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Trying to decipher Mets’ offseason blueprint

The Mets hope Anthony Swarzak brings some much needed quality depth to the bullpen after signing the righty reliever to a two-year, $14 million contract.
AP
By Zach Gewelb

Major League Baseball has seen a slow start to its hot stove season, and the Mets have been no different.

The team dipped into the reliever market and has added some depth. But Mets fans who are expecting the team to make a big, splashy move will be disappointed.

It seems as though General Manager Sandy Alderson is operating with a tight budget, cutting payroll from last season. There may be a few bucks to spend, but given the way the free agent market typically develops, it’s unlikely the Mets will spend big on a first baseman, second baseman or outfielder, all areas of need.

So what can fans resonably expect from the Mets the rest of the offseason?

First, let’s take a look at the moves the team has already made.

Mets ink free-agent reliever

The Mets officially announced the signing of free-agent reliever Anthony Swarzak to a two-year, $14 million contract last Friday. Swarzak, 32, pitched to a 2.33 ERA in 77 1/3 innings in a breakout season with the White Sox and the Brewers in 2016. The righty also struck out a career-best 10.6 batters per nine innings, adding another arm that can generate swing-and-misses from the bullpen.

It was no secret that Alderson and the Mets were looking to add another reliever to the mix, but they are taking a big chance on Swarzak. He spent the first five years of his career in Minnesota, where he pitched to a 4.48 ERA, before moving onto Cleveland in 2015.

He only appeared in 10 games for the tribe before he went to the Bronx in 2016, where he struggled with the Yankees, pitching to a 5.52 ERA in 26 games. He signed with the White Sox before the 2017 season and pitched well before the team shipped him off to Milwaukee ahead of the trade deadline and finished the season on a high note with the Brewers.

Swarzak doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he deepens the bullpen, adding to the core of A.J. Ramos, Jeurys Familia and Jerry Blevins.

The price may be a bit high for someone of Swarzak’s track record, but all-in-all, it seems like a good move for the Mets.

Mets add veteran catcher

The Mets signed free-agent catcher Jose Lobaton to a minor-league contract last Friday.

Lobaton, who spent time as the Nationals’ back-up catcher last year, is expected to compete for playing time with incumbents Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki.

While the Mets will likely go into the season with d’Arnaud and Plawecki as No. 1 and 2 on the depth chart, Lobaton offers insurance in the event of injury or ineffectiveness.

He had a down year in 2017, batting just .170/.248/.277 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 51 games. He has a reputation for being a strong defensive catcher who works well with pitching staffs.

The signing will not move the needle too much, but Lobaton provides good value as a third catcher.

Moves left to make

The Mets should still be searching for a first baseman to compete with Dominic Smith, a utlity infielder who can play second and third base and another outfielder. There are still plenty of options available, but the Mets need to be aggressive before being backed into a corner.

They can try to swing a trade, perhaps for a veteran infielder like Jed Lowrie (Oakland) or Jason Kipnis (Cleveland) and could look to bring back Jay Bruce as a first baseman/outfielder.

It will ultimately come down to cost, and while the trio is certainly not cheap, they could bring good value to the club under the right circumstances.

If the Mets can bring in some support and add some depth, they can slip right back into playoff contention and make some noise in 2018.

Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewelb@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4539.

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