As the free agent market shakes out and the price of available bats becomes clearer, Sandy Alderson and the New York Mets may seek more creative solutions to upgrade some of the huge holes on the roster entering 2014.
The Baltimore Orioles are also looking to improve via free agency after finishing a disappointing fourth place last season in the very competitive American League East. But Baltimore’s current roster is about to get a whole lot more expensive.
The Orioles currently have $45 million tied up in six players on their 40-man roster. Additionally, Baltimore has 10 players who are arbitration eligible, including Chris Davis, Jim Johnson and Matt Wieters. MLB Trade Rumors released arbitration projections for those players last month and the bill for Baltimore looks to be in the range of $43 million. I’ll do the math, that’s $88 million on 16 players for a team that had a $92 million payroll last year, and the O's would still needs some serious roster upgrades if they hope to compete in the East next season.
With those things in mind I believe the Mets and Orioles line up on a trade that could give the Mets two roster upgrades and offer Baltimore some flexibility on their roster along with salary relief to chase free agent pitching and/or an outfielder.
The deal: Orioles trade shortstop J.J. Hardy, outfielder Nick Markakis and cash to the Mets for second baseman Daniel Murphy, first baseman Lucas Duda and starting pitching prospect Cory Mazzoni.
Why it works for the Mets:
J.J. Hardy is a tremendous upgrade for the Mets at the shortstop position, where he provided gold glove defense and a silver slugger bat for the Orioles last season. He is the reason the Mets make this deal. Hardy will be in the final year of his contract, owed $7 million for 2014, and getting him inked to a long-term extension similar to what Jhonny Peralta eventually signs for elsewhere will become a top priority for the Mets.
Markakis is the opportunity cost for the Mets. He is owed $15 million coming off a 2013 season that saw him put up career lows pretty much across the board including home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. His defense was also pretty bad, and overall Fangraphs had him at 0.1 BELOW replacement level. It’s unclear what has happened to Markakis in the last few seasons. Last year was just his age 29 season, yet he was a shell of the player who as recently as three years ago appeared to be one of the better outfielders in the game.
There is, however, bounce back potential here. Though he was not at the level he played at in 2007, 2008 or even 2010, Markakis did post a .298/.363/.471/ triple slash in 2012, so 2013 could be a bit of an outlier. He will be entering his age 30 season in 2014 and it will be that all-important contract year, making his next deal potentially the final big one he will sign.
At best, the Mets can get a renaissance contract season out of him that provides a tremendous upgrade at one of the corner outfield spots. At worst, Markakis is probably still an upgrade over the Mets internal outfield options and the final year of his contract (he has a 2015 option for 17.5 million which would definitely be bought out after the season) is the cost of doing business and getting a shortstop of Hardy’s caliber. If it makes you feel better, Mets fans, you can pretend Hardy is getting 15 million and Markakis just 7 million next season.
Why it works for the Orioles:
Flexibility. The Mets take on two of the top three contracts Baltimore currently has on the books in Hardy and Markakis, who, as noted above, will make a combined $22 million in 2014. The Orioles kick in a little cash for Markakis’ salary, perhaps paying for the $2 million buyout of his 2015 option. They could even kick in a chunk of Markakis’ 2014 number and perhaps get Rafael Montero instead Mazzoni.
Though financial breathing room is the main goal for Baltimore here, the major league return is not nil for the Orioles by any means. Murphy fills a hole for the O's at second base — or third base if they’re serious about moving Manny Machado to shortstop — and his bat should play well at Camden Yards. Many Mets fans may not appreciate Murphy, but finding the type of production he puts up offensively at a reasonable arbitration price is becoming harder and harder to do.
As the secondary piece, Duda and Ike Davis are pretty interchangeable in this deal. I’ve included Duda because he would cost Baltimore a little less and slots right into the designated hitter spot. The Orioles could choose to instead take Davis and his larger projected salary/higher ceiling. Neither option would be a hindrance to the deal.
Nor would Mazzoni as the pitching prospect. He is just a placeholder here. In a non-Montero version of the deal the Orioles would choose from a list of Mets second tier pitching prospects that includes Mazzoni, Michael Fulmer, Domingo Tapia, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz.
This scenario could work out for both teams as the offseason progresses. The Mets fill two of their most glaring holes, allowing them to use the rest of their offseason budget to add a power hitting outfielder (Curtis Granderson?) and bottom of the rotation starter. The Orioles clear enough payroll to pursue a corner outfielder to replace Markakis (Carlos Beltran?) and a top of the rotation starting pitcher.
So what do you think, Mets fans? Is this deal something you would consider?