Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Mets Working on Filling Out the Roster

Since I last wrote here, the Mets signed another not-very-exciting bench player, infielder Jonathan Villar. As with the signing of Albert Almora, who also didn't cause goosebumps to appear when I heard of his signing, this looks like a solid addition to the team's bench. I know some folks get frustrated by moves like this, but I like it so much more than the sort of Quad-A ballplayers the Mets used to build their bench in previous years — think John MayberryDaniel MunoEric Campbell, Ty Kelly, and the like. Sure, there's a reason no one signed Almora and Villar to be starting players for their teams, but they both have some upside and some decent talents.

Villar, in particular, was an above-average contributor as the Orioles' second baseman in 2019. He's got some speed, too, with over 200 stolen bases in his career. He can play shortstop, third base, and a little outfield. He's also a switch hitter. That's a lot of versatility for a team's bench. He wasn't great last year, but he'll only be 30 this season, so he should have something left in the tank. While I'd be surprised to see Alberto Almora be anything more than an occasional starter and defensive replacement, I wouldn't be shocked to see Villar get more playing time than that if he hits. Although he's no Gold Glove defender, either, he could be in the mix for third base if J.D. Davis doesn't bounce back offensively.

I'm still hoping to see the Mets make a more significant addition than Almora and Villar, of course. I'd be disappointed if the team that was willing to spend $40 million on the problematic Trevor Bauer contented itself with shopping at Dollar General for the remainder of their personnel additions this winter. While everyone loves a good bargain, it's not the same rush you get out of investing in something of quality. I still believe there's a chance of a significant signing or trade before the month is out. It always takes two to tango, of course, but I think the Mets are still in a place where they can significantly enhance their chance of being a real playoff contender by adding one more good player.

Of course, there's also the possibility that the only moves that the Mets will make between now and the start of the season are adding more players of the caliber of Villar and Almora, along with some even less exciting minor league signings with invites to camp. If that's the case, Steve Cohen would do well to keep that Twitter account inactive. I don't think the Mets did a bad job this offseason, but I understand many fans were expecting more.

As the club is structured now, my biggest worries are catching depth, the fifth starter, and the bullpen. I'm not sure what they could do at this point to address the catching depth. I went to Spotrac and looked at the free agent catchers still available, and to say the list didn't excite would be an understatement. Some of the names have appeared in a Mets uniform previously: Robinson ChirinosRene RiveraJosh Thole, and Juan Centeno. Seeing Thole on that list piqued my interest (strictly nostalgia, I confess), but he hasn't even played in the majors since 2016. Other names on the list include Tyler FlowersMatt Wieters, and Jose Lobaton. They're all guys who you might try to lure into training camp with a minor league contract and an invite, but none of these names look like great choices for even a backup job. One intriguing name (literally) is Tuffy Gosewisch, who spent some time in the majors with Arizona and Seattle. Not that he was a good major leaguer, and he hasn't played in MLB since 2017, but you have to love that name for a catcher.

As things currently stand, the primary candidates for fourth and fifth starters are David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi. Seth Lugo and Sam McWilliams, the pitcher they signed to a major league deal based on a breakout at the Rays' alternate facility last year, might be in this mix, depending on whether the club sees them as starters or relievers. New pickup Jordan YamamotoThomas SzapuckiFranklyn KilomeCorey Oswalt, and Robert Gsellman could well be in that mix. Both Kilome and Oswalt are out of minor league options. Unless they stick on the 26-man roster all year, they're likely to depart. Yamamoto and Szapucki have options remaining and are likely to be assigned to Triple-A or the alternate site, depending on whether a minor league season is underway.

Jake Arrieta is one starting pitcher who's rumored to be on the club's radar. I don't see any harm in bringing him into camp as long as they don't guarantee him a job. He's had problems staying healthy and is not the pitcher he was in 2015 and 2016, but he was decent for the Phillies in 2018. As a candidate for the #4 or 5 starter, he seems well worth an invite to camp. Enough pitchers are competing for those last two rotation slots that Arrieta would be a decent play on a contract loaded with incentives. Noah Syndergaard's impending return would make getting even a solid half-season out of Arietta valuable.

The bullpen is always going to be a concern for any team that views itself as a contender. I do like the numbers the Mets have accumulated as bullpen arms. I think Seth Lugo should go back to being a reliever, where he offers the club the twin values of being able to pitch longer than an inning and serving as some insurance to Edwin Díaz imploding. I'm looking forward to seeing McWilliams in camp. While all I know about him is what I've been able to read, he sounds like he could be in the mix for late-inning relief. Given that he's been primarily a starter in the minor leagues, perhaps he can be someone the Mets utilize in a multi-inning role, also.

Assuming that the Mets cannot find takers for Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances — and seriously, why would any team want to take on those contracts? — I would hope the Mets would work hard with both pitchers in camp to recover some value from their once-talented right arms. If they continue to pitch as poorly as they did last year, however, I don't want to see something we came to expect from the Wilpon Mets: guys with big contracts being run out into games time after time, long after it's become clear they have nothing to offer. If Familia and/or Betances can't even pitch at the level of a reliable middle-inning reliever, let's just send them on their way and give someone else a shot, please. The money is already spent — for good or bad — and allowing non-performing ballplayers to sink a team's chances is just piling stupid onto previously stupid.

I assume that the Mets will probably sign one or more relief candidates in the next week or two, but they'll be depth signings rather than press conference-worthy additions. If you look at the list of still-available relievers at Spotrac, you'll find some names who might intrigue you, but none that seem like slam dunks. There's a solid nucleus of a bullpen already in place if things break the Mets' way, and relievers are also relatively easy to acquire at the trade deadline.

I'm sure the Mets are still in talks with other teams on possible trades, and I wouldn't discount the possibility. Kris Bryant rumors have floated around all winter. My personal opinion is that if a trade was going to happen, it would have happened already, but you never know. I don't think the Cubs want to be seen as dumping another salary when their division is still so weak, and I don't believe the Mets should go crazy for a one-year rental of Bryant. It's rumored the Cubs have asked for top prospect Francisco Alvarez. That should absolutely be a non-starter. I know he's just a kid, but look at the list of available catchers I linked to above and convince me it's a good idea to trade one of the best catching prospects in baseball away for a rental. No thanks.

While it's possible the Cubs will settle for less to save money, I think they have to be careful not to alienate their fans any more than they already have this offseason. Even an owner as clueless as Tom Ricketts has to realize there are diminishing returns for banking cash when it hurts your brand.

Finally, MLB has announced its health and safety protocols for the upcoming season, and there will be no 28-men rosters like we had in 2020. Because of that, I believe it will be of key importance this year to have some flexibility with your pitching staff. Having pitchers — especially relievers — with minor league options is going to be crucial. With 26-man rosters and pitchers coming off a weirdly truncated season, having guys you can shuttle back and forth between the alternate site/Triple-A and your major league roster is going to be a key strategy in keeping valuable arms healthy.

As I mentioned previously, Franklyn Kilome and Corey Oswalt are out of options. Unless one or both take a huge step forward, they will likely be waived or traded at some point. The Mets did a pretty good job of accumulating some guys with options remaining — Yamamoto, Peterson, Lucchesi, Szapucki,  Gsellman, and McWilliams could be candidates for that, depending on how the season plays out. It's important to have this sort of flexibility, so you don't wind up where Brodie Van Wagenen did last year, bleeding away viable arms every time he had to make a roster move.

That will do it for me today. Had a busy few days, but I should be back to posting more consistently again. Please stay safe, be well and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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