The free agent market features some premium talent and high projected contracts. The Mets must tread carefully.
The New York Mets are heading towards the free agent market with notable needs. The team has a hole in the outfield, at the hot corner, and needs an arm for both the bullpen and starting rotation.
As a result, two of the top names on the free agent market—Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain—have become linked to the Mets.
While they’re fine players who have pieced together respectable resumes, there are questions about their long-term viability, which makes shelling out a lucrative, long-term deal for their services a risky proposition.
Let’s break things down.
Projected Contract: 5 years, $85 million
The Royals’ third baseman was an integral part of the back-to-back World Series runs the team made in 2014 and 2015, when they beat the Mets to win it all.
‘Moose’ has profiled as a slugger and strong defensive third baseman. This past season was by far his best career statistical performance, as he slashed .272/.314/.521 with 38 home runs and 85 RBI.
That type of output coupled with his pedigree as a defender is undoubtedly the reason for his lucrative contract projection.
Yet, there’s more than one question that needs to be asked about Moustakas’ game.
Sure he was able to produce a .835 OPS in 2017, but that number is an outlier when you look at his career.
The fact of the matter is that in the five seasons he has played more than 100 games, Moustakas has only produced an OPS over .800 twice. He’s only cracked at least 25 home runs just once and driven in at least 80 runs twice.
His 6.4 percent career walk rate isn’t sufficient and isn’t remotely competitive to some of the other players on the market this winter. Todd Frazier, often touted as the ‘other’ third baseman on the market this winter, had a walk rate of 14.4% this year.
And finally, the defense needs to be considered a concern. Moose made 12 errors in 2017 and earned a -3.1 UZR, his first negative UZR since his rookie year in 2011.
Mike Moustakas is expensive and doesn't get on base enough imo.
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) November 3, 2017
For reference, Frazier earned a 6.7 UZR for his glove work this year between the Yankees and White Sox.
All of this is not to say Moustakas is a bad player. But when you attach a price tag of five years and $17 million annually, he becomes much more undesirable.
Projected Contract: 4 years, $70 million
The Mets have been searching for a center fielder ever since they signed Juan Lagares to an extension in April of 2015. He has failed to stay on the field enough—or hit enough—to live up to his ever-increasing salary.
Enter Cain, who is the top option in center field on the 2017 free agent market. There are multiple areas of risk with the former Royal, and it all starts with his age.
At 31, Cain is beyond his prime. He is a player who relies on his speed—96 steals since 2014. Speed does not play well into a players’ mid-30s.
With a projected four-year deal taking him to his age 35 season, he will no doubt need to be moved to a corner outfield position. That’s just not feasible for the Mets, considering they have Yoenis Cespedes entrenched at $29 million per year in left field and Michael Conforto, the rising star, in right.
Beyond the age and eventual position log jam Cain would create, his defense is another worry as he treks away from 30.
Defense is a major part of Cain’s game as he’s amassed three seasons with a UZR of at least 10. For reference, Juan Lagares also has three such seasons.
UZR, or Ultimate Zone Rating, takes into account a player’s range, arm, and errors. When it comes to Cain his UZR, has dropped dramatically over the last two years. In 2015, when he finished top three in AL MVP voting, he posted a 14.3 UZR in center field.
That number dropped to 7.7 in 2016 and 1.6 in 2017. There’s an evident downward trend in his defense and that, coupled with a reduction in speed due to age, will diminish his value in the later years of a four-year deal.
His defense right now is still valuable, considering he was a Gold Glove finalist this season. But, it’s fair to speculate just how much longer he can maintain that level before his defense deteriorates any further.