John Mayberry

Who’s Better: 2015 or 2018 Mets?

Entering the season, Yoenis Cespedes made the bold declaration the 2018 Mets were better than the 2015 Mets.  Now, if you recall that 2015 team, it did feature players like Eric Campbell and John Mayberry.  However, those players were not on the team at the same time as Cespedes.  When Cespedes joined the Mets, he was on a much better roster, a roster which went all the way to the World Series.

With that consideration, it is certainly bold for Cespedes to make that declaration, but is he right?  Let’s take a look:

CATCHER

2015: Travis d’Arnaud, Kevin Plawecki
2018: Travis d’Arnaud, Kevin Plawecki

Just looking at those names, you may be quick to think not much has changed in the catching situation.  In reality, everything is different, and the main difference is these catchers stand on much different footing.

The 2015 season was d’Arnaud’s best as a player with him posting a 126 OPS+ and emerging as an elite pitch framer.  Plawecki was overmatched at the plate, but he did handle the pitching staff exceptionally well.  Since that time, both had gone on to disappoint in 2016 and much of 2017.

Things changed at the tail end of 2017.  Plawecki finally looked like the player the Mets once thought he would become.  d’Arnaud would finish the season with a strong September.  As a result, they will look to begin the 2018 season in a unique time sharing agreement designed to keep both healthy and effective all year long.

VERDICT: 2018if both replicate their Septembers, this won’t even be close

FIRST BASE

2015: Lucas Duda
2018: Adrian Gonzalez

In 2015, Duda hit .244/.352/.486 with 27 homers and 73 RBI.  He was as streaky as he ever was unable to carry the team when they needed his bat most, and he almost single-handedly beat the Nationals in a key late July series.

Gonzalez is coming off the worst year of his career, and he is still dealing with back issues which requires him to warm up two hours before the game starts.

VERDICT: 2015 Gonzalez may not be around long enough to make a bad throw

SECOND BASE

2015: Daniel Murphy
2018: Asdrubal Cabrera

We got a glimpse of what Murphy would became with him slugging .533 over the final two months of the season. Even with the increased power, no one could predict the home run barrage he’d unleash in the postseason.

For his part, Cabrera finds himself at second a year after protesting moving there or anywhere. He’s been a good hitter with the Mets, and he’s been terrific in the clutch. We’ll see if the injuries will permit him to be that again.

VERDICT: 2015 – Murphy’s postseason was an all-time great one

THIRD BASE

2015: David Wright
2018: Todd Frazier

This was really the last hurrah for Wright in a Mets uniform. He was very good in the 30 games he played after coming off the DL hitting .277/.381/.437. He’d hit two emotional homers: (1) his first at-bat since coming off the DL; and (2) his first World Series at-bat at Citi Field.

Frazier has been a solid to somewhat underrated player. Over the last three years, he’s averaged 34 homers, 88 RBI, and a 110 OPS+. He’s been a good fielder averaging a 5 DRS over that stretch.

VERDICT: 2018 – Frazier is no Wright, but he’s healthy

SHORTSTOP

2015: Ruben Tejada
2018: Amed Rosario

Tejada was not supposed to be the starting shortstop in 2015.  After wasting a few chances which led to Omar Quintanilla getting the bulk of the playing time over him, the Mets moved on to Flores.  Eventually, Collins and the Mets went back to Tejada because: (1) he had steadier hands; and (2) he had a .362 OBP in the second half.  Who knows how everything would have turned out had Chase Utley not broken his leg with a dirty slide/tackle.

Rosario is the future of the Mets.  Yes, there are flaws in his game like his very low walk rate.  However, this is a uniquely gifted player who is dedicated to being better.  He’s electric, and he’s got the skill set to be a superstar for a very long time.  For now, we will settle for him being a good defensive shortstop who brings real speed and upside to the table.

VERDICT: 2018 Rosario’s ceiling is just way too high

OUTFIELD

2015: Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson
2018: Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce

Cespedes was just an otherworldly player when he joined the Mets.  Despite his only being a Met for a few months, he finished in the Top 15 in MVP voting.  Really, the MVP for the Mets that year was Granderson who was a leader in the clubhouse on the lineup.  He had the most homers from a lead-off hitter, and he was a Gold Glove finalist.  Conforto jumped from Double-A to post a 133 wRC+ and a much better than expected 9 DRS in left.

With respect to the 2018 outfield, we see Conforto is a much better play (when healthy), and Cespedes is nowhere near as good as he was when he joined the Mets.  To be fair, there’s no way he could, but he’s still an All Star caliber player.  This means the main difference between the squads is Bruce and Granderson.

VERDICT: 2015 – That Cespedes was just that much better.

BENCH

2015: Michael Cuddyer, Wilmer Flores, Kelly Johnson, Juan Lagares
2018: Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, Jose Reyes

From the moment Uribe and Johnson joined the Mets, they were game changers.  They both brought a winning attitude and game winning hits.  In addition to the two of them, Lagares was the defensive specialist, a role to which he is best suited, and Cuddyer was a platoon partner with either Conforto or Duda depending on whether Lagares started the game as well.  Overall, it was a veteran bench who provided needed leadership.

The Mets current bench is similar to the 2015 bench with Reyes trying to emulate the Uribe role even if he’s not as productive a player.  Flores is Flores, but a better hitter, and believe it or not, a worse fielder.  Lagares rediscovered his range he lost in 2015.  Nimmo should be in the everyday lineup and leading off, but early indications are he won’t.

VERDICT: 2015 – Uribe and Johnson were just that important

ROTATION

2015: Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon
2018: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Jason Vargas

When you consider Vargas was basically brought in to replicate what Colon did in 2015, the question is whether you believe the Mets top four starters are better as a group now or then.  Looking at it objectively, Syndergaard is the only one who has improved with no one knowing what Harvey and Matz can still provide.

VERDICT: 2015 – they were just healthier then

BULLPEN

2015: Jeurys Familia, Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, Hansel Robles, Jon Niese, Sean Gilmartin, Erik Goeddel
2018: Jeurys Familia, Anthony Swarzak, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Paul Sewald

Familia was that good in 2015 that he was able to cover many of the warts in the 2015 bullpen.  This resulted in Collins using him for multiple innings more than any other closer that year.  Reed would begin his emergence as a great reliever, but a back injury would cost Clippard of his effectiveness.  One surprise was Niese performing well as a lefty in the bullpen.

When you include Sewald’s Triple-A experience, this is a bullpen with three closers, six pitchers with closer’s stuff, and a very good LOOGY in Blevins.  Even if Familia is not as good as he was in 2015, it won’t matter because there is enough depth here for the Mets to not need to rely upon him as much.

VERDICT: 2018 – they’re just deeper and with more upside

MANAGER

2015: Terry Collins
2018: Mickey Callaway

For all the warts and problems Mets fans discovered with Collins, he had his finest year as a manager in 2015.  When the ship could have sunk multiple times, he pulled the team together and kept things afloat until the team got healthy and reinforcements arrived.  Of course, he followed this up by helping cost the Mets the World Series with a series of baffling decisions which all blew up in the Mets faces.

Right now, Callaway looks like a genius.  He’s innovative batting Cespedes second and Rosario ninth.  He came down hard on Dominic Smith for being late.  His players seem to love him, and the baseball world roundly believes the Mets made an excellent hire.  However, the season isn’t even a week old.  Even if everyone is a fan at the moment, let’s check back in a couple of months to see if he’s an innovative genius or if he’s a know-it-all who can’t leave good enough alone.

Verdict: 2018 – Collins did cost the Mets a World Series

VERDICT

If you break it down, the 2015 Mets were better at first, second, outfield, bench, and rotation.  The 2018 version is better at catcher, third, short, bullpen, and manager.  Looking at the breakdown, you can say it’s a 5-5 draw.  However, in reality, it’s not.  That 2015 team pitching rotation was just so dominant, and hypothetically, if these teams were going to step on the same field, the 2015 rotation would dominate the 2018 version.

That said, there is a lot of talent on this 2018 team, and from what we have seen so far, this is a roster tailor made to what we presume is Callaway’s talents as a manager.  If Callaway is indeed as good as we hope it will be, we can see him and Dave Eiland taking this pitching staff as a whole to the next level.  If that can happen, and with a little help, this Mets team could accomplish what the 2015 version didnt – win the World Series.

Carig’s Wilpon Article Left Me Even More Frustrated

In case you missed it over the weekend, Marc Carig of Newsday wrote a column wherein many Mets fans have applauded because someone not only asked the question about payroll, but also for rightfully taking the team to task for how it’s been operated.

That’s great and all, but that’s not really what this article was about.  The article was really about the lack of accountability from this franchise.  Here are some key excerpts:

But rather than reach for transparency, the Wilpons seem content to hide. They never talk about money. Whether it’s arrogance or simply negligence, they have no problem asking fans to pony up the cash and never show the willingness to reciprocate.

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To the Wilpons, it’s as if nobody is worthy of a straight answer. That’s the biggest failure of all.

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But it costs zero dollars to be transparent, to be willing to explain the payroll, to be proactive about presenting a plan to succeed.

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The Wilpons can start by publicly owning up to how this franchise is run. They can begin speaking for themselves rather than leaving the dirty work to middle men. But until they show the courage to take that first step, the Mets and their fans are doomed to repeat the cycle, pulling for a franchise that will never actually do enough to win.

Having read and re-read this article, time and again, I really begin to wonder if the term fan is being substituted for reporter.

This is not a slight on Carig or any beat reporter.  There job is much more difficult than fans could possibly imagine.  There are things we demand they discover, but at the end of the day, there may be no answer to those questions because, well, the team won’t answer them.

Whatever your line of work, it must be nauseatingly frustrating when someone just stonewalls you time and time again, and that prevents you from doing an aspect of your job.  In the case of a beat reporter, that would include covering issues that are seemingly simple like the budget and a framework for the offseason.

As an aside, that must be even worse for Sandy Alderson.

Meanwhile, one of the most important currencies for a reporter is access.  Write a scathing comment like Carig did, and you may very well find that access limited.  That would make an already difficult job all the more difficult.

Still, there is a major question that needs to be asked – why is the payroll question being asked now?

Why wasn’t this asked heading into the 2015 season?  The team certainly pushed forth the belief they were going to contend with the rise of Jacob deGrom and the return of Matt Harvey from Tommy John surgery.

That team’s Major League acquisitions prior to Spring Training were Michael Cuddyer and John Mayberry.  They did nothing to address the bullpen or the bench, and Wilmer Flores was the shortstop.

After the 2015 season, if not for Yoenis Cespedes lingering longer than anyone believed he would, the Mets were going to enter the 2016 season with lower payroll and a center field platoon of Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares to replace Cespedes.  On top of that, Eric Campbell made the Opening Day roster because the Mets didn’t want to pay Ruben Tejada $3 million.

With an injured Mets team making an incredible push to claim the top Wild Card, the Mets did not sign one free agent from outside the organization.  They re-signed Fernando Salas and Jerry Blevins because both surprisingly lingered on the free agent market, and the team gave Cespedes a big contract.

However, it should be noted the Mets did nothing to improve the roster from a team that was simply not good enough in 2016.  Instead, of stories about the payroll being below market and window of competition, it was mostly lauding the Cespedes re-signing as the team going for it coupled with the intrigue about how the Mets were returning the same roster.

And look, we all know the Mets are likely cutting payroll because that’s what the Mets do.  Still, the team did add a good late inning reliever in Anthony Swarzak, and they were rebuffed by Ian Kinsler.  Other than Carlos Santana, the big name free agents are still on the board.

While we don’t expect them to come to the Mets, in prior offseasons, we have seen the market correct with Sandy sitting there ready to swoop in and get them for less money than anticipated.  That’s why Cespedes and Blevins will be Mets next season.  Such behavior (luck?) has been routinely lauded.

Now?  Well, now, it is being criticized because the Mets lack of accountability and refusal to answer the simplest questions has become too much to bear.  Except this time, it’s not the fans, it’s for reporters.  They’re now writing articles about it – articles we all wish were written in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 (apologies to a few like Megdal who has done excellent reporting on the topic and Vacarro who kept the heat on the team throughout 2015 and beyond).

So yes, I appreciate the article, but really, none of this is news to Mets fans.  It’s just confirmation of the status quo.  And sadly, in the end, we have learned nothing new from the team.  Really, this all just leaves me further frustrated with the franchise, and it leaves me further frustrated that this is really the first we have seen of these articles after all of these years.  Hopefully, there will be more.  More than that, I just hope something will finally come of this.

But we all know it won’t.

Sandy Didn’t Want To Call-Up Michael Conforto Either

Back in 2015, the New York Mets season was falling apart at the seams.  The Mets needed offense, and the fans wanted Michael Conforto.  Scouts and talent evaluators said the Mets 2014 first round draft pick was ready, but the Mets consistently insisted Conforto wasn’t ready.

Instead of Conforto, the Mets trotted out people who weren’t good and weren’t ready.  The Mets were happy trotting out John Mayberry, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Darrell Ceciliani in the outfield.  Briefly, the Mets would even try Eric Campbell in left field.  For the most part, the Mets mostly stuck with a clearly injured and hobbled Michael Cuddyer in left field.  He fell apart in June hitting just .211/.237/.311 in 25 games.

Finally, both Cuddyer and the Mets both had enough, Cuddyer would go the Disabled List, and Conforto would finally get called-up to the majors.  At that time, the Mets had lost two in a row and five of their last seven.  For a team that once had a 4.5 game lead in the division, they would fall to three games back.

It turns out Conforto was indeed ready.  He would play 56 games hitting .270/.335/.506 with 14 doubles nine homers, and 26 RBI.  He was a big part of the Mets turn-arond with the team having been 10 games over .500 in the games he played.  He was also a big part of the Mets postseason run.  He hit three homers in the postseason including two in Game Four of the World Series.

It’s possible Conforto needed every bit the time he had in Double-A.  Maybe the extra time he spent in Doube-A put him in position to succeed when he came to the majors.  It’s also likely Conforto was ready well before the Mets did what they didn’t want to do when they called him up.  Fact is, we’ll never know.  The only thing we do know is Conforto was very good when he was called up to the majors, and he has an important part of the Mets success in 2015.

The Mets are in the same exact situation in 2017.

The team has seen Asdrubal Cabrera struggled offensively and defensively, and he has landed on the Disabled List twice.  His primary back-up, Jose Reyes, has statistically been the worst infielder in the major leagues this year, and he appears to be getting worse.  Now, Neil Walker has suffered an injury that will keep him on the Disabled List for an extended time frame.

Unlike 2015, the real issue for this Mets team is defense.  As a team, the Mets rank last in the majors with a -13 DRS, and it is not likely to improve.  Reyes is not only struggling offensively, but he is struggling defensively as well.  The other players on the roster aren’t much better.

The Mets took the starting shortstop position away from Wilmer Flores for a reason.  The Mets also transitioned T.J. Rivera from shortstop to other positions because he couldn’t handle the position defensively.  Same goes for Gavin Cecchini who is now a second baseman.  Matt Reynolds is actually a good defensive shortstop, but he can’t hit enough to play everyday.

Like in 2015, the fans are clamoring for the Mets top prospect, and like in 2015, everyone but Sandy Alderson seems to believe he’s ready.  In 65 games for Las Vegas, he’s hitting .336/.378/.500 with 15 doubles, four triples, seven homers, 47 RBI, and 12 stolen bases.  Based on the offensive statistics, he seems ready, but that’s not an in depth analysis.  Truth is considering the hitting environment that is the Pacific Coast League, we probably don’t know how much improvement a player is making until they get to the majors.

However, the Mets don’t need Rosario for his offense even if anything else is likely better than what Reyes is providing.  No, the Mets need him for his defense, and the Mets need him sooner rather than later.

After losing last night’s game, the Mets are five games under .500, and they are 10.5 games back in the division.  Like in 2015, the Mets promising season is falling apart.  Instead of the team calling up the player who could help address the team’s needs, they are being stubborn in insisting the top prospect isn’t ready.  They are once again letting the season slip away.  Unlike 2015, things are much more dire.

Sure, the Mets could be right in saying Rosario isn’t ready.  After all, it is very well likely they know more than anyone about where Rosario stands in his development.  Maybe, just maybe, the Mets know what they’re doing, and when they finally bring Rosario up to the majors, he will have the success and impact Conforto did in 2015.

Hopefully, there is still a season to salvage whenever the Mets get around to calling up Rosario.

Sayonara Soup

You may find this very hard to believe, but there was a time when Eric Campbell was actually a fan favorite.  It happened.  Back in 2014, Campbell was called up to a Mets team that was going nowhere, and he hit.  At one point in June, he was actually hitting .302/.360/.442.  Fans loved the story of a local kid who was drafted in the eighth round who was making the most of an improbable call-up to the major leagues at the age of 27.

Campbell would have hot stretches here and there in the 2014 season, and he would finish the year with a respectable .263/.322/.358 batting line.  That batting line coupled with the fact that Campbell was able to play every position in the infield and both corner outfield spots showed he had the chance to be a bench player in the major leagues.

Unfortunately for Campbell, it was all downhill from there.  While very advanced stats would say his exit velocity suggested he should be a better hitter, Campbell’s numbers continuously dropped.  He would go from being a fan favorite to being a player who Mets fans took as a symbol of everything that was wrong with the team.  That reached its apex when Campbell was batting in the middle of the lineup with John Mayberry, Jr. on a 2015 Mets team that was letting the season slip away due to injuries, a putrid offense, and a front office not willing to pull the trigger on a deal to rescue the season.  Somehow, someway, Campbell would be the player that fans would direct their ire.

Frankly, it wasn’t always fair.  Campbell was a guy who did whatever was asked of him and more.  He would actually try to make himself a capable catcher to make himself as viable an option as he possibly could to the Mets.  You can say whatever you want about Campbell, but the fact is, he did everything he could possibly do to take advantage of every ounce of his ability to become the best baseball player he could possibly be.

And there would be some highlights.  He would have his first hit, RBI, and home run.  He would actually steal home in a game.  He made some nice plays in the field, especially this season when David Wright went down.  He also showed the ability to come through in the clutch as a pinch hitter:

Despite these highlights, Cambpell struggled in the majors hitting just .221/.312/.311 over the course of three abbreviated seasons.  What was frustrating about that is he would go down to AAA, and he would rake.  In AAA, Campbell was actually a .322/.429/.488 hitter.  There is a term for a player like this.  Eric Campbell is a AAAA player – dominates AAA but just can’t do it at the major league level.

And with that, Campbell is where he belongs.  Campbell just signed a deal to join the Hashin Tigers of the Japanese Leagues.  It is where he belongs as a players, and he should help his new team in their attempt to win their first Japanese Series Championship since 1985.  No matter what happens this season, hopefully Campbell can carve out a nice career for himself in Japan like Tuffy Rhodes did.  Judging from his time with the Mets, you know Campbell is going to do all he can to make that happen.

And I wish him well.  He may not have been one of the greatest Mets, but he is a player that has always stuck out for doing all he could do to make it as a major leaguer.  If you took a step back from his struggles, it was easy to admire the work ethic and his willingness to do whatever the team needed him to do.  He deserved more love from fans.  Hopefully, he finds that love and that success he was looking for in the Japanese Leagues.

Good Luck Eric Campbell.

Mets 2017 First Base Options

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

INTERNAL FIRST BASEMAN

Lucas Duda

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

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

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

Dominic Smith

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

PLAYERS CHANGING POSITIONS

David Wright

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

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

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

Jay Bruce

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

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

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

Michael Conforto

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

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

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

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

EXPENSIVE OPTIONS

Miguel Cabrera

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

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

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

Justin Turner

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

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

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

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

THE DESIGNATED HITTERS

Edwin Encarnacion

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

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

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

Carlos Santana

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

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

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

QUESTIONABLE OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION

James Loney

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

Mike Napoli

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

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

Adam Lind

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

BEST CHOICE

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

Time to Move On from Alejandro De Aza

To put it as succinctly as possible, Alejandro De Aza has not been a good baseball player this year.  He rarely plays, and when he does play, he has only served as a detriment.  In 52 games, he has hit .169/.221/.247 with a 28 OPS+.  To put it in perspective, everyone’s least favorite Met, Eric Campbell, is hitting .159/.270/.222 with a 37 OPS+.  When you are incapable of outplaying Campbell, who is currently playing in AAA, you must question what purpose it serves having De Aza on the major league roster.

Initially, Terry Collins wanted De Aza to suceed.  It was less than a month ago that Collins said he wanted to get De Aza more playing time so he could get going and put up the numbers he once did.  Collins stayed true to his word as De Aza has played more in June than any other month.  De Aza has played in a season high 20 games and received a season high 42 plate appearances.  He has rewarded Collins by having his worst month of the season hitting .128/.171/.205.  Slowly, Collins realized that whatever the reason, this wasn’t working out, and he began to look elsewhere for outfield options in the wake of Juan Lagares on the disabled list and Yoenis Cespedes being a bit nicked up.  It has gotten to the point where Collins put Matt Reynolds in left for a game despite Reynolds never having played a game in the outfield as a professional.

Still, De Aza got some starts and at bats as he was the only completely healthy center fielder on the roster.  However, at this point, Collins may have had enough of De Aza.

On Satuday, the Mets were locked in a scoreless game in the top of the tenth.  De Aza was sent up there to bunt Wilmer Flores over to second base in the hopes that the Mets could FINALLY push a run across the plate.  De Aza then popped the bunt in the air and made zero effort to get to first.  This led to Braves’ pitcher Jim Johnson astutely letting it drop and completing the double play.  Collins was incensed and laid into De Aza.  After the game, he said, “I’ve seen [De Aza] play, and the one thing he is known for is how hard he plays. But it goes to show you — everybody gets frustrated when they don’t do the job.” (New York Post).  It seems that Collins had finally had enough.

Yesterday, Collins decided to put rookie Brandon Nimmo in right field, a position he has only played 32 times in six minor league seasons and Kelly Johnson in left field.  After Saturday, it is no surprise that De Aza was on the bench.  In fact, the only surprise would have been if De Aza received any consideration to start.

What is even more surprising is De Aza’s presence on the major league roster.  We can all agree De Aza is a much better player he has shown on the Mets, but so did John Mayberry last year.  For whatever reason, it hasn’t worked for either player during their time with the Mets.  The Mets were wise to cut bait with Mayberry last year, and they should do the same with De Aza this year.  In his stead, the Mets have a few good options in the minors that could easily replicate, if not improve, what De Aza has given the Mets this year.

First, there is Travis Taijeron.  He is currently hitting .306/.392/.568 in AAA right now.  He has shown powers at each level he plays, and he should be able to hit for some power in the big leagues.  He is a good defensive corner outfielder that may not be able to handle center that well.  However, with Nimmo on the roster, finding a backup center fielder is not as big a priority right now.

If the Mets wanted to go with a true back up center fielder and a player with big league experience, they could go with Roger Bernadina. Bernadina has played a steady center field over his major league career.  Over his last three major league seasons, he averaged a -0.2 UZR and a 0.7 DRS in center fielder.  These are unspectacular numbers, but it goes to show you he will not hurt the Mets if he is needed to play center field.

At the plate, he is a .236/.307/.354 major league hitter.  However, Bernadina played in the minor leagues all of last year.  Given what De Aza has done this year you’d be hard pressed to say Bernadina’s career numbers wouldn’t be an improvement.  In AAA, he has hit .298/.384/.466, which coincidentally, is very similar to the .276/.383/.466 he put up in the Pacific Coast League last year.  At a minimum, you can say that Bernadina is not a player in decline like Mayberry was last year and De Aza seems to be this year.

Given the Mets current World Series aspirations, they can ill afford to wait for De Aza especially since he looks dejected out there.  He is forcing the Mets hands to make a move similar to how the Mets made a move on Mayberry last year.  With Taijeron and Bernadina in the minors, the Mets can and should release De Aza and call-up a player who promises to put up better production.

Happy Flag Day

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States of America.  It’s up to you to decide whether or not it was created by Betsy Ross at George Washington‘s behest.  There’s no harm in perpetuating the fantasy.  As baseball fans at least pretend that baseball was invented by Union General Abner Doubleday in the quaint little village of Cooperstown, New York.  It’s why the Baseball Hall of Fame is located there.

As Americans and Mets fans, we all carry the fantasy that this October we will once again see the American Flag stretched across the outfield in Citi Field:

IMG_0377

In actuality, it’s not really a fantasy.  The Mets faced the same issues last year with the injuries and the poor offense.  On this date last year, the Mets were 34-30.  This year, they are 34-28.  Lost in the David Wright and Lucas Duda injuries as well as the struggles from Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto is the fact that this Mets team is simply better than the one the Mets fielded last year.  Even in the worst of times, the Mets now have Yoenis Cespedes in the middloe of the lineup instead of John Mayberry and Eric Campbell.

So yes, on this Flag Day, we can still dream of the days in which the American flag once again adorns the Citi Field outfield.  We can hope for Wright and Granderson to hit homeruns while Noah Syndergaard intimidates batters from 60′ 6″ away.  We can also await the Mets raising a World Series flag in centerfield.

Mets Depth Already Getting Tested

Last year, the Mets saw lengthy absences from David Wright and Travis d’ArnaudDaniel Murphy and Michael Cuddyer were nicked up most of the year. Other Mets players got bumps and bruises along the way. The Mets depth got tested early and often in 2015, and it was ugly. 

Dilson Herrera and Kevin Plawecki showed they weren’t ready to hit major league pitching. For his part, Plawecki had to stay in the lineup because Anthony Recker and Johnny Monell weren’t either. Eric Campbell and John Mayberry, Jr. showed why they weren’t everyday players, let alone middle of the order bats. There were other forgettable debuts from players like Darrell Ceciliani and Danny Muno. In 2015, the Mets bet against their farm system, and it nearly cost them the season. 

In the offseason, the Mets made sure to build a deeper roster. They moved Wilmer Flores to a utility role. Alejandro De Aza is here as a fifth outfielder. Juan Lagares is a part time player who will start against lefties and come on as a late defensive replacement. Herrera is back in AAA where he belongs for now. Campbell and Plawecki are on the 25 man roster, but they are asked to do much less. Hypothetically, it’s a much deeper team. 

Well, that hypothesis is now being put to the test. 

Yoenis Cespedes has been dealing with a thigh issue due to his jumping in the stands and an awkward slide. As for now, he’s not DL bound. Yesterday, d’Arnaud left the game early with pain in his throwing shoulder. While he may not have been the best at throwing out would be base stealers, his throws were uncharacteristically poor. He will be examined today before a DL decision is made. Whether it will be one day, one week, one month, or more, the Mets will miss Cespedes and d’Arnaud. 

No matter how much time if will be, this Mets team is better built to sustain these losses. Having a De Aza/Lagares platoon is a much better option than Ceciliani.  Plawecki has another year of development under his belt. Hopefully, this translates to him having a better year at the plate. 

The Mets better hope so. The Nationals look like a different team than they were a year ago. The Mets aren’t going to be able to coast for two – three months with subpar players. This is a new year. Fortunately, this is a new Mets team that’s built for just these types of situations. 

Did Cespedes Win the NL East?

What I’ve found is most of the people that support the Yoenis Cespedes trade is he transformed the offense, and he was the reason the Mets won the NL East. Other people say while Cespedes was great with the Mets, there were other more important factors helping the Mets win the NL East. These arguments rest upon the Mets getting healthy and a weak August schedule. 

I think the best way to look at this is just to present the facts. I’m presenting them unadulterated and without comment. Before presenting them, remember that Cespedes’ first game with the Mets was 8/1. 

Pre-Cespedes Record: 53 – 51

Post-Cespedes Record: 37 – 21 

In the same time frame, here is the Nationals record:

Pre-Cespedes Record: 54-47

Post-Cespedes Record: 29-32

Mets Opponents Combined Win Percentage and Mets Record by Month:

April Opponents .458 Mets 15-8

May Opponents .510 Mets 13-15

June Opponents .483 Mets 12-15

July Opponents .537 Mets 13-12

August Opponents .480 Mets 20-8

September/October Opponents  .458 Mets 17-14

Here is the Mets and Nationals records and position in the standings at the end of every month:

April 

Mets 15-8 

Nats 10-13 (5.0 games back)

May 

Nats 28-22

Mets 28-23 (0.5 games behind)

June 

Nats 43-34

Mets 40-38 (3.5 games behind)

July

Nats 54-47

Mets 53-50 (2.0 games behind)

August 

Mets 73-58 

Nats 66-64 (6.5 games behind)

September/October

Mets 90-72

Nats 83-79 (7.0 games behind)

Overall, the Mets went from 2.0 games behind heading into August to 6.5 games up at the end of the month. As stated above the Mets record in August was 20-8 against opponents with a .480 winning percentage. The Nationals went 12-17 against opponents with a .490 winning percentage. Aside from the records, here is some additional information to consider:

Dates Key Players Came off the DL for good (by first game played after activation):

Travis d’Arnaud July 31st
Daniel Murphy June 30th
David Wright August 24th
Michael Cuddyer August 11th

Here are some other key dates from the 2015 season to consider:

July 24 – Michael Conforto called up from AA 

July 24 – Mets trade for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson

July 27th – Mets trade for Tyler Clippard

July 30 – John Mayberry, Jr. released

July 31 – Mets trade for Cespedes

August 1 – Cespedes plays first game with the Mets

Again, I’m making no comment on any of this information. It’s being presented to review it and process it. Upon reviewing the information, does your judgment on how Cespedes impacted the Mets change or remain the same?  

Tears of Joy Was Not Good

Supposedly, this documentary was directed at Mets fans.  As such, I really wanted to like it. With that said, wow that completely missed the mark. 

Yes, completely. I know it’s an hour show. However, it missed so many HUGE storylines. First, there was no real mention of Matt Harvey. Seriously?  He was coming back from Tommy John surgery. It was the reason for the flip-flopping on the six man rotation all season. There was the Yankee game. There was the innings limit drama. There was the whole keeping him in too long in Game 5. Harvey was a huge, important, and at times, divisive figure.  He barely received a blurb. 

Speaking of pitching. This could’ve been the year Jacob deGrom became the staff ace. He was utterly dominant in the first half. He was the story of the All Star Game. He opened the postseason with a 13 strikeout performance. He somehow gutted out Game 5 of the NLDS, which is known as The Murphy Game

Both pitchers got less coverage than Steven Matz‘s debut and his grandfather. It was a big moment in the season, but also lost there was the Mets mismanaging his injury in a season of the Mets mismanaging injuries. Heck, Matz got more coverage than any pitcher. That includes Noah Syndergaard, who was probably standing 60′ 6′ away.  It also includes Jeurys Familia, who got thrust into the closer’s role due to two Jenrry Mejia PED suspensions. Familia was arguably the team MVP, but you wouldn’t know if from any of this. 

Speaking of MVPs, if he wasn’t interviewed, I wouldn’t have known Curtis Granderson was even on the team. Granderson may have been the sole professional bat on an injury ridden deplorable offense. We heard about David Wright‘s back, but we didn’t hear about any of the other injuries (even in passing) that led to John Mayberry, Jr. and Eric Campbell hitting in the middle of the lineup. How do you miss this?  Ask any Mets fan, and they will tell you that was a seminal moment in the season. 

It was part of the whole Mets mockery of the fans with Panic City. It lead to an important Mike Vaccaro column about the Mets malpractice. This column really touched upon what it meant to be a Mets fan since the Madoff scandal. We were angry. Very angry. There was a campaign to buy a billboard did the Wilpons to sell the team. That side of the story wasn’t voiced, not even with Joe & Evan. 

Instead, we got The 7 Line Army story. I mean no disrespect to Darren Meenan and what he’s created, but why was The 7 Lime Army featured more than anything else?  The 7 Line Army got more coverage than Yoenis Cespedes being the hottest hitter anyone has ever seen.  Seriously, when Cespedes hit the NLDS homer, we saw The 7 Line Army celebrating instead of an epic bat flip. Interview Darren Meenan?  Absolutely. He’s a fan, and he’s made a successful business out of his fandom. However, I’m sorry. The 7 Line Army was not the defining story of the 2015 season. Yet, it got a lot of coverage. Maybe the most coverage. 

With that, a lot was missed. Think about it. There were many key games this past season. If you take longer than a nanosecond to pinpoint the Padres game as the nadir, you’re a casual fan. If you don’t know the game to which I’m referring, you’re not a Mets fan. That game  set the stage for the exhilaration fans felt after the Cespedes’ trade. No matter your feelings about the trade, you were excited to se degree that the Mets were remade and going for it. 

That trade flipped the script on the season for the fans . . . perhaps for the team as well. The Mets went from an under-.500 team falling apart at the seams to real contenders. They went from a laughingstock with the Carlos Gomez trade debacle to a force to be reckoned. The documentary took the incredible, real-life drama that unfolded and omitted it. You could do a mini-series on July 30th and July 31st. Instead, we get a snarky Tom Verducci comment about Mets fans not being happy. I would say the quote was taken out of context, but really, how could it be?  Until that trade, the Mets had cheap owners and an under-.500 ball club. Any fan had a right to be angry. 

That’s the thing overall. You simply cannot discuss the fans without capturing their anger. It’s an example of how passionate Mets fans are. We’re not the hapless bunch we were presented as to the world. We are fans that have lived through nightmares. There was the worst team ever assembled. The Midnight Massacre. There were the misses in the 80’s.  The Worst Team Money Can Buy. Kenny Rogers walked in the series winning run. Mike Piazza‘s ball died on the warning track. Carlos Beltran struck out looking followed by two collapses. All hope was then seemingly lost with the Madoff scandal. 

However, Mets fans have seen enough magic to believe in anything. The Miracle Mets. Ya Gotta Believe! A little roller up the first base line. The Grand Slam Single. Overall, Mets fans don’t expect the worst. We’re not Cubs fans or pre-2004 Red Sox fans. No, we believe anything can and will happen. It’s a feeling that was awoken with Harvey’s right arm. It’s a feeling that’s not going away. 

So no, Tears of Joy didn’t tell the world about Mets fans. It missed the mark despite excellent work by Anthony DiComo, Jared Diamond, and Jim Breuer. 

Also, it didn’t tell me about the team or the season. From my understanding of Tears of Joy, Daniel Murphy had a hot streak before losing the World Series with an error. All 27 homerun Lucas Duda did was make a poor throw home. I could go on and on ad nauseum, but you get it. You watched the season. You know just as well as I do that Tears of Joy didn’t do a good job describing the ups and [mostly] downs of the season. 

No, overall it mostly failed to capture the season or the fans. It’s disappointing really, just as the end of the 2015 season was. I guess there it at least hit the right tone.