At 52-54 after Thursday’s win over San Francisco, the New York Mets are in an uncertain position. Are they wild card contenders, and if so should they make moves in August to upgrade their roster, or should they play out the season and think about 2013 and beyond?
If Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline is any indication, the Mets plan on sticking with the players they have. They joined the Nationals as the only teams in Major League Baseball to not make a trade from Memorial Day through the end of July. Washington did so because general manager Mike Rizzo feels confident about the current roster. The Mets were in on discussions – like the reported deal that would have shipped outfielder Jason Bay to Miami for Heath Bell and John Buck – but nothing materialized.
As of Thursday night, New York was 11 games behind the Nationals in the National League East and 7.5 games in back of Atlanta for the second wild card. With Pittsburgh (60-44), Atlanta (60-45), St. Louis (56-48) and the upgraded Los Angeles Dodgers (56-50) battling for two wild card spots, reaching the post-season will require an unlikely scenario (like last season’s collapsed by Atlanta and Boston) for the Mets.
Not content with the unproductive backstop duo of Josh Thole and Rob Johnson, New York checked in on Geovany Soto (Cubs), Kelly Shoppach (Red Sox) and Ramon Hernandez (Rockies), but the asking price of each catcher was deemed too high.
The Mets appear to be a team in transition, so it is understandable why general manager Sandy Alderson was reluctant to make a transaction. Right-handed hitting outfielder Scott Hairston drew significant interest, but Alderson told MLB.com that none of the inquiring teams were willing to offer even a top 30 organizational prospect. As a result, the 32-year-old veteran who has 14 home runs, 44 RBI and an .840 OPS in 239 at-bats remained in New York, where he is one of the club’s most productive bats.
Hairston is a free agent, and he will likely not return to the Mets next season, but it made more sense to keep him than give him away for a minor leaguer who cannot be classified as a prospect. New York was also not satisfied with offers for the second baseman Daniel Murphy and reliever Tim Byrdak.
David Wright, who is the current face of the franchise, can become a free agent after the 2013 season (unless the Mets do the improbable and not pick up his $16 million option for next season). New York Post sports writer Joel Sherman wrote that the team hopes to sign the third baseman to an extension.
The Mets have some intriguing young Major League pieces like 25-year-old first baseman Ike Davis (who has 20 home runs and 60 RBI but a .209 average) and 23-year-old right-handed starting pitcher Matt Harvey (who was No. 29 on MLB.com’s pre-season Top 100 prospects list, was recently promoted to the Mets and is 1-1 with a 1.59 ERA in two outings). Jonathan Niese, a 25-year-old left-handed starter who is 8-5 with a 3.72 ERA, is another arm that Alderson can build a rotation around.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is having a career season at 14-2 with a 2.83 ERA. They will surely pick up the 37-year-old right-hander’s $5 million option for 2013. Since he is a knuckleballer, Dickey might remain a reliable arm for the next three years while Niese, Harvey and the organization’s top overall prospect, 22-year-old right-hander Zack Wheeler, develop further to solidify the rotation.
After the 2013 season, the Mets can free themselves from Bay (who is owed $13 million next year) and Johan Santana (who will get $25.5 million next season). Bay and Santana are the only bad contracts in which the Mets find themselves
Santana threw a no-hitter against St. Louis on June 1, but since then he is 3-5 with a 6.54 ERA and landed on the disabled list in July with a sprained ankle. He is 6-7 with a 3.98 ERA in 19 starts.
Wright, Davis, 23-year-old shortstop Ruben Tejada and possibly Murphy are the only current members of the Mets lineup who are part of the team’s long-term plans. The entire roster is in for an off-season overhaul, though next season’s rotation could feature Dickey, Santana, Niese, Harvey and Wheeler.
On Wednesday, Wheeler was promoted to Triple-A Buffalo after recording a season-high 11 strikeouts during his final start at Double-A Binghamton. Since the Mets plan to shut Wheeler after he reaches around 150 innings, he is not likely to make his major league debut this year.
Harvey has more strikeouts than any pitcher in franchise history over his first two starts with 18, but many scouts believe that Wheeler has an even higher ceiling. The Mets obtained Wheeler last season in the Carlos Beltran deal, and he was No. 10 on Baseball America’s 2012 Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List. Harvey and Wheeler give the organization two young arms with top of the rotation potential.
The Mets also have 22-year-old right-handed starting pitcher Jeurys Familia (who was No. 74 on MLB.com 2012 top prospects list) at Buffalo.
With a potential rotation anchored by Dickey, Santana and three quality young arms, the Mets might contend in 2013 if they upgrade their lineup and bullpen, but chances are the organization will be more competitive in 2014 and beyond when the young arms further develop and Alderson has a chance to make improvements through trades and free agent signings.