By Ernie Palladino
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Sandy Alderson has never sought to win any popularity contests, which is a good thing considering the current emotions flowing through the Mets’ fan base these days.
They’re angry that the total of this winter’s personnel take starts and ends with one Anthony Swarzak, a reliever who has one good year on an eight-year resume. They’re ticked that the farm system is basically devoid of blue-chip pieces that could bring quality via trade.
But mostly, they’re good and PO’ed that Fred and Jeff Wilpon have added to Alderson’s plight with their wish to make $20 million from the middling $159 million payroll of last year’s 92-loss roster disappear.
The fan base wants movement. It’s crying for it. Begging for it.
And yet, that is exactly why Alderson must tread carefully. Those emotions coursing through the cash-paying customers are the same ones that make this a dangerous time for the franchise. Given the Mets’ current state, they can’t afford to throw big money at somebody — dough the Wilpons are reluctant to part with in the first place — and have it go boom.
They’d happily say farewell to Juan Lagares if Alderson sent him to Pittsburgh for Andrew McCutchen, or to a package of people for their second baseman Josh Harrison. They’d cheer if they handed Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas a nice, fat free agent contract, or brought back power-hitting outfielder Jay Bruce.
Just about any glitzy name would do at this point.
But the Mets have to make sure it’s the right name. For all the holes they have in the outfield and second base and the lineup in general, it won’t do them much good if the investment doesn’t work out.
That’s what makes a trade for McCutchen such an iffy proposition. He’s owed $14.5 million for 2018 and will become a free agent after that. He’s two years removed from a five-year streak of All-Star selections and four consecutive Silver Slugger Awards, and is considered by some scouts on the downswing defensively.
He had a nice 2017 season with 28 homers and 88 RBIs, but even a trade for Lagares’ $6.5 million salary would still add $8 million to the payroll.
Besides, Lagares could probably handle center if his health holds up. The real hole is at second, assuming new manager Mickey Callaway is dead set on having Asdrubal Cabrera play third. Getting Harrison would be difficult and, even with Lagares as part of the trade, would still add a couple of million to the payroll. With top starter Gerrit Cole probably headed to the Bronx, the Pirates will probably want a blue-chip pitching prospect, too.
The Mets don’t have that.
Moustakas hit 38 homers for the Royals last year and would allow Cabrera to go to a more natural second base position. But the fear with him is that he’s reached his peak as a hitter. If they’re going to throw money around on a third baseman, they’d probably be better off handing Todd Frazier $15 million per year on a three-year deal.
He did a solid job at the bottom of the Yankees’ lineup after arriving from the White Sox in mid-July, hitting .222 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs. He’s a good fielder and a durable player.
Frazier is also a great clubhouse guy that would fit right in with Callaway’s new-age, Kumbaya sociology.
Thumbs-Down, coming to a Queens ballpark near you.
Just as valuable would be reuniting with Bruce, who rebounded well from his disastrous debut after the 2016 trade from Cincinnati. He would add power and stability in the outfield and at first base, and would be worth a reasonable three-year contract.
Alderson is in a holding pattern right now as he waits for free agent prices to drop. If ownership does open the purse, know that it’s going to expect the most for its money.
That makes for dangerous ground for Alderson. As public pressure builds, so will the temptation to make a public relations splash.
The Mets need much more than that.
Current frustration aside, the fans will be much happier in the end with the right move, and not necessarily the most popular or expensive one.
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