mets contingent at the Winter Meetings and will continue to work with Alderson, Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi, and the strong team the Mets have in their front office to build on the organization’s recent success and momentum.