This is the first in a series where I will look at teams that could match up well with the Mets in the off-season. Let me make it clear that as far as I know there are no legitimate rumors surrounding the Mets and the teams in this series.
The first team in this series is the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays finished 92-71, five wins ahead of there Pythagorean W-L if you buy into that at all. They finished about as league average as possible in R/G and runs scored. The only categories offensively that they finished significantly ahead of average were 1st in walks and 3th in OBP. However, seemingly unusual for the Rays their hitter's average age was one of the top 3 oldest in the league at 29.6. Only the Yankees and Tigers had a higher average.
Tampa's FA can be found here. By the way, I just came across this website and it's actually really neat. What this list doesn't include are guys who have options such as DeJesus and Escobar. Looking at that list, I expect them to have needs at 1B, one OF, DH, a veteran SP and lots of pen work to be done. They very well may re-sign some of their FA to fill those holes.
Tampa's end of season depth chart can be found here. Of course much of the off-season will be centered around if and when the Rays trade David Price who reportedly is already preparing himself for a trade. The Rays could look to fill about any hole needed with trading one of the games best pitchers, however, they may decide to look mostly for high end prospects instead of major league ready players. Pending those decisions there are a few attractive players for the Mets on the Rays.
Matt Joyce: Joyce is a 29 year old LH hitting OF who can play both corner positions. In 140 games he produced a slash line of .235 .328 .419 .747 with 18 HR and 22 2B in 481 PA. For his career he is a .249 .340 .455 .796 120 OPS+ guy. He's not going to wow you in any fashion but is under control the next two seasons through arbitration. Last season's salary as a 1st time guy was $2,450,000 and a modest increase is expected. He doesn't completely replace Byrd's production but does provide a younger low cost alternative.
Ben Zobrist : This one may still be a little out there. With two years of control left (7M and 7.5M) would the Rays consider trading one of the most popular Rays of the last 5 years? The versatile Zobrist had a down year for his standards batting a Murphy-esque .275 .354 .402 .756 113 OPS+ after averaging .269 .365 .470 .835 134 OPS+ the 2 years prior. Zobrist has played every position possible except for catcher in his career and could be an answer for the Mets at 2B, 1B or corner OF.
Yunel Escobar: Like Zobrist, Escobar is still under team control for 2 more club option years (5M each). Hak-Ju Lee is knocking at the door and is a much cheaper option for the Rays. Freeing up 5M per year with a player that could most likely match Escobar's stats and adding players by trading Escobar has to at least intrigue the Rays. Escobar is one of the players I have mentioned before as a potential match for the Mets, desperate for at least a league average SS or even one that isn't last place in almost every category. Escobar hit .256 .332 .366 .698 with 9 HR and 27 2B. As we learned yesterday, the average NL SS hit .253 .307 .372 .679 last season.
Jeremy Hellickson: The 26 year old RH pitcher is entering his first year of arbitration at exactly the wrong time for him. From 2010-2012 Hellickson averaged a 3.06 ERA while going 27-21 and boasting a respectable 1.193 WHIP. This season he had a terrible year by his standards posting a 5.17 ERA and 1.351 WHIP also seeing a 50 point dip in his ERA+ from 124 in 2012 to 74 in 2013. With prospects Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome ready to make that famous Rays jump, Hellickson could be the odd man out. There were rumors of Ike Davis for Hellickson but at this point I think those rumors much like this post was just food for thought.
OK so where do the Mets match up?
As mentioned in the Hellickson paragraph, the Rays could have interest in one of the Mets 20 subpar 1B options. Of course often those players just need a change of scenery. This year the Rays had good luck in turning James Loney back into a productive 1B. Perhaps a player like Davis or even Duda would be an attractive player. There's even the thought that trading a platoon of Duda and Satin could be advantageous for the Rays in seek of 1B and DH. Players like Familia if healthy or Flores could interest the Rays as well.
One thing to keep in mind is the Mets most likely would have to make the deal both player and cost conscious for the Rays. Could taking on the entire salary of Escobar and picking up most of Ike's salary while sending a lower level prospect net you a package of Hellickson and Escobar? While that would take the Mets spending money, in the long run they would save money by adding that veteran pitcher, SS for around 10-12M total. For the Rays it would free up about 5M while adding a former 1st rounder in Ike Davis who could be an answer for them at 1B or DH. Who would those other prospects be? Could you expand the trade into Joyce, Hellickson and Escobar? That certainly would free up a ton of money for the Rays, answer many of the Mets needs and shouldn't break the bank in prospects allowing them to keep Syndergaard and Montero along with our current SP.