Fanboy or Old Cynic?

This is my first post since Spring Training began. It’s been that kind of year. The 2018 Mets started off red-hot and then went oh-for-June, which effectively ended their season. The fans grumbled, the press made fun, and the team essentially put a “For Sale” sign on the few productive veteran players that could still suit up.

But a funny thing happened after the calendar flipped to July. The Mets started to play better. Slowly, almost imperceptively at first, several players began to turn it around. There were steps back to be sure, like that nightmare in DC, but they started to gain a bit of traction. Fast forward to this past week, when the suddenly dangerous Mets knocked the Dodgers out of first place, probably spoiled the Phillies’ chances of reaching the post season, and are creeping up on the equally disappointing Nationals for third place in the NL East. Not exactly baseball like it oughta be, but certainly an intriguing development.

I’m starting to push 60, but I still have quite a bit of “Fan Boy” in me about the Mets. On the flip side, I have been rooting for them since 1971, leaving me little more than just a little cynical about their future. So, what kind of dialog ensues when Dan the Fan Boy and Dan the Old Cynic join the same Mets chat room in some corner of my brain?

Fanboy: The Mets will let David Wright and Jose Reyes man the left side of the infield one more game together before the end of the season, and then hold a very nice retirement press conference for them early in the offseason.

Old Cynic: No chance. David Wright will continue to attempt his “one last try.” Jose will further tarnish his legacy by telling his agents he’s open to a minor league deal. Don’t count out the Mets taking him up on that offer.

Fanboy: Amed Rosario and Jeff McNeil will combine to be the best 1-2 top of the batting order since the days of Dykstra and Backman. Defensively, they are the best keystone combo since Rey-O and Fonzie.

Old Cynic: It been a nice half a year for both players, but I need to see a few more good months of out McNeil in 2019 before I anoint him as the starting second baseman. Rosario alternated between looking really good and making some fundamentally unsound plays. Is that his youth, or the poor Mets player development system showing? The “best keystone combo since Rey-O and Fonzie” is more of an indictment against the Mets than an endorsement of Rosario and McNeil.

Fanboy: Zack Wheeler finally realized his potential. Between he, Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard, this is the best 1-2-3 rotation in baseball. And, if manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland can complete Steven Matz’ turnaround, we’ll have four aces.

Old Cynic: One (painful) word: Injuries.

Fanboy: Peter Alonso will supply the Mets with the kind of power they haven’t seen since Cespedes was in his prime. His righty bat will be bracketed by lefties Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto to form a left-right-left homegrown power trio in the middle of the order for the next few years. Put Todd Frazier in the 6-hole and they have a good lineup, one through six.

Old Cynic: It would have been nice to have seen Alonso get some at-bats in September. Plus, he hit about half of all those homeruns in the PCL, which is a notorious hitter’s league. Your 3-4-5-6 of the order will cool off the fans on humid nights with all that fanning. And, they’re just going to give up on Dom Smith? What happens to the beloved Wilmer? I can’t wait to hear about your plans for Jay Bruce.

Fanboy: The San Francisco Giants have Mark Melancon, an overpriced former closer that they don’t need. The Mets need a closer. The Giants have already cut bait with Andrew McCutchen and are losing Hunter Pence to Free Agency. They need outfield help. The Mets have Jay Bruce, who is making nearly as much as Melancon. The Mets don’t need Bruce anymore. The two teams should work out a trade for these contracts. We don’t need Melancon to close, except in emergencies.

Old Cynic: Yes, the Giants will need outfield help, but Bruce is absolute toast. They finally got rid of Pence, so now they’re going to sign up for two more years of poor production? They can just stash MM in the bullpen the way you want to, and go with Will Smith to close. By the way, who closes for the Mets in this scenario? Anthony Swarzak?

Fanboy: Drew Smith, Daniel Zamora, Gerson Bautista, Bobby Wahl, Tim Peterson, Eric Hanhold, Jamie Callahan, Tyler Bashlor, and Jacob Rhame can’t all be flops. Most of them had great minor league stats, and for the most part, they showed flashes in the bigs. They throw gas. If just two of ‘em come through…

Old Cynic: All of those names, except Wahl, are Sandy Alderson acquisitions. If we learned anything from his seven years as GM, it’s that he can’t build a bullpen to save his life. I’ll give you Jerry Blevins, but remember Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, DJ Carrasco, Victor Black, and Jose Valverde? Don’t forget Swarzak. Plus, we got most of those guys in trades when we dumped veteran salaries. How much value did these pitchers really have to their former teams?

Fanboy: Juan Lagares really looked sharp in the 30 games he played. He’s in the last year of his contract, so he will be very motivated to stay on the field, bringing a gold glove and some speed to the everyday lineup.

Old Cynic: You’ve heard of the definition of insanity, right?

Fanboy: Callaway has already stated that he wants Seth Lugo in the rotation. With the other four spots taken, it’s between Lugo and Jason Vargas. The Mets will just have to swallow hard and release Vargas, giving his spot to Lugo.

Old Cynic: The Mets will never cut bait with Vargas, a signing they never should have made in the first place. Plus, doesn’t Lugo have a tear in a ligament on his pitching arm somewhere?

Fanboy: The Mets should sign Yasmani Grandal to a three-year deal. They can front-load it and offer him opt outs after the first two years.

Old Cynic: Yeah, a $50 million-dollar deal with $45M “frontloaded” in 2019. Seriously though, Grandal is just about the only full-time and effective catcher on the market. A lot of better-run and more willing to spend teams will be in on him. Unless we are willing to way overpay, I can’t see any reason why he would want to come here. Plus, if they’re giving Juan Lagares another go, why wouldn’t they give Travis d’Arnaud another chance as well?

Fanboy: The Phillies faded down the stretch, Washington is a mess, and Atlanta had a bunch of players have career years. The NL East can be wide open next year.

Old Cynic: Atlanta is going to be a dynasty; the Phillies have plenty of young, talented players and the Nats are going to full reload mode for Life After Harper. Get used to 4th place.

So, that’s what’s going on inside the Met portion of my brain these days. How about you, are you a fan boy (or girl) or an old(ish) cynic about the Mets next year?

 

 

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Time warp to 2012!

Dickey, Duda, Murphy

Does the Mets’ 2018 season seem eerily familiar to you? Are you reminded of the beginning of the Alderson era, when the Mets failed to properly rebuild in the name of “maybe we can contend” every year? For those who’ve since managed to forget, this summed up the Mets from 2011-2013, and only the unexpected brilliance of rookies Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia carried the team closer to .500 in 2014.

Personally, when I look at the 2018 squad, I see a lot of 2012. Let’s indulge in a wistful reminiscence of that knuckleball-filled season, and see if it provides any takeaways for the Mets’ current roster.

The cast of characters

The Cy Young candidate

With all hopes of contention gone before the end of July, 2012 Mets fans had one reason to tune in every five days: the brilliance of R.A. Dickey. Some historic feats early in the season (back-to-back one-hitters in June!) put him on the map as one of the best stories of the year, and he charged into August and September pursuing 20 wins and a Cy Young award.

When he had his A+ knuckleball he was a strikeout machine, and when he didn’t, Dickey got by on guts and determination. Whenever he was in trouble, he seemed to find a way to dot the corner with a surprise fastball, or induce a chopper for a double play. R.A. seemed to single-handedly will the team to victory on the days he started; rarely has a Mets pitcher fielded his position with more gusto or run harder to first base than the 37-year-old journeyman with the thick beard.

Of course, all those wins weren’t really single-handed. The team still had to score a few runs, catch some deep fly balls, and close the door in the 8th and 9th. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it, Jacob deGrom?

 

The blossoming #2 starter

Jon Niese had teased the Mets for years with various combinations of a nasty cutter, a nasty curve, and elite velocity for a lefty starter. In 2012, he improved his control and went on his first sustained run of excellence.

We can see some parallels in the Mets tenure of Zack Wheeler, though Zack’s 2018 turnaround has been far more dramatic.

 

The young catcher playing himself into a back-up role

Josh Thole and Kevin Plawecki were both supposed to hit for high enough averages to make up for their mediocre arms. Nope.

 

The slugging first baseman with contact issues

Back in 2012, most teams still valued a guy who could hit 30 homers and not do much else. Ike Davis was viewed as a probable cornerstone of the Mets’ lineup, despite his whiff rate. Now, in 2018, with such players often available in the free agent bargain bin, poor Peter Alonso can’t even get a call-up.

(In case this is news to anyone, Alonso struck out 77 times in 65 games for Las Vegas.)

 

The contact-hitting second baseman

It’s still early for Jeff McNeil, but he shows all the signs of becoming a Mets-era Daniel Murphy: great contact ability, occasional pop, few walks, not exactly a natural at second base. Hopefully McNeil can avoid the injury bug that bit the Mets’ last Murphy clone, T.J. Rivera.

 

The really, really young shortstop

In 2010, Ruben Tejada blew our minds by showing himself to be a capable MLB shortstop at the age of 20. Despite his lack of exceptional tools, he showed enough quickness, contact ability, and intelligence both in the field and at the plate, to raise hopes very high indeed. In 2012, Ruben hit .320 into mid-August while rating as an average defender at short. Terry Collins named him as the team’s cornerstone player to build around heading into the future.

From there it was all down hill.

Amed Rosario likewise impressed onlookers at an early age, though in a very different way, flashing tools in AAA rather than poise in MLB. Handed the Mets’ starting shortstop job at age 22, Rosario is still viewed by some as a future cornerstone, but his lackluster results are beginning to dim those hopes.

 

The future middle of the order hitter, or maybe not

Lucas Duda absolutely destroyed the minors in 2010 and 2011, but his early days in MLB were mixed. Showing the quickest bat and most natural power on the team, Duda alternated between great at bats and terrible ones. When hot, he was very selective, drawing walks and murdering the pitches he got to hit. When cold, he’d consistently wave through anything sinking below the knees, with little ability to read change-ups and breaking balls. He was also toast against lefties.

Michael Conforto has been much the same so far in his major league career, but with more prolonged slumps and more prolonged streaks. With a torrid first half of 2017, Conforto had everyone dreaming of a perennial All-Star hitter, but that hitter hasn’t shown himself once in 2018.

 

The toolsy outfielder on the rise

The 2012 Mets featured an athletic outfielder who had recently put together a very impressive minor league season, and instantly showed a decent combination of pop and patience in the majors. His name was Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and scouts were torn on whether he’d be a future regular or future fringe player.

Brandon Nimmo entered 2018 in much the same position. Like Kirk, he got off to a good start. Unlike Kirk, he’s kept it up. Look out, though. That whiff rate that proved to be Nieuwenhuis’s undoing? Nimmo’s is nearly identical.

 

The part-time masher

Scott Hairston was the 2012 Mets’ second-best hitter after David Wright. Scott never provided enough consistency or defensive value to be a regular, but he could certainly hit rockets when he was on.

While Hairston was a two-year free agent, his modern counterpart, Wilmer Flores, is one of the longest-tenured Mets and a fan favorite.

 

The giant pile of wasted money

Johan Santana gave the Mets one great season and a few good ones before his body betrayed him. Jason Bay fell apart very quickly after donning the orange and blue. In 2012, the pair contributed a combined -0.9 WAR for $40M.

Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce have provided -0.1 WAR for their $40M salary in 2018.

2012’s legacy

After 2012, the Mets continued to sputter along until everything converged late in 2015. Of the 2012 players mentioned above, only Murphy and Duda were regulars, with Tejada and Niese useful in part-time roles. Dickey was traded for a serviceable catcher and a hard-throwing kid who took off in the Mets’ system. Santana and Bay were gone, with Nieuwenhuis a 25th man, on and off the roster.

Will history repeat itself?

Can you imagine this Mets team reaching the 2021 World Series?

• A red-hot Jeff McNeil, coming off a merely decent season, anchoring the playoff lineup from the #3 spot with lots of tough at bats and surprising pop.

• Michael Conforto batting 5th against righties, with enough easy whiffs to frustrate, but enough walks and homers to be useful.

• Amed Rosario as a part-time shortstop, allowing the Mets to switch and pinch-hit for another mediocre option at the position.

• Zack Wheeler bumped from the rotation due to health and consistency issues, but contributing out of the bullpen.

• Nimmo subbing in to hit the occasional triple or make the occasional diving catch.

• Bruce and Cespedes a distant memory.

• Some emerging ace and catcher stepping into the spotlight after being acquired for deGrom in 2018.

That team is still missing most of the key components that would make it a winner. However, way back in 2012, we didn’t see deGrom, Familia, and Cespedes on the horizon either.

Now, if only we had a young Matt Harvey bursting onto the scene and a David Wright still playing like a star when healthy…

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Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2017?

This is the fifth annual article on this topic.

Links to previous editions: 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017

The story so far…

The Mets breathed hope into a long-suffering fan base with their late charge in 2015, a World Series run that had pundits questioning whether the 2016 Mets rotation would be among the best ever. Did the Nationals even have a realistic shot at the team that had so thoroughly pummeled them in the previous year’s pennant race?

Then Matt Harvey fell apart, Steven Matz got hurt, Zack Wheeler endured setbacks, and only a clutch rally by plans C, D, E and F propelled the Mets to the 2016 wild card game, where they unfortunately got Bumgarnered.

Coming into 2017, most expectations of Met dominance were gone, but many still expected the Mets to be one of the better teams in the game and not too far behind the Nats. Their young aces were expected to rebound, at least somewhat, and many prognosticators foresaw better contributions from Lucas Duda (injured in 2016), Michael Conforto (awful in 2016), or Travis d’Arnaud (injured and awful in 2016). Yoenis Cespedes was expected to contribute more in the field and on the bases, having recovered from the leg injuries he played through in 2016.

Most of those hopes didn’t survive April.

Duda and Conforto did improve, but the pitching completely fell apart in 2017, en route to the second-worst ERA in franchise history.

The Mets’ pitching staffs of 2015-2016 did not walk people. They all threw strikes, from the dominators like Jacob deGrom to the fringe guys like Sean Gilmartin. In 2016, the Mets issued 439 free passes, best in the National League.

In 2017, that number jumped to 593, the third worst total in the N.L.

I have heard no theories as to why this happened, so here’s mine: it was the departure of Bartolo Colon. With his unimpressive velocity and physique, Colon spent 2014-2016 relentlessly throwing strike after strike, never perturbed when a hitter would square one up. That confidence had to inspire his young, chiseled, rocket-armed teammates, didn’t it? Or at least make them ashamed to nibble?

Alas, the Mets let Bart sign with the Braves for 2017, and that didn’t end well for anyone — not for the Mets’ suddenly-skittish pitchers, nor for Bartolo in the Braves’ new launching pad stadium.

Bad pitching wasn’t the 2017 Mets’ only major problem, though. The infield defense was awful, by far the worst in baseball according to the Defensive Runs Saved metric. The Mets’ lack of speed meant they couldn’t manufacture runs, and often relied solely on the homerun. Many of the team’s injury-prone players got injured again, leading players and management alike to lament the season’s run of bad luck.

By early June, the Mets seemed out of the hunt, with the Nationals well on their way to winning 97 games (despite major injuries of their own). By July, the Mets were in full-on sell mode, waving goodbye to Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Addison Reed, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, in exchange for a big bag of nothing. I mean relief prospects. No, wait, I already said that.

After the trade deadline, the Mets went 22-37; the top prospects brought up to provide excitement and improvement did neither; and reports surfaced of “the inmates running the asylum” and the players being “all miserable”.

After concluding their 70-92 season, the Mets said goodbye to longtime manager Terry Collins, bringing on first-time skipper Mickey Callaway. Callaway and new pitching coach Dave Eiland immediately gushed about the talented arms in the Mets rotation, continuing the long-running story that this is a team built on starting pitching.

What now?

A lot went wrong in 2017. A few things also went right. Let’s give it all a thorough look-over, and see if we can make sense of what it means for 2018.

Stock Up, Stock Down

Catcher

Travis d’Arnaudstock: unchanged
2017 was largely an awful year for d’Arnaud. Blessed with better health than in past seasons, he hit and threw so poorly in the early going that when the Mets really needed a win, scrap-heap pickup Rene Rivera took the field. Coming off a 2016 season in which he rated as below replacement level, Travis did little to raise his stock in 2017, unless you find meaning in a September power surge after the Mets were far removed from contention. Bringing d’Arnaud back in 2018 (while watching the A’s sign Jonathan Lucroy for $6.5M) is a big gamble on a playoff-hopeful team.

Kevin Plaweckistock: up

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The Mets: Will This Re-boot Work?

Well, we’ve survived another winter—pitchers and catchers have reported. And what a winter it proved to be: Mets fans were treated with a flurry of transactions that were almost universally hailed by the media as shrewd, pumping a little air into hopes that had been largely deflated after the 2017 season,  as well as some early winter rumblings of continued parsimony on the part of the hated Wilpons.

So, after a slow start to the offseason, the Mets took advantage of an extremely sluggish free agent market and landed several new players. They also brought back some familiar faces. This makeover has no doubt helped ticket sales a bit and at least temporarily, restored a little faith in the franchise’s ability to get itself back into the winner’s circle.

I sure hope so (more on that later), but the Mets attempt to return to glory via an infusion of new talent hasn’t worked out so well in the past. Here are three examples. For the sake of clarity the seasons before and immediately after the busy offseason will serve as the timeline:

1974-1975:

Transactions: Traded pitcher Ray Sadecki for Joe Torre, purchased the contract of Dave Kingman, swapped back-up catcher Duffy Dyer for outfielder Gene Clines; and most significantly, moved 1973’s folk hero Tug McGraw to Philadelphia for Centerfielder Del Unser.

Background and Results: The Mets 1974 season was everything their stunning run to the 1973 World Series was not. Most telling was their ineffective offense, as the team collectively slashed 235/311/329, good for 11th, 11th and 12th respectively, in the then 12-team National League. A mysterious shoulder injury threatened McGraw’s career (or so the Mets thought), and they viewed getting Unser from Philly in return as a great coup. McGraw would pitch for ten seasons as a Phillie, and was a key part in their late-70’s revival and eventual 1980 championship. Meantime, Unser was gone by the middle of the 1976 season. The Mets got even less mileage out of Clines, who lasted only a year, while Dyer played for five years in Pittsburgh. Torre was far past his prime by 1975. Kingman hit some of the longest home runs ever hit by a Mets player, but he was plagued by a low OBP and he couldn’t field worth a lick. He also had a rep as a bad guy.

The Verdict:  of all the re-boots, this was the most successful, although “success” is a relative term. The 1975 Mets went 82-80, well out of contention for the NL East title. They actually did slightly better in 1976, winning 86 games. The Mets then hit the wall in 1977 and wouldn’t be heard from again for seven years.

1991-1992:

Transactions: Traded three players, including former minor league wunderkind Gregg Jefferies to Kansas City for ace Bret Saberhagen. Signed FA’s Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray and Willie Randolph. They also traded useful PH Mark Carreon to Detroit for lefty Paul Gibson.

Background and Results: The 1991 season had been disastrous for the Mets, as it was the franchise’s first losing year in nearly a decade. So, they headed towards 1992 with a new manager, Jeff Torborg, a new GM named Al Harazin and new slogan, “Hard Ball is Back.” Instead, they played hardly ball. Saberhagen was shelved for most of ’92 with a finger injury. Randolph was totally washed up. Murray, who came with a rep for sullenness, was exactly that. Bonilla was a train wreck, both on and off the field. The 72-90 1992 season was an embarrassment for the franchise, followed the next year by a 100+ loss season and several humiliating off-the-field incidents that held the team up to national ridicule.  Harazin and Torborg didn’t complete the 1993 season and everybody from this do-over was gone by July of 1995, as they took warm bodies in exchange for Sabes and Bonilla. A re-boot of the re-boot, if you will.

The Verdict: Epic Fail. Another stretch in the wilderness ensued. Fortunately this one was shorter the  post-77 exile, and by 1997 the team was rising from the ashes and pointing in the right direction again. Until…

2001-2002:

Transactions: Steve Phillips traded failed outfield prospect Alex Escobar and others to Cleveland for Roberto Alomar. Super Steve also engineered a three-team swap with Milwaukee and Colorado that netted the Mets Jeromy Burnitz and Jeff D’Amico. He traded free agent flop Kevin Appier to the then-Anahiem Angels for Mo Vaughn. He traded for LHSP Shawn Estes. He signed Free Agents David Weathers and Roger Cedeno, and picked up Endy Chavez about a half dozen times, only to move him out each time (Endy began the year in the Expos system). He also acquired a then little known rookie outfielder named Jason Bay, who would be shipped to San Diego that summer.

Background and Results: After a nice run from 1997 to 2000, the Mets fortunes faded quickly after clinching the 2000 National League pennant. They lost the World Series in five games to the Yankees and then missed out on both Ichiro and A-Rod during the winter. Next, they failed to reach the playoffs in 2001. So Phillips got busy. I need to remember 2002 anytime I get nostalgic for the gun-slinging Phillips.  Cedeno, Vaughn, Alomar and Burnitz were complete flops. D’Amico, despite his impressive size, couldn’t find the plate and had zero stuff. Estes is most famous for missing Roger Clemens when he intentionally tried to hit him during an interleague game at Shea.  Weathers became an unnecessary piece.  The two best players Phillips laid his hands on that offseason were Bay and Chavez, and he moved both of them, essentially for nothing.

The Verdict: Another fail. Phillips was shown the door before the 2003 season ended. His successor, the hapless Jim Duquette, moved a few of Phillips’ acquisitions for warm bodies. Unfortunately Duquette would soon make his own blunders, paving the way for Omar Minaya’s star-crossed tenure as Mets GM.

The Present:

The Mets moved Josh Smoker to Pittsburgh for a minor league LHRP. They resigned Jose Reyes. They signed Jay Bruce, who they had traded last August. They grabbed veteran 1B Adrian Gonzalez (whom they could have had for Armando Benitez back during Duquette’s great sell-off of Phillips’ assets) while having Atlanta pick up almost his entire salary. They signed 3B Todd Frazier, LHSP Jason Vargas and RHRP Anthony Swarzak.

So, will any of these moves help? I think Frazier and Bruce, given their recent history in New York, will. Reyes too. For different reasons, both Vargas and Swarzak are question marks. Gonzo reminds me of Torre, circa 1975.

The 1975-76 Mets played as well as they did because of the team’s cadre of starting pitchers. Kingman aside, the rest of the team’s acquisitions played relatively minor roles. In 2018, Frazier and Bruce are definitely being counted on, but like their 1974 antecedents, the 2018 Mets fortunes will rise or fall on the ability of their pitching staff. This means Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard reaching at least 175 effective innings. Oh, and Yoenis Cespedes needs to be able to play in at least 135 games, if not more.

Should that happen, the rest of the pieces should fall into place and they could be on pace for an 86-76 season, with a chance to add a few players in July and push towards 90 wins. Otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board–or whatever electronic marvel has made that old standby obsolete.

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Congratulations, reader!

Jay Bruce

We know you’ve thought it.

Heck, you may have even said it — in a, “We all know I don’t really mean it,” sort of way, with maybe just a hint of, “Or do I?”

Well, the time for humility has passed. Go ahead. Say it loudly and wholeheartedly:
 

“I’d make a better Mets GM than this guy!”
 

Right at this moment, it’s true. “This guy” is Sandy Alderson, and the media just informed us that he spent a significant portion of the Mets’ remaining player budget on a player who:

  • Is at an age where players generally stay the same or get worse.
  • Has never gotten on base much.
  • Has always struck out a ton.
  • Has always been a streaky hitter.
  • Has spent most of the past half-decade as a poor defensive right fielder.
  • Has just started learning how to play first base, so isn’t adept there either.
  • Has generally been an easy out against left-handed pitchers.
  • Is slow, a negative on the bases.
  • Hits a lot of fly balls, a good number of which leave the park given favorable conditions.

There is exactly one situation in which you sign such a player to a three-year deal for $13M per year:

  • All the comparable player options — who, given how MLB currently values the above skill set, could have been had on one-year deals or for less money — are already gone.
  • You don’t need to save money for other needs.
  • You’re currently looking at an absolute black hole in right field or first base.

How many of these required conditions are true for the Mets? Zero.

I enjoy rooting for Jay Bruce. He seems like a nice guy and a hard worker. But with a limited budget, no second baseman, a shallow bullpen, and only two reliable starting pitchers on the roster, he is possibly the worst investment I can imagine for this team at this moment.

So pat yourselves on the backs, all you Mets fans who think you’d be a better GM than the guy we’ve actually got! Right now, you’re officially correct.

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Could blockbuster trades make the Mets champions in 2018?

JT Realmuto and Christian Yelich

Forget for a moment that the Mets organization plans to field a .500 club while trying to inspire fans with upside and potential, much as they’ve done for most of the last seven years. Pretend instead that the Mets have a choice between the two options faced by teams who are actually trying to win:

  1. Look up at the Nationals, look down at the Mets roster, judge the gap too large to breach, and plan for the future.
  2. Maximize the Mets’ current assets and go all-in for 2018.

Maybe Option A is the smarter long-term move. Dangle Jacob deGrom for a boatload of prospects, tank for a few years to collect top draft picks, and aim for a championship when Amed Rosario is in his prime in 2023.

So, hey, Mets fans, how many of you are on board with that plan? After a decade of choke jobs, injuries, mediocrity, penury and embarrassment, punctuated by a few months of catching lightning in a bottle, are you on board to wait another several years for a contender with a decent shot to win it all?

Me neither.

So let’s talk about Option B. Before Sandy Alderson has polished his February speeches about how the market didn’t provide the proper opportunities and blah blah blah, let’s see if we can imagine a way to get from where the Mets are now to the promised land this October.

Spend, but spend wisely

It’s easy for fans to ask their team to spend more money for more wins. I’d rather not go so far in that direction, though, that we’re paying $100 million in 2020 to some combination of players who can’t take the field (Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez) or are below-average (Jay Bruce, Mike Moustakas).

I want the Wilpons to spend, but I also want them to get bang for every buck, so we fans can dream of contending every year without needing to spend like the Yankees and Dodgers (which simply isn’t going to happen). For that reason, I’m going to rule out many players who could really help the Mets in 2018, because I don’t think they’ll be remotely worth what they’d cost. To me, that’s the above players, plus Eric Hosmer, along with anyone who generates an actual bidding war among Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Wade Davis, Addison Reed, and Lorenzo Cain.

My guess is that the Mets’ biggest moves should be trades, leaving free agency to round out the roster with an R.A. Dickey here or a Jarrod Dyson there.

Step 1: Pay for Christian Yelich

The Marlins are looking for immediate payroll relief, and that means finding a taker for Martin Prado. They’re also looking to avoid the appearance of a complete sell-off, which means they need both hot prospects and MLB-ready talent. Whoever can fill all these needs will become the leading candidate for the Marlins’ most coveted remaining talents, Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto.

This is something the Mets can achieve for little more than short-term money. Here’s how:

Trade Dominic Smith, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Dunn, Travis d’Arnaud and cash to Miami for Prado, Yelich and Realmuto.

Dunn is a first-round draft pick with elite velocity. Smith is another first-round pick who’s received plenty of media hype, flashed great potential, and has the likable underdog backstory that fits perfectly on a rebuilding team. Cabrera can play wherever the Marlins need him in the infield, with the Mets sending cash to offset his salary. D’Arnaud will replace Realmuto behind he plate, bringing an enticing history of top-prospect status and power potential. It’s not a steal for Miami, but it’s credible, and gets them the payroll relief they want.

Where would this leave the Mets?

Realmuto’s poor blocking and framing skills make him far from perfect, but gaining 50+ points of OBP from the catcher spot is hard to overrate.

Yelich is either a mediocre center fielder or a gold glove corner guy. He’s durable and a good baserunner. He hasn’t yet put it all together at the plate with any consistency, but he’s flashed batting champion potential and it’s not impossible to dream of upside at age 26.

Prado suffered from hamstring problems early in 2017 and then had knee surgery in late July. Having just turned 34, he has to be considered a health risk. Before that, however, he was a player who would have fit perfectly on the Mets: a reliable, clutch, shift-beating contact hitter who rated as a stellar defender at third base.

Realmuto and Yelich will be paid much less than they’re worth through 2022, while Prado will be paid a bit more than he’s worth through 2019. The Mets’ payroll will jump in the short term, but they’ll actually be in an improved wins-per-dollar position going forward.

As for losing Smith and Dunn, I don’t expect to miss a first base-only prospect and a pitcher who’s never shown much command or control.

Step 2: Pay for Joey Votto

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Have the Mets already whiffed on free agency?

Mets GM Sandy Alderson

Is everyone enjoying the high-stakes poker game of the major league baseball offseason? Are you thrilled to be watching different front office strategies reveal themselves?

I’ve been watching, but I can’t say that I’m thrilled or filled with joy. The two trends that I’ve recognized so far are very familiar to Mets fans:

  • Some teams target players who can provide great bang for their buck, and move on them aggressively.
  • Sandy Alderson’s Mets wait to see how the market develops, by which point all the shrewd gets are gone.

I’m not talking about Shohei Otani, who I see as an electric arm with severe blowout potential who’s unlikely to hit MLB pitching without daily reps. I’m not talking about Zack Cozart or Yonder Alonso. I’m not even talking about Carlos Santana (although I’d happily give him the contract the Phillies did, if Dominic Smith were the key to a big trade).

Here’s a short list of players targeted by more aggressive teams, who I wish the Mets had gotten to first.

The list

Tom Koehler, Dodgers. The Mets always crushed him the second time through the order, but he often looked great for a few innings, with adequate velocity, a good breaking ball, and good control. Given the Mets’ current pitching talent, their single biggest need is multi-inning relievers. Who wouldn’t bet $2M to see if Koehler can be that?

Doug Fister, Rangers. A candidate to start or pitch in long relief, Fister would have given the Mets a vital safety net. A towering control artist with good movement, Fister got back to his former effectiveness late in 2017 after a bad couple of years. The Rangers only needed a one-year offer to grab him in November.

Wily Peralta, Royals. Why not see if this young, hard thrower can make it as a reliever?

Welington Castillo, White Sox. The only way the awful White Sox get their man without outspending the league (which they didn’t) is to court him hard and fast. Castillo has a spectacular arm and some pop, making him roughly twice as good as Travis d’Arnaud.

Matt Adams, Nationals. If the Mets are looking for a stopgap for Smith, how about a one-year deal for a platoon bat who crushes righties? Wilmer Flores can face the lefties.

Tommy Hunter, Phillies, or Hector Rondon, Astros. Hunter used to be one of the worst relievers in baseball. Just recently, he became one of the best, ditching his flat heater in favor of a cutter. Rondon is the opposite — bad recently, but a history of excellence, which he could rediscover if he stays healthy and if the 2018 baseball is less juiced. The important part is that these guys were had for two-year contracts at reasonable prices. Others in this category included Luke Gregerson, Steve Cishek, Joe Smith, and Pat Neshek.

Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and the rest of the Marlins’ fire sale. I doubt Stanton wanted to come to Queens in the end… but who knows, there may have been a moment when it was possible. More likely, there was a period of opportunity before Jeter found a taker for Stanton’s contract, when the Marlins were desperate to cut payroll and an aggressive move for anyone else on their roster would have paid off.

Are these all amazing moves? Risk-free moves? No-brainer moves? No. But they are a heck of a lot better than what’s currently on the Mets’ plate.

What’s currently on the Mets’ plate

The Mets don’t have anyone in a long-reliever role. They have lots of young guys still hoping to make it as starters. Do you like Robert Gsellman‘s odds of being a reliable two-inning reliever in 2018? I don’t.

Kevin Plawecki might be improving, but the Mets have a definite weakness at catcher, which they could have addressed by throwing Asdrubal Cabrera money at the problem. Instead, they handed that money to Cabrera, who is a better defensive third baseman than T.J. Rivera, Wilmer Flores, or Jose Reyes, but could probably be replaced by some combo of those three without weakening the position overall.

Rumor has it that the Mets are trying to talk Jay Bruce down from four years to three. What?! The only thing that separates Bruce from the bargain bin of low-OBP lefty sluggers is his tenuous grasp on the mobility to play a just-acceptable right field. Surely the Mets can find a cheaper, shorter-term option to cover Michael Conforto‘s absence in the outfield, and the same is true for a stopgap for Smith.

And finally, Anthony Swarzak? I’d be fine with 2/$14M for one of the relievers I listed above, but a guy with Swarzak’s history — durable but awful, then good but hurt — should come at a discount. Those extra few dollars matter in terms of meeting various needs on a Wilpon budget.

What do you think? Should the Mets be spreading their limited dollars around, saving them all for Jake Arrieta, or just waiting to see what falls into their laps in February? Have they already missed out on the most cost-effective ways to improve the team, or are comparable deals still to be found? Sound off in the comments!

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The 2018 Mets: What Would Steve Phillips Do?

And for the record, it’s “what” and not “who.”

Well, so much for sustainable success. The Mets followed up their one-game wildcard appearance season that followed up their pennant-winning season with a 90+ loss season. What exactly went wrong has been well-documented elsewhere.  You can read any number of poorly-written posts on some other insipid website for that. What we’re interested in here at Mets Today is just how the team plans to return to contention. (It’s amazing how a single 90-game losing season can make “meaningful games in September” attractive again).

Based on his lackluster returns from the Great Trade Off of 2017, current Mets GM Sandy Alderson probably isn’t the man to steer the Mets back into contention. Sandy is old and sick, and the organization has grown soft.  They’re still blinking from their exposure to the bright lights of the 2015 World Series, and are imagining that they can see a fully-healed pitching staff, and a sudden quantum leap from a passel of mediocre Mets farm hands drafted and developed during the Alderson era.

Instead the Mets need an unsentimental, not worried about your opinion, pushy, get-er-done GM type. Since Donald Trump already has a job, instead the Mets should look under enough rocks until they find and convince Steve Phillips to return, letting  him apply his turn of the millennia philosophy to building the 2018 Mets. For all this talk about back-to-back playoff appearances, Phillips’ teams actually won playoff games in their return engagement, something this current era’s Mets squad couldn’t.

Imagine a tanned, rested and ready Steve Phillips back in the GM saddle in Queens. So, WWSPD–What Would Steve Phillips Do?

  1. He would say the following: “prospects will get you fired.” Before Phillips assumed the GM mantle in 1997, former 1986 Mets co-architect Joe McIlvaine held that post. Joe inherited a real mess–the team had lost over 100 games just the season before he took over. Slowly and methodically, Joe Mac re-stocked the Mets farm system with some intriguing prospects via the draft and the superstar-for-top-prospects trades that were the de rigueur front office moves for baseball back in the 1990’s. His efforts where given about a New York Minute to bear fruit, and when this didn’t happen, McIlvaine was shown the door. Enter Phillips, who traded/released nearly everyone of them, the main exception being future all-star Edgardo Alfonzo and the oft-injured Jay Payton. The rehabilitated 2018 Steve Phillips will make everyone of the Alderson-era Met farm system grads available, with the exception being future all-star Amed Rosario and currently-injured Michael Conforto. This means Dom Smith, Brandon Nimmo, Tomas Nido, Paul Sewald, Rafael Montero, Chasen Bradford, Gavin Ceechini  and a host of others that grew up in the Mets system could find themselves unceremoniously traded away.  Considering that the Mets played around .400 ball during the quarter of the season that these guys got a lot of playing time, this isn’t exactly shocking. Apparently unimpressed by the hype, Phillips also jettisoned all of the disappointing Generation K starters at rock-bottom discounts. This time around, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler shouldn’t signing any long-time leases on Manhattan studio apartments.
  2. He would diss an injured loyalist. Todd Hundley was just about the only bright spot for the Mets in the mid 90’s, belting 71 homers in 1996-97 and earning a pair of All-Star nods. Then he hurt his elbow and was himself elbowed aside for the big Phillips acquisition (more on that later). He was also the previous regime’s guy. Phillips let Hundley embarrass himself in left field for a while and then sent him off to LA as part of a another big trade. This time around, his target is clearly David Wright. Phillips is going to want DW off the team for good, as injuries and age have caught up to David. But to successfully do this, he has to lay the groundwork…
  3. He would make a blockbuster deal for a big bat with an expiring contract. Phillips made five great trades as Mets GM, three of them with Florida. The last one landed future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza. That trade did a lot of things, including making Hundley expendable. This time around, Phillips is going to trade Wilmer Flores, Matz, Rob Gsellman and Drew Smith to Toronto for Josh Donaldson and T.J. House. Donaldson is the big “get” here. He’s a third baseman, which makes Wright expendable. In what was a down year for him, he still slugged 30-plus homers. Also, if he bombs, he can walk after the ’18 season. Piazza could have walked as well, but Phillips got him signed to a big extension. With Donaldson on board, Phillips will convince the Wilpons to buy out David Wright’s remaining years,  relieving David of the agony of yet another failed comeback. Thanks for everything David, now hit the road.
  4. He would bring back a former Met.  Phillips brought back Bobby Bonilla and Jeromy Burnitz. He undid his trades for Greg McMichael and Bill Pulsipher.  Now he’s bringing Lucas Duda back into the fold. Despite a low batting average, Lucas bashed a respectable 750 OPS with Tampa, slugging 13 homers. His lower batting average will scare off potential suitors, making Lucas a relatively cheap acquisition. This isn’t 1999 after all.
  5. He would trade for a starting pitcher.  Phillips acquired Al Leiter, Mike Hampton and Hideo Nomo. He signed a past his prime but still effective Orel Hershisher. He made a very canny trade for Glendon Rusch. This time, dangling Dom Smith and Wheeler as the main bait, he’s going to deal with a division rival and land Julio Teheran. He will probably need to substitute or include other pieces such as TJ Rivera or Nimmo and perhaps one of the few remaining top farm pieces like Corey Oswalt. Teheran would fit nicely in the Met rotation as the #3 starter. For good measure, Phillips will also pluck John Lackey off the free agent pile, giving the 39-year old (on Opening Day) starter a chance to hold down one of the back spots in the rotation.
  6. He would promote an obscure minor leaguer. Until he stopped to admire Todd Ziele’s non-home run in Game One of the Subway Series. Timo Perez was a nice catalyst for the 2000 Mets down the stretch and into the playoffs. The year before, he was a Hiroshima Carp, and not a very impressive one at that. The 2018 Steve Phillips will only need to reach as far as Binghamton, where he is going to pluck Luis Guillorme out of obscurity and into the starting second base job. To paraphrase Mike Francessa: “who is Luis Guillorme?” Well, MLB Prospect Watch  claims Guillmorme has the fastest hands of anybody in the Mets system. The site gushes about him and about the prospect of Guillorme and Rosario forming a spectacular up-the-middle infield combo. His bat is barely serviceable right now, but he his glove can carry him until the hitting catches up.

 

So when the smoke clears, Super Steve will have added Donaldson and Duda to the Cespedes-Conforto tandem, giving the Mets a pair of lefties and a pair of righties in the middle of the lineup. He has strengthened the up the middle defense, as the Guillorme-Rosario keystone, backed by Juan Lagares in center gives the Mets a nearly airtight defense. Terhan  and Lackey  join Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in the Met rotation. By getting Wright on the Bobby Bonilla installment plan and non-tendering Matt Harvey and Asdrubal Cabrera, he can keep the Met payroll under $150 million, while fielding a winning team that will get the turnstiles (and the advertising dollars) clicking again. Just like the good old days.

Author’s Note: Being a Mets fan requires a sense of humor. If you’ve made it this far into this post, then you probably have one. I don’t expect the Mets to add Donaldson, Teheran or Lackey, or promote a Double-A infielder. At least not in 2018. I think I share the common concern that a few cosmetic changes are coming for ’18, which will result in another lost season. THEN, the drastic changes will occur. Thanks for reading, keep the faith and have a great winter. See you next season, Let’s Go Mets!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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