With the Las Vegas 51s prospectively having an Opening Day lineup that includes Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini, T.J. Rivera, and Amed Rosario, the Mets infield can look radically different in 2018. It certainly creates the possibility the Mets will once again have a new middle infield combination to open that season.
Can you name the Mets Opening Day double play combinations since 2000? Good luck!
Edgardo Alfonzo Rey Ordonez Roberto Alomar Rey Sanchez Ricky Gutierrez Kazuo Matsui Jose Reyes Anderson Hernandez Jose Valentin Luis Castillo Alex Cora Brad Emaus Daniel Murphy Ruben Tejada Eric Young Wilmer Flores Asdrubal Cabrera Neil Walker
It would take a minor miracle if the Mets Opening Day lineup lasts the full season. It is very likely that one of Lucas Duda (back), Neil Walker (back), David Wright (body), or Asdrubal Cabrera (knee) doesn’t have a stint on the disabled list. With that in mind, the Mets infield depth is going to be more important than ever. Fortunately, they seem to have more choices than they have ever had in the past:
2016 Stats: 60 G, 279 PA, 255 AB, 45 R, 68 H, 13 2B, 4 3B, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 9 SB, 2 CS, .267/.326/.443
In many ways, it was the Reyes of old last year with the electricity on the basepaths which created a buzz in both the dugout and the stands. There are two areas of caution with Reyes. He had a poor .326 OBP which is not an outlier as Reyes’ OBP over the past three seasons is .321. The other issue is he struggled against right-handed pitchers hitting .239/.293/.371 off of them last year. With that said, Reyes does seem rejuvenated being in a Mets uniform, and he can now completely focus on baseball giving hope for much better results.
2016 Stats: 103 G, 335 PA, 307 AB, 38 R, 82 H, 14 2B, 16 HR, 49 RBI, SB, CS, .267/.319/.469
Simply put, Flores mashes left-handed pitching having hit .340/.383/.710 with 11 of his 16 home runs off of them. While fans have soured on him as a shortstop, he still can capably handle all four infield positions. Based on the numbers, when there is a left-handed pitcher on the mound, the Mets needs to find a way to get him in the lineup. When there’s a right-handed pitcher, the Mets would be better off looking in another direction.
2016 Stats: 33 G, 113 PA, 105 AB, 10 R, 35 H, 4 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 16 RBI, .333/.345/.476
In September, we saw that Rivera can not only hold down a position due to injuries. More importantly, we know he can rise to the occasion. While he may not walk enough to justify putting him in the everyday lineup, his ability to hit can justify his presence on a major league roster. Those justifications are only enhanced when you consider he is also capable of playing all four infield positions.
2016 Stats: 47 G, 96 PA, 89 AB, 11 R, 20 H, 8 2B, 3 HR, CS, .225/.266/.416
Whereas the aforementioned players primarily rely on their bats, Reynolds is a terrific defensive player. In one game last year, he surprised us all not by playing a representative left field, despite never playing there previously, but also by hitting a monster home run to give the Mets a lead.
2016 Stats: 4 G, 7 PA, 6 AB, 2 R, 2 H, 2 2B, 2 RBI, .333/.429/.667
Cecchini is a promising hitter who should be able to hit for more power as he ages. Despite having all the tools, he has struggled as a shortstop. Those struggles along with the rise of Rosario, Cecchini should find himself playing second base next year. With the increased versatility, he should be able to help the Mets at either second or short if the need arises.
2016 MiLB Stats: 120 G, 527 PA, 479 AB, 65 R, 155 H, 24 2B, 13 3B, 5 HR, 71 RBI, 19 SB, 8 CS, .324/.374/.459
With Rosario it is just a matter of time before the shortstop of the future becomes the Mets everyday shortstop. With a little more seasoning, he may become a superstar. There’s no limit to his talent. He just needs a little more seasoning in Las Vegas. Depending on when or if someone goes down, the Mets may want to call up their best prospect to the majors. Once he gets called up, the Mets are going to have a hard time justifying sending him back down.
As seen above, the Mets are much deeper in the infield than they have been in year’s past when players like Eric Campbell were making the Opening Day roster. In the case of Cecchini and Rosario, one injury may just open the door for them to claim the position not just for 2017 but for years to come.
While the Mets have a terrific Opening Day infield on paper, the infield that may materialize later on into the season may be even better.
Asdrubal Cabrera had a terrific year at shortstop for the Mets in 2016 even if he did not have a good year defensively. Now, there are many things you can point to otherwise to say he did. His .986 fielding percentage was the fourth best in the major leagues last season. Certainly, he passed the eye test as he seemingly never botched a ball hit his way. Moreover, he certainly looked much better at the position than Wilmer Flores looked in 2015.
And yet, despite him looking good out there, Baseball Info Solutions ranked him 29th among the 35 shortstops it was able to rank defensively. Why?
According to Ben Jedlovec, president of Baseball Info Solutions, ““Cabrera makes the plays on the balls he can get to. His issue is more the balls that he doesn’t get to.” (John Harper, New York Daily News).
For those that rely solely on the eye test to believe Cabrera was good defensively last year, Jedlovec has an explanation for that. He states, “Sometimes the things we’re good at perceiving are only part of the picture.”
Now, Baseball Info Solutions has an advantage many fans don’t. They have the time, know-how, and ability to break down each and every play. They factor in a number of variables including ball speed, defensive positioning, and how often a similar play has been made by other players at the position. It is a painstaking process, with admittedly some gray areas. Ultimately, Jedloven says, “We try to be as objective as possible. We have access to multiple (TV) angles, multiple broadcasts. We can slow it down, replay it. If it takes 10 times to get the hit location and the times exactly right, that’s what we do.”
And with that, the end result was Cabrera was a shortstop lacking in range. In fact, over the past three seasons, Cabrera has averaged a -4.9 UZR. And yet, if you are a Mets fan who cannot shake the feeling this data is skewed because you rarely if ever saw Cabrera make a mistake out in the field, you would actually be correct. Over the course of the season, Cabrera only made 11 misplays over the course of the season. Ultimately, this means that although Cabrera has some limited range, he does make up for it with the ability to make the sure-handed plays.
Making the sure-handed plays is one way to offset the lack of range. The others? Well, Sandy Alderson put it best when he said, “Positioning can compensate for range. Nothing compensates for poor hands, except for maybe a really good bat!”
And the good bat is one of the things that stood out for Cabrera in 2016. Once he came off the disabled list, he was perhaps the best hitter in all of baseball hitting .345/.406/.635 with 11 doubles, a triple, 10 homers, and 29 RBI. Despite him being on one knee, he helped will the Mets back to the postseason.
So while Cabrera may not have been one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, he was certainly one of the best. Ultimately, he was exactly the shortstop the Mets needed to carry them back to the postseason.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online
Recent reports state the Mets and Neil Walker are in the midst of extending Walker’s current one year $17.2 million deal into a three year deal that may be worth north of $40 million. Now, if Walker is truly healthy and capable of repeating the numbers he put up in 2016, this deal could very well be a massive discount for the Mets. But, we don’t know if he can. It’s one of a few reasons why this may not be the time to extend Walker.
Declining Production Against RHP
Much has been made about the turn-around Walker had as a right-handed hitter. Overall, he was a completely different hitter from that side of the plate. The improvement from the right-hand side of the plate masked Walker’s three-year decline as a left-handed hitter:
- 2014: .269/.339/.491
- 2015: .276/.337/.456
- 2016: .266/.333/.433
Now, it is possible this was the result of the back issues. It also could be the result of what could be the natural continual decline of a now 31 year old player. Fact is, it is too soon to know, and if that is the case, how can you re-invest in that player?
If Walker was not extended, he is going to be a free agent along with the teams first baseman Lucas Duda. The Mets also have an $8.5 team option on Asdrubal Cabrera. Potentially, the only infielder that could be back next season is David Wright, who no one can count on to play a full season. On the surface, this is very problematic.
Any concerns that are raised by the pending free agents should be alleviated by the depth of the Mets farm system. For example, the Las Vegas 51s infield will be loaded:
Rivera is the least regarded prospect of the group, and we just saw him hit .358/.378/.552 with two doubles a triple, three homers, and 13 RBI when he took over second base in September. Coincidentally, Rivera was put in that spot due to the injuries to both Walker and Wilmer Flores.
Rivera could be competing for a spot at second base with Cecchini, Flores, or possibly Cabrera. If the Mets pick up Cabrera’s option, he could slide to second while Rosario takes over at shortstop. Overall, even without Walker, the Mets have plenty of middle infield options remaining, and that is before you take into account the possibility Jose Reyes re-signs with the team.
Regardless of the infield permutations in 2018, it seems reasonable to assume the infield will incorporate both Smith and Rosario. With those two being major league ready next year, the Mets re-signing Walker becomes much less of a priority.
Signing The Starting Pitchers
The young players being able to step in and contribute is important because these players will be extremely cheap. Whereas Walker would probably demand an average annual value of approximately $13+ million per season, Cecchini, Rivera, and Rosario would cost around $500,000. That’s a significant difference. And the Mets can use that money.
Matt Harvey is due to be a free agent after the 2018 season. Zack Wheeler will be a free agent the following year. Jacob deGrom will be in his final arbitration year the year Wheeler hits free agency. Noah Syndergaard will be arbitration eligible next year, and Steven Matz will be arbitration eligible the following year.
These pitchers are about to become extremely expensive. Considering they are the foundation of the Mets success, the Mets need the payroll room to re-sign them and pay them what they will earn in arbitration. Giving $13 million or more to Walker potentially impedes with the Mets ability to pay their pitching. This isn’t a matter of the Mets still being considered to be on austerity; it is a matter of the Mets only being able to spend so much money.
Walker being paid $13 million certainly stands in the way of that happening. If Walker is not capable of playing everyday, or has diminishing skills like most players in their mid 30s, that will create an even bigger issue.
Walker Is An Unknown
If Walker is healthy, he is an All Star caliber player at second base. Regardless of the prospects in place, Walker certainly gives the Mets a safer choice. In fact, Walker could provide the Mets with a better bat than the aforementioned prospects. For a team that is considered a World Series contender, Walker could be an important piece of the puzzle.
However, no one knows what he will be after his discectomy. He could remain healthy, but he could show some effects of the surgery leading to decreased mobility and power at the plate. He could suffer another herniation leading to him needing more surgery. Presumably, he could show no ill effects, and he could return to form. At this point, no one knows, nor can anyone be confident in what Walker will be when he steps foot in the field.
This may be a case where it is better to see Walker play now and have to pay more later. It would be better to pay a production player closer to market value than to try to get a discount and be stuck with an albatross of a contract the next few seasons. Given the depth of the Mets farm system, you really have to question whether this is a worthwhile or necessary gamble.
Last season, other than Wilmer Flores, Terry Collins showed an unwillingness to move players out of their natural position. With the Mets returning four infielders who each had significant injuries last year requiring stints on the disabled list, Collins may not have the same luxury. To that end, the Mets appear prepared to better handle to withstand injuries next season.
As the Mets report to camp, it appears that each player has come ready to either learn how to play another position or become more proficient at a position they have played in the past.
For starters, Jose Reyes comes into the season having already played shortstop and third base. In addition to those responsibilities, Reyes is going to spend time in Spring Training learning how to play the outfield. As Mets fans remember, Reyes once played second base. Certainly, he can play there in a pinch if needed.
Last year, the Mets were unwilling to move Neil Walker off of second base. This year might be a different story. As Walker reported to Spring Training, he brought a third base and a first baseman’s glove with him. Depending on not only the health of his teammates, but his own health, it is very possible Walker finds himself playing some games away from second.
His double play partner Asdrubal Cabrera has been working away from shortstop this offseason. During Winter Ball, Cabrera played both shortstop and third base. Before Carlos Guillen surprisingly left him off the roster, Cabrera was set to play short and third for Venezuela. Previously when he was a member of the Washington Nationals, Cabrera had played second in addition to short.
While each of these players have infield experience, the Mets are looking to gain some versatility with their outfielders as well. While Collins has largely shot down rumors of Michael Conforto trying first base, it appears Jay Bruce will get some exposure there during Spring Training. This move makes sense for both the team and the player. The added versatility should help the Mets replace Lucas Duda‘s power at first should he suffer another back injury, and the added versatility should help Bruce as he plays his last season before becoming a free agent.
In addition to the aforementioned players, we know that Ty Kelly, T.J. Rivera, and Matt Reynolds can play a multitude of positions as well as left field. Top to bottom, the Mets promise to have a versatile roster.
The versatility helps because it will allow the Mets to keep the best remaining bats in the lineup in case of injury, but it also can clear room for Gavin Cecchini, Amed Rosario, or possibly Dominic Smith to play everyday when/if they are ready. Overall, the Mets are in the best possible situation to withstand injuries now. All that is left is Collins’ willingness to play people outside of their main positions.
That remains to be seen.
In an interview with Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, Jose Reyes said all of the right things. He spoke about how his actions were inexcusable and how he wants to be a better man. After what must have been trying year for both him and his family, Reyes ultimately stated, “You can go through the process and realize what you need to do. I think it helped me to be become a better husband, father and man.”
There is no reason to question the veracity of Reyes’ statements or question his improvement as a husband, father, or man. Reyes and his family are the best arbiters of that. From a fan standpoint, all we can hope is that those statements prove to be true.
While we know many acts of domestic violence remain unreported, there is some comfort there were not repeat incidents . . . at least known incidents. The comfort may be naive, but it could also be the truth of the matter. We simply don’t know at this point.
What we do know is that he has served his time, and he has gone through the requisite treatment prescribed by Major League Baseball. On the surface, it at least appears he came out better for it, which is all you want both as a fan and a human being.
On the field, he is going to be an important part of the Mets. With David Wright still not having thrown the ball, and no one knowing how many games he can play, it appears Reyes will be the Mets third baseman for much of the year. He’s also going to be the primary backup option for Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Furthermore, with him learning center field during Spring Training, he could help spell Curtis Granderson in center. Overall, while Reyes is projected to be a utility player, he really could wind up playing everyday. He could be the most important player on the roster.
To that end, as Mets fans we all hope he has a successful season. More importantly, we hope he continues what appears to be significant progress with his family.
In 2017, more than anything, I am rooting for Reyes both on and off the field.
Teams that are based in New York have won 35 World Series. This is the most amount of championships belonging to any city in any sport.
Despite the largely debunked story about the origins of baseball, the Baseball Hall of Fame was built and placed in Cooperstown, New York. Naturally, New York teams have the most amount of Hall of Famers.
If baseball is American’s Past Time then New York is its heart and soul. And yet, it took a class of fourth graders from Cooperstown to make the case baseball should be the official sport of the State of New York.
In a report from The Citizen, Ms. Anne Reis’ fourth grade class did the research and made the case that baseball should be the official sport of New York as part of a lesson on official New York State designations. They provided their findings to their local state senator Jim Seward.
Seward has taken the information, and now he has proposed a bill in the legislature to designate baseball as the official sport of New York. Such efforts should thrill baseball fans everywhere. Undoubtedly, it was a special moment for Ms. Reis’ class.
Upon her now former students hearing the news, Ms. Reis said, “”They’re thrilled. They’re in fifth grade at this point, so I went downstairs and went to all the different classrooms and let them know what had happened.”
Hopefully, this designation will become official. We all know how important baseball is to the state. We need not look any further than the importance of Mike Piazza‘s home run in the first game back in New York after the terror attacks of 9/11. Baseball matters, and it matters more in New York than anywhere.
These kids know that, and they did something about it. These children accomplished something by putting in the requisite time and research. It’s a testament to them, and it is a good example for people everywhere.
With the Mets trying to decide what to do with pitchers like Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, it is likely the Mets are going to need both of them to make starts at different parts of the year as no team goes through the season with just five starters. To that end, the Mets have used 31 pitchers since Sandy Alderson took over as general manager.
Can you name the Mets pitchers who have made the most starts in that stretch? Good luck!
With many analyzing who should be the fifth starter, there seems to be two camps emerging. The first camp believes Zack Wheeler should be the fifth starter. The main basis for this argument, and it is a compelling one, is his 12 start stretch from July 6th – September 7th, 2004 where he was 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9. Understandably, many believe Wheeler can return to this form. If so, he is a natural choice for the fifth starter.
The second camp believes Robert Gsellman should be the fifth starter. Gsellman has vaulted up many top prospect lists due to the stuff he showed at the end of last season. Like Wheeler, Gsellman was throwing 95 MPH. Like many young Mets starters, he showed a developing slider. Unlike Wheeler, Gsellman had the opportunity to pitch in September games that mattered. With the Mets needing all the wins they could get, he was 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA, 1.276 WHIP, and an 8.5 K/9. There is every reason to believe the 22 year old can build on this success, and as a result, he should be the fifth starter.
The Mets are justified in going in either direction, and yet, perhaps, the Mets should go in a different direction. For a multitude of reasons, the Mets should start the year with Seth Lugo in the Opening Day rotation.
The biggest argument you can make for Lugo in the rotation is his curveball. There has been much written about it this offseason because it could very possibly be the best curveball in the game, at least if you use spin rate metrics. His curveball naturally belongs on a staff that features some of the best pitches in baseball from Noah Syndergaard‘s fastball to Matt Harvey‘s slider to Jacob deGrom‘s change-up. And yet, Lugo is more than a curveball. He has a fastball he can throw as high as 97 MPH if the situation merits. Like Gsellman, he is improving his slider.
He used this repertoire to pitch extremely well despite extremely difficult circumstances. With the Mets fighting for the Wild Card, and him not having pitched more than three innings since May, he was thrust into the starting rotation. Despite those hurdles, Lugo was 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, and a 5.6 K/9 as a starter. With Lugo being put in a better position next season, with him using his curveball more, and him further developing his slider, he promises to be an even better in 2017.
The obvious question is whether he would be a better option than Wheeler or Gsellman. Arguably, even if Lugo isn’t better, perhaps he should be in the Opening Day rotation anyway.
Based upon the Mets handling of Harvey, the team is likely going to want to limit him somewhere between 160 – 180 innings last year. Given his not having pitched in two years, there is a real debate if Wheeler can do even that. Even assuming he can pitch that long, assuming he averages six innings per start, that’s only 27-30 starts. This would leave the Mets needing to find approximately five more starts.
Then there is Gsellman. If you subscribe to the Verducci effect, 30 more innings would mean Gsellman’s cap is 189.2 innings. If he averages six innings per start, he would come close to lasting a full season. With that said, the Mets would still probably need to find a few more spot starts. That is even more the case if the Mets plan on using Gsellman in the postseason rotation.
Lugo can take the brunt of these starts to begin the season. This would permit the Mets to ease Gsellman or Wheeler into the rotation a month or two into the season. This would allow the Mets to allow either Gsellman or Wheeler to enter the rotation without having to be concerned about their innings.
As for Lugo, he could then move to the bullpen thereby giving the Mets another potentially dominant late inning reliever. And, if needed, we already know the Mets can rely on him for a spot starter if needed.
Ultimately, the best case scenario for the Mets would be to start the year with Lugo in the rotation. And who knows? Based off of what we saw with him last year, he may prove to be the best option for the rotation for the entire season.
During Terry Collins‘ first Spring Training press conference, he overtly stated Zack Wheeler is a starting pitcher. With the Mets publicly considering using Wheeler in the bullpen, at least to start the season, Collins’ statements reminded me of how Bobby Valentine once held a similar opinion about Jason Isringhausen.
Back in 1999, the Mets were using Isringhausen, who had a litany of injuries and surgeries at that point, increasingly out of the bullpen. It was a natural fit for him with his having only made six major league starts over a two year period. And yet, Valentine preferred using Isringhausen in the rotation, as only Valentine could so eloquently put it, putting Isringhausen in the bullpen is like “us[ing] an Indy car as a taxi in New York City.” (New York Daily News).
As we know Isringhausen would be moved later that season in the ill-fated and ill-conceived trade for Athletics closer Billy Taylor. As an Athletic, Isringhausen would work exclusively out of the bullpen. From there, he would become an All Star closer amassing 300 career saves.
Given the relative injury histories, the reluctance to put the pitchers in the bullpen, and the hope both pitchers carried with them as part of future super rotations, the Wheeler-Isringhausen comparisons are unavoidable.
To that end, it is important to note one of the supposed issues with Isringhausen in the bullpen was his control. This is certainly understandable given his career 1.520 WHIP and 4.0 BB/9 as a starter. And yet, when moved to the bullpen, and allowed to focus on his two best pitches, Isringhausen dramatically cut down on the hits and walks. As a result, the things that made people believe he was a dominant starter came into focus as he became a dominant closer.
The consistently noted fear with Wheeler in the bullpen is his control. His 3.9 BB/9 is similar to what Isringhausen’s was as a starter even if his 1.339 WHIP is considerably better. It should also be noted Wheeler struck out more batters than Isringhausen did as a starter. That is probably because Wheeler’s pure stuff is probably better than Isringhausen’s. According to Brooks Baseball, Wheeler’s fastball sits in the mid 90s and he has a slider that almost hits 90.
Understandably, with Isringhause and Wheeler being different pitchers, the comparison may seem a bit contrived or imperfect. With that said, we have seen how the Royals have transitioned pitchers with similar skill sets to Wheeler, and they converted them into dominant relievers.
Luke Hochevar was a struggling starter who gave up too many walks. He was not having success in the rotation despite a low to mid 90s fastball and a high 80s cutter. He was transitioned to the bullpen where he thrived. Before showing the effects of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, he was dominant in 2013 going 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, and a 10.5 K/9.
While the Royals didn’t try Greg Holland in the rotation, they saw how well his stuff played in the bullpen. From 2011 – 2014, he was among the most dominant closers in all of baseball. Over the stretch he was 15-9 with 113 saves, a 1.026 WHIP, and a 12.6 K/9. Similar to Wheeler, Holland throws a mid to high 90s fastball and a slider in the high 80s.
Basically what we see in Isringhausen, Hochevar, and Holland is pitchers with great stuff can truly succeed in the bullpen. Moreover, pitchers who have had control issues as starters can better harness their pitches by focusing one the two or maybe three pitches they throw best and work out of the stretch. By focusing on what makes the pitcher great can, at times, led a pitcher down the path to greatness. That is even in the event said greatness occurs out of the bullpen.
Given Wheeler’s past control issues, his not having pitched in two seasons, and the emergence of both Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, it might be an opportunity for the Mets to move Wheeler in the bullpen where he may truly thrive. Of course, we won’t know that unless the Mets are willing to try. At this point, given Collins’ statements, it appears the Mets are not quite at that point yet. Maybe they should be.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online