With Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier suffering injuries during Spring Training, the Mets depth is being tested early. Most will point to how this clears the path for Pete Alonso. You could see how this in an opportunity for J.D. Davis. While the Mets may not initially want to move Jeff McNeil to third, if they would it could present an opportunity for Dominic Smith to make the roster.
Francesa on the #Mets injuries to Lowrie/Frazier: "What it does is two things. Number 1: it opens up a bigger opportunity for Alonso and I hate to say this, but it opens up a bigger opportunity for Tebow to start the season on the big team.''
— Brian Monzo (@BMonzoRadio) February 26, 2019
Okay, well almost anybody. Really, to suggest Tim Tebow has an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster borders on the absurd. Really, just look at the Mets complete left field depth chart:
- Michael Conforto
- Jeff McNeil
- Brandon Nimmo
- Juan Lagares
- Keon Broxton
- Rajai Davis
- Gregor Blanco
- J.D. Davis
- Rymer Liriano
- Dominic Smith
- T.J. Rivera
- Dilson Herrera
- Danny Espinosa
- Kevin Kaczmarski
- Braxton Lee
Also consider the Mets have the option to move players like Cecchini to the outfield. As the season progresses, players like Desmond Lindsay may move ahead of Tebow. However, this is about right now, and right now there is nothing to suggest Tebow is anywhere close enough to cracking the Mets Opening Day roster. Really, the mere suggestion of it is beyond absurd.
With the way the free agent market has played out, Manny Machado signed an arguably under-value contract after position players reported to Spring Training. Many cite top end free agents like Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Craig Kimbrel still being on the market as a sure sign there is a problem with free agency.
Those making that claim are right, but the problems do go deeper than that.
Take for example Jose Bautista. Last year, the Mets literally signed Bautista while he was sitting on his couch. He’d fly to New York, and he would prove himself to still be a capable Major League player.
In his time with the Mets, Bautista was an above league average hitter (104 OPS+). In 83 games, he hit .204/.351/.367 with 13 doubles, nine homers, and 37 RBI. He’d play all over the diamond as well, and he would actually play well defensively. Bautista was actually a 1 DRS in 109.2 innings in left. He was serviceable elsewhere with a -2 DRS in right and a -1 DRS at third base. He would show himself to be quite a versatile defender also playing 14.2 innings at first and even an inning at second base.
What is interesting is when Bautista was traded to the Phillies, who were still fighting for a postseason spot, Bautista raised his game. In 27 games for the Phillies, Bautista would hit .244/.404/.467 with four doubles, two homers, and six RBI.
Now, there is no question Bautista’s skills have diminished. He is far from the All-Star and MVP candidate he was in 2015. Still, not all of his skills have eroded. He still has a good eye at the plate, and he has maintained an excellent walk rate (16.8 percent). He had an above-average .175 ISO and 13.1 percent HR/FB. Ultimately, this is a player who still has power and a flair for the dramatic:
At this stage in his career, the 38 year old Bautista is no more than a bench or utility player. He is a power source off your bench. As he showed last year, he still has something in the tank. Really, in a normal free agent market you would see a team signing him to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.
Remember, Bautista showed last year he was not above that. He signed such a deal with the Braves, and he spent time in the minors to prove himself as a third baseman. It didn’t work there, but it did with the Mets and the Phillies in a different role. Bautista could work well for another team in 2019 if just given the chance.
From a Mets perspective, you could see why they haven’t brought him back. They have Gregor Blanco and Rajai Davis fighting for outfield spots. Younger players like J.D. Davis and to a certain extent Dominic Smith are fighting for a Major League bench spot. There’s also Dilson Herrera, Gavin Cecchini, Will Toffey, Luis Guillorme, and David Thompson who could be fighting for a role not just for the Major League team but also the Syracuse Triple-A team.
To that extent, you understand the Mets not bringing back Bautista. But that’s just the Mets. What are the other 29 Major League team’s excuse?
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 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.
After an unplanned hiatus, it is time to start the New Year off fresh and to look at everything anew. It is time for change and resolutions to carry us through 2019. Here are the resolutions for each of the Mets players:
Robinson Cano – don’t get caught using PEDs this time
Yoenis Cespedes – find a way to DH in at least two games this year
Jacob deGrom – learn how to hit better so he can finally win some games next year.
Travis d’Arnaud – get the same surgery Wolverine got
Jeurys Familia – convince Callaway Diaz needs to be used in higher leverage situations so he can get his closer job back
Todd Frazier – find a way to sell move boxes of unsold Mets salt and pepper grinders while not falling into the same trap this year.
Drew Gagnon – keep those incriminating photos which have allowed you to survive roster cut after roster cut.
Robert Gsellman – learn how to pitch well for more than just one month out of the season
Juan Lagares – find a way to play at least half a season
Seth Lugo – when he is not given an opportunity to start and is an All Star snub, channel his inner Margot Martindale from BoJack Horseman
Steven Matz – pitch better so his grandfather will begin cheering for him again.
Jeff McNeil – find a way to hit .400 because short of that the Mets are probably not putting him in the lineup
Tomas Nido – sign up for the best travel rewards program there is because by the time 2019 is over he will be able to fly first class to Australia and back at least 10 times a month
Brandon Nimmo – life isn’t that bad, maybe he should smile every once in a while
Kevin Plawecki – hit the occasional ground ball to the left side just to shake things up.
Amed Rosario – take some mommy/baby classes so he can learn how to walk
Paul Sewald – have a print out of his game logs from Baseball Reference to remind the Mets he pitches well in shorter spurts, and that he is not superhuman and cannot handle onerous workloads. Cry when the attempts fail and he finds himself back in Triple-A
Noah Syndergaard – find an open mic somewhere to discover no one actually believes he or his Mr. Met feud is funny.
Jason Vargas – leave the Jeff Goldblum impressions in the clubhouse and stop pitching like him when he takes the mound.
Zack Wheeler – don’t even let a Mets team doctor near his arm in his free agent walk year.
Daniel Zamora – be able to spin his bad outings the way he can spin his slider
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.