The Mets used the Winter Meetings and the days that followed to revamp the pitching staff and shore up the outfield. The club’s projected payroll will be around $350 million and with luxury tax penalties it will go above $400 million.
But the Mets aren’t done yet. They can’t stop now considering the lack of outfield depth, and there is still an argument to be made for adding another home run hitter to the lineup.
Getting Brandon Nimmo back solved the center field problem but the Mets still only have three outfielders under contract for next season. Jeff McNeil could be considered the fourth but he’s primarily an infielder. This doesn’t leave any room for error or injuries.
The club had hoped Jake Mangum would compete for that fifth outfield spot in spring training after he was passed on in the Rule 5 Draft last week, but shortly after the completion of the draft, he was sent to the Miami Marlins as the player to be named later in the Jeff Brigham-Elieser Hernandez trade.
The Mets could kill two birds with one stone by bringing in a power-hitting outfielder. However, it’s far more likely they will bring in a defensive outfielder and address the power internally with top prospect Francisco Alvarez.
Following the end of the season, general manager Billy Eppler sort of demurred on the question of whether or not the Mets needed more power in the lineup. It’s clear he views on-base percentage as a priority and noted the club’s strong on-base numbers in 2022. The Mets had the second-highest on-base percentage in the league last season (.332), right behind the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers, and the sixth-highest OPS (.744).
But the lineup only hit 117 home runs, tied for 15th with the Baltimore Orioles. Statistics have shown that the teams that hit the most home runs tend to do the best in the postseason.
When asked about the lack of home runs during Winter Meetings, Eppler still continued to stress offensive balance.
“If the overall production is there, that’s what matters at the end of the day,” Eppler said last week in San Diego. “You can place some arguments on, should you try to hit the three-pointer? I prefer ways where you can beat teams, whether you beat them through contact, maybe you beat them through some speed and baserunning element, or you can beat them through power. I kind of like to serve all of those if possible and really create balance because you never know who you’re going to face on a particular day and the venues that you’re going to play in can change.
“Sometimes those certain characteristics can be enhanced in certain venues or they can get mitigated in certain venues. I think balance is kind of the way I like to travel the most.”
Whether it be balance or power, the Mets do have some options.
They could sign free agent slugger J.D. Martinez. Having not played in the outfield at all in 2022, the 35-year-old Martinez is primarily a DH at this point in his career, but could still spell someone like Mark Canha in left field on occasion. This would be similar to the way the Yankees use Giancarlo Stanton.
If the club wants to go younger, they could see what Michael Conforto has left in the tank. Conforto did not play last season, going unsigned last winter and suffering a right shoulder injury during offseason training in January. The Mets’ first pick in the 2014 MLB Draft underwent his second shoulder surgery last year, this time on his throwing shoulder. Conforto previously had his left shoulder operated on in 2017 after dislocating it during an at-bat late in the season.
The current DH tandem is Daniel Vogelbach and Darin Ruf. The former has good numbers against righties but not against lefties and the latter was acquired to hit lefties but posted dismal numbers after being traded to the Mets. The club could look to unload Ruf in search of outfield help and use Alvarez as the primary DH against left-handed pitching.
But for what it’s worth, Martinez, a right-handed hitter, has a career average of .306 against left-handers and a .957 OPS with 87 home runs. It might not be a bad idea to sign him to a one-year contract while Alvarez continues to develop.
There is also the possibility of trading catcher James McCann and possibly even right-handed starter Carlos Carrasco in the search for outfield help. David Peterson and Tylor Megill could compete for the No. 5 starter spot in spring training. But Eppler values starting pitching depth, knowing injuries will take their toll throughout the season, so trading McCann makes more sense.
The one argument for keeping McCann could be that he has familiarity working with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, having played with both of them on the Detroit Tigers. Bringing Alvarez up slowly on the catching side is preferable in order to prevent overloading their most important young prospect at the big league level.
But if trading McCann and eating some of the $24 million left on his contract is what it takes, then the Mets might be apt to do it.
There are several ways the Mets could address the last two items on their to-do list this winter. It’s been a busy winter already and it’s only going to get busier.