I expect the Mets to spend the winter looking for a utility infielder that can play some third base, a proven set-up man and a center fielder that can hit left-handed pitching to platoon with Juan Lagares. In an ideal world, they also acquire a 150-game shortstop, which would temporarily move Wilmer Flores to second base, but that will prove a difficult trick to turn.
Here is what may be available to them, based on published reports, rumors, and conversations I've had the last few days with MLB insiders and experts…
The Mets will talk with free-agent SS Ian Desmond. But, if he insists on a deal of at least five years, my guess is they will pass and again explore the trade market. I'm sure they'll ask the Blue Jays about Ryan Goins, the Royals about Raul Mondesi and the Reds about Zack Cozart. And, of course, the Rangers will again shop Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus. Plus, the Cubs still have Starlin Castro and Javier Baez. I also heard last summer the Mets expressed interest in Braves SS Andrelton Simmons. Tigers SS Jose Iglesias and Marlins SSAdeiny Hechavarria were also reportedly available.
The point is, there are options, but they'll almost all cost at least one top pitcher, if they even get moved at all. And, if all else fails, they can revisit free-agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Alexei Ramirezand Jimmy Rollins, though - at that point - I assume they'd again go with Wilmer.
I bet they target Denard Span, Dexter Fowler and Gerardo Parra, as Newsday's Marc Carig mentioned earlier this week. Span had an injury-riddled season in 2015 and he'll be 32-years-old, but he had 11 stolen bases in 11 attempts last season to go along with a .365 OBP and he led the NL in hits in 2014. The Nationals didn't give him a qualifying offer, so he won't cost a draft pick. He can be a leadoff hitter and letCurtis Granderson return to the middle of the order, while also helping to move the lineup along. The Royals, Yankees, Orioles and Angels will all look to bring him in too, so the competition will be steep. Fowler is a nice option as well. He'd improve the outfield defense, he's patient at the plate and has more power than Span.
Fowler, Span and Parra will all be looking for contracts in the three- to-five-year range, so they're all realistic options. In the event Sandy Alderson wants to explore a trade, I suggest he contact the Red Sox, who insiders believe are open to dealing Jackie Bradley, Jr. In time, expect to also hear rumors connecting them to D-Backs OF Ender Inciarte and Rockies CF Charlie Blackmon.
Free-agent RHP Darren O'Day would be ideal, but there are reportedly a lot of teams going after him, as would Tony Sipp or Marco Estrada. O'Day knows this market because he briefly pitched for the Mets a few seasons ago, plus he was 6-2 with a 1.52 ERA and recorded six saves for Baltimore last season. He's probably worth a two-year deal, but I bet he ends up with the team that offers him a three-year guarantee.
Free-agent RHP Joakim Soria fits the mark as well, but may also cost a three-year contract. If the Mets don't get O'Day, they probably won't pick anyone up until late December or January. After that, instead of signing a marquee player, they'll likely take on anyone that will accept a minor-league deal and compete for a spot in spring training, including their own Jerry Blevins orVic Black, both of whom are free agents this winter.
They can call the Padres about Craig Kimbrel, and the Reds about Aroldis Chapman, but I don't think Alderson is willing to give up what will be needed to make those trades. Lastly, I have not heard the Mets connected to Cuban free-agent middle reliever Yasiel Sierra, but they should be…
It appears I'll again be writing a lot about Ben Zobrist, because he seems like a perfect fit. He made incredible contact last season, as you know, and showed his most power in recent memory. He can play middle infield, some outfield and third base. The thing is, he's a perfect fit for almost any team, especially the Yankees and the Royals, with whom he just won a World Series. He's going to get a lot of three-year offers, but I bet he signs with the team that guarantees him a fourth season.
The Mets could also bring back free-agent Kelly Johnson, who did a nice job after they acquired him last summer.
Realistic Trade Chip
Juan Lagares and Zack Wheeler are Alderson's primary trade chips. Obviously,Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz will get him whatever he wants, but I don't think he has any intention of trading them. Jon Niese andWilmer Flores can be part of a deal, but they're not the opening act. Brandon Nimmo has value, but he's still only the No. 71 overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. Matt Reynolds, Gavin Cecchini and Gabriel Ynoa are nice players, but they're throw ins right now, not guys Alderson can build a deal around for a legit, help-now player. And, yes, scouts loveAmed Rosario, but so do the Mets, which means he isn't going anywhere. In the end, if Alderson insists on keeping Harvey, Syndergaard, Matz, deGrom and Michael Conforto, he isn't getting a top-flight player back in a trade. However, Lagares, Wheeler, Flores, Niese and Nimmo may be able to combine for something useful, especially if the player is making money that the other team is looking to shed.
My Plan A
I'm still working on it. I'm trying to create two versions. The first will be based on a reality where the Mets keep payroll around $110 million or so, and continue to offer only short-term contracts. The other, for fun, will be based on a different reality, where the Mets pop payroll and give out a mega deal or two. I hope to have this completed by the weekend. In the meantime, I hope the above helps with your mock GM'ing… Happy Hot Stove!