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Matt Mankiewich

Karpin’s Korner: What’s In Store This Off Season for Mets and Yankees

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The Hot Stove will be very hot this off season in New York. With the winter teams around here not expecting to provide much interest, the baseball news involving the Mets and Yankees will be generating a lot of interest.

We’re bringing back “Karpin’s Korner” on Fridays during the off season. We’ll keep you posted on not only the Mets and Yankees moves, but all the happenings throughout the sport during Major League Baseball’s “Hot Stove” season.

New Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen may feel like he can win with the everyday lineup as presently constituted and, hopefully, he was just offering the “company line,” but that is not a realistic notion. We all know about the need for arms in the pen. Putting that aside, the Mets need to field a everyday unit, while also having enough depth on the bench.

The infield is in flux, center field needs to be addressed, there is a need for another right handed bat to balance out the lineup and we haven’t even mentioned the catching position. Van Wagenen will have no “honeymoon period,” he’ll need to “roll up his sleeves” and get to work right away if he hopes to live up to his introductory presser declaration of “We’ll win now, we’ll win in the future.”

The Mets will not acquire an elite catcher, either by trade or free agency. Is J.T. Realmuto in play for the Mets? Not likely. Yasmani Grandal doesn’t “float my boat” and the market doesn’t feature a whole lot of attractive catchers to sign but two names to keep an eye on are 35-year old Kurt Suzuki and 31-year old Wilson Ramos. They would both be an upgrade over what the Mets have now.

Suzuki, a right handed hitter, is a solid defensive backstop who doesn’t blow you away with his stats but is a tough out in clutch situations. Just ask the Mets who have seen his act before when he was with the Braves these past few seasons. His age is a deterrent but a one year deal, with an option, may not be out of the question.

Ramos is intriguing and younger than Suzuki but he’s had a bad knee that has plagued him since he first injured it and underwent surgery in October 2016. Ramos also bats right handed and would be risky but if you could pair him with another capable backstop, it would make sense. Like I mentioned, not much in the free agent market, but dare I say it, bring those two in as a tandem. Again, an upgrade over what is currently on the roster.

Some names out there for potential trades include Tigers’ catcher James McCann who is coming off a down season. Detroit has a 23 year old catching prospect in Jake Rogers who may be ready to break through so the Mets and Tigers could make for a match. McCann is a better defender than what his defensive metrics show and has one of the best arms in the sport, throwing out 36% of potential base stealers last season. From 2015-2017, his offensive numbers were on the rise but McCann fell of a bit last year. He’s only 28 years old and may be worth the interest.

A short term solution, who would not cost much in a deal, could be 34-year old Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who is a free agent after next season.

Around the infield, Amed Rosario should be left alone at shortstop. His progress in the second half of last season dictates the team commit to him as their guy. I know all about his lack of discipline at the plate but that can improve and you see the potential that he brings as a top of the order hitter. The Mets need to work with him on his footwork at shortstop but he’s still very young and will get better in time.

For arguments sake, let’s say Todd Frazier is the third-baseman so the left side is set but what about the right side. Jeff McNeil showed a lot more defense than he was projected to show and his bat provided a perfect #2 hitter who can take full advantage of Rosario’s speed. McNeil will need to fully go around the league until we can proclaim him to be an everyday player.

Jay Bruce played a number of games at first base but his defense at that spot is lacking. He’s better off in right field and may even be used as trade bait. A right handed bat is crucial because Yoenis Cespedes is expected to miss a significant amount of time next season. Wilmer Flores cannot be counted on to be part of a platoon at first base. White Sox first-baseman Jose Abreu may be on the trade market. Abreu is an underrated hitter and average defender and is a free agent after next season.

Would the Mets bite at free agent center fielder A.J. Pollock, who is expected to draw some interest from teams like the Reds who may be ready to part with Billy Hamilton. Pollock’s biggest problem has been staying on the field but when he does, he produces. If Arizona makes Pollock a qualifying offer, that changes the landscape.

The Mets have that alluring starting rotation, that they’re going to be banking on next season, but would they use one of those arms to fill a need elsewhere. The bullpen needs to be enhanced. Van Wagenen and company have their hands full.

The Yankees need for pitching is well documented but they should not dismiss a need to improve the offense. Improve the offense? What, are you crazy? The Yankees won 100 games and finished second in Major League Baseball in runs scored this past season.

The Yankee offense lacks balance. There is not enough left handed hitting to support the abundance of right handed hitters. How can the New York Yankees not have strong left hand hitting.

Greg Bird’s setback was more damaging than it appeared. Luke Voit did a nice job for awhile but he is a right handed hitter and was exposed against the Red Sox right handed relievers in the ALDS. If Bird was living up to his potential, he would’ve offered better protection for the right handed sluggers, like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, in the line up. Remember, when Stanton won the NL MVP in 2017, Christian Yelich batted behind him. Didi Gregorius is a nice hitter but not one who strikes enough fear to force an opposing pitcher to make a mistake to the hitter in front of him. Neither is Aaron Hicks, despite what the Yankees think of him.

If the Yankees are going to compete with the World Champion Red Sox next season, they’ll need to tweak the offense, and that includes their “crowded outfield situation.” As it stands today, who’s outfield would you take? The Yankees with Judge, Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner or Boston’s outfield of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. The likely answer gives you an idea of the difference between the clubs.

If the Yankees are going to spend big money (and I don’t think they need to) then I would use it for Bryce Harper who has expressed a desire to play in the Bronx. Harper in the middle of Judge and Stanton would be an incredible three-some to navigate through. Just saying.

The Yankees still need a solid presence at the top (Gleyber Torres?) while filtering in more players who make contact to add that needed balance. Brett Gardner is not that player. The batting order itself needs to be re-structured. Judge should hit third so that he gets two chances to come up with a man on base in the first inning. Sorry to keep comparing, but the Red Sox scored 50 more first inning runs than the Yankees did this season. Boston’s ability to score early was an intimidating factor of their offense. Even when they didn’t score, they gave pitchers fits with tough at-bats, fundamental execution of moving runners with productive outs and a good old fashioned “hit and run” or two, while putting the ball in play.

The Yankees are reportedly going to pursue free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin but he is not an “ace,” but would they be interested in Dallas Keuchel, who received a qualifying offer from Houston. The Indians have let it be known that they are willing to dangle veteran pitchers Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Kluber, who will be 34 years old next April and has not done well in post season, is under team control through the 2021 season. Would the Yankees ignore that track record to try and swing a deal for the former AL Cy Young Award winner. After the Sonny Gray deal, the Yanks have a lot to prove when evaluating pitchers and that will be the challenge in this off season.

We’ll focus more on the pitching needs of the Mets and Yankees in the next edition of “Karpin’s Korner”

H.K. Looking: The Braves may look to sign free agent pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. Off of his post season performance, Eovaldi will be a hot commodity. There has been some talk of teams wanting to sign Eovaldi for a role as a “swing man.” One concern however, Eovaldi pitched in three out of four days in the World Series capped off by that valiant effort in game 3, which turned out to be his final appearance. With Eovaldi having a history of two Tommy John surgeries, you wonder about the health of his arm……The Red Sox may make Craig Kimbrel a qualifying offer but they will also be heavily involved for Zach Britton, who cannot get a qualifying one year offer from the Yankees because he was traded in-season…..I’m getting a vibe that Realmuto will end up with the Dodgers or Astros…..Phillies will be active and I expect Manny Machado to provide a “large blip” on their radar screen, meaning they’ll be very interested…..Remember the name Manny Banuelos. That was the Yankees’ former pitching prospect who never panned out. Banuelos, a southpaw, was picked up by the White Sox in a minor deal with the Dodgers

“Karpin’s Korner” will be published every Friday throughout the off season


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