Back in September, when Cespedesmania was rippling through New York, the New York Times published a blow-by-blow account of the Mets' decision to trade for Yoenis Cespedes. It's gripping and well-written, something that could be adapted and directed by Michael Mann. One of the better baseball stories of the year, really.
Not to be a stickler, but I did have one issue with it. Maybe this is nitpicking, so apologies in advance. My only issue with the story is that it could have been titled, "The Mets Traded For A Hitter Because, Good Lord, They Absolutely Had To, Are You Shitting Me?" It was the kind of drama that could have only happened with the Mets. Imagine the dramatic retelling of the Royals at the deadline:
Moore: We need another starting pitcher and a second baseman.
Glass: Yes, this makes sense.
Evans: We need another starting pitcher.
Baer: I, too, have watched the Giants play baseball this year.
The Blue Jays:
Anthopoulos: I was thinking about trading for everyone.
Jean-Paul Rogers-Centre: Okay.
/five minutes later
Rogers-Centre: Wait ...
With the Mets, though, making the obvious decision was a three-act play. When the Carlos Gomez trade fell through, it was so easy to pick on them, as if they were just posturing and never really wanted to absorb the salary. But they did it, they got the slugger and it worked out beautifully, so back off. They added the hitter they had the talent to acquire and the unmistakable need for.
Which is what normal teams do. But whatever. It was a watershed moment for the Wilpon Mets.
This brings us to the Neil Walker trade and Asdrubal Cabrera signing. The Walker deal is completely reasonable for the Mets, dealing from a strength to address a weakness. Walker is solid offensively, and even if he's a little bit of a strangeglove, he's still an upgrade over Daniel Murphy at second. He's at the very least a lateral move, except he won't cost nearly as much. The Mets couldn't afford to punt offense from another position, and Walker is a proven commodity.
Cabrera is a swell shortstop. He didn't become the star that he looked like he would become in his mid-20s, but teams can do worse than start him at shortstop. Teams like the Mets. Last year, if you want to get specific. Wilmer Flores became something of a folk hero after his no-trade, and he's still young enough to improve, but the smart money is on Cabrera helping more. It's a fine start to the offseason.
Except the Mets just might be done. That Times article ended with something of a cliffhanger about the Mets' ability to re-sign Cespedes. That dream is dead, with assistant GM John Ricco saying, "it’s unlikely right now that he ends up a Met. I think that’s fair to say." Fair enough, considering that Cespedes will almost certainly be overpaid. Can't dish out nine-figure deals to everyone, and that goes for the Mets, Dodgers and Yankees alike.
The Mets still need something that approaches the excitement of the Cespedes acquisition, though. They have the greatest head start in baseball. Of all 30 teams, the Mets and their four excellent, young and cheap starters would be the consensus No. 1 pick in the Things Other Teams Would Steal fantasy draft. Forget the Red Sox and their prospects, the Cubs and their young lineup, the Giants and their infield or the Dodgers and their money. Harvey/Syndergaard/deGrom/Matz is the winner.
That head start is why the Cespedes deal was so exciting, why it got the feature treatment when the Mets actually took a risk. It's why fans went bonkers when he went bonkers. The Mets were the most incomplete complete team in baseball, and that splashy move felt right.
They're still the most incomplete complete team in baseball. They're a victim of their own unfortunate competence. That seems like a silly complaint, but look at the lineup and tell me where the black hole is:
- Curtis Granderson might be 35, but he had a renaissance season. Hope for one more season.
- Neil Walker was just acquired, and he ensures the Mets aren't forced to start a random player from within the organization.
- David Wright's comeback was a great story, even if you're worried about him never playing third base effectively again. Plus he's still owed close to $100 million, so no ditching him now.
- Lucas Duda is the obvious cleanup hitter and a fine player.
- Travis d'Arnaud still has the chance to break out, even if he's 27 and less of a mystery than some people might think. Staying healthy is the first step.
- Michael Conforto is a burgeoning star, at least as a hitter. He's part of the solution for the next decade, not the problem.
- Asdrubal Cabrera has had moments of brilliance and stretches of quiet effectiveness over his career. That's an improvement.
- Juan Lagares can sure field well.
All eight players have a reasonable claim to a starting gig in Major League Baseball. Two of them are young enough to get much better, but the entire lineup is probably decent enough to complement the rotation as-is.
That's the problem, though. The competence limits the urgency and lulls them into complacency. It's a lineup that should be okay, considering the rotation, but if the Mets finish with Walker and Cabrera, then stand pat for the rest of the offseason, they're basically hoping they'll win a boxing match by a split-decision. Which is fine if it works, except their pitching staff is the equivalent of spikes on their boxing gloves and a referee on the take. They have advantages that other teams couldn't dream of.
The obvious area to upgrade is in center. Except if they don't upgrade there, you know, whatever, they're probably fine. It seems odd to suggest it, but they'd almost be better off with Ryan Howard or Matt Garza in center right now. It's just a situation so untenable that something has to be done, not unlike where they were before the Cespedes trade in July.
Here's the twist: Like heck do I have any brilliant suggestions for that "something." And it's unfair to suggest the Mets should have some sort of Billy Beane, six-team/42-player trade up their sleeve to upgrade from their reasonable option in center, especially considering Sandy Alderson is fighting a more important battle. If they stand pat, they'll be fine. They'll contend.
Maybe the solution is as simple as signing Cespedes after all. Maybe it's getting on the Denard Spanwagon, I don't know. It feels, though, that a different front office in the same situation (albeit with different owners) would have 36 different offseason strategies and permutations that would take advantage of the Mets' staff, and not one of them would be "trade for Neil Walker, sign Asdrubal Cabrera and take the rest of the offseason off."
So, surprise us, Mets. The Walker trade was sensible and welcome. Cabrera makes sense, especially since Flores and Ruben Tejada will give him the rest that he couldn't get with the Rays last year. It all makes sense, but if this is it, it's a practical offseason, nothing more. Practical is kind of a bummer, considering the head start they had on the rest of the league.