The New York Mets have a lot of work to do if they’re going to be competitive again in 2021. It all starts with taking care of their own.
The 2020 season was a disappointment for the New York Mets. Eight teams made the postseason in the National League and the Mets were not among them despite months of hype surrounding the team. Even worse, they finished dead last in the NL East.
Still, there’s reason to believe that they aren’t as far away from competing as their record says. The Mets were first in MLB in wRC+, third in OPS, and fifth in offensive fWAR. It’s hard to lose when you have arguably the best offense in MLB, but the Mets found a way.
Therein lies the solution. If the Mets can find a way to maintain their offensive output but improve their run prevention then they’ll be contenders. With Steve Cohen taking over as owner this offseason, the Mets have the chance to take the league by storm.
That all starts with the Mets taking care of their own.
Extend Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard
Noah Syndergaard is coming off Tommy John surgery and likely won’t see the field until July or August if he sees it at all in 2021. That shouldn’t be a concern for the Mets.
Pitchers return from Tommy John every year. In some cases, the pitchers improve after adjusting. Considering Syndergaard’s track record and stuff, the Mets can’t afford to let him walk. He’s the perfect No. 2 to Jacob deGrom‘s No. 1.
Considering Syndergaard’s recent struggles and Tommy John surgery, he could likely be had at a discounted price. If the Mets strike now, they could end up signing one of the best pitchers in baseball to a team-friendly deal, and that’s too much to pass up.
Even if the deal doesn’t work out, Syndergaard will likely just be an overplayed middle or back of the rotation starter. The Mets could desperately use starting pitching of any kind long term, so they shouldn’t be afraid of the downside.
Michael Conforto is in a much different situation. He’s coming off a career year. Conforto was an offensive juggernaut, if not for poor defense he would have been an MVP candidate. He’s also represented by Scott Boras making an extension a little complicated.
Still, Conforto has mentioned in the past that he’s open to extension talks. The Mets need to extend him before he hits the open market. Conforto is the team’s locker room leader and a middle of the order bat. The Mets can’t afford to lose a player of that caliber.
Since 2017, Conforto has been worth 13.1 fWAR nearly identical to Bryce Harper’s 14.4 fWAR over that time. Conforto isn’t an elite player due to his poor defense, but when he’s at his best he’s one of the truly elite hitters in MLB. That was on full display in 2020, and that makes him an indispensable part of the Mets’ future.
Load up on pitching
The New York Mets need pitching. They only have two guaranteed starters for the 2020 season on their roster, deGrom and David Peterson. There’s nothing outside of those two. Noah Syndergaard is a huge question mark, Steven Matz is a non-tender candidate, and Seth Lugo almost certainly returns to the bullpen.
The Mets need to add at least three starting pitchers in free agency. The two most obvious additions would be Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer. Stroman opted out of playing the 2020 season with the Mets, but MLB knows who he is.
Stroman is a ground ball pitcher with ace upside, but who’s best as a number two or three. He’ll cost a pretty penny, but bringing him back would add a consistent pitcher who only got better as he adjusted to the National League in 2018.
Bauer’s a headache. His personality has rubbed multiple teams the wrong way and that’s bound to affect him in free agency. However, he’s likely to enter free agency as the reigning Cy Young winner and that’s going to make him a prime target.
Some mid-tier names that could make sense as options for the backend of the rotation are Kevin Gausman, Taijuan Walker, J.A. Happ, Mike Minor, Robbie Ray, Masahiro Tanaka, and Drew Smyly.
Fix the catcher and center field defense
The Mets defense up the middle has been horrific for years. With Andres Gimenez ready to fix the issue at shortstop, the next step is catcher and center field.
Wilson Ramos isn’t likely to return in 2021. The Mets are likely to look at strong defensive replacement who wouldn’t be offensive liabilities. Some players who fit the mold that will be available are J.T. Realmuto, Yadier Molina, and James McCann.
Realmuto is the crown jewel of the 2020 free agent class and will take a major investment. He’s reportedly looking for a deal in excess of $200 million. If the Mets don’t feel comfortable paying a catcher over 30 that kind of money or simply get outbid then they do have other options.
Molina would be a solid one year deal who would immediately improve the Mets defense behind the plate. Even at 39 Molina is still one of the premier defensive catchers in the game. He won’t provide much offensive value, but he won’t be a black hole in the lineup.
McCann is an interesting option. He got buried behind Yasmani Grandal in Chicago, but he’s a strong starting catcher. He’s bad defensively, but he’s been elite offensively. Over the past two season he’s fifth in fWAR, third in wRC+, but he was 101st in FRAA adjusted. That puts him just one spot above Wilson Ramos.
If the Mets decide to go with a cheaper option and catcher that could open the door for George Springer in center field. Springer is one of the best outfielders in MLB and was one of the few Astros who didn’t see a decline in numbers in 2020.
If the Mets look to go cheaper in 2021 they could look to sign Jackie Bradley Jr. Not a flashy move, but Bradley Jr. is an elite defensive player and has shown flashes of offensive potential before. If he could maintain his 2020 slash line of .283/.364/.450 then Bradley Jr. would have an argument for the best centerfielder in MLB.
Whatever direction the Mets go they need to improve at catcher and center field. They can’t continue to get little production defensively and offensively for both premier positions.