The New York Mets, with memories of a magical season still fresh in mind, cannot afford to have another normal offseason.
After being on course to have an all too familiar disappointing go-around before a frenzy of trade activity sparked their season to an entirely unexpected World Series berth, expectations are riding high in Flushing. The Mets have a starting pitching staff filled with aces and potential top-of-the-line arms, the window to win is significantly smaller than is often illustrated and the National League East will not remain this watered down forever. Entering 2016 as the heavy favorite in a two-team race with a motivated Washington Nationals club that will look significantly different than the underachieving group we saw in 2015, General Manager Sandy Alderson needs to ensure that his team can comfortably clear the expectation bar when the height has been elevated.
The Mets prepared, and expected, to lose Yoenis Cespedes, the star outfielder that carried New York to its first division title since 2006. A near-perfect rental player for a team that needed a short-term fix, Cespedes is now looking to get paid in free agency and the Mets won’t be writing that check. The team is also bracing itself for the potential loss of Daniel Murphy, the homegrown hitter who finally found both a role and a home with the Mets at second base. David Wright (spinal stenosis) is a giant question mark and impossible to project, and while a full season of blossoming hitter Michael Conforto projects well, a middle of the lineup that includes Conforto, Wright, Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud isn’t exactly Murderer’s Row.
Despite all of the impressive arms on the roster, there are questions on that side of the ball, as well. A dominant—but still inexperienced—starting staff cannot hide a severely flawed bullpen, and the Mets must to address it properly this time around. The emergence of powerhouse closer Jeurys Familia certainly solves the ninth inning, but New York struggled to get him the ball all season, and that has to change going forward. Tyler Clippard’s free agency only helps to complicate the muddied waters, and while Addison Reed proved to be a pleasant surprise and should be retained, there isn’t much else in the pen after that.
A slow start will not be tolerated—much less accepted—by a fan base that finally had its starving hunger fed with the immense success of the 2015 campaign. There will be a lot of anxiety among the Flushing Faithful until they see their team make the kind of move that a contender traditionally does, and that kind of anticipation is appropriate considering the recent spending history of the franchise.
Picking prices instead of players is not going to fly this time around. Signings like John Mayberry, Frank Francisco and other names at discount prices are fine in the right situation, but this team—the National League Pennant winners—is more than just a tweak or two away from getting back on top. The Mets need at least one heavy hitter to add to the middle of the lineup, but it’s unclear where New York is going to find it. Up the middle at shortstop, second base and center field are the only clear question marks, and you don’t usually find a hitter of the caliber the Mets require at any of those positions. When you do, they’re either not available or cost an arm like Matt Harvey’s to acquire. With mounting pressure, without much flexibility and coming off of their best and most memorable season in the last 15 years, New York is under more pressure than any other team this offseason.
The issue with any gamble New York takes is that it has to be a slam-dunk success. Locked into Wright’s massive $138M deal (through 2020) and with looming paydays for the young talent on the roster, another bad investment could sink the Mets’ ship for an extended period of time. Every move has to be carefully calculated.
Richer in prospects than in traditional currency, the Mets are likely to explore the trade market rather than spend lavishly in free agency. That’s an allowable approach so long as New York is willing to throw the dice at the high roller’s table, but they don’t call it gambling because you’re guaranteed success.