As the MLB offseason continues inching toward the Winter Meetings, it’s still anyone’s guess as to exactly how the New York Mets plan on augmenting the roster for 2019. But when it comes to the game’s two most-talked-about free agents — Bryce Harper and Manny Machado — the team’s position seems to be getting clearer.
Of these two players, Machado makes the most sense on paper. After all, he’s an elite right-handed hitting infielder that’s young, has power, and can field. But it doesn’t appear that New York will be pursuing the 26-year-old, with a report from Jon Heyman of FanCred Sports siting he’s not their “type of player.”
It’s true that his antics and comments during the Los Angeles Dodgers’ second consecutive run to the World Series didn’t help. Taking pause or changing course after seeing what unfolded with Machado throughout October isn’t crazy. Even a team like the New York Yankees, who have been interested in Machado for a while, plan on taking an extra step or two in a potential pursuit.
The Financial Side of It
Regardless of the reasoning, hearing the Mets downplay a run at Machado isn’t shocking. The dude is probably going to command a contract in the neighborhood of $300 million, and it’s not like BVW and friends don’t have multiple holes to fill elsewhere. However, Heyman mentions in the same report that despite not showing formal interest, New York isn’t ruling out a run at Harper (who would cost about the same, and maybe more).
Van Wagenen still needs to show us what kind of front-office executive he’s going to be, but knowing what we do about the Mets in recent years, this just sounds preposterous.
When it comes to pursuing a player that’ll command such a large financial commitment, it’s not like this is a casual conversation that’s had as the winter unfolds — this is something that’s likely already been decided on.
We don’t know what the Mets’ exact spending capacity is, but any legitimate run at Harper would almost certainly blow the budget. Until we see something different, this sounds like a classic ploy to divert attention from the team’s reported decision to not pursue Machado.
The Fitting-on-the-Roster Side of It
When comparing Machado and Harper to the current Mets roster, it’s not hard to see which one fits better. As mentioned before, New York could really use a proven right-handed hitting infielder with power. What they don’t need is another left-handed hitting outfielder.
Even looking at what might be considered a down year in 2018, Harper would still be a huge upgrade for this group on offense. Something to consider, though, is that he wouldn’t upgrade the defense. As we noted, advanced metrics weren’t kind to the 26-year-old last season — his -26 defensive runs saved between time spent in center and right field were easily a career-low mark.
His production on defense has been hit-or-miss over the years, but making a big splash like this would go against one of the first things Van Wagenen said he aimed to do, which was making sure the Mets were strong in the middle of the diamond.
Acquiring Harper would, at the very least, force either Conforto or Nimmo to center field for a significant chunk of time. While they both held their own out there last year, they’re better suited for the corner outfield spots.
Would Bryce Harper’s defense ultimately be the deciding factor in whether the Mets pursue him or not? Most likely not, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
A Scenario Where This Could Make Sense
With the trade rumors swirling around the Mets in recent days, a couple hypothetical deals reveal ways where an eventual pursuit of Harper could actually unfold.
Everyone is aware Noah Syndergaard is available, as interested teams are making their respective pitches to New York. It’s also clear the organization will only deal Thor to get a package of players where (at least) some can fill current roster holes in order to compete immediately. While this potential trade could include a solution at catcher, the Mets have also been talking to the Cleveland Indians about Yan Gomes.
New York isn’t the only one with an interest in Gomes, and SNY’s Andy Martino floated a scenario where talks with Cleveland could grow to include a big-league outfielder from the Mets (like Nimmo), along with one of the Indians’ reportedly available pitchers.
Let’s say this does happen to some degree. It would give the Mets an affordable and cost-controlled solution at catcher for the near future. Losing someone like Nimmo wouldn’t be fun, but if it meant getting another front-line pitcher instead of having to dip into free agency, it could clear the way for a Syndergaard deal to address other roster issues. By filling multiple needs via trade, the front office could use whatever spending capacity is available to go after Harper.
Is this something I’d like to see? Not exactly. If the Mets have this kind of money to spend, I rather see them spread it around to a number of top-shelf free agents, but I’d also just like to see them make some bold moves this winter. Either way, having one of those moves be (likely) overpaying for Harper just doesn’t make sense.