With the signing on Jed Lowrie, the Mets have been talking about just how deep this roster is. To a certain extent, they are right. Having infield options which include Peter Alonso, Robinson Cano, Todd Frazier, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario in conjunction with Lowrie is incredible depth. However, that does not mean the Mets are a deep team.
First and foremost is the outfield. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are the only two healthy everyday outfielders on the roster. Juan Lagares has the glove to justify playing everyday, but he has hasn’t played more than 94 games since 2015, and in that season the Mets were desperate for an upgrade as they were making a postseason push.
Keon Broxton has hit .213/.296/.419 with an 85 OPS+ over the past two seasons indicating he has no business playing everyday. As bad as that is, Broxton is the last MLB outfielder on the 40 man roster.
After Broxton, the Mets are gambling on McNeil successfully transitioning to the outfield. It’s not an unreasonable gamble, and it is one we can expect to pay off. However, McNeil being an outfielder means the infield depth has taken a hit, which is a real issue should Alonso not be able to play first at the MLB level, or there are multiple injuries.
After McNeil is Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco, both of them are over 35 years old, and neither of them have had a good season since 2015. Having just two starting outfielders with a couple of has beens and never will bes is not outfield depth.
And no, Yoenis Cespedes cannot be relied upon. He underwent double heel surgery, and no one can reasonably pinpoint when he is returning to the lineup, nor can anyone have any indication of what he will be when he is able to return.
With respect to the catching situation, the Mets are undoubtedly better with the signing of Wilson Ramos. However, that does not mean there is sufficient depth. Both Ramos and Travis d’Arnaud are injury prone putting more emphasis on Tomas Nido, who has hit .181/.210/.255 in limited Major League duty on top of hitting .272/.300/.431 between Double-A and Triple-A last year.
There is a real chance at least two of those catchers are injured as the same time leaving the Mets to depend on Patrick Mazeika and/or Ali Sanchez. Basiscally, this isn’t much different than during the 2015 season where the team grasped at straws cycling through Kevin Plawecki, Anthony Recker, and Johnny Monell while they pieced together the catching situation in d’Arnaud’s absence.
Then there is the rotation. All five of the Mets starters have significant injury histories. Jacob deGrom is the only starter to have consecutive seasons with at least 30 starts. Jason Vargas is the only other starter with 20 plus starts in each of the last two seasons. Behind this thin rotation, with Vargas having a 64 ERA+ and a 5.02 FIP last year, is very questionable starting pitching depth.
Looking at the roster, Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, Drew Gagnon, and P.J. Conlon. all posted an ERA over 5.00 in the majors last year. Hector Santiago was moved to the bullpen partially because he has had a 4.06 ERA since 2016. Kyle Dowdy, the Mets Rule 5 pick, had a 5.15 ERA between Double and Triple-A last year, and with the team being forced to keep him on the roster or return him to the Rays, he is going to be a bullpen option.
Now, to be fair, the Mets do have bullpen depth. The back-end with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia is as good as it gets. You can also say the Mets swing men, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, are the best combination in the Majors. From a left-handed relief option, Daniel Zamora has exception spin rates, and former White Sox Luis Avilan and Santiago have pitched well out of the bullpen.
Beyond that group, the Mets have promising young right-handed power arms in Tyler Bashlor, Eric Hanhold, Ryder Ryan, and Drew Smith. Combine that with Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame, the Mets have sufficient numbers and depth in the bullpen, albeit not the big seventh inning reliever you would want.
In the end, yes, the Mets have admirable infield depth, and there are enough arms here to at least figure out a good bullpen. However, past that, this is a paper thin roster at outfield, catcher, and starting pitcher. If the Mets face a number of injuries, and based on their history, they will, the 2019 Mets are going to be in real trouble.
As reported by Mike Puma of the New York Post, Mets owner Fred Wilpon does not want to hire a younger and more analytics driven executive for two reasons. The first is he feels he will have a harder time connecting with that person. The second and perhaps all the more baffling is the “thought among team officials that perhaps the Mets became too analytics driven in recent seasons under Sandy Alderson’s watch . . . .”
Taking the thought at face value, we really need to question which analytics the Mets are using to inform their decisions.
For starters, look at Asdrubal Cabrera. Everyone knew he was no longer a shortstop, so that left the question over whether he should have been a second or third baseman heading into the 2018 season.
In 2017, Cabrera was a -6 DRS in 274.1 innings at second. That should have come as no surprise as he was a -10 DRS the last time he saw extensive action at second base (2014). Conversely, in his 350.1 innings at third last year, he had a 1 DRS.
Naturally, the Mets went with Cabrera at second this season where he has been an MLB worst -20 DRS. That makes him not just the worst second baseman in all of baseball, it makes him the worst defensive infielder in all of baseball.
Of course, the Mets got there by acquiescing a bit to Cabrera’s preference to play second over third. This was also the result of the team turning down a Paul Sewald for Jason Kipnis swap. That deal was nixed over money.
With respect to Sewald, he was strong when the season began. In April, he had a 1.91 ERA and a 0.805 WHIP. Since that point, Sewald has a 5.73 ERA, a 1.485 WHIP, and multiple demotions to Triple-A.
As for Kipnis, he has struggled this year hitting .226/.313/.363. It should be noted this was mostly due to a horrific April which saw him hit .178/.254/.243. Since that tough start to the season, Kipnis has gotten progressively better. Still, it is difficult to lose sleep over Kipnis even if the rejected trade put Cabrera at second and it led to the Mets signing Todd Frazier, who is hitting .217/.298/.368.
At the time the Mets signed Bruce, they needed a center fielder. The team already had Yoenis Cespedes in left, and once he returned from the disabled list, the team was going to have Michael Conforto in right. Until the time Conforto was ready, the team appeared set with Brandon Nimmo in the short-term.
In 69 games in 2017, Nimmo hit .260/.379/.418. In those games, Nimmo showed himself to be a real candidate for the leadoff spot on a roster without an obvious one, especially in Conforto’s absence. With him making the league minimum and his having shown he could handle three outfield positions, he seemed like an obvious choice for a short term solution and possible someone who could platoon with Juan Lagares in center.
Instead, the Mets went with Bruce for $39 million thereby forcing Conforto to center where he was ill suited. More than that, Bruce was coming off an outlier year in his free agent walk year. Before that 2017 rebound season, Bruce had not had a WAR of at least 1.0 since 2013, and he had just one season over a 100 wRC+ in that same stretch. In response to that one outlier season at the age of 30, the Mets gave Bruce a three year deal.
Still, that may not have been the worst contract handed out by the Mets this past offseason. That honor goes to Jason Vargas.
The Mets gave a 35 year old pitcher a two year $16 million deal to be the team’s fifth starter despite the fact the team had real starting pitching depth. At the time of the signing, the Mets had Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Chris Flexen, and Corey Oswalt as starting pitching depth.
Instead of using five of them and stashing four of them in Triple-A, the Mets opted to go with Vargas as the fifth starter. Even better, they depleted their starting pitching depth by moving Gsellman and Lugo the to bullpen. Of course, this had the added benefit of saving them money thereby allowing them to sign Anthony Swarzak, a 32 year old reliever with just one good season under his belt.
The Mets were rewarded with the decision to sign Vargas by his going 2-8 with an 8.75 ERA and a 1.838 WHIP. He’s also spent three separate stints on the disabled list.
What’s funny about Vargasis he was signed over the objections of the Mets analytics department. From reports, Vargas was not the only one. Looking at that, you have to question just how anyone associated with the Mets could claim they have become too analytics driven. Really, when you ignore the advice of those hired to provide analytical advice and support, how could you point to them as the problem?
In the end, the problem is the same as it always has been. It’s the Wilpons.
They’re the ones looking for playing time for Jose Reyes at a time when everyone in baseball thinks his career is over. They’re the ones not reinvesting the proceeds from David Wright‘s insurance policy into the team. They’re the ones who have a payroll not commensurate with market size or World Series window. They’re the ones rejecting qualified people for a job because of an 81 year year old’s inability to connect with his employees.
Really, you’re not going to find an analytical basis to defend making a team older, less versatile, more injury prone, and worse defensively.
What you will find is meddlesome ownership who thinks they know better than everyone. That’s why they’re 17 games under .500 with declining attendance and ratings while saying the Yankees financial model is unsustainable at a time the Yankees are heading to the postseason again and the team has the highest valuation of any Major League team.
One of the reasons Mets fans were angry about the return of Ryder Ryan for Jay Bruce was the fact many believed the Mets could have offered Bruce a qualifying offer, and they then could have recouped a second round pick when Bruce signed a big deal elsewhere. While we all should be able to agree Ryan was not second round value, the point that Bruce would automatically reject a qualifying offer is flawed.
This past offseason teams have shown they no longer value players like Bruce the way they once did. If the Mets inability to move Bruce this offseason wasn’t any indication, and if the return the Mets got for Bruce wasn’t any indication, then look at what happened to Mark Trumbo last year.
Trumbo took a one year flier with the Orioles, and he had a monster year leading the majors with 47 homers. In total, Trumbo hit .256/.316/.533 with 27 doubles, a triple, 47 homers, and 108 RBI. That was good for a 122 OPS+ and a 123 wRC+.
On the strength of this season, the 30 year old Trumbo would reject the qualifying offer only to be met with a tepid free agent market. Without Trumbo being able to garner the interest he believed would be present, he went back to the Orioles on a three year $37.5 million deal.
The conclusion that can be best drawn for this is the market just doesn’t value sluggers the way it once did. With the qualifying offer being worth around $18 million next year, there was a very real chance Bruce was going to accept that qualifying offer meaning the Mets got no draft pick compensation.
It would also mean the Mets outfield would have been a disaster defensively. We know Bruce is not a center fielder, and we also know Yoenis Cespedes no longer belongs out there. The argument would be Michael Conforto could. He has shown he can handle it in spurts, but long term that is a bad proposition. In 327.2 innings there, Conforto has a -2 DRS and a 0.2 UZR.
Seeing how the Mets played this year, the biggest thing they need to do is to upgrade defensively. That goes double for key defensive positions like shortstop and center field. Fortunately, the Mets have Amed Rosario at short. Who knows if the answer is Juan Lagares or a name outside the organization for center. The one thing we do know it’s not Bruce.
There’s another consideration as well. The Mets need to make wholesale changes this offseason, which is going to require a lot of money. For a team that took a lesser return for Bruce partially due to the savings it brought them, we should worry about Bruce’s $18 million hindering the Mets ability to fully address all of the teams needs just like it happened last year when Neil Walker accepted his qualifying offer.
Overall, the Mets needed to trade Bruce to get some return for him. The return was lackluster for many, but in reality, it reflects more upon how teams value sluggers like Bruce. At a minimum, the Mets got something for him, and they have freed up playing time for Dominic Smith and Brandon Nimmo. All they have to do now is actually play those players.
Heading into the trade deadline, there were rumors the Mets were willing to eat salary in order to maximize the return for a player. There were also the rumors the Mets would be willing to trade with the Yankees.
Ultimately, both rumors proved to be false.
When it came to Lucas Duda, the return from the Tampa Bay Rays was arguably weak. In exchange for a top 10 first baseman, the Mets got a relief prospect. Sure, Drew Smith could ultimately be a good reliever, but he’s still a reliever in the Vic Black/Bobby Parnell mold – big arm, hard time putting batters away.
The argument in response will be there was a weak market for 1B/DH players, and Duda had an e luring deal. Lost in the argument was the Mets failed to create a real bidding war.
As Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports reported, the Mets didn’t make Duda available to the Yankees. As an unnamed Yankees official stated, “he Mets just wouldn’t trade him to us.”
To those who were skeptical of the report, please turn your attention to the Jay Bruce trade.
In exchange for a player on pace for a 40 HR, 100 RBI season, the Mets received Ryder Ryan from the Cleveland Indians. Ryan is a former 30th round pick who is a converted reliever. In the deal, the Indians took on all of Bruce’s salary.
For those Mets fans thinking Bruce should’ve netted more, you might be right.
According to Marc Carig of Newsday, the Yankees were interested in Bruce, and according to his sources, the Yankees were offering two prospects many teams inquired about at the trade deadline. According to Carig, “Yankees would have covered only a portion of salary, but Yankees offered better players it seems.”
If true, this is complete and utter nonsense. The Yankees possess a deep farm system with players who could have helped the Mets in the long run.
Who cares if Duda or Bruce helped the Yankees win a World Series? They weren’t helping the Mets win one this year. In fact, the only way these players would’ve helped the Mets win a World Series was to get an important piece in return who could have been a significant part of a winner. At the moment, it’s hard to make that argument for Smith or Ryan.
In reality, a Mets team who has been unwilling to spend commensurate with their market size and window of contention, once again took the cheap route. They dumped two players on smaller market teams and got underwhelming returns.
Their actions proved they were unwilling to ear salary for a better return, and they were unwilling to help the Yankees win. It was petty, small-minded, and it was bad business.
It doesn’t matter if this came from Sandy Alderson or Jeff Wilpon. What matters is it happened, and the Mets are arguably worse off for it. In the end, I really hope Smith and Ryan was worth it. Chances are they won’t be.
UPDATE: It gets better. Not only did the Mets care more about money than the prospect return, but they also cared about those four meaningless games against the Yankees
#Mets preferred savings to prospects NYY offered. Also were not eager to finance trade for NYY, whom they face four times from Aug. 14-17.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 10, 2017