Anthony Swarzak

Mets Might’ve Lost Much More Than A Game To The Braves

As big as the Nationals series was, the series against the Braves is bigger. It’s bigger because it’s on the road, a step up in competition, and it’s an opportunity to get into the division race.

Unlike this past weekend, the Mets were not up to the task.

Right off the bat, Zack Wheeler‘s 15 inning scoreless steak was snapped. Actually, it was 15.1 innings as Ozzie Albies flew out between the trio of singles from Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson. That 1-0 deficit grew to 2-0 on a Matt Joyce RBI single in the first.

To put in perspective how difficult the task was against Max Fried and the Braves tonight, Juan Lagares was the team’s best hitter. To be fair, he was 3-for-3 against Fried.

That first hit was a two out single in the second. He moved to scoring position on a Wheeler HBP, and he’d score on a Jeff McNeil RBI single. It was 2-1, and the Mets would get no closer.

The Braves got that run back in the bottom of the inning on a Freeman RBI single. That lead grew to 3-1 when Acuna homered in the fourth, and then 5-1 when Ender Inciarte hit an RBI double in the fifth.

In total, Wheeler lasted just the five innings allowing a run in four of the five innings he pitched. He was easily out-pitched by Fried, and Acuna was a one man wrecking crew.

For example, in the sixth, the Mets had Fried on the ropes, but they’d shoot themselves in the foot.

Michael Conforto followed a Wilson Ramos leadoff walk with a GIDP. Todd Frazier then just missed a homer hitting it off the center field wall, and he’d need a great slide to get the double. Lagares followed with his third hit of the night, and for some reason, Gary Disarcina thought it wise to challenge Acuna’s arm:

With that, the Mets blew a chance to score, and they trailed 5-1 in what was now a battle of the bullpens.

Brad Brach pitched a clean sixth. Luis Avilan got into trouble in the seventh allowing a leadoff single to Donaldson an led plunking Adam Duvall. With Mets killer Charlie Culberson up, Mickey Callaway turned to Jeurys Familia. Familia continued his recent strong stretch by striking out Culberson to end the jam.

It was 5-1, but with the way the Mets have played and with the Braves weak bullpen, there was a chance. That chance came in the eighth.

Shane Greene, who has already lost his closer’s job, did little to instill confidence tonight.

After allowing back-to-back singles to Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis, he had some bad luck. First, Culberson tripped up what should’ve been a Ramos GIDP getting just the out at second.

Then, with Jerry Blevins relieving Greene to face Conforto, the Braves could not convert the 3-6-3 double play allowing Alonso to score. Anthony Swarzak came on to face Frazier. After Frazier singled, Lagares hit a ball which ate up Freeman allowing Conforto to score.

Unfortunately, Joe Panik could not get the big pinch hit. This left the Mets squandering what could’ve been a much bigger opportunity and entering the ninth 5-3.

As if things could’ve be bad enough in this frustrating loss, McNeil hurt himself trying to leg out a single against newly installed Braves closer Mark Melancon. With so many games remaining, the Mets could afford to lose a game, but they cannot afford to lose McNeil.

We will all be holding our breath awaiting word.

Game Notes: Drew Gagnon pitched a scoreless ninth. He was recalled earlier in the day with Chris Mazza being sent down to Triple-A.

Swarzak Is The Difference

Bottom of the seventh. One out. The Mets pulled to within 3-2 after Tomas Nido singled home Todd Frazier. Dominic Smith was the tying run at third base. The Braves went to the bullpen.

Anthony Swarzak entered. He’d allow a pinch hit infield single to J.D. Davis to load the bases. After nearly missing a grand slam, Jeff McNeil struck out. Pete Alonso, who hit a homer earlier in the game, lined out to end the jam.

And that was it.

A series after Jay Bruce beat up on the Mets, Swarzak shut the Mets down. Again, we’re reminded of just how terrible that trade was and how awful Brodie Van Wagenen has been as the General Manager.

The bright side is the Mets bullpen wouldn’t get another chance to blow a lead. Still, even without a lead, Robert Gsellman would have his own bases loaded jam except he gave up a bases clearing double to Johan Camargo to increase the Braves lead to 6-2.

What else is there to say? Jacob deGrom lost a game despite having a quality start. The Mets left seven on base. Amed Rosario had an error. Mostly, the Mets are nine games under .500.

Game Notes: A year after their horrific 5-21 June, the Mets ate so far 9-16.

Brodie Van Wagenen Ruined Mets Payroll Flexibility And Prospect Depth For Nothing

While Sandy Alderson had his faults as the Mets General Manager, he left the Mets in a very good position. The next General Manager would have at this disposal the assets and core necessary to build a real World Series contender sometime within the next three years. If done, properly, this could have been a stretch akin to the 1980s Mets.

First and foremost, there was a young core still under control. Michael Conforto rebounded from shoulder surgery in the second half, and he appeared ready to return to his All Star form. Brandon Nimmo had a breakout season where he was the second best hitter in the National League. Jeff McNeil emerged to hit .329/.381/.471 in 63 games showing a great contact rate while playing well at second base.

The team still had a very good starting rotation. Jacob deGrom is the reigning Cy Young winner. Zack Wheeler‘s second half was as good as deGrom’s. Steven Matz finally made 30 starts in a season. Noah Syndergaard came back from a finger issue and pitched well. Over his final eight starts of the season, he was 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA.

The team also did not have an onerous long term deal which would stand in the way of really improving the team. After the 2019 season, the contracts of Todd Frazier, Juan Lagares, Anthony Swarzak, and Jason Vargas were set to come off the books. That was $32.5 million coming off the books. Combine that with Wheeler’s $5.975,  and that was $38.475 coming off the books.

With respect to Vargas and Wheeler being pending free agents, the team did have internal options. Justin Dunn had a breakout season, and he re-emerged as a Top 100 prospect with an ETA of last 2019 or early 2020. With a similar 2019 season, you could see him realistically being part of the 2020 rotation or possibly the bullpen.

Behind Dunn, Anthony Kay and David Peterson had an opportunity to make a push to put themselves in a position to have an ETA of 2020. Between the three pitchers, the Mets realistically only needed one more starter via trade or free agency.

Those three pitchers were not the only near Major League ready talent the organization had. Pete Alonso was Major League ready. If he wasn’t, the team still had Dominic Smith who would spend the offseason addressing his medical issues and continuing to get into better shape.

This was all part of a very promising farm system which could have made a charge to the top of the game. In addition to the pitching and Alonso, the team had Jarred Kelenic, who appeared to be a once in a generation talent. Behind him was an impressive collection of teenage talent which included Andres Gimenez, Ronny Mauricio, Shervyen Newton, Luis Santana, and Mark Vientos.

If handled properly, the 2021 or 2022 Mets could have had a rotation with deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, and at least one of Dunn, Kay, Peterson, or possibly Simeon Woods Richardson. The infield would been Alonso, McNeil, and two from the aforementioned group of teenage prospects. That’s if Amed Rosario didn’t have a breakout season or move to the outfield. Speaking of the outfield, an outfield of Nimmo-Kelenic-Conforto would have been the envy of the game.

Sure, not all of the prospects would have developed, but you also could have had someone like a Ross Adolph or another prospect emerge much like we saw with McNeil in 2018. There was also the impending 2019 draft class to consider. The overriding point here was the Mets had a deep well of prospects, and they had payroll flexibility.

Whoever was going to be the next General Manager of the Mets was going to be, they were taking over a job in an enviable position. There were difficult decisions in front of them like which players do you extend, and how hard exactly do you push to contend in 2019 or 2020 knowing what was on the horizon. Certainly, you had to do some of that because taking over the job was likely going to require you to sell a vision of contending in 2019.

While players like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado would have been well worth pursuing, realistically speaking, the Wilpons were not going to green light those signings. On the trade front, the only player available worth the Mets top prospects was probably J.T. Realmuto, but the Marlins have never seemed inclined to be reasonable in a potential deal with the Mets.

With that in mind, whatever the vision for the new General Manager, there needed to be an element of restraint. No matter what the new General Manager did, they needed to maintain that level of payroll flexibility while also not damaging the farm system to pursue short term fixes and/or underselling prospects in order to find ways to circumvent not being able to spend.

Well, in one trade, just one, Brodie Van Wagenen completely failed. In trading Dunn, the Mets lost their lone near Major League ready starter. That was important in case of an injury in 2019, and it was important because with Wheeler and Vargas being free agents, the Mets needed to find at least one cheap option for the rotation.

Worse than that, the team added Robinson Cano‘s onerous contract. Over the next five years, the Mets had $20 million on the books for a player who was going to have a steep decline in one of those five years. That player was coming in at a position already filled by McNeil and at a position which was going to be filled with young talent during the duration of Cano’s contract. You also weren’t moving Cano to first due to Alonso and/or Smith.

Yes, this is where many point out the Mets obtained a cost controlled closer in Edwin Diaz. That’s true. However, he came with a debilitating contract. He also came at the expense of Kelenic. Certainly, a prospect of Kelenic’s level is worth more than a closer both in terms of value in a trade and just in terms of a future impact on a team.

Brodie Van Wagenen would then worsen things. He would trade prospects in Adolph, Adam Hill, Scott Manea, Felix Valerio, and Santana with Bobby Wahl to add J.D. Davis and Keon Broxton (who didn’t last two months with the team). No matter your impression of those players, that’s a big chunk of prospect depth for two players who were really nothing more than bench players.

That’s not a good allocation of your assets, especially when your organization does not have the ability to absorb Cano’s contract in stride and spend their way around losing this prospect depth. Anyone taking over the Mets job knew this, Brodie Van Wagenen included.

However, despite that knowledge he went all-in on 2019. He did not maintain the payroll flexibility needed to address the loss of two rotation spots, a third baseman, and a center fielder in free agency. He traded away not just two top 100 prospects but also quality depth prospects thereby harming their ability to add at this year’s trade deadline (if everything worked out) or to build the 2020 team. Mostly, he lost Kelenic who was a franchise altering prospect, who aside from Darryl Strawberry, the organization has not seen.

Overall, not only did Van Wagenen fail to build the 2019 Mets into a contender, he hamstrung the team’s ability to build that contender in 2020 and beyond. The reason is the team does not have the payroll flexibility or the prospect depth truly needed to overcome the way the Wilpons choose to operate their team.

Consider for a moment if Van Wagenen did nothing, the Mets would have been a fourth place team much like they are now. However, if he did actually do nothing, the Mets would have had a deep farm system and real payroll flexibility to attack this upcoming offseason. That’s all gone now, and seeing what he did to this organization in less than a year on the job, it’s difficult to have any faith he can turn things around and get the franchise back on track.

20/20 Hindsight: Braves End Mets Season

The Mets went to Atlanta with an opportunity to make a statement, and they did. It was just the wrong one:

1. The Mets needed to address their bullpen, defense, and depth. Brodie Van Wagenen completely failed in his efforts.

2. The bullpen has been the biggest culprit this year. What makes it all the more depressing is Anthony Swarzak has been better this year than Edwin Diaz. It gets better when you realize Swarzak is now a Brave pitching well against his former team.

3. The Mets followed a season with the second worst defense in the National League with the worst this year. There’s being a horrible shifting team, and there is also having players like J.D. Davis way out of position in left field.

4. On the topic of Davis, Gary Disarcina‘s send of him was inexplicably bad. It was the latest in bad decisions he’s made there. When you combine that with how horribly the infield has been shifted and his inability to help Amed Rosario improve defensively, you realize he’s been a bad coach for two years now. Really bad.

5. The defense killed Zack Wheeler‘s and Steven Matz‘s starts, but that was not the only reason. Both pitchers needed to be better in their starts. They needed to pick up their defense. They didn’t, and they unraveled and lost. Their failures are as much on them as the defense.

6. For Wheeler, this follows his career splits. His Junes are always terrible. He then rebounds to have a great second half. The problem for the Mets is his following this pattern is taking them out of contention, and it’s also not letting him build up trade value for when they have to sell him a month from now.

7. As bad as they were, Jacob deGrom is back and once again pitching to a Cy Young level. Sadly, he can only pitch once every five days.

8. You get a sense of how bad things are when Mickey Callaway felt compelled to use Robert Gsellman to handle the ninth after deGrom’s start. Essentially, Callaway said he didn’t want one of his other relievers tacking on runs to his starter and ruining the good feeling that start would’ve had on his ace and the club.

9. It’s funny. That seemed like the perfect opportunity to use Stephen Nogosek to break him in easily. That said, as fans we’re never privy to the internal dynamics of a clubhouse and wanting to build up your players.

10. Nogosek and Daniel Zamora showed they are not answers to what has been ailing the bullpen. Instead, this was the team shifting deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s something to keep in mind when they previously passed on Craig Kimbrel and still have yet to sign Cody Allen.

11. That said, Chris Flexen showed us something. When he entered that game, the Braves had a real chance to put it out of reach. He stepped up and pitched two scoreless innings. In what was a lost series, he emerged as a potential bright spot.

12. Michael Conforto has been great lately with a 10 game hitting streak and a hit in 15 of the 17 games this month. In addition to his good defense in right field, he is easily the most underappreciated player on this roster.

13. After a bad May, Pete Alonso has picked it back up in June. He’s been a monster at the plate. It will be very interesting to see how this continues to play out this season.

14. Why isn’t Jeff McNeil playing in center? Juan Lagares hasn’t been good. Neither has Carlos Gomez. Really, McNeil can’t be worse and making him the everyday center fielder would allow the team to get Dominic Smith into the lineup everyday. Sure, Smith in left won’t help the defense, but he’s a better option than Davis out there.

15. For all the talk about Adeiny Hechavarria needing to play over Rosario, if you look, he’s hitting like Hechavarria again with him hitting .176/.222/.176 over the last two weeks and a .241/.276/.434 batting line overall. If you’re going to go down like this as a team, shouldn’t you be looking at Luis Guillorme in this role?

16. Both Brandon Nimmo and Justin Wilson have been shut down after the team’s repeated efforts to try to get them to play through their injuries. You really have to question how the Mets continue making this mistake with their players. It takes an extra level of a complete lack of self awareness and examination to repeatedly make the same mistake.

17. While this is a very down time for the Mets and being a Mets fan, just remember this team still has a young core, and they have been better than anyone could’ve hoped. While the hope for 2019 is fading fast (if not completely gone), there is real hope for 2020.

18. We could talk about the division being unofficially being out of reach and the Mets needing to focus on the Wild Card, but that’s only fooling ourselves. It’s time to sell. That said, if the Mets sweep the Cubs, I’ll probably talk myself into this team being a competitor. With Walker Lockett starting things off for the Mets, the chances of that happening are remote.

19. The worst place in baseball to be is inbetween being a competitor and a bad team. The Mets were in that position in 2002, and they made a horrendous trade with the Rockies trading Jason Bay as part of a package for Steve Reed. A few years later, we’d see it happen with the Scott Kazmir/Victor Zambrano trade. With Brodie Van Wagenen’s hubris, another awful deal like this is a real danger.

20. If Brodie Van Wagenen did nothing this offseason but keep what was here, the Mets would still be a fourth place team, but instead they would’ve been one with payroll flexibility and a farm system on the cusp of being the best in the game.

20/20 Hindsight: Mets Season A Little Less Rocky

The Mets went from a very bad loss on Friday to winning a series against the Rockies, a team ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. All in all, it was a good weekend with a lot of great things happening:

1. Noah Syndergaard is not getting enough credit for reinventing himself on the fly. He’s lost his slider due to the new ball, and he’s adapted by throwing more four seamers and his curveball, two pitches he needed to develop further. He’s really turned a corner and maybe he’s on the brink of a stretch like he had in 2016.

2. It does seem every Mets pitcher likes pitching to Tomas Nido. It should come as no surprise as he is a first rate defensive catcher and pitch framer.

3. That said, we cannot have Nido being the personal catcher to Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. That is especially the case when Wilson Ramos has been the Mets best hitter for over the past three weeks, and he has improved his rapport with the pitching staff. Fact is, Ramos has to play.

4. That said, Nido should play a little more. In the first month plus of the season Ramos played in 28 of 29 possible games, and he started in 22 of 29 games. The Mets played 28 games in May, he played 24 games and started 19. Apparently, easing off the throttle off the 31 year old catcher with an injury history has benefits.

5. Speaking of easing off the throttle, Robert Gsellman was dominant in his one inning on Friday, and then he didn’t pitch in the subsequent two days. Getting him more rest could make him more effective like he was earlier in the year. That’s the hope at least.

6. For those who were clamoring for Drew Gagnon in pressure situations, you got to see why Mickey Callaway was hesitant to put him in those spots as he allowed homers to David Dahl and Daniel Murphy. In three of his last five appearances, hes’ allowed runs with two of them being three run blowups.

7. That’s the thing with pitchers like Gagnon. They’re effective in a role like long reliever, but pressure situations are a different animal. From what we’ve seen, Gagnon definitely has a spot in a Major League bullpen just not in the seventh or eighth inning. That’s alright. There’s nothing wrong with having pitchers who can pitch effectively in certain roles.

8. Jeurys Familia has been great in his last two appearances retiring the side both times. If he’s turning the corner, the Mets bullpen is now more than just Edwin Diaz and Seth Lugo.

9. Todd Frazier is not this good, but he was also not as bad as he was to start the season. That’s the inherent problem with judging players over hot and cold streaks and especially over week-to-week production. Overall, what we have seen from Frazier is he’s a very good defensive third baseman who can draw walks and has pop in his bat. At least, that is what he is when he’s healthy. He’s healthy now, and he’s finally helping the Mets much in the same fashion Sandy Alderson thought he would.

10. The Mets need Frazier all the more because Jed Lowrie is apparently as real as the Tooth Fairy.

11. Speaking of moves which blew up unexpectedly, Robinson Cano has been less productive than Jay Bruce or Anthony Swarzak, both of whom have been traded in the division and are now working to beat the Mets.

12. With Juan Lagares having a -3 DRS in center and seeing Carlos Gomez play in center, the Mets should give a real consideration to seeing Jeff McNeil in center. As we see he has above average speed, good instincts, and an ability to quickly learn new positions. This would allow Brandon Nimmo to go to left field, which is a more natural fit whenever he comes off the IL.

13. Of course, if Dominic Smith continues to hit and play a passable left field, you could move McNeil to second. Of course, when Cano is healthy that raises a whole other list of issues. However, that falls under the category of good problems to have, which is a really nice change of pace around here.

14. Amed Rosario is an extremely talented player. We keep seeing glimpses of it, but we also see frustrating stretches. Part of this is the coaching staff with the Mets being one of the worst shifting teams there are, which has a negative impact on Rosario’s defensive numbers. There’s also the fact he’s still working to figure things out. Hopefully, sooner or later, something finally clicks.

15. Speaking of something clicking, Mets need to hope Pete Alonso is finally clicking again. While he’s hitting just .223/.298/.559 since May 1, Alonso is hitting .281/.349/.649 0ver his past 15 games. One thing to track here is Alonso is much better against left-handed pitching.

16. Bob Klapisch’s article in Bleacher Report on the Wilpons on their handling of their attempts to void Yoenis Cespedes‘ contract as well as all the other areas where the Wilpons are petty, over-matched, cheap, and whatever other adjective you want to use, is exactly the type or articles which need to be written instead of the paint-by-number fire Mickey Callaway articles which are being written.

17. Prior to this series against the Rockies, the Mets had exactly one series win against a team with a winning record. That series was the April 22 – 24 series at home against the Phillies where they blitzed them over the first two games before the Phillies destroyed Jason Vargas in the final game of that series. Things went sour for the Mets after that.

18. Mets haven’t been good for a while now, and it does seem like things are turning a corner. Fortunately, the Wild Card and division are still well within reach.

19. The Subway Series always seem to be a seminal moment in the Mets season. They appear headed in the right direction and the Yankees not so this next series could prove to be a springboard for the Mets.

20. What happened to David Ortiz was horrific, and instead of rushing to judgment like Dallas Braden, we should be just offering our prayers for Ortiz for a speedy recovery.

Trade Worsens: Cano Somehow Worse Than Bruce & Swarzak

When looking at the trade where the Mets acquired Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, there are already a number of developments to show why this trade was horrible for the Mets.

The most obvious is the respective performances of Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn with both of them shooting up the prospect rankings. That goes double for Kelenic.

There’s also the performance of Cano. By the looks of it, the Mets may not even get one good year from the 36 year old second baseman coming off a PED suspension. Remember, this is just year one of a five year $100 million commitment.

As bad and/or injured as Cano has been, no one could have reasonably predicted he wouldn’t be as good as Jay Bruce has been this year. For that matter, he hasn’t even been as good as Anthony Swarzak. To make it all the worse, the Mariners traded Swarzak to the Braves and Bruce to the Phillies.

Essentially, the end result of the trade is Bruce, Swarzak, and Cano have been working to keep the Mets out of the postseason. That’s well beyond what most assumed would be the reasonably pondered worst case scenario for this trade.

And again, this is just year one of Cano. Mets fans should shudder to see year five . . . and that’s when Dunn and Kelenic should reasonably be contributing at the MLB level.

Not good. Not good at all.

Sandy’s Team?

When the Mets were winning the 2015 pennant, there was a push in some circles to refer to that team as Omar’s team. Depending on your point of view, it was intended to either credit Omar Minaya for his leaving behind a better than advertised talent base, or it was to deride Sandy Alderson, who never gained traction with some Mets fans.

Even if it was said in jest, there was a nugget of truth to it. The core of that team, the pitching, was mostly there because of Omar Minaya. In fact, Minaya was the General Manager who drafted Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz. The other key starter, Noah Syndergaard, was obtained in exchange for R.A. Dickey, a pitcher who was brought to the organization by Minaya on a minor league deal.

Minaya was also the General Manager who drafted Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy. Jeurys FamiliaWilmer Flores, Juan Lagares, Hansel Robles, and Ruben Tejada came to the Mets as international free agents signed during Minaya’s tenure. Minaya’s impact on the team went further than this with Sandy Alderson utilizing players brought to the organization during Minaya’s tenure to acquire Travis d’Arnaud and Addison Reed.

Taking it a step further, Minaya was the Assistant General Manager when David Wright was drafted, and he was the General Manager who gave Wright his first contract extension.

Overall, Minaya’s fingerprints were all over that 2015 team much in the same way Alderson’s fingerprints are all over this year’s Mets team.

Yesterday’s starting lineup featured four former Alderson draft picks (Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil) and the player who his regime gave the second highest international signing bonus in team history (Amed Rosario). Robinson Cano came to the Mets when Brodie Van Wagenen traded two former Alderson first round draft picks (Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn) and two players Alderson had signed in free agency (Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak).

Looking further, the lineup also had two Minaya holdovers, one of which in Lagares who Alderson gave a contract extension.

Really, when you truly break it down, the only player on the Mets Opening Day lineup who has zero ties to any previous Mets regime was Wilson Ramos.

When you break it down further, the only Mets players who have no ties to previous regimes were Ramos, Luis AvilanJustin Wilson, and Jed Lowrie, a player who opened the season on the Injured List and who currently has no timetable to return. Considering Familia was a free agent signing, you could potentially credit him solely to Van Wagenen even if he was seeking to return to the team. The other 20 players on the Opening Day roster were either players brought to the team by Alderson, or they were players who were acquired utilizing players Alderson brought to the organization.

Given the narrative which was in place four years ago, the question should be presented whether the 2019 Mets are Sandy’s or Brodie’s team.

The answer is this is definitively Brodie’s team. As the General Manager, he was the one who set into course a series of transactions made to build the Mets in his image. It was he who decided to extend deGrom and to bring in Cano. When you are the General Manager, you are the one making the decisions, and you should receive the credit or blame if your decisions succeed or falter.

As for Sandy Alderson, Mets fans should be appreciative of the talent he acquired during his tenure. Alderson not only left behind a talented group of players, but he left behind a very likeable group of players. In the end, the Mets were better off for him having been the General Manager, and we can only hope we can say the same when Van Wagnen’s tenure as the Mets General Manager ends.

Re-Examining Mets Offseason

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

Dumping Swarzak’s And Not Frazier’s Contract

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

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

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

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

Why Didn’t McNeil Play Winter Ball?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are the Extensions?

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

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

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

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

The Gift of the Mets

Seven point five million. That was all. After allowing David Wright to play in one last game, the Mets only had $7.5 million in insurance proceeds for the 2019 season. The accountants went over the numbers three times, but the money remained the same. $7.5 million. Soon, it would be Spring Training.

There was nothing for Brodie Van Wagenen to do put to mortgage the future. So he did.

While Brodie began to toil away, we can look at the home. Citi Field. A ballpark which was helped built by $615 million in public subsidies with $20 million a year coming from Citibank for the naming rights.

In the executive portion of the building was a corner office with a name on the door – Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon.

When the name was first placed there, the team had a top five payroll in the sport. They had a chance to advance up until their final games in each of the past three seasons. Now, after the Madoff scandal, the money was tighter. More creditors. More debt. Less liquidity. He carried this burden as his General Manager entered his office.

As the meeting began, Brodie was looking off in the distance trying to synthesize his thoughts. They each had promised a winner, but there was just $7.5 million in insurance proceeds to spend. He spent all offseason looking for ways to move contracts around, but $7.5 million was just not enough. Every free agent cost more than he expected, and teams wanted more in deals than he anticipated. Being new to the job, he was not quite prepared for that.

Only $7.5 million to build depth, to add a center fielder, mostly just to put this team more firmly in contention. He spent all offseason planning for more, something that would make them the favorites he declared them to be. Something, anything, to justify moving from a lucrative career as an agent to being a General Manager.

During the meeting, Brodie and Jeff took notice of the 2015 pennant banner. They were both very proud of that for different reasons. For Brodie, it was his clients, Jacob deGrom and Yoenis Cespedes, who had played key roles in getting the Mets to that point. It gained both them and himself notoriety.

For Jeff, this was one they did on their own. They survived everything, and they actually went to a World Series. He proved he could oversee a team’s rebuild and come out the other end with a winning team. Nothing meant more to him than that team. He could stand in a room with the Steinbrenners, and he could tell them he built that team from pure guts and guile, which is something they could never accomplish with their free spending ways.

After the meeting was done, with not much headway, each went back to the drawing board to see what they could to to put this team over the top.

Brodie began making phone calls. He knew Robinson Cano had a no trade clause and wanted to come back to New York, and the Mariners wanted to rebuild. He tried and tried again. They asked for Justin Dunn. He wasn’t too keen, but he agreed if they took back Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak. They then wanted Jarred Kelenic. He didn’t want to do it, but he wanted to get a World Series for his former clients.

He calculated how he could spend the savings. A catcher like Wilson Ramos. There wouldn’t be room for much more, but they could be better, closer. He pulled the trigger. He was eager for Jeff to come home from safari to tell him the news.

After the deal was done, he began to question himself a little. After all, he just mortgaged the entire future to contend for just two years. He didn’t have the money to address all of the team’s needs. The Braves added Josh Donaldson. The Nationals added Patrick Corbin. The Phillies added Jean Segura, and they were in hot pursuit of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

But still, what could a General Manager do with just $7.5 million.

Brodie, who was usually self assured as most agents are, began questioning himself. Instead of boasting what he had accomplished like he had declaring the Mets frontrunners, with Jeff, he was more measured. He really found himself just praying his decision would be met with approval.

Jeff, fresh from safari, popped into Brodie’s office with a bemused look on his face. He was more quiet than usual, which was something Brodie was unaccustomed. He was not ready for that.

Brodie began explaining himself without so much as a question being asked. “Jeff, we actually saved money on the 2019 payroll. Cano is a Hall of Fame talent. Diaz was the best closer in baseball. You wanted to win, and this is the closest we can get to doing it. If I can’t trade for J.T. Realmuto, I can sign Ramos. He wants to be here. We can figure it out from there.”

Jeff just put out his hand, and he shook Brodie’s hand. He gave an assuring pat on the shoulder. Then from inside his jacket pocket, Jeff took out some papers, and he put it upon Brodie’s desk.

“I gave you marching orders, and it looks like you delivered. I am very proud of the job you just did. But if you open that, you will see why I have not been as enthusiastic as you may have thought I would be.”

Brodie unfolded the papers. Initially, there was a wry smile, and then a look of pure shock and horror.

For there was the extension. Due to his role as the General Manager, he could no longer get that extension for deGrom. As an agent, Brodie wanted nothing more than that extension, but due to the conflict of interest, he was not allowed to go and give it to deGrom. He could not even be a part of those discussions.

Brodie exclaimed, “But with the team being better, there will be more fans! There has to be. More fans and more revenues. It’ll happen. I promise.”

Jeff gave that knowing look and just smiled. Both knew the last years of Cano’s deal was going to stop the Mets from giving deGrom any sort of a contract extension, especially with Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Brandon Nimmo soon to follow. They also knew without deGrom going forward, the Mets chances to being relevant into the future was going to be severely compromised.

Jeff just said, “Lets just put this all aside now, order lunch, and let’s talk as friends like we used to do.”

The Mets, as you know, were once run by devoted, passionate, and smart men, who brought the Mets the 1986 World Series. Frank Cashen, Nelson Doubleday, and Fred Wilpon were the first to deliver Mets fans a World Series in the era of free agency. Being wise, not only did they win the World Series, but they had an era of prolonged success like the Mets have never seen before or since.

And here I have told you about two Mets leaders who were not so wise. Each sold something valuable in order to try to win a World Series, and they go in each other’s way. Somewhere, if people will listen, they will tell us they are building the 2019 Mets to be the best team in baseball, and they are smart enough to win for the next decade. They will tell us no matter how much we all doubt.

They are the Mets.

* Adapted from the short story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

 

Be Wary Of The Free Agent Reliever Market

Last year, teams went out and spent roughly $400 million on relief pitchers in free agency. Part of that was probably in large part due to teams relying more heavily on their bullpens. Another factor might have been there were some well known and seemingly quality options available.

Of all that money thrown around, there were five relievers who received contracts with a total value in excess of $20 million. There were 10 relievers who had a deal with an average annual value of at least $8 million. None of these relievers would finish in the top 10 in ERA, FIP, strikeouts, or fWAR.

Digging deeper, from this top group, Wade Davis was the only closer in the top 10 in saves, and Tommy Hunter was the only reliever to finish in the top 10 in holds. That doesn’t mean teams did not spend wisely on relievers last offseason. It means the upper tier of free agent relievers did not pitch the way their teams had anticipated.

Jared Hughes signed a two year $4.5 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and he had the fourth best ERA among relievers. Steve Cishek signed a two year $13 million deal with the Cubs, and he had the tenth best fWAR among relievers.

While not in any top 10s, there were some other cheap relievers with very good years. Seunghwan Oh signed a one year $2 million deal with the Blue Jays, and he had a 2.68 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and a 10.5 K/9 before he was traded to the Rockies. Fernando Rodney signed a one year $4.5 million deal with the Twins, and he delivered 25 saves with a 3.09 ERA before being traded to the Athletics.

Now, there were some top end guys who performed very well. For example, Davis was second in the majors in saves. Pat Neshek certainly earned his contract with a 2.59 ERA albeit in an injury plagued year.

Injuries are a whole other ball of wax. In addition to Neshek, we saw Anthony Swarzak, Brandon Morrow, and others lose parts of their season to injuries. In the case of Swarzak and others, there was just an inability to produce at their 2017 levels which had gotten them the big contract.

Now, every reliever and free agent class is different. Sure, Craig Kimbrel could cash in and continue to be a great closer. We could see Andrew Miller brush aside his injuries issues and return to his 2016 ALCS MVP form. It’s also possible relievers like Zach Britton will never approach their apex again leaving you shelling out millions of dollars for a replacement level reliever.

In the end, if you are going into the deep end of the free agent reliever pool you have to be right, but seeing how successful bullpens are built, you have to question why you would even go there.

The most successful relievers were guys like Josh Hader, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Diaz, i.e. young cost controlled converted starters. You also saw teams strike rich on good value in free agency. With that being the case, it is probably in a team’s best interest to identify those fringe minor league starters and those relievers who can provide better value at a lower cost.

Considering how the Mets may be feeling the budget crunch in attempt to build a winner, it might be time to look at a Chris Flexen with his fastball and curveball in the bullpen while simultaneously waiting out the top tier reliever market with the hopes of building a deeper, better, and yes, cheaper bullpen.