NL East Offseason Preview: New York Mets

In The Art of War, the famed military general Sun Tzu wrote, “To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.” With this in mind, we take a look at the offseason strategies of all the teams in the National League; which players they are losing, which players they intend to pursue, and what their long-term plan is to either make the team a contender or keep the team in contention well into the future. Today, we take a look at the New York Mets.

The Mets must plan for a 2014 without Matt Harvey

The Mets must plan for a 2014 without Matt Harvey

Despite finishing well out of contention, the Mets had themselves a very promising year, witnessing the development of several players who will likely be part of a bright Mets future.  The Mets, who finished in 3rd place in the division (their first time higher than 4th since 2008), were led once again by 30 year old third baseman David Wright, who despite being limited to 112 games due to injury, was still the 8th most valuable position player in the NL (by bWAR).  But the biggest story of the 2013 Mets was, of course, Matt Harvey.  The 24-year old Harvey delivered a tour-de-force performance in his sophomore season, utilizing a four-pitch arsenal that included a league-fastest fastball (averaging 96.4 MPH), slider, changeup and curveball.  His 2.27 ERA, 3rd in the NL, in 178.1 innings earned him a fourth place finish in the Cy Young balloting and the a start in the All Star Game, where he pitched 2 scoreless innings in front of a euphoric Citi Field crowd.  But in August, doctors discovered a tear in Harvey’s all-important right arm, and Harvey’s subsequent decision to have Tommy John surgery, which will likely sideline him until 2015, has thrown the Mets’ offseason plan into question.  No longer do they have the luxury of building the team around an ace for the 2014 season, making contention next year very unlikely.  Their moves in 2014 must be made with an eye on 2015 and the years beyond.

The first area the Mets are likely to address this year is their outfield.  The Mets’ outfielding corps, while below league average, was not the catastrophe predicted, ranking 20th in the major leagues in fWAR.  The Mets benefitted from both the emergence of Juan Lagares, whose superlative defensive led to a solid 2.9 fWAR season, and the resurgence of Marlon Byrd, who at 35 went from down and out to the best right fielder in the NL.  But Byrd is gone, the Mets currently have only one legitimate major league outfielder in Lagares, and their top outfield prospect, Brandon Nimmo, is 20 years old and still playing A-ball.  It is clear that the Mets must improve their outfield, and this year, both Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo are on the market.  While GM Sandy Alderson has stated that he does not wish to add another player on a $100 million contract, Choo would be a good fit for the Mets, as he is both talented and young enough to likely still be a useful player on the next Mets contender.

The Mets must also address their first base situation.  As of now, they have two players vying for the starting job, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda.  Davis has struggled each of the past two years, requiring a demotion in 2013 after a first half where he hit .165/.255/.250.  Duda has been above-average with the bat, but his atrocious play in the outfield (since he came into the league in 2010, his UZR/150 is the worst among all outfielders who have played a minimum of 1500 innings) has necessitated a move to first.  Due to the left-handedness of both players, a platoon is impossible, so the Mets must choose which one to keep and which to deal.  According to these reports, the Mets have been listening to offers on Davis, signaling that they have made their decision.

The Mets also have a dearth of MLB talent at shortstop, and may take a look at free-agent options Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta, but are more likely to stand pat, as Peralta and Drew are not good fits for a rebuilding Mets team.  They may want to give another shot to Ruben Tejada, who followed up promising 2011 and 2012 campaigns with a putrid 2013, but is still just 24 years old.

The loss of Harvey and fellow starter Jeremy Hefner to Tommy John leaves a hole in the Mets rotation.  They have two established major league starters in Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee, plus a top prospect in Zack Wheeler, but are a couple starters short of a full rotation.  While the high-end free agents on the market don’t make sense for the Mets, they may want to pick up another low-cost (in terms of years), low-risk veteran like Hiroki Kuroda or Bartolo Colon to stabilize the rotation and help guide the younger pitchers on the staff.

The Mets had a very poor bullpen last year that was 9th-worst in the majors in ERA and stabilized only by 40-year old LaTroy Hawkins, who has since departed for Colorado.  But spending exorbitantly on a bullpen, while always unadvisable, is especially so for a team who has so many holes elsewhere on the roster.  So while the Mets will likely scour the waiver wire looking for live arms that have been dropped unceremoniously by other teams, don’t look for them to make a play for the Balfours, Nathans, and Benoits of the world.

The Mets’ prospects in 2014 were dealt a huge blow following the loss of Matt Harvey.  They now have to regroup, rethink, and create an offseason plan that focuses less on what will make them contenders in 2014, and more on how they can contend in 2015 throughout the decade.

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