David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
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Time warp to 2012!

Dickey, Duda, Murphy

Does the Mets’ 2018 season seem eerily familiar to you? Are you reminded of the beginning of the Alderson era, when the Mets failed to properly rebuild in the name of “maybe we can contend” every year? For those who’ve since managed to forget, this summed up the Mets from 2011-2013, and only the unexpected brilliance of rookies Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia carried the team closer to .500 in 2014.

Personally, when I look at the 2018 squad, I see a lot of 2012. Let’s indulge in a wistful reminiscence of that knuckleball-filled season, and see if it provides any takeaways for the Mets’ current roster.

The cast of characters

The Cy Young candidate

With all hopes of contention gone before the end of July, 2012 Mets fans had one reason to tune in every five days: the brilliance of R.A. Dickey. Some historic feats early in the season (back-to-back one-hitters in June!) put him on the map as one of the best stories of the year, and he charged into August and September pursuing 20 wins and a Cy Young award.

When he had his A+ knuckleball he was a strikeout machine, and when he didn’t, Dickey got by on guts and determination. Whenever he was in trouble, he seemed to find a way to dot the corner with a surprise fastball, or induce a chopper for a double play. R.A. seemed to single-handedly will the team to victory on the days he started; rarely has a Mets pitcher fielded his position with more gusto or run harder to first base than the 37-year-old journeyman with the thick beard.

Of course, all those wins weren’t really single-handed. The team still had to score a few runs, catch some deep fly balls, and close the door in the 8th and 9th. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it, Jacob deGrom?

 

The blossoming #2 starter

Jon Niese had teased the Mets for years with various combinations of a nasty cutter, a nasty curve, and elite velocity for a lefty starter. In 2012, he improved his control and went on his first sustained run of excellence.

We can see some parallels in the Mets tenure of Zack Wheeler, though Zack’s 2018 turnaround has been far more dramatic.

 

The young catcher playing himself into a back-up role

Josh Thole and Kevin Plawecki were both supposed to hit for high enough averages to make up for their mediocre arms. Nope.

 

The slugging first baseman with contact issues

Back in 2012, most teams still valued a guy who could hit 30 homers and not do much else. Ike Davis was viewed as a probable cornerstone of the Mets’ lineup, despite his whiff rate. Now, in 2018, with such players often available in the free agent bargain bin, poor Peter Alonso can’t even get a call-up.

(In case this is news to anyone, Alonso struck out 77 times in 65 games for Las Vegas.)

 

The contact-hitting second baseman

It’s still early for Jeff McNeil, but he shows all the signs of becoming a Mets-era Daniel Murphy: great contact ability, occasional pop, few walks, not exactly a natural at second base. Hopefully McNeil can avoid the injury bug that bit the Mets’ last Murphy clone, T.J. Rivera.

 

The really, really young shortstop

In 2010, Ruben Tejada blew our minds by showing himself to be a capable MLB shortstop at the age of 20. Despite his lack of exceptional tools, he showed enough quickness, contact ability, and intelligence both in the field and at the plate, to raise hopes very high indeed. In 2012, Ruben hit .320 into mid-August while rating as an average defender at short. Terry Collins named him as the team’s cornerstone player to build around heading into the future.

From there it was all down hill.

Amed Rosario likewise impressed onlookers at an early age, though in a very different way, flashing tools in AAA rather than poise in MLB. Handed the Mets’ starting shortstop job at age 22, Rosario is still viewed by some as a future cornerstone, but his lackluster results are beginning to dim those hopes.

 

The future middle of the order hitter, or maybe not

Lucas Duda absolutely destroyed the minors in 2010 and 2011, but his early days in MLB were mixed. Showing the quickest bat and most natural power on the team, Duda alternated between great at bats and terrible ones. When hot, he was very selective, drawing walks and murdering the pitches he got to hit. When cold, he’d consistently wave through anything sinking below the knees, with little ability to read change-ups and breaking balls. He was also toast against lefties.

Michael Conforto has been much the same so far in his major league career, but with more prolonged slumps and more prolonged streaks. With a torrid first half of 2017, Conforto had everyone dreaming of a perennial All-Star hitter, but that hitter hasn’t shown himself once in 2018.

 

The toolsy outfielder on the rise

The 2012 Mets featured an athletic outfielder who had recently put together a very impressive minor league season, and instantly showed a decent combination of pop and patience in the majors. His name was Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and scouts were torn on whether he’d be a future regular or future fringe player.

Brandon Nimmo entered 2018 in much the same position. Like Kirk, he got off to a good start. Unlike Kirk, he’s kept it up. Look out, though. That whiff rate that proved to be Nieuwenhuis’s undoing? Nimmo’s is nearly identical.

 

The part-time masher

Scott Hairston was the 2012 Mets’ second-best hitter after David Wright. Scott never provided enough consistency or defensive value to be a regular, but he could certainly hit rockets when he was on.

While Hairston was a two-year free agent, his modern counterpart, Wilmer Flores, is one of the longest-tenured Mets and a fan favorite.

 

The giant pile of wasted money

Johan Santana gave the Mets one great season and a few good ones before his body betrayed him. Jason Bay fell apart very quickly after donning the orange and blue. In 2012, the pair contributed a combined -0.9 WAR for $40M.

Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce have provided -0.1 WAR for their $40M salary in 2018.

2012’s legacy

After 2012, the Mets continued to sputter along until everything converged late in 2015. Of the 2012 players mentioned above, only Murphy and Duda were regulars, with Tejada and Niese useful in part-time roles. Dickey was traded for a serviceable catcher and a hard-throwing kid who took off in the Mets’ system. Santana and Bay were gone, with Nieuwenhuis a 25th man, on and off the roster.

Will history repeat itself?

Can you imagine this Mets team reaching the 2021 World Series?

• A red-hot Jeff McNeil, coming off a merely decent season, anchoring the playoff lineup from the #3 spot with lots of tough at bats and surprising pop.

• Michael Conforto batting 5th against righties, with enough easy whiffs to frustrate, but enough walks and homers to be useful.

• Amed Rosario as a part-time shortstop, allowing the Mets to switch and pinch-hit for another mediocre option at the position.

• Zack Wheeler bumped from the rotation due to health and consistency issues, but contributing out of the bullpen.

• Nimmo subbing in to hit the occasional triple or make the occasional diving catch.

• Bruce and Cespedes a distant memory.

• Some emerging ace and catcher stepping into the spotlight after being acquired for deGrom in 2018.

That team is still missing most of the key components that would make it a winner. However, way back in 2012, we didn’t see deGrom, Familia, and Cespedes on the horizon either.

Now, if only we had a young Matt Harvey bursting onto the scene and a David Wright still playing like a star when healthy…

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Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2017?

This is the fifth annual article on this topic.

Links to previous editions: 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017

The story so far…

The Mets breathed hope into a long-suffering fan base with their late charge in 2015, a World Series run that had pundits questioning whether the 2016 Mets rotation would be among the best ever. Did the Nationals even have a realistic shot at the team that had so thoroughly pummeled them in the previous year’s pennant race?

Then Matt Harvey fell apart, Steven Matz got hurt, Zack Wheeler endured setbacks, and only a clutch rally by plans C, D, E and F propelled the Mets to the 2016 wild card game, where they unfortunately got Bumgarnered.

Coming into 2017, most expectations of Met dominance were gone, but many still expected the Mets to be one of the better teams in the game and not too far behind the Nats. Their young aces were expected to rebound, at least somewhat, and many prognosticators foresaw better contributions from Lucas Duda (injured in 2016), Michael Conforto (awful in 2016), or Travis d’Arnaud (injured and awful in 2016). Yoenis Cespedes was expected to contribute more in the field and on the bases, having recovered from the leg injuries he played through in 2016.

Most of those hopes didn’t survive April.

Duda and Conforto did improve, but the pitching completely fell apart in 2017, en route to the second-worst ERA in franchise history.

The Mets’ pitching staffs of 2015-2016 did not walk people. They all threw strikes, from the dominators like Jacob deGrom to the fringe guys like Sean Gilmartin. In 2016, the Mets issued 439 free passes, best in the National League.

In 2017, that number jumped to 593, the third worst total in the N.L.

I have heard no theories as to why this happened, so here’s mine: it was the departure of Bartolo Colon. With his unimpressive velocity and physique, Colon spent 2014-2016 relentlessly throwing strike after strike, never perturbed when a hitter would square one up. That confidence had to inspire his young, chiseled, rocket-armed teammates, didn’t it? Or at least make them ashamed to nibble?

Alas, the Mets let Bart sign with the Braves for 2017, and that didn’t end well for anyone — not for the Mets’ suddenly-skittish pitchers, nor for Bartolo in the Braves’ new launching pad stadium.

Bad pitching wasn’t the 2017 Mets’ only major problem, though. The infield defense was awful, by far the worst in baseball according to the Defensive Runs Saved metric. The Mets’ lack of speed meant they couldn’t manufacture runs, and often relied solely on the homerun. Many of the team’s injury-prone players got injured again, leading players and management alike to lament the season’s run of bad luck.

By early June, the Mets seemed out of the hunt, with the Nationals well on their way to winning 97 games (despite major injuries of their own). By July, the Mets were in full-on sell mode, waving goodbye to Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Addison Reed, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, in exchange for a big bag of nothing. I mean relief prospects. No, wait, I already said that.

After the trade deadline, the Mets went 22-37; the top prospects brought up to provide excitement and improvement did neither; and reports surfaced of “the inmates running the asylum” and the players being “all miserable”.

After concluding their 70-92 season, the Mets said goodbye to longtime manager Terry Collins, bringing on first-time skipper Mickey Callaway. Callaway and new pitching coach Dave Eiland immediately gushed about the talented arms in the Mets rotation, continuing the long-running story that this is a team built on starting pitching.

What now?

A lot went wrong in 2017. A few things also went right. Let’s give it all a thorough look-over, and see if we can make sense of what it means for 2018.

Stock Up, Stock Down

Catcher

Travis d’Arnaudstock: unchanged
2017 was largely an awful year for d’Arnaud. Blessed with better health than in past seasons, he hit and threw so poorly in the early going that when the Mets really needed a win, scrap-heap pickup Rene Rivera took the field. Coming off a 2016 season in which he rated as below replacement level, Travis did little to raise his stock in 2017, unless you find meaning in a September power surge after the Mets were far removed from contention. Bringing d’Arnaud back in 2018 (while watching the A’s sign Jonathan Lucroy for $6.5M) is a big gamble on a playoff-hopeful team.

Kevin Plaweckistock: up

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Congratulations, reader!

Jay Bruce

We know you’ve thought it.

Heck, you may have even said it — in a, “We all know I don’t really mean it,” sort of way, with maybe just a hint of, “Or do I?”

Well, the time for humility has passed. Go ahead. Say it loudly and wholeheartedly:
 

“I’d make a better Mets GM than this guy!”
 

Right at this moment, it’s true. “This guy” is Sandy Alderson, and the media just informed us that he spent a significant portion of the Mets’ remaining player budget on a player who:

  • Is at an age where players generally stay the same or get worse.
  • Has never gotten on base much.
  • Has always struck out a ton.
  • Has always been a streaky hitter.
  • Has spent most of the past half-decade as a poor defensive right fielder.
  • Has just started learning how to play first base, so isn’t adept there either.
  • Has generally been an easy out against left-handed pitchers.
  • Is slow, a negative on the bases.
  • Hits a lot of fly balls, a good number of which leave the park given favorable conditions.

There is exactly one situation in which you sign such a player to a three-year deal for $13M per year:

  • All the comparable player options — who, given how MLB currently values the above skill set, could have been had on one-year deals or for less money — are already gone.
  • You don’t need to save money for other needs.
  • You’re currently looking at an absolute black hole in right field or first base.

How many of these required conditions are true for the Mets? Zero.

I enjoy rooting for Jay Bruce. He seems like a nice guy and a hard worker. But with a limited budget, no second baseman, a shallow bullpen, and only two reliable starting pitchers on the roster, he is possibly the worst investment I can imagine for this team at this moment.

So pat yourselves on the backs, all you Mets fans who think you’d be a better GM than the guy we’ve actually got! Right now, you’re officially correct.

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Could blockbuster trades make the Mets champions in 2018?

JT Realmuto and Christian Yelich

Forget for a moment that the Mets organization plans to field a .500 club while trying to inspire fans with upside and potential, much as they’ve done for most of the last seven years. Pretend instead that the Mets have a choice between the two options faced by teams who are actually trying to win:

  1. Look up at the Nationals, look down at the Mets roster, judge the gap too large to breach, and plan for the future.
  2. Maximize the Mets’ current assets and go all-in for 2018.

Maybe Option A is the smarter long-term move. Dangle Jacob deGrom for a boatload of prospects, tank for a few years to collect top draft picks, and aim for a championship when Amed Rosario is in his prime in 2023.

So, hey, Mets fans, how many of you are on board with that plan? After a decade of choke jobs, injuries, mediocrity, penury and embarrassment, punctuated by a few months of catching lightning in a bottle, are you on board to wait another several years for a contender with a decent shot to win it all?

Me neither.

So let’s talk about Option B. Before Sandy Alderson has polished his February speeches about how the market didn’t provide the proper opportunities and blah blah blah, let’s see if we can imagine a way to get from where the Mets are now to the promised land this October.

Spend, but spend wisely

It’s easy for fans to ask their team to spend more money for more wins. I’d rather not go so far in that direction, though, that we’re paying $100 million in 2020 to some combination of players who can’t take the field (Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez) or are below-average (Jay Bruce, Mike Moustakas).

I want the Wilpons to spend, but I also want them to get bang for every buck, so we fans can dream of contending every year without needing to spend like the Yankees and Dodgers (which simply isn’t going to happen). For that reason, I’m going to rule out many players who could really help the Mets in 2018, because I don’t think they’ll be remotely worth what they’d cost. To me, that’s the above players, plus Eric Hosmer, along with anyone who generates an actual bidding war among Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Wade Davis, Addison Reed, and Lorenzo Cain.

My guess is that the Mets’ biggest moves should be trades, leaving free agency to round out the roster with an R.A. Dickey here or a Jarrod Dyson there.

Step 1: Pay for Christian Yelich

The Marlins are looking for immediate payroll relief, and that means finding a taker for Martin Prado. They’re also looking to avoid the appearance of a complete sell-off, which means they need both hot prospects and MLB-ready talent. Whoever can fill all these needs will become the leading candidate for the Marlins’ most coveted remaining talents, Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto.

This is something the Mets can achieve for little more than short-term money. Here’s how:

Trade Dominic Smith, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Dunn, Travis d’Arnaud and cash to Miami for Prado, Yelich and Realmuto.

Dunn is a first-round draft pick with elite velocity. Smith is another first-round pick who’s received plenty of media hype, flashed great potential, and has the likable underdog backstory that fits perfectly on a rebuilding team. Cabrera can play wherever the Marlins need him in the infield, with the Mets sending cash to offset his salary. D’Arnaud will replace Realmuto behind he plate, bringing an enticing history of top-prospect status and power potential. It’s not a steal for Miami, but it’s credible, and gets them the payroll relief they want.

Where would this leave the Mets?

Realmuto’s poor blocking and framing skills make him far from perfect, but gaining 50+ points of OBP from the catcher spot is hard to overrate.

Yelich is either a mediocre center fielder or a gold glove corner guy. He’s durable and a good baserunner. He hasn’t yet put it all together at the plate with any consistency, but he’s flashed batting champion potential and it’s not impossible to dream of upside at age 26.

Prado suffered from hamstring problems early in 2017 and then had knee surgery in late July. Having just turned 34, he has to be considered a health risk. Before that, however, he was a player who would have fit perfectly on the Mets: a reliable, clutch, shift-beating contact hitter who rated as a stellar defender at third base.

Realmuto and Yelich will be paid much less than they’re worth through 2022, while Prado will be paid a bit more than he’s worth through 2019. The Mets’ payroll will jump in the short term, but they’ll actually be in an improved wins-per-dollar position going forward.

As for losing Smith and Dunn, I don’t expect to miss a first base-only prospect and a pitcher who’s never shown much command or control.

Step 2: Pay for Joey Votto

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Have the Mets already whiffed on free agency?

Mets GM Sandy Alderson

Is everyone enjoying the high-stakes poker game of the major league baseball offseason? Are you thrilled to be watching different front office strategies reveal themselves?

I’ve been watching, but I can’t say that I’m thrilled or filled with joy. The two trends that I’ve recognized so far are very familiar to Mets fans:

  • Some teams target players who can provide great bang for their buck, and move on them aggressively.
  • Sandy Alderson’s Mets wait to see how the market develops, by which point all the shrewd gets are gone.

I’m not talking about Shohei Otani, who I see as an electric arm with severe blowout potential who’s unlikely to hit MLB pitching without daily reps. I’m not talking about Zack Cozart or Yonder Alonso. I’m not even talking about Carlos Santana (although I’d happily give him the contract the Phillies did, if Dominic Smith were the key to a big trade).

Here’s a short list of players targeted by more aggressive teams, who I wish the Mets had gotten to first.

The list

Tom Koehler, Dodgers. The Mets always crushed him the second time through the order, but he often looked great for a few innings, with adequate velocity, a good breaking ball, and good control. Given the Mets’ current pitching talent, their single biggest need is multi-inning relievers. Who wouldn’t bet $2M to see if Koehler can be that?

Doug Fister, Rangers. A candidate to start or pitch in long relief, Fister would have given the Mets a vital safety net. A towering control artist with good movement, Fister got back to his former effectiveness late in 2017 after a bad couple of years. The Rangers only needed a one-year offer to grab him in November.

Wily Peralta, Royals. Why not see if this young, hard thrower can make it as a reliever?

Welington Castillo, White Sox. The only way the awful White Sox get their man without outspending the league (which they didn’t) is to court him hard and fast. Castillo has a spectacular arm and some pop, making him roughly twice as good as Travis d’Arnaud.

Matt Adams, Nationals. If the Mets are looking for a stopgap for Smith, how about a one-year deal for a platoon bat who crushes righties? Wilmer Flores can face the lefties.

Tommy Hunter, Phillies, or Hector Rondon, Astros. Hunter used to be one of the worst relievers in baseball. Just recently, he became one of the best, ditching his flat heater in favor of a cutter. Rondon is the opposite — bad recently, but a history of excellence, which he could rediscover if he stays healthy and if the 2018 baseball is less juiced. The important part is that these guys were had for two-year contracts at reasonable prices. Others in this category included Luke Gregerson, Steve Cishek, Joe Smith, and Pat Neshek.

Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and the rest of the Marlins’ fire sale. I doubt Stanton wanted to come to Queens in the end… but who knows, there may have been a moment when it was possible. More likely, there was a period of opportunity before Jeter found a taker for Stanton’s contract, when the Marlins were desperate to cut payroll and an aggressive move for anyone else on their roster would have paid off.

Are these all amazing moves? Risk-free moves? No-brainer moves? No. But they are a heck of a lot better than what’s currently on the Mets’ plate.

What’s currently on the Mets’ plate

The Mets don’t have anyone in a long-reliever role. They have lots of young guys still hoping to make it as starters. Do you like Robert Gsellman‘s odds of being a reliable two-inning reliever in 2018? I don’t.

Kevin Plawecki might be improving, but the Mets have a definite weakness at catcher, which they could have addressed by throwing Asdrubal Cabrera money at the problem. Instead, they handed that money to Cabrera, who is a better defensive third baseman than T.J. Rivera, Wilmer Flores, or Jose Reyes, but could probably be replaced by some combo of those three without weakening the position overall.

Rumor has it that the Mets are trying to talk Jay Bruce down from four years to three. What?! The only thing that separates Bruce from the bargain bin of low-OBP lefty sluggers is his tenuous grasp on the mobility to play a just-acceptable right field. Surely the Mets can find a cheaper, shorter-term option to cover Michael Conforto‘s absence in the outfield, and the same is true for a stopgap for Smith.

And finally, Anthony Swarzak? I’d be fine with 2/$14M for one of the relievers I listed above, but a guy with Swarzak’s history — durable but awful, then good but hurt — should come at a discount. Those extra few dollars matter in terms of meeting various needs on a Wilpon budget.

What do you think? Should the Mets be spreading their limited dollars around, saving them all for Jake Arrieta, or just waiting to see what falls into their laps in February? Have they already missed out on the most cost-effective ways to improve the team, or are comparable deals still to be found? Sound off in the comments!

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Bright spots and hope as the Mets approach the trade deadline

Amed Rosario and Jacob deGrom

I’m not here to offer hope for the 2017 playoffs. Making up ten games in the standings and jumping over five teams is, technically, a thing that can happen, but I think it’s a foolish thing to aim for.

Instead, I’m looking to see what positives the rest of 2017 may hold for Mets fans as we look forward to contention in 2018, and look to be entertained in the meantime.

Bright Spots

Jacob deGrom

Take out deGrom’s two terrible starts in late spring (when I assume he was hiding an injury or illness, which has always been the case with him in past such stretches) and he’s 11-1, with a 2.45 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, both good for 3rd in the NL. Don’t miss a chance to watch a homegrown ace in his prime. Unlike in his first three years, the Mets’ bats are even supporting him this time around!

Lucas Duda

If we had to name the Alderson era after a player, it would be the Lucas Duda era. The man has played more games as a Met than any other player post-2010. Over that span, he leads the team in walks, homeruns, and RBI. He’s had plenty of struggles, particularly in left field and against lefty pitching, but he’s never complained or made excuses or stopped hustling. The man can also hit the ball an absolute mile when he gets a hold of one. If he is about to be traded, or about to depart as a free agent, Mets fans should take a moment to appreciate him before he’s gone.

Curtis Granderson

Every team’s fan base enjoys having some good people to root for, not just good players. Although we get only the most skewed view of what players are really like, it seems pretty clear that Granderson’s a great guy and great teammate. He would be well within his rights to complain about being forced to the bench in the middle of a red hot streak, but he’s put the team first and refused to create a media distraction, just as always. If he’s entering his last days as a Met, we should root for him that much harder.

Jose Reyes

Jose has already treated us to 17 joyous trips down memory lane with his 11 steals and 6 triples. Even if he shouldn’t be a full-time player going forward, I’m sure there’s more to come. It’s fun to think back to the 2005-2008 teams, and Jose’s enthusiasm can still be infectious.

Hope for the future

Michael Conforto

Michael looks like he has a strong shot to be the best position player to come up through the Mets system since David Wright. At age 24 and with less than 800 MLB ABs under his belt, he’s probably got some improvements left.

Noah Syndergaard

Thor finished eighth in the Cy Young vote in 2016, and there are many reasons to believe he can return to that level in 2018. Maybe we’ll get a taste in September.

Amed Rosario

One of the top five prospects in baseball, Rosario will surely debut in Queens at some point in 2017. Even if his plate discipline is miles away, his defense should be a breath of fresh air.

Dominic Smith

Dom has made steady progress while being young for his level at every stop in the minors. He may not be a difference-maker yet, but he should hold his own at the minimum salary, and we’ll get to watch and see how good he can become.

The starting pitcher lottery

We can’t rely on any one guy besides Thor and deGrom. But we do have a lot of tantalizing options! Odds say that one of these guys will finally turn into a major asset, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens in the second half of 2017. Will Wheeler make an adjustment that allows him to harness his elite stuff? Will Matz find a way to stay healthy and consistent? Will Seth Lugo emerge as a dependable back-end guy who can make batters look bad with his curve? Will Robert Gsellman regain the control he had in 2016? Is there any Matt Harvey left in Matt Harvey? Most of these answers will probably be “no”, but I’m guessing there’s a pleasant surprise buried in there somewhere as well.

The trade deadline prospect lottery

Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Addison Reed, Jerry Blevins, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, and Neil Walker ought to bring back something interesting, right? The way prospect news circulates these days, we shouldn’t have to wait until 2018 before some scouts and pundits are calling one move a bust and another a steal. Who will be the Mets’ best acquisition? A minor league starter who becomes a lights-out reliever? A struggling slugger who just needed new eyes on his swing? A catcher making the transition to third base, or vice versa? Stay tuned!

Anything else?

Am I missing anything? Is there more to like about our (or at least Keith Hernandez‘s) Lovable Metsies?

Or am I trying too hard, and this really is a difficult team to watch?

Sound off in the comments!

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Fifth Rotation

The Mets’ hopes coming into 2017 rested in large part on their starting pitching staff. Various health and effectiveness concerns provided cause for concern, but the quintet of Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz, and either Wheeler or Gsellman certainly looked like a major strength back in March. Even when Matz and 7th guy Seth Lugo both got hurt, the five arms the Mets started the season with showed great promise. Would they be enough to push a team with weaknesses elsewhere on the roster into the playoff picture?

Through five turns in the rotation, the answer appears to be a tentative “no”.

Let’s look at what we’ve seen and try our best to guess what it all means.

First, the fifth turn itself:

 IPHRERBBKHRP 
Harvey4.156651186L
deGrom76331122112W
Wheeler4.252144096
Syndergaard1.155522034L
Gsellman565510177W

What I saw

Matt Harvey

Pitching on three hours’ notice thanks to Syndergaard’s late scratch, Harvey was not sharp, which he blamed on weight lifting the day before.

Jacob deGrom

DeGrom showed pretty consistent location and velocity with his fastball, and did just enough with his secondary stuff.

Zack Wheeler

96 pitches didn’t get him through 5 innings. Bad defense didn’t help.

Noah Syndergaard

That big dude throwing 100 mph is a very poor doctor. No one tears a lat when everything is fine.

Robert Gsellman

Gsellman’s sinker was finally sinking, and he limited the free passes. Unfortunately he didn’t do much with his secondary stuff.

What I’ve seen overall, through five turns

Noah Syndergaard

Thor hadn’t always looked his sharpest this year… and that produced 30 strikeouts, no walks, and a 1.73 ERA. Cy Young contender? Check!

Then the big guy was unable to discipline himself and sacrifice some short-term frustration for long-term safety, and the Mets’ outrageously flawed medical process allowed him to roll the dice. He lost. Since the team is calling his lat injury a tear rather than a pull or a strain, I expect that it’s quite bad. That probably means that if we see Noah before September, he’ll be unwisely risking his health yet again. Tears to major muscles take time to heal, and this is one you can’t pitch with until it’s pretty much 100%. So, going forward, the Mets rotation will be without its ace. That might be enough to puncture those March/April dreams right there.

Jacob deGrom

Jacob has been dominant at times this season, but has yet to show his trademark precision and intelligence for more than a few innings at a time. His insistence on Wednesday on throwing a slider he couldn’t command was baffling. Once again, Rene Rivera called mostly fastballs, and almost no change-ups or curves.

DeGrom’s velocity has been stellar, but his movement and location have varied greatly from start to start, and sometimes from inning to inning. Will he eventually put it all together and settle into an ace-like groove as in 2015, or will he remain good but erratic?

Overall, that’s not a bad pitcher to have fronting your rotation, but it’s also not a leg up on the Mets’ competition.

Also worth noting: deGrom talked to the media about mechanics and location and this and that when he pitched poorly late in 2016, never mentioning that his ulnar nerve was on fire. So, believe none of what you hear regarding any struggles he may have. Maybe he isn’t throwing his change-up because he can’t feel his fingers, or maybe he isn’t throwing his curve because of elbow soreness, or maybe he has blisters; we have no idea.

Matt Harvey

Entering the season, I thought Harvey might be done. After spring training, I thought Harvey might be done. Then I was pleasantly surprised by his first few starts. Then his last few starts have been straight out of 2016. His numbers with men on base are terrible; just like in 2016, he cruises until there’s trouble (.655 OPS w/ bases empty), and then the wheels come off (.896 OPS w/ men on). He’s also completely stopped striking people out, and is averaging nearly two homers per 9 innings. Yeah, he’s thrown a few nasty pitches, but he threw a few nasty pitches last year too.

Maybe Harvey’s just a work in progress coming off major surgery which will eventually have cured everything that was wrong with him before the surgery. Or maybe he’s one of MLB history’s many young flame-thrower flame-outs, having lost both his stuff and his confidence. There’s too much variability here to call, but the middle-case scenario is certainly short of “elite member of elite rotation”.

Zack Wheeler

Wheeler drove me crazy in 2014 by nibbling and throwing too few strikes. Now in 2017, I think he’s nibbling less, but his command is even worse, so the results are similar. Every once in a while he’ll follow a late-sinking fastball at 97 with a diving curveball and remind us of his former elite prospect status. But that’s just every once in a while.

I haven’t spotted any health flags, so his performance may improve as he continues to shake off some rust, and anyone who had high hopes for his season probably doesn’t see much reason to be discouraged.

Personally, I had very modest hopes for his season, and don’t see much reason to be encouraged.

Robert Gsellman

He’s young and has shown both serious strikeout ability and serious groundball ability. I like his future. I’m happy to see him developing against MLB hitters. Is he an asset on a team bent on winning in 2017, though? Not yet, it appears. Consistency generally takes time, and Gsellman doesn’t seem to be an exception.

Summing up

The story of the next five months is obviously unwritten, but the Mets’ starting rotation doesn’t currently appear to be a major competitive strength. As such, I think the original premise of this “Rotation” series is dead, so I’ll be stopping the every-turn analysis, at least for now.

What have you seen?

Please share your observations in the comments!

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Fourth Rotation

The Mets’ hopes for 2017 rest in large part on their starting pitching staff. Is this quintet a major strength which can carry the team? Or do various health and effectiveness concerns place them somewhere short of that status? Let’s take a look at the fourth rotation through the Mets’ (hopefully) fab five and note what we’ve seen.

 IPHRERBBKHRP 
Syndergaard77530100114L
Harvey7433222108
deGrom5.28336100101L
Wheeler7444261101L
Gsellman41065320100L

What I saw

Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard used an extremely methodical delivery in a perfect first inning, but then began missing up with everything once men were on base in the middle innings. Noah also routinely got ahead in the count with fastballs and then threw more fastballs, making it easier for the Phils to stay in at bats. After a leadoff single in the 5th, Syndergaard went back to being more deliberate, and pitched more effectively. In the 6th and 7th, he was fortunate on a bunch of hard line outs.

Matt Harvey

I didn’t see this game. Leapfrogging deGrom in the rotation thanks to Jacob’s stiff neck, Harvey pitched on regular rest, posting a decent line against a good offensive team but striking out only two. If there’s anything to read into the postgame comments, it’s not good: Collins called him “not sharp”, and Harvey expressed relief that things didn’t spiral out of control like last year. I would have been much more heartened to hear him say, “I figured out how to work with what I had,” or something else more active and less lucky.

Jacob deGrom

DeGrom showed no-hit stuff for the first time through the order, hitting the black on both sides
of the plate with tons of life at 96-98. But virtually all the pitches he threw were fastballs. He tried a few sliders and just missed. He bounced a change-up. The second time through the lineup,
that wasn’t enough. Every time his fastball was off the plate, the Nats took it. Every time it caught too much plate, they hit an opposite-field line drive. By the time Jacob committed to throwing some sliders, the Nats were rolling. By the time he threw his first curveball, he’d allowed 3 runs and was on his way out of the game. Strange to see with Rene Rivera behind the plate, whose pitch-calling I usually prefer to d’Arnaud’s.

DeGrom also wore down, throwing 93 without much precision by the end of a laborious 5th inning. Maybe he came out too fired up and wasted too many bullets early on? Or maybe the neck stiffness which pushed back his start came back after a few inning breaks?

Zack Wheeler

This start was a testament to the effectiveness of mixing pitches, alternating between fastball, slider and curve without ever throwing the same one too many times in a row. Great sequences by Wheeler and Kevin Plawecki, and great objectivity by the umpire, who consistently called a strike a strike regardless of how far Wheeler was from the target. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen so many inside strikes on pitches where the catcher set up away, or high strikes on pitches where the catcher set up low. Wheeler was rarely within a foot of his target, but still wound up throwing a lot of strikes, leading to short at bats and the Nats never really getting a read on his stuff. Perhaps his slider was particularly deceptive, as the Nats were taking fastball hacks at it all night.

Zack kept the ball down a little better as the game went on, but still hit the inside corner by accident as often as he hit the outside corner on purpose. Apparently pitching inside works even if you don’t mean to! Wheeler’s line would have looked very good if not for one pitch in Murphy’s wheelhouse with the bases loaded. Still, this start has to be concerning for his complete inability to repeat his motion and locate his pitches.

Robert Gsellman

Pitching on extra rest after an off day and a rainout, Gsellman had very little working for him. His fastball was running and sinking a bit, but it wasn’t sharp and late, and the Braves clearly saw it well. They sat on the fastball away and calmly lined it to the opposite field, past a Mets defense that was playing mostly to pull. That’s where those 10 hits in 4 innings came from. Shades of Mike Pelfrey, anyone?

As the game progressed, Gsellman stopped trying to force his slider (which was consistently up), mixed in some good change-ups, and got a little better movement on his fastball. As a team, though, the Mets never did adjust to the Braves’ approach, e.g. by pitching inside.

What did you see?

Please share your observations in the comments!

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