Sarah Langs, Intern & Special ContributorThe Nelson Cruz missed connection in free agency has already been discussed ad nauseum. The slugger has been an offensive powerhouse for the Baltimore Orioles, with whom he signed a one-year deal, hitting 28 home runs with 74 RBI so far.
Had the Mets signed Cruz, they most likely wouldn’t have Curtis Granderson. And while Granderson may have taken some time to get on a roll this year, his defense is always there. Meanwhile, Cruz has played almost equal amounts at DH and in the outfield, which wouldn’t have been a good fit for the Mets in the NL and wouldn’t have given them the 87 games Granderson has started in the field. It’s also worth noting that according to reports, Cruz said at All-Star Game media day Monday that negotiations with the Mets never got very far (Diamond, July 14).
When a player like Cruz, who the Mets (and consequently their fans) had an eye on, does well, it seems to make headlines. But what about some of the other free agents they were linked to? Did the team’s brass dodge any potential problems by passing on any of the players they did? At the All-Star break, now past the midpoint of the season, it’s a good time to assess the seasons of these players the Mets could have had…
For outfield help, the Mets looked into Corey Hart. The former Milwaukee Brewer signed a one-year contract with Seattle in the offseason, coming off of a year of recovery from knee surgery. He missed more than a month on the disabled list early this season, and has hit .214/.289/.339 when he’s been healthy. On top of the injuries and mediocrity, he hasn’t even played the field much, DHing in 42 games, next to two games in the outfield and one at first base. This is one player the Mets did well to avoid.
Staying in the outfield, there was also a lot of talk about Shin-Soo Choo. The 32-year-old OF signed a seven-year, $130 million deal with Texas and has not yet lived up to the dollars thrown at him. He’s hitting .242/.362/.376 with nine home runs and 33 RBI, though he’s normally batting leadoff. For comparison, the oft-maligned Chris Young has eight home runs and 27 RBI, for half the cost this season, with a one-year deal instead. Not giving a long-term contract to Choo seems like it was the right move.
At shortstop, the team definitely looked around for a Ruben Tejada replacement or for someone to split the time at SS with him. Both Rafael Furcal and Cesar Izturis were considered. Furcal began the season injured, and is now back on the DL with a hamstring injury. In the nine games he has played with the Marlins — at second base, mind you — he’s hit .171/.216/.229, with zero stolen base attempts, a far cry from the seasons of 20+ SBs he had in his heyday. Izturis, meanwhile, didn’t even make it out of spring training with a club. The Astros signed him to a minor league deal over the winter, but released him in March.
And then there’s Stephen Drew. The Boras client’s main suitors were supposedly the Mets and the Boston Red Sox. The price set for Drew left him unsigned through the first two months of the season. Boston finally caved and signed him to a one-year contract in June. In 28 games with the Red Sox, Drew has hit .151/.218/.269 with two home runs and five RBI. Tejada is, at least, hitting above the Mendoza line, getting on base at a decent clip (.353), and produced his second walk-off hit of the season last week.
The starting rotation has been solid, but the team still looked into possibly adding another veteran starter for the rotation. Two names that were ultimately passed on were Bronson Arroyo and Freddy Garcia. Arroyo had a 4.08 ERA in 14 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who signed him to a two-year deal. He announced on July 7 that he would be undergoing Tommy John surgery and went under the knife this week. Garcia signed a minor league deal with the Braves but didn’t make it out of Spring Training. Now, he’s pitching in Taiwan. In the role that either of them presumably would have filled, Daisuke Matsuzaka has done fine, managing a 3.55 ERA in 71 innings over nine starts and 26 total appearances.
Perhaps the best moves the Mets didn’t make in the offseason were the group of relievers they considered adding to the bullpen. Yes, there was a mistake in adding Jose Valverde and/or Kyle Farnsworth, but they fixed those pretty early on. They also had considered, amongst others, Chris Perez, Kevin Gregg, Grant Balfour and Alfredo Aceves. Perez has a 4.54 ERA in 36 appearances for the Dodgers this year. He’s also walked 15 batters, one less than the 16 total he walked in his 2012 All-Star season. Gregg didn’t sign with a team until June 2. Since then, he’s accumulated a 10.00 ERA in nine innings with the Marlins. Balfour has a 5.60 ERA for Tampa Bay. And Aceves made 10 appearances for the Yankees in the month he was in the majors, racking up a 6.52 ERA. On July 3, he netted a 50-game suspension in the minors for recreational drug use.
In the mean time, the Mets’ bullpen has been an unexpected source of strength, in large part due to sticking with pitchers who’d been around last year, too. Not replacing Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, Carlos Torres and Vic Black with the relievers considered was a good move.
Of course, not all of the players the Mets passed on are having bad seasons. Yes there’s Cruz, noted above, but there are others, too, who could have helped the Metropolitans out.
Marlon Byrd is another power source that could have helped the offense, especially early on in the season. The club considered bringing Byrd back to New York for 2014 after trading him at the 2013 trading deadline to Pittsburgh. Instead, he returned to Philadelphia, where he started his career. He has 18 home runs and 54 RBI so far this season for the Phillies, where he’s started 91 games in right field. After hitting only 1 home run in April, Granderson has picked up the pace and worked his total up to 14 at the break. The big difference is, Byrd is owed just $16MM over two years, compared with Granderson’s 4-year, $60MM deal. Granderson’s defense may make him seem more valuable, but Byrd might have ultimately been a safer choice here. A better assessment can be made once Granderson’s four years are up.
At first base, the Mets looked into signing Cuban slugger Jose Abreu but bowed out pretty early on. The White Sox signed him instead. Now, the South Siders have the American League leader in home runs, as he has 29 dingers with 73 RBI. The Rookie of the Year candidate has a strong case, despite missing some time on the DL. Abreu would have put both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda out of a job — as opposed to the platoon followed by trade that the team used instead — but his production would have justified the team’s giving up on the two homegrown first basemen.
Instead of sticking with Tejada on the shortstop front, the Mets also considered Jhonny Peralta. Peralta is hitting .253/.326/.457 with the Cardinals. He has 14 home runs and 44 RBI, along with 25 doubles. That’s the quantity of production the Mets haven’t seen out of shortstop since Jose Reyes, and the kind — power — they haven’t seen in ages. Extra-base hits from that position would bolster the lineup, and 14 home runs at the break from a shortstop other than Tulowitzki is certainly not something to scoff at. In fact, the only other shortstop with more than 11 at this point is Ian Desmond.
Ultimately, the point here is that the offseason is a mixed bag. Sometimes, a team makes great moves, and sometimes, the decisions aren’t as stellar.
Sarah is an intern for SNY.