In what seems to be a right of passage for any Mets player, Jed Lowrie is dealing with a knee issue. While the team is giving their usual spiel about how this is not a big concern, they are also sending Lowrie for an MRI. Time will tell if this is just a Spring Training ache and pain or if this is something more serious.
On the one hand, you could well argue this is what a team should expect when they sign a soon-t0-be 35 year old middle infielder. Older players are less durable, and as a result, tend to suffer more injuries. With that being the case, you could use this as a basis to criticize the Mets, but you shouldn’t.
Once the team made the trade for Robinson Cano, they were left with having to decide how to handle the construction of their team. On the one hand, they could have looked at Cano and saw a player who absent suspension hasn’t played fewer games than 2006. They could have looked at Jeff McNeil as a capable back-up for the 36 year old in the event Cano does break down, or possibly, faces another suspension.
Still, the team would have been faced with dealing with a 33 year old Todd Frazier. For his part, Frazier has typically been a healthy player. However, with the Mets, he would have the first two DL stints in his career. If this were a sign of things to come, it would be difficult to have McNeil backing up both Cano and Frazier simultaneously.
Looking at it, this left the Mets with a question how to properly build depth. Astutely, Brodie Van Wagenen signed [his former client] Lowrie to serve as that depth. In Lowrie, the Mets were getting an All-Star who hit .267/.353/.448 with 37 doubles, a triple, 23 homers, and 99 RBI (120 OPS+) while playing for the A’s last year. In Lowrie, the Mets obtained a player who could probably be an everyday player for any of the 30 Major League teams.
With Lowrie, the Mets have a play who can play second or third base. It gave the team options at those positions as well as first base with Frazier’s and Cano’s ability to play there. Without him, the Mets are back at square one with Cano and Frazier, two All-Stars who are good defenders at their positions. Without him, they still have plenty of options at first with Peter Alonso, J.D. Davis, and the overlooked Dominic Smith.
The team still has the option to move McNeil back to the infield to buttress the infield depth.
Overall, even if Lowrie goes down, the team has the ability to sustain that injury. If it was Cano or Frazier who went down with injury instead, the team would have had Lowrie. That is exactly why you sign Lowrie, and that is why even if this injury is more severe than expected (as is the Mets way), the team has already been proven right in signing him.
Assuming the Mets carry five bench spots, which is the norm for a National League team, the race for the last spot on the bench became much more crowded and complicated with the team’s signing of Adeiny Hechavarria. That question becomes further complicated when you question just what exactly the Mets real intentions are with Peter Alonso.
Assuming Alonso begins the season in Triple-A, the Mets already have bench spots allocated to Travis d’Arnaud and Keon Broxton. One of Juan Lagares or Jeff McNeil is going to play everyday meaning the other is going to be on the bench. That is three bench spots spoken for with two remaining. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
Considering the Mets parted with a package headlined by Luis Santana in what has been an oft criticized trade, you could see the pressure to carry J.D. Davis. Aside from the pressure, whether it be real or imagined, Davis does have the ability to play both corner infield spots adequately, and despite his deficiencies out there, the does have outfield experience.
The real positive for Davis is the power he could provide off the bench, but in order for that to be realized, he is going to have to increase the launch angle in his swing and his corresponding high ground ball rates. There is also a real question whether Chili Davis is the hitting coach to get him to realize his full power potential.
If the Mets are looking for a versatile infielder who can play the outfield, there is forgotten man T.J. Rivera. Rivera missed last season due to Tommy John surgery, but reports this Spring have been overly positive. While we know Rivera is not a particularly good defender, the Mets also know Rivera can be trusted to start at any position over a long stretch. Between the 2017 season and the World Baseball Classic, we have also seen him able to raise his game in big games.
The issue both players have is neither plays shortstop. For that matter, neither does Jed Lowrie, which arguably led to the Mets signing Hechavarria to a minor league deal. The one thing we do know with Hechavarria is he can play shortstop and play it well. Over the last four seasons combined, he has amassed a 26 DRS. The problem with him is he can’t hit as evidenced by his career 72 wRC+.
Hitting was also an issue for Luis Guillorme. In his brief time with the Mets, he was only able to muster a 53 wRC+ in 35 games. That is partially because Guillorme received uneven playing time. It is also because he has never been considered to be a great hitter. Still, there are two factors in Guillorme’s favor. First, like Hechavarria, he is a good defender. Second, Guillorme did show himself to be an adept pinch hitter last year hitting .273/.467/.364 in 15 pinch hitting appearances.
Now, if the Mets are looking for a more offensive oriented middle infielder who could play shortstop, the team does have Gavin Cecchini. Heading into last season, Cecchini had worked on his swing, and it had paid dividends with him hitting .294/.342/.468 in 30 games for Las Vegas before fouling a ball off his leg effectively ending his season. If Cecchini shows he is able to hit the same way, he could make a case for a bench spot for himself.
Standing in Cecchini’s way is his not being on the 40 man roster and his shortstop defense having pushed him to second base. The same could also be true for Dilson Herrera. For his part, Herrera was never truly considered anything more than a second baseman and that was before his shoulder injury. That shoulder injury cost him some of his offensive output until he rediscovered his stroke last year hitting .297/.367/.465 for the Reds Triple-A affiliate.
One other overlooked name for the Opening Day bench is Dominic Smith. If Alonso were to start the year in Triple-A, the Mets would have to find playing time for Alonso, Gregor Blanco, Rajai Davis, Rymer Liriano, and Tim Tebow between first base, three infield spots, and DH. Even with how down the team may be on Smith, it is difficult to believe they would leave him in Syracuse to fight for playing time between those three spots.
Instead, the team could carry him on the Major League roster. Certainly, Smith reporting to camp with not just his keeping the weight off but also adding muscle, helps improve his chances. His being a good defensive first baseman capable of playing left field in a pinch should also help him.
Of course, Smith would have to compete with all of the aforementioned players as well as Danny Espinosa just to claim a bench spot. He would also have to count on the team not putting Alonso on the Opening Day roster, which judging from the improvements Alonso has made, is not a safe assumption.
Really, when breaking it down, the Mets have plenty of options to fill out their bench, and ultimately for this team to reach its full potential, they are going to have to find the right mix of players to complement their everyday players. Hopefully, everyone comes to play making this as difficult a decision as the Mets will have all year.
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.
During his interview with Mike Franceca on WFAN, he would speak about the team, and he would be challenged by Mike on a number of issues. As the General Manager, you can understand Van Wagenen trying to sell the fan base about the team. It is part and parcel of his job.
In some ways, he did effectively did that. He touted the combination of Peter Alonso and J.D. Davis as capably hitting 30 home runs combined from the first base position. He also reminded fans of this being a versatile team with Todd Frazier and Robinson Cano being able to play first base if necessary. This would also allow the team to play Jed Lowrie and have him bat second in the lineup every day.
Behind some of the bravado, some of Van Wagenen’s early bravado began to erode away, and you saw someone who is trying to sell an incomplete roster. We saw this through two telling exchanges. The first notable one regards Bryce Harper and Manny Machado:
BVW: "It's not so easy to find spots for all of our good players already."
MF: "You're telling me you don't have room for them?
BVW: "Probably not the best fit for us."
MF: "Are you telling me you don't have room for them in the lineup?"
— Matt Ehalt (@MattEhalt) February 11, 2019
Essentially, Brodie is going to have us believe the team has no room for Machado on the infield. Now, you could argue even with Amed Rosario being disappointing thus far, he is primed to break out next season. He can also point to there already being solid to very good veteran infielders. That’s fair. However, he loses us completely at Harper.
This is a team with just two starting outfielders in Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. For all of their defensive prowess, neither Keon Broxton or Juan Lagares can’t hit. As for Jeff McNeil, the Mets apparently believed in him so much they aggressively pursued two other All-Star second baseman to play over him.
The Mets will tell you he’s now going to be an outfielder. That’s all well and good, and we all hope he can make the transition. However, no matter how good he is, he is no Bryce Harper.
That’s important due to the second pertinent exchange. When Mike asked if the Mets were better than the Vegas line of 84 wins, Van Wagenen was sure of himself saying, “I think 84 wins is light.” When pressed on whether this was a 90 win team, Van Wagenen was less assured, and he would not commit to the 90 win figure.
That’s very problematic.
Looking at the history of the Wild Card, the lowest win total for a National League Wild Card was 87 wins. That honor belongs to the 2016 Mets and Giants and the 2017 Rockies. No Mets fan wants to see a repeat of Madison Bumgarner and Conor Gillaspie in a winner-take-all game.
Really, if you are in the 84-89 wins range, you are in the postseason race, but you are towards the bottom of that race. That’s not where you want to be with the Nationals, Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Rockies boasting good rosters of their own. And don’t forget the Phillies who are still in a position to pounce on a player or two in what is still a bizarrely loaded free agent class.
When you boil it down, Van Wagenen can be boastful all he wants, but he’s essentially admitted this is an incomplete team. Worse yet, he’s admitting after trading away Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, Luis Santana, Ross Adolph, Gerson Bautista, Bobby Wahl, Felix Valerio, Adam Hill, and Scott Manea, his work is not nearly done.
Instead of saying, “Come get us!” to the National League, he should be telling ownership to “Please help us!” because this team is far from complete.
During his time in the minors, Jeff McNeil wore a couple of different numbers. Last year, he wore 12 with Las Vegas, and he wore 1 with Binghamton. Overall, he’d wear a variety of numbers including 3, 5, and 10. Naturally, when the Mets called him up to the majors, McNeil was assigned the number 68.
The significance of 68? Well, it was just next in line.
It was something the Mets seemed to start in 2016. That year, the Mets gave T.J. Rivera the number 54, and Ty Kelly was given 55. When Kelly Johnson returned, Kelly was given 56. Over the ensuing years, we’d see the number gradually climb up and up to the point Kelly would wear 66 last year, and eventually McNeil wearing 68.
Now, this is not a practice reserved for all prospects, and it has not been a practice always in place. For example, when Jose Reyes and David Wright were called up, they were given their now iconic 7 and 5 numbers. For that matter, when Eric Campbell was called up to the majors in 2014, he went from 24, a number somewhat unofficially retired by the Mets, to 29.
Now, McNeil is going to wear the number 6, a number which was available all of last season. For that matter, Rivera is going to wear 19, which was a number that Jay Bruce had before he was called up to the majors. It should also be noted the 3 he wore with Las Vegas was worn by Curtis Granderson.
Now, there are some restrictions with uniform numbers. For example, recent uniform history suggests Gary Carter‘s 8 and Keith Hernandez‘s 17 are unofficially retired. They may also want to try to preserve numbers for their top prospects like how Peter Alonso was assigned 20 this Spring Training.
Still, there is a wide chasm between not allowing a player to have a certain number and giving them a number in the 50s or 60s. These players have achieved something by making it all the way to the majors. They should be treated as such by giving them a real uniform number, especially as we saw in the case with Dilson Herrera and Juan Uribe, you are going to make the young player switch when a more established player wants the number.
As a side note, it’s more fan friendly as well because if you are someone immediately attached to a player like McNeil, when you go out and get the jersey, or even shirsey, you have the right number and aren’t out money when the player is finally deemed good enough to pick their own real baseball number.
Once again, we have seen Major League Baseball has floated the idea of implementing the Designated Hitter in the National League only to drop the issue again. That said, in some corners there is the perception there will be a universal DH sooner rather than later. In others, it seems as if baseball wants to keep this topic forever as a debate.
To that end, the Mets Bloggers have undertaken the question about whether the National League should implement the Designated Hitter:
he DH sucks. Plain and simple. However, pitchers aren’t hitting a lot in college. They’re not hitting a lot in the minors. Teams don’t even have their pitchers hit in exhibition games until the third week of March. Clubs are telling their pitchers to not invest energy into many of their at bats, they hardly run when they make contact, and quite frankly, most of them can’t bunt. The point is, more and more it has generally become an automatic out and if that’s how the game is evolving, I see no reason to not embrace a change like this.
Generally there is now no investment into that lineup spot in the NL anymore. Teams don’t want to invest there. They’d rather the pitcher strike out three times with RISP and less than two outs and turn in 7 innings of quality pitching. That’s where they see their value. And honestly, it’s fair at these salaries.
Michael Ganci (Daily Stache)
Okay, I am a traditionalist, so not a big fan of the DH, but I understand that it’s inevitably going to be a part of the game in the not-too-distant future. The thought of implementing it for 2019 is downright asinine, because teams are mostly finished constructing their rosters (sorry Bryce Harper and Manny Machado). It’s going to be a sad reality to not see guys like Bartolo Colon have their moments in the sun. I guess with Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes though, we have built-in DH candidates on the roster.
Mark Healey (Gotham Baseball)
A little birdie told me that Brodie Van Wagenen was quite aware as to these behind the curtain machinations. I don’t need to have pitchers hit, nor am I going to die on a hill for double switches.
So, I dig the DH.
Joe Maracic (Loud Egg)
Many don’t want a DH in the NL, until they start driving in runs for their team. Another bonus, one less thing for a manager to screw up.
Metstradamus (Metstradums Blog)
I’m not a fan of the DH … but I’m old so that’s to be expected (get off my lawn). But what I’m less a fan of is half the teams in the league having to allocate roster space and salary differently than the other half. AL teams get to spend $20 million on a DH to hit 30/100 and completely ignore their bench, while NL teams actually have to spend on a bench. There’s a reason AL teams have killed NL teams in interleague play until last season. Everything else about the leagues have been homogenized, this very significant rule should be as well. While I would prefer the leagues to get rid of the DH, with every single minor and independent league having a DH, that’s not realistic. So bring it on, in the name of fairness.
Greg Prince (Faith and Fear in Flushing)
I never asked for the DH and would never ask for the DH. I’d ask for its abolition altogether if possible, but I understand it’s not. Let the AL have its arrhythmic game. Let me have the one that flows naturally, with the pitcher batting ninth, occasionally surprising us with a hit and turning the lineup over until it’s time for the manager to make a decision.
MLB should feel free to add a team to each league, giving us 16 apiece in the NL and AL and eliminate Interleague play and save AL pitchers the intermittent horror of remembering how to approach a fundamental aspect of baseball until the World Series.
Bre S. (That Mets Chick)
I just want what benefits the Mets overall. Cano can fit as a DH, so can Cespedes and Peter Alonso. Tough decision.
Having a DH would certainly make the Mets lineup look better and more versatile. Plus cano is with the Mets until he’s what? 41-42? lol
Tim Ryder (MMO)
Do I want to? I’m indifferent. I don’t think I’d miss “traditional baseball”, though. I’m having a hard time justifying a collective .115/.144/.148 slash line for pitchers in 2018 with a 42.2 K% over 5k+ PA just to save the beautiful strategic aspect of the National League game. Plus, it could be beneficial for a suddenly depth-laden team like the Mets. The hypothetical luxury of plugging, say, Broxton into the OF late and with a lead AND keeping Michael Conforto or Brandon Nimmo in the game as the DH would be a good thing.
James Schapiro (Shea Bridge Report)
I don’t like the DH, which I don’t think is a secret. But I would be willing to accept a universal DH if it meant everyone would be satisfied and we could back off these ridiculous pace-of-play proposals. Adding a DH doesn’t actually do much to change the game on the field; it’s just a different person hitting. But almost every pace-of-play proposal out there is a terrible idea. Pitch clock? Bad idea. The dumb thing with automatic runners on second in extra innings? Bad idea. So if a DH in the NL means we avoid those, then I would accept it. But if it’s just the first of a bunch of changes that Manfred is waiting to jam down our throats, then it’s a very bad thing.
I’ve written on my distaste for the National League DH on a number of occasions. Rather than regurgitate it all ad nauseum here, I’ll synopsize it by saying MLB needs to tread carefully. Once you implement the DH in the NL, you have forever changed the game by eliminating the purest style of baseball there is. It is a style many love dearly. Even if the die hards are still going to watch, it does not mean you should snub your noses at them to try to institute something which will likely not accomplish its purported goals.
Once again, I sincerely thank all of these very talented writers for contributing to one of these roundtables, and I encourage everyone reading this roudtables to click the above links and read their excellent work.
Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has been quite vocal in his support of Peter Alonso, and you can understand why with the season Alonso just had last year. However, with the way the Collective Bargaining Agreement is structured, it makes little sense having Alonso on the Opening Day roster.
As we saw back in 2015, the Cubs played Mike Olt for six games to start the season. After he hit .133/.188/.333, Olt was put on the disabled list with a fracture. Three days later, Kris Bryant was added to the Major League roster as was long anticipated. By working it this way, the Cubs gained an extra year of control. As a result, Bryant will be a free agent after the 2021 and not the 2020 season.
That decision did not prevent the Cubs from winning 97 games in 2015, and it certainly did nothing to prevent the Cubs from winning the 2016 World Series. That is an important consideration for the Mets with respect to Alonso.
When you break it down, it would be irresponsible for the Mets to put Alonso on the Opening Day roster. If Alonso is as great as the Mets believe, you want an extra year of control over him. As a result, despite assertions to the contrary, it is very possible the Mets keep Alonso in the minors to start the season.
Now, the Mets have built their roster to allow that decision. By signing Jed Lowrie, the Mets could go with Lowrie at third and Todd Frazier at first base. The team could also opt for T.J. Rivera, who was the first baseman for Puerto Rico in the last World Baseball Classic. Going deeper, J.D. Davis has played first base. The team has wanted to make Travis d’Arnaud more versatile, so maybe they can hide him at first base as he works to strengthen his throwing arm post Tommy John.
Then, there is former first round pick Dominic Smith.
Smith has not received a true shot in the majors. He was called up later than Amed Rosario in 2016, and he struggled mightily. While Rosario did as well, the Mets only brought in competition for Smith, which based upon his 2016 performance was fair game. Smith then all but handed over the first base job to Adrian Gonzalez by being late to the first Spring Training game, a game he was slated to start, and then he was injured.
What is interesting is what happened after that. Gonzalez was released, and the Mets opted to go with Wilmer Flores at first base all summer long while making Smith an outfielder. The Mets did this even when the Mets were well out of the race.
Now, this is a problem this current regime inherited much like how Alonso wasn’t called up last year and now have to consider whether to forego another year of control. If the plan is to hold back Alonso for a couple of weeks, that means Smith will have a chance to compete for a position on the Opening Day roster.
If you’re going to open up a competition for first base, even if it is for the first base position over the first few weeks, that means Smith has a chance. The question which ensues is what happens if Smith outplays everyone in Spring Training, including Alonso. What if he reports to Spring Training in shape? What if he is stronger and now able to hit the ball with more authority?
What if Smith claims the Opening Day first base job? Better yet, let’s assume he gets the chance. What happens if he hits and plays good defense at first? What do the Mets do if they are winning early in the season with Smith being part of the equation? Do the Mets stick with Smith, or do they turn around and give the first base job to Alonso the first chance they get?
Right now, the narrative is Alonso is better than Smith; that Smith is a bust. Lost in that is Smith is younger, and he has taken his lumps. He has the chance to learn what he has to do. Much like how he kept the weight off last season, we may see a more mature Smith who has taken the next step forward to become a productive Major League player.
It does not make sense to overlook Smith. He is still young, and he still has potential. For all we know, he may still yet prove to be better than Alonso. It’s also true Alonso is the better player. At this point, it is all theory, and since it is theory, no possibilities should be discounted. That includes allowing Smith the opportunity to outplay Alonso and win the first base job not just in 2019 but in the ensuing seasons.
If the Mets are truly doing the right thing, they should let each player get a real shot at first base. That means Smith and Alonso. It also means Frazier and the rest of the roster. Ultimately, you win the division by sending out your best players. Today, the Mets think that’s Alonso, and that’s fine. The real trick is having an open mind to pivot from that decision if Alonso struggles or someone else proves themselves.
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.
Yesterday, there were two bits of relatively important news. First, we discovered Curtis Granderson intends to play another season. Second, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said the team was not prioritizing the outfield as he believes the team is set there partially because Jeff McNeil is going to move out there.
There are a number of ways to interpret Van Wagenen’s statement with the most likely being the team is not going to sign an everyday outfielder. This means no Bryce Harper or even A.J. Pollock. We can discuss the wisdom of that decision, and we definitely should, but at the moment, the question is whether the Mets are really set in the outfield.
Juan Lagares could be an everyday player for his glove alone, and he showed some promise at the plate. With a new approach, he hit .339/.375/.390 in very limited duty. Certainly, you could argue with this being his contract year and with Chili Davis being the new hitting coach, Lagares is primed for a big season. However, that overlooks the fact he has not played at least 95 games since 2015.
Behind him is Keon Broxton. Over the past two years, Broxton has hit .213/.296/.419. For all of the compliments of his defense, in his only full season in center, Broxton had a -7 DRS and a -2.6 UZR. Even as a part-time player, you really can’t rely on him producing.
Past Lagares and Broxton are Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco. These are two players who are over 35 years old, and they have not been productive Major League players since 2015, and it is hard to imagine 2019 will be the year they turn back the clock.
This places much onus on McNeil. There is every reason to believe McNeil can adapt to the outfield, and even with his questionable peripherals, there is a sufficient basis to believe he can hit at the Major League level. Fact is, he’s a Major League caliber player.
However, the Mets infield has a lot of age. Robinson Cano is 36. Todd Frazier will soon turn 33, and he is coming off his first injury plagued season. Behind both of them is Jed Lowrie, who has been quite good the past two years, but he will be 35 next year. When you factor in the possibility Peter Alonso may not be ready, and you are in a position where McNeil may be needed to return to the infield thereby leaving a thin outfield another outfielder short.
Granderson may be older, but he has always been durable. More importantly, Granderson has remained a productive player, and he effectively transitioned to being a part-time player. Last year, Granderson hit .242/.351/.431 with a 115 OPS+. As a pinch hitter, Granderson hit .375/.483/.500, and that doesn’t include the big pinch hit double he had in Game 5 of the NLCS.
The days of Granderson playing everyday are long gone. Still, Granderson is capable of playing for long stretches in a pinch, and he is someone who you want in your clubhouse mentoring your younger players like Alonso and McNeil. He’s a popular player, and he is someone who has shown the ability to play well in a Mets uniform.
Granderson may not be perfect, but the Mets don’t need perfect. They need a good player and someone who compliments this roster. Right now, that player is Granderson, and he should be back wearing his number three in blue and orange.
Entering this offseason, Mets fans and some analysts have been eager to push Todd Frazier to the bench, or worse, out of town. The call to do that is odd considering Frazier is a good baseball player who has been a positive presence in the clubhouse.
With the Mets, we saw all Frazier could be for this team in April. At that time, the Mets were rolling with an 11-1 record, and the team was doing it’s oddly fun Salt and Pepper thing. It was team that was just “grinding” and having fun. The t-shirts were a hit with the fans, the players, and even the manager. Frazier was not just leading in the clubhouse with kooky stuff like the grinding, but he was also a leader on the field hitting .256/.395/.444.
Then something happened with Frazier that has never happened before in his career – he hit the disabled list.
The injured Frazier was terrible in the six June games he could actually play. In fact, he really wasn’t much better when he got off the disabled list. Given the Mets past history dealing with injuries, it should come as no surprise Frazier needed to land on the disabled list again in July.
At that point, April was long gone. Fans were no longer remembering the fun of the season. Instead, they were lamenting what could and should have been. There was plenty of blame to go around, and for the Mets part, they blamed Sandy Alderson, and they pushed the sick man out of the organization thereby leaving the trade deadline to a triumvirate of General Managers reporting to Jeff Wilpon.
In some ways, Frazier was a symbolic of all that was wrong. He was a second tier free agent, who was injured and did not produce. In May – July, when the walls were crumbling down, he hit .191/.226/.346. Lost in the shuffle was him putting together a decent August (partially because he was bad again in September).
More lost in all of that was how good of a baseball player Frazier actually is. From 2016-2017, Frazier posted a 5.8 fWAR and a 6.6 bWAR. He was a player who was improving both his walk and steadying his strikeout rate. In turn, this led to him getting on base at a much better clip. In fact, his walk rate was the fifth best among Major League third baseman over this stretch.
Defensively, Frazier had an 8 DRS which ranked seventh best among third basemen. When you consider Manny Machado has since moved to shortstop, he was really sixth best.
Over this stretch, with his improved plate discipline and good defense, he was arguably a top 10 third baseman. Even pessimistically, he was at least top 15, which still put him in the upper half of Major League starters at the position.
What is interesting with Frazier was even with how much of a nightmare 2018 was for him, he was still a 1.9 bWAR and a 1.5 fWAR player. When you add that to his down 2018 season, he ranks as the 12th best third baseman among active players. Again, Frazier is better than half the league. He’s a starter, not a bench player.
That said, newly signed Met Jed Lowrie is a better player. He’s a better hitter, and he’s a switch hitter. He may not have Frazier’s power, but he gets on base more, and he’s just as good, if not better, defensively. He’s an absolute upgrade over Frazier, and with Robinson Cano at second, Lowrie should absolutely be the everyday third baseman to start the year.
McNeil has absolutely proven himself to be a Major League player. However, at this point, we’re not quite sure what he is. Is he the guy who hit for power in Double-A and Triple-A, or is he the slap hitter with a dubious 5.6 percent walk rate and .359 BABIP? You cannot be sure at this point. If he does prove himself, it’s likely the lineup is better suited to him playing in the outfield, especially with the Mets leaning on an injury prone Juan Lagares in center and a very questionable hitter in Keon Broxton in center.
As for Alonso, who knows? Behind his 36 homers and 119 RBI was a guy who had some issues in Triple-A. For those concerned about Frazier striking out too much (23.7% in 2018), Alonso struck out more than him (25.9% in Triple-A) against lesser competition. He also hit just .260 in Triple-A, which was partially the result of his .344 BABIP in Double-A stabilizing. Sure, we all know Alonso has tremendous power, but the issue is whether he is as complete a hitter as he is purported to be. Judging from his peripherals, including a high pull rates last year, he may not be, and certainly not against shifting Major League teams.
When you take defense into account, you wonder not if Alonso is ready, but just how much of an upgrade over Frazier he could be. In fact, you legitimately have to question if he’s even an upgrade. Even with Alonso’s work ethic, the odds are in Frazier’s favor.
Overall, Frazier is a good, but albeit flawed player. He’s not hitting for as high average, he strikes out at a high clip, and at 32, he’s leaving the prime of his career. We know all of this not just because those are his stats, but those are the negatives which are constantly brought up when his contributions are being marginalized.
Ultimately, with Frazier, the Mets have a good player. He’s not an All Star. However, he’s the type of guy who gives you power at the bottom of the lineup, good defense in the field, and a positive influence in the clubhouse. He’s a good player who should be starting on Opening Day.