Alderson: Mets Seeking Another Bat, Bullpen Help

The Mets dropped tonight’s contest against the Braves by a 4-1 score, shrinking their lead in the National League East to  1 1/2 games. At 54-34 with a +70 run differential, New York looks very likely to reach the postseason. Holding off Atlanta to secure a division title and a chance at a top-two seed in the NL (and the associated first-round bye under the new playoff format) is going to be of particular import for the club through the season’s second half.

New York heads into deadline season as obvious buyers, and team president Sandy Alderson shed some light on the club’s target areas today. Chatting with Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman of the New York Post on The Show podcast, Alderson indicated the team was prioritizing adding another bat and bolstering the bullpen. He pointed specifically to designated hitter as an area that could be addressed, noting that New York hasn’t gotten the production they’d anticipated out of the position this season.

While he didn’t specifically single out any player who has underperformed in 2022, it’s not especially hard to read between the lines. Aside from quasi-rest days for star first baseman Pete Alonso, the Mets have given virtually all the DH playing time to the duo of J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith. Davis is hitting .240/.328/.353 through 192 plate appearances. Despite strong exit velocities, he’s compiled only 12 extra-base hits (including three home runs). Hitting for power is paramount for Davis, who’s not a strong defender anywhere and is striking out in north of 30% of his trips to the plate.

Smith has had an even tougher year, posting a .203/.281/.301 line in 139 tallies. He’s not connected on a single longball and spent some time on optional assignment to Triple-A Syracuse. Both Davis and Smith have pre-2022 track records of offensive productivity, but their combined .228/.313/.337 showing (entering Tuesday) hasn’t been sufficient for bat-first players.

Over the past few weeks, Heyman has linked the Mets to rental bats Trey Mancini and Nelson Cruz. With Alonso locked in at first base, interest in those players suggested the club was looking into DH possibilities. Alderson flatly stated there’s “probably an opportunity to improve there” and noted that the prospect acquisition cost for defensively-limited bats isn’t likely to be exorbitant.

That could also be true of the bullpen, which Alderson said “needs to be strengthened.” The prospect talent required to land relief help certainly varies depending on the target. Prying away Pirates star closer David Bednar, as an example, would take a massive haul. Yet there are various lower-impact relief arms with lesser windows of remaining control who’d not require a huge prospect return. Mike Puma of the Post suggests (on Twitter) that adding a left-hander could be particularly important; after releasing Chasen Shreve last week, the Mets are down to Joely Rodríguez as the sole southpaw in the bullpen.

Alderson didn’t tip his hand as to specific targets, but there are a number of middle or late-inning arms who look likely to be available. The Cubs (David Robertson and Mychal Givens) and Tigers (Andrew ChafinMichael Fulmer and Joe Jiménez) both had multiple relievers placed among MLBTR’s top 50 trade candidates last week. Chafin is one of a handful of southpaws who could change hands, as are Rangers breakout hurler Matt Moore and the D-Backs Joe Mantiply.

While adding a bat and some relief pitching seem to be priorities, Alderson indicated the club didn’t feel a pressing need to address the starting rotation. He pointed to the high acquisition cost that’d be associated with landing an impact starter. Later in the conversation, New York’s president downplayed the possibility of dealing from the top of the farm system in any fashion. “We want to try to preserve the prospects we have,” Alderson told the Post. “We have to be careful about who we move, and for what reasons.” He name-checked catcher Francisco Álvarez and corner infielder Brett Baty as prospects the club was highly unlikely to deal. Alderson pointed to last season’s trade of former first-rounder Pete Crow-Armstrong for half a season of Javier Báez as a deal that dealt a big blow to the farm system in recognition of Crow-Armstrong’s excellent start to the 2022 campaign in Low-A.

The reluctance to deal from the top of the system jibes with a recent report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today, who wrote last week that the team was likelier to try to leverage their financial power than move top-tier young players. Alderson confirmed as much, saying they’d prefer to “err on the side of money, as opposed to the side of prospects” in trade talks. There’s no guarantee the opportunity to take on a higher-priced player will present itself, but the reluctance to deal from the top of the system seems to cast doubt on the chances of landing an impact starter in the Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas mold.

That may also be true of catcher, where the Mets have gotten lackluster production this season. Willson Contreras is the clear top player available at the position, but the Cubs are sure to land a strong return. New York has James McCann under contract for the next two seasons, but the veteran hasn’t provided much at the plate and is currently on the injured list. That’s left the club to rely on the light-hitting duo of Tomás Nido and Patrick Mazeika.

Álvarez is viewed by most evaluators as the franchise’s catcher of the future, but he’s only 20 years old and was just promoted to Triple-A for the first time. Alderson expressed a desire for him to get extended reps against Triple-A pitching before he’d be considered for an MLB look. That’d seemingly leave catching to Nido and Mazeika until McCann returns, particularly with a thin market at the position. Tucker Barnhart and Kurt Suzuki are impending free agents on non-competitive teams, but neither has played well this season. Roberto Pérez and Mike Zunino may have been trade candidates, but both suffered long-term injuries that take them out of that picture.

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