Juan Lagares

Juan Lagares Should Be More Than This

When a team is riddled with injuries like the Mets have been, what most people focus on is how it negatively impacts the lineup. The converse of that is an injury creates an opportunity for another player. With Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores on the disabled list and Yoenis Cespedes unable to play the field, it forced the Mets to play Jay Bruce at first base and put Juan Lagares in center field. This was Lagares’ opportunity to fight for a bigger role on the Mets.

And there was one there. It’s no secret Curtis Granderson has been struggling to begin the season. Through 18 games, he is hitting just .149/.205/.254 with one homer and six RBI. With the Mets being unable to trade Bruce, Granderson is miscast as a center fielder. His -1 DRS ranks him 16th among players with at least 90 innings in center field this year. His -23.0 UZR/150 ranks 23rd among center fielders with at least 90 innings. Long story short, it has not been a good start to the season for Granderson. With him being 36 years old, there have been more than whispers if he’s not the same player anymore.

While it may be only slightly ajar, the door was open for someone to stake a claim for a spot in the outfield. We saw Michael Conforto do just that. On the season, he is hitting .361/.432/.722 with four homers and eight RBI. He’s also made a series of outstanding defensive plays in left and center field. With Granderson and Jose Reyes‘ struggling, Conforto may just have cemented himself as the team’s lead-off hitter.

Lagares did not make a similar push. While it is inarguable that Lagares is by far the team’s best defensive player, he still does not do enough to play every day. In his 2014 breakout season, Lagares had a 102 OPS+. Given his glove, you could keep a player like Lagares in the lineup everyday with league average bat like his. The problem is he’s regressed every season since. Since that 2014 season, Lagares is merely a .250/.289/.356 hitter with a 77 OPS+. There’s really no amount of defense that can keep a bat like that in the lineup. Certainly, not with a National League team.

Yet, we have seen glimpses of Lagares being a competent hitter. We saw it in 2014. We saw it again in the 2015 postseason. In that postseason, Lagares hit .348/.375/.435 with two doubles and two stolen bases. That may not be his true talent level, but it shows you he’s capable of being at least a decent hitter.

Unfortuantely, he hasn’t to begin the year. So far this season, he is 1-18 with his lone hit being a single to break up Gio Gonzalez‘s no-hitter on Saturday. Again, Lagares seems to be regressing, which means once Cespedes returns, Lagares will once again be limited to being a defensive replacement late in games and getting starts against left-handed pitching. Given the comments made post-game, that will happen on Tuesday.

There was an opportunity for Lagares to be more than that. He had an opportunity to show the Mets he could be an everyday player. As an everyday player, he could live on highlight reels and win additional Gold Gloves. That won’t be happening because rather than take advantage of the opporutnity, Lagares reinforced the notion that he isn’t an everyday player.

Mets Lose In 3-1 Blowout

If we’re being honest, this isn’t the greatest Mets lineup even when the team is healthy. It’s full of guys who certainly can all hit the ball out of the ballpark, but it’s also full of players with poor on base percentages. When you lose Lucas Duda and Yoenis Cespedes to injury the problems become even more exacerbated. 
Now, the Mets have the pitching to win games no matter who is in the lineup. We saw that in 2015 as the pitching and Curtis Granderson kept the team afloat playing near .500 ball until reinforcements arrived. 

In those games the Mets did win, they needed their pitcher’s to be great. At the state the Mets offense is now, the 2017 Mets are back to that point. Yesterday, Jacob deGrom was good. 

He was mowing the Nationals down for the first three innings until his wildness caught up to him in the fourth. A Daniel Murphy single was bracketed by walks to Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon loading the bases. 

The Mets got a bit lucky as the Nationals third base coach sent Murphy on the ensuing RBI single by Matt Wieters

In the fifth, the Nationals got to deGrom again. Adam Eaton and Trea Turner hit back-to-back one out doubles to make it 2-0. After Harper was just told to go to first base (essentially what the new intentional walk rule is), Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI single to make it 3-0. 

The Nationals wouldn’t score again in the sixth thanks in large part to Granderson:

After getting the first two out, deGrom got in trouble again issuing yet another walk, this time to Eaton, and then allowing a single to Turner. At this point, Terry Collins turned to Josh Edgin to get the Mets out of the jam. Somewhat surprisingly, he did by striking out Harper. 

Overall, it was a tough day for deGrom who issued a career high six walks. He was obviously ramped up early getting it up to 98 MPH and recording a lot of strikeouts. The early adrenaline wore off, and deGrom was left throwing 94 MPH and missing his spots. This was an uncharacteristic start for deGrom. His final line was 5.2 innings, eight hits, three runs, three earned, six walks, and 10 strikeouts. 

Given the current state of the Mets offense, 3-0 might as well have been 30-0. This game was no different. 

For the second time this season, the Mets offense was no-hit through five innings. This time, it was done by Gio Gonzalez. Though the Mets offense looked overmatched and lifeless, they would break through in the sixth. 

Jose Reyes pinch hit for Edgin and worked a one out walk. Then, Juan Lagares broke up the no-hitter with a single. More than that, the Mets had a rally going. 

Michael Conforto didn’t help the narrative he can’t hit left-handed pitching by striking out and going hitless on the day. Where Conforto didn’t come through, a hobbled Asdrubal Cabrera did hitting an RBI single to make it 3-1. That was as close as the Mets would get. 
Jay Bruce and Neil Walker had back-to-back strikeouts ending the Mets only rally of the game. The offense then made a struggling Nationals bullpen look like the 1990 Nasty Boys. 
Blake TreinenEnny Romero, and Koda Glover did their best Norm CharltonRob DibbleRandy Myers impersonation to slam the door shut on the 3-1 victory. 
With that, the Mets are 8-10 and are in fourth place 4.5 back. They’re having trouble beating the Phillies and can’t even hit a poor Nationals bullpen. It’s still April, so it’s still early, but things do not look good right now. 

Game Notes: Cabrera tried to leg out an infield single in the fourth.  He was noticeably hobbled, and he came out to take his position right before the first pitch of the fifth inning. For the second day in a row, an injured Yoenis Cespedes informed the team he was too injured to pinch hit. Once again, Travis d’Arnaud was limited to pinch hitting duty. T.J. Rivera got the start at third base over a healthy Reyes. He was 0-3. 

Please Don’t Mess Around With These Injuries

One of the best things to come out of the past offseason was Major League Baseball shortening the stint on the disabled list from 15 days to 10 day.  Presumably, that change made it easier for teams to place their players on the disabled list to allow them to recover.  Someone should tell that to the Mets.

Last night, with the Lucas Duda injury and Wilmer Flores infection, Jay Bruce was forced to play first base for the first time since he played three games there in 2014.  That also put Juan Lagares in the position of being the team’s lone back-up outfielder and middle infielder.  Lagares was initially signed by the Mets as a shortstop, but he has not played the middle infield since he played six innings for the Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats as a 20 yeard old in 2009.  To put it in perspective how long ago that was, back in 2009, Citi Field just opened, and Daniel Murphy was considered a left fielder.

When Cespedes had to leave the game with a hamstring injury after running the bases in the fifth inning, the Mets were in trouble.  If the game were to go deep into extra innings, the Mets were likely going to have to consider which infield position other than first could Kevin Plawecki handle.  They might have followed through with the plan to put Zack Wheeler at first base like it was contemplated during the 16 inning game.  If things got bad enough, the team might have had to lean on Jacob deGrom‘s experience as a collegiate shortstop.

Simply put, this is unacceptable.  Year-in and year-out the Mets find themselves in this position, and they are more than willing to play with short benches with players not even available to pinch hit.  Worse yet, they ask players to do too much.

Last year, the Mets saw Asdrubal Cabrera deal with a knee injury all season.  From the middle of May until the end of July, he was hobbled and struggling.  Over that stretch, he hit .232/.285/.436.  The Mets finally put him on the disabled list so he could rest his knee.  He responded by becoming the 2015 Yoenis Cespedes and willing the Mets to the postseason hitting .345/.406/.635 over the final 41 games of the season.

Speaking of Cespedes, the Mets were also stubborn about putting him on the disabled list.  On July 8th, he suffered an injured quad.  He would not go on the disabled list, and he would not play in another game until July 17th.  When he did play, he was noticeably hobbled.  From July 17th to August 3rd, Cespedes hit just .205/.302/.318 in 14 games before the Mets finally put him on the disabled list.  When he came back, he hit .259/.335/.490 over the final 38 games of the season.

Then there was Michael Conforto.  We are not quite sure when he was injured, but we do know that he received a cortisone shot in June of last year.  Clearly something was bothering him as Conforto went from the best hitter on the team in April to a guy who hit just .174/.267/.330 for the rest of the year.  Instead of a disabled list stint, the Mets treated him to multiple demotions to Triple-A, where he absolutely raked, and being stuck to the bench for far too long stretches.  Perhaps if the Mets put him on the disabled list, his second season would have gone much differently, and the Bruce trade might not have been necessary.

You would think the Mets would have learned from that, but they clearly haven’t as they are already repeating the same mistakes.

While it is not ideal with six of the next nine games coming against the Nationals, the Mets can definitively get away with Bruce at first with an outfield of Conforto-Lagares-Curtis Granderson from left to right.  While it does not have the offensive punch you would like, that is a really good defensive outfield.  On the infield, the Mets could recall T.J. Rivera, who showed the Mets last year he has a place in the major leagues.  The Mets could even get bold by calling up Gavin Cecchini to play second and moving Neil Walker to third.  At a minimum, it would get a struggling Jose Reyes out of the lineup.  It could also allow the Mets to pick and choose their spots with Reyes to allow him to be an effective pinch hitter or pinch runner in late game situations.

The overriding point is the Mets have talent on the 40 man roster even if Duda and Cespedes went on the disabled list.  With the Mets throwing Noah Syndergaard, deGrom, and Matt Harvey, the Mets can still win a fair share of those games to keep the team afloat until Duda and Cespedes are ready to return to the lineup.  In fact, the team might be better off because you’d rather have two healthy sluggers mashing all season than two injured players trying to find a way to produce to their normal levels.

That is something that didn’t work last year, and we can’t expect it to work this year.  It’s about time the Mets learned how to properly utilize the disabled list and field a team of healthy players.

No Defending This Loss

There was every chance that the Mets defense was going to suffer tonight.  Jose Reyes isn’t a third baseman.  Michael Conforto is miscast as a CF. With Lucas Duda (elbow) and Wilmer Flores (infection) out, Jay Bruce was really miscast as a first baseman. 

But no, the defense was a disaster. Somehow, it was the sure-handed middle infield of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera that was the problem. 

After the Phillies had already plated a run off a Tommy Joseph RBI double, he would move to second on a Noah Syndergaard wild pitch. It was in the dirt, but Rene Rivera did a terrible job on the ball. He tried to backhand a ball between his legs and didn’t get down. Terrible. 

Freddy Galvis “singled” to Bruce and advanced to second on a “Bruce throwing error.”  Look at what really happened:

Walker ran to the bag and stopped despite the ball apparently being theory to him. 

The throw not only allowed a run to score (it was anyway), but it put Galvis in scoring position. He’d then score on an Andrew Knapp ground rule double. 

Just like that, it was 3-0 Phillies after two. 

The Mets would get one of those runs back led by a Reyes single and stolen base. He’d score on a two out Rivera RBI single. 

Syndergaard plunked Daniel Nava to lead off the inning, but he did get the double play ball he needed. However, Cabrera booted the Odubel Herrera grounder. Nava scored on a Maikel Franco RBI double to left. 

On the double, Cespedes made a great throw to Walker, who literally fell over himself trying to make the tag. Right there, the Mets had already given away three outs in the inning. 

Fortunately, Syndergaard limited the damage allowing just one more run on an Aaron Altherr RBI groundout. 

Syndergaard was not at his best, but he deserved a much better fate. Technically, only three of the runs allowed were earned. However, watching the game and the shoddy defense, only the first run was really on him. Syndergaard’s final line was seven innings, seven hits, five runs, three earned, no walks, and 10 strikeouts. 

While his team wouldn’t help him, Syndergaard helped his team by pitching that extra inning going to 114 pitches. 

Still, the team couldn’t rally to get him off the hook or get a win. It appeared there was a chance after the Walker three run homer to center in the third inning. It was his first extra base hit off a right-handed pitcher all year. 

However, at 5-4 that’s as close as the Mets would get. To add insult to injury, Cespedes left the game after the fifth. In that inning, he pulled up lame on what was a Bruce 3-6-1 double play. 

Fernando Salas couldn’t keep the Phillies at bay in the eighth. He first allowed a lead off homer to Franco. He then allowed back-to-back singles to Altherr and Joseph leading Terry Collins to pull him for Josh Edgin
Edgin would be the lone bright spot on the day getting three straight outs punctuated by striking out Andres Blanco

Even with that, there was no momentum in what was a disappointing 6-4 loss. The Mets are banged up and .500 with the Nationals coming into town. This is exactly where you don’t want to be. 

Game Recap: Juan Lagares was the back-up infielder on the night due to all the injuries. It didn’t happen, but he got into the game with the Cespedes injury. Jeurys Familia made his first appearance since coming back from suspension. His rust showed with him needing 30 pitches to get out of the ninth. 

Terry Doesn’t Know Who To Abuse

After what was a shaky second inning where he allowed back-to-back homers to Justin Bour and Marcell OzunaJacob deGrom settled in and found his dominant form yet again.

The Marlins had no chance against deGrom who had all his pitches working. His velocity was back as well with him even hitting 99 on the gun. Through seven innings deGrom had only allowed four hits, which includes the two solo home runs, and one walk while striking out 13 batters.

After seven innings, deGrom had thrown 97 pitches, and with a 4-2 lead, he seemed poised to win the game.

deGrom was on the long side as the Mets bats finally hit Adam Conley whose start was pushed back a day with Don Mattingly using him in the 16 inning game.

You knew Conley wasn’t going to have it when he walked Jose Reyes to lead-off the game. By the way it’s interesting that it only took Reyes to be good in one hand for him to reclaim the lead-off spot on the team. It should be noted after the leadoff walk, he went 0-3. Still, Reyes would score on a Neil Walker double giving the Mets a 1-0 lead.

The Mets tied the game in the seventh on a Curtis Granderson RBI triple. The ball tipped off Christian Yelich‘s glove with Yelich trying to emulate a catch Juan Lagares made earlier in the game. Granderson scored on Michael Conforto‘s sacrifice fly giving the Mets a 3-2 lead.

When Asdrubal Cabrera hit a solo home run in the eighth, it seemed as if the Mets’ 4-2 lead would be enough to win the game. It wasn’t.

To much consternation, deGrom didn’t start the eighth. However, it was a very defensible position considering deGrom was already at 97 pitches and his having season ending elbow surgery last season.  It was also a very defensible position to use Fernando Salas in the eighth inning.  That’s the reason the Mets signed him in the offseason.  He was to be the eighth inning guy until Jeurys Familia returned from his suspension.  At that point, Salas would become the seventh inning guy.

As happens in baseball, Salas didn’t have it.  It’s part of being a reliever.  Sometimes you just don’t have it.  It also happens when you lead the majors in appearances this season.  In fact, dating back to September 1, 2016, his first game with the Mets, Salas is the most heavily used reliever in all of baseball.  He was bound to struggle sooner rather than later.

What was strange with Salas was how quickly it just happened.  He made quick work of Ichiro Suzuki and Dee Gordon to begin the inning.  Then he issued a four pitch walk to Miguel Rojas.  Believe it or not, this was Salas’ first non-intentional walk as a member of the New York Mets.  This set the stage for a matchup against Yelich.  Now, it should be noted Jerry Blevins was warming up just for this situation.  If you are going to have Blevins warming up, this is the exact situation you bring him into the game.  Plain and simple.

Instead, Collins elected to go with Salas.  Note, Salas pitching to Yelich wasn’t a bad move per se.  Salas is your guy for this spot, and he did make quick work of the first two batters.  However, Blevins was already warming in the pen.  If he’s up, bring him in, get out of the jam, and give Addison Reed a two run lead.  Instead, Collins left in Salas, who gave up the game tying home run to Yelich.  He then gave up a go-ahead home run to Giancarlo Stanton.  To add insult to injury, Collins brought in Blevins to get out Bour to get out of the inning.

And with that, the Mets 4-2 lead became a 5-4 loss.  Sure, you can’t completely pin the loss on Collins as he made some defensible moves.  That was at least until he left a warm Blevins in the pen.  You could argue that doesn’t mean Salas should give up a home run.  You’d be right, but you’d also ignore the simple fact that Collins didn’t put his team in the best position to win.  Because of that, this loss is on him.

Perhaps knowing that, he was angry and downright rude to the beat reporters after the game.  In the video, Collins explained every reason for his decisions, omitting some key facts:

Look, we all agree the starters should be protected, but that doesn’t mean you ruin the arms and the careers of the relievers.  There’s a balance, and the fact that Collins doesn’t see that is downright frightening.  It’s probably the reason why we saw him run through damaged relievers like Tim Byrdak and Jim Henderson in his career.  Apparently, Collins only protects the arms of those pitchers he deems more valuable.

That’s not right, and it needs to stop.  Another thing that needs to stop is the faulty logic.  If Collins was that concerned over Blevins, under no means do you have him warming up.  You either want him rested, or you want him pitching.  If you want him pitching, get him in the game against the big left-handed threat in the lineup.  Afraid of Stanton, get Reed up.  He’s the most rested reliever in that bullpen.  Considering how the long games has wrecked havoc on the bullpen, it actually made sense to go with Reed for a four out save.

Right now, Collins is picking and choosing who to abuse and who not to abuse.  It is having a tangible effect on the effectiveness of the relievers.  It may soon have an effect on their health.  We have seen this before with Collins.  Hopefully, we won’t see it again.  On that front, no one should be hopeful.

Game Notes: With the left-handed Conley on the mound, Collins went with a Yoenis Cespedes-Lagares-Granderson outfield to start the game.  Rene Rivera got the start over Travis d’Arnaud giving d’Arnaud two days off after he caught 16 innings.  Mets have now lost four of seven to the Marlins.  Last year, the Mets were 12-7 against the Marlins.

D’Arnaud’s Sweet 16

When you play 16 innings, the game takes many twists and turns. Tonight’s game was that and then some. It was full of clutch hits, clutch fielding, gutsy pitching, and bizarre managerial moves. 

This was just a classic Terry Collins game. He made a series of bizarre moves. As usual, they surrounded use of his pitching staff, but today was an extra treat because it wasn’t just limited to the pitching staff. 

From the beginning, it was apparent Robert Gsellman didn’t really have it. In the first, he walked two and eventually allowed a grand slam to Marcell Ozuna putting the Mets down 4-0 before anyone could blink. 

With the Mets offense humming with the series in Philadelphia, the Mets immediately tied the game in the top of the second. 

Travis d’Arnaud hit a bases clearing three RBI triple, and he’d come around to score on a Curtis Granderson two out RBI single. 

The Mets got the lead when Yoenis Cespedes and Wilmer Flores, batting clean-up and playing first with the Marlins starting the lefty Wei-Yin Chen hit back-to-back homers.

 Cespedes’ homer was absolutely annihilated:

With the two run lead, Collins made his first strange move of the game. While Flores started due to the lefty, T.J. Rivera started at third to give Jose Reyes a mental health day. Heading into the bottom of the fourth, with Chen only going three innings, Collins lifted Rivera for Lucas Duda

Obviously, Collins was just itching to shorten his bench with the activation of Juan Lagares from the DL giving him a full bench. Why Lagares didn’t start with this deep outfield and with a lefty on the mound is also bizarre in and of itself. Despite that, the Mets carried a 6-4 lead into the fourth. 

Cespedes added another homer in the fifth for good measure giving the Mets a 7-4 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth. 

Gsellman struggled just like the first. The Marlins quickly loaded the bases, and he walked Christian Yelich pulling the Marlins within two. Giancarlo Stanton hit a sacrifice fly pulling the Marlins within one. 

It was only at this point that Collins went to the pen. With the left-handed hitting Justin Bour coming to the plate in an absolutely pivotal moment, Collins went to Josh Edgin instead of Jerry Blevins

Bour doubled to tie the game. Ozuna was intentionally walked. Derek Dietrich then singled to give the Marlins an 8-7 lead. The Marlins probably would’ve done more damage, but on the Dietrich single, Jay Bruce nailed Bour trying to score from second. 

The Marlins got their revenge in the seventh.  Cespedes took first after he struck out on a wild pitch. He then appeared to score from first to tie the game on a Bruce double:

Naturally, Angel Hernandez got the call wrong necessitating the replay showing Ozuna nailed Cespedes at the plate. Between this play, the grand slam, and all the other plays we’ve seen from Ozuna, he’s become an extremely annoying player along the lines of Willie Harris, except Ozuna is a much better player. 

The Mets were still undeterred. In the top of the eighth, d’Arnaud got on with a two out single. Michael Conforto who has hit every chance he’s been given this year got his latest chance pinch hitting for Blevins. Conforto would double in d’Arnaud to tie the game at eight. 

The battle of the bullpens continued, and it became a war of attrition. 

With the exception of the two lefties, Edgin and Blevins, each reliever pitched over one inning. This includes Josh Smoker who really stepped up for the Mets. Smoker would throw 38 pitches over three scoreless innings. It was an outstanding appearance. Considering his struggles going over an inning last year and his struggles this year, it was simply incredible. 

In the top of the 15th, with the bench already empty to the point that Rene Rivera was playing first base, Jacob deGrom pinch hit for Smoker and struck out.

This left the Mets with no other choice but to put Hansel Robles in the game. Understandably, Collins was hesitant to use Robles with him pitching three straight days and four out of the last five. 

While the Mets plated eight runs, it was not as if everyone was hitting. Asdrubal Cabrera took an ugly 0-7. His double play partner Neil Walker was 1-7. 

Conversely, Cespedes, Flores, Bruce, and d’Arnaud was great. While Cespedes had the two home runs, d’Arnaud was the best of them all. 

In the 16th, having run out of pitchers Don Mattingly turned to tomorrow’s scheduled starter Adam Conley to pitch the 16th Despite, Conley being fresh and having dominated the Mets, and despite d’Arnaud having caught 15 innings, d’Arnaud hit the game winning homer. It was the Mets first hit since the 10th inning. 

By far, this was d’Arnaud’s most memorable game as a Met. He was 4-6 with three runs, a triple, a homer, and four RBI. This was the second game this week he came one hit short of the cycle.

Other Mets with great games were Cespedes with the two homers, Bruce going 3-7 and nailing a runner at the plate, and the entire bullpen not named Josh Edgin. 

After Edgin, everyone stepped up and pitched scoreless inning after scoreless inning. Given their respective usages this year, asking most of them to pitch over an inning, and some of their early season struggles, this was an absolutely amazing group performance from that pen. 

It wasn’t easy in a game where nothing was easy. Ozuna, an absolute pest, made a very loud final out with Lagare catching it right in front of the center field wall. 

It should be noted Collins elected to have Robles pitch to Ozuna with two outs and Conley on deck. Sure, you’re loathe to put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on base, but the pitcher was on deck!  This game was a classic example of winning despite your manager. 

Robles despite having nothing pitched two innings and got the win in the 9-8 win. This is a special win that signifies just how special this team could be. 

Game Notes: The game lasted 5:38. Even with d’Arnaud behind the plate, the Marlins did not attempt a stolen base. Reyes pinch hit for Edgin in the sixth and singled. Despite starting the game 0-7, Asdrubal Cabrera extended his hitting streak to eight games with a 16th inning single. His double play partner Neil Walker similarly struggled going 1-7. Mets have won consecutive games despite giving up a grand slam in both games. 

Five Mets Who Should Improve In 2017

With the Mets returning almost of the entire 2016 team that lost the Wild Card Game, the team is going to have to count on the players they have now improving in order for the team to advance further than the Wild Card Game.  Fortunately for the Mets there are some players who appear poised to have a much better 2017 season:

C Travis d’Arnaud

After the 2015 season, d’Arnaud seemed poised to take the next step.  After all, his 130 wRC+ trailed only Buster Posey among major league catchers with at last 200 AB.  His pitch framing was simply outstanding.  While he was never known for his arm, he was able to throw out 33% of base stealers, which was actually higher than league average.  Entering his age 27 season, he seemed primed for an All Star selection or more.

Injuries once again got in the way for d’Arnaud as did his problems throwing out base stealers.  He also regressed offensively hitting a paltry .247/.307/.323 in 75 games.  After a season like that, the only place d’Arnaud could realistically go is up.

And that’s where he is trending this Spring Training.  With his work with Kevin Long, he has abandoned the wrap in his batting stance, and we have seen him hit much better in the Spring.  While his throwing is not exactly where you want it yet, but with Glenn Sherlock as his catching coach, we should see d’Arnaud improve again behind the plate.

And with d’Arnaud improving offensively and defensively, and with a little luck on the health side, we may finally see d’Arnaud play at an All Star level.

RF – Jay Bruce

In his 50 games with the Mets, Bruce hit .219/.294/.391 with eight homers and 19 RBI.  While the trade for Bruce may not have been popular, and the Mets being unable to trade him this offseason being even less unpopular, let’s keep in mind Bruce has been a far better player than this in his career.

In his nine year career, Bruce is a .248/.318/.467 hitter who has averaged 27 homers and 82 RBI.  In each season he has played 150 games, he has hit 30 homers and 97+ RBI.  He has shown the ability to be patient at the plate having posted .353 and .341 OBP in his career.  The overriding point here is that Bruce is capable of so much more, and fortunately, Bruce is with a team that can get it out of him.

Since Kevin Long became the Mets hitting coach, he has taken players like Daniel Murphy, Curtis Granderson, Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, and Asdrubal Cabrera, and he has gotten them to hit for more power and get on base more frequently.  As James Wagner of the New York Times reports, the Mets have begun that process by sharing advanced data with him and by helping him change his approach at the plate.  So far, Bruce has been a willing student.

Considering Bruce is willing to listen and improve, and the Mets have the people in place who help hitters improve, there is every expectation that we should see a much better version of Jay Bruce than we saw last year.

SP Jacob deGrom

The 2016 season was a tough one for deGrom.  He started the year with an injured oblique and a sick infant.  He didn’t have his velocity even when he was presumably healthy, and then he had to have season ending to repair the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow.

Whereas deGrom was throwing around 94 MPH in 2016, this Spring, he is back to the 96+ MPH he was in 2015.  That was a pitcher who was 14-8 with a 2.54 ERA, 0.979 WHIP, and a 9.7 K/9.  That was a pitcher who finished seventh in Cy Young voting.  That was a pitcher who out-dueled Clayton KershawZack Greinke, and Kyle Hendricks in the postseason.  That pitcher was an ace.   By all accounts, that pitcher is back.

SP Steven Matz

There were glimpses of the ace Matz could be during last season.  In an eight start stretch from April 17th to May 31st, Matz was 7-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 0.913 WHIP, and an 8.7 K/9.  From that point forward, Matz had difficulty pitching through what was described as a massive bone spur in his pitching elbow.  Matz lost a tick on his fastball, and he had to reduce the amount of sliders he threw.  He struggled, and he eventually had to have season ending surgery.

Looking at him this Spring, Matz is back to the form he was when he was at his best last year.  Maybe, just maybe, he might be even better.  After working with former Met Scott Rice this offseason, Matz has a slightly new leg kick which functions to keep both base runners and batters off balance.  With the new delivery, Matz could possibly be better than what we saw from him over the past two seasons.  With the bone spurs gone, and with him presumably no longer sleeping on couches, his injury problems are hopefully in the rear view mirror.  Then again, with this latest bout with the elbow, who knows with him?

Overall, with him reportedly feeling good after throwing off flat ground, and I’m choosing to believe the MRI is precautionary. I’m going to choose to believe Matz will be good to go in 2017, and he will have a breakout 2017 season.

LF Yoenis Cespedes

Last season, Cespedes hit .280/.354/.530 with 31 homers and 86 RBI.  Using OPS+ as a barometer, it was the third best season of his career.  It is all the more amazing he had that type of a season when you consider Cespedes played out of position most of the year, and he dealt with a right quad injury most of the year.

In 2017, Cespedes should be playing in his natural left field position where he won the 2015 American League Gold Glove despite playing only 102 games there.  He should also be more comfortable with a large guaranteed contract with a Mets team in which he loves.  We have seen the effects of that with Cespedes showing up to camp in terrific shape, and he has been all about business this Spring.  No car show.  No waffles.  Just baseball.

And by the way, he is absolutely killing this Spring.  He’s sending moon shots all over the place including one over the batter’s eye at First Data Field.  By the look he has in his eye this Spring, Cespedes looks like he may put together a better run than he did when he first joined the Mets in 2015.  Seeing how he’s playing now, it is tough to rule that out.

Certainly, with improved seasons from the aforementioned five players, the Mets should have enough to overtake the Nationals once again and win the National League East.  When you take into account bigger contributions from players like Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares or with young players like Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, or Gavin Cecchini being ready to contribute the minute the Mets call them up to the majors, this team should do better than the 87-75 record from last year.  They should do better than the Wild Card.  Maybe, just maybe, they can do better than the 2015 team.

Mets Need To Sign Drew Stubbs

While the Mets had been blessed with good health for most of Spring Training, the injuries are now starting to mount. The latest is Juan Lagares‘ oblique strain. 

Back in 2014, Lagares had a similar injury costing him 22 games. If this latest oblique strain is similar in nature, Lagares will assuredly begin the season on the disabled list. With the relative unpredictability of oblique injuries, no one can really guarantee when Lagares will be able to play again. That’s a huge problem as he’s the only true center fielder available. 

Curtis Granderson is the team’s everyday center fielder, but that’s a product of his offense.  Given his age, 36, and his having to be moved away from center earlier in his career, the Mets need a backup to help share some of the load. 

This could be able place for Brandon Nimmo, but he’s dealing with a hamstring injury from the World Baseball Classic. 

The Lagares and Nimmo injuries could create an opportunity for Michael Conforto. However, Conforto is not a center fielder, and the Mets want him getting regular at-bats. 

The Mets other potential options like T.J. Rivera and Ty Kelly aren’t center fielders. The Mets have toyed with the idea of Jose Reyes in center, but he hasn’t played much there. Moreover, this also means the Mets would have to go with Wilmer Flores at third. Ideally, that only works if a left-handed pitcher is on the mound. 

Essentially, the Mets are faced with a number of bad options in center until Lagares returns . . . whenever that happens. 

Fortunately for the Mets, the perfect solution for their current center field problem has emerged with Drew Stubbs opting out of his contract with the Minnesota Twins. 

Stubbs is a career .244/.314/.397 hitter. From 2010 – 2014, Stubbs was an everyday player who averaged 19 doubles, three triples, 15 homers, 50 RBI, and 27 stolen bases a year. 

Clearly, Stubbs isn’t a great hitter, but he is two things the Mets need: (1) right-handed and (2) speedy. Notably, Stubbs is a career .272/.348/.444 hitter against left-handed pitchers. This is much better than the .276/.322/.412 hitter Lagares is. 

To that extent, Stubbs presents an upgrade over Lagares. However, as we all know Stubbs isn’t in the same class as Lagares defensively as no one is. 

In center field, Stubbs has averaged a -1 DRS and -1.3 UZR in center field. These are hardly outstanding numbers, but the numbers do establish Stubbs can handle center competently. When you consider the alternatives, the Mets could do a lot worse. 

Overall, Stubbs is a good fit for a Mets team that needs a center fielder, a right-handed bench bat, and some speed. Having a player like him available at this point in Spring Training is a godsend. 

Doesn’t matter. 

According to Anthony DiComo of mlb.com, the Mets aren’t interested. 

This is a mistake. The Mets need a center fielder. The Mets need a right-handed bench bat. The team could use some more speed. The Mets need to break the habit of relying on injured players. 

They can break that bad habit by signing Stubbs. 

Matt Reynolds Skill-Set Compliments This Team Perfectly

Looking over the Mets infield, there are two things that squarely stand-out.  The first is that this is an aging group of players coming off significant injuries.  The second is this infield is not a particularly good defensive infield.

John Dewan of Acta Sports, and Fielding Bible fame, projected the Mets to have the worst defense up the middle in 2017.  The projection calls for Neil Walker to be a -1 DRS next season, which is what he has averaged over the past three seasons.  Asdrubal Cabrera is projected to post a -9 DRS, which is worse than the -7 DRS he has averaged over the past two seasons.  While you would certainly want both Walker’s and Cabrera’s bats in the game, certainly, the Mets would benefit by having a better glove in the game when there is a lead late in the game.

That is exactly what the Mets have done with Juan Lagares.  After the team acquired Yoenis Cespedes at the 2015 trade deadline, Lagares has served as a defensive replacement late in games.  The Mets doing this has served two important purposes.  First, it has helped the Mets preserve leads by putting their best defense on the field.  Second, it helps save some innings, and by extent wear and tear, on players like Cespedes and Curtis Granderson.  It is a large reason why the Mets will be returning Lagares to the same role in 2017.

It is something the Mets should consider for their infield.  The issue is the Mets do not have the bench to do it.

Jose Reyes has averaged a -9 DRS at shortstop over the past three years, which would indicate he’s a downgrade from Cabrera.  Wilmer Flores had a -10 DRS as the starting shortstop in 2015, and he has a -6 DRS as a second baseman in 576.0 major league innings.  The other options being considered for the bench, T.J. Rivera and Ty Kelly, are hardly terrific defenders in their own right.  Certainly, you are not taking the steady handed Walker and Cabrera off the field for them.

No, the only good defensive player who is a realistic option to make the Opening Day roster is Matt Reynolds.

Reynolds is not a gold glover in the middle infield.  However, he does have the same steady hands Walker and Cabrera have while having better range at the position.  He certainly has the arm to play second, short, and third.  That also makes him an option to take some innings away from David Wright at third.  Overall, Reynolds is most likely the best defensive infielder the Mets not named Amed Rosario.  The fact that he is also capable of serving as the team’s fifth outfielder makes him an all the more enticing roster option.

What is going to hurt his chances of making the team is his bat.  He hit .225/.266/.416 in 47 games with the Mets last year.  He has played 254 games in the hitter’s haven that is the Pacific Coast League, Reynolds has only hit .284/.342/.411.  Overall, he’s not a great hitter.  It’s quite possible that even with him putting in extra time with Kevin Long he will never develop into a good hitter.

But the Mets don’t need hitters.  They have plenty of them on this team.  What they need are good defenders.  With Lagares, they have that in the outfield.  With Reynolds, they would have that in the infield as well.

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

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!