Tim Tebow is a problem because the Mets are making him one. So far, he has played in 60 of Syracuse’s first 79 games. Essentially, this means he is playing fairly regularly despite his hitting just .150/.232/.209. It should come as little surprise he’s not getting better with June being his worst month of the season.
If the Mets problems handling the player assignments and playing time at the Double-A and Triple-A level were limited only to Tebow, you can overlook things a bit. After all, whether you like to admit it or not, the Mets operate a business, and they are going to attempt to use Tebow to generate revenue for their newly acquired Syracuse franchise. Unfortunately, the problems run deeper than Tebow.
Entering the season, the Mets had a glut of infielders with Robinson Cano, J.D. Davis, Todd Frazier, Jed Lowrie, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario. The Mets added to this glut by first signing and then calling up Adeiny Hechavarria. Considering the situation, the last thing the Mets needed were veterans taking up space on the Syracuse infield.
Despite that, the Mets signed Danny Espinosa, who is a career .221/.297/.344 hitter and hit .197/.286/.344 between 2016-2017 and did not play in the majors last year. To make matters worse, he leads the team in games played. Second on the team is Travis Taijeron, who has established himself as not being a Major League caliber player. Fourth in games played is Gregor Blanco, who hit .217/.262/.317 last year.
Those three players right there are not just taking up space on the roster, but it is also taking away at-bats from players who truly needed it.
It’s easy to forget Dilson Herrera is just 25 years old, but he is making him a young player with potential to develop. To be fair, he is third on the team in games played. However, it was not until recently the team has sought to develop him more into a utility player. Prior to June, he had only played two full games in left field and none at any other position but second and third.
To be useful to the organization, Herrera needed to be playing first, second, third, and all three outfield positions. However, he can’t partially because those spots are taken by Espinosa, Taijeron, and Blanco, three players who were never going to be a factor for the Mets in 2019. When you add Tebow, that’s four.
This has a necessary trickle down effect. Players like David Thompson and Gavin Cecchini, who just came off the IL, have been assigned to Binghamton. At this stage in their professional development, they need to be in Triple-A working on things. For both, that means become more versatile and becoming better hitters. However, they can’t be in Syracuse getting regular playing time because the Mets are wasting playing time on two has beens and two never will bes.
Those players being in Binghamton has a trickle down effect interfering with playing time for players like Luis Carpio. Carpio was someone once regarded as a top prospect, but he would suffer shoulder injuries. On that front, he has gotten healthy and shown some promise. Of course, that promise only goes as far as the team’s willingness and ability to get him playing time.
There are other issues like Braxton Lee, a 25 year old who plays good defense and has good speed, being forced to Double-A instead of getting real development time in Syracuse. There’s also the fact Luis Guillorme is in Triple-A splitting middle infield playing time instead of just playing over Hechavarria at the Major League level.
Really, the list goes on and on, and that is before you consider Rene Rivera catching everyday leaves the Mets having Patrick Mazeika and Ali Sanchez sharing catching duties in Binghamton instead of them being split up to allow them both to get regular playing time and thrive.
While we rightfully focus on what has transpired with the Mets, the organization’s problems run deeper than just the team in Queens. The same shortsightedness and reliance on under-performing players over promising young players is also very present in Triple-A.
If things continue this way, this will prove to be not just a lost season in Queens but Syracuse as well.
Recently, there has been a number of questions from the media regarding Mickey Callaway‘s job status. Based upon the roster and his statements yesterday, maybe the media should instead be asking Brodie Van Wagenen if he knows what he’s doing.
Back in January, the Mets obtained Keon Broxton from the Milwaukee Brewers for Bobby Wahl, Adam Hill, and Felix Valerio. In the press release announcing the deal, Brodie Van Wagenen said, “Keon is a dynamic athlete with the ability to impact the game in the outfield, on the bases and with his bat. He adds depth to our major league roster for 2019 and into the future.”
In 34 games that did not prove to be the case as Broxton was about as you can be. He had an 8 wRC+ while striking out 41.5 percent of the time while posting a -1 DRS in the outfield. Really, every time he took the field you failed to see not just how he could help the Mets, but also why the Mets would give up three players for him.
Everyone has been frustrated by it, Broxton included. After he struck out to end the game against the Nationals, he said, “From the start of the season I’ve been surprised. I haven’t been playing too much, I haven’t gotten as many opportunities. It’s not like I started out bad. It is what it is though. They got a plan and they’re working with it, so all I can do is try to be ready.”
With his being designated for assignment, he’s going to try to be ready somewhere else.
Van Wagenen addresses the decision before yesterday’s loss against the Marlins. In his comments, there was certainly a bit of revisionist’s history:
Clearly, we gave up a few players for Keon. We said publicly then, and I think it’s played itself out here now that Keon’s move was potentially redundant by design.
The Mets General Manager stood in front of reporters, and he told them he gave away three players for someone he now for the first time admits was redundant.
It needs to be reiterated. Van Wagenen admitted he used prospects and a roster spot on a player with no options and could refuse an assignment to the minors. He did that with full knowledge Broxton was redundant because of Juan Lagares.
He utilized assets and a roster spot for a redundant player.
Van Wagenen did that despite the team entering the season with just two caliber starting outfielders on the roster. He did that despite there being a plethora of veterans available who’d sign a minor league deal to serve the same purpose. Veterans like Gregor Blanco, Rajai Davis, or Carlos Gomez.
Do you want those guys starting games? No, of course not. However, those are the types of players who could serve as redundancies to a backup. But now, in his infinite wisdom, Broxton designates Broxton for assignment for Gomez, someone who they signed without giving up three players.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Mets need the depth now. Michael Conforto is on the IL with a concussion, and given the nature of the injury, no one can know when he can return. Jeff McNeil has not landed on the IL, but he’s dealing with an abdominal issue.
It’s also bizarre Van Wagenen suddenly decided Lagares wasn’t going to be injured this year. Lagares has been on the disabled list in each of the past three years and five of his last six. After the Mets played 42 games and lost two of their starting outfielders, Van Wagenen decides the team doesn’t need their redundancy for Lagares.
Even better, the player replacing Broxton is the injury prone Gomez.
In the end, Broxton did little to prove he belonged on the roster. In some ways, he reminded you of Alejandro De Aza, who was terrible to open 2016 with fans begging he be designated for assignment. Of course, De Aza came up huge in July and September to help that Mets team make the postseason.
There will be no such redemption story for Broxton because Van Wagenen decided the team needed LESS outfield depth with their top two outfielders injured. Apparently, the Mets also no longer need redundant players on the roster (as if any team ever needs that).
Of course, despite having effectively throwing away three players for a player Van Wagenen saw as a redundancy, he gets to answer questions about Callaway’s job status. He also gets to make a decision (or have input on the decision) to fire Callaway for his inability to win games with a roster full of underperforming redundant players.
With Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier suffering injuries during Spring Training, the Mets depth is being tested early. Most will point to how this clears the path for Pete Alonso. You could see how this in an opportunity for J.D. Davis. While the Mets may not initially want to move Jeff McNeil to third, if they would it could present an opportunity for Dominic Smith to make the roster.
Okay, well almost anybody. Really, to suggest Tim Tebow has an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster borders on the absurd. Really, just look at the Mets complete left field depth chart:
- Michael Conforto
- Jeff McNeil
- Brandon Nimmo
- Juan Lagares
- Keon Broxton
- Rajai Davis
- Gregor Blanco
- J.D. Davis
- Rymer Liriano
- Dominic Smith
- T.J. Rivera
- Dilson Herrera
- Danny Espinosa
- Kevin Kaczmarski
- Braxton Lee
Also consider the Mets have the option to move players like Cecchini to the outfield. As the season progresses, players like Desmond Lindsay may move ahead of Tebow. However, this is about right now, and right now there is nothing to suggest Tebow is anywhere close enough to cracking the Mets Opening Day roster. Really, the mere suggestion of it is beyond absurd.
With the way the free agent market has played out, Manny Machado signed an arguably under-value contract after position players reported to Spring Training. Many cite top end free agents like Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Craig Kimbrel still being on the market as a sure sign there is a problem with free agency.
Those making that claim are right, but the problems do go deeper than that.
Take for example Jose Bautista. Last year, the Mets literally signed Bautista while he was sitting on his couch. He’d fly to New York, and he would prove himself to still be a capable Major League player.
In his time with the Mets, Bautista was an above league average hitter (104 OPS+). In 83 games, he hit .204/.351/.367 with 13 doubles, nine homers, and 37 RBI. He’d play all over the diamond as well, and he would actually play well defensively. Bautista was actually a 1 DRS in 109.2 innings in left. He was serviceable elsewhere with a -2 DRS in right and a -1 DRS at third base. He would show himself to be quite a versatile defender also playing 14.2 innings at first and even an inning at second base.
What is interesting is when Bautista was traded to the Phillies, who were still fighting for a postseason spot, Bautista raised his game. In 27 games for the Phillies, Bautista would hit .244/.404/.467 with four doubles, two homers, and six RBI.
Now, there is no question Bautista’s skills have diminished. He is far from the All-Star and MVP candidate he was in 2015. Still, not all of his skills have eroded. He still has a good eye at the plate, and he has maintained an excellent walk rate (16.8 percent). He had an above-average .175 ISO and 13.1 percent HR/FB. Ultimately, this is a player who still has power and a flair for the dramatic:
At this stage in his career, the 38 year old Bautista is no more than a bench or utility player. He is a power source off your bench. As he showed last year, he still has something in the tank. Really, in a normal free agent market you would see a team signing him to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.
Remember, Bautista showed last year he was not above that. He signed such a deal with the Braves, and he spent time in the minors to prove himself as a third baseman. It didn’t work there, but it did with the Mets and the Phillies in a different role. Bautista could work well for another team in 2019 if just given the chance.
From a Mets perspective, you could see why they haven’t brought him back. They have Gregor Blanco and Rajai Davis fighting for outfield spots. Younger players like J.D. Davis and to a certain extent Dominic Smith are fighting for a Major League bench spot. There’s also Dilson Herrera, Gavin Cecchini, Will Toffey, Luis Guillorme, and David Thompson who could be fighting for a role not just for the Major League team but also the Syracuse Triple-A team.
To that extent, you understand the Mets not bringing back Bautista. But that’s just the Mets. What are the other 29 Major League team’s excuse?
Assuming the Mets carry five bench spots, which is the norm for a National League team, the race for the last spot on the bench became much more crowded and complicated with the team’s signing of Adeiny Hechavarria. That question becomes further complicated when you question just what exactly the Mets real intentions are with Peter Alonso.
Assuming Alonso begins the season in Triple-A, the Mets already have bench spots allocated to Travis d’Arnaud and Keon Broxton. One of Juan Lagares or Jeff McNeil is going to play everyday meaning the other is going to be on the bench. That is three bench spots spoken for with two remaining. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
Considering the Mets parted with a package headlined by Luis Santana in what has been an oft criticized trade, you could see the pressure to carry J.D. Davis. Aside from the pressure, whether it be real or imagined, Davis does have the ability to play both corner infield spots adequately, and despite his deficiencies out there, the does have outfield experience.
The real positive for Davis is the power he could provide off the bench, but in order for that to be realized, he is going to have to increase the launch angle in his swing and his corresponding high ground ball rates. There is also a real question whether Chili Davis is the hitting coach to get him to realize his full power potential.
If the Mets are looking for a versatile infielder who can play the outfield, there is forgotten man T.J. Rivera. Rivera missed last season due to Tommy John surgery, but reports this Spring have been overly positive. While we know Rivera is not a particularly good defender, the Mets also know Rivera can be trusted to start at any position over a long stretch. Between the 2017 season and the World Baseball Classic, we have also seen him able to raise his game in big games.
The issue both players have is neither plays shortstop. For that matter, neither does Jed Lowrie, which arguably led to the Mets signing Hechavarria to a minor league deal. The one thing we do know with Hechavarria is he can play shortstop and play it well. Over the last four seasons combined, he has amassed a 26 DRS. The problem with him is he can’t hit as evidenced by his career 72 wRC+.
Hitting was also an issue for Luis Guillorme. In his brief time with the Mets, he was only able to muster a 53 wRC+ in 35 games. That is partially because Guillorme received uneven playing time. It is also because he has never been considered to be a great hitter. Still, there are two factors in Guillorme’s favor. First, like Hechavarria, he is a good defender. Second, Guillorme did show himself to be an adept pinch hitter last year hitting .273/.467/.364 in 15 pinch hitting appearances.
Now, if the Mets are looking for a more offensive oriented middle infielder who could play shortstop, the team does have Gavin Cecchini. Heading into last season, Cecchini had worked on his swing, and it had paid dividends with him hitting .294/.342/.468 in 30 games for Las Vegas before fouling a ball off his leg effectively ending his season. If Cecchini shows he is able to hit the same way, he could make a case for a bench spot for himself.
Standing in Cecchini’s way is his not being on the 40 man roster and his shortstop defense having pushed him to second base. The same could also be true for Dilson Herrera. For his part, Herrera was never truly considered anything more than a second baseman and that was before his shoulder injury. That shoulder injury cost him some of his offensive output until he rediscovered his stroke last year hitting .297/.367/.465 for the Reds Triple-A affiliate.
One other overlooked name for the Opening Day bench is Dominic Smith. If Alonso were to start the year in Triple-A, the Mets would have to find playing time for Alonso, Gregor Blanco, Rajai Davis, Rymer Liriano, and Tim Tebow between first base, three infield spots, and DH. Even with how down the team may be on Smith, it is difficult to believe they would leave him in Syracuse to fight for playing time between those three spots.
Instead, the team could carry him on the Major League roster. Certainly, Smith reporting to camp with not just his keeping the weight off but also adding muscle, helps improve his chances. His being a good defensive first baseman capable of playing left field in a pinch should also help him.
Of course, Smith would have to compete with all of the aforementioned players as well as Danny Espinosa just to claim a bench spot. He would also have to count on the team not putting Alonso on the Opening Day roster, which judging from the improvements Alonso has made, is not a safe assumption.
Really, when breaking it down, the Mets have plenty of options to fill out their bench, and ultimately for this team to reach its full potential, they are going to have to find the right mix of players to complement their everyday players. Hopefully, everyone comes to play making this as difficult a decision as the Mets will have all year.
With the signing on Jed Lowrie, the Mets have been talking about just how deep this roster is. To a certain extent, they are right. Having infield options which include Peter Alonso, Robinson Cano, Todd Frazier, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario in conjunction with Lowrie is incredible depth. However, that does not mean the Mets are a deep team.
First and foremost is the outfield. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are the only two healthy everyday outfielders on the roster. Juan Lagares has the glove to justify playing everyday, but he has hasn’t played more than 94 games since 2015, and in that season the Mets were desperate for an upgrade as they were making a postseason push.
Keon Broxton has hit .213/.296/.419 with an 85 OPS+ over the past two seasons indicating he has no business playing everyday. As bad as that is, Broxton is the last MLB outfielder on the 40 man roster.
After Broxton, the Mets are gambling on McNeil successfully transitioning to the outfield. It’s not an unreasonable gamble, and it is one we can expect to pay off. However, McNeil being an outfielder means the infield depth has taken a hit, which is a real issue should Alonso not be able to play first at the MLB level, or there are multiple injuries.
After McNeil is Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco, both of them are over 35 years old, and neither of them have had a good season since 2015. Having just two starting outfielders with a couple of has beens and never will bes is not outfield depth.
And no, Yoenis Cespedes cannot be relied upon. He underwent double heel surgery, and no one can reasonably pinpoint when he is returning to the lineup, nor can anyone have any indication of what he will be when he is able to return.
With respect to the catching situation, the Mets are undoubtedly better with the signing of Wilson Ramos. However, that does not mean there is sufficient depth. Both Ramos and Travis d’Arnaud are injury prone putting more emphasis on Tomas Nido, who has hit .181/.210/.255 in limited Major League duty on top of hitting .272/.300/.431 between Double-A and Triple-A last year.
There is a real chance at least two of those catchers are injured as the same time leaving the Mets to depend on Patrick Mazeika and/or Ali Sanchez. Basiscally, this isn’t much different than during the 2015 season where the team grasped at straws cycling through Kevin Plawecki, Anthony Recker, and Johnny Monell while they pieced together the catching situation in d’Arnaud’s absence.
Then there is the rotation. All five of the Mets starters have significant injury histories. Jacob deGrom is the only starter to have consecutive seasons with at least 30 starts. Jason Vargas is the only other starter with 20 plus starts in each of the last two seasons. Behind this thin rotation, with Vargas having a 64 ERA+ and a 5.02 FIP last year, is very questionable starting pitching depth.
Looking at the roster, Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, Drew Gagnon, and P.J. Conlon. all posted an ERA over 5.00 in the majors last year. Hector Santiago was moved to the bullpen partially because he has had a 4.06 ERA since 2016. Kyle Dowdy, the Mets Rule 5 pick, had a 5.15 ERA between Double and Triple-A last year, and with the team being forced to keep him on the roster or return him to the Rays, he is going to be a bullpen option.
Now, to be fair, the Mets do have bullpen depth. The back-end with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia is as good as it gets. You can also say the Mets swing men, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, are the best combination in the Majors. From a left-handed relief option, Daniel Zamora has exception spin rates, and former White Sox Luis Avilan and Santiago have pitched well out of the bullpen.
Beyond that group, the Mets have promising young right-handed power arms in Tyler Bashlor, Eric Hanhold, Ryder Ryan, and Drew Smith. Combine that with Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame, the Mets have sufficient numbers and depth in the bullpen, albeit not the big seventh inning reliever you would want.
In the end, yes, the Mets have admirable infield depth, and there are enough arms here to at least figure out a good bullpen. However, past that, this is a paper thin roster at outfield, catcher, and starting pitcher. If the Mets face a number of injuries, and based on their history, they will, the 2019 Mets are going to be in real trouble.
Right now, the Mets starting outfield is likely Michael Conforto–Juan Lagares–Brandon Nimmo. Now, there is every reason to believe that could be a good outfield. Nimmo was the second best hitter in the National League last year, and Conforto returned to his All-Star form at the close of the season. There are reasons to question Lagares’ bat, but when he plays, he is a Gold Glove outfielder.
The Mets have every reason to believe that when they play this trio they are putting a winning team on the field. Their problem is what happens when they don’t play.
Right now, the first man up is Keon Broxton. Over the last two years, Broxton has hit .213/.296/.419 with an 85 OPS+ over the past two years. While he did post excellent 11 DRS in just 134.1 innings last year, he was a -7 DRS in his only full season in center. He does have elite speed, which suggests he can be a plus defender next year, but there is nothing to suggest he can hit at all.
The Mets are also betting on Jeff McNeil in the outfield. Considering his sprint speed and his baseball IQ, there is every reason to believe he can play out there. However, there is a question about whether he can hit like he did last year. Lost in his excellent numbers was the fact McNeil had a 5.6 percent walk rate and a .359 BABIP. Those types of numbers are only sustainable if your name is Ichiro Suzuki.
Now, it should be noted it is perfectly reasonable to expect McNeil to be a quality Major League bench player, and he has shown you can trust him to play long stretches of time. If he is pressed into duty, the Mets and Mets fans should feel comfortable. However, what should bother everyone is the complete lack of depth behind him.
With respect to him, the reason why you play him in the outfield is because he has a strong arm, and there really isn’t room for him in the infield. However, it is not a long term or even a short term solution as he is slow footed making his play out there a bad idea. For Mets fans, you may assume this refers to Smith because of what you saw with him last year. It is, but the same statements also apply to Davis.
As for Davis, it should also be noted he has hit .190/.260/.321 in 444 Major League plate appearances. It should be noted that is worse than the .210/.259/.406 in 332 Major League plate appearances which has caused Mets fans to become frustrated with and sour on Smith. Put another way, if you don’t believe in Smith, you should not be believing in Davis, at least not as an outfielder.
After this group, you have to actually consider Tim Tebow. Sadly, that’s not a joke. Well, it is a joke, but only to the extent where the Mets could actually be in a position to be forced to consider him.
When you are discussing players like Byrd and Blanco, and when Tebow even enters the discussion, it is clear the Mets outfield depth is completely lacking. Sure, we can believe in McNeil while liking Broxton’s defense, but in the end, the Mets don’t have enough depth across the outfield.
This all needs to be considered when Brodie Van Wagenen says the outfield isn’t a priority. When actually analyzing the options, you see just how wrong he is, and it’s another reason why the Mets need to puruse Bryce Harper or even A.J. Pollock. At this point, the Mets should also be looking at Adam Jones, Joc Pederson, or Ben Zobrist.
Really, just anything because what’s in place is not going to cut it.
Yesterday, there were two bits of relatively important news. First, we discovered Curtis Granderson intends to play another season. Second, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said the team was not prioritizing the outfield as he believes the team is set there partially because Jeff McNeil is going to move out there.
There are a number of ways to interpret Van Wagenen’s statement with the most likely being the team is not going to sign an everyday outfielder. This means no Bryce Harper or even A.J. Pollock. We can discuss the wisdom of that decision, and we definitely should, but at the moment, the question is whether the Mets are really set in the outfield.
Juan Lagares could be an everyday player for his glove alone, and he showed some promise at the plate. With a new approach, he hit .339/.375/.390 in very limited duty. Certainly, you could argue with this being his contract year and with Chili Davis being the new hitting coach, Lagares is primed for a big season. However, that overlooks the fact he has not played at least 95 games since 2015.
Behind him is Keon Broxton. Over the past two years, Broxton has hit .213/.296/.419. For all of the compliments of his defense, in his only full season in center, Broxton had a -7 DRS and a -2.6 UZR. Even as a part-time player, you really can’t rely on him producing.
Past Lagares and Broxton are Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco. These are two players who are over 35 years old, and they have not been productive Major League players since 2015, and it is hard to imagine 2019 will be the year they turn back the clock.
This places much onus on McNeil. There is every reason to believe McNeil can adapt to the outfield, and even with his questionable peripherals, there is a sufficient basis to believe he can hit at the Major League level. Fact is, he’s a Major League caliber player.
However, the Mets infield has a lot of age. Robinson Cano is 36. Todd Frazier will soon turn 33, and he is coming off his first injury plagued season. Behind both of them is Jed Lowrie, who has been quite good the past two years, but he will be 35 next year. When you factor in the possibility Peter Alonso may not be ready, and you are in a position where McNeil may be needed to return to the infield thereby leaving a thin outfield another outfielder short.
Granderson may be older, but he has always been durable. More importantly, Granderson has remained a productive player, and he effectively transitioned to being a part-time player. Last year, Granderson hit .242/.351/.431 with a 115 OPS+. As a pinch hitter, Granderson hit .375/.483/.500, and that doesn’t include the big pinch hit double he had in Game 5 of the NLCS.
The days of Granderson playing everyday are long gone. Still, Granderson is capable of playing for long stretches in a pinch, and he is someone who you want in your clubhouse mentoring your younger players like Alonso and McNeil. He’s a popular player, and he is someone who has shown the ability to play well in a Mets uniform.
Granderson may not be perfect, but the Mets don’t need perfect. They need a good player and someone who compliments this roster. Right now, that player is Granderson, and he should be back wearing his number three in blue and orange.