During Spring Training and especially, over the past week, there have been pieces posted on this site detailing exactly how the Mets could beat the odds and actually go out and win the division. While Brodie Van Wagenen has preached on eliminating ifs, the fact of the matter is they exist, and the Mets are going to have to hope it all goes their way.
With respect to the division favorite Washington Nationals, the hope is they are no different than the team Dave Martinez led last year. This means Max Scherzer can be dominant while Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner perform like MVP candidates. However, if Patrick Corbin reverts, Stephen Strasburg is hurt again, and the veterans which they are relying upon (Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, Ryan Zimmerman) don’t turn back the clock, a terrific year from Victor Robles may not be enough for them.
The Philadelphia Phillies arguably improved their team the most with the additions of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, David Robertson, and Jean Segura. That’s all well and good, but this is a dangerous mix for a team which fell apart partially due to their Fortnight obsession and the face Gabe Kapler has shown himself to be a poor leader. Absent Aaron Nola repeating last year and Jake Arrieta going back to his 2015 form, it’s possible this team could fall apart.
While the Nationals and Phillies are widely regarded as the best teams in the division, it was the Atlanta Braves who actually won the division last year. What is remarkable about the Braves was despite the team having as much money coming off the books as they did, their only real upgrade was signing Josh Donaldson. However, when you consider Johan Camargo was actually better than him last year, it was likely a downgrade. Beyond Donaldson, the team is essentially all glove up the middle (Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte) with an incredibly average pitching staff. If the middle of their team doesn’t figure it out offensively, they’re going to need Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna to be even better in 2019 in order to carry the team forward.
As for the New York Mets, the key seems to be their bullpen. In recent years, there has been a correlation between strong bullpens and records. With the Mets having Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, and Seth Lugo, they have the makings of what could be the best bullpen in baseball. When you add Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler, this may be the best pitching staff in all of baseball.
This means the Mets will need Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano, and possibly Brandon Nimmo be the MVP candidates they can be while Amed Rosario figures it out. Beyond that, the Mets have what it takes. It is just up to Mickey Callaway to get the most he can from the team while Brodie Van Wagenen makes the key trade when needed.
If all that happens, and it very well could, the Mets win the division and go on to win the World Series. If not, the Mets may find themselves fighting for the second Wild Card. It should be fun to see what happens.
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.
Last week, the Mets added Justin Wilson to a bullpen who already had Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. With Wilson previously serving as the Tigers closer in 2017, the Mets can now run out three straight closers in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. If Mickey Callaway wants to be imaginative, it allows him to slot these three pitchers as needed to close out a game.
For instance, if the Braves have Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman due up, he can go with Wilson that inning and deploy Familia and Diaz in the others. That could be mean Wilson in the seventh, eighth, or possibly even the ninth. When you build that type of versatility in the bullpen, your bullpen is even better.
Then again, you don’t even have to go that far as all three of those pitchers are fairly platoon neutral meaning you can just run them out there and let them get batters out. Of course, this means you also get the chance to rest some of your better arms as needed. The fresher the arms are in your bullpen the better your bullpen is.
While we can assume that trio are the three main guys who are set to close out games, it is very possible the best pitcher in the Mets bullpen is actually Seth Lugo, a pitcher who truly emerged as the Mets answer to Andrew Miller last year.
Last year, Lugo was 3-4 with three saves, a 2.66 ERA, 1.076 WHIP, and a 9.1 K/9. Behind those numbers, he emerged as a guy who you could trust in any situation. If you needed a guy to come in and strike a batter out? Bring in Lugo. The starting pitcher knocked out in the first? Bring in Lugo. Middle of the order due up in the late innings? Bring in Lugo. No matter what the situation, if you need big outs, you bring in Lugo.
Right there, the Mets have four top end pitchers in their bullpen. With Familia and Lugo, you know you can trust two of them to go multiple innings. This means when you have the really important games, at most, you really need just five solid innings from your starters. That’s important to note when Jason Vargas is starting games.
When it is Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, you take your terrific six innings, and you don’t need to push them further. Then again, you will because they’re great pitchers. Keep in mind, when they are great for six, seven, or even eight innings, your bullpen looks all the better because you only need one or two of your great relievers.
That’s the key. Few, if any teams, can pair the type of rotation the Mets have with the type of bullpen they have built. Breaking it down and examining it, you realize a strong rotation and a strong bullpen buttresses each other, and it makes them both stronger.
It also allows you to not overuse relievers like Robert Gsellman, Luis Avilan, Daniel Zamora, Kyle Dowdy, Hector Santiago, Drew Smith, Paul Sewald, Jacob Rhame, Tyler Bashlor, or whoever else the Mets run out there with the aforementioned top four relievers. It’s not just overuse, it’s overexposing. Being able to diligently use these arms makes them stronger, and it makes the bullpen better.
That’s the key here. Building a bullpen or pitching staff is not just about the arms you have. It is about where you are opting to deploy them. The Mets have three closers set for the final three innings. They have a pitcher like Lugo who can be used as a weapon who can not just be unleashed at any time but at the most opportune times. You can then have three guys you can match-up as needed. With the Mets starting rotation, they probably will not be needed anywhere as often as other teams need their fifth, sixth, seventh, or even eighth best reliever.
In the end, that is how you truly build a great bullpen. You get the guys, and you put them in the right spots to maximize their skill set. Overall, this is why the Mets have the makings of the best bullpen in baseball.
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.
While the Mets were trying to sell us under Brodie Van Wagenen this was a new team where anything was possible. As the offseason progresses, we once again learn anything being possible doesn’t include the Mets spending money.
Here’s a look at their current payroll commitments:
Wilson Ramos $7.25 million
Travis d’Arnaud $3.52 million
Subtotal: $10.77 million
Robinson Cano $20 million (estimated)
Todd Frazier $9 million
Amed Rosario $560k*
Peter Alonso $560k
Jeff McNeil $560k
J.D. Davis $560k
Subtotal: $31.24 million
Juan Lagares $9 million
Brandon Nimmo $560k
Keon Broxton $560k
Subtotal: $10.12 million
Jason Vargas $8 million
Edwin Diaz $560k
Jeurys Familia $6.66 million
Seth Lugo $560k
Robert Gsellman $560k
Daniel Zamora $560k
Subtotal: $8.9 million
(Estimates from MLB Trade Rumors)
Jacob deGrom $12.9 million
Noah Syndergaard $5.9 million
Zack Wheeler $5.3 million
Michael Conforto $4.4 million
Steven Matz $3.0 million
Subtotal: $31.5 million
That’s $100.53 million wrapped up in 22 players who will likely take the field for the Mets next season.
When you include Yoenis Cespedes‘ $29 million, the payroll jumps to $129.53 million. That’s $129.53 million with three spots which need to be filled on this roster. Keep in mind this is before you account for a portion of his salary being covered by insurance.
If Hector Santiago makes the Opening Day roster, he’s due $2 million. That’s one fewer roster spot to have to fill, and it raises the payroll to $131.53 million.
That leaves the Mets looking for a utility player who can play SS and one more bullpen arm. Judging from reports, the Mets aren’t going out to get their guy, but rather they’re waiting for a deal for that last bullpen arm.
Where the Mets go from there, we don’t know. What we do know is the Mets are only spending $131.53 million on the players who will play next year.
Yes, someone will likely raise David Wright and the fact he is owed $15 million next year. Well, fact is he’s been released, and we do not know if there’s been any settlement with the insurance company, Wright, or both. We may have some evidence to what that may be:
#Mets David Wright release agreement details (Per Cot's Baseball Contracts)
'19 salary restructured
$4M paid on 1/10/19
$2.5M paid during 2019 season
$6M deferred at 2.5% interest compounded monthly
Paid in (3) $2M payments 7/1/21, 7/1/22, 7/1/23
All interest paid 12/31/23
— Christopher Soto (@SotoC803) January 8, 2019
But Wright is also a non sequitur. He’s not playing this year, the next, or ever again. Fact is, right now, the Mets are going to battle with a payroll of approximately $130 million. Maybe when all is said and done, it’s higher, but it’s nowhere near what a large market payroll should be.
That’s not the all-in team Mets fans were promised, and when you boil it down, the Mets really have zero excuse as to why they’re not pursuing any other outfielders or why they haven’t pursued Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
* $560k was estimated salary for for pre-arbitration players.
After an unplanned hiatus, it is time to start the New Year off fresh and to look at everything anew. It is time for change and resolutions to carry us through 2019. Here are the resolutions for each of the Mets players:
Robinson Cano – don’t get caught using PEDs this time
Yoenis Cespedes – find a way to DH in at least two games this year
Jacob deGrom – learn how to hit better so he can finally win some games next year.
Travis d’Arnaud – get the same surgery Wolverine got
Jeurys Familia – convince Callaway Diaz needs to be used in higher leverage situations so he can get his closer job back
Todd Frazier – find a way to sell move boxes of unsold Mets salt and pepper grinders while not falling into the same trap this year.
Drew Gagnon – keep those incriminating photos which have allowed you to survive roster cut after roster cut.
Robert Gsellman – learn how to pitch well for more than just one month out of the season
Juan Lagares – find a way to play at least half a season
Seth Lugo – when he is not given an opportunity to start and is an All Star snub, channel his inner Margot Martindale from BoJack Horseman
Steven Matz – pitch better so his grandfather will begin cheering for him again.
Jeff McNeil – find a way to hit .400 because short of that the Mets are probably not putting him in the lineup
Tomas Nido – sign up for the best travel rewards program there is because by the time 2019 is over he will be able to fly first class to Australia and back at least 10 times a month
Brandon Nimmo – life isn’t that bad, maybe he should smile every once in a while
Kevin Plawecki – hit the occasional ground ball to the left side just to shake things up.
Amed Rosario – take some mommy/baby classes so he can learn how to walk
Paul Sewald – have a print out of his game logs from Baseball Reference to remind the Mets he pitches well in shorter spurts, and that he is not superhuman and cannot handle onerous workloads. Cry when the attempts fail and he finds himself back in Triple-A
Noah Syndergaard – find an open mic somewhere to discover no one actually believes he or his Mr. Met feud is funny.
Jason Vargas – leave the Jeff Goldblum impressions in the clubhouse and stop pitching like him when he takes the mound.
Zack Wheeler – don’t even let a Mets team doctor near his arm in his free agent walk year.
Daniel Zamora – be able to spin his bad outings the way he can spin his slider
There is a buzz circulating around the Mets due to the moves Brodie Van Wagenen has been making. On paper, the team he is assembling is better than last year’s team, and the narrative is this team will have a better chance at making the postseason than last year’s team. However, that narrative may not exactly hold up.
Remember, last year the Mets were 17-9 entering May. It was right around that point the injuries started piling up, and the Mets depth or lack thereof became a problem.
Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki were injured leading the way for Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido. Todd Frazier would have the first disabled list stint of his career leading to the team rushing Luis Guillorme to the majors before he was arguably ready, and with the team playing far more of Jose Reyes than they ever should have done.
Michael Conforto was rushed back from injury before he was ready. Yoenis Cespedes‘ heels wouldn’t let him play anymore, and Jay Bruce‘s plantar fascitiis increasingly became an issue. Matt Harvey‘s Mets career was finished, and Noah Syndergaard was heading to yet another lengthy trip on the disabled list. Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares would also be making their annual trips to the disabled list.
By the way, this wasn’t the full season’s worth of transactions. That’s just through the end of May.
From there, the Mets would have a 15-39 record over May and June, including a disastrous and soul crushing 5-21 June which all but eliminated the Mets from postseason contention. Remember, this was the same team when healthy that was among the best in all of baseball.
Last year wasn’t an anomaly. The 2017 Mets were a promising team on paper, but they never got off the ground because of injury issues, which would also correlate to under-performance from a number of players. If you go back to 2016, that starting lineup and rotation was built to contend for a World Series, but due to injury issues, that team needed a furious finish and unlikely performances from players like Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and T.J. Rivera to capture a Wild Card spot.
Until the Mets address their bench, they are running the risk of their season not living up to expectations.
We know Wilson Ramos is an injury prone player as is his backup d’Arnaud. We know Lagares is injury prone. Syndergaard and Steven Matz have their own not promising injury histories. While he has generally been healthy, Robinson Cano is still a 36 year old second baseman, and players in their late 30s do not tend to be durable. That’s nothing to say of the unknown injuries like we saw with Frazier last year.
At the moment, the Mets are ill equipped to handle these injuries. In terms of the infield, the Mets have Guillorme, who was not ready last year, and Gavin Cecchini, who struggled in his limited Major League opportunities and missed much of last year with a foot injury. There is also Rivera, who missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery and ensuing setbacks. The catching depth may actually be worse with Patrick Mazeika being your last line of defense.
The outfield depth is Dominic Smith, who the Mets don’t even seem inclined to let compete for a first base job, and Rajai Davis, who is a 38 year old outfielder that has not had a good year since 2015.
All told, the Mets are in desperate need of some depth. If they don’t acquire it, you are once again asking the same group who faltered last year to succeed. Those players are still young and can improve, but it is difficult to rely upon them. With that in mind, Brodie Van Wagenen needs to make sure he has money available to address the bench. If he doesn’t, then the Mets may very well suffer the same fate they had over the past two seasons.
Fortunately, he still has time.
Each and every offseason, the common refrain is the Mets are in need of an additional left-handed reliever in the bullpen. Mostly, it is a call for the Mets to add a second left-handed pitcher, but this offseason it is more of a need to add a primary left-handed reliever. Time and again, this call misses the mark because what the team needs, what any team needs, is good relievers regarded of handedness.
While not axiomatic, the 2015 Mets who went to the World Series are a good example of this. Their left-handed reliever situation was a mess. Jerry Blevins injured himself early in the year, and then he would injure himself again. Alex Torres was terrible until he was finally released. They took a flyer on Eric O’Flaherty late in the year, and he was worse than Torres. Their one left-handed pitcher who made the full season was Sean Gilmartin, who was the long man in the bullpen, and he actually had reverse splits.
The reason why the Mets were able to make it work was because the team had right-handed relievers who pitched well against left-handed pitching. In fact, if you just looked at the splits and ignored the handedness of the pitchers, you would believe each one of them was actually a LOOGY:
- Jeurys Familia .214/.291/.325
- Hansel Robles .167/.214/.346
- Erik Goeddel .189/.250/.270
- Logan Verrett .200/.293/.388
- Tyler Clippard .136/.229/.236
When you boil it down, who cares if the pitcher is right-handed, left-handed, or Pat Venditte? The goal is to get batters out, and you want the pitcher most effective at getting those outs on the mound. If you look at the current Mets bullpen, the team has right-handed pitchers who have had success against left-handed hitters:
Right there, your three most trusted relievers are pitchers you trust to get left-handed batters out in pressure situations. Delving into their young right-handed power arms, Tyler Bashlor and Eric Hanhold have also posted good numbers against left-handed hitters. This also overlooks Daniel Zamora who utilized his excellent spin rates to hold left-handed hitters to a .222 batting average against during his brief time in the majors.
Assuming the Mets go with Zamora and one of their young right-handed power arms, the 2019 Mets bullpen will have five pitchers who pitch well against left-handed hitters. Adding another arm to address getting left-handed hitters out is superfluous. Moreover, when you look at how Mickey Callaway uses his bullpen combined with this being an era of increased bullpen use, you really have to question the wisdom of having two of your seven relievers dedicated to getting one batter out a game.
Ultimately, this should be about getting the best relievers you possibly can. If that reliever happens to be left-handed, great. Certainly, someone like a Justin Wilson is good against right and left-handed batters. However, if that guy is Tony Sipp or someone of his ilk, you really have to wonder why this team would limit the manager and tax the better arms in the bullpen to get just two batters out per game. Really, when you break it down, the Mets need better, not more limited, arms.
Last year, teams went out and spent roughly $400 million on relief pitchers in free agency. Part of that was probably in large part due to teams relying more heavily on their bullpens. Another factor might have been there were some well known and seemingly quality options available.
Of all that money thrown around, there were five relievers who received contracts with a total value in excess of $20 million. There were 10 relievers who had a deal with an average annual value of at least $8 million. None of these relievers would finish in the top 10 in ERA, FIP, strikeouts, or fWAR.
Digging deeper, from this top group, Wade Davis was the only closer in the top 10 in saves, and Tommy Hunter was the only reliever to finish in the top 10 in holds. That doesn’t mean teams did not spend wisely on relievers last offseason. It means the upper tier of free agent relievers did not pitch the way their teams had anticipated.
Jared Hughes signed a two year $4.5 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and he had the fourth best ERA among relievers. Steve Cishek signed a two year $13 million deal with the Cubs, and he had the tenth best fWAR among relievers.
While not in any top 10s, there were some other cheap relievers with very good years. Seunghwan Oh signed a one year $2 million deal with the Blue Jays, and he had a 2.68 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and a 10.5 K/9 before he was traded to the Rockies. Fernando Rodney signed a one year $4.5 million deal with the Twins, and he delivered 25 saves with a 3.09 ERA before being traded to the Athletics.
Now, there were some top end guys who performed very well. For example, Davis was second in the majors in saves. Pat Neshek certainly earned his contract with a 2.59 ERA albeit in an injury plagued year.
Injuries are a whole other ball of wax. In addition to Neshek, we saw Anthony Swarzak, Brandon Morrow, and others lose parts of their season to injuries. In the case of Swarzak and others, there was just an inability to produce at their 2017 levels which had gotten them the big contract.
Now, every reliever and free agent class is different. Sure, Craig Kimbrel could cash in and continue to be a great closer. We could see Andrew Miller brush aside his injuries issues and return to his 2016 ALCS MVP form. It’s also possible relievers like Zach Britton will never approach their apex again leaving you shelling out millions of dollars for a replacement level reliever.
In the end, if you are going into the deep end of the free agent reliever pool you have to be right, but seeing how successful bullpens are built, you have to question why you would even go there.
The most successful relievers were guys like Josh Hader, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Diaz, i.e. young cost controlled converted starters. You also saw teams strike rich on good value in free agency. With that being the case, it is probably in a team’s best interest to identify those fringe minor league starters and those relievers who can provide better value at a lower cost.
Considering how the Mets may be feeling the budget crunch in attempt to build a winner, it might be time to look at a Chris Flexen with his fastball and curveball in the bullpen while simultaneously waiting out the top tier reliever market with the hopes of building a deeper, better, and yes, cheaper bullpen.
One of the narratives which has taken hold of late is how the Mets catching situation is what has been holding them back. To a certain extent, there is a point. Travis d’Arnaud cannot stay on the field, and Kevin Plawecki has yet to fully maximize the chances he has been given to establish himself as even a clear-cut starter at the MLB level.
When looking at this offseason, there are plenty of players available who could be upgrades for the Mets. On the free agent front, there’s Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. On the trade front, there is J.T. Realmuto and Francisco Cervelli. Even if you argue all of these players are not definitively better than what a healthy d’Arnaud can give you, their ability to stay on the field makes them upgrades. More than that, it provides the Mets with depth at the catching position.
As we saw with the Mets playing Jose Lobaton and Devin Mesoraco, depth is vitally important at the catching position. More than that, the Mets need a real depth of talent on the roster. If you build a roster with talented players, an upgrade at catcher isn’t that desperately needed.
For those who don’t remember, the 2015 Mets were able to make it to the World Series with d’Arnaud behind the plate. There were several reasons why. Daniel Murphy was just beginning to become the feared hitter he would become. Curtis Granderson was a leader on and off the field. David Wright was having that one last great stretch in a terrific career. Yoenis Cespedes was phenomenal. There was real depth with Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Wilmer Flores.
Mostly, it was the pitching, and d’Arnaud played a big part of that with his pitch framing. This path to the World Series isn’t an anomaly either. Just this past season, we saw the Red Sox go to the World Series with Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez behind the plate. Much like the 2015 Mets, the reason the Red Sox were able to do this was because they had great players like Mookie Betts and Chris Sale in addition to terrific situational/platoon players like Steve Pearce and Brock Holt.
The overriding point is there are many ways for the Mets to go back to the World Series, and they don’t have to upgrade at catcher to do it. Instead, they need to look at the best possible players they can add to the roster.
They need to build on a pitching staff which already includes Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Edwin Diaz, and Seth Lugo. They need to add to a lineup which already features Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Robinson Cano.
If building up the lineup and roster comes at catcher, great. If it doesn’t, that’s good too because we already know d’Arnaud and Plawecki behind the plate can bring you to a World Series. For that matter, Plawecki, d’Arnaud, and Rene Rivera brought the Mets to the Wild Card Game.
In the end, there needs to be much less of a fixation on improving just one roster spot for the sake of another. For example, don’t trade Nimmo for Realmuto. Instead, the Mets just need to focus on getting better players on this team much like how they added Cano even though they already had McNeil.
In the end, if the focus is better players and a deeper roster, you will win games. You see it time and again. The Yankees dynasty had a black hole in left field. The Red Sox had nothing at catcher, second, and third. The 1986 Mets had Rafael Santana. The 2018 Mets can have d’Arnaud and Plawecki behind the plate, a tandem we already know can get you to the World Series.