For the New York Mets, the sting is still there from falling three games short of winning the World Series, and they can take tremendous solace in knowing that they were able to make huge strides this year. But the last thing that the Mets want to do in 2016 is to take steps backwards. After winning 79 games in 2014, and failing to record a winning season since 2008, things began to come together for the Mets in 2015 as they won 90 games in the regular season for their first National League East Title since 2006. The Mets would get past the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs in the playoffs en route to winning the NL Pennant, but the Kansas City Royals proved to be too much for them in the World Series.
Since taking over as Mets general manager in 2010, Sandy Alderson has gone about reshaping the team for the previously financially strapped team owner Fred Wilpon. The past few years have seen the Mets have one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball while attempting to develop their young talent which came to fruition in 2015. The Mets rode their blend of youth and veterans this year to a run that ended on the first day of November. And after captivating their fan base with their magical run, the last thing that the Mets can do is go back to being a mediocre franchise which means that Alderson has some work ahead of him going into the winter.
Already the Mets have roughly $60 million committed to their payroll for next season. That number will definitely increase with several key players led by starting pitcher Matt Harvey up for arbitration over the winter. But the Mets will be faced with several key roster decisions to make as well.
The Mets failed to reach an agreement with second baseman Daniel Murphy last off-season and if they want to retain his services now, it will cost them dearly. During the regular season Murphy batted .281 with a career-high in home runs (14), to go along with 73 runs batted in. But in the postseason, Murphy became a household name as he batted .328 with 7 home runs and 11 runs batted in including setting a postseason record by hitting a home run in six consecutive games. And because of Murphy’s postseason run, along with his leadership and the affection that the fans in New York City have for him, the Mets cannot afford to have him leave town this winter as a free agent. You can expect the Mets to give Murphy a qualifying offer, but they need to make every effort possible to keep him in Queens.
This year the Mets became the first team in Major League Baseball history to be last in runs scored prior to July 31, and still qualify for the playoffs. July 31 is an important date on the MLB calendar as it marks the non-waiver trade deadline, and for the Mets they made a splash on that day this year when they acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. In just 57 games with the Mets, Cespedes batted .287 with 17 home runs and 44 runs batted in. Cespedes’ time with the Mets saw him provide the team with something that they’ve lacked for some time which is a proven cleanup hitter. Cespedes was unable to have the same success in the postseason as a shoulder injury limited him at the plate, but he didn’t endear himself to the Mets and their fans either with his lackluster defense during the World Series which played a part in New York’s series loss to the Royals. Cespedes is 30-years of age and he is expected to command a hefty salary this winter and it will be interesting to see how far the Mets are willing to go to in order to keep him. Throughout Alderson’s time as a general manager, he hasn’t been a fan of giving players 30-years of age or older long-term deals and whomever were to give Cespedes a big contract would more than likely be in the “win now” mode while they would be willing to eat dead money at the end of the deal. And I’m not sure if the Mets and Alderson would be willing to push that envelope.
If the Mets allow Cespedes to walk, they could be willing to give outfielder Michael Conforto a chance to be their everyday left fielder. Conforto was the Mets first-round selection in 2014 and he made his Major League Baseball debut this past July. In 56 games with the Mets, Conforto batted .270 with 9 home runs and 26 runs batted in and at the age of 22, New York likes his potential. But it would just be interesting to see if the Mets would be willing to make him an everyday starter being that they have a team that is now a contender.
Spinal stenosis limited Mets third baseman David Wright to just 38 games in 2015, but he was able to play in every postseason game this year. Wright is 32-years of age and his bothersome back is not going to get that much better which is something that the Mets need to keep a keen eye on. Wright is in a position where he is constantly rehabbing in order to get ready to play everyday and heading into 2016, the Mets must work on their infield depth as he will need his fair share of games off; especially when day games follow a night affair.
The Mets are still also facing a conundrum at shortstop with Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores. Tejada has a solid glove but he is not a good hitter, while Flores is a solid hitter, but his defense is shaky. If you put Tejada and Flores together, you get a good shortstop, but the problem is that only one player can be on the field at a time.
Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom
The Mets appear to have their starting rotation going forward with Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, but you can never have enough pitching. Syndergaard and Matz have yet to pitch a full season in Major League Baseball while Wheeler is on his way back from having Tommy John surgery. Wheeler is expected to miss the beginning of 2016 which means that it wouldn’t hurt the Mets to ponder re-signing starting pitcher Bartolo Colon. Colon went 14-13 for the Mets last season with an earned run average of 4.16 and at the age of 42, he has a rubber arm. The Mets used Colon out of the bullpen during their postseason run and he is a guy that was valuable, but there will be a market for him. Along with Colon, the Mets have another veteran starting pitcher in Jon Niese. In eight years with the Mets, Niese is 61-61 with an earned run average of 3.91. Like Colon, the Mets used Niese solely out of the bullpen during the postseason, but he is a player that could go back to being a starter. Conventional wisdom would say that the Mets could trade Niese this winter in exchange for a bat or prospects, but he still has value for them due to the fact that the team still needs to have some insurance behind their young pitchers.
Going forward the Mets feel that they have their closer in Jeurys Familia. Familia saved 43 runs for the Mets during the regular season after being thrust into the role at the last minute and he was unhittable against the Dodgers and Cubs in the playoffs until the Royals lit him up to the tune of a pair of blown saves in the World Series. The main thing that the Mets need in their bullpen for 2016 is a bridge between their starters and Familia. During the season the Mets acquired relief pitcher Tyler Clippard from the Oakland Athletics and Addison Reed from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Mets manager Terry Collins would regularly give Reed the seventh inning, and Clippard the eighth in order to hand to ball to Familia in the ninth. In 17 appearances with the Mets, Reed had a 1.17 earned run average and being that he is not set to be an unrestricted free agent, I see him sticking around in New York as potentially being the eighth inning setup man for Familia. Clippard on the other hand is set to become a free agent and being that he’ll more than likely once again look to be a closer, he won’t be returning to Queens in 2016.
The Mets gave Collins a two-year extension last week as they feel that he has what it takes to get this club to a championship. Collins has been the Mets manager since 2011, and he has had a history of making some questionable moves. But in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Collins was able to hit all of the right buttons until he rolled snake eyes against the Royals.
The Mets have a team that is set to contend for the next few years, but the time is right now for them to win due to the fact that you can’t take anything for granted as far as simply getting back to the World Series. The Washington Nationals have a new manager in Dusty Baker who is looking to restore order in D.C. as most of the Mets success in 2015 in the National League East came at their expense. The St. Louis Cardinals are always in contention in the NL and we’re heading into an even numbered year which means that it will be about time for the San Francisco Giants to make another World Series run. Like the Mets, the Cubs are a young and upcoming team that is a contender while the Dodgers could attempt to keep themselves in contention by opening up the vault. The Mets have proven that they can contend with the best that the NL has to offer, but it won’t be easy for them as far as defending their position as NL Champions which puts the onus on Alderson this winter to keep his squad at the top of the Senior Circuit.