Kelly Johnson

Time To Call Up Gavin Cecchini

This may seem irrational. It’s most likely premature, but in reality, the Mets can’t keep languishing away with Jose Reyes at third base.  Last night should be the last straw. 

In the game, Reyes dropped a routine flyball that set the stage for the game tying rally. He got on base, and then he was caught between first and second on a pitch in the dirt. He got lucky that Cesar Hernandez hit him in the back. 

It’s at the point where Reyes can’t make routine baseball plays. He’s fighting it. He’s hitting .100/.182/.140. Those numbers are unfathomably low. It’s really difficult to justify playing him right now. 

He’s fortunate that Wilmer Flores is a platoon bat that can’t hit right-handed pitching. He’s also lucky that Flores is also a poor fielder. T.J. Rivera is also a poor fielder at third base. Rivera is also stuck in Triple-A until next week, and he doesn’t draw enough walks to play everyday. 

This leaves the Mets looking for out of the box options. Even if the Mets were to bring back Kelly Johnson, he still needs time to get ready for the season. 

The common refrain is for Amed Rosario. It’s still too soon for him. The Mets likely don’t want to call him up before the Super Two deadline. Moreover, he only has 51 plate appearances above Double-A.  He still needs more time. 

That leaves the Mets looking at Gavin Cecchini

The Mets 2012 first round draft pick has thrived in Triple-A. Entering last night’s game, he played 130 levels in Triple-A hitting .320/.389/.451 with 31 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 62 RBI, and seven stolen bases. 

During Cecchini’s cup of coffee with the Mets last September, he showed he wasn’t intimidated playing in the majors. In four games, he was 2-6 with two doubles and two RBI. 

The issue with Cecchini is where does he play?  With his throwing issues and the rise of Rosario, he had been moved to second. The plan was also to have him work at and expose him to short and third this year. 

The early returns of Cecchini at second are good. He’s played well at the position, and he has started the season playing 12 errorless games. The issue is the Mets have a second baseman in Neil Walker

On that front, the Mets could move Walker to third base. Entering the season, Walker indicated he would be willing to play wherever the Mets needed him to play. (Anthony DiComo, mlb.com). Given Reyes’ play, Walker may be needed at third. 

The other option could be playing Cecchini at third. However, with so little time there, and the concerns over his past throwing errors, Cecchini is probably not the best bet for third. Then again, it’s hard to argue that the Mets have there right now is any better. 

Yes, this is a drastic move, but seeing Reyes play and with David Wright likely not close to returning, the Mets have little choice but to pursue the drastic measure. The choices now are really either continue playing Reyes, play a guy who can’t hit right-handed pitching, or roll the dice on a former first round pick. 

At a minimum, it’s hard to argue Cecchini would be any worse. In fact, if Cecchini were to go 1-5 every night while playing mediocre defense, he would be an immeasurable improvement over Reyes.  For that reason alone, it’s time to give Cecchini a chance. 

Reyes Cannot Hit Lead-Off Anymore

After the game last night, Terry Collins joked, “I’ve got the FBI looking for the real Jose Reyes right now.”  

Instead of having the FBI look for Reyes, Collins should have the FBI look for a better option at third base and to bat lead-off. 

Now, no one can reasonably believe that Reyes is as bad as his current 1-27 streak. Even with Reyes fighting it since Spring Training, you’d expect him to at least beat out a throw with his speed. Reyes is better than this.

And yet, Reyes still isn’t good enough to be asked to play everyday and lead-off. Since Reyes’ career year in 2011 when he became the first ever Mets player to win a batting title, Reyes has been on a decline. That decline has been accelerated the past three years. 

Consider during his first go-round with the Mets, Reyes was a .292/.341/.441 hitter who averaged 25 doubles, 11 triples, nine homers, 47 RBI, and 41 stolen bases a season.  In that time, he accumulated 27.9 WAR. However, Reyes was more than just stats He was a dynamic shortstop whose exuberance pumped up the team and the crowd. 

Since leaving the Mets, Reyes has been a .281/.331/.410 hitter who has averaged 21 doubles, four triples, eight homers, 37 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. The bulk of those stats come from Reyes first year in both Miami and Toronto. The numbers get worse from there.

In the last three seasons, Reyes is a .279/.321/.400 hitter who averages 24 doubles, three triples, eight homers, 43 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. 

Now, with Reyes coming back to the Mets last year, the narrative was Reyes would be rejuvenated by playing for the Mets again. As we see with Reyes’ 1-27 streak this season, that has been proven false. 

Reyes is a 33 year old player in decline. He’s more in decline as a left-handed batter as he has been a .225/.276/.347 hitter. 

When you can’t hit right-handed pitching anymore, you can’t play everyday. When you have a .321 OBP over the past three seasons, you can’t hit leadoff. 

The issue here is that this is a problem with no easy solution. Wilmer Flores has the same issues against right-handed pitching. Many Mets fans solution would be to platoon him with Kelly Johnson, but Johnson is still a free agent. 

T.J. Rivera was a big part of the Mets push to the Wild Card last year, but it’s doubtful he can play everyday as his aggressiveness at the plate has suppressed his OBP in his minor league career. 
It’s probably still too early to consider Gavin Cecchini or Amed Rosario to get the call-up. No one can reasonably say when David Wright will return. 

And with that, the Mets are likely out of third base options. Arguably, Reyes is still the best option at third base. That argument gets harder and harder to defend with each out he makes. 

One thing that is indefensible is batting him lead-off. His .321 OBP over the past three years demands he hit lower in the lineup. His struggles this season beg for it to happen sooner rather than later. 

In his place, the Mets can literally pick anyone else as they cannot possibly be this poor. Ideally, that someone would also play third base. Unfortunately, that player does not exist, at least right now. 

Perhaps that player will be discovered as part of the FBI investigation. 

Five Prospects Who May Contribute In 2017

Last year, we saw Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and T.J. Rivera become significant contributors to a Mets team who claimed one of the two National League Wild Cards.  Their contribution was as pleasant as it was surprising.  In fact, no one truly could have predicated the slate of injuries that befell the Mets last year.  This year?  Well, that’s a different story all together.

With David Wright already questionable for Opening Day, and the Mets prospects performing better in Spring Training than many originally anticipated, many fans question not if, but when will we see these prospects contributing for the Mets.  With that in mind, here are five prospects, who have yet to appear in a major league game, we may very well see at Citi Field in 2017.

#1 David Roseboom

Once Akeel Morris was traded to the Braves for Kelly Johnson, Roseboom became the closer for the Binghamton Mets last season.  Roseboom blossomed in the role and made it an eight inning game for the B-Mets.  He saved 14 out of 15 games while posting a 1.87 ERA in 52 games on the year. From July 2 to the last regular season game on September 5, Roseboom held opponents to a .130/.193/.383 slash line, and a 0.92 ERA.  This work has caught the Mets attention, and he was a non-roster invitee giving the Mets coaching staff an opportunity to get an up close look at him.

At a minimum, he could very well be the second left-handed reliever the Mets covet in the bullpen.  With the struggles we have seen from Josh Edgin this Spring, that could be sooner rather than later.

#2 Paul Sewald

What is interesting about Sewald is his terrific results have not gotten him the attention he deserves.  Seemingly every pitcher struggles in Las Vegas, and yet in the second half, Sewald converted 10 save opportunities while posting a 1.85 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP.  While naysayers will point to his high 80s to low 90s fastball, Sewald has clearly shown the ability to get batters out even in the most difficult of pitching environments.  As teams go through multiple relievers year-t0-year, it may only be a matter of time before Sewald finally gets his well earned chance to pitch in the majors.

#3 Dominic Smith

This Spring, we have already seen Wright become questionable for Opening Day, and Lucas Duda need shots in his hip and have back spasms.  For a Mets infield that already had injury questions to start the season, things are already progressing quite poorly.  The Mets have talked about experimenting with Jay Bruce at first.  Wilmer Flores has already shown he can be part of an effective platoon there as well.  Neither player is the long term answer.  That’s Smith.

Smith is a terrific fielding first baseman who reported to his first major league camp in the best shape of his professional career.  So far, the only concern about him is if he will hit for power.  He quieted some of those concerns in the final 58 games of the season.  During that 58 game stretch, Smith hit .355/.426/.537 with 16 doubles, one triple, seven homers and 42 RBI.  Extrapolating that over the course of a 162 game season, that would translate to 45 doubles and 20 home runs.  That type of production can definitely play at first base especially when Smith has the promise to do even more.

#4 Amed Rosario

Across baseball and the Mets organization, Rosario has been dubbed a superstar in the making.  The only question is when his star will begin shining at Citi Field.  Arguably, he is further away from Citi Field than Smith as Smith played a full season in Binghamton last year.  Moreover, you probably want to give both players until the All Star Break before you even begin to consider calling them up to the majors.  And yet, as Michael Conforto proved in 2015, if you are a truly special talent, you can come to the majors and contribute for a World Series caliber team in the thick of a pennant race.

In Rosario, the Mets have a game changer in the field and at the plate.  Should any infielder go down, room can be made for Rosario.  Certainly, Asdrubal Cabrera has shown in his career he can play second and third.  Also, do not discount the Mets trying to play Rosario at third this season so he can become more versatile, and quite possibly open a spot for him on the major league roster this year.

#5 Chris Flexen

Arguably, this spot could go to P.J. Conlon, but Flexen is on the 40 man roster.  Also, Flexen pitched a full season for St. Lucie last year, whereas Conlon only pitched half a season there.  Another issue is Flexen’s stuff plays better in the bullpen as Flexen has a mid-90s fastball and a plus curve ball.  If the Mets were to be willing to move Flexen to the bullpen, he can rocket through the Mets system.

In addition to Conlon, another name to consider is Corey Taylor.  He’s got terrific stuff, and the minor league closer is already drawing Jeurys Familia comparisons.  Overall, the Mets farm system has plenty of players who should be able to contribute at the major league level at some point next year.  It should give you some hope the Mets should be good in 2017 even if there is a rash of injuries.  It should give you more hope that the Mets should be good in years to come.

Editor’s Note: I consulted Michael Mayer while making my list, and he pointed out to me he wrote a similar column for Mets Merized Online.  His list is slightly different as he includes Champ Stuart.  As Michael is one of the most knowledgeable people on the Mets farm system, please give his article a read as well. 

Go ALL-IN And Re-Sign Kelly Johnson

Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise David Wright is not going to be ready for Opening Day.  No one realistically knows when Wright is going to be ready to play this year.  With that in mind, the Mets now have an open roster spot on the Opening Day roster.  On the 40 man roster, the Mets have T.J. Rivera and Matt ReynoldsTy Kelly would also be an option should the Mets be willing to make a 40 man roster move, which could include putting Wright on the 60 day disabled list.

The argument for Kelly would be the fact that his switch hitting ability would present the Mets with a left-handed hitting option for a team that promises to have a completely right-handed bench.  His versatility in the field may also prove to be important.  With that said, if you are willing to make an important roster move for Kelly, why not go ALL-IN and bring back Kelly Johnson.

Over the past two seasons, Johnson has hit .260/.319/.441 with 14 homers and 37 RBI in 131 games.  Over those 131 games, Johnson has played every position for the Mets except pitcher, catcher, and center field.  He could prove to be a very important player for the Mets.

Fact is, Johnson has been vitally important to the Mets over the past two seasons.  In 2015, he was able to serve as an everyday player until the team got healthy.  In 2016, he worked diligently to become a better hitter with him hitting .268/.328/.459.  When Neil Walker went down, he and Wilmer Flores joined to make an extremely effective platoon at second base.  As we’ve seen, he’s also capable of playing third, which just became an important issue again with Wright being unable to play on Opening Day.

Frankly, it is surprising that it would come to this for the Mets to make a move to add Johnson.  This is the same player the Mets have traded prospect after prospect for in successive years.  The ultimate reason these trades were necessary was because the Mets had built flawed, if not weak, benches heading into the 2015 and 2016 seasons.  While the Mets bench in 2017 promises to be deeper than year’s past, it is still flawed for the aforementioned reasons.  The addition of Kelly Johnson would go a long way in resolving the issues the bench currently has.

Right now, the Mets have a need for another bench player.  There is a veteran who has not only played well coming off the bench, but he has also played well in New York.  Both are more difficult than many believe, and that is why a player like Johnson is important.  Realistically speaking, with Sandy Alderson already telling the media, the Mets are “all-in” this year, he should put his money where he mouth is and re-sign Johnson.

That’s what teams who are all-in do when a need arises.

Last Roster Spot Candidates

While most are focused on the bullpen, this Mets team has some other areas it needs to address prior to the start of the 2017 season. One of the main issues facing this team is which player is going to get the last spot on the bench?

At first blush, this may not seem like it is a major issue. If any of the infielders with an injury history go down, it is expected that Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes can more than capably handle any one of the four infield spots. If two were to go down, we have seen enough from both Flores and Reyes to know that they can at least be a good stop gap option at a position. However, lost in the confidence you would have in Flores or Reyes is the fact that once they are moved to a starting position, the player who is the last man on the roster will begin to take on a larger role on the team.

Last year, that player was Eric Campbell. While Campbell may have had his positive attributes, he was certainly not capable of playing everyday. And yet, when Lucas Duda and David Wright went down that was the position Campbell found himself. In 2017, there is no reason to believe that Duda or Wright could last a full season. Same goes for Neil Walker, who just had season ending back surgery, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who played with a knee injury for the entirety of the 2016 season. The long story short here is the Mets need a deep bench for the 2017 season to prevent a player of Campbell’s caliber being a starter for two or more weeks.

For the past two seasons, the Mets have made trades to obtain Kelly Johnson to serve as a bench player. He has proven himself to be a useful player who has hit .260/.319/.441 over two brief stints with the Mets. Last year, he was clutch as a pinch hitter hitting four pinch hit home runs. He is versatile in his ability to play second, third, and both corner outfield positions. In 2015, we saw him play shortstop in a game. If given Spring Training to work on it, he could add first base to his repertoire. The main issue facing Johnson is he remains unsigned, and at this point, it is questionable whether the Mets have interest in him with the team already espousing that they need to cut payroll entering the 2017 season.

The next in line would likely be Terry Collins‘ favorite Ty Kelly. Like Johnson, Kelly is versatile in his ability to play across the infield and his ability to play the corner outfield positions. While he is a switch hitter, Kelly showed he was a better hitter against left-handed pitching in what was a very small sample size. Late in the season, Collins used Kelly as a pinch runner late in games. Overall, while Kelly does nothing outstanding, and is clearly best suited to being a bench player at the major league level, Collins has shown that he appreciates what Kelly can bring to the table.

In addition to Kelly, T.J. Rivera was the other standout 27 year old Mets rookie during the 2016 season. Late in the season with the injuries to Walker and Flores, Rivera grabbed a hold of the second base job and hit .333/.346/.476 in 33 games. Unlike Johnson and Kelly, Rivera has played a fair amount of games at shortstop. With that said, there is a reason why the Mets began transitioning him away from short beginning in AA. With that said, RIvera can legitimately play all four infield positions. When he was passed over for promotion to the majors, he began working in LF in AAA meaning it is possible he can play the outfield if necessary. The main sticking point with Rivera is the fact that he is an aggressive hitter that rarely draws a walk.

Last, but certainly not least, is Matt Reynolds. Unlike the aforementioned players, Reynolds is a legitimate shortstop who quite possibly has the best range out of all the major league options the Mets have at the position. For one glorious day game, Reynolds showed he can play left field, and he can get that clutch hit to help the Mets win the game. On the downside, Reynolds is the worst hitter of the bunch. In his 47 games with the Mets last year, he only hit .255/.266/.416. In the hitter’s haven that in the Pacific Coast League, he was only a .264/.336/.357 hitter last year. Ultimately, Reynolds is the guy you want out there defensively, but he is not the guy you want at the plate.

Unless the Mets sign Johnson, it looks like the fight will be between Kelly, Rivera, and Reynolds for the last spot on the bench. IN those three players, the Mets have three intriguing if not flawed players. Ultimately, that is your best bet when looking to round out your major league bench. The good news for the Mets is if one should falter, there are two more behind them that can pick up the slack. If the Mets face a number of injuries like they did in 2015 and 2016, the Mets have a couple of options that have proven they can be useful major league players. With that, it seems the Mets bench should not be a problem for the first time in a good number of years . . . at least that’s the hope.

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

The James Loney Era Is Over

Due to Lucas Duda‘s broken back and Sandy Alderson believing Eric Campbell was the best possible option for the 25th man on the Opening Day roster, the Mets were forced to go out and acquire James Loney for $1 from the San Diego Padres.

Look, there are plenty of jokes you can make about the Mets getting ripped off in the deal.  You can also point out to how Loney was a terrible hitter who not only couldn’t hit for power, but he also couldn’t draw a walk.  In the field, you could crack jokes about how dead people are able to stretch more than Loney was able to at first base.

Behind these jokes, the simple fact was Loney was better than what the Mets had at the time.  Loney was the end result of poor planning by this Mets organization.  Lost in all of that was Loney was actually good for a stretch of time.  From June to July, Loney was a .288/.343/.451 hitter.  While it wasn’t the production you may look for out of first base, he was still a solid major league hitter.  And he was a solid major league hitter at a time when Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera were mired in deep slumps.  Without Loney’s bat, it is quite possible the Mets would have been further under .500 than they would have been.

There were even some clutch hits along the way like his 100th career home run that helped the Mets beat the Miami Marlins:

The main issue with Loney was he was playing above his head, and he fooled everyone into thinking he was going to keep up this level of production.  He certainly convinced a Mets front office who was once again either unwilling or ill-prepared to handle the first base situation at the trade deadline.

In the end, Loney showed the Mets his best ability was his availability.  That speaks volume when you consider the entire Mets Opening Day infield spent at least one stint on the disabled list.  Heck, even the primary backup, Wilmer Flores, had a season ending injury that required offseason surgery.

Overall, it was not his fault he was not the hitter the Mets needed him to be.  Ultimately, Loney was just Loney.  It was good enough to help the Mets capture the top Wild Card spot, but ultimately, it was not enough for the Mets to beat Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card game.

Loney has now signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers thereby putting an end to the possibility of his returning to the Mets.  It’s likely he won’t have a Kelly Johnson type return either.  The chapter in Mets history is closed, and generally speaking, the Mets were better off for him being a part of it.  And no, it’s not a stretch to say that.

Mets Need Bryce Harper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cespedes Is Back, Now What?

Last offseason, the Mets re-signing Yoenis Cespedes put the final touches on the team everyone hoped would compete for a World Series.  This year, the re-signing of Cespedes is really just a start for a team that still needs to make a number of moves this offseason.  Here is a look at the moves the Mets still need to make:

TRADE JAY BRUCE

With Cespedes back, Jay Bruce likely becomes the outfielder the Mets will trade this offseason.  In his nine year career, Bruce has been a .248/.318/.467 hitter who has averaged 27 homers and 82 RBI.  At $13 million next season, that production is arguably a bargain.  That is probably a reason why teams have been in contact with the Mets trying to inquire what the team will want in exchange for Bruce.  While it is hard to believe the Mets will be able to bring in a prospect like Dilson Herrera or a player that will have a similar impact that Bruce will have in 2017, it should not be ruled out that the Mets will be able to acquire a player of consequence that will help the team next season.

DETERMINE MICHAEL CONFORTO’S POSITION

If the Mets are going to trade Bruce, it is another sign that the Mets see Michael Conforto as an everyday player.  Where he will be an everyday player remains to be seen.  With Cespedes returning for four years with a no trade clause, the only thing we know is that Conforto will not be the teams everyday left fielder anytime soon.  That leaves center and right field.

During Conforto’s time in AAA last year, he began learning both positions.  In his limited time in the majors at both positions, he showed he may very well be able to handle either position on an everyday basis.  However, given the presence of Juan Lagares on this team, the best thing for Conforto and the Mets is to transition him to right field.  Let him get fully acclimated there and focus on getting back to where he was April of last year.  This will also let Lagares and Curtis Granderson handle center field duties next season, which was a platoon that may work very well for the Mets next year.

OBTAIN A LOOGY

Last year, Jerry Blevins had a terrific year out of the bullpen for the Mets as a LOOGY.  In fact, he proved to be a bit more as he had a career best year pitching against right-handed batters.  However, he is a free agent now, and the Mets do not appear as if they are able or inclined to give him the multi-year deal that he may command in free agency.

The internal left-handed options are Josh Edgin and Josh Smoker.  Edgin did have some success against left-handed batters in limited duty in the majors last year, but with his velocity still not having fully returned after his Tommy John surgery, it is hard to rely upon him in any capacity next year.  Smoker had outstanding strikeout rates in the minors and the majors last year, but he has reverse splits.  Therefore, the Mets are going to have to look outside the organization to figure out who will be the first lefty out of the pen next season.

OBTAIN ONE OR MORE LATE INNING RELIEVERS

The Mets bullpen really is in a state of flux at the moment due to the Jeurys Familia domestic violence arrest.  Pending an investigation by MLB, it is possible that Familia will miss a significant number of games next season.  If that is the case, Addison Reed should prove more than capable of closing games in Familia’s absence.  This begs the question of who will step up and take over Reed’s role in the short term.

It was a question the Mets faced most of 2016, and they did not find a good answer until they obtained Fernando Salas on the eve of the waiver trade deadline.  Given his late inning and closing experience, Salas would be a good option to pitch in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning next year.  However, he is a free agent at the moment meaning the Mets are going to have to presumably sign or trade for someone to take over this role.  In fact, the Mets may very well need two late inning relievers to address the bullpen.

SIGN A VETERAN STARTER

The one lesson learned from the 2016 season should be that once again you can never have too much pitching.  With the return of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz, the Mets rotation is almost complete.  The question is who will become the team’s fifth starter.

The first name that will be mentioned is Zack Wheeler.  However, after missing all of 2015 and 2016, no one can be quite certain he is ready and able to assume the fifth starter’s role.  The next names that will be mentioned are Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.  Both pitched quite well for the Mets in the stretch run last year, but the Mets may prefer to have a veteran arm who is able to eat up innings and/or can go deeper into the season than any of the aforementioned pitchers.  Preferably, the pitcher they do sign would be willing to move to the bullpen in the event Wheeler, Lugo, or Gsellman wins the job in Spring Training or is ready to take over at some point during the season.

FIGURE OUT THE BACK-UP CATCHER SITUATION

Even with Rene Rivera back in the fold and despite his excellent work with Noah Syndergaard, there is still room for improvement on the catching front.  Many will mention the recently non-tendered Wellington Castillo, but people should realize he’s an average hitter at best. Moreover, he’s a terrible pitch framer. Mets need to do better than that, but to be fair, that may not be possible. 

Whatever the Mets decide to do, they first have to realize that Kevin Plawecki has twice proven he should not be relied upon to be the team’s primary back-up catcher.  Next, the Mets have to realize they need a viable backup who can handle playing a number of games due to Travis d’Arnaud‘s injury history.

There are some other matters that need to be figured out as well.  For example, do you want Ty Kelly and T.J. Rivera competing for the last spot on the bench, or do you want to re-sign Kelly Johnson?  The answer to this and many other questions will largely depend on how much money the Mets have to spend the offseason and/or what the Mets are able to obtain in exchange for Bruce.

Cespedes was a great start to the offseason, but the Mets work is far from over.

Kevin Long Did a Good Job in 2016

The Mets ranked dead last in the majors with a .225 team batting average with runners in scoring position. As a result of this and other issues, there was much hand-wringing over the Mets offense, and by natural extension of that, hitting coach Kevin Long.  However, lost in all of the hand-wringing and finger-pointing was the fact that many of the Mets batters actually had a good season.  In fact, much of this correlated with these batters working with Kevin Long.  Here are some examples:

Asdrubal Cabrera

Entering the 2016 season, Cabrera was a career .267/.329/.412 hitter who averaged 28 doubles, 11 homers, and 57 RBI.  Last year, the year that enticed the Mets to move quickly on the shortstop in free agency, Cabrera hit .265/.315/.430 with 28 doubles, 15 homers, and 58 RBI.  Cabrera was much better than that this season.

Overall, Cabrera, while dealing with a knee injury all season long, hit .280/.336/.474 with 30 doubles, 23 homers, and 62 RBI.  Judging on that alone, it was Cabrera’s best year at the plate (and his second best season as per OPS+).  However, those numbers don’t tell the full story.  After Cabrera came off the disabled list in August, he finished the season hitting .345/.406/.635 with 11 doubles, 10 homers, and 29 RBI.  Effectively speaking, a healthier Cabrera helped power the Mets to the postseason.

Neil Walker

Entering the 2016 season, Walker was a career .272/.338/.431 hitter who averaged 25 doubles, 13 homers, and 60 RBI.  Despite this being a year in which Walker dealt with numb feet and missed the month of September due to back surgery, Walker hit .282/.347/.476 with nine doubles, 23 homers, and 55 RBI.  Overall, Walker tied his career high in homers and had his highest slugging percentage and OPS.  He also had his second highest batting average and OBP.  It was his third highest OPS+.  If Walker was healthy or played in September who knows how much better those numbers would’ve been.

On their own those numbers were great, but there was a significant improvement to Walker’s game.  Despite Walker being billed as a switch-hitter, he really wasn’t.  Entering the 2016 season, Walker hit .260/.306/.338 with six homers and 75 RBI over seven major league seasons.  As a right-handed batter in 2016, Walker hit .330/.391/.610 with eight homers and 16 RBI.  He was a completely different hitter from the right side of the plate who more than doubled his career home run total from that side of the plate.  With that Walker went from a switch-hitter in name only to a real threat from both sides of the plate.

Yoenis Cespedes

Entering the 2015 season, Cespedes was a career .263/.316/.464 hitter who averaged 27 doubles, 24 homers, and 87 RBI.  He was a batter that struck some fear when he cane to the plate, but he was hardly considered one of the top power hitters in the game.

When Cespedes game to the Mets at the trade deadline last year that all changed.  In 57 games, Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 14 doubles, 17 homers, and 44 RBI.  The numbers were striking as they were unexpected.  This year, Cespedes proved those numbers weren’t a mirage.  In 132 games with the Mets, Cespedes hit .280/.354/.530 with 25 doubles, 31 homers, and 86 RBI.  It’s all the more impressive when you consider Cespedes did this while dealing with a quad issue for about half the season.  During Cespedes tenure with the Mets he has hit for a higher average, OBP, SLG, and homers.  He is now one of the most feared power hitters in the game.

Wilmer Flores

Sometimes becoming an effective player is just focusing on the things you do well as a player.  As we have seen in Flores’ young career, the two things he does well is hit for power and hit left-handed pitching.  Before going down for the season with a wrist injury, Flores was at his absolute best in both departments.

In 107 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, Flores hit .340/.383/.710 with four doubles, 11 homers, and 28 RBI.  For the season, Flores hit .267/.319/.469 with 14 doubles, 16 homers, and 49 RBI.  It was a career best batting average, OBP, and slugging for Flores in a season he tied his career high in homers.  It should also be noted that Flores was getting progressively better as 2016 progressed.  With that, Flores showed he was not just an improved hitter in 2016, but he was a player who is poised to have an even better 2017.

Kelly Johnson

Before being traded to the Mets yet again, Johnson was hitting .215/.273/.289 for the Braves.  When Johnson returned to the Mets, he asked Long to do for him what Long did for Daniel Murphy.  The result was Johnson hitting .268/.328/.459 with eight doubles, nine homers, and 24 RBI in 82 games.   With the 34 year old Johnson didn’t just turn his season around, he might’ve also lengthened his career.

In response to the positive impact Long had on some key contributors to the 2016 season, many Mets fans will point to some of the perceived failures of Long this season.  Just remember the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

With respect to Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto, their numbers will tell you both players took a major step back in 2016.  However,  Conforto had a wrist injury, and d’Arnaud had a shoulder injury.  Those injuries most likely had a big impact on their performances especially when you consider Conforto hit .365/.442/.676 and was the major league leader in hard hit ball percentage.

Another player many fans will point to is Curtis Granderson, who took a step back from his outstanding 2015 season.  It should be noted, Granderson hit .302/.414/.615 in the final month of the season, and he became the oldest Mets outfielder to hit 30+ home runs in a season.

As for the rest of the team, many suffered their injuries, and they had their ups and their downs as the season progressed.  However, the Mets were able to withstand the injuries and the ups and downs of the season because the Mets got some terrific and unexpected offensive seasons from some of their players.  Kevin Long goes a long way in explaining how that happened.

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

Mets Have Rule 5 Decisions to Make

With the Mets adding Gavin Cecchini to the 40 man roster to sit on the bench as the Mets are chasing down a Wild Card spot, the team had one less decision to make on who should be added to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason.  Even if the Mets didn’t add Cecchini now, he was going to be added in the offseason.  Cecchini is too valuable a prospect, and he would be snatched up immediately in the Rule 5 Draft.

Cecchini was not the only player the Mets were going to have to make a decision on this offseason.  In fact, the Mets have to make a decision on 66 different prospects about whether or not they should be added to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.  Here is a review of some of the more notable Mets prospects that need to be added to the 40 man roster in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft:

AMED ROSARIO

SS Amed Rosario (Advanced A & AA) .324/.374/.459, 24 2B, 13 3B, 5 HR, 71 RBI, 19 SB

Yes, if it hasn’t been apparent this entire year, Rosario is in a class all by himself.  If he’s not added to the 40 man roster someone is getting fired.

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE

1B/3B Matt Oberste (AA) .283/340/.409, 21 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 1 SB

One issue that has plagued Oberste his entire minor league career is he has to fight for at bats as he is usually behind a bigger Mets prospect.  That has been literally and figuratively Dominic Smith (who is not yet Rule 5 eligible).  Oberste was an Eastern League All Star; however, the issue that is always going to hold him back is the fact that he is a corner infielder that does not hit for much power. Most likely, Oberste will not be added to the 40 man roster.

CF Champ Stuart (Advanced A & AA) .240/.314/.349, 12 2B, 7 3B, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 40 SB

Stuart is an elite defensive outfielder that has speed on the bases as evidenced by him stealing 40 bases this season.  The issue with Stuart is he is a maddening offensive player.  He went from hitting .265/.347/.407 in 71 games for Advanced A St. Lucie to hitting .201/.264/.261 in 43 games for AA Binghamton.  While he certainly has the tools to possibly be a big leauger one day, he’s too far away at this point.  Also, with teams putting more of a premium on offense than defense, it’s likely he will not be protected, and he will go undrafted.

C Tomas Nido ( Advanced A) .320/.357/.459, 23 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 0 SB

This year was a breakout season defensively and offensively for the Florida State League batting champion.  Normally, with Nido never having played a game in AA, the Mets would be able to leave him unprotected and be assured he wouldn’t be drafted.  However, with catcher being such a difficult position to fill, it’s possible a bad team like the Braves takes a flyer on him and keeps him as the second or third stringer catcher all year.  It’s exactly how the Mets lost Jesus Flores to the Nationals many years ago.

SP Marcos Molina 2015 Stats (Rookie & Advanced A) 9 G, 8 GS, 1-5, 4.26 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.9 K/9

Molina did not pitch for the Mets organization for the entire 2016 season as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.  The Arizona Fall League will be his first time facing batters in a game since his eight starts for St. Lucie in 2015.  It’s likely he will go unprotected and undrafted.

ARMS THAT COULD HELP IN 2017

RHP Paul Sewald (AAA) 56 G, 5-3, 19 saves, 3.29 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.0 K/o

In many ways, it is surprising that a Mets bullpen that was looking for an extra arm never turned to Sewald.  While he struggled to start the season like most pitchers transitioning to the Pacific Coast League do, Sewald figured it out and had a terrific second half with 10 saves, a 1.85 ERA, and a 0.95 WHIP.  Sewald should be protected.  In the event he isn’t, he should be as good as gone.

RHP Beck Wheeler (AA & AAA) 47 G, 0-3, 6 saves, 5.98 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 12.1 K/9

Wheeler went unprotected and undrafted last year, and based upon the numbers he put up in his time split between Binghamton and Las Vegas, it appears the same thing will happen this year.  The one reservation is like with the Braves interest in Akeel Morris, teams will always take fliers on guys with mid 90s fastballs who can generate a lot of strikeouts.  It just takes one team to think they can help him reduce his walk rate for him to go in the Rule 5 draft.

RHP Chasen Bradford (5 saves, 4.80 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) – Bradford regressed statistically from last year in large part because he is a sinker/slider pitcher that pitches to contact.  On the bright side, he walks very few batters meaning if you have good infield defense, he will be a successful pitcher for your team.  His numbers should scare off a number of teams in the Rule 5 draft just like it did last year.

RHP Ricky Knapp (Advanced A & AA) 25 G, 24 GS, 13-6, 2.69 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.3 K/9

Knapp started the year in St. Lucie, and he finished it with a spot start in Las Vegas.  Knapp doesn’t have any plus pitches, but he gets the most out of all of his pitches because he is excellent at hitting his spots.  He is a very polished product that is best suited to being a starting pitcher.  Since he doesn’t strike out many batters, teams will most likely pass on him in the Rule 5 draft.

RHP Luis Mateo (AA & AAA) 51 G, 4-4, 1 save, 2.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.0 K/9

He’s a fastball/slider pitcher with a low 90s fastball that generates a fair share of groundball outs while keeping the ball in the ballpark.  While his ERA should entice teams, his WHIP and strikeout rate may keep them away just like it did last year when the Mets left him exposed to the Rule 5 draft.  He will most likely begin next year in AAA.

RISING PROFILES

2B/3B/SS Phillip Evans (Advanced A & AA) .321/.366/.460, 30 2B, 0 3B, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 1 SB

The Eastern League Batting Champion certainly raised his profile with a much improved offensive season.  He’s starting to become more selective at the plate and learn how to be less of a pull hitter.  The main issue for Evans is he may not have a position.  While he can make all the plays at the infield positions, he lacks range to be a solid middle infielder.  He also lacks the arm strength and power numbers you would want at third base.

RHP Chris Flexen (Advanced A, AA, AAA) 25 GS, 10-9, 3.56 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.4 K/9

Flexen appears to be in the mold of a typical Mets pitching prospect in that he has a high 90’s fastball and a good slider.  Despite the repertoire, he is not generating a lot of strikeouts right now.  On the bright side, he does generate a number of ground balls while limiting home runs.   He was rumored to be part of the initial Jay Bruce trade that fell apart due to an unnamed prospect’s physical (does not appear to be him).  A second division club like the Reds could take a flyer on him and put him in the bullpen for a year to gain control over him despite him never having pitched at a level higher than Advanced A St. Lucie.

RHP Tyler Bashlor (Full Season & Advanced A) 54 G,  4-3, 2.75 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 11.8 K/9

While the 5’11” Bashlor is short on stature, he has a big arm throwing a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider which he used to dominate in the Sally League.  Bashlor used these pitches to strike out 11.8 batters per nine innings.  Like Flexen, there is danger exposing a big arm like this even if the highest level of experience he has is four games for Advanced A St. Lucie.

RHP Kevin McGowan (Advanced A & AA) 42 G, 4 GS, 2 saves, 2.35 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.9 K/9

McGowan is a fastball/changeup pitcher that still needs to develop a breaking pitch.  While that fastball/changeup combination has been good enough to get batters out at the lower levels of the minor leagues, he is going to need another pitch if he is going to progress as a pitcher.

DISAPPOINTING SEASONS

RF Wuilmer Becerra (Advanced A) .312/.341/.393, 17 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 34 RBI, 7 SB

Around the time of the Rule 5 Draft last year, the debate was whether a bad team like the Braves would take a flyer on Becerra just to get the promising young outfielder into their organization.  Unfortunately, Becerra would have a shoulder injury that would rob him of his budding power.  More importantly, that shoulder injury would require surgery ending his season after just 65 games.

1B/3B Jhoan Urena (Advanced A) .225/.301/.350, 17 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 0 SB

With the emergence of David Thompson, Urena was pushed from third to first.  However, that isn’t what was most troubling about his season.  In fact, many questioned whether he could stay at third given his frame.  The issue was the switch hitting Urena stopped hitting for power this season.  With his not hitting for power, Rosario’s best friend in the minors should go undrafted in the Rule 5 Draft.

LHP Paul Paez (Advanced A & AA) 34 G, 4-1, 3.88 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.9 K/9

This year Paez failed to distinguish himself by not pitching particularly well for St. Lucie and then struggling in Binghamton.  He only has a high 80’s fastball and lacks a true swing and miss breaking pitch.  While lefties hitting .308 off of him this year, he may not even have a future as a LOOGY in a major league bullpen.

NEEDS TIME TO DEVELOP

OF Patrick Biondi (Advanced A) .271/.352/.332, 17 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 34 RBI, 26 SB

While Biondi’s stats look good on the surface, it should be noted at 25 years old, he is old for the level.  On the bright side, Biondi has speed and is a good defender in CF.  However, until he starts getting on base more frequently, he will not be considered for the 40 man roster.

RHP Nabil Crismatt (Short & Full Season A) 13 G, 7 GS, 1-4, 1 Save, 2.47 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 10.1 K/9

Crismatt is only 21, but he is mature in terms of his ability to control his changeup and curveball and throw them at any point in the count.  Couple that with a low 90s fastball that could gain velocity as he ages, and you have someone who has the repertoire to be a major leaguer.  However, considering he hasn’t faced stiff competition yet in his career, he is nowhere ready for the majors, at least not yet.

2B/3B/SS Jeff McNeil 2015 Season (Advanced A & AA) .308/.369/.377, 18 2B, 6 3B, 1 HR, 40 RBI, 16 SB

Coming into the season, McNeil appeared to be more mature physically and at the plate.  He seemed ready to begin hitting for more power while still being able to handle 2B defensively.  Unfortunately, he would only play in three games this season for Binghamton before going on the disabled list needing season ending sports hernia surgery.

RHP Tim Peterson (Advanced A & AA) 48 G, 4-1, 2 saves, 3.03 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 12.3 K/9

At each and every level Peterson has pitched, he has shown the ability to strike people out with a fastball that touches on the mid 90s and a plus curveball.  The only issue for him in his career so far was his PED suspension in 2014.

AAAA PLAYERS

OF Travis Taijeron (AAA) .275/.372/.512, 42 2B, 5 3B, 19 HR, 88 RBI, 1 SB

Taijeron continued to do what he does best, which is get on base and hit for power.  Despite a strong Spring Training and another solid offensive season, the Mets really showed no interest in calling him up to the majors.  He will most likely go unprotected, but maybe this year a team out there desperate for some power in the outfield or on the bench will give him a shot.

2B L.J. Mazzilli (AA & AAA) .239/.320/.348, 18 2B, 6 3B, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 8 SB

Lee Mazzilli‘s son is a grinder out there who plays a decent second base.  Unfortunately, it appears his bat will prevent him from ever getting a real shot to ever play in the big league.

PREDICTIONS

Guaranteed: Rosario

Likely: Flexen, Nido

Bubble: Bashlor, Knapp, McGowan, Sewald, Wheeler

As for the remaining players, the Mets may very well gamble exposing them to the Rule 5 Draft and potentially lose them to another team.  It is also possible the Mets unexpectedly protect a player like Knapp.  In any event, the Mets have a number of important decisions to make that can have far reaching implications.