Dominic Smith

The Non-Cespedes Mets Outfield Options

With reports that the Mets do not expect they will be able to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes, and that was before Neil Walker accepted the $17.2 million qualifying offer, the question is how do you replace the irreplaceable?  Here are some options:

FREE AGENTS

Carlos Gomez

As explained in an earlier MMO article, a rejuvenated Gomez could help the Mets by continuing to play a good center field and by providing another right-handed bat in what protects to be a heavy left-handed Mets lineup.

Ian Desmond

After not getting a significant contract offer with a qualifying offer attached to him, he bet on himself taking a one year $8 million deal from the Texas Rangers.

Desmond was an All Star who hit .285/.335/.446 with 29 doubles, 22 homers, and 85 RBI.   However, Desmond does have some red flags:

  1. He rated below average defensively in center field (-4.5 UZR);
  2. He hit only .269/.324/.429 off right-handed pitching; H
  3. He fell apart in the second half hitting .237/.283/.347; H
  4. He hit .330/.368/.497 at hitter friendly Ballpark at Arlington and .241/.305/.398 in the road; and
  5. He may get a qualifying offer.

Matt Holliday

Infamously, the Mets chose Jason Bay over him heading in the 2009 offseason. Bay would struggle immensely at Citi Field while Holliday would win a World Series with the Cardinals.

While Holliday has been injury prone the past few years, he has still hit. He has always been an average to below average left fielder, and the 37 year old is coming off his worst year out there. It is part of the reason he began transitioning to first base with the Cardinals. If the Mets were to sign him, he could fulfill the role the Mets envisioned Michael Cuddyer would have.

Jose Bautista

Of all the available free agents, Bautista is the one who is best suited to replicate the offensive production Cespedes provided the Mets.  Over the past three seasons, Bautista has hit .259/.383/.508 while averaging 32 homers and 95 RBI.  If you are looking for a difference maker in the lineup, Bautista fits the bill.

However, there are some reason to be hesitant to sign Bautista.  First, he is a 36 year old coming off his worst season since 2009 (as per OPS+).  Second, he has been in decline as an outfielder over the past three seasons.  Third and most importantly, he is going to be expensive.  It is anticipated Bautista will received a qualifying offer, and he reportedly wants 5 years $150 million in free agency.

Mark Trumbo

Trumbo certainly enjoyed hitting at Camden Yards for a full season.  Trumbo went from a career .251/.301/.460 hitter who averaged 26 homers to a .256/.316/.533 hitter who led the majors with 47 homers.  Naturally, when there is a jump like that with a player, there are a number of reasons why a team like the Mets should shy away.

Throughout his career, Trumbo has struggled against left-handed pitching.  This isn’t exactly appealing when you consider he would be joining an outfield with three other left-handed hitters.  Furthermore, he did most of his damage this past season at Camden Yards showing much of his career year was generated by his home ballpark.  Lastly, Trumbo is really a 1B/DH masquerading as an outfielder.

Carlos Beltran

Reuniting with Beltran certainly seems like it would be a stretch considering he has already stated his intentions that he wants to DH next year, and he wants to return to the Texas Rangers.  It is certainly understandable considering he will be 40 next season, and he has been a below average right fielder the past three years.

Still, Beltran can his positive attributes.  Over the past three years, Beltran has hit .271/.327/.468 while averaging 21 homers and 70 RBI.  We know from his time with the Mets, he is great in the clubhouse, and he helps younger players with the preparation and conditioning aspect of the game.  It is something Beltran did with both David Wright and Jose Reyes immediately upon joining the Mets.  Finally, Beltran is one of the greatest postseason hitters of all time.  For a team with World Series aspirations, Beltran could help on that front.

THE TIGERS

Justin Upton

As luck would have it, the Padres rejected the Mets offer of Michael Fulmer for Upton leading the Mets to offer him in exchange for Cespedes.  Once again, the Tigers are looking to trade an outfielder, and the Mets may have interest in a player like Upton.

Upton has always been a good hitter in his major league career.  In his nine years as a starter, he is a .270/.349/.476 hitter who averages 24 homers and 77 RBI in his nine years as a starter.  Generally speaking, he has never been a guy that will hurt you in the outfield even if he is coming off a poor year offensively.  Between his offense, his defense, and his friendship with Wright, you could make a very good case why the Mets should purse Upton.

There is also over $110 million reasons why you would want to avoid Upton.  If Upton were not to exercise he opt out clause, which he would use after the 2017 season, the Mets would be on the hook for the full amount of the remaining $110.625 million remaining on his contract.  Typically speaking, the Mets have not shown the interest in adding contract like that to the payroll.

Now, Upton could also opt out of his contract, which would put the Mets in the same position as they are this offseason.  They will likely be unable to re-sign him, and in return, all they can recoup for him is a compensatory first round draft pick.  Compensatory draft picks are great when they become players like Fulmer who are real assets that can help the major league team.  They are also suspect when they become players like Anthony Kay, who failed a physical and needs Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a professional pitch.

J.D. Martinez

Over the last three seasons, Martinez has blossomed into a terrific hitter.  In Detroit, he has hit .299/.357/.540 while averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI.  Up until this year, he has also been a solid outfielder.  You can do a lot worse than Martinez in trying to replace Cespedes.

That’s part of the reason why he will be difficult to obtain.  Next year is the final year of his contract that pays him $11.75 million.  While the Tigers are looking to shed payroll, they will likely seek a king’s ransom in exchange for a player that has a very favorable contract for next season.  With the Mets having traded away some many big pieces over the past two seasons, and with them being reluctant to trade players like Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, it is hard to see them pulling off a trade for a cheap outfielder who has terrific production.

INTERNAL OPTIONS

As it stands right now, the Mets have two corner outfielders in Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson who are coming off 30 home run seasons.  With them at the corners, it is possible the Mets feel as if they are already set in left and right field even with one of them having to change positions.

The Mets may even have more faith in their outfield as is with Michael Conforto.  In his young career, he has shown the Mets glimpses of his being a brilliant hitter.  He was undaunted as a rookie in 2015.  He was perhaps the best hitter in baseball in April 2016.  He responded to a demotion after a wrist injury and his slumping by hitting .493/.541/.821 with six homers and 13 RBI in 17 August games in AAA.  With Conforto having shown glimpses of what his true talent level is, and with him showing the willingness to put in the work, the Mets may very well gamble on Conforto in 2017.

The fact that Granderson and Conforto can also play center field gives the Mets options on a game to game basis.  It allows them to put all three out there, and it allows them to sit one for rest or to avoid a tough left-handed pitcher to get Lagares’ glove in the outfield.  Overall, the Mets may very well stay internal to replace Cespedes’ production.  It is a gamble, and that gamble may be the difference between going to the postseason or staying home in 2017.

Editor’s Note: a version of this article was first published on Mets Merized Online

Mets 2017 First Base Options

One of the biggest issues with the 2017 Mets was the production they received from first base.  The precipitous drop in production was a major factor in why the 2016 Mets scored fewer runs than the 2015 Mets.  Remember, the 2015 Mets once infamously had John Mayberry, Jr. and Eric Campbell hitting in the middle of the lineup.  With that in mind, getting improved production out of first base needs to be a priority for the Mets this offseason.  Here is what should be available for the Mets this offseason:

INTERNAL FIRST BASEMAN

Lucas Duda

Duda is exactly the player the Mets need to revive their offense in 2017.  From 2014-2015, Duda hit .249/.350/.483 while averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI.  He is a home run threat in the middle of your order, and he is the classic slugging first baseman.

The issue with Duda is no one knows if he is healthy.  In 2015, he went on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his lower back.  In 2016, he suffered a stress fracture in his lower back, and he took longer than expected to return from the injury.  While he tried admirably to try to play in the Wild Card Game, he just wasn’t ready.  For the season, he only played in 47 games hitting .229/.302/.412 with seven homers and 23 RBI.

While all indications are Duda is completely healthy, it is unknown whether he can withstand the rigors of a 162 game schedule.  It is also unknown whether he can return to form after suffering back injuries in consecutive seasons.  At the moment, it is anticipated he will earn approximately $7 million in arbitration.  For the production we know he is capable of producing, that is a steep bargain.  Not knowing if he can produce, $7 million could be an expensive gamble, especially in light of Wright’s situation.

Dominic Smith

Smith is coming off a terrific year in AA where he finally began to fulfill some of the offensive potential he has by hitting for more power in the second half of the season.  He is a a highly regarded prospect who is already a slick defender at first base.  Still, he is just 21 years old, and he has yet to have an at-bat above AAA.  He is not ready to be the Opening Day first baseman, and it is quite possible he may not be ready to play in the majors next year.

PLAYERS CHANGING POSITIONS

David Wright

Time and again, people state Wright should just move across the diamond and play first base.  Saying that presents a clear misunderstanding of the first base position and how taxing it would be on Wright.

Other than catcher, first base is the most demanding physical position for a player.  At first base, a player is constantly stretching, turning, and twisting in the hopes of getting a throw from one of his infielders that much quicker to turn a close play into an out.  With a runner on first, the first baseman has to spring off the bag and into his defensive position as the pitcher delivers the ball.  Like a third baseman, he charges the bunts and dives for balls down the line.  According to Dr. Walter P. Jacobsen, DO, a neurosurgeon, these activities that are high impact and require twisting are activities that should be avoided.  These activities are more prevalent at first than third base.

Even assuming this was incorrect, that Wright was better suited to first base, when is he going to get the opportunity to transition there?  Wright had season ending cervical fusion surgery, and presumably, he is going to need to spend most of his time in the offseason rehabbing and figuring out yet another pregame routine that will permit him to play in as many games as possible.  As such, there is no time for him to learn first base.

Jay Bruce

Without or without Cespedes’ return, the Mets are going to have a glut of everyday caliber outfielders, and one of them may need to find a new home.  That new home could be on another team or at another position.  With UZR and DRS rating Bruce was the Mets worst outfielder, he would be the likely candidate to move to first base.

The one caution is Bruce has only played three games there in his major league career, and all three of those games were two years ago.  Even accounting for that, Bruce may have the athleticism to adapt to first base and succeed there on the major league level.  It is also a way to keep him and his 30 home run caliber bat in the lineup every day while also allowing Curtis Granderson, another Mets right fielder who can hit 30 home runs, in the lineup everyday.

Still, before moving someone over to first base, Mike Piazza should always be a caution to Mets fans that not just anyone can move over there.  It is a difficult position that requires hard work in the offseason.  If this is the plan, the Mets need to implement it sooner rather than later.

Michael Conforto

None other than Keith Hernandez believes Conforto should be playing first base with him saying, “He more than likely is going to end up at first base, though it’s unlikely he’ll be anything more than average there.”  (nj.com).  While it is far from a ringing endorsement, it is notable when Hernandez, the best defensive first baseman in major league history, states you should play his position.

For his part, Conforto is open to the possibility saying, “I took some reps in college over at first base just for emergency-type situations. I think that’s something that’s very, very interesting, something I’d be open to, obviously. I just want to help the team.”  (New York Post).

Moving Conforto there means you won’t have to displace a veteran like Bruce.  However, it does create a few problems.  First, choosing to move Conforto over Bruce also means choosing to move the better defensive outfielder out of the outfield.  Second, moving Conforto there could become a potential barrier to Smith or Peter Alonso at first base in the upcoming seasons.  Third, having Conforto change positions to the infield could be yet another obstacle in the young player’s development.

For a myriad of reasons ranging from a wrist injury to uneven playing time to him just falling into slumps like any other player, the 2016 season was a lost one for Conforto.  He went from the Mets top hitting prospect to a young player Terry Collins entrusted to little more than pinch hitting duty down the stretch.  It is quite possible the best thing for him is for the Mets to pick a position in the outfield and let him stay there and allow him to work with Kevin Long to get back to what worked well for him.

EXPENSIVE OPTIONS

Miguel Cabrera

Tigers GM Al Avila has already announced the Tigers are looking to get younger and shed some payroll this offseason.  With that in mind, the Tigers have a number of interesting trade candidates making big money like Cabrera.

At 33, Cabrera had another terrific season hitting .316/.393/.563 with 38 homers and 108 RBI.  Should Cespedes depart this offseason, Cabrera would more than replace Cespedes in the lineup.  However, the Mets chances of obtaining Cabrera are unlikely due to the cost.  First, it is going to take a huge haul of players to obtain them, and in the past, the Mets have shown unwillingness to move one of their big pitchers like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, or Steven Matz.  Given Cabrera’s production, it is likely the Tigers ask for one of these players and/or a big prospect like Smith, Amed Rosario, or both.

Even if there was a middle ground on players the Mets deemed acceptable, it is hard to imagine them adding Cabrera’s contract.  Cabrera still has seven years $132 million left on his deal.  The contract carries through to his age 40 season, and there are two vesting options at the back end of the deal for $30 million a piece.  If Cabrera does not age well, this contract would become the type of albatross Sandy Alderson typically avoids.

Justin Turner

Bringing back Turner would be a page out of the Todd Zeile handbook.  While Turner has not played regularly at first base, he has shown the ability to play over there, and his bat may help the Mets improve in 2016.

Moreover, Turner may need to move to first base to lengthen his career.  Over the past few seasons, he has had knee issues, and he may not be well suited for the third base position in the time of the modern shift era that requires a third baseman to cover more ground than they did a decade or so ago.

There does remain some issues for Turner.  First and foremost is the aforementioned knee issues.  Second, Turner took off when he played in his hometown.  There is no telling if he would struggle playing on the east coast again.  Third, he regressed from an on base perspective this year.  In 2014 and 2015, Turner was a player who had a .384 on base percentage with a .492 slugging.  This year, Turner’s OBP dropped to .339 even while his slugging percentage stayed in the same vicinity (.493).  This might have been a product of his knee issues or it could have been a product of him swinging for the fences more as evidenced by his career high 27 homers.

In either event, Turner is not the safest choice, especially when you are asking him to play out of position.  These fears become magnified when you consider Turner will likely received a qualifying offer, and he will likely get a big contract offer from someone, including but not limited to the Dodgers, to play third base.

THE DESIGNATED HITTERS

Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion may prove to be the biggest power bat on the free agent market.  He is coming off a year that saw him hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 homers and a league leading 127 RBI.  Over the past three seasons, Encarnacion is hitting .269/.361/.544 while averaging 38 homers and 112 RBI.

There are two issues with Encarnacion.  First, much of his stats have been generated as a result of him hitting in the Rogers Centre, which is a hitter’s park.  In his career, Encarnacion has hit .272/.360/.535 there.  Last year, on the road, Encarnaction was a .246/.342/.492 hitter on the road.  While it is a drop-off, the Mets would gladly take Encarnacion’s road production from their first base position next year.

Therein lies the real problem with Encarnacion.  He’s a DH.  Encarnacion has not played more than half a season at first base in his entire career.  In his last five years with the Blue Jays, he has split his time between first and DH.  While advanced metrics like UZR and DRS rate him to be an average first baseman, it is unknown whether he could withstand the rigors of playing in the field everyday.  Those concerns are amplified for a player that will turn 34 next year, will command a large contract, and will most likely recent a qualifying offer.

Carlos Santana

Seemingly, from the moment Santana came up to the Cleveland Indians as a catcher, the team has sought a position for him.  He has proven his best position is DH.

Santana is coming off a terrific year that saw him hit ..259/.366/.498 with 34 homers and 87 RBI.  Those were the highest home run and RBI totals of his career.  In his six full seasons with the Indians, Santana has averaged 24 homers and 81 RBI.  With his on base skills and his switch hitting ability, Santana would be a welcome addition to the Mets lineup.  However, like Encarnacion, the real question is whether he can be an everyday first baseman.

Like Encarnaction, he rates as average when he does play there.  Unlike Encarnacion, he played almost a full season there in 2015.  Moreover, he is four years younger than Encarnacion.  So while both may receive qualifying offers and large contract offers on the free agent market, Santana may prove to be the better bet for the Mets should they look to upgrade the first base position in free agency.

QUESTIONABLE OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION

James Loney

The best thing you can say about Loney in 2016 was he was a definitive upgrade over the Mets internal options like Campbell.  Unfortunately, Loney showed little that would entice the Mets to bring him back next season.  Loney finished the year hitting .257/.287/.369 with five homers and 18 RBI in 63 games after the All Star Break.  He also showed he had limited range and an inability to stretch far for throws made to first.  While he was an improvement over what the Mets had in 2016, the Mets are simply going to have to do better than him in 2017.

Mike Napoli

The Cleveland Indians took a one year flier on Napoli this offseason, and it has been a boon for them as Napoli has been a major contributor for a team now playing in the World Series.  Still, there is caution for Napoli, who has a history of hip problems, and whose numbers were not great this season.

In 150 games, Napoli hit .239/.335/.465 with 34 homers and 101 RBI.  In 2015, Napoli bounced around, and he hit .224/.324/.410 with 18 homers and 50 RBI in 133 games.  With Napoli turning 35 next year, it is hard to believe he will have another strong campaign.  Furthermore, the last thing this Mets offense needs is another low OBP guy who is seemingly all or nothing at the plate.

Adam Lind

For a few seasons, Lind had proven himself to be a good on base player who may not have the traditional power you typically want from the first base position.  In 2016, Lind played for the Mariners, and his production fell off a cliff.  In 126 games, Lind hit .239/.286/.431 with 20 homers and 58 RBI.  Historically, Lind has also struggled to hit left-handed pitching.  Lind is more of a buy-low candidate in the event there are no better options than he is an upgrade you would seek on the free agent market.

BEST CHOICE

Ultimately, it may behoove the Mets to bring back Duda for one more season.  If he produces at his normal levels, he will be exactly what this offense needs.  Better yet, if he produces at that level, the Mets could give him a qualifying offer next offseason thereby helping them gain a first round draft pick in the process (assuming no changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement).  Furthermore, with Duda, the Mets have a nice bridge to Smith should he take another leap this year and prove himself ready to contribute at the major league level ahead of schedule.

The Cubs World Series Win Was Painful to Watch

If you are a diehard Mets fan, or if you are a Mets fan well versed in the history of the team, you know how the Cubs were the Mets first real rival.  You know the stories about how Ron Santo clicked his heels taunting the Mets, and you warmly remember the black cat crossing Santo’s path.  From there, the Mets overtook the Cubs to win the National League East en route to winning the 1969 World Series.

In 1984, the Cubs obtained Rick Sutcliffe, and the team went on an incredible run to win the National League East over the upstart New York Mets who went from 68 to 90 wins with their first full season with Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry.  By the way, it was also the rookie year for phenom Dwight Gooden.

Then there was the NLCS last year that saw Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom dominate a terrific Cubs lineup.  We all knew the Cubs were a great team, but the Mets were their kryptonite.  As a Mets fan, a large part of you had to wonder if the Cubs even make the World Series if the Mets pitching was healthy.

But the angst goes well beyond that.  There was Ben Zobrist as the World Series MVP.  Mets fans watched him be a major contributor to a Kansas City Royals team who beat the Mets in the World Series last year.  In the offseason, he was seemingly all but assured to join the Mets to replace Daniel Murphy.  Instead, literally at the 11th hour, he spurned the Mets, and he signed with the Cubs.  Part of you had to wonder how different the 2016 season would have been had Zobrist signed with the Mets.

The Cubs also overcame a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series.  The Mets were in the same position last year, and like the Cubs, the Mets had their starting pitching aligned.  It all seemed to be going according to plan as Harvey carried a shutout into the ninth inning.  As we remember, Terry Collins went against his better instinct, and he sent Harvey out there instead of Jeurys Familia.  Harvey allowed a walk and a double to narrow the gap to 2-1.  Familia then did his job getting the ground ball to get out of the game only for David Wright to cut off a ball he shouldn’t have played allowing Eric Hosmer an extra jump rounding third.  That was important as it gave Hosmer the ability to break for home, and he scored with Lucas Duda making the worst throw of his life.

Watching the 10th inning reminded me of that 12th inning game of that ill fated Game 5.  Watching a cold and tired Joe Shaw helplessly trying to get out of the jam reminded me of an overworked and tired Addison Reed getting hit left and right by the Royals in what was a devastating seven run inning.

In many respects, as a Mets fan it was tough to watch.  It was even tougher to watch when you consider Theo Epstein got his Cubs team to win the World Series before the Mets could win one despite Sandy Alderson having been on the job a year longer than Epstein.  It is all the more frustrating when you consider the Cubs beat out the Mets for Zobrist, and the Cubs spent a lot of money in the past offseason.

The one solace to take out of all of this is the fact that the Mets are built to win not just next year, but in the ensuing years.  And yes, the Mets are built to contend with or without Yoenis Cespedes.  Not only do the Mets have the pitching, but they also have players like Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario on the way.  There is still hope for Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud to rebound in 2017 to recapture their 2015 form.  Duda can put together a healthy contract year season.  There is still a lot of hope for the Mets to be World Series contenders the next couple of seasons.  There are also the seeds for a real rivalry between the Mets and the Cubs over the next few seasons.

However, as of right now, all that is left behind is a World Series victory for the Cubs, and the Mets wondering both “what if” and “how do we get back there.”  That is what stings most of all.

The Mets 2016 Minor League Season

Like the Mets, the minor league affiliates’ seasons are long over, and over at Mets Minors, organizational leaderboards are being compiled, and awards are being handed out:

Full Season Batting Leaders – statistically speaking Brandon Nimmo might’ve had the best year especially with him missing out on the Pacific League batting title by .001 points and him having the top OBP in the farm system.

Short Season Batting Leaders – Despite having had the shortest season, Peter Alonso might’ve had the biggest impact

Minor League Best Starting Pitchers – Statistically speaking, the Mets best minor league pitchers were P.J. Conlon, Thomas Szapucki, Harol Gonzalez, Ricky Knapp, and Andrew Church

Full Season Pitching Leaders – Naturally, the above-referenced pitchers were listed throughout.

Short Season Pitching Leaders – Gonzalez and Gary Cornish dominated for the Brooklyn Cyclones while Szapucki continued to show why he is becoming a big time prospect.

Here is how all the 2015 draft picks fared with Alonso and Justin Dunn as standouts.  And nowadays, you would be remiss without mentioning the fact that Tim Tebow homered in his first professional at-bat.

However, here are the bigger awards everyone is most curious about:

Position Player of the YearAmed Rosario with honorable mention to Dominic Smith

Pitcher of the YearP.J. Conlon

Reliever of the YearDavid Roseboom

As you saw this season, there were major contributors from the Mets minor league system this year.  If not for Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Josh Smoker, T.J. Rivera, and others, the Mets may not make the postseason this year.  It is not only good to know the Mets minor league system has been this beneficial, but also that there is a significant amount of talent behind the players we have already seen contribute.

Is the Mets Window Closing?

Right now, the Mets are four games out of a Wild Card spot, and they are desperately hoping with Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera coming off the disabled list this week that the team goes on a run that will bring them back into the postseason.  Whether or not that works, it is fair to ask if this is the Mets last chance to win the World Series.

The foundation of this team is its starting pitching.  Matt Harvey has gone from Opening Day starter to question mark with his season ending surgery to address his thoracic outlet syndrome.  There is no telling how effective he will be if he is able to come back.

Zack Wheeler was supposed to be back by the All Star Break.  Now, it appears that he will miss his second consecutive season.  While rehabbing from the surgery, Wheeler has had to have a second surgery to deal with forearm irritation caused by stitches, sensory nerve irritation, and now a flexor strain.  He had been treated by Dr. Dave Altchek, and he sought a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews.  We are continuously assured there are no structural issues, and yet, time and again there is a new excuse why he can’t pitch.  At the end of the day, it does not matter if he is unable to pitch due to his elbow or for other reasons.  Who knows when he can return or how effective he will be when returning.

There are more question marks in the rotation.  Steven Matz has yet to have a healthy season in the majors.  Bartolo Colon will be 44 years old next year meaning there is no guarantee that he pitches beyond this year.  Even if he does, there is no guarantee he will be this effective.  Logan Verrett has shown he is not capable of being a member of the starting rotation.  Sean Gilmartin‘s season ended early with shoulder problems.  The Mets aren’t going to pick up Jon Niese‘s option, and even if they did bring him back, you should probably expect more of the same from him.

The Mets other options are Gabriel Ynoa and Robert Gsellman, both of whom are probably not ready to start in the majors.  Even if they are, both realistically project to be middle to back of the rotation starters.  That certainly helps, but that also a huge drop off from someone like Harvey.

As if the starting pitching wasn’t a big enough issue, there is the issue of the Mets offense.

As we saw this year, you cannot rely upon David Wright at all.  The Mets have no internal options to replace his bat in the lineup.  Worse yet, there is a lack of very good options on the free agent market choices available even if the Mets were so inclined to add a bat.  Keep in mind, they may also have to replace Lucas Duda at first base.  In 2015, Duda had a disc issue.  This year, Duda will miss almost the entire season with a stress fracture in his back.  There is a very real chance that he is a non-tender candidate.  The Mets do not have a first base option in the minors who is on track to play in the majors next year, and again, the free agent market is less than promising.  That means James Loney can once again be the Mets best option, and as we have seen, he is not a terribly good everyday option.

This isn’t even the Mets biggest problem, not by a long shot.

Cespedes can opt out of his contract at the end of the season, and he will easily become the best free agent available.  The narrative coming out of last offseason was how much Cespedes wanted to be a Met, and that is why he returned.  That’s the hope why he will stay.  However, it’s more narrative than fact.

The fact is Cespedes didn’t get a fair market value offer on the free agent market.  Judging from the free agent contracts handed out, teams placed a higher value on Jason Heyward and Justin Upton.  The teams you would think would be interested in Cespedes gave the money to somebody else.  The Nationals were interested, but due to budgetary constraints, they only offered Cespedes a largely backloaded deal. It is possible that after another postseason berth, and Jonathan Papelbon‘s salary off the books, the Nationals could make another run at Cespedes in the offseason.  It is also possible that the Giants, Dodgers, Rangers and/or the Angels could emerge as suitors for Cespedes.  There’s always the phantom mystery team that could join the bidding.

It is certainly plausible the Mets get outbid from Cespedes, or they simply move on from him.  Keep in mind, there were rumblings all over that the Jay Bruce trade was made, in part, as insurance for Cespedes leaving in the offseason.  If that is the case, the Mets outfield will yet again be left without a true center fielder.

The main task may first fall to Curtis Granderson, who has struggled mightily this year and should not be counted on to rebound in 2017.  The Mets could go with a Juan Lagares/Brandon Nimmo platoon in center, but that would leave no room for Michael Conforto to play everyday.

Speaking of Conforto, there is another major issue with this Mets team.  Both Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud have regressed this year.  Certainly, Conforto’s wrist and d’Arnaud’s shoulder are factors, but the fact remains, they have regressed.  Couple that with Kevin Plawecki not progressing at all, there is a major issue.  Either the Mets young talent is not as good as anticipated, or there are impediments at the major league level that is preventing them from reaching their full potential.  In order for the Mets to remain contenders, they will need their young players to step up.

Between the aforementioned free agent market and lack of major league ready prospects, the Mets only real hopes of improving the roster is on the trade front.  The problem there is the cupboard is getting bare.  The Mets have already moved big pieces in Michael Fulmer and Dilson Herrera.  They’re not willing to move Amed Rosario, and they are really unlikely to move Dominic Smith.  The Mets could move Nimmo, but that depletes from their depth for next season, and as we have seen, the Mets need all the depth they can get.

Keep in mind that over the past two seasons, the Mets have also moved Robert Whalen, Luis Cessa, John Gant, Akeel Morris, and Casey Meisner.  They lost Matthew Bowman and Dario Alvarez without getting anything in return.  Their departures leaves a gap of mid-tier prospects the Mets could move for upgrades.

Yes, the Mets can field a very competitive baseball team next year.  As long as you have pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, you are going to have a chance to compete.  With another year of Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, it is a seven inning game for the Mets.  It’ll become a six inning game if Hansel Robles takes the next step.  But after that?

You’re counting on Neil Walker returning, which is not a guarantee.  You’re counting on Asdrubal Cabrera developing more range at shortstop while hitting better than .255/.308/.410.  He was a .249/.307/.405 hitter from 2013 – 2015.  You’re counting on Jose Reyes to hit better than his .250/.302/.466 and be healthy all of next year.  Reyes hit .274/.310/.378 while hitting in two of the best hitter’s parks last year.  You’re counting on Wilmer Flores being able to learn to hit righties.  You’re counting on the Mets not having to rely on the Eric Campbells and Ty Kellys on the world for prolonged stretches of time over the next season.  It’s all possible, but it’s not likely.

As things look right now, the Mets better start winning some ballgames and make a run because there is no guarantee that the Mets window to contend will remain open past this season.

Who To Trade?

Last year, the Mets parted with number of pitching prospects in a drive to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2006.  Over the course of this past year, we have seen some of them actually pitching in the major leagues:

  • In 16 starts for the Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer is 9-2 with a 2.50 ERA and a 1.089 WHIP.  He is the leading candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and he should receive some Cy Young Award votes at the end of the season.
  • The Tigers traded Luis Cessa in the offseason to the New York Yankees.  Cessa has pitched briefly out of the bullpen for the Yankees this year.  In his six appearances, he has pitched 13.2 innings going 1-0 with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.244 WHIP.
  • The Atlanta Braves do not seem quite sure what to make of John Gant and his quirky delivery, but they seem to be convinced he’s a major league caliber pitcher.  Out of the bullpen, Gant has made seven appearances with no record, a 6.17 ERA, and a 1.714 WHIP.  As a starter, Gant has performed considerably better going 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.179 WHIP.

As we know, the Mets got Yoenis Cespedes for Fulmer and Cessa.  Gant was part of a trade that netted the Mets Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson.  The Mets also made trades of varying success to obtain Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, and Eric O’Flaherty.  Overall, the Mets gave up valuable pieces to obtain major league players that helped them win the National League Pennant.

As of right now, the Mets are in a similar situation to where they were last season.  They need to assess what they need (starter, reliever, and right handed bat off the bench) and what they are willing to trade to obtain those pieces.  Sooner or later, the right player is going to come along, and the Mets are going to have to decide whether to trade next year’s Fulmer for this year’s Cespedes.  The issue becomes who do you and who do you not trade.  Here is a look at the Mets top prospects teams are sure to be inquiring about.

Amed Rosario

Each and every team is going to inquire on Rosario, and the answer time and time again is going to be no.  It’s for good reason as well.  When the Mets signed him out of the Dominican Republic, his defense was seen as a given, but there were concerns about his bat.  Rosario has put many of those concerns to bed by hitting .321/.372/.464 with 19 doubles, 12 triples, three homers and 56 RBI between St. Lucie and Binghamton.  He was a Florida State Leauge All Star, on the Team World Roster for the Future’s Game, and he was named MLB.com‘s 18th best prospect.  Unless you are talking a Mike Trout trade, Rosario is off the table.

Dominic Smith

This is where things start to get a little interesting as Smith has really taken off since Rosario joined him in AA hitting .336/.398/.626 with five doubles, one triples, eight homers and 27 RBI.  Smith is starting to show the power that could take him from a very good prospect to an elite prospect with the ranks of Rosario.  Already, Smith is a plus defender at first base, and he has the ability to drive the ball gap-to-gap.  If you trade him, you could be trading away the next John Olerud or worse if his power game continues to develop.  If you keep him, you risk him becoming the next James Loney.  Yes, Loney has been a quality major league first baseman, but Loney should never be what stands between you and getting an All Star or difference maker at the trade deadline that could put the team over the top.

Dilson Herrera

It seems that since Herrera came to the Mets in the Marlon Byrd trade, he was touted as the Mets second baseman of the future.  He was someone who could handle the position well defensively while being a real force at the plate.  He showed that he has unique power for the position.  Due to injuries in 2014, the Mets brought him up from AA to play in the majors.  Last year, he was seen as an offensive spark when a number of players went down due to injury.  This year he hasn’t been a consideration at all.  He has struggled in AAA hitting .277/.331/.471 in the Pacific Coast League which is a hitter’s league.  Part of that might be teams figuring him out.  Part of that may be him dealing with a shoulder injury sapping him of some of his offensive ability and having him fall into bad habits at the plate.  He is less patient at the plate, and he is lunging for balls he wouldn’t last year.  If you move him, you are moving the guy that could be a multiple time All Star.  If you don’t, you just might be hanging onto a guy that may never figure it out.

Gavin Cecchini

Cecchini is in a tough position in the Mets organization.  He isn’t seen as good a prospect at short as Rosario, and he has had some trouble handling the position at Cashman Field, who has an infield that is not kind to infielders.  He’s a good hitter hitting .315/.392/.441 with 18 doubles, two triples, five homers, and 40 RBI, and he reminds you of a right-handed Daniel Murphy at the plate.  However, he is not considered as good of an offensive prospect as an Herrera.  Furthermore, his bat does not have the power profile that would play at third or the outfield.  By many accounts, Cecchini will play in the majors one day.  What you don’t know is what he will be.  Will he be the next Murphy at the plate with similar defensive versatility?  With that in mind, will he develop power as he gets older and fills out like Murphy did?  Will he turn into the next Matt Reynolds – a major league utility player?  Again, you don’t want to lose the next Murphy for a rental, but you also don’t want to miss out on someone because you wnated to keep another Reynolds or Joe McEwing type of player.

Kevin Plawecki

Most Mets fans would jump at the opportunity to trade him.  He hasn’t hit at all in the majors despite given extended looks on two different occassions.  However, Plawecki has been a good defensive catcher and pitch framer.  He was also once considered a prospect who could push Travis d’Arnaud for playing time.  Keep in mind that since his demotion, Plawecki is hitting .291/.347/.512 with four doubles, five homers, and 21 RBI in 27 games.  These numbers aren’t exciting, especially in the Pacific Coast League, but it shows he is starting to become more patient at the plate and more selective swinging at pitches.  Also keep in mind that catcher is a position that players tend to develop later in their careers than other positions.  Plawecki could still very well be the Mets catcher of the future, or he could be a solid backup.  He may not be the type of player who should hold up a deal, but he definitively is a player you want to protect if at all possible.

Ultimately, it seems like one of the aforementioned players are going to have to be traded if the Mets want to acquire an impact player like Jonathan Lucroy.  However, they need to be very careful about which one.

In an ideal world, Rosario and Smith are non-starters.  These are two players who are excelling in AA at a young age, and they appear primed to contribute to the Mets sooner than expected.  You do not ever want to give up a Rosario or a Smith.  These players should prove to be fixtures in the Mets lineup for ten plus years.  Still, you’re going to have to give up someone if you are going to want to add that last piece who could put the Mets over the top in 2016.

That piece appears to be between Herrera and Cecchini.  The Mets may very well have a preference between these two players, and coming into this season, it seemed like Herrera.  However, that does not mean they still feel the same way, nor does it mean that other teams think similarly.  Regardless of how the Mets feel, a team may force their hand to trade one or the other to hopefully trade for this year’s version of Yoenis Cespedes.  In the end, it seems like the Mets will be giving up a Herrera or a Cecchini like they did with Fulmer last year if they want to make a move.

The hope is that the player has the impact Cespedes did last year and that the Mets take the next step and win the 2016 World Series.

Editor’s Note: this was also published on Mets Minors

 

Latest Mets Trade Rumors

With the trade deadline Monday, there are going to be a number of rumors involving the Mets as the Mets were very active in the trade market last year, and they are in the thick of the Wild Card race.  Now, with the Marlins making the first big deadline trade acquiring Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea, Fox Sports Jon Morosi believes it will get the ball rolling with a number of teams, like the Mets, making a number of deals.

The Jonathan Lucroy Sweepstakes

According to ESPN’s Jerry Krasnick, the Tigers are out on the Jonathan Lucroy Sweepstakes.  This might be one of the reasons the Brewers have re-engaged the Mets on Lucroy.  As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal’s Tom Haudricourt reported, the Brewers aren’t getting the offers they thought they would receive in exchange for Lucroy, and they also want to make sure they canvass the area to make sure they get the best possible return they can get for the catcher.

Lucroy would be a huge upgrade over what Travis d’Arnaud has provided the Mets this season.  So far this year, d’Arnaud is hitting .246/.299/.333 with five doubles, two homers, and 10 RBI.  Additionally, d’Arnaud has already had a stint on the disabled list.  Lucroy has been the second best catcher in baseball this season hitting .300/.361/.486 with 17 doubles, three triples, 13 homers, and 50 RBI.  It is not much of a surprise that the Brewers already rejected a straight up deal of Lucroy for d’Arnaud.  According to Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal, the Brewers informed the Mets that they want some high end prospects in addition to d’Arnaud in exchange for Lucroy.  In order to get those prospects, Haudricourt says the Brewers would consider bundling Lucroy with one or two of their coveted relievers, which include Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith.

The Mets will have to get creative as, according to ESPN’s Adam Rubin, the Mets do not anticipate either Amed Rosario or Dominic Smith.  Further complicating matters is, as MMO and Mets Minors own Michael Mayer reports, Dilson Herrera has been dealing with a sore shoulder causing him to miss the last four games.

Trade With the Tampa Bay Rays

According to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, the Rays will trade Steve Pearce prior to the trade deadline, and it appears that Matt Moore is the pitcher they will most likely be willing to trade.

According to Crasnick, the Mets are very interested in Rays’ Steve Pearce.  In his career, Pearce has predominantly played first base and outfield.  However, the Rays have not played him in the outfield this year.  Instead, he has played mostly first base with some time at second, third, an DH.

Pearce would certainly fulfill a need for the Mets as he is hitting .312/.384/.528 with 11 doubles, one triple, 10 homers, and 29 RBI on the year.  He has hit a respectable .288/.348/.452 against righties, but he is flat out mashing lefties hitting .377/.476/.736 against lefties.  The Mets could desperately use him given some of the splits we have seen with the Mets starters against lefties:

This does not even include Neil Walker who is hitting lefties well this year, but is still a career .262/.320/.357 career hitter against lefties.  Given the injuries to Jose Reyes and Yoenis Cespedes as well as Juan Lagares again being put on the disabled list with the torn ligament in his left thumb, the Mets are going to have to play two or more of the aforementioned players against lefties.

The Mets could also have some interest in Matt Moore, who is 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA and a 1.269 WHIP in 21 starts.  Moore would be an upgrade over Logan Verrett, and he could be insurance against Steven Matz and the bone spurs in his left elbow.

However, the chances of the Mets acquiring either player is not particularly good at the moment as the Rays intend to drive a hard bargain.  According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the Rays asked for Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto in exchange for Moore and Jake Odorizzi.

Relief Help

The Mets were earlier linked briefly to Jon Niese given Matt Harvey‘s season ending surgery.  However, it does not appear as if those talks have gotten anywhere beyond the preliminary stages at this point.  Now, the struggling Niese is in the bullpen alongside Pirates closer Mark Melancon. Melancon is having another strong year as the Pirates closer going 1-1 with a 1.51 ERA and a 0.960 WHIP while recording 30 saves.

According to Rosenthal, the Nationals have been in active trade discussion with the Pirates about Melancon after Jonathan Papelbon has had a rough stretch to the season.  Rosenthal further reports trading the pending free agent Melancon would not signal the team is waiving the white flag.  Instead, the Pirates remain active on the trade market themselves, and they intend to replace Melancon with either Tony Watson or former Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz.

Frankly, it wouldn’t be a trade deadline unless the Nationals were trying to displace their closer.   According to Rosenthal, the Nationals are also in on Royals closer Wade Davis, who is having another great year recording 21 saves while recording a 1.60 ERA and a 1.099 WHIP.

Neither Melancon nor Davis have been linked to the Mets.

The Final Cost

As we see with the ask for Lucroy, the prices are going to be steep at the trading deadline.  In reality, the only thing that helps the Mets chances there is the fact that the Mets are not on Lucroy’s no trade list.    Perhaps the most discouraging sign of all is Passan’s latest report that the Phillies could obtain three to four prospects in exchange for Jeremy Hellickson.

Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online

First Half Mets Minor League Offensive Leaders

Currently, MLB and many of their full season affiliates are either at or have already had their All Star Break. At each and every level, the Mets had a minor league hitter named to their level’s All-Star Game. Listed below is a synopsis of the Mets’ organizations leaders at the break:

Class A – Columbia Fireflies

Class A Advanced – St. Lucie Mets

AA – Binghamton Mets

AAA – Las Vegas 51s

Organizational Leaders

  • AVG: T.J. Rivera LV (.348)
  • OBP: Vinny Siena COL & STL (.413)
  • SLG: Travis Taijeron LV (.953)
  • OPS: Travis Taijeron LV (.953)
  • R: Travis Taijeron (61)
  • H: Amed Rosario STL & BNG (107)
  • 2B: Travis Taijeron LV (35)
  • 3B: Amed Rosario STL & BNG (11)
  • HR: Johnny Monell LV (14)
  • RBI: Travis Taijeron LV (69)
  • SB: Champ Stuart STL & BNG (26)

* stats are updated through July 13, 2016

Editor’s Note: this was first published on metsminors.net

 

Mets Don’t Have that One Big Trade Piece Like They Did Last Year

Since Michael Fulmer‘s call-up on April 29th, he is an astounding 6-1 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.175 WHIP.  In his last four starts, he is 4-0 with a 0.32 ERA and a 0.635 WHIP.  These are great numbers from any rookie.  It’s all the more incredible when you consider he’s only made three starts in AAA.  The 23 year old is showing everyone why he was considered a potential ace, and why the Tigers wanted him in the first place.

It’s also a reminder that the Mets used their biggest trade chip last year.

While the Mets farm system is still stocked with pitching talent, there aren’t any pitchers with the upside of Fulmer, at least not any that are as close to the major leagues as Fulmer was last year.  Now, the Mets do boast some terrific position player prospects like Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario.  However, neither one of those players are close to ready to being major leaguers.  While these players are highly thought of around baseball, they are certainly not going to fetch a player of Yoenis Cespedes‘ caliber at the trading deadline.  That’s a huge problem for the Mets.

Right now, the Mets are without Lucas Duda, David Wright, and Travis d’Arnaud due to severe injuries.  The Mets don’t know the long-term status of Juan Lagares and the torn ligament in his left thumb.  Hopefully, d’Arnaud, who has started rehab games, can catch with the torn labrum. Realistically, all the Mets can do with each of these players is put a timetable on when they think they could return not fully knowing when these players can return.  As the Mets are waiting to figure this out, they are playing a group of players that are having problems just to reach the Mendoza Line.  The big solution they have so far was to acquire James Loney. Loney has been good so far, but he is still the player who was released by the Tampa Rays and was playing for the San Diego Padres’ AAA affiliate.  In short, the Mets are going to have to go out there on the trade market and obtain some players that can help them at catcher, first, and third.

The Mets have the pieces to make those deals.  However, they may not have the pieces to make that blockbuster deal that everyone wants.  The Mets don’t have the one big trade piece that could solve the issue at one or more positions.  The reason why is the Mets went all-in on the 2015 season.  The result was the Mets making it to the World Series. At the end of the day, the 2016 Mets may be hamstrung by what happened in 2015.

With that said, Sandy Alderson is a very good GM.  He has swung some good trades while he has been the manager of the Mets.  The deals he made with the Braves for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe as well as the deal he made with the Arizona Diamondbacks for Addison Reed were absolute coups.  Alderson was able to acquire quality major league pieces without giving up much of anything.  The Mets are going to need the same type of performance this trading deadline, especially since he doesn’t have the same assets he had last year to get the job done.  It’s not going to be easy.  It’s going to require some creativity.  However, if anyone can do it, it’s Sandy Alderson.

 

Dominic Smith’s Thor Moment

Last year, the seminal moment of the Spring was David Wright and Bobby Parnell throwing out Noah Syndergaard’s lunch. This year it was Dominic Smith‘s turn to learn a lesson. 

This past weekend, Smith got a hold of one, and he thought it was out. He didn’t flip the bat or admire and pose after hitting it. No, he broke right into his homerun trot. He wasn’t hustling out of the box. When the ball hit the wall, Smith wound up with a single instead of a double. 

A ten year veteran might get away with it. Not a AA player.  It’s why Terry Collins approached him about the moment. For his part, Smith seemed to get it vowing he would never did it again. He said, “there’s no place for me not to hustle out of the box like that. It’s a learning experience.”  

Look, this isn’t about taking fun out of the game. He wasn’t chastised for celebrating a homerun. The manager talked to him about a lack of hustle. It was fair for Collins to do so. Smith is a 20 year old kid with a lot of promise. It’s up to Collins in the little time they have together to help point out to Smith what we needs to do to take the next step. 

Hustling out of the box is a fair and legitimate concern. It was never an issue for Smith before, and it probably won’t be in the future. However, Collins took advantage of an opportunity to talk to him. Smith will be a better player for it, which is saying something.  

Hopefully, this moment will be Thor’s moment. It will be what we will be talking about one day during his rise to greatness.