Thomas Szapucki

Mets Ownership Question Affects Future Of Mets Rotation

Today, the offseason is officially over, and Spring Training officially begins with pitchers and catchers reporting to St. Lucie. Looking at the way the contracts are structured, this could be the last year this rotation reports, and in very short order, this rotation could be almost completely dismantled over the ensuing few years.

Marcus Stroman and Rick Porcello are free agents after the 2020 season.

Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are free agents after the 2021 season.

Jacob deGrom has a player option after the 2022 season.

This is what remains from a homegrown group which led the Mets to the 2015 pennant and brought the Mets back to the 2016 postseason. We have already seen Matt Harvey and now Zack Wheeler (on neither team) leave for very different reasons. Now, the Mets have to assess who is next.

Ideally, the Mets would be moving quickly to lock some of these starters up. After all, Syndergaard and Matz are coming off down years, and the Mets have a year of control to use as leverage in negotiations. Seeing how Matz finished the season, Syndergaard’s offseason workouts geared towards pitching better, and Jeremy Hefner already working on getting the most out of both, they may get very expensive very soon.

Like Matz, Stroman and Porcello are local kids who grew up Mets fans. We have already seen Porcello leave some money on the table to pitch for the Mets. Could Stroman do the same knowing he gets to pitch for his hometown team and his being born to pitch on this stage?

Sure, you could argue the Mets should be looking to maximize on the value of some of these pitchers on the trade market. At some point, the team also has to look to the future when pitchers like David Peterson, Thomas Szapucki, Matthew Allan, and others are ready to contribute.

The payroll obligations, along with having to pay players like Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo have to be balanced. The Mets also have to balance that against building the type of team which would discourage deGrom from exercising his opt out.

Of course, the question is who exactly is negotiating these contracts. Not too long ago, we thought that would be Steve Cohen, and what many assumed were bottomless pockets. Now, with that deal falling apart, we don’t know.

Sure, the Mets say they are going to sell the team, and they are no longer going to insist on having control over the team, but we have seen this show. It has previously ended with deals falling apart, and the Mets moving to sell off minority shares as as short term fundraising scheme.

Long story, short, here, the Mets need to figure out their ownership, and they need to figure it out fast. There is a lot more riding on the sale of the team than the 2020 season and the ability to add payroll, if necessary, at the trade deadline. As noted, the Mets need to figure out the pitching staff for 2021 and beyond.

The sooner they figure it out, the better. Once they have clarity on that issue, they will know who exactly are trade chips, and how exactly the Mets can build the 2020, 2021, 2022, and beyonds World Series contending teams.

Mets Who May Soon Be Designated For Assignment

With the Mets protecting Andres Gimenez, Jordan Humphreys, Ali Sanchez, and Thomas Szapucki from the Rule 5 Draft, the 40 man roster is completely full. With the Mets needing to address a number of areas of this team, this means ever trade, waiver claim, and free agent signing is going to require a player coming off the 40 man roster.

Obviously, Drew Gagnon was the first casualty, but he is not going to be the last. Here is a look at some of the other players sitting on the bubble:

Tyler Bashlor

2019 MLB Stats: 0-3, 6.95 ERA, 24 G, 22.0 IP, 1.727 WHIP, 7.0 BB/9, 8.2 K/9

The success Bashlor has had in the minors has not translated at all to the majors. In fact, his control issues have only been magnified, and he has not been able to blow his fastball by anyone. This left him hittable, and he has been hit hard.

Sam Haggerty

2019 Stats: 11 G, 4 PA, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 K

Haggerty was a September call-up with the Mets looking to add some late game speed as they were making a push for the Wild Card. With the current roster crunch, the Mets are too heavy on infielders. With Luis Guillorme firmly establishing himself as a Major League caliber utility player, Haggerty’s spot is all the more tenuous, and he’s very likely the first position player designated for assignment in the event a non-catcher is signed.

Chris Flexen

2019 Stats: 0-3, 6.59 ERA, 9 G, GS, 13.2 IP, 2.049 WHIP, 8.6 BB/9, 6.6 K/9

After struggling as a two pitch starter in his brief Major League appearances, Flexen was finally moved to the bullpen where he had fleeting success. You could argue with his stuff he could succeed next year in a bullpen role, but it’s very possible the Mets don’t see that happening as he was not called up last September. His being out of options may only accelerate a DFA decision.

Franklyn Kilome

2018 MiLB Stats: 4-9, 4.18 ERA, 26 GS, 140.0 IP, 1.343 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, 8.0 K/9

Kilome is a promising prospect who has control issues and is coming off Tommy John surgery. So far, the Mets have indicated things are going well in his rehab, and he should be ready to pitch early in the 2019 season. That said, if he has a setback, he could be moved off the roster in short order.

Chris Mazza

2019 MLB Stats: 1-1, 5.51 ERA, 9 G, 16.1 IP, 1.592 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 6.1 K/9

Mazza was a 29 year old rookie who finally made his debut with the Mets last year. While he was on the September roster, he did not pitch in a meaningful game although he did pick up his first Major League win on the final game of the season.

Tomas Nido

2019 Stats: .191/.231/.316, 5 2B, 4 HR, 14 RBI

Nido got his chance to be a defensive minded back-up, and he worked well with pitchers like Noah Syndergaard. Still, he effectively hit like a pitcher at the plate, and his framing numbers, albeit good, were not at the point where you could justify keeping him in the Majors with the way he hit. With him being out of options, and the Mets looking to upgrade, he has the most tenuous spot on the 4o man roster.

Stephen Nogosek

2019 Stats: 0-1, 10.80 ERA, 7 G, 6.2 IP, 2.100 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 8.1 K/9

Nogosek seemed to turn a corner getting his control under wraps in Syracuse, but those issues would resurface in his brief Major League appearances. There is promise in his arm, but his control issues may eventually make him expendable.

Corey Oswalt

2019 Stats: 0-1, 12.15 ERA, 2 G, 6.2 IP, 2.250 WHIP, 8.1 BB/9, 6.8 K/9

Oswalt was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft after he was the 2017 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. Since that time, he has struggled, and it was partially the result of how the team left him sitting dormant for stretches and asking him to pitch on very short rest. He also dealt with some nagging injuries last year. In July and August, when he was healthy and finally giving a stretch of starts, he pitched well posting a 1.98 ERA in 10 starts which will probably save his spot on the 40 man roster. Still, with his not getting a September call-up, it’s not a guarantee.

Paul Sewald

2019 Stats: 1-1, 4.58 ERA, 17 G, SV, 19.2 IP, 1.068 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9, 10.1 K/9

Last year, Sewald was designated for assignment, and yet again, despite the odds, he pitched his way back to the Majors. In fact, at the end of the year, he was arguably the most reliable right-handed reliever in the Mets bullpen not named Seth Lugo. He has a low walk rate, good strikeout rate, and had a better FIP than ERA. One thing which may save him is his still having a Major League option remaining.

Daniel Zamora

2019 Stats: 0-1, 5.19 ERA, 17 G, 8.2 IP, 1.731 WHIP, 5.2 BB/9, 8.3 K/9

Zamora is an interesting case. In his career, he has posted reverse splits, but he has a very good K/BB ratio against LHB flashing a wipeout slider. With MLB enacting rules effectively eliminating the LOOGY role, a pitcher like Zamora could actually have increased value, but for that to happen, he needs to harness himself better. Fortunately, he has options remaining.

Trivia Friday: Rule 5 Picks Inducted Into The Hall Of Fame

The Mets added Andres Gimenez, Jordan Humphreys, Ali Sanchez, and Thomas Szapucki to the 40 man roster protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft. This leaves the Mets hoping they won’t lose players like Patrick Mazeika and Shervyen Newton.

To that end, the Mets also hope they can find a player in the Rule 5 Draft who will have a positive impact in 2020. While Johan Santana and Jose Bautista are the ideal, they’ll certainly settle for a player like Sean Gilmartin, who was a valuable reliever in that 2015 bullpen.

While you are looking for All-Stars and valuable contributors, the dream is you draft a future Hall of Famer. In Major League history, that feat has only been accomplished three times. Can you name the three players? Good luck!


Red Faber Hack Wilson Roberto Clemente

Mets Farm System Poised To Take Another Hit In Rule 5 Draft

The New York Mets did the obvious and added Andres Gimenez and Thomas Szapucki to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. With the team potentially losing Tomas Nido as they investigate backup catching options, they secured their catching depth by adding Ali Sanchez. Finally, they arguably protected their best exposed starter in Jordan Humphreys.

Even with the Mets protecting these players, the organization is in real risk of losing some players in the Rule 5 Draft. In fact, you can see the Mets losing at least one player and possibly more. Here is a look the players the Mets may well lose in the order of likelihood of it happening:

Ryder Ryan, RP

Level: Binghamton
Stats: 3-1, 3.05 ERA, 25 G, 2 GS, 44.1 IP, 1.263 WHIP, 4.7 BB/9, 8.1 K/9

Ryan was the Mets return from the Jay Bruce trade with the Indians. He has a mid 90s fastball which can hit as high as 97 MPH, and he has a good slider. The two pitches can produce swings and misses, and when batters make contact, they hit the ball into the ground.

Ryan’s big issue has been control. That is partially due to his being a converted pitcher and also partially to his movement being difficult to him to harness. He made significant progress on that front in 2018 only to completely regress last year. If a team believes they can harness that, they will assuredly draft him.

Matt Blackham, RP

Level: Binghamton & Syracuse
Stats: 8-2, 2.60 ERA, 40 G, 55.1 IP, 1.066 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9, 11.4 K/9

In some ways, Blackham is very much like Ryan in that he is a reliever who can post high strikeout numbers, but he really struggles with control. However, whereas Ryan profiles as a future Major League reliever with his being 6’2″ and his ability to throw it in the high 90s, Blackham is only 5’11” and throws it in the low 90s.

Even with his throwing it in the low 90s, he generates a lot of strikeouts. In fact, he struck out 13.4 batters per nine in Binghamton. However, it should be noted that number dropped to 6.3 in 12 appearances for Syracuse. Still, with the movement he has on his fastball coupled with good breaking pitches. It’s very possible he is a pitcher who makes it to the Majors in 2020, but right now, the question is what uniform he will be wearing.

Shervyen Newton, INF

Level: Columbia
Stats: .209/.283/.330, 15 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 32 RBI, SB, 4 CS

With a good 2019 season, Newton might’ve forced the Mets hands. However, Newton had an injury plagued season and struggled mightily and his somewhat troubling strikeout rate worsened. Still, looking through it, Newton is a very promising prospect with promising power, athleticism, good instincts, and a born leader.

In a normal year, Newton would almost be guaranteed to go undrafted. However, with Major League Baseball adding an additional roster space, teams may opt to use that spot to stow a promising prospect like Newton. That goes double for American League teams who may not need to go so deep into the bench for a game. More than one person has surmised the Tigers could very well take this gamble.

Patrick Mazeika, C

Level: Binghamton
Stats: .245/.312/.426, 25 2B, 3B, 16 HR, 69 RBI, SB

On the subject of the 26th man, it will be interesting to see how teams use it in 2020. Some may use it to stash a Rule 5 prospect, and some may use it to carry an extra reliever or a catcher. If they are so inclined to carry an extra catcher, Mazeika is an interesting candidate.

Mazeika has a promising power bat, and he typically hits for more power when he is not catching everyday. While his stats in Binghamton don’t necessary prove that out, especially with him repeating the level, he did have a 118 wRC+with an above-average .182 ISO.

While there have been knocks on his catching ability, he has made significant strides. His framing has been overlooked, and he does his part controlling the running game. This is an area of his game he constantly works on and he makes strides forward each and every year. It’s possible a team sees that and wants him as their backup catcher.

Harol Gonzalez, RHP

Level: Binghamton & St. Lucie
Stats: 12-4, 3.01 ERA, 25 G, 23 GS, 137.2 IP, 1.082 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 7.3 K/9

The best way to describe Gonzalez is he is a pitcher who knows how to pitch. .He is a strike thrower who does not beat himself. He’s a four pitch pitcher without one outstanding pitch who thrives by mixing his pitches and locating them.

As the competition has improved through the minors, Gonzalez’s strikeout numbers have dipped, and yet he continues to be an effective pitcher. You could argue he has a future in the Majors as a long reliever or spot starter. His absolute ceiling could be fifth starter, but it is very questionable if he reaches that. Still, there is always room for a pitcher who knows how to pitch and can get outs. It will be interesting to see if some team finds that worthy of a Rule 5 pick.

Overall, the Mets arguably protected the right players. With the way the rules are designed, you cannot protect everyone. That leaves the Mets hoping the ones they did not protect will either go undrafted or be returned to the organization during the 2020 season. At the moment, that seems to be a long shot.

Assessing Mets Marcus Stroman Trade

Before going into the weeds on the cost, it should first be noted the Mets are a much better team for getting Marcus Stroman. This is a pitcher who has pitched quite well in the AL East, and he is a pitcher with big game experience being named the World Baseball Classic MVP in addition to some really good postseason performances.

Stroman grew up a Mets fan, and as a result, the Mets are getting a player who should become a fan favorite in short order. Assuming no other moves for a moment, the Mets rotation is very clearly the best in baseball, and you can argue acquiring Stroman makes their chances of making the postseason this year significantly better.

The one ding people will bring up with Stroman is he’s reliant upon a good infield defense to be successful, and the Mets defense has not been good this year. On that note, the Blue Jays have been a below average defensive team this year with a -6 DRS with them having a -4 DRS at first, -9 DRS at second, 1 DRS at third, and a 0 DRS at shortstop. With the Mets having Todd Frazier at third and Amed Rosario playing a to positive DRS in the second half, they fair well in comparison to the Blue Jays. Eliminate the turf, and you can argue this is actually a better situation for Stroman to be even better.

Now, if the Mets were in the position the Braves were in, you understand this trade. Stroman is the piece which arguably puts the Mets over the top. When you roll out Jacob deGromNoah SyndergaardMarcus StromanZack WheelerSteven Matz in your rotation, you’re dangerous in both the regular season and post season. As for the bullpen issues, with that collection of five guys, the Mets could take a page out of Alex Cora‘s book last postseason and utilize their starters to dominate the entire series.

Stroman would be an overpay, but it would be one along the lines of the Cubs trading Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman. If you win the World Series, who cares? In some ways, Stroman is even better than that because he is under control for next year as well. This not only gives you the best rotation in baseball right now, but it puts you in a position where you’ve insulated your team from losing Wheeler in the offseason.

The problem with the Mets is they’re five games under .500, and they are six games out of the division and the Wild Card. They are in real striking distance, but they also have many obstacles in their way.

The Mets have three teams ahead of them in the division, and they have four teams ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. The team just lost Dominic Smith which somehow depletes an already suspect outfield depth even further, and it also stands in the way of the Mets finding some more games for Pete Alonso, who is really struggling so far in the second half.

Speaking of depth, the Mets already suspect starting pitching depth did take a hit. On the one hand, yes, assuming no other moves, acquiring Stroman exponentially improves the depth as he’s a significant upgrade over Jason Vargas, who should now find himself in the bullpen. On that note, the bullpen also looks better. However, that assumes no other moves.

At the moment, it seems the Mets are looking to move Noah Syndergaard in a companion move to help fill out the current roster. Of note, the team still desperately needs a center fielder. It should be noted with the current rumors, Manuel Margot isn’t that guy. He’s yet to be a league average hitter in his career, and he’s a -1 DRS this year in center. On that front, it should be noted he was really good prior to this year with an 8 DRS in 2017 and a 9 DRS in 2018.

If the Mets move Syndergaard, they are again relying on Walker Lockett and Corey Oswalt to be their starting pitching depth this year and the next. Aside from one Lockett start this year, that is misplaced faith. This means the Mets need David Peterson to step up instead of hoping one of him or Anthony Kay are ready.

Like with trading Justin Dunn to the Mariners, trading Kay hurt the depth, and it deprived the organization of real starting pitching upside. It also eliminated the possibility of taking either pitcher to send them out there and try to replicate with Seth Lugo or to a lesser extent Robert Gsellman are doing.

Being fair, in the end a package headlined by Kay was a fair return for Stroman. It did make sense to gamble Kay away for the year plus of Stroman, especially if you are really going to go for it as an organization. On that note, they did not do that after trading Jarred Kelenic and Dunn in the trade for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano. On the Cano point, the Mets are up against the luxury tax next year, and they seem to be already using it as an excuse not to add despite the team collecting tens of millions of dollars in insurance proceeds on David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes while also deferring $12 million of deGrom’s contract.

From a Mets standpoint, the part of the deal which really hurts is Simeon Woods Richardson. This is an 18 year old pitcher already pitching for a full season affiliate. He is getting his fastball up to 97 MPH with a promising and developing curve and change which could both be plus pitches. Despite being almost four years younger than the competition, he is striking out 11.1 batters per nine while having an incredible 5.71 K/BB. This is a special arm, and the Mets traded him away with a top 100 prospect for one plus year of Stroman.

On the Woods Richardson front, the Mets were beyond loaded with teenage talent heading into this year. In addition to him, the Mets had Kelenic, Ronny Mauricio, Mark Vientos, Francisco Alvarez, Shervyen Newton, Luis Santana, and others along with a pitcher like Thomas Szapucki. This was a group poised to break into the majors around 2022, and when they came up, the Mets could have really had a prolonged World Series window open.

With Brodie Van Wagenen as the General Manager, that is what he has been trading away. He has severely hampered the next window from opening. Of course, that assumes the Mets window is currently open. This is a big reason why many baseball people don’t understand this trade. This seems one of those moments like when they pulled off the Cano deal or Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano the Mets are trying to tell us they are smarter then everyone when they’re really not.

Ultimately, you may not like this trade, but you would have certainly understood it if the Mets were 10 games over .500. They’re not. This trade becomes all the more puzzling when you consider they are supposedly doing this as a precursor to trading Syndergaard. Really, when looking at the entire plan right now, none of this makes sense. It makes even less sense if you are trading Syndergaard for prospects because the Mets just obtained one plus year of Stroman and not five.

Overall, this was an overpay for Stroman, and depending on what the Mets do now, it could be a completely unforced error. Typically in these moments, you like to sit and wait before passing judgment on the total plan, but considering how Van Wagenen has lost every trade he’s made thus far, there shouldn’t be much hope this was the first strike in what is one grand master plan.

In essence, enjoy Stroman while he’s a Met. He’s a fun player and really good pitcher who is coming home to pitch for the team he rooted for when he was growing up. Also, root for another hometown kid in Kay and hope Woods Richardson fulfills his potential. Root for everyone to succeed because it helps the Mets in the short term, and it will also help in the long run to remind the Mets that they’re really not better at this than everyone else. They have been and will continue to be considerably worse until Jeff Wilpon realizes he’s the problem.

Mets Should Hire Johan Santana In Addition To Leiter, Franco, And Mendoza

During this offseason, the Mets have certainly made splashes hiring David Wright, John Franco, Al Leiter, and now Jessica Mendoza in a player development role for the organization. These are all intelligent baseball people, who if utilized properly, can have a profound impact upon the Mets organization.

Seeing how three of these hires were popular Mets players, the team should consider doing the same and bringing back Johan Santana.

There are plenty of superficial reasons why the Mets should bring Santana back to New York. He is the only pitcher in Mets history to pitch a no-hitter. His 2008 season was great, and he would pitch the last great game seen at Shea Stadium. To this day, he remains popular with the fanbase. All that said, the real reason the Mets should bring back Santana is his change-up.

Santana’s changeup was a truly great pitch. It was a pitch he used to win two Cy Young awards in what was a borderline Hall of Fame career. It was a pitch which earned him a massive contract with the Mets. It was the final pitch he threw to strike out David Freese to end his no-hitter. It was the pitch he taught to Jacob deGrom, which forever changed the trajectory of deGrom’s career.

Back in 2011, deGrom was rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, and Santana was rehabilitating from shoulder surgery. As the two worked at the team’s rehabilitation facility in Port St. Lucie, their paths would cross. As reported by the New York Times, Santana would teach deGrom the pitch that made Santana a Cy Young award winner and would one day make help make deGrom one as well:

[W]hile doing his rehabilitation work at the Mets’ rehabilitation facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., deGrom fell into conversation with Johan Santana, the Mets’ injured ace. Santana proceeded to teach deGrom his famous changeup, how to grip the ball, how it should look the same as a fastball coming out of his hand. Santana told him to practice throwing at 180 feet. If he threw it correctly, the ball would fall well short.

As noted by the Fangraphs, deGrom’s changeup was the second most valuable changeup in all of baseball last year making it his best pitch last year. According to Brooks Baseball, opposing batters hit just .139 off of his changeup. The pitch is a large reason why deGrom was second in the league in getting batters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone, and why he had the fifth most swings and misses against him.

Much of what deGrom accomplished began when he was rehabbing at the same time as Santana. If the Mets were wise, they would bring back Santana to have a profound impact on someone else’s career. He may help Corey Oswalt or Chris Flexen go to that next level. It’s possible David Peterson, Anthony Kay, and Thomas Szapucki each take a huge step forward in their development.

Perhaps, there is some pitching prospect who is not well known at this time who could learn Santana’s changeup and have his career take off. After all, that’s what happened to converted shortstop and former ninth round pick Jacob deGrom.

 

Mets Organization Failing Their Prospects

Looking at the different talent evaporators around the sport, many will peg the Mets farm system in the lower third of farm systems. There are a myriad of conflicting and reasonable opinions why this exists.

There is the fact that over the past few seasons, the Mets organization has seen top prospects like Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Amed Rosario graduate from prospect status. Knocking names like these off your lists is going to take a toll on how your farm system is perceived.

There are those like Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, who surmises the Mets have made a series of mistakes in the draft that include drafting Gavin Cecchini over Corey Seager and drafting L.J. Mazzilli over Cody Bellinger.

While either or both of these may be true, there may be an alternate explanation. What if, the Mets are actually drafting the right players, but they are failing their prospects by failing to do what is needed to help cultivate each prospect’s talents to get them to reach their full potential?

Consider for a moment, the difference between Keith Law’s 2017 and 2018 prospect lists. In Law’s 2017 rankings, he had listed Mets prospects Rosario (1), Dominic Smith (29), Thomas Szapucki (60), Robert Gsellman (76), and Justin Dunn(84) in his Top 100. (ESPN Insider). This year? Well, only 2017 first round pick David Peterson made the list. (ESPN Insider).

Now, it is true Rosario, Smith, and Gsellman are no longer considered prospects. It is also true Szapucki and Dunn have dropped off the list. Their dropping off the list does seem to answer the question why the Mets prospects are not developing with way many believed they would.

With respect to Dunn, Law comes close to, but does not quite say the Mets handling of him was a complete disaster. In a conference call discussing his Top 100 prospect list, Law had this to say about Dunn:

They probably pushed him too far to high A just speaking in hindsight, but also there were a lot of issues with his fields of pitch, with his fastball command, with lack of life on the fastball that you almost look — and again, this is all hindsight, but you look and say, nobody caught that? Nobody on the player development side looked and said, well, hey, wait a minute, here are two things we’re going to have to work on in instructional league last year in spring training this year, before sending you out to high A, which is normal for a typical college draftee, but maybe not for him.

Really, it is quite an indictment on the Mets organization to say they completely missed something on a top prospect during the Instructional Leagues, and the team also failed to address the issue during a season in which Dunn would go 5-6 with a 5.00 ERA.

As we saw with Law’s rankings, seasons like this tend to cause evaluators and organizations to begin re-assessing their opinions of certain players. This is not something unique to Dunn.

Certainly, we saw something similar happen with former first round draft pick Kevin Plawecki. Entering the 2015 season, the Mets were excited about him, and when Travis d’Arnaud got hurt in April, they rushed Plawecki to the majors. Over the next few seasons, he would bounce between Triple-A and the majors. In that time, he would never quite progress. That was until last year, when he finally had a prolonged stretch in Triple-A. Judging from his performance last year, that helped him figure things out and help him enter the Mets plans for the 2018 season.

Certainly, the mismanagement of the development of prospects goes further than Dunn and Plawecki. The same could be said for someone like Cecchini, who after two very good years in 2015 and 2016, completely regressed last season, and his status on the 40 man roster is now teetering.

While the Mets handling of prospects like Dunn and Plawecki are instructive. The situation with Szapucki is equally as enlightening.

After dominating opposing batters in his first two professional seasons, Szapucki first appeared to take small step back with Low-A Columbia. Eventually, it was discovered Szapucki had a torn UCL requiring season ending Tommy John surgery.

With that Szapucki joined other promising Mets prospects Jordan Humphreys, who was having a break-out season on the mound, and position player Blake Tiberi in needing the surgery. If only, those were the only season ending surgeries and injuries the Mets suffered in their minor league system last year. Frankly, it has become a pattern, and it’s hindering development, and it is one that has not escaped Law’s attention:

They have had a ton of injuries on the farm, too. I’ve written the Mets’ org report already. I think it goes up on Monday. And I’m struck by how many guys were hurt, are coming back from getting hurt, guys who haven’t come all the way back. Luis Carpiois a good example of a guy who I thought was going to be a pretty good prospect at least, threw out his shoulder, had surgery, and has just not been the same player since he returned. So some of this is health, and I don’t know if that’s player development, the training staff, or just rotten luck.

Really, it goes much further than Szapucki, Humphreys, Tiberi, and Carpio.

Catcher Ali Sanchez has had hand injuries in successive seasons. Desmond Lindsay has had issues staying on the field, and he needed major surgery last year. Jhoan Urena effectively lost two seasons of development time to injuries. Even rising star Peter Alonso has suffered broken bone injuries the last two seasons, which given the Mets current track record, should give everyone pause. It should surprise no one the list goes on and on from there.

Looking at everything, maybe you still conclude the main issue is the graduation of prospects. It’s still possible many believe the real issue is the inability to select the right player. Regardless of your point of view, the one thing that cannot be discounted is this Mets organization is having difficulty keeping players healthy, keeping them on the field, and surrounding them with the things they need to succeed.

Not A Minor Issue: Planck And Szapucki Hurt

For those that don’t follow the Mets minor league system closely, Thursday was about as bad a day as one organization could possibly have.

The day began with the Mets announcing Cameron Planck, last year’s 11th round draft pick, is going to undergo season ending shoulder surgery. Planck is undergoing shoulder surgery before ever throwing a pitch as a professional.

Ironically, the Mets didn’t pitch him last year to protect his arm. The Mets invested heavily in the high school arm paying him $1,000,001 to keep him from going to the University of Louisville.

Before the surgery, Planck had a mid-90s fastball, a terrific change, and a developing knuckle curve. Hopefully, he can not only be this pitcher once again, but also fulfill the destiny he had as a potential front line starter.

Another potential front line starter in the Mets organization is Thomas Szapucki.

Last year, Szapucki was 4-3 with a 1.38 ERA, 0.885 WHIP, and a 14.9 WHIP in nine starts between Kingsport and Brooklyn. The 21 year old lefty has a mid to high 90s fastball and a curveball that baffled both right-handed and left-handed batters alike.

Things have not gone as well for him this year. His 2017 season was delayed due to a shoulder impingement in his pitching arm. After five good starts, Szapucki left Thursday’s game.

Initially, it was believed he left the game in relation to his getting hit with a line drive. No such luck. As it turns out, Szapucki left the game with left forearm discomfort. Many times a pitcher’s complaints of forearm discomfort is a precursor to Tommy John surgery.

If that’s the case, on one day, the Mets may have lost two pitchers who were on the path to one day being top of the rotation starters for the major league club.

While we rightly focus on the issues the major league rotation has had staying healthy, there needs to be focus on the Mets inability to keep their minor league pitchers healthy. If the past few seasons is any example, the Mets NEED a strong group of minor league starters when the major leaguers get hurt.

More than that, Matt HarveyZack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom are not that far off from free agency. Should any of them depart, the Mets need someone to take their place.

Szapucki and Planck should be front and center among internal candidates. Hopefully, Thursday will not stand in the way of that happening.

Eleven Mets Minor Leaugers To Protect In An Expansion Draft

In the NHL draft tonight, the Vegas Golden Knights will be drafting players from each of the other 30 NHL rosters.  There is a provision that players who have less than two years of service time are automatically protected thereby not making a team choose between a significant player and a huge prospect.  It does beg the question about what would happen if that provision were removed.

Better yet, what would happen if teams were forced to protect just 10 of their best prospects in an effort to permit the new team to stock their minor league system.  If the Mets were put in the position to select eleven players with under two years service time, who should they select?

1.   SS Amed Rosario

By any account, Rosario is among the top prospects in all of baseball if not the top prospect.  He has more than justified that billing this year.  Through 69 games, Rosario is hitting .325/.368/.479 with 15 doubles, four triples, seven homers, 48 RBI, and 12 stolen bases.  He’s great, and there is no circumstance in which the Mets should even think about losing him to another team.

2.   1B Dominic Smith

The Mets have been aggressive promoting their 2013 first round pick through the minor leagues.  Last year, he was the youngest player in the Eastern League.  This year, he has been among the youngest in the Pacific Coast League.  Through it all, he has held his own, played a terrific defensive first base, and is developing power at every stop.  He is the first baseman of the future for a team who will likely lose their current first baseman at the trade deadline or free agency.

3.   RHP Justin Dunn

Last year’s first round pick has terrific stuff, and he showed it off last year.  While he struggled this year, he has been better off for those struggles.  Since being demoted to the bullpen to help him find himself, Dunn has gone 3-1 with a 0.86 ERA and an 8.1 K/9.  When you have a player that struggles and improves this much, this is a player you make sure to keep.

4.  RHP Robert Gsellman

Gsellman started last year pitching in Double-A, and he finished it helping pitch the Mets into the postseason.  He’s had an up and down 2017 season, but he has shown flashes of his tremendous talent.  He is just 23 years old, and he still has the stuff he did last year when he posted a 2.42 ERA in eight games.  With a better infield behind him, which we should see with a Rosario promotion, we will likely see a return of the stats we saw last year.

5.   SS Andres Gimenez

The 18 year old dominated the Gulf Coast League last year showing off his skill set that had him one of the highest regarded international free agent signings in 2015.  He has skipped short season ball and held his own during his 37 games for the Columbia Fireflies.  He has a good bat regardless of position.

6.   LHP Thomas Szapucki

Szapucki is potentially a top of the rotation starter with a mid to high 90s fastball and a very good curve ball.  He used that to be completely dominant in rookie ball.  After an injury to start the year, he has just returned from the disabled list, and he is rounding into form.

7.   CF Desmond Lindsay

The man dubbed as the “Offensive Machine” when he was drafted has certainly taken off lately.  While he struggled to start the year, he has adjusted to the Sally League, and he has begun dominating.  Since June began, he has been hitting .333/.400/.694 while playing a good center field.  It seems he may have put his leg issues behind him, and he is taking the next step.

8.   C Tomas Nido

After years of struggling at the plate, Nido broke out last year winning the Florida State League batting title.  After a slow start to the season in Double-A, he is once again showing he is as complete a catcher as they come hitting .300/.353/.483 with 10 doubles, four homers, and 22 RBI in his last 32 games.  He is proving last year was no fluke, and he is the Mets catcher of the future.

9.   RHP Marcos Molina

Despite missing a year due to Tommy John surgery, the Mets believed enough in Molina to add him to the 40 man roster.  They were right to do so.  In five starts for St. Lucie, he was 2-3 with a 1.26 ERA, 0.767 WHIP, and a 7.2 K/9.  That has earned him a promotion to Double-A and a clear path towards the major leagues.

10.  RHP Seth Lugo

With spin rates, we know Lugo’s curve ball is the best in the majors.  He has used that to help propel him not just to the majors, but also to have success in the majors.  In addition to that, he has a fastball he can get into the upper 90s when he needs a big out.  He used this repertoire to help pitch the Mets into the postseason last year.  He has used it again this year to be effective in the rotation upon his return to the rotation from his elbow injury.

11.  LHP Anthony Kay

The Mets have long wanted him.  After failing to sign him out of high school in 2013, they made him their second first round draft pick last year.  That is because he has a fastball he can get into the upper 90s with a promising curve ball and change.  Like many college pitchers, his arm was abused by his coach, and he has suffered an injury requiring Tommy John surgery.  He should be able to bounce back and be the pitcher the Mets have long thought he could be.

In the above list, the Mets have lots of pitching talent, but that would also leave a lot of pitching talent exposed.  If the Mets went this route, they could lose a Harol Gonzalez or Jordan Humphreys, both of whom are having terrific years.  There is also the potential position player cost.  Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini are both former first round picks who are close to being regulars at the major league level.

Even if you were to make some amendments to the above list, you are still going to leave a very talented player exposed.  This speaks to the depth of the Mets farm system that the Mets continue to improve with each draft and each international signing period.

Enough Excuses, Lock Up These Starters

Looking at this Mets team since 2015, one thing has been perfectly clear: this team is built on pitching, and it will only go as far as the pitching carries them. In 2015, when their starters were healthy and able to last the season, the Mets were able to win the National League Pennant. In 2016, with three of the arms going down, the Mets were still good enough to enter the postseason as the top Wild Card.

The Mets have been fortunate because the pitching has been cheap. It was not until recently that Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom entered their arbitration years. Noah Syndergaard won’t be arbitration eligible until after this season. It is interesting because it is after this season that things begin to become murky. Harvey and Wheeler are scheduled to become free agents after the 2018 season with deGrom becoming a free agent the season after that.

With the Mets success rising and falling on their pitching, it begs the question why haven’t the Mets selected at least one or two pitchers and come to terms on a contract extension. The common refrain among Mets fans is the team should keep Syndergaard and deGrom and join them in a rotation that one day may also feature Robert Gsellman, Justin Dunn, and Thomas Szapucki. For now, even with the clock ticking, the Mets aren’t making a move.

While it may not make sense to most Mets fans, in a report by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the New York Mets have advised why they have not entered into contract extension discussions with any of their young pitching:

1. Injuries

As GM John Ricco explained, “[GM] Sandy [Alderson] has not said let’s be aggressive in that area, and that [injuries] is the biggest reason.”

Fact of the matter is each one of these pitchers have an issue. Harvey, deGrom, Matz, and Wheeler have all had Tommy John surgery. Harvey, deGrom, and Matz all had season ending surgery last year. Even someone healthy like Syndergaard dealt with bone spurs last year. Point is, the Mets pitchers have not been exactly healthy, nor do they inspire confidence they will be healthy going forward. To that end, the Mets relative inactivity has been understandable.

2. Lack of Urgency

As noted in Sherman’s piece, the Mets do not have a pending free agent until the after the 2018 season, and Syndergaard isn’t a free agent until after the 2021 season. Honestly, this reason is a bit disingenuous. With Harvey’s pending free agency many expect this is Harvey’s last season in a Mets uniform as the team does not want to risk him walking in free agency and the team getting nothing in return for him.

3. Pitchers Aren’t Interested In Extensions

According to Ricco, who would know this better than fans, extension discussions are typically begun by the player and his agent. Again, with fans not being in the business, it is hard to challenge him on this. With that said, it is hard to believe the Mets would be willing to let all their pitchers go to free agency without so much as initiating contract disucssions with them. Frankly, it is harder to believe when you consider back in 2012, the Mets pounced on an opportunity to give Jon Niese a five year contract extension.

4. Personalities

As noted in Sherman’s piece, when you give a contract extension to one player, it is going to have ripple effects. As Ricco said, “You would have to manage personalities because if you do [an extension] with one, how does it impact the others?”

Now, this is a bit of an overstatement on Ricco’s part. Entering into contract extensions with the pitchers should be part of an overall plan. For example, when Omar Minaya was the General Manager, he was faced with Jose Reyes pending arbitration in 2006, he agreed with a four year pact with his shortstop. Minaya then quickly moved and locked up David Wright to a six year deal. While Alderson is dealing with more than just two players, Minaya’s actions certainly show if the team has a plan an executes it, there should be no issues.

5. Budget

It is something Mets fans don’t want to hear, but it is a reality. After this season, the Mets will have Reyes, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Addison Reed, and Fernando Salas as free agents. The team will have to decide on options for Jerry Blevins and Asdrubal Cabrera. In addition, all of the Mets marquee starting pitchers will be in arbitration thereby escalating their salaries. Furthermore, Jeurys Familia will also be owed a lot of money in arbitration if he has another stellar year. Long story short, the Mets will have to spend some money this offseason.

In order to do that, the Mets need to have the money. As Ricco explains, “Once you’ve locked in [on an extension], you do limit flexibility in some ways.”

Now, it is easy to say the Mets can plug in Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith next year, but at this point, it is not known if they will be ready to be 2018 Opening Day starters. Putting forth such a plan would be folly, especially for a team that can still compete for a World Series.

Overall, the Mets concerns over not extending their pitchers have some merit, especially when you consider the injury issues. Still, the longer the Mets wait, the more expensive each of these starting pitchers will become. As they become more expensive, the chances of locking up more than one of them significantly decreases. Sooner or later, the Mets are going to have to take a chance on a couple of these pitchers if they have designs of competing for World Series over the next decade. With Harvey being a free agent after next season, the sooner the Mets begin executing a plan, the better.