Brian Erni: Reports indicate that the Mets have anywhere from $30-to-40 million to spend on player acquisitions this offseason. There are three free agents that really fit this team's need: Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Todd Frazier. So, Tim, of those free agents, who would you target?
Tim Reilly: In an ideal world, I'd love to see Moustakas and Cain in orange-and-blue. But if I had to choose just one (and I’m assuming I do, based on the budget), I'm going with Cain. He gives the Mets what they have needed for far too long now: a well-rounded centerfielder.
BE: Estimates are that Cain will command somewhere in the neighborhood a four-year, $60 million deal. With Juan Lagares already under team control through 2020, do you think that creates a redundancy?
TR: Truthfully, I've grown tired of waiting for Juan Lagares to develop into the player I hoped he would become. At this point, I think the Mets would be best served by either making him the fourth outfielder or look into trading him. His value isn't high, but at the very least, I think he can be flipped into bullpen help. Are you still holding out hope for Lagares to step up and take back centerfield?
BE: Well, here's the thing. Lagares is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. He was worth 15 defensive runs saved in 566.2 innings last year, and has saved 79 runs over the course of his career. So I don't even think Lagares even needs to contribute anything over replacement level offense to warrant being in the lineup every day. I love Cain as an all-around player, but the reality is that he's on the over side of 30, and his days as a center fielder could be winding down. If he does eventually become a corner outfielder, then the Mets have three long-term commitments for three corner outfielders and, once again, no true centerfielder. This is all why I'm on board for upgrading the infield, and based on the budget, Todd Frazier is probably the best bet.
TR: I have nothing against Frazier as a player, and he's an even more likable guy off the field. The idea of stabilizing third base again is great, but Frazier is a boom-or-bust hitter. The Mets ranked first in home runs in the National League last year, and that did them no good. Why would you prefer to go the power route opposed to Cain, a player who has a proven track record of hitting for average, and someone who can much some much-needed speed to the lineup?
BE: Because of the trickle-down effect it has on the rest of the team. Like you said, the Mets have the capability to generate offense, but I thought one thing that really betrayed them early in the season last year was some truly brutal defense. Frazier gives the Mets an offensive upgrade, while also solidifying defense at third (he was worth 10 DRS last season).
Also, I think classifying Frazier as a boom-or-bust offensive player ignores some of the trends around his last two seasons. Frazier was the most selective he's ever been last season (lowest chase rate of his career: 25.1 percent), and it resulted in career highs in walks and OBP. So even though he hit .213, he got on base at a .344 clip (.363 in his time with the Yankees). That OBP with anywhere from 25-to-35 homers, not to mention the leadership that comes along with it, is a big plus to me.
TR: I don’t hate the idea of Frazier manning the hot corner. However, when I think about him in the lineup, I see that as essentially what we had last season in Jay Bruce. Their production is on par with each other. Yeah, the defense is nice, but I'm not so sure he’ll prove to be that much better than Asdrubal Cabrera as Cabby settles into the position. Cabrera might not win a Gold Glove, but I don't see him being a liability whatsoever now that his mobility won't be in question the way it was at shortstop.
Cabrera should hold us over just fine for another year before a decent free agent class in 2019. By spending the money on Cain, I envision him slotting into the two spot of the order, in front of Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, to give us a formidable top of the lineup. I also think Cain would be a great model for Amed Rosario. In my opinion, that's the kind of hitter I would like to see Rosario develop into, and it would be fantastic to have Amed learn firsthand from Cain’s approach to hitting.
BE: Look, if the Mets sign Cain, I'm not going to complain in the slightest. But while we're haggling over these free agents, I think the elephant in the room is that the Mets need far more than one player. They could use to upgrade at least two every day positions, and the bullpen. So any idea on how you think they'll do that?
TR: A veteran option I would explore is Brandon Philips. No, he's not the player of old, but I see him as being a positive in the clubhouse, and he was still a productive offensive player last season (.285 13 HR, 60 RBIs, 1.6 oWAR). He won't command a long-term contract, and my guess is he's looking to play for a winning team as he winds down his career. If Phillips can be had on a one-year deal, and I think that he can, he would be a nice addition for 2018.
The bullpen is where I want to see a revamp. The way the game is managed today, no team can afford to carry a throw away pitcher in the pen. It's time to get serious depth around Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins, and A.J. Ramos. From the right side, Steve Cishek would be a great addition (49 G, 3-2, 2.01 ERA, 0.896 WHIP in ’17). Tommy Hunter (61 G, 3-5, 2.61 ERA, 0.972 WHIP) intrigues me, especially since he probably could be had on the cheaper side. I would also look at Mike Minor (65 G, 6-6, six saves, 2.55 ERA, 1.017 WHIP) to give us another lefty, which they could really use. I'm not opposed to bringing back Addison Reed, either.
While none of these names might excite fans, they would go a long way in helping the Mets win more games next season. Do you agree with bulking up the bullpen or are you spending what money the Mets have available elsewhere?
BE: I’d upgrade the bullpen if they can, but frankly, with Familia, Ramos, and Blevins, it’s a bit of a luxury that I’m not sure they can afford with all the other moves they have to make. They should be able to afford it, but whether they can (or think they can) is another issue entirely.
So I’d have to prioritize the infield. My plan would include signing Frazier, exploring a trade for Dee Gordon (Gordon for Steven Matz might make sense, and even Jon Heyman agreed on an appearance on Joe and Evan on WFAN last week), and bringing in a reserve outfielder who can protect against the volatility that surrounds Michael Conforto’s injury status. If there’s room for another bullpen arm (and a guy like Minor would be a slam dunk, in my opinion), wonderful.
But one thing is for certain: The Mets have a ton of work to do before fans can start dreaming of an NL East crown, or even a Wild Card berth, for that matter. It’s time for Sandy to be aggressive, and hopefully, he’ll have the financial leeway to do so.