By Brad Kallet
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As I’ve written many times over the past month, this offseason has been a successful one for the Mets. They retained their two big fish: Neil Walker, a talented switch-hitter who has a ton of pop for a middle infielder, and Yoenis Cespedes, the anchor of the team and one of the most dynamic players in the league.
Everything from this point forward is gravy.
But now that the Winter Meetings are over, and the market is at a bit of a standstill, general manager Sandy Alderson has to seriously consider taking this club to the next level. The Mets should be better than they were last year, considering they can’t possibly be as injury-ravaged in 2017 as they were in 2016. As it stands right now, the Nationals still look like a more dangerous team on paper, albeit slightly.
The Mets’ starting rotation, if healthy, should be one of the best in baseball. The bullpen is strong but, as we know, and as Alderson has made clear, it needs improvement. And the offense is strong– expect a lot of home runs to fly out of Citi Field once again — but it lacks balance and is too all or nothing.
Though the depth chart is pretty much complete at the moment, there is certainly room to add more punch to a lineup that could use it. Looking at the remaining crop of free agents, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo stand out as the most attractive options still available.
It would have been nonsensical to consider going after one of these two sluggers two or three months ago, but the idea at this moment doesn’t seem so radical. On the contrary, it’s becoming more and more logical, and perhaps even feasible.
It appears that the market has dried up a bit for the two respective sluggers. That could change, of course, and there is perhaps plenty that we don’t know, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that Trumbo and Encarnacion are not getting the high-priced offers that they presumed they would.
This is where Alderson tends to work his magic (See: Cespedes, Yoenis; January 2016). Alderson knows how to work the market, especially when it comes down to the wire, and he might just be able to snag one of these two premier power hitters at a bargain.
There will be two major questions, of course, if it’s fortunate enough to come to that. Does he have interest in either of them, and can the organization afford it, even at a discount?
First, the matter of want. Yes, he should want one of them. I wrote before that the Mets are too feast or famine. So how would Trumbo or Encarnacion, who tend to be boom-or-bust hitters, make sense? Well, you’d be replacing Lucas Duda — the KING of boom or bust — with one of them. The difference, of course, is that Duda is not half the player that Trumbo or Encarnacion is, and both free agents hit right-handed, something the Mets desperately need. If I’m going to have a low-average home-run hitter in my lineup, I’d rather have the 40-homer guy than the one who hit .229 in 2016 and missed 115 games.
Both Encarnacion, 33, and Trumbo, 30, are far more impactful than Jay Bruce as well, and Bruce, like Duda, can barely touch left-handed pitching. It’s easy to forget, considering the hot stove isn’t quite simmering right now, that Trumbo hit .256 with 47 home runs and 108 RBIs last year, and Encarnacion batted .263 with 42 blasts and drove in 127. Their home run totals would dip in the National League, and at pitcher-friendly Citi Field, but they’d still be good for 35 dingers and give the Mets a seriously imposing middle of the order.
Imagine this lineup: CF – Granderson; 3B – Wright; LF – Cespedes; 1B – Trumbo/Encarnacion; 2B – Walker; RF – Conforto; SS – Cabrera; C – d’Arnaud
No pitcher in the majors would want any part of that. And with two lefties, four righties and two switch-hitters, neither southpaws nor right-handed starters would be safe.
Yep, that’s correct. You saw a big fat “1B” next to Trumbo and Encarnacion. Neither of them at first base is ideal, I’ll admit, but they’ve proven that they can get the job done at the position, and their offensive output would far outweigh their defensive shortcomings. Encarnacion played 75 games at first in 2016, and while Trumbo only played there six times last season, he’s spent the majority of his career on the right side of the infield. Now a right fielder by trade, he’s athletic enough to make the switch.
The most critical part of this equation, of course, is money. The Mets haven’t shown any indication that they want to spend more this winter. In fact, it’s pretty clear that they want to shed payroll. Can they not afford to open the checkbook a bit more, or are they just hesitant to? It’s unclear, but signing Trumbo or Encarnacion wouldn’t be quite as financially painful if the Mets were to trade Bruce and his $13 million for a cheap relief pitcher, and also dump Duda and his $6.7 million salary.
I still maintain that Duda — and especially Bruce — are attractive to many teams seeking left-handed pop. They are relatively cheap, have legitimate power and can play the field. If the Mets really want to rid themselves of both, they shouldn’t have any issues doing so.
It’s also worth noting that with Bruce gone, Conforto would safely have a hold on the starting-right field job, which would be a boon to his development. We’ve seen how a platoon has hindered him; he needs to play every day.
Even if the Mets were to sign Encarnacion or Trumbo at a reduced rate, and they cut costs by trading Duda and Bruce, their payroll would still increase considerably. Is that something they’re willing to do as the window to win a World Series gets shorter and shorter? Who knows. Let’s hope so, and let’s hope that Alderson and his staff continue to dream big rather than stay content.
With this team in serious win-now mode, another splash would be well worth it.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet