Like many others in Panic City, I was none too thrilled with the Mets acquisition of Alejandro De Aza last week. As I’ve looked at the roster and looked at the player, I’ve tried to wrap my brain around exactly what I was feeling and why this move bothered me the way it has.
On the surface, De Aza isn’t a bad player. He’s a complimentary player and for all intents and purposes, he is simply a replacement over Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the roster. In a vacuum, it would be hard to make the argument that De Aza over Nieuwenhuis isn’t an upgrade, because it certainly is.
If you look at the lineup as it currently stands, you don’t see any glaring holes with the exception of center field which is a virtual unknown quantity at this point. While we lost Daniel Murphy’s bat in the lineup, he has been replaced by the switch-hitting Neil Walker who has very similar offensive numbers. Murphy has a career .755 OPS to Walker’s .769. Murphy hits more doubles, but Walker hits more home runs and also improves the team defensively.
There are other questions, of course – some bigger than others. Will Lucas Duda be a more consistent middle of the order presence in 2016? Throwing error aside in Game 5, he’s become a very solid defender at first base and has averaged 28 HR and 82 RBI the past two seasons.
Will David Wright be able to stay on the field for 135-140 games? Can he still provide the offensive production we’ve come to expect from him moving forward? We will see, but now that we have Asdrubal Cabrera to play shortstop full time, it allows Wilmer Flores to slide into a super-utility role and cover third base whenever he is needed while also providing coverage at second and short when Walker and Cabrera need a day off. I’d expect to see Wilmer getting 400 or more at-bats even though he won’t have a full-time position.
Will Michael Conforto take the next step in his evolution and hit LHP as an everyday player? I think the answer will be a resounding yes. Conforto profiles as a future middle of the order bat and I don’t see any reason why he can’t bat at least .285 while hitting 20-25 home runs in 2016. He showed in Game 4 that he can crush the ball with the best of them and he’s strong enough to hit it out of Citi even when he gets fooled.
Can Travis d’Arnaud finally have that full healthy breakthrough season and avoid the DL in 2016? If the Mets need to lean heavily on Kevin Plawecki again, will his bat show some significant improvement in his second season as the backup to TDA? Will we see d’Arnaud getting some time at first base against left-handed pitchers when Duda is given the day off?
I still keep going to center field as the biggest concern, mostly because we had an opportunity to really address it this offseason and I’m not sure we resolved anything there. Which Juan Lagares will show up next season? Will it be the Lagares we saw in 2014 that earned him the contract extension, or will it be the one that regressed in 2015? Were it not for the Lagares regression in 2015, we would not have traded for Cespedes. I do understand the reasoning behind the De Aza signing – he was brought in on a one-year deal to challenge Lagares and to be able to provide some replacement player production to hold down the fort until mid-season when the Mets could determine if they needed to acquire another big bat for the postseason stretch run. In a vacuum, I get the move. In a vacuum, I understand the move. In a vacuum, it’s a move that makes sense.
So why is this move not sitting well with me?
I, like many of you that are reading this, do not believe that the team’s financial difficulties are over. We were fed the company line that when fans returned to the park, the payroll would rise accordingly. And after a World Series appearance and the prospect of defending our National League title in 2016, I guess I expected to see a more aggressive approach. If not now, then when?
I understand that baseball is a business and that businesses are in business to make money. I’m also not suggesting that we spend money just for the sake of spending money. But we basically had two main objectives this offseason and that was to improve the bullpen and address center field.
The Mets – at least so far – also opted not to significantly upgrade the bullpen with any of the top-tier options that were out there. We have our shut down closer in Jeurys Familia, but we struggled all year long to find a reliable bridge to him.
Jerry Blevins was re-signed and he was excellent in an extremely small sample size before his season ended in April. But he’s also a pitcher who had a 4.87 ERA in 2014. Josh Edgin is a big question mark after Tommy John surgery. Jenrry Mejia is out for half the season. Rafael Montero is completely unproven in the majors and untested in the bullpen. Addison Reed and his 4.01 career ERA will be returning next season and could earn $6 million in arbitration. He pitched well after being acquired, but he’s still the same player that was demoted to the minors in 2015 due to ineffectiveness and was ultimately waived by the Diamondbacks. At this point, he’s hardly a proven commodity to be our second shut down reliever. Hansel Robles pitched well, but he’s also not that proven second guy. Carlos Torres? Logan Verrett? Josh Smoker? Sean Gilmartin?
If the team’s financial difficulties were truly behind them, wouldn’t they have gone after the top setup man on the free agent market in Darren O’Day with a little more gusto? I would like to think so. Not only has O’Day been incredibly consistent, he walks very few batters and his pitching style is a complete contrast to the Mets flame throwing starters and he would keep opposing batters off balance before yielding to the closer. The $31 million contract over four years for O’Day, shouldn’t have been a bank-breaker for a New York team with a sold out stadium, rising TV ratings, and a healthy financial situation. O’Day should have been tops on their wish list and he was well worth the risk.
Did the Mets make a run at Ryan Madson? Madson has more risk given his injury history, but he’s also highly effective (when healthy) and he could have been had for less money than O’Day. He shouldn’t have been out of the budget. The Mets weren’t even in on Joakim Soria according to reports which was another head-scratcher. He could have also been signed as a setup man without hindering the payroll budget and he would have also served as a second closer.
I don’t get it. We basically were looking to accomplish two significant goals this Winter and we seemingly tip-toed our way around it with the same financial hesitancy we’ve become so accustomed to over the last six years. This in spite of record attendance, ratings, merchandising and revenue increases.
The Mets had the opportunity to strengthen a weakness without breaking the bank or adversely impacting future payroll budgets. The Mets had the opportunity to strengthen a weakness without having to forfeit a draft pick. The Mets had the opportunity to strengthen a weakness during a 3-4 year window when our lights-out rotation is still young and very affordable.
I still feel good about the season heading into 2016. Thankfully the NL East is looking like the weakest division in the league and the Nationals haven’t made any significant improvements. We have our dominating rotation which keeps us in the hunt. We have a pretty solid lineup even though we could have done more at center field.
However, I do feel that we struck out royally (pun intended) by not acquiring one of those top available setup relievers that would have taken our bullpen from good to dangerous. Buster Olney and Jon Heyman both recently chided the Mets for lacking the aggression you typically see from any team coming off a World Series appearance.
What this offseason has shown me is that the Mets’ financial difficulties are still not a thing of the past. And as long as the Wilpons remain in charge, there’s probably no hope that will ever change. Too bad for baseball. Too bad for us.