At this point, it’s clear Jason Vargas isn’t just pitching with a fork in him; he’s got the whole utensil drawer there. As such, it’s time to look for someone to replace him in the rotation. While Mets fans have been imploring the team to add Dallas Keuchel, it seems like the Mets would not be willing to add that much payroll.
Fortunately, the Mets still have some very interesting internal options:
Seth Lugo – definitively the Mets fifth best starter, but he arguably has more value in the bullpen.
Robert Gsellman – hasn’t had the success in the bullpen everyone imagined he be and may just be better suited to the rotation
Corey Oswalt – it’s hard to get a read on him with how the Mets have jerked him around, but he’s still had flashes of viability
Chris Flexen – he has a surgically repaired knee and is in terrific shape giving hope he can finally put that fastball/curve combo to good use.
Anthony Kay – Mets haven’t been shy rushing starters from Double-A to the majors, and Kay has excellent spin rates on his fastball and curve.
David Peterson – the Mets 2017 first round pick is off to a good start, which is more than you can say for Vargas.
Hector Santiago – he was an All-Star in 2015, and based on what we’ve seen having previously being an All-Star is all you need to get a rotation spot.
Drew Gagnon – in his one start last year, he at least managed to pitch into the fifth, which is much better than what we’ve seen this year.
P.J. Conlon – last year, Conlon showed he shouldn’t be trusted for more than 2-3 innings. It’d be nice to get a fifth starter who could provide that much length.
Walker Lockett – he’s in Extended Spring Training with an injury, and he had a 9.60 ERA in the majors last year, so all told, he’s an upgrade.
Paul Sewald – Mets have never been worried about pushing Sewald too far, so certainly, you could see them randomly asking five from him, and those five would likely be better than any five Vargas throws this year.
Mickey Callaway – had a 6.27 career ERA and last pitched in the majors 15 years ago, which means his arm is probably fresh enough to hit the mid 80s.
Luis Guillorme – it’s not like they’re using him as the team’s backup middle infielder, and we know he’d at least be able to field his position well, which unlike Vargas, would be at least one thing Guillorme could do well as a pitcher.
J.D. Davis – he has a career 3.38 ERA in limited appearances, which make sense considering he hits and fields his position like a pitcher.
Pete Alonso – his being on the Opening Day roster was supposed to be the difference between the Mets making the postseason and not. With Vargas being terrible every fifth day, he’s apparently going to need to do more than hit.
And therein lies the problem. The Mets sold their fans they desperately needed 12 games from Alonso while simultaneously punting 32 starts from the fifth spot in the rotation. That’s an even bigger joke than anything said in this post.
There have been a few times in the Mets history where they have surprised or even shocked the World in making their run to the postseason. The biggest example is 1969, which occurred 50 years ago. The Mets would make their Miracle run in 1973, and they would emerge in 1999, 2006, and 2015.
When you look at those rosters, there are players who are comparable to the players on this year’s Mets roster. Here’s a look at how it breaks down:
Wilson Ramos (Paul Lo Duca) – Ramos may not have been the catcher the Mets may have originally expected to bring in during the offseason, but like Lo Duca, he could be the perfect fit for this team and surprisingly be a very important piece to this club.
Juan Lagares (Endy Chavez) – Chavez was the defensive oriented player who was pressed into more action than anticipated, and his play on the field was a big reason the 2006 Mets came withing a game of the World Series.
Corey Oswalt (Logan Verrett) – The Mets need a low round drafted prospect to put together a string of great starts to help put this team over the top. With his increased velocity, this could be Oswalt.
And finally, there is Mickey Callaway, who we are hoping will be able to accomplish what Willie Randolph accomplished by proving himself a good manager in his second year and by leading the Mets to being the best team in the National League.
As the Mets approach Opening Day, the team is going to have to make some manuevers if they are going to add their minor league free agents to the 40 man roster. Earlier in the offseason, T.J. Rivera was released, which creates one spot. By the look of Spring Training, the team is going to need more than that one spot.
With his needing Tommy John surgery, another roster spot was opened up by Drew Smith likely headed for the 60 day disabled list. With him likely headed there, the 40 man roster will likely sit at 38. With Yoenis Cespedes hitting the 60 day IL, that drops the number to 37.
At the moment, the team is considering adding Luis Avilan as the LOOGY in the bullpen. The team is also likely to add Adeiny Hechavarria as a backup shortstop. The team is also considering Ryan O’Rourke, Hector Santiago, Pete Alonso, Devin Mesoraco, and Rajai Davis. In total, the Mets are likely to add as many as three players and possibly more.
In the event there is more, the team could opt to put Franklyn Kilome on the 60 day disabled list to preserve his last option, but such a move starts his service clock while having him cost significantly more. This would make adding him to the 60 day disabled list unlikely meaning there are two or more Mets whose 40 man roster spots could now become tenuous:
Right off the bat, Kyle Dowdy is an obvious choice. Should he lose the race for the last man in the bullpen to O’Rourke, Santiago, or one of the Mets young right-handed relief pitchers, it’s quite possible the team returns him to the Cleveland Indians. With him pitching to a 7.36 ERA this Spring and 5.15 ERA between Double- and Triple-A last year, his heading back to Cleveland seems like the obvious choice.
With respect to the Mets young right-handed relievers, Tim Peterson seems to have the most tenuous spot. We have seen Peterson really succeed in spots as evidenced by his 0.87 ERA in the Arizona Fall League or his allowing just two earned runs over his first 11.1 relief innings. However, over time, batters catch up to him and his 91 MPH fastball.
On the relief front, the Mets may also be in a position to designate Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame for assignment. We have seen each of them pitch well in the majors in spurts, but their overall body of work has been quite lacking. However, given their limited history of success, it would seem while their spots are tenuous, they have a leg up on the aforementioned pitchers.
On the position player front, Luis Guillorme‘s spot seems the most tenuous. After he struggled in 35 games at the Major League level, it appeared the organization really soured on him. If you want evidence to that effect, look no further than how he was not among the September call-ups last year. The Mets offseason moves would seem to indicate his spot is dubious as well.
Hechavarria serves the same role Guillorme could have served, but the Mets thought it better to potentially give Hechavarria $3 million than give Guillorme a chance. With the team adding Dilson Herrera to add to an already crowded Syracuse infield and top prospect Andres Gimenez not too far from Triple-A, Guillorme’s spot seems all the more dubious.
That said, the team did designate Gavin Cecchini for assignment earlier in the year, and Guillorme has had a very good Spring. This means Guillorme’s spot is safe for now. As for the aforementioned pitchers, it may depend on how many players they seek to add the to Opening Day roster and if they are able to swing trades for players like Travis d’Arnaud to open up enough spots.
With the Mets hiring an agent as opposed to a front office baseball executive, you knew Brodie Van Wagenen was going to have a learning curve. As such, he was going to make some bad moves, and certainly, you knew he was going to make some curious decisions. Some may inure to the Mets benefit while others may not. If these questionable decisions do work out for the Mets, then a World Series may very well be in the team’s future.
Why Isn’t Cano Playing First Base?
Robinson Cano was the big bat the Mets acquired this offseason, and the plan is for him to be a fixture in the Mets lineup. However, that is for as many games as he is able to play. To his credit, Brodie Van Wagenen has been quite vocal about the need to give Cano more days off than he is accustomed due to Cano being 36 years old.
If we harken back to 1999, Bobby Valentine did this with a 40 year old Rickey Henderson to get the last good season out of Henderson. That also led to the Mets claiming the Wild Card and going to the NLCS.
For Cano, it is not just his age, but it is also his position. Players who play up the middle play the more taxing defensive positions in baseball. That takes more of a toll on a 36 year old player. Given Jed Lowrie‘s presence on the team, you have to wonder why the team doesn’t make Lowrie the second baseman with Cano playing first.
Putting Cano at first would be putting him in a position where he would not be as subject to fatigue over the course of the season. It should also be noted with Cano already 36 years old and his signed for five more seasons, it is a position switch he will eventually have to make. If he is going to have to make the switch, why not do it now so the Mets could coax more at-bats and games from him over the course of the season?
Where Is Davis Getting His Opportunity?
With J.D. Davis‘ minor league stats, you could make the argument all he needs to succeed at the Major League level is an opportunity to play at the Major League level. Certainly, it’s a fair point to raise when someone hits .342/.406/.583 in 85 Triple-A games and .175/.248/.223 in 42 MLB games.
The problem is you’d be hard-pressed to where exactly he would get that opportunity.
He’s behind Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie at the third base depth chart. He’s behind Peter Alonso and Frazier on the first base depth chart. He’s a right-handed compliment to right-handed hitters. He’s not suited to play outfield in the majors, and even if he was, he’s buried on the outfield depth chart as well. Combine that with Lowrie and Jeff McNeil being the versatile players on the roster, and you have to wonder where he gets hit at-bats.
After you are done contemplating that, you are left to wonder why the team would trade three good prospects in Luis Santana, Ross Adolph, and Scott Manea for him when they could’ve just as easily signed Mark Reynolds or Matt Davidson.
Was McNeil Playing LF the Original Plan?
One of the benefits of having McNeil on the roster is having a versatile player on the roster. Despite the team’s initial reluctance last year, he is someone who has received playing time at all four infield positions, and he has always trained in the outfield. To that extent, penciling him as the team’s starting left fielder, even against just right-handed pitching made a ton of sense.
That plan made even more sense when you consider Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are both capable center fielders with Juan Lagares being the best defensive center fielder in the game. Really, breaking it down, moving McNeil to left field was probably the best way to handle the Mets resources.
However, the plan to move McNeil to left field does raise some interesting questions. For example, why didn’t the team send him to winter ball to play outfield. Also, why would the team expend resources to obtain Keon Broxton only to make him a fifth outfielder? Moreover, if McNeil is your outfielder, shouldn’t the team have a better insurance option against his inability to play left field than Broxton?
What’s the Plan for Backup Catcher?
When the Mets traded Kevin Plawecki to the Indians, they were effectively announcing Travis d’Arnaud was healthy enough to be the backup. That was called into question when Mickey Callaway said Devin Mesoraco signed with the Mets because of his relationship with Jacob deGrom.
It would seem if the Mets signed Mesoraco to catch deGrom the team now has one catcher too many. Does this mean the team is planning on moving him on the eve of Opening Day, or is Mesoraco willing to catch in the minors until the inevitable injury to d’Arnaud or Wilson Ramos. If that is the case, what impact does this have on Tomas Nido, and his future?
On the bright side, the Mets have good depth at the catcher position, but that only remains true to the extent they are keeping everyone. If they are the challenge is then to keep everyone happy and sharp, which is much easier said than done.
Where’s the Starting Pitching Depth?
With Jason Vargas struggling since the 2017 All-Star Break, you would have thought the Mets would have done more to address their pitching depth. That goes double when you consider the team traded Justin Dunn, their best starting pitching prospect, and with David Peterson and Anthony Kay being at least a couple of years away.
With the health issues facing Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, you would’ve thought the Mets would have been pressed more to add starting pitching depth. When you couple that with Van Wagenen knowing Jeff Barry councils his pitching clients to limit their innings, you would believe the Mets would have pressed to go more than four deep in the pitching rotation.
But the Mets haven’t. Not really. Their depth is essentially the same group who posted an ERA over 5.00 as MLB staters along with Hector Santiago, a pitcher now better suited to the bullpen.
When you look at this rotation the best health they had was in 2015, and that was a year the team needed 10 starting pitchers to get through the season. This team has nowhere near that type of depth.
As it turns out, more than anything, it may turn out to be the pitching depth which is the biggest key to the 2019 season. If the team is healthy, and deGrom and Syndergaard go against their agent’s advice, it is possible the team has enough pitching to get through the season. If the pitchers do impose pitching limits and there is more than one pitching injury, the team’s hopes of winning anything may be done, and that is even if the other questions are answered in the affirmative.
Today was the day the Mets loaded the moving vans to head down for Spring Training in Port St. Lucie. While the Mets were careful to laod the equipment, there were several things the Mets have forgotten to bring down with them:
1. A Starting Center Fielder
When Juan Lagares is healthy, he is as good a defender as there is in all of baseball. His glove alone makes him an everyday player. With the improvements he made offensively, you could see him being an above average MLB center fielder. The problem is he’s never healthy. Over the past three years, he has not cracked 95 games played. Behind him is Keon Broxton who has hit .221/.313/.421 in his Major League career.
Behind them is a collection of has beens and never will bes. For all the moves the Mets have made this offseason, it is difficult to believe this is what the Mets envisioned as their center field solution.
2. Starting Pitching Depth
After being named a 2017 All Star, Jason Vargas has been terrible. Since that All Star Game, he has a 6.04 ERA, and opposing batters are hitting .278/.351/.506 against him. Consider for a moment he is probably the team’s best fifth starter option. That is because behind him the Mets have a collection of players who have posted ERAs above 5.00 at the Major League level the past few seasons.
This was the problem when the Mets traded Justin Dunn. The team lost its best internal sixth starter. They lost the pitcher who could get called up and be a real difference maker to put the team over the top. Instead, they are hoping Chris Flexen is a significantly better pitcher after his knee surgery, or Hector Santiago turns back the clock four years to be the guy who put up good stats with shaky peripherals.
3. Last Piece of the Puzzle
Undoubtedly, the projected 2019 Mets roster is better than the roster the Mets had last season. After all, when you’re a below .500 team, when you add a few quality players, you don’t have anywhere to go but up. Still, what the Mets have added is not enough.
Looking at the Fangraphs projected standings, the Mets are still just the second best team in the National League East. That puts them square in the Wild Card race. Consider for a moment, that is before the other three big teams in the division are done adding to their rosters. Certainly, a closer for the Braves, or the Phillies making one to three significant additions completely changes that dynamic.
Whether you are in the boat of the Mets adding a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado or not, you have to admit the Mets parting with five prospects, including their two best in Jarred Kelenic and Dunn, while taking on Robinson Cano‘s contract, is not worth it when you are putting all of your eggs in getting to a one game playoff.
Sure, we have seen teams like the Giants and Royals use that game to propel them to the World Series. We also saw the Mets waste a gem from Noah Syndergaard in that game. Point is, the Mets haven’t done enough. Fortunately for them, there are still significant pieces available even with pitchers and catchers reporting next week. They need to go out and do something.
Last week, the Mets added Justin Wilson to a bullpen who already had Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. With Wilson previously serving as the Tigers closer in 2017, the Mets can now run out three straight closers in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. If Mickey Callaway wants to be imaginative, it allows him to slot these three pitchers as needed to close out a game.
For instance, if the Braves have Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman due up, he can go with Wilson that inning and deploy Familia and Diaz in the others. That could be mean Wilson in the seventh, eighth, or possibly even the ninth. When you build that type of versatility in the bullpen, your bullpen is even better.
Then again, you don’t even have to go that far as all three of those pitchers are fairly platoon neutral meaning you can just run them out there and let them get batters out. Of course, this means you also get the chance to rest some of your better arms as needed. The fresher the arms are in your bullpen the better your bullpen is.
While we can assume that trio are the three main guys who are set to close out games, it is very possible the best pitcher in the Mets bullpen is actually Seth Lugo, a pitcher who truly emerged as the Mets answer to Andrew Miller last year.
Last year, Lugo was 3-4 with three saves, a 2.66 ERA, 1.076 WHIP, and a 9.1 K/9. Behind those numbers, he emerged as a guy who you could trust in any situation. If you needed a guy to come in and strike a batter out? Bring in Lugo. The starting pitcher knocked out in the first? Bring in Lugo. Middle of the order due up in the late innings? Bring in Lugo. No matter what the situation, if you need big outs, you bring in Lugo.
Right there, the Mets have four top end pitchers in their bullpen. With Familia and Lugo, you know you can trust two of them to go multiple innings. This means when you have the really important games, at most, you really need just five solid innings from your starters. That’s important to note when Jason Vargas is starting games.
When it is Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, you take your terrific six innings, and you don’t need to push them further. Then again, you will because they’re great pitchers. Keep in mind, when they are great for six, seven, or even eight innings, your bullpen looks all the better because you only need one or two of your great relievers.
That’s the key. Few, if any teams, can pair the type of rotation the Mets have with the type of bullpen they have built. Breaking it down and examining it, you realize a strong rotation and a strong bullpen buttresses each other, and it makes them both stronger.
It also allows you to not overuse relievers like Robert Gsellman, Luis Avilan, Daniel Zamora, Kyle Dowdy, Hector Santiago, Drew Smith, Paul Sewald, Jacob Rhame, Tyler Bashlor, or whoever else the Mets run out there with the aforementioned top four relievers. It’s not just overuse, it’s overexposing. Being able to diligently use these arms makes them stronger, and it makes the bullpen better.
That’s the key here. Building a bullpen or pitching staff is not just about the arms you have. It is about where you are opting to deploy them. The Mets have three closers set for the final three innings. They have a pitcher like Lugo who can be used as a weapon who can not just be unleashed at any time but at the most opportune times. You can then have three guys you can match-up as needed. With the Mets starting rotation, they probably will not be needed anywhere as often as other teams need their fifth, sixth, seventh, or even eighth best reliever.
In the end, that is how you truly build a great bullpen. You get the guys, and you put them in the right spots to maximize their skill set. Overall, this is why the Mets have the makings of the best bullpen in baseball.
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.
While the Mets were trying to sell us under Brodie Van Wagenen this was a new team where anything was possible. As the offseason progresses, we once again learn anything being possible doesn’t include the Mets spending money.
Here’s a look at their current payroll commitments:
Wilson Ramos $7.25 million
Travis d’Arnaud $3.52 million
Subtotal: $10.77 million
Robinson Cano $20 million (estimated)
Todd Frazier $9 million
Amed Rosario $560k*
Peter Alonso $560k
Jeff McNeil $560k
J.D. Davis $560k
Subtotal: $31.24 million
Juan Lagares $9 million
Brandon Nimmo $560k
Keon Broxton $560k
Subtotal: $10.12 million
Jason Vargas $8 million
Edwin Diaz $560k
Jeurys Familia $6.66 million
Seth Lugo $560k
Robert Gsellman $560k
Daniel Zamora $560k
Subtotal: $8.9 million
(Estimates from MLB Trade Rumors)
Jacob deGrom $12.9 million
Noah Syndergaard $5.9 million
Zack Wheeler $5.3 million
Michael Conforto $4.4 million
Steven Matz $3.0 million
Subtotal: $31.5 million
That’s $100.53 million wrapped up in 22 players who will likely take the field for the Mets next season.
When you include Yoenis Cespedes‘ $29 million, the payroll jumps to $129.53 million. That’s $129.53 million with three spots which need to be filled on this roster. Keep in mind this is before you account for a portion of his salary being covered by insurance.
If Hector Santiago makes the Opening Day roster, he’s due $2 million. That’s one fewer roster spot to have to fill, and it raises the payroll to $131.53 million.
That leaves the Mets looking for a utility player who can play SS and one more bullpen arm. Judging from reports, the Mets aren’t going out to get their guy, but rather they’re waiting for a deal for that last bullpen arm.
Where the Mets go from there, we don’t know. What we do know is the Mets are only spending $131.53 million on the players who will play next year.
Yes, someone will likely raise David Wright and the fact he is owed $15 million next year. Well, fact is he’s been released, and we do not know if there’s been any settlement with the insurance company, Wright, or both. We may have some evidence to what that may be:
#Mets David Wright release agreement details (Per Cot's Baseball Contracts)
'19 salary restructured
$4M paid on 1/10/19
$2.5M paid during 2019 season
$6M deferred at 2.5% interest compounded monthly
Paid in (3) $2M payments 7/1/21, 7/1/22, 7/1/23
All interest paid 12/31/23
— Christopher Soto (@SotoC803) January 8, 2019
But Wright is also a non sequitur. He’s not playing this year, the next, or ever again. Fact is, right now, the Mets are going to battle with a payroll of approximately $130 million. Maybe when all is said and done, it’s higher, but it’s nowhere near what a large market payroll should be.
That’s not the all-in team Mets fans were promised, and when you boil it down, the Mets really have zero excuse as to why they’re not pursuing any other outfielders or why they haven’t pursued Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
* $560k was estimated salary for for pre-arbitration players.