How To Make the 2020 Mets Contenders: Lineup Edition

The 2019 baseball season is essentially over for the New York Mets, barring a true miracle. With a record of 44-51, the Mets would need to win 44-48 of the final 67 games to have any shot at the playoffs, a tall task for a team with as many issues as the Mets. However,  the Mets do have a good enough core to compete with in 2020.

This past offseason the Mets were in a similar situation and rookie General Manager, Brodie Van Wagenen made some bold moves in an attempt to make the Mets contenders.

On paper, it seemed plausible, with solid additions to the lineup and the bullpen. However, at the end of the day the bullpen has become historically bad and the lineup, while potent enough on most nights is extremely challenged defensively. The only regular starters with positive defensive runs saved at their position to this point in the season — according to baseballreference.com — are Todd Frazier and Pete Alonso.

To improve defensively in 2020 the Mets are going to have to get creative in the offseason by dealing some players that are under contract for next season, even if it means eating money to improve roster flexibility. Becoming a better defensive team has to be a top priority for the Mets as their poor defense has cost them time and time again this season.

The Mets will also need to address their bullpen and will likely need to sign two new starting pitchers to replace impending free agents, Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas. However, my objective now is to outline who needs to go and who needs to stay in terms of the Mets’ position players.

Mets Position Players in 2020, As of Now

The Mets are locked up with position players in 2020 and unless the Mets make trades and/or release some players the lineup and bench will look something like this:

  1. CF Nimmo
  2. 3B McNeil
  3. 1B Alonso
  4. LF Cespedes
  5. RF Conforto
  6. 2B Cano
  7. C Ramos
  8. SS Rosario
  9. Pitcher

Bench: Jed Lowrie, Dom Smith, J.D. Davis, Tomas Nido, and an outfield free agent that can play Center Field

If everyone is healthy that would be one of the scariest offensive lineups in the National League with a solid bench as well. However, the Mets would once again have an extremely challenged defensive unit.

Alonso is solid at First Base, and Conforto is solid in Right Field. Beyond that everyone in that lineup is an average-to-below-average defender with Dom Smith and Tomas Nido being the only plus defenders off the bench.

To improve this defensive situation the Mets will have to move on from some players in their starting lineup and their bench.

Who’s Gotta Go

It will be important for Brodie Van Wagenen to admit to some of his mistakes from the previous offseason, with the biggest mistake being signing his former client Jed Lowrie. Listen, on its face, the deal wasn’t awful, Lowrie was coming off two consecutive great seasons with the Athletics playing 150+ games in each season.

However, the 35-year-old has not appeared in a single game for the Mets this season, and it seems more than likely that he won’t appear in any game until September at the earliest. Lowrie is due 11.5 million dollars next season —according to spotrac— and Van Wagenen needs to find a way to get rid of most, if not all, of that contract by trading him to a team willing to take on his salary.

If no team wants to take on his contract, it will be within the team’s best interest to cut him loose.

The reason this is necessary isn’t just because of his injury problems and advanced age, but because there is nowhere for him to play. McNeil will need to play Third Base next season because Cespedes will finally return to the team and will start in left most nights, and Robinson Cano has second base locked up, even if he doesn’t deserve it.

The next to go has to be Amed Rosario. However, he doesn’t need to be traded, he just can’t be the teams starting shortstop. When Rosario first came up the belief was that he could be a gold glove shortstop and a perennial All-Star. While Rosario struggled to hit his rookie season he was pretty smooth in the field. Unfortunately, he has actually gotten progressively worse at the position as time has gone on.

While he has improved offensively, it hasn’t been enough to make you look the other way. He is has a solid slash line of .274/.313/.448 with 10 home runs and 45 R.B.I’s. He has been pretty consistent throughout the year, but his on-base percentage is too low and with bad defense at one of the most important positions the output simply isn’t enough.

There has been talk of the Mets moving Rosario to Center Field to see if his explosive speed and solid arm can play better out there. That experiment will likely take place after the trade deadline when the Mets likely trade Todd Frazier and move McNeil to Third Base, which would allow for Conforto to move back to Right Field, and give Rosario plenty of time to play Center Field.

If the experiment goes well that’s great, but it would only generate more questions for the 2020 Mets with Conforto, Cespedes, and Nimmo needing consistent at-bats in the outfield. The Mets need to decide, is Rosario a vital part of their future? Can he be a good bench piece that plays semi-regularly, splitting time in the outfield and at Shortstop? Or is his value best suited a trade chip to bring back something different to the team?

I think the Mets should sign a player like Jose Iglesias, who is a wizard with the glove at Short, and move Rosario to the bench as the backup Shortstop, who plays Center Field from time-to-time as well.

Finally, I would move on from Wilson Ramos. The man can hit and that’s something that the team hasn’t had from a catcher since Paul Lo Duca. Unfortunately, it is obvious that he isn’t a good defensive catcher and has cost the Mets runs too many times to count due to his inability to block pitches in the dirt. The team’s ace starter Jacob deGrom and second-best pitcher Noah Syndergaard don’t even feel comfortable throwing to him, making that offense a moot point.

Ramos is due 10.25 million dollars next season according to spotrac, but if a team is looking for an offensive-minded catcher Wilson Ramos is the perfect player. An American League team would be a perfect fit for the veteran catcher as he could split time behind the plate and at DH.

To replace Ramos the Mets can take another shot at Yasmani Grandal who is a great offensive catcher and is solid defensively, or they can go after a guy like Martin Maldonado to pair with Tomas Nido, providing the Mets with two strong defensive backstops that don’t produce much at the plate.

Making these three adjustments will give the Mets some roster flexibility to bring in strong defensive players at Shortstop and behind the plate while not really impacting the lineup much.

Another player I would like the Mets to get rid of is Yoenis Cespedes, but it just won’t be possible. However, I am going to discuss it anyway.

Although he is a force at the plate, he has not been healthy for a full season since 2016 and teams won’t know what to expect from him if they did trade for him. Combine that with his full no-trade clause and nearly 30 million dollar salary in 2020 and you get a player that is impossible to trade. So, unless the Mets eat 95% of that contract in a trade, or cut the injury-prone veteran entirely, he’s not going anywhere.

Cutting Lowrie’s contract would already be a hard pill to swallow, cutting Cespedes simply wouldn’t happen.

Getting rid of Cespedes would allow the Mets to move Nimmo to Left Field full-time and go after a legitimate Center Fielder in a trade, go after Starling Marte in free agency, the only legitimate Center Fielder available next offseason, and/or move Rosario out there if he proves to be a solid defensive option.

Who’s Gotta Stay

For the first time since Jose Reyes and David Wright came up together, the Mets finally have some young offensive weapons that they can build around. Although Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil aren’t 21 like Reyes and Wright were, they are both younger than 27 and are legitimate talents that should be untouchable.

Jeff McNeil is the most impressive pure hitter that I have ever seen on a consistent basis, and he isn’t getting lucky either. In 142 major league games, he has an extremely impressive stat line of .342./.398/.496 with 11 home runs and 57 R.B.I’s. This season he is hitting a cool .350 and has been a great leadoff hitter.

Pete Alonso is the best all-around hitter the Mets have had since Yoenis Cespedes was healthy in 2016. He is just a scary guy at the plate because he’s not just an all or nothing hitter, he goes up there with a plan, a solid knowledge of the strike zone, and he is great in R.B.I situations. He is hitting .270 with 31 home runs and 71 R.B.I’s in just 94 games and is likely going to win the Rookie of the Year award

Joining Alonso and McNeil in that conversation is Michael Conforto, who isn’t quite as good as it seemed he would be when he came up as a 22-year-old in 2015, but is still an All-Star caliber player. Conforto struggles to stay consistent and is known for his hot and cold streaks, but he is still a very talented hitter with a sweet swing and he can handle right field pretty well.

Those three are the young core that shouldn’t be touched even if the Mets decide to fully blow this up and start from scratch. One other guy that could enter that group is Brandon Nimmo.

Nimmo broke out in a big way last season after impressing in half a season in 2017. He was the Mets best all-around player in 2018 with a slash line of .263/.404/.483 17 home runs and 47 R.B.I’s. It seemed like he was the leadoff hitter of the future.

This year, however, he hurt his neck early in April and was trying to play through it, which obviously impacted his performance. He was hitting just .200 through 43 games before hitting the injured list, where he has been since May with a bulging disc in his neck. He recently began ramping up baseball activities and could return to Major League action by early August.

Once healthy, Nimmo will have about 40 games to prove he is a piece of the future, if he does that then the Mets are pretty well set up offensively as Nimmo, McNeil, Alonso, and Conforto is a pretty scary core of a lineup and could conceivably be 1-4 in the lineup in 2020.

The other two players that I think gotta stay are Dom Smith and J.D. Davis. I know most people think it is just a matter of time before Smith gets dealt, I think that would be a mistake. I understand the reasoning of moving him, Alonso has First Base locked down for the next half-decade and that is Smith’s natural position.

However, I believe in having proper protection for injuries, hopefully, Alonso never goes down long-term, but if he does, wouldn’t it be nice to have a smooth fielding First Baseman, who has also proved he can hit to replace him? Smith is hitting .294 with an on-base percentage over .370, and he has hit nine home runs in just 153 at-bats. He also has been a great pinch-hitter and has actually proven to be a solid left fielder.

Bottom line is that he brings versatility to a team that could use it, not to mention he’s only 24, and there could be a DH in the National league in 2021. I just think that the Mets should ensure they are getting proper compensation for Smith before they move him for a young arm that “could be a back-end reliever one day” and he becomes a borderline All-Star.

As for J.D. Davis, he was a great acquisition by the Front Office this past offseason. He and Dom Smith have formed a dynamic duo off the bench, filling in very well for injured players, and producing as pinch-hitters.

Davis had big shoes to fill, replacing Wilmer Flores as the left-handed killer off the bench, but he has done extremely well filling that role. He has a slash line of .276/.342/.457 while hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs in 210 at-bats. Defensively he isn’t anything special, but he can play the corners in the outfield and on the infield. He is also only 24 years old.

The Mets should build around these six youngsters with solid fielders and accomplished veterans, that would be a recipe for success, if you ask me.

My 2020 Mets

If the Mets follow everything I said their lineup and bench will look something like this:

  1. LF Nimmo
  2. 3B McNeil
  3. 1B Alonso
  4. CF Marte
  5. RF Conforto
  6. 2B Cano
  7. SS Iglesias
  8. C Maldonado
  9. Pitcher

Bench: Smith, Davis, Rosario, Nido, and a defensive-minded Center Fielder.

That lineup would be just as potent as this year’s team, which is right in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive production, but it would have elite defenders behind the plate and at Shortstop with average-to-above-average outfielders at all three positions. That will help with run prevention and allow the pitching staff to feel more comfortable pitching to contact.

Depending on the ability to move the contracts of Cespedes, Lowrie, and Ramos this could be a fairly cheap option for the Mets. The trio is due a combined 51.25 million dollars.

To sign Iglesias, Maldonado, and Marte it would cost the team around 22 million dollars, 15 million for Marte, and 3.5 million each for Iglesias and Maldonado. So, the team should make it their goal to get rid of at least that much of contract from Cespedes, Lowrie, and Ramos.

It is easier said than done, but for the Mets to improve as a whole Brodie Van Wagenen and his Front Office will need to get creative. Time will tell how creative they can be.

July 18, 2019

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