Like it has been for most of their history, the Mets are currently build on starting pitching. That presents a problem for this organization because they will soon be in the unenviable position of having to rebuild their rotation over the ensuing few offseasons.
The Mets will have to face the same exact situation the ensuing offseason as both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz will be free agents after the 2021 season. That means over the course two years, the Mets are going to have to address how they want to handle 80% of their starting rotation.
Complicating matters is Michael Conforto hitting free agency the same time as Syndergaard and Matz as well as the shallow upper parts of the Mets farm system. How the Mets choose to address their rotation will be vitally important as Jacob deGrom has an opt out after the 2022 season.
After that 2022 season, Brandon Nimmo will be a free agent, Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil will be first time arbitration eligible, and Amed Rosario will be heading into his last season under team control. This means the Mets core is going to be quite expensive and on their way out to parts unknown over the next few seasons.
At this point, we should all be wondering what exactly is the plan here.
At times, the Mets seem all-in. We saw that not just with trading away prospects to get Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, but we also saw that with the Mets trading away prospects like Blake Taylor, Ross Adolph, Luis Santana, and Adam Hill for what amounted to be nothing more than complementary pieces.
On the other hand, the Mets don’t see remotely all-in when they fail to address the back-up catching situation and let Zack Wheeler, their second best pitcher over the past two years, leave the Mets to go to the Philadelphia Phillies. Couple that with the Mets not making a push for players like Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado, or being active on the trade market for players like Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, or Francisco Lindor, this seems more and more like a team without a clear direction.
Now, part of that can just be a result of how ineptly the Wilpons and Brodie Van Wagenen have run this organization. Another aspect can be this team being in a relative holding pattern until Steve Cohen’s purchase of the club is finalized and approved. There may be other factors at play, and really, at this point, we are all just guessing.
What we do know is based on the control over the current core, the Mets window to compete for a World Series is right now, and the team has done little to push the team over the top. We also know that until this core is extended, the Mets window is going to be limited to just these two years.
When you look at things through this prism, you see the need to give extensions to at least some of your core. Certainly, that is the case when the goal is sustained winning and not just short windows. In theory, there is still 10 months to do that, but at the moment, the Mets have missed their biggest and perhaps best opportunity to do it once again leaving the impression this is an organization without a clear direction.
While Sandy Alderson had his faults as the Mets General Manager, he left the Mets in a very good position. The next General Manager would have at this disposal the assets and core necessary to build a real World Series contender sometime within the next three years. If done, properly, this could have been a stretch akin to the 1980s Mets.
First and foremost, there was a young core still under control. Michael Conforto rebounded from shoulder surgery in the second half, and he appeared ready to return to his All Star form. Brandon Nimmo had a breakout season where he was the second best hitter in the National League. Jeff McNeil emerged to hit .329/.381/.471 in 63 games showing a great contact rate while playing well at second base.
The team still had a very good starting rotation. Jacob deGrom is the reigning Cy Young winner. Zack Wheeler‘s second half was as good as deGrom’s. Steven Matz finally made 30 starts in a season. Noah Syndergaard came back from a finger issue and pitched well. Over his final eight starts of the season, he was 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA.
The team also did not have an onerous long term deal which would stand in the way of really improving the team. After the 2019 season, the contracts of Todd Frazier, Juan Lagares, Anthony Swarzak, and Jason Vargas were set to come off the books. That was $32.5 million coming off the books. Combine that with Wheeler’s $5.975, and that was $38.475 coming off the books.
With respect to Vargas and Wheeler being pending free agents, the team did have internal options. Justin Dunn had a breakout season, and he re-emerged as a Top 100 prospect with an ETA of last 2019 or early 2020. With a similar 2019 season, you could see him realistically being part of the 2020 rotation or possibly the bullpen.
Behind Dunn, Anthony Kay and David Peterson had an opportunity to make a push to put themselves in a position to have an ETA of 2020. Between the three pitchers, the Mets realistically only needed one more starter via trade or free agency.
Those three pitchers were not the only near Major League ready talent the organization had. Pete Alonso was Major League ready. If he wasn’t, the team still had Dominic Smith who would spend the offseason addressing his medical issues and continuing to get into better shape.
This was all part of a very promising farm system which could have made a charge to the top of the game. In addition to the pitching and Alonso, the team had Jarred Kelenic, who appeared to be a once in a generation talent. Behind him was an impressive collection of teenage talent which included Andres Gimenez, Ronny Mauricio, Shervyen Newton, Luis Santana, and Mark Vientos.
If handled properly, the 2021 or 2022 Mets could have had a rotation with deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, and at least one of Dunn, Kay, Peterson, or possibly Simeon Woods Richardson. The infield would been Alonso, McNeil, and two from the aforementioned group of teenage prospects. That’s if Amed Rosario didn’t have a breakout season or move to the outfield. Speaking of the outfield, an outfield of Nimmo-Kelenic-Conforto would have been the envy of the game.
Sure, not all of the prospects would have developed, but you also could have had someone like a Ross Adolph or another prospect emerge much like we saw with McNeil in 2018. There was also the impending 2019 draft class to consider. The overriding point here was the Mets had a deep well of prospects, and they had payroll flexibility.
Whoever was going to be the next General Manager of the Mets was going to be, they were taking over a job in an enviable position. There were difficult decisions in front of them like which players do you extend, and how hard exactly do you push to contend in 2019 or 2020 knowing what was on the horizon. Certainly, you had to do some of that because taking over the job was likely going to require you to sell a vision of contending in 2019.
While players like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado would have been well worth pursuing, realistically speaking, the Wilpons were not going to green light those signings. On the trade front, the only player available worth the Mets top prospects was probably J.T. Realmuto, but the Marlins have never seemed inclined to be reasonable in a potential deal with the Mets.
With that in mind, whatever the vision for the new General Manager, there needed to be an element of restraint. No matter what the new General Manager did, they needed to maintain that level of payroll flexibility while also not damaging the farm system to pursue short term fixes and/or underselling prospects in order to find ways to circumvent not being able to spend.
Well, in one trade, just one, Brodie Van Wagenen completely failed. In trading Dunn, the Mets lost their lone near Major League ready starter. That was important in case of an injury in 2019, and it was important because with Wheeler and Vargas being free agents, the Mets needed to find at least one cheap option for the rotation.
Worse than that, the team added Robinson Cano‘s onerous contract. Over the next five years, the Mets had $20 million on the books for a player who was going to have a steep decline in one of those five years. That player was coming in at a position already filled by McNeil and at a position which was going to be filled with young talent during the duration of Cano’s contract. You also weren’t moving Cano to first due to Alonso and/or Smith.
Yes, this is where many point out the Mets obtained a cost controlled closer in Edwin Diaz. That’s true. However, he came with a debilitating contract. He also came at the expense of Kelenic. Certainly, a prospect of Kelenic’s level is worth more than a closer both in terms of value in a trade and just in terms of a future impact on a team.
Brodie Van Wagenen would then worsen things. He would trade prospects in Adolph, Adam Hill, Scott Manea, Felix Valerio, and Santana with Bobby Wahl to add J.D. Davis and Keon Broxton (who didn’t last two months with the team). No matter your impression of those players, that’s a big chunk of prospect depth for two players who were really nothing more than bench players.
That’s not a good allocation of your assets, especially when your organization does not have the ability to absorb Cano’s contract in stride and spend their way around losing this prospect depth. Anyone taking over the Mets job knew this, Brodie Van Wagenen included.
However, despite that knowledge he went all-in on 2019. He did not maintain the payroll flexibility needed to address the loss of two rotation spots, a third baseman, and a center fielder in free agency. He traded away not just two top 100 prospects but also quality depth prospects thereby harming their ability to add at this year’s trade deadline (if everything worked out) or to build the 2020 team. Mostly, he lost Kelenic who was a franchise altering prospect, who aside from Darryl Strawberry, the organization has not seen.
Overall, not only did Van Wagenen fail to build the 2019 Mets into a contender, he hamstrung the team’s ability to build that contender in 2020 and beyond. The reason is the team does not have the payroll flexibility or the prospect depth truly needed to overcome the way the Wilpons choose to operate their team.
Consider for a moment if Van Wagenen did nothing, the Mets would have been a fourth place team much like they are now. However, if he did actually do nothing, the Mets would have had a deep farm system and real payroll flexibility to attack this upcoming offseason. That’s all gone now, and seeing what he did to this organization in less than a year on the job, it’s difficult to have any faith he can turn things around and get the franchise back on track.
After coming in red-hot after going 5-1 on the road to open the season, the Mets had their first series at home, and while they returned to Citi Field, their momentum did not. While it is waaaaaaay to soon to look at these things, the Mets are now 0.5 games back of the Phillies. Here are some observations from the Mets home opening series:
- Noah Syndergaard seems to be a spokesman of sorts for this team airing their grievances publicly. Look it anyone is going to be the bad guy, Syndergaard is well suited for it because: (1) the fans are going to love him regardless; and (2) he seems to have the do not care what you think personality to make it work.
- Not only did MLB mishandle this by having the Mets play a night game, but they also had a drug test after the game. Considering there were only 7,486 at that game, I cannot imagine attendance was the reason for the later start time.
- If the rumors were true, the Mets are absolutely idiots for starting that game at 1:00 P.M. instead of 4:00 P.M. Those three extra hours matter, especially when a player like Robinson Cano has completely forgotten how to transverse New York after signing with the Mariners after the 2013 season.
- The Nationals came into this series under .500 with an already beleaguered Dave Martinez, a more beleaguered bullpen, and arguably their best player, Trea Turner, on the disabled list. This was a very wounded team who was primed to be knocked down a peg or two and possibly sent into turmoil. It may still be just April, but the Mets missed a big opportunity here.
- The two home run game from J.D. Davis was great to see as was his reaching base safely five consecutive times. However, we are going to need to see a lot more of that before we believe he has finally figured things out.
- As we saw from Davis’ two home run game, April is the time for overreaction, and we are seeing that with Zack Wheeler‘s tough start. One thing to keep in mind here is Wheeler has always gotten better as the season progresses. For example, his career April ERA is 4.95, and his career August ERA is 2.30. Lets give this a month or two before we decided last year’s second half was a blip.
- It seems like Steven Matz figured something out in the bottom of the second against the Nationals. If so, watch out, he’s going to have a breakout season.
- The Mets have gone from Jason Vargas not needing any competition during Spring Training to only trusting him for five innings in a hitter’s park against the worst team in the National League to skipping his start. It’s not even the middle of April, and the Mets have completely bungled their fifth starter situation.
- Perhaps this is an overreaction, but Robert Gsellman has not proven to be that late inning relief ace the Mets imagined him to be. With the Vargas situation, perhaps the Mets should consider sending him down to Syracuse to lengthen him out to rejoin the rotation while making Vargas the long man in the bullpen.
- Even with Jeurys Familia‘s blow-up where he allowed his first homer at Citi Field since Conor Gillaspie, and he allowed two homers in an appearance for the first time in his career, he’s been fine.
- While there has been justifiable hand-wringing over just how poorly this bullpen has been performing, we are seeing Justin Wilson-Familia-Edwin Diaz turn into a formidable 7-8-9 combination.
- Thankfully, Seth Lugo was back to himself Sunday throwing 96 MPH and striking out the side. Overall, he’s very tempting to use, but Mickey Callaway has to be much more judicious in his usage of him.
- With the Mets being a starter short and one to two arms short in the bullpen, just a subtle reminder Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are still free agents. And for a GM who traded away Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, Gerson Bautista, Ross Adolph, Luis Santana, Scott Manea, Bobby Wahl, Adam Hill, and Felix Valerio, we do not need to hear about giving up a draft pick.
- Michael Conforto looks like a real MVP candidate.
- Brandon Nimmo is going to be fine. Whether it was an injury or something else, he will get back to being Nimmo. We saw that with his double yesterday.
- For all of his prodigious power, and how he already looks like a veteran out there, the one thing which really stands out with Pete Alonso is how great a teammate he is. It is utterly stunning to believe a player with less than 10 games under his belt may already be the glue guy in the clubhouse. Speaking of Alonso, while everyone was celebrating the opposite field hitting, it was nice to see the Mets start hitting for power again.
- The Mets signed Wilson Ramos for his bat. We are seeing that with his lackluster pitch framing and how he couldn’t locate a ball which was right behind him allowing a runner to score from second.
- It was great to see Travis d’Arnaud return. He’s been an under-appreciated player because he has not been exactly what he was supposed to be, but he is good behind the plate. Sooner or later, his pitch framing is going to really help this team.
- On the one hand, all of Callaway’s double switching is maddening because it is partially the reason why this bullpen is so taxed. On the other hand, it is proving to be an adept way to get everyone into the game and having them getting enough reps to contribute when called upon. Ultimately, Callaway just needs to find a way to better handle this bullpen.
- I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Mets sell out when they have these bobble head days. For the life of me, I do not understand how it makes sense to send kids home upset and to ruin their experience at the park by not having enough bobble heads for everyone. This a sponsored giveaway, and they are cheap to make. The mid market Brewers have figured this out, and they order enough so they can donate the extras after the game. Seems like it’s better to have everyone walking out with a Jacob deGrom and Todd Frazier bobble head this weekend than having sad little kids, which is never good for business.
After the Mets swept the Marlins, they’re now 5-1 and in first place as they come home for their home opener. Here’s the 20/20 observations from the last series:
- When Pedro Martinez compared Jacob deGrom to himself, you got the perfect comparison to just how dominant deGrom is right now. Although we can be sure the Dodger loving Wilpons think Sandy Koufax (either way you take it).
- With deGrom pitching great with Wilson Ramos on Opening Day and Tomas Nido yesterday, we’re seeing giving any credit to Devin Mesoraco was nonsense. Moreover, we’re seeing how better catchers help produce better results.
- In addition to their producing well on the field so far, it’s great to see Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith cheering for one another. Since late last year, and perhaps before that, they were adversaries as far as the future of first base was concerned. They rose above it to show they’re better people than they are players.
- While we believe Juan Lagares‘ extension was a mistake, there’s no doubt he impacts the game when he’s on the field. In the series, we saw him hit a game tying homer, and with his hustle, he reached base even on outs. He’s already at a 1 DRS, and he’s flashing his arm again. He’s potentially a difference maker.
- When the Mets traded Ross Adolph, Scott Manea, and Luis Santana, they paid a hefty price for J.D. Davis. It’s becoming increasingly clear, he’s not going to hit well or play good defense. As a result, each game the Mets force him into the lineup only serves to make a bad situation worse.
- On Davis, do yourself a favor and don’t look at the Astros 1B/DH situation.
- While it was nice to see Luis Guillorme finally get into a game, he needs to see more action, especially with Davis playing his way to a demotion.
- It’s very cool to see Yoenis Cespedes‘ brother Yoelkis regarded as one of the top Cuban prospects available. Here’s hoping the Mets can find a way to add him to the organization.
- The schadenfreude seeing the Yankees follow a Mets-like offseason with a series of Metsian injuries (CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury) is off the charts.
- With respect to Brandon Nimmo, it was shocking to see him not get a day after getting hit on the hand. Even if he was alright, with him scuffling, it made sense to give him the extra day.
- Mickey Callaway‘s handling of the bullpen in the series was both bad and dangerous. He pushed a Luis Avilan, a LOOGY with a history of shoulder injuries, to try to pitch two innings. He also pushed Seth Lugo to try almost 40 pitches despite his being ill. That’s how you make two laughers nail biters.
- That said, Robert Gsellman needs to be better. It was his performance which led to Callaway needing to turn to Edwin Diaz for the save.
- Even with the struggles from the rest of the pen, the Mets are more than alright with Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and Justin Wilson ready to go 7-8-9 to close out a win.
- If the Mets can’t trust Jason Vargas to go more than five innings against the worst team in baseball when the bullpen is short, why is he in the rotation, especially when Dallas Keuchel is still a free agent.
- With the Mets not trusting Vargas, we need to keep a close eye on Anthony Kay who impressed in Spring Training and will be the Opening Day starter for Binghamton today.
- It was hard to tell on TV, but with a large contingent of Mets fans at Marlins Park, is booing Peter O’Brien still going to be a thing.
- Umpire Ron Kulpa’s behavior was unnecessarily confrontational and unbefitting to the impartiality and temperance we should expect from an umpire. A.J. Hinch was right to confront him, and now it’s time for MLB to confront and potentially begin to suspend umpires who behave this way.
- With respect to Ron Darling‘s book, former teammates Dwight Gooden, Kevin Mitchell, and Darryl Strawberry defending Lenny Dykstra doesn’t mean Darling is lying. There’s a lot of room between those players not hearing something and it actually happening even if Oil Can Boyd said he didn’t hear anything.
- More troubling than the Darling/Dykstra controversy is Darling saying Bob Murphy would pass out drunk in the clubhouse and saying Gary Carter tried to stuff the All-Star ballots. Dykstra is a man who is all too eager to defend himself. Dead men like Murphy and Carter can’t.
- It’s going to be sad to not hear David Wright‘s name announced with the team on Opening Day. It’s not too similar from 2006 when we didn’t hear Mike Piazza‘s name. Hopefully, this will be like 2006 in more ways than one.
No matter how good things are for the Mets, it appears like the Marlins are always there to ruin things. There are awful memories stemming from Tom Glavine, Scott Schoeneweis, and even Duaner Sanchez‘s cab ride. No matter how good things are, it seems like Miami is there to screw things up for the Mets.
To matters worse yesterday, the Marlins were starting Caleb Smith, who has pitched very well against the Mets.
Things did not start out well yesterday with Smith striking out Amed Rosario, Pete Alonso, and Robinson Cano to start the game. Then, in the bottom of the first, Wilson Ramos botched catching a third strike allowing Miguel Rojas to reach. One bad pitch from Steven Matz later in the inning, and Starlin Castro would make it 2-0.
What was interesting about McNeil hitting the double was he got the hit off the left-handed pitcher Smith a day after being benched against Patrick Corbin. There were a few reasons for this including his historic performance against left-handed pitching and the Mets apparently wanting to get J.D. Davis into the lineup. You really have to wonder why that is.
It’s true Davis did hit his second double of the season, and that lead-off double in the fourth led to the Mets tying the game against the Marlins (scored off a wild pitch). However, when you look at his performance thus far, he is very much the same player who struggled in his limited Major League appearances with the Astros.
While he had the double, Davis again continued to struggle in the field. He would lollypop two throws to second with one of those throws putting Cano in position to get blown up. He cost Juan Lagares an assist when he failed to catch a ball and tag out Rosell Herrera. He also couldn’t field a ball off Castro’s bat leading to a run being scored.
With the Mets trading Luis Santana, Ross Adolph, and Scott Manea, they gave up a lot for Davis, so apparently they are going to force this work, at least until Todd Frazier or Jed Lowrie return. It’s at the point where he is playing more than Keon Broxton and Lagares, and as we have seen, he has hit clean-up twice with him hitting ahead of hitters like Conforto and Ramos.
Davis playing third nearly cost the Mets this game too. His weak throw to Cano on a Herrera grounder prevented the team from turning a double play. As noted, he couldn’t field Lagares’ throw when Herrera froze on a Brian Anderson liner. He then didn’t have the range to get a Castro hit.
This gave the Marlins a 3-2 lead, and it put Steven Matz in a position to take the loss.
With respect to Matz, he shook off the first inning, and he would pitch pretty well. Over 5.2 innings, he allowed three runs (one earned) on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts. If not for shoddy defense, he may have shut out the Marlins, and he might have been able to get through the sixth. Overall, he was not great, but he was certainly good enough to beat the Marlins (or even a Major League team).
While Lagares was not able to make a difference in the field (thanks to Davis), he would actually make a difference at the plate. The Marlins brought in the right-handed Tyler Kinley to face him, and Lagares would launch his first home run of the season:
— New York Mets (@Mets) April 2, 2019
Tim Peterson stepped up pitching 1.2 scoreless. His performance not only allowed the Mets to tie the score, but it would save a bullpen which had started to accumulate some innings. This and the scoreless inning from Jeurys Familia was exactly what this bullpen needed, and it was what the team needed to try to win the game. They would thanks to a big ninth inning rally against Drew Steckenrider.
The rally started with Dominic Smith pinch hit single. In not too surprising fashion, the Mets opted to have Lagares even though there’s more than enough evidence to suggest it’s the wrong play. Fortunately, the Mets were bailed out as Steckenrider would hit Lagares with the pitch (x-rays on the finger were negative), and the umpires would completely miss Lagares failing to pull back the bunt in time.
After Brandon Nimmo struck out (he’s really struggling), Rosario would come up huge with the go-ahead RBI single giving the Mets a 4-3 lead. Speaking of huge, Alonso would follow with his first career homer:
— New York Mets (@Mets) April 2, 2019
Alonso absolutely destroyed that pitch. The 444 homer had a 112.8 exit velocity. The homer gave the Mets a 7-3 lead meaning the warmed up Edwin Diaz was entering the game in a non-save situation.
Perhaps it was just yesterday, but we saw Diaz is like most closers where his focus is not quite what it is in a save situation. He’d load the bases to start the ninth before unleashing some filthy sliders to strike out Jorge Alfaro, the evil Peter O’Brien, and JT Riddle to end the game.
If you want to harp, there was a lot not to like. Davis was poor, and the Mets defense failed Matz. This was a battle against a clearly inferior team. However, at the end of the day, the Mets got the win, which is what matters most.
Game Notes: Smith has been off to a terrific start in his own right hitting .500/.600/.500 earning him the start in today’s series finale against Jose Urena.
With the Mets hiring an agent as opposed to a front office baseball executive, you knew Brodie Van Wagenen was going to have a learning curve. As such, he was going to make some bad moves, and certainly, you knew he was going to make some curious decisions. Some may inure to the Mets benefit while others may not. If these questionable decisions do work out for the Mets, then a World Series may very well be in the team’s future.
Why Isn’t Cano Playing First Base?
Robinson Cano was the big bat the Mets acquired this offseason, and the plan is for him to be a fixture in the Mets lineup. However, that is for as many games as he is able to play. To his credit, Brodie Van Wagenen has been quite vocal about the need to give Cano more days off than he is accustomed due to Cano being 36 years old.
If we harken back to 1999, Bobby Valentine did this with a 40 year old Rickey Henderson to get the last good season out of Henderson. That also led to the Mets claiming the Wild Card and going to the NLCS.
For Cano, it is not just his age, but it is also his position. Players who play up the middle play the more taxing defensive positions in baseball. That takes more of a toll on a 36 year old player. Given Jed Lowrie‘s presence on the team, you have to wonder why the team doesn’t make Lowrie the second baseman with Cano playing first.
Putting Cano at first would be putting him in a position where he would not be as subject to fatigue over the course of the season. It should also be noted with Cano already 36 years old and his signed for five more seasons, it is a position switch he will eventually have to make. If he is going to have to make the switch, why not do it now so the Mets could coax more at-bats and games from him over the course of the season?
Where Is Davis Getting His Opportunity?
With J.D. Davis‘ minor league stats, you could make the argument all he needs to succeed at the Major League level is an opportunity to play at the Major League level. Certainly, it’s a fair point to raise when someone hits .342/.406/.583 in 85 Triple-A games and .175/.248/.223 in 42 MLB games.
The problem is you’d be hard-pressed to where exactly he would get that opportunity.
He’s behind Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie at the third base depth chart. He’s behind Peter Alonso and Frazier on the first base depth chart. He’s a right-handed compliment to right-handed hitters. He’s not suited to play outfield in the majors, and even if he was, he’s buried on the outfield depth chart as well. Combine that with Lowrie and Jeff McNeil being the versatile players on the roster, and you have to wonder where he gets hit at-bats.
After you are done contemplating that, you are left to wonder why the team would trade three good prospects in Luis Santana, Ross Adolph, and Scott Manea for him when they could’ve just as easily signed Mark Reynolds or Matt Davidson.
Was McNeil Playing LF the Original Plan?
One of the benefits of having McNeil on the roster is having a versatile player on the roster. Despite the team’s initial reluctance last year, he is someone who has received playing time at all four infield positions, and he has always trained in the outfield. To that extent, penciling him as the team’s starting left fielder, even against just right-handed pitching made a ton of sense.
That plan made even more sense when you consider Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are both capable center fielders with Juan Lagares being the best defensive center fielder in the game. Really, breaking it down, moving McNeil to left field was probably the best way to handle the Mets resources.
However, the plan to move McNeil to left field does raise some interesting questions. For example, why didn’t the team send him to winter ball to play outfield. Also, why would the team expend resources to obtain Keon Broxton only to make him a fifth outfielder? Moreover, if McNeil is your outfielder, shouldn’t the team have a better insurance option against his inability to play left field than Broxton?
What’s the Plan for Backup Catcher?
When the Mets traded Kevin Plawecki to the Indians, they were effectively announcing Travis d’Arnaud was healthy enough to be the backup. That was called into question when Mickey Callaway said Devin Mesoraco signed with the Mets because of his relationship with Jacob deGrom.
It would seem if the Mets signed Mesoraco to catch deGrom the team now has one catcher too many. Does this mean the team is planning on moving him on the eve of Opening Day, or is Mesoraco willing to catch in the minors until the inevitable injury to d’Arnaud or Wilson Ramos. If that is the case, what impact does this have on Tomas Nido, and his future?
On the bright side, the Mets have good depth at the catcher position, but that only remains true to the extent they are keeping everyone. If they are the challenge is then to keep everyone happy and sharp, which is much easier said than done.
Where’s the Starting Pitching Depth?
With Jason Vargas struggling since the 2017 All-Star Break, you would have thought the Mets would have done more to address their pitching depth. That goes double when you consider the team traded Justin Dunn, their best starting pitching prospect, and with David Peterson and Anthony Kay being at least a couple of years away.
With the health issues facing Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, you would’ve thought the Mets would have been pressed more to add starting pitching depth. When you couple that with Van Wagenen knowing Jeff Barry councils his pitching clients to limit their innings, you would believe the Mets would have pressed to go more than four deep in the pitching rotation.
But the Mets haven’t. Not really. Their depth is essentially the same group who posted an ERA over 5.00 as MLB staters along with Hector Santiago, a pitcher now better suited to the bullpen.
When you look at this rotation the best health they had was in 2015, and that was a year the team needed 10 starting pitchers to get through the season. This team has nowhere near that type of depth.
As it turns out, more than anything, it may turn out to be the pitching depth which is the biggest key to the 2019 season. If the team is healthy, and deGrom and Syndergaard go against their agent’s advice, it is possible the team has enough pitching to get through the season. If the pitchers do impose pitching limits and there is more than one pitching injury, the team’s hopes of winning anything may be done, and that is even if the other questions are answered in the affirmative.
During his interview with Mike Franceca on WFAN, he would speak about the team, and he would be challenged by Mike on a number of issues. As the General Manager, you can understand Van Wagenen trying to sell the fan base about the team. It is part and parcel of his job.
In some ways, he did effectively did that. He touted the combination of Peter Alonso and J.D. Davis as capably hitting 30 home runs combined from the first base position. He also reminded fans of this being a versatile team with Todd Frazier and Robinson Cano being able to play first base if necessary. This would also allow the team to play Jed Lowrie and have him bat second in the lineup every day.
Behind some of the bravado, some of Van Wagenen’s early bravado began to erode away, and you saw someone who is trying to sell an incomplete roster. We saw this through two telling exchanges. The first notable one regards Bryce Harper and Manny Machado:
BVW: "It's not so easy to find spots for all of our good players already."
MF: "You're telling me you don't have room for them?
BVW: "Probably not the best fit for us."
MF: "Are you telling me you don't have room for them in the lineup?"
— Matt Ehalt (@MattEhalt) February 11, 2019
Essentially, Brodie is going to have us believe the team has no room for Machado on the infield. Now, you could argue even with Amed Rosario being disappointing thus far, he is primed to break out next season. He can also point to there already being solid to very good veteran infielders. That’s fair. However, he loses us completely at Harper.
This is a team with just two starting outfielders in Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. For all of their defensive prowess, neither Keon Broxton or Juan Lagares can’t hit. As for Jeff McNeil, the Mets apparently believed in him so much they aggressively pursued two other All-Star second baseman to play over him.
The Mets will tell you he’s now going to be an outfielder. That’s all well and good, and we all hope he can make the transition. However, no matter how good he is, he is no Bryce Harper.
That’s important due to the second pertinent exchange. When Mike asked if the Mets were better than the Vegas line of 84 wins, Van Wagenen was sure of himself saying, “I think 84 wins is light.” When pressed on whether this was a 90 win team, Van Wagenen was less assured, and he would not commit to the 90 win figure.
That’s very problematic.
Looking at the history of the Wild Card, the lowest win total for a National League Wild Card was 87 wins. That honor belongs to the 2016 Mets and Giants and the 2017 Rockies. No Mets fan wants to see a repeat of Madison Bumgarner and Conor Gillaspie in a winner-take-all game.
Really, if you are in the 84-89 wins range, you are in the postseason race, but you are towards the bottom of that race. That’s not where you want to be with the Nationals, Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Rockies boasting good rosters of their own. And don’t forget the Phillies who are still in a position to pounce on a player or two in what is still a bizarrely loaded free agent class.
When you boil it down, Van Wagenen can be boastful all he wants, but he’s essentially admitted this is an incomplete team. Worse yet, he’s admitting after trading away Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, Luis Santana, Ross Adolph, Gerson Bautista, Bobby Wahl, Felix Valerio, Adam Hill, and Scott Manea, his work is not nearly done.
Instead of saying, “Come get us!” to the National League, he should be telling ownership to “Please help us!” because this team is far from complete.
Looking at this past offseason, the Mets have traded away much of their future to improve the 2019 team. Top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn were part of a package for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. Ross Adolph, Scott Manea, and Luis Santana were traded for J.D. Davis. Finally, Adam Hill, Felix Valerio, and Bobby Wahl were traded for Keon Broxton.
There has been some debate on each of these moves. Whereas many saw the Mets undervaluing assets, there have been a contingent who have justified the deal under the auspices of how not all prospects work out.
To a certain extent, there is validity to the prospects not panning out. With respect to Generation K, only Jason Isringhausen had a successful career, and that was as a reliever not the front line starter we expected him to be. Outfielders Fernando Martinez, Lastings Milledge, and Alex Ochoa weren’t even so much as a part-time player. Relievers like Eddie Kunz did nothing. The list goes on and on . . . .
Of course, this overlooks the prospects which have had successful careers. Tom Seaver was a Hall of Famer. David Wright, Jose Reyes, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Edgardo Alfonzo were all-time Mets greats. As we know, that list is much longer than that. It also includes Nolan Ryan, which was a trade which lives on in Mets infamy.
That was a trade of a young player who hasn’t figured it out for a past All-Star Jim Fregosi. While prevailing wisdom is that trade was a Mets disaster, the school of thought were you trade young players for proven Major League talent would be fully onboard with that deal. That does beg the question why people are against keeping prospects and are not against the Mets making trades.
Looking over Mets history, this team has made many horrible trades. In addition to the aforementioned Ryan for Fregosi trade, we have also seen several other poor trades in Mets history:
- Amos Otis for Joe Foy
- Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell for Juan Samuel
- Jeff Kent for Carlos Baerga
- Jason Isrinhausen for Billy Taylor
- Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano
There are several others which have blown up in the Mets faces. In addition to that, there have been trades for players which have greatly under-performed for the Mets. In addition to the aforementioned players, you can include Roberto Alomar, Willie Mays, Joe Torre, and a litany of others did not perform when wearing a Mets uniform.
With the Mets losing valuable young players and with the team getting veterans who have not performed, you have to wonder why the Mets don’t just operate on the free agent market. Of course, the reason there is the extensive failures the Mets have made on that front. The list is well known, and Mets fans can cite them in their sleep – Jason Bay, Bobby Bonilla, Luis Castillo, Vince Coleman, George Foster, Oliver Perez, and many, many others.
Point is, no matter which way you look, you see a history of failures when it comes to the Mets organization. Their prospects always fail. They only trade for veterans in decline. Every free agent signing is a bust.
Of course, that’s not remotely the truth. When looking at each area, the Mets have had plenty of successes and failures. The goal for every General Manager is to have more success than failures and for those failures to not come back and bite you. That’s what defines periods like the 1980s Mets and also the period immediately thereafter.
So in the end, when judging moves, do it on their own merit and not because you believe the Mets prospects fail, trade acquisitions production declines, and every free agent is a bust.
Last night, the New England Patriots won the sixth Super Bowl in team history. If you look at how the Mets have performed in the other five years the Patriots won the Super Bowl, you may not believe this to be a good thing:
Super Bowl XXXVI
After a disappointing season on the heels of a National League pennant, Steve Phillips decided it was time to make some drastic changes with the Mets. The team would clear out Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile to make way for Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar. The team would also reunite with Roger Cedeno and Jeromy Burnitz. A disappointing rotation was “buttressed” with pitchers like Pedro Astacio, Jeff D’Amico, and Shawn Estes.
What would result was an unmitigated disaster as none of the imported players would perform close to their historical levels of production. In fact, only Estes would be playing baseball the next time the Mets made the postseason. Perhaps the biggest indignity to their also-ran season was Estes inability to exact revenge against Roger Clemens.
Super Bowl XXXVIII
This year was probably rock bottom for that era in Mets history. The team proved ill advised at trying to make Mike Piazza a part-time first baseman. Kazuo Matsui looked like a bust leading you to wonder why the Mets not only contemplated signing him, but also shifting Jose Reyes to second base to accommodate him. You also wondered if Reyes was going to prove out to be an injury prone player. Braden Looper should never have been contemplated as the closer.
As bad as that was, the team made a series of trade blunders. First and foremost, for some reason with the Mets being five games under .500 and seven out in the division, they talked themselves into contender status leading to the infamous Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano trade.
As bad as that was, we would also see the Mets first obtain Jose Bautista only to trade him away for Kris Benson. Again, this was done in the vein of the Mets are contenders despite being so many games out of contention.
Jim Duquette would shoulder the blame for the moves, which probably were not all his idea, and he would be reassigned in September. Without Duquette at the helm, the Mets would completely bungle firing Art Howe leaving him to manage the end of the season knowing he was doing it with the axe swiftly coming down on his head.
Super Bowl XXXIX
With Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph at the helm, this was a new look Mets team. Still, things weren’t quite there. Doug Mientkiewicz proved to be a bit of a disaster. The team leaned on Miguel Cairo too much. At the time, Carlos Beltran seemed to be channeling Bobby Bonilla with a year where he regressed in nearly every aspect of his game. As bad as that was, he had the horrific collision with Mike Cameron in right-center field in San Diego:
The biggest bright spot of that season was Pedro Martinez, who was vintage Pedro all year long. He flirted with no-hitters, and he led the league in WHIP. He was a throwback to a time when the Mets dominated with their pitching. He would also battle some injuries leading to Randolph smartly shutting him down for the rest of the year.
Except he wasn’t. As Pedro would detail in his eponymous book “Pedro,” Jeff Wilpon forced him to pitch while he was hurt. This would exacerbate his existing injuries and would lead to other injuries. Instead of having Pedro in the 2006 postseason, he was watching with the rest of us.
Super Bowl XLIX
Mets: Lost World Series 4-1
Even when things are going right, they fell completely apart. Alex Gordon jumped on a Jeurys Familia quick pitch. Daniel Murphy booted a grounder. Lucas Duda couldn’t make a throw home. Terry Collins did about as poor a job managing a World Series as you possibly could do. What was once fun ended in bitter fashion.
Super Bowl XLIX
The 2016 Mets made a late furious push to claim a Wild Card spot despite being without Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler in the rotation. The thought was if these pitchers could be healthy in 2017, then the Mets could return to the postseason for a third consecutive year, and maybe, just maybe, the Mets could win the World Series.
Instead, Harvey would have off-the-field issues leading to a suspension. Back then, we thought those issues were affecting his performance. In actuality, it was Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Joining Harvey on the shelf was Noah Syndergaard, who went down with at a torn lat. Matz had ulnar nerve issues costing him most of the season. With Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman unable to reclaim their 2016 magic, the season was history.
Still, during that season there was a glimmer of hope in the form of Michael Conforto. The then 24 year old was playing at a superstar level. He was named a first time All Star, and he was proving himself to be a leader for a Mets team which still had the talent to be contenders in 2018. Instead on August 24, he would swing and miss on a pitch and collapse to the ground with a severe shoulder injury.
As if that all wasn’t enough, this would be the first time since 2003, David Wright would not appear in at least one game for the New York Mets.
Super Bowl LIII
This past offseason, Brodie Van Wagenen has set out to put his stamp on the Mets. He has rebuilt the bullpen with Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and Justin Wilson. He has reshaped the lineup with Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, and Wilson Ramos. There are still some holes on the roster, but generally speaking, this is a stronger club than the Mets have had over the past two seasons.
The additions have come at a cost. The Mets traded away arguably their two best prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. The team has also parted with well regarded prospects Ross Adolph, Luis Santana, and Scott Manea for J.D. Davis. There was also a further burying of former first round picks Dominic Smith and Gavin Cecchini on the depth charts.
Sure, there is no real correlation between the Patriots winning a Super Bowl and the Mets performance during the ensuing season. To suggest that is foolish. And yet, there is an unsettling pattern where a Patriots Super Bowl begets a disappointing Mets season.
Really, when you break it down, the real analysis to be made here is the disparity between the Patriots and the Mets. Whereas the Patriots are regarded as one of the best run organizations in all of professional sports with a terrific owner, the Mets are regarded as one of the worst run organizations with meddlesome owners. If the Mets are to break this “streak,” it is going to be because the Mets are a much better run organization who has the full resources and backing it needs from ownership.
Back in 2015, Wilmer Flores was in tears as he believed he was going to be an ex-Met, he cried on the field. Given his age, how he grew up in the Mets organization, and how he found out about the trade, you could understand why Flores was so emotion. What you cannot understand is how he was so unceremoniously non-tendered.
For all of his faults, Flores was a Met, and he was an improving player. As a player who began to find a role as a platoon player who could hit left-handed pitching, he learned how to hit righties. With there being an increased emphasis on putting the ball in play, Flores has always had a good strikeout rate. He has also shown improved plate discipline. More than any of that, Flores was a player with a sense of the moment as evidenced by his being the Mets all-time leader in walk-off hits. None were better than that fateful July night:
With Flores, most of his faults have been over-analyzed and stated. Yes, we know he is not a good defender anywhere but first base. However, this was a player who was willing to do whatever was asked of him. He played shortstop when everyone but the Mets knew he was ill-equipped to handle the position. He moved all around the diamond, and he accepted whatever role was given him. He was someone who loved being a Met, and the fans loved him for it.
Oddly enough, the reports of his demise may have also been premature. While one of the purported justifications for non-tendering him was his arthritis, there is a chance that was a misdiagnosis. Even if it wasn’t, this was a guy who played first base all summer, and he played well. From June 21st until August 23rd, the game before Jay Bruce came off the disabled list, Flores hit .293/.337/.471.
Over that stretch, Flores’ 118 wRC+ was sixth best among first basemen, who had at least 200 plate appearances. Essentially, he was the seventh best everyday first baseman. That level of production is not easily replaceable. That was made further evident by the Mets trading three good prospects in Ross Adolph, Scott Manea, and Luis Santana to get a worse hitting version of Flores in J.D. Davis.
As an aside, Flores was also great with the fans. He was always one of the last players leaving the field before a game. He was out taking pictures and signing autographs for the fans. The fans loved him, and he loved the fans. When you lose someone like Flores, you lose that connection fans have with a player and a team.
When you look at Flores, you saw a player who loved everything about being a Met. He was a someone who was willing to do whatever was asked. He had a sense for the big moment. He was a fan favorite. He’s also now entering the prime of his career, and he is going to a good hitter’s park in Arizona where he should hopefully have a lot of success.
In an odd sense, you cannot tell the history of the Mets without mentioning Flores. This tells you just how much of an impact he had during his time with the Mets. For that, and for who he was, Mets fans everywhere should wish him well.
Good luck Wilmer Flores.