Before the game last night, the Mets fired pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez because somehow they were not able to make a bullpen full of names like Drew Gagnon, Tim Peterson, Jacob Rhame, Hector Santiago, and whatever else Triple to Four-A relievers Brodie Van Wagenen supplied to create a viable bullpen.
This meant Phil Regan was once again a Major League pitching coach, and we saw the return of Ricky Bones as the bullpen coach. Their first duty was to make Walker Lockett a viable starter in a game against the Chicago Cubs. It worked for exactly two innings.
Entering the bottom of the third, the Mets had a 3-0 lead. The first run came when Carlos Gomez killed a rally by grounding into a double play with the bases loaded and no outs. The other two came against another epic Pete Alonso homer. It would prove to not be nearly enough.
In the bottom of the third, the only out Lockett would get was on a sacrifice bunt by the opposing pitcher Tyler Chatwood. It was an ugly six run inning which included five hits, two walks, and just further ugly play behind the plate by Wilson Ramos with a passed ball and wild pitch. At that point, it was 6-3 Cubs with the Mets having no real shot at a comeback.
The final score was 7-4 because Javier Baez homered off Robert Gsellman in the seventh, and Todd Frazier homered in the ninth off Adbert Alzolay. Speaking of Alzolay for a second, he was absolutely electric when he piggybacked this start allowing just that homer to Frazier while walking two and striking out five.
When you looked at these teams, you saw the Cubs as the team with a stable organization who was willing to spend and had a stable plan. When the Cubs needed to win a World Series, they hired Theo Epstein and not a former agent who was way in over his head. This is how you get the Cubs winning 90+ games every year, and you have the Mets falling apart since 2015.
Game Notes: New pitching coach Phil Regan is 82 years old. To put in perspective how old he is, he pitched against Ted Williams, and he was teammates with Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax and Al Kaline. Another interesting note is he was part of the 1969 Cubs team who lost the division to the Miracle Mets.
The Mets went to Atlanta with an opportunity to make a statement, and they did. It was just the wrong one:
1. The Mets needed to address their bullpen, defense, and depth. Brodie Van Wagenen completely failed in his efforts.
2. The bullpen has been the biggest culprit this year. What makes it all the more depressing is Anthony Swarzak has been better this year than Edwin Diaz. It gets better when you realize Swarzak is now a Brave pitching well against his former team.
3. The Mets followed a season with the second worst defense in the National League with the worst this year. There’s being a horrible shifting team, and there is also having players like J.D. Davis way out of position in left field.
4. On the topic of Davis, Gary Disarcina‘s send of him was inexplicably bad. It was the latest in bad decisions he’s made there. When you combine that with how horribly the infield has been shifted and his inability to help Amed Rosario improve defensively, you realize he’s been a bad coach for two years now. Really bad.
5. The defense killed Zack Wheeler‘s and Steven Matz‘s starts, but that was not the only reason. Both pitchers needed to be better in their starts. They needed to pick up their defense. They didn’t, and they unraveled and lost. Their failures are as much on them as the defense.
6. For Wheeler, this follows his career splits. His Junes are always terrible. He then rebounds to have a great second half. The problem for the Mets is his following this pattern is taking them out of contention, and it’s also not letting him build up trade value for when they have to sell him a month from now.
8. You get a sense of how bad things are when Mickey Callaway felt compelled to use Robert Gsellman to handle the ninth after deGrom’s start. Essentially, Callaway said he didn’t want one of his other relievers tacking on runs to his starter and ruining the good feeling that start would’ve had on his ace and the club.
9. It’s funny. That seemed like the perfect opportunity to use Stephen Nogosek to break him in easily. That said, as fans we’re never privy to the internal dynamics of a clubhouse and wanting to build up your players.
10. Nogosek and Daniel Zamora showed they are not answers to what has been ailing the bullpen. Instead, this was the team shifting deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s something to keep in mind when they previously passed on Craig Kimbrel and still have yet to sign Cody Allen.
11. That said, Chris Flexen showed us something. When he entered that game, the Braves had a real chance to put it out of reach. He stepped up and pitched two scoreless innings. In what was a lost series, he emerged as a potential bright spot.
12. Michael Conforto has been great lately with a 10 game hitting streak and a hit in 15 of the 17 games this month. In addition to his good defense in right field, he is easily the most underappreciated player on this roster.
13. After a bad May, Pete Alonso has picked it back up in June. He’s been a monster at the plate. It will be very interesting to see how this continues to play out this season.
14. Why isn’t Jeff McNeil playing in center? Juan Lagares hasn’t been good. Neither has Carlos Gomez. Really, McNeil can’t be worse and making him the everyday center fielder would allow the team to get Dominic Smith into the lineup everyday. Sure, Smith in left won’t help the defense, but he’s a better option than Davis out there.
15. For all the talk about Adeiny Hechavarria needing to play over Rosario, if you look, he’s hitting like Hechavarria again with him hitting .176/.222/.176 over the last two weeks and a .241/.276/.434 batting line overall. If you’re going to go down like this as a team, shouldn’t you be looking at Luis Guillorme in this role?
16. Both Brandon Nimmo and Justin Wilson have been shut down after the team’s repeated efforts to try to get them to play through their injuries. You really have to question how the Mets continue making this mistake with their players. It takes an extra level of a complete lack of self awareness and examination to repeatedly make the same mistake.
17. While this is a very down time for the Mets and being a Mets fan, just remember this team still has a young core, and they have been better than anyone could’ve hoped. While the hope for 2019 is fading fast (if not completely gone), there is real hope for 2020.
18. We could talk about the division being unofficially being out of reach and the Mets needing to focus on the Wild Card, but that’s only fooling ourselves. It’s time to sell. That said, if the Mets sweep the Cubs, I’ll probably talk myself into this team being a competitor. With Walker Lockett starting things off for the Mets, the chances of that happening are remote.
19. The worst place in baseball to be is inbetween being a competitor and a bad team. The Mets were in that position in 2002, and they made a horrendous trade with the Rockies trading Jason Bay as part of a package for Steve Reed. A few years later, we’d see it happen with the Scott Kazmir/Victor Zambrano trade. With Brodie Van Wagenen’s hubris, another awful deal like this is a real danger.
20. If Brodie Van Wagenen did nothing this offseason but keep what was here, the Mets would still be a fourth place team, but instead they would’ve been one with payroll flexibility and a farm system on the cusp of being the best in the game.
The Mets had an opportunity to not just get back to .500 this weekend. They had the chance to make a statement against the Cardinals while going over .500 and making a real push towards the Wild Card and division ahead of a big road trip. As we know, it didn’t happen:
1. Perhaps everything is different if Edwin Diaz could pitch through the rain. He couldn’t. Instead, he blew the save, and the Mets would have to wait another day to lose that game, and then because this is the Mets, blow another game.
2. The criticism directed towards Mickey Callaway in sticking with Diaz for the 10th inning of that suspended game was plain dumb. It’s not like he was running him right back out there. No, he used him after a night of rest, and remember, Diaz was their best available reliever. Sticking with him was the right call.
3. The criticism of Callaway has gone way over the top. Take for example Wally Matthews hit on him when Callaway said Dominic Smith was one of their better hitters against Cardinals starter Daniel Hudson. Matthews mocked Callaway saying they never faced one another instead of pointing out how left-handed batters are hitting .311/.411/.508 off Hudson. Of course, that fact stands in the way of the narrative that Callaway is an idiot.
4. If you want to get on Callaway, get on his ever allowing Mets pitching to pitch to Paul DeJong. For some reason, he turns into a hybrid monster of Chipper Jones and Barry Bonds whenever he plays the Mets. It’s infuriating, especially when it was DeJong who mostly cost the Mets a chance to at least split the series or possibly more.
5. With respect to DeJong, one of his homers came off of Chris Flexen. That’s a tough spot for Flexen, who was JUST converted to a reliever with one relief outing in Syracuse before getting called up. He pitched well otherwise, and the Mets need to give him more of a look. That said, it’s an indictment on Brodie Van Wagenen that Flexen needed to be rushed like this.
6. Speaking of Van Wagenen indictments, who is the fifth starter now that Noah Syndergaard is injured? Corey Oswalt is hurt. Flexen is a reliever. Ervin Santana hasn’t been good in years, and Walker Lockett has never been good. Maybe he’ll just trade another asset for a pitcher another organization clearly no longer wants.
7. Like when he traded cash considerations for Brooks Pounders and his career 8.69 ERA. If history is any guide, this will go the way of Tobi Stoner in terms of relievers with fun names who have a big arm and poor results.
8. The Mets entered this season with zero depth in their rotation and their outfield. It’s already caused a huge problem in the outfield, and it is potentially doing so again with the rotation.
9. The outfield really highlights the Mets stupidity. Right now, the Mets are considering playing Jeff McNeil, who is just a second baseman, or Michael Conforto, who will only play right field this year, to play center so they can get Smith, who is only going to play first base, into the lineup as the team’s left fielder.
10. McNeil made a game and season ending play when he nailed Jack Flaherty at the plate. If the Mets lost that game, there may not have been any coming back from it. It’s bizarre to think this was one of just two season altering types of a plays in the same four game series, the other being Amed Rosario‘s inability to get the relay throw in Diaz’s blown save.
11. Say what you want about this team, but they are resilient. They came back from Diaz’s blown save and loss, and they were in position to win the next game until Jeurys Familia blew it. They then came back the next night and won it. They then battled all day Sunday trying to pull out the series split.
12. This team can hit at home. Their 117 wRC+ at home is the fourth best in the majors and second best in the National League. The trick for the team is to find a way to bring that offense on the road.
13. Speaking of offense at home, the team should just leave J.D. Davis at Citi Field because it’s apparently the only ballpark in the majors he can hit. In his career, he hits .209/.274/.341 on the road, .150/.200/.300 at Minute Maid, and yet, somehow, .347/.424/.587 at Citi Field. Maybe there’s just something to the Mets infield dirt that makes those ground balls find a way through.
14. If you are looking for the reasons for the Mets struggles, it’s not Callaway. It’s the bullpen, which is terrible, and it is the defense, which may actually be worse than the bullpen. That’s a combination which is not going to play well on the road, and as we saw in this series, it is not going to play well against good teams.
15. As bizarre and tiresome as this sounds, the Mets still could be in this race. They’re just five games out of a Wild Card and 7.5 back of the Braves, and the Mets have the games against the opponents to make it a race. They just have to go out and to their job.
16. For what it’s worth, Flexen being in the pen along with a returning Justin Wilson may address the bullpen enough that they could be good there. Move McNeil to center with Smith in left, and maybe, this is a team ready to go. After all, we see the fight this team has in it. It’s really just a matter of putting it all together at once.
17. That said, if it was that easy, the Mets wouldn’t be in this position.
18. If you want to know if there is a real chance for the division, look no further than this series against the Braves. If they take two, it’s a whole new ball game. If they get swept, they’ve already lost the division, and they’ll be lucky if there’s still a Wild Card to put their focus.
20. You could buy the criticism directed at Syndergaard for not speaking reporters after his injury if the media held the General Manager and ownership to the same standards. Instead, they fight over themselves to throw jabs at the team’s designated punching bag Callaway, especially when you see how the Mets have handled Brandon Nimmo‘s STILL injured neck.
At this point, it’s clear Jason Vargas isn’t just pitching with a fork in him; he’s got the whole utensil drawer there. As such, it’s time to look for someone to replace him in the rotation. While Mets fans have been imploring the team to add Dallas Keuchel, it seems like the Mets would not be willing to add that much payroll.
Fortunately, the Mets still have some very interesting internal options:
Seth Lugo – definitively the Mets fifth best starter, but he arguably has more value in the bullpen.
Robert Gsellman – hasn’t had the success in the bullpen everyone imagined he be and may just be better suited to the rotation
Corey Oswalt – it’s hard to get a read on him with how the Mets have jerked him around, but he’s still had flashes of viability
Chris Flexen – he has a surgically repaired knee and is in terrific shape giving hope he can finally put that fastball/curve combo to good use.
Anthony Kay – Mets haven’t been shy rushing starters from Double-A to the majors, and Kay has excellent spin rates on his fastball and curve.
David Peterson – the Mets 2017 first round pick is off to a good start, which is more than you can say for Vargas.
Hector Santiago – he was an All-Star in 2015, and based on what we’ve seen having previously being an All-Star is all you need to get a rotation spot.
Drew Gagnon – in his one start last year, he at least managed to pitch into the fifth, which is much better than what we’ve seen this year.
P.J. Conlon – last year, Conlon showed he shouldn’t be trusted for more than 2-3 innings. It’d be nice to get a fifth starter who could provide that much length.
Walker Lockett – he’s in Extended Spring Training with an injury, and he had a 9.60 ERA in the majors last year, so all told, he’s an upgrade.
Paul Sewald – Mets have never been worried about pushing Sewald too far, so certainly, you could see them randomly asking five from him, and those five would likely be better than any five Vargas throws this year.
Mickey Callaway – had a 6.27 career ERA and last pitched in the majors 15 years ago, which means his arm is probably fresh enough to hit the mid 80s.
Luis Guillorme – it’s not like they’re using him as the team’s backup middle infielder, and we know he’d at least be able to field his position well, which unlike Vargas, would be at least one thing Guillorme could do well as a pitcher.
J.D. Davis – he has a career 3.38 ERA in limited appearances, which make sense considering he hits and fields his position like a pitcher.
Pete Alonso – his being on the Opening Day roster was supposed to be the difference between the Mets making the postseason and not. With Vargas being terrible every fifth day, he’s apparently going to need to do more than hit.
And therein lies the problem. The Mets sold their fans they desperately needed 12 games from Alonso while simultaneously punting 32 starts from the fifth spot in the rotation. That’s an even bigger joke than anything said in this post.
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.
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.