Stock Up, Stock Down: Are Mets Better Off Than A Year Ago?
This is the second annual article on this topic. The first one is here.
Entering Year Five of the Alderson “retool while competing” administration, Mets fans are also entering Year Two of “competing trumps retooling”.
Competing certainly didn’t trump retooling entering 2013, when the Mets traded Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays for a top prospect and two talented kids. That’s a move for 2016, or 2015 if everything breaks right, isn’t it? Presumably “sell high” trades of Ike Davis and Jon Niese would follow, and the organization would be stacked for the future. Presumably the mammoth extension given to David Wright two weeks earlier would be budgeted as an indulgence in an expanding payroll, for a franchise icon and gate attraction who would no longer be the team’s best player when it returned to contention in his thirties.
Here the Mets are, though, in 2015, holding onto a creaky Jon Niese, having gotten nothing for Ike Davis, having signed only guys who are getting worse, not better (Granderson, Colon, Cuddyer) – and they’re still playing with a payroll that’s severely limited by what they’re paying an injury-prone, 32-year-old David Wright.
Just because I am not seeing execution of a coherent plan, however, does not mean the Mets lack causes for optimism. Despite the fact that most of Alderson’s acquisitions have yet to bear fruit in MLB, he’s certainly surpassed several of his predecessors in holding onto the top talents drafted by the previous regime. Harvey, deGrom, Duda and Lagares were all acquired by Omar Minaya, but at least Alderson didn’t give them away – as opposed to Omar with Bannister and Lindstrom, Duquette with Kazmir and Wigginton, Phillips with Jay Payton and Terrence Long, etc. Most of Omar’s Mets draftees are still young enough to have some upside left, and 2014 was a definite step forward, as opposed to the mixed bag of 2013.
Let’s review what’s happened in the last year:
Travis d’Arnaud – stock: up
Although d’Arnaud’s defense took a big step back, he stayed healthy and finally showed the hitting ability he’d had in the minors. This is who the Mets thought they were getting in 2013 – a hitter who could rip his fair share of doubles and homers while working hard toward becoming a serviceable receiver. Now the Mets are counting on him to maintain the offense in 2015 while taking a huge step forward in catching and blocking pitches.
Lucas Duda – stock: up
Duda didn’t reinvent himself; he simply stayed healthy, avoided prolonged slumps, and threw in one red-hot stretch. Facing few lefties, and playing first base instead of outfield, Duda was able to avoid hurting the team with his weaknesses. His strengths – hitting the ball extremely hard, drawing a good number of walks, and hitting HRs while keeping the Ks out of Ryan Howard territory – were enough to earn him an 8th place MVP vote from one writer.
Eric Campbell – stock: down
Soup did nothing wrong, but had more time to lose his swing from disuse than Satin had in 2013, when Josh posted an encouraging .880 OPS against lefties and .376 OBP overall. Campbell’s .680 OPS with no platoon split fell well short. On the plus side, he was faster and more versatile than Satin, able to sub in at many positions without hurting the team.
Daniel Murphy – stock: unchanged
Yet another year hitting near .290 continued to solidify Murph’s standing as one of the better-hitting second basemen in the game. At the same time, his energy level seemed to decline at age 29 (or maybe it was unreported injuries). His quick reactions, which had helped cover for his sub-par range in the past, diminished, and his various improvements in the field plateaued, leaving him a very poor defender. A few games in September did indicate that he could still play third base, though.
David Wright – stock: way down
The warning signs from 2011-2013 finally caught up to Wright, tipping him across the line from franchise anchor to creaky elder statesman. He’s reached the age where playing through injuries takes a huge toll, prevents healing, and makes him an ineffective player. But, as the most loyal and determined soldier any team could ask for, he’s still going out there until it’s physically impossible for him to do so. And who knows? He might still be better than whoever the Mets would use to replace him! But the player who took a career .301/.382/.506 line into 2014? That guy has faded significantly in the rearview mirror.
Ruben Tejada – stock: up
That Tejada still has a shot at an MLB roster spot is proof of improvement from his horrendous 2013. His defense returned to average levels in 2014, and he was smart enough batting 8th to let opponents walk him to face the Mets’ .067-hitting pitchers. He’s still nowhere close to where he was through 2012, though, when many still thought he’d be an asset as a regular.
Wilmer Flores – stock: unchanged
The minor league line drive machine who didn’t hit in his 2013 MLB cameo got many more MLB chances in 2014. In that time, he had one good hot streak at the plate and made all the routine plays in the field. At a loss for other options, management declared this to be good enough to make him the favorite for an everyday SS job in 2015. At the same time, Flores continued to show poor range, a poor eye, an off-balance swing, and trouble catching up to good fastballs.
Michael Cuddyer – stock: up
Those who didn’t think Chris Young would be as bad as he was, well, even they knew he wasn’t great. Cuddyer also isn’t great – his age and speed make him an injury risk and a liability in the field – but unlike Young, at least he’s a safe bet to be average or better at the plate.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis versus Eric Young Jr. – stock: unchanged
Kirk’s 2014 was definitely better than his 2013, but with him turning 27 in August, it had to be or his MLB career would have been over. He’s mostly left the promise of 2011 and early 2012 behind, but has showed just enough ability to run down flies and mash righties that he might yet be an asset as a 4th outfielder.
Nieuwenhuis can’t steal or run the bases like EY, but the youngster’s better defense and more open-ended projection probably make this a wash with how EY looked entering 2014 (with most doubting he’d fully repeat his strong 2013).
Juan Lagares – stock: up
The injuries are concerning, but the other news is golden. Juan’s great 2013 with the glove was no fluke; he did it again in 2014. He also showed a few small improvements at the plate, and was more than capable of stealing bases when asked to do so.
Curtis Granderson – stock: way down
Granderson was brought in to provide reliable offense, improved defense, and an upside of some serious power. He did none of those things. An awkward defender with a limp noodle arm, his season stats were saved by a tremendous June and September; he spent most of the rest of the season as an easy out. The Mets’ supposed biggest improvement from 2013-2014 turned out to be no improvement at all beyond helping the team resolve to trade Ike Davis and keep Duda in the infield. Optimists expect a bounce back in 2015, but realists note that Granderson’s Kevin Long-aided “prime” 2012 season included a .319 OBP and 195 Ks.
Matt Harvey – stock: unchanged
Harvey’s the same guy now as he was entering 2014 – a pitcher with a great MLB track record who’s expected to return from injury, but hasn’t done it yet. Although his personal stock is unchanged, the Mets as a team obviously get a big boost from having him active entering 2015.
Dillon Gee – stock: way down
After excelling for his final 22 starts of 2013, Gee looked like he’d found reliability at age 27. His start to 2014 continued the roll he’d been on, but after returning from a May lat injury, he lacked command for the rest of the year. He’s now back to being a guy who’s good when he’s on, but can’t ward off long stretches of being off.
Jonathon Niese – stock: unchanged
Niese’s ERA and walk rate got back to their 2012 levels, but his velocity and K rate continued to decline, amidst mentions of arm troubles. Although he made 30 starts, there’s apparently enough concern over his shoulder that potential trade partners are looking elsewhere.
Bartolo Colon – stock: unchanged
Colon was more durable than expected, but also more prone to blow-up starts. He lost 6 games single-handedly, but was very good in the other 25. Some may have thought he had more upside than that after his stellar 2013, but others saw him as a risk to fall off a cliff. Those who split the difference probably got about the value they expected.
Jacob deGrom – stock: way up
What? Who? That guy who was lumped in with Cory Mazzoni in the group after Thor and Montero – he got called up for some emergency relief and then plugged into the rotation for a couple starts. Except that a couple starts turned into 22, and most of them were outstanding, so much so that the BBWAA handed him the Rookie of the Year trophy. Wow. Evaluators knew that he had a good fastball and acceptable slider/change-up, but no one seemed to know how Jacob could move the ball around, hit the corners, minimize mistakes, and show the composure of a veteran.
Zack Wheeler – stock: way down
Wheeler showed various small improvements from his rookie year; the 2013 breaking balls that didn’t break, for instance, were few and far between in 2014. Team and media perception of him soared when his ERA dropped from 4.45 in the first half to 2.71 in the second half, but his peripherals were identical, including his troubling, league-leading total of pitches per hitter. I was simply happy that he’d apparently made it through 2014 healthy, but in the last month we’ve learned that he was managing significant elbow pain all the while, and now it’s sent him to the surgeon’s table. Seeing as how his motion looks like the obvious cause of the injury, and past efforts to tweak it haven’t borne fruit, everyone must now wonder whether Zack will ever find a path to both health and success.
Bobby Parnell – stock: way down
For a guy whose main claim to fame was velocity, spinal problems and Tommy John might spell the end. It’s certainly extreme optimism to expect closer’s work in 2015 from a man who took 8 years to achieve closer form and then spent the last 20+ months off the mound.
Jeurys Familia – stock: way up
Apparently his stuff plays in MLB even when he doesn’t know where it’s going! His fastball was hard to lift, and he generally avoided hanging anything over the middle, so the walks didn’t hurt him much. Not exactly calm and collected, but also never panicked, making him possible closer material.
Jenrry Mejia – stock: up
In his 2013 cameo, he finally stopped throwing everything max-effort and did a better job hitting his spots. Would that continue in 2014? Nope. Mejia showed little command, but his array of solid to nasty pitches was pretty tough on hitters the first time through the order. He eventually found a home in the bullpen, where he was hit reasonably hard but was clutch enough to record a very good save percentage.
Carlos Torres – stock: up
More walks and Ks than in 2013, and a higher relief ERA. However, he was consistently above-average, and pitched in every situation imaginable, leading the majors with 92 relief innings.
Vic Black – stock: unchanged
Black was great from June through August, allowing a ton of walks but very little solid contact. Unfortunately, he spent April and May in the minors failing to find the plate, and he spent September on the shelf with a neck problem. His breaking ball varied between unhittable and batting practice. Still a crap shoot as he nears age 27 and has a second straight spring of shoulder problems.
Josh Edgin – stock: up
Edgin completely fixed his problem with first batters faced, holding them to a .149 OBP (zero walks) and turning himself into a reliable LOOGY. His role was pretty tiny (27.1 innings in 110 team games) but at least he excelled in it. No one knows whether he’ll ever be durable, or how he’ll recover from surgery, but at least he’s proven that he has MLB ability.
MINOR LEAGUERS OF NOTE
Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero – stock: down
Before 2014, both men boasted virtually flawless minor league track records. That ended in 2014, as Montero lost his pinpoint control and Syndergaard got hit hard. Both remain excellent prospects, but their projected paths have slowed a bit.
Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Plawecki – stock: up
These two certainly have their flaws. All the Nimmo criticisms from 2013 remain: can draw walks, but only while whiffing a ton and showing little power; not a center fielder. Plawecki stopped getting hit by pitches, exposing his poor BB rate and causing his OBP to drop. However, both guys accomplished a lot in 2014. They jumped a level, excelled, jumped again, and held their own. Nimmo hit .322 in A+ and finished in AA at age 21, while Plawecki slugged .487 in AA and made it to AAA in his third year as a pro.
Cesar Puello and Dominic Smith – stock: down
For Smith, a bad age 19 season (.338 SLG) isn’t a big deal. It’s not as good as a good age 19 season, though. Puello, meanwhile, sure made 2013 look like a steroid-fueled fluke.
Gavin Cecchini – stock: unchanged
Is .236 with a little patience and pop in St. Lucie at age 20 better than .273 with little else in Brooklyn at age 19? I guess. Still underwhelming as a #1 pick.
Dilson Herrera – stock: way up
Herrera turned potential into results in a hurry, posting a .967 OPS in AA at age 20 and holding his own in an MLB cameo. He struck out a lot, but hit the ball hard, slugging .472 across three levels. If he can become an average defensive second baseman, which doesn’t seem like a stretch, it’s easy to envision him as a major asset.
Matt Reynolds – stock: up
Reynolds raised his batting average 118 points from 2013, while jumping two levels. Some see this as a fluke, while others think it’s for real. Reports are similarly conflicted on his defense – is his range a potential problem, or a potential strength? Regardless, he’s certainly someone to watch now, at the Mets’ position of greatest need.
Steven Matz – stock: up
Watching Matz dominate AA in his second full year of pro ball was a treat. Although Warthen’s Kershaw comparisons are ridiculous hyperbole (as Matz’s pedestrian K rates will attest), Steven’s joined baseball’s list of lefty pitching prospects to watch.
SUMMING IT UP
So, what’s changed since a year ago?
Stock way down: Wright, Granderson, Gee, Parnell, Wheeler
Stock down: a backup (Campbell vs 2013 Satin), marginal relievers (Rice, Germen), and possibly over-hyped prospects (Syndergaard, Montero, Smith, Puello, Tapia, Mateo)
Stock unchanged: Murphy, Flores, Harvey, Niese, Colon, Black, Cecchini and 4th OF (Nieuwenhuis compared to 2013 EY Jr.)
Stock up: d’Arnaud, Duda, Lagares, Cuddyer (compared to Chris Young), Tejada, the bullpen core (Mejia, Torres), a lost LOOGY (Edgin), and the Binghamton parade (Nimmo, Plawecki, Reynolds, Matz)
Stock way up: deGrom, Familia, Herrera
Comparing this list to last year’s list (see link at top), I see very few continuing trends. Decline: Domingo Tapia and Luis Mateo proceeded to slide of the prospect radar over 2013-2014. Stable: Daniel Murphy and Vic Black have been exactly who we thought they were since the end of 2012. Rising: two years ago, Kevin Plawecki was a draftee with a subpar defensive rep and questionable pop, Juan Lagares was an unhyped 7-year minor leaguer, Carlos Torres was a failed starter, and Jenrry Mejia was an injury wreck who’d been hit hard in AAA. All four have since strung together back to back seasons that have improved their standing and outlook.
That’s it for two-year trends.
Duda, d’Arnaud, and Familia had all suffered through 2013 seasons that had hurt their standing and outlook; from the perspective of 2012, we could see 2014 as “getting back on track” for these guys. The same could be said for Flores, Nieuwenhuis, Nimmo, and Josh Edgin before his injury. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we can now look back at the fine 2013 seasons of Gee, Satin, Rice, Germen, and EY Jr. as flukes rather than sustainable growth.
I’m sure 2015 will see more of the same. Someone’s great 2014 will be revealed as a fluke, while someone else’s 2014 success will become part of a trend of improvement. One player coming off a bad 2014 will correct the course, while another will fall off the map. I can only guess which players will actually go in which directions, but overall, for all the past, present, and future Mets I’ve looked at, I’d have to say that 2014 was a step forward. Last offseason, this was my assessment:
“Not only are the Mets an extreme longshot for the playoffs in 2014; to seriously contend in 2015, the Mets will need a lot more positive developments in the next twelve months than they experienced in the previous twelve.”
I think “more positive developments” has been achieved. A number of top minor leaguers helped to increase optimism for 2016 and beyond, and most disappointments were minor. On the major league side, Duda, deGrom, Familia and d’Arnaud all did their part, but there, the scales were more balanced by the declines of Wright and Granderson, and the injury to Wheeler.
In the end, I think 2014 did more for my hopes for 2016 and beyond than for my faith in 2015. Ya gotta believe… eventually.
Agree? Disagree? Please post your thoughts in the comments.