The 2019 Mets: A Defensive-Minded Team

The last time I wrote about the Mets I laid out the three options the Mets would have this offseason to build a team going into the 2019 season. They could go all out and get a few big guns headed by Manny Machado, spend a good amount by still getting Machado, but not much else besides bullpen arms, or just fill holes with solid players and hope the pitching can carry.

One of those three options will likely be chosen by the Mets Front Office this offseason, but I am going to lay out one possibility that actually makes sense financially for the Mets and for a team built on starting pitching.

For years the Mets, under Sandy Alderson, have tried to win on the backs of pitching and power with little else meaning much. In theory, it makes sense if you can hit one three-run homer in a game but get 6-7 strong innings from your starter on a nightly basis you have a good chance to win 90+ games when you have a starting staff like the Mets do. (The 2015 Mets did this very well in the second half of the season)

However, one thing that Sandy doesn’t care about actually would make more sense to partner with elite pitching instead of power, and that is defense. The Mets are not odds-on favorites to sign Machado and besides him, there are not many lineup-changing players in the free agency pool, so instead of trying to get power guys and plugging them in spots where they aren’t comfortable defensively, the Mets should sign elite defenders.

This offseason the Mets will have holes in the bullpen, on the bench, behind the plate, and at second base, with the outfield being a place they may want to shake up as well.

As of now, the Mets have these players penciled into next years roster on the offensive side: Catcher: Kevin Plawecki, 1st: a mix of Peter Alonso, Wilmer Flores, and Jay Bruce (maybe Dom Smith as well), 2nd: Jeff McNeil and TJ Rivera, 3rd: Todd Frazier and TJ Rivera (maybe David Wright, probably not) Short: Amed Rosario, OF: Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Jay Bruce and Juan Lagares (Yoenis Cespedes when his heals are 100%).

The team can carry 13 position players, which means this list of 12 only has room for one more player, a catcher to platoon/backup Plawecki.

That was a list of 12 players that are likely to make the opening day roster next season, but nothing is guaranteed. McNeil, Alonso, and Rivera could all start the season in the minors and everyone else on that list could be traded during the offseason.

One thing is for sure, essentially everyone on that list is a poor defender. the only plus defenders on that list are Juan Lagares and Todd Frazier with Nimmo and Conforto being above average corner outfielders but not center fielders.

The Mets simply cannot rely on McNeil and Rivera at 2nd even if they can hit, and they can’t have Rosario as the only real shortstop on the roster, the days of Wilmer Flores at short are over for a reason.

Plawecki is a solid catcher but not good enough defensively or offensively to carry the load behind the plate throughout the season, he needs a partner whether it be Mesoraco again or someone else.

Lagares is an elite defender but his ability to stay healthy and be a decent producer on offense makes it hard for the Mets to expect 120+ games from him.

The bottom line is that the Mets need to sign two defensively elite middle infielders, one that can handle third base, a strong defensive minded catcher to platoon with Plawecki, and possibly another center fielder, which would allow Conforto and Nimmo to stay in the corner outfield positions and give the Mets a true center fielder to team with Lagares or handle the position if Lagares gets hurt, again.

Like I said, as of now the Mets have 12 guys that are likely going to be on next years opening day roster, but 3 of those guys can start the season in the minor leagues, which would give the Mets depth that they simply have not had the past few years.

To make this team elite defensively I would plan to start the season with two of Rivera, Alonso, and McNeil in the minor leagues and I would bring in 4 players that fill the positions I mentioned above.

To start, I would sign veteran second baseman DJ LeMehieu. LeMehieu is arguably the best second baseman in the NL with leadership qualities similar to David Wright and a bat similar to a young Daniel Murphy from the right side of the plate.

LeMehieu has a bit of pop in his bat but not much, he hits a good amount of extra bases, doesn’t strike out much and doesn’t take too many walks. His defense alone makes him worthy of a roster spot on the 2019 Mets and he isn’t an above average hitter because of Coors Field, he has hit a respectable .267 in away games throughout his career with more home runs on the road than in Colorado. His offense would be lower than that of Asdrubal Cabrera’s, but his defense would be 3x better.

To sign LeMehieu it would probably cost the Mets a 2 year deal worth 18-20 million with an option for a 3rd year, not much more than they spent on Cabrera in 2016.

Next, I would sign Freddy Galvis. Galvis is an elite shortstop that is an above average defender at second base and has some experience at the hot corner as well. Galvis is a former Philly that has spent this season in San Diego as the starting shortstop. He has essentially been an everyday player the past 4 seasons almost exclusively at short, but I would pay him as a starter to be a utility man off the bench that starts a few games a week, moving around the diamond, playing second, short, and third.

Galvis is not a terrible offensive player, but he doesn’t turn many heads either. He has a career line of .243/.288/.370. He averages 10-15 homers per season along with just about 30 other extra-base hits. Similar to LeMehieu he would improve the team’s defense immensely and could definitely help Rosario unlock some of the defensive potential he has.

His defense alone is why I think he would be a great utility player that would start if Frazier, LeMehieu, or Rosario went on the DL. To sign the soon to be 29-year-old the Mets will probably need to give him a 3 year 30 million dollar deal.

It is a bit expensive for a utility player, but as the Mets have experienced the past few seasons injuries occur and it is better to have a guy like Galvis on the back burner instead of a no-name minor leaguer should an infielder get hurt.

After Galvis, I would turn my attention to catcher. This position is the hardest one to fill on the open market, but the Mets shouldn’t be looking for a star, just a defensive guy. I would be okay if the Mets brought back Devin Mesoraco but let’s say they sign the best defensive catcher on the market instead. That Catcher is Martin Maldonado.

Maldonado’s stats offensively are brutal. He doesn’t bring much to the plate at all. He is a .220 hitter with little pop in his bat. However, he is one of the best defensive catchers in the game that has been a platoon player his entire career. His defense is exactly what the Mets need to help guys like Syndergaard and Matz control the running game. To sign Maldonado the Mets would have to give him something similar a 1 year 4.5 million dollar deal.

Finally, to close out the Mets offseason in the position player market I would bring in an above average center fielder to pair with Lagares or to have the job straight out. There is only one center fielder worth spending big money on and that is AJ Pollock, however, he is going to be 31 and is more injury prone than Lagares. Pollock is a former gold glover that is an All-Star when he stays healthy, but he hasn’t done that since 2015. If the Mets were to take a gamble on him I wouldn’t be against it but I would like them to go in a cheaper direction.

I think they should resign Austin Jackson. The Mets picked up the veteran outfielder about a month ago and he has raked in a Mets uniform. I know that won’t continue, but he’s still a slightly above average center fielder that could split time with Lagares and even start the majority of the time out there if necessary. Jackson is also known as a leader in the clubhouse, which is always welcomed.

To sign Jackson the Mets would only need to give him a 1-year deal worth 2-3 million dollars. It is worth doing to give the Mets another solid legitimate center fielder and round out the roster with a competent bat.

These four signings would fill out the Major League roster with great defensive players from a grand total of just 28 million dollars, which is less than the money coming off the books for the Mets this offseason. The Mets have about 40 million dollars that will come off the books after this season with possibly another 15 on top of that if David Wright retires, which seems possible.

Players get raises through arbitration and backloaded contracts, so the 12 million dollar difference will be put towards things like that. However, with those four signings, the Mets really only need to sign 2 top level relievers to round out their roster.

A team built on defense and pitching may not be the most appealing thing to do on paper, but it might be the best course of action for the Mets considering the owners refuse to spend big and the Mets have to change the way they construct their roster.

Let’s take a quick look at how the Mets lineup would look if they signed those four players:

  1. RF Nimmo
  2. 2B LeMehieu
  3. LF Conforto
  4. 1B Bruce
  5. 3B Frazier
  6. C Plawecki/Maldonado
  7. SS Rosario
  8. CF Lagares
  9. Pitcher

The lineup is nothing crazy, but if Conforto, Bruce, and Frazier have comeback years it could be a competent bunch. The more exciting thing to me is the team’s bench which would look something like this: Galvis, Maldonado/Plawecki, Jackson, Flores, and one of the following Rivera, Wright, Alonso, Smith, or McNeil.

That bench has competent bats and solid gloves. This version of the 2019 Mets would be an above average defensive team at every position besides first base, which becomes an easier position when the other three players on the infield can dominate their position. In this scenario, we should expect to see Jackson, Flores, and Galvis to start 3-4 games per week while pinch hitting every other night. These guys playing semi-regularly would keep aging players Bruce, LeMehieu, and Frazier fresh while giving the young Rosario regular mental breaks.

I’m always a glass half full type of guy, so this team might actually stink, but If deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, and Wheeler stay healthy and the Mets spend big on the bullpen I think this team, that would be a middle of the pack offensive unit but a defensive juggernaut, could win close to 90 games. Most importantly, the team would have legitimate depth. Like I said 3 major league players would start the season in the minors and Cespedes should be able to return by June.

If the Mets were to go in this direction I would be a happy guy. And before you say defense doesn’t matter take a look at the defensive metrics by team on Fangraphs. According to the website that tracks advanced data on defense the Mets have the worst overall defense this season and they are ranked third worst in defensive runs saved.

Now, you could argue that good defense doesn’t lead to playoff contention, but of the top 10 best defenses, according to Fangraphs, 7 are in playoff contention and only 1 team has a worse record than the Mets. If you want to look strictly at defensive runs saved 7 of the top 10 teams are in playoff contention and 9 of 10 are 1 game under .500 or better. So, elite defense is likely going to propel your team to a shot at the playoffs.

Now let’s add to this by showing you that elite starting pitching will put your team in playoff contention. The 5 teams with the best starting pitching are in playoff contention (the team 6th on that list are the Mets). Of those 5 teams 2 are top 10 in defense according to Fangraphs.

The final argument against this construction of the Mets offense would be that they couldn’t score enough runs, well to that I say we already don’t with the players we have now. This team could score a similar amount of runs as the 2018 Mets, but with an improved bullpen and elite defense it would be enough more often than not.

August 22, 2018

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