1974: That Post-Championship Season–A Harbinger of Things to Come?

So, when the smoke clears from this year’s World Series, the Mets will have taken one step closer to an infamous distinction. The conclusion of the Fall Classic will vault the Mets into the top five of teams with the longest wait in between world championships. Along with the 2016 Series’ loser, you will have Pittsburgh (1979), Baltimore (1983), Detroit (1984) and then the Mets (1986) in the top five of teams still waiting for the next hoist of the trophy. While I believe the Mets have a legit shot at returning to and finally winning the World Series in 2017, their pathway back isn’t clear, at least from this vantage point.

I read and heard about several comparisons during the 2016 team’s six-week hot streak to a similar streak the 1973 Mets went on. Both teams were effectively buried by early August, only to rally around several returning injured players, some unlikely effective starters and a red hot bullpen; riding said combo all the way to the post season. A poor managerial decision (1973) and a flat slider (2016) doomed both endeavors before they reached the ultimate goal. One of the beauties/curses of baseball is that there is always next year. The 1974 team was built on the premise that the winning version of the previous year’s squad was the true team. A 71-91 record proved that theory to be wrong. I believe that Mets GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins could make the same assumption about the 2017 team, based on their own predilections of what a 25-man roster should look like.

The Anderson regime began with his pronouncement that he was opposed to lengthy second generation contracts that awarded players for what they did for previous teams. To his credit, he has mainly stuck to that premise, the only real departure being the contract he gave David Wright. While we all applauded Alderson’s early stance on these types of deals, I do wonder how happy any of us would be to see a lineup like this on Opening Day:

1. Curtis Granderson, cf
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, ss
3. Yoenis Cespedes, lf
4. Lucas Duda, 1b
5. Neil Walker, 2b
6. Jay Bruce, rf
7. David Wright, 3b
8. Travis d’Arnaud, c

That lineup depends on Alderson completing two of his top orders of business in the offseason, securing Cespedes and getting Walker to take the Qualifying Offer. But look at that lineup again. With the exception of Wright and Cespedes, there are six players with one-year deals, which has to be attractive to both Alderson and his bosses the Wilpons. Alderson’s track record reveals his commitment to power, which in theory at least, this lineup has in abundance. Plus, there is the half-myth of improved performances when playing for next year’s contract. It sets up the rest of the roster as well. Juan Lagares becomes the late inning defensive replacement, Brandon Nimmo takes over the Alexandro DeAza role and Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes act as super utility men, playing all over the infield (and perhaps in the case of Jose some outfield). From Collins’ standpoint, he gets his beloved left-right-left march through the batting order and he also gets to tinker with Reyes and Flores.

I am not condoning this lineup idea (at least not entirely) but I can see this as a distinct possibility. More on this shortly.

At first glance, it is appears that the reason the 1974 Mets didn’t repeat was their poor offense. That is partially true. They scored 40 less runs in ’74 than in the previous year and their slash line comparison from 1973 (246/315/358) to 1974 (235/311/329) does show a decline. But it was the bullpen and overall the failure of the pitching staff to maximize the paltry offensive production that they did get that sunk the 1974 Mets. They blew 40 leads in 1974 and won only 17 of the 53 one run games they played in (their 1973 counterparts won 31 one run games). One needs look no further than one Frank Edwin McGraw for the main culprit in the demise. The 1973 hero had a terrible 1974, with only three saves in 38 appearances, pitching to a 1.44 WHIP and a poor walk-to-strikeout ratio. In an early example of how historically inept the Mets medical staff has been, a cyst on his should was misdiagnosed and he was shipped off to the Phillies after the ’74 season. The cyst was removed,McGraw returned to form and soon, to the World Series with the Phils.

All of that personal angst aside, the Mets received solid bullpen work in 2016 from Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed. The latter has my vote for the 2016 Mets’ MVP. But for a variety of reasons, mainly overuse, I wonder just how much the Mets can and should depend on either pitcher. They need a substantial reinforcement here. Maybe not the Kenley Jansen fantasy that someone wrote about recently, but perhaps something along the lines of a Tyler Thornburg or a Brand Hand, although the former could cost the Mets dearly. They could bring back either Jerry Blevins or Fernando Salas (or both), but neither of them are probably suited for constant and multiple late inning appearances. The other likely options Josh Smoker, Hansel Robles and Josh Edgin, should not be considered for post-7th inning duty. And I wouldn’t be so fast to project any of the starting pitchers for a late inning role either.

I am not buying the line about the Mets having an excess of starting pitching. I think Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will be fine at the top of the rotation, but from there it gets a little dicey. I wouldn’t count on both Steven Matz and Matt Harvey being 100% by the end of Spring Training. Harvey’s injury is serious and Matz seems to be always nicked up. Pencil in one of them for the #3 spot and hope. A lot of noise has been made about a return engagement for Bartolo Colon. We’ll take it at face value for now, at least until big Bart starts asking for a multi-year deal. Right now, my #5 starter is Robert Gsellman. Talk about a guy who came out of the woodwork. I realize this is Mets Today, but Gsellman passes the eye test, IMO. I am less sanguine about his running buddy Seth Lugo. Lugo’s peripherals and his minor league numbers are somewhat off-putting. Maybe Lugo’s curve lands him a spot in the bullpen. The final piece of the puzzle is Zack Wheeler, who not having thrown a pitch in a big league game in two years, probably needs to spend some time in AAA Las Vegas first.

It all starts with Cespedes. Like him or not, he is the lynchpin to the offseason. After a disastrous sophomore season, the Mets should be eyeing a long stint in Vegas for Michael Conforto. If Cespedes departs, his slot in the field goes to Conforto. With Cespedes, Duda and Bruce become second-tier sluggers, and in the case of Bruce, a potential trade candidate should the right offer occur. Otherwise, they become more vital components, which is a very disturbing thought. With Cespedes, they probably can pass on Walker if he refuses the QO, relying instead on Reyes, Wilmer and September hero TJ Rivera at second. Without Cespedes, they may need to gamble on a big deal with Walker, probably not daring to hope that the Reyes-Wilmer-TJR troika can produce a serviceable performance at second and pick up the power slack. Without Cespedes, they might not have the pieces they need to secure that lockdown reliever.

On the flip side, maybe change is good. Cespedes departs, the Mets pass on Walker and trade Bruce. They get a little faster, a little younger and a little less reliant on the 3-run homer. Maybe the pitching stays healthy and the bullpen stays solid and Daniel Murphy comes back to earth. Standing pat didn’t work in 1974. Maybe it won’t work in 2017 either. Like I said, it’s hard to see from this vantage point. What do you see from yours?

A Mets fan since 1971, Dan spent many summer nights of his childhood watching the Mets on WOR Channel Nine, which his Allentown, PA cable company carried. Dan was present at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and the Todd Pratt Walkoff Game in 1999. He is also the proud owner of two Shea Stadium seats. Professionally, Dan is a Marketing Manager in the Bulk Materials Handling industry. He lives in Bethlehem PA with his wife and son, neither of whom fully get his obsession with the Mets.
  1. argonbunnies October 26, 2016 at 6:45 pm
    Agreed that the pathway forward isn’t clear and that the 2017 team isn’t going to resemble the hot September 2016 Mets.

    A lineup starting with Grandy, Asdrubal, Cespedes, Duda, and Walker has potential, but every single one of those guys is streaky and can go ice cold. There isn’t a high-average or contact hitter in the group. Offense around the game has picked up. So it wouldn’t be a weakness, but might not be a strength either.

    Finishing with Bruce, Wright and d’Arnaud is not really an option, I don’t think. Bruce has been a bad player for years, who Alderosn bought high on after a red-hot stretch. Wright is done, for physical reasons. D’Arnaud’s a bust. None of these players can play defense AT ALL.

    Agreed that Reed and Familia helped carry the team, and that it’d be crazy to rely on a second consecutive season of 40+ holds and 50+ saves from those two. Unfamiliarity is Reed’s friend, and now the NL East has seen him more. Familia’s control was erratic and he was lucky all year with grounders being hit at people at the right times. Both guys were worked hard enough to wonder at least a little about their health. Kenley Jansen will probably cost more than he’s worth, but the Mets do need some sort of reinforcement. Agreed that Robles shouldn’t see any big spots.

    As for the starting pitching, the Mets’ window of expected contention is over. They may still contend, but if so, it won’t be for the reasons we thought they would, namely their starting pitchers. Throwing hard with dangerous mechanics has taken its toll, and these guys will all be struggling to stay off the disabled list for the foreseeable future. (Well, except for Matt Harvey, who removed a rib to cover for his mental implosion. Ship him off to the Rays or something and he may thrive again.)

    Getting faster, younger and less reliant on homers sounds good to me, but I’m not sure who the ideal players would be for that plan. Reyes is fast but old, Flores is young but slow and mainly contributes via homers, and so on.

    Those are my thoughts on your thoughts. More of my own next…

  2. argonbunnies October 26, 2016 at 8:18 pm
    Cespedes is a good enough hitter with enough baserunning and defensive potential that a team with decent budget room would probably be wise to overpay his mid-30s for the benefit of his early 30s. Are the Mets that team? Ask the Wilpons. I don’t know. If they do have that money to spend, I’m not seeing obviously better ways to spend it.

    If the Mets had a powerhouse roster and simply needed to avoid being awful at any position, then you’d want to leave Conforto in AAA. If the Mets needed some breakout offense just to have a shot, then you’d plug Conforto in and cross your fingers. I am guessing that the 2017 Mets will be somewhere in between, leaving this a tricky call. Assuming a limited budget, I’ll say that having Conforto in the majors is a decent way to save money for spending elsewhere.

    I’d bring in Brandon Moss or Rajai Davis, play them and Lagares against lefties, and play Conforto and Granderson against righties. It’s cool that Grandy’s physically able to play every day, but he can’t actually hit lefties, so we might as well upgrade.

    If Cespedes bolts, maybe go after Jose Bautista as a consolation prize? Not sure what his health status is. I don’t view Bruce as a legit alternative, not with that OBP. I’d rather have Lagares’ defense every day.

  3. Iz October 27, 2016 at 10:31 am
    Vaulted into the top 5… Tell me when the Astros won last, tell me when the Expos/Nats won last. Shall we go on with these poor fandoms that have NEVER WON?????? Never won was a very long time ago, Oh, I’m sorry another poster said we weren’t allowed to criticize the OP. Oh well, maybe if you’d do a little work you wouldn’t write based on bad premises.
    • Dan Capwell October 27, 2016 at 8:40 pm
      Genius: re-read the second and third sentences. See the terms “in between” and “next?” Are you Matthew?
    • David Berg October 27, 2016 at 9:24 pm
      Hi Iz,

      I agree that “top 5 waits between” is a less meaningful list than “top 5 waits, period” and that the Astros, Padres, Mariners and other fandoms have it worse than the Mets’.

      I can say that, though, without throwing accusations at Dan or resentment at practices aimed at civility.

      We’re not trying to censor any baseball-related content here at MetsToday — we’re just asking people to be respectful about how they deliver it. We have found that discussion here is more fun and interesting when everyone is respectful — that way we keep talking about the Mets and baseball instead of talking about who said what and who meant what and all that.

      As such, that’ll be the last I say on this topic. Back to baseball for me.

  4. david November 3, 2016 at 10:15 pm
    Stop your belly aching IZ and focus your attention on the Mets, today, tomorrow, yesterday. It doesn’t matter.

    Turning to the post, plenty of good insights but no mention of what I see as a major issue – the production out of First Base and the Catcher.

    I don’t believe in Duda and would not be upset if he was non-tendered, as unlikely as that may sound. TDA remains a major worry. He can’t stay healthy and he didn’t hit a lick last year. Rivera deserved the job, and deserves to come back as the back-up but he does not hit enough to be the starter IMO. Hindsight is 20:20 but Wheeler and Conforto for Lucroy would have solved a big problem. Point being I think the acquisition of a catcher via trade is the best bet and am interested to hear any ideas since I don’t get to watch many other teams play especially in the AL.

    • David Berg November 5, 2016 at 12:30 pm
      I agree 100% about C and 1B.

      D’Arnaud’s had only brief periods to date where he was acceptable on both sides of the ball. I hate to give up on a catcher with his offensive potential, but I don’t like the Mets’ odds in 2017 with him behind the plate.

      As for Duda, I think he’s actually a pretty good hitter, and he always gives his all in the field. But I also think his is a position we can upgrade more easily than many others.

      I’m planning to have an article on this and more up on Monday.