The Mets have a potential future Hall of Famer in Jeff Kent (who would likely wear a Giants cap), and a pair of Gold Glove winners in Juan Lagares and Ron Darling who have worn the number 12. With respect to Darling, he also won 99 games, a great broadcaster, and a member of those great Mets teams. However, when you look at the play on the field, John Stearns is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 12.
This may come as a bit of a surprise because Stearns is one of the most overshadowed Mets greats. He played a position best known for Gary Carter, Jerry Grote, and Mike Piazza. His heyday was after the 1973 team, and he departed just as Keith Hernandez got there to help turn the Mets into winners.
It is somewhat surprising he is so overshadowed because he was as tough as they come. Stearns was ready, willing, and able whenever there was a play at the plate, and he gave as good as he got in those collisions. In a collision with Dave Parker, he kept his mask on resulting in a broken cheekbone for the slugger. The following year, he fought Carter, then of the Expos, when he thought Carter went in too hard.
That was what defined him throughout his Mets career – his feistiness and toughness. In these encounters and his battles at the plate, it was a tremendous assets. When it came to his health and his playing through some bad injuries, it was a hindrance. Still, even as he dealt with a number of injuries, he would still prove himself to be both a good hitter and good catcher.
In fact, Stearns is the Mets second best catcher in terms of WAR. It may come as somewhat of a surprise, but according to defensive WAR, his 1978 season was the best defensive season a Mets catcher ever had. That 1978 season was the third best season a Mets catcher ever had. In Mets history, he was one of the toughest batters to strike out.
Overall, when times were at their toughest, when Shea Stadium was known as Grant’s Tomb, Mets fans had Stearns. He was a four time All-Star, and according to WAR, he is the 18th best Mets player to ever play for the team. Of the people in the Top 20, the Stearns is the only one who never made the postseason. That makes it strange that Stearns may be best remembered for a postseason moment.
It was Stearns who was screaming, “The Monster is out of the cage!” when Piazza doubled in his first at-bat of the 2000 NLCS. Stearns was the bench coach for that pennant winning team, and he would serve as a Mets minor league instructor and manager for a few seasons.
Overall, he lived up at time to his self inflicted nickname of “Bad Dude,” but he was much more than that. He was a tough player who gave the Mets organization everything he had. He gave the Mets something to appreciate and enjoy at a time when things were at their worst. He has been over-shadowed, but in the end, he is still the best Mets player to ever wear the number 12.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the best players in Mets history by highlighting the best Mets player to wear a particular uniform number. In this case, this is not saying Garrett was the 11th best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 11.
So, you might ask yourself, how could the general manager who traded away Jarred Kelenic along with three other prospects who have hit top 100 prospect lists to finish double digits out of first place possibly get worse?
Well, he hired a manager in Carlos Beltran and fired him before Beltran even managed one game. Van Wagenen would claim he had no idea the Astros were doing anything despite teams making complaints, Van Wagenen being a player agent, and his being good friends with now former Astros manager AJ Hinch.
While claiming his learning what happened was the reason for the decision, he would still trade two prospects to obtain Jake Marisnick AFTER Mike Fiers went public. Somehow, Van Wagenen has an issue with the Astros did, but not when it came to parting with more prospects to make this a bottom six farm system.
It should be noted that in addition to parting with prospects, the Mets are paying Marisnick more than what players like Billy Hamilton, Juan Lagares, and Kevin Pillar will make in 2020. Of course, anyone who read the market of an over abundance of glove first center fielders should’ve anticipated that.
Of course, part of being able to gauge the market is to actively be part of the market.
Zack Wheeler told @GJoyce9 of The Post he’s not surprised he never heard back from the Mets last December before signing his new contract. Why wasn’t he surprised? “Because it’s them,” he said. “It’s how they roll.”
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) February 13, 2020
This isn’t new. This is how the Mets do business. We all know this, and time and again, we’ve seen this coupled with a slight at the player. We’ve already seen that with Van Wagenen making overtures the Mets didn’t value him as high as the Phillies did.
Now, in his own small and petty way, he made things worse saying, “We helped him parlay two good half-seasons over the last five years into $118 million.”
Petty, ironic, and wrong.
The problem with @GMBVW is he even gets the easy stuff hopelessly wrong. He could’ve said:
It’s unfortunate Zack has some hard feelings about leaving the Mets. We were obviously disappointed we were not able to keep him a Met for life, but that’s the downside of free agency.
— Mets Daddy (@MetsDaddy2013) February 14, 2020
Putting all the stupidity and falsehoods in Van Wagenen’s statements, lets just look at what he did.
He took the $23.6 million per year Wheeler is making, and he gave it to Rick Porcello (worst AL ERA), Michael Wacha (bum shoulder), and Dellin Betances (one appearance). Their combined 1.3 WAR was dwarfed by Wheeler’s 4.1.
That’s besides the fact Wheeler was very well worth the money, had other offers for higher, and those teams believed the Mets weren’t getting the most out of their great pitchers partially due to their poor analytical approach.
As an aside, the texting, chair throwing, no ifs, come get us GM, has been trying to oversell the Mets big second half, and now, he’s maligning someone for having big second halves. Even better, Van Wagenen is able to sell that second half because of Wheeler.
In the end, Van Wagenen just continues to make everything worse. Fortunately, Sandy Alderson left him with so much talent, not even Van Wagenen can stand in the way of this team winning no matter how much he tries.
Well, that’s when he actually tries. As Wheeler will tell you, he doesn’t. That’s unless you’re a former client like Jed Lowrie, who no one knows if he’ll play again.
Major League Baseball is embroiled in the sign stealing scandal, so it was time for baseball to dust off the old universal DH alarm. Many will have you believe there’s an air of inevitability to it, and from a Mets perspective, we hear this is the best case scenario with Robinson Cano, J.D. Davis, and Dominic Smith (as if you can DH three players).
Whenever we hear about this, proponents of the universal DH rush to make arguments which don’t hold up to scrutiny. Let’s look at them:
No One Wants To See Pitcher’s Hit
Looking at attendance figures, the last time an AL team had the highest attendance was 2010. This year, three of the top five and six of the top 10 teams in attendance were NL teams. By the same token, nine of the worst 11 teams in attendance were AL teams.
This is something which holds true year-in and year-out. If the DH is really a drawing point for fans, it’s not showing up in attendance figures.
Pitchers Kill Rallies
The scenario always painted is based loaded, two outs, your team down one, and you lose because the pitcher comes up to the plate. Frankly, this doesn’t happen.
In 2019, Stephen Strasburg led all pitchers in plate appearances. He averaged 2.3 plate appearances per game. Frankly, he and all pitchers are out of the game for a pinch hitter when the game is on the line.
On that front, from the seventh inning on, NL punch hitters have a 78 wRC+. That’s slightly higher than AL ninth place hitters with their 77 wRC+. Fact is, when the game is on the line, NL and AL teams are sending the same caliber of hitter to the plate.
As for the pitchers being rally killers, it’s hard to argue they’re not even if the case is grossly overstated. In 2019, there were 2,079 PA by batters with two outs and runners in scoring position. Only 97 of those PA (4.7%) were from pitchers.
Really, when you break it down, pitchers aren’t getting the plate appearances in high leverage situations proponents of the DH want you to believe.
DH Means More Offense
Now, there’s no doubting a DH is a better hitter than a pitcher. After all, in 2019, DHs had a 104 wRC+ as compared to the pitchers -18 wRC+. That’s an astronomical difference.
Even with the difference between the two, it’s not making the difference in run scoring and offense as people will have you believe.
In 2019, NL teams hit .251/323/.431, and AL teams hit .253/.323/.439. On average, NL teams scored 4.8 runs per game, and AL teams scored 4.9 runs per game. That is not remotely close to being a significant difference. In fact, on a game-to-game basis, it’s not remotely discernible.
This may come as a surprise when you look at the difference between a pitcher and DH hitting. However, as noted above, most pitchers get two PA per game. As the game moves towards increased bullpen use, that number will drop. Between that and pitchers not batting in high leverage situations, there shouldn’t be much of a surprise there’s no real difference in run scoring between the leagues.
The DH Adds Jobs
One argument for the DH is it adds jobs. It doesn’t. If you look, both AL and NL teams have 26 man rosters. The DH isn’t adding a roster spot, but rather, another spot in the lineup. As shown above, that spot alone isn’t driving attendance or run scoring.
DH Keeps Veterans Around Longer
This has always been a curious argument. At its core, this argument is saying fans would want to see older players with severely diminished skills over exciting young players.
Putting that aside, that’s not how teams utilize the DH. Last year, the 10 batters who had the most PA as a DH were:
- Nelson Cruz (39)
- Khris Davis (32)
- J.D. Martinez (32)
- Renato Nunez (25)
- Jorge Soler (27)
- Miguel Cabrera (36)
- Shohei Ohtani (25)
- Daniel Vogelbach (27)
- Yordan Alvarez (22)
- Shin-Soo Choo (37)
If you’re looking to discern a pattern here, it is these are players teams have decided they don’t want in the field. That applies to the 22 year old reigning AL Rookie of the Year to the 2013 AL MVP.
Looking at Cabrera, he is a DH not because teams want to see him finish up his Hall of Fame career and give him a chance to put more numbers. Rather, it is because he has a long-term deal, and the Tigers have to play him somewhere.
Cabrera and players like Cruz are a dying breed in the AL. Teams are increasingly using the DH for poor fielders or as a way to keep players fresh. We’re not seeing it as a place where Vladimir Guerrero or other Hall of Famers try to hang on for a few more years.
Pitcher Injury Concerns
Whenever this issue comes up, we undoubtedly hear about Chien-Ming Wang‘s season ending injury. It was unfortunate, but let’s revisit it.
Wang injured himself running. No, not sliding into a base. Not a collision with a fielder. He injured himself running. Want to throw in it was from his stepping on a base, fine, go ahead.
Realistically speaking, this is no different, than pitchers running to cover first. They run full speed and step on the base. In the end, Wang injured himself on a non-contact baseball play.
If the issue is we don’t want to see pitchers running and stepping on bases, we’re going to have to find out a new way to handle plays were first basemen have to stray too far off first to field the ball.
Another point on Wang’s unfortunate injury was this occurred over a decade ago, and we haven’t seen another pitcher suffer a similar injury since that time. We also don’t see pitchers suffer injuries batting.
In essence, this is an overreaction to an isolated event, which as we have seen, happens maybe once a decade.
MLB Is Only League Where Pitchers Hit
This is just flat out false. In fact, the NPL Central League also has pitchers batting. When you look at it that way, the two very best professional baseball leagues have pitchers batting.
In the minors, we also will see pitchers batting when NL affiliates square off against one another.
Looking at it this way, why should baseball lower its standards to what semi-professional and amateur leagues do? Aren’t these supposed to be the absolute best players playing at the highest level?
Really, it doesn’t make sense to lower baseball’s standards to comply with what far lesser professional leagues do.
Overall, this is much like the argument for the universal DH. It’s mostly largely unsubstantiated rhetoric which comports to what people think the DH should do, but doesn’t.
In the end, there are a substantial number of baseball fans who love the National League style of baseball. They should be permitted to enjoy that baseball, which as we have seen, generates higher attendance and larger revenues while having a game with more strategy and substantially speaking, the same amount of offense.
If you still can’t handle those roughly two PA per game from pitchers, there’s a whole league you can enjoy while you leave the traditional and better baseball for the rest of us, who based on the numbers, outnumber the DH or bust fans.
While Brodie Van Wagenen was touting Dellin Betances‘ ability to “blow the cover off their ceiling,” the fact of the matter is the Mets offseason has been tremendously underwhelming thus far. Really, when you break it down, it’s difficult to ascertain how this team can make up 11 games on the Atlanta Braves.
With Zack Wheeler departing for the Philadelphia Phillies, that’s 4.1 WAR going to a division rival. While they haven’t yet signed with another team, it is expected Todd Frazier (2.2 WAR) and Juan Lagares (-0.7) will sign with other teams.
Combined, that’s a 5.6 WAR.
As a result, the Mets have yet to replace the production they’ve lost. What makes this problematic is their offseason appears fairly set.
Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie are taking up two roster spots, and with their salaries, the Mets are not going to just cut bait. Instead, the Mets are going to hope Cespedes can do what Troy Tulowitzki couldn’t do – return from double heel surgery.
When they finally discover what was wrong with Lowrie that limited him to eight pinch hitting attempts last year, we can then have a conversation about what, if anything, he can contribute.
Remember, this a Mets team which finished 11 games behind the Braves. They also finished behind the World Series Champion Washington Nationals too. The Mets needed to gain ground, not lose it.
Keep in mind, they’re not just losing grounds to the teams ahead of them, they are also losing it to the Philadelphia Phillies. That 4.1 WAR the Mets lost in Wheeler went to the Phillies. Joining him there is Didi Gregorius, who had a 0.6 WAR in limited duty. When you add a healthy Andrew McCutchen, they have not only offset the 1.7 WAR they lost with Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco, but they have improved upon it.
Now, this is where someone may want to point out how the Braves and Nationals are both searching for a new third baseman, and that the third basemen they had last year were their best players. That is true. The Braves losing Josh Donaldson (6.1), and the Nationals losing Anthony Rendon (6.3) were significant losses.
With respect to Donaldson, it should be noted both teams are still in on him and trying to do all they can to sign him. If either team signs him, that narrative is no longer in place as it comes to that team.
Going beyond that, both the Braves and Nationals have made moves to bolster their teams in the event they cannot land Donaldson.
The Nationals have been aggressive this offseason re-signing mid-season acquisitions Asdrubal Cabrera and Daniel Hudson. They have also added Starlin Castro (0.8), Eric Thames (1.6), and Will Harris (2.1). Combine that with the anticipation Carter Kieboom may be ready next year, and the Nationals have at least braced themselves for losing Rendon and missing out on Donaldson.
The Braves have also left third base open while addressing other areas. On the bullpen front, they have brought in Will Smith (2.2) while bringing back Chris Martin and Darren O’Day. They have also added Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate. They also potentially upgraded their rotation signing Cole Hamels to replace Dallas Keuchel.
When talking about the Braves, they also have a wealth of young talent in Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley, Mike Soroka, and others to close the gap on the potential loss of Donaldson. The same can be said with the Nationals with Juan Soto and Victor Robles.
As for the Mets, they could also seek to get some help internally with Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario taking the next step. However, the issue with that is whether it is enough to overcome not just the diminution in the talent the team had last year, but also whether it is enough to overcome the significant gap which already existed between them and the rest of the teams in the division.
While it is certainly possible the Mets can win the division in 2020, it is also fair to say they certainly have not done nearly enough this offseason to do that. Really, when you boil it down, the Mets are relying more on luck than anything else. Considering what is ahead and behind them in the division, that is not the best plan, and when you boil it down, they really needed more than just Marisnick.
Unless you are the Los Angeles Angels with Mike Trout or maybe the Boston Red Sox with Mookie Betts, no baseball team can definitively say they have a better player on their team than Nolan Arenado. Since 2015, he has been a top eight player in the league in terms of fWAR, and he has been a top six player in terms of DRS.
Arenado has won seven straight Gold Gloves, been an All-Star for five straight seasons, and he has won a Silver Slugger in four of the last five seasons. It should come as no surprise he has been a top five finisher in the MVP voting over that five year stretch.
Arenado has proven himself to be the rare player who has the ability to impact the game in the field and at the plate. He is one of the best in the sport, a future Hall of Famer, and at 28 years old, he is in his prime. When players like this are available, you do everything you can do to acquire them.
That should include the Mets.
If Arenado was on the Mets in 2020, his 5.7 WAR would have been the best on the team. To that end, the Mets have not had a position player have a WAR over 5.0 since Juan Lagares in 2014, and they have not had a position player with a WAR better than Arenado’s 5.7 since David Wright had a 5.9 WAR in 2013.
If you think about it, that’s what Arenado is. Both are Gold Glove caliber and Silver Slugger players who are top 10 players in the sport. The key difference is Arenado is healthy and playing now. When players like Wright come along, and Arenado is that level of player, you do what you can to get him.
When you look at the Mets roster as a whole, the only player they have better than Arenado right now is Jacob deGrom. When you consider deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball right now, and he is signed to a very reasonable contract extension, you cannot trade him for Arenado.
Any other pitcher on the Mets roster, Noah Syndergaard included, can and should be considered in a potential Arenado trade.
As for the rest of the Mets team, you can and should consider trading all of them if the price is right.
Yes, that means you should consider trading players like Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. It would hurt to lose either player, but you will have one entrenched in one of the corner outfield spots, and you can move Jeff McNeil to LF on a permanent basis to accommodate that loss.
For what it is worth, the Mets should be willing to trade McNeil for Arenado as well. After all, Arenado is a better baseball player than McNeil, and if you’re going to choose between the two as who you want to be your third baseman for the next five years, you are going to chose Arenado.
Finally, yes, you can also consider trading Pete Alonso. If the Mets traded Alonso for Arenado, they still have Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis (who is really only just a first baseman) to play first. At the end of the day, you hate losing Alonso who has proven to be not just a very good player, but also one who has captured the hearts and minds as Mets fans.
That said, Arenado is a better baseball player than Alonso. More to the point, the Mets are a better team with Smith/Davis at first, Arenado at third, and an outfield of McNeil-Nimmo-Conforto than have a team where they either play Jake Marisnick everyday or have a platoon of first basemen in left field.
They’re also a better team with Alonso and Arenado at the corners. To that end, if you can swing a deal without giving up Alonso, or any of their other core players which include Conforto, McNeil, Nimmo, and Syndergaard, you do it. The problem is the Mets don’t necessarily have that farm system after all the damage Brodie Van Wagenen did last offseason.
To that end, if the Rockies want a player the ilk of Francisco Alvarez, Ronny Mauricio, Andres Gimenez, Matthew Allan, Brett Baty, or whomever else the Rockies inquire, the Mets should be willing to listen. Of course, if the Rockies want to go this route, the caliber of Major League player the Mets should be willing to part in such a trade comes down a significant peg from the aforementioned core.
Now, it should be noted Arenado has an opt out after the 2021 season. If you are the Mets, you don’t disrupt your core without getting him to waive that or renegotiate the contract. That is where Steve Cohen and his money should hopefully come into play.
If the Mets can get Arenado to waive his no trade clause and opt in to his contract, short of Jacob deGrom, there is no one the Mets should not discuss in a trade because at the end of the day, the Mets do not have a player as good as the one Nolan Arenado is.
As this decade closes out at midnight today, the Mets will actually enter their seventh decade of baseball. Before proceeding forward, let’s take a look at the best moments from each year of this decade:
On the field, it was Angel Pagan hitting an inside-the-park home run and starting a triple play in the same game.
In a moment no one saw coming, Chris Capuano had a two hit shutout where he struck out 13:
This was the year of Harvey, and there was a lot to choose from with his near perfect game, bloody nose game, Harvey’s Better game, and others, but it’s hard to top him and David Wright starting the All Star Game at Citi Field.
Every single defensive play made by Gold Glove winner Juan Lagares:
With this being the fifth pennant in Mets history, there are many moments, but perhaps the biggest is Daniel Murphy‘s postseason heroics:
The Mets would need to make a late charge to make the postseason in consecutive seasons for the second time in team history. The lasting image from that run was Asdrubal Cabrera‘s walk-off homer:
After an injury plagued 2016, Michael Conforto would emerge as an All-Star, and his season was highlighted by an impressive homecoming:
It was melancholy, but we got to see Wright play one final game as a member of the New York Mets:
Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has said one of the areas the team is going to look to address this offseason is center field, and the team would prefer to obtain a right-handed hitting center fielder. Looking at the free agent market, that player doesn’t exist, and with the Pittsburgh Pirates purportedly not willing to trade Starling Marte, that player may not exist on the trade market either.
So with poor options on the free agent and trade market, and the Mets being unwilling to move Rosario to center, the Mets are in a position where they need to “think creative” like they always preach. Of course, that is code for finding a cheaper option.
For starters, let’s assume Brandon Nimmo can play center. At a 28.5 ft/sec sprint speed, he was faster than Juan Lagares, Kevin Pillar, and Lorenzo Cain. Nimmo also had a -0.7 JUMP, which was the same as Pillar and better than Ketel Marte. All in all, Nimmo has the ability to play a good center, and with better positioning, he could be a positive defender.
That leaves Michael Conforto to play left field or right field. In terms of right, he showed himself to be a good right fielder, he is arguably better in left field. Certainly, having Conforto in his natural left would allow the Mets to play Nimmo in center. Having a very good right fielder would make Nimmo in center all the more viable.
From a defensive standpoint, Yasiel Puig is arguably the best defensive player available. That is not the only thing which would make Puig an enticing option for the Mets.
According to most reports, Puig is going to accept a one year deal to rebuild his value. On that front, his 1.3 WAR as the lowest it’s been since 2016. He didn’t pull the ball as much, hit the ball in the air more frequently, and his HR/FB rate dropped. His 0 DRS was the worst of his career.
Despite all of that, Puig is still in the prime years of his career, and his metrics look much like the player Puig has always been. Notably, his sprint speed and JUMP were on par with the last few seasons putting him where he was when he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2017.
According to Baseball Savant, he was above his career averages in hard hit percentage and exit velocity last year. He would also make some improvements in terms of his walk and strikeout rates. Putting it all together, even though the results weren’t quite where they had been the two previous years, it appeared Puig was the same player he has always been. For some reason, the numbers just weren’t there.
Realistically speaking, in 2019, Puig can be the roughly 3-4 win player he had been in his last few years before being traded from the Dodgers. You could also make the case he is a player born to play on the big stage, and there is no bigger stage than New York.
You could also surmise playing in a larger ballpark like Citi Field could have him return to his approach with the Dodgers which had led to him being more successful than when he was trying to hit more homers in the bandbox than is the Great American Ballpark. Then again, the danger for any team interested in him is the Dodgers were able to get the most out of him because they are so far beyond any other team in terms of analytics. Put another way, we saw the type of player Puig is without a smart front office putting him in the best position to succeed.
The best case scenario is Puig could be the team’s next Yoenis Cespedes. With them both hailing from Cuba and their having similar reputations, this at least seems plausible. The worst case is he’s a disappointing player who is still an upgrade over what the Mets already have.
For a team like the Mets who are operating on a shoestring budget and need players who could well outperform their contracts to contend, Puig is exactly the type of player they should acquire. If nothing else, he should help the Mets defensively, which should also be a boon to their pitching staff. All told, for a team looking to improve in center, they are likely going to need to sign a right fielder to do it.
As the Mets look to improve their roster, the one gaping hole is center field. It has been a problem for years with the Mets looking at stop gap options like Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto partially due to Juan Lagares inability to stay on the field and his inconsistent production at the plate, and last year, in the field.
Brodie Van Wagenen has said the team is looking for a right-handed bat at the position. On that note, the free agent center field options are quite poor. In fact, some of the more viable options are Aaron Altherr, Keon Broxton, and Carlos Gomez, three players whom the Mets realized were not real options.
When looking past the right-hand side, the options aren’t exactly great. The best option of the entire group is likely Shogo Akiyama, and he’s a 32 year old who has never played in the Majors. Further compounding that, Akiyama is said to have slipped defensively meaning he should probably move to a corner spot in 2020.
Fact is, there is no real good option. Looking at the trade route, the best known option is Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley hasn’t been a league average hitter since 2016, and he has had consecutive negative DRS seasons. While he can still handle the position defensively, his defense is not at the point where he can justify his bat or a raise from his 2018 $8.55 million arbitration salary.
To that point, Brodie Van Wagenen has said the Mets need to be creative this offseason, so perhaps they should be creative and move Amed Rosario to center.
The impulse to make that move has subsided with Rosario posting a 0 DRS in the second half. That was a significant improvement from his -16 DRS in the first half and the -16 DRS he posted at the position in 2018. With his only being 23, we can expect him to improve, but considering the level he is at now, it is debatable he can ever reach the lofty Gold Glove expectations we all once had for him.
He might be that if he moved to center.
Baseball Savant noted Rosario had a 29.2 ft/sec sprint speed last year. That is essentially the same speed as Victor Robles and Kevin Kiermaier, and it is quicker than Lorenzo Cain and Manuel Margot. Those of four of the top five center fielders in DRS last year. If nothing else, that tells us Rosario has the speed to cover the position.
Looking at last year, Jeff McNeil worked with Luis Rojas during Spring Training to get up to speed quickly on being an outfielder. During the 2019 season, McNeil proved to be a good outfielder with a 2 DRS with his time split between left and right.
Looking at Rosasrio, he has the speed, and he has the coaching. With his tools and drive, he has all he needs to succeed as center fielder. That goes double with him having an offseason and Spring Training to work on it. The only question is why would the Mets do it. Well, there are two reasons.
First and foremost, there are no real center field options available to the Mets. This leaves them having to hope for magic with a retread or for their getting creative with a solution like Rosario. Now, moving Rosario to center would create a hole at short. On that note, there are better options available like Didi Gregorius and Jose Iglesias.
Those two short term options are much more appealing than any of the center field options available this offseason. On the subject of the short term, the Mets also have to take some consideration of Andres Gimenez. While Gimenez struggled in 2019, he did deal with hand injuries, and he did rebound with an excellent stint in the Arizona Fall League.
Ultimately, the Mets may have to find space for Rosario and Gimenez on the same roster. The Mets could faciliate that by moving Rosario to center. It is a good long term solution, and really, considering the options available at both center and short this offseason, it is the best short term solution as well.
Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen said something very interesting to the press during these GM Meetings. Notably, as transcribed by Mike Puma of the New York Post, he said, “Center field is not as easy as waking up in the morning and finding a solution.”
This is a sentiment which rings very true, and we have seen teams act accordingly. The Minnesota Twins were very patient with Byron Buxton, who was finally a league average hitter in his fifth Major League season. Previously to Buxton, they had been patient with Aaron Hicks until he was traded for John Ryan Murphy, who at the time was a promising catcher.
When Hicks broke out, the Yankees made sure to extend Hicks to a lucrative contract extension. This speaks to how hard it is to get a center fielder. When a center fielder comes available, teams do spend to get them. For example, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain to a five year $80 million deal.
For the Mets last year, there were no easy solutions. Juan Lagares would have the worst year of his career from both sides of the plate. Brandon Nimmo was hurt for much of the year. Keon Broxton wasn’t the player the Mets hoped he would be leading to his designated for assignment followed by failed hopes in the form of Aaron Altherr, Carlos Gomez, and Rajai Davis.
This led to the Mets once again moving Michael Conforto to center. While he has been a good sport, he has proven himself to be a good stopgap and nothing more. This is not too dissimilar from what we saw with Yoenis Cespedes in 2015.
The lesson is when you have a center fielder, you need to hold onto that player for as long as you can. That is what the best run teams in baseball do.
The Mets did have that center fielder in the minors in the form of Jarred Kelenic. In short order, he proved to be a much better player than even the Mets could’ve hoped he would be when they made him the sixth overall pick in the draft.
He has been so good that at the moment, MLB Pipeline ranks him as the 13th best prospect in baseball. He also rose all the way to Double-A at the end of the 2019 season. His likely beginning the 2020 season in Double-A means his making his Major League debut next year is not out of the question. Barring injury, we should see that happen at least by 2022.
Instead of having patience building this Mets team and allowing them to reap the benefits of having a Kelenic in center for a decade or hopefully more, Van Wagenen trying to shortcut the process. He included Kelenic in a deal for a older second baseman in Robinson Cano and a closer in Edwin Diaz.
Aside from the complications Cano and his contract provide, like re-signing Zack Wheeler, the trade itself cost the Mets a center fielder in Kelenic. With Kelenic, Van Wagenen was going to be in a position where he can wake up one day and have a long term solution in center.
Instead, he cycled through option after option in 2019 to no avail. He enters the offseason with few trade assets and little to no budget to sign a center fielder or to take on salary in a trade. The real shame is he eventually learned his lesson after he was all to rash to swing an ill-advised deal trading away a potentially very good center fielder.
The Mets did good by hiring Carlos Beltran as the 22nd manager in team history. In Beltran, they have someone who is a very good communicator who has the ability to unite a clubhouse while also teaching players things to help them significantly improve. Given his skill set, he can be a superstar manager like he was a superstar player.
However, Beltran in and of himself is not going to be enough to take this Mets team over the top.
With Zack Wheeler being a free agent, the team is going to need a fifth starter. At the moment, internal options like Walker Lockett and Corey Oswalt are not ready to step up to fill that void. The team has mentioned Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo as options, but that only serves to further damage what is already a weak bullpen.
In 2019, Lugo and Justin Wilson were the only dependable relievers in that bullpen. When you look at it, even assuming a bounce-back from Edwin Diaz, this team still needs at least two big arms in the bullpen this offseason. They will need more if Gsellman or Lugo move to the rotation making that decision to rob Peter to pay Paul.
The Mets also need a center fielder, third baseman, backup catcher, and just plain old depth. With Juan Lagares having his option declined, they need a defensive replacement. The team cannot rely upon Jed Lowrie to contribute anything. Tomas Nido was a good defensive catcher, but with his complete inability to hit, you wonder how much you can rely upon him to be on the roster for a full season.
All told, this is a Mets roster which needs a lot of work. Given the dearth of prospects at the Double-A and Triple-A level last year, the team is going to have to acquire those players this offseason instead of looking from within. With all the prospects the Mets traded away over the last year, it is going to be difficult to trade their way back to contention.
That leaves the Mets with spending, and with the Mets being owned by the Wilpons, that is a dicey proposition.
Now, there are some who will say the Mets did spend last year. According to Spotrac, the Mets 2019 payroll was $160.5 million which ranked 10th in the majors.
Lost in that was how David Wright‘s $15 million is included in that amount. Wright had a portion of that salary covered by insurance, and the Mets renegotiated future payments with Wright. The figure also included Yoenis Cespedes‘ $29 million salary which was covered by insurance. Between Wright’s full salary and 70% of Cespedes’ salary being covered, the Mets payroll was reduced by $35.5 million.
That reduces the Mets REAL 2019 payroll to $125 million, which would’ve ranked 18th in the majors. That number is all the worse when you consider Adeiny Hechavarria and Carlos Gomez were cut before roster bonuses were due, and Jason Vargas was traded so the team could clear payroll space after obtaining Marcus Stroman.
As of today, the Mets payroll is $168.8 million. Now, that figure includes Wright’s $12 million, Cespedes’ $29.5 million, and the $5.1 projected arbitration figure due Joe Panik. On that front, as noted earlier, Wright’s contract was been renegotiated, and it is very likely Panik is non-tendered. With respect to Cespedes, there will be no insurance protection this year.
When you dig a little more, that $168.8 includes Jacob deGrom‘s $27.5 million salary. On that front, the $27.5 million figure is for competitive balance tax purposes only. In reality, deGrom is only making $13 million meaning $12.5 million of his salary is deferred.
This means the Mets ACTUAL payroll obligations are $139.2million. That is before the Mets go forward looking to add players this offseason. Still, people will point to the competitive balance tax as a reason why the Mets can’t spend. Let’s take a look at it for a second.
Putting reason aside, assuming the Mets sign Wheeler to a deal with a $30 million average annual value raising the payroll obligations to $188.8. That puts the Mets $19.2 million short of the $208 competitive balance tax figure.
Taking a more realistic approach, assume the Mets don’t go and sign Anthony Rendon. For a minute, just assume the Mets sign a Mike Moustakas ($10 million AAV), Drew Pomeranz ($8 million AAV), and a backup catcher like Jonathan Lucroy ($2 million AAV). Assume the rest of the roster is filled out for a cost of around $5 million, which is probably the very low end.
Assuming Panik is non-tendered, that puts competitive balance payroll at $213.8 million. That would incur the “tax penalty.” The amount of the penalty? It would only be $1.2 million. That’s it.
When looking at the $1.2 million remember the Mets already have $12 million off the books with Wright and $12.5 million deferred with deGrom. As a result, the $1.2 million is more than covered. When you look at it, the Mets can really blow past that $208 million this year.
In fact, the Mets should considering they have Cespedes’$29 million coming off the books completely, and the same can be said for Wright’s $12 million. Essentially, the Mets have $41 million coming off the books.
Whether the Mets will be proactive remains to be seen. If history is any measure, they won’t. Just remember, when they don’t, we should not let them invoke the competitive balance tax as a reason because it is not in any way a real impediment.
The only impediment to the Mets spending are the Mets themselves, and that is not in any way acceptable.