All offseason, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s 2020 season and looking forward at what moves each team might have to make to set themselves up for improvement in 2021. Today, Jonah Keehn takes a look at the New York Mets!
- The offense had the sixth-best WRC+ in baseball and gave Jacob deGrom run support.
- deGrom threw a third straight Cy Young caliber season.
- Edwin Diaz pitched to a 1.75 ERA after his 5.59 ERA in 2019.
If I told Mets fans these three things would happen in 2020 after finishing 86-76 in 2019, many would have said a playoff run was guaranteed. Add in the fact that eight NL teams were making the playoffs and many fans would have said a World Series run was not out of the question. Obviously, this didn’t happen, and ultimately the Mets found themselves in the same position as the previous few seasons: on the outside looking in. Especially with the expanded playoffs, Mets fans had the sentiment that this was the last chance for the Mets to win a World Series for a while. This sentiment wasn’t new, and after the season went horridly, many wanted to trade some of the team’s best players mid-season, thinking that a rebuild was imminent in the coming off-season.
Fortunately for the Mets, Steve Cohen has bought the team, and for the first time in a few years it seems like the Mets will be major players during the off-season. He has already done something that many Mets fans agreed with: he got rid of Brodie van Wagenen and staff. This could potentially impact the offseason moves, especially as the team now has to search for a GM. However, Steve Cohen is clearly not viewing this as an obstacle, and it shouldn’t delay the Mets’ attempts to sign players by much. In fact, the first domino of the Steve Cohen era has already fallen. The Mets extended a qualifying offer of 18.9M to Marcus Stroman, but it seemed unlikely that he would accept it. The Mets still probably would have made a push to re-sign him in free agency, it seemed unlikely at points that he would be back in Queens. However, Stroman was motivated by Steve Cohen’s press conference and decided that New York is building a culture he wants to play in.
In addition to Stroman, the Mets are expected to sign multiple stars this offseason, as money is not an issue with Cohen in charge. It will definitely be a refreshing change of pace for Mets fans, who haven’t seen this team make big moves over the past few seasons. If Steve Cohen lives up to the expectations, the Mets should add depth and star power to an already talented, albeit shallow, team. The Mets will almost definitely contend for the playoffs next year, expanded playoffs or not. While this may not be enough to stop the worry from the fanbase, it may be enough to delay the narrative that the window is closing.
The 2020 season was a disaster. There is no way around it. The Mets finished 26-34, tied with the Washington Nationals for fourth in the division. Many factors contributed to this. First and foremost, the lack of pitching depth was exposed almost immediately. The Mets were already without Noah Syndergaard, who underwent Tommy John surgery after getting hurt in spring training, and Zack Wheeler, who departed via free agency to the Phillies. Despite this, the Mets rotation seemed fairly deep with Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha behind deGrom. Stroman opted out at the beginning of the season and didn’t pitch all year. The two newcomers to the Mets also struggled in their first season wearing blue and orange. Porcello pitched to a 5.64 ERA and Wacha finished with a 6.62 ERA. Furthermore, Wacha missed the first few weeks of the season, making the starting pitching even thinner.
The pitching staff also provided the biggest negative surprise of the season. Steven Matz was coming off a 2019 season in which he went 11-10 with a 4.21 ERA. He was worth 1.6 fWAR. After being an above-average pitcher in each of his Major League seasons, this appeared to be another promising step. However, in 2020 Matz took a massive leap backward. He went 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA and 7.76 FIP and also ended up missing time for an injury. He was worth -0.7 WAR over just 30.2 innings. This team needed Matz to step up this year, and he went in the opposite direction.
There are two other factors that may have contributed to the Mets finishing just 26-34. The first is that the bullpen was extremely inconsistent, and struggled throughout the season, blowing several leads along the way. The second is the first-half performance of Pete Alonso. For the season his numbers look good, but he raised these numbers with a monster second half, hitting 10 of his 16 homers while hitting .256 to get his season batting average to .231. These factors were also important contributors to the Mets’ struggles.
Despite the lack of results for the Mets during this abnormal year, there were more bright spots than not. The simplest was that, as mentioned, Jacob deGrom put together a third straight Cy Young caliber season. He did this by posting a 2.38 ERA and 2.26 FIP. He led the NL in strikeouts, strikeout rate, and xFIP while finishing second in FIP. Another bright spot for the Mets pitching staff was rookie David Peterson: over 49.2 innings, Peterson went 6-2 with a 3.44 ERA. There is definitely some worry that he won’t perform as well in the future, especially considering his low strikeout rate and relatively high walk rate, which is why his FIP and xFIP were higher than his ERA. Despite this, he should still be able to serve as a back-end starter for the Mets in the near future. The final pitching bright spot for the Mets was the resurgence of Edwin Diaz, although this didn’t come without some struggles. At the beginning of the season, Diaz struggled with his command, leading to three blown saves on the season. Despite this, Diaz was able to post a minuscule 1.75 ERA and 2.18 FIP. He came one strikeout short of averaging two strikeouts per inning over the season. Command may always be an issue for Diaz, but he showed flashes of being able to return to his Seattle form, where he was an elite closer.
While deGrom may have led the team in WAR, the team MVP was arguably Dominic Smith. Smith surprised everyone by taking a massive step forward after struggling a bit earlier in his career. Smith played so well that he forced the Mets to keep him in the lineup, although the universal DH definitely helped with that. Smith ended up leading the team in RBIs with 42 and an OPS of .993 while finishing tied for second in batting average. His 165 WRC+ was the sixth-best in baseball.
Smith’s offensive outburst sparked what perhaps was the biggest surprise for this team: that the offense performed in a big way. The overall team WRC+ of 106 was good for the sixth-best in baseball. In addition to Smith, five other players had an OPS over .800 and a WRC+ over 115, four of which was at 130 or higher. Brandon Nimmo had a .280/.404/.484 triple slash with 8 homers and a WRC+ of 148. Robinson Cano bounced back to the tune of .316/.352/.544, and a WRC+ of 141. Jeff McNeil found his stroke later in the season, but still put up a WRC+ of 130 and hit .311. Pete Alonso led the Mets in homers with 16 (which is on pace for 43 over a full season), and despite struggling to get on base still had a 119 WRC+. Perhaps the offensive player closest to Smith for the team MVP award was Michael Conforto, who had a WRC+ of 157. In addition to this, his slash line was .322/.412/.515/.927, and he hit 9 home runs with 40 RBIs, good for second-most RBI on the team. Overall, this Mets offense came to play and was by far the biggest surprise in a 2020 season that ended in turmoil.
2020-2021 Offseason Preview
The Mets’ biggest hole right now is in starting pitching. The Mets will be opening the season with only three locks at starter, although it would have been an even bigger gap if Stroman didn’t accept his qualifying offer. The Mets are losing Porcello this offseason and it is very unclear whether or not Matz will retain a starting role or even as a member of the Mets. Fortunately for the Mets, they should get Noah Syndergaard back from Tommy John around the all-star break. They will still need to add a couple of starters to get to this point, but the addition of Thor at the break could make this a lethal pitching staff. The Mets also are losing Wilson Ramos, and while he had a rough season, he was still a solid offensive catcher for the Mets over his two years. After Robinson Chirinos was also let go, Tomas Nido remains the only catcher on this team. Catcher may be the Mets’ weakest position. Finally, the Mets will be losing Yoenis Cespedes, and after finally getting him back from injury, saw him opt-out for the season. While the Mets still have a solid outfield with McNeil, Nimmo, and Conforto, they should still add outfield depth, although it isn’t a top priority. However, after the last few seasons, continuing to add bullpen arms is a need for the Mets. Despite the Mets having big names in the bullpen, like Betances, the bullpen still struggled. This is a very deep bullpen free-agent class, and the Mets should be able to do what they have done over the past few seasons; this time with different results.
Okay before I get yelled at for not putting J.T. Realmuto as a desired target, I tried to keep this as realistic as possible. Yes, Realmuto would be the top catching target for the Mets. He is the best catcher in baseball, and he would provide both the offense and defense the Mets have been lacking at catcher. That said, the rumors are that JT doesn’t want to play in New York. Additionally, he is probably looking for a seven or eight-year contract, which would take him through his age 37-or-38 season. While money isn’t an obstacle, it seems very unlikely that the Mets give him that long of a contract, especially when their number two overall prospect (according to MLB pipeline) is a catcher.
That said, James McCann would be an excellent fit in Queens. Despite the fact that he was in a timeshare with Yasmani Grandal in 2020, he still had a productive season. In just 31 games, he hit .289 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs. He had a .339 BABIP, a 144 WRC+, and a .896 OPS. In limited play, he put up 1.5 WAR, which would have put him on pace for a career-high. This was also following his breakout season, where he had 18 homers and a 109 WRC+ in 2019. He should be able to be one of the better catchers in baseball in a starter role, and he is just 31 years old. Furthermore, the Mets will finally get someone who can both hit and field behind the plate, as McCann is known for his strong arm. He is also improving as a framer, and while all defensive stats from 2020 should be taken with a grain of salt, he posted 5 DRS. (Estimated Contract: 3 yrs/50M)
While the Mets have a solid outfield with Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, and Dom or McNeil as the third, the Mets could use some outfield depth and another big bat at the top of their lineup. While it is not a desperate need to add this depth for the Mets to address, it wouldn’t hurt. Many think they will be players for George Springer this offseason. Springer would give the Mets major outfield depth, as well as McNeil to be a true super-utility. While the narrative around the Astros players was that they couldn’t hit without the trash cans, Springer seemed to defy this. He still hit 14 home runs and posted a .899 OPS. He had a .379 wOBA and a 146 WRC+ and was worth 1.9 WAR. While his batting average did take a small dip from 2019, it was still close to his career average. The Mets would definitely benefit from adding outfield depth and a big bat at the top of the lineup, and Springer has proven he can do that throughout his career. (Estimated Contract: 5 yrs/145M)
[If the Mets don’t pursue Springer I expect them to sign Jackie Bradley Jr. to a 1 or 2 year deal at around 9M a year]
The Mets are also expected to add pitching depth, and many are connecting them to Trevor Bauer. Part of this is due to what may be called the “Cohen effect”, as he tweeted saying how he was impressed with both him and Sandy Alderson, and the overall climate change happening in New York. Bauer is the best arm on the market, and was nominated for the Cy Young in 2020. Adding him would give the Mets two Cy Young-caliber pitchers. In 2020 he posted a 1.73 ERA to go with a 12.33 strikeout rate. His FIP was 2.88 and his SIERA was 2.94. He was worth 2.5 WAR and won the Cy Young this year. 2020 wasn’t the only season he dominated, as he posted a 2.21 ERA and 5.8 WAR in 2018. Rumors are that Bauer may only be seeking a one year deal, but at only 29, he would definitely be open to long term deals. I think the Mets would go for the latter, but Bauer may only take the former. (Expected Contract: Either 4 yrs/120M or 1 yr/25M)
Since there is no guarantee that Matz will be a starter in 2021, and since pitching depth is invaluable, the Mets should sign a second starter. Charlie Morton fits the bill as a low risk, short contract guy with huge upside. Since 2017, when he started with the Astros, Morton’s highest FIP is 3.45 and his highest SIERA has been 3.97. He has turned around his career, and has found consistency. He is fairly reliable to eat up innings, despite his age. He also would bring a wealth of playoff experience and leadership, which the Mets would hope pays off in the long run. Morton just makes too much sense not to pursue. (Estimated contract: 1yr/10M)
The Mets should also be going after a couple of bullpen arms, to add much-needed depth there. The bullpen has struggled over the past two seasons. This bullpen class is loaded, headlined by Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, Robert Osuna, and Kirby Yates. I do expect the Mets to continue to use Edwin Diaz in a closer role at the beginning of the season. Brad Hand may arguably be the best reliever on the market and is only younger than both Yates and Hendriks. Furthermore, he would probably be the best to slide into a setup role if the Mets decide to keep Diaz as the closer. He is coming off a season in which he had 16 saves and a 2.05 ERA. In fact, he has posted an ERA of 3.30 or better every season since 2016. Maybe the most astonishing number is that he didn’t allow a home run in his 22 innings in 2020. The Mets should also be in play for a middle reliever, and Blake Treinen is on the market after bouncing back from a down year in 2019. He may not ever be the 0.78 ERA pitcher he was in 2018, but he is an excellent option on the market. He has a career 3.34 FIP, and 2019 seems to be more of an outlier than the mean. If the Mets do grab two relievers, especially these two, they’ll sport one of the best rotations in baseball with a true three-headed horse. (Estimated Contracts: Hand – 3 yrs/42M ; Treinen – 2 yrs/21M)
So before I begin, Steve Cohen has said that he would rather trade his prospects at the deadline to make sure that the new players can help the Mets win. Additionally, it is fairly hard for the Mets to improve via trade. However, one player the Mets can trade for fits both of these bills, as the Indians are expected to ask for three major league ready players. This would allow them not to trade the farm and still make a massive improvement.
While the Mets don’t necessarily need a shortstop, with Gimenez and Rosario both being solid options, and top prospect Ronny Mauricio also being a shortstop, Francisco Lindor is often regarded as the best shortstop in baseball. The chance to get him – and extend him for the near future – shouldn’t be passed up. The Indians are actively shopping Lindor, and the Mets are a team that may go out and get him. In return, the Indians would be getting a replacement at short in Gimenez, who is also the Mets number three prospect. He still has his rookie status, although he has already performed in his limited big league action. The Indians would also get Dom Smith, who is coming off his breakout season. Since the Indians don’t have to worry about whether or not there would be a DH, Dom would slide into the role nicely. While it is tough for the Mets to give away someone who could have a bright future, his playing time is blocked by Alonso unless there is a DH in the NL moving forward. Finally, the Mets would trade JD Davis, who is coming off a career season. The Indians would get three players who all can contribute right away, which is exactly what they are looking for. The Mets are considered one of the frontrunners for Lindor and would have the money to extend him. It is not necessary but would serve as a huge improvement.
2021 Projected Roster
1) George Springer (OF)
2) Jeff McNeil (2B)
3) Pete Alonso (1B)
4) Michael Conforto (OF)
5) Robinson Cano (DH)
6) James McCann (C)
7) JD Davis (3B)
8) Andres Gimenez (SS)
9) Brandon Nimmo (OF)
I constructed this lineup using a DH for two reasons. The first is that there is a decent chance the universal DH sticks around, but also it optimizes the lineup. In the case where there isn’t a DH, I would have Cano playing second, McNeil at third, and Davis as a super-utility the Mets would use to get players days off. This is a role Davis has performed in throughout his career.
I would also like to say that I didn’t include Lindor in the lineup, as trades are very hard to predict, and with Cohen’s comments, it seems less likely that they get Lindor compared to the free agents on my list.
If the Mets go out and acquire Springer, which they are expected to do, it is likely he would serve as the leadoff hitter, as that is what he did in Houston. This does make it hard to have Nimmo, who has a career .390 OBP, at the top of the lineup, but the Mets have shown that they like having a high OBP guy at the bottom, even without a DH. This sort of gives two leadoff hitters. 2-3-4 in the lineup should look familiar, as it is the exact same as the 2020 season opener. McNeil-Alonso-Conforto has been a lethal combo for the Mets. Without Yoenis Cespedes, Robinson Cano will slide up a spot from where he started at the beginning of 2020. McCann, who is the expected signing at catcher would be another big bat in the middle of the lineup. He is a perfect fit to complete the middle third, and the Mets showed that they like having a high average and RBI guy there this past season, as they started with Cano at sixth and then had Davis hit there often. Speaking of Davis, he was a very underrated player last year, posting a 117 WRC+. With the DH, he may still be in the lineup every day as it would allow McNeil to play second. However, there is a very high chance that in this scenario McNeil plays a good amount at third so Dom Smith is able to be in the lineup, with Cano at third. Finally, Gimenez will bat eighth, as he is the better fielder over Rosario and showed he can hit in limited action last year. This of course relies on him not getting traded, as he is the biggest trade chip the Mets currently have. The Mets very likely could have an opening day lineup filled with players coming off seasons where they posted a WRC+ higher than 100.
There isn’t much to say about the pitching staff, but it could be headed by a true two-headed monster in deGrom and Bauer. As of now, the only three locks for this rotation are deGrom, Stroman, and Peterson, since they will rely on offseason acquisitions and Matz struggled in 2020. The Mets should still go after two starters this offseason regardless if they decide to keep Matz or not. If they do, I expect him to become another long arm in the bullpen. Additionally, following the bounce back from Diaz I expect him to be the closer on Opening Day regardless of who the Mets sign. If they go and get a guy like Hand, they can also manage their bullpen similarly to the Rays, where they manage it based on leverage. The biggest strength the Mets have in the bullpen is Gsellman, Wacha, and Lugo all having the potential to be long relievers when needed.
The Mets are primed for a big offseason, as they will look to bounce back. Steve Cohen is being viewed as a savior of sorts, but it is very likely he will deliver on his promise of bringing stars to New York to plug holes. Even if the Mets start this offseason with a couple of signings, it will be a long break regardless as they also look to fill the holes of BVW and staff. The questions will remain the same entering 2021, mainly if the Mets rotation can stay healthy and the offense can continue producing after a strong 2020. If the answer to both these questions is yes, the Mets will definitely have the roster and talent to make another playoff push.