T.J. Rivera

Best Mets Of All Time: No. 2 Mackey Sasser

In Mets history, there have been a number of people who have worn the number 2, and to some extent it is an almost cursed number in team history. Perhaps that is a function of Marvelous Marv Throneberry being one of the first people to ever wear the uniform.

Over time, we would see many wear the number and fall far short of expectations. It was the number of Jim Fregosi. It was also the number of Dilson Herrera and Gavin Cecchini. It was also the number of Justin Turner who had better days after leaving the Mets.

Seeing all the number is and what is represents, perhaps Mackey Sasser is the best Mets player to ever to wear the number.

Knowing Gary Carter‘s days being a top catcher were going to be limited, the Mets were proactive, and they addressed the future of the position by obtaining Sasser from the Pittsburgh Pirates on the eve of the 1988 season. That would make Sasser the back-up catcher for the Mets last division title of the century.

That 1988 season was the worst of Carter’s career, and the Mets needed their back-up catcher to contribute more than in year’s past. That season he was an above-average offensive catcher. In fact, he was better than that with his having the sixth best wRC+ among National League catchers with at least 90 PA.

That was the case for his two year tenure as Carter’s back-up. It was Sasser’s play which allowed the Mets to feel comfortable making the very difficult decision in releasing Carter at the end of the year to hand the reigns to Sasser. In 1990, Sasser would reward the Mets faith in him.

In 1990, Sasser would play a career high 100 games that season, and he would catch a career high 87 games. During that season, he would do what had been previously impossible by becoming the first Mets catcher to throw out Vince Coleman attempting to steal a base.

Up until that time, Coleman was a perfect 57/57 in stolen base attempts against his future team. Aside from the throwing highlight, Sasser proved his offense could withstand a heavier defensive workload with his being now the fifth best offensive catcher in baseball. Unfortunately, this season would be it for Sasser behind the plate.

The beginning of the end came on July 8, 1990. In that game against the Atlanta Braves, Sasser was already 2-for-3 at the plate raising his season stats to .336/.381/.455. In the game, Jim Presley ran over Sasser at the plate. Sasser would get the out (he was quite adept at the tag), but he would depart the game with a badly sprained ankle.

From there, Mackey Sasser Disease, the cousin of Steve Blass Disease was born. Sasser would soon begin having issues throwing the ball back to the catcher. This effectively ended his career even with the Mets keeping him around a few more years as a backup and utility player.

That would not be the end of Sasser’s impact upon baseball or the Mets. As it turns out, Sasser wanted answers to why he had the yips. He would seek them out, and as he said to Anthony McCarron then of the New York Daily News, he got that help from Dr. David Grand.

With that help, he was able to successfully be able to throw the ball again, and he would not have issues doing things like throwing batting practice. That would partially help him have a coaching career. In that coaching career, he would again help the New York Mets.

During his coaching career, Sasser would find himself coaching a young infielder named T.J. Rivera at Troy University. When Rivera was undrafted, Sasser called to the Mets and recommended the team sign him. This would eventually lead to Rivera becoming the team’s everyday second baseman in September 2016 and helping that Mets team claim the top Wild Card spot.

More than that, Sasser has made himself available to help those players who have had potentially career altering yips the way he once did. That included calling up Mike Pelfrey when the young right-hander was experiencing issues with balks.

Overall, Sasser not only helped the Mets as a player, but he did what he could do to help the organization after his playing career was over. As we saw, he did hit part to help save Pelfrey’s career, and he helped launch Rivera’s. Even with Turner having his moments and Juan Uribe becoming an instant Mets folk hero, it is difficult to argue any Mets player who wore the number 2 having a bigger impact on the franchise than he.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the best players in Mets history by highlighting the best Mets player to wear a particular uniform number. In this case, this is not saying Sasser was the second best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 2.

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1. Mookie Wilson

Mets Problematic Tommy John History

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.

Jeremy Hefner

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.

Matt Harvey

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.

Bobby Parnell

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.

Zack Wheeler

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.

Steven Matz

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.

Jacob deGrom

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.

Position Players

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.

This Is Minor Leaugers Time To Unionize

There are several barriers to unionizing minor leauge players. First and foremost, with how little they are paid, there is really no mechanism for the union dues to set up a union infrastructure. Players are too far spread out, and there are language barriers. There is also the fear of retribution from owners. That could come in the form of release of a player or a player not getting called up in favor of a player who is not looking to set up a union.

With salary, benefits, and perks being exponentially better, minor leaguers desperately need that Major League call-up, and they can ill afford to do anything to interfere with that.

That is the case during normal times, but this is far from normal times. From a purely baseball perspective, Major League Baseball is talking about shutting down a significant number of minor league teams. That means fewer jobs for minor leaugers. That could mean baseball will miss out on the next Mike Piazza or even the next T.J. Rivera.

Even with the low wages and poor working conditions created by minor league baseball, it at least creates an opportunity for players to one day develop into Major League Baseball players. Without that opportunity, there is no chance whatsoever for these players to become Major Leaguers.

More pressing than the closure of minor leauge teams is COVID19. Due to COVID19, the baseball season is going to be delayed, and no one can be quite sure when games are going to be played. That is especially problematic for minor leaguers as no one knows when or if these players are going to be paid beyond April 8.

This is a fine gesture to start, and you can understand why baseball is taking a half-measure when we’re not quite sure when or if baseball will be played again. To a certain extent, this is kicking the rock down the road until baseball needs to act again. The problem is baseball could decide they’re not giving minor leaguers any more than the roughly $1,200 per player, and minor leaguers have no ability to bargain for more relief pay.

Keep in mind, if you were assigned to a short season affiliate, you were not going to get paid until this summer anyway. That is something which will not be lost on Major League Baseball. Not in the least. However, this time, those minor leaugers are not able to get outside jobs until the summer, and there is no Spring Training facility to stay at in the interim.

For far too long, the MLBPA, the entity who should be arguing on their behalf, has failed them as they continue to negotiate away minor league salaries and conditions for additional perks for players. To a certain extent, given the high stakes nature of CBA negotiations, you understand it. On the other hand, they’re failing people they know need help the most.

Of course, it shouldn’t come down to the MLBPA. This is where the owners or governments need to step in to ensure a living wage, but there is far too much lobbying and political donations to ever allow that to happen.

In the end, this means minor leaguers must band together somehow to unionize and get a seat at the bargaining table. They need to do this to get a living wage. They need to do this to ensure the draft is not canceled. They need to do this to ensure teams are not contracted. Mostly, they need to do this to make sure they know where their next paycheck is coming.

Unionizing was going to take extraordinary efforts even in ordinary times. At times like these, those efforts will now need to be Herculean. It may not be possible, but it is something they all have to do, and in the end, they are going to need all the help they can get. To that end, you can only hope Tony Clark either attempts to incorporate them all into the union, or some Major Leaguer steps up and says enough is enough.

Short of that, there are going to be minor leaguers with the threat of no pay past April 8, and there may be many minor leaugers out of jobs this time next year due to contraction.

Appalachian League Collateral Damage Bad For Baseball

According to Baseball America, Major League Baseball is considering eliminating 25 percent of Minor League baseball for a number of reasons including the need to pay players a living wage. Part of that is the elimination of stateside short season minor league baseball.

For the Mets, that means no Kingsport Mets or Brooklyn Cyclones. With respect to the Cyclones, there are kinks which could be worked out allowing the Mets to keep them as an affiliate in some fashion.

But Kingsport, they’d be as good as gone.

Instead, they could be a part of a “Dream League.” That would be a league of now unaffiliated teams who catch undrafted college players. That’s a fairly steep drop in cache for affiliates like Kingsport.

For example, in 2018 Kingsport had significant prospects like Jarred Kelenic, Ronny Mauricio, Simeon Woods Richardson, and Mark Vientos. This year, Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty played for Kingsport. That’s a reason to not just go to the ballpark but to also follow the team.

Then again, just having a team in Kingsport, TN is reason to follow the team.

The Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves are nearly five hours away. The Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals are over six hours away. Those are the closest options meaning if you want to see a baseball game live your best bet is the Kingsport Mets.

The question is whether Kingsport can continue operations without an affiliation with the Mets and having a roster of players like T.J. Rivera at the point in Rivera’s career where he was a complete nobody with little to no chance of making it to the majors.

Remember, Kingsport needs a new park. While the Mets would help now, that won’t happen if Kingsport is not part of their system two or three years from now.

Where does that leave Kingsport? Well, it likely leaves them on the brink. They need a new ballpark, and with them needing to help pay player salaries in the new “Dream League,” you wonder just how much longer they can continue operations.

If they’re gone, the State of Tennessee has one fewer professional baseball team. The City of Kingsport loses baseball period. That’s a missed opportunity to grow the game in what is mostly football country.

Really, when you look at things, Baseball is the only league without a Major League team in that state. To that end, you’d wonder why baseball would not want to try to find a way to keep fans engaged in that region as much as they possibly can to grow the game.

In the end, this is about punishing players for not being able to afford living off wages below the poverty line. In doing that, Major League Baseball is going to cut its nose off to spite its face.

Simply Amazin’ Podcast (Noah’s Arc) Appearance

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.

d’Arnaud Could’ve Done This With The Mets

Last night, Travis d’Arnaud had the best game of his career. As noted by Mathew Brownstein of MMO, d’Arnaud became the fourth catcher since 1970 to homer three times and reach base safely five times in a game. His three home run game would culminate with a three run game winning homer off of Aroldis Chapman to give the Rays a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees:

Like anytime we see a former Met excel in a new place, we see people say any number of things. One of the prevailing things we see is this would never have happened with the Mets. It’s what we heard with Justin Turner even though he fixed his launch angle and had a big finish to the 2013 season before the Mets non-tendered him. We hear it with Hansel Robles despite his having flashes of brilliance with the Mets only to see him wilt under being over and inconsistently worked.

The basis for applying that narrative to d’Arnaud was how terrible he was with the Mets this year. Yes, he was absolutely terrible. In his 10 games with the Mets, he was 2-for-23 (.087), and in his last game with the team, he had just about as bad a game as you will ever see from a catcher. It was mortifying to watch, and the Mets responded to it by designating him for assignment.

Of course, the reasons for his struggles needs closer examination. First and foremost, d’Arnaud was a year removed from Tommy John surgery. As we have seen with position players, there is no real book for when a player can actually return from it. Those we have seen return in less than a year have struggled.

T.J. Rivera couldn’t get it back together after surgery in September 2017. He would be released, and he is now attempting his comeback with the Long Island Ducks. Didi Gregorius has struggled since returning from his own surgery hitting just .252/.274/.388 with the Yankees.

With respect to d’Arnaud, he had two rehab games after getting a late start to Spring Training. That’s right. After a major surgery on his elbow, the Mets gave him just two rehab games. They then rushed him up to the majors despite the Mets starting the season 5-2 and only needing their back-up catcher twice in that span.

After d’Arnaud was rushed back, he would start just five times in over a three week span. In that time frame, the Mets would play 18 games. There is absolutely no reason why d’Arnaud was rushed back to be a back-up when Tomas Nido could have handled those duties well. There is even less of a reason when you consider d’Arnaud NEEDED those games to rehab from his surgery and get back up to game speed after playing all of four games since the start of the 2018 season.

What d’Arnaud needed from the Mets, or really any team, was a legitimate opportunity to get sufficient playing time to get back up to speed. After a P.J. Conlon like stop in Los Angeles, d’Arnaud has gotten that in Tampa Bay. In 39 games for the Rays, he is hitting .282/.342/.542 with seven doubles, nine homers, and 26 RBI. For all those hysterically focused on his throwing arm, he has thrown out 33 percent of base stealers, which is above league average.

Before people start with the he could have never done this with the Mets talk, focus back on his career. In 2015, he played 67 games hitting .268/.340/.485 with 14 doubles, a triple, 12 homers, and 41 RBI. From 2015 to 2017, he was the 10th best catcher in all of baseball with a 6.3 fWAR, and he ranked 11th with a 98 wRC+. His 68.3 dWAR (as rated by Fangraphs) ranked ninth over that timeframe.

So, with the Mets, d’Arnaud was a top 10 catcher in the game. That gets lost because he was never quite what he was advertised to be. He also didn’t build off of that 2015 season like we all hoped. He was also injury prone. Overall, he was as frustrating a player as you could have experienced. However, that does not mean he was bad and never was going to succeed with the Mets. In fact, we did see him succeed with the Mets.

Like many before him, d’Arnaud’s success isn’t because he needed a change of scenery. No, this is because his rehab was mishandled, the Mets overreacted to one bad game, and because the team did not sufficiently self scout their players. If given an opportunity, and with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard no longer wanting to throw to Wilson Ramos there was one coming, d’Arnaud absolutely would have performed well for the Mets. If you want any proof of that just consider the fact he had already performed well in his Mets career.

Mets On The 40 Man Roster Bubble

As the Mets approach Opening Day, the team is going to have to make some manuevers if they are going to add their minor league free agents to the 40 man roster. Earlier in the offseason, T.J. Rivera was released, which creates one spot. By the look of Spring Training, the team is going to need more than that one spot.

With his needing Tommy John surgery, another roster spot was opened up by Drew Smith likely headed for the 60 day disabled list. With him likely headed there, the 40 man roster will likely sit at 38. With Yoenis Cespedes hitting the 60 day IL, that drops the number to 37.

At the moment, the team is considering adding Luis Avilan as the LOOGY in the bullpen. The team is also likely to add Adeiny Hechavarria as a backup shortstop. The team is also considering Ryan O’Rourke, Hector Santiago, Pete Alonso, Devin Mesoraco, and Rajai Davis. In total, the Mets are likely to add as many as three players and possibly more.

In the event there is more, the team could opt to put Franklyn Kilome on the 60 day disabled list to preserve his last option, but such a move starts his service clock while having him cost significantly more. This would make adding him to the 60 day disabled list unlikely meaning there are two or more Mets whose 40 man roster spots could now become tenuous:

Right off the bat, Kyle Dowdy is an obvious choice. Should he lose the race for the last man in the bullpen to O’Rourke, Santiago, or one of the Mets young right-handed relief pitchers, it’s quite possible the team returns him to the Cleveland Indians. With him pitching to a 7.36 ERA this Spring and 5.15 ERA between Double- and Triple-A last year, his heading back to Cleveland seems like the obvious choice.

With respect to the Mets young right-handed relievers, Tim Peterson seems to have the most tenuous spot. We have seen Peterson really succeed in spots as evidenced by his 0.87 ERA in the Arizona Fall League or his allowing just two earned runs over his first 11.1 relief innings. However, over time, batters catch up to him and his 91 MPH fastball.

On the relief front, the Mets may also be in a position to designate Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame for assignment. We have seen each of them pitch well in the majors in spurts, but their overall body of work has been quite lacking. However, given their limited history of success, it would seem while their spots are tenuous, they have a leg up on the aforementioned pitchers.

On the position player front, Luis Guillorme‘s spot seems the most tenuous. After he struggled in 35 games at the Major League level, it appeared the organization really soured on him. If you want evidence to that effect, look no further than how he was not among the September call-ups last year. The Mets offseason moves would seem to indicate his spot is dubious as well.

Hechavarria serves the same role Guillorme could have served, but the Mets thought it better to potentially give Hechavarria $3 million than give Guillorme a chance. With the team adding Dilson Herrera to add to an already crowded Syracuse infield and top prospect Andres Gimenez not too far from Triple-A, Guillorme’s spot seems all the more dubious.

That said, the team did designate Gavin Cecchini for assignment earlier in the year, and Guillorme has had a very good Spring. This means Guillorme’s spot is safe for now. As for the aforementioned pitchers, it may depend on how many players they seek to add the to Opening Day roster and if they are able to swing trades for players like Travis d’Arnaud to open up enough spots.

Phillies Came And Got Brodie’s Mets

On January 16, Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen stood up at a press conference introducing Jed Lowrie at Citi Field, and he issued a challenge to the rest of the National League East. With the bravado Van Wagenen has held since taking over the position, he uttered the boastful words, “Come get us!”

At that time, the Mets had made some bold moves. The team had added not just Lowrie on the infield but also Robinson Cano. The bullpen was largely remade with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. Not too long thereafter, the Mets would add Justin Wilson making their bullpen potentially the best in all of baseball.

On January 16, you could understand a bit of the Mets bravado. The Braves really stopped short of improving their club by adding just Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. The Nationals did add Patrick Corbin and Kurt Suzuki in addition to bolstering their own bullpen, but they were likely losing Bryce Harper. As for the Phillies, well, despite their proclamations they were going to spend stupid money, it didn’t seem anyone wanted it.

While we know the Phillies call to action largely existed prior to Van Wagenen’s declaration, and it being very likely the Phillies were not going to make decisions predicated on what Van Wagenen said at a press conference, they did possess the ability to make the Mets General Manager to eat his words.

The first bold move was to acquire J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins. It’s worth noting Realmuto was a prize fish Van Wagenen had expended much effort to bring aboard only to have to eventually cut bait and sign Wilson Ramos after Yasmani Grandal purportedly rejected the Mets contract offers.

Yesterday, well yesterday was the big one. The Phillies signed Harper to a 13 year $330 million contract. With it being worth $5 million more than Giancarlo Stanton‘s contract, the Phillies went out and gave Harper the largest contract in baseball history.

Harper and Realmuto were part of a larger offseason for the Phillies. In addition to those two All-Stars, the team also signed Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. They also made a blockbuster trade to obtain Jean Segura, Juan Nicasio, and James Pazos. All told, the Phillies added over $148.55 in new contractual obligations, and that is before factoring in Harper.

When taking into account the money owed Harper, the Phillies have added nearly half a billion in payroll obligations. Apparently, when their owner John Middleton said they were going to spend stupid money, he meant it. This is a Phillies team who is all-in, and they may not even be done adding pieces.

Notably, at the time the Mets signed Lowrie, they were projected as a team who was neck-and-neck with the Nationals for the division with them being in position to claim a Wild Card. Now, according to Dan Szymborski of Fangraphs, the Mets are now projected to be the fourth best team in the division, and their pre-season odds of making the postseason dropped from 31.2 to 26.7 percent.

It should also be noted while the Phillies have been moving past the Mets, the Mets have had to deal with injuries to both Lowrie and Todd Frazier with neither one having a timetable as to when they can return. The team has also seen Travis d’Arnaud and T.J. Rivera struggle in their attempts to return from Tommy John surgery.

With all that has happened in little over a month, Van Wagenen still believes the Mets can win saying, “I believe we can beat any team, any time.” However, it is noteworthy he has fallen short of calling the Mets the best team in the division, and he is no longer challenging the other teams in the division to come get the Mets.Perhaps, it is because he knows the Phillies already have.

T.J. Rivera Has Overcome Long Odds Before

According to reports yesterday, Mets infielder T.J. Rivera is struggling in his return from Tommy John surgery. While people assume it is easier for position players to return from the surgery, Rivera seems to be dispelling that notion. In fact, it would appear he is struggling to return from his surgery much in the same way Zack Wheeler did. It should be noted while Wheeler had his surgery in early 2015, he was not what we believed he could be until the second half of last season. So far, Rivera is dispelling any real concerns:

When looking at his career, this is just the newest obstacle for him to overcome.

Rivera was a 22 year old undrafted free agent who had bounced around in college before landing at Troy University. Fortunately, at one of Rivera’s stops prior to Troy University, he played for former Met Mackey Sasser, who would recommend Rivera to a scout. As an undrafted player, he had an uphill climb ahead of him needing to prove himself at every turn. Rivera has done just that hitting over .300 with an OBP over .350 at nearly every minor league stop.

Really, Rivera stuck around because he hit. Yet somehow, despite his hitting at every stop, he was overlooked in the Rule 5 Draft multiple times. He had been in the minors for five-and-a-half years when the Mets were dropping like flies. Rather than give him a chance, the Mets would give playing time to players like Eric Campbell and Matt Reynolds. They’d even bring back Jose Reyes despite his domestic violence arrest and suspension. When it came time to call someone up, they’d call up Ty Kelly over him.

It would not be until the middle of August until Rivera would get called up, but he still wouldn’t get a chance. He’d be up and down a few times in August. Finally, with Walker being done for the season with a back injury and Wilmer Flores injuring his wrist on a collision at home plate on a very questionable send by Tim Teufel, Rivera would finally get his chance.

In 20 September games, Rivera hit .358/.378/.552. In those 20 games, the Mets would go 13-7. It’s important to consider the Mets claimed a Wild Card spot by just one game. If the team had not turned to him when they did, it’s possible the Mets miss the 2016 postseason. It’s also worth mentioning Rivera was one of the few Mets who got a hit off Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card game. If someone had driven him in after his leadoff double in the fifth, we would be having a completely different conversation about him, that season, and each of the ensuing seasons.

Despite his being the hero of the 2017 season, the Mets would not so much as guarantee him a roster spot. They wouldn’t do that even with him playing well as the first baseman for a Puerto Rican team which reached the championship game of the World Baseball Classic. Instead, Rivera would spend his 2017 season up and down and the out with the season and potentially career altering UCL tear.

Seeing the depth the Mets have accumulated and the team likely adding at least Adeiny Hechavarria to the roster, 40 man roster spots are becoming tenuous. With him being unable to play, the odds are once again not in Rivera’s favor. Based upon past history, we should not count him out. In fact, for a team with postseason aspirations, he may ultimately prove to be an important player who can put the Mets over the top.

Checking Mets Depth Chart, Tebow On The Opening Day Roster Is Laughable

With Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier suffering injuries during Spring Training, the Mets depth is being tested early. Most will point to how this clears the path for Pete Alonso. You could see how this in an opportunity for J.D. Davis. While the Mets may not initially want to move Jeff McNeil to third, if they would it could present an opportunity for Dominic Smith to make the roster.

You can also make a case for T.J. Rivera, Rajai Davis, Gregor Blanco, Gavin Cecchini, Luis Guillorme, and many more. Really, when you break it down, you can make a case for almost anybody:

Okay, well almost anybody. Really, to suggest Tim Tebow has an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster borders on the absurd. Really, just look at the Mets complete left field depth chart:

  1. Michael Conforto
  2. Jeff McNeil
  3. Brandon Nimmo
  4. Juan Lagares
  5. Keon Broxton
  6. Rajai Davis
  7. Gregor Blanco
  8. J.D. Davis
  9. Rymer Liriano
  10. Dominic Smith
  11. T.J. Rivera
  12. Dilson Herrera
  13. Danny Espinosa
  14. Kevin Kaczmarski
  15. Braxton Lee

Also consider the Mets have the option to move players like Cecchini to the outfield. As the season progresses, players like Desmond Lindsay may move ahead of Tebow. However, this is about right now, and right now there is nothing to suggest Tebow is anywhere close enough to cracking the Mets Opening Day roster. Really, the mere suggestion of it is beyond absurd.