Now that the first half of the baseball season has ceremoniously ended with the American League beating the National League in the All Star Game, it is time to see what the second half of the season looks like for the Mets.
At the moment, the Mets currently sit at fourth place in the National League East with a 39-47 record. They are 12 games behind the Nationals in the Division, and they are 10.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies for the second Wild Card. In addition to the Rockies, the Mets also trail the Cubs, Cardinals, Braves, Pirates, and Marlins.
In the second half of the season, the Mets have 68 games remaining with them split-up evenly between the home and road. At home, the Mets opponents have a combined .511 winning percentage. Their road opponents have a .499 winning percentage. The combined winning percentage of all of their opponents is .505.
The respective winning percentages are skewed by the Mets having a home series against the Dodgers and the Mets having a road series against the Astros. Taking those two series out of the equation, the respective winning percentages fall to .494 at home, .481 on the road, and .488 combined. More to the point, if the Mets can just hold their own in those six games, the Mets have a slate of winnable games in front of them.
The question is whether the Mets will have enough to win those winnable games. At the moment, the Mets are planning to sell. If there are takers, the Mets will likely part ways with Jay Bruce, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, and Addison Reed. If any one of these players are moved, the Mets chances of winning games will likely take a hit. That goes double for Reed, who right now is the only reliable arm in the bullpen.
But maybe the Mets don’t sell.
Right out of the break, the Mets host the Rockies and the Cardinals. The Rockies are in the middle of a stretch that has seen them lost 13 of their last 17 games. It’s not exactly like the Rockies lost just against the best teams in baseball either. They were swept by the Giants, and they split a series with the Reds.
The Mets did just play a close series against the Cardinals. There is a legitimate reason to believe that with a different setting in Citi Field, the Mets could flip the script. That becomes more feasible when you consider the Cardinals are a dismal road team.
After that, Mets get to face the Athletics and Padres who are two of the worst teams in baseball. At that point, it is certainly possible the Mets could be in a different position come trade deadline time. Maybe the Mets will be in a position to add to the bullpen rather than decimate it with a Reed trade. As we see, they certainly have some pieces to trade to do that.
Ultimately, that has been the frustrating part of this season. The door has been open the whole time, and the Mets have yet to truly enter into a race for the postseason. The good news is there are about two weeks until the trade deadline. At that point, the Mets will have a clear direction.
They will be either gearing up for another improbable run to the postseason, or they will have a youth movement with the Mets finally giving a chance to Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith, and Gavin Cecchini.
To that end, no matter what happens over the next couple of weeks, the fans will have reason to watch in August and September. You will either have a team racing for the postseason supplemented by players coming back from injury, or they will have some young players beginning to make their mark on the league.
After the Mets pulled out a 6-4 win over the Cardinals, there was hope for the team to at least take the series and leap over one team ahead of them in the race for the second Wild Card. As Noah Syndergaard will tell you, the Mets are the second half team. If you wanted a glimmer of hope, here it was.
On Saturday, there was hope. Zach Wheeler turned his season around allowing just two earned over six innings. When Jay Bruce homered to start the seventh inning, and the Mets knocked Adam Wainwright out of the game, there was a chance. Then Fernando Salas came into the game. He was dreadful as usual, and the relievers that followed weren’t much better. A one run deficit became a three run lead too much for the Mets to overcome.
From there, things fell apart. For the first time all season, Steven Matz just didn’t have it allowing five runs over 4.1 inning. The Mets offense could only muster three hits off of Lance Lynn. With that, the momentum from Friday night’s victory was gone. Quite possibly, hope for the Mets making any sort of run in the second half of the season.
Heading into the break, the Mets are 39-47 getting outscored by their opponents by 47 runs. They are 12 games behind the Nationals in the National League East. The team is 10.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Worse than that, the Mets are 5-21 against teams with a winning record.
Every time you want hope, the Mets make sure to take it away. Perhaps, it is better this way. It is time for everyone to admit this team is going nowhere. It is time to sell. It is time for Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini, and Amed Rosario to show the Mets what they are capable of doing. With them playing everyday, it is possible we can all begin to hope again.
If the Mets are really looking to sell, it is time to get rid of everyone that doesn’t have a contract beyond this season. This means the Mets should part ways with Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Addison Reed, and Rene Rivera. Once Neil Walker is healthy enough to play, the Mets should trade him as well. With the Mets having team options on both Jerry Blevins and Asdrubal Cabrera, they should also get moved in the right trade.
But it’s not just the players. The Mets should also part ways with Terry Collins.
When Collins signed his two year contract in the wake of the 2015 World Series, Collins had indicated it could very well be his last. Even if Collins relented from that position, with each game, it becomes clearer and clearer that Collins will no longer be in the dugout for the Mets in 2018. If that is the case, the Mets should part ways with Collins sooner rather than later.
The perfect time would be as the Mets head into the All Star Break. This could allow the Mets to re-calibrate the coaching staff. Internally, the Mets have some managerial candidates.
First base coach Tom Goodwin was given the opportunity to manage in the Arizona Fall Leauge this past offseason. While he was removed from the Mets coaching staff in the offseason, Tim Teufel has remained with the organization. Both are certainly candidates for the managerial job should it ever open, and both should provide the Mets with as smooth a transition as possible.
There are also minor league managers Luis Rojas and Pedro Lopez. With the Mets likely turning to young players like Gavin Cecchini, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, and Dominic Smith, it would be helpful to have a manager with whom they are familiar to ease their transition as everyday players in the majors.
It would also serve as an opportunity to see how any of the aforementioned would serve as a manager at the major league level. If you like what you see with the replacement, you have your answer as to who should be the Mets manager in the future. If that person doesn’t perform well, you at least know you need to move on from that manager and look in a different direction.
Point is if the Mets aren’t going anywhere, they should best utilize that time. That means giving young players an opportunity to establish themselves as everyday players at the major league level. That should also mean finding out who the manager should be in 2018.
It’s time for the Mets to thank Collins for his service as the Mets manager, and possibly find a role for him in the organization. It’s time to close the chapter on his Mets managerial career, and it is time to usher in a new era of Mets baseball.
After a sweep of the Giants in San Francisco, fans could allow themselves hope for the 2017 season again. Yes, the Giants are a dreadful team, but there was a lot to like about the Mets in that series. If you dig deeper, there is still things to like about this Mets team.
Jacob deGrom is in a stretch where he has gone at least eight innings in three consecutive starts. This could be the best stretch of his career, which is certainly saying something.
Rafael Montero has now had three consecutive strong outings allowing just two earned runs over his last 14.1 inning pitched. In this stretch, he not only finally looks like a major league pitcher, he looks like a good major league pitcher.
Curtis Granderson has been the best hitting National League outfielder in the month of June (204 wRC+), and he’s been hitting .297/.408/.595 with 13 doubles, two triples, nine homers, and 23 RBI since May 1st.
Jay Bruce has been resurgent hitting .315/.358/.629 with four doubles, eight homers, and 17 RBI. He’s on pace for his first 40 home run season and just his second 100 RBI season.
While acting unprofessional about the switch to second base in the clubhouse, Asdrubal Cabrera has been nothing but professional on the field going 7-14 in the series and playing a very good second base.
Lucas Duda is flat out raking hitting .375/.474/.813 over the past week, and as we know when Duda gets hot like this, he can carry the team for a long stretch. Just ask the 2015 Nationals.
Lost in all of that is Yoenis Cespedes being Cespedes, Addison Reed being a dominant closer, and Seth Lugo stabilizing the rotation. There is even the specter of David Wright returning to the lineup. When you combine that with the Mets schedule, this team is primed to reel off nine straight wins.
If the Mets were to win nine straight, they would be just one game under .500. At that point, the Mets will be red hot heading to another big series in Washington. Last time the teams played there, the Mets took two of three. After that is a bad Cardinals team before the All Star Break.
Combine this hypothetical Mets run with a Rockies team losing six straight, and the Mets are right back in the mix with a bunch of teams hovering around .500 for a shot at the postseason. Last year, the Mets were under .500 as late as August 19th, and they still made the postseason. Throw in a potential Amed Rosario call up, and you really have things cooking. Why not this year’s team?
Well, that’s easy. The bullpen is a mess. You have no idea when Noah Syndergaard and Neil Walker can return if they can return at all. Jose Reyes is playing everyday. The route to the postseason partially relies upon Montero being a good major league pitcher, and the Mets calling up Rosario. At this point, those are two things no one should rely.
As a fan? We should all enjoy the ride for as long as it will carry us. As Mets fans, we have seen miracles. We saw this team win in 1969. We saw a team dead in the water in 1973 go all the way to game seven of the World Series. We watched a Mookie Wilson grounder pass through Bill Buckner‘s legs. We saw Mike Piazza homer in the first game in New York after 9/11.
As fans, we can hold out hope for the impossible. We can dream. Sandy doesn’t have that luxury. He needs to look at the reality of the Mets situation and make the best moves he possibly can. That includes trading Bruce, Duda, Granderson, and any other veteran who can get him a good return on the trade market.
It is interesting to hear the Mets are selling because the news came just one day after the Mets said they were going to move Asdrubal Cabrera to second base to allow Jose Reyes to stay at shortstop when Cabrera comes off the disabled list. Naturally, this move blocks both Gavin Cecchini, who has played fairly well over the past four games earning him a longer look at the the position, and Amed Rosario, who is considered an Über prospect.
If you are team looking to sell, you have really announced you want to clear your veterans out of the way to both get some prospects in return and to give your young players some time at the major league level. However, it could behoove the Mets to play their veterans as much as possible now to increase their trade value.
For example, in the outfield, the Mets have four caliber starting outfielders. There is no way the team is going to bench Yoenis Cespedes under any circumstances, nor should they. This means the team has two spots for three left-handed hitting outfielders. The Mets have control over only one of them after this season.
For the long term, the Mets need to get Michael Conforto as many at-bats as possible. With that said, would it harm his development to be a part-time player for the next month? He has suffered a back injury to some unspecified severity. He has slumped in June albeit while keeping a more than respectable OBP. If sitting him potentially leads to a better return for Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, shouldn’t the Mets at least try to get the most value from those players?
Same goes for the infield. The Mets are going to have to clear some room for their presumed infield of the future including Dominic Smith, Rosario, and possibly Cecchini to take form. If playing Reyes for the next month gets some major league team interested in him as a late inning pinch runner or utility player, shouldn’t the Met do that? Maybe that seemingly low rated prospect becomes something. Remember, Wuilmer Becerra was seen as a throw-in to the R.A. Dickey trade, and he has become a real prospect over the past few years.
The same thing goes for Cabrera. The Mets need to get him going to get teams interested in him. Presumably, moving him to second has more to do with showing teams he can be the answer at second as well than making a spot for Reyes.
Overall, the Mets need to maximize the returns for everyone to build up the team not just for 2018, but for the oncoming seasons. Up until the trade deadline, getting the most in return for the veterans has to be the Mets singular focus. Conforto can sit for a while or go to Triple-A. Rosario and Smith can wait an extra month. However, the veterans cannot wait. The Mets need to get them going to try to maximize the return on them. To do that, they need to be in the lineup everyday.
However, once August 1st rolls around, those veterans not shipped out needs to be put on the bench. At that point, it is l about playing Conforto, Cecchini, Brandon Nimmo, Rosario, and Smith.
In the NHL draft tonight, the Vegas Golden Knights will be drafting players from each of the other 30 NHL rosters. There is a provision that players who have less than two years of service time are automatically protected thereby not making a team choose between a significant player and a huge prospect. It does beg the question about what would happen if that provision were removed.
Better yet, what would happen if teams were forced to protect just 10 of their best prospects in an effort to permit the new team to stock their minor league system. If the Mets were put in the position to select eleven players with under two years service time, who should they select?
1. SS Amed Rosario
By any account, Rosario is among the top prospects in all of baseball if not the top prospect. He has more than justified that billing this year. Through 69 games, Rosario is hitting .325/.368/.479 with 15 doubles, four triples, seven homers, 48 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. He’s great, and there is no circumstance in which the Mets should even think about losing him to another team.
2. 1B Dominic Smith
The Mets have been aggressive promoting their 2013 first round pick through the minor leagues. Last year, he was the youngest player in the Eastern League. This year, he has been among the youngest in the Pacific Coast League. Through it all, he has held his own, played a terrific defensive first base, and is developing power at every stop. He is the first baseman of the future for a team who will likely lose their current first baseman at the trade deadline or free agency.
3. RHP Justin Dunn
Last year’s first round pick has terrific stuff, and he showed it off last year. While he struggled this year, he has been better off for those struggles. Since being demoted to the bullpen to help him find himself, Dunn has gone 3-1 with a 0.86 ERA and an 8.1 K/9. When you have a player that struggles and improves this much, this is a player you make sure to keep.
4. RHP Robert Gsellman
Gsellman started last year pitching in Double-A, and he finished it helping pitch the Mets into the postseason. He’s had an up and down 2017 season, but he has shown flashes of his tremendous talent. He is just 23 years old, and he still has the stuff he did last year when he posted a 2.42 ERA in eight games. With a better infield behind him, which we should see with a Rosario promotion, we will likely see a return of the stats we saw last year.
5. SS Andres Gimenez
The 18 year old dominated the Gulf Coast League last year showing off his skill set that had him one of the highest regarded international free agent signings in 2015. He has skipped short season ball and held his own during his 37 games for the Columbia Fireflies. He has a good bat regardless of position.
6. LHP Thomas Szapucki
Szapucki is potentially a top of the rotation starter with a mid to high 90s fastball and a very good curve ball. He used that to be completely dominant in rookie ball. After an injury to start the year, he has just returned from the disabled list, and he is rounding into form.
7. CF Desmond Lindsay
The man dubbed as the “Offensive Machine” when he was drafted has certainly taken off lately. While he struggled to start the year, he has adjusted to the Sally League, and he has begun dominating. Since June began, he has been hitting .333/.400/.694 while playing a good center field. It seems he may have put his leg issues behind him, and he is taking the next step.
8. C Tomas Nido
After years of struggling at the plate, Nido broke out last year winning the Florida State League batting title. After a slow start to the season in Double-A, he is once again showing he is as complete a catcher as they come hitting .300/.353/.483 with 10 doubles, four homers, and 22 RBI in his last 32 games. He is proving last year was no fluke, and he is the Mets catcher of the future.
9. RHP Marcos Molina
Despite missing a year due to Tommy John surgery, the Mets believed enough in Molina to add him to the 40 man roster. They were right to do so. In five starts for St. Lucie, he was 2-3 with a 1.26 ERA, 0.767 WHIP, and a 7.2 K/9. That has earned him a promotion to Double-A and a clear path towards the major leagues.
10. RHP Seth Lugo
With spin rates, we know Lugo’s curve ball is the best in the majors. He has used that to help propel him not just to the majors, but also to have success in the majors. In addition to that, he has a fastball he can get into the upper 90s when he needs a big out. He used this repertoire to help pitch the Mets into the postseason last year. He has used it again this year to be effective in the rotation upon his return to the rotation from his elbow injury.
11. LHP Anthony Kay
The Mets have long wanted him. After failing to sign him out of high school in 2013, they made him their second first round draft pick last year. That is because he has a fastball he can get into the upper 90s with a promising curve ball and change. Like many college pitchers, his arm was abused by his coach, and he has suffered an injury requiring Tommy John surgery. He should be able to bounce back and be the pitcher the Mets have long thought he could be.
In the above list, the Mets have lots of pitching talent, but that would also leave a lot of pitching talent exposed. If the Mets went this route, they could lose a Harol Gonzalez or Jordan Humphreys, both of whom are having terrific years. There is also the potential position player cost. Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini are both former first round picks who are close to being regulars at the major league level.
Even if you were to make some amendments to the above list, you are still going to leave a very talented player exposed. This speaks to the depth of the Mets farm system that the Mets continue to improve with each draft and each international signing period.
With the NHL having their expansion draft tonight, each of the pre-existing 31 teams will sit and wait to see which one of their players will be selected to became an inaugural member of the Vegas Golden Knights. With the Golden Knights being required to select one player from each NHL team, each franchise is going to see a player depart their franchise.
Occasionally, there have been discussions MLB will expand. Whenever that happens, each MLB team will have to go through the same exercise each NHL team just did. If that were to happen, it would be interesting to see exactly who each MLB team would protect.
In terms of the NHL draft, teams can protect somewhere between eight to 11 skaters and one goaltender depending on who the team decides to protect. Given an NHL has a maximum roster size of 23 players, the 8 – 11 paradigm is a good framework for a potential MLB expansion draft.
Assuming MLB lands upon eight players, it would be interesting to see who the Mets decided to protect. Now, where the Mets are lucky is players with less than two service years are automatically protected. As such, Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and any other young player you would consider protecting are already protected. With that in mind, here are the eight players the Mets should protect should such a draft take place:
1. RHP Noah Syndergaard
Arbitration Eligible: 2018
Free Agent: 2022
Last year, Syndergaard emerged as the ace of the Mets staff with a repertoire that has never been seen by a Major League Starting pitcher. He has a fastball that tops off at 100 MPH and a slider that he can throw in the mid 90s. He also has a swagger on the mound, and he gets up for the biggest games. Again, like Cespedes, this is a no-brainer even with his lat injury this year.
2. LF Michael Conforto
Arbitration Eligible: 2019
Free Agent: 2022
Conforto has been around for only three years, but it has been a whirlwind. In 2015, he was a budding superstar. In 2016, he had a wrist injury, struggled, and was demoted to Triple-A multiple times. In 2017, he has emerged as an All Star. Even with a rough June, there’s reason to believe in Conforto being a budding superstar, including but not limited to his ability to hit left-handed pitching. Conforto is a foundation piece and should be the Mets right fielder for decades.
3. LF Yoenis Cespedes
Remaining Contract: 3 years $87.5 million
Given the fact players with no trade clauses must be protected in an expansion draft, the Mets would be required to protect Cespedes. Even if that wasn’t the case, the Mets need to protect Cespedes. He’s been a superstar with the Mets hitting .286/.354/.565 with 56 homers and 146 RBI since joining the team. More than that, he puts fans in the seats. You have to protect him at all costs.
4. RHP Jacob deGrom
Free Agent: 2021
After an injury riddled year, and some ups and downs this year, deGrom has rediscovered himself, and he’s back to pitching like an ace. That is evident with his being the National League Pitcher of the Week last week. We also saw what deGrom was made of during the 2015 NLCS when he outpitched both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. There are only a handful of the pitchers on the planet that can do that, and when you have one of them, you don’t let them go.
5. LHP Steven Matz
Arbitration Eligible: 2019
Free Agent: 2022
When Matz is healthy, he has the potential to be an ace. Before his bone spur issues arose in late June last year, Matz was 11-3 with a 2.58 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9. In his return from season ending surgery, he has pitched well lasting seven innings in both of his starts. Overall, when he’s healthy, he’s terrific, and he’s not someone you part with so easily.
6. RHP Jeurys Familia
Free Agent: 2019
When you consider the Mets bullpen is in shambles, and they are going to have to rebuild it in totality, the Mets need to keep Familia at all costs. It is also important to keep in mind that despite his injury this year, Familia has been an absolute work horse for the Mets with his making the most appearances out of the bullpen and pitching the most innings from 2014 – 2016. If the medical reports are promising, there is every reason to believe Familia can return to being that pitcher again.
7. C Travis d’Arnaud
Free Agent: 2020
There is every reason to leave him unprotected. He has regressed in most aspects of his game, and he had yet another stint on the Disabled List this year. Still, d’Arnaud is a good pitch framer, who still has offensive upside. Before injuring his wrist, d’Arnaud was hitting .270/.357/.541. While his stats have dropped precipitously, his .223 BABIP suggests d’Arnaud is due. More than that, there’s really no better options available. The catching across Major League Baseball is on a downturn, and you need someone to bridge the gap until Tomas Nido is ready.
8. 3B David Wright
Remaining Contract: 3 years $47 million
As noted above with Cespedes, the Mets would have to protect Wright due to his no trade clause. Even without it, there is a case for keeping Wright. Wright is the team captain, and he is the guy you want leaving an impression on Rosario and Smith when they get to the majors. His contract is insured, so if he can’t play, you can reallocate the money. More to the point, could you possibly imagine Wright in another uniform? Me neither. Is this all a stretch? Sure, but fact is Wright will remain with the Mets until he finally decides it’s over.
As with any decision like this, there were hard choices. Matt Harvey has been a cornerstone of the Mets rebuild, but his injuries and impending free agency, you’d be forced to expose him. Zack Wheeler has had a strong return from the Disabled List, but even before he was injured, he was 18-16 with a 3.50 ERA, 1.339 WHIP, and a 100 ERA+ in 49 career starts. In 2017, he has not appeared to be more than that. That coupled with the rise of Gsellman and Lugo as well as other pitchers in the Mets farm system, you could very well expose Wheeler.
Overall, the hypothetical player that would get taken from the Mets roster would be damaging. That includes Juan Lagares, who is a Gold Glover that showed some promise this year, but still has a terrible contract. That also includes Wilmer Flores who still doesn’t quite have a position.
With all that said, it does speak to the talent Sandy Alderson has brought to this organization that the Mets could lose one of the aforementioned players and still have a team that could compete for a World Series next year.
The Mets have a number of excuses why they are in the position they are. Those excuses mostly surround the pitching. Noah Syndergaard went down in April with a torn lat. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom haven’t been the same since returning from their season ending surgeries. There has been a revolving door at the fifth starter spot that has seen the likes of Rafael Montero, Adam Wilk, Tommy Milone, and Tyler Pill. This has put stress on the bullpen, and the bullpen broke.
They broke because Jeurys Familia went down for the season. Hansel Robles couldn’t keep up with the workload and fell apart. Josh Smoker hasn’t been able to figure it out this year. Addison Reed is a much better set-up man than a closer.
Through all of this, despite playing a weak schedule, the Mets are seven games under .500. The Mets are THIS CLOSE to being sellers.
However, there is hope. Seth Lugo and Steven Matz are coming off the Disabled List. Last year, Lugo was 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA and a 1.149 WHIP. He followed that breakout performance with a breakout performance in the World Baseball Classic.
Matz is even better than Lugo. Before succumbing to the bone spur in his elbow last year, Matz had a stretch from April 17th to June 18th where he was 7-2 with a 1.91 ERA and a 1.047 WHIP. That was after his rookie season where he was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA and a 1.234 WHIP.
That combination of Lugo and Matz vastly improves the Mets rotation. It also bumps a good pitcher like Robert Gsellman into the bullpen. Lately, Gsellman has figured it out. In his last four appearances, he’s 2-0 with hold posting a 2.66 ERA and a 1.082 WHIP. This will give the bullpen a fresh arm. More than that, it means one of Smoker or Neil Ramirez is going to be gone from the bullpen.
Finally, the Mets will have the pitching to help an offense that has tried to carry this team. In May, the Mets averaged the second most runs per game (5.7) in the National League. Things promise to get better with Yoenis Cespedes having played in his first rull rehab game for St. Lucie last night.
With that, the Mets will have as complete a team as they can expect for the reason for the season. Now, they just have to take advantage of their opportunities. That starts with the four game series with a Braves team who is a half game up on the Mets for second place in the National League East. Sweep them, and the Mets will find themselves just three games under .500.
After that, the Mets have a seven game home stand. First, there are the Chicago Cubs, who are not the same team they were last year. After that, the Mets have a four game set with the Washington Nationals.
If the Mets take care of business against the Braves and Cubs, that could be a HUGE series for this Mets team. Sweep the Nationals at home, and all of a sudden the Mets could be just eight games back in the division or better. That’s still a large deficit to overcome, but it’s not as daunting as the 12 games they are now.
The Mets don’t take advantage of this opportunity? It’s time to sell. At that point, the team should look to move everyone to pave the way for Amed Rosario, who frankly should be here now, and Dominic Smith to become the David Wright and Jose Reyes of this generation.
If the Mets don’t want to do that, it’s time to take care of business. That starts tonight with a huge start for Matt Harvey. This used to be the exact moment you wanted him on the mound. It is time for that to happen again.
Last year, Lucas Duda and Neil Walker suffered significant back injuries that caused them to miss significant time. Duda missed a total of 107 games due to a fracture in his lower back. With the Mets in a postseason push, and with James Loney being James Loney, he came back in September and wasn’t the same hitter.
For his part, Walker was having a good year and a hot August when he was shut down. That happens when you complain of not being able to feel your lower extremities during games. With Walker needing season ending back surgery, his last game of the season was August 27th.
Despite both players having back injuries, the Mets not only brought both players back, but they also planned on him being significant contributors to the 2017 Mets. This meant the Mets brought back Duda despite his being an arbitration eligible player, and the Mets gave Walker the $17.2 qualifying offer, which he accepted. While their respective paths back to the Mets this season are similar, their play this season has been disparate.
In 11 games this season, Duda is hitting .256/.356/.615 with four homers and seven RBI. This is not too far off his career averages of .246/.343/.452. Since becoming the everyday first baseman in 2014, Duda is a .246/.345/.478 hitter. The long story short is Duda is getting on base like he has in his career. While he’s slugging at a much higher clip that we can reasonably expect, Duda has inspired confidence that his 30 home run power is back. Overall, Duda has done just that. He has given everyone confidence that he is the same player he was before the back surgery.
Walker has had a different return from his back injury. In 12 games so far, Walker is hitting .239/.333/.304 with three doubles and three RBI. The problem is Walker has done his damage almost exclusively from the right-hand side of the plate. As a right-handed batter, Walker is hitting .389/.450/.556 with all three of his extra base hits. From the left-hand side of the plate, he is hitting just .143/.265/.143. Essentially, Walker is playing like Wilmer Flores right now except with much better defense. The question is whether this is the back or the continuation of something we saw happen with Walker last year.
Now, it is was too soon to say Walker is shot or is the new Flores. Walker’s play in the field should give every indication he is not limited by the back surgery. Hopefully, this means Walker should return to his career norms sooner rather than later. If that is the case, the Mets lineup will get a major boost.
Still, the question needs to be asked whether Walker will return to form. His inability to hit left-handed is alarming, especially when you consider he hits left-handed much more than he hits right-handed. To be fair, there are still questions about Duda. Will his back will permit him to continue to put up these numbers? We don’t know, nor can we be confident until we see a much larger sample size from both, and perhaps not even then.
Ultimately, the hope is Duda is back and Walker will improve. If that is the case, the Mets lineup will be even more dangerous, and the Mets will be in position to win the National League East once again. If it isn’t, the Mets will be stuck in limbo deciding when to move on from these players and to call up Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario, or even Gavin Cecchini. These situations rarely pan out well. That is why it is so imperative the Mets gamble on both Duda and Walker pays off.
Looking at this Mets team since 2015, one thing has been perfectly clear: this team is built on pitching, and it will only go as far as the pitching carries them. In 2015, when their starters were healthy and able to last the season, the Mets were able to win the National League Pennant. In 2016, with three of the arms going down, the Mets were still good enough to enter the postseason as the top Wild Card.
The Mets have been fortunate because the pitching has been cheap. It was not until recently that Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom entered their arbitration years. Noah Syndergaard won’t be arbitration eligible until after this season. It is interesting because it is after this season that things begin to become murky. Harvey and Wheeler are scheduled to become free agents after the 2018 season with deGrom becoming a free agent the season after that.
With the Mets success rising and falling on their pitching, it begs the question why haven’t the Mets selected at least one or two pitchers and come to terms on a contract extension. The common refrain among Mets fans is the team should keep Syndergaard and deGrom and join them in a rotation that one day may also feature Robert Gsellman, Justin Dunn, and Thomas Szapucki. For now, even with the clock ticking, the Mets aren’t making a move.
While it may not make sense to most Mets fans, in a report by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the New York Mets have advised why they have not entered into contract extension discussions with any of their young pitching:
As GM John Ricco explained, “[GM] Sandy [Alderson] has not said let’s be aggressive in that area, and that [injuries] is the biggest reason.”
Fact of the matter is each one of these pitchers have an issue. Harvey, deGrom, Matz, and Wheeler have all had Tommy John surgery. Harvey, deGrom, and Matz all had season ending surgery last year. Even someone healthy like Syndergaard dealt with bone spurs last year. Point is, the Mets pitchers have not been exactly healthy, nor do they inspire confidence they will be healthy going forward. To that end, the Mets relative inactivity has been understandable.
2. Lack of Urgency
As noted in Sherman’s piece, the Mets do not have a pending free agent until the after the 2018 season, and Syndergaard isn’t a free agent until after the 2021 season. Honestly, this reason is a bit disingenuous. With Harvey’s pending free agency many expect this is Harvey’s last season in a Mets uniform as the team does not want to risk him walking in free agency and the team getting nothing in return for him.
3. Pitchers Aren’t Interested In Extensions
According to Ricco, who would know this better than fans, extension discussions are typically begun by the player and his agent. Again, with fans not being in the business, it is hard to challenge him on this. With that said, it is hard to believe the Mets would be willing to let all their pitchers go to free agency without so much as initiating contract disucssions with them. Frankly, it is harder to believe when you consider back in 2012, the Mets pounced on an opportunity to give Jon Niese a five year contract extension.
As noted in Sherman’s piece, when you give a contract extension to one player, it is going to have ripple effects. As Ricco said, “You would have to manage personalities because if you do [an extension] with one, how does it impact the others?”
Now, this is a bit of an overstatement on Ricco’s part. Entering into contract extensions with the pitchers should be part of an overall plan. For example, when Omar Minaya was the General Manager, he was faced with Jose Reyes‘ pending arbitration in 2006, he agreed with a four year pact with his shortstop. Minaya then quickly moved and locked up David Wright to a six year deal. While Alderson is dealing with more than just two players, Minaya’s actions certainly show if the team has a plan an executes it, there should be no issues.
It is something Mets fans don’t want to hear, but it is a reality. After this season, the Mets will have Reyes, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Addison Reed, and Fernando Salas as free agents. The team will have to decide on options for Jerry Blevins and Asdrubal Cabrera. In addition, all of the Mets marquee starting pitchers will be in arbitration thereby escalating their salaries. Furthermore, Jeurys Familia will also be owed a lot of money in arbitration if he has another stellar year. Long story short, the Mets will have to spend some money this offseason.
In order to do that, the Mets need to have the money. As Ricco explains, “Once you’ve locked in [on an extension], you do limit flexibility in some ways.”
Now, it is easy to say the Mets can plug in Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith next year, but at this point, it is not known if they will be ready to be 2018 Opening Day starters. Putting forth such a plan would be folly, especially for a team that can still compete for a World Series.
Overall, the Mets concerns over not extending their pitchers have some merit, especially when you consider the injury issues. Still, the longer the Mets wait, the more expensive each of these starting pitchers will become. As they become more expensive, the chances of locking up more than one of them significantly decreases. Sooner or later, the Mets are going to have to take a chance on a couple of these pitchers if they have designs of competing for World Series over the next decade. With Harvey being a free agent after next season, the sooner the Mets begin executing a plan, the better.