By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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If the Mets don’t make one more significant move in the coming months, this offseason will go down as a complete failure.
This team can’t go into Opening Day as is. It’s simply unacceptable.
Let me be perfectly clear about one thing before I make my point: I’m relatively pleased with this roster at the moment. The starting pitching should be brilliant, the bullpen has great potential and the offense is solid. Going around the diamond — aside from shortstop — each position is in stable condition.
Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares are all, if healthy, productive players. And the signing of Michael Cuddyer was a good one, though I believe general manager Sandy Alderson could have made more of an impact had he signed Nelson Cruz or Yasmany Tomas for contracts that ended up being far from outrageous.
Last year the Mets won 79 games. The Pirates and the Giants, the two wild card teams in the National League, won 88. Will a returning Matt Harvey and Cuddyer — who can’t be fully counted on to stay healthy — equal nine more wins? I don’t think so.
And that’s why Alderson must find a shortstop not named Wilmer Flores before the season begins.
I understand the issues that Alderson faces. Above all, there is good reason for the GM to be reluctant to part with Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard. That foursome should be virtually untouchable, unless the perfect deal comes along. Veteran starters Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee don’t appear to have much value right now.
And the market is thin. Real thin.
With Hanley Ramirez off the board, the next best free-agent shortstops are Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Drew. All three players are veterans who have been productive in the majors, but their numbers leave much to be desired. Lowrie hit .249, Cabrera hit .241 and Drew hit .162 in 2014.
Starlin Castro is reportedly unavailable and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has made it clear that he isn’t actively shopping Alexei Ramirez. Troy Tulowitzki can reportedly be had, but it appears that he would cost two of the Mets’ four prized young arms. And does anybody actually believe that the Wilpons would take on the $114 million remaining on Tulo’s contract?
Then there’s power-hitting Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, who CBSSports.com/WFAN baseball insider Jon Heyman says the Mets have interest in. He’s an intriguing option, but he’ll likely be pricey and there’s plenty of uncertainty involved considering his experience is in Korea Professional Baseball.
So yes, Sandy, you face many challenges. But here’s my message to you: Figure it out. Get it done. Any way you can without being foolish. Have to deal Syndergaard for the right bat, even though he might end up being an ace? Do it. Every two days we see another out-of-the-blue trade come to fruition, but the Mets are never involved.
The Mets as presently constituted are likely a .500 club, maybe a couple of games better. Of course, that’s assuming everyone stays healthy and certain players don’t take a step back. That’s not good enough, not when this franchise has recorded six consecutive losing seasons and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006.
If Flores starts the season at shortstop, it will leave this fan base utterly deflated. How could it not leave the players deflated, too? It will be a clear message that this team — STILL — isn’t serious about winning, after all these years and all these empty words about a plan.
Because if the Mets were serious about returning to the postseason they would go out and get a proven shortstop, even if that means taking a bit of a risk or spending a few more dollars.
This isn’t to say that Alderson should trade a top-tier pitcher for any old decent shortstop. I respect this executive’s intelligence and his ability to be patient. But he also has to realize that the Mets are not a playoff team, and upgrading this position is of the utmost importance.
Ruben Tejada is Ruben Tejada. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll win the starting job again. But let’s take a quick look at Flores, for all those who strangely seem content with the possibility of him playing 145 games up the middle.
Not a strong defender, the 23-year-old has a .240 lifetime average with seven homers and a .275 on-base percentage in 105 career games. This is who we’re giving the keys to? Just because he’s been successful in the minors? He’s an unknown, and more likely than not, a liability.
The Amazin’s don’t need Tulowitzki. Well, they do, but they won’t get him. That’s fine. What they DO need is a player who can complement the foundation and make a fairly average offense more dangerous.
The Mets don’t have the talent of the Nationals. And they’re far from a 90-win team. How can they continue to waste this gift of dominant starting pitching? These arms won’t be here forever.
On Monday, Alderson admitted that the Mets’ payroll likely won’t go up, and it may even go down. This is not a surprise. But what can you say to that? How do you react? All you can do is throw your hands up in the air, like you’ve been doing for the past four years.
That’s not Alderson’s fault. It’s not his money. But despite being handcuffed financially by his owners, part of his job description is to be creative and do whatever it takes to make his team more competitive. It’s early, but so far the signs aren’t particularly encouraging. I’m not counting on a slam-dunk acquisition. Are you?
Sure, the Mets will add a bench bat in the coming weeks. They’ll sign or trade for a reliever and let one of their veteran starters go.
But that’s not enough. Alderson needs to operate aggressively and get this club a shortstop.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.
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