Tim Tebow is a problem because the Mets are making him one. So far, he has played in 60 of Syracuse’s first 79 games. Essentially, this means he is playing fairly regularly despite his hitting just .150/.232/.209. It should come as little surprise he’s not getting better with June being his worst month of the season.
If the Mets problems handling the player assignments and playing time at the Double-A and Triple-A level were limited only to Tebow, you can overlook things a bit. After all, whether you like to admit it or not, the Mets operate a business, and they are going to attempt to use Tebow to generate revenue for their newly acquired Syracuse franchise. Unfortunately, the problems run deeper than Tebow.
Entering the season, the Mets had a glut of infielders with Robinson Cano, J.D. Davis, Todd Frazier, Jed Lowrie, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario. The Mets added to this glut by first signing and then calling up Adeiny Hechavarria. Considering the situation, the last thing the Mets needed were veterans taking up space on the Syracuse infield.
Despite that, the Mets signed Danny Espinosa, who is a career .221/.297/.344 hitter and hit .197/.286/.344 between 2016-2017 and did not play in the majors last year. To make matters worse, he leads the team in games played. Second on the team is Travis Taijeron, who has established himself as not being a Major League caliber player. Fourth in games played is Gregor Blanco, who hit .217/.262/.317 last year.
Those three players right there are not just taking up space on the roster, but it is also taking away at-bats from players who truly needed it.
It’s easy to forget Dilson Herrera is just 25 years old, but he is making him a young player with potential to develop. To be fair, he is third on the team in games played. However, it was not until recently the team has sought to develop him more into a utility player. Prior to June, he had only played two full games in left field and none at any other position but second and third.
To be useful to the organization, Herrera needed to be playing first, second, third, and all three outfield positions. However, he can’t partially because those spots are taken by Espinosa, Taijeron, and Blanco, three players who were never going to be a factor for the Mets in 2019. When you add Tebow, that’s four.
This has a necessary trickle down effect. Players like David Thompson and Gavin Cecchini, who just came off the IL, have been assigned to Binghamton. At this stage in their professional development, they need to be in Triple-A working on things. For both, that means become more versatile and becoming better hitters. However, they can’t be in Syracuse getting regular playing time because the Mets are wasting playing time on two has beens and two never will bes.
Those players being in Binghamton has a trickle down effect interfering with playing time for players like Luis Carpio. Carpio was someone once regarded as a top prospect, but he would suffer shoulder injuries. On that front, he has gotten healthy and shown some promise. Of course, that promise only goes as far as the team’s willingness and ability to get him playing time.
There are other issues like Braxton Lee, a 25 year old who plays good defense and has good speed, being forced to Double-A instead of getting real development time in Syracuse. There’s also the fact Luis Guillorme is in Triple-A splitting middle infield playing time instead of just playing over Hechavarria at the Major League level.
Really, the list goes on and on, and that is before you consider Rene Rivera catching everyday leaves the Mets having Patrick Mazeika and Ali Sanchez sharing catching duties in Binghamton instead of them being split up to allow them both to get regular playing time and thrive.
While we rightfully focus on what has transpired with the Mets, the organization’s problems run deeper than just the team in Queens. The same shortsightedness and reliance on under-performing players over promising young players is also very present in Triple-A.
If things continue this way, this will prove to be not just a lost season in Queens but Syracuse as well.
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.
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.
There is a buzz circulating around the Mets due to the moves Brodie Van Wagenen has been making. On paper, the team he is assembling is better than last year’s team, and the narrative is this team will have a better chance at making the postseason than last year’s team. However, that narrative may not exactly hold up.
Remember, last year the Mets were 17-9 entering May. It was right around that point the injuries started piling up, and the Mets depth or lack thereof became a problem.
Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki were injured leading the way for Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido. Todd Frazier would have the first disabled list stint of his career leading to the team rushing Luis Guillorme to the majors before he was arguably ready, and with the team playing far more of Jose Reyes than they ever should have done.
Michael Conforto was rushed back from injury before he was ready. Yoenis Cespedes‘ heels wouldn’t let him play anymore, and Jay Bruce‘s plantar fascitiis increasingly became an issue. Matt Harvey‘s Mets career was finished, and Noah Syndergaard was heading to yet another lengthy trip on the disabled list. Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares would also be making their annual trips to the disabled list.
By the way, this wasn’t the full season’s worth of transactions. That’s just through the end of May.
From there, the Mets would have a 15-39 record over May and June, including a disastrous and soul crushing 5-21 June which all but eliminated the Mets from postseason contention. Remember, this was the same team when healthy that was among the best in all of baseball.
Last year wasn’t an anomaly. The 2017 Mets were a promising team on paper, but they never got off the ground because of injury issues, which would also correlate to under-performance from a number of players. If you go back to 2016, that starting lineup and rotation was built to contend for a World Series, but due to injury issues, that team needed a furious finish and unlikely performances from players like Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and T.J. Rivera to capture a Wild Card spot.
Until the Mets address their bench, they are running the risk of their season not living up to expectations.
We know Wilson Ramos is an injury prone player as is his backup d’Arnaud. We know Lagares is injury prone. Syndergaard and Steven Matz have their own not promising injury histories. While he has generally been healthy, Robinson Cano is still a 36 year old second baseman, and players in their late 30s do not tend to be durable. That’s nothing to say of the unknown injuries like we saw with Frazier last year.
At the moment, the Mets are ill equipped to handle these injuries. In terms of the infield, the Mets have Guillorme, who was not ready last year, and Gavin Cecchini, who struggled in his limited Major League opportunities and missed much of last year with a foot injury. There is also Rivera, who missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery and ensuing setbacks. The catching depth may actually be worse with Patrick Mazeika being your last line of defense.
The outfield depth is Dominic Smith, who the Mets don’t even seem inclined to let compete for a first base job, and Rajai Davis, who is a 38 year old outfielder that has not had a good year since 2015.
All told, the Mets are in desperate need of some depth. If they don’t acquire it, you are once again asking the same group who faltered last year to succeed. Those players are still young and can improve, but it is difficult to rely upon them. With that in mind, Brodie Van Wagenen needs to make sure he has money available to address the bench. If he doesn’t, then the Mets may very well suffer the same fate they had over the past two seasons.
Fortunately, he still has time.
With Wilson Ramos in the fold, the Mets lineup should prove to be much improved. After all, Ramos has a 120 wRC+ since 2016, and he is coming off a year where he hit .306/.358/.487. Right away, that makes him the best right-handed bat in the Mets lineup. That caveat is he needs to be in the lineup to be that.
As we saw with Ramos last year, he is an injury prone player. Part of that comes with the position, and part of that is just being Ramos. In his career, he has dealt with a number of injuries including a torn ACL. His career high in games caught is 131, and generally speaking, he has been under that.
Based upon early reports, the Mets appear set to go with Travis d’Arnaud as his backup catcher. On the one hand you can understand the rationale. When healthy, d’Arnaud is a productive player, and he has shown more in the Major Leagues than Kevin Plawecki. However, d’Arnaud is never healthy.
With Ramos and d’Arnaud as your catching tandem, you could very well have a repeat of last season where the Mets leaned far too heavily upon Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido than they ever should. The team was actually better for the very poor production they received from Devin Mesoraco. Accordingly, the Mets are going to need more depth than just Nido in Triple-A.
As a result, the Mets should really consider carrying all three catchers on their Major League roster next season.
For starters, it makes sense because you cannot quite be sure when d’Arnaud will be fully ready to resume catching duties. After all, he did have Tommy John surgery last year, and he has not had a full season to recover. Even if you believe he is the much better backup option, keeping Plawecki allows you to have d’Arnaud return when he’s ready.
It also allows the Mets to use one of the three catchers as a pinch hitter in any game. As we have seen time and again, managers are loathe to go to their backup catcher to pinch hit even in those instances when they are the best pinch hitter available. If you have a rally going, you would now feel more free to allow Ramos, d’Arnaud, or even Plawecki pinch hit when needed in a game. There is real value in that.
Carrying the three catchers also permits the Mets to really go forward with their idea of using d’Arnaud at more than just catcher. As Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reported, the Mets believe d’Arnaud has the athleticism to play first, third, and left. He certainly has the athleticism, and we have seem glimpses of his bat. Certainly, if he returns to his 2015 form at the plate, you are going to want to find more at-bats for him.
Quite possibly, d’Arnaud can be some kind of super utility player and key bat off the bench. You allow him to be that by carrying Plawecki on the roster.
More than that, you have an opportunity to cycle three catchers behind the plate to keep them all fresh and healthy. You don’t have to go to the depths of Patrick Mazeika or worse if there is an injury. By keeping all three, you are building depth and opening up more options for how to handle both your roster and late game situations.
Mostly, you are insulating yourself from the known risk of injury from your top two catchers. When that is a known risk, and you are an organization with the injury track record the Mets have, you need to insulate yourself from as much of that risk as possible. Keeping Plawecki does that.
The one thing that is interesting about Spring Training is you never know which prospect is going to make a name for themselves. Personally, the one that always comes to mind is Dillon Gee having good Spring Training causing then Mets manager Jerry Manuel to take notice. With that, Gee had an important champion in the Mets organization, and when the opportunity finally presented itself, Gee would get a call-up to the majors despite struggling in Triple-A with an injured shoulder. From there, Gee has put together a nice MLB career.
This Spring Training, there are a number of Mets pitchers who will now have the opportunity to impress new manager Mickey Callaway. Aside from the big names like Dominic Smith, here are five names to keep an eye on during this Spring Training:
RHP Tyler Bashlor
Bashlor was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft because he has great stuff highlighted by an upper 90’s fastball. He combines that pitch with a sharp curve which has led to the flamethrower putting up big strikeout numbers in the minors. His stuff was a big reason why he quickly went from closing in St. Lucie to closing for a Binghamton Rumble Ponies team who was fighting for a postseason berth.
If there’s any issue with Bashlor, it’s the walks. In his career, he’s walked 5.0 batters per nine, and he walked 5.4 batters per nine in 34 appearances for St. Lucie. Those are unsustainable numbers.
Still, he has immense talent which could one day lead to him closing for the Mets one day. Before we get to that point, he has an opportunity to work with Callaway, Dave Eiland, and Triple-A pitching coach Mickey Abbott to help him eliminate the walks. If he does, he’s going to contribute at the Major League level next year.
LHP P.J. Conlon
For the second straight Spring, Conlon finds himself as a non-roster invitee with a an outside chance to make the Opening Day bullpen as a left-handed reliever. Certainly, Conlon has earned the chance as he knows how to get batters out, especially left-handed batters.
Last year, he limited left-handed batters to a .252/.273/.358 batting line, and in 2016, he was even stingier limiting them to a .216/.267/.288 batting line. Conlon does this because he located well, and he has a great change-up.
However, with his topping out in the 80s, it appears the Mets have their doubts about Conlon’s viability as a Major League starter. In Spring, Conlon is both going to get the chance to prove his stuff will work in the Majors similar to what we have seen with Jamie Moyer and Bartolo Colon. More than that, he’s going to get a chance to show he belongs in the Majors right now to fill a now vacant second left-handed reliever spot in the bullpen.
RHP Corey Oswalt
Oswalt is coming off an outstanding year in Binghamton, and as a result, he was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. Oswalt did this because he was able to locate all four pitches, and he has shown the ability to throw his fastball in the mid 90s. While all of the Double-A took notice of Oswalt, the Mets did as well adding the starter to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
It is no secret the Mets have health issues with their starters. Over the past two seasons, almost every Mets starter currently on the 40 man roster has had injuries requiring DL stints lasting more than half a season, requiring surgery, or both. As of the moment, the Mets have not added another starter to the roster, which has created an opportunity to show he should be at the front of the line when the Mets inevitably need another starter.
Right now, the Mets have a trio of injury prone second baseman in Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and Wilmer Flores. If one or any of the three go down with injury, there will be an opportunity for Guillorme, who is arguably the best defensive middle infielder in the Mets organization.
At the moment, we know he’s a great fielder. The question mark on him is whether he can hit enough to play in the Majors. To that end, early indications are Guillorme has increased his launch angle. If true, and the transformation is a successful one, Guillorme’s career will transform to not if he can be the Mets second baseman of the future, but when he will be the Mets second baseman. Given the aforementioned injury histories, he may get his chance next year.
With Tomas Nido‘s BABIP normalizing, he had a disappointing year at the plate for Binghamton last year. While the Mets are understandably high on him due to his defensive skills, Nido’s struggles do present an opportunity for another catcher to distinguish himself.
Essentially, Mazeika is everything Nido isn’t. In his career, Mazeika has shown himself to be a good hitter, who is quite adept at getting on base. What is interesting with him is he has shown glimpses of power; however, it should be noted those flashes have mostly come when he is filling in at first base for extended stretches.
What remains at issue is his defensive abilities. It is an area where the 6’3″ catcher continues to make strides, but ultimately, the question is whether he is progressing quickly enough. With him being a non-roster invite to Spring Training, he is going to get the benefit of getting in work with Major League coaches like Glenn Sherlock, which could help him make the adjustments necessary to take the next step in his career.
Ultimately, if the Mets coaching staff sees what they like with him, he may soon find himself in the Major League mix at catcher. Having watched Travis d’Arnaud‘s injuries the past few years as well as Kevin Plawecki having mostly struggled in the Majors, his chance may come sooner than expected.
Overall, the Mets have a number of Minor Leaguers who are going to get a chance to go out there and show the Mets why they should be an important part of the future. In the end, it is up to them to emulate Dillon Gee and make the most of this opportunity. If they do, we may see them in Queens sooner than anticipated.
Editor’s Note: This was first published on MMN