As Mets fans, we debate as to what the greatest moment was in Mets history, and we typically get it wrong. It wasn’t Cleon Jones catching Davey Johnson‘s fly ball. It wasn’t Gary Carter leading the impossible rally in Game 6, or Jesse Orosco striking out Marty Barrett for the final out. There are plenty of other moments fans can pinpoint. They’re all wrong.
The greatest moment in Mets history happened on April 3, 1966. That was the date the Mets were awarded the rights to Tom Seaver by Commissioner William Eckert.
Up until that time and not too long thereafter, the Mets were a laughingstock. In their first four and five of their first seasons, they lost over 100 games. Considering those more than humbling beginnings and how he completely changed the team, you understand how the Mets truly became a “Franchise” when Seaver joined the team.
The 19 strike out game. The 1971 season. The 1973 season. Game Five of the 1973 NLCS. Seaver’s return to the Mets in 1983 and making his final Opening Day start with the Mets, which was the 14th of his Major League record 16 Opening Day starts.
His 41 was the first number retired in honor of a Mets player. In 1992, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame with 98.8 percent of the vote. It was then a record for highest ever percentage and one which still stands for starting pitchers.
He and Mike Piazza closed Shea Stadium and would open Citi Field.
Through it all, Seaver is the only player in Major League history with a Rookie of the Year and multiple Cy Youngs. His 12 All Stars are the most among right-handed starters in Mets history. His 110.1 WAR is the highest WAR among (non-PED) pitchers in the post WWII Era and the sixth highest all-time.
Since 1920, he’s the only pitcher who had a quality start in over 70 percent of his starts.
All told, Seaver was 311-205 with a 2.86 ERA and 3,640 strikeouts.
He owns nearly every Mets pitching record – wins (198), ERA (2.57), innings (3045.2), starts (395), complete games (171), shutouts (44), and strikeouts (2541). His 76.1 WAR with the Mets is easily the best in Mets history.
In fact, it took Seaver just seven seasons to post a higher WAR than what took David Wright, who is second on the Mets career WAR rankings, to post in 13 years. The 41.2 WAR Seaver posted over the first six years of his career is just .4 behind the 41.6 WAR Dwight Gooden posted in his 11 year Mets career.
No matter how you analyze it, Seaver is easily the best player in Mets history.
During his time with the Mets, he gave Mets fans so many memorable moments. That makes his dementia diagnosis all the more heartbreaking. We can remember all the reasons why he was great, and we can remember all the great games and moments at a time when Seaver is being robbed of those moments.
He’s being robbed of those moments at the same time as his former teammate Bud Harrelson, a man who fought through tears the first time he faced Seaver as an opponent, is battling Alzheimer’s. As anyone who has seen loved ones suffer from this disease, you know how heartbreaking this is.
That’s what this is – heartbreaking. Seaver loses the memories we all cherish. He can’t be there to celebrate the anniversary of a World Series he made possible. Worse than that, his memories of his family and loved ones will eventually fade.
No one deserves this. Not Seaver. Not a Hall of Famer. Not the man who made the Mets, the Mets. Not a husband, father, and grandfather. No one.
But he is because life isn’t fair. This means he misses out not just on what’s to come (1969 reunion or a statue whenever it comes), but worse yet, all that’s already happened. His family gets to watch on while they lose a man who was much more than a Hall of Fame pitcher to them.
Heartbreaking. Just heartbreaking.
With just three weeks to go before Opening Day, the Mets have an interesting race for the backup catcher position between Travis d’Arnaud and Devin Mesoraco. This is a race d’Arnaud seemingly had won with the Mets trading Kevin Plawecki to the Indians, but with him not being quite ready to play early in the Spring, Mesoraco returned, and he is now arguably ahead of d’Arnaud in the competition.
Now, as organization depth, Mesoraco was a very good signing. He is familiar with the pitching staff, has some pop in his bat, and has the talent to be a backup catcher at the Major League level. In a vacuum, the Mets opting to carry Mesoraco as the backup catcher is a fine decision. However, this decision isn’t being made in a vacuum. It’s a decision between him and another player.
Understandably, Mets fans have been quite frustrated with d’Arnaud. He has yet to have a real healthy season in his career. He never took the next step forward from what should have been a springboard 2015 campaign. He aggravates most fans with his inability to throw out base stealers, a problem brought to light all the more when Noah Syndergaard is on the mound.
Still, despite the areas of the game where d’Arnaud struggles and the frustration over him not becoming what we hoped he would be, he is still a better Major League catcher than Mesoraco.
First and foremost, d’Arnaud is a better pitch framer – always has been and always will be. With the exception of the 2017 season, d’Arnaud has always been a good pitch framer, and in fact, he has routinely been one of the better pitch framers in the game. That’s important for a team built on pitching. For his part, Mesoraco has always been middling to just plain bad in that department.
Of course, not every pitch is a borderline call. Sometimes you just need a catcher to stop the ball to prevent it from going to the backstop and permitting the batter to take the next base. Since 2015, d’Arnaud has yielded just seven passed balls in 1995.1 innings whereas Mesoraco yielded eight just last year in 484.1 innings with the Mets.
Expanding it further to wild pitches, d’Arnaud has a combined 77 wild pitches and passed balls since 2015. For his part, Mesoraco has yielded just 57 in the same time frame albeit in approximately fewer 900 innings, which means Mesoraco yields a higher percentage of passed balls and wild pitches.
Now, it should be mentioned that d’Arnaud is not as good as Mesoraco is at throwing out base runners. For his career, d’Arnaud has only thrown out 21 percent to Mesoraco’s 24 percent, which includes 21 percent last year. Suffice it to say, this a strength in neither player’s game, and there is really a de minimim difference in their abilities in this department.
It may also be surprising to learn d’Arnaud is a much better hitter. Since 2015, d’Arnaud has hit .251/.309/.419 (96 OPS+). For his part, Mesoraco has hit .206/.297/.356 (77 OPS+).
Those numbers may come as a surprise due to the outburst Mesoraco had when he first joined the Mets. In fact, in his first 15 games with the Mets, he hit .261/.358/.630. The problem is after those 15 games, he hit .210/.290/.344.
Even after all of that, many may still point out to how well Mesoraco seemed to click with deGrom in what was a great Cy Young campaign for the Mets ace. What is odd is how people will raise that point while neglecting how d’Arnaud was deGrom’s catcher during deGrom’s 2014 Rookie of the Year campaign, and how he was deGrom’s catcher during the 2015 postseason. Fact is, deGrom pitched great last year because he is a great pitcher, and really when you break it down, people should at least contemplate whether deGrom could have actually been better with a better receiver last year.
Overall, once d’Arnaud is ready to play behind the plate, he should be the backup catcher over Mesoraco. He is a better catcher, and he is a better hitter. Really, when you break it down, the only thing Mesoraco has over d’Arnaud is he’s healthy. Of course, Mesoraco has the same checkered health record d’Arnaud has, so it may only be a matter of time before the Mets need to turn to a Tomas Nido anyway.
During this offseason, the Mets have certainly made splashes hiring David Wright, John Franco, Al Leiter, and now Jessica Mendoza in a player development role for the organization. These are all intelligent baseball people, who if utilized properly, can have a profound impact upon the Mets organization.
Seeing how three of these hires were popular Mets players, the team should consider doing the same and bringing back Johan Santana.
There are plenty of superficial reasons why the Mets should bring Santana back to New York. He is the only pitcher in Mets history to pitch a no-hitter. His 2008 season was great, and he would pitch the last great game seen at Shea Stadium. To this day, he remains popular with the fanbase. All that said, the real reason the Mets should bring back Santana is his change-up.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 29, 2017
Santana’s changeup was a truly great pitch. It was a pitch he used to win two Cy Young awards in what was a borderline Hall of Fame career. It was a pitch which earned him a massive contract with the Mets. It was the final pitch he threw to strike out David Freese to end his no-hitter. It was the pitch he taught to Jacob deGrom, which forever changed the trajectory of deGrom’s career.
Back in 2011, deGrom was rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, and Santana was rehabilitating from shoulder surgery. As the two worked at the team’s rehabilitation facility in Port St. Lucie, their paths would cross. As reported by the New York Times, Santana would teach deGrom the pitch that made Santana a Cy Young award winner and would one day make help make deGrom one as well:
[W]hile doing his rehabilitation work at the Mets’ rehabilitation facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., deGrom fell into conversation with Johan Santana, the Mets’ injured ace. Santana proceeded to teach deGrom his famous changeup, how to grip the ball, how it should look the same as a fastball coming out of his hand. Santana told him to practice throwing at 180 feet. If he threw it correctly, the ball would fall well short.
As noted by the Fangraphs, deGrom’s changeup was the second most valuable changeup in all of baseball last year making it his best pitch last year. According to Brooks Baseball, opposing batters hit just .139 off of his changeup. The pitch is a large reason why deGrom was second in the league in getting batters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone, and why he had the fifth most swings and misses against him.
Much of what deGrom accomplished began when he was rehabbing at the same time as Santana. If the Mets were wise, they would bring back Santana to have a profound impact on someone else’s career. He may help Corey Oswalt or Chris Flexen go to that next level. It’s possible David Peterson, Anthony Kay, and Thomas Szapucki each take a huge step forward in their development.
Perhaps, there is some pitching prospect who is not well known at this time who could learn Santana’s changeup and have his career take off. After all, that’s what happened to converted shortstop and former ninth round pick Jacob deGrom.
In Pete Alonso‘s first two at-bats of Spring Training, he hit a home run and a double. It seemed those two hits were the beginning of something special, and regardless of service time, Alonso was going to force his way onto the Opening Day roster. After that double, Alonso cooled off a bit at the plate. He would go three for his next 12. With him not hitting tape measure shots, Dominic Smith would begin to grab some headlines.
Through his first seven games, Smith was actually out-hitting Alonso going 8-for-16 with a big three run homer. Mets Manager Mickey Callaway spoke glowingly about Smith. There were articles written about how Smith has turned the corner, and some were suggesting Smith had a real chance to win the Mets first base job.
Yesterday, Alonso reminded everyone why he’s a top prospect and why people were excited about the possibility of his playing first base for the Mets this season:
— Jacob Resnick (@Jacob_Resnick) March 4, 2019
In the game, Alonso was 2-for-3 with a double, homer, and an RBI. As noted by MMO‘s Michael Mayer, Alonso’s OPS is now 1.356 putting him not too far ahead of Smith’s 1.256. Put another way, there is little separation between the two. The reason is both players spent all offseason preparing to give themselves the best possible chance of winning the Mets first base job.
As a fan, this is fun to watch. Alonso starts off with big power numbers, and Smith responds with great defense and a .500 batting average. Alonso then hits another tape measure shot while Smith maintains his .500 Spring batting average. This is exactly what everyone wants to see. They want this to be a difficult decision, not just for Spring Training but for the future.
This is not too dissimilar from 2014 when the Mets had to choose between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. The Mets decision there may not have been popular, but it proved to be the correct one. That decision would play a role in the Mets going to the World Series. As Mets fans, we can only hope the same thing happens with this team.
Editor’s Note: this was originally published on MMN
With a -1.8 WAR and 79 wRC+ through his first 105 games at the Major League level, the building consensus has been Dominic Smith was a first round bust putting him in a ground of renown Mets bust. Mets fans can cite them in their sleep – Alex Ochoa, Fernando Martinez, Bill Pulsipher. The list goes on and on.
It is a large reason why Pete Alonso has surpassed him on the depth charts heading into Spring Training. Truth be told, it probably happened some time prior to that. After all, while Alonso was becoming the first ever Mets minor leaguer to lead the minors in home runs, Smith was having a nightmare season.
The narrative had become he was lazy. He contributed to that by struggling to keep in shape. He would be late for the first Spring Training game last year, one he was slated to start. He didn’t hit well with the Mets, and he didn’t hit well in Las Vegas. To hear many tell it, he was a lazy player and his laziness had led him to be a bust.
Lost in that narrative was the fact Smith was still just 23 years old, a little more than six months younger than Alonso. Really lost in all of that was the fact Alonso was not lazy. Rather, he was just young and trying to find his way.
As Smith would tell Kyle Glasser of Baseball America, he used his time in the majors well. He watched players like Bryce Harper play, and he learned he needed to make changes. That meant not just losing weight but also getting into shape. He wanted to be an athlete first and a baseball player second. He also needed to make his swing more mechanically sound.
Smith has also learned the importance of sleep in his routine. He has refitted his sleep apnea mask.
Seeing Smith report to Spring Training detailing his diet, workout routine, and the importance of sleep, you are seeing a much more mature person. As a result, you are also seeing a better baseball player, the player the Mets believed him to be when they drafted him in the first round (11th overall) of the 2013 draft. Right now, you are seeing the best hitter in baseball.
— Jacob Resnick (@Jacob_Resnick) March 3, 2019
As noted by Mathew Brownstein of MMO, Smith is the leading hitter in the majors this Spring with a .500 OBP and .579 OBP. Overall, he is 8-for-16 with three walks, a homer, and five RBI.
Looking at it, Smith is a much different player than he was last year. Remember, last year, Mickey Callaway said of Smith, “I think we had expectations for guys, and if they don’t meet that expectation, we have to hold them accountable.” He would also say how he was shocked how someone fighting for a job could do what Smith did.
Now? Well, now, Callaway has this to say about Smith, “Obviously, the defense is always gonna be there and the offense looks special right now. He’s putting great swings on the ball. He’s got great energy and I love what I see so far.”
Everyone has to love what they are seeing with Smith right now. Somewhat unexpectedly, he is making this a first base battle. More than that, he’s just battling. This was a young player, who had been knocked down and been humiliated. He struggled, and he’s seen perceptions of him change dramatically. He’s now much more mature, and like the mature person he is becoming, he is using his past experiences to make himself better.
Checking ZiPS, after the Phillies went out and signed Bryce Harper, the Mets are now the fourth best team in the division, and they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason. Ultimately, this projection shows how the Mets chances of winning the division and making the postseason are that much more difficult.
It does not mean the Mets season is already over before it has began. No, the Mets still have a real shot and a clear path to a division title.
The first part of winning the division starts with the bullpen. Looking at last season, the top five bullpens by ERA all made the postseason. This includes the Brewers and Athletics who surprised many by utilizing their bullpen strength and questionable starting pitching to reach the postseason.
In 2017, the top six bullpens by ERA made the postseason. In 2016, five of the top six bullpens by ERA made the postseason. Overall, in an era with increased bullpen usage, we are beginning to see a correlation between strong bullpens and winning.
The Mets have the makings of a top bullpen. Among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched, Edwin Diaz had the fifth best ERA. Not too far behind him was Seth Lugo was the 13th best. In addition to those two, the Mets have Jeurys Familia, who has previously led the majors in saves. There is depth behind them with Justin Wilson, Robert Gsellman, and a series of power arms in the minors with Tyler Bashlor, Eric Hanhold, Ryder Ryan, and Drew Smith.
If each reliever pitches the way they could, the Mets could very well have a top five bullpen, which we have seen is becoming an increasingly important factor in teams’ performance.
More impressive than the Mets bullpen is their starting rotation, at least four-fifths of it. Jacob deGrom is coming off a historically great season, and we can reasonably expect him to vie for a second consecutive Cy Young next season. As good as deGrom was, Zack Wheeler might’ve been better in the second half last year. In fact, Wheeler’s second half 1.68 ERA was just a hair better than deGrom’s.
As good as both pitchers are, Noah Syndergaard may just have the best stuff on the entire pitching staff. We have certainly seen him when he has put it all together, and we have seen how well he pitches in big games. If you add a healthy and improved Steven Matz, a pitcher who made 30 starts for the first time in his career last year, and the Mets have dominant starting pitching even with Jason Vargas struggling since the 2017 All Star break.
Even with the improved and strong bullpen, the Mets are going to need health from their starters. Behind them is a group of pitchers who have struggled at the Major League level. Now, it’s possible Chris Flexen is much better with a better physique and healthy knee, and it is possible Corey Oswalt is better for his struggles last year. It’s even possible David Peterson and Anthony Kay have a meteoric rise. Certainly, any of these things are possible, but if the Mets are counting on more than one of their young starters to step up, they are in trouble.
Health is also going to be a key factor among the position players. That is highlighted all the more with the injuries suffered by Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier as well as Travis d’Arnaud‘s and T.J. Rivera‘s difficulty returning from Tommy John surgery.
There are injury question marks beyond them with Wilson Ramos having his own injury history, one which rivals Juan Lagares‘. While Robinson Cano has been healthy throughout his career, he’s also 36 years old, and there are plenty of skeptics who will point out how Frazier went from a healthy player to an increasingly injury prone one once he put on a Mets uniform. Truth be told, injuries are part of the game, and the Mets are going to have to find ways to mitigate against them. Their best bet on that front is to have some young players step up.
The Mets need Amed Rosario to have that breakout season he seems primed to have. The team needs Pete Alonso to be what they believe he can be, and if he isn’t, they need Dominic Smith to be the player they once thought he would be. They will also need J.D. Davis to at least take over the Wilmer Flores role as a utility player who mashes left-handed pitching. It also couldn’t hurt to see the re-emergence of Gavin Cecchini, Luis Guillorme, or David Thompson.
Fact is there is talent on this Mets roster, but to overcome their odds, they are going to need a combination of health and players stepping up. If they get enough of a solid combination of the two, they have the top end talent in players like deGrom and Michael Conforto to capture this division and to even win a World Series.
Will it happen? Well, it is going to be fun to find out.
On January 16, Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen stood up at a press conference introducing Jed Lowrie at Citi Field, and he issued a challenge to the rest of the National League East. With the bravado Van Wagenen has held since taking over the position, he uttered the boastful words, “Come get us!”
At that time, the Mets had made some bold moves. The team had added not just Lowrie on the infield but also Robinson Cano. The bullpen was largely remade with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. Not too long thereafter, the Mets would add Justin Wilson making their bullpen potentially the best in all of baseball.
On January 16, you could understand a bit of the Mets bravado. The Braves really stopped short of improving their club by adding just Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. The Nationals did add Patrick Corbin and Kurt Suzuki in addition to bolstering their own bullpen, but they were likely losing Bryce Harper. As for the Phillies, well, despite their proclamations they were going to spend stupid money, it didn’t seem anyone wanted it.
While we know the Phillies call to action largely existed prior to Van Wagenen’s declaration, and it being very likely the Phillies were not going to make decisions predicated on what Van Wagenen said at a press conference, they did possess the ability to make the Mets General Manager to eat his words.
The first bold move was to acquire J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins. It’s worth noting Realmuto was a prize fish Van Wagenen had expended much effort to bring aboard only to have to eventually cut bait and sign Wilson Ramos after Yasmani Grandal purportedly rejected the Mets contract offers.
Yesterday, well yesterday was the big one. The Phillies signed Harper to a 13 year $330 million contract. With it being worth $5 million more than Giancarlo Stanton‘s contract, the Phillies went out and gave Harper the largest contract in baseball history.
Harper and Realmuto were part of a larger offseason for the Phillies. In addition to those two All-Stars, the team also signed Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. They also made a blockbuster trade to obtain Jean Segura, Juan Nicasio, and James Pazos. All told, the Phillies added over $148.55 in new contractual obligations, and that is before factoring in Harper.
When taking into account the money owed Harper, the Phillies have added nearly half a billion in payroll obligations. Apparently, when their owner John Middleton said they were going to spend stupid money, he meant it. This is a Phillies team who is all-in, and they may not even be done adding pieces.
Notably, at the time the Mets signed Lowrie, they were projected as a team who was neck-and-neck with the Nationals for the division with them being in position to claim a Wild Card. Now, according to Dan Szymborski of Fangraphs, the Mets are now projected to be the fourth best team in the division, and their pre-season odds of making the postseason dropped from 31.2 to 26.7 percent.
It should also be noted while the Phillies have been moving past the Mets, the Mets have had to deal with injuries to both Lowrie and Todd Frazier with neither one having a timetable as to when they can return. The team has also seen Travis d’Arnaud and T.J. Rivera struggle in their attempts to return from Tommy John surgery.
With all that has happened in little over a month, Van Wagenen still believes the Mets can win saying, “I believe we can beat any team, any time.” However, it is noteworthy he has fallen short of calling the Mets the best team in the division, and he is no longer challenging the other teams in the division to come get the Mets.Perhaps, it is because he knows the Phillies already have.
Years ago, the Mets actually had a team cookbook available for sale entitled “GourMets.” Unfortunately, that book is no longer in publication leaving Brandon Nimmo on his lonesome when attempting to make himself a piece of chicken for dinner. Things did not end well:
Brandon Nimmo says he lost four pounds throwing up from his chicken and sweet potato dinner. He confirms he was NOT smiling while throwing up… but he can laugh about it now. pic.twitter.com/ufelZJJurq
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) February 28, 2019
In typical Nimmo fashion, we see him smiling and laughing about an ordeal which saw him throwing up all night and losing four pounds. We should also note it’s typical Mets fashion to see a player go down with something as simple as cooking and eating chicken. After all, as we have seen with Tom Glavine and Duaner Sanchez, Mets players can’t be trusted with so much as a cab ride.
While Glavine’s and perhaps Sanchez’s ordeals seemed to be not their fault, it would seem like Nimmo’s ordeal is completely avoidable. With that in mind, let’s review what Nimmo should have done differently.
First and foremost, if you have no idea what you are doing, don’t start with chicken. If you really want chicken, order out. If you don’t want to order out, get in touch with someone who knows what they are doing. Don’t try to cook the chicken yourself and risk food poisoning.
If you are undeterred and really want to cook that chicken, then by all means do it, but make sure you are handling it properly. The chicken you are looking to cook should be properly stored in the refrigerator. If you picked it up on your way home, just make sure it wasn’t sitting in your car too long, especially in a warm Florida climate. Chances are if it smells off before you even thing of cooking it, you’re going to get sick.
Also, you need to be really careful how you handle the chicken. If you are handling it and seasoning it before you cook it, you should be washing your hands. You should also be cleaning and disinfecting the area where you prepared the chicken. After all, even if you have cooked the chicken properly, you can still get sick from what you did before you cooked the chicken.
If you are cooking for the first time, put it in the oven where you can reduce the amount of times you actually handle it. If you are cooking at 350 degrees, it will probably take 25-3o minutes. It could take more. The best way to tell if it is done is to insert a thermometer to make sure it is cooked to 165 degrees. If not, cook longer. If you don’t have a thermometer, just cut it in half and look to see if it is cooked all the way through.
If you don’t want to use an oven, you can use things like a grill, Foreman grill, or even a pan. The best bet for any of those is to look online for a recipe and instructions on cooking temperature or time.
Ultimately, when cooking a chicken the most important thing to do is to make sure it is properly stored, and you are keeping your hands and all surfaces clean. To hear Nimmo tell it, the chicken looked cooked through and tasted good. If that is truly the case, the chances are he either mishandled or improperly stored the chicken.
At the end of the day, considering this is the Mets, all the players should probably avoid cooking their own meals all together. They should probably avoid taxi cabs to go out and get the food. Really, they should be ordering food to be delivered while sitting in their hotels or homes in bubble wrap.
According to reports yesterday, Mets infielder T.J. Rivera is struggling in his return from Tommy John surgery. While people assume it is easier for position players to return from the surgery, Rivera seems to be dispelling that notion. In fact, it would appear he is struggling to return from his surgery much in the same way Zack Wheeler did. It should be noted while Wheeler had his surgery in early 2015, he was not what we believed he could be until the second half of last season. So far, Rivera is dispelling any real concerns:
T.J. Rivera downplays the discomfort he's been feeling in his surgically repaired right elbow. He described it more as another bump in the road: pic.twitter.com/mVyEwU22LB
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) February 28, 2019
When looking at his career, this is just the newest obstacle for him to overcome.
Rivera was a 22 year old undrafted free agent who had bounced around in college before landing at Troy University. Fortunately, at one of Rivera’s stops prior to Troy University, he played for former Met Mackey Sasser, who would recommend Rivera to a scout. As an undrafted player, he had an uphill climb ahead of him needing to prove himself at every turn. Rivera has done just that hitting over .300 with an OBP over .350 at nearly every minor league stop.
Really, Rivera stuck around because he hit. Yet somehow, despite his hitting at every stop, he was overlooked in the Rule 5 Draft multiple times. He had been in the minors for five-and-a-half years when the Mets were dropping like flies. Rather than give him a chance, the Mets would give playing time to players like Eric Campbell and Matt Reynolds. They’d even bring back Jose Reyes despite his domestic violence arrest and suspension. When it came time to call someone up, they’d call up Ty Kelly over him.
It would not be until the middle of August until Rivera would get called up, but he still wouldn’t get a chance. He’d be up and down a few times in August. Finally, with Walker being done for the season with a back injury and Wilmer Flores injuring his wrist on a collision at home plate on a very questionable send by Tim Teufel, Rivera would finally get his chance.
In 20 September games, Rivera hit .358/.378/.552. In those 20 games, the Mets would go 13-7. It’s important to consider the Mets claimed a Wild Card spot by just one game. If the team had not turned to him when they did, it’s possible the Mets miss the 2016 postseason. It’s also worth mentioning Rivera was one of the few Mets who got a hit off Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card game. If someone had driven him in after his leadoff double in the fifth, we would be having a completely different conversation about him, that season, and each of the ensuing seasons.
Despite his being the hero of the 2017 season, the Mets would not so much as guarantee him a roster spot. They wouldn’t do that even with him playing well as the first baseman for a Puerto Rican team which reached the championship game of the World Baseball Classic. Instead, Rivera would spend his 2017 season up and down and the out with the season and potentially career altering UCL tear.
Seeing the depth the Mets have accumulated and the team likely adding at least Adeiny Hechavarria to the roster, 40 man roster spots are becoming tenuous. With him being unable to play, the odds are once again not in Rivera’s favor. Based upon past history, we should not count him out. In fact, for a team with postseason aspirations, he may ultimately prove to be an important player who can put the Mets over the top.
With Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier suffering injuries this Spring, the temptation may be to shift Jeff McNeil to third base and to play Juan Lagares in center. There is sound logic in the thought process. Lagares is the best center fielder on the team, and if Lowrie and Frazier cannot go, McNeil is clearly the best player available to play third.
While there is logic behind the thought process, the Mets should resist the temptation.
Heading into this season, McNeil has played just 65.1 innings in the outfield in his professional career. He has played 35.1 of those 65.1 innings in left field, the position he is slated to play in 2019. That includes just 17.0 innings in left field for Las Vegas last season. While he notably worked on the position with Tony DeFrancesco last year, and he has put his time in working at the position during Spring Training, he lacks game experience.
There are aspects to McNeil’s game which would indicated he can succeed in left field. According to Baseball Savant, McNeil has the same sprint speed as Andrew Benintendi (4 DRS), which would indicate he has the speed to cover the position. It’s also worth noting McNeil is a smart player who has moved all over the field in his professional career. He is accustomed to adapting and learning a new position.
While you may point to McNeil’s arm in left as a concern, the greater concern is his lack of experience at the position. It is one thing to have him play fewer than 20 innings in the minors, and it is a whole other thing to expect him to play over 1,000 innings at the position at the Major League level. No matter how much time he spends on the back fields working on it, there is no substitute for in-game experience, and McNeil is in need of that.
If the long term plan is to have McNeil as the team’s left fielder, the team is going to have to stick with that plan. You don’t want a situation where he plays third for a week or even a month only to later have him shift to left field. It doesn’t help him improve at the position, and you face the risk of him losing experience out there costing the Mets a game in the future.
Ultimately, the Mets have built a team where they are best suited to having McNeil playing everyday in the outfield. This is partially the result of finding a place for him to play and partially the result of the lack of real outfield depth. Considering that is in the team’s best interests, they need to make sure McNeil is the best possible defensive left fielder he can be.
That means resisting the temptation of having him play at third base while Frazier and Lowrie are unable to go. Instead, the Mets need to be looking at their other options like J.D. Davis and T.J. Rivera at third and leave McNeil in the outfield. Essentially, they need to treat McNeil just like they would any other outfielder.