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?
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
And while I am speaking of great general managers, who else is questioning Alderson’s decission making? Alderson is suppose to be this great sabermetric GM but he decided to go all in on starting pitching, rather than position players like Theo Epstein, just as sabermetrics was saying the value of starting pitchers was going down because they should not be left in for the third time through the order. Also, on the offensive side, Alderson loaded up on power hitters just as power hitters became a dime per dozen. With the use of the shift, it seems that spray hitters, such as Daniel Murphy, have gone up in value. And while we are talking starting pitchers, while I can understand Alderson’s love of hard throwing, strike out pitchers, shouldn’t a well rounded pitching staff also have some off speed pitchers? One of the reasons pitchers don’t do as well the third time through the lineup is that the hitters begin timing the pitchers better. Not only did Colon and Dickey do well throwing off speed stuff, who ever started the game after them had an advantage. While the year Dickey won the Cy Young was amazing, the cumulative stats of the next day starting pitchers were even better. Alderson keeps being left behind in the race to sabermetric advantages.
He’s also shown zero long-term planning ability. We don’t have sustainable success now because the Mets spent 2011-2013 half-assedly trying to win rather than selling high on Ike Davis, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell et al and getting better draft picks. This isn’t 20/20 hindsight, it was obvious at the time and I wasn’t the only one saying so.
Brandon Nimmo was an iffy #1 pick, and now we’re seeing what a player sculpted from day one by Alderson’s development system looks like. We’re talking about a guy who barely played high school ball and was drafted on tools. What have the Mets developed? A 4th outfielder. Without great tools. See also Gavin Cecchini.
Without bothering to reject MLB’s failed status quo and learn how pitcher health ACTUALLY works, betting on young starters was an enormous risk. Alderson’s had less a PLAN for success and more a wild gamble.
Handing other teams a starting RF, LF, 1B, 2B and set-up man for free this year wasn’t roasted, but if the METS need all that at the deadline, does anyone really expect other teams to hand it to us for Binghamton’s bullpen? Of course not.
Sandy also talks a lot about “I take responsibility” for failures on his watch, while trusting that Mets fans are too stupid to realize that taking responsibility ACTUALLY means investigating and understanding and fixing a problem so it doesn’t recur, as opposed to just saying the words.
I think the Wilpons are comfortable with Sandy, and we’ll be stuck with Alderson until he finds something better. Given his trouble keeping up with the times, I don’t see other teams beating down his door, so it may be a while.
Well written, and who knows, maybe one or two of these wishes will come true.
The Mets need to be reasonably bold this winter, without panicking. 2018 will be iffy because there are too many ifs to remove, but a well-navigated offseason can project them back into the mix…there is no margin for error or half-hearted moves.
I am as anti-Jeff as you, but I think the Fred-Jeff tandem may be worse than Jeff on his own at this point. Word was he pushed hard for Cespedes, and he may be more inclined to make a bold move to change the vibe.
This game has always been pitching driven, and despite the current trend, that is still the case. Alderson went big on the starting pitching, he did so based on timetable and cost certainty. Run prevention is still what builds a winner, and 2018 is no different. The Met season was a failure due to the pitching, and the offseason focus needs to be on adding a quality start, a quality back end bullpen arm, and making no mistakes on the 40 man roster spots that will add quality depth available at AAA. This either means re-assigning some of these excess starters to bullpen roles, or dealing some of these guys. Yes, they need a reliable bat, but they can clearly field improved defense with personnel they currently control. Set up the 2018 squad with 3 closing-capable relievers, 3 guys that have a high probability of giving 200 quality innings, no weak leaks on the 25-man, and sold starter depth at AAA. It should be an interesting winter.
Forget the injuries to the starting pitching (for another debate about the Met’s ability to prevent injuries), the Mets went into 2017 with a weak bullpen just as the team was decreasing the innings for its starting pitching. I don’t understand the logic to that. I also don’t see the logic in the Mets promoting the idea of high strikeout pitchers while also seemingly not caring about hitters who strike out a lot. What is it? How do strikeouts matter for pitchers but not for hitters?
Dave, I love your idea of adding three high end relievers. I would settle for two. It would push all of the Mets current relievers down one or two pegs into positions they are more than qualified for. I would also love to add inning eaters. I just worry that the payroll I am hearing about will not pay for this. I don’t think the Mets are that broken that they couldn’t have a quality team next year. But I am worried that the Wilpons are not willing to pay for it.
I also thought that now would be a good time to buy low on Teheran. I can’t see the Braves trading him, to be honest, but maybe there’s something they really want that’d get it done.
I am rooting for Dom Smith, but in 2018 Duda is the better player, so if Dom could bring us back a star, I’m all for a Duda reunion.
I also found myself wishing we had a spot for Guillorme, and if Rosario deserves a shot to develop into a plus SS, then second base is the logical spot for Luis. The guy has zero power, but if he focuses on bunting and bat control, maybe he could reach base just enough to be an asset. I really like the thought of an infielder SAVING Mets pitchers runs. How long has it been since we’ve seen that?!
Either Cappy and I are in some bizarre sync, or these really are the only good options for these Mets.
I’d take Dickey over Lackey, though.
It gives the Mets some flexibility if Bruce is willing to play first. If Conforto isn’t 100%, Bruce can start in right, with Smith at first and Lagares in center. Once (or if) Conforto is fully healed he could play right, with Bruce bumping Smith, or if Smith is playing well and Lagares isn’t Conforto moves to center, with Bruce and Smith staying in the lineup.
The Mets did Bruce a solid by dealing him to Cleveland. There hasn’t been much of a market for him in the past, so I’d speculate he could return here and not break the budget. I could see this happening if Bruce is still unsigned after Christmas.