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Evolution or Revolution: New York Mets

 

Evolution or Revolution is a series that examines whether a team needs a few tweaks or a fundamental reboot. In this edition, we look back at the Mets’ 2020 season, the impact of Steve Cohen’s arrival, and which moves could help them contend in 2021.

By: Craig Haley

The late George Steinbrenner might not have been pleased to witness how the New York Mets have been winning the baseball offseason – and not just on the back pages of the Gotham tabloids.

The Mets have been newsworthy seemingly every day since early November when Steve Cohen closed a $2.4 billion deal to buy the franchise from the Wilpon family.

If it’s not Cohen saying his expectation is for the Mets to win a World Series within three to five years, then it’s Sandy Alderson returning as team president, Brodie Van Wagenen promptly stepping down as general manager, or the ongoing search for his successor.

More recently, it’s the team being linked to numerous top free agents such as NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, outfielder George Springer and infielder D.J. LeMahieu that has gained attention.

“We’re in active conversations with a variety of people,” Alderson said.

And then there was MLB’s announcement that second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended for the 2021 season due to a second positive PED test. But on the positive side, the Mets will be able to reallocate his $24 million salary.

Of course, winning the offseason is not the same as winning in the regular season, and the Mets will need to do more of that if Cohen opens the checkbook for free agents. In manager Luis Rojas’ pandemic-shortened debut, the Mets finished 26-34, tied with the Washington Nationals for last in the NL East, and down from 86-76 in 2019.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the issues the Mets need to address this offseason.

SOLID OFFENSE AWAITS UPGRADES

The Mets led the majors in batting average (.272), finished second in on-base percentage (.348) and ninth in home runs (86). They also ranked eighth (RV+ of 108) in our Adjusted Team Rankings, which are calculated using a model that combines each club’s Raw Value data into a single ranking system.

Our Raw Value metric examines how a batter (RV+) or pitcher (RV-) performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, with a score of 100 considered average.

New York Mets, 2020OffenseRotationBullpenOverall
Adjusted Team Rankings8161511

Dominic Smith was one of baseball’s biggest surprises, going from a backup to start the season to batting .316 with 10 home runs and a team-high 42 RBIs, earning an RV+ of 151. Michael Conforto followed with an RV+ of 138, leading the regulars with a .322 batting average. Pete Alonso slugged a team-high 16 home runs one year after setting a rookie record with 53, but he only batted .231 with 61 strikeouts in 57 games.

Pete Alonso (20) hit 16 home runs last season after setting a rookie record with 53 in 2019. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Springer, one of this offseason’s prized free agents, has hit the second-most home runs from the leadoff spot since he entered the majors in 2014 – 136 of his 174 career blasts. His signing would give the Mets much-needed defense in center field and an impact right-handed bat in a lefty-dominated outfield of Conforto, Smith, Brandon Nimmo (RV+ of 131) and Jeff McNeil (RV+ of 107).

Alderson has listed two of the team’s three major needs as a reconfigured catching position and improved infield defense. The team made a move to get better behind the plate by signing former Chicago White Sox backstop James McCann. At second base, LeMahieu has arguably been the New York Yankees’ best player for two seasons and would be an immediate upgrade.

Other possible free-agent solutions at a cheaper price include Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong. At shortstop, Rojas has favored Andres Gimenez for defense, which gives the Mets a possible trade chip with 2018-19 starter Ahmed Rosario.

PITCHING GAINS NEEDED BEHIND DEGROM

Bauer’s swagger is ideal for the Big Apple, but Citi Field isn’t hurting in the Cy Young Award department because right-hander Jacob deGrom preceded this year’s recipient as the NL’s best in 2018 and ’19. DeGrom, whose RV- of 43 was two behind Bauer’s league-best number, was 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA and NL-high 104 strikeouts in 12 starts.

Jacob deGrom’s RV- of 43 was second in MLB behind only potential Mets free-agent target Trevor Bauer. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Lefty rookie David Peterson (6-2, 3.44) also was solid, but Mets pitching was only 14th in our Adjusted Team Rankings and finished 22nd in ERA (4.98). They were without right-handers Marcus Stroman, who opted out of the season, and Noah Syndergaard, who had Tommy John surgery in March. But the team’s offseason spending began when Stroman accepted an $18.9 million qualifying offer.

Alderson’s other priority is upgrading the bullpen, and the signing of right-hander Trevor May (two years, $15.5 million) was an excellent start. He posted a 3.19 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while striking out 153 batters in 113 innings over the last three seasons with the Minnesota Twins.

Closer Edwin Diaz converted only six of 10 save opportunities in 2020, but he was 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA and his 50 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings marked the third-best rate among relievers with 25 or more innings. Seth Lugo, who had a 5.15 ERA and converted three of five save chances, seems best suited for the bullpen even though he made seven starts.

The Mets need a reliable left-hander if Justin Wilson (RV- of 60) is lost in free agency.

STATS PERFORM’S VERDICT: EVOLUTION

Excitement abounds with the Mets given Cohen’s wherewithal to build a championship organization. Perhaps the spending would include extending Conforto, who will be a free agent next winter.

Signings this offseason wouldn’t just be a statement for the new era of Mets baseball, they would address needs. Despite the high batting average, the Mets’ 4.8 runs per game ranked 13th after they left an MLB-high 449 runners on base. Also, in an NL East where starting pitching is strong, two-thirds of the eventual rotation, Stroman and Syndergaard (June/July return?), missed all of the 2020 season.

Even with just a few key additions, the Mets would appear closer to their 2019 level than 2020. They appear primed to continue making headlines.

 

Data modeling provided by Lucas Haupt.

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