With the Mets cutting payroll and having holes and question marks across the 25 and 40 man roster, it is finally time for Juan Lagares to sink or swim.
With respect to Lagares, he was never supposed to have been a question mark. Certainly, the Mets didn’t feel this way when they gave him a four year $23 million contract extension on the eve of the 2015 season.
When giving Lagares the extension, the expectation was Lagares would continue being a Gold Glover out there, and he would eventually learn to hit a little. While hindsight may be 20/20, this was about as good a bet as there could have been with Lagares hitting .281/.321/.382 with a 102 OPS+ and a 101 wRC+ in 2014. His ability to be a league average hitter and otherworldly in center made him a 5.4 bWAR and 3.9 fWAR player that year. That made him the best player on the Mets.
Since that season, things have fallen apart for him. In 2015, he regressed at the plate, which would have been palatable if he didn’t regress even more in the field. In the subsequent two seasons, Lagares seems to have been getting back to the player he was in 2014, but he has suffered significant thumb injuries in successive seasons.
This could be a cause for pessimism, but we saw the 2014 Lagares in the field again last year. That Lagares wasn’t just a Gold Glover, he was the guy you expected to catch everything. He was the guy who was head and shoulders above even the best defensive center fielders in the game.
Among center fielders with at least 550 innings last year, Lagares was third overall and tops in the National League with a 15 DRS. He was also the Major League leader with a 24.7 UZR/150. You could chalk these up to small sample sizes all the like, but consider the numbers he put up in 2013 and 2014:
- 2013: 26 DRS, 33.1 UZR/150
- 2014: 26 DRS, 25.3 UZR/150
At his core this is who Lagares is. And with all of Major League Baseball prioritizing hitting the ball in the air, having Lagares patrolling center field is an imperative.
As we saw, the Mets pitching staff all regressed last year. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman weren’t the hot shot rookies they were in 2016. Even when “healthy,” Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler weren’t who we expected them to be. Even Jacob deGrom, who had a resurgent year a year after having ulnar nerve transposition surgery, wasn’t the same pitcher posting career worsts in ERA, ERA+, FIP, and HR/9.
So far, the Mets have done a lot to help address these issues. They’ve hired Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland. They’ve discussed not allowing their pitchers go a third time through the lineup. While both could help, it is indisputable having Lagares in center will be an enormous benefit as well.
Now, if you can get Lagares to hit even a little, then you have the player you thought you had in 2014. You have the player you thought would have a collection of Gold Gloves at this point in his career. You have the player the Mets once thought was worth $23 million. You have an answer to one of the biggest question marks on a Mets roster that has more holes in it that a piece of Swiss cheese attacked with a hole puncher.
Overall, the best bet for the Mets in 2018 is a healthy and productive Lagares. He helps the pitching staff return to form, and he allows the Mets to allocate money to other areas of the team that are in more desperate need of addressing. And if that doesn’t work, you at least have a platoon partner for Brandon Nimmo out there . . . .
Earlier reports about the Mets (in)ability to spend have gone by the wayside with Sandy Alderson getting annoyed with the questions. In its place, we have Sandy playing the role of Omar Minaya with the Mets being linked to key players this free agency:
- The Mets want Carlos Santana because he’s a “difference maker.”
- They have interest in Lorenzo Cain who could solve their OF issues.
- They’re monitoring the second base market, especially players like Dee Gordon and Jason Kipnis.
- They want to give Jacob deGrom a contract extension.
- Underperforming players like Dominic Smith will not be guaranteed anything, and in fact, will have to earn a role on the team. That is, if there is still a role left to earn.
- And the coup de grace, the Mets may enter the bidding for the Japanese Babe Ruth – Shohei Otani.
In addition to that, the likeable and infectious new Mets manager Mickey Callaway has been making the rounds. He’s talking about keeping players accountable, including but not limited to getting Yoenis Cespedes to drink water.
I’m sure it’s just a coincidence this flurry of big ticket names and moves Mets fans have been clamoring for happened just as the team began selling single game tickets:
— New York Mets (@Mets) November 14, 2017
It’s also purely coincidental the Mets are making this push a season after attendance dropped, ticket prices rose, and the team lost 92 games.
Given how the Mets have been operated post-Madoff, and given the timing of this news, color me skeptical. Really, it was just days ago the Mets were talking Wily Peralta.
I’m not falling for it, and I’m not rushing to go out and buy tickets. If the Mets truly want my business, and for me to go to more than a game or two, go get one of those aforementioned players. Better yet, get a couple of them and build a World Series contender.
Since he was first called up to the majors in 2015, Hansel Robles has been an enigma for the Mets. For stretches of time, he’s just unhittable. For others, he’s pointing at the sky while another homer clears the wall. For the three years Robles has been performing this Jekyll and Hyde routine, the Mets have been looking for a reliable arm in the bullpen to handle critical innings.
Things got so bad for Robles this year the Mets demoted him to Triple-A in an attempt to straighten himself out. The move didn’t seem to do much good. After being recalled on July 17th, Robles would make 25 appearances going 3-4 with a blown save, a 4.11 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, and a 4.1 BB/9. What’s scary is he is probably due for a regression off of those numbers as he yielded just a .244 BABIP.
Still, there are many who believe in Robles. The reason is Robles has the type of stuff you want in a reliever. He throws a fastball in the mid to high 90s. His throws a hard slider and change-up (even if that’s a big of a misnomer) that has movement. All three of his pitches can generate swings and misses.
You can also trust him against left-handed batters. For his career, Robles limits left-handed batters to a .178/.281/.335 batting line. As a point of comparison, Jerry Blevins, a terrific LOOGY in his own right has yielded a .211/.264/.304 batting line. If Robles was a lefty, teams would be falling over themselves to give him a multi-year deal.
Another overlooked fact is Robles pitches much better at Citi Field. At home, Robles has a 3.35 ERA and 1.148 WHIP allowing batters to hit .209/.294/.385 off of him. On the road, he has a 4.65 ERA, 1.371 WHIP, and batters hit .234/.325/.408 off of him.
Finally, he’s been successful in a myriad of roles. We’ve seen him pitch four innings out of the pen and come into a bases loaded no out situation and get out of the jam without allowing a run. We’ve also seen him implode.
The task now for Callaway is to harness Robles in a way where he looks like the best part of Robles and not the part of Robles that has Mets fans doing their own point to the sky. Essentially, Callaway has to rehabiliate Robles much in the way he once rehabilitated and resurrected Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Having watched Robles for three years, we know that is no easy task. However, it is Callaway’s ability to handle these projects that helped get him this job. If he can unlock Robles like he has done with other pitchers in the past, the Mets bullpen will move from liability to question mark to strength.
Really, pitchers like Robles is part of the reason why Callaway is here in the first place. Hopefully, pitchers like Robles will be why Callaway succeeds as a manger with the Mets.
With the Mets hiring Mickey Callaway as their new manager, they now have to hire someone to succeed Dan Warthen as the team’s pitching coach. When making this hire, the Mets have to walk a fine line here. First and foremost, they need someone who is going to help the Mets pitching staff pitch to the best of their ability. Close behind, they need someone who is going to work well with Callaway.
Rationally speaking, that would be an individual that has worked with Callaway in the past.
The overriding reason why Callaway got the Mets managerial job is because of his work with the Indians pitching staff since the 2013 season. During that time, Callaway has certainly developed not just a style of working with pitchers, but also a philosophy. As the manager of the Mets, he is likely going to want to see his philosophy instilled into this Mets pitching staff.
If it isn’t, it could create some problems. As is human nature, if Callaway does not believe his message is getting through to the pitchers through his pitching coach, he is more likely going to meddle. That will have repercussions. One such repercussion is his pitching staff may now be getting conflicting messages causing them to struggle, if they weren’t struggling already. Another potential issue is while Callaway is addressing the pitching staff, he may be distracted from handling his other managerial duties. Certainly, there could be other issues with far more reaching implications.
The best way to counteract these issues is for the Mets to hire a pitching coach who has had a working relationship with Callaway. Certainly, if a rapport already exists between Callaway and the new pitching coach, it would ensure things work out as smoothly as possible when it comes to Callaway getting his message across to his pitching staff.
This will also help ease the transition for Callaway from pitching coach to manager. It is important the Mets do this as Callaway has no professional managerial experience.
Fortunately for the Mets, there are two pitching coach candidates available for the Mets who have previously worked with Callaway. The first is Jason Bere, who was the bullpen coach for the Indians the past three seasons. With Callaway and Bere coaching the Indians pitching staff, the Indians have had the best American League in the American League and third best in baseball during that time span. During that same 2015 – 2017 time span, the Indians led the American League in strikeouts. For a Mets staff that struggled with walks last year, it should also be noted the Indians had the fewest walks allowed in the majors over that time frame.
Now, if Callaway and/or the Mets don’t see Bere as a fit, the team should look to the Indians Minor League Pitching Coordinator Ruben Niebla. As previously noted, it was Niebla who helped cultivate the talented Indians pitching staff that Callaway and Bere coached so effectively at the Major League Level.
In the end, the pitching coach hire is the most important one the Mets will make for Callaway’s pitching staff. They need someone who is not only going to help their pitchers, they need someone who is going to help Callaway succeed. Unless Callaway does not want to hire Bere or Niebla, the Mets should be doing all they possibly can do to bring them in and help their manager and pitching staff have all the tools they need to succeed.
Ideally, the Mets would bring on both Bere and Niebla on board as the Mets have vacancies at both pitching and bullpen coach. After all, if you are looking to replicate what the Indians had when you hired Callaway, you might as well bring everyone responsible for their success to the Mets.
Now that Mickey Callaway was named as the 21st manager in Mets history, both he and the Mets now begin the process of building a coaching staff around him. That process includes hiring a new pitching coach to replace Dan Warthen.
So far, we have heard the Mets are considering a number of names including Dave Righetti, Dave Eiland, and Chris Bosio. Other candidates who were considered were Mike Maddux and Jim Hickey, who have taken jobs elsewhere, and Ricky Bones, who is rumored to be joining Alex Cora‘s staff in Boston.
The Mets have certainly compiled an impressive list. However, one name is missing from that list whom the Mets should consider – Ruben Niebla.
In 2013, Callaway and Niebla would swap roles for the Indians. With Callaway being promoted to become the Major League pitching coach, Niebla would become the minor league pitching coordinator after serving as the Indians interim pitching coach. As a tandem, the two have helped build the impressive Indians pitching staff.
With respect to Kluber, Niebla is the one who was pinpointed for taking the pitcher to the next level. The moment began when Niebla one day said to Kluber, “We want you to try throwing a two-seamer.” (Washington Post).
From that point forward, Kluber’s stock rose, and he’s now a perennial Cy Young contender. That moment began when Niebla not only made the suggestion, but also showed Kluber his preferred grip.
In fact, if you look at the Indians staff, many throw Niebla’s two seamer. That two seamer has helped the Indians post the best team ERA in the majors.
If this pitch is truly responsible for part of the success of these pitchers, we may soon hear the Niebla two seamer in the same breath of the “Warthen Slider.” For that to happen, Niebla needs a chance.
As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Niebla has drawn interest in a major league coaching position. While the Mets have not been linked to Niebla, they very well might soon be with the hiring of Callaway.
Certainly, there’s already a level of report between Callaway and Niebla. The question is whether it’s enough for Callaway to want to bring him aboard. It’s also a question if the Mets want to give him that job.
Overall, it seems like Niebla may very well get a job as a pitching coach this offseason. With the Mets hiring Callaway, presumably in large part due to his work with Indians pitchers, the Mets should take a long look at the coach who helped Callaway make those pitchers so successful.
Editor’s Note: This was first published on MMO
Anytime you enter into a search for a new manager, you are really dealing with the realm of the unknown. For first time managers, you really have no idea if that person is truly ready for the big leagues, he is better suited to the minors, or is a better coach. For every Davey Johnson you hire, there are also the Joe Torres of the world, who were talented managers, but not ready to manage at the time you gave him the job.
Really, in these instances, you have to look at the relevant information available and the recommendations of other baseball people. Mostly, you’re going with your gut.
The Mets gut told them to go out there and hire Mickey Callaway.
The Mets only needed one interview to choose Callaway over former manager and Mets coach Manny Acta. It was sufficient enough for them to bypass current hitting coach Kevin Long.
Callaway had impressed so much during his interview and during his time with the Cleveland Indians, the Mets were not willing to wait. They had Fred Wilpon sit down and sell him on the franchise similar to how the team once did with Billy Wagner and Curtis Granderson.
Give the Mets credit here. They identified their man, and they did all they could do to bring him into the organization. Deservedly so, many complimented the Mets on making a smart hire, including the fans who were skeptical of the direction the Mets would go.
Their man also happened to be a pitching guru, who will now be tasked with the responsibility of fixing Matt Harvey as well as finding a way to keep Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and Jeurys Familia healthy for a full season.
If Mets fans want a reason to be excited for this season, there is no bigger reason than Callaway choosing to manage this pitching staff. By doing so, he’s announced he’s a believer, and he’s put his and the Mets future on this lines.
The team hiring Callaway so early and so aggressively had a domino effect. It looks like the first domino to fall will be hitting coach Kevin Long.
Long has had a positive impact on the players on this Mets roster. He helped turn Yoenis Cespedes from a slugger to a star. By OPS+ and wRC+, Asdrubal Cabrera had two of his best five offensive seasons. Michael Conforto would prove he could hit left-handed pitching at the Major League level.
With Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith being two cornerstones of the franchise, Long was exactly the man you wanted to help them reach their offensive ceilings. Now, that won’t happen because Long is likely gone.
Another person you would want to help lead young players like Rosario and Smith is Joe Girardi. In his one year with the Marlins, and this past season working with young players like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the Yankees made a surprising run this season that ended with a Game 7 loss in the ALCS.
What is interesting is the Mets were rumored to want Girardi. As reported by the New York Post, the Mets were looking to possibly “pounce” on Girardi if the Yankees did not bring him back.
That was written during the ALDS when it appeared Girardi’s job was in jeopardy. After the Yankees recovered and upset the Indians and took the Astros to seven games, there weren’t too many people who stuck believed Girardi would be looking for another job.
And yet, he is. This should at least raise some questions whether the Mets should have done their due diligence. Maybe another round of interviews were in order. Conducting that extra round could have left the Mets open to the chance of not making an hire before Girardi became available.
Maybe if there was a second round of interviews, Long feels more appreciated instead of taking his binders to another job. That other job could be as the manager or hitting coach of the Washington Nationals where he would reunite with Daniel Murphy. Maybe with Long at the helm, the Nationals finally get past the NLDS.
If that were to happen, and if Callaway falters, it would be too much for Mets fans to bear. Yet again, the Mets let one of their own go to the Nationals leading them to further success because they were enamored with someone from another organization. Like with Murphy and Justin Turner, Sandy Alderson will have opened himself up to justifiable second guessing.
The team jumped the gun costing themselves a chance to hire a terrific manager in Girardi, and it might have cost them the opportunity to retain a coach they thought highly enough of they almost made him their manager. The Mets were left with a manager who has never managed professionally, and they have to rebuild a coaching staff.
Instead of making the safe choice like they did when they hired Terry Collins, the Mets instead chose to go for the high risk – high reward hire. It worked with Davey, and it failed with Torre.
This is exactly why the Mets need to be right about their decision to hire Callaway.
For the most part, Mets fans were ecstatic about the team hiring Mickey Callaway. That went double after that upbeat press conference where Callaway both promised he would love his players, and they would be the most durable and well-prepared players in the Major Leagues.
There are plenty of reasons to like the move. The Mets hired someone who worked with Terry Francona, who is a future Hall of Famer. The team found someone who has shown the ability not just to comprehend analytics, but also to translate them to pitchers in a way that helps them improve. He’s a new and fresh voice that the team has not had in quite some time. People around baseball seemed to just love the decision of the Mets hiring the second most coveted managerial candidate behind Alex Cora.
These are all well and good reasons to get excited about the hire. There are presumably many more. However, the biggest reason to get excited about the hire is a pitching coach like Callaway chose to manage this Mets team.
That is of no small significance. After the 2015 season, many believed the Mets were going to be a perennial postseason team. Certainly, if things broke the Mets way, they could very well have become a dynastic team, at the very least in the mold of the 1980s Mets teams that were in contention each and every season. However, instead of things breaking the Mets way, the team mostly broke down.
Matt Harvey had to have surgery to alleviate the effects of his TOS, and he followed that up with trying to pitch with an atrophied muscle in his pitching shoulder. Zack Wheeler missed two seasons due to a torn UCL and complications from his Tommy John surgery, and he found himself missing the final two and a half months of the season with a stress reaction. Noah Syndergaard had a torn lat. Jeurys Familia had blod clots removed from his pitching shoulder. Steven Matz had another injury riddled season with him having to have season ending surgery to reposition the ulnar nerve. That was the surgery Jacob deGrom had last season. Speaking of deGrom, he really was the only healthy Mets pitcher during the entire 2017 season.
The pitching behind the injured starters wasn’t pretty. Rafael Montero continued to be an enigma. Chris Flexen showed he wasn’t ready to pitch at the Major League level. Robert Gsellman had his own injury, and he regressed quite severly after a really promising September in 2016. Seth Lugo had come back from his own injury issues, and upon his return, he struggled to get through the lineup three times.
Add to that Hansel Robles being Hansel Robles, and Josh Smoker failing to emerge as that late inning reliever his stuff promised he could be, and the Mets lack of Major League ready starting pitching talent in the minors, and you wonder why anyone would want to become the Mets pitching coach, let alone a manager whose strength is his work with a pitching staff.
Make no mistake, Callaway had to have liked what he saw with this team. Maybe it’s an arrogance any manager or coach has thinking they will be the one to turn things around. Maybe, it was his work with injury prone pitchers like Carlos Carrasco that made him believe he could definitely make things work. Whatever it is, the pitching guru that Callaway is purported to be liked what he sees with the Mets enough to potentially put his reputations and maybe his managerial future on a staff that some believed had fallen apart beyond repair.
Certainly, Callaway would have had other opportunities to accept a managerial position whether it was this year with an up and coming team like the Phillies, or next year when there would be more openings available. Instead, he chose to resurrect what was once a great Mets pitching staff. In part, he chose to do this because he believes in this talent, and he believes he is the man to do it.
That more than anything else is the biggest reason to be excited about this hire, and it is a reason to get excited about the 2018 season.
With the Mets hiring Mickey Callaway, they have a manager with no managerial experience at any professional level. Sure, he’s a well respected pitching coach who has gotten the most of out young players and has helped rejuvenate careers. However, we have no idea how he will handle more than just a pitching staff. We don’t know how he will manage the dynamics in a clubhouse or how to manage playing time for everyone on the roster. Really, we don’t know how he will manage anything.
Having worked with Terry Francona sure helps, but ideally the Mets will need a respected veteran voice to help Callaway through the process. With the Nationals not bringing back Dusty Baker, the Mets should seriously consider him to be Callaway’s bench coach.
Now, we know the reasons why any organization, especially the Mets, would not want to bring Baker aboard. Baker railed against things like “clogging the bases,” and he has long been blamed for the injuries that would befall Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. His in-game strategy was always in question. For the longest time, many pointed to Baker’s decision to lift a cruising Russ Ortiz as the moment the Giants lost the 2002 World Series. While Baker has purportedly improved on the decision making front, including his use of Max Scherzer out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the NLDS, Baker was still the manager who not only kept Jayson Werth in the lineup, but also batted him second.
Behind that is a guy who has won everywhere. Over his 22 year managerial career, Baker has amassed a 1,863-1636 (.532) record, and he has a pennant to his resume. Remarkably, Baker has had 14 winning seasons in his resume. He has taken the Giants, Cubs, Reds, and Nationals to the postseason with him totaling nine trips to the postseason. One of the years his teams didn’t go to the postseason was in 1993 when his 103 loss Giants team was edged out by the Braves for the division on the last game of the season in the pre-Wild Card format.
Yes, we all know that rosters win games more than managers, but still Baker has typically done something right as a manager to get the most out of his talent. You need not look any further than how the Nationals fared under Baker as opposed to Matt Williams. While it may not show up anywhere tangible, Baker knows what he is doing, and he would serve as a fine mentor for a young manager like Callaway.
Hiring Baker serves another purpose as well. If the Mets want to get back to the postseason, they are going to have to go through the Nationals. It certainly wouldn’t hurt the Mets to have an insight into that Nationals team. Certainly, information like that could go far to helping the first time manager.
Overall, Baker may not have the one calling the shots with his somewhat antiquated worldview, but that’s why you hired Callaway. You want him to come to the job using an analytical approach to managing the game. For the rest, Baker’s knowledge is unparalleled and would go a long way to helping Callaway.