Yesterday, the Mets made the announcement of the non-roster invitations to Spring Training. If you follow the minor leagues closely, you saw some interesting names who may help the Mets in 2020 like Kevin Smith, Patrick Mazeika, and Ryley Gilliam. Of course, none of those names garnered attention.
The headline as usual was Tim Tebow.
On the surface, inviting Tebow to Spring Training isn’t that big of a deal. After all, the Mets once invited country music star Garth Brooks to Spring Training in 2000 as part of the singer’s promotion of his Teammates for Kids charity.
It should be noted Brooks participated during the 2000 Spring Training, which was the year the Mets won the fourth pennant in their history. In the end, these celebrity and gimmick appearances at Spring Training really have no impact, and at the end of the day, it really doesn’t serve as any sort of distraction.
To his credit, Tebow hasn’t been a distraction during Spring Training. Rather, he is a draw due to his popularity, especially in the Florida area from which he hails. Honestly, if he is there drawing people to St. Lucie making money for the Mets, it’s not a bad thing at all.
The real problem is what happens afterwards.
To put things in perspective, last year Tebow hit .163/.240/.255 in 77 games for Triple-A Syracuse before succumbing to a season ending hand injury. While you could argue he had handled himself well in the lower levels of the minors, especially with a 106 wRC+ for Double-A Binghamton, he was completely over-matched last year.
Part of the problem appears to be his level of dedication.
We have seen Tebow travel and work with the SEC Network during the offseasons. Of note, he has previously left the Instructional Leagues to attend to those duties. On that note, he has also scheduled his charity golf outings during Spring Training, and as a result, he has left Spring Training for a day or two to attend to the golf outings for the charity he purportedly runs.
Now, you can argue this is not entirely fair to bring up because players do all sorts of stuff during their offseasons and during Spring Training. Plenty of players golf and do TV work as well as other things. While true, the level of dedication needed to be a top analyst is different than a promotional television or radio spot.
More to the point, Tebow has suffered season ending hand injuries in two successive seasons. You can make a very real and fair point he is just not getting himself the necessary training he needs to get himself into baseball shape. This is also besides the point.
Last year, the Mets had Tebow play in 77 of the team’s first 100 games despite the fact he probably deserved to play in none of them. While that was happening, Dilson Herrera was not getting any time in the outfield to help prepare him to be a useful Major League utility player. We also saw players like David Thompson get demoted partially due to a roster crunch.
It’s more than that. There were players like Jason Krizan who waited far too long in Binghamton before a move up to Triple-A. The same could be said for a Sam Haggerty who did eventually receive a call-up to the majors. The overriding point here is the Mets have allowed Tebow’s presence to interfere with the development of players who could have helped contribute in 2019 and potentially in 2020.
While it is fair to say part of the reason Tebow is getting these chances is because of how thin the Mets outfield is at the upper levels of the farm system, we are also seeing Tebow’s presence is serving as a hindrance to the Mets even giving players a look in the outfield.
Ultimately, when you have a player who is 32 years old and cannot get himself in sufficient shape to last a full season, he simply does not merit this amount of playing time. That’s why at the end of the day Brodie Van Wagenen has to do what’s right by the Mets and not by his former client and treat Tebow like the 32 year old non-prospect he is.
For most the season, the Mets have been cycling through relievers trying to find the right fit for the last spot in the bullpen. Their inability to find the right fit has cost them a few games in what has been a very critical stretch of the season.
Chris Mazza couldn’t hold down a lead in San Francisco. Tyler Bashlor put a winnable game out of reach in Pittsburgh. That’s just two recent games, and there are countless others. As a result of different relievers failing, the Mets continue to cycle through them trying to find the right fit. Part of this process is the Mets having traded away Wilmer Font and releasing Hector Santiago. The team has also designated five different relievers for assignment. Still, there are some interesting options available.
Chris Flexen has made the transition to the bullpen this year after having struggled as a starter. In his brief five game stint as a pure reliever in the Mets bullpen, Flexen allowed two runs on four hits in 6.1 innings pitched. After one poor outing against the Braves, he was sent back down to Triple-A.
Since being sent down to Syracuse, Flexen has had a 6.94 ERA in 11 appearances, but six of those appearances were scoreless. Perhaps more important that the results is Flexen’s control. The pitcher who has always had issues with control threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes resulting in his striking out struck out 12 (9.2 K/9) with just one walk in 11.2 inning pitched. If Flexen is able to sustain this level of control, he could be a real improvement in the bullpen.
Looking deeper at the 40 man roster, Eric Hanhold has had a 1.47 ERA since June 20. Over that stretch, he is 2-0 with two saves, and he is holding opposing batters to a .203/.282/.313 batting line. This recent run led to his being promoted again to Triple-A Syracuse. His second stint in Syracuse is going better than his first with him allowing just one earned over 4.0 innings.
In terms of his stuff, Matt Eddy of Baseball America said Hanhold “has a potent power fastball-slider mix that could play in a high-leverage role.” For Hanhold, he doesn’t need to be that yet. Rather, the Mets just need another reliable arm, and he certainly has the stuff to fulfill that role.
Like Flexen and Hanhold, Brooks Pounders has had success for the Mets at the Major League level. In his seven appearances for the Mets in June, he was 1-0 with a 6.14 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and a 6.1 K/9. Looking deeper into those appearances, Pounders had six scoreless appearances.
His lone blow-up was his June 24 appearance against the Phillies. Notably, four of the five runs he allowed was in his second inning of work. Part of the focus on that appearance should include his rebounding three days later against the same Phillies team with a scoreless appearance. Looking at that, you could make the argument he should be recalled now. The argument against that is his struggles in Syracuse once he was sent down. In 10 appearances since his demotion, he has a 7.82 ERA allowing batters to hit .310/.410/.528 off of him.
Looking beyond the 40 man roster, there are some choices, but each of those options has their own limitations. The Mets are also further hampered by the fact Ryley Gilliam is on the injured list since July 12.
Perhaps the top option from players not on the 40 man roster is Paul Sewald. Sewald was on the 40 man roster earlier this year, and he pitched well in his four appearances in the Majors this year. In his 38 appearances for Syracuse, Sewald is 3-3 with a 3.61 ERA, 1.437 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and an 8.7 K/9. Overall, in terms of Sewald, he is not the most exciting of choices. However, it should be noted he has shown a knack at the Major League level to be a good long man who can both eat up innings and keep the Mets in games. Given the other Mets relievers failures on that front, Sewald’s ability should not be discounted.
The other reliever not on the 40 man roster who stands out is Steve Villines. This year, Villines has dominated Double-A with a 1.11 ERA in 22 appearances. However, he has struggled in Triple-A Syracuse with a 6.75 ERA, 1.938 WHIP, and a 1.50 K/BB in 13 appearances.
Two things to keep in mind with Villines. First, the sidewinder has fared well against right-handed batters limiting them to a .245/.286/.309 batting line. However, he has struggled against left-handed batters with them hitting .253/.371/.437 batting line. With those splits, you could see the Mets benefiting from pairing him with Luis Avilan much like the 2006 Mets did with Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano.
The one caution the Mets should have with Villines is his walk rate has increased and strikeout rate has decreased as he has progressed to each level of the minors. With the aforementioned 1.50 K/BB in Syracuse, it should give the Mets pause before promoting him to the Majors in the middle of a chase for the Wild Card.
Overall, it would appear the Mets best options at the moment are Flexen or Hanhold. That is at least the case while Jacob Rhame is on the Injured List. In the end, it may just be the case the Mets need to actually pick a reliever and let them work closely with Mickey Callaway, Phil Regan, and Ricky Bones to figure things out at the Major League level to permit them an opportunity improve and contribute at the Major League level.
This past week I appeared on the Simply Amazin’ podcast to discuss a number of issues facing the Mets right now.
During the podcast I mentioned Anthony Kay, Ali Sanchez, Vince Coleman, Mackey Sasser, T.J. Rivera, Noah Syndergaard, David Peterson, Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Ryley Gilliam, Steve Villines, Andres Gimenez, Juan Centeno, and others.
Please click the link and listen.