With the Mets rumored to be obtaining Jason Kipnis, fans should be thrilled. Kipnis is seemingly everything the team needs, and he could go a long way in making the Mets a better team.
He is a two time All Star, who seemingly has no ego. After returning from the Disabled List, the Indians asked him to move to center field because that is what was needed to help the team win. He did it, and he did it despite his having been a key player on a team that came within a run of winning the World Series in 2016.
In his two prior healthy seasons, Kipnis was a .289/.357/.460 hitter who averaged 42 doubles, six triples, 16 homers, and 67 RBI. He also averaged a 4.3 WAR with him posting three seasons of a WAR above 4.0 in three out of his past five seasons.
Combine this with a reasonable salary (owed $28.3 million over next two years with a $16.5 million option for 2020), and you have a good player on a decent contract that can really help the Mets.
However, this is exactly the type of player that can also help a Cleveland Indians team with World Series aspirations – an Indians team who is about to take major hits in free agency.
Already, the Indians have lost Bryan Shaw and Carlos Santana in free agency. Jay Bruce and may not be far behind. By trading Kinsler, the Indians may be getting rid of a player who could help them at either first base, the outfield, or anywhere else the Indians need.
Yes, Jose Ramirez had an MVP caliber season, and he seemingly usurped Kipnis at second base. Still, Ramirez moving from third to second also created some uncertainty at the third base position.
No doubt, the Indians have some talented young players who could play there like Yandy Diaz, Francisco Mejia, or Giovanny Urshela. However, it is quite telling that come postseason time the Indians handed the third base duties to journeyman Michael Martinez. Reason being is that the aforementioned trio wasn’t quite ready. And really, who is to say they will be next season?
If you next take into account, Michael Brantley being constantly injured, you really begin to wonder why is it the Indians are willing to just give up on Kipnis?
It’s not like he’s at his peak value. He’s coming off an injury plagued season where he had a 0.4 WAR, 81 OPS+, 82 wRC+, and a -2 DRS at second base. Trading him now feels more like the Indians are dumping a salary than the Mets are blowing the Indians away with an offer to get a good player.
This should beg the question about what the Indians know that no one else does? Is it Kipnis’ shoulder? Is it fear of regression? Is it just to free up money to spend elsewhere? No one can be quite sure as of right now.
With all the said, Kipnis still presents a huge upgrade for a Mets organization that had the second worst DRS at second base in all of baseball. It’s a massive upgrade for a team that views Jose Reyes and his -0.6 WAR last year as the free agent backup plan. This all means the Mets should be pursuing Kipnis.
However, that doesn’t mean the Mets shouldn’t be concerned as to which Kipnis they are getting in return.
With the sixth pick of the Rule 5 Draft, the Mets were not supposed to be able to select Burch Smith. However, by some fortune, the player rated by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Rule 5 Draft, fell to the Mets. Even better, the Mets made the wise decision to pick him.
But they weren’t smart enough to keep him.
In what was likely a prearranged deal with the Kansas City Royals, the Mets traded Smith for cash considerations or a player to be named later.
Look, we don’t know if Smith can be an effective Major League player. There is certainly a reason the Tampa Bay Rays left him unprotected. His joining Zack Wheeler in missing the 2015 and 2016 seasons to Tommy John probably played no small part. Still, this was a talented player Baseball America projects as Major League ready:
Smith sat 94-96 mph with his fastball, flashed a knee-buckling 74-76 mph curveball and showed a swing-and-miss 79-81 mph changeup. Though he’s 27 and has had serious arm health issues, Smith is major league ready and has the stuff to help a team as a back-end starter or move to the bullpen.
Looking at the Mets as constituted now, it is bizarre to think the team could part with Smith without so much as getting real player back or giving him a chance. With stuff like Smith has, and with the arrival of Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland, you would anticipate the Mets organization could get the most out of Smith. Whether that is as a short inning reliever, a long man (like Sean Gilmartin in 2015), or a fifth starter, Smith at least appears to be a MLB pitcher.
Obviously, the Royals believed that to be true with them dangling cash in front of a Mets team that is cutting payroll.
Sarcasm aside, the role Smith would fulfill on this Mets team would be the one given to Robert Gsellman or Rafael Montero. With Gsellman’s not caring what the GM thinks combined with his poor season and with Montero having the career he has had, it begs the question why you would turn your back on a player who could conceivably fulfill the same role and possibly do it better.
Right now, no one is quite sure what Smith is as a Major Leaguer. The same could be said about Pedro Beato in 2010 or Johan Santana in 1999. Point is, we don’t know what or who Smith will be. However, we do know what the Mets have, which makes their decision to just give Smith away all the more troubling.
After the purported hand-wringing Sandy Alderson was doing over the free agent reliever market, the Mets finally pulled the trigger, and they signed Anthony Swarzak to a two year $14 million deal.
There is a lot to like about Swarzak. Last year, the 32 year old had his best ever season going 6-4 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.034 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, and a 10.6 K/9. As noted by D.J. Short of Rotoworld, Swarzak had a higher swinging strike percentage than old friend Addison Reed. Part of that could be attributed to the fact he added about two MPH on his fastball.
He’s also been a platoon neutral pitcher his entire career with his best season being in 2017. While limiting right-handed batters to a .218/.259/.346 batting line, left-handed batters were worse against him hitting .198/.294/.281.
These stats are all the more incredible and important when you consider he predominantly worked in the 7th and 8th innings. The Mets needed another set-up man to work with AJ Ramos to hand the ball to Jeurys Familia in the 9th.
Overall, this is all important, and the signing helps the Mets. However it isn’t enough, especially because this is all but a shapshot of Swarzak’s career.
It was just in 2015 Swarzak had a 5.26 ERA and 1.516 WHIP in the Korean Leagues. In 2016, his first season back from Korea, he was 1-2 with a 5.52 ERA for the Yankees.
While he was obviously improved since then, it was mostly on the strength of some outliers. Prior to last season, he yielded a .304 BABIP. In 2017, that number was .272.
Prior to 2017, Swarzak left 69.8% of runners on base, which is right around league average. Last season, his LOB% was a career best 82.9%.
Maybe these numbers were all the result of improved stuff. Maybe it was him becoming more comfortable in the bullpen. It’s just as possible the increased velocity and some of the BABIP and LOB% will regress to league and career norms.
Overall, the Mets did acquire a quality reliever who should prove to better than internal options like Hansel Robles, Paul Sewald, and Josh Smoker. Moreover, Swarzak is getting the opportunity to work with Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland. If there’s a tandem you trust to help Swarzak make 2017 the new norm instead of an outlier, it’s them.
Still, with the stark contrast between the 2017 and career numbers, the Mets need to hedge their bets that Swarzak may very well regress. In the end, this means that while Swarzak may very well prove to be a nice addition, he’s far from being the final piece of the puzzle.
In what has already been a frustrating offseason for Mets fans, Sandy Alderson has already uttered a statement that may prove to go down in “Panic Citi” history. While speaking with reporters, Alderson suggested people “spend a little less time focusing on our payroll.”
If Alderson wants everyone to spend less time focusing on payroll, maybe it is time to focus on Alderson’s tenure as the Mets General Manager to see how it was the team has gotten to this position.
During Alderson’s entire tenure, there have only been eight players who have played over 140 games in a season – Asdrubal Cabrera (2016), Ike Davis (2012) Lucas Duda (2014), Curtis Granderson (2014 – 2016), Juan Lagares (2015), Daniel Murphy (2012 – 2014), Jose Reyes (2017), and David Wright (2012).
This is because of a long list of injuries that have occurred to their position players. This ranges from the ordinary (Yoenis Cespedes‘ hamstring issues) to the bizarre (Davis’ Valley Fever) to the tragic (Wright).
As poorly as things have gone for the position players, the pitching situation is even worse. Johan Santana, Tim Byrdak, and Scott Rice suffered injuries that effectively ended their careers. Same could be said for Bobby Parnell, Jeremy Hefner, and Jim Henderson. The list goes on and on..
That list includes a starting pitching staff upon which this franchise was supposedly built. Each of the treasured purported five aces have undergone surgeries that have cost them multiple months. Matt Harvey may never be the same, and the same can be said for Zack Wheeler.
The irony is Alderson implemented the famed “Prevention & Recovery” mantra, and arguably things have gotten worse under his control.
Evaluating Own Talent
Now, there are varying reasons why teams choose to extend some players while not extending others, or why they choose not to re-sign other players. Still, Alderson’s record is not exactly sterling on this front.
The main players discussed on this front are Murphy and Justin Turner. However, there are some other less discussed players that have slipped through the Mets fingers.
The Mets traded Collin McHugh for Eric Young only to watch McHugh thrive elsewhere. Chris Young was given a large one year deal, was released, and has been an effective player for the Yankees and Red Sox. They released Dario Alvarez to see the Braves claim him and trade him to the Rangers for a former first round draft pick. Finally, there was the Angel Pagan trade for a couple of players who amounted to nothing with the Mets.
The troubles evaluating their own players go beyond who they willingly let go. It goes to those players the Mets opted to extend – Lagares, Jon Niese, and Wright. None of these three ever amounted to the promise they had at the time the contracts were extended. There are differing reasons for this, but in the end, the Mets proved wrong in those decisions.
The glass half-full is that every first round draft pick made prior to 2015 has made the Majors. Additionally, two of those players have made All Star teams. The glass half-empty is the players the Mets have drafted have not lived up to their potential.
At a time the Mets need a starting center fielder, Brandon Nimmo isn’t even being considered. This is not surprising as many see him as a fourth outfielder.
Coincidentally, the Mets also need a second baseman, and they are not even considering Gavin Cecchini for so much as a utility role let alone an opportunity to compete for a job in Spring Training.
The team was not at all enamored with Dominic Smith‘s rookie campaign, and they have publicly talked about bringing in insurance for him not being on the Opening Day roster.
The Mets had no 2015 draft pick because the team lost it signing Michael Cuddyer. Effectively speaking, this decision cost the Mets two first rounders as the team’s lack of offense and health caused them to trade Michael Fulmer for Cespedes. We have all seen Fulmer win a Rookie of the Year Award and make an All Star team in Detroit while the Mets have been desperate for pitching.
Justin Dunn has done little to quell the concerns he is a reliever and not a starter while Anthony Kay, the compensation for the reigning NLCS MVP, has yet to throw a professional pitch because of his Tommy John surgery.
This leaves Conforto, who should be a burgeoning superstar, but sadly we wait with baited breath looking to see if he is going to be the same player he was before separating his shoulder on a swing.
Alderson’s ventures into free agency have not been all that fruitful. Of all the players who have signed multi-year deals, only Granderson has posted multiple seasons over a 2.0 WAR. In fact, Granderson is the only player who has posted a cumulative WAR of over 4.0.
For those that would bring up Colon or Cespedes, their exploits are not attributable to their multi-year deals. Colon accumulated 4.9 WAR with the Mets with 3.4 of that coming during his one year contract. Cespedes has accumulated 7.2 WAR with the Mets with just 2.1 WAR coming last year in an injury plagued first year of a large four year deal.
It should be noted Alderson may not have much success on this front because the team has not gone crazy in free agency signing just a few players a year to Major League deals.
Even in 2015 and 2016, two years the Mets made the postseason, the Mets had depth issues. This was why the team traded for Kelly Johnson in consecutive seasons. It’s also a reason why in those consecutive years the Mets had to add to the bullpen.
Those seasons have taken a toll on the Mets prospect front. They have sent away a number of assets and potential Major League contributors for a number of players who were attainable before the season began on reasonable deals. Instead, the Mets thought they would be set with players like Eric Campbell.
Much of what is attributed to Alderson being a good General Manager is predicated upon a stroke of genius in obtaining Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, and Wuilmer Becerra in exchange for R.A. Dickey. Even with many fans wanting to give him plaudits for Cespedes, it should be noted the trade was made largely because of a series of missteps. It should also be noted the Mets lost a pretty good pitcher.
Now, if you are going to defend Alderson by saying his hands have been largely tied due to the Mets payroll, remember, Alderson himself doesn’t want thinks we should spend a little less time focusing on that.
Sadly, we have to do that because the Alderson regime has had difficulties in evaluating their own talent and drafting high end talent. If he had, the discussion would probably be the Mets fine tuning to make another postseason run instead of there being fan anger over how the payroll is restricting the Mets from building a World Series caliber roster.
On MMO some of the writers did their own postseason plans. The guidelines are that we must stick to a budget in the $30-35 million range given what we’ve heard the Mets could spend.
For signings, MLB Trade Rumors and Jon Heyman’s free agent predictions to come up the contracts for each player.
The Mets have several holes to fill and not a ton of money to work with which had me searching for deals on the free agent market and here is what I think should be done with the limited resources.
Fixing the Bullpen
As the Mets head into the 2018 season, their main goal for the team will be to rebuild a bullpen. Despite handwrining among fans, there is some talent present. Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, and Jerry Blevins address three key roles. Around them, the Mets need to find four cost effective options.
The first two parts of this bullpen need to be internal. In lieu of looking for a second left-handed reliever in free agency, the Mets need to utilize Hansel Robles in that role. For his career he has reverse splits, and he needs to be used accordingly. He also provides the benefit of giving the team multiple innings when needed.
Additionally, the Mets need to move Seth Lugo to the bullpen. In short bursts, Lugo is able to ramp up his fastball and use his curveball with more frequency. With that combination, Lugo can be a true late inning option and/or a long man. For those concerned about the loss of him as rotation depth, consider his struggles a third time through the order.
For the final two spots, the Mets should attack free agency. The first option the Mets should pursue is Seung-hwan Oh. Oh has been a dominant closer in the Korean Leagues, and he was dominant in his rookie season with the Cardinals. He had an off-year last year partially driven by an increased BABIP and HR rate as well as a drop in his strikeout rate. With a new pitching coach and a new situation, he could very well recover with the Mets giving the team an additional option at the closer spot.
When it comes to the final spot, the Mets should look to add a power arm like Juan Nicasio. After struggling in the rotation, Nicasio was transitioned to a full time reliever, and he grew into a dominant arm. With his being armed with an upper 90s fastball and good control, he’s probably just tapping the surface, and the Mets would be wise with their new pitching guru contingent to see the next wave.
Veteran Depth & Insurance Policies
Heading into the 2018 season, the Mets aren’t sure Dominic Smith is ready to be the Opening Day first baseman. Even with the best projections, they do not believe Michael Conforto will be ready by Opening Day, and after that, they don’t know what he can contribute. In addition to that, the Mets don’t have a second baseman.
The first part of that solution should be adding Howie Kendrick. The 33 year old had a bounce-back, albeit injury prone, season. Over the past season, Kendrick had a 121 wRC+, which ranks second best in his career. He also played first, second, and the corner outfield positions last year. While he was not outstanding at any of those positions, he was clearly capable of handling those positions. He’s your best bet to have a Jose Valentin type season for the team.
Another player worth taking a flyer on is Jose Bautista. In 2017, he fell apart offensively going from a .234/.366/.452 slash line to .203/.308/.366 leading the Blue Jays to utilize the buy out provision on his contract. At 37 years old, he’s not far removed from a productive season. He’s also just looking for an opportunity.
Fortunately, the Blue Jays helped him in that respect by moving him around the field last year. He played on game at first, eight at third, and 143 in RF. Based on the numbers, he’s no longer an everyday right fielder, but he is still talented enough to be a stopgap for Conforto. If he dedicated himself to getting better at first, he could serve as both competition and a platoon option for Smith.
There is no secret some of the Mets biggest issues have been depth, versatility, and second base. While Ian Kinsler would address second base, and he is arguably the best defensive second baseman available, the Mets trade target for the position should be Jason Kipnis.
The Indians second baseman has been pushed out of a job due to injury and the emergence of younger players in his stead. Despite that, he is still a good hitter who hit .276/.349/.429 from 2013 – 2016 while averaging 36 doubles and 14 homers a season. He’s also a gamer willing to do anything to help his team win as evidenced by his playing center field at the end of the season and the postseason because that was what was best for the team. This is the type of attitude the Mets should be looking to instill in their current roster.
The center and outfield possibilities should also be intriguing to the Mets in the event of another Juan Lagares injury or the questions surrounding Conforto.
Kipnis is not going to come cheap, nor should he considering he’s an All Star player with a good contract. Earlier this offseason, Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested Robert Gsellman and Luis Guillorme as the package to get Kipnis. That may be a little light, and perhaps the inclusion of Wilmer Flores would be enticing to an Indians team heavy with left-handed hitters and could use a corner infield option, could potentially allow the Mets to complete this deal.
Filling In The Rest
In addition to the aforementioned players, the Mets would be well advised to bring in some veteran depth this Spring Training. On the starting pitching front Ubaldo Jimenez previously worked exceptionally well with current Mets manager Mickey Callaway, and Bartolo Colon left an impression with this current Mets staff. Both would make sense on a minor league deal with an invitation to
From reports, Manny Machado could well be available. However, with the state of the Mets farm system, the Mets are going to have to trade Major League players like Jacob deGrom and Amed Rosario to get him.
Machado is well worth that return, and knowing the Orioles, they’ll want more – much more. Again, Machado is worth it, but he’s also an impending free agent. Furthermore, the Mets don’t have the means to replace deGrom with a Yu Darvish or sign Machado to a contract extension.
The other long shot is Marcell Ozuna. The Marlins are dangling him, and he’s exactly the type of player that fits the Mets mold – underpaid and under team control for two years. Presuming you take back Starlin Castro and his contract in a deal, you’d probably be able to swing a more palatable deal.
However, there does not seem to be any traction between the Mets and the Marlins on anything. Even if they were, teams like the Cardinals, Cubs, and Giants are interested. They seem more willing to go that extra mile than the Mets. Considering the Stanton deals that fell apart, there is less leg work for the Cardinals and Giants to do.
Key Acquisitions: Seung-hwan Oh (1 year, $4 million), Howie Kendrick (2 years, $16 million), Jose Bautista (1 year $5 million), Jason Kipnis (2 years, $28.3 million), Juan Nicasio (2 years, $14M), Ubaldo Jimenez (minor league deal), Bartolo Colon (minor league deal)
Key Departures: Robert Gsellman, Luis Guillorme, Wilmer Flores
Total Cost: $33.9 million
While the New York Yankees were introducing their newest player Giancarlo Stanton and basking in the afterglow of their reemergence as the Evil Empire, the Mets were contemplating an exit strategy for Matt Harvey. According to reports, this includes potentially trading him to the Texas Rangers for Jurickson Profar.
The Mets even contemplating such a move is a dangerous situation for the franchise, and it is a move that can blow up in their faces.
Look, there is no doubt, Harvey is no longer Harvey. Over the past two seasons, he has dealt with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, atrophied muscles in his throwing shoulder, and an ensuing stress reaction. His combined stats are a 9-17 record with a 5.78 ERA and a 1.581 WHIP.
Looking over that, there is every doubt Harvey could get back to being a good Major League pitcher let alone the Dark Knight.
You know what is even more doubtful? Profar will ever live up to the billing of being Baseball America‘s top prospect after the 2012 season.
After receiving the top billing, Profar missed consecutive seasons due to shoulder injuries. Since returning from those injuries, Profar has played in 112 games over the past two seasons hitting .227/.316/.315. That’s good for a 67 OPS+ and a 71 wRC+.
Defensively, he’s played everywhere because when you hit as poorly as Profar, you’re nothing more than a utility player. Albeit in limited sample sizes, he’s capably handled first, second, third, short, and left field. The key phrase here is capably, not well. In the end if you are not outstanding defensively, you cannot afford to have offensive stats as low as Profar.
With how poorly Profar has performed, it begs the question why anyone would have interest in him, let alone a Mets team who already have middling and much better second base and platoon options. Really, the Mets should be hesitant to trade Rafael Montero for Profar let alone Harvey.
With Harvey, you at least have some hope. That’s not just hope in the clubhouse, but also with the fanbase.
The team brought on Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland. The team appears to be bringing in a new person to oversee the training program. All of these things indicate Harvey could very well rebound. Quite possibly he doesn’t, but at the very least, there are the tools in place needed for Harvey to be Harvey.
Even if he fails in the rotation, Mets fans can talk themselves into being a dominant reliever. We need not look any further than Brandon Morrow or what Eiland, himself, did with Mike Minor, who coincidentally signed a free agent deal with the Rangers.
That comes to the next point. Harvey brings more than hope. He’s a lightning rod for the Mets. Every fifth day, he demands attention. He’s an interesting and polarizing figure. Put another way, he’s a star.
As Sandy Alderson reminded us when the Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes, Major League Baseball is in the entertainment business. Teams need to not only be good. They need to be entertaining. They need to give people a reason to watch.
Harvey does that. Profar never has and never will. Really, any player the Mets would move for Harvey would do that.
At a time when the Yankees are the most interesting they have been since 2009 or even during their last dynasty, the Mets can ill afford to be both bad and boring. With the team plugging holes with players like Profar, they promise to be bad. With the Mets moving players like Harvey, they promise to be boring.
When you’re both bad and boring, no one wants to come to the ballpark. More than anyone else, the Mets should know that with Grant’s Tomb and the Madoff Scandal.
Fortunately for the moment, the Mets do not appear to believe Profar is enough for Harvey. Make no mistake, the trade discussions with the Rangers is but the first step in what may be Harvey’s last day as a member of the Mets organization as the team seems intent to move him.
Overall, the Mets can ill afford to trade Harvey because they can’t replace him or the hope he presents the team. With him goes what fleeting relevancy the Mets have in New York. Love him or hate him, the Mets need him.
With the Giancarlo Stanton trade saga and Shohei Ohtani looking for a team, the hot stove has been rather lukewarm this time of the year. With that said, we have seen some movement on the reliever market both be fore and after Stanton and Ohtani selected their ultimate destinations:
- Luke Gregerson 2 years $11 million
- Brandon Morrow 2 years $21 million
- Miles Mikolas 2 years $15.5 million
- Mike Minor 3 years $28 million
Now, based upon Sandy Alderson’s previous comments and behavior, you would think this would leave the Mets GM emboldened. The only reliever that got a deal more than two years was Minor, who was actually signed to pitch in the Rangers starting rotation.
Instead, Sandy Alderson spoke with reporters and crushed what little hope Mets fans had this offseason.
On the reliever market, which has already seen quality relievers sign to reasonable deals, Alderson said, “And to the extent that the market gets overheated, I wouldn’t think that we’ll jump into the inferno.” (Newsday).
Just wait, it gets better.
Alderson also admitted what Mets fans suspected to be true – the Mets didn’t even try to acquire Stanton. Hopefully, because he thinks we’re all stupid, Alderson didn’t cite that big contract as a reason. No, Alderson actually cited the fact the team had Brandon Nimmo as the reason why.
This is the same Nimmo the team never gave a real shot to start, at least before the fire sale and injuries, and the team won’t give a starting spot in next year’s outfield. Apparently to the amazement of everyone, the Mets don’t need the reigning MVP because Nimmo has gotten dramatically better in the roughly two months since the season ended. He’s now an MVP caliber player.
That’s awesome because as we all know Alderson’s drafts have been spotty at best. His drafts have produced only two All Stars. The first, Michael Conforto, is rehabbing from a significant shoulder injury, and we don’t know if he will ever be the same (NOTE: don’t get a Mets fan started on team injuries). The second, Michael Fulmer, is a Tiger because back in 2014, the Mets thought Michael Cuddyer was the answer to their need for a productive hitter. As we know he wasn’t, and by extension, the Mets lost two first round picks.
But wait, after an offseason that began with the Mets leaking they have soured on Dominic Smith, the team is high on him again saying, “We’re still very high on Dominic — some of my comments earlier in the offseason notwithstanding.”
Apparently, the team is no longer interested in players like Carlos Santana not because of the cost, but rather, because Smith has been on the same postseason regiment as Nimmo where disappointing first round draft picks suddenly transform into MVP caliber players overnight.
Not discussed during the discussion with reporters was the Mets latest bombshell. They are now dangling Matt Harvey this offseason in exchange for a reliever.
As we have learned the past two seasons, the one thing the Mets can well afford to do is to be reckless with pitching depth. No, we can’t count on Harvey to be anything. However, the same can be said for Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz.
Considering the Mets heavily invested in their pitching staff by hiring Mickey Callaway as manager and Dave Eiland as pitching coach, why not see if they can get Harvey back to being the Dark Knight, or at the very least a reliable starting pitcher?
Do you really need to trade him for a sixth inning reliever? And if that is the case, why not let Harvey move to the bullpen? With Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, you already have seven starters for five spots. Someone is going to have to go to Triple-A or the bullpen. If Harvey can’t withstand the rotation, why not find out if he can the bullpen?
And there we have it. The Mets not only have no faith in their coaching staff, but they are already backing off players on the eve of the Winter Meetings.
It was almost yesterday the Mets were discussing Santana, Ohtani, Lorenzo Cain, and Jason Kipnis. Now? Well, we are talking trading Harvey to help fix the bullpen, and Nimmo and Smith as being a significant part of the future when just a month earlier they were not a legitimate starting option.
This is what happens when the Mets aren’t trying to generate hype to get fans to purchase individual game tickets. It’s what happens when the Mets are entering a Winter Meetings when their initial hype and hope are about to get exposed.
Some teams have the Curse of the Bambino. Others have the Billy Goat Curse. Because they’re the Mets, they have the Santa Curse. It was alive and well last year, and it seems like the Mets chose some pretty low hanging fruit this year.
Can you name all the Mets who have played Santa Claus? Good luck!
If you’re a Mets fan, you have become well aware of the Santa Curse. The origin of the curse is not known, although some may suspect it is related to the miserly Jacob Marley or Ebeneezer Scrooge ways of the Wilpon Family.
If you are one who does not believe in curses or other such things we cannot possibly being to understand, here are those who have played Santa and their fate:
2004 – Mike Cameron
In the 2005 season, Cameron would be limited by injuries. The worst of those came on August 11th as he and Carlos Beltran both dove for the same ball and had a violent collision. He was hospitalized with a broken nose, multiple facial fractures, and a concussion. He would never play another game for the Mets again.
2005 – Kris Benson
Benson’s turn as Santa was highlighted not by Santa but by Mrs. Claus. To many, Mrs. Claus would be the reason Benson would be moved to the Orioles. For his efforts, Benson was personally slighted, and he watched on from Baltimore as the Mets won their first division crown in 18 years. In the ensuing offseason, Benson discovered he had a rotator cuff tear that would all but end his career.
2006 – David Wright
Yes, by WAR, Wright probably had the single greatest season by any Met not named Tom Seaver. Still, do you really want to argue the curse was broken when Wright was one of the player who watched on as the Mets seven game lead with 17 to play evaporated?
2007 – John Maine
After successive pleasantly surprising seasons, it was Maine’s turn to don the Santa suit. What ensued was an injury plagued season, where doctors were able to notice the rotator cuff strain, but they completely missed what was described as the largest bone spur ever removed from a shoulder. That wasn’t discovered until his season ending surgery. Maine was never the same after that.
2008 – Mike Pelfrey
After looking like the pitcher the Mets drafted in the first round in 2005, he would get the first ever start in Citi Field history, and he allowed Jody Gerut to homer in the first official at-bat. It was just the start of a tough year for Pelfrey where he would lead the majors in balks, and he would tie an all-time Mets record for three balks in a game. As is that wasn’t bad enough, he finished the year as the first qualifying Mets pitcher to have an ERA over 5.00.
2009 – Jeff Francoeur
After struggling most of the 2010 season, he would eventually be relegated to the bench in favor of Angel Pagan once Beltran came off the Disabled List.
2010 – David Wright
After being a healthy and extremely productive player for his entire career, Wright would be limited to just 102 games after suffering a stress fracture in his lower back. Sadly, Mets fans know what has happened to him since.
2011 – Daniel Murphy
So far, Murphy’s 2012 season probably ranks as the only season where a player made it through relatively unscathed even if his numbers took a big drop from the ones he put up in 2011. Also, this was the season where Sandy Alderson first began to publicly mull the idea of trading Murphy, which was something that would follow the second baseman for the rest of his Mets tenure.
2012 – R.A. Dickey
Coming off a magical year with the Mets where he won his first Cy Young Award, Dickey was traded away to the Toronto Blue Jays. With the Blue Jays, he would win his first Gold Glove Award, but he would also come crashing back to earth going 14-13 with a 4.21 ERA.
2013 – Daniel Murphy
Murphy apparently learned his lessons from the first go-round as Santa, and he would become an All Star for the first time in his career. Still, none of that would shield him from the hysteria and criticism that would be levied his way by people like Boomer Esiason for having the audacity to be there for his wife when she gave birth to their first child.
2014 – Jenrry Mejia
After playing Santa, Mejia would test positive for PEDs not once, not twice, but three times. Only the Mets could have Santa permanently banned from baseball.
2015 – Steven Matz
With the Mets fresh off a pennant, Matz was a frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year. His dreams of winning that award or pitching in the postseason again were shelved when he had to have season ending surgery to remove what was described as a massive bone spur.
2016 – Noah Syndergaard
The invincible Thor refused to have an MRI, and he would have to leave an April 30th game against the Nationals with a torn lat. For all intents and purposes, it was a season ending injury.
2017 – Kevin Plawecki
With the exception of Murphy, no one has really gotten through the Santa Curse unscathed. Seeing what happened to the aforementioned Mets, it almost seems cruel to bestow this “honor” on a catcher who finally seemed to figure things out after struggling for over two years.
With the Mets cutting payroll and having holes and question marks across the 25 and 40 man roster, it is finally time for Juan Lagares to sink or swim.
With respect to Lagares, he was never supposed to have been a question mark. Certainly, the Mets didn’t feel this way when they gave him a four year $23 million contract extension on the eve of the 2015 season.
When giving Lagares the extension, the expectation was Lagares would continue being a Gold Glover out there, and he would eventually learn to hit a little. While hindsight may be 20/20, this was about as good a bet as there could have been with Lagares hitting .281/.321/.382 with a 102 OPS+ and a 101 wRC+ in 2014. His ability to be a league average hitter and otherworldly in center made him a 5.4 bWAR and 3.9 fWAR player that year. That made him the best player on the Mets.
Since that season, things have fallen apart for him. In 2015, he regressed at the plate, which would have been palatable if he didn’t regress even more in the field. In the subsequent two seasons, Lagares seems to have been getting back to the player he was in 2014, but he has suffered significant thumb injuries in successive seasons.
This could be a cause for pessimism, but we saw the 2014 Lagares in the field again last year. That Lagares wasn’t just a Gold Glover, he was the guy you expected to catch everything. He was the guy who was head and shoulders above even the best defensive center fielders in the game.
Among center fielders with at least 550 innings last year, Lagares was third overall and tops in the National League with a 15 DRS. He was also the Major League leader with a 24.7 UZR/150. You could chalk these up to small sample sizes all the like, but consider the numbers he put up in 2013 and 2014:
- 2013: 26 DRS, 33.1 UZR/150
- 2014: 26 DRS, 25.3 UZR/150
At his core this is who Lagares is. And with all of Major League Baseball prioritizing hitting the ball in the air, having Lagares patrolling center field is an imperative.
As we saw, the Mets pitching staff all regressed last year. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman weren’t the hot shot rookies they were in 2016. Even when “healthy,” Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler weren’t who we expected them to be. Even Jacob deGrom, who had a resurgent year a year after having ulnar nerve transposition surgery, wasn’t the same pitcher posting career worsts in ERA, ERA+, FIP, and HR/9.
So far, the Mets have done a lot to help address these issues. They’ve hired Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland. They’ve discussed not allowing their pitchers go a third time through the lineup. While both could help, it is indisputable having Lagares in center will be an enormous benefit as well.
Now, if you can get Lagares to hit even a little, then you have the player you thought you had in 2014. You have the player you thought would have a collection of Gold Gloves at this point in his career. You have the player the Mets once thought was worth $23 million. You have an answer to one of the biggest question marks on a Mets roster that has more holes in it that a piece of Swiss cheese attacked with a hole puncher.
Overall, the best bet for the Mets in 2018 is a healthy and productive Lagares. He helps the pitching staff return to form, and he allows the Mets to allocate money to other areas of the team that are in more desperate need of addressing. And if that doesn’t work, you at least have a platoon partner for Brandon Nimmo out there . . . .