The Mets started out hot in 2018, needing just 12 games to record 11 wins. It would take the club another 30 games to get their next 11 wins, however. Even then, at 22-19, the team’s prospects for contending seemed decent. Twenty-one games and just six wins later, a once-promising season looks much less so. The graph below shows the team’s playoff odds since the start of the season.
Even heading into May, the playoffs looked like a 50/50 proposition. A week later, it was one-in-four, and now the Mets’ odds of making the playoffs are basically 1-in-10. In what figures to be a very competitive National League playoff race, the Mets’ record is better than only the Marlins’ and Reds’. To make the playoffs, they will have to pass eight teams. Unless the club turns things around quickly, they might find themselves as sellers in a month. The question, though — if indeed the Mets do becomes sellers — is “Who precisely do they sell?” The two best players on the team are ace-level starting pitchers controlled beyond this season in Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Buster Olney recently argued the team should at least gauge their trade value.
So deGrom is everything that the New York Mets really need right now, in their worst of times, in his dominance and his leadership. But given the current challenges of the organization — the gray-beard age at the major league level, the lack of depth at the top of their farm system — they owe it to themselves to welcome offers from other clubs for deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, to at least understand what’s possible.
If the Mets were to start a rebuilding process, deGrom and Syndergaard would be the first to go. With deGrom in arbitration through 2020 and Syndergaard controlled through 2021, the duo would fetch a huge prospect haul. For sake of comparison, after the 2016 season, the White Sox traded Chris Sale for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, and Victor Diaz, and then traded Jose Quintana last year for Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, and Bryant Flete. If the Mets were to trade both deGrom and Syndergaard, they would probably come pretty close to that kind of haul.
Since the start of the 2015 season, only Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Sale, and Clayton Kershaw have put up more than deGrom’s 16 wins above replacement. His 7.5 WAR since the beginning of last season trails only Scherzer’s own mark in the National League, and his 2.08 FIP and 1.57 ERA this year are both indicative of elite run-prevention. Syndergaard’s value is complicated by his current finger issue, as well as his abbreviated 2017 season; when healthy, though, he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. While the Mets should certainly listen on offers for anyone on their team, given their present and future situation, dealing either one would likely be a big mistake.
The Mets’ farm system isn’t great, and it could certainly use a fresh infusion of talent, but that alone isn’t a proper justification for starting a rebuilding process. A look at the talent presently on the major-league roster and the team’s payroll situation in future seasons means that even if the team falls out the race this year — and they haven’t done that yet — the team should be focusing on 2019 and 2020 because there is a very good chance of contending then.
First, let’s take a look at the position players whom the Mets have on hand. I prorated the individual Depth Chart Projections to 600 plate appearances and added in an aging component to provide some rough estimates for the talent level the Mets will have next season.
The picture here doesn’t look great, as these numbers represent a four-win drop from the Mets’ preseason projections, but the figures I’ve used are also pretty conservative. Michael Conforto was projected for four wins at the beginning of the season. If Brandon Nimmo is even halfway decent the rest of the way after finding his power this season, his projection is probably going to be a win higher. Amed Rosario is just 22 years old and likely going to get better with more experience. If Dominic Smith is still projected to be a half-win player at the end of this season, the club could turn to prospect Peter Alonso, who is mashing in Double-A and appeared in the most recent edition of FanGraphs’ top-prospect rankings. These aren’t ironclad, of course, and Travis d’Arnaud could be back at catcher as well, but there’s a pretty good base of talent here. Outside of Bruce, Cespedes, and Frazier, it is also a pretty young group.
On the pitching side, the rotation looks to be in good shape.
A lot will change before next season, but Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman will likely be around, as well, in the event that other pitchers falter. If we take the projections from above and add three wins from the bullpen, that’s a .500 team. There’s rarely a reason to dismantle a .500 team that also has a fair amount of youth. In the Mets’ case, there is almost no justification for it. This year’s team is running a payroll around $150 million, just like they did back in 2009. The Mets probably should be running a higher payroll given their market and revenue, but even if we assume the Mets can only spend $150 million again next year, they will have a ton of payroll room to get better.
Right now, the Mets have around $92 committed to payroll next season, and even adding another $30 million or so for arbitration raises, the team would still have $30 million to spend in free agency. At a minimum, the Mets should be able to go out and buy about three more wins without increasing payroll from where it is right now. Doing the minimum makes the Mets a playoff-level team heading into 2019. With nearly all of the team also under contract for 2020 and even fewer salary commitments then, a rebuild should be out of the question for the Mets. There’s always going to be a risk that deGrom or Syndergaard could get hurt or decline, but eliminating potential contending seasons in the hope of a rebuild for multiple years down the road provides more risks when it comes to fielding a winning team. The Mets can listen on deGrom and Syndergaard, but unless a trade is going to make them better in 2019 — which is nearly impossible — the club is better off trying to win with their aces.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.