By Ethan Marshall
The Mets said they intend to compete in the 2019 season, but they have many holes to fill in order to make that a reality. The first and most crucial step is signing free agent Manny Machado, who, along with Bryce Harper, will be seeking a fortune on the market. While the Mets need Machado, most fans don’t see this becoming a reality due to the team’s unwillingness to spend money.
The previous off-season only fuels Mets fans’ skepticism of the team’s desire to compete being reflected by a willingness to spend on the more talented free agents. The team basically bought from the discount rack, passing on the likes of Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, Addison Reed and Tony Watson for cheaper players with lower ceilings like Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas and Anthony Swarzak, who have each been dreadful this season.
With Yoenis Cespedes expected to be out for at least the first month of the 2019 season, the Mets are in dire need of a right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup. Machado presents a huge offensive upgrade both offensively and defensively, and he would change the complexion of the lineup. With Amed Rosario failing to show consistency thus far in his big-league career, the Mets shouldn’t be afraid to move him out of the starting shortstop position, possibly shifting him to third base or second base.
If the Mets were to sign Machado, it would likely create a renewal of faith in the organization that’s been lost the last couple years. In addition to showing fans the team is willing to go after the top free agents, it would also show that the team is willing to offer expensive long-term contracts to the right types of players.
But even if the Mets surprise their skeptical fanbase and sign Machado, they still have other improvements to make. They need to sign two or three solid relievers in a free agent market that will be loaded with them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they need to go after Craig Kimbrel (though that would be nice), but they need relievers with a history of success rather than one coming off one great year, like Swarzak. They should be looking at guys like Jeurys Familia, Adam Ottavino, Justin Wilson, Adam Warren and Kelvin Herrera. Taking gambles on relievers like Jonny Venters shouldn’t be a first priority in a market this loaded.
Even if the Mets were to address those needs, they still have question marks at other positions. Will Todd Frazier be the starting third baseman next season? Is Peter Alonso the 2019 everyday first baseman? Can Amed Rosario shift over to second base if the Mets get Machado, and can he hit with consistency? Should the Mets proceed with the catching tandem of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, or should they look at free agent catchers like Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal? When Cespedes returns, should the Mets consider moving Jay Bruce to first base? Just about the only thing that isn’t a question mark is four-fifths of the starting rotation. In regards to the fifth starter, should the team stick with Jason Vargas despite his brutal 2018 season, go with a young pitcher in the organization like Corey Oswalt or look at the free agent market?
The questions aren’t limited to the players. The team needs to find a new general manager. In addition to seeking to fill the holes on the roster, this new general manager needs to decide the fate of manager Mickey Callaway, who has looked clueless, brutal and completely outmatched in his first season managing the team. Judging by how awful Callaway’s been as a manager, it might be beneficial for the team to get rid of him and try to get someone like Joe Girardi.
The future of the Mets ultimately depends upon the Wilpons’ willingness (or lack thereof) to spend money on top free agent talents, especially in an off-season loaded with top free agents. Signing Machado would signify a culture change in the team by showing the fans they are willing to spend money in order to improve their team. Rarely does the opportunity present itself that a star player becomes a free agent at just 26 years of age. If necessary, the Mets should offer Machado a share of ownership of the team if it means getting him.