Rene Rivera

Dreading the USA v. Puerto Rico WBC Matchup

In international competition, I am an American, and as such, I will always root for the USA to prevail.  In the Olympics, I root for the USA regardless of what Rangers are playing for the other country.  I love Henrik Lundqvist to death, but I would root for an American team full of Islanders, Devils, and Flyers if it was ever a USA-Sweden gold medal match.

The same goes for the WBC.

Surprisingly, the closest ties USA has to the Mets is Daniel Murphy and Tyler Clippard, both of whom were on the 2015 pennant winner.  Mostly, the USA roster is full of players you would rather not root for as a Mets fan.

There’s Eric Hosmer whose name cannot be mentioned in my house anymore.  I loved watching Michael Conforto take Danny Duffy deep in the World Series, but to be honest, Duffy got the last laugh.  Tanner Roark is a National, who also did all he could do to help blow the 5-0 lead against the Dominican Republic.  While I generally like both Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, when seeing them play, you cannot help but be reminded of the heartbreaking loss in the Wild Card Game last year.  Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton have been a thorn in the Mets side on a Marlins team that seemingly exists just to be a Mets spoiler.

Overall, while I have found USA to be a likeable team, there are enough players there that harbor bad memories.

The Puerto Rican roster, on the other hand, is full of players I absolutely love.

Carlos Beltran may be the next Mets player inducted into the Hall of Fame.  T.J. Rivera grabbed a hold of the second base job last year after a number of injuries left the Mets searching for a capable player at the position as the team was fighting for a Wild Card.  Rene Rivera helped Noah Syndergaard improve as a pitcher last year.

Worse yet, Seth Lugo is going to start against the USA in what should prove to be an incredibly important game.  Lugo was an vitally important pitcher who helped get the Mets back to the postseason last year.  He may prove to once again be an extremely important pitcher for the Mets next year whether he is in the rotation, the bullpen, or both.  As a Mets fan, you do not want to see Lugo get bashed around by the USA in the WBC.  Rather, you want to see him continue to improve and be in the best possible position to help the Mets next year.

Not to be wishy-washy, but you hope that Lugo pitches well and the Americans still win.

And yes, despite all the Mets ties to Puerto Rico, including Angel Pagan, who was once a pretty good Met, I am still rooting for the USA tomorrow night.  Mostly, I am rooting for the USA because I am an American.

Also, ever since Aaron Heilman delivered that ill fated pitch, I can never bring myself to root for Yadier Molina.  At least in that respect, my Mets fandom and country pride are aligned.

Go USA!

WBC Reminds You Of David Wright’s Greatness

On the dawn of the World Baseball Classic, Mets starter Noah Syndergaard made some waves when he stated, “I’m a Met. Ain’t nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or the World Series playing in the WBC.” (Abby Mastrocco, nj.com).

Judging from attendance at Spring Training, Syndergaard’s belief is not something that is universally shared in the Mets clubhouse. Jose Reyes is one of the few major league players that have appeared in all four WBCs. He is joined on the Dominican Republic team by Mets relievers Hansel Robles and Jeurys Familia.

Fernando Salas threw his first pitch this Spring for Mexico. Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini have been stars for Italy. Seth Lugo and T.J. Rivera, two players arguably fighting over the last spots on the Opening Day roster, are playing with Mets back-up catcher Rene Rivera for an undefeated Puerto Rico team. Ty Kelly is both fighting for a potential roster spot and for a spot in the semifinal for Israel.

Point is, while Syndergaard doesn’t believe in the importance of the WBC, many of his teammates do. That includes team captain David Wright, who said, “Everybody has their right to their own opinion, and obviously Noah doesn’t think too highly of it. But I do. So I’m not sure if it’s just a different mentality, and I’m not sure if there’s a right or a wrong. But getting a chance to represent your country, and put that jersey on, and hear the chants of ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’ — that’s one of the highlights of my career. (Anthony DiComo, mlb.com).

It should be noted Wright wasn’t calling out Syndergaard like the time he and Bobby Parnell threw Syndergaard’s lunch in the garbage. He wasn’t singling out Syndergaard either noting other great players like Clayton Kershaw have opted not to play in the WBC without having to face the same scrutiny Syndergaard has. Rather, Wright was merely trying to speak to what the WBC has meant to him.

It certainly was one of the highlights of Wright’s career. In the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Wright sent USA to the semifinals with a walk-off hit against Puerto Rico. In the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Wright would loom even larger. He hit the decisive grand slam against Italy that helped propel the United States back to the semifinals. In the 2013 tournament, Wright hit .438/.526/.750 with two doubles, a grand slam, and 10 RBI. Wright was named as the third baseman to the All WBC Team. If not for his intercoastal injury before the semifinals, who knows if USA wins the WBC that year?

Among USA players in WBC history, Wright is second all-time in games played, third in hits, second in doubles, and first in RBI. He is a ,333/.400/.458 hitter in WBC history. He had two huge go-ahead late inning hits that propelled the USA into the semifinals. It is why Wright was dubbed Captain American. Overall, you cannot discuss the greatness of Wright’s career without mentioning the WBC.

It is an event that has mattered to Wright as much as any moment in his career. As Wright said, “Up to this point if you say, ‘Hey, what’s the most fun you’ve had on a baseball field?’ I’d say the World Series. But I would say in the conversation of cool things that I’ve gotten to do on a baseball field, the World Baseball Classic is toward the top of that list for sure.”

Overall, during Spring Training and the WBC, Wright has been noticeably absent. As his health issues continue to linger and keep him off the field, the 2013 WBC and 2015 World Series seem farther and farther away. However, those moments should not serve as the epilogue to a great career for a great Met. Rather, they should serve as highlights.

Deep down, each and every Mets fan must hope Wright has another chapter left in him. It may not happen in the WBC. It may happen in the World Series. And it may just happen this year.

The Other Mets in the WBC

After last season, Mets fans became aware of who Gavin Cecchini, Ty Kelly, Seth Lugo, Brandon Nimmo, and T.J. Rivera were. While we may have been aware of who they were, Mets fans got to see Rene Rivera and Fernando Salas up close and personal for the first time.  Naturally, you are well aware of who Jeurys Familia and Jose Reyes are.  Still, there are some other Mets participating in this edition of the World Baseball Classic that most Mets fans are going to see for the first time.  Here’s a a look at those players and what we may expect to see

C Xorge Carrillo

Country: Mexico

2016 Level: Binghamton & Las Vegas

2016 Stats: 85 G, 327 PA, 290 AB, 28 R, 79 H, 14 2B, 4 HR, 25 RBI, CS, .272/.347/.362

The 27 year old Carrillo is a catcher’s catcher.  He is a good receiver behind the plate, and he has a good, not great, throwing arm that allows him to control the running game.  For his defensive skills, he was recently given a Gold Glove in the Mexican Pacific Winter Leagues.

At the plate, Carrillo shows a good eye at the plate, but not much pop.  While you can argue his glove is major league ready, his bat probably isn’t.  Still, Carrillo is a hard worker that has shown the willingness to do whatever is necessary to improve his game.  Considering Mets fans once saw the likes of Mike Nickeas serve as a back-up catcher at the major league level, it is not impossible that Carrillo could one day get a chance in the major leagues.

RHP Nabil Crismatt

Country: Mexico

2016 Level: Brooklyn, Columbia, Binghamton

2016 Stats: 1-4, 2.47 ERA, 13 G, 7 GS, SV, 65.2 IP, 74 K, 0.883 WHIP, 10.1 K/9

MMN Rank: 26

The 22 year old Crismatt has been an interesting pitching prospect since the Mets signed him as a non-drafted free agent out of Columbia in 2011.   Crismatt has never had dominating stuff with his fastball typically sitting between the high 80s to the low 90s.  With that said, he’s able to get batters out because he knows how to pitch.  He has clean, easily repeatable mechanics.  While he does not have a blazing fastball, he is able to locate the pitch well.  He gets the most out of his fastball because he has a terrific change-up.  He gets the most out of both pitches because he knows how to attack hitters to not only get a high number of strike outs, but also get a good number of ground balls.

The Mets did not protect Crismatt from the Rule 5 Draft last year, and he wasn’t selected.  The Mets may not be so lucky the next time around.  Crismatt has shown he can thrive as a starter and as a reliever.  At the moment, he projects as a major league reliever.  With that said if he can develop a third pitch to be on the level of his fastball and change-up, he may very well be able to thrive in a major league rotation.

Certainly, aside from these prospects, I’m sure the player most Mets fans have the most interest in seeing play during the World Baseball Classic is Yoenis Cespedes‘ 19 year old brother Yoelkis.  Unsurprisingly, Yoelkis has been dubbed a five tool player.

Tom Gorzelanny Was A Perfect Minor League Signing

If you look at the initial reactions to the Tom Gorzelanny signing, it was met with some anger and derision from Mets fans. It has led to a meme where Mets fans have begun to compare him to sloth from the Goonies:

Obviously, this anger comes from Mets fans wanting the team to do more to sign free agent relievers to fill the obvious holes in the Mets bullpen. Namely, Mets fans wanted the team to go out and sign Jerry Blevins, who for some strange reason remains on the free agent market. Because the Mets signed Gorzelanny and not Blevins, Mets fans have understandably overreacted. They shouldn’t.

Because this is a minor league deal, the Mets are not obligated to carry Gorzelanny on the Opening Day roster like they were Antonio Bastardo last season. Essentially, if Gorzelanny does not show the Mets he is not capable of being a part of their bullpen, they can leave him in the minor leagues as depth.

Now, if Gorzelanny does show he can be a solid contributor out of the bullpen, the Mets only owe him $1 million with incentives that could increase his salary to $2.8 million. Essentially, this is a low risk, potentially high reward signing.

And there is reason to believe Gorzelanny can be a solid contributor in 2017. For his career, he has limited left-handed batters to a .229/.302/.356 batting line. For the sake of comparison, Blevins allowed left-handed batters to hit .255/.313/.324 off of him last year. Now, Blevins has historically been better than that against left-handed batters. However, the Mets are looking to replace Blevins’ 2016 production, and judging from Gorzelanny’s career splits, he is more than capable of that.

Another reason to believe in Gorzelanny is his repertoire. He primarily relies upon a low 90s sinker and a low 80s slider. While he also can throw a change-up and a curveball, while he has gotten older he has more and more relied on his sinker and slider. As we have seen with pitchers like Addison Reed and Fernando Salas, Dan Warthen has been successful working with them to get better results with those pitches as they have had in prior stops. It also doesn’t hurt that Travis d’Arnaud and Rene Rivera are excellent pitch framers that will be able to help Gorzelanny get into pitcher’s counts and get him that borderline called third strike.

Also, consider some of the success he has had against some of the left-handed batters he is sure to see during the 2017 season:

At the end of the day, Gorzelanny may very well be considered a solid minor league free agent signing in the same ilk as Darren Oliver or Tim Byrdak.

On the other hand, it might not work out. But if it doesn’t, so what? It’s a classic example of nothing ventured, nothing gained. The million Gorzelanny is potentially earning should not stand in the way of the Mets re-signing Blevins and/or signing another free agent reliever.

And in fact, it didn’t. Not too long after the Mets signed Gorzelanny, the Mets then re-signed both Fernando Salas and Blevins. 

Still, Gorzelanny wasn’t the guy Mets fans wanted, but he could become the guy the Mets fans want on the mound against a left-handed batter this October.

Is There Still Hope for Kevin Plawecki?

When the Mets and Rene Rivera avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1.75 million salary, it was an indication Rivera was going to return to the Mets as the backup catcher.  This also means the former supplemental round draft pick Kevin Plawecki is likely going to start the 2017 season as the starting catcher for the Las Vegas 51s.

Based upon the 2015 and 2016 seasons this is where Plawecki belongs as he has proven he is not yet ready to be a major league catcher.  In 121 major league games, he has hit .211/.287/.285 with four homers and 32 RBI.  Last year in AAA, he hit .300/.348/.484 with eight homers and 40 RBI in 55 games.  These were not outstanding numbers, especially for the Pacific Coast Leauge, but they represented a marked improvement over what Plawecki has shown in the majors.

At this point, the question is Plawecki destined to be a major league player, or is he a AAAA player like Eric Campbell, who just signed a deal to play third and hit cleanup for the Hashin Tigers.  The fact is with Plawecki turning 26 this February, it is still too early to determine.  However, we have seen some good things from him to believe that he still can be a major league catcher.

While it was once believed Plawecki’s true value was as an offensive catcher, he has established himself as a good major league receiver.  In his two years with the Mets, Plawecki has rated as a good pitch framer.  Additionally, while the advanced stats for catchers are flawed, Plawecki has posted an 8 DRS in his brief major league career showing he is above average defensively behind the plate.  This is impressive when you consider he has only thrown out 25% of base stealers as a major leaguer.

For the sake of comparison, Rivera has a reputation as a very good defensive catcher, and he has a career DRS of 12.  On a per inning basis, Plawecki has established himself to be the better defender.  However, it should be noted that Rivera has had more success throwing out base runners with his career mark of 36%.  What has held Rivera back in his career has been his bat.  In parts of eight major league seasons, Rivera is a .213/.264/.332 hitter who averages three homers and 15 RBI a season.

Looking at the data, it could be argued that right now Plawecki is actually a superior player to Rivera right now.  However, it should be pointed out Rivera is a 33 year old journeyman catcher.  When the Mets drafted Plawecki in the 2012 supplemental round, they were certainly hoping for more than just a journeyman catcher.

Ultimately, it will be Plawecki’s bat that decides whether he will be a journeyman, a career backup, or a bona fide major league starting catcher.  Before he was called-up to the majors, many believed Plawecki would hit.  For example, before his first call-up in 2015, The Sporting News stated:

Plawecki is a solid, reasonably polished hitter who should be an adequate contributor on offense. Overall, Plawecki has solid plate recognition, a consistent swing path and good raw power. He opts for contact over power in game settings, which will help his average but can result in weak contact on pitches he should be trying to drive.

Others felt that Plawecki had the potential to be an offensive force in the majors with, “One talent evaluator who has seen Plawecki likes as a solid everyday catcher in the majors, with enough power to hit 15-20 home runs a year.”  (Mike Vorkunov, nj.com).

However, that is not the Plawecki we have seen in the major leagues.  As a major leaguer, Plawecki has shown a tenency not just to pull the ball, but also to hit an exceedingly high rate of ground balls.  Moreover, he infrequently makes hard contact.  In today’s day and age of shifting, this has led to a number of easy ground outs to the left hand side of the infield.  As a result, we see Plawecki with a low batting average and a minuscule slugging percentage.

However, the talent is still there.  It is also important to remember really has not gotten sufficient time in AAA to develop.  In fact, he only played in 57 games at the level before he was rushed to the majors due to a Travis d’Arnaud injury in 2015.  As we saw in 2016, when he got an extended stretch of 55 games in AAA, while working with hitting coach Jack Voigt, he began getting on base more consistently and driving the ball more often just as he had done earlier in his minor league career.  At a minimum, this extended stay in AAA showed Plawecki still has promise.

Only time will tell whether Plawecki will be able to hit at the major league level.  However, in his career, we have seen he has the ability to hit.  More importantly, we have seen he has the ability to be a good catcher behind the plate.  Ultimately, Plawecki has a future in the major leagues due to his strong work behind the plate.  Accordingly, despite his early career struggles, Plawecki still has value.  Therefore, it is way too soon to give up on Plawecki.

With that said, he is going to have to show the Mets something sooner rather than later before the team justifiably moves on from him.  The Mets have d’Arnaud at the major league level, and Tomas Nido is not too far behind him.  This means that sooner or later Plawecki is going to have to do something in AAA or the majors to show the Mets he deserves one more chance to show he can be more than a journeyman.

Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Minors.

New Year’s Resolutions

We are headed for another season of Mets baseball where we hope that once again these Mets can make it all the way back to the World Series.  Since 2015, we have seen a definite pattern emerge with the Mets, and I think as Mets fans, we should all try better this year to not react, some would say overreact, when one of the following things we know will happen, happens:

  • The Mets are not going to sign another big name free agent this offseason.  It’s not going to happen, and it just may happen that Jose Bautista winds up in the division and on a fairly discounted deal;
  • Jerry Blevins will sign an extremely reasonable two year deal . . . with another team;
  • Instead of fortifying the bench, the Mets are going to go with this year’s version of Eric Campbell -> Ty Kelly;
  • Terry Collins is going to use and abuse Addison Reed to the point where his arm may actually fall off.  This will go double if Jeurys Familia gets suspended;
  • Hansel Robles is going to go through a stretch in one week where he pitches five innings, 1/3 of an inning, two innings, and three innings, and everyone is going to wonder why his production has fallen off;
  • The infield of Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, David Wright, and Asdrubal Cabrera will be ridden hard despite their injury histories and capable backups like Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes on the bench;
  • Just pick a random player on the roster – he’s going to be on the DL for over two months with a back injury;
  • There will be a game with Reyes in center and Juan Lagares in right;
  • Travis d’Arnaud is going to get injured, and Kevin Plawecki is not going to be able to replace his bat in the lineup;
  • Matt Harvey will complain about the six man rotation that will be implemented at some point during the season;
  • Robert Gsellman will make an appearance throwing well over 100 pitches in five innings or less;
  • Rene Rivera will hit under the Mendoza Line;
  • T.J. Rivera will be raking in AAA and not get called up despite the Mets needing some offense;
  • Michael Conforto will not face one left-handed pitcher all season;
  • Yoenis Cespedes will not dive for a ball, run out a pop up, or run hard to first on a dropped strike three;
  • Curtis Granderson will have a better OBP than Reyes, but Collins will continue to lead off Reyes and his sub .330 OBP;
  • Collins will not know if Brandon Nimmo is faster than Flores and it will cost them a game;
  • No matter where he winds up this offseason, and no matter how poor his year is going, Chase Utley will hit two home runs in a game he faces the Mets;
  • Sandy Alderson will mortgage a part of the Mets future because he didn’t make a move in the offseason that he should have made;
  • Paul Sewald will pitch well in AAA, but the Mets won’t call him up because they would rather rip Sean Gilmartin or Gabriel Ynoa from the Vegas rotation to make a relief appearance on 2-3 days of rest;
  • Both Josh Smoker and Robles will be fully warmed up, and Collins will go to Smoker to pitch to the lefty;
  • For reasons the Mets themselves can’t quite explain, Rafael Montero will spend the full season on the 40 man roster;
  • d’Arnaud will come off the disabled list, play well for a stretch, and the Mets will lose him and Steven Matz in the same game;
  • Matz will have appendicitis, but the Mets will talk him out of the surgery because they need him to start against the Reds;
  • Dilson Herrera will tear it up every time he plays the Mets;
  • Wherever he lands, Jay Bruce is going to hit 30 homers and 100 RBI;
  • Collins will show up in the dugout without wearing pants, and the Mets still won’t fire him;
  • Noah Syndergaard will get ejected from a game for throwing inside.  A player who takes a bat to one of the Mets infielders in retaliation won’t;
  • Fans will clamor for Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith to get called up all season long;
  • Seth Lugo will bounce between the bullpen and rotation so much, MLB is actually going to test him to see if his arm is actually made out of rubber;
  • Bartolo Colon will pitch so poorly against the Mets, fans will wonder why they wanted a bum like him back;
  • R.A. Dickey will not only beat the Mets, but he will throw the team into a week  long offensive funk causing some fans to decry the trade;
  • One or more pitchers will get hurt, and fans that even question if the Warthen Slider could be an issue will be mocked mercilessly;
  • Some way some how Jon Niese will pitch for this team;
  • Rather than build Tom Seaver a statue, the Mets will issue #41 to Niese upon his return to the team;
  • Daniel Murphy will have another terrific year for the Nationals, and some Mets fans will still defend the decision to let him go;
  • Ricky Knapp will make a solid spot start for the Mets causing fans to think he is the second coming;
  • Mets will trade a good prospect for Kelly Johnson; and
  • Despite all of this the Mets will make it to the postseason

Honestly, I give it until April 9th when Collins declares the last game in a three game set against the Marlins is a must-win game.

Cutting Payroll Is Unacceptable

Every Mets fan was elated the Mets signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four year $110 million contract.  With that contract on the heels of Neil Walker accepting the $17.2 million qualifying offer, it appeared as if the Mets were finally out from under the Madoff disaster, and they were ready to spend like the big market team they were.  Turns out we were wrong . . . very wrong.

As the Winter Meetings come to a close, Sandy Alderson met with reporters, and he informed them that the Mets are not only done spending, they actually need to shed payroll before Opening Day.

That’s right.  Alderson expects the Mets to be below $150 million before Opening Day.  According to Spotrac, a payroll under $150 million would put the Mets in bottom half of payroll in the major leauges.  Worse yet, reducing the payroll would actually mean the Mets 2017 payroll will be lower than the Mets year-end 2016 payroll.  The payroll will be lower despite the Mets coming off back-to-back postseason appearances, the Mets having twice increased ticket prices, and attendance having gone up each year since 2013.  With increased revenues, there is no reason for the Mets to reduce payroll.

Now, payroll isn’t everything.  As we saw in 2015, it is possible to compete without having one of the top payrolls in the majors.  Ultimately, it is not payroll that wins, it’s talent.  Looking over the Mets major league roster, the team still does not have everything it needs to win in 2017.

First and foremost, the bullpen is in disarray.  The Mets are likely to lose Jerry Blevins to free agency, and it is likely the team will lose Fernando Salas.  Right there, the Mets need to obtain another LOOGY unless you believe Josh Edgin will suddenly find his lost velocity or Josh Smoker‘s entire career of reverse splits will suddenly reverse itself.  Morevover, the Mets will need a seventh inning reliever, which is something the team has seemingly always needed in the Sandy Alderson Era.  Further compounding the issue is the prospect of a lengthy Jeurys Familia suspension.  With all those factors in mind, this team is 2-3 arms short in the bullpen.

Speaking of arms, it is questionable the Mets have enough starting pitching.  Yes, the team does seem to have seven starters, but most of them carry question marks and/or innings restrictions.  Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz are all coming off season ending surgeries.  To ask them to make 30 innings and throw over 200 innings may be unrealistic.  Both Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo helped pitch the Mets to the postseason last year, but they will likely be on innings restrictions in 2017 meaning if they are in the Opening Day rotation, they will likely need to be shut down by September.  Finally, no one can reasonably expect anything from Zack Wheeler after he hasn’t pitched in over two years.  With that in mind, the Mets could use a veteran starter who could eat up innings as the fifth starter, and also could serve as the long man in the bullpen once the Mets are ready to hand the reigns to a Gsellman, Lugo, or Wheeler.

The bench could probably use some help as well.  Rene Rivera is a nice backup catcher, but he’s better suited on a team that has a catcher who is not as injury prone as Travis d’Arnaud.  Arguably, the team could also use another bat for the bench, especially when you consider the battle for the final spot on the bench will be between Ty Kelly and T.J. Rivera.  Given Kelly’s switch hitting ability, and Terry Collins apparently fondness for him, it is likely Kelly will win that competition.

Overall, these are a lot of holes to fill.  Arguably, being able to trade Bruce will fill one of them, but will it?  If the Mets are indeed looking to slash payroll, how could the team take back salary in the deal?  Even assuming the Mets can bring back salary in the deal, doesn’t that mean the team will be prevented from adding another player or two in free agency?

Ultimately, that’s the problem.  The team’s needs are not likely going to be filled internally unless you believe Wheeler will be a dominant reliever, Sean Gilmartin will return to his 2015 form, Gabriel Ynoa will take a huge stride forward in his development, and Kelly starts improving at 28 years of age.  It is nice to hope this will all work out, but as history tells us, it is rare that everything breaks right for a team in one year.  No, the gaps will have to be filled by acquiring players, which will cost money.

Unfortunately, the Mets once again seem out of money.  It’s getting old, and sooner or later, it is going to cost the Mets a chance at the postseason as it nearly did last year.  When the team is raising ticket prices and the fans are still coming to the ballpark, that isn’t alright.  It’s about time the Mets start spending to at least address their needs in the offseason.

 

Cespedes Is Back, Now What?

Last offseason, the Mets re-signing Yoenis Cespedes put the final touches on the team everyone hoped would compete for a World Series.  This year, the re-signing of Cespedes is really just a start for a team that still needs to make a number of moves this offseason.  Here is a look at the moves the Mets still need to make:

TRADE JAY BRUCE

With Cespedes back, Jay Bruce likely becomes the outfielder the Mets will trade this offseason.  In his nine year career, Bruce has been a .248/.318/.467 hitter who has averaged 27 homers and 82 RBI.  At $13 million next season, that production is arguably a bargain.  That is probably a reason why teams have been in contact with the Mets trying to inquire what the team will want in exchange for Bruce.  While it is hard to believe the Mets will be able to bring in a prospect like Dilson Herrera or a player that will have a similar impact that Bruce will have in 2017, it should not be ruled out that the Mets will be able to acquire a player of consequence that will help the team next season.

DETERMINE MICHAEL CONFORTO’S POSITION

If the Mets are going to trade Bruce, it is another sign that the Mets see Michael Conforto as an everyday player.  Where he will be an everyday player remains to be seen.  With Cespedes returning for four years with a no trade clause, the only thing we know is that Conforto will not be the teams everyday left fielder anytime soon.  That leaves center and right field.

During Conforto’s time in AAA last year, he began learning both positions.  In his limited time in the majors at both positions, he showed he may very well be able to handle either position on an everyday basis.  However, given the presence of Juan Lagares on this team, the best thing for Conforto and the Mets is to transition him to right field.  Let him get fully acclimated there and focus on getting back to where he was April of last year.  This will also let Lagares and Curtis Granderson handle center field duties next season, which was a platoon that may work very well for the Mets next year.

OBTAIN A LOOGY

Last year, Jerry Blevins had a terrific year out of the bullpen for the Mets as a LOOGY.  In fact, he proved to be a bit more as he had a career best year pitching against right-handed batters.  However, he is a free agent now, and the Mets do not appear as if they are able or inclined to give him the multi-year deal that he may command in free agency.

The internal left-handed options are Josh Edgin and Josh Smoker.  Edgin did have some success against left-handed batters in limited duty in the majors last year, but with his velocity still not having fully returned after his Tommy John surgery, it is hard to rely upon him in any capacity next year.  Smoker had outstanding strikeout rates in the minors and the majors last year, but he has reverse splits.  Therefore, the Mets are going to have to look outside the organization to figure out who will be the first lefty out of the pen next season.

OBTAIN ONE OR MORE LATE INNING RELIEVERS

The Mets bullpen really is in a state of flux at the moment due to the Jeurys Familia domestic violence arrest.  Pending an investigation by MLB, it is possible that Familia will miss a significant number of games next season.  If that is the case, Addison Reed should prove more than capable of closing games in Familia’s absence.  This begs the question of who will step up and take over Reed’s role in the short term.

It was a question the Mets faced most of 2016, and they did not find a good answer until they obtained Fernando Salas on the eve of the waiver trade deadline.  Given his late inning and closing experience, Salas would be a good option to pitch in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning next year.  However, he is a free agent at the moment meaning the Mets are going to have to presumably sign or trade for someone to take over this role.  In fact, the Mets may very well need two late inning relievers to address the bullpen.

SIGN A VETERAN STARTER

The one lesson learned from the 2016 season should be that once again you can never have too much pitching.  With the return of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz, the Mets rotation is almost complete.  The question is who will become the team’s fifth starter.

The first name that will be mentioned is Zack Wheeler.  However, after missing all of 2015 and 2016, no one can be quite certain he is ready and able to assume the fifth starter’s role.  The next names that will be mentioned are Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.  Both pitched quite well for the Mets in the stretch run last year, but the Mets may prefer to have a veteran arm who is able to eat up innings and/or can go deeper into the season than any of the aforementioned pitchers.  Preferably, the pitcher they do sign would be willing to move to the bullpen in the event Wheeler, Lugo, or Gsellman wins the job in Spring Training or is ready to take over at some point during the season.

FIGURE OUT THE BACK-UP CATCHER SITUATION

Even with Rene Rivera back in the fold and despite his excellent work with Noah Syndergaard, there is still room for improvement on the catching front.  Many will mention the recently non-tendered Wellington Castillo, but people should realize he’s an average hitter at best. Moreover, he’s a terrible pitch framer. Mets need to do better than that, but to be fair, that may not be possible. 

Whatever the Mets decide to do, they first have to realize that Kevin Plawecki has twice proven he should not be relied upon to be the team’s primary back-up catcher.  Next, the Mets have to realize they need a viable backup who can handle playing a number of games due to Travis d’Arnaud‘s injury history.

There are some other matters that need to be figured out as well.  For example, do you want Ty Kelly and T.J. Rivera competing for the last spot on the bench, or do you want to re-sign Kelly Johnson?  The answer to this and many other questions will largely depend on how much money the Mets have to spend the offseason and/or what the Mets are able to obtain in exchange for Bruce.

Cespedes was a great start to the offseason, but the Mets work is far from over.

Mets Who May Still Lose Their Spot on the 40 Man Roster

After protecting Amed Rosario, Tomas Nido, Chris Flexen, Marcos Molina, and Wuilmer Becerra from the Rule 5 Draft, the Mets 40 man roster now stands at precisely 40 players.  This means that now when the Mets look to add a player in free agency, they will have to cut one of the players off of their 40 man roster.  And yes, the Mets will have to remove some players off of the 40 man roster.

From all indications, even if the Mets do no re-sign Yoenis Cespedes, they are pursuing other outfielders to replace him.  With the possible suspension of Jeurys Familia looming, it is likely, the Mets will have to add one, if not two, late inning relievers.  The team may be interested in bringing back Jerry Blevins or finding another LOOGY.  In addition to those moves, there are some other moves or upgrades the Mets may make this offseason.  With that in mind, here are some players whose spot on the 40 man roster is tenuous:

PITCHERS

Josh Edgin

Heading into the 2015 season, Edgin was supposed to be the Mets LOOGY for years to come.  Those plans changed when he needed Tommy John surgery causing him to miss the entire 2015 season.

He returned in 2016, and he was not the same pitcher having lost velocity off of all of his pitches.  He went from having a mid-90s fastball to having a low 90s fastball.  As a result, Edgin got hit around.  In AAA, he had a 3.51 ERA and a 1.650 WHIP.  In his limited stints in the majors, he had a 5.23 ERA and a 1.548 WHIP.  Another complication for Edgin is he is arbitration eligible meaning the Mets are presumably going to have to pay him a lot more to keep him on the roster.

On a positive note, Edgin still did get left-handed batters out at the major league level.  In a very small sample size (20 plate appearances), lefties only hit .235 off of him with no extra base hits.  It is a big reason why he was on the Wild Card Game roster when the Mets faced a San Francisco Giants team stacked with lefties.  Between his ability to get lefties out, the hope his arm could improve a second year removed from surgery, and his still having options available, there is still some hope for Edgin.

Sean Gilmartin

Gilmartin has gone from an important bullpen arm the Mets acquired in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft to a player who is seemingly lost his ability to get batters out.

Despite Gilmartin being a valuable long man in the pen, the Mets had him start the year in AAA to become starting pitching depth.  In 18 starts and one relief appearance, he was 9-7 with a 4.86 ERA and a 1.425 WHIP.  On a couple of occasions, he was recalled, and he pitched exclusively in relief for the Mets.  Things did not go well for him in those 14 relief appearances as Gilmartin had a 7.13 ERA and a 1.585 WHIP.  Between his performance and his having to go on the minor league disabled list with shoulder soreness, it was a lost year for Gilmartin.

Some of the struggles of Gilmartin were the result of his uneven usage between AAA and the majors.  The other issue was his shoulder soreness, which for now, appears to no longer be an issue.  Another strong factor in his favor is the fact that he is not yet arbitration eligible meaning the Mets do not have to pay him much to see if he returns to form.  His having options available is also a positive.  The Mets could still keep him on the roster with the idea of returning him to the role he was most successful.

Erik Goeddel

There is perhaps no Mets pitcher that evokes such split opinions than Goeddel.  For years, there were people who saw a pitcher that was able to go out there and get outs.  There were others who saw a guy who had fringy stuff that was more the beneficiary of good luck than good pitching.  After the 2016 season, most people agree that Goeddel was a liability for the Mets.

In 36 appearances for the Mets, Goeddel had a 4.54 ERA and a 1.318 WHIP.  It should be noted this was a big departure from how he had previously pitched with the Mets.  In 2014 and 2015, Goeddel had a combined 2.48 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP.  His prior success, his pre-arbitration status, and his having options remaining, gives him a chance to remain on the 40 man roster.

Rafael Montero

How he is still on the 40 man roster is anyone’s guess. Entering the 2016 season, the Mets had it with him, and they sent him a message by making him one of the first people sent down to minor league Spring Training.  Montero responded by pitching so poorly in Las Vegas that he was demoted to Binghamton.  It was only due a rash of pitching injuries that he got a shot at pitching in the majors again, and like his other opportunities, he squandered that.  Still, despite all that, the Mets cut Eric Campbell and Jim Henderson, AND exposed Paul Sewald to the Rule 5 Draft all for the sake of holding onto Montero that much longer.  Eventually, you have to assume Montero is going to get cut from the roster.  It is only a matter of when.

Logan Verrett

Strangely enough, the Mets had to make a decision on whether to expose Verrett to the Rule 5 Draft or to remove a player from the 40 man roster to protect him.  The Mets chose the former, and lost him for a period of time.  After Verrett struggled with the Rangers, the Mets took him back where Verrett pitched well out of the bullpen and the rotation for the Mets.

The Mets envisioned Verrett succeeding in that role in 2016, but it wasn’t to be.  He wasn’t as effective replacing Matt Harvey in the rotation as he was in 2015.  He went from a 3.63 ERA as a starter to a 6.45 ERA.  He performed so poorly out of the rotation that the Mets gave Montero a chance to start over him down the stretch of the season.

Still, there was a silver lining to Verrett’s 2016 season.  In his 23 relief appearances, he had a 2.84 ERA.  When you consider his reliever ERA, how well he performed in 2015, his pre-arbitration status, and his having options remaining, there is still a chance for Verrett to remain on the 40 man roster.

POSITION PLAYERS

Kevin Plawecki

Thinking of Plawecki being on the bubble is a bit odd especially when he is only 25 years old, has shown himself to be a terrific pitch framer, and he has only had 409 plate appearances at the major league level.

The problem there is Plawecki hasn’t hit at all in those 409 plate appearances.  In his brief major league career, Plawecki is a .211/.287/.285 hitter.  That’s worse than what Rene Rivera could give you, and Rivera has firmly established himself as Noah Syndergaard‘s personal catcher.  Worse yet, Plawecki is not the defensive catcher Rivera is.

When you also consider Tomas Nido‘s breakout season in St. Lucie possibly forcing the Mets to protect him a year earlier than anticipated, the Mets are going to be faced with the dilemma of carrying four catchers on their 40 man roster.  With Nido perhaps passing him as the catcher of the future, and Travis d’Arnaud having shown he has more offensive ability than Plawecki, it is quite possible, Plawecki could find himself having run out of chances with the Mets organization.

With all that said, it is hard to believe the Mets moving on from Plawecki this soon is his career.

Ty Kelly

This is an interesting situation for Kelly to be in considering he was signed to be minor league depth last season.  With a rash of injuries and some hot hitting in AAA, Kelly finally reached the majors after his long seven year odyssey in the minor leagues.

After some time, the Mets actually discovered who Kelly was.  Despite his switch hitting skills, he really could only hit from the right-hand side against major league pitching.  He was versatile, but his best position was left field.  Overall, his main asset down the stretch in September was as a pinch runner.  He was mostly used as a pinch runner because of the dearth of team speed on the Mets roster.  With all the said, he did make the Wild Card Game roster, and he got a pinch hit single off Madison Bumgarner.

Basically, all the reasons you can make for him being kept on the roster or being cut from the roster are the same exact things you could have said about Campbell, and he just signed a deal to play in Japan.

Overall, it is hard to guesstimate how many of these players are going to remain on the roster because we are not sure how many moves the Mets are going to make this offseason.  Normally, you would say Montero was sure to be cut, but he is more and more looking like the pitching version of Campbell . . . there is just no getting rid of the guy.  Still, as we learned from Campbell, there is going to become a breaking point, and that point may well be when the Mets sign enough players this offseason to take them from the Wild Card back to being World Series contenders.

Editor’s Note: a version of this story was originally run on Mets Merized Online

 

Mets Final Season Grades – Terry Collins

Throughout the season, I attempted to grade the different Mets players performances for each month of the season. In determining the year end grades, the aggregate of the monthly grades given was considered, but it wasn’t conclusive.  For example, one player’s awful month could be more than offset by having an incredible month.  Also, those decisions were made in the heat of the moment.  There has been a cooling off period in giving these finals grades, and with that, there is time for reflection.  It should also be noted the Wild Card Game did have some impact on these grades as that game was part of the story of the 2016 Mets.  Overall, the final grades assessed considered the monthly grades, but also took into account that player(s) overall impact on the Mets season (good or bad).    For the tenth and final set of grades, here is Terry Collins grade:

Sometimes grading a manager can be difficult.  For starters, we cannot truly know how much of an impact the manager has in the clubhouse.  For example, one person’s “player’s manager” is another person’s “letting the inmates run the asylum.”  Essentially, that narrative is written based upon the type of year the team had.

Furthermore, in the modern game, we are unsure how much of an impact the front office has on daily decision making.  It used to be that the General Manager would hire a manager, and then he would step aside and let the manager run the team as he saw fit.  Now, there is a some level of interference in each organization.  Some provide data and other tools to the manager while others are at least rumored to try to fill out line-up cards for teams.

If we are being honest, there really are times we do not know what is and what is not a manager’s fault.  However, we do know that everything lies at the manager’s feet, and it is ultimately the manager that will have to be responsible for the choices made.  Looking at Terry Collins’ choices is complicated.  Lets review:

The Good

If you are being fair, Collins did what he was paid to do by bringing the Mets to the postseason in consecutive seasons.  That is no small feat, especially for a franchise that has only done it once before in their entire history.  There was also a large degree in difficulty in doing so, especially when you lose Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz to season-ending surgeries at different points in the season.

He also had to deal with a number of other injuries.  There was the fairly expected ones like David Wright, the reasonably foreseen like Lucas Duda, and the out of nowhere like Wilmer FloresYoenis Cespedes dealt with a quad issue most of the summer too.  Once again, it was not a ringing endorsement of the medical and training staff this season.  Still, Collins dealt with it, and took a team that was two games under .500 in August, and the Mets claimed a Wild Card spot.  Again, teams normally collapse in these circumstances.  Collins’ team showed resolve, and for that, he deserves a lot of credit.

A major reason why was the emergence of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.  These two young players contributed much earlier than expected and were better than anyone ever expected.  One reason why is Collins matched them up with Rene Rivera who has excelled mentoring young pitching.  Collins deserves credit for that as he does matching up Rivera with Noah Syndergaard to help alleviate the issues associated with Syndergaard holding on base runners.   Collins use of Rivera might’ve been the best decision he made all season, and it could very well have been the reason why the Mets returned to the postseason.

The Bad

The one issue I cannot get over all season was how reckless Collins was with his bullpen arms.  It wasn’t aggressive.  It wasn’t demanding.  The only real term to use was reckless.

In April, he put Jim Henderson into a day game after a night game despite Henderson coming off shoulder surgeries and Henderson having thrown a career high in pitches the previous night.  The reason?  Collins determined an April game was a must-win game.  In a sport that plays 162 games, no April game can be considered a must-win.  During that inning, Henderson had no velocity, couldn’t get a guy out, and he would have to be lifted from the game.  After that outing, Henderson wasn’t the same guy that made the team out of Spring Training, and he would have to be put on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.  He went from lock down seventh inning guy to removed from the 40 man roster as soon as the season ended.

Then there was Hansel Robles.  Collins treated him like every arm he ruined in his past.  Despite having a number of guys who could go more than one inning, including long man Logan Verrett, it was Robles who was called to the whip time and time again.  During a one week stretch in June, Robles threw 127 pitches over three mutiple inning appearances.  Then when he finally got some rest, Robles came right back out and threw 33 pitches over two innings.  Robles sustained the abuse well for most of the season, but then he tailed off at the end of the year.

Somehow, someway Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia never got injured.  It really is a miracle because they were used more than any other combination of relievers in baseball in 2016.  The wear and tear finally showed in the Wild Card Game when neither pitcher had much of anything left.  Both struggled in their respective innings of work.  Reed was able to get out of it, but Familia wasn’t.

While the bullpen usage was an issue, there were other problems with Collins.  He completely mishandled Michael Conforto this season.  Conforto had gone from one of the best hitters in baseball in April, to a guy Collins outright refused to play down the stretch of the season despite Conforto hitting nearly .500 in AAA during his demotion.

Keep in mind, Conforto was not the only player who regressed this season.  Travis d’Arnaud had looked prime to break out in 2016.  Unfortunately, his season was marked by injuries and regression.  With Conforto and d’Arnaud, there are two important young players who regressed under Collins.

Finally, there was the matter of how injuries were handled.  Harvey’s injury issues were blamed on mechanics.  Collins kept putting Cespedes out there everyday to play despite his clearly being hobbled.  Same goes for Asdrubal Cabrera.  The worst might have been talking Matz out of getting season ending surgery in order to pitch through what was described as a massive bone spur.  Eventually, Matz would have to scrap his slider, would experience some shoulder discomfort, and he would finally get shut down for the season.

Overall

In a sport where you are judged by wins and losses, Collins was successful despite the issues he faced.  However, many of those issues were self-inflicted.  Given the fact that he brought the team to the postseason for a consecutive year, he should have received a high grade.  However, Collins consistently risked the health of his players, and some were worse off as a result.  You need to look no further than Henderson who is right now looking to catch onto a team yet again.  Even worse yet, the young players the Mets need to take them to the next level next year are question marks due largely to Collins’ mishandling of them.  Altogether, Collins season earned him a C-.

Editor’s Note: the grades for April, May, June, July, August, and September/October can be found by clicking the links.