With just three weeks to go before Opening Day, the Mets have an interesting race for the backup catcher position between Travis d’Arnaud and Devin Mesoraco. This is a race d’Arnaud seemingly had won with the Mets trading Kevin Plawecki to the Indians, but with him not being quite ready to play early in the Spring, Mesoraco returned, and he is now arguably ahead of d’Arnaud in the competition.
Now, as organization depth, Mesoraco was a very good signing. He is familiar with the pitching staff, has some pop in his bat, and has the talent to be a backup catcher at the Major League level. In a vacuum, the Mets opting to carry Mesoraco as the backup catcher is a fine decision. However, this decision isn’t being made in a vacuum. It’s a decision between him and another player.
Understandably, Mets fans have been quite frustrated with d’Arnaud. He has yet to have a real healthy season in his career. He never took the next step forward from what should have been a springboard 2015 campaign. He aggravates most fans with his inability to throw out base stealers, a problem brought to light all the more when Noah Syndergaard is on the mound.
Still, despite the areas of the game where d’Arnaud struggles and the frustration over him not becoming what we hoped he would be, he is still a better Major League catcher than Mesoraco.
First and foremost, d’Arnaud is a better pitch framer – always has been and always will be. With the exception of the 2017 season, d’Arnaud has always been a good pitch framer, and in fact, he has routinely been one of the better pitch framers in the game. That’s important for a team built on pitching. For his part, Mesoraco has always been middling to just plain bad in that department.
Of course, not every pitch is a borderline call. Sometimes you just need a catcher to stop the ball to prevent it from going to the backstop and permitting the batter to take the next base. Since 2015, d’Arnaud has yielded just seven passed balls in 1995.1 innings whereas Mesoraco yielded eight just last year in 484.1 innings with the Mets.
Expanding it further to wild pitches, d’Arnaud has a combined 77 wild pitches and passed balls since 2015. For his part, Mesoraco has yielded just 57 in the same time frame albeit in approximately fewer 900 innings, which means Mesoraco yields a higher percentage of passed balls and wild pitches.
Now, it should be mentioned that d’Arnaud is not as good as Mesoraco is at throwing out base runners. For his career, d’Arnaud has only thrown out 21 percent to Mesoraco’s 24 percent, which includes 21 percent last year. Suffice it to say, this a strength in neither player’s game, and there is really a de minimim difference in their abilities in this department.
It may also be surprising to learn d’Arnaud is a much better hitter. Since 2015, d’Arnaud has hit .251/.309/.419 (96 OPS+). For his part, Mesoraco has hit .206/.297/.356 (77 OPS+).
Those numbers may come as a surprise due to the outburst Mesoraco had when he first joined the Mets. In fact, in his first 15 games with the Mets, he hit .261/.358/.630. The problem is after those 15 games, he hit .210/.290/.344.
Even after all of that, many may still point out to how well Mesoraco seemed to click with deGrom in what was a great Cy Young campaign for the Mets ace. What is odd is how people will raise that point while neglecting how d’Arnaud was deGrom’s catcher during deGrom’s 2014 Rookie of the Year campaign, and how he was deGrom’s catcher during the 2015 postseason. Fact is, deGrom pitched great last year because he is a great pitcher, and really when you break it down, people should at least contemplate whether deGrom could have actually been better with a better receiver last year.
Overall, once d’Arnaud is ready to play behind the plate, he should be the backup catcher over Mesoraco. He is a better catcher, and he is a better hitter. Really, when you break it down, the only thing Mesoraco has over d’Arnaud is he’s healthy. Of course, Mesoraco has the same checkered health record d’Arnaud has, so it may only be a matter of time before the Mets need to turn to a Tomas Nido anyway.
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.
At this moment in time, with perhaps a very minor move or two, it would appear the Mets are done adding pieces this offseason. The different holes in the roster have been noted, but what we have not really seen done is an examination of the Mets decision making process. It is something which should be done more earnestly.
Dumping Swarzak’s And Not Frazier’s Contract
Purportedly, one of the selling points of the trade to obtain Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz was to move the contracts of Jay Bruce (2 years, $28 million) and Anthony Swarzak ($8.5 million). While moving Bruce was certainly understandable, it was curious the Mets moved Swarzak instead of Todd Frazier ($9 million).
As we have seen relievers tend to be mercurial, and it is quite possible with a healthier season, Swarzak could have been much more productive in 2019. Depending on the moves the team made in the offseason, he reasonably could have been the last man in the bullpen.
As for Frazier, we have seen the Mets make his spot on the roster tenuous. Pete Alonso appears poised to be the first baseman sooner rather than later, and the Mets brought in Jed Lowrie with the purpose of playing him everyone, albeit at different positions across teh diamond.
Seeing there being a multitude of free agents who could play third base, wouldn’t it have been better to move Frazier over Swarzak? As we saw, the Mets could have replaced Frazier with Lowrie. Other options included Mike Moustakas, Marwin Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Neil Walker. The Mets could have accomplished the same versatility they sought to accomplish by signing multiple players from this group, and they could have had platoon options over Frazier’s bat. It’s noteworthy with the exception of Moustakas these are switch hitters making them more useful bench players than a player who has never played a reserve role in his career.
Why Didn’t McNeil Play Winter Ball?
The very minute the Mets obtained Cano, it was clear Jeff McNeil was going to play some outfield. Now, it could be argued the amount of outfield he played depended entirely on the other moves made this offseason, but nevertheless, the plan was always to have McNeil see some time in the outfield.
Considering McNeil played exactly 17.0 innings in left field in Triple-A last year and just 56.1 innings in the outfield in his six years in the minors, you would have thought the team would have found a spot for him to play winter ball to hone his craft. After all, the team did try to get Dominic Smith time playing outfield in the Dominican Winter League (it didn’t work out).
Now, because the team couldn’t make any moves to improve the outfield, they are going to play McNeil in left all Spring with the hopes he can get up to speed over the course of less than two months worth of games. It should also be noted this decision is moving Michael Conforto from his best defensive position to right, and it is forcing Brandon Nimmo to center, a position the Mets have been reticent to play him at the Major League level.
Why Trade Plawecki if d’Arnaud Wasn’t Ready?
In his four year career, we have all seen Kevin Plawecki‘s warts, but through it all, he has established himself as a viable backup catcher at the Major League level. While the Mets may have felt the need to choose between him and Travis d’Arnaud, that decision would not have been forced upon the Mets until the moment d’Arnaud was ready to play. As we see now, d’Arnaud is not ready to play.
Instead of keeping Plawecki, they traded him for an underwhelming return in the form of Sam Haggerty and Walker Lockett. The only player of value in the trade was Lockett, and he had been previoulsy traded for Ignacio Feliz, an 18 year old who signed for an $85,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic two years ago.
Instead of hedging their bets wisely, the team instead signed Devin Mesoraco. Say what you will about Plawecki, but he is far superior to Mesoraco. He’s a better pitch framer, and he is the better hitter (93 to 92 wRC+). And before anyone invokes Jacob deGrom, you need to explain how Mesoraco was the reason why deGrom was so great.
Where Are the Extensions?
There has been a growing trend in baseball for teams to lock up their young players. For example, the Yankees have already locked up Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks, and they are working on locking up Dellin Betances as well. These actions promise to keep the Yankees core together while keeping them cost controlled to what promises to be a team friendly discount.
At the moment, the Mets have free agency concerns of their own. After 2019, Zack Wheeler will be a free agent. After 2020, deGrom will be a free agent. After 2021, a significant portion of the Mets current Mets core will be free agents with Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz will be headed to free agency.
We know deGrom has put himself on the front burner, but what are the Mets doing besides him? After all, if CAA is in town, it means the team can negotiate extensions for both deGrom and Syndergaard. There is also nothing preventing them from reaching out to the agents for the other players.
Really, this is the biggest part of the offseason which needs examination. What exactly is the plan going forward? Do the Mets have intentions of building something much sustaining, or is this a one year gamble? Are the Mets playing things out in 2019 and reassessing. At this moment, we don’t know. Hopefully, the Mets do.
Assuming the Mets carry five bench spots, which is the norm for a National League team, the race for the last spot on the bench became much more crowded and complicated with the team’s signing of Adeiny Hechavarria. That question becomes further complicated when you question just what exactly the Mets real intentions are with Peter Alonso.
Assuming Alonso begins the season in Triple-A, the Mets already have bench spots allocated to Travis d’Arnaud and Keon Broxton. One of Juan Lagares or Jeff McNeil is going to play everyday meaning the other is going to be on the bench. That is three bench spots spoken for with two remaining. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
Considering the Mets parted with a package headlined by Luis Santana in what has been an oft criticized trade, you could see the pressure to carry J.D. Davis. Aside from the pressure, whether it be real or imagined, Davis does have the ability to play both corner infield spots adequately, and despite his deficiencies out there, the does have outfield experience.
The real positive for Davis is the power he could provide off the bench, but in order for that to be realized, he is going to have to increase the launch angle in his swing and his corresponding high ground ball rates. There is also a real question whether Chili Davis is the hitting coach to get him to realize his full power potential.
If the Mets are looking for a versatile infielder who can play the outfield, there is forgotten man T.J. Rivera. Rivera missed last season due to Tommy John surgery, but reports this Spring have been overly positive. While we know Rivera is not a particularly good defender, the Mets also know Rivera can be trusted to start at any position over a long stretch. Between the 2017 season and the World Baseball Classic, we have also seen him able to raise his game in big games.
The issue both players have is neither plays shortstop. For that matter, neither does Jed Lowrie, which arguably led to the Mets signing Hechavarria to a minor league deal. The one thing we do know with Hechavarria is he can play shortstop and play it well. Over the last four seasons combined, he has amassed a 26 DRS. The problem with him is he can’t hit as evidenced by his career 72 wRC+.
Hitting was also an issue for Luis Guillorme. In his brief time with the Mets, he was only able to muster a 53 wRC+ in 35 games. That is partially because Guillorme received uneven playing time. It is also because he has never been considered to be a great hitter. Still, there are two factors in Guillorme’s favor. First, like Hechavarria, he is a good defender. Second, Guillorme did show himself to be an adept pinch hitter last year hitting .273/.467/.364 in 15 pinch hitting appearances.
Now, if the Mets are looking for a more offensive oriented middle infielder who could play shortstop, the team does have Gavin Cecchini. Heading into last season, Cecchini had worked on his swing, and it had paid dividends with him hitting .294/.342/.468 in 30 games for Las Vegas before fouling a ball off his leg effectively ending his season. If Cecchini shows he is able to hit the same way, he could make a case for a bench spot for himself.
Standing in Cecchini’s way is his not being on the 40 man roster and his shortstop defense having pushed him to second base. The same could also be true for Dilson Herrera. For his part, Herrera was never truly considered anything more than a second baseman and that was before his shoulder injury. That shoulder injury cost him some of his offensive output until he rediscovered his stroke last year hitting .297/.367/.465 for the Reds Triple-A affiliate.
One other overlooked name for the Opening Day bench is Dominic Smith. If Alonso were to start the year in Triple-A, the Mets would have to find playing time for Alonso, Gregor Blanco, Rajai Davis, Rymer Liriano, and Tim Tebow between first base, three infield spots, and DH. Even with how down the team may be on Smith, it is difficult to believe they would leave him in Syracuse to fight for playing time between those three spots.
Instead, the team could carry him on the Major League roster. Certainly, Smith reporting to camp with not just his keeping the weight off but also adding muscle, helps improve his chances. His being a good defensive first baseman capable of playing left field in a pinch should also help him.
Of course, Smith would have to compete with all of the aforementioned players as well as Danny Espinosa just to claim a bench spot. He would also have to count on the team not putting Alonso on the Opening Day roster, which judging from the improvements Alonso has made, is not a safe assumption.
Really, when breaking it down, the Mets have plenty of options to fill out their bench, and ultimately for this team to reach its full potential, they are going to have to find the right mix of players to complement their everyday players. Hopefully, everyone comes to play making this as difficult a decision as the Mets will have all year.
With the Mets hiring an agent as opposed to a front office baseball executive, you knew Brodie Van Wagenen was going to have a learning curve. As such, he was going to make some bad moves, and certainly, you knew he was going to make some curious decisions. Some may inure to the Mets benefit while others may not. If these questionable decisions do work out for the Mets, then a World Series may very well be in the team’s future.
Why Isn’t Cano Playing First Base?
Robinson Cano was the big bat the Mets acquired this offseason, and the plan is for him to be a fixture in the Mets lineup. However, that is for as many games as he is able to play. To his credit, Brodie Van Wagenen has been quite vocal about the need to give Cano more days off than he is accustomed due to Cano being 36 years old.
If we harken back to 1999, Bobby Valentine did this with a 40 year old Rickey Henderson to get the last good season out of Henderson. That also led to the Mets claiming the Wild Card and going to the NLCS.
For Cano, it is not just his age, but it is also his position. Players who play up the middle play the more taxing defensive positions in baseball. That takes more of a toll on a 36 year old player. Given Jed Lowrie‘s presence on the team, you have to wonder why the team doesn’t make Lowrie the second baseman with Cano playing first.
Putting Cano at first would be putting him in a position where he would not be as subject to fatigue over the course of the season. It should also be noted with Cano already 36 years old and his signed for five more seasons, it is a position switch he will eventually have to make. If he is going to have to make the switch, why not do it now so the Mets could coax more at-bats and games from him over the course of the season?
Where Is Davis Getting His Opportunity?
With J.D. Davis‘ minor league stats, you could make the argument all he needs to succeed at the Major League level is an opportunity to play at the Major League level. Certainly, it’s a fair point to raise when someone hits .342/.406/.583 in 85 Triple-A games and .175/.248/.223 in 42 MLB games.
The problem is you’d be hard-pressed to where exactly he would get that opportunity.
He’s behind Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie at the third base depth chart. He’s behind Peter Alonso and Frazier on the first base depth chart. He’s a right-handed compliment to right-handed hitters. He’s not suited to play outfield in the majors, and even if he was, he’s buried on the outfield depth chart as well. Combine that with Lowrie and Jeff McNeil being the versatile players on the roster, and you have to wonder where he gets hit at-bats.
After you are done contemplating that, you are left to wonder why the team would trade three good prospects in Luis Santana, Ross Adolph, and Scott Manea for him when they could’ve just as easily signed Mark Reynolds or Matt Davidson.
Was McNeil Playing LF the Original Plan?
One of the benefits of having McNeil on the roster is having a versatile player on the roster. Despite the team’s initial reluctance last year, he is someone who has received playing time at all four infield positions, and he has always trained in the outfield. To that extent, penciling him as the team’s starting left fielder, even against just right-handed pitching made a ton of sense.
That plan made even more sense when you consider Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are both capable center fielders with Juan Lagares being the best defensive center fielder in the game. Really, breaking it down, moving McNeil to left field was probably the best way to handle the Mets resources.
However, the plan to move McNeil to left field does raise some interesting questions. For example, why didn’t the team send him to winter ball to play outfield. Also, why would the team expend resources to obtain Keon Broxton only to make him a fifth outfielder? Moreover, if McNeil is your outfielder, shouldn’t the team have a better insurance option against his inability to play left field than Broxton?
What’s the Plan for Backup Catcher?
When the Mets traded Kevin Plawecki to the Indians, they were effectively announcing Travis d’Arnaud was healthy enough to be the backup. That was called into question when Mickey Callaway said Devin Mesoraco signed with the Mets because of his relationship with Jacob deGrom.
It would seem if the Mets signed Mesoraco to catch deGrom the team now has one catcher too many. Does this mean the team is planning on moving him on the eve of Opening Day, or is Mesoraco willing to catch in the minors until the inevitable injury to d’Arnaud or Wilson Ramos. If that is the case, what impact does this have on Tomas Nido, and his future?
On the bright side, the Mets have good depth at the catcher position, but that only remains true to the extent they are keeping everyone. If they are the challenge is then to keep everyone happy and sharp, which is much easier said than done.
Where’s the Starting Pitching Depth?
With Jason Vargas struggling since the 2017 All-Star Break, you would have thought the Mets would have done more to address their pitching depth. That goes double when you consider the team traded Justin Dunn, their best starting pitching prospect, and with David Peterson and Anthony Kay being at least a couple of years away.
With the health issues facing Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, you would’ve thought the Mets would have been pressed more to add starting pitching depth. When you couple that with Van Wagenen knowing Jeff Barry councils his pitching clients to limit their innings, you would believe the Mets would have pressed to go more than four deep in the pitching rotation.
But the Mets haven’t. Not really. Their depth is essentially the same group who posted an ERA over 5.00 as MLB staters along with Hector Santiago, a pitcher now better suited to the bullpen.
When you look at this rotation the best health they had was in 2015, and that was a year the team needed 10 starting pitchers to get through the season. This team has nowhere near that type of depth.
As it turns out, more than anything, it may turn out to be the pitching depth which is the biggest key to the 2019 season. If the team is healthy, and deGrom and Syndergaard go against their agent’s advice, it is possible the team has enough pitching to get through the season. If the pitchers do impose pitching limits and there is more than one pitching injury, the team’s hopes of winning anything may be done, and that is even if the other questions are answered in the affirmative.
The first to go was Daniel Murphy. That was the result of the Mets deciding they would rather have Ben Zobrist then later Neil Walker as their second baseman in 2016. Juan Uribe would also depart via free agency as he would pursue an opportunity to be the Indians everyday third baseman.
Kelly Johnson would leave via free agency, but the Mets would soon realize their mistake by not re-signing him. As a result, they would trade Akeel Morris to the Braves to reacquire Johnson. That move would be a key factor in the Mets making it back to the postseason in 2016.
While Murphy, Uribe, and Johnson left via free agency, the Mets just plain got rid of Ruben Tejada. Even with Chase Utley destroying his leg, the Mets would tender him a contract. On the eve of Opening Day, the Mets would opt to release Tejada thereby saving them some money.
Lucas Duda lasted a little bit longer. In 2016, he would suffer a back injury, which cost him most of the season. He would rebound in 2017, but the Mets wouldn’t. As a result, he was moved at the trade deadline in exchange for Drew Smith.
That left just Flores and Wright. With Wright going down just 37 games into the 2016 season, it was really just Flores remaining. Even with the Mets not winning the past few seasons, Flores was a reminder of that glorious 2015 season with a number of walk-off hits and game winning RBI. Those memories are now history as Flores was non-tendered, and he signed a free agent deal with the Diamondbacks.
Really, when you look at the Mets team, 2015 seems forever ago.Looking at the current roster, the only position players who will be active on Opening Day are Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares. If Travis d’Arnaud is healthy, that makes three, and when he returns, if he returns, Yoenis Cespedes will make four. There isn’t much remaining from the pitching staff either. From the starting rotation, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz remains, and in the bullpen, Jeurys Familia is only one remaining, and that is because he was brought back in free agency.
It really is a shame too. That 2015 group was very likeable. It was a team who electrified not just Mets fans, but all of baseball. At the time, it seemed like this was going to be the dawn of a new era of Mets baseball. If things broke right, it could be another run like there was with the 1980s Mets teams. Sadly, it never happened.
Still, we have the memories. Hopefully, the Mets now have a team who could win. And who knows? Perhaps we will one day talk about how the players who got their experience with the 2015 team being the players who leaned on that experience to help put the Mets over the top in 2019.
Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has been quite vocal in his support of Peter Alonso, and you can understand why with the season Alonso just had last year. However, with the way the Collective Bargaining Agreement is structured, it makes little sense having Alonso on the Opening Day roster.
As we saw back in 2015, the Cubs played Mike Olt for six games to start the season. After he hit .133/.188/.333, Olt was put on the disabled list with a fracture. Three days later, Kris Bryant was added to the Major League roster as was long anticipated. By working it this way, the Cubs gained an extra year of control. As a result, Bryant will be a free agent after the 2021 and not the 2020 season.
That decision did not prevent the Cubs from winning 97 games in 2015, and it certainly did nothing to prevent the Cubs from winning the 2016 World Series. That is an important consideration for the Mets with respect to Alonso.
When you break it down, it would be irresponsible for the Mets to put Alonso on the Opening Day roster. If Alonso is as great as the Mets believe, you want an extra year of control over him. As a result, despite assertions to the contrary, it is very possible the Mets keep Alonso in the minors to start the season.
Now, the Mets have built their roster to allow that decision. By signing Jed Lowrie, the Mets could go with Lowrie at third and Todd Frazier at first base. The team could also opt for T.J. Rivera, who was the first baseman for Puerto Rico in the last World Baseball Classic. Going deeper, J.D. Davis has played first base. The team has wanted to make Travis d’Arnaud more versatile, so maybe they can hide him at first base as he works to strengthen his throwing arm post Tommy John.
Then, there is former first round pick Dominic Smith.
Smith has not received a true shot in the majors. He was called up later than Amed Rosario in 2016, and he struggled mightily. While Rosario did as well, the Mets only brought in competition for Smith, which based upon his 2016 performance was fair game. Smith then all but handed over the first base job to Adrian Gonzalez by being late to the first Spring Training game, a game he was slated to start, and then he was injured.
What is interesting is what happened after that. Gonzalez was released, and the Mets opted to go with Wilmer Flores at first base all summer long while making Smith an outfielder. The Mets did this even when the Mets were well out of the race.
Now, this is a problem this current regime inherited much like how Alonso wasn’t called up last year and now have to consider whether to forego another year of control. If the plan is to hold back Alonso for a couple of weeks, that means Smith will have a chance to compete for a position on the Opening Day roster.
If you’re going to open up a competition for first base, even if it is for the first base position over the first few weeks, that means Smith has a chance. The question which ensues is what happens if Smith outplays everyone in Spring Training, including Alonso. What if he reports to Spring Training in shape? What if he is stronger and now able to hit the ball with more authority?
What if Smith claims the Opening Day first base job? Better yet, let’s assume he gets the chance. What happens if he hits and plays good defense at first? What do the Mets do if they are winning early in the season with Smith being part of the equation? Do the Mets stick with Smith, or do they turn around and give the first base job to Alonso the first chance they get?
Right now, the narrative is Alonso is better than Smith; that Smith is a bust. Lost in that is Smith is younger, and he has taken his lumps. He has the chance to learn what he has to do. Much like how he kept the weight off last season, we may see a more mature Smith who has taken the next step forward to become a productive Major League player.
It does not make sense to overlook Smith. He is still young, and he still has potential. For all we know, he may still yet prove to be better than Alonso. It’s also true Alonso is the better player. At this point, it is all theory, and since it is theory, no possibilities should be discounted. That includes allowing Smith the opportunity to outplay Alonso and win the first base job not just in 2019 but in the ensuing seasons.
If the Mets are truly doing the right thing, they should let each player get a real shot at first base. That means Smith and Alonso. It also means Frazier and the rest of the roster. Ultimately, you win the division by sending out your best players. Today, the Mets think that’s Alonso, and that’s fine. The real trick is having an open mind to pivot from that decision if Alonso struggles or someone else proves themselves.
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.
Kevin Plawecki has had an oddly turbulent Mets career. He was thrust into action well before he was ready to play in the majors because of a Travis d’Arnaud injury. In fact, due to the many d’Arnaud injuries there were, Plawecki was constantly pressed into action before he was ready from 2015 to early 2017.
In many ways, Plawecki was always a symbol of what went wrong, and Mets fans always held it against him. It got to the point where he actually deleted his Twitter account after a face plant sliding short into second base. He become a punchline when it the contents of his locker were revealed. Not once but twice, he had the ignominy of being a position player pitching.
However, through it all Plawecki persevered.
While many reflect back to how poorly he hit in 2015, fact is he was an exceptional pitch framer. At a time when the Mets were more M*E*T*S* than baseball team, they needed everything they could get from everyone. His pitch framing helped an already dominant pitching staff get that extra call they needed, and if you remember correctly, that pitching staff needed every break they could get while they were out there trying to win 1-0 games. In some ways, the run in 2015 would not have been possible had Plawecki not been back there doing a good job behind the plate.
It also needs to be noted that after setback after setback after setback, Plawecki was undeterred. The player who was a career .206/.282/.278 hitter over his first 437 Major League plate appearances would take advantage of finally receiving some extended playing time in Triple-A. When he came back up in August 2017, he would hit .303/.411/.474.
Yes, last year, he took a bit of a step back, and it was partially due to injury. Still, he emerged as someone who was at least a capable Major League backup. His 93 wRC+ was 18th best among Major League catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. When you break it down a little more, his being in the top 20 shows he’s a capable Major League starting catcher.
Maybe that says more about Major League catchers than it does Plawecki, but remember this is someone who was partially on his way out of baseball.
After the Mets obtained Wilson Ramos to improve their catching situation, it arguably made Plawecki expendable. Unsurprisingly, the Indians brought him in with the hopes he could not only hit like he did in 2017, but that he could also be behind the plate like he was in 2015. Given his age and his skillset, Plawecki is going to get a chance.
Also, given the weak AL Central, Plawecki is going to get an opportunity to go to the postseason once again. If he does get that chance, best of luck to him. His ability to persevere through everything has been commendable, and he deserves a real chance to prove himself. It should not surprise anyone if he does a good job there. We should all be rooting he does.
Yesterday, Yasmani Grandal accepted a one year deal from the Milwaukee Brewers for one year $18.25 million. He accepted that deal at a time when it appeared few if any teams were interested in him, which is odd considering how many teams needed catching help.
The Braves, who had approximately $54 million come off the payroll, opted to sign Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson for $25 million. Despite a low payroll and a tightening NL East, they opted for a backup catcher than Grandal.
The Athletics made a surprising run last year and had Lucroy as a pending free agent. They needed to fortify a few positions, including catcher, and they opted for Chris Herrmann to a one year $1 million deal.
The Astros, who are trying to build a team to overtake a Red Sox team who needed just five games to beat them in the ALCS, opted for Robinson Chirinos on a one year $5.75 million deal.
The White Sox are contemplating building a team who can make a run in a weak AL Central signed James McCann to a one year $2.5 million deal.
Last year, the Phillies were nervous about Jorge Alfaro‘s ability to take home a team in a pennant race. Accordingly, they traded for Wilson Ramos despite his being on the DL. They haven’t pursued any free agent catchers.
The Nationals, who have to find a way to reclaim the NL East and do it potentially with Bryce Harper, opted to go with the 35 year old Kurt Suzuki. To be fair, they did sign Patrick Corbin to a $140 million deal.
The Nationals also opted to obtain Yan Gomes from the Indians. This left the Indians looking for a catcher, so they obtained Kevin Plawecki from the Mets, and they settled his arbitration case for $1.3 million.
Plawecki was available because they signed Ramos for two years $19 million, and the team opted to pair the injury prone catcher with the more injury prone Travis d’Arnaud.
Supposedly, the Mets shifted to Ramos after Grandal rejected a four year $60 million deal. The problem there is that didn’t happen.
Jon Heyman of Fancred reported the Mets offered less than $60 million, and Ken Rosenthal of The Atlantic reported the Mets didn’t offer it. Instead, they just discussed parameters for a deal. It’s much like what happened with Jose Reyes in 201- before he signed with the Marlins.
We can all debate how real the Mets offer was, and how prudent their course of action was. Fact is, the Mets obtained a starting catching option while the rest of baseball have dabbled in part-time, backup, and frankly over the hill catchers.
To a team, they passed on offering Ramos a significant enough multi-year deal, and if they did, they didn’t make one sufficient enough to prevent Grandal from accepting a one year deal.
This is despite the aforementioned teams needing a catcher. The Red Sox, Rays, Athletics, Angels, Dodgers, and Rockies also need a starting catcher. Keep in mind, that’s just a list of probable contenders. There’s a bigger list of teams needing a catcher and those who want to be contenders.
All of these teams passed on a catcher who is probably the best catcher in baseball. He’s that because he is consistently one of the best pitch framers in the game while being top three in wRC+ among catchers since 2016.
These teams could argue they want J.T. Realmuto, who some believe is the best catcher in baseball. Problem is the Marlins asking price has been unrealistically high and only one team can get him. Far more teams than one need a catcher.
Yet, somehow, Grandal gets a one year deal. For that matter, Ramos gets a two year deal.
Somehow, the Mets, Braves, Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Astros, and White Sox independently determined none of the free agents available merited more than a two year deal, and the other 23 MLB teams thought nothing of letting this happen.
This is happening at a time when Forbes is reporting Major League Baseball has record revenues of $10.3 billion.
Simultaneously, there has been a tepid market for Harper and Manny Machado. These are two 26 year old superstars who have been in the top 15 in fWAR since they broke into the majors while combing for 10 All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves, four top 10 MVP finishes, and a Silver Slugger.
This is what collusion looks like, and this is the type of thing which will force the players hand prior to the expiration of the CBA in 2021.
Sure, teams will claim they’re smarter now, and they’ve seen how you can’t win by just spending money while ignoring the World Series features the two highest payrolls in baseball. Snark aside, maybe teams are smarter.
It just seems odd they’re all collectively smart enough where they agree catchers shouldn’t get more than a two year deal and two of the best players in the sport wouldn’t put their team over the top.