It was a very poorly kept secret back in 2017 if he had his druthers Sandy Alderson wanted to hire Kevin Long to succeed Terry Collins as the New York Mets manager. Long didn’t take anything for granted coming extremely prepared for the interview with binders of information. More than that, he had already had a profound impact on the Mets organization rejuvenating Curtis Granderson while transforming Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy.
However, it wasn’t to be. Instead, Jeff Wilpon got it in his mind he wanted to have Mickey Callaway as the manager. Despite Callaway interviewing poorly, it was enough for Wilpon to hire Callaway after one interview because the Philadelphia Phillies showed interest. As Mets fans can recall, this went over about as well as when the Mets included Jarred Kelenic in the Robinson Cano trade because the Phillies showed interest in Edwin Diaz.
Since then, the managerial position has been a disaster for the Mets. Callaway proved to be an awful human being harassing female reporters. After him, the Mets hired and then were effectively forced to fire Carlos Beltran. In a mad scramble, they hired Luis Rojas while completely failing to give him any chance to succeed in the position. Rather that let him continue to grow, the team has decided they need to go in a different direction.
Now, there are many moving pieces before the Mets get to hire a new manager. The biggest is the need to hire a new president of baseball operations. Presumably, that is the person who will and should have the biggest input on who the Mets next manager will be. Whatever the case, the Mets have the right to correct the mistake they made in 2017 and hire Long.
For his part, Long served the world with a reminder why he was managerial material. During the National League Wild Card Game, he was sitting next to superstar Juan Soto, a player Long has helped get the most out of his ability. Soto was wearing a Trea Turner jersey (another player Long has helped immensely) while Long wore a Max Scherzer jersey.
Max Scherzer went over to high five Juan Soto and Kevin Long after the walk-off home run 😂 pic.twitter.com/HvV0s4FLzE
— Blake Finney (@FinneyBlake) October 7, 2021
In that moment, you saw everything you could have possibly wanted to see from a future manager of your team. He was standing there with his star player, a player in Soto he helped take from a 19 year old wunderkind to a bona fide Major League superstar. More than that, he showed the incredibly great relationship he fostered with his superstar player, the very type of relationship a manager absolutely needs to have any level of success.
We also saw the sense of loyalty he has for his players. He went out there to support both Turner and Scherzer. It was a moment which meant so much to them Scherzer made sure to go over to the stands to celebrate his team’s walk-off win with them. Keep in mind here, Scherzer is a free agent who should be on everyone’s radar.
When we look at the modern game and the current status of the managerial role, it is increasingly about relationships with the players and the ability to communicate. It’s no longer about Gil Hodges playing a hunch or Davey Johnson trusting his eyes over the data. Increasingly, it’s about taking the game plan prepared by the front office and not just executing it, but getting the players to buy in on the plan.
Putting aside what happened in the NL Wild Card Game, this is exactly what Long does. He helped transform Cespedes from a wild swinger to a player better able to identify his pitch and become a monster at the plate. There was also Murphy who went from gap to gap hitter to a legitimate threat at the plate. Murphy showed the 2015 postseason wasn’t a fluke by any means when he became an All-Star and MVP candidate with the Washington Nationals. It should be noted Long followed Murphy to Washington, D.C.
In total, Long is what you want in a manager. He can process data and translate it to players in a way where they can understand and execute it. We also see he is a coach who can foster great relationships with this players. He is also loyal to his players, and they love him. Short of being able to steal away the Bob Melvins of the world, you’re not going to find a better managerial candidate than Long.
Alderson knew it in 2017, and he can do what he wanted to do back then and make Long the Mets manager. If that is the case, we can expect the maddening Mets offense to finally click and for this team to reach the World Series potential we know they have.
The story with Daniel Murphy goes when he was in Jacksonville University, he introduced himself as “I’m Daniel Murphy from Jacksonville, and I hit third.” That would perfectly describe Murphy’s Mets career to an extent. While he played some questionable defense, he will forever known for his offensive exploits.
Murphy’s story with the Mets began in 2008. The team was fighting with the Phillies for the National League East crown in August, and due to a number of injuries, they rushed Murphy up from the minors and stuck him in left field despite his being primarily a third baseman in his career.
Murphy was a revelation for the Mets that year hitting .313/.397/.473 with nine doubles, three triples, two homers, and 17 RBI in 49 games. He’d also notably hold his own him left field. Thus began the odyssey of Murphy with the Mets where he played mostly out of position, hit, and was clutch.
In 2009, he was severely miscast as the Opening Day left fielder in Citi Field. The ballpark was far too spacious, and he was not really an outfielder. Due to a number of injuries, he would find himself at first base in place of Carlos Delgado. In that season, he would not only lead the team in homers, but he would also have the first homer at Citi Field which came as a result of replay review.
After an injury plagued 2010 season which he began in the minors because new GM had more faith in Brad Emaus and others, Murphy returned to the Majors in 2011, and he eventually won the everyday second base job. It was a breakout season for him where he had his second highest OPS+ in his Mets career.
From there, while trade rumors would constantly follow him, he emerged as one of the teams best and most reliable players. One of the most interesting things which happened was Murphy became an extremely effective stolen base threat despite not having overwhelming or even good speed. From 2013 – 2014, he would steal 27 consecutive bases. That’s the second longest streak in Mets history trailing only Kevin McReynolds.
In that 2013, he would actually lead the league in stolen base percentage. He would also finish second in the league in hits. The 2014 season would be a special one for Murphy. First and foremost, he became a dad, and he would attend the birth to much consternation. Later that year, he would make his first All-Star team and his only one with the Mets. As great as that year was, 2015 would be Murphy’s best in a Mets uniform.
Working with new hitting coach Kevin Long, Murphy worked on improving his plate discipline, launch angle, and pulling the ball. We would see all of that come to fruition with Murphy having one of the greatest postseasons we have ever seen becoming the first ever player to hit a homer in six consecutive postseason games.
There’s no understating how great a postseason that was. In that postseason, he homered off of Clayton Kershaw (twice), Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, and others. Kershaw is an all-time great pitcher, Greinke is a likely future Hall of Famer, and Lester is a great postseason pitcher. Murphy beat them all, and he did something only Lou Gehrig had ever done by having a hit, run, and RBI in seven consecutive postseason games.
To put it succinctly, it was Murphtober.
He didn’t just beat teams with his bat. He had a great diving play to end Game 1 of the NLDS, and he would also steal a key base. On that note, in Game 5 of the NLDS, Murphy had such a great game, it should be known as the Murphy Game.
In that game, he was 3-for-4 with two runs, a double, homer, two RBI, and a stolen base. He gave the Mets a first inning lead with a double scoring Curtis Granderson. In the fourth, with the Mets trailing 2-1, he caught the Dodgers asleep with the defensive shift going from first to third on a Lucas Duda walk. This enabled him to score on a Travis d’Arnaud sacrifice fly. Later, in the sixth, he hit the go-ahead homer.
In the Mets 3-2 victory, Murphy played a key role in all three runs. It makes it fair to say in a tightly contested series and game, the Mets lose without him. Without Murphy, there is no NLCS or pennant. On that note, he would break Mike Piazza‘s team record for postseason homers and become just the second Mets player to ever win the NLCS MVP. Like Ray Knight, he would find himself playing for another team in 2016. That would prove to be a giant mistake.
Overall, Murphy had a very good and somewhat underrated Mets career. His .288 batting average is the seventh best in team history. His 228 doubles are the third most. His 13.6 WAR is second only to Edgardo Alfonzo among Mets second baseman. Only Ron Hunt, Alfonzo, and Murphy have been All Stars at second base.
Overall, he is arguably the Mets best ever postseason hitter, and he is their second base second baseman of all-time. He is one of the most clutch players to ever wear a Mets uniform, and he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 28.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
22. Al Leiter
23. Bernard Gilkey
24. Art Shamsky
25. Pedro Feliciano
26. Terry Leach
27. Jeurys Familia
Even with the Mets missing out on the Wild Card by three games, we will actually see some Mets in the World Series. Technically speaking, there are former Mets players in the World Series. So, in that sense, no matter who wins the World Series, we are going to see a Mets player get a ring.
Joe Smith – The 2006 third round pick was a valuable member of the Mets bullpen for two years before getting traded in the ill fated J.J. Putz trade. As luck would have it, Smith was the best reliever in that deal. In fact, Smith has had a very good career as a reliever with a good stretch in the postseason. In recent years, he’s tried to stay as close to his Ohio home as possible to be near his mother who is suffering from Huntington’s Disease. On that note, he has spent much time promoting awareness of this disorder through HelpCureHD.org.
Collin McHugh – The Mets never quite knew what they had with the 18th round pick of the 2008 draft trading him for Eric Young Jr. The same could go for the Rockies who designated him for assignment. McHugh rose above it all being one of the first pitchers to truly benefit from this Astros front office effect on pitchers. While he’s been a key part of the team’s recent run, he’s been sidelined this postseason with injuries.
Brent Strom – Strom was actually the third overall pick of the 1970 draft, but due to injuries, he would never quite make it either with the Mets, who eventually traded him to the Cleveland Indians, or as a Major Leaguer. After his Major League career, he’s found his footing as a coach, and during his tenure as the Astros pitching coach, he’s become one of the more noteworthy pitching coaches in the game.
Asdrubal Cabrera – The Mets signed Cabrera as a free agent, and his second half of the 2016 propelled them to the Wild Card Game. His play in that second half, along with that iconic bat flip, made him a fan favorite even through the issues regarding his trade demands. As much as fans loved him, Cabrera loved being a Met with his being traded and not re-signed breaking his son’s heart. Cabrera would have his chance to return, but with Brodie Van Wagenen not calling him back after the team signed Jed Lowrie over him, Cabrera opted to go to Washington instead.
Tim Bogar – Bogar spent four years as a Met as a utility player who was best known for his pre-game segments on Diamondvision. After his career was over, he had a decorated career as a minor league manager, and he’s been a respected coach leading to him being the National’s first base coach. With him being on the short list on the Mets managerial search, he may have a return to Queens after this World Series.
Chip Hale – Hale is a respected longtime coach who served as Terry Collins‘ third base coach in 2010 – 2011. In terms of team history, he goes down as one of the best third base coaches they have ever had.
Kevin Long – Long was the Mets hitting coach from 2015 – 2017. During that time, he was credited for players like Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes taking their offense to new heights, which was one of the reasons the Mets won the 2015 pennant. Partially due to his work as a hitting coach, he was a favorite to replace Collins as manager. When the Mets hired Mickey Callaway over him, he would leave for the Nationals organization where he has led young hitters like Juan Soto to the World Series.
Henry Blanco – Blanco had a reputation as a defensive catcher who spent one year with the Mets as a backup to Rod Barajas. After his playing career was over, he has followed a similar career path to Dave Duncan going from defensive catcher to pitching coach with Blanco having been the Nationals bullpen coach for the past two years.
In the end, no matter who wins, there will be a former Mets player who has a ring. As a fan of those players and coaches during their time with the Mets, we can take some sense of satisfaction when they get their ring. Of course, being happy for a particular player and being happy a certain team won are two completely different things.
On Thanksgiving, it’s time to go around the Mets 2017 roster and name something each player should be thankful for:
Nori Aoki – He looked so much better in September than he did in all of 2017 by being competent while playing on a dysfunctional team.
Jerry Blevins – Throughout all the stress of the season and his extreme workload, the man didn’t even put on one pound.
Chasen Bradford – With his call-up to the majors, he’s now on the short list for best beards in Mets history.
Jay Bruce – He learned from his experience last year, and he played well for a team that acquired him in a trade.
Asdrubal Cabrera – As we found out this season, all he wanted the Mets to do was to pick up his option so he could provide for him family. With the Mets having done that, he can now rest easy.
Jamie Callahan – One day when bards tell the tale of the six right-handed relievers the Mets acquired at the 2017 deadline, they will regale us all with stories of how Callahan was the first of them to finish out a game the Mets won.
Gavin Cecchini – He made the switch from short to second where it will be easier for him to make it to the majors. That goes double if the Mets who are tightening payroll off a poor season don’t bring in a free agent to play the position.
Yoenis Cespedes – With Cespedes missing half the season, that left a lot of time for him to hit the course.
Michael Conforto – Collins is gone meaning no one is standing in his way from being a superstar anymore.
Travis d’Arnaud – He became the greatest defensive second baseman in Mets history by posting a 1.000 fielding percentage at the position.
Jacob deGrom – With him pitching so well this year, he knows he will finally be able to cash in in arbitration thereby allowing him to afford a haircut.
Phillip Evans – After winning a batting title in 2016, having a good Spring Training, and a good second half for Vegas, the Mets finally decided to let him post similarly good numbers for them in September.
Jeurys Familia – Blood clots in his shoulder costing him most of the season made most people forget why he missed the beginning of the season.
Wilmer Flores – He fouled a ball off his face, and he lived to tell about it.
Sean Gilmartin – With his going from the Mets to the Cardinals, he was able to prove he wasn’t bad. It was just the Mets as an organization did not employ anyone capable of knowing he was actually injured.
Erik Goeddel – No matter how much he struggled this season, he will never be the most hated person in pro sports with the last name pronounced GO-dell\n
Curtis Granderson – He had a front row seat to seeing Chase Utley fail in the postseason.
Robert Gsellman – He has so much self confidence he doesn’t care what anyone things of him.
Matt Harvey – Between the Tommy John, TOS, and the Mets rushing him into the rotation with atrophied muscles in his throwing arm knowing he wouldn’t really be ready until a month into the season, he should be thankful for getting out of the season with his right arm still attached.
Ty Kelly – He got out of here after one game thereby preventing Nurse Ratched from getting to him and ending his season.
Juan Lagares – With all the injuries and the Mets looking to cut payroll, he is once again the center fielder of the future.
Steven Matz – With him suffering the same injury deGrom suffered last year, we all know he can come back from this to be the same exact injury prone pitcher he was before the surgery.
Kevin McGowan – He will always have a special place in Mets fans hearts as it was his call-up that forced Ramirez off the roster.
Tommy Milone – He was able to find a team that was okay with him having an ERA over 8.00.
Rafael Montero – For the first time in his life, he wasn’t a complete abomination as a pitcher.
Tomas Nido – Even with his struggles at the plate in Binghamton, he can rest easy knowing the Mets don’t expect an OBP over .300 from their catchers.
Brandon Nimmo – No one, not matter what, has been able to wipe that smile off of his face.
Tyler Pill – In a year of embarrassing pitching performances by Mets pitchers, Pill actually acquitted himself quite well before suffering his season ending injury.
Kevin Plawecki – He’s so well liked by his teammates that someone left him a present in his locker, which apparently has inspired him to hit the ball harder and longer thereby resurrecting his career.
Neil Ramirez – Somehow, someway, he was not the absolute worst pitcher on a team’s pitching staff.
AJ Ramos – To him, getting traded to the Mets meant he was traded to a team that actually spends money in the offseason.
Addison Reed – He was so good this year he was worth not just one but three right-handed relievers.
Jose Reyes – The Mets didn’t cut him or his playing time no matter how horrible he played during the 2017 season.
Matt Reynolds – He got that long look in September Sandy Alderson promised him. Unfortunately, that only amounted to him getting 10 games to show what he could do at the MLB level.
Jacob Rhame – He’s with an organization that has had success getting flame throwing right-handed pitchers who have slimmed down since getting drafted reach their full potential.
Rene Rivera – After failing to whisper loud enough to help the Mets pitchers pitch better, he was able to go to the Cubs to help their pitchers lead them to an NLCS berth.
Hansel Robles – In his mind every ball hit in the air is an inning ending pop up.
Amed Rosario – He didn’t have to have his development hampered by being expected to be the savior when he was called-up to the majors as the Mets were well out of contention on August 1st.
Fernando Salas – Despite his rough stint with the Mets, he was able to land with the Angels to end the season thereby proving it was the Mets handling of pitchers and not him that was terrible.
Paul Sewald – As a reward for all of his hard work in Vegas, he got the privilege of being the arm Collins loved to abuse during the season.
Dominic Smith – He finally got his call-up in August in Philadelphia of all places allowing him to celebrate the accomplishment and the win with a cheesesteak from Pat’s. (NOTE: not a cheapshot at his weight, this actually happened)
Josh Smoker – After the Mets finally gave up on using a pitcher with a history of shoulder issues as the long man in the pen, he showed the team in September that he could be as a lefty out of the pen to get lefties out.
Noah Syndergaard – Mr. Met flipped off someone this year other than him.
Neil Walker – The Mets moved him to the Brewers where he was able to re-establish his free agency value by being productive and by staying healthy, which was coincidentally was when he was away from the Mets medical team.
Adam Wilk – Because Harvey was at home one day in his pajamas, he set off on a path where he would become eligible to earn a share of the postseason money awarded to the Twins for claiming the second Wild Card.
Zack Wheeler – Instead of missing two years due to injury, he missed two months.
David Wright – Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Mets still have not given up on him.
Terry Collins – At the end of the day, he was able to make a friend of Fred Wilpon who had his back no matter what. We should all be so lucky.
Dan Warthen – He found a new group of pitchers in Texas who have elbows waiting to learn how to throw that Warthen Slider.
Sandy Alderson – Collins was so poor at managing, he was able to convince ownership it was all Collins’ fault and not his for poorly constructing a roster.
Mets Fans – Well, even if it wasn’t at this post, we all still have a sense of humor, and we can still laugh at what we put up with from this team on a daily basis.
Mets Hitting Coach Kevin Long
Current Position: Mets Hitting Coach (2015 – present)
Age: 12/30/66 (50)
Managerial Experience: 1998 Wilmington Blue Rocks (A) 6-1; Spokane Indians (A) 44-32 (League Champs)
After a dismal 2014 season, the Mets fired Dave Hudgens and brought Long aboard to serve as the team’s new hitting coach. Certainly, Long’s previous working experience with Curtis Granderson, and the Mets wanting to get the biggest free agent acquisition in the Sandy Alderson Era going didn’t hurt. In his time with the Mets, Long has certainly distinguished himself to the point where he’s actually been referred to as a “rock star.” (MLB.com).
To name a few, we have seen Granderson, Daniel Murphy, Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce, and Neil Walker become better hitters under Long’s tutelage. Generally speaking, when Long’s message gets through, we see players both increase their OBP and their slugging. As noted in a New York Times article, 0ne of the reasons why Long is able to help players improve as hitters is they compile all the relevant data, they filter it down, and they convey that information to the players in the hopes they absorb it and to put it to good use.
In terms of not just the modern manager, but any manager, you are looking for an individual who not only has the ability to understand the data provided to him, but also the best way to convey that data to the players in a way that is effective. As noted with player like Murphy and Cespedes, it has worked. Conversely, we have also seen Long fail to help Travis d’Arnaud and Juan Lagares reach their offensive ceilings. That’s certainly something that has held the Mets back and forced the team to acquire some players over the past few seasons.
Another issue with Long is his lack of managerial experience. He has not managed anywhere since 1999, and he has not managed above short season Single-A ball. Accordingly, we really have no idea how he would handle being in charge of every aspect of a clubhouse, a pitching staff, personalities, and playing time.
To that end, it should be noted Long has a good relationship with former Yankees and Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who is noted for helping fix pitcher’s mechanics. After all the times the past few seasons we have heard Mets pitchers point to mechanical issues, the team could certainly use a pitching coach like Eiland to replace Dan Warthen.
Still, with Long, we have seen a coach that already has the respect of the players in the Mets clubhouse, and he has a report with the front office. We see someone who is a good communicator and someone who has the ability to understand and translate data. Ultimately, we may not know what type of manager he would become, but we do know he has the tools to succeed as a manager.
What The Players Say:
Granderson: “If that were to happen, obviously he’d be up for the challenge. He’s always energetic, he communicates, which I think is the biggest thing a manager needs to have . . . So many things can be resolved if people just communicate.” (Newsday).
Alex Rodriguez: “And that’s why I think Kevin Long could be a good manager. It’s more like a CEO of a public company. You’re basically getting information from your board and ownership and you’re transferring it to your shareholder which are the players.” (WFAN)
Understandably, Mets fans probably want someone with more experience, and some want a completely new face. However, with the current front office going nowhere, you are going to need someone who you know has a good working relationship with the front office. It also helps that Long has a respect in the clubhouse, and the ability to communicate with this players.
Due to his strengths, Long would be a fine choice for manager with one caveat. With his lack of experience, Long is going to need a strong staff with an accomplished pitching coach and a veteran bench coach to help guide him. Short of that, and the Mets are really just setting up Long for failure.
* 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
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.
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.”
Last year’s story “One Strike, Two Strikes, Three Strikes, You’re Out!” can be found here
Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!
One of the biggest issues with the 2017 Mets was the production they received from first base. The precipitous drop in production was a major factor in why the 2016 Mets scored fewer runs than the 2015 Mets. Remember, the 2015 Mets once infamously had John Mayberry, Jr. and Eric Campbell hitting in the middle of the lineup. With that in mind, getting improved production out of first base needs to be a priority for the Mets this offseason. Here is what should be available for the Mets this offseason:
INTERNAL FIRST BASEMAN
Duda is exactly the player the Mets need to revive their offense in 2017. From 2014-2015, Duda hit .249/.350/.483 while averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI. He is a home run threat in the middle of your order, and he is the classic slugging first baseman.
The issue with Duda is no one knows if he is healthy. In 2015, he went on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his lower back. In 2016, he suffered a stress fracture in his lower back, and he took longer than expected to return from the injury. While he tried admirably to try to play in the Wild Card Game, he just wasn’t ready. For the season, he only played in 47 games hitting .229/.302/.412 with seven homers and 23 RBI.
While all indications are Duda is completely healthy, it is unknown whether he can withstand the rigors of a 162 game schedule. It is also unknown whether he can return to form after suffering back injuries in consecutive seasons. At the moment, it is anticipated he will earn approximately $7 million in arbitration. For the production we know he is capable of producing, that is a steep bargain. Not knowing if he can produce, $7 million could be an expensive gamble, especially in light of Wright’s situation.
Smith is coming off a terrific year in AA where he finally began to fulfill some of the offensive potential he has by hitting for more power in the second half of the season. He is a a highly regarded prospect who is already a slick defender at first base. Still, he is just 21 years old, and he has yet to have an at-bat above AAA. He is not ready to be the Opening Day first baseman, and it is quite possible he may not be ready to play in the majors next year.
PLAYERS CHANGING POSITIONS
Time and again, people state Wright should just move across the diamond and play first base. Saying that presents a clear misunderstanding of the first base position and how taxing it would be on Wright.
Other than catcher, first base is the most demanding physical position for a player. At first base, a player is constantly stretching, turning, and twisting in the hopes of getting a throw from one of his infielders that much quicker to turn a close play into an out. With a runner on first, the first baseman has to spring off the bag and into his defensive position as the pitcher delivers the ball. Like a third baseman, he charges the bunts and dives for balls down the line. According to Dr. Walter P. Jacobsen, DO, a neurosurgeon, these activities that are high impact and require twisting are activities that should be avoided. These activities are more prevalent at first than third base.
Even assuming this was incorrect, that Wright was better suited to first base, when is he going to get the opportunity to transition there? Wright had season ending cervical fusion surgery, and presumably, he is going to need to spend most of his time in the offseason rehabbing and figuring out yet another pregame routine that will permit him to play in as many games as possible. As such, there is no time for him to learn first base.
Without or without Cespedes’ return, the Mets are going to have a glut of everyday caliber outfielders, and one of them may need to find a new home. That new home could be on another team or at another position. With UZR and DRS rating Bruce was the Mets worst outfielder, he would be the likely candidate to move to first base.
The one caution is Bruce has only played three games there in his major league career, and all three of those games were two years ago. Even accounting for that, Bruce may have the athleticism to adapt to first base and succeed there on the major league level. It is also a way to keep him and his 30 home run caliber bat in the lineup every day while also allowing Curtis Granderson, another Mets right fielder who can hit 30 home runs, in the lineup everyday.
Still, before moving someone over to first base, Mike Piazza should always be a caution to Mets fans that not just anyone can move over there. It is a difficult position that requires hard work in the offseason. If this is the plan, the Mets need to implement it sooner rather than later.
None other than Keith Hernandez believes Conforto should be playing first base with him saying, “He more than likely is going to end up at first base, though it’s unlikely he’ll be anything more than average there.” (nj.com). While it is far from a ringing endorsement, it is notable when Hernandez, the best defensive first baseman in major league history, states you should play his position.
For his part, Conforto is open to the possibility saying, “I took some reps in college over at first base just for emergency-type situations. I think that’s something that’s very, very interesting, something I’d be open to, obviously. I just want to help the team.” (New York Post).
Moving Conforto there means you won’t have to displace a veteran like Bruce. However, it does create a few problems. First, choosing to move Conforto over Bruce also means choosing to move the better defensive outfielder out of the outfield. Second, moving Conforto there could become a potential barrier to Smith or Peter Alonso at first base in the upcoming seasons. Third, having Conforto change positions to the infield could be yet another obstacle in the young player’s development.
For a myriad of reasons ranging from a wrist injury to uneven playing time to him just falling into slumps like any other player, the 2016 season was a lost one for Conforto. He went from the Mets top hitting prospect to a young player Terry Collins entrusted to little more than pinch hitting duty down the stretch. It is quite possible the best thing for him is for the Mets to pick a position in the outfield and let him stay there and allow him to work with Kevin Long to get back to what worked well for him.
Tigers GM Al Avila has already announced the Tigers are looking to get younger and shed some payroll this offseason. With that in mind, the Tigers have a number of interesting trade candidates making big money like Cabrera.
At 33, Cabrera had another terrific season hitting .316/.393/.563 with 38 homers and 108 RBI. Should Cespedes depart this offseason, Cabrera would more than replace Cespedes in the lineup. However, the Mets chances of obtaining Cabrera are unlikely due to the cost. First, it is going to take a huge haul of players to obtain them, and in the past, the Mets have shown unwillingness to move one of their big pitchers like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, or Steven Matz. Given Cabrera’s production, it is likely the Tigers ask for one of these players and/or a big prospect like Smith, Amed Rosario, or both.
Even if there was a middle ground on players the Mets deemed acceptable, it is hard to imagine them adding Cabrera’s contract. Cabrera still has seven years $132 million left on his deal. The contract carries through to his age 40 season, and there are two vesting options at the back end of the deal for $30 million a piece. If Cabrera does not age well, this contract would become the type of albatross Sandy Alderson typically avoids.
Bringing back Turner would be a page out of the Todd Zeile handbook. While Turner has not played regularly at first base, he has shown the ability to play over there, and his bat may help the Mets improve in 2016.
Moreover, Turner may need to move to first base to lengthen his career. Over the past few seasons, he has had knee issues, and he may not be well suited for the third base position in the time of the modern shift era that requires a third baseman to cover more ground than they did a decade or so ago.
There does remain some issues for Turner. First and foremost is the aforementioned knee issues. Second, Turner took off when he played in his hometown. There is no telling if he would struggle playing on the east coast again. Third, he regressed from an on base perspective this year. In 2014 and 2015, Turner was a player who had a .384 on base percentage with a .492 slugging. This year, Turner’s OBP dropped to .339 even while his slugging percentage stayed in the same vicinity (.493). This might have been a product of his knee issues or it could have been a product of him swinging for the fences more as evidenced by his career high 27 homers.
In either event, Turner is not the safest choice, especially when you are asking him to play out of position. These fears become magnified when you consider Turner will likely received a qualifying offer, and he will likely get a big contract offer from someone, including but not limited to the Dodgers, to play third base.
THE DESIGNATED HITTERS
Encarnacion may prove to be the biggest power bat on the free agent market. He is coming off a year that saw him hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 homers and a league leading 127 RBI. Over the past three seasons, Encarnacion is hitting .269/.361/.544 while averaging 38 homers and 112 RBI.
There are two issues with Encarnacion. First, much of his stats have been generated as a result of him hitting in the Rogers Centre, which is a hitter’s park. In his career, Encarnacion has hit .272/.360/.535 there. Last year, on the road, Encarnaction was a .246/.342/.492 hitter on the road. While it is a drop-off, the Mets would gladly take Encarnacion’s road production from their first base position next year.
Therein lies the real problem with Encarnacion. He’s a DH. Encarnacion has not played more than half a season at first base in his entire career. In his last five years with the Blue Jays, he has split his time between first and DH. While advanced metrics like UZR and DRS rate him to be an average first baseman, it is unknown whether he could withstand the rigors of playing in the field everyday. Those concerns are amplified for a player that will turn 34 next year, will command a large contract, and will most likely recent a qualifying offer.
Seemingly, from the moment Santana came up to the Cleveland Indians as a catcher, the team has sought a position for him. He has proven his best position is DH.
Santana is coming off a terrific year that saw him hit ..259/.366/.498 with 34 homers and 87 RBI. Those were the highest home run and RBI totals of his career. In his six full seasons with the Indians, Santana has averaged 24 homers and 81 RBI. With his on base skills and his switch hitting ability, Santana would be a welcome addition to the Mets lineup. However, like Encarnacion, the real question is whether he can be an everyday first baseman.
Like Encarnaction, he rates as average when he does play there. Unlike Encarnacion, he played almost a full season there in 2015. Moreover, he is four years younger than Encarnacion. So while both may receive qualifying offers and large contract offers on the free agent market, Santana may prove to be the better bet for the Mets should they look to upgrade the first base position in free agency.
QUESTIONABLE OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION
The best thing you can say about Loney in 2016 was he was a definitive upgrade over the Mets internal options like Campbell. Unfortunately, Loney showed little that would entice the Mets to bring him back next season. Loney finished the year hitting .257/.287/.369 with five homers and 18 RBI in 63 games after the All Star Break. He also showed he had limited range and an inability to stretch far for throws made to first. While he was an improvement over what the Mets had in 2016, the Mets are simply going to have to do better than him in 2017.
The Cleveland Indians took a one year flier on Napoli this offseason, and it has been a boon for them as Napoli has been a major contributor for a team now playing in the World Series. Still, there is caution for Napoli, who has a history of hip problems, and whose numbers were not great this season.
In 150 games, Napoli hit .239/.335/.465 with 34 homers and 101 RBI. In 2015, Napoli bounced around, and he hit .224/.324/.410 with 18 homers and 50 RBI in 133 games. With Napoli turning 35 next year, it is hard to believe he will have another strong campaign. Furthermore, the last thing this Mets offense needs is another low OBP guy who is seemingly all or nothing at the plate.
For a few seasons, Lind had proven himself to be a good on base player who may not have the traditional power you typically want from the first base position. In 2016, Lind played for the Mariners, and his production fell off a cliff. In 126 games, Lind hit .239/.286/.431 with 20 homers and 58 RBI. Historically, Lind has also struggled to hit left-handed pitching. Lind is more of a buy-low candidate in the event there are no better options than he is an upgrade you would seek on the free agent market.
Ultimately, it may behoove the Mets to bring back Duda for one more season. If he produces at his normal levels, he will be exactly what this offense needs. Better yet, if he produces at that level, the Mets could give him a qualifying offer next offseason thereby helping them gain a first round draft pick in the process (assuming no changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement). Furthermore, with Duda, the Mets have a nice bridge to Smith should he take another leap this year and prove himself ready to contribute at the major league level ahead of schedule.
Despite slugging .533 over the last two months of the season, and homering in seven consecutive postseason games, including home runs off Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks, the Mets only made the perfunctory qualifying offer to NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy. At the time, the qualifying offer was made no player had ever accepted the qualifying offer.
The Mets thought process was grounded in several factors. First, they believed they could get Ben Zobrist, who they viewed as a superior player. Second, the Mets could recoup the first round draft pick they lost by signing Michael Cuddyer in the previous offseason. Third, and most importantly, the Mets didn’t foresee Murphy carrying that level of production for a full season in 2016 and beyond.
That last point became all the more apparent when, after the Mets lost out in Zobrist, they traded Jon Niese (who was later re-acquired in exchange for Antonio Bastardo) for Neil Walker. The Mets made this move despite never inquiring what it would take to re-sign Murphy.
The logic of the Walker trade was the Mets were getting an All Star second baseman in his walk year. Should he perform, the Mets could either re-sign him, or they could make the qualifying offer and recoup another draft pick. Should he falter or leave in free agency, the Mets could turn the position over to second baseman of the future Dilson Herrera.
Walker would have a career year for the Mets both at the plate and in the field. Overall, he would hit .282/.347/.476 with 23 homers and 55 RBI. Those numbers are even better when you consider that the switch hitting Walker was no longer a liability from the right side of the plate. Rather, he was a dominant force.
Unfortunately, Walker would go through part of the summer unable to feel his feet due to a herniated disc. Despite his being in the best stretch of the season and the Mets fighting for the Wild Card, he would have to undergo season ending lumbar microdiscetomy surgery.
While the Mets remain hopeful Walker will recover fully, and that the two sides can agree to a deal, nothing is guaranteed. The Mets need Walker to recover with no issues because Herrera was moved in the trade to acquire Jay Bruce.
Now, many will say this has all been a debacle as Murphy had an MVP caliber season for the rival Washington Nationals. This year, Murphy hit .347/.390/.595 with 47 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, and 104 RBI. He led the league in doubles, slugging, and OPS. Worse yet, he killed the Mets getting a hit in all 19 games against them while hitting .413/.444/.773 with six doubles, seven homers, and 25 RBI.
In response to that, many will say judging the Mets decision on Murphy is unfair as: (1) no one saw this coming; and (2) you are using hindsight to criticize the Mets.
That argument is unfounded. First and foremost, the General Manager is supposed to have foresight. He is paid to make sure what happened with Murphy never happens. Second, and most importantly, the argument is patently false.
As Mets hitting coach Kevin Long told MLB Network Radio, “Daniel Murphy became a monster overnight, once he got it, you knew he wasn’t going to lose it.”
Murphy certainly hasn’t lost it. In fact, he was even better leading the Nationals to an NL East title over the Mets. Tonight, he looks to recreate his incredible Game Five performance against the Dodgers so he can once again torture the Cubs in the NLCS.
Meanwhile, the Mets are looking at their second base options, which assuredly are no better than Murphy, in what is an extremely weak free agent class, after being shutout in the Wild Card Game. It didn’t have to be this way as the Mets coaching staff saw Murphy putting together a season like this.
By the way, Anthony Kay, the pick the Mets received for Murphy becoming a National, had to have Tommy John surgery before he ever threw a pitch as a professional.
At the end of the month, 29 year old Tim Tebow is going to hold a showcase for all interested major league teams in an attempt to get a professional contract. The Mets should attend the showcase, and regardless of the outcome, the Mets should sign him.
There are those that will tell you he can play baseball. Former Met and current player agent Gary Sheffield called Tebow “a natural” at the plate. Mets hitting coach Kevin Long looked at tape of Tebow’s swing, and he said, “His swing is very simple. Not a whole lot of head or body movement. Chad and Tim did a nice job of simplifying and putting his swing together. It’s short and explosive.” (New York Daily News). Couple that with Tebow’s belief in his own abilities and his raw athletic talent, and Tebow may just very well prove all the doubters wrong and become a major league player.
These are all very well and good reasons why you would take a flyer on Tebow. There’s a bigger reason why you would take a flyer on him – money.
Everywhere Tebow goes, fans follow. When he became a New York Jet, fans went out and purchased his jersey. When he got one last chance with the Philadelphia Eagles, Tebow’s jersey was the 15th best selling jersey in the NFL ahead of players like Tony Romo. Whatever team winds up with him is going to get a major boost in attendance. That matters for teams that own their low level minor league affiliates.
Considering the Mets own the St. Lucie Mets and the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets organization should get a jolt of revenue if Tebow were to play in either location. That holds true for St. Lucie, which is in his native Florida, where he has a huge following. That also holds true for Brooklyn where Tebow has a following among Jets fans. That doesn’t even account for the people who will want to come just to see the spectacle.
Keep in mind, Tebow is not necessarily taking the spot of another prospect. Teams routinely fill out their minor league rosters with depth players who they know will never make it to the majors. However, those players don’t typically draw in revenue the way Tebow most likely will. For that reason alone, Tebow is worth a flyer.
Who knows? He may actually have enough talent to make his way to the majors in the process.
In many ways it is fitting that James Loney was assigned the number 28 by the Mets. Loney is a left-handed contact hitter that has been pressed into action at first base by the Mets due to an injury. Throughout their careers, Loney and Daniel Murphy have been very similar hitters.
Coming into this season, Loney was a career .285/.338/.411 hitter who averaged 25 doubles and 10 homeruns. Murphy was a career .288/.331/.424 hitter who averaged 33 doubles and nine homeruns. The similarities do not end at the statistics. If you look at their stances and the approach at the plate, Loney and Murphy are very similar hitters. Here is a James Loney 2014 at bat:
As you can see, Loney stands fairly upright in his stance with his hands held high. Loney stands a little off the plate with a somewhat open stance. Here is a 2013 Daniel Murphy at bat:
Again, Murphy is fairly upright at the plate with his hands held high. He’s a little off the plate with a slightly open stance. Loney’s and Murphy’s stances are not identical, but they are very similar. Unsurprisingly, both had similar approaches at the plate. Both pulled inside pitches with some authority, but they would go the other way with outside pitches just hoping they would find a place to land.
Last year, Murphy linked up with Kevin Long, who has a reputation for unlocking player’s hidden power. Here is a look at Murphy’s updated stance from the 2015 postseason:
Murphy’s stance is now closed, and he’s in more of a crouch at the plate. The results have been terrific as Murphy has been hitting for more power. This year Murphy has been hitting .351/.394/.588 with 20 doubles and 14 home runs. The 14 home runs tie Murphy’s career high, and there is still more than half a season to play.
Kevin Long has now made similar adjustments to Loney’s stance. Here is one of his at bats from his short tenure with the Mets:
Now, the crouch in Loney’s stance is not as pronounced as Murphy’s. However, a crouch is still present, and Loney has closed his stance. From the looks of it, it appears that Kevin Long has applied to same principles he used with Daniel Murphy last year. So far, Loney appears to be hitting the ball with more authority when he makes contact.
The result is Loney hitting .297/.345/.495 with eight doubles and four homers. He hasn’t had a slugging percentage anywhere near this high since 2007.
Long has unlocked the power in Loney’s swing like he did with Murphy last year makes Loney is the perfect stopgap for Lucas Duda. If he keeps it up, the Mets are going to have to keep him on the roster and play him somewhere.
Editor’s Note: this was also published on metsmerizedonline.com