Roger Cedeno

Mets Worst Free Agent Signings

In their history, the Mets have had a number of truly awful free agent signings.  Their foibles on the free agent market have inspired books, and they have led to the Mets having prolonged down periods which have led to the team being under .500 for extended periods and eventually rebuilding.  Their mistakes are not limited to just any position.  Really, they have made mistakes across the diamond:

C Rod Barajas (1 year, $500,000) – In the Mets history, they have had just four free agents catchers as their Opening Day starter with Barajas being one of them.  With respect to Barajas, he was the cheap option in a truly uninspiring free agent group of catcher, and he would not last the season getting released towards the end of August.

1B Eddie Murray (2 years, $7.5 million) – Murray was the first piece the Mets locked down in what was to be known as the Worst Team Money Could Buy.  In his previous stops, he was a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the best switch hitters to ever play the game.  With the Mets, Murray had two disappointing seasons where he hit .274/.330/.446.

2B Luis Castillo (4 years, $25 million) – In 2007, the Mets needed a second baseman, and the team was able to get Castillo for nearly nothing.  While that team collapsed, Castillo was hardly to blame hitting .316/.404/.418 over the final month of the season.  To that end, it made sense to bring him back but not for the extreme overpay which was immediately panned by everyone.  Castillo would disappoint from that point forward, and eh woudl become a symbol of what was wrong with the team with the seminal moment being his dropping Alex Rodriguez‘s pop up leading to the Mets losing a game to the Yankees.

3B Todd Frazier (2 years, $17 million) – After a year in which Frazier had his first ever trips to the deisabled list and he had a careeer worst .390 SLG and .693 OPS, he was an obvious candidate.  Frankly, the choice was much easier when you consider how well Robin Ventura played during his Mets tenure and the Mets predominantly using homegrown players or trades to fill the position.

SS Kazuo Matsui (3 years, $20.1 million) – Despite the presence of Jose Reyes, the Mets opted to sign Matsui to be their shortstop.  It looked like a great move when Matsui homered in his first ever at=bat, but it was all downhill from there as Matsui disappointed at the plate and in the field.  Matsui dealt with injuries, was moved to second base, had a negative WAR in his last two years with the Mets, and he was eventually traded for Eli Marrero, who lasted just two months with the Mets.

LF George Foster (5 years, $10 million) – The Mets first free agent splash was Foster, and in many ways, Foster set the tone for some for the big moves the Mets would make in the future.  Foster would go from being an All Star who hit .295/.373/.519 to someone who hit .252/.307/.422 in a Mets uniform.  Overall, Foster had a rocky tenure with the team, and he would be released in 1986 after making comments to the press.

CF Vince Coleman (4 years, $11.95 million) – It wasn’t enough the Mets let Darryl Strawberry go to the Dodgers they replaced them with Coleman, a player who tortured the Mets.  If Mets fans didn’t despise him enough when he wore a Cardinals uniform, they certainly did during his Mets tenure which featured not just poor play but also throwing firecrackers at a group of fans.

RF Roger Cedeno (4 years, $18 million) Cedeno wasn’t just an important part of the 1999 team, but he would also serve as a key piece of the trade which brought the Mets Mike Hampton.  When he was a free agent, the Mets pounced to bring him back.  Just three years later, he was a shadow of the player he was leading to his being traded to Wilson Delgado.

SP Oliver Perez (3 year $36 million) – After being obtaine by the Padresx, Perez was great in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, won 15 games in 2007, and gave the Mets every chance to win in the final game every played in Shea Stadium.  Despite all of that, there were red flags everywhere, and Perez predictably failed after getting his big free agent deal.  He struggled, and he would refuse a stint in the minors leading to the team freezing him out.  His Mets career would end in infamy as he was brought into the 14th inning of the final game of the season after not having pitched in nearly a month.  He’d be released after the season with a one year and $12 million left on his deal.

 RP Francisco Rodriguez (3 years, $37 million) -Needing a close, the Mets went out and signed the closer who just set the single season saves record to a massive contract.  In his first year in the deal, he had the second most blown saves in the NL and a then career worst ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, HR/9, BB/9, and K/9.  In the second year of his deal, he was placed on the restricted list after being arrested for assaulting his girlfriend’s father in the family room at Citi Field.  The Mets finally traded him in the last year of his deal to accomplish both rebuilding and to prevent an onerous option from being activated.

In Brodie Van Wagenen’s first offseason as Mets manager, it is incumbent upon him to navigate through the minefield of potential free agent busts which are lurking.  The success of the 2019 Mets and his success during his tenure as the Mets General Manager depends on it.

Mets Should Bat Rosario Ninth

In 46 games as a rookie last year, Amed Rosario hit just .248/.271/.394.  Part of that was fueled by his being a rookie adapting to Major League Baseball.  Another part of that was Rosario’s drawing just three walks in 170 plate appearances.  What is scary is there is evidence to suggest Rosario may be due for a regression from these numbers.

Eno Sarris, then of Fangraphs, found Rosario had troubling exit velocities and launch angles.  There is also the fear Rosario’s .330 BABIP will stabilize.  Also, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone Rosario walked just three times in 170 plate appearances.

Arguably, the walk rate was the biggest issue with his biggest issue.  In Double-A, his walk rate was just 7.6%, and in Triple-A, his walk rate was only 5.4%.  Overall, this means the low walk rate is who Rosario is right now as a player.  That is troubling, and for the moment, it should make you question where Rosario should hit in the lineup.

Believe it or not, there are some who see him as either an option to lead-off or the future lead-off hitter for this team.  To be fair, we did see some glimpses of his being a Jose Reyes type of electric lead-off hitter.  However, with his walk rate and OBP, Rosario should not be hitting anywhere near the top of the lineup.

Given his production, you can argue Rosario should be hitting eighth in the lineup.  It’s not a far-fetched idea with him arguably being the worst hitter in this lineup.  Still, you have to question if this would really be what is best for his long term development.  You would be really hard-pressed to argue having a pitcher protecting him in the lineup would help him see better pitches and/or help him work on his ability to draw walks.

Taking everything into account, the Mets really should consider hitting Rosario ninth in the lineup.

By doing this, you are putting Rosario in a much better position to succeed.  Instead of a pitcher protecting him in the lineup, he would have someone like Brandon Nimmo or even Michael Conforto.  With the pitcher in front of him, there will be more than a few occasions where Rosario will bat with a runner in scoring position and first base open.  That’s quite an advantageous hitting situation.

Similar to what Bobby Valentine did with Roger Cedeno in 1999, this could also help Rosario prepare to be a leadoff hitter.  With Rosario batting ninth, there may be more than one occasion where he leads off the ensuing inning after the pitcher makes the final out.  More than that, when he comes to the plate, Rosario will be able to do so with a table setter’s mentality.  After all, with Yoenis Cespedes likely batting second, Rosario will need to find a way to get on base ahead of the run producers to put him in a position to score.

Ultimately, so long as Rosario is able to mentally prepare himself for hitting ninth, this is the ideal lineup position for him to start the year.  Should Rosario begin to hit or he show an ability to being drawing walks, the Mets can then find a more prestigious spot in the lineup for him.  Until such time, let him both learn how to best utilitze his speed as a table setter and permit him to be better protected in the lineup.

 

Trivia Friday: Mets Who Have Returned This Season

One of the themes of this offseason has been Sandy Alderson going out and bringing back some players to help this current team try to win a World Series.  We have seen these efforts work in the past with the Mets bringing back Bobby Bonilla in 1999 and Endy Chavez and Pedro Feliciano in 2006.  We have also seen these efforts fail miserably like when the Mets brought back Roger Cedeno and Jeromy Burnitz in 2002.

Where this season falls on the spectrum is still to be determined.  Those results will largely depend on those players the Mets have brought back to the team.  Can you name them?  Good luck!

Jay Bruce Matt den Dekker Jason Vargas

Put Bobby Valentine in the Mets Hall of Fame

It has been almost 15 years since Bobby Valentine has managed the Mets, and because of how history works, the enduring image we have of Bobby V is the time he came back into the dugout with sunglasses and a fake mustache made with eye back after he had been thrown out of a game.  Bobby V was much more than that.

After a disappointing player career that included two forgettable seasons with the Mets, Valentine became a coach.  In 1983, he was named the third base coach for the George Bamberger led Mets.  Despite Bamberger not lasting the season, and General Manager Frank Cashen cleaning house, the Mets decided to keep Valentine when Davey Johnson was hired.  From 1983 – 1985, Valentine was generally regarded as a very good third base coach, who helped in the development of a young Mets team from cellar dwellers to contenders.  He would be hired as the Texas Rangers manager, and he would miss all of the 1986 season. 

After his stint in Texas, a brief stop in Norfolk, and one in Japan, the Mets brought Bobby V back to the organization for the 1996 season.  Initially, he was named as the manager of the Tides.   However, after Dallas Green had finally run through all of the young arms on the team, Valentine was named the interim manager for the final 31 games of the season.  In the offseason, the interim tag would be removed, and he would start the 1997 season as the Mets manager.

The 1997 Mets were THE surprise team in all of baseball.  Despite a starting rotation that was comprised of Rick Reed, Dave Mlicki, Bobby Jones, Mark Clark, Brian Bohanon, and Armando Reynoso, the Mets would go from a 71 win team to an 88 win team.  Now, there were good seasons for the turnaround.  There was the acquisition of John Olerud.  There was also another strong season from Lance Johnson, and Todd Hundley proved his record setting 41 home run 1996 season was no fluke.  However, there were other factors at play, and they were directly related to the manger.

First, Edgardo Alfonzo was made the everyday third baseman instead of the utility player he was under Green.  Also, while Reed had started the season coming out of the bullpen, Bobby V moved him into the rotation.  Additionally, whereas Green’s calling card was to abuse his starters’ arms, Valentine protected his starters’ arms (his starters averaged six innings per start and less), and he used the bullpen to his advantage.  On a more subjective note, this was a team that played harder and was more sound fundamentally.  It was a team that probably played over their heads for much of the season.

One important note from this season, Mlicki threw a complete game shut-out against the Yankees in the first ever Subway Series game.  While the Mets were overmatched in terms of talent in that three game series, Bobby V had that group ready to play, and they very nearly took the three game set from the Yankees.

With the Mets having overachieved, the front office led by General Manager Steve Phillips gave his manager some reinforcements.  The team would acquire Al Leiter and Dennis Cook from the Marlins.  The Mets would also add Japanese pitcher Masato Yoshii from Japan.  However, this team was struggling due to Hundley’s elbow injury and Bernard Gilkey and Carlos Baerga having yet another disappointing season.  Bobby V and the Mets kept the team above .500 and competitive long enough to allow the front office to make the bold move to add Mike Piazza.

From there, the Mets took off, and they would actually be in the thick of the Wild Card race.  They were in it despite the Hundley LF experiment not working.  They were in it despite getting nothing offensively from left field and their middle infield.  They were in it despite the fact the Mets effectively had a three man bullpen.  The latter (I’m looking at you Mel Rojas) coupled with the Braves dominance of the Mets led to a late season collapse and the team barely missing out on the Wild Card.

The Mets re-loaded in 1999 with Rickey Henderson, Robin Ventura, Roger Cedeno, Armando Benitez, and Orel Hershiser (no, Bobby Bonilla is not getting lumped in here).  Things do not initially go as planned.  After blowing a late lead, the Yankees beat the Mets, and the Mets found themselves a game under .500.  Phillips responded by firing almost all of Bobby V’s coaching staff.

The Mets and Bobby V responded by becoming the hottest team in baseball.  From that point forward, the Mets were 70-37.  At points during the season, they even held onto first place for a few days.  The Mets were helped by Bobby V being judicious with Henderson’s playing time to help keep him fresh.  Like in year’s past, Bobby V moved on from a veteran not performing to give Cedeno a chance to play everyday, and he was rewarded.  Again, like in previous seasons, Bobby V had to handle a less than stellar starting rotation.

In what was a fun and tumultuous season, the Mets won 97 games.  The team nearly avoided disaster again by forcing a one game playoff against the Reds for the Wild Card.  Not only did the Mets take that game, but they upset the Diamondbacks in the NLDS.  The NLDS performance is all the more impressive when you consider Piazza was forced to miss the last two games due to injury.  In the NLCS, they just met a Braves team that had their number for the past three seasons.  Still, even with the Braves jumping all over the Mets and getting a 3-0 series lead, we saw the Mets fight back.

In Game 4, it was an eighth inning two run go-ahead Olerud RBI single off John Rocker.  In Game 5, it was a 15 inning game that was waiting for the other team to blink first.  While, the Mets blinked in the top of the 15th with a Keith Lockhart RBI triple, the Mets responded in the bottom of the 15th with Ventura’s Grand Slam single to send the series back to Atlanta.  The Mets would be ever so close in Game 6.  They fought back from a 5-0 and 7-3 deficit.  Unforutnately, neither John Franco nor Benitez could hold a lead to force a Game 7.  Then Kenny Rogers couldn’t navigate his way around a lead-off double and bases loaded one out situation in the 11th.

In 2000, Bobby V finally got the rotation he needed with the trade acquiring Mike Hampton and the emergence of Glendon Rusch.  However, even with the much improved rotation, it still was not an easy year for the Mets.  It rarely ever was during Bobby V’s tenure.

First, the Mets had to deal with the Henderson and Darryl Hamilton situations.  Henderson became a malcontent that wanted a new contract.  Hamilton lost his starting job due to a toe injury and had become a part time player.  The result was the complete transformation of the outfield with Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton becoming everyday players.  In the infield, the Mets lost Olerud to free agency and had to convert free agent third baseman Todd Zeile into a first baseman.  Additionally, the Mets lost Gold Glove shortstop Rey Ordonez to injury leading the team to have to rely on Melvin Mora as their shortstop for much of the season.  In what was perhaps Bobby V’s finest managing job with the Mets, the team made the postseason for the second straight year.  It was the first time in Mets history they had gone to consecutive playoff games.

In the postseason, the team showed the same toughness and grit as they had in prior years.  In the first game of the NLDS, they overcame an injury to Derek Bell and saw Timo Perez become a folk hero.  The Mets outlasted the Giants in Game 2 despite a Benitez blown save.  In Game 3, Agbayani hit a walk-off homer in the 13th, and Game 4 saw the Jones one-hitter.  With the Mets not having to face the Braves in the NLCS, they steamrolled through the Cardinals en route to their first World Series since 1986.  While the team never gave in, the balls did not bounce in their favor.  That was no more apparent than when Zeile’s fly ball hit the top of the left field wall and bounced back into play.

From there, Phillips lost his magic touch.  The team started to get old in 2001, and by 2002, everything fell apart.  After what was his first season under .500 with the Mets, Bobby V was fired after the 2002 season.  With one exception, it was the end of a forgettable and disappointing two seasons for the Mets.

One thing that cannot be lost with the 2001 season was how the Mets dealt with the aftermath of 9/11.  Every player did their part.  So did their manager.  After 9/11 happened, Bobby V was a visible face of the Mets franchise visiting firehouses and helping relief aid at Shea Stadium.  When it was time to return to playing games, he was able to get his players in a mindset to play baseball games.  That is no small feat when your captain was a local guy who lost a friend on 9/11.  Also, while it was the players who spearheaded wearing the First Responders’ caps, it was their manager who stood by their side and encouraged them to wear them despite requests to take them off from the Commissioner’s Office.

Through the roller coaster ride that was the 1,003 games of the Bobby V Era, the Mets were 536-437.  During that span, Bobby V managed the second most games in Mets history while earning the second most wins in Mets history.  His .534 winning percentage is the third best in Mets history just behind Johnson and Willie Randolph.  In all but his final season as Mets manager, the Mets either met or exceed their expected (Pythagorean) record.

Bobby V stands as just one of two managers to go to consecutive postseasons.  His 13 postseason wins are the most by any manager in Mets history.  He’s the only Mets manager to win a postseason series in consecutive postseasons.  He’s managed in more postseason series than any other Mets manager.

Overall, Bobby V is an important part of Mets history.  Out of all the managers in Mets history, it is fair to say the Bobby V consistently did more with the talent given to him by his front office.  For some, he is the best manager in Mets history.  Most will certainly agree he is at least the third best manager in Mets history.  For all of this, and how he represented the Mets organization during 9/11 and the aftermath, Bobby V should be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.

 

Jay Bruce Solves Some Problems While Exacerbating Others

Right now, if you were going to list what the Mets problems were, two things that would be discussed ad nauseaum would be the offense and hitting with runners in scoring position.  While it has not been discussed as frequently, Yoenis Cespedes‘ and Juan Lagares‘ injuries also make center field an issue for the Mets.

The Mets acquisition of Jay Bruce presumably solves the first two Mets problems while only further confounding the center field issue.

First, the offense.  There is no doubt that Jay Bruce is your classic left-handed slugger that should be hitting in an RBI position in your lineup.  This year Bruce is hitting .265/.316/.559 with 22 doubles, six triples, 25 homers, and a major league leading 80 RBI.  He also isn’t a Great American Ballpark creation as Bruce has hit better on the road.  In road games, Bruce has slashed .277/.318/.582.  More importantly to Mets fans, Bruce is hitting .360/.406/.719 with runners in scoring position.  Ideally, the Mets would bat him fifth in the lineup as Bruce has been hitting .290/.340/.603 from that spot in the order.

Still, there is some cause for concern with Bruce.  As we see with his stats, he is not nor has he ever been a great on base guy.  He is also a guy who is a platoon type of bat as he is hitting .250/.287/.491 off of lefties this year.  With that in mind, the Mets might have just added a player that is more of the same.

He is also coming off two straight seasons that saw him hit a combined .222/.288/.406 while averaging 22 homers and 76 RBI.  If his July, where he hit .218/.289/.529, is any indication, he might be becoming that type of player again.  Furthermore, Bruce has not hit well at all in Citi Field.  In 21 games, Bruce has hit .186/.275/.443 with five homers and 13 RBI.  Hopefully, some of that is a short sample size and some of that is Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.

Regardless, Bruce is an offensive upgrade for an injured and under-performing Mets team.  However, he is not a defensive upgrade for a team that needs a center field solution.

If reports are true, Bruce is being brought here to play right field rather than to play first base in place of James Loney.  That would shift Granderson from right to center.  As we saw in the one game Granderson played in center this year, there is a reason why he has not played center regularly since 2012.  The other issue is that while Granderson has had a down year defensively in right field, he has been much better than Bruce, who has posted a -11.5 UZR and a -13 DRS this past year.  Over the previous two seasons, Bruce has averaged a -5.2 UZR and a -1 DRS meaning he is worse this year than he has been over his career.

With Bruce’s struggles, Granderson’s inability to play center, and Yoenis Cespedes playing on one leg, this outfield should be reminiscent, if not worse, than the Cliff FloydRoger CedenoJeromy Burnitz outfield that was seen as an unmitigated disaster defensively.

The other issue is where does this leave Michael Conforto?  After everything that has happened this year, are the Mets really going to make him a bench player?  Is he going to platoon with another left-handed batter?  Does he move to first base?  Aren’t you now forced to send him down to AAA until September call-ups?  This really leaves your best young hitter and future of your team in a lurch.  With all that in mind, it is a very curious move, especially when there was no corresponding move to address any of the Mets other needs.

Overall, Bruce solves some of the Mets problems while exacerbating some others.  The best way to deal with all of these issues is for both he and his new teammates to just go out there and hit.

From Todd Hundley to Mike Piazza

The things we are willing to tell ourselves as fans can sometimes be quite outlandish.  Back in 1997, if you polled Mets fans, they would probably tell you they would rather have Todd Hundley than Mike Piazza.  Why not?

The two were the same age.  Both were All Stars in 1996 and 1997.  In those two years, Hundley had hit 71 homers to Piazza’s 76.  Hundley had 198 RBI to Piazza’s 229.  Hundley’s 53 doubles surpassed Piazza’s 48.  In fact, Hundley’s 127 extra base hits were actually two more than Piazza’s 125.  On top of that, Hundley was a switch hitter and a much better defensive catcher.  He was the homegrown Met that was afan favorite with his very own Todd Squad cheering section at Shea Stadium.  Hundley’s career was taking off, and he was seen by Mets fans as a newer version of Gay Carter.  When he returned from his elbow surgery in 1998, he was expected to once again be the slugging defensive minded catcher who was going to lead the Mets to the postseaon for this first time in a decade.  If you took a poll of Mets fans, they may begrudging admit Piazza was the better player, but overall, they would also state their belief that they would rather have Hundley as he was their guy.  It was all a moot point anyway because there was no way the Dodgers would ever get rid of Piazza.

Until they did.  There wasn’t a baseball fan alive in 1998 that was utterly shocked when Piazza was traded to the Florida Marlins along with future Met Todd Zeile for a package that included future Met Gary Sheffield and former/future Met Bobby Bonilla.  Once Piazza was a Marlin, the world over knew the team that sold everything except the copper wiring after winning the 1997 World Series was going to trade the impending free agent Piazza.  All of a sudden, the very same Mets fans who loved Hundley, desperately wanted Piazza.  Myself included.

It was certainly possible.  In that offseason, the Mets had acquired Al Leiter and Dennis Cook.  There was a reporte there.  Even with those trades, the Mets still had a good farm system headlined by Mookie Wilson‘s stepson, Preston Wilson, who could justifiable headline a Piazza trade.  Without Hundley, the team was languishing around .500, and they needed a shot in the arm if they were ever going to earn a postseason berth.  You could tell yourself that when Hundley got back he could either play left field in place of the struggling Bernard Gilkey or in right in place of another fan favorite, Butch Huskey.  At least, that is what you told yourself.

Amazing, it actually happened.  On May 22, 1998, the 24-20 Mets actually pulled off a trade to acquire Piazza.  Perhaps just as a amazing, when the Mets activated Hundley from the disabled list on July 22nd, they put him in left field.  Very rarely in life does things happen exactly as you imagined it would.  This did.

Except it didn’t.  While Piazza was originally greeted with a hero’s welcome, he would then become roundly booed by the very same fan base who was desperate to acquire him.  Hundley would be a disaster in left field.  As uncomfortable as he was in the field, he was equally uncomfortable at the plate hitting .162/.248/.252 with only one home run.  He eventually forced Bobby Valentine‘s hand, and he became the backup catcher to Piazza.  In retrospect, how could it have ever worked?  Piazza was a star in Los Angeles, which is nowhere near the hot bed New York was.  Hundley was a catcher out of the womb as he was taught the position by his father Randy Hundley.

But then on a September 16th game in the old Astrodome, it all worked according to plan.  In the top of the ninth, with the Mets trailing 3-1, Piazza, who had been 0-3 on the night, stepped in the box against Billy Wagner with two on and two out.  He would launch a go-ahead three run homer.  After Cook blew the save in the ninth, Hundley would be summoned to pinch hit in the top of the 11th.  He would hit a game winning home run.  It would be the first and only time Piazza and Hundley would homer in the same game.  In fact, it was Hundley’s last homer as a Met.  At that point, the Mets seemed to have control of the Wild Card, but they would eventually fall apart, thanks in LARGE part to Mel Rojas, and they would just miss out on the postseason.

Going into that offseason, the Mets had to make a choice.  Do you stick with your guy Hundley behind the plate, or do you bring back Piazza.  To everyone’s delight, the Mets made Piazza the highest paid player in the game giving him a seven year $91 million dollar contract.  When the Mets re-signed him, the Mets seemed assured of returning to the postseason.

And they did with the help of both Piazza and Hundley.  With Piazza back in the fold, the Mets had to move Hundley.  That spurned two shrewd moves by Steve Phillips that helped build a supporting cast around their superstar.  Hundley was traded for Roger Cedeno and Charles Johnson, the same Johnson who was traded by the Marlins to acquire Piazza.  Cedeno would spend 1999 being tutored by Rickey Henderson, and he would set the then Mets single season record for stolen bases while manning right field.  Phillips would then flip Johnson for Armando Benitez, who would become a dominant closer out of the bullpen.

Piazza was dominant that year.  He hit .301/.361/.575 with 40 homers, a Mets right-handed batter single season record, and 124 RBI, which is the Mets single season record.  He led the Mets throught the play-in game and into the NLCS.  His seventh inning opposite field home run off John Smoltz in Game Six of the NLCS tied the game at 7-7.  In a game they once trailed 5-0 and 7-3 and a series they had trailed three games to none, it seemed like the Mets were on the verge of pulling off the impossible.  With a Kenny Rogers walk, they didn’t.  The Mets came so close to making the World Series, but they fell short.  Even with as much as Piazza gave them, they would need more in order to make it to their first World Series since 1986 and to play in consecutive postseasons in team history.

Amazingly, Piazza had another gear.  He would hit .324/.398/.614 with 38 homers and 113 RBI.  It remains the highest slugging percentage in team history.  The 78 homers and 237 RBI over two years stands as the team records over a two year stretch.  He would tie the Mets single season record with three grand slams.  In 2000, the Mets would go to the World Series, and they would fall agonizingly close as his shot to center field fell just short of tying the game.

It was a start to an amazing Mets career and part of a Hall of Fame career.  Before Piazza left the Mets after the 2005 season, he would hold many records.  He would have the most home runs by any right-handed Mets batter and second most all time to Darryl Strawberry.  He would also be second to Strawberry in team RBI.  He would be passed by David Wright in those catergories.  However, Wright wouldn’t pass Piazza in some other catergories.  Piazza has the third highest team batting average, and he has the highest slugging percentage in Mets history.  He would also hit the most home runs all time by a catcher surpassing Johnny Bench.  It was one of many memorable home runs in Piazza’s time with the Mets, which included the June 30, 2000 home run capping a 10 run eighth inning rally that saw the Mets overcome an 8-1 deficit against the Braves, and the most important home run he would ever hit:

Now, Piazza is going to be a Hall of Famer.  He is going to be a Hall of Famer in a Mets uniform.  It never seemed possible.

Years ago, Mets fans would’ve picked Hundley over Piazza.  Almost twenty years later, Piazza chose us when he chose to enter the Hall of Fame as a New York Met joining Tom Seaver as the only Mets in the Hall of Fame.  It was an incredible ride that has seen Piazza become perhaps the most beloved Met to ever wear the uniform.  He deserves that love and much more.  He deserves every congratulation and accolade the Mets, Mets fans, and all of baseball can throw his way.

Thank you Mike Piazza.

 

Possible David Wright Replacements

Despite the spinal stenosis, David Wright was playing well in 2016. He was hitting .226/.350/.438 with seven homeruns and 14 RBI. He had hit homeruns in three straight games before it was discovered he had a herniated disc in his neck. It was a cruel setback for a player who has worked so hard to get back to this point. It leaves everyone questioning if this is the straw that will break the camel’s back. If it is, or if Wright needs another lengthy stint on the disabled list, the Mets are going to have to find a long term solution to third base.

Internal Options

Wilmer Flores. Going into this season, the Mets tabbed Flores to be the main backup at four infield positions. With Wright needing days off here and there due to the spinal stenosis, it was presumed Flores would play a lot of third base. At the outset, Flores appears to be the player who will get the first crack at the position. However, if he continues hitting .167/.231/.267, the Mets are going to be forced to turn in another direction.

T.J. Rivera. Eric Campbell already had his shot, and he hit .159/.270/.222 leading him to be designated for assignment. Matt Reynolds had a brief call-up and he hit .100/.182/.100 in limited duty. The revolving door has now brought us to Ty Kelly, who is hitting .167/.231/.167 in limited duty. While this triumvirate has been given the opportunities and failed to hit, Rivera stays in AAA hitting .364/.399/.535. Sooner or later, he’s going to get a shot to play in the majors with the way he has been playing.

Gavin Cecchini. The former Mets 2012 first round pick is currently hitting .308/.390/.400 in his first season in AAA. The issue is in his minor league career, Cecchini has only played SS. If he gets called up, the Mets would have to choose between playing him at a position he has never played before or making him the SS while Asdrubal Cabrera moves to third, where he has only played one inning in his major league career.

Dilson Herrera. The Mets could elect to call-up Herrera to play second while sliding their second basemen to third like they have the past few seasons. The issue here is Herrera is not raking in AAA the way he usually does, and Neil Walker hasn’t played third base regularly in his big league career, and he hasn’t played there in six years. 

External Options

If you are going to make a move at this point, you are really only going to be able to obtain a player from a team that is completely out of the pennant race, or a player that has been designated for assignment. With the current two Wild Card format, a safe line of demarcation is any team 10 games or more out of first place is out of contention. Looking over the standings, that would mean the Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds (who have nothing of value), and the San Diego Padres. Of course, due consideration should be given to the Oakland Athletics, who are always ready, willing, and able to make a trade.

Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe is one of the many reasons the Twins are having a down year as he is hitting .246/.273/.369. For his career, he’s a .245/.307/.417 hitter. As such, he’s not going to resolve any of the Mets offensive problems. Also, as per UZR and DRS, he has only been an adequate defensive third baseman meaning he doesn’t have the superior defense to carry his bat.

Eduardo Nunez. The former Yankee is having a nice year for the Twins hitting .340/.367/.507 in 42 games. This year he has mostly played third and shortstop. In the event Wright does come back, Nunez can be a valuable utility player. The main issue with the 29 year old Nunez is that he will not be cheap as he still has a couple of cost controlled years before he becomes a free agent in 2018.

Kelly Johnson. Johnson was a valuable bench piece for the Mets last year hitting .250/.304/.414. The benefits are you know he can play in New York, and he should not be expensive. The downside is he’s hitting .218/.279/.307 this year.

Gordon Beckam. While Beckham has never quite lived up to the hype, he is having a good year this year as a utility player for the Braves playing second, third, and short. The career .244/.307/.374 hitter is hitting .293/.393/.446 this year for the Braves. Maybe it’s the small sample size of 30 games, maybe it’s the change to the National League, but Beckham is a better offensive player this year.

Aaron Hill. Hill is having a tremendous year as the Brewers’ third baseman this year hitting .275/.351/436. He’s also capable of played second in his career. The main sticking point with Hill is his salary. He is earning $12 million this year with the Arizona Diamondbacks paying $6.5 million of that. If the Mets were to obtain Hill, they would have to take on the prorated portion of the $5.5 million the Brewers are paying him or part with additional prospects to get the Brewers to eat some of that salary.

Brett Wallace. Wallace is a left-hand hitting third baseman. He has bounced around as he has never reached his full potential at the plate. He has also been a below average fielder wherever he has played, including third base. He seems to have found a home as a Padre these past two seasons. This year he is hitting .219/.379/.381. The issue with him is he’s still a cost-controlled player just entering his arbitration years.

Yangervis Solarte. Former Met Roger Cedeno‘s nephew, Solarte, is hitting .300/.397/.600 this year while playing mostly third base. He is a versatile player with a good bat. He is only making $525,000 this year, and he’s not arbitration eligible until 2017. If you want him, you’re going to have to pry him away from the Padres. Remember, this is the same Padres front office that rejected Michael Fulmer for Justin Upton. Solarte would be a great fit for the Mets, but it is unlikely the Mets are going to be willing to pay the price of what it’ll take to acquire him.

Ruben Tejada. Simply put, Tejada is a major league caliber player that is better suited to playing shortstop. He was a career .255/.320/.323 hitter on the Mets. He played poorly with the Cardinals hitting .176/.225/.235 before being released. He’s better suited for the bench than he is as the third base option. Even if he’s not the third base solution the Mets should claim him and put him on the bench. 

Jed Lowrie. Lowrie is in the midst of a good season hitting .309/.351/.360 for the Athletics. He is capable of playing second, third, or shortstop. However, he has little power, and he is in the middle of a relatively large contract that pays him $7.5 million this year and $6 million next year with a team option/buyout in 2018.

Danny Valencia. Valencia is having a terrific year this year hitting .333/.370/.558 while playing third base for the the Athletics. He has an extremely reasonable $3.15 million salary this year. However, that is part of the problem. He has a reasonable salary this year, and he is under team control until 2018. Given the way Billy Beane does business, he will be extremely expensive.

Overall, that is the problem. If Wright is really going to miss a significant amount of time for the second straight season, the Mets are going to need a real long term solution. If the Mets enter the trade market and pay high prices for good, quality players like Solarte and Valencia. For the most part, you are looking to trade with a Brewers franchise you cancelling a trade with last year, or a Padres or Athletics team that really drives a hard bargain. That leaves the Mets in a very difficult situtation. Therefore, for the time being, the most prudent course might be to see if Flores can handle the position defensively and offensively. If he doesn’t the Mets will need to make a big trade just like they did last year. If that time should come, hopefully, they will have the pieces necessary to make that happen.

Editor’s Note: this was also published on metsmerizedonline.com

Revisiting the Impact of the 2000 Offseason 

With Mike Piazza finally getting elected to the Hall of Fame and this current Mets offseason, I’ve been thinking a lot about missed opportunities in Mets history. For me, the 2000 offseason and 2001 season might’ve been the biggest missed opportunity in Mets history (or at least my lifetime).

Coming off a disappointing loss in the World Series, the Mets had a ton of important decisions to make. The most intriguing one was Alex Rodriguez. The Mets passed calling him a 24 and 1 type of player. The biggest free agent in baseball history, a 25 year old shortstop with 40/40 capability, and the Mets weren’t interested. They weren’t interested despite A-Rod wanting to be a Met. The Mets wouldn’t sign a big bat in lieu of him.

The next big decision was NLCS MVP Mike Hampton. The Mets have up a lot to get him, namely Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel. However, Hampton delivered. He was 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA. He won a Silver Slugger. He was an ace. He and Al Leiter were terrific that year during the regular season, and they helped pitch the Mets to the World Series. The Mets wouldn’t outbid the Rockies, who offered him the biggest contract in baseball history (until A-Rod signed with the Rangers) and the benefits of the Denver school system.

With the Mets missing out with these two players (and Mike Mussina), the Mets decided to build a deep, cost effective starting rotation. By the way, where have we heard of a World Series losing team choosing depth over high-end expensive players? In any event, the Mets re-signed Rick Reed and added Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel. The last two moves were about as popular now as they were then.

The end result? The Mets got a compensatory pick for Mike Hampton (more on that in a minute) and an 82-80 record. It would be the last year the Mrts finished above .500 until 2005, which was Piazza’s last year with the Mets. The end of Piazza’s prime was wasted by the Mets. He would never return to the postseason with them. He would never play in another World Series. Was it worth it? Well, it depends on your point-of-view.

For me, the pivotal figure in this inquiry is Hampton. For startees, I say Hampton because I believe the Mets were never truly enamored with A-Rod. The Wilpons and Nelson Doubleday were fighting over the valuation of the Mets. The Wilpons were buying out Doubleday, and they didn’t want the value of the franchise to increase any further. A-Rod would’ve done that. Furthermore, it’s likely they would’ve had a hard time signing A-Rod, building a pitching staff, and buying out Mr. Doubleday. Hence, it was Hampton and not A-Rod as the pivotal figure.

We know Hampton was terrible in Colorado, but then again most pitchers are. It’s fair to assume, he would’ve continued pitching as well as he did in 2000 for the next year or two with the Mets. That’s about a pitcher with a 4.7 – 6.6 WAR. Would that have been sufficient to keep the Mets afloat in 2001? Would he have been enough to rescue an offense with the least runs scored in all of baseball that year?

We don’t the the corresponding moves. We also don’t know if the lack of moves created a negative vibe over a Mets team that sputtered out of the gate in 2001. This was a team that was Jekyll and Hyde. It was 38-51 in the first half and 44-29 in the second half. In reality, their second half push came too late leaving them no margin of error, as we know all too well with yet another huge Armando Benitez blown save.

Maybe with Hampton the season starts off different. It’s possible the Mets don’t make the flurry of moves they did in 2002 that proved disasterous. Maybe with Hampton the Mets make the postseason in 2001 and/or 2002. Maybe Piazza gets his ring. Maybe Mets fans are not waiting 30 years for a World Series. We don’t know. All we know is two things: (1) the Mets missed Hampton; and (2) Hampton leaving might’ve been the best case scenario.

The second reason Hampton is the pivotal figure is the player the Mets got in his stead. When Hampton left, the Mets received a compensatory pick. With that pick the Mets selected one of the best high school bats. The Mets got a third base prospect by the name of David Wright. Wright has been a big part of Mets history. He’s the Mets All-Time leader in games played, runs, hits, doubles, RBI, and walks. He’s second in homers. He’s hit the first a Mets homerun at Citi Field and the first World Series homerun at Citi Field. He was a big part of two postseason teams, which is no small feat in Mets history.

Essentially, you cannot tell the story of the Mets without David Wright. It’s unfathomable to imagine Wright in another uniform. However, I ask you has he been worth it? Was he worth wasting away the last years of Piazza’s prime? Was he worth losing all momentum from the 1999 and 2000 seasons? Would you rather have had a shot for another World Series run back then in exchange for Wright’s entire career?

Before answering, I ask that you keep some thoughts in mind. The first is if Hampton returns, you don’t hate him the way you do now. In fact, you may not hate him at all. Next, I’m not asking you to assume the Mets win the World Series Hampton re-signs. I’m only requesting you think about how he would’ve impacted the 2001 Mets and/or his impact in subsequent years. With that in mind, what do you do?

Now, if you asked me this question in 2000, I’m taking Hampton. No doubt about it. Hampton was a much better option than Appier. If the Mets got Hampton and Appier without signing Trachsel, even better. However, I’ll be honest, while I can separate myself from my hatred of Hampton, I can’t separate myself from my love of David Wright.

Sure, Piazza is my favorite player, but Wright has also been a terrific Met. He’s a homegrown Met. He has a contract that may make him a lifetime Met. Generally speaking, Wright has been everything good about the sport of baseball since he was called up. He’s created some great memories for Mets fans. His name is all over the record books. I’m not sure I could part with that, perhaps not even at a chance at a World Series.

So begrudgingly, I believe I’d pick the entire career of David Wright over the possibility of another World Series title. Sure, World Series titles are rare, but so are the David Wrights of the world. I’m hoping in 2016 Mets fans can celebrate both Wright and a World Series title. It’s a lot more fun than playing the what if game.

Mets in Same Position as 10 Years Ago

Did you ever hear of the saying, the more things change the more they stay the same? The saying drives me absolutely nuts. Inherently, something that is static cannot also be idle at the same time. However, for the first time I am starting to understand this saying.

I believe this season is starting to resemble 2005. Sure there was some optimism before that season with the signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. This was also going to be the first full season David Wright and Jose Reyes were going to play together. That team also had some holes: Doug Mientkiewicz had a great glove but not the bat to play 1B, Kaz Matsui was being shifted to play 2B after he showed he couldn’t play SS the prior year, and let’s not forget the closer was Braden Looper in a largely ineffective bullpen. However, I don’t know of anyone that expected the Mets to realistically make the playoffs that year.

At that point, the Mets fans were suffering. In 2001, the Mets rallied around the city, but they fell short of making the playoffs in an otherwise disappointing season. In 2002, we watched Steve Phillips attempt to recreate the team as an offensive juggernaut with the likes of Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, and Roger Cedeno. This lead to three years of just bad baseball. Now, the Mets fans were clamoring for a move to be made. We wanted to see Piazza go out on his last year with the Mets with a winner. At the Trading Deadline, the Mets found themselves only 4 games out of the Wild Card.

However, Omar Minaya stayed the course. The Mets made no trades. He kept his bullets for the offseason. If you recall, that was a magical offseason with the additions of Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado, Jose Valentin, Xavier Nady, Endy Chavez, Julio Franco, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, John Maine, Jorge Julio (was was then traded in season for El Duque), Darren Oliver, and Billy Wagner. Omar showing restraint permitted the Mets to build that great 2006 team the fans loved.

Now, Mets fans have been suffering longer than they were in 2005, and they are begging for just one bat (which I don’t think will do the trick). While Mets fans were disappointed in 2005, I don’t remember them being a distraught as they are now. I think the difference is trust. We trusted that ownership and Omar would spend the money to get the players that were needed. In fact, they just come off of a spending spree that netted Pedro and Beltran. Now, fans don’t trust that ownership will spend the money. I believe this is the trust gap that is the biggest sense of frustration with this team.

It’s a shame too because I remember 2005 being a fun season. So far, I think 2015 has been gut-wrenching with all the tight, low-scoring games. My only hope is that if the Mets don’t make a move now, they have a plan for what can be realistically accomplished this summer. There will be LF available who can really help the team in the short term, but the market is scarce on middle infielders. My fingers are crossed.  I want to be able to go to a playoff game with my father and son.