By Ernie Palladino
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Sandy Alderson is off to a good start to the offseason.
Now the Mets’ general manager has to finish the job.
For all the touchy-feely, player communication stuff he started spewing the day he got to New York, manager Mickey Callaway could potentially be a good hire. He’s a pitching guru, as his work in Cleveland showed. So that should help bring Matt Harvey back to normal. And Callaway has begun changing the health and conditioning protocol that seemed so counterproductive in this last injury-riddled season with improved hydration and flexibility standards, which should help keep Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup and Noah Syndergaard on the mound.
He green-lighted the hiring of Dave Eiland as pitching coach. Eiland’s straight-talking, no-nonsense style, a trait he shares with previous pitching coach Dan Warthen, could provide the needed balance between Callaway and his pitching staff.
But managers and coaches don’t win without the horses. And right now, the Mets are short a few of those.
The sacrifices Alderson makes to add those pieces will determine what 2018 has in store for his team.
Keep in mind he has a limited free agent budget to work with. The Wilpons might be reluctant to equal the $155 million payroll that bought them 92 losses last year, and they certainly don’t want to increase it. So, with $90 million already committed to existing players, including the $8.5 million to pick up Asdrubal Cabrera’s option and the dough they’ll owe Cespedes and David Wright, one can imagine even the office paper clips will have to come at a bargain price.
In other words, Giancarlo Stanton won’t be coming to Flushing.
So Alderson may have to deal more in the trade market than the open market. That could mean shipping off at least one member of that formerly vaunted rotation. Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard are probably safe, and Harvey is likely going nowhere after two years of struggle and injury.
But Zack Wheeler? Steven Matz? Rafael Montero? Seth Lugo? Robert Gsellman? Those back-end guys could be valuable trade bait to fill the hole at second left by the payroll dump of Neil Walker to the Brewers for a minor leaguer.
One of those guys could potentially go to the Tigers if Alderson follows up on his initial phone call about Ian Kinsler. At $11 million, the 35-year-old who hit 22 homers in Detroit last year could prove a good replacement for Walker. And Detroit might be willing to take a Gsellman or Montero to partially fill that huge hole in their rotation left by the Justin Verlander-to-Houston trade in August.
The Mets could also dangle one or two of them in front of the Indians for Jason Kipnis or the Marlins for Dee Gordon.
New York also needs a big bat in the outfield. Alderson would prefer someone who can also play first base, which makes a return of Jay Bruce all the more appealing. But Bruce is a free agent who will probably cost somewhere in the $17 million range. Still, he produced 29 homers and 75 RBIs before the Mets sent him to Cleveland in another salary dump. He might be worth the expenditure,
Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas, albeit a third baseman, hit 38 homers and drove in 85 runs last year and would certainly fit the Mets’ needs. But with Cabrera slated for third and Moustakas’ price tag potentially higher than Bruce’s, he’s probably not a free agent possibility. Neither is the Royals’ power-hitting first baseman Eric Hosmer, who could cost even more than Moustakas.
Not the kind of guys one wants to pick up if the goal is to cut the payroll by $20 million or so.
The bullpen also needs help. Putting in a bid for Indians workhorse Bryan Shaw might be prudent, though reports indicate two teams have already offered him multiyear deals. Former Met Joe Smith, who spent the tail end of last season with the Indians, could be a more economical pickup.
The holes Alderson faces are significant enough that a failure to fill them could leave the Mets in as bad a shape as they were last year. There’s no guarantee Michael Conforto comes all the way back from left shoulder surgery or that Cabrera works out permanently at third now that the Mets can no longer count on Wright returning. And first baseman Dominic Smith didn’t show well in his rookie appearance.
Alderson has a lot to accomplish, with little money to do it.
That’s how the Mets generally operate.
But this year, he has to make it work.
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