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:


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.


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…


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.

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. DaveSchneck February 22, 2018 at 7:43 pm
    Happy spring. Hey, those early reboot netted the Mets a couple of future managers, including a hall of fame one.

    Time will tell, but my hope is that this “reboot’ will be different since the prior year was essentially destroyed by injury. This was a world series team and playoff team in the two seasons prior to 2017. As you noted, the core strength is pitching, and injuries aside, this is pitching in its prime. While each addition has its pros and cons, collectively they given them Mets enough depth and run support to allow them to compete for the division if the pitching excels. Being a Met fan in springtime, I consider this one of the better springs.

    • argonbunnies March 1, 2018 at 10:16 pm
      Having Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard automatically qualifies the starting rotation as a potential strength. But all dreams of “five aces”, or even being 5 deep in #2s, should have died a long time ago. Matz has never stayed healthy, Wheeler has never stayed healthy or consistent, and Harvey has none of the weapons that formerly made him successful.

      This isn’t a potentially spectacular rotation — it’s a potentially pretty good rotation, with two aces, a solid #5 in Vargas, and probably a lot of ups and downs from the other two spots.

      I’ll take “pretty good”, but I think the Mets need a championship plan that doesn’t rely too heavily on it.

      As for the pitching overall, I think the Mets’ bullpen is neither elite nor terrible, and has a chance to be pretty good or pretty bad depending on Swarzak, Ramos, and the conversions of some starters.

      Honestly, my biggest hope for pitching to be a core strength is to dominate the middle innings by yanking starters early and using other starters for multi-inning relief. If Wheeler can get you once through the lineup, then Lugo probably can too, and now you’re in good shape for your short guys. Let’s see how creative Callaway and Eiland really are…

  2. Adrock February 22, 2018 at 11:25 pm
    Interesting bad memories there. D’Amico’s problem wasn’t finding the plate. Joe Sheehan on Baseball Prospectus that mid-season referred to D’Amico as “a strike-throwing machine” (I swear I’m not making this up). Checking the numbers, D’Amico’s problem wasn’t finding the strike zone — he only walked 2.3 BB per 9 IP. His problem was missing bats; with a 4.94 ERA and a dismal 81 ERA+, he certainly didn’t miss a lot of bats with all those strikes he threw.

    I remember the ’02 Mets being competitive until July or August, when the bottom fell out completely. Jeromy Burnitz I believe went oh-for August that year. The original Jason Bay, he was.

  3. Kelvin Torve February 23, 2018 at 9:21 am
    Jeromy Burnitz
    Jason Bay
    Jay Bruce

    THE “JB” CURSE: give it time.

  4. Dan Capwell February 23, 2018 at 4:53 pm
    Just because I am bored, I took another look at the 2017 Mets starting pitching performances. I must be a masochist.

    Rafael Montero, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Chris Flexen, Tommy Milone , Tyler Pill and Adam Wilk combined to make 67 starts for the Mets last year. Combined they hurled 380 innings, or an average of six innings per start. They got shelled for 462 hits and pitched to a combined 1.76 WHIP. They had a 1.5/1 K/BB ratio.

    Looking at it this way, an injured Matz and a one year from TOS Harvey, along with a quartet of AAAA (at best pitchers) combined to have the same kind of performance that Montero logged all by himself. So essentially the Mets rotation last year was deGrom, Robert Gsellman (second most starts behind deGrom) and a trio of Monteros. This doesn’t factor in the 17 horrible starts by Zack Wheeler.

    So, it stands to reason that a rotation featuring a reasonably healthy Matz or Harvey, coupled with deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and a typical year from Jason Vargas is likely good for a 10-15 game swing in the win column. The Mets need to keep the Monteros, Flexens, etc. of the world from making any more than a handful of starts, and they should be fine.

    • DaveSchneck February 23, 2018 at 10:24 pm
      The dreadfulness of the 2017 pitching performance has in someways been understated this offseason due to the uproar over the Wilpon budget. It as historically horrendous, primarily due to injuries combined with lack of upper level depth, and in Flexen’s case, being somewhat of a sacrificial lamb. The final stat lines were very much on par with the 1962 staff:

      2017 1962
      ERA 5.01 5.04
      ERA+ 85 82
      FIP 4.59 4.59
      WHIP 1.485 1.502

      As poor as this looks, it actually gives me some optimism for 2018. The injured big guns are healthy now (fingers crossed), the pen is solid, the arms at AAA are deeper, with the starters more big league ready/experiences, and the team defense looks to be significantly improved. Run prevention should be greatly improved. And, should injuries strike the starting staff, the next in line group (Wheeler, Gsellman, Lugo, Flexen) should be able to outperform three 2017 Rafael Monteros.

      I’m not sure they can pick off a healthy Nationals team, but I’ll certainly take over 81 wins for 2018.

      • argonbunnies March 1, 2018 at 10:27 pm
        If Plan A is Cabrera at second and Conforto in center, I don’t think the defense will be improved.

        More Rosario is a good thing, but he isn’t a defensive whiz yet.

        At first base, Smith and A-Gon should give us what we got from James Loney — more finesse than Duda, but less range. (Unless Smith’s lost weight makes a big difference.)

        An outfield of Conforto flanked by Bruce and Cespedes sounds like a recipe for disaster.

        Plawecki and d’Arnaud won’t deter any basestealers.

        The Mets are going to need to do what the best modern pitching staffs do: strike a ton of hitters out.

    • argonbunnies March 1, 2018 at 10:36 pm
      Assuming good health from Syndergaard, deGrom, and Vargas doesn’t strike me as unrealistic.

      Assuming that some combo of Matz, Harvey, etc. won’t be as injured/awful as last year also seems plausible.

      Expecting both at once? That’s the kind of not-crazy-but-not-likely optimism that broken Mets fan dreams are made of.

      If Matz’s arm holds up for a full season, then deGrom’s probably blows out. On a staff full of high-effort, high-velocity guys, it’s not reasonable to expect ZERO disasters.

      Heck, it’s probably not reasonable to expect only one or two disasters, given the track records here. I’m rooting for Jake and Thor to hold up, because I really think the rest is going to be an exercise in trouble management. I just hope Callaway and Eiland can stay ahead of that wave…

  5. argonbunnies March 1, 2018 at 10:06 pm
    I was very happy to see that the Wilpons opened up the checkbook to add $47.5M in 2018 contracts.

    I’ve been very sad to see that Alderson has spent most of that on very minor upgrades. Both Fangraphs and Bradford Doolittle at ESPN think these moves have added about 2 wins to the Mets’ 2018 forecast. That’s… not a lot of return for $47.5M.

    Adding Swarzak and bringing back Blevins is purely positive, but a lot of the other moves are basically shuffling playing time away from Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, and Wilmer Flores, and into the hands of guys who are only a little bit better.

    Either adding Todd Frazier or bringing back Adrubal Cabrera would have been a nice move, but the Mets certainly didn’t need both, not with Reyes back on the cheap.

    I know that guys will get hurt and that depth is important, but I’d rather spend on players that are actually very good when they can take the field and trust the T.J. Riveras of the world to fill in the gaps. That seems much smarter to me than filling the roster with guys who are just a little better than T.J. Rivera.

    Acquiring Jason Vargas is a similar move. I was lobbying like crazy for the Mets to get another starting pitcher, but not one who projects to be roughly as effective per inning as the crop we already have. He’s probably taking innings away from Seth Lugo, while pitching more or less like… Seth Lugo.

    We could blame Madoff and the Wilpons for a lot of things back in 2014, but I think it’s long past time to shift the focus onto Alderson.

    • DaveSchneck March 2, 2018 at 12:30 am
      I think it is fair to define the Mets’ offseason as solid but unspectacular. Alderson made reference today to the 2015 World Series team, and there is merit to that comp. When looking back at the 2015 stats, the team won the NL East with 90 wins, based primarily on pitching. They had dominant seasons from three pitchers – deGrom, Harvey, and Familia, with solid contributions from Syndergaard. Niese and Colon ate innings at subpar ERA+. The pen was thin behind Familia for most of the season until Reed was acquired. The offense was so-so, ranking 9th in OPS, but rode Cespedes into the playoffs and Murphy to the Series. Overall the team was slow and the team defense was below average and terrible up the middle. Flores was the World Series SS.

      Certainly any 2018 contender will need some dominant performances and good health. Given that, I do see the 2018 squad as deeper in both starting pitching and bullpen depth, including the depth that goes into AAA. The offense is close to 2015, give or take. The infield defense is dramatically improved and #b, SS, and 2B…yes, a stationary Cabrera is still much better than Murphy. 1B is likely better, and TDA, although below average, has improved since 2015. The OF is more or less a push depending on how many innings Lagares covers in CF. I do think Alderson’s conclusion that the Nats should be favored but the Mets have a legit shot is reasonable.