Looking at this past offseason, the Mets have traded away much of their future to improve the 2019 team. Top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn were part of a package for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. Ross Adolph, Scott Manea, and Luis Santana were traded for J.D. Davis. Finally, Adam Hill, Felix Valerio, and Bobby Wahl were traded for Keon Broxton.
There has been some debate on each of these moves. Whereas many saw the Mets undervaluing assets, there have been a contingent who have justified the deal under the auspices of how not all prospects work out.
To a certain extent, there is validity to the prospects not panning out. With respect to Generation K, only Jason Isringhausen had a successful career, and that was as a reliever not the front line starter we expected him to be. Outfielders Fernando Martinez, Lastings Milledge, and Alex Ochoa weren’t even so much as a part-time player. Relievers like Eddie Kunz did nothing. The list goes on and on . . . .
Of course, this overlooks the prospects which have had successful careers. Tom Seaver was a Hall of Famer. David Wright, Jose Reyes, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Edgardo Alfonzo were all-time Mets greats. As we know, that list is much longer than that. It also includes Nolan Ryan, which was a trade which lives on in Mets infamy.
That was a trade of a young player who hasn’t figured it out for a past All-Star Jim Fregosi. While prevailing wisdom is that trade was a Mets disaster, the school of thought were you trade young players for proven Major League talent would be fully onboard with that deal. That does beg the question why people are against keeping prospects and are not against the Mets making trades.
Looking over Mets history, this team has made many horrible trades. In addition to the aforementioned Ryan for Fregosi trade, we have also seen several other poor trades in Mets history:
- Amos Otis for Joe Foy
- Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell for Juan Samuel
- Jeff Kent for Carlos Baerga
- Jason Isrinhausen for Billy Taylor
- Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano
There are several others which have blown up in the Mets faces. In addition to that, there have been trades for players which have greatly under-performed for the Mets. In addition to the aforementioned players, you can include Roberto Alomar, Willie Mays, Joe Torre, and a litany of others did not perform when wearing a Mets uniform.
With the Mets losing valuable young players and with the team getting veterans who have not performed, you have to wonder why the Mets don’t just operate on the free agent market. Of course, the reason there is the extensive failures the Mets have made on that front. The list is well known, and Mets fans can cite them in their sleep – Jason Bay, Bobby Bonilla, Luis Castillo, Vince Coleman, George Foster, Oliver Perez, and many, many others.
Point is, no matter which way you look, you see a history of failures when it comes to the Mets organization. Their prospects always fail. They only trade for veterans in decline. Every free agent signing is a bust.
Of course, that’s not remotely the truth. When looking at each area, the Mets have had plenty of successes and failures. The goal for every General Manager is to have more success than failures and for those failures to not come back and bite you. That’s what defines periods like the 1980s Mets and also the period immediately thereafter.
So in the end, when judging moves, do it on their own merit and not because you believe the Mets prospects fail, trade acquisitions production declines, and every free agent is a bust.
The Mets are 9-1, and they are now off to the best start in franchise history. However, right now, when it comes to the Mets, this isn’t even the biggest news of the season:
Saturday, April 7th at Washington – Steven Matz
Sunday, April 8th at Washington – Matt Harvey
Monday, April 9th at Miami – Noah Syndergaard
Tuesday, April 10th at Miami – Jacob deGrom
Wednesday, April 11th at Miami – Zack Wheeler
Sometime after 7:10 P.M., after the bottom of the first has ended, the dream will finally be realized. The Five Aces will have finally taken one turn through the rotation. What’s funny about it is the dream was thought to be dead.
In 2015, before Syndergaard and Matz were called up to the majors, Wheeler needed Tommy John surgery. As a result, this meant the dream, which was still in its infancy, would have to wait a year.
Heading into 2016, the Mets re-signed Bartolo Colon to help allow Wheeler to take his time in his rehab. He would have a number of setbacks, and he would never pitch in 2016. That year also saw deGrom, Harvey, and Matz befall season ending injuries themselves.
In 2017, the Mets were once again poised to have them all in the same rotation. However, Matz would need to begin the season on the disabled list. Syndergaard didn’t have an MRI and tore his lat. Harvey and Wheeler would find their way onto the disabled list with stress reactions after they had probably been rushed into the rotation before they were ready.
The progress in 2017 was they at least all made a start in the same season. That was something Generation K never did. In 1995, we saw Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher in the same rotation. Like with Wheeler, it was discovered Pulsipher needed Tommy John during the ensuing Spring Training. As a result, this meant it was just Isringhausen and Paul Wilson in the rotation.
In 1997, Isringhausen was the only one to pitch for the Mets with Wilson pitching in the minors with shoulder problems and Pulsipher experiencing depression and complications from Tommy John. Pulsipher would be the only one to pitch for the Mets in 1998 with Isringhausen hurt and Wilson hurt and in the minors.
In 1998, Pulipsher was the first to go. He was traded to the Brewers for Mike Kinkade. In 1999, it was Isringhausen’s turn to go as the Mets thought it better to use him to obtain Billy Taylor rather than use him in the bullpen.
Pulsipher came back to the organization in 2000, and he lost the Spring Training competition for the fifth starter spot to Glendon Rusch. Both he and Wilson would get traded that season as the Mets sought reinforcements in Lenny Harris, Bubba Trammell, and Rick White to help them win a World Series.
The odd thing about seeing Generation K all being traded away for supporting pieces was they were supposed to be the leading drive towards a World Series. Overall, they’d never appear in the same rotation, and they would pitch for the Mets in the postseason.
Seeing Generation K’s struggles makes what is happening tonight all the more remarkable. Not only are we finally seeing these five pitchers in the same rotation, but we have already seen them have the success we once expected from Generation K. In fact, they’ve been much more successful.
In many ways, seeing Wheeler start tonight is going to slay many demons for the entire Mets organization.
From the start the Mets have had and the seemingly magic tough Mickey Callaway has had, there is a lot more in store for the Mets. That said, short of David Wright taking the field again, it is going to be hard to envision a more powerful moment that will happen this (regular) season.
During Terry Collins‘ first Spring Training press conference, he overtly stated Zack Wheeler is a starting pitcher. With the Mets publicly considering using Wheeler in the bullpen, at least to start the season, Collins’ statements reminded me of how Bobby Valentine once held a similar opinion about Jason Isringhausen.
Back in 1999, the Mets were using Isringhausen, who had a litany of injuries and surgeries at that point, increasingly out of the bullpen. It was a natural fit for him with his having only made six major league starts over a two year period. And yet, Valentine preferred using Isringhausen in the rotation, as only Valentine could so eloquently put it, putting Isringhausen in the bullpen is like “us[ing] an Indy car as a taxi in New York City.” (New York Daily News).
As we know Isringhausen would be moved later that season in the ill-fated and ill-conceived trade for Athletics closer Billy Taylor. As an Athletic, Isringhausen would work exclusively out of the bullpen. From there, he would become an All Star closer amassing 300 career saves.
Given the relative injury histories, the reluctance to put the pitchers in the bullpen, and the hope both pitchers carried with them as part of future super rotations, the Wheeler-Isringhausen comparisons are unavoidable.
To that end, it is important to note one of the supposed issues with Isringhausen in the bullpen was his control. This is certainly understandable given his career 1.520 WHIP and 4.0 BB/9 as a starter. And yet, when moved to the bullpen, and allowed to focus on his two best pitches, Isringhausen dramatically cut down on the hits and walks. As a result, the things that made people believe he was a dominant starter came into focus as he became a dominant closer.
The consistently noted fear with Wheeler in the bullpen is his control. His 3.9 BB/9 is similar to what Isringhausen’s was as a starter even if his 1.339 WHIP is considerably better. It should also be noted Wheeler struck out more batters than Isringhausen did as a starter. That is probably because Wheeler’s pure stuff is probably better than Isringhausen’s. According to Brooks Baseball, Wheeler’s fastball sits in the mid 90s and he has a slider that almost hits 90.
Understandably, with Isringhause and Wheeler being different pitchers, the comparison may seem a bit contrived or imperfect. With that said, we have seen how the Royals have transitioned pitchers with similar skill sets to Wheeler, and they converted them into dominant relievers.
Luke Hochevar was a struggling starter who gave up too many walks. He was not having success in the rotation despite a low to mid 90s fastball and a high 80s cutter. He was transitioned to the bullpen where he thrived. Before showing the effects of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, he was dominant in 2013 going 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, and a 10.5 K/9.
While the Royals didn’t try Greg Holland in the rotation, they saw how well his stuff played in the bullpen. From 2011 – 2014, he was among the most dominant closers in all of baseball. Over the stretch he was 15-9 with 113 saves, a 1.026 WHIP, and a 12.6 K/9. Similar to Wheeler, Holland throws a mid to high 90s fastball and a slider in the high 80s.
Basically what we see in Isringhausen, Hochevar, and Holland is pitchers with great stuff can truly succeed in the bullpen. Moreover, pitchers who have had control issues as starters can better harness their pitches by focusing one the two or maybe three pitches they throw best and work out of the stretch. By focusing on what makes the pitcher great can, at times, led a pitcher down the path to greatness. That is even in the event said greatness occurs out of the bullpen.
Given Wheeler’s past control issues, his not having pitched in two seasons, and the emergence of both Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, it might be an opportunity for the Mets to move Wheeler in the bullpen where he may truly thrive. Of course, we won’t know that unless the Mets are willing to try. At this point, given Collins’ statements, it appears the Mets are not quite at that point yet. Maybe they should be.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online
As the trade deadline approaches, every team usually states that they need bullpen help, and those that are true contenders usually add an extra arm or two to the bullpen. For example, back in 1999, one of the biggest strengths for a Mets team fighting for the NL East and the Wild Card was their bullpen. Armando Benitez had taken over the closer role much earlier than anticipated. Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook were having excellent seasons. Pat Mahomes was a revelation as the long man in the bullpen. Ex-closer John Franco was expected to return form injury to help with the playoff push. Greg McMichael was having an off year, but he had previously been a valuable bullpen arm in a pennant race from his days with the Atlanta Braves. On top of that, the Mets had some young promising arms to go to down the stretch with Jason Isringhausen and Octavio Dotel (even if Bobby Valentine thought they were better suited and belonged in the rotation). Overall, the point being is the Mets did not need bullpen help.
Even with that being the case, a Mets team that was very active during the trade deadline made sure to acquire another arm for the bullpen by sending McMichael and Isringhausen for Billy Taylor. It turns out Billy Taylor was washed up, and he would not even be on the postseason roster thereby forcing the Mets to make do with the already good bullpen pieces they had. The Mets find themselves in a similar position than the 1999 Mets did.
The Mets bullpen is led to Jeurys Familia who is the best closer in the game. When needed, Familia can pitch two innings to get the big save that the Mets need. The primary eighth inning set-up man has been Addison Reed, who is only sporting a 2.26 ERA and a 0.912 WHIP. This duo has only lost one lead that has been given to them this year in 32 attempts. Behind them is Hansel Robles who has done everything the Mets have needed in the bullpen. He can come out and bail the Mets out of a bases loaded no out jam or pitch 3.2 terrific innings to save a Mets bullpen from a first inning injury to a starting pitcher. Jerry Blevins has been an extremely effective LOOGY allowing lefties to hit .210/.269/.310. By the way, he has been even better against righties limiting them to a .107/.188/.214 batting line.
Behind these pitchers are some very solid options. There is Jim Henderson, who was great before Terry Collins abused his arm. Henderson is currently in AAA on a rehab assignment. Seth Lugo has been absolutely terrific out of the bullpen in his two appearances. However, it is only two appearances, and there still remains a (remote) chance that he may wind up in the starting rotation with the Matt Harvey injury. There is Erik Goeddel, who even despite one poor performance this season, still has a career 2.75 ERA and a 1.054 WHIP. There is still Sean Gilmartin, who was an essential part of the Mets bullpen last year. He is a starter in AAA, but if the Mets are that desperate for major league relief help that they will swing a trade, they should pull up a known quantity to help the team where he is needed.
If the Mets will consider calling up players from the minors, there are some good options in AAA. Josh Edgin has a 2.45 ERA in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Paul Sewald has taken over as the closer, and he has recorded nine saves. There is always the alluring Josh Smoker, who is having a down year but still sports a mid-nineties fastball.
Finally, in addition to all of these players, there is still Antonio Bastardo, who is going nowhere. It is doubtful a rebuilding team will want to add him into the mix with his high salary and poor production. The Mets are stuck with him, and they are going to be stuck with him for the full season, regardless of whether they make another move to add a reliever or not. In essence, Bastardo is the reason why people mistakenly believe the Mets need bullpen help. With that in mind, the best thing the Mets can do is to find a way to get Bastardo back on track. That will help the Mets bullpen more than them adding another reliever.
Overall, the Mets bullpen is in fine shape with four outstanding relievers and plenty of good options behind them. The Mets do not need a reliever. They need to fix Bastardo since he’s going to be here whether or not the Mets make a trade. With that in mind, the Mets should leave the bullpen as is and turn their attention to the teams other needs at the trade deadline.
Admittedly, I have been apoplectic over the Tyler Clippard trade. The reason is because the last time the Mets made a trade like this it ended very badly. Faith and Fear in Flushing invoked the infamous John Smoltz and Jeff Bagwell trades. For me, it reminded me of Billy Taylor.
In 1999, the Mets were in competition for the playoffs for really the second time in my life (and second year in a row). I was too young to truly remember this (although my first baseball memory is the Buckner game) or this. After the previous season’s collapse, I was desperate to see the Nets make the playoffs. I was appreciative when Steve Phillips was aggressive at the trade deadline. Notably, he added Kenny Rogers (I still don’t want to talk about it), Shawn Dunston, and Darryl Hamilton (RIP). He also traded for Billy Taylor.
To acquire Billy Taylor, the Mets sent Billy Beane’s A’s Greg McMichael and Jason Isringhausen. At the time, I loved the move. Over a three year stretch, he had 73 saves on mediocre Athletics teams. In 1999, on an A’s team on the rise, he had 26 saves (his peripherals were awful but I didn’t follow such things back then). I was giddy at the prospect of the Mets having a 7-8-9 of Billy Taylor-John Franco-Armando Benitez (this is before we knew he was terrible in October). I didn’t care about the cost. All I wanted was a playoff berth, let alone a World Series.
Boy, was I wrong. In 18 appearances, Taylor had an 8.10 ERA. He was terrible. He didn’t pitch in the postseason. He was gone at the end of the year. He was out of baseball after the 2001 season.
The real cost of Taylor’s 18 innings? Jason Isringhausen’s career. He was once part of the fabled Generation K. In 1999, he was only given five starts. Mostly, he was a seldom used reliever who bounced between Norfolk and New York. He was coming off an elbow injury. At the time of the trade, he had a 6.41 ERA. His star had fallen. While he wasn’t good, Bobby V didn’t want to put him in the bullpen because that was “akin to using an Indy car as a taxi.”
I love Bobby V, but he was proven wrong. In 1999, he would save eight games for the A’s with a 2.13 ERA. That might’ve been helpful as Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run. Since the trade, Izzy accumulated 299 saves (one for the Mets in 1999 and seven for them in 2011). That was a lot to give up for 18 appearances.
Now, I don’t think Tyler Clippard will be as bad as Billy Taylor. He’s a much better pitcher. In actuality, through all of my hand wringing, I have noted Clippard is a quality addition that will help a back of a bullpen that needs it. I think the 7-8-9 of Bobby Parnell-Tyler Clippard-Jeurys Familia could be very good, or at least better than the 1999 version. If the Mets win the World Series, I’ll be thrilled and I won’t care how good Casey Meisner becomes.
However, I shudder at another Mets trade with Billy Beane for a reliever. While I hope one day I’m regaling my son of the 2015 championship season, I’m afraid that I will be explaining how Casey Meisner could have been a Met.