You can say what you will about the new general manager of the New York Mets, but nobody can deny that Brodie Van Wagenen has been one of the most active GM’s of this offseason. He has handled himself like a gunslinger at OK Corral thus far, and while his aggressive and stealth-like manner may seen haphazard or fast & loose, in actuality his vision for this team has clearly come into focus.
Van Wagenen seemingly burst out of the gate with a blockbuster deal that saw the team land former All Star second baseman Robinson Cano, and arguably the game’s top closer in Edwin Diaz – an All Star himself at only 26 years old.
In one well-crafted move the Mets added some much needed punch in the infield and lineup with Cano, who was on pace for another huge season until a suspension and fractured rib limited him to just 80 games. Yet he still pounded out a .303/.374/.475 batting line with a 3.2 WAR that would have ranked second best among Mets hitters last season. A significant addition to say the least.
But one could also argue that the true prize in that swap with Seattle was the dominant young right-hander Edwin Diaz, who led the majors with 57 saves last season with an incredible 208 ERA+ and a blistering 15.2 strikeout rate which will now give the Mets the closer that they desperately craved. Diaz came with four years of control, an added bonus to be sure.
Needless to say, I was thrilled with this first foray into this slow-moving hot stove season, and I was thirsty for more as my optimism level slowly started to rise.
The return of former Mets closer Jeurys Familia was Van Wagenen’s next big move, surprising everyone by signing Familia to be the team’s top setup man for the next three seasons at a very reasonable $30 million dollars. During his seven-year career, Familia has a 2.73 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 1.21 WHIP and a 9.4 strikeout per nine rate.
Remarkably, over his last three seasons spanning 173.4 innings, Familia has given up just five home runs. All of a sudden, the Mets went from having one of the league’s worst bullpen to now boasting one of the most lethal closer-setup combos in the game.
Brodie’s next move was to upgrade a position that had become a sore spot for the Mets over the last five seasons. Plagued by endless injuries and missed expectations, the Mets needed some big time production and a dose of stability at the backstop position, and after calling Yasmani Grandal‘s bluff, Van Wagenen went ahead and signed All Star catcher Wilson Ramos to a two-year, $19 million contract, with a team option for 2021.
Ramos, 31, batted .306/.358/.487 last season with 22 doubles, 15 home runs, and a 131 wRC+ in 416 plate appearances between the Rays and Phillies. His right-handed power lengthens the Mets lineup with a dangerous middle of the order bat. I love this move.
In all honesty, at that point of the offseason, and with the usual specter of the team’s financial constraints, I thought the Mets were pretty much done making any further big moves.
However, I was wrong… Van Wagenen still had some tricks up his sleeve.
After a couple of minor depth-type signings in outfielders Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco, and right-handed reliever Luis Avilan, Van Wagenen opened the new year with a flurry of trades resulting in outfielders Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis, as well as righty Walker Lockett. So much for that outfield depth problem the Mets had.
But the real stunner that took everyone by surprise came last week, when he signed infielder Jed Lowrie to a two-year, $20 million contract. Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, Lowrie earned an All Star nomination last season, batting .267/.353/.448 with 23 home runs, 99 RBI, coupled with a 122 wRC+ and 4.9 fWAR.
The plan is for Lowrie to earn his keep as the super utility player the Mets have been searching for the last few seasons. This may have been Van Wagenen’s smartest moves of the offseason and certainly one of my favorites.
While I’m not ready to say the Mets are done making moves as some beat writers are now reporting, I applaud the rookie GM for how he’s crafted the 2019 roster with such surgical precision. Every move had real purpose to it and shored up one of many weaknesses and areas of need.
Would I like to see the Mets add a bat like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? Of course I would, but I have come to grips with the realization that as long as the Wilpons own this team, mega-contracts like the ones Machado and Harper are looking for will never be a part of the Mets equation. Drop that notion like a ton of bricks and take solace in what Brodie is doing right now because I’m thinking we have an 85-90 win team that will certainly contend with the likes of Washington, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
If we lean on wins above replacement as a measure of what’s to come, the Mets have added roughly 18 wins to their roster with the additions of Cano, Lowrie, Ramos and Broxton on offense, and Diaz, Familia and Avilan in the bullpen. Plus don’t forget the promising young power hitter who’ll be manning first base in 2019 – top prospect Peter Alonso.
And if you’re a big believer in addition by subtraction like I am, say goodbye to underachievers and under-performers Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes. Although let me go on record saying that I wish we had kept Kevin Plawecki.
The bottom line is that I’m really digging what I’m seeing. Suddenly, all that bold “playoffs talk” during the Van Wagenen press conference back in October, doesn’t seem so hare-brained, far-fetched and preposterous anymore. This team – as currently constructed – looks like a viable contender for the NL East division.
Time will tell if this offseason roster transformation will pay big dividends for the Mets, but I really like our chances.