Are the Mets Better Off Than They Were a Year Ago?
THIS IS A POST BY DAVE BERG, so address your comments to him. Enjoy – Joe
It’s been a long wait, hasn’t it? When Sandy Alderson & Co. took over, Mets fans were already itching to get back in the playoff hunt. 2009 was the year that woke us all up to the fact that the dominant team from 2006 was dead and buried. However, we still had enough stars that a quick fix seemed plausible. We began 2010 with some hope that Jason Bay would put us back on track, and although he struggled, the team was 10 games over .500 and 2 games out of first place as late as July 6. After the collapses of 2007 and 2008 and the disappointment of 2009, Mets fans had learned to fear, but not to despair. Could the team actually over-achieve for once, replacing the entitlement and choking of 2007 and 2008 with a plucky underdog success story in 2010? Nope. The team took a nosedive and finished under .500. It was time for a change.
Alderson took over with a message of sustainable building while also competing. Some fans thought “competing” meant “for the playoffs” and have been sorely disappointed. Others knew it was just spin for “we won’t act like the Marlins and Astros,” and settled in patiently for a subpar team during a hopefully brief rebuilding process. If a true rebuild means drafting a player out of high school in Year 1 and then having him make a difference in the majors in Year 7, then we’re still a ways away. But Alderson knew from day one that a seven-year wait was not acceptable to the fan base, and he seems to have gotten the message that our patience is up. 2014 is the first year that he’s publicly said, “Now competing is more important than building.” He didn’t promise a playoff appearance, but I think he knows that fans need to see a clear path from here to October as soon as possible. He spent some Wilpon dollars on free agents, and you can bet that spring training will be filled with optimism for 2014 and “when we get Harvey back” for 2015.
So here’s the burning question: what sort of progress have the Mets actually made? Which of our players have seen their stock rise or fall? Who’s been replaced by someone better, or someone worse? Let’s go over the roster, position by position, to see where the Mets stand compared to one year ago, heading into 2013. Key minor leaguers are listed at the end.
Travis d’Arnaud – stock: down
Was injured on a play (foul tip) that catchers face constantly. Coupled with previous injuries, he’s starting to look fragile. When called up to the majors, he didn’t hit. This is usually no big deal for a kid getting his first taste of MLB, but at nearly 25 years old, d’Arnaud should be closer to his ceiling than most kids. Mets coaches talked about reworking his swing — recently that’s been a recipe for nothing but disaster.
Ike Davis – stock: way down
Following his strong finish to 2012, most viewed Ike as an inconsistent hitter whose streaks were worth his slumps, with a solid chance to improve. Unfortunately, 2013 was almost all slump. His defense was also terrible for most of the year.
Lucas Duda – stock: down
With a great spring training in 2013, it seemed that perhaps Duda was back to his 2011 form, and 2012 was just an off year. Nope. It looks like this is who he is: a high-K pull hitter. He was also slower than ever, proving for good that he’s not a viable outfielder.
Josh Satin – stock: up
He lacks speed, pop, defense, athleticism and youth. But he can get on base in MLB, and his righty bat makes him a solid platoon candidate.
Daniel Murphy – stock: unchanged
Murph’s AVG and OBP declined in 2013, but he was an iron man, which counts for something as long as you’re better than replacement level (which Murphy was). In the field, he continued to show that while he doesn’t help you at 2B, he won’t kill you either.
Wilmer Flores – stock: down
I’ve never been high on the big, slow kid without much patience or pop, but 2014 was the year his flaws were exposed for the world to see. An MLB cameo with a sprained ankle doesn’t mean much, but a .211 / .248 / .295 line for a guy whose tool is his bat is definitely not a good thing.
David Wright – stock: unchanged
Wright has too established a body of work for one season to make much difference. One more serious injury would change that, though.
Ruben Tejada – stock: way down
Tejada entered 2013 looking like a decent player with nebulous upside. Could he hit .320 and play slick D at SS, more than making up for his lack of pop? Or would he be a weak hitter who earned an everyday spot mainly with his ability to play a competent (but unspectacular) SS? Sadly, Ruben didn’t come close to either of these, performing well below your average AAA SS.
Curtis Granderson – stock: way up
Grandy may not hit much more than Duda, but his long track record should provide a higher floor, and the difference on defense should be huge.
Eric Young Jr. – stock: up
League average OBP, some pesky ABs (for a Mets leadoff hitter, anyway), a few diving catches, elite base-stealing — it’s a modest package for an OF with no power, but it’s better than Collin Cowgill.
Juan Lagares – stock: up
Matt den Dekker entered 2013 as the great glove in CF who might or might not hit enough for MLB. By the end of the year, Lagares surpassed everyone’s wildest hopes for CF defense, while not embarrassing at the plate. We would have taken it from den Dekker, and we got it from Lagares.
Lagares is no baby, but he’s younger than den Dekker and Captain Kirk, so he may have more room to improve than our initial 2013 options.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis – stock: down
Kirk’s stock really peaked heading into 2012. His bad ending to 2012 left his value pretty low, but there was still hope, considering his excellent 2011 and first part of 2012. Unfortunately, he didn’t really contribute anything in 2013, hitting .189 in the majors and posting an .809 OPS in Las Vegas as opposed to .908 in Buffalo two years earlier.
Chris Young – stock: up
No one expected either Marlon Byrd or a Kirk/Cowgill platoon to be any good. Young is a terribly flawed hitter, but hopefully brings enough power, patience, speed and defense that something will go right.
Andrew Brown – stock: down
It was hoped that Brown would provide power and mash lefties. He did only half of that, showing no platoon split and a poor enough OBP to counter the value of his HRs.
Jonathon Niese – stock: down
Niese paired bad luck with poor finishes in 2010-2011, but finally kept it together to post some nice stats in 2012. At age 26, with no history of serious arm issues, Niese looked extremely valuable heading into 2013 — many expected another step forward. Instead, he pitched badly and hurt his shoulder. He returned for 10 starts at season’s end, looking more or less like his old self, but it was a disappointing year. Any momentum he had toward elite status after 2012 hit the brakes, hard.
Matt Harvey – stock: up
Harvey’s stock actually went more like “sky-high rocket; utter crash landing”. He proved he can compete for the honor of Best Pitcher in the Game. What he has yet to prove is whether he can do that without shredding his elbow, or whether he can do it at all after major surgery. If Strasburg is any indication, Harvey may never again be what he was in 2013, but he should still be better than we thought he’d be after 2012.
Dillon Gee – stock: up
Although Gee couldn’t come near his K rate from 2012, he made every start and was good for most of the year. He seems to be getting a good rep as a smart pitcher who’s hard to predict.
Zack Wheeler – stock: unchanged
Any prospect who arrives in MLB and performs should see his stock go up dramatically. Wheeler’s hype was so immense, however, that anything less than what he did actually would have been a disappointment. The 3.42 ERA and .243 opponent average look good, though the fastball at 94 with run is not the 97 with sink that had minor league scouts drooling. And those walks will have to go way down. An AC joint issue in AAA, plus late-season stiffness, may have also put him on some injury watch lists.
Jeremy Hefner – stock: unchanged
From 6th starter to staff anchor, Hefner’s stock was way up through the All-Star break. Then he got shelled and went under the knife. Once he’s healthy, he’ll again have to fight to prove himself, just as he did coming into 2013.
Bartolo Colon and minor leaguers vs Shaun Marcum and Johan Santana – stock: unchanged
I couldn’t decide which 2013 player to compare Colon to, so I figured I’d take the remaining spots in the rotation as a group. Colon has the best recent combo of health and success. Marcum and Santana were both good when they could take the field. 2014’s fifth starter will be a crap shoot. This comparison sounds crazy with 20/20 hindsight, but if you think back to February 2013, many people were actually pretty enthused about Santana and Marcum.
Bobby Parnell – stock: up
Hey, Bobby’s not allergic to the 9th inning! That doubles his salary and perceived value right there. Spinal problems knock him back down a bit, but recent word is that those are behind him. We’ll see.
Vic Black – stock: unchanged
This rating really just applies to the presumed 7th/8th-inning guy. The proven but often mediocre Brandon Lyon coming off a great 2012, versus the hard-throwing but untested Black. Who knows?
Josh Edgin – stock: down
I’d say “way down” but few relievers really have that far to fall. All these reliever ratings are pretty tiny changes on the scale of player value. In 2013, Edgin looked nothing like the nasty flamethrower who arrived from the minors in 2012. Then he disappeared with a broken rib of unknown origin. Yikes.
Jeurys Familia – stock: down
He’s still a “good stuff, no control” pitcher, but now he’s a year older with a longer injury history.
Carlos Torres – stock: up
Never demonstrated much value before. In 2013, excelled in relief, and moved between the rotation and bullpen without injury.
Scott Rice – stock: up
Proved that lefties can’t hit him, and certainly not for power. Copious walks mean he’s not truly special, but he looks like an adequate MLB LOOGY.
Gonzalez Germen – stock: up
I’d never heard of him entering 2013. Looks like he has a shot to be an MLB reliever.
MINOR LEAGUERS OF NOTE
Jenrry Mejia – stock: up
Looked fantastic for five MLB starts. Hadn’t shown any indication in years that he was capable of that kind of performance. I can’t guess at his future prospects, but they look better than they did before those five starts.
Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero – stock: up
Both pitchers sped through multiple levels in the minors. Syndergaard reached AA before turning 21, while Montero reached AAA in his 3rd year of pro ball.
Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini – stock: down
Nimmo no longer looks like a CF candidate after filling out. At the plate, has shown he can draw walks, but only while whiffing a ton and showing no power. Scouts think Cecchini can stick at shortstop, but he doesn’t wow anyone there, and he posted a .633 OPS in low A ball.
Kevin Plawecki – stock: up
This high-contact backstop batted .305 and was hit by 24 pitches between Savannah and St. Lucie. He looks like the next Jason Kendall, minus the speed and defense (so, perhaps Brian Harper?). This may sound eerily like Josh Thole, but it’s got to be encouraging for Plawecki’s first year of full-season ball.
SUMMING IT UP
So, what’s changed since a year ago?
Stock way down: Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada
Stock down: Niese, d’Arnaud, Duda, Edgin, Familia, Flores, Nieuwenhuis, Brown, plus top talents in the low minors (Mateo, Tapia, Nimmo, Cecchini)
Stock unchanged: Murphy, Wright, Wheeler, Hefner, Black and Colon (compared to who they’re replacing)
Stock up: Harvey, Gee, Lagares, Chris Young, Eric Young Jr., Satin, Torres, Rice, Germen, Mejia, Syndergaard, Montero, Plawecki
Stock way up: Curtis Granderson (compared to Duda in LF)
I’d summarize the changes from a year ago as “insufficient”. It’s not that there weren’t positive developments — there certainly were. The problem is that each ray of sunshine for an emerging player was countered by a dark cloud over one we already hoped we could count on. Davis and Tejada were never going to give the Mets the best 1B and SS in the league, but heading into 2013 it seemed like, at the very least, they wouldn’t be adding to the team’s list of terrible problems. It also seemed possible that Niese, Duda, and d’Arnaud would all take steps forward. Instead, those players’ worth is more in doubt now than it was a year ago. It was nice to see Syndergaard progressing, Lagares catching everything, Gee becoming reliable, Wright being Wright, a bunch of bit players stepping up, and Harvey showing the best upside in the sport. It’s nice to add Curtis Granderson. But given where the Mets were coming from, “two steps forward, one and a half steps back” is not good enough. A rebuilding club hoping to contend soon can’t afford any steps back. The progress needs to far outweigh the declines.
Maybe the Mets’ future prospects are a little brighter today than they were in January 2013, thanks to Syndergaard, Granderson and Harvey, or maybe they’re a little darker, thanks to d’Arnaud, Davis, and Tejada. I really don’t know. Whatever the case, though, the overall outlook hasn’t drastically improved. Unfortunately, in the path from 74-win laughingstock to 90-win contender, nothing short of drastic improvement will suffice. 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.
Agree? Disagree? Please post your thoughts in the comments.
Mets Item of the Day
I stumbled upon this and couldn’t resist sharing it – a New York Mets Mouse Pad, featuring the 60s version of Mr. Met. It has a really nostalgic look to it — if there were desktop computers in the 1960s, couldn’t you see this mouse pad on someone’s desk in a Mad Men episode?