Confident Mets GM: 'We're the favorites' in East

Van Wagenen downplays likelihood of signing OF Pollock after adding Ramos

December 18th, 2018

NEW YORK -- Few familiar with Brodie Van Wagenen's work over the first six weeks of the offseason would guess that he is done adding, moving, shaking as he looks to transform the Mets back into contenders. But even if Van Wagenen is finished adding major pieces to the Mets' roster, he feels they are in prime position to contend.
"Internally," Van Wagenen said on SNY after completing a two-year deal for catcher , "we would argue that we're the favorites in the division right now."

There's little doubt the Mets are a vastly different team from the one that finished 77-85 last season. Since taking over as general manager, Van Wagenen has added a quartet of All-Stars in Ramos, second baseman , closer and setup man . Even before signing Ramos and Familia, the Mets' analytics team projected the club to finish with close to 90 wins. Those two additions theoretically take the Mets higher.
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"We've done a lot of what we set out to do this offseason," Van Wagenen said. "We shored up the bullpen with two premium arms. We added two middle-of-the-order bats, which was key to us in terms of executing our run-production goals. And now we've added a catcher that can upgrade that position. If we looked out and mapped this out on Nov. 1 that we would be in this stage right now heading into Opening Day, we would all be very, very happy."
In Ramos, the Mets acquired a catcher to upgrade over, and perhaps replace, incumbent starter . A two-time All-Star, Ramos returned from knee surgery last year to slug 15 homers in 111 games, becoming one of just four backstops to post at least an .800 OPS over 200-plus plate appearances.
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The other three to do it -- J.T. Realmuto, and -- were all available on the free-agent or trade markets. The Mets chose Ramos over Grandal after meeting the former in person at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas and checking in with some of Van Wagenen's former clients who had played alongside Ramos with the Nationals.
"We talked about what I can do to help this rotation, this team," Ramos said. "We didn't talk about my offense. They told me they already know I can hit."
A more difficult decision was choosing Ramos over Realmuto, the top overall catcher available. The Mets went down that road "as far as it would go," according to Van Wagenen, but in the end balked at Miami's reported request for one of , , or . Rather than see how the market continued to develop, the Mets exercised their leverage by acquiring Ramos.

Now the question becomes what they do next. Coming into the offseason, the Mets' stated goals were to shore up the bullpen, improve at catcher and acquire a right-handed hitting bat -- presumably an outfielder -- for the middle of their lineup. With the first two goals accomplished, Van Wagenen was asked Tuesday about the latter -- and particularly about A.J. Pollock, widely considered the best right-handed-hitting outfielder on the free-agent market.
Rather than express interest in Pollock, however, Van Wagenen said that Ramos fills the team's need for a middle-of-the-order, right-handed bat, and that he hopes will return from heel surgery to be "another impact right-handed bat for us." Similarly, after signing Familia, Van Wagenen downplayed the notion that the Mets might pursue or Zach Britton, the top left-handed relievers available on the free-agent market. But he did indicate the Mets could trade one of their incumbent catchers, d'Arnaud or , which would clear a budget line from their payroll.
With roughly eight weeks remaining until the start of Spring Training, the Mets have around $150 million in commitments, similar to how they started last season. Yet that total includes the full salaries of Cespedes, who is likely to be sidelined until after the All-Star break, and , whose career is finished. The Mets are recouping much of their salaries through insurance, and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon has said he will reinvest some of that money into the payroll. How much remains to be seen.
It could be the determining factor in whether the Mets seriously pursue Pollock, or someone else. It could be the determining factor in whether the Mets really do rank among the NL East's best. Van Wagenen has said frequently that he wants to eliminate "ifs" on his roster. Time will tell how far he and Wilpon are willing to go in that pursuit.
"The beauty of that … is that we still have a lot of time to play and be creative, and still have some real money to spent to potentially add onto it," Van Wagenen said. "We're not done."