Jacob deGrom

Curtis Granderson Believed This Would Happen

After the 2013 season, Curtis Granderson was really a free agent for the first time in his career. While Granderson was always durable, he was coming off an injury plagued season that was the result of getting hit by two pitches. In the prior to season for the Yankees, Granderson was coming off consecutive 40 home run seasons. In fact over that two year stretch, Granderson led the majors with 84 homers. With that in mind, Granderson was one of the most coveted free agents on the free agent market.

To that end, it is surprising that a player like Granderson who had mostly played for good teams in his career would opt to go a Mets team coming who never had a winning record since moving to Citi Field. Moreover, it was surprising that a power hitter like Granderson was so willing to move to the cavernous dimensions of Citi Field.

And yet, Granderson signed a four year deal to become the Mets right fielder. Why?

Well as Granderson told MLB Network during their 30 Clubs 30 Days feature on the Mets, “I was optimistic it was going to happen. Sandy Alderson and the Mets organization told me about the young guys – the Matz’s, the Syndergaard’s, I had see Harvey, the deGrom’s – and all of a sudden here they are. Not only are they here but they’re here to stay. They all piggyback off of each other and do an amazing job.”

Either Sandy did a great job selling, or Granderson just has an eye for talent because heading into the 2014 season things were not that optimistic.

Matt Harvey‘s incredible 2013 season was cut short with him needing Tommy John surgery. Noah Syndergaard was not yet dominating in the minor leagues despite having terrific stuff. Steven Matz was just coming back from pitching after what had been an arduous Tommy John rehabilitation.

Now, Zack Wheeler was coming off a promising season, and Rafael Montero promised to be the next big thing. While Granderson mentioned Jacob deGrom, if we are being honest, no one knew what he was yet. Certainly, not the Mets as they had deGrom lower on the depth chart than Montero.

Despite all of that, Granderson was right, it has all worked out. Even better, the Mets have pitchers like Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo who have developed into good pitchers while Granderson has been a Met. Behind them are pitchers like Thomas Szapucki and Justin Dunn.

Back in 2013, this was the image of the Mets Alderson presented to Granderson. To his credit, Granderson bought in and signed with the Mets. To Alderson’s credit, he not only delivered, but he keeps delivering.

As Granderson enters the last year of his four year contract, it is important to remember he was the first free agent that believed the Mets could one day be World Series contenders. Not only did he sign with the Mets based upon that belief, but he has also been an important contributor to this Mets team both on the field and in the clubhouse. In many ways, the Granderson signing was a pivotal moment. It was the time that the Mets starting the process of going from a rebuilding team to a World Series contender. It was also the time when someone started believing in this team.

And To Think That I Saw It At Citi Field

* adapted from “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” by Dr. Seuss

When I leave home to go to Citi Field,
Dad always says to me,
“John, keep your eyelids up
And see what you can see.”

But when I tell him where I’ve sat
And what happened each at-bat,
He looks at me and sternly says,
“You did not see all of that.

Stop telling such an outlandish story.
Juan Lagares cannot cover that much territory.”

Now, what can I say
About what I saw today?

All the long way to the game
And all the way back,
I’ve looked and I’ve looked
From the outfield to the bat rack,
But all that I’ve noticed,
Except the green infield,
Was d’arnaud and Matz
At Citi Field

That’s nothing to tell of,
That won’t do, I know . . .
Just the starting pitcher Steven Matz
Hurling pitches to Travis d’Arnaud.

That can’t be my story.  That’s only a start.
I’ll say that a GAZELLE was pitching instead of a Bart!
Add that is a story that no one can beat,
When I say that I saw it at Citi Field.

Yes, the Gazelle is fine,
He gives batters a migraine,
There’s another marvelous pitcher
Who’s stuff is much more insane.
The story could be so much more
If the pitcher I saw were Thor.
An orange and blue capped pitcher’s fastballs are profound,
Rumbling like thunder from the mound!

No, it won’t do at all . . .
There’s another with the ball.

Zack Wheeler is better;
He’s come back round,
And he’s ready to for a start
On the Citi Field mound

Hold on a minute!
There’s something wrong!
The bullpen is the place for this dealer
It’s off to the bullpen for Zack Wheeler,

It’d be much better, it might,
If the start went to the Dark Knight.

Hmmm . . . A Dark Knight . . .
Say – anyone could think of that,
Dick or Kevin or Dan or Pat
Say, even Terry could think of that.

But it isn’t too late to make one little change.
This story is about Yoenis Cespedes!  No longer on the driving range!

He’s got plenty of power and size,
You can see the opposing pitcher with fear in his eyes.
A then, the sound system emits a loud tone,
Cespedes the Lion King!  Perched high on a throne!

Say!  That makes a batter that no one can heel,
When I say that I saw it at Citi Field.

But now I don’t know . . .
It still doesn’t seem right.

A Cespedes swinging a bat that’s so light
Would hit balls around in the air like a kite.

But he’d look simply extreme
With a great New York Mets team!

A team that’s that good should have someone to see it,
Wins coming so fast, the Nationals finding it hard to keep near it.
Nationals always the trailer!  They’ll be out of their mind
Not even Daniel Murphy can get them out from behind.

But now is if fair?  Is it fair what I’ve done?
Before they take the field, they’ve already won.
That’s really too heavy a load for one beast;
I’ll give him some helpers.  He needs two, at least.

Michael Conforto to do the trick,
To guide them after the intentional walk schtick –
It takes a lineup to do the trick.
They’ll never lose now.  They’ll race at top speed
With Curtis Granderson, himself, in the lead.

The Manager is there
And he thinks it is grand,
And he raises his hat
As they rise from their seats in the stands.

The Manager is there
Sandy Alderson too,
All waving big banners
The stands are becoming a zoo.

And that is a team whose championship is sealed
When I say that I saw it at Citi Field!

With a roar of its motor an airplane appears
The pitcher steps off the mound and everyone jeers.

And that makes a story that’s really not bad!
But it still could be better.  Suppose that I add . . . . . . . . .

. . . A David Wright
Who can stay upright . . .

A big Duda
Swinging sticks . . .

A Jacob deGrom
And his garden gnome . . .

No time for more,
Cespedes’ coming home.

He swung ’round third base
And dashed towards the plate,
The Mets ran up the steps
And I felt simply GREAT!

FOR I HAD A STORY THAT NO ONE COULD YIELD!
AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT AT CITI FIELD!

But Dad said quite calmly,
“Take the parking pass off the windshield
And tell me the sights
That you saw at Citi Field”

There was so much to tell, I JUST COULDN’T BEGIN!
Dad looked at me sharply stroking the beard at his chin.
He frowned at me sternly from there from the front seat,
“Was there nothing to look at . . . no great feat?
Did nothing excite you or make you jump out of your seat?”

“Nothing,” I said, now becoming more even-keeled,
“But a Matz pitching to d’Aranud at Citi Field.”

The End.

Last year’s story “One Strike, Two Strikes, Three Strikes, You’re Out!” can be found here

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

 

Now Is Not The Time To Extend Neil Walker

Recent reports state the Mets and Neil Walker are in the midst of extending Walker’s current one year $17.2 million deal into a three year deal that may be worth north of $40 million.  Now, if Walker is truly healthy and capable of repeating the numbers he put up in 2016, this deal could very well be a massive discount for the Mets.  But, we don’t know if he can.  It’s one of a few reasons why this may not be the time to extend Walker.

Declining Production Against RHP

Much has been made about the turn-around Walker had as a right-handed hitter.  Overall, he was a completely different hitter from that side of the plate.  The improvement from the right-hand side of the plate masked Walker’s three-year decline as a left-handed hitter:

  • 2014: .269/.339/.491
  • 2015: .276/.337/.456
  • 2016: .266/.333/.433

Now, it is possible this was the result of the back issues.  It also could be the result of what could be the natural continual decline of a now 31 year old player. Fact is, it is too soon to know, and if that is the case, how can you re-invest in that player?

Mets Prospects

If Walker was not extended, he is going to be a free agent along with the teams first baseman Lucas Duda.  The Mets also have an $8.5 team option on Asdrubal Cabrera.  Potentially, the only infielder that could be back next season is David Wright, who no one can count on to play a full season.  On the surface, this is very problematic.

Any concerns that are raised by the pending free agents should be alleviated by the depth of the Mets farm system.  For example, the Las Vegas 51s infield will be loaded:

Rivera is the least regarded prospect of the group, and we just saw him hit .358/.378/.552 with two doubles a triple, three homers, and 13 RBI when he took over second base in September.  Coincidentally, Rivera was put in that spot due to the injuries to both Walker and Wilmer Flores.

Rivera could be competing for a spot at second base with Cecchini, Flores, or possibly Cabrera.  If the Mets pick up Cabrera’s option, he could slide to second while Rosario takes over at shortstop.  Overall, even without Walker, the Mets have plenty of middle infield options remaining, and that is before you take into account the possibility Jose Reyes re-signs with the team.

Regardless of the infield permutations in 2018, it seems reasonable to assume the infield will incorporate both Smith and Rosario.  With those two being major league ready next year, the Mets re-signing Walker becomes much less of a priority.

Signing The Starting Pitchers

The young players being able to step in and contribute is important because these players will be extremely cheap.  Whereas Walker would probably demand an average annual value of approximately $13+ million per season, Cecchini, Rivera, and Rosario would cost around $500,000.  That’s a significant difference.  And the Mets can use that money.

Matt Harvey is due to be a free agent after the 2018 season.  Zack Wheeler will be a free agent the following year.  Jacob deGrom will be in his final arbitration year the year Wheeler hits free agency.  Noah Syndergaard will be arbitration eligible next year, and Steven Matz will be arbitration eligible the following year.

These pitchers are about to become extremely expensive.  Considering they are the foundation of the Mets success, the Mets need the payroll room to re-sign them and pay them what they will earn in arbitration.  Giving $13 million or more to Walker potentially impedes with the Mets ability to pay their pitching.  This isn’t a matter of the Mets still being considered to be on austerity; it is a matter of the Mets only being able to spend so much money.

Walker being paid $13 million certainly stands in the way of that happening.  If Walker is not capable of playing everyday, or has diminishing skills like most players in their mid 30s, that will create an even bigger issue.

Walker Is An Unknown

If Walker is healthy, he is an All Star caliber player at second base.  Regardless of the prospects in place, Walker certainly gives the Mets a safer choice.  In fact, Walker could provide the Mets with a better bat than the aforementioned prospects.  For a team that is considered a World Series contender, Walker could be an important piece of the puzzle.

However, no one knows what he will be after his discectomy.  He could remain healthy, but he could show some effects of the surgery leading to decreased mobility and power at the plate.  He could suffer another herniation leading to him needing more surgery.  Presumably, he could show no ill effects, and he could return to form.  At this point, no one knows, nor can anyone be confident in what Walker will be when he steps foot in the field.

This may be a case where it is better to see Walker play now and have to pay more later.  It would be better to pay a production player closer to market value than to try to get a discount and be stuck with an albatross of a contract the next few seasons.  Given the depth of the Mets farm system, you really have to question whether this is a worthwhile or necessary gamble.

The Case for Seth Lugo As The Fifth Starter

With many analyzing who should be the fifth starter, there seems to be two camps emerging.  The first camp believes Zack Wheeler should be the fifth starter.  The main basis for this argument, and it is a compelling one, is his 12 start stretch from July 6th – September 7th, 2004 where he was 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9.  Understandably, many believe Wheeler can return to this form.  If so, he is a natural choice for the fifth starter.

The second camp believes Robert Gsellman should be the fifth starter.  Gsellman has vaulted up many top prospect lists due to the stuff he showed at the end of last season.  Like Wheeler, Gsellman was throwing 95 MPH.  Like many young Mets starters, he showed a developing slider.  Unlike Wheeler, Gsellman had the opportunity to pitch in September games that mattered.  With the Mets needing all the wins they could get, he was 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA, 1.276 WHIP, and an 8.5 K/9.  There is every reason to believe the 22 year old can build on this success, and as a result, he should be the fifth starter.

The Mets are justified in going in either direction, and yet, perhaps, the Mets should go in a different direction.  For a multitude of reasons, the Mets should start the year with Seth Lugo in the Opening Day rotation.

The biggest argument you can make for Lugo in the rotation is his curveball.  There has been much written about it this offseason because it could very possibly be the best curveball in the game, at least if you use spin rate metrics.  His curveball naturally belongs on a staff that features some of the best pitches in baseball from Noah Syndergaard‘s fastball to Matt Harvey‘s slider to Jacob deGrom‘s change-up.  And yet, Lugo is more than a curveball.  He has a fastball he can throw as high as 97 MPH if the situation merits.  Like Gsellman, he is improving his slider.

He used this repertoire to pitch extremely well despite extremely difficult circumstances.  With the Mets fighting for the Wild Card, and him not having pitched more than three innings since May, he was thrust into the starting rotation.  Despite those hurdles, Lugo was 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, and a 5.6 K/9 as a starter.  With Lugo being put in a better position next season, with him using his curveball more, and him further developing his slider, he promises to be an even better in 2017.

The obvious question is whether he would be a better option than Wheeler or Gsellman.  Arguably, even if Lugo isn’t better, perhaps he should be in the Opening Day rotation anyway.

Based upon the Mets handling of Harvey, the team is likely going to want to limit him somewhere between 160 – 180 innings last year.  Given his not having pitched in two years, there is a real debate if Wheeler can do even that.  Even assuming he can pitch that long, assuming he averages six innings per start, that’s only 27-30 starts.  This would leave the Mets needing to find approximately five more starts.

Then there is Gsellman.  If you subscribe to the Verducci effect, 30 more innings would mean Gsellman’s cap is 189.2 innings.  If he averages six innings per start, he would come close to lasting a full season.  With that said, the Mets would still probably need to find a few more spot starts.  That is even more the case if the Mets plan on using Gsellman in the postseason rotation.

Lugo can take the brunt of these starts to begin the season.  This would permit the Mets to ease Gsellman or Wheeler into the rotation a month or two into the season.  This would allow the Mets to allow either Gsellman or Wheeler to enter the rotation without having to be concerned about their innings.

As for Lugo, he could then move to the bullpen thereby giving the Mets another potentially dominant late inning reliever.  And, if needed, we already know the Mets can rely on him for a spot starter if needed.

Ultimately, the best case scenario for the Mets would be to start the year with Lugo in the rotation.  And who knows?  Based off of what we saw with him last year, he may prove to be the best option for the rotation for the entire season.

The Five Aces Still May Not Pitch in the Same Rotation

Well, it has finally happened.  With Pitchers and Catchers reporting, the Mets dream rotation all has major league experience, and they are all healthy at the same time.  For a fan base that never got to see Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher all pitch together in the same rotation, this is no small event.

In fact, this is a momentous occasion where some demons can be slain, and yet, there is some debate over whether we will see each and every single one of these pitchers pitch in the same rotation:

Matt Harvey is coming off surgery to alleviate the symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).  This surgery does not have the same history as Tommy John, so while there is always reason to believe in Harvey due to his drive and determination, there is some doubt as to how TOS will affect him in the future.

Jacob deGrom is coming off surgery to re-position his ulnar nerve.  As far as pitcher elbow surgeries, this is as easy as it gets.  And yet, whenever a pitcher gets elbow surgery, especially when that pitcher has once had Tommy John surgery, it gives you pause.

Steven Matz has pitched in the majors for parts of two seasons, and he was injury prone in both of those seasons.  Last season, it was a surgery to remove what was categorized as a massive bone spur.  Now that it is gone, he should be free and clear to resume being the pitcher we think he can be.  Still, he is one more injury away from us questioning if he, like Travis d’Arnaud, will ever be healthy.

Zack Wheeler has not taken the mound in over two seasons due to his Tommy John and his difficulties and setbacks during the rehabilitation process.  Fortunately, he seems ready to go, but he is at this point, we have no idea.

Noah Syndergaard has largely come through two seasons unscathed, and he has emerged as the staff ace.  And yet, with his being a pitcher, moreover his being a Mets pitcher, you hold your breath.  While you get excited about him adding muscle and his talk about wanting to throw harder, it should also give you some nervousness.

And yet despite all of these concerns and red flags, this is a great day.  The dream that was set in motion with the Carlos Beltran and R.A. Dickey trades is close to coming to fruition.  And with these five pitchers going to the mound, it is going to be extremely difficult for the opposition to out-pitch this quintet.  It is going to be even harder to beat the Mets when they take the mound.

At some point during the season, we will see all five of these pitchers in the rotation, and if we don’t that might be good news.  The reason?  Well, it could be because either Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo won a job in the rotation, and they pitched well enough the Mets are loathe to move them out of the rotation.

If the Mets truly have seven pitchers capable of being in THIS starting rotation, the Mets should be primed for a great 2017 season.

Trivia Friday – Players Not On the Opening Day Roster

Last year, the New York Mets began the season with Eric Campbell on the Opening Day roster as the final bench piece.  As the season progressed, and players like David Wright and Lucas Duda went down with injury, the Mets had to go deeper and deeper into their farm system and bring players in to play.  There were similar issues with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz needing season ending surgeries.

In total, the Mets needed 21 additional players that did not start the season on Opening Day roster.  Can you name them?  Good luck!


James Loney Jose Reyes Rene Rivera Kelly Johnson Jay Bruce T.J. Rivera Matt Reynolds Brandon Nimmo Ty Kelly Justin Ruggiano Gavin Cecchini Seth Lugo Robert Gsellman Rafael Montero Gabriel Ynoa Josh Smoker Jon Niese Josh Edgin Sean Gilmartin Fernando Salas Erik Goeddel

Three Current Mets and Their Hall of Fame Outlook

The Hall of Fame inducted Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez in what should be the first of many Hall of Fame classes we see without a Mets player being inducted.  The Mets had to wait 23 years between the elections of Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza.  Depending on which hat Carlos Beltran selects when he is likely inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Mets may be waiting even longer than that.  How long the Mets wait may depend on the Hall of Fame worthiness of one of the players currently on the Mets roster.  Here are some players with a chance to be Hall of Famers one day:

#1 David Wright

Career Stats: .296/.376/.491, 949 R, 1,777 H, 390 2B, 26 3B, 242 HR, 970 RBI, 196 SB

Awards: 7X All-Star, 2X Gold Glove, 2X Silver Slugger

Advanced Stats: 49.9 WAR, 133 OPS+, 133 wRC+

Hall of Fame Metrics: 40.0 WAR7, 45.0 JAWS

The Case For: With his spinal stenosis, Wright has been that rare breed of player that not only spends his whole career with one team, but also winds up owning almost all of a team’s offensive records.  At this point in time, he is the career leader in runs, hits, doubles, and RBI.  He is only 10 behind Darryl Strawberry for the team home run lead.  It is rare that with a franchise in as existence as long as the Mets that the team’s best ever offensive player is not inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Superlatives aside, there is a statistical foundation for Wright’s induction.  His 133 OPS+ would be the sixth best by a Hall of Fame third baseman putting him ahead of the likes of Wade Boggs and Ron Santo.  His 133 wRC+ would be the third best among third base Hall of Famers with him trailing just Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and Home Run Baker.  His OBP would be the fifth best among Hall of Fame third baseman putting him ahead of the likes of George Brett.  His slugging would be third among Hall of Fame third baseman putting him ahead of players like Brooks Robinson.

No matter how you look at it, Wright has been a top five to top ten third baseman all-time.  As seen with his Gold Gloves, he is one of the more complete players we have ever seen at the position.

The Case Against: Due in large part of the spinal stenosis, Wright’s peak was not as high as it would be for a traditional Hall of Famer.  In fact his WAR, WAR7, and JAWS trail the 67.5/42.7/55.1 an average Hall of Fame third baseman has accumulated in their career.  In fact, Wright trails  Robin Ventura in WAR and JAWS, and Ventura didn’t garner the 5% necessary to stay on the ballot.  Overall, while you can say that Wright at his peak was one of the best third baseman ever, his peak did not last long, and he become too injury prone to put together a great career.

Verdict:  Fortunately for Wright, he still has time to put up some more numbers to help bolster his Hall of Fame chances.  However, with his spinal stenosis and now cervical fusion, it is hard to imagine him putting up positive WAR seasons that will move the meter enough to classify him as a Hall of Famer.

#2 Yoenis Cespedes

Career Stats: .272/.325/.494, 406 R, 743 H, 149 2B, 22 3B, 137 HR, 453 RBI, 40 SB

Awards: 2X All-Star, 1X Gold Glove, 1X Silver Slugger

Advanced Stats: 18.7 WAR, 124 OPS+, 123 wRC+

Hall of Fame Metrics: 18.7 WAR7, 18.7 JAWS

The Case For: Unlike Wright, who is winding down is career, Cespedes, 31, seems to have quality years ahead of him.  The belief in the possibility of becoming a Hall of Famer started on August 1, 2015, which is the first time he set foot in the batter’s box as a member of the New York Mets.  Cespedes had the type of finish to the 2015 season people will talk about for years to come.  In the final 57 games of the season, Cespedes hit 17 homers and 44 RBI.  The Mets went from being three games over .500 and two games out of the division to finishing the season on a 37-22 run and winning the division by seven games.  In his Mets career, the Mets are 110-79 with him in the lineup, and a game under .500 when he is not.  Simply put, Cespedes is a difference maker.

He’s also a completely different player.  From 2012 – 2014, Cespedes was a .263/.316/.464 hitter who averaged 24 homers and 87 RBI.  Since coming to the Mets, Cespedes is a .282/.348/.554 hitter who has a 162 game average of 42 homers and 119 RBI.  Before becoming a Met, he averaged 3.1 WAR per season.  In 2015, his first truly great season, he posted a 6.3 WAR.  Last season, in part due to his injuries and his playing out of position, he regressed back to a 2.9 WAR.  With him returning to left field, where he is a Gold Glover, he should return to being a player who can post six WAR seasons.  If so, Cespedes has a shot of clearing the 65.1 WAR, 41.5 WAR7, and 53.3 JAWS an average Hall of Fame left fielder has accumulated.

The Case Against: Cespedes is already 31 years old, and to ask him to put forth five more MVP level type seasons is unrealistic.  The unfortunate truth is Cespedes may have gotten too late a start to his career due to his being born in Cuba, played at a horrendous ballpark in O.co Stadium for a player of his skill set too long, and he became a much improved hitter too late in his career.

Verdict: Unfortunately, Cespedes didn’t do enough early in his career, and it is not likely he’s going to be a truly great player into his mid to late 30s.  Overall, is going to go down as a beloved Met, but much like Keith Hernandez, he is going to fall short.

#3 Noah Syndergaard

Career Stats: 23-16, 2.89 ERA, 55 G, 54 GS, 333.2 IP, 384 K, 1.103 WHIP, 10.4 K/9

Awards: 1X All Star

Advanced Stats: 137 ERA+, 2.72 FIP, 7.4 WAR

The Case For: In some sense, Syndergaard represents the trio that includes him, Matt Harvey, and Jacob deGrom.  The reason why Syndergaard was selected was he is the youngest, has a fastball that gets over 100 MPH, and he is the only one without any injuries in his young career.  Naturally, like with any young pitcher, health is going to be the key.

Last season, we saw Syndergaard scratch the surface of what he can be as a starter.  He not only posts high strikeout numbers, but he generally induces weak contact.  In fact, his 0.5 HR/9 was the best mark in the major leagues last year.  Not so coincidentally, so was his 2.29 FIP.  To cap off the season, Syndergaard pitched in a do-or-die Wild Card Game against Madison Bumgarner, who is the best big game pitcher we have in baseball.  Syndergaard not only matched him scoreless inning for scoreless inning, he also out-pitched Bumgarner for those seven innings.

Syndergaard has slowly been moving from one of the most talented pitchers in the game to one of the best pitchers in the game.  At 23, we can expect him to have many great seasons, and quite possibly multiple Cy Young awards.  Really, at this point in his career, anything is possible.

The Case Against: That’s the problem with anything being possible.  At one point in time Dwight Gooden was a no-doubt Hall of Famer.  In fact, Gooden’s 1985 season was one of the greatest regular seasons a starting pitcher has ever had.  However, as we know Gooden never made the Hall of Fame.  Yes, much of that had to do with Gooden’s drug problems, but it should also be noted Gooden dealt with arm injuries as well.  He probably threw too many innings at an early age, and he would eventually needed shoulder surgery.  This as much as anything had to do with Gooden’s career falling apart.

Besides Gooden, you can name any number of pitchers who went from great to broken.  That’s the nature of pitching.

Verdict: Syndergaard not only has the talent, but he also has the drive to be truly great.  As long as luck holds out, and he listens to his body, like he did last year, Syndergaard should remain healthy putting him in good position to make a run at the Hall of Fame.

Mets Need Bryce Harper

Of course, the Mets could use Bryce Harper.  Any team could as Harper is one of the best players in the game.  With that said, the Mets could use Harper because he is a player willing to do this:

Naturally, if you are a Nationals player or fan, you are left a little frustrated by this offseason.  It seems like every player went to another team.

This offseason alone free agents like Yoenis Cespedes, Kenley Jansen, .  On top of that, they were unable to secured trades for Chris Sale, Andrew McCutchen, and Charlie Blackmon leading to them sending a big haul of prospects to the White Sox for Adam Eaton.  By the way, in that deal, the Nationals were not able to get the White Sox to include David Robertson.

What makes this all the more frustrating is this comes of a similar experience for the Nationals last season, which was capped off with Brandon Phillips refusing to waive his no trade clause.

Even with the Eaton acquisition, the Nationals still have two holes due to both Mark Melancon and Wilson Ramos departing in free agency.  This has led to the Nationals pursuit of both Matt Wieters, even with the Derek Norris trade, and Greg Holland.  Arguably, both players could fill the voids in the Nationals roster.

However, the team is stuck in a standstill for budgetary reasons, and they are armed with excuses.  This has led to their best player calling them out publicly.

The Nationals situation is not too different from the Mets situation.  This Mets team has failed to completely address the holes on their roster.  Even more aggravating is the Mets once again citing budgetary reasons as their excuse for not going out and signing even a mid-tier relief pitcher like Brad Ziegler.  Instead, the Mets were content to let him go to a a team in their division.

This pattern of (spending) behavior by the Mets has been maddening since Sandy Alderson took over as General Manager after the conclusion of the 2010 season.  Now, this isn’t Alderson’s fault per se.  It is more on the Wilpons and how they have chosen to spend their money, and their lies about restrictions on payroll.  Sometimes, you want a player to speak out and scream they don’t want another season with an Eric Campbell on the bench or the team having to trade for bad relievers like Alex Torres on the eve of Opening Day because you didn’t have the money to spend on quality arms.

With the Mets not adding arms this offseason, you want someone to scream.

Now, admittedly, Harper can be a bit much.  We saw that with his asking where his ring was when the Nationals signed Max Scherzer.  Even with that said, wouldn’t it be better for the Mets to have a player that would keep them accountable?  Wouldn’t it be better if the Mets felt like they needed to aggressively attack the window in the offseason rather than trading away minor league arms with upside for Kelly Johnson when the Mets easily could have signed him in the offseason?

For me, the answer is yes especially when you consider how close Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard are to being split up due to their respective free agencies on the horizon.

The Importance of Seth Maness 2017 Season

Back in 2013, Mets fans were shocked and depressed when Matt Harvey missed the remainder of the regular season with a torn UCL.  Initially, it seemed Harvey did not want the surgery, but eventually he agreed to have the surgery.  Fortunately for Harvey, he went through the rehabilitation process with no setbacks, and he became an important part of a 2015 rotation that went all the way to the World Series.

While rehabilitating, he worked alongside former Mets starter Jeremy Hefner.  In 2012 and 2013, Hefner had performed better than expected with the Mets, and he finally seemed to carve out some type of a role in the organization.  The team even tendered him a contract while he was rehabbing from his own Tommy John surgery.  However, disaster struck, and Hefner would need another Tommy John surgery.  He would miss all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.  The Mets would non-tender him, and he would have to agree to a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Now, with another arm injury, he has since retired.

These are just two of the countless stories we have seen with the Mets when it comes to Tommy John surgery.  Recently, we have heard terrific stories about how Jacob deGrom learned how to throw the change-up from Johan Santana while deGrom was rehabiliting from his own Tommy John surgery.  It was a great story, and it was something that forever changed the trajectory of deGrom’s career.  There have been other Mets who have had their career trajectories change due to the surgery.

At one point in his career, Bobby Parnell was deemed the closer of the future.  In 2013, he seemed to take over the role when he recorded 22 saves.  In 2014, he would be named the Opening Day closer.  It lasted all of one inning as Parnell was shut down and had Tommy John surgery.  He tried to come back in 2015, but he did not have the same velocity, and he did not have his command.  The Mets showed no interest in re-signing him leading to Parnell signing a minor league deal with the Tigers.  After six major league appearances that saw him post a 6.75 ERA, Parnell was released in August.

Of course, the biggest name with the Mets to have issues post-Tommy John surgery was Zack Wheeler.  Right before the 2015 season was set to begin, Wheeler was diagnosed with a torn UCL.  He would have the surgery, and he would have a number of set-backs.  He was initially slated to be a part of the Mets starting rotation around the 2016 All Star break.  Instead, he would have a number of setbacks, and eventually, the Mets would shut him down for the season.  In total, he threw one inning for St. Lucie in a rehab appearance.  Now, the Mets are discussing whether they should move him to the bullpen for at least the start of the season.

Hefner, Parnell, and Wheeler show exactly why the experiment Seth Maness is undergoing is so important to the game of baseball.

For the past four seasons, Maness has been an effective reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Because of his own torn UCL, Maness would make his last appearance on August 13th, and it was assumed he would be headed for Tommy John surgery like so many other people have with the same injury.  He didn’t.

Derrick Gould of the St. Louis Dispatch reports Maness underwent a surgery called “primary repair” which is ” a repair and buttressing of the existing ligament at the bone, not Tommy John’s reconstruction of the ligament.”  Like Tommy John once was, Maness is now a trailblazer that may have the name of a surgery attached to him.  The physician that performed the surgery, Dr. George Paletta, spoke about the procedure saying:

In select cases of UCL tears, with this technique, they have the real potential to not miss the next year.  This is potentially a huge stride forward in three ways. First, early results show a high success rate. Second, a return to play is cut by 40 percent. That’s a huge factor. We are able to accelerate the return-to-throwing (rehab) program for the athletes. With this technique at the end of 2016 we have a pitcher who is ready to pitch in games by opening day.

And the third way, as a consequence of this, in the right setting, one would feel more confident moving to surgery early on.

Believe it or not, Maness is a week away from being able to take the mound after a little more than seven months after the surgery.  It is expected the free agent reliever will be ready to pitch on Opening Day.  Once he takes the mound, there is going to be a lot of interest in his performance.

Dr. Jeffrey Dugas, another surgeon who performs this surgery and the managing partner at the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, AL noted there is now a lot of interest in how Maness performs post-surgery:

People are watching this and it’s an interesting thing for all of us.  There is a lot that we need to learn from Seth, a lot that we need to learn from all of the guys (who have had it). We need the data. There are still so many hurdles to go over, but we’re excited to watch what is going to happen because of what is possible. We’re going to follow him very closely.

Therein lies the rub.  We had gotten to the point with Tommy John surgery where it had felt almost routine; where we looked at pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka and wondered why he just didn’t get the surgery.  The “primary repair” or Seth Maness Surgery is far from that point.  However, if Maness has a strong 2017 season, and a couple of more pitcher follow his path, and have similar success stories, the treatment fo UCLs may have been revolutionized.

There may no longer see the Harveys of the world miss more than a season.  We may also see an alternative route for the Hefners, Parnells, and Wheelers of the world.  Ultimately, when there is at least a chance pitchers will miss less time and have an alternative surgery that may work better for them, it is a time for cautious optimism.

And with that, a middle reliever who induces a number of groundballs could have one of the most important seasons in major league history.

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

Jeremy Hefer and the Highs And Lows of Baseball

At the same time, baseball can be beautiful, and it can be a cruel sport with absolutely no forgiveness whatsoever.  When you are discussing pitchers, the highs can reach into the heavens and the lows seem to abut the depths of hell.  Perhaps no one knows this better than Jeremy Hefner.

For those unaware, the former Mets pitcher announced his retirement from baseball.

In his announcement on Facebook, Hefner said he was retiring because he needs yet another surgery.  This surgery would be to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder.  Hefner tried rest twice, but it didn’t work.  If he is going to continue his career as a baseball player, he will need to have another surgery.

And with Hefner, we learned that surgery isn’t routine.  Back in 2013, when seemingly everyone was pushing Matt Harvey to just accept his fate and get Tommy John surgery, Hefner had already decided to have his surgery.  He was actually ahead of Harvey in the rehabilitation process.  While Harvey was chomping at the bit to try to pitch for the Mets at the end of the 2014 season, it was Hefner who would actually get that chance.

Catastrophe struck.  Whatever the cause, whatever the reason, Hefner suffered a stress fracture and a second tear of his UCL, which required a second Tommy John surgery.  In baseball today, Tommy John isn’t seen as major reconstructive surgery.  Rather, the surgery itself and the rehab required to pitch again is seen as routine.  Hefner proved it was anything but.

With Hefner needing a second surgery, the Mets needed to move on.  In some sense it was strange seeing the Mets move on from Hefner because he was a player they had coveted.  Hefner was twice drafted by the team, but he never signed with them.  After he was waived by the Pirates and the Padres in 2011, the Mets picked him up, and they put him on the path to the majors.  When Hefner suffered his first UCL, the Mets believed it was worth the $500,000 to keep him around for a season of rehab.  But with the second surgery, he was gone.

During this time frame, it was hard to remember all of the high points in Hefner’s career.  In fact, Hefner was actually the answer to a trivia question as he had done something in baseball that no one had ever done before.

On April 23, 2012, Hefner made his debut as a reliever in the first game of a doubleheader between the Mets and the Giants.  When Hefner entered the game, he was the first ever 26th man on the roster to play in a major league game.  In essence, Hefner became the 21st Century version of Ron Blomberg

The first ever batter Hefner faced was Buster Posey, a player who is one of the best baseball players in the game today.  Hefner got Posey to ground-out to shortstop.  It was all part of an impressive three scoreless inning relief appearance.  Due to the quirks of the 26th Man Rule, Hefner would go back to AAA after the game.  It would not be the last the Mets heard from him.

On May 19th, Hefner once again had to enter a game to bail out Miguel Batista.  During this five inning relief appearance, Hefner would record his first ever strike out by getting Edwin Encarnacion swinging.  On May 24th, Hefner would make his first ever start against the San Diego Padres.  Then, on May 29th, Hefner would pitch six strong innings against the reigning NL East Champion Philadelphia Phillies to record his first ever major league win.  However, that May 29th game would be remembered for more than just his first win:

During that entire 2012 season, Hefner showed the Mets enough for them to make him a part of their future.  In fact, Hefner would be part of the Opening Day rotation.  Hefner proved he belonged.  In a stretch from April 25th to July 12th, he had made 15 starts going 4-4 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.053 WHIP.  He had a 7:2 strikeout to walk ratio.  He was averaging over six innings per start.  Especially in a time where Jacob deGrom had yet to establish himself, Noah Syndergaard was in A ball, Steven Matz was dealing with his own Tommy John issues, and Bartolo Colon was an Oakland Athletic, Hefner was showing the Mets he could be a part of this Mets pitching staff over the long haul.

Hefner showed everyone he was a major league pitcher.

While these highs were great, there is one thing that stands out to me about Hefner – his perseverance.  After facing the daunting task of having had two Tommy John surgeries, not having thrown a pitch in a major league game in over two years, and with his being released by the Mets, he didn’t give up.  He would pitch, and pitch well, in Winter Ball at the end of 2015.  He showed enough for the St. Louis Cardinals to sign him to a minor league contract.

While he pitched well through April, the injuries, new and old, began to catch up with him.  He would struggle, be released, and now, he finds himself as a retired baseball player.  Hopefully, Hefner finds himself a retired baseball player who is proud of all that he accomplished in his career.

Hefner not only got the chance to pitch in the major leagues.  It’s all the more impressive when you consider about 30% of fifth rounders even play in the major leagues.  Hefner was part of an Opening Day rotation for a franchise known for its pitching.  Hefner has not only collected a win, but he also has a home run to his credit.  In fact, Hefner did something in the major leagues no one had ever done before.

Overall, Hefner had an all too brief career, but it was a career of consequence.  It was a career with highlights.  It was a career, he should feel pride in having.