While Brodie Van Wagenen was touting Dellin Betances‘ ability to “blow the cover off their ceiling,” the fact of the matter is the Mets offseason has been tremendously underwhelming thus far. Really, when you break it down, it’s difficult to ascertain how this team can make up 11 games on the Atlanta Braves.
With Zack Wheeler departing for the Philadelphia Phillies, that’s 4.1 WAR going to a division rival. While they haven’t yet signed with another team, it is expected Todd Frazier (2.2 WAR) and Juan Lagares (-0.7) will sign with other teams.
Combined, that’s a 5.6 WAR.
As a result, the Mets have yet to replace the production they’ve lost. What makes this problematic is their offseason appears fairly set.
Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie are taking up two roster spots, and with their salaries, the Mets are not going to just cut bait. Instead, the Mets are going to hope Cespedes can do what Troy Tulowitzki couldn’t do – return from double heel surgery.
When they finally discover what was wrong with Lowrie that limited him to eight pinch hitting attempts last year, we can then have a conversation about what, if anything, he can contribute.
Remember, this a Mets team which finished 11 games behind the Braves. They also finished behind the World Series Champion Washington Nationals too. The Mets needed to gain ground, not lose it.
Keep in mind, they’re not just losing grounds to the teams ahead of them, they are also losing it to the Philadelphia Phillies. That 4.1 WAR the Mets lost in Wheeler went to the Phillies. Joining him there is Didi Gregorius, who had a 0.6 WAR in limited duty. When you add a healthy Andrew McCutchen, they have not only offset the 1.7 WAR they lost with Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco, but they have improved upon it.
Now, this is where someone may want to point out how the Braves and Nationals are both searching for a new third baseman, and that the third basemen they had last year were their best players. That is true. The Braves losing Josh Donaldson (6.1), and the Nationals losing Anthony Rendon (6.3) were significant losses.
With respect to Donaldson, it should be noted both teams are still in on him and trying to do all they can to sign him. If either team signs him, that narrative is no longer in place as it comes to that team.
Going beyond that, both the Braves and Nationals have made moves to bolster their teams in the event they cannot land Donaldson.
The Nationals have been aggressive this offseason re-signing mid-season acquisitions Asdrubal Cabrera and Daniel Hudson. They have also added Starlin Castro (0.8), Eric Thames (1.6), and Will Harris (2.1). Combine that with the anticipation Carter Kieboom may be ready next year, and the Nationals have at least braced themselves for losing Rendon and missing out on Donaldson.
The Braves have also left third base open while addressing other areas. On the bullpen front, they have brought in Will Smith (2.2) while bringing back Chris Martin and Darren O’Day. They have also added Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate. They also potentially upgraded their rotation signing Cole Hamels to replace Dallas Keuchel.
When talking about the Braves, they also have a wealth of young talent in Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley, Mike Soroka, and others to close the gap on the potential loss of Donaldson. The same can be said with the Nationals with Juan Soto and Victor Robles.
As for the Mets, they could also seek to get some help internally with Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario taking the next step. However, the issue with that is whether it is enough to overcome not just the diminution in the talent the team had last year, but also whether it is enough to overcome the significant gap which already existed between them and the rest of the teams in the division.
While it is certainly possible the Mets can win the division in 2020, it is also fair to say they certainly have not done nearly enough this offseason to do that. Really, when you boil it down, the Mets are relying more on luck than anything else. Considering what is ahead and behind them in the division, that is not the best plan, and when you boil it down, they really needed more than just Marisnick.
If you look at the Mets bullpen, the theme appears to be “If.” If this bullpen is healthy, and if this bullpen performs to its full potential, it is going to be one of the best in the game.
The flip side of that is if it isn’t, we’re going to see more of the same.
That’s the way it is with bullpens. You just try to acquire as many quality guys as you can, and you hope it works. Perhaps with Jeremy Hefner, this is more primed to work.
One thing we do know is starting pitching can help a bullpen. The deeper starters can go, the less you need to go to the well. This keeps your relievers healthier and fresher which hopefully leads to better productivity.
That brings us back to what the Mets have opted to do with their pitching this offseason.
In signing Betances, Wacha, and Rick Porcello, the Mets have spent $23.5 million guaranteed. That number rises to $30.5 million if Wacha hits all of his incentives.
That $23.5 million figure is important because that’s just a hair off of what the Phillies are paying Zack Wheeler per year.
Essentially, the Mets believed Porcello plus a reclamation project in Wacha and Betances. With Betances, remember prior to the Achillies, he had dealt with a shoulder impingement and lat issue all through the 2019 season.
Even when Betances did return, he admitted to his stuff and velocity not being there. That was before he partially tore his Achilles.
Yes, Betances is an arm well worth the gamble. Not only has he shown the ability to flat out dominate, but he’s also shown the ability to do it in New York. That’s important.
Still, you really have to wonder about the wisdom of rolling the dice on three relievers when you’re already rolling the dice on two relievers who were supposed to be your top two relievers. Add to that the significant downgrade from Porcello, who you’re also rolling the dice on, from Wheeler, and you’re left wondering if this was the best allocation of resources.
That does double when you consider Wheeler stays in the division making the Phillies significantly better.
Ultimately, the 2020 bullpen and pitching staff as a whole may be better. Then again, the bullpen could be more of the same with the pitching staff as a whole far worse.
Of course, the Mets bullpen could’ve remained the same and been far better as a result of Diaz adapting better to New York, and the elimination of the super ball helping him, Familia, and the rest of the bullpen.
That’s the gamble the Mets took. They decided on adding a group of lesser pitchers being better than the known quantity in Wheeler.
It’s not a smart bet, but it’s still possible the Mets bet pays off. No matter what, the Mets better be right here.
When discussing Zack Wheeler, there are some important things to consider. Aside from being an ace level pitcher the past two years, Wheeler wanted to be a Met.
He called Sandy Alderson to tell him he wanted to stay when the Carlos Gomez fell apart. He also came back to the Mets before accepting a discounted deal with the Phillies. Overall, every chance he got, Wheeler averred how much he wanted to remain in the Mets rotation.
Brodie Van Wagenen didn’t care.
Now, these are always difficult situations, and to be fair, there are very few things you can say to come across well. Still, when you offer comments, the goal is to offer platitudes and leave no room for hard feelings. After all, you’re not only dealing with a player who spent many years with the Mets, but you’re also going to have to face him over the next five years.
Van Wagenen botched it saying, ““The value for what we thought the investment [was] didn’t line up. The projections that we had for Zack both short-term and long-term didn’t quite match up to the market he was able to enjoy.” (Tim Healey, Newsday).
Again, this is a player who wanted to be a Met. He was a good Met too. There’s no need to say he wasn’t worth the money. Really, there’s no need to even go there.
It boils down to decency, but beyond that, you don’t want someone with an extra chip on their shoulder to beat you time and again over the next five years.
Well, Van Wagenen decided differently, and Wheeler noticed. As noted in Kevin Kernan’s article in the New York Post, boy did he notice:
“I don’t need any more motivation. I already got it,’’ Wheeler told The Post away from the crush of media. “But that’s his opinion. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but yeah, that may help me out a little bit.’’
Basically, Van Wagenen took a bit of a shot at Wheeler, and Wheeler got the last word. Not only did Wheeler note he’s a little more motivated, but he also took a real shot by following this up by saying, “He watched me I guess when he was watching his other players on the team.”
The “his players” is a barb which hits home with Mets fans.
Jed Lowrie got a two year deal worth $20 million, and in the first year, he had only eight pinch hitting attempts.
At a time when the Mets needed a fifth starter, he signed Michael Wacha, who has a bum shoulder, and when you break it down, he needs to prove he’s capable of being a Major League starter again. Instead of the minor league deal he should’ve received, the CAA client got a Major League deal and was told he’d start.
Perhaps, this is what Wheeler meant when he said “his players.” Maybe it was a Freudian slip. It’s possibly Wheeler was just calling his former teammates Van Wagenen’s guys because they’re still there.
Whatever the case, it’s apparent Wheeler feels slighted. Now, he’s in a position to both beat the Mets and needle them like he did when talking about the Phillies’ analytic department and J.T. Realmuto.
In doing that, Wheeler got the last word. If he pitches like he did over the last two years, he’s going to get the last laugh.
No one knows what happened on that farm when the rehabbing Yoenis Cespedes broke his ankle. The only thing we do know is the Mets didn’t pay him in 2019, and now, we know Cespedes won’t receive his full $29.5 million salary for either season.
Under the terms of the settlement, Cespedes will receive a little more than half of his 2019 salary. In 2020, he’s going to earn far less than that.
In fact, Cespedes is going to make roughly $20 million less with his 2020 salary reportedly going under $10 million. With unspecified incentives, it could go to $20 million, but it’ll never get back up to that $29.5 million mark.
Suddenly, Mets fans are hopeful this means the Mets could start spending and adding key bullpen pieces like Dellin Betances. Of course, this makes a dangerous presumption.
When looking at Cespedes’ restructured deal, they’re saving roughly $20 million this year before incentives. If those incentives are achieved, it would be mitigated by his 2019 savings. That $20 million should sound awfully familiar.
Rick Porcello signed a one year $10 million deal. While Michael Wacha signed a one year $3 million deal, he could earn up to $10 million. As noted by Tim Britton of The Athletic, for budget purposes, they treat those incentives as part of the payroll as if they’re definitively going to be paid.
It’s not just that way with incentives. They do that with everything. For years, they pocketed and did not reinvest the money saved on David Wright‘s deal.
Look at last year, the team didn’t reinvest the savings on Wright’s or Cespedes’ insurance money. After adding Marcus Stroman, they traded Jason Vargas to clear his contract. That’s not acting like a team who was not only not paying Cespedes, but it’s also not acting like an “all-in” team trying to grab the second Wild Card.
Going back to this offseason, no one can be quite sure what the Mets will be willing to spend. What we do know is the team’s history of not reinvesting “found money” like the restructured Cespedes deal presents. We also know there are pervasive rumors about the Mets need to move either Jed Lowrie‘s or Jeurys Familia‘s contract in order to add more players.
We don’t know if that was a position they took prior to this settlement. We also don’t know if it’s a genuine need. We also don’t know about the intent to reinvest the money in the event the Mets can move a contract.
At the moment, all we know is the Mets have saved tens of millions of dollars on Cespedes contract just like they had with Wright. They never reinvested Wright’s money or other money for that matter. While the Mets may choose to reinvest the money on Cespedes’ contract, no one should believe it until they see it.
When you’re operating on an austerity budget like the Mets are, you can’t afford to just throw away or gamble with their money. Cheap for its own sake is not going to fly. No, the team needs to be shrewd and deliberate.
Signing Michael Wacha was neither of those things.
Many will note it’s just $3 million guaranteed, but that loses the point. As noted by Tim Britton of The Athletic, Wacha can earn an additional $7 million in incentives. As such, with the way the Mets operate their team, for budget purposes, they’re likely going to treat Wacha as a $10 million player leaving them with only $3 million to spend this offseason.
That’s $3 million to build a bullpen, add depth, and get insurance for Wacha’s spot in the rotation. They need that insurance because Wacha missed the postseason with a shoulder injury. It was the second time in four years his season ended due to a shoulder injury.
The shoulder issues are just part of the problem. The larger problem is Wacha shouldn’t be relied upon on as a team’s fifth starter. He’s not striking many out, and when you dig deeper, he has an unacceptably poor 1.97 K/BB.
Turning the attention to Baseball Savant, Wacha doesn’t have Major League quality stuff anymore. His fastball velocity and spin are poor. The spin on his curve is poor as well.
About the only pitch he really effectively executes is his change. To the effect, it’s been quite effective with batters only hitting .199 off of it. The problem is batters hit all of his other pitches well.
The end result was Wacha making 24 starts and five relief appearances going 6-7 with a 4.76 ERA, 1.563 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, and a 7.4 K/9. Notably, over his last 10 starts of the season, Wacha only lasted five innings three times, and he didn’t pitch at least four innings three times. Due to his shoulder injuries, he would also be left off the postseason roster.
Overall, Wacha between his injuries, stuff, and really, just his ability was not deserving of anything more than a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Wacha was the guy who needed to prove he could be healthy. For that matter, he needed to prove he was a Major League caliber starting pitcher again.
Instead, Brodie Van Wagenen gave the CAA client a guaranteed deal worth $3 million with the potential of an additional $7 million in incentives. This makes little sense for an injured pitcher with little to no upside, and that is before you consider how he’d be negatively impacted by the Mets defense or Wilson Ramos behind the plate.
At the moment, Wacha is in a boat with Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo as all three are preparing to be starters with them each likely being in the bullpen to start the year. That was made all the more certain with Rick Porcello signing, which as previously explained, is not set-up for success with the Mets.
Right now, there are so many possibilities including these two signings paving the way for a trade of Noah Syndergaard or another starter. No matter what, the Mets appear to be relying upon Wacha in some fashion for 2020. Given his injuries and where his talent is now, this is really just a waste of money.