There is a buzz circulating around the Mets due to the moves Brodie Van Wagenen has been making. On paper, the team he is assembling is better than last year’s team, and the narrative is this team will have a better chance at making the postseason than last year’s team. However, that narrative may not exactly hold up.
Remember, last year the Mets were 17-9 entering May. It was right around that point the injuries started piling up, and the Mets depth or lack thereof became a problem.
Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki were injured leading the way for Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido. Todd Frazier would have the first disabled list stint of his career leading to the team rushing Luis Guillorme to the majors before he was arguably ready, and with the team playing far more of Jose Reyes than they ever should have done.
Michael Conforto was rushed back from injury before he was ready. Yoenis Cespedes‘ heels wouldn’t let him play anymore, and Jay Bruce‘s plantar fascitiis increasingly became an issue. Matt Harvey‘s Mets career was finished, and Noah Syndergaard was heading to yet another lengthy trip on the disabled list. Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares would also be making their annual trips to the disabled list.
By the way, this wasn’t the full season’s worth of transactions. That’s just through the end of May.
From there, the Mets would have a 15-39 record over May and June, including a disastrous and soul crushing 5-21 June which all but eliminated the Mets from postseason contention. Remember, this was the same team when healthy that was among the best in all of baseball.
Last year wasn’t an anomaly. The 2017 Mets were a promising team on paper, but they never got off the ground because of injury issues, which would also correlate to under-performance from a number of players. If you go back to 2016, that starting lineup and rotation was built to contend for a World Series, but due to injury issues, that team needed a furious finish and unlikely performances from players like Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and T.J. Rivera to capture a Wild Card spot.
Until the Mets address their bench, they are running the risk of their season not living up to expectations.
We know Wilson Ramos is an injury prone player as is his backup d’Arnaud. We know Lagares is injury prone. Syndergaard and Steven Matz have their own not promising injury histories. While he has generally been healthy, Robinson Cano is still a 36 year old second baseman, and players in their late 30s do not tend to be durable. That’s nothing to say of the unknown injuries like we saw with Frazier last year.
At the moment, the Mets are ill equipped to handle these injuries. In terms of the infield, the Mets have Guillorme, who was not ready last year, and Gavin Cecchini, who struggled in his limited Major League opportunities and missed much of last year with a foot injury. There is also Rivera, who missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery and ensuing setbacks. The catching depth may actually be worse with Patrick Mazeika being your last line of defense.
The outfield depth is Dominic Smith, who the Mets don’t even seem inclined to let compete for a first base job, and Rajai Davis, who is a 38 year old outfielder that has not had a good year since 2015.
All told, the Mets are in desperate need of some depth. If they don’t acquire it, you are once again asking the same group who faltered last year to succeed. Those players are still young and can improve, but it is difficult to rely upon them. With that in mind, Brodie Van Wagenen needs to make sure he has money available to address the bench. If he doesn’t, then the Mets may very well suffer the same fate they had over the past two seasons.
Fortunately, he still has time.
The Mets made a blockbuster deal with the Seattle Mariners where they gave up two former first round draft picks in Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. At the moment, the Mets are in the midst of trying to negotiate a trade to obtain J.T. Realmuto. In those discussions, we have heard the Mets potentially trading any one or a combination of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Ronny Mauricio, or Mark Vientos.
What is interesting is we have not yet heard Peter Alonso‘s name attached to any rumor. Seeing the power and arguably unprecedented exit velocities combined with his status as a clear-cut T0p 100 prospect, it would be really hard to believe neither the Mariners nor the Marlins would have any interest in Alonso.
This would lead you to believe the Mets are making Alonso untouchable in trade discussions. With the Mets seemingly having penciled him in as their 2019 first baseman, you could understand the idea. On the other hand, why would the Mets make him more untouchable than their other players or prospects?
Looking at the infield right now, you could win by playing Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil, Todd Frazier, and Rosario in the same infield. Certainly, that infield and lineup would look all the better with Realmuto.
If you don’t want Cano, Frazier, or even McNeil being your everyday first baseman, there are still free agent first baseman available. Mark Reynolds, who has a 103 OPS+ over the last three years, is available. Matt Adams is a platoon bat who has a 119 wRC+ against right-handed pitching over the past two years. This is also a scenario where bringing Marwin Gonzalez aboard makes sense. With first base effectively vacant, you could have sufficient playing time between him and McNeil at first base, second base, third base, and the outfield.
There are also former Mets like Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores, who we know can handle first base and New York. If you are so inclined, you could probably even sign Asdrubal Cabrera the job. He has shown himself to be a different hitter in a Mets uniform, and it is possible playing first over a middle infield position keeps him fresher and healthier.
Arguably, any of these options are better than Alonso. While there may be some flaws, it is notable that Steamer has projected Alonso to hit .241/.318/.458. It is interesting to note Fangraphs Depth Charts comes to the same slash line albeit while giving Alonso a higher projected WAR.
Again, these projections may be flawed, but they may also not be. That’s the risk when you play an unproven rookie at first base.
The bigger risk for the Mets is trading Conforto or Nimmo. This is not an organization blessed with any outfield depth. Beyond them is Juan Lagares, who is injury prone, Yoenis Cespedes, who may not even play next year, and a collection of prospects who will likely not be in a position to contribute at the Major League level. Looking at the free agent class, you see a number of players who have considerable age or health concerns. Mostly, you see a group who will most likely not contribute at the level Conforto or Nimmo will next season.
That brings us back to Alonso. If the Mets haven’t already, shouldn’t they put his name on the table to see if that moves the needle on Realmuto? After all, the Mets window is likely two years, maybe three. While Alonso is very, very intriguing, he’s not a sure thing, and you can go get a first baseman who can produce for you while simultaneously getting production from Conforto and Nimmo while watching Rosario build off his improved second half.
Overall, when you break it all down, you really have to question the Mets seemingly counting on Alonso instead of one of their players who have actually produced and shown an ability to improve at the Major League level. That plan becomes all the more dubious when you consider the free agents available and the depth at certain areas of the Mets farm system.
If you break down the Mets roster, especially the starting lineup, this is a team heavily dependent on left-handed hitters. As of the moment, the core of the Mets offense is Robinson Cano, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and even Jeff McNeil. Logically speaking, when you have so many left-handed hitters you are going to be very susceptible to left-handed pitching.
That was a theme throughout the 2018 season. The Mets batting average and strikeout rate against left-handed pitchers was the worst in the National League and second worst in the majors. Their 82 wRC+ was fifth worst in the majors. Breaking down all the of offseason stats, you will see the Mets at or near the bottom five in the majors in most categories.
Seeing how 2018 transpired coupled with the Mets biggest offensive addition to date being Cano, you would have to wonder if the Mets doubling down on left-handed hitters is going to be the team’s downfall. While it is a fair concern on the surface, the concerns may be overstated.
First and foremost, the National League East is very light on left-handed starting pitching. The Braves have Sean Newcomb who did dominate the Mets left-handed batters last year. The Nationals only left-handed starter is Patrick Corbin. Cano, Conforto, and Nimmo have excellent career numbers against him. As of the moment, the Phillies do not have a left-handed starter. Even if they were to sign J.A. Happ, Cano has hit .273/.342/.485 off of him.
Really, breaking it down, the Marlins are the team with the left-handed starters, and those are Wei-Yin Chen and Caleb Smith. While both had their moments against the Mets, neither are particularly imposing, especially with them playing in front of a terrible Marlins team.
There’s also the fact the Mets left-handed hitters actually hit well against left-handed pitching. Last year, Conforto hit .250/.332/.476 off left-handed pitching last year. In his career, Cano has hit .284/.334/.433 off left-handed pitching. While Nimmo has not had great numbers against left-handed pitching, he did have a .351 OBP against them last year. Moreover, McNeil hit .281/.339/.474 against left-handed pitching.
Now, it’s possible these numbers are skewed by short sample sizes and each one of these players could regress to the mean. It’s also true the Mets also have Todd Frazier, Travis d’Arnaud, and Juan Lagares. Each one of these players have had successful seasons against left-handed pitchers which each could repeat next year.
Of course, the composition of the roster does make the Mets susceptible to a LOOGY or powerful left-handed closer. To that end, it does seem a little curious why the Mets would non-tender Wilmer Flores with his ability to hit left-handed pitching and his ability to pinch hit. That said, there is still plenty of time to sign impact bench players who could hit left-handed pitchers well.
Overall, the Mets goal this offseason should be to fortify their staring lineup with the best players available whether they are right or left-handed. They should not push for a right-handed hitter like A.J. Pollock just because he’s a right-handed hitter. Instead, the Mets should get whoever is the best available player, and if need be, they can help offset any left-handed issues by signing right-handed hitters to fill out their bench.
Based upon all we are hearing and the narratives being pushed, under the guidance of Brodie Van Wagenen, the Mets are pursuing each and every path there is to make the Mets a better team. They will do that even if it means trading Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn to get back Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, and the $100 million due to Cano.
In fact, the Brodie Van Wagenen Mets are willing to trade or move any player to get better. We’ve heard trades where any of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, or even Noah Syndergaard could be moved to get J.T. Realmuto. We’ve even seen reports where Syndergaard or another Mets pitcher would be traded to the Yankees. For what we don’t know, but we do know it is very clear anyone on the Mets can be traded at any moment.
That’s a good and fair approach if you are making trades to improve the club. Certainly, you could imagine a deal with the Yankees were the Mets could find themselves a better ballclub. You can envision that for the now seemingly abandoned three way deal with the Marlins.
All in all, it is good the Mets are willing to do anything they can do to make the team better. But here’s the thing, they’re not.
Right now, the Mets are aggressively pursuing Realmuto, and they’re not aggressively pursuing Yasmani Grandal. Grandal is an elite pitch framer, who is not that far a drop off offensively. Over the last three years, Grandal has a 113 OPS+ to Realmuto’s 118.
The one thing Realmuto has over Grandal is age with Realmuto being two years younger. Oh, and there’s the matter of Realmuto likely costing far less than what Grandal will receive in free agency.
Free agency. That’s where the Mets seem to stop from going all out to improve their team.
While we can be sure the Mets have been in contact and will eventually sign free agents, it is clear they prefer the trade route. We can surmise our own reasons why. It is also clear the Mets are not going to go all out to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
Arguably, each one of those players completely changes the dynamics of the Mets. If you sign them, you are adding a future Hall of Famer to this team. Either player could very well have a Carlos Beltran type of impact upon this team. That would mean a run of winning seasons the Mets have not had since the final days of Shea Stadium.
If you want to really win, and you want to matter for the next decade, which is something the Mets purportedly want to do, you go out and you sign Harper or Machado. They are game and franchise changers. It also doesn’t hurt that you’d keep them away from the Phillies.
Overall, the Mets can say they are turning every stone to try to improve this team, but until they pursue Harper or Machado the way they are pursuing Realmuto, they’re lying to you.
One of the narratives which has taken hold of late is how the Mets catching situation is what has been holding them back. To a certain extent, there is a point. Travis d’Arnaud cannot stay on the field, and Kevin Plawecki has yet to fully maximize the chances he has been given to establish himself as even a clear-cut starter at the MLB level.
When looking at this offseason, there are plenty of players available who could be upgrades for the Mets. On the free agent front, there’s Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. On the trade front, there is J.T. Realmuto and Francisco Cervelli. Even if you argue all of these players are not definitively better than what a healthy d’Arnaud can give you, their ability to stay on the field makes them upgrades. More than that, it provides the Mets with depth at the catching position.
As we saw with the Mets playing Jose Lobaton and Devin Mesoraco, depth is vitally important at the catching position. More than that, the Mets need a real depth of talent on the roster. If you build a roster with talented players, an upgrade at catcher isn’t that desperately needed.
For those who don’t remember, the 2015 Mets were able to make it to the World Series with d’Arnaud behind the plate. There were several reasons why. Daniel Murphy was just beginning to become the feared hitter he would become. Curtis Granderson was a leader on and off the field. David Wright was having that one last great stretch in a terrific career. Yoenis Cespedes was phenomenal. There was real depth with Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Wilmer Flores.
Mostly, it was the pitching, and d’Arnaud played a big part of that with his pitch framing. This path to the World Series isn’t an anomaly either. Just this past season, we saw the Red Sox go to the World Series with Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez behind the plate. Much like the 2015 Mets, the reason the Red Sox were able to do this was because they had great players like Mookie Betts and Chris Sale in addition to terrific situational/platoon players like Steve Pearce and Brock Holt.
The overriding point is there are many ways for the Mets to go back to the World Series, and they don’t have to upgrade at catcher to do it. Instead, they need to look at the best possible players they can add to the roster.
They need to build on a pitching staff which already includes Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Edwin Diaz, and Seth Lugo. They need to add to a lineup which already features Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Robinson Cano.
If building up the lineup and roster comes at catcher, great. If it doesn’t, that’s good too because we already know d’Arnaud and Plawecki behind the plate can bring you to a World Series. For that matter, Plawecki, d’Arnaud, and Rene Rivera brought the Mets to the Wild Card Game.
In the end, there needs to be much less of a fixation on improving just one roster spot for the sake of another. For example, don’t trade Nimmo for Realmuto. Instead, the Mets just need to focus on getting better players on this team much like how they added Cano even though they already had McNeil.
In the end, if the focus is better players and a deeper roster, you will win games. You see it time and again. The Yankees dynasty had a black hole in left field. The Red Sox had nothing at catcher, second, and third. The 1986 Mets had Rafael Santana. The 2018 Mets can have d’Arnaud and Plawecki behind the plate, a tandem we already know can get you to the World Series.
Do you know what is interesting about the infamous John Smoltz trade? If the Detroit Tigers do not win the American League East in 1987 if they don’t obtain Doyle Alexander. History may forget or overlook this, but Alexander was dominant when he put on a Tigers uniform.
Alexander was 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts for the Tigers. The Tigers won all 11 games he started. He was a 4.4 WAR pitcher. The Tigers won the East by just two games. Long story short, Alexander was a difference maker for the Tigers, and had that trade not happened, it’s very possible the Tigers miss the postseason.
Like the Tigers, the Red Sox won the division by two games. Like Alexander, Anderson was lights out. In his 15 games, he had a 1.23 ERA. He didn’t have the WAR of Alexander, nor did his team have the same success in the games he pitched, but he did not lose one game he appeared. That matters for a team who finished just ahead of the Blue Jays.
But we don’t hear that at all. For starters, we don’t hear that because Smoltz and Bagwell became Hall of Famers. The other reason is because neither the Tigers nor Red Sox actually won. Both teams would lose the ALCS in swift fashion. The Tigers lost to Twins in five games, and the Red Sox lost to the Athletics in a sweep.
That’s the thing. Just making the postseason isn’t enough. In a win-now trade, you actually have to win, and winning here means the World Series. It is ultimately why the Cubs will get a pass one day if Gleyber Torres is a Hall of Famer. The Cubs actually won the World Series with Aroldis Chapman.
That’s the way it works with win-now deals. You are sacrificing the future to win-now. Not winning now means the goal you set to achieve by making the trade failed. It’s a very small margin of error, but that’s what you sign up for when you make such a deal.
And that’s what Brodie Van Wagenen and the Mets did by trading Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, and Gerson Bautista for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. The Mets parted with one excellent, one very good, and one wild card for two players who they believe will help them win-now. At least from the Mets perspective, win-now probably means 2019 or 2020 because after that the Mets current core will begin hitting free agency, and Cano will be making $20 million per year.
In the end, if the Mets win the World Series with Cano and Diaz, no one will care if Kelenic, Dunn, and Bautista became perennial All-Stars. However, if the Mets don’t win anything more than a division title, they will be reminded of it each and every time the aforementioned prospects do anything of note.
Any day now, the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets are about to complete a blockbuster deal which will alter the next five to ten years for both franchises.
First and foremost, they will no longer have Jarred Kelenic, who is arguably their best prospect. More than than, Cano’s deal is a complete albatross.
While some are saying the Mets are getting plenty of relief on Cano, it’s not exactly true. Remember, Jay Bruce is only under contract for two more years. Anthony Swarzak‘s deal expires after 2019. After that, there’s no more “offsets.”
Therefore, for the final three years of Cano’s deal, he will be making $20 million per season. Also, we should not forget, even with the Mets trading Bruce and Swarzak, they still owe Cano $100 million over five years. Of course, that assumes the Mariners are providing the $20 million.
With that $20 million figure once being $60 million, we should not be too sure that number won’t change.
An important consideration to this deal is when the Mets are going to deal with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Michael Conforto hitting free agency, the team will be paying Cano $20 million per season. That puts a tremendous strain on the ability to keep those players.
Perhaps that is why Syndergaard is being shopped now.
If we operate under the assumption the Mets are building their team to win-now, which should be painfully obvious by this trade, you really have to question the wisdom of including Justin Dunn in this trade.
No starting pitching staff is immune to injuries, and since 2015, that has gone double for the Mets. With that being the case, the Mets will really need Triple-A depth to pick up the slack. Here are the career MLB numbers for their current projected Triple-A starters:
This is a group who makes Rafael Montero‘s 5.38 ERA not look so bad. For his part, Montero is not an option as he was released.
The numbers from the aforementioned pitchers are from small sample sizes, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue they would be much better than this next year. You’d be harder pressed to believe they would be able to do much better than this over 10, 15, or even 20 plus starts.
With that being the case, the Mets needed Dunn. He was the one pitcher in their system who was close to MLB ready who you could realistically rely upon for a number of starts. With him gone, the Mets really have zero depth.
With that being the case, you really have to question why a Mets team trying to win-now would completely overlook this. That is more problematic when you consider the Mets have been done in more by lack of depth than any other factor.
In the end, the Mets are going all-in now, and they’re doing it with a need to address the bullpen, catching position, center field, and their bench depth. Now, they are also going to have to add 1-2 quality pitchers who are alright spending extended time in the minors waiting for someone to get hurt.
The pitchers who are willing to do that are rarely good, and ultimately, this is why trading Dunn was a giant mistake.
With the Mets rumored to be obtained Robinson Cano in a blockbuster deal with the Mariners, chances are either him or Jeff McNeil will be the Mets Opening Day second baseman in 2019. Whoever takes the field will become the seventh Mets Opening Day second baseman since the team moved to Citi Field.
Can you name the other seven? Good luck!