With only two weeks left in the 2013 regular season, the New York Mets are not going to the playoffs. The team looked a whole lot more competitive a few weeks ago, but the last month of action has exposed some of the team's uglier flaws for all to see. With the team awaiting word on whether Matt Harvey will need to undergo Tommy John surgery, it remains to be seen if Harvey will be a part of the 2014 mix. Either way, General Manager Sandy Alderson faces a critical winter to fix the 2014 Mets. Here are some of the biggest issues Alderson will face.
1. Addressing the Outfield
The outfield was expected to be one of the worst areas for the Mets coming into the 2013 season. That quickly changed. Marlon Byrd, who was signed off the scrap heap, had a career year and won the right field job while midseason acquisition Eric Young Jr took over the left field job and lead off spot, providing instant energy for the Mets. Center, which started off as a platoon between Collin Cowgill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, now rests in the defensively gifted hands of Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker. From late May until early August, the outfield was a definitive strength for the Mets.
Going forward, however, Alderson will need to upgrade his outfield again. Byrd was traded away before the end of August, opening up right field again. Young has come back to Earth after a very hot start, giving credence to the Mets' belief that he will be best served as a fourth outfielder next season. Lagares and den Dekker, while gifted defensively, both need to show they can hit enough to justify playing every day in a major league lineup.
The Mets need to pick up at least one, if not two, major league caliber outfielders in the offseason. The Mets can likely live with a platoon of den Dekker and Lagares in center field, but if they intend to go with Young as the everyday left fielder they will need to make up for the lack of power production somewhere else, like first base. Shin Soo Choo has been mentioned as a likely Mets' target, and he could easily slot into right field and bat leadoff. Choo is a free agent, and the Mets will need to pay up if they want to acquire his services. The Mets will also delve into the trade market for another outfielder, but a lot will depend on the cost in terms of prospects.
2. Add a Veteran Starting Pitcher
The starting rotation looked to be set for 2014 a month ago, but Harvey's murky injury status changes that. Even if Harvey gets unexpected good news and is able to pitch in 2014, the Mets would handle him and fellow starters Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia with kid gloves. Innings limits appear in the coming for any of the Mets' young pitchers, so the Mets will definitely need a veteran starting pitcher to fill the gaps and get them through the 2014 campaign.
The Mets likely won't look for a multi-year commitment for a starting pitcher considering the depth the organization has on the farm, so look for the Mets to target high-upside starters on one year contracts. One name that has gotten some buzz of late is San Francisco Giants' pitcher Tim Lincecum. Lincecum is 10-13 with a 4.40 ERA this season and is eligible for free agency after the season, and the Giants may not bring him back given his struggles this season. Lincecum would likely seek a one year deal somewhere to re-establish his value and enter the market again in the following offseason, so a pairing between him and the Mets would make sense.
Another name who could make sense and come cheaper is New York Yankees' pitcher Phil Hughes. Hughes has had a miserable season with the Yanks, going 4-13 with a 5.07 ERA, and will likely be let go as the Yankees try and get their payroll under the 189 million mark. Hughes' poor performance has hurt his free agent value, but his biggest problem by far has been the long ball. Hughes has given up 58 home runs over the last two seasons playing in the band box that is Yankee Stadium, and a move to the pitcher friendly National League could benefit him. Hughes could end up on the West Coast with San Francisco or San Diego, but expect the Mets to at least do their due diligence on him. Other options include the cheap one year veteran pool such as Bruce Chen, Dan Haren, John Lannan, Paul Maholm, and Barry Zito.
3. Figure Out a Direction for First Base and Shortstop
Coming into 2013, many Mets fans assumed that they had their first baseman and shortstop of the future in Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada. That changed quickly. Davis had a lost season, getting off to a slow start again and getting demoted to the minor leagues for three weeks in June. Davis rebounded slightly upon his return before having his season ended early with an oblique injury. Davis finished the 2013 season batting .205 with nine home runs and 33 RBI's, a far cry from the 32 home runs and 90 RBI's of a year ago.
Ruben Tejada was also coming off a strong 2012, but he found his way into Sandy Alderson's doghouse very quickly. Tejada showed up to camp out of shape and got off to a terrible start at the plate before hurting his quad in late May. When Tejada recovered, the Mets quietly shipped him off to Triple-A Las Vegas and didn't bring him back until after the Triple-A playoffs concluded. Tejada, who is hitting only .198 on the season, has been publicly criticized by Alderson for not doing the extra work necessary to improve his game.
The Mets clearly need to solve both spots externally. The internal options at first, Lucas Duda (.239, 14, 31) and Josh Satin (.272, 2, 12) are not confidence builders, and the Mets will need to decide whether to tender Davis a new contract. Davis made 3.1 million dollars this year and is due for a raise in arbitration, so he could price himself out of the Mets' plans. Alderson has indicated he is willing to give Davis another chance, but it could be his last one.
Tejada, on the other hand, appears to be in deep trouble this winter. His replacement, Omar Quintanilla (.226, 2, 21) didn't set the world on fire but was never in jeopardy of losing the job to Tejada. The Mets' internal options at shortstop (prospects Wilfredo Tovar, Phillip Evans, and Gavin Cecchini) are at least a full year away from contributing. Unless Tejada goes on a tear the last two weeks, the odds are that the Mets will look to add a free agent at short and go with Quintanilla and Justin Turner as backup infielders. One potential target for the Mets could be Stephen Drew, who should be let go as the Boston Red Sox will need a spot for top prospect Xander Bogaerts to play. They may face competition for his services from the Yankees, who could look to pick up a caddy for injured 40 year old Derek Jeter and with Alex Rodriguez facing a steroid suspension.
4. Preserve the Bullpen
One of the pleasant surprises for the Mets this season has been their bullpen, which hasn't been a human gas can like previous years. Bobby Parnell emerged as a capable closer before having his season ended by a neck injury, solving a problem area for the Mets. The Mets also have some capable young arms (Jeurys Familia, Josh Edgin, Vic Black) who could all factor into the equation next season.
The Mets also have some veteran pieces they should strongly consider re-signing. LaTroy Hawkins has had a strong year at age 40 and does not appear to be considering retirement. Hawkins has been a very good influence on the team's young relievers, so if he is willing to return the Mets should bring him back. The Mets could also re-sign one of their veteran lefties, Pedro Feliciano and Tim Byrdak, to provide organizational depth behind Edgin and Scott Rice.
Assuming the Mets keep Parnell, Hawkins, Familia, Edgin, Black, and Rice, the Mets may have most of their bullpen addressed before hitting the market. This group has been one of the few positives for the Mets this season, so it makes sense to keep as many of the pieces together as possible.
5. Spend Money
This may be the most important item on the list. The Mets do not have much help on the horizon in the farm system next season, but they will finally have money to spend in the offseason. The Mets will be done paying Johan Santana and Jason Bay after this season, and they have only 33.5 million dollars committed to payroll at this moment. If you factor in about another 12 million dollars or so for arbitration raises, the Mets would have about 45 million dollars of payroll before even hitting the free agent market.
The Mets have long pointed to 2014 as the year they would make major reinvestments in their major league payroll. Alderson and CEO Jeff Wilpon have both said the Mets have the ability to add money to their payroll next season. If they would like to see fans in the ballpark next season, they need to actually spend the money and not just say they will.
The Mets essentially have played with a small market caliber roster the last three seasons due to a lack of production from players being paid a lot of money. There are options all over the free agent and trade markets to address their needs, but many fans are concerned that the injury to Harvey may give the Mets an excuse to cheap out and punt 2014 as well. If the Mets try and cheap out again, their fans will let them know about it through their wallets.
While the injury to Harvey is a setback, it should not be the only reason the Mets stop trying to improve the ballclub. Alderson indicated he had the resources to make a move last winter, and then sat on his hands and watched impact players sign elsewhere. While he did not feel the contracts these players received were worth it, the Mets will simply have to pay up if they want to attract a free agent hitter to their team. The Mets also should finish with one of the ten worst records in baseball, so they won't have to hide behind the excuse of losing a first round draft pick for signing a premier free agent.
Simply put, Alderson and the Mets need to put up or shut up. The Mets have talked about how this winter they can add pieces to the team if they need them. Their talk is the same as this article, but we don't have the checkbook to make any of these acquisitions happen. The Mets need to put their money where their mouth is, otherwise the fan base will feel deceived and start going to Citi Field even less than they have over the last five years. While Alderson has done a great job reviving the team's farm system, he needs to show he can make the big ticket acquisition to help turn the major league roster into a playoff contender.
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