Is the Mets Window Closing?
Right now, the Mets are four games out of a Wild Card spot, and they are desperately hoping with Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera coming off the disabled list this week that the team goes on a run that will bring them back into the postseason. Whether or not that works, it is fair to ask if this is the Mets last chance to win the World Series.
The foundation of this team is its starting pitching. Matt Harvey has gone from Opening Day starter to question mark with his season ending surgery to address his thoracic outlet syndrome. There is no telling how effective he will be if he is able to come back.
Zack Wheeler was supposed to be back by the All Star Break. Now, it appears that he will miss his second consecutive season. While rehabbing from the surgery, Wheeler has had to have a second surgery to deal with forearm irritation caused by stitches, sensory nerve irritation, and now a flexor strain. He had been treated by Dr. Dave Altchek, and he sought a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews. We are continuously assured there are no structural issues, and yet, time and again there is a new excuse why he can’t pitch. At the end of the day, it does not matter if he is unable to pitch due to his elbow or for other reasons. Who knows when he can return or how effective he will be when returning.
There are more question marks in the rotation. Steven Matz has yet to have a healthy season in the majors. Bartolo Colon will be 44 years old next year meaning there is no guarantee that he pitches beyond this year. Even if he does, there is no guarantee he will be this effective. Logan Verrett has shown he is not capable of being a member of the starting rotation. Sean Gilmartin‘s season ended early with shoulder problems. The Mets aren’t going to pick up Jon Niese‘s option, and even if they did bring him back, you should probably expect more of the same from him.
The Mets other options are Gabriel Ynoa and Robert Gsellman, both of whom are probably not ready to start in the majors. Even if they are, both realistically project to be middle to back of the rotation starters. That certainly helps, but that also a huge drop off from someone like Harvey.
As if the starting pitching wasn’t a big enough issue, there is the issue of the Mets offense.
As we saw this year, you cannot rely upon David Wright at all. The Mets have no internal options to replace his bat in the lineup. Worse yet, there is a lack of very good options on the free agent market choices available even if the Mets were so inclined to add a bat. Keep in mind, they may also have to replace Lucas Duda at first base. In 2015, Duda had a disc issue. This year, Duda will miss almost the entire season with a stress fracture in his back. There is a very real chance that he is a non-tender candidate. The Mets do not have a first base option in the minors who is on track to play in the majors next year, and again, the free agent market is less than promising. That means James Loney can once again be the Mets best option, and as we have seen, he is not a terribly good everyday option.
This isn’t even the Mets biggest problem, not by a long shot.
Cespedes can opt out of his contract at the end of the season, and he will easily become the best free agent available. The narrative coming out of last offseason was how much Cespedes wanted to be a Met, and that is why he returned. That’s the hope why he will stay. However, it’s more narrative than fact.
The fact is Cespedes didn’t get a fair market value offer on the free agent market. Judging from the free agent contracts handed out, teams placed a higher value on Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. The teams you would think would be interested in Cespedes gave the money to somebody else. The Nationals were interested, but due to budgetary constraints, they only offered Cespedes a largely backloaded deal. It is possible that after another postseason berth, and Jonathan Papelbon‘s salary off the books, the Nationals could make another run at Cespedes in the offseason. It is also possible that the Giants, Dodgers, Rangers and/or the Angels could emerge as suitors for Cespedes. There’s always the phantom mystery team that could join the bidding.
It is certainly plausible the Mets get outbid from Cespedes, or they simply move on from him. Keep in mind, there were rumblings all over that the Jay Bruce trade was made, in part, as insurance for Cespedes leaving in the offseason. If that is the case, the Mets outfield will yet again be left without a true center fielder.
The main task may first fall to Curtis Granderson, who has struggled mightily this year and should not be counted on to rebound in 2017. The Mets could go with a Juan Lagares/Brandon Nimmo platoon in center, but that would leave no room for Michael Conforto to play everyday.
Speaking of Conforto, there is another major issue with this Mets team. Both Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud have regressed this year. Certainly, Conforto’s wrist and d’Arnaud’s shoulder are factors, but the fact remains, they have regressed. Couple that with Kevin Plawecki not progressing at all, there is a major issue. Either the Mets young talent is not as good as anticipated, or there are impediments at the major league level that is preventing them from reaching their full potential. In order for the Mets to remain contenders, they will need their young players to step up.
Between the aforementioned free agent market and lack of major league ready prospects, the Mets only real hopes of improving the roster is on the trade front. The problem there is the cupboard is getting bare. The Mets have already moved big pieces in Michael Fulmer and Dilson Herrera. They’re not willing to move Amed Rosario, and they are really unlikely to move Dominic Smith. The Mets could move Nimmo, but that depletes from their depth for next season, and as we have seen, the Mets need all the depth they can get.
Keep in mind that over the past two seasons, the Mets have also moved Robert Whalen, Luis Cessa, John Gant, Akeel Morris, and Casey Meisner. They lost Matthew Bowman and Dario Alvarez without getting anything in return. Their departures leaves a gap of mid-tier prospects the Mets could move for upgrades.
Yes, the Mets can field a very competitive baseball team next year. As long as you have pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, you are going to have a chance to compete. With another year of Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, it is a seven inning game for the Mets. It’ll become a six inning game if Hansel Robles takes the next step. But after that?
You’re counting on Neil Walker returning, which is not a guarantee. You’re counting on Asdrubal Cabrera developing more range at shortstop while hitting better than .255/.308/.410. He was a .249/.307/.405 hitter from 2013 – 2015. You’re counting on Jose Reyes to hit better than his .250/.302/.466 and be healthy all of next year. Reyes hit .274/.310/.378 while hitting in two of the best hitter’s parks last year. You’re counting on Wilmer Flores being able to learn to hit righties. You’re counting on the Mets not having to rely on the Eric Campbells and Ty Kellys on the world for prolonged stretches of time over the next season. It’s all possible, but it’s not likely.
As things look right now, the Mets better start winning some ballgames and make a run because there is no guarantee that the Mets window to contend will remain open past this season.