Alejandro De Aza
Sometimes deals were not a good idea at their inception. At other times, deals don’t just work out as planned. Then there was Alejandro De Aza‘s tenure with the New York Mets.
Back when De Aza signed with the Mets, he was supposed to be the left-handed platoon option to go along with Juan Lagares in center field. It was an extremely unpopular signing at the time beacause it was a clear indication the Mets were not going to sign Yoenis Cespedes. Except the Mets, due to a combination of sheer luck and the depth of top end outfielders on the market, did actually re-sign Cespedes.
Just like that De Aza went from the platoon partner getting the bulk of the at-bats to being the team’s fifth outfielder. Considering the talent level ahead of him, he seemed like he was going to be the team’s seldom used fifth outfielder. Anyone would struggle under those circumstances, and De Aza did.
In the beginning of July, he was only batting .158 with just five extra base hits. Keep in mind, both of those extra base hits came in the same game. Essentially, the irregular to lack of playing time was wrecking havoc with his ability to produce, and it was affecting him mentally. It got to the point where Terry Collins began to question his work ethic.
With all that in mind, De Aza deserves a lot of credit. De Aza went on a tear in July hitting .375/.487/.531 in 21 games and six games started. The tear came at the right time too because it was a Mets team seemingly falling apart. Lagares had a thumb issue. Cespedes would deal with a quad injury. Both Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto were struggling as well. In fact, the entire Mets offense including Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera was struggling. The Mets needed this boost from him, and they go it.
De Aza would also step up as the Mets were making a push for the Wild Card. In a crucial late August series against the Cardinals, with Seth Lugo making his second ever major league start, De Aza came up huge not only robbing Matt Carpenter of a home run in the first at-bat in the bottom of the first, but also by hitting his own three run home run. It was all part of how De Aza came up big when the Mets needed in most. In fact, over the final month of the season, he would hit .265/.366/.353 in 25 games.
Overall, De Aza’s tenure with the Mets was a disappointing one with all involved. However, he made significant contributions to the Mets when they needed them most. That should never be overlooked even if ultimately he was usually the outfielder overlooked when Collins was filling out the lineup card.
De Aza’s struggles are a large reason why he was only able to muster a minor league deal with the Oakland Athletics. With that said, he is in a much better situation than he was in 2016. This should allow him to return to being the player he never really got the chance to be with the Mets. Hopefully, he gets back to that point.
With the Mets adding Gavin Cecchini to the 40 man roster to sit on the bench as the Mets are chasing down a Wild Card spot, the team had one less decision to make on who should be added to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason. Even if the Mets didn’t add Cecchini now, he was going to be added in the offseason. Cecchini is too valuable a prospect, and he would be snatched up immediately in the Rule 5 Draft.
Cecchini was not the only player the Mets were going to have to make a decision on this offseason. In fact, the Mets have to make a decision on 66 different prospects about whether or not they should be added to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. Here is a review of some of the more notable Mets prospects that need to be added to the 40 man roster in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft:
SS Amed Rosario (Advanced A & AA) .324/.374/.459, 24 2B, 13 3B, 5 HR, 71 RBI, 19 SB
Yes, if it hasn’t been apparent this entire year, Rosario is in a class all by himself. If he’s not added to the 40 man roster someone is getting fired.
ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
1B/3B Matt Oberste (AA) .283/340/.409, 21 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 1 SB
One issue that has plagued Oberste his entire minor league career is he has to fight for at bats as he is usually behind a bigger Mets prospect. That has been literally and figuratively Dominic Smith (who is not yet Rule 5 eligible). Oberste was an Eastern League All Star; however, the issue that is always going to hold him back is the fact that he is a corner infielder that does not hit for much power. Most likely, Oberste will not be added to the 40 man roster.
CF Champ Stuart (Advanced A & AA) .240/.314/.349, 12 2B, 7 3B, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 40 SB
Stuart is an elite defensive outfielder that has speed on the bases as evidenced by him stealing 40 bases this season. The issue with Stuart is he is a maddening offensive player. He went from hitting .265/.347/.407 in 71 games for Advanced A St. Lucie to hitting .201/.264/.261 in 43 games for AA Binghamton. While he certainly has the tools to possibly be a big leauger one day, he’s too far away at this point. Also, with teams putting more of a premium on offense than defense, it’s likely he will not be protected, and he will go undrafted.
C Tomas Nido ( Advanced A) .320/.357/.459, 23 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 0 SB
This year was a breakout season defensively and offensively for the Florida State League batting champion. Normally, with Nido never having played a game in AA, the Mets would be able to leave him unprotected and be assured he wouldn’t be drafted. However, with catcher being such a difficult position to fill, it’s possible a bad team like the Braves takes a flyer on him and keeps him as the second or third stringer catcher all year. It’s exactly how the Mets lost Jesus Flores to the Nationals many years ago.
SP Marcos Molina 2015 Stats (Rookie & Advanced A) 9 G, 8 GS, 1-5, 4.26 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.9 K/9
Molina did not pitch for the Mets organization for the entire 2016 season as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Arizona Fall League will be his first time facing batters in a game since his eight starts for St. Lucie in 2015. It’s likely he will go unprotected and undrafted.
ARMS THAT COULD HELP IN 2017
RHP Paul Sewald (AAA) 56 G, 5-3, 19 saves, 3.29 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.0 K/o
In many ways, it is surprising that a Mets bullpen that was looking for an extra arm never turned to Sewald. While he struggled to start the season like most pitchers transitioning to the Pacific Coast League do, Sewald figured it out and had a terrific second half with 10 saves, a 1.85 ERA, and a 0.95 WHIP. Sewald should be protected. In the event he isn’t, he should be as good as gone.
RHP Beck Wheeler (AA & AAA) 47 G, 0-3, 6 saves, 5.98 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 12.1 K/9
Wheeler went unprotected and undrafted last year, and based upon the numbers he put up in his time split between Binghamton and Las Vegas, it appears the same thing will happen this year. The one reservation is like with the Braves interest in Akeel Morris, teams will always take fliers on guys with mid 90s fastballs who can generate a lot of strikeouts. It just takes one team to think they can help him reduce his walk rate for him to go in the Rule 5 draft.
RHP Chasen Bradford (5 saves, 4.80 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) – Bradford regressed statistically from last year in large part because he is a sinker/slider pitcher that pitches to contact. On the bright side, he walks very few batters meaning if you have good infield defense, he will be a successful pitcher for your team. His numbers should scare off a number of teams in the Rule 5 draft just like it did last year.
RHP Ricky Knapp (Advanced A & AA) 25 G, 24 GS, 13-6, 2.69 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.3 K/9
Knapp started the year in St. Lucie, and he finished it with a spot start in Las Vegas. Knapp doesn’t have any plus pitches, but he gets the most out of all of his pitches because he is excellent at hitting his spots. He is a very polished product that is best suited to being a starting pitcher. Since he doesn’t strike out many batters, teams will most likely pass on him in the Rule 5 draft.
RHP Luis Mateo (AA & AAA) 51 G, 4-4, 1 save, 2.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.0 K/9
He’s a fastball/slider pitcher with a low 90s fastball that generates a fair share of groundball outs while keeping the ball in the ballpark. While his ERA should entice teams, his WHIP and strikeout rate may keep them away just like it did last year when the Mets left him exposed to the Rule 5 draft. He will most likely begin next year in AAA.
2B/3B/SS Phillip Evans (Advanced A & AA) .321/.366/.460, 30 2B, 0 3B, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 1 SB
The Eastern League Batting Champion certainly raised his profile with a much improved offensive season. He’s starting to become more selective at the plate and learn how to be less of a pull hitter. The main issue for Evans is he may not have a position. While he can make all the plays at the infield positions, he lacks range to be a solid middle infielder. He also lacks the arm strength and power numbers you would want at third base.
RHP Chris Flexen (Advanced A, AA, AAA) 25 GS, 10-9, 3.56 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.4 K/9
Flexen appears to be in the mold of a typical Mets pitching prospect in that he has a high 90’s fastball and a good slider. Despite the repertoire, he is not generating a lot of strikeouts right now. On the bright side, he does generate a number of ground balls while limiting home runs. He was rumored to be part of the initial Jay Bruce trade that fell apart due to an unnamed prospect’s physical (does not appear to be him). A second division club like the Reds could take a flyer on him and put him in the bullpen for a year to gain control over him despite him never having pitched at a level higher than Advanced A St. Lucie.
RHP Tyler Bashlor (Full Season & Advanced A) 54 G, 4-3, 2.75 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 11.8 K/9
While the 5’11” Bashlor is short on stature, he has a big arm throwing a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider which he used to dominate in the Sally League. Bashlor used these pitches to strike out 11.8 batters per nine innings. Like Flexen, there is danger exposing a big arm like this even if the highest level of experience he has is four games for Advanced A St. Lucie.
RHP Kevin McGowan (Advanced A & AA) 42 G, 4 GS, 2 saves, 2.35 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.9 K/9
McGowan is a fastball/changeup pitcher that still needs to develop a breaking pitch. While that fastball/changeup combination has been good enough to get batters out at the lower levels of the minor leagues, he is going to need another pitch if he is going to progress as a pitcher.
RF Wuilmer Becerra (Advanced A) .312/.341/.393, 17 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 34 RBI, 7 SB
Around the time of the Rule 5 Draft last year, the debate was whether a bad team like the Braves would take a flyer on Becerra just to get the promising young outfielder into their organization. Unfortunately, Becerra would have a shoulder injury that would rob him of his budding power. More importantly, that shoulder injury would require surgery ending his season after just 65 games.
1B/3B Jhoan Urena (Advanced A) .225/.301/.350, 17 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 0 SB
With the emergence of David Thompson, Urena was pushed from third to first. However, that isn’t what was most troubling about his season. In fact, many questioned whether he could stay at third given his frame. The issue was the switch hitting Urena stopped hitting for power this season. With his not hitting for power, Rosario’s best friend in the minors should go undrafted in the Rule 5 Draft.
LHP Paul Paez (Advanced A & AA) 34 G, 4-1, 3.88 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.9 K/9
This year Paez failed to distinguish himself by not pitching particularly well for St. Lucie and then struggling in Binghamton. He only has a high 80’s fastball and lacks a true swing and miss breaking pitch. While lefties hitting .308 off of him this year, he may not even have a future as a LOOGY in a major league bullpen.
NEEDS TIME TO DEVELOP
OF Patrick Biondi (Advanced A) .271/.352/.332, 17 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 34 RBI, 26 SB
While Biondi’s stats look good on the surface, it should be noted at 25 years old, he is old for the level. On the bright side, Biondi has speed and is a good defender in CF. However, until he starts getting on base more frequently, he will not be considered for the 40 man roster.
RHP Nabil Crismatt (Short & Full Season A) 13 G, 7 GS, 1-4, 1 Save, 2.47 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 10.1 K/9
Crismatt is only 21, but he is mature in terms of his ability to control his changeup and curveball and throw them at any point in the count. Couple that with a low 90s fastball that could gain velocity as he ages, and you have someone who has the repertoire to be a major leaguer. However, considering he hasn’t faced stiff competition yet in his career, he is nowhere ready for the majors, at least not yet.
2B/3B/SS Jeff McNeil 2015 Season (Advanced A & AA) .308/.369/.377, 18 2B, 6 3B, 1 HR, 40 RBI, 16 SB
Coming into the season, McNeil appeared to be more mature physically and at the plate. He seemed ready to begin hitting for more power while still being able to handle 2B defensively. Unfortunately, he would only play in three games this season for Binghamton before going on the disabled list needing season ending sports hernia surgery.
RHP Tim Peterson (Advanced A & AA) 48 G, 4-1, 2 saves, 3.03 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 12.3 K/9
At each and every level Peterson has pitched, he has shown the ability to strike people out with a fastball that touches on the mid 90s and a plus curveball. The only issue for him in his career so far was his PED suspension in 2014.
OF Travis Taijeron (AAA) .275/.372/.512, 42 2B, 5 3B, 19 HR, 88 RBI, 1 SB
Taijeron continued to do what he does best, which is get on base and hit for power. Despite a strong Spring Training and another solid offensive season, the Mets really showed no interest in calling him up to the majors. He will most likely go unprotected, but maybe this year a team out there desperate for some power in the outfield or on the bench will give him a shot.
2B L.J. Mazzilli (AA & AAA) .239/.320/.348, 18 2B, 6 3B, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 8 SB
Lee Mazzilli‘s son is a grinder out there who plays a decent second base. Unfortunately, it appears his bat will prevent him from ever getting a real shot to ever play in the big league.
Likely: Flexen, Nido
Bubble: Bashlor, Knapp, McGowan, Sewald, Wheeler
As for the remaining players, the Mets may very well gamble exposing them to the Rule 5 Draft and potentially lose them to another team. It is also possible the Mets unexpectedly protect a player like Knapp. In any event, the Mets have a number of important decisions to make that can have far reaching implications.
On October 29, 2010, in the wake of the Madoff scandal, Sandy Alderson took over as the Mets General Manager. Alderson inherited a team with some big stars like Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and David Wright. With that he also inherited a team who finished the 2010 season with a hefty $126 million payroll, which ranked sixth in the major leagues. Due to some backloaded contracts reaching their expiration, the 2011 Opening Day payroll was actually inflated to $143 million.
Alderson went to work dismantling a team that was disappointing on the field in what was the beginning of a real rebuilding process. Luis Castillo was released before the season started. Oliver Perez was not too far behind him. Getting rid of the underperforming players the fans hated was the easy part. The hard part was what ensued.
The Mets first traded Francisco Rodriguez, who was getting dangerously close to having an expensive $17.5 million option vest. Then he traded Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler. Surprisingly, Alderson didn’t trade Jose Reyes, who was the National League leader in batting average. Instead, he would let Reyes become a free agent, and he would recoup a draft pick when Reyes signed a $106 million contract with the Marlins.
And just like that what was once a $143 million payroll became a $95 million payroll in a little more than a year. In subsequent years, the Mets would let Johan Santana‘s contract expire and not reinvest the money. They would release Jason Bay, and again re-invest the money. Then the Mets would shop R.A. Dickey after he won the Cy Young Award. They obtained Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud in exchange for him which was a sure sign the Mets were more invested in rebuilding than contending.
It was also a sign that the Mets were cash strapped due to the Madoff scandal. The payroll would reach its nadir in 2o14 when it was actually $85 million, which ranked 21st in the major leagues. A bewildered and frankly angry fan base was left wondering when, if ever, the Wilpons were going to permit the Mets to have a payroll commensurate with their standing as a big market major league franchise.
Now, over the past two seasons, the Mets payroll has gone from $85 million in 2014 to $101 million to start the 2015 season. In that offseason, the Mets actually went out and signed Michael Cuddyer to help them become a more complete team. When Cuddyer faltered and David Wright would suffer from spinal stenosis, the Mets made moves and added payroll. The team first traded for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe (even if the Braves paid part of their salary). The Mets then acquired Yoenis Cespedes and what was a left of his $10.5 million contract. In 2015, the Mets spent a little more, but more importantly they spent what they needed to spend to compete.
In 2016, the Mets initially put out signs they were not moving off their roughly $100 million payroll when they signed Alejandro De Aza to platoon with Juan Lagares in center. It was perceived as a sign the Mets were not going to spend; it was a sign they were not willing to go the extra mile to get Cespedes. But then something happened. Cespedes didn’t find that massive deal on the free agent market. Instead, he re-signed with the Mets for $27.5 million in 2016. After 2016, Cespedes had the option to opt out of the remaining two years $47.5 million left on his contract.
With the Mets paying Cespedes a hefty salary to start the season, the Mets Opening Day payroll rose all the way to $135 million. Before Cespedes was re-signed, there was some doubt about whether it was really the insurance on Wright’s contract that allowed them to make those in-season moves, the re-signing of Cespedes calmed down a fan base that worried when or if the Mets would be willing to spend. Better yet, when the Mets had some issues scoring runs, they went out and traded for Jay Bruce.
Surprisingly now, we are back at the point of wondering if the Mets are willing to spend. The $135 million payroll was a positive step, but it is still less than the first payroll Alderson had with the Mets, and it was only ranked 15th in the majors. Cespedes is a free agent, and no one is quite sure if the Mets will re-sign him, look to acquire a big name free agent like Jose Bautista, or if they are going to stick with the Michael Conforto–Curtis Granderson-Bruce outfield. The Mets also have a number of other areas to address this offseason.
The first step was Neil Walker accepting the $17.2 million qualifying offer. With that, according to ESPN‘s Adam Rubin, the Mets current payroll obligations are $124 million. That is just $10 million under what the 2015 Opening Day Payroll was. If the Mets were to re-sign Cespedes, or another big name free agent, the payroll is going to go well past the $135 million mark.
The problem is the Mets need to go even further than that. Not only do they need Cespedes, or a reasonable facsimile, they also need to re-sign Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas, or again, a reasonable facsimile thereof. The Mets may also want to add another backup catcher given Travis d’Arnaud‘s injury concerns, Rene Rivera‘s lack of offense, and Kevin Plawecki having two disappointing seasons. The Mets may also want to sign a veteran starter considering the health issues of their rotation and Bartolo Colon having signed with the Braves this past week. There’s a lot the Mets need to address here, and it isn’t likely that $10 million is going to cover all of it.
So again, we are back at the point of wondering how far the Mets are willing to go to compete. Will they have a payroll in the upper half of all of baseball? Do they have the funds to spend like a big market club? At this point, no one knows the answers to these questions. While Mets fans may be apprehensive, it is too soon to to pass judgment. That time will come when we see how the Mets handle the Cespedes situation.
Throughout the season, I attempted to grade the different Mets players performances for each month of the season. In determining the year end grades, the aggregate of the monthly grades given was considered, but it wasn’t conclusive. For example, one player’s awful month could be more than offset by having an incredible month. Also, those decisions were made in the heat of the moment. There has been a cooling off period in giving these finals grades, and with that, there is time for reflection. It should also be noted the Wild Card Game did have some impact on these grades as that game was part of the story of the 2016 Mets. Overall, the final grades assessed considered the monthly grades, but also took into account that player(s) overall impact on the Mets season (good or bad). For the fifth set of grades, here are the Mets outfielders:
Is it possible for a player to have a great season, but you wanted just a little more from him? Overall, Cespedes had one of the great statistical seasons from a Mets outfielder with him hitting .280/.354/.530 with 25 doubles, one triple, 31 homers, and 86 RBI. For most of the season, Cespedes was everything you could have expected from him.
Still, there were other points where he wasn’t and much of that was due to the injured quad he tried to play through much of the season. The quad injury was a major reason his numbers were slightly below where you expected they would be. It was also a reason for his subpar defense this season. Even when healthy, he was a disaster in center as evidenced by his -10.6 UZR and his -7 DRS. Eventually, his quad left Cespedes telling the Mets he could no longer play center (but not golf), and that he needed to go back to left field. In left, Cespedes was a good defender, but he wasn’t at the Gold Glove level he usually is.
However, despite all the negatives you could point out, Cespedes was still a great player for the Mets in 2016, and he was a major contributor for a team that returned to the postseason. He proved his 2015 stretch with the Mets was no fluke. He showed everyone why the Mets need to bring him back next year.
This was supposed to be the year Conforto took off and became a star. It seemed like it was happening in April when he hit .365/.442/.676 with 11 doubles, four homers, and 18 RBI while leading the major leagues in hard hit ball rate. It was all coming together until it didn’t.
The rest of Conforto’s season was marred by slumps, injury, and multiple demotions. After April, Conforto would only hit .174/.267/.330 with 10 doubles, one triple, eight homers, and 24 RBI. There are a million different reasons we can use to explain these numbers away including his injuries and the very poor way both the Mets and Terry Collins handled him. Looking at his AAA numbers, the injuries and mishandling of him look more like good reasons than they do excuses.
However, no matter the reason, Conforto still only hit .220/.310/.414 with 21 doubles, one triple, 12 homers, and 42 RBI. Those are disappointing numbers for a young player that should be a star in this league. Conforto did work hard all year, made no excuses, and he seems better off for it. As a result, we should see more of the April Conforto in 2017.
It is really hard to say a player who became the oldest Met to ever hit 30 homers in a season had a disappointing year, but Granderson did have a disappointing year. He went from the Mets MVP to a guy hitting .237/.335/.464. Despite the 30 homers, he only had 59 RBI. Although, it should be noted he spent most of the year as the leadoff hitter. He also regressed in the field going from a Gold Glove caliber player to a subpar defensive player.
On the positive side, he did hit 30 homers, and he had a great September helping the Mets drive to claim the top Wild Card spot. He was willing to do anything to help the team including playing center field when Cespedes was no longer able to do so. He was a leader on the team, and he deservedly won the Roberto Clemente Award. The organization is better for having a person like Granderson. The real question is whether the team will be better for having a player like Granderson around next year.
Jay Bruce D+
Up until the last week and a half of the season it looked like the Bruce acquisition was going to be an unmitigated disaster. In Bruce’s first 42 games with the Mets, he hit .174/.252/.285 with four doubles, four homers, and 11 RBI. He went from the major league leader in RBI to finding himself outside the Top 10. He went from a career year to a guy completely lost at the plate. To boot, he wasn’t that good in the field either.
During the stretch drive, he seemed to adapt to playing in New York, and he started to hit much better. In his final eight games, he hit .480/.536/1.000 with a double, four homers, and eight RBI. That stretch made his overall Mets numbers seem a little better with him hitting .219/.294/.391 with five doubles, eight homers, and 19 RBI. Certainly, both Bruce and the Mets were hoping for better production than that. Hopefully, he provides it in 2017.
Juan Lagares B-
Lagares’ value has been and will always be with his glove, and that is why his 2016 season was mostly a success. Despite Lagares being limited to 68 games in center field due to his being a platoon player and his ligament injury, he was still Top Five in the National League in DRS. If Lagares had played more games, it is safe to assume he would’ve won his second Gold Glove.
However, Lagares is not going to get that type of opportunity because of his offense. In 79 games, Lagares hit .239/.301/.380 with seven doubles, two triples, three homers, and nine RBI. It is hard justifying keeping that bat in the lineup no matter how good your defense is. It is even harder when you consider the struggles the Mets had scoring runs last season. It should be noted that Lagares’ role was as a platoon player and a late defensive replacement. While he didn’t hit well in 2016, he was great defensively. We should expect more of the same next year.
In a short period of time, De Aza went from the probable Opening Day center fielder to the fifth outfielder without an inning of baseball even being played. The Mets brought him here to platoon with Lagares, and with the unexpected Cespedes signing, De Aza really found himself without a role.
As a a result, he really struggled to start the year. Not only was he struggling at the plate, but Collins was questioning his effort level. Eventually, De Aza had a great July, and he turned his season around. From there, he became an effective bench player, and he capably played all three outfield positions. Overall, he hit .205/.297/.321 with nine doubles, six homers, and 25 RBI. Those numbers were so low because that is how bad he was in the beginning of the year. Ultimately, it was a rough year for what should prove to be De Aza’s only year as a Met.
The biggest beneficiary of Conforto’s struggles was Nimmo. With Conforto being sent down, Nimmo got his chance to play in the major leauges, and he made the most of it. In 32 games, Nimmo hit .274/.338/.329 with one double, a long home run, and six RBI. Mostly, the 23 year old former first round draft pick showed the Mets he could very well be a part of the future of this organization.
Justin Ruggiano Inc
With his removal from the 40 man roster, Ruggiano’s Mets career lasted all of 22 plate appearances. In those 22 plate appearances he did hit .350/.409/.650 with two homers and six RBI. In that mix was a grand slam he hit off of Madison Bumgarner, which only serves to highlight how much the Mets missed a guy who only had 22 plate appearances for them in the 2016 season.
With the 2016 World Series going seven games, today marks the deadline for Yoenis Cespedes to opt out of the remaining two years of his contract. Once Cespedes opts out of his contract like we all expect him to do, the danger of losing him in free agency will begin to be fully realized.
The Mets have had over a month to negotiate a deal with Cespedes. Over this time period, they were the only team that could negotiate with him, and yet, the Mets haven’t had any real contract discussions with him. Instead, the Mets have let everyone know they are pessimistic about re-signing him because he wants a five year deal. Then they began the process of putting out there the team is concerned about what type of effort Cespedes will give once he receives the five year contract he is looking to obtain in free agency.
This is the beginnings of the same smear campaign the Mets launched against Cespedes last offseason. As you remember last offseason, the Mets quickly moved on from Cespedes by signing Alejandro De Aza to platoon with Juan Lagares in center. It was only after Cespedes didn’t get the deal he was expecting in free agency that he and the Mets were able to negotiate the current deal Cespedes is opting out of today.
There will be no bat signals like De Aza this offseason. The Mets already have a glut of outfielders with Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Lagares. The Mets also have Justin Ruggiano for the moment. With all of those pieces, the Mets are likely going to figure out how to piece those outfielders together. With that in mind, it is likely Cespedes is gone.
And if he is as good as gone, just let him go. He was great for the Mets for the last year and a half. He was a fan favorite, and he was a difference maker in the lineup. If the Mets believe they can build an offense without Cespedes much in the same fashion many of these same front office people did with Oakland after Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi left in free agency, more power to you. This decision right here is exactly why this front office is in place.
However, no matter what your decision, don’t smear the guy on the way out. You’re not changing the fans’ opinion on him, nor are you ever going to convince the fans you are not willing to have a payroll commensurate with the payroll a big market team should have.
With the smear campaign already in place, and the Mets not negotiating with Cespedes when they had the time, the handwriting is on the wall. We just do not know how many more days, weeks, or possibly months lie ahead before Cespedes signs elsewhere. No matter what happens from this point forward, the Mets front office better be right in how they handle this decision.
Last year, Ben Zobrist was one of the driving forces for a Royals team that beat the Mets in the World Series. This year, he was more of the same for a Cubs team that is on the verge of winning their first World Series since 1908. As luck would have it, Zobrist was one of the many “what if” decisions from the 2015 offseason that leads us to where the Mets are today.
Zobrist choosing the Cubs over the Mets led to a series of dominos falling. It led to the Mets choosing to trade Jon Niese for Neil Walker instead of looking to re-sign Daniel Murphy. That, coupled with Brandon Phillips rejected a trade, led Murphy to the Washington Nationals. Murphy would go on to have an MVP caliber season. Murphy’s season was more than enough to compensate for Bryce Harper having a down year, by his standards, and for Stephen Strasburg having yet another injury plagued year.
There were strange decisions along the way like the Mets initially passing on Yoenis Cespedes and signing Alejandro De Aza to platoon in center field with Juan Lagares. There was the multi-year deal with Antonio Bastardo despite him being an every other year reliever and Sandy Alderson’s poor history signing relievers to a multi-year deal with the Mets. Despite all of that, Cespedes re-signed, and the Mets once again looked like they were primed to return to the World Series in 2017.
Even with Cespedes’ return, the real hope was with the pitching. Now one could compete with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. If Steven Matz could join his teammates as an ace all the better. Even with this embarrassment of riches, the Mets still had Zack Wheeler returning from Tommy John surgery. By the way, waiting to close out those games was Jeurys Familia, who had already established himself as a great closer. As they said pitching wins championships, and the Mets had pitching in spades.
Early in the season, it worked out. Even with Harvey struggling, deGrom’s velocity not returning, and Wheeler’s return getting pushed back, the Mets were winning. Part of the reason why was Syndergaard taking the next step, Matz proving he belonged in the ace discussion, and deGrom adapting well to a lower velocity.
In April, the Mets took two out of three from the Indians in Cleveland. In a re-match of the NLCS, with a hot Cubs team looking for revenge, the Mets swept them out of Citi Field. Against this year’s World Series teams, the Mets were 7-3. This showed the Mets, with their pitching staff in tact, could beat the best of the best.
As we know, the pitching staff never did stay in tact. Furthermore, despite Walker having a good year, the Mets really missed Zobrist or Murphy as the offense was just one bat short to help carry a dinged up rotation to the finish line. Still, with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman performing better than anyone could’ve anticipated, the Mets made the Wild Card Game. In reality, the Mets lost that game because Madison Bumgarner was able to go deeper into that game than Syndergaard was.
As we saw in the NLDS, the Giants put a scare into the Cubs by almost sending it back to Wrigley Field for a Game 5. With the Mets having Addison Reed and Familia, who knows if a Mets-Cubs series would have gone much differently.
Really, that is one of many “what if” situations from the 2016 season that was just disappointing to Mets fans who were dreaming of a World Series this year. As we saw last year, this Mets pitching staff can beat anybody. In fact, this Mets pitching staff can demoralize even the best offensive clubs. When the Mets staff was healthy and in tact this year, which was only a brief snapshot in time (if it really ever was the case), the Mets once again proved that this year. And with that, there is hope for 2017. As of the moment, the Mets can expect, Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, and Matz in the Opening Day rotation. There’s no team in baseball that can match that.
So while Mets fans are sitting there melancholy and wondering “what if” during what should prove to be a great World Series, just remember the Mets have the pitching to win in 2017. Hopefully, that thought will keep you warm throughout the winter.
In the Wild Card Game, the Mets ran James Loney out to first base. In his very first at-bat, he snuffed out what could have been a rally by hitting into a double play on the first pitch he saw from Madison Bumgarner. In the seventh, he failed to field a groundball not hit too far from him that allowed Angel Pagan to reach on an infield single. That play effectively erased any chance that Noah Syndergaard could go back out for the eighth inning. Speaking of the eighth inning, with the Mets desperate for offense, Terry Collins pinch hit Eric Campbell for Loney.
Fact is, Loney shouldn’t have started that game. He didn’t have good numbers against left-handed pitching. He has been even worse against Bumgarner. However, he had to start with Lucas Duda not being ready to play, and with Wilmer Flores having suffered a season ending wrist injury.
All year long, Flores had demolished left-handed pitching. In 49 games against left-handed pitching, Flores hit .340/.383/.710 with 11 homers and 28 RBI. The Mets needed his bat in the lineup, and they needed him to play first base. However, he wasn’t available because of a crucial decision, or indecision, that was made on September 10th.
In that September 10th game, the Mets and Braves were tied 3-3 in the eighth inning, and Flores was standing on second base after a two out double. As we would soon see, with Flores’ speed, it was far from a guarantee that he would score from second on a base hit. Kelly Johnson would get a pinch-hit single. Flores “raced” around third, and he slid headfirst into home plate. In the ensuing collison, A.J. Pierzynski got him out – not just out at home plate, but also out for the season. Fact is, there is no reason why Flores wasn’t lifted there for a pinch runner. How did this happen?
Well, acccording to Collins, “We certainly had enough guys who could have ran for him, which we should have.” (Kevin Kernan, New York Post). Collins would go on to say, ““I was trying to get the pitching set up and get a pinch hitter in and got distracted, my faultI told [bench coach] Dickie [Scott], like I said, we were trying to get the pitching set up and get a pinch hitter, get somebody to hit for the pitcher who was coming up. I certainly should have had somebody ready to pinch run.”
Ultimately, Collins, being the manager and never one to make excuses, took responsibility for the failure to pinch run for Flores. However, it wasn’t just Collins’ mistake. It was also Bench Coach Dick Scott‘s mistake.
The bench coach’s job is more than just acting as a sounding board for the manager when seeking to make a move. The bench coach is also responsible for having a grasp of the matchups that are upcoming. They need to be aware of moves the team needs to be making in the next couple of innings. Overall, the bench coach needs to help prevent his manager, and ultimately his team, from making a gaffe that could cost them a game. During that confusion, Scott needed to remind Collins to get a pinch runner. He needed to be the clear head. If he did think of it, he needed to have a strong enough voice to get through to Collins.
What was simply astounding is the Mets almost repeated the mistake a week later. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Mets were trailing the Minnesota Twins 1-0, and Ervin Santana was dealing. Loney was intentionally walked putting runners and first and second with no outs. Despite Loney representing the go-ahead run and being perhaps the slowest man in all of baseball, he was not pinch run for during Alejandro De Aza‘s at-bat. After De Aza walked, Loney was on second, again representing the go-ahead run. The Mets then sent Michael Conforto to bat for Jerry Blevins, and still Loney remained on second. After Conforto took the first pitch did the Mets send Ty Kelly out to second base to pinch run for Loney.
These weren’t isolated incidents. There are several other examples to pull from including the famous Collins’ rant about not knowing whether Jay Bruce or Brandon Nimmo is faster. If Collins didn’t know that, his bench coach sure should.
While Collins has his faults as a manager, there was never this sense of indecisiveness that we saw from the team this season. While Collins usually made head scratching moves, he usually had a justification for them. He would say that someone was swinging a hot bat, or the player has been a good player for them all season, or simply that he liked the matchup. He would never say there was distraction and confusion in the dugout. There was no reason for him to say it because Bob Geren was a good bench coach that helped not just his manager, but also his team. That calming presence and attention to detail was missed this year.
Geren’s work with catchers was also missed this year.
During Geren’s time in baseball, he has be renown for his work with catchers. If you recall, when Travis d’Arnaud had first come up with the Mets, there were many questions about his defense. In his first full season, he actually led the majors in passed balls, which is all the more alarming when you consider he spent a good amount of time in AAA. It wasn’t just the passed balls. During the season, d’Arnaud had trouble framing pitches, and his mechanics in all aspects behind the plate were out of whack – especially his throwing.
Working with Geren, d’Arnaud has built himself into one of the better catchers in baseball. He no longer has the issues with passed balls. He has shown the ability to call a good game. He is an exceptional pitch framer. There is probably no catcher better in the league in fielding a throw and getting the tag down without violating the plate blocking rules. In 2015, d’Aranud was actaully league average in throwing out base runners.
While d’Arnaud was good behind the plate this year, his mechanics throwing the ball took a step back. It could have been the shoulder injury, but it also could have been him missing the calming presence of Geren. Eventually, it became so much of an issue that Rene Rivera had to become Syndergaard’s personal catcher due to Syndergaard’s difficulties holding on base runners and d’Arnaud’s weak arm. There is no telling how all of this affected him mentally and whether this carried over to his offense.
So overall, the Mets truly missed Geren in the 2016 season, d’Arnaud especially. It was a rough first year for Scott as the bench coach. Despite it being a rough year, he will be returning to the staff next season. Although it has not been announced, he will presumably be returning to the same role. Hopefully, the growing pains are out of the way, and Scott will be a more effective bench coach in 2017.
Oh, and in case, you still think winning the Wild Card Game is impossible, there’s Bartolo Colon to show you nothing is impossible:
The New York Mets have announced their Wild Card Game Roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game tonight at Citi Field
- Jerry Blevins
- Bartolo Colon
- Josh Edgin
- Jeurys Familia
- Robert Gsellman
- Addison Reed
- Hansel Robles
- Fernando Salas
- Noah Syndergaard
There were a few surprises on this roster. The one that immediately stands out is the Mets not carrying Lucas Duda on the roster. In a short period of time, Duda has gone from in the conversation to starting at first base tonight to not even being on the roster. His will be a big bat the Mets will miss for a late inning pinch hitting opportunity.
The next surprise was the Mets carrying Gsellman over Seth Lugo. While Gsellman has been the hotter pitcher over the past couple of starts, Gsellman does not have the experience Lugo has coming out of the bullpen.
The biggest surprise was the Mets carrying Edgin over Josh Smoker. This season, Smoker has struck out 14.7 batters per nine, and he has gotten the Mets out of a few tough jams. Edgin, on the other hand, has struggled this season due in large part to him not fully regaining his velocity after Tommy John surgery. However, despite the surprise, there is some justification for the decision.
First, both Smoker and Edgin are one inning pitchers. Each time Terry Collins has tried to push Smoker past one inning of work, he has allowed a second home run. With them both being one inning pitchers, the Mets most likely sought to use the pitcher who matches up better against the Giants. Given the Giants have many left-handed batters, Edgin seems to be the better choice. This season, lefties are hitting .235/.300/.235 off of Edgin as opposed to .360/.448/.600 off of Smoker.
Overall, the hope is that the Mets don’t have to use Edgin or worry about leaving Smoker off the roster. First and foremost, Blevins is going to be the LOOGY in the big spot, and Robleshas reverse splits. Additionally, the Mets 7-8-9- combination of Salas-Reed-Familia pitch just as well against lefties as they do to righties. In the end, so long as Syndergaard and the back end of the bullpen do their job, as we all expect they will do, the Edgin/Smoker decision will not amount to much.
As we head to the Wild Card Game, we already know that we are going to see an epic pitching matchup between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard. Presumably, this game is going to be won and lost on which pitcher blinks first and allows a run. It is going to be a daunting task for both offenses.
In Bumgarner’s career, he has made six starts against the Mets going 5-0 with a 1.86 ERA and a 1.025 WHIP. In four starts at Citi Field, Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA and a 0.828 WHIP. Bumgarner faced the Mets twice this year with very different results.
On a May 1st game at Citi Field, Bumgarner earned the win pitching six shutout innings allowing six hits and three walks while striking out seven. On an August 18th game at AT&T Park, in what was supposed to be a pitcher’s duel against Jacob deGrom, both pitchers struggled. Bumgarner still got the win despite allowing six hits, four runs, four earned, and three walks with six strikeouts over just five innings.
With that in mind, looking at the recent history, the Mets do have something to build their confidence against Bumgarner as they head into Wednesday’s game. There’s reason for confidence because the healthy Mets on the 40 man roster have actually fared well against Bumgarner:
Presumable Starting Lineup
- Jose Reyes 3-9
- Asdrubal Cabrera 3-7, 2 RBI, K
- Yoenis Cespedes 3-10, 2B, RBI, 3 BB, 3 K
- Curtis Granderson 0-3, BB, K
- Jay Bruce 3-23, HR, 4 RBI, 6 K
- T.J. Rivera 2-3
- Lucas Duda 0-1
- Rene Rivera 2-3, 2B, HR, 5 RBI
- Noah Syndergaard 0-2, K
- Eric Campbell 1-5, BB, 3 K
- Michael Conforto 0-3, 2 K
- Travis d’Arnaud 0-4, 2 BB, 3 K
- Kelly Johnson 7-20, 5 K
- Ty Kelly 1-2, BB
- Juan Lagares 1-9, K
- James Loney 2-13, 2B, RBI, BB, 5 K
- Kevin Plawecki 1-3
Have Never Faced Bumgarner (2016 against LHP):
- Gavin Cecchini 1-3, 2B, RBI
- Alejandro De Aza 8-41, 3 2B, RBI, 5 BB, 13 K
- Brandon Nimmo 2-7, BB, K
- Matt Reynolds 8-27, 6 2B, HR, 6 RBI, BB, 6 K
Look, anytime you face Bumgarner in an elimination game, you should not feel comfortable. In the 2014 Wild Card Game, Bumgarner pitched a complete game, four hit, one walk, 10 strikeout shutout. In Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, Bumgarner came out of the bullpen on two days rest to throw five shutout innings to give the Giants their third World Series title in five years.
Once again, this is an even numbered year, and the Giants are once again sending Bumgarner out to the mound to begin the run to another World Series. Standing in his way is 60’6″ postseason Syndergaard and a collection of Mets bats that have hit him well. The Mets have a good chance to win this game.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online.