Figuring Out The d’Arnaud/Plawecki Platoon

Since cracking the Opening Day roster in 2014, Travis d’Arnaud has averaged 90 games per season behind the plate with last year being his high at 112 games.  This is because d’Arnaud has not withstood to the day-to-day rigors of catching.  Each and every year, he deals with a different injury to another part of his body, and as a result, the Mets have been left scrambling to figure out their Major League catching depth.

With the re-emergence of Kevin Plawecki as the Mets catcher of the future and the minor league signing of Jose Lobaton, the Mets are in a much better position from a catching standpoint than they have been in years past.  While the Mets have better depth, the end game should be to keep d’Arnaud healthy for a full season.

And for that matter, with Plawecki finally showing the type of bat the Mets believed he had, the team needs to find a spot for him in the lineup.

To that end, a platoon between the catchers makes sense.  Fortunately, both catchers seem inclined to go forward with the plan, and they both thrived under the situation last September with d’Arnaud hitting .297/.343/.656 in 20 games and Plawecki hitting .278/.400/.426 in 19 games.

So based upon their production in an admittedly small sample size, we know it could potentially work.  What we don’t know is how it should work next season, especially when you consider both are right-handed hitters.

Perhaps, the Mets should approach this from a different perspective.  Instead of focusing on what pitcher is on the mound for the opposing team, the Mets should focus on what pitcher is on the mound for their own team.   That is, much like what we saw in 2016 with Noah Syndergaard and Rene Rivera, assign a catcher to a Mets starter based upon whom the pitcher works best.

When you look at the numbers, what is quite startling is just how much better the Mets starters numbers are with Plawecki behind the plate.  There is a very important caveat to that.  Plawecki did the bulk of the catching of these pitchers back in 2015 when they were all healthy and dealing.  It was d’Arnaud who had to deal with each one of them having real injury issues which corresponded with diminished stuff and stats.

Basically, this will come down to comfort, and for starters, we know that likely means Plawecki will be catching Syndergaard because as we saw in 2016, he and d’Arnaud have had difficulty getting on the same page.  As an aside, it was somewhat telling Syndergaard was caught by Plawecki and Tomas Nido in his two “starts” at the end of the season.

Coincidence or not, there may be something to Plawecki not catching Jacob deGrom at all last season.  Given their track record together, which includes deGrom winning the 2014 Rookie of the Year Award and his amazing 2015 postseason, or their both having lower case ds in their last name, there is a rapport between deGrom and d’Arnaud which should continue.

Likely, you want to get each of the catchers 2-3 days in a row when they do play in order to afford them to maximizing rest and getting in rhythm.  To that end, d’Arnaud should catch deGrom with the fourth and fifth starter, whoever they may be.  This would set up this type of rotation:

  1. Jacob deGrom (d’Arnaud)
  2. Noah Syndergaard (Plawecki)
  3. Jason Vargas (Plawecki)
  4. Matt Harvey (d’Arnaud)
  5. Steven Matz (d’Arnaud)

Really, after deGrom and Syndergaard, you can order the pitchers anyway you want, and you can certainly resort them depending on which catcher and pitcher feel most comfortable as a tandem.  In the end, what really matters is Mickey Callaway, Dave Eiland, and Glenn Sherlock communicate with the starters and catching tandem to find the best fit for each pitcher.  If done properly, we may see the catchers last a full season, and more importantly, we could see the pitching staff as a whole revert to their 2015 level.

Platoon?

As I wrote in my last post, the Mets have a lot of versatility. After thinking about it, I noticed something:

2B: Kelly Johnson (L) & Wilmer Flores (R)

3B: Daniel Murphy (L) & Juan Uribe (R)

CF: Kirk Nieuwenhuis (L) & Juan Lagares (R)

This is the making of the perfect platoon situation.  Last night the lefties played against the right handed Zach Lee. The aforementioned lefties were in the lineup. Once the game was out of control, the better defensive players were the Juans who came out onto the field (can’t wait to use that pun again). 

I believe Collins will look to ride the hot hand more than he’ll look to platoon players. However, when the Mets have faced lefties this year, he has loaded the lineup with right handed batters. I think the platoon system is the prudent way to go that unless/until the Mets get reinforcements (trades, players returning from injury). 

Remember, the only two times the Mets won the Workd Series, they effectively used a platoon system. 

Mets Finally Listening To What Everyone Told Them Over A Month Ago

It doesn’t matter who is the General Manager or the manager. The Mets always want to tell everyone else they are wrong, and they are smarter than you. There is plenty of history on this front during the Wilpon Era.

Steve Phillips told us Alex Rodriguez was a 24 and 1 player. So, instead of pursuing A-Rod, he signed Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Kevin Appier, and Steve Trachsel to try to improve the team. When that didn’t work, he made a series of questionable moves over the ensuing two years which somehow led to Roger Cedeno being a center fielder. Ultimately, Bobby Valentine was fired, and he was not too far behind.

There were plenty of decisions past that point. The most recent example was Terry Collins‘ insistence that Michael Conforto was a platoon bat because he was a young left-handed hitter the team had no time to develop because they were trying to win. Somehow this led to Matt Reynolds making a start in left field despite never having played the position in his life.

Now, we are in the era of Brodie Van Wagenen and Mickey Callaway, and things remain the same way.

With Dominic Smith jumping out of the gate hitting well, Pete Alonso showing no signs of being overwhelmed as a rookie, and the team’s questionable outfield depth, everyone said it was time for Smith to get reps in the outfield again. Everyone included Mets hitting coach Chili Davis. The Mets scoffed at the idea and instead insisted it was better for Smith to be a younger version of Julio Franco or Lenny Harris.

The Mets gave up Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn in a deal which helped bring them Edwin Diaz. There were big games early in the season where the team needed their closer to go more than four outs. That was all the more the case with Jeurys Familia‘s struggles. But no, we were told Diaz is just a three out pitcher who was to be saved for save chances only.

To begin the season, Jacob deGrom had no consistency with the catchers behind the plate. That became more of an issue with Wilson Ramos not hitting or framing. Given how deGrom has reached Greg Maddux like status with this team, the strong suggestion was to make Tomas Nido his personal catcher as deGrom was the one pitcher who could easily overcome his lack of offense, especially with Nido’s pitch framing. Instead, the Mets said deGrom was not pitching well enough to warrant a personal catcher.

J.D. Davis was atrocious at third base. In fact, by DRS, he was the worst third baseman in the Majors. With him clearly not suited to the position, everyone said to the Mets they should at least try Davis in left field. It wasn’t until the Mets literally had no other choice that it would happen.

And that’s where we are now. The Mets are under .500 and in third place. Callaway’s job has seemingly become tenuous. Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are on the IL while Jeff McNeil is dealing with an abdominal issue. Justin Wilson is on the IL, and Familia just had another poor performance. Suddenly, the Mets, who knew better than everyone, suddenly don’t anymore.

Now, Smith will get reps in left field, and Davis can start playing out there more. Diaz can pitch more than three outs when the situation merits. Nido will now be deGrom’s personal catcher. Of course, the Mets waited a long time to finally admit they actually don’t know better than everyone. The question now is whether they waited too long.

Fortuantely, the Mets finally listened to everyone. Now, the goal is to finally get through to them that everyone else is indeed smarter than they are and that the Yankees financial model is sustainable. In fact, it could be sustainable for the Mets as well if they were willing to try.

Gsellman Needs To Open Vargas Starts

After last night’s game, Mickey Callaway indicated the team was looking to get only five innings out of Jason Vargas. This was the plan even with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia being unavailable and with Seth Lugo feeling sick. With the Marlins hitting rockets off Vargas, Callaway held hard and fast to the plan removing Vargas after just 74 pitches.

While the win was nice, Vargas’ performance and the plan for him is troubling. After all, if the Mets cannot trust Vargas to go more than five innings against the Marlins, what are they going to do when he faces the other teams in the division? Do the Mets see him even reaching the fifth against lineups featuring Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, or Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto?

The answer is probably no, and the question is how the Mets plan to adapt.

The obvious choice is to remove Vargas from the rotation. The issue there is their Triple-A starters did not fare well in the Majors last year. While you may believe in Corey Oswalt‘s increased Spring velocity or Chris Flexen‘s new physique, it would be wise to give them time in Syracuse first to see if their offseason progress translates to results.

Since dipping into Triple-A isn’t the answer yet, nor is rushing David Peterson or Anthony Kay, the Mets most likely and perhaps most successful option would be to utilize an opener.

Last year, the Rays were the first to utilize an opener. In tabbing Sergio Romo as his opener, Rays manager Kevin Cash said, “The way that their lineup stacks generally speaking is very heavy right-handed at the top It allows us in theory to let Sergio to come in there and play the matchup game in the first . . . .” (Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times).

In essence, the goal of the opener is to get a traditional reliever to start the game and face a platoon advantage in the first. After the reliever gets through the top of the order, the starter can come in and “start” his game against the bottom of the lineup thereby permitting him to not only get an easier start to the game, but arguably, to get deeper into the game.

In the case of Vargas, you saw the Marlins stack right-handed batters against him. After all, it makes sense with right-handed hitters hitting Vargas well. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, right-handed batters are hitting .262/.324/.464 off of him, which translates to a 4.74 FIP.

As a result, the Mets need an opener who can counteract a team loading up their right-handed batters against Vargas. Given his history as a starter, it would make sense for the Mets to make Robert Gsellman as the opener on the games Vargas starts.

From what we see so far this season, Gsellman is not part of the late inning mix. That is reserved for Diaz, Familia, Lugo, and Justin Wilson. Rather, Gsellman is going to be used like he has been so far in this series. When the starter goes five (or less), he is going to be the first guy out of the pen to eat some innings before handing it to the late inning relievers.

If the team is going to use Gsellman for an inning or two whenever Vargas starts, why not make it at the beginning of a game? Why not put pressure on the opposing manager to opt for either having right-handed batters face Gsellman so they’re in place to face Vargas later, or to start their left-handed batters and have a wave of substitutions to face Vargas?

The point is by starting the game with Gsellman, Callaway would be creating a situation that is beneficial for Vargas to enter the game. If you are only getting five innings from him, why not make it against a team’s worse hitters? Why not use Gsellman against a right-handed lineup without fear of seeing a pinch-hitter? If nothing else, it can’t hurt.

Opening Day Just Like Van Wagenen Drew It Up

Four years ago, the Nationals and Mets kicked off the 2015 season with two former Cy Young Award winners. Like today, it was Max Scherzer for the Nationals. For the Mets, it was Jacob deGrom in place of Bartolo Colon. While that 2015 opener was a low scoring game, today was a true pitcher’s battle.

Over 7.2 innings, Scherzer looked like the pitcher who has dominated the National League over the past three years. In each of those seasons, Scherzer led the league in the strikeouts including striking out 300 batters last year. Against, the Mets he would strike out 11 batters. Looking at him pitch, his stuff was completely unfair:

He was all the more dangerous with him getting some really favorable calls, two of which came against Michael Conforto. With him allowing just two hits and three walks, it was clear he did not make many mistakes. But on the one he did make, Robinson Cano would send it opposite field for a homer in his first at-bat as a Met:

That would not be the only impact Cano would have on this game. In addition to the home run, Cano would make a heads up and savvy veteran play in the field in the third when the Mets 1-0 lead was teetering:

With the ball not being hit quite hard enough and with Jeff McNeil having to hesitate a slight second to keep the runner from breaking right away, Cano was smart in catching Victor Robles making a rookie mistake breaking to home on the play. Robles’ mistake took the 1st and 3rd one out situation and turned it into an inning ending double play.

Basically, deGrom took it from there. If there was any question deGrom was going to repeat his 2018 Cy Young season or if the extension drama affected his preparation for the season, they were quickly dispensed. In six shutout innings, deGrom just walked one and would strike out 10 batters. He ramped up his game when he needed.

For example, in the sixth, Trea Turner led off the inning with a single, and he would quickly steal second (his second steal of the game). With Turner’s speed, Wilson Ramos never really had a chance against him. That was evident when Turner stole third after an Anthony Rendon ground out. With a runner on third and one out, deGrom would just embarrass Juan Soto:

After a Ryan Zimmerman fly out, the threat was over, and Mickey Callaway would tab Seth Lugo for the seventh. Like deGrom, he picked up where he left off in 2018 by striking out the side.

What was curious about that top of the seventh was Nationals Manager Dave Martinez would leave in Scherzer to strike out to end the inning. This meant Scherzer would go one inning too far.

Dominic Smith would get the rally started with a one out walk against Scherzer. Scherzer was lifted after striking out Brandon Nimmo for the third time, and Pete Alonso would get his first career hit with a single off Nationals reliever Justin Miller.

Martinez would go to they lefty Matt Grace to face Cano. Cano proved he still is a platoon neutral bat sending an RBI single to left scoring Smith to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.

Callaway would then go through some mechanations to set up the final two innings.

After his first career hit, Alonso was lifted for Keon Broxton. Broxton then stayed in the game for defense replacing Conforto in right. With Alonso out of the game, Smith would stay in the game at first for defense. After that, it was Jeurys Familia getting through a scoreless eighth in his new role as Mets set-up man.

Edwin Diaz would make his Mets debut in the ninth with a two run lead to protect. He’d get the Nationals in order to preserve the 2-0 lead and register his first save as a Met. Interestingly, the first two outs were fly balls to right with Broxton fighting through the tough sun to record the out.

All in all, the Mets have once again won on Opening Day continuing their MLB best winning percentage on Opening Day. They’re now 38-20 (.655) on Opening Day. That’s not the only impressive record from today.

With his performance today, deGrom had his 25th straight quality start putting him one behind Bob Gibson for the all-time record. At the same time, deGrom extended his own MLB record with his 30th straight start allowing three earned or fewer.

Today, Brodie Van Wagenen looked like a genius. Cano delivered the only two RBI in the game. Alonso delivered a hit in a rally giving the Mets an insurance run. Diaz had the save. And of course, the pitcher he long advocated to extend pitched like an ace. Really, this is as good a start to the Van Wagenen Era as he could have hoped.

Game Notes: For the first time in Mets history six players were taking part in their first ever Opening Day (Alonso, Smith, McNeil, Luis Guillorme, Tomas Nido, Tim Peterson). Conforto and Lagares were the only two Mets not to reach base safely at least once in the game.

MLB Rule Changes Overly Impacts Relievers

Major League Baseball has announced a series of rule changes to go into effect for the 2020 season. Some of the proposed rule changes include:

  • Injured List increased from 10 to 15 days
  • Assignment to the minor leagues increased from 10 to 15 days
  • Maximum of 13 pitchers on the Major League roster
  • Position players are not permitted to pitch unless very specific circumstances are met
  • Relievers must face at least three batters
  • Roster sizes increased from 25 to 26 players

Perusing all of these rules, you can not help but conclude it will have long lasting ramifications upon relief pitchers. In fact, you can argue the effects on relievers are damaging.

The most controversial of these rule changes is the three batter minimum. What is interesting is this is a rule change Major League Baseball had purportedly wanted to test in the Atlantic League during the 2019 season before trying to implement in the Majors. Instead, the test is going to be throw by the wayside, and it is going to be implemented anyway.

The result is the effective elimination of LOOGYs, and there will be a severe limiting of any pitcher with platoon splits. This means players like Jerry Blevins and Luis Avilan, two relievers who have one year deals, may be pitching the last year of their careers. Maybe.

Think about it, if you are a Major League team, how can you carry a LOOGY and have him pitch in critical innings know the opposing manager can just send up three straight pinch hitters to tee off on your pitcher? You have that extra batter now because of the rule change adding a hitter because, well, you are only allowed eight relievers.

This is the complete absence of strategy which is part of what makes late inning baseball so interesting. You have fans engaged during the game critiquing moves, and they create discussion points for days. Now, well, it’s paint-by-numbers baseball. You just put in relievers instead of planning out the inning to get as much leverage as possible.

That aside, remember a specialization job in baseball is effectively being eliminated.

As if that wasn’t problem enough, there is an issue with respect to the health of relievers. No, we should not expect pitchers facing three batters in an inning to cause them to brake down. That’s the case even if that would be an extra level of exertion the pitcher was not prepared to give.

The bigger issue is the mop-op games. There are times when a managers needs to lose a battle to win the war. They need to realize when his arms need a break, and sometimes, albeit rarely, he will need to use a position player. The problem is a manager’s ability to do that is now restricted.

According to the new rules, a position player can only pitch if he’s a designated two way player (right now, this only applies to Shohei Ohtani), in extra innings, or either team is up five runs. Seems reasonable in theory, but in practice, it could be much different.

Reasonably speaking, you could have had an extra inning game the previous night and had your starter knocked out early. Under the rules, if you are down just five, you have to go to your main bullpen guys, who may be exhausted, especially during those stretches in the summer. you cannot go to a position player. No, you need to stick with your tired relievers, who may have needed a real break.

Remember, this is more than asking a reliever to pitch to three batters. This is requiring him to pitch to three batters in every game. That means if you pitch three straight days, that’s at least nine batters. At a certain point, that puts a real strain on a reliever’s arm.

Of course, a team could respond by sending a pitcher down. Well, not even that is as easy. Instead of losing a tired arm for about three series, you are losing one for five. Maybe in a soft spot in your schedule, the Mets would be willing to send down a Robert Gsellman for a short stretch to call up a more rested arm like Paul Sewald or Jacob Rhame. The Mets are not doing that for five series because the hit is too prolonged.

The option for a quick IL stint also comes off the board because again you are talking five series instead of three. That leaves the option of just calling up another pitcher and use them as the 26th man on the roster. Again, that is problematic because a team is only permitted eight relievers, and in recent years, teams have been carrying that many relievers anyway. If you are carrying eight relievers, and they are tired, you’re back in the earlier predicament on time in the minors or the IL.

There’s one other consideration here. In September, teams have had the opportunity to call up every player on their 40 man roster. Now, teams only get two. Now, according to how the rules are written, that has to be two additional position players IF you are already carrying eight relievers. This further restricts a team’s ability to bring up a fresh arm, and anecdotally, a team does not get a chance to find their version of the 2002 Francisco Rodriguez, who played a huge role in the Angels winning the World Series.

However you break it down, these rules unduly affect relief pitchers. They are losing certain jobs. They are being required to do more than they previously have. Their ability to obtain a rest after a stressful game has been restricted. In total, this looks more like a plan not well thought out and pushed forward because Rob Manfred wanting to put his stamp in the game and Tony Clark not serving enough of a deterrence.

Of course, we would know more if this was tested out in the Atlantic League as was originally planned, but baseball instead opted to plow ahead without knowing the long term effects. When you break it down, it’s inexcusable for baseball to gamble with the integrity of the game and with the careers of pitchers without even having tested it.

Re-Examining Mets Offseason

At this moment in time, with perhaps a very minor move or two, it would appear the Mets are done adding pieces this offseason. The different holes in the roster have been noted, but what we have not really seen done is an examination of the Mets decision making process. It is something which should be done more earnestly.

Dumping Swarzak’s And Not Frazier’s Contract

Purportedly, one of the selling points of the trade to obtain Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz was to move the contracts of Jay Bruce (2 years, $28 million) and Anthony Swarzak ($8.5 million). While moving Bruce was certainly understandable, it was curious the Mets moved Swarzak instead of Todd Frazier ($9 million).

As we have seen relievers tend to be mercurial, and it is quite possible with a healthier season, Swarzak could have been much more productive in 2019. Depending on the moves the team made in the offseason, he reasonably could have been the last man in the bullpen.

As for Frazier, we have seen the Mets make his spot on the roster tenuous. Pete Alonso appears poised to be the first baseman sooner rather than later, and the Mets brought in Jed Lowrie with the purpose of playing him everyone, albeit at different positions across teh diamond.

Seeing there being a multitude of free agents who could play third base, wouldn’t it have been better to move Frazier over Swarzak? As we saw, the Mets could have replaced Frazier with Lowrie. Other options included Mike Moustakas, Marwin Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Neil Walker. The Mets could have accomplished the same versatility they sought to accomplish by signing multiple players from this group, and they could have had platoon options over Frazier’s bat. It’s noteworthy with the exception of Moustakas these are switch hitters making them more useful bench players than a player who has never played a reserve role in his career.

Why Didn’t McNeil Play Winter Ball?

The very minute the Mets obtained Cano, it was clear Jeff McNeil was going to play some outfield. Now, it could be argued the amount of outfield he played depended entirely on the other moves made this offseason, but nevertheless, the plan was always to have McNeil see some time in the outfield.

Considering McNeil played exactly 17.0 innings in left field in Triple-A last year and just 56.1 innings in the outfield in his six years in the minors, you would have thought the team would have found a spot for him to play winter ball to hone his craft. After all, the team did try to get Dominic Smith time playing outfield in the Dominican Winter League (it didn’t work out).

Now, because the team couldn’t make any moves to improve the outfield, they are going to play McNeil in left all Spring with the hopes he can get up to speed over the course of less than two months worth of games. It should also be noted this decision is moving Michael Conforto from his best defensive position to right, and it is forcing Brandon Nimmo to center, a position the Mets have been reticent to play him at the Major League level.

Why Trade Plawecki if d’Arnaud Wasn’t Ready?

In his four year career, we have all seen Kevin Plawecki‘s warts, but through it all, he has established himself as a viable backup catcher at the Major League level. While the Mets may have felt the need to choose between him and Travis d’Arnaud, that decision would not have been forced upon the Mets until the moment d’Arnaud was ready to play. As we see now, d’Arnaud is not ready to play.

Instead of keeping Plawecki, they traded him for an underwhelming return in the form of Sam Haggerty and Walker Lockett. The only player of value in the trade was Lockett, and he had been previoulsy traded for Ignacio Feliz, an 18 year old who signed for an $85,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic two years ago.

Instead of hedging their bets wisely, the team instead signed Devin Mesoraco. Say what you will about Plawecki, but he is far superior to Mesoraco. He’s a better pitch framer, and he is the better hitter (93 to 92 wRC+). And before anyone invokes Jacob deGrom, you need to explain how Mesoraco was the reason why deGrom was so great.

Where Are the Extensions?

There has been a growing trend in baseball for teams to lock up their young players. For example, the Yankees have already locked up Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks, and they are working on locking up Dellin Betances as well. These actions promise to keep the Yankees core together while keeping them cost controlled to what promises to be a team friendly discount.

At the moment, the Mets have free agency concerns of their own. After 2019, Zack Wheeler will be a free agent. After 2020, deGrom will be a free agent. After 2021, a significant portion of the Mets current Mets core will be free agents with Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz will be headed to free agency.

We know deGrom has put himself on the front burner, but what are the Mets doing besides him? After all, if CAA is in town, it means the team can negotiate extensions for both deGrom and Syndergaard. There is also nothing preventing them from reaching out to the agents for the other players.

Really, this is the biggest part of the offseason which needs examination. What exactly is the plan going forward? Do the Mets have intentions of building something much sustaining, or is this a one year gamble? Are the Mets playing things out in 2019 and reassessing. At this moment, we don’t know. Hopefully, the Mets do.

Mets May Have Best Bullpen In Baseball

Last week, the Mets added Justin Wilson to a bullpen who already had Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. With Wilson previously serving as the Tigers closer in 2017, the Mets can now run out three straight closers in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. If Mickey Callaway wants to be imaginative, it allows him to slot these three pitchers as needed to close out a game.

For instance, if the Braves have Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman due up, he can go with Wilson that inning and deploy Familia and Diaz in the others. That could be mean Wilson in the seventh, eighth, or possibly even the ninth. When you build that type of versatility in the bullpen, your bullpen is even better.

Then again, you don’t even have to go that far as all three of those pitchers are fairly platoon neutral meaning you can just run them out there and let them get batters out. Of course, this means you also get the chance to rest some of your better arms as needed. The fresher the arms are in your bullpen the better your bullpen is.

While we can assume that trio are the three main guys who are set to close out games, it is very possible the best pitcher in the Mets bullpen is actually Seth Lugo, a pitcher who truly emerged as the Mets answer to Andrew Miller last year.

Last year, Lugo was 3-4 with three saves, a 2.66 ERA, 1.076 WHIP, and a 9.1 K/9. Behind those numbers, he emerged as a guy who you could trust in any situation. If you needed a guy to come in and strike a batter out? Bring in Lugo. The starting pitcher knocked out in the first?  Bring in Lugo. Middle of the order due up in the late innings? Bring in Lugo. No matter what the situation, if you need big outs, you bring in Lugo.

Right there, the Mets have four top end pitchers in their bullpen. With Familia and Lugo, you know you can trust two of them to go multiple innings. This means when you have the really important games, at most, you really need just five solid innings from your starters. That’s important to note when Jason Vargas is starting games.

When it is Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, you take your terrific six innings, and you don’t need to push them further. Then again, you will because they’re great pitchers. Keep in mind, when they are great for six, seven, or even eight innings, your bullpen looks all the better because you only need one or two of your great relievers.

That’s the key. Few, if any teams, can pair the type of rotation the Mets have with the type of bullpen they have built. Breaking it down and examining it, you realize a strong rotation and a strong bullpen buttresses each other, and it makes them both stronger.

It also allows you to not overuse relievers like Robert Gsellman, Luis Avilan, Daniel Zamora, Kyle Dowdy, Hector Santiago, Drew Smith, Paul Sewald, Jacob Rhame, Tyler Bashlor, or whoever else the Mets run out there with the aforementioned top four relievers. It’s not just overuse, it’s overexposing. Being able to diligently use these arms makes them stronger, and it makes the bullpen better.

That’s the key here. Building a bullpen or pitching staff is not just about the arms you have. It is about where you are opting to deploy them. The Mets have three closers set for the final three innings. They have a pitcher like Lugo who can be used as a weapon who can not just be unleashed at any time but at the most opportune times. You can then have three guys you can match-up as needed. With the Mets starting rotation, they probably will not be needed anywhere as often as other teams need their fifth, sixth, seventh, or even eighth best reliever.

In the end, that is how you truly build a great bullpen. You get the guys, and you put them in the right spots to maximize their skill set. Overall, this is why the Mets have the makings of the best bullpen in baseball.

Three Years Later, Game Changing And Franchise Altering Options Still There

Today is the three year anniversary of Yoenis Cespedes officially signing a three year $75 million contract with the New York Mets. The contract came with the opt out the Mets had said they didn’t want to offer anyone, and it was a surprise for a team who had seemed to move on from Cespedes early in the offseason.

For those who recall, the Mets had signed Alejandro De Aza on December 23, 2015. With his signing, the plan was apparently to have him platoon with Juan Lagares in center field. He would be in the same outfield as Michael Conforto, who after a promising 2015 season, looked primed to be an everyday player and Curtis Granderson, a man who was a series of infield and managerial gaffes away from being the World Series MVP.

That was a respectable, but not an especially formidable outfield for a Mets team who had designs on winning a World Series. It caused frustration because the De Aza signing didn’t exactly put the team over the top. The money saved on Michael Cuddyer‘s retirement was arguably poorly spread between De Aza, Jerry Blevins, Antonio Bastardo, and Bartolo Colon.

No, this team needed Cespedes.

What was odd was Cespedes was still a free agent. Sure, there were better regarded free agent outfield options in Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Alex Gordon. There were other attractive options available as well. Still, this was a player who thrived in the biggest market in the world hitting .287/.337/.604 with 14 doubles, four triples, 17 homers, and 44 RBI in 57 games.

Extrapolating that over a 162 game season, and Cespedes would have accumulated 40 doubles, 11 triples, 48 homers, and 125 RBI. Now, it shouldn’t be anticipated Cespedes could do that over a 162 game schedule. However, what we did see is Cespedes is a difference maker just like he was with the Athletics.

Yet, still he lingered with little interest. Sure, the Nationals were rumored to have offered Cespedes $100 million, but it was the typical Nationals offer with deferred money, which did not seem to interest Cespedes. The fact this was the only real offer kept him around thereby allowing the Mets to swoop in and get Cespedes on a good deal for both sides.

It was a coup by Sandy Alderson. It was a necessary move which helped the Mets reach the postseason again in 2016. It marked just the second time in team history the Mets would go to consecutive postseasons. It happened because Cespedes lingered allowing the Mets to make a bold move.

This is the same situation which is present with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

Somehow, some way, the two best free agents entering this free agent class are still available. For reasons unbeknownst to us, there are few teams in on either one of these players. In adding either one of these players, the Mets would take their 2019 team and put it over the top. A team who is projected to win around 85 games would move into the 90+ win range. That’s what happens when you add superstars and potential Hall of Famers.

It was the impact Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter had on those 1980s Mets teams. We saw that impact again when the Mets went out and traded for and re-signed Mike Piazza.

The Mets took advantage of unexpected opportunities. They struck when no one else expected them to strike. The result was a period of relevance, winning, and increased attendance. The chance is there. The Mets need to strike now and bring in one of Harper or Machado. The 2019 season rests on it.

Good Luck Wilmer Flores

Back in 2015, Wilmer Flores was in tears as he believed he was going to be an ex-Met, he cried on the field. Given his age, how he grew up in the Mets organization, and how he found out about the trade, you could understand why Flores was so emotion. What you cannot understand is how he was so unceremoniously non-tendered.

For all of his faults, Flores was a Met, and he was an improving player. As a player who began to find a role as a platoon player who could hit left-handed pitching, he learned how to hit righties. With there being an increased emphasis on putting the ball in play, Flores has always had a good strikeout rate. He has also shown improved plate discipline. More than any of that, Flores was a player with a sense of the moment as evidenced by his being the Mets all-time leader in walk-off hits. None were better than that fateful July night:

With Flores, most of his faults have been over-analyzed and stated. Yes, we know he is not a good defender anywhere but first base. However, this was a player who was willing to do whatever was asked of him. He played shortstop when everyone but the Mets knew he was ill-equipped to handle the position. He moved all around the diamond, and he accepted whatever role was given him. He was someone who loved being a Met, and the fans loved him for it.

Oddly enough, the reports of his demise may have also been premature. While one of the purported justifications for non-tendering him was his arthritis, there is a chance that was a misdiagnosis. Even if it wasn’t, this was a guy who played first base all summer, and he played well. From June 21st until August 23rd, the game before Jay Bruce came off the disabled list, Flores hit .293/.337/.471.

Over that stretch, Flores’ 118 wRC+ was sixth best among first basemen, who had at least 200 plate appearances. Essentially, he was the seventh best everyday first baseman. That level of production is not easily replaceable. That was made further evident by the Mets trading three good prospects in Ross Adolph, Scott Manea, and Luis Santana to get a worse hitting version of Flores in J.D. Davis.

As an aside, Flores was also great with the fans. He was always one of the last players leaving the field before a game. He was out taking pictures and signing autographs for the fans. The fans loved him, and he loved the fans. When you lose someone like Flores, you lose that connection fans have with a player and a team.

When you look at Flores, you saw a player who loved everything about being a Met. He was a someone who was willing to do whatever was asked. He had a sense for the big moment. He was a fan favorite. He’s also now entering the prime of his career, and he is going to a good hitter’s park in Arizona where he should hopefully have a lot of success.

In an odd sense, you cannot tell the history of the Mets without mentioning Flores. This tells you just how much of an impact he had during his time with the Mets. For that, and for who he was, Mets fans everywhere should wish him well.

Good luck Wilmer Flores.