This past week, the New York Mets released 39 minor league players. They were far from the only team who took that action. Every MLB undertook the same process with the COVID19 shutdown, the ever increasingly likely cancellation of the minor league season, and the contraction of 42 minor league teams.
Make no mistake, every minor leaguer who was released was a talented baseball player. They had enough talent to get a contract to play professional baseball. The issue at the moment was teams like the Mets thought better to get rid of them so they wouldn’t have to pay them $400/week.
When you look at the players who were released, you really have to question whether the Mets would’ve released Jacob deGrom under similar circumstances. Don’t be so sure they wouldn’t have.
Going back a decade, deGrom was a ninth round draft pick out of Stetson University. While much has been made about his being a collegiate SS, truth be told deGrom had converted to a pitcher Junior year. That year, he pitched and played short. It was his pitching which caught the Mets attention.
Just because he caught the Mets attention, it doesn’t mean he was good right away.
As a 22 year old, deGrom was assigned to a Kingsport franchise which is in line to be contracted. Despite being over a full year older than the competition, he did not pitch well.
In the six starts deGrom made, he was 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA, 1.577 WHIP, and a 7.6 K/9. Batters hit .324/.360/.472 off of him. At the end of the year, he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL.
At that time, there was nothing which could give you any indication he was about to become a pitcher who would have a dominant 2015 postseason in addition to consecutive Cy Youngs.
No, he looked like an older prospect for his level who couldn’t beat younger batters, and worse yet, he had a busted elbow. If you’re looking to not pay players, and you’re looking to cut down the amount of people in your system to prepare for a loss of affiliates, deGrom was going to be in real danger of getting released.
If that happened, deGrom doesn’t get the chance to get healthy, learn a change-up from Johan Santana, and start on a path towards being a potential Hall of Famer. No, in all likelihood, his career would’ve been over.
Now, it’s very possible none of the 39 players released by the Mets could’ve done what deGrom did. Most and maybe all don’t even make it to the majors. However, that’s not the point.
The point is unless you give prospects real time to learn and develop you’re never going to find the next deGrom. The same can be said for Mike Piazza, Jeff McNeil, of Seth Lugo. For that matter, the Mets miss the 2016 postseason without undrafted free agent T.J. Rivera.
In the end, MLB franchises opted to end the dreams of minor leaguers over $400/week. In the process, they’re going to potentially miss out on the next diamond in the rough, or even that key player who gets them to the postseason thereby making the franchise millions of dollars.
Michael Wacha would make that lead stand holding the Braves to one run over 5.1 innings. Brad Brach, Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Diaz combined to pitch 3.2 scoreless to preserve the 2-1 victory.
The Mets blew a few leads in this one including a 2-0 first inning lead courtesy of solo homers by Pete Alonso and Yoenis Cespedes. Unfortunately, Rick Porcello wouldn’t get out of the inning without the Brewers tying the game up.
A Brandon Nimmo two run shot in the second gave the Mets another two run lead. However, the Brewers would not only tie it, but they’d also take the lead heading into the ninth.
With Josh Hader on the mound, the Mets staged a great comeback in the top of the ninth.
Edwin Diaz got the first two out in the ninth before getting into trouble, allowing a run to score, and Luis Rojas going to Seth Lugo for the one out save. When Lugo got the only batter he faced out, the Mets won 7-6.
Heading into the 2020 season, many anticipated Steven Matz and Amed Rosario would have breakout seasons. In the simulated game against the Milwaukee Brewers, we got a look into what that might’ve looked like:
Through six, the only run scored in the game was off a Rosario solo shot. At that point, Matz was straight dealing, and as such, Luis Rojas let him hit for himself in the top of the seventh.
That appeared to be a mistake when Eric Sogard homered off Matz to start the bottom of the seventh.
Jeurys Familia relieved him, and he’d pick up the win. Pete Alonso led off the eighth with a ground rule double. Jake Marisnick pinch ran for Alonso, and he’d eventually score on a Yoenis Cespedes sacrifice fly.
Well, it finally happened. Behind the pitching of Jacob deGrom, the Mets finally have a simulated win for the 2020 season.
For a while, it looked like a typical deGrom start with him shutting down the other side and the Mets not scoring runs. Jeff McNeil was thrown out at the plate, and Brandon Nimmo struck out with the bases loaded.
Finally, Robinson Cano hit an RBI single in the third, and Dominic Smith would hit a three run homer to give the Mets a 4-0 lead. Pete Alonso, who has struggled in 2020 (for what very little that’s worth) also homered in the game.
It was a very rude homecoming for Zack Wheeler who only lasted four innings and would take the loss.
The Phillies didn’t get to deGrom until Nick Williams hit a two run homer in the seventh, but that only pulled the Phillies to within 5-2.
Let’s call it what it is. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball sought to kill the Major League draft not because of the COVID19 pandemic. No, he used it as a ruse to facilitate his plan to contract minor league baseball.
Remember, Baseball America first reported Manfred’s plans to contract 42 minor league teams in November. That plan included reducing the draft to 20 rounds, and it was going to be pushed back from June to August. There was also going to be a limit of 150-200 minor leaguers for each organization. Currently, there is no limit.
By and through these plans, short season ball is going to be effectively eliminated. In terms of the Mets, that means no more Kingsport Mets, and it means the Brooklyn Cyclones will have to pay a fee in the ballpark from $8 – $12 million dollars to move from the New York-Penn League to Double-A.
That also effectively puts the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in limbo. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The Rumble Ponies have already been pegged as one of the 42 teams subject to contraction. It is something they are fighting fiercely.
One of the key elements to having no short-season ball is to not accumulate a larger number of minor league players. With fewer minor leaguers, you do not have enough players for leagues like the Appalachian, Gulf Coast, New York-Penn, and other leagues. By moving the draft back to August, you no longer have the need to have a league for college and high school players to get some playing time in before the end of the year.
This is exactly what Major League Baseball is doing a year earlier, and they are using the COVID19 pandemic as an excuse. They’ll say they didn’t have an opportunity to scout players who are entering this year’s draft due to high school and collegiate years being shut down, but that’s a lie. Major League Baseball has been well aware of those players they were going to draft, and they have been scouting them for years.
What they missed is the opportunity to see them grow or regress. Keep in mind, they have no issue using their big money on those draft picks as the first five picks receive the largest bonuses. This was more about cost control by prorating bonuses paid to minor leaguers over a few years, by capping the bonuses given to now undrafted players, and by taking a step forward in eliminating a significant portion of the minor leagues.
To show you how short-sighted this plan is look at the New York Mets roster by where they were drafted:
- Stephen Nogosek 6th
- Jacob Rhame 6th
- Dellin Betances 8th
- Tomas Nido 8th
- Jacob deGrom 9th
- Luis Guillorme 1oth
- Paul Sewald 10th
- Tyler Bashlor 11th
- Jeff McNeil 12th
- Robert Gsellman 13th
- Seth Lugo 34th
- Daniel Zamora 40th
- Brad Brach 42nd
Think about that for a second. Under this plan, the reigning two-time Cy Young award winner who has established himself as the best pitcher in baseball would not get drafted in 2020. Looking further, under Manfred’s master plan, Mike Piazza, one of two Mets in the Hall of Fame, would never have been drafted, and it is questionable if he ever would have received an opportunity due to the cap on minor league players.
Looking at this plan and agreement, there is one glaring omission. In addition to deferring payments to 2020 draftees, there was no provision in this agreement to pay minor league players their 2020 salary. On that note, both Rob Manfred and Tony Clark should be ashamed of themselves.
Really, this entire agreement is an embarassment for baseball. The sport needed better leadership than what they are providing, and worse yet, the commissioner is taking advantage of global pandemic to take away money and jobs from players and minor league employees.
The concern with Noah Syndergaard having Tommy John surgery isn’t just his being gone for the 2020 season and a significant portion of the 2021 season. The larger problem from a Mets perspective is this team has not had the best history with Tommy John surgeries and rehabilitation.
The Mets don’t have to look any further than their pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. Back in 2013, he was putting together a promising campaign when it was discovered he had a torn UCL. During his rehab from Tommy John, things were not going well, and it was discovered he would need to undergo a second surgery. He would only pitch one season in the minors after that before retiring.
Hefner was rehabbing at the same time as Matt Harvey. When it was discovered Hefner needed the second surgery, the Mets had eased the throttle off of Harvey who was pushing to pitch in 2014. In 2015, despite agreements on his innings limit, the Mets reneged and pushed him to pitch, and Harvey would throw more innings than anyone in the history of baseball after their Tommy John surgery.
In 2016, he was just not good with everyone trying to figure out what was wrong with him. It took a while to discover he had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Despite noticeable muscle atrophy, the Mets pitched him in 2017 leading to a stress reaction. Really, that was all but it for him as a Met and possibly his career. The big unknown is how the Mets handling of him affected his shoulder and/or aggravated or caused the TOS.
Harvey would not be the only Mets pitcher to return in 2015 from Tommy John. The other notable pitcher to return was Bobby Parnell. After discovering a torn UCL the day after the 2014 Opening Day, Parnell underwent the surgery. A year later, a Mets team hoping to stay in the pennant race activated him well before the end of the 18 month rehabilitation period. Parnell didn’t have his fastball, and his command was shot. By the middle of August, he had pitched to a 6.38 ERA before being put on the DL with arm fatigue. He’d only pitch 5.1 Major League innings after this season.
While Parnell was someone whose injury was discovered a day into the 2014 season, Zack Wheeler‘s torn UCL was discovered on the eve of the 2015 season. Wheeler had surgery, and he was slated to return in the middle of the 2016 season to help the Mets return to the postseason. During his rehab, he’d have issues with his stitches, and he would suffer a flexor strain when he was finally able to step on a mound again.
He wasn’t able to step onto a Major League mound again until April 2017, and he would have to be shut down that season due to a stress reaction in his right arm. Really, Wheeler wasn’t right until the 2018 season, which was three years after the first surgery.
A Mets pitcher having this level of difficulty in their Tommy John rehab is not anything new. In fact, that was exactly the case with Steven Matz when he was in the minor leagues. After being drafted in 2009, it was discovered he had a torn UCL, and he needed to have Tommy John surgery.
Matz really struggled with the rehabilitation, and there was a significant amount of scar tissue. At one point, they were concerned he was going to need a second Tommy John surgery. The advice was to just pitch through it. Matz would do just that finally making his professional debut in 2012. His Tommy John issues would not re-emerge until 2017 when he needed ulnar nerve transposition surgery.
When Matz underwent the surgery, he joined reliever Erik Goeddel and ace Jacob deGrom in having the surgery. With respect to Goeddel, he had Tommy John when he was in high school well before he was a member of the Mets organization. However, with respect to deGrom, he had his surgery and rehab as a member of the Mets organization.
With deGrom, he had seemingly appeared to be the one Mets pitcher who had a normal Tommy John surgery and rehabilitation. Yes, there were difficult times when he told Frank Viola he wanted to quit, but that was part of the normally grueling rehabilitation process and return. Ultimately, deGrom would become a Rookie of the Year winner, and he would introduce himself to the world with an incredible All-Star Game appearance and a postseason for the ages.
As noted with Harvey and Wheeler, Mets pitchers were dropping like flies in 2016. In addition to Harvey and Wheeler, Matz went down with a massive bone spur. It was then discovered during a pennant race, deGrom needed the ulnar transposition surgery. As we have seen, the surgery went well, and after a pedestrian 2018 season (by his standards), he has returned to be the best pitcher in baseball.
Keep in mind, the Mets checkered Tommy John history isn’t just recent. Jason Isringhausen would have the first of his three Tommy John surgeries with the Mets. Looking back at Generation K, he, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher would all have arm issues leading to them never pitching in the same rotation.
The Mets haven’t had Tommy John issues with pitchers only. T.J. Rivera underwent the surgery in 2017, and he attempted to return too soon struggling in 22 at-bats. The Mets would release him, and he would play in the Atlantic Leagues for the Long Island Ducks before landing a minor league deal with the Philadephia Phillies. We will see if he can return.
Last year, we saw the Mets botch the handling of Travis d’Arnaud. Even with the team playing well with a tandem of Wilson Ramos and Tomas Nido, the team rushed d’Arnaud back to the majors before one full year of rehabilitation. He would have one of the worst games you would ever see a catcher have leading to the Mets rage cutting him.
He would first land with the Dodgers and then the Rays. Notably, he didn’t start really playing well until July, which was roughly 15 months after the surgery, which is much closer to the recommended 18 months.
This is not an extensive history, but it is a good snapshot of the struggles the Mets have had dealing with Tommy John surgeries. Perhaps, it is of no coinidence much of this has coincided with the Wilpon taking over majority control of the Mets, and as Pedro Martinez and others have noted, Jeff Wilpon’s interference with medical decision making has been a real issue.
Seeing the Tommy John problems the Mets have had, we get a better sense of why Seth Lugo was so unwilling to go through the process, and we see some of the dangers which may very well face Syndergaard as he attempts to return from the surgery before hitting free agency.
Just like the rest of us, Major League Baseball is at home. Players, agents, and executives are at home staring at their cell phones and laptops just itching for things to do.
Sure, there are logistics which needs to take place. Baseball executives need to work out when the season can begin. They need to ensure facilities are being properly cleaned. Players need to be tested and quarantined. There is also other matters which may need to be addressed like the draft, World Baseball Classic, and other events.
Mostly, they are going to be sitting there and waiting. After all, the things which would normally preoccupy their time during the season won’t be there. Those day-to-day tasks are really going to be left for another day. That frees up time for baseball executives and agents to start getting idle hands, and they may be itching to do things.
If you are someone like Jerry DiPoto, who is a trade proposal a minute during the offseason, you are giving him a lot of time on his hands to attempt to make more deals. It also gives teams an opportunity to discuss extensions with their players.
To a certain extent, we are starting to see it in other sports. For the NFL, it is natural as their league year began, and they are beginning the process of getting under the salary cap and looking to build their 2020 rosters. In the NHL, the New York Rangers acted to sign defenseman K’Andre Miller.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) March 15, 2020
For the Mets, Marcus Stroman and Rick Porcello will be free agents after the 2020 season. While it would be difficult to see extending Porcello right after giving him a one-year deal, the Mets may look to extend Stroman, especially after parting with Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson to obtain him.
After the 2020 season, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Michael Conforto will have one more season before becoming free agents after the 2021 season. Brandon Nimmo and Seth Lugo will be free agents the season after that. This is a significant group of players who are soon becoming free agents.
Perhaps, it would make sense to begin discussions with those players. Maybe it would make sense to talk to Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil to sign them to a deal buying out some of their arbitration years. After all, the Mets just bought some good will with Alonso with this pre-arbitration raise.
As noted, at this moment, there are some logistics Major League Baseball needs to handle with respect to the disruption and postponement of the 2020 season. Once that fog begins to clear, we’re going to be left with baseball executives with not much to do.
Sooner or later, they may get bored or antsy. As we saw with the famed story of how Joe DiMaggio was almost traded for Ted Williams, you get a bored General Manager knocking back a few scotches, and anything is possible. Very soon, every GM in baseball may find themselves in this position making everything very interesting.
The New York Mets signed Dellin Betances to be a big piece of their bullpen. The question for Betances and the Mets is when exactly that is going to happen.
Betances dealt with shoulder issues entering the 2019 season, and he would never quite regain his full velocity. When he was able to finally pitch he would partially tear his achilles. That set forth a trip into free agency with a number of questions marks and suppressed value on the market.
With there being just weeks before Opening Day, Betances has yet to play in a Spring Training game. Moreover, Betances’ velocity is still down, which isn’t all that unusual for him at this point in the year.
With the velocity down and Betances not appearing in a Spring Training game, the conversation about his availability for Opening Day needs to begin. While he COULD theoretically be ready, the Mets need to discuss whether he SHOULD be there.
No matter what the decision, one thing should be clear – the Mets don’t need to push Betances because the Mets have viable short-term alternatives at their disposal.
At the outset, it should be noted the Mets do have a bit of a Spring Training battle for the last spot in the bullpen. With Brad Brach, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo, and Justin Wilson guaranteed spots, there are three bullpen spots up for grabs. One of those is likely going to Michael Wacha, and when he is healthy, Betances takes the other leaving one.
It’s very likely that last spot goes to Robert Gsellman, but the Mets do have him spend the offseason preparing to be a starter. In the potential absence of Betances, he should be all but guaranteed a bullpen spot. That leaves some interesting options behind him.
Jacob Rhame is out of options, and as noted, he may be a sneaky candidate to make the Opening Day roster. Walker Lockett is in the same position as Rhame, but he does not have the same spin rates or velocity as Rhame, and he has also been more of a starter in his career.
Paul Sewald is continuously overlooked, but when he gets his chance, he does pitch well in spurts. He has shown versatility as a one inning reliever and as a late inning reliever. With the exception of one poor outing, he allowed one earned or less in 16 of his 17 relief appearances. His penultimate one last year yielded his first Major League win.
As enticing as Sewald may be, Daniel Zamora may be more so. With the new three batter minimum rule, left-handed relievers who can get right-handed batters out become all the more valuable. In his professional career, Zamora has reverse splits, and he has pitched well against them during Spring Training.
In terms of Zamora, with the three batter rule, you could argue he should be a leading candidate for the Opening Day bullpen even if Betances was ready.
Of course, Betances could be ready for Opening Day making this all academic. Still, the Mets need to prepare for that eventuality, and perhaps even if Betances might be ready, they could opt to give him some additional time. After all, Betances has thrown all of 0.2 innings over the past year.
If nothing else, you wonder how deep into the season he can go after not throwing many innings at all last year. No matter what the Mets do, they need to remember it is not about Opening Day. It is about October – how to get there and how to win when they get there. Fortunately, they have the depth options to get Betances there.
Major League Baseball has implemented new rules which not only restrict the use of left-handed relievers (i.e. LOOGYS), but they have also severely restricted the ability of position players to pitch in games. In fact, according to the new rules, a position player may not pitch unless it is extra innings or “his team is losing or winning by more than six runs when he enters as a pitcher.”
There is a caveat there where a position player can freely enter a game if they are designated as a two-way player. A two way player is someone who has 20 games started as a position player and has pitched 20 innings. As the rule implies, this is a status a player achieves during the course of the season.
Obviously, the 20 way player rule was implemented for a player like Shohei Ohtani who serves as both the Angels DH and a member of their pitching rotation. However, that does not mean other teams should not look to take advantage of this rule.
For the Mets, that means pitching J.D. Davis every opportunity they get.
When the Mets traded for Davis, one of the justifications for the deal was he could step in a reliever if needed. In fact, in his brief Major League career up until that point, Davis had made three relief appearances for the Houston Astros allowing an earned run over 2.2 innings. In those 2.2 innings, he struck out four and walked one.
That was his first pitching experience since college. While at Cal State Fullerton, Davis had 20 appearances. While pitching 43.1 innings, he had a 2.70 ERA, 1.177 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, and an 8.1 K/9. In his draft report, Baseball America noted ” shows good arm strength off the mound, showing 91-93 mph heat and a decent breaking ball, but his fastball is straight and his arm action isn’t great.”
Put more succinctly, Davis isn’t a Major League quality reliever, but he is a capable pitcher who could help a team out of the bullpen in a real pinch. The thing is you never know when that pinch is going to come.
Far too often, we see times in the season where the Mets pitching staff is completely gassed. The pitchers weren’t giving the length needed. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have begun piling up the multiple inning outings. That puts more of an onus on the one inning relievers to push harder than they typically should. Following the Mets, this happens at least twice a year.
With those stretches, an already questionable Mets bullpen will cost the Mets some games they wouldn’t otherwise lose. The job for new manager Luis Rojas and new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner is to find ways to mitigate against that. While being more judicious in how you use your pitching is one element, another is knowing when you send out a position player to pitch.
Early in the season, whenever the Mets have a six run lead or deficit, they should put Davis into the game to accrue innings necessary to achieve that two way player designation. Later in the season, that will allow the Mets to use him in four or five run games when they feel they need to save their pitching staff to give them a break.
Remember, this is an extremely talented Mets bullpen, but it is one with some health issues. Lugo has the torn UCL. Gsellman partially tore his lat. Dellin Betances is coming off an Achillies, and he had shoulder issues prior to that. Justin Wilson pitched through elbow soreness. Edwin Diaz has bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Michael Wacha was shut down with shoulder problems multiple times in his career.
Point is, bullpens, even the best bullpens, need breaks whenever they can get them. That can come in the form of a Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard complete game, and it can come in the form of Davis coming into a game and eating an inning here or there when the opportunity presents itself.
In order to really accomplish that, the Mets should remember a 162 game season is a marathon, and they need to prepare in April and May for problems which may come into play in July and August. Those problems are usually bullpen exhaustion related. To best prepare for that, the Mets should begin implementing strategies to get Davis qualified as a two way player so he is available when they really need help down in the bullpen.