A night after the Mets blew a game partially because Gary Disarcina had an unfathomly bad send of J.D. Davis, the Mets decided to fire pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez. Seeing Brodie Van Wagenen’s press conference where he refused to accept any personal responsibility, you could see this was nothing but a scapegoat decision to deflect from his failures as a General Manager. In typical Van Wagenen fashion, he scapegoated the wrong person because that’s what a terrible General Manager with no accountability does.
On the surface, you may want to pinpoint how the pitching has not lived up to its billing. After all, the Mets team 4.74 ERA is the 11th worst in baseball, and their 5.37 bullpen ERA is the third worst in baseball. Of course, there are some other considerations behind those numbers.
On the starter ERA front, the Mets top four starters have a 4.27 ERA. While not where you may not want it, it’s still a half a run lower than the staff ERA. That is because the rest of the staff including Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, and Wilmer Font have combined for a 7.19 ERA.
The bullpen ERA also needs to be put in perspective as well. That ERA comes from pitchers like Drew Gagnon (7.65 ERA), Tyler Bashlor (5.40 ERA), Luis Avilan (9.28 ERA), Hector Santiago (6.57 ERA), and Jacob Rhame (8.10 ERA). Say what you want about Eiland, but much of the team’s pitching struggles are related to the team not having Major League quality arms and having a complete lack of pitching depth.
Another factor is the Mets horrible defense. Their -55 DRS is the second worst in the Majors. That’s a year off of them being the second worst team in the National League with a -121 DRS. Their inability to field is part of the reason why the Mets pitching staff has a 4.27 FIP, which is 11th best in the majors. That includes a 3.99 FIP for their starters.
On that front, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler each have an FIP better than that mark with each of them in the top 30 among Major League starters meaning they are actually pitching like top of the rotation starters. Put another way, Eiland had the good pitchers on this staff actually pitching well, at least most of them.
Going back, what hasn’t been happening is the Mets playing well defensively. As noted by Mark Simon of The Athletic, the Mets are the worst shifting team in baseball. In fact, they are one of just a few teams whose shifting has cost the team runs. As noted by ESPN‘s Paul Hembekides, the Mets infield defense has an MLB worst 70 percent out rate on ground balls, .270 batting average on ground balls allowed, and 218 ground ball hits allowed.
That wasn’t the case back when Tim Teufel was the infield coach. No, he had the team where they needed to be, and in fact, back in 2015, when the Mets had Daniel Murphy at second, Wilmer Flores playing shortstop, and Eric Campbell playing more infield than anyone, the Mets had a positive 15 DRS.
No, things went real south when they hired Disarcina.
On the topic of Disarcina, we have not only seen Amed Rosario not fulfill his Gold Glove promise, but he has really struggled defensively. Part of that is the shifting, and part of that is Disarcina not doing the job he was hired to do. That is not too dissimilar from when he sent Davis home (another player he has not been able to help with his infield defense) among his other bad sends this year. It’s also not too dissimilar from when he failed to properly run quality control last year as the team’s bench coach last year leading to Jay Bruce batting out of order.
If you’re looking to scapegoat a coach, the Mets should have scapegoated the coach who has not performed well in his job. On that topic, Glenn Sherlock hasn’t performed well either. We have seen both Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki pick it up to the levels they were with Bob Geren, but that required them leaving the organization and getting competent coaching elsewhere. There’s also Chili Davis, who is the hitting coach for a team hitting ground balls 46.0 percent of the time and a hard hit rate of 35.3 percent (both bottom six in the majors) at a time when the juiced ball is flying out of ballparks.
If the Mets were looking to scapegoat a coach for the poor job Van Wagenen did to build this roster, he should have picked Disarcia, Sherlock, or Davis. Instead, he picked Eiland, a pitching coach with two World Series rings, a man who was actually doing his job well because he needed a scapegoat to hide from his complete failure to build necessary pitching depth.
At some point in time, Brodie Van Wagenen is going to have to finally take some personal responsibility, something he refused to do yesterday, and admit he has done a very poor job. Maybe at that point, he can stop with the half measures and scapegoating and instead focus on making the changes needed to turn the Mets into they type of club he hyped them to be heading into the season.
During Sandy Alderson’s tenure as the Mets General Manager, he did quite well in the first round. Those first round picks included Brandon Nimmo, Michael Fulmer, Gavin Cecchini, Kevin Plawecki, Dominic Smith, Michael Conforto, Justin Dunn, Anthony Kay, David Peterson, and Jarred Kelenic.
All of the players drafted prior to 2015 have played at the Major League level. They are only one of eight franchises who can say all of their first round picks in that time span reached the Major League level. Of those six players drafted prior to 2015, five of them have established themselves as bona fide Major League players with the jury still being out on Cecchini, who is still just 25 years old.
Nimmo was the second best hitter in the National League last year. Conforto and Plawecki were a part of a pennant winner with Conforto hitting two homers in a World Series game. Conforto and Fulmer have already been named All Stars. So far, this group has a Rookie of the Year and two All-Star appearances.
Fulmer, Dunn, and Kelenic were moved for pieces which were traded to help improve the Major League club. While people have disagreements with the respective trades, the deals brought back Yoenis Cespedes, Robinson Cano, and Edwin Diaz, each of whom are established All-Star caliber players.
Looking at the 10 first round draft picks, all but one of them have made some form of a top 100 prospect list since being drafted by the team. It may come as some surprise that includes Cecchini, who was named a KATOH Top 100 pick by Fangraphs, and Peterson, who was named a top 100 prospect by ESPN‘s Keith Law. In fact, the one who hasn’t is Kay, who right now appears on the cusp of getting named to a list on a midseason update or sometime next year.
Overall, the Mets have drafted talented players they have used to both build a strong core to the current Mets roster and to acquire players in the hopes of winning a World Series. With Kay and Peterson in Double-A, they can soon be part of the current core’s push to win the Mets first World Series since 1986.
That’s the legacy in front of Van Wagenen and Baty. For Van Wagenen, he has to show he has the ability to add talent to the organization the way Alderson did during his tenure as the General Manager. For Baty, he has to prove he can be every bit as talented as the players who came before him.
Since Jacob deGrom burst onto the scene in 2014, he has emerged as easily one of the five best pitchers in Mets history, and he is arguably third behind just Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden (although Jerry Koosman would like a word here). Going through his career, there are a number of signature performances from deGrom, but as we sort through them all, there are two games which should stand as his signature performances.
The first is Game 1 of the 2015 NLDS. In that game, deGrom out-pitched Clayton Kershaw. In his seven shutout innings, he allowed just one walk and five hits while striking out 13 batters. It was as dominant a postseason performance any Mets pitcher has ever had.
That game set the Mets on a path which had them winning the pennant that year. Of course, they do not win the pennant if deGrom does not survive and get the Mets in position to win Game 5 of that series.
It seemed deGrom was in trouble all six of the innings he pitched that night. What’s insane to think about is deGrom did not have a 1-2-3 inning that game until the sixth. Worse yet, in each of the first five innings, the Dodgers had a runner in scoring position with less than two outs.
Despite all of that, deGrom somehow managed to keep the game tied going into the seventh inning setting the stage for Daniel Murphy‘s homer, Noah Syndergaard coming out of the bullpen throwing 100 MPH, and Jeurys Familia with the six out save.
While deGrom had an all-time Cy Young winning season last year, arguably, the 2015 NLDS was deGrom at his best. One night he went out there, and he just dominated the Dodgers. The next, he used guile to get through that lineup to pick up the win. That series was everything you think of when you think of deGrom, and it happened in the postseason.
His catcher in that series? Travis d’Arnaud.
It’s easy to forget, but d’Arnaud has caught deGrom, and he has caught him well. It was d’Arnaud behind the plate when deGrom emerged from seemingly out of nowhere to win the 2014 Rookie of the Year. It was d’Arnaud behind the plate in the 2015 postseason. It was d’Arnaud behind the plate when deGrom was coming back from ulnar transposition surgery.
There are many reasons why d’Arnaud has caught deGrom well. First and foremost, deGrom is a great pitcher. As we have seen this season, deGrom can pitch great to Wilson Ramos and to Tomas Nido. Second, d’Arnaud has proven himself to be an excellent pitch framer, which allows an already lethal pitcher like deGrom ramp up his game to an unfair level.
Overall, d’Arnaud is a very good receiver who has a rapport with these Mets pitchers. If he didn’t, the Mets would have non-tendered him and kept the much cheaper Kevin Plawecki this past offseason, or they would have stuck with Devin Mesoraco. That goes double considering d’Arnaud was coming off Tommy John surgery.
Overall, the point is deGrom is great because he is great, and as we have seen time and time again, he’s even better with a catcher behind the plate who can steal those extra strikes for him. Ultimately, this is why we have seen deGrom at his best with d’Arnaud behind the plate.
With just three weeks to go before Opening Day, the Mets have an interesting race for the backup catcher position between Travis d’Arnaud and Devin Mesoraco. This is a race d’Arnaud seemingly had won with the Mets trading Kevin Plawecki to the Indians, but with him not being quite ready to play early in the Spring, Mesoraco returned, and he is now arguably ahead of d’Arnaud in the competition.
Now, as organization depth, Mesoraco was a very good signing. He is familiar with the pitching staff, has some pop in his bat, and has the talent to be a backup catcher at the Major League level. In a vacuum, the Mets opting to carry Mesoraco as the backup catcher is a fine decision. However, this decision isn’t being made in a vacuum. It’s a decision between him and another player.
Understandably, Mets fans have been quite frustrated with d’Arnaud. He has yet to have a real healthy season in his career. He never took the next step forward from what should have been a springboard 2015 campaign. He aggravates most fans with his inability to throw out base stealers, a problem brought to light all the more when Noah Syndergaard is on the mound.
Still, despite the areas of the game where d’Arnaud struggles and the frustration over him not becoming what we hoped he would be, he is still a better Major League catcher than Mesoraco.
First and foremost, d’Arnaud is a better pitch framer – always has been and always will be. With the exception of the 2017 season, d’Arnaud has always been a good pitch framer, and in fact, he has routinely been one of the better pitch framers in the game. That’s important for a team built on pitching. For his part, Mesoraco has always been middling to just plain bad in that department.
Of course, not every pitch is a borderline call. Sometimes you just need a catcher to stop the ball to prevent it from going to the backstop and permitting the batter to take the next base. Since 2015, d’Arnaud has yielded just seven passed balls in 1995.1 innings whereas Mesoraco yielded eight just last year in 484.1 innings with the Mets.
Expanding it further to wild pitches, d’Arnaud has a combined 77 wild pitches and passed balls since 2015. For his part, Mesoraco has yielded just 57 in the same time frame albeit in approximately fewer 900 innings, which means Mesoraco yields a higher percentage of passed balls and wild pitches.
Now, it should be mentioned that d’Arnaud is not as good as Mesoraco is at throwing out base runners. For his career, d’Arnaud has only thrown out 21 percent to Mesoraco’s 24 percent, which includes 21 percent last year. Suffice it to say, this a strength in neither player’s game, and there is really a de minimim difference in their abilities in this department.
It may also be surprising to learn d’Arnaud is a much better hitter. Since 2015, d’Arnaud has hit .251/.309/.419 (96 OPS+). For his part, Mesoraco has hit .206/.297/.356 (77 OPS+).
Those numbers may come as a surprise due to the outburst Mesoraco had when he first joined the Mets. In fact, in his first 15 games with the Mets, he hit .261/.358/.630. The problem is after those 15 games, he hit .210/.290/.344.
Even after all of that, many may still point out to how well Mesoraco seemed to click with deGrom in what was a great Cy Young campaign for the Mets ace. What is odd is how people will raise that point while neglecting how d’Arnaud was deGrom’s catcher during deGrom’s 2014 Rookie of the Year campaign, and how he was deGrom’s catcher during the 2015 postseason. Fact is, deGrom pitched great last year because he is a great pitcher, and really when you break it down, people should at least contemplate whether deGrom could have actually been better with a better receiver last year.
Overall, once d’Arnaud is ready to play behind the plate, he should be the backup catcher over Mesoraco. He is a better catcher, and he is a better hitter. Really, when you break it down, the only thing Mesoraco has over d’Arnaud is he’s healthy. Of course, Mesoraco has the same checkered health record d’Arnaud has, so it may only be a matter of time before the Mets need to turn to a Tomas Nido anyway.
At this moment in time, with perhaps a very minor move or two, it would appear the Mets are done adding pieces this offseason. The different holes in the roster have been noted, but what we have not really seen done is an examination of the Mets decision making process. It is something which should be done more earnestly.
Dumping Swarzak’s And Not Frazier’s Contract
Purportedly, one of the selling points of the trade to obtain Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz was to move the contracts of Jay Bruce (2 years, $28 million) and Anthony Swarzak ($8.5 million). While moving Bruce was certainly understandable, it was curious the Mets moved Swarzak instead of Todd Frazier ($9 million).
As we have seen relievers tend to be mercurial, and it is quite possible with a healthier season, Swarzak could have been much more productive in 2019. Depending on the moves the team made in the offseason, he reasonably could have been the last man in the bullpen.
As for Frazier, we have seen the Mets make his spot on the roster tenuous. Pete Alonso appears poised to be the first baseman sooner rather than later, and the Mets brought in Jed Lowrie with the purpose of playing him everyone, albeit at different positions across teh diamond.
Seeing there being a multitude of free agents who could play third base, wouldn’t it have been better to move Frazier over Swarzak? As we saw, the Mets could have replaced Frazier with Lowrie. Other options included Mike Moustakas, Marwin Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Neil Walker. The Mets could have accomplished the same versatility they sought to accomplish by signing multiple players from this group, and they could have had platoon options over Frazier’s bat. It’s noteworthy with the exception of Moustakas these are switch hitters making them more useful bench players than a player who has never played a reserve role in his career.
Why Didn’t McNeil Play Winter Ball?
The very minute the Mets obtained Cano, it was clear Jeff McNeil was going to play some outfield. Now, it could be argued the amount of outfield he played depended entirely on the other moves made this offseason, but nevertheless, the plan was always to have McNeil see some time in the outfield.
Considering McNeil played exactly 17.0 innings in left field in Triple-A last year and just 56.1 innings in the outfield in his six years in the minors, you would have thought the team would have found a spot for him to play winter ball to hone his craft. After all, the team did try to get Dominic Smith time playing outfield in the Dominican Winter League (it didn’t work out).
Now, because the team couldn’t make any moves to improve the outfield, they are going to play McNeil in left all Spring with the hopes he can get up to speed over the course of less than two months worth of games. It should also be noted this decision is moving Michael Conforto from his best defensive position to right, and it is forcing Brandon Nimmo to center, a position the Mets have been reticent to play him at the Major League level.
Why Trade Plawecki if d’Arnaud Wasn’t Ready?
In his four year career, we have all seen Kevin Plawecki‘s warts, but through it all, he has established himself as a viable backup catcher at the Major League level. While the Mets may have felt the need to choose between him and Travis d’Arnaud, that decision would not have been forced upon the Mets until the moment d’Arnaud was ready to play. As we see now, d’Arnaud is not ready to play.
Instead of keeping Plawecki, they traded him for an underwhelming return in the form of Sam Haggerty and Walker Lockett. The only player of value in the trade was Lockett, and he had been previoulsy traded for Ignacio Feliz, an 18 year old who signed for an $85,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic two years ago.
Instead of hedging their bets wisely, the team instead signed Devin Mesoraco. Say what you will about Plawecki, but he is far superior to Mesoraco. He’s a better pitch framer, and he is the better hitter (93 to 92 wRC+). And before anyone invokes Jacob deGrom, you need to explain how Mesoraco was the reason why deGrom was so great.
Where Are the Extensions?
There has been a growing trend in baseball for teams to lock up their young players. For example, the Yankees have already locked up Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks, and they are working on locking up Dellin Betances as well. These actions promise to keep the Yankees core together while keeping them cost controlled to what promises to be a team friendly discount.
At the moment, the Mets have free agency concerns of their own. After 2019, Zack Wheeler will be a free agent. After 2020, deGrom will be a free agent. After 2021, a significant portion of the Mets current Mets core will be free agents with Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz will be headed to free agency.
We know deGrom has put himself on the front burner, but what are the Mets doing besides him? After all, if CAA is in town, it means the team can negotiate extensions for both deGrom and Syndergaard. There is also nothing preventing them from reaching out to the agents for the other players.
Really, this is the biggest part of the offseason which needs examination. What exactly is the plan going forward? Do the Mets have intentions of building something much sustaining, or is this a one year gamble? Are the Mets playing things out in 2019 and reassessing. At this moment, we don’t know. Hopefully, the Mets do.
With the Mets hiring an agent as opposed to a front office baseball executive, you knew Brodie Van Wagenen was going to have a learning curve. As such, he was going to make some bad moves, and certainly, you knew he was going to make some curious decisions. Some may inure to the Mets benefit while others may not. If these questionable decisions do work out for the Mets, then a World Series may very well be in the team’s future.
Why Isn’t Cano Playing First Base?
Robinson Cano was the big bat the Mets acquired this offseason, and the plan is for him to be a fixture in the Mets lineup. However, that is for as many games as he is able to play. To his credit, Brodie Van Wagenen has been quite vocal about the need to give Cano more days off than he is accustomed due to Cano being 36 years old.
If we harken back to 1999, Bobby Valentine did this with a 40 year old Rickey Henderson to get the last good season out of Henderson. That also led to the Mets claiming the Wild Card and going to the NLCS.
For Cano, it is not just his age, but it is also his position. Players who play up the middle play the more taxing defensive positions in baseball. That takes more of a toll on a 36 year old player. Given Jed Lowrie‘s presence on the team, you have to wonder why the team doesn’t make Lowrie the second baseman with Cano playing first.
Putting Cano at first would be putting him in a position where he would not be as subject to fatigue over the course of the season. It should also be noted with Cano already 36 years old and his signed for five more seasons, it is a position switch he will eventually have to make. If he is going to have to make the switch, why not do it now so the Mets could coax more at-bats and games from him over the course of the season?
Where Is Davis Getting His Opportunity?
With J.D. Davis‘ minor league stats, you could make the argument all he needs to succeed at the Major League level is an opportunity to play at the Major League level. Certainly, it’s a fair point to raise when someone hits .342/.406/.583 in 85 Triple-A games and .175/.248/.223 in 42 MLB games.
The problem is you’d be hard-pressed to where exactly he would get that opportunity.
He’s behind Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie at the third base depth chart. He’s behind Peter Alonso and Frazier on the first base depth chart. He’s a right-handed compliment to right-handed hitters. He’s not suited to play outfield in the majors, and even if he was, he’s buried on the outfield depth chart as well. Combine that with Lowrie and Jeff McNeil being the versatile players on the roster, and you have to wonder where he gets hit at-bats.
After you are done contemplating that, you are left to wonder why the team would trade three good prospects in Luis Santana, Ross Adolph, and Scott Manea for him when they could’ve just as easily signed Mark Reynolds or Matt Davidson.
Was McNeil Playing LF the Original Plan?
One of the benefits of having McNeil on the roster is having a versatile player on the roster. Despite the team’s initial reluctance last year, he is someone who has received playing time at all four infield positions, and he has always trained in the outfield. To that extent, penciling him as the team’s starting left fielder, even against just right-handed pitching made a ton of sense.
That plan made even more sense when you consider Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are both capable center fielders with Juan Lagares being the best defensive center fielder in the game. Really, breaking it down, moving McNeil to left field was probably the best way to handle the Mets resources.
However, the plan to move McNeil to left field does raise some interesting questions. For example, why didn’t the team send him to winter ball to play outfield. Also, why would the team expend resources to obtain Keon Broxton only to make him a fifth outfielder? Moreover, if McNeil is your outfielder, shouldn’t the team have a better insurance option against his inability to play left field than Broxton?
What’s the Plan for Backup Catcher?
When the Mets traded Kevin Plawecki to the Indians, they were effectively announcing Travis d’Arnaud was healthy enough to be the backup. That was called into question when Mickey Callaway said Devin Mesoraco signed with the Mets because of his relationship with Jacob deGrom.
It would seem if the Mets signed Mesoraco to catch deGrom the team now has one catcher too many. Does this mean the team is planning on moving him on the eve of Opening Day, or is Mesoraco willing to catch in the minors until the inevitable injury to d’Arnaud or Wilson Ramos. If that is the case, what impact does this have on Tomas Nido, and his future?
On the bright side, the Mets have good depth at the catcher position, but that only remains true to the extent they are keeping everyone. If they are the challenge is then to keep everyone happy and sharp, which is much easier said than done.
Where’s the Starting Pitching Depth?
With Jason Vargas struggling since the 2017 All-Star Break, you would have thought the Mets would have done more to address their pitching depth. That goes double when you consider the team traded Justin Dunn, their best starting pitching prospect, and with David Peterson and Anthony Kay being at least a couple of years away.
With the health issues facing Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, you would’ve thought the Mets would have been pressed more to add starting pitching depth. When you couple that with Van Wagenen knowing Jeff Barry councils his pitching clients to limit their innings, you would believe the Mets would have pressed to go more than four deep in the pitching rotation.
But the Mets haven’t. Not really. Their depth is essentially the same group who posted an ERA over 5.00 as MLB staters along with Hector Santiago, a pitcher now better suited to the bullpen.
When you look at this rotation the best health they had was in 2015, and that was a year the team needed 10 starting pitchers to get through the season. This team has nowhere near that type of depth.
As it turns out, more than anything, it may turn out to be the pitching depth which is the biggest key to the 2019 season. If the team is healthy, and deGrom and Syndergaard go against their agent’s advice, it is possible the team has enough pitching to get through the season. If the pitchers do impose pitching limits and there is more than one pitching injury, the team’s hopes of winning anything may be done, and that is even if the other questions are answered in the affirmative.
With the signing on Jed Lowrie, the Mets have been talking about just how deep this roster is. To a certain extent, they are right. Having infield options which include Peter Alonso, Robinson Cano, Todd Frazier, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario in conjunction with Lowrie is incredible depth. However, that does not mean the Mets are a deep team.
First and foremost is the outfield. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are the only two healthy everyday outfielders on the roster. Juan Lagares has the glove to justify playing everyday, but he has hasn’t played more than 94 games since 2015, and in that season the Mets were desperate for an upgrade as they were making a postseason push.
Keon Broxton has hit .213/.296/.419 with an 85 OPS+ over the past two seasons indicating he has no business playing everyday. As bad as that is, Broxton is the last MLB outfielder on the 40 man roster.
After Broxton, the Mets are gambling on McNeil successfully transitioning to the outfield. It’s not an unreasonable gamble, and it is one we can expect to pay off. However, McNeil being an outfielder means the infield depth has taken a hit, which is a real issue should Alonso not be able to play first at the MLB level, or there are multiple injuries.
After McNeil is Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco, both of them are over 35 years old, and neither of them have had a good season since 2015. Having just two starting outfielders with a couple of has beens and never will bes is not outfield depth.
And no, Yoenis Cespedes cannot be relied upon. He underwent double heel surgery, and no one can reasonably pinpoint when he is returning to the lineup, nor can anyone have any indication of what he will be when he is able to return.
With respect to the catching situation, the Mets are undoubtedly better with the signing of Wilson Ramos. However, that does not mean there is sufficient depth. Both Ramos and Travis d’Arnaud are injury prone putting more emphasis on Tomas Nido, who has hit .181/.210/.255 in limited Major League duty on top of hitting .272/.300/.431 between Double-A and Triple-A last year.
There is a real chance at least two of those catchers are injured as the same time leaving the Mets to depend on Patrick Mazeika and/or Ali Sanchez. Basiscally, this isn’t much different than during the 2015 season where the team grasped at straws cycling through Kevin Plawecki, Anthony Recker, and Johnny Monell while they pieced together the catching situation in d’Arnaud’s absence.
Then there is the rotation. All five of the Mets starters have significant injury histories. Jacob deGrom is the only starter to have consecutive seasons with at least 30 starts. Jason Vargas is the only other starter with 20 plus starts in each of the last two seasons. Behind this thin rotation, with Vargas having a 64 ERA+ and a 5.02 FIP last year, is very questionable starting pitching depth.
Looking at the roster, Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, Drew Gagnon, and P.J. Conlon. all posted an ERA over 5.00 in the majors last year. Hector Santiago was moved to the bullpen partially because he has had a 4.06 ERA since 2016. Kyle Dowdy, the Mets Rule 5 pick, had a 5.15 ERA between Double and Triple-A last year, and with the team being forced to keep him on the roster or return him to the Rays, he is going to be a bullpen option.
Now, to be fair, the Mets do have bullpen depth. The back-end with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia is as good as it gets. You can also say the Mets swing men, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, are the best combination in the Majors. From a left-handed relief option, Daniel Zamora has exception spin rates, and former White Sox Luis Avilan and Santiago have pitched well out of the bullpen.
Beyond that group, the Mets have promising young right-handed power arms in Tyler Bashlor, Eric Hanhold, Ryder Ryan, and Drew Smith. Combine that with Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame, the Mets have sufficient numbers and depth in the bullpen, albeit not the big seventh inning reliever you would want.
In the end, yes, the Mets have admirable infield depth, and there are enough arms here to at least figure out a good bullpen. However, past that, this is a paper thin roster at outfield, catcher, and starting pitcher. If the Mets face a number of injuries, and based on their history, they will, the 2019 Mets are going to be in real trouble.
Kevin Plawecki has had an oddly turbulent Mets career. He was thrust into action well before he was ready to play in the majors because of a Travis d’Arnaud injury. In fact, due to the many d’Arnaud injuries there were, Plawecki was constantly pressed into action before he was ready from 2015 to early 2017.
In many ways, Plawecki was always a symbol of what went wrong, and Mets fans always held it against him. It got to the point where he actually deleted his Twitter account after a face plant sliding short into second base. He become a punchline when it the contents of his locker were revealed. Not once but twice, he had the ignominy of being a position player pitching.
However, through it all Plawecki persevered.
While many reflect back to how poorly he hit in 2015, fact is he was an exceptional pitch framer. At a time when the Mets were more M*E*T*S* than baseball team, they needed everything they could get from everyone. His pitch framing helped an already dominant pitching staff get that extra call they needed, and if you remember correctly, that pitching staff needed every break they could get while they were out there trying to win 1-0 games. In some ways, the run in 2015 would not have been possible had Plawecki not been back there doing a good job behind the plate.
It also needs to be noted that after setback after setback after setback, Plawecki was undeterred. The player who was a career .206/.282/.278 hitter over his first 437 Major League plate appearances would take advantage of finally receiving some extended playing time in Triple-A. When he came back up in August 2017, he would hit .303/.411/.474.
Yes, last year, he took a bit of a step back, and it was partially due to injury. Still, he emerged as someone who was at least a capable Major League backup. His 93 wRC+ was 18th best among Major League catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. When you break it down a little more, his being in the top 20 shows he’s a capable Major League starting catcher.
Maybe that says more about Major League catchers than it does Plawecki, but remember this is someone who was partially on his way out of baseball.
After the Mets obtained Wilson Ramos to improve their catching situation, it arguably made Plawecki expendable. Unsurprisingly, the Indians brought him in with the hopes he could not only hit like he did in 2017, but that he could also be behind the plate like he was in 2015. Given his age and his skillset, Plawecki is going to get a chance.
Also, given the weak AL Central, Plawecki is going to get an opportunity to go to the postseason once again. If he does get that chance, best of luck to him. His ability to persevere through everything has been commendable, and he deserves a real chance to prove himself. It should not surprise anyone if he does a good job there. We should all be rooting he does.
Yesterday, Yasmani Grandal accepted a one year deal from the Milwaukee Brewers for one year $18.25 million. He accepted that deal at a time when it appeared few if any teams were interested in him, which is odd considering how many teams needed catching help.
The Braves, who had approximately $54 million come off the payroll, opted to sign Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson for $25 million. Despite a low payroll and a tightening NL East, they opted for a backup catcher than Grandal.
The Athletics made a surprising run last year and had Lucroy as a pending free agent. They needed to fortify a few positions, including catcher, and they opted for Chris Herrmann to a one year $1 million deal.
The Astros, who are trying to build a team to overtake a Red Sox team who needed just five games to beat them in the ALCS, opted for Robinson Chirinos on a one year $5.75 million deal.
The White Sox are contemplating building a team who can make a run in a weak AL Central signed James McCann to a one year $2.5 million deal.
Last year, the Phillies were nervous about Jorge Alfaro‘s ability to take home a team in a pennant race. Accordingly, they traded for Wilson Ramos despite his being on the DL. They haven’t pursued any free agent catchers.
The Nationals, who have to find a way to reclaim the NL East and do it potentially with Bryce Harper, opted to go with the 35 year old Kurt Suzuki. To be fair, they did sign Patrick Corbin to a $140 million deal.
The Nationals also opted to obtain Yan Gomes from the Indians. This left the Indians looking for a catcher, so they obtained Kevin Plawecki from the Mets, and they settled his arbitration case for $1.3 million.
Plawecki was available because they signed Ramos for two years $19 million, and the team opted to pair the injury prone catcher with the more injury prone Travis d’Arnaud.
Supposedly, the Mets shifted to Ramos after Grandal rejected a four year $60 million deal. The problem there is that didn’t happen.
Jon Heyman of Fancred reported the Mets offered less than $60 million, and Ken Rosenthal of The Atlantic reported the Mets didn’t offer it. Instead, they just discussed parameters for a deal. It’s much like what happened with Jose Reyes in 201- before he signed with the Marlins.
We can all debate how real the Mets offer was, and how prudent their course of action was. Fact is, the Mets obtained a starting catching option while the rest of baseball have dabbled in part-time, backup, and frankly over the hill catchers.
To a team, they passed on offering Ramos a significant enough multi-year deal, and if they did, they didn’t make one sufficient enough to prevent Grandal from accepting a one year deal.
This is despite the aforementioned teams needing a catcher. The Red Sox, Rays, Athletics, Angels, Dodgers, and Rockies also need a starting catcher. Keep in mind, that’s just a list of probable contenders. There’s a bigger list of teams needing a catcher and those who want to be contenders.
All of these teams passed on a catcher who is probably the best catcher in baseball. He’s that because he is consistently one of the best pitch framers in the game while being top three in wRC+ among catchers since 2016.
These teams could argue they want J.T. Realmuto, who some believe is the best catcher in baseball. Problem is the Marlins asking price has been unrealistically high and only one team can get him. Far more teams than one need a catcher.
Yet, somehow, Grandal gets a one year deal. For that matter, Ramos gets a two year deal.
Somehow, the Mets, Braves, Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Astros, and White Sox independently determined none of the free agents available merited more than a two year deal, and the other 23 MLB teams thought nothing of letting this happen.
This is happening at a time when Forbes is reporting Major League Baseball has record revenues of $10.3 billion.
Simultaneously, there has been a tepid market for Harper and Manny Machado. These are two 26 year old superstars who have been in the top 15 in fWAR since they broke into the majors while combing for 10 All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves, four top 10 MVP finishes, and a Silver Slugger.
This is what collusion looks like, and this is the type of thing which will force the players hand prior to the expiration of the CBA in 2021.
Sure, teams will claim they’re smarter now, and they’ve seen how you can’t win by just spending money while ignoring the World Series features the two highest payrolls in baseball. Snark aside, maybe teams are smarter.
It just seems odd they’re all collectively smart enough where they agree catchers shouldn’t get more than a two year deal and two of the best players in the sport wouldn’t put their team over the top.
Over the weekend, the Mets traded Kevin Plawecki to the Cleveland Indians for a pair of prospects. This has left the Mets with just three catchers on the 40 man roster.
Of course, that was the same position the Mets were on April 11 last season. On that date, Plawecki was hit on the hand with a Tayron Guerrero fastball. That pitch left the Mets with the catching tandem of Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido.
After that April 11 game, the Mets record was 11-1. From that game up until the second game of a doubleheader, the Mets would go 14-24.
Over that stretch, Lobaton, Nido, and eventually Devin Mesoraco combined to hit .212/.300/.356. As much as Mets fans were down on Plawecki and Travis d’Arnaud, it’s likely even one of them being active would have bolstered those numbers, and hopefully, would have helped prevent the Mets freefall which would be capped off with a 5-21 June.
While there were other mitigating factors at play, a significant issue was the Mets catching depth or lack thereof. It’s an issue which may rear it’s ugly head in 2019.
While Wilson Ramos is undoubtedly an upgrade over d’Arnaud and Plawecki, he’s been an injury prone catcher in his career.
There have only been four times Ramos has played over 100 games. Since 2009, he has been on the disabled list nine different times. That includes last year when he was limited to 111 games.
He’s a 31 year old catcher. He’s at an age when players tend to become more injury prone playing a position where the players tend to be more injury prone.
By the way, his backup is d’Arnaud, who is a catcher who averages 66 games a season on account of his being an injury prone player. That includes him being limited to just six games last year due to a torn UCL requiring Tommy John surgery.
While the Mets believe d’Arnaud will be ready to start the year, the organization has seen its fair issues with Tommy John rehabilitation.
Zack Wheeler missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to the surgery and complications during rehab. In 2017, he missed time with a stress reaction, and he did not really get to form until June last year.
There’s also T.J. Rivera who underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2017. He was supposed to return around the All Star Break. Except he didn’t. Rivera missed the entire 2018 seasons, and no one is quite sure what he can contribute in 2019.
Despite this very spotty history and d’Arnaud’s own suspect health history, the Mets are going with him to backup an injury prone catcher. They are taking the chance d’Arnaud never plays, and in the event he does, there’s a chance he misses significant time.
Best case scenario is Nido backs up Ramos. Nido is a very strong defensive catcher who has hit .181/.210/.255/ in 100 Major League plate appearances. While you could hope he would be a better hitter than that, he did hit just .272/.300/.431 between Double and Triple-A.
While you may have concerns about what he would do if he was pressed into action, the real issue is what is behind him on the depth chart.
Sure, the Mets could bring on a veteran catcher, but what veteran wants to backup Nido in Syracuse? If you can decipher that, you gave to question who among that group you’d either want backing up or even starting at the Major League level.
After trading Plawecki, that’s where the Mets ate. They’re crossing their fingers their top two catchers, who have not stayed healthy in their careers, stay healthy, so we don’t find out what’s behind their already suspect catching depth.