The case for starting Juan Lagares

Jaun Lagares

Imagine you have a pretty good slugger on your team — not an MVP candidate, more like a borderline All-Star. Someone like Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton, or maybe Marcell Ozuna or Melky Cabrera, or maybe Carlos Beltran. A hitter with flaws, and risks — maybe they get injured too much, or are too slump-prone, or strike out a ton — but overall a good hitter, without a doubt. Now imagine that, in the field, they’re below average; might hurt you a bit out there. So, this player… do you play them? Do you put them in your lineup every day?

This isn’t a trick question. If you’re anything like the typical baseball fan, or player, or manager, or executive, the answer is “yes.”

Okay, second imaginary scenario: you have a hitter on your team who doesn’t make a lot of outs. He draws walks, gets hit by pitches, bunts for singles, and so on. You have other guys who do other things better, so this get-on-base guy doesn’t play every inning of every game, and that’s fine. So what should his role be? Do you only use him when you’re trailing late in games and the guy leading off the inning isn’t very good and you want to pinch-hit with a rally-starter? Or do you use your on-base machine, y’know, most of the time, figuring that every time he reaches base instead of making an out is a good thing?

Again, not a trick question. Again, it seems to me that the obvious, agreed-upon answer is “yes.” You use this player most of the time. Sub him out when the situation warrants; otherwise, let him play.

Doesn’t this make sense? If you have someone like Carlos Beltran on your team, you’d like to give him four at bats every day, right? And if he’s slow and wears down easily and can’t field anymore, you still try to get him as many at bats as you reasonably can, right?

Now imagine the exact same player, except he does it with his glove rather than his bat.

That’s Juan Lagares.

 best 2-year dWARworst 1-year dWAR
Juan Lagares6.90.4

In 2013-2014 combined, Baseball Reference credits Juan Lagares with 6.9 defensive WAR. Then in 2015 he was awful, with 0.4 dWAR. Then in 2016 he was only given a part-time role.

Those other players I mentioned above, the ones who do it with their bats? In the last few seasons (I looked back as far as 2012), they’ve had good years and bad years too. None of them were demoted to part-time roles.

 best 2-year oWARworst 1-year oWAR
Justin Upton6.82.0
Carlos Gonzalez6.7-0.1
Carlos Beltran6.30.3
Melky Cabrera5.20.4
Marcell Ozuna4.10.7

When a hitter demonstrates that type of ability but then has a bad year, most teams give him another chance. And sometimes another, and another. When a hitter shows he can be elite, he doesn’t wind up in a role where he’s only used if the situation is perfect.

Juan Lagares shouldn’t be a back-up. Juan Lagares shouldn’t be playing only when the Mets are leading and he can sub in for a player who won’t bat again, on the off chance that someone hits a difficult fly ball his way in the tiny portion of the game remaining.

Juan Lagares should be given the chance to recapture his form from 2013-2014, to see if he can save the Mets as many runs with his glove as some of those hundred million dollar men add with their bats. He should be pinch-hit for when the situation calls for it, and left in the lineup otherwise to work his magic on as many defensive plays as possible.

Juan Lagares should be the Mets’ 2017 starting center fielder.

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Would Wood Help?

This slow offseason has made the Baseball Network virtually unwatchable, but I was channel surfing the other day and stumbled on and then stuck with their Top Games of 2016 segment.

#9 on the list was a midsummer clash between the Cubs and Mariners that included an awkward-looking catch in leftfield by a Cubs reliever, whom manager Joe Maddon inserted there when the game seemed like a blowout loss. That “blowout loss” was later transformed into a Cubs win, which is  the real reason the game was featured on the show.

The less than nimble relief pitcher turned outfielder was one Travis Wood, who is currently (a) left handed and (b) an unsigned free agent. While statistically current/former Met Jerry Blevins is a better performer, I believe that Wood fits the profile of the kind of player that GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins like to target.

From the GM perspective, Wood can fill more than one role. He has 133 career starts, although none since the nine he started in 2015. His transformation to the bullpen began that year, as Maddon inserted him into 46 other games as a reliever. The results were mixed: his K/9 rate rose and his WHIP declined, but his BB/9 jumped by nearly a full walk per nine innings. In 2016 he appeared in a whopping 77 games (Terry’s kinda guy), his K/9 and WHIP ratios stayed the same, however so did his BB/9. He was a better “late and close” pitcher in 2016 than in less high-leverage situations, which is a good sign.

The Mets have claimed to have faith in the Joshes (Smoker and Edgin) to fill the lefty roles in the pen. They are penciling in another lefty, Steven Matz into their rotation. Edgin and Matz are definite injury concerns and Smoker, although showing flashes of brilliance at times down the stretch in 2016, is untested and had a earlier promising career derailed by injuries. Wood might be able to start the season in the pen, perhaps co-handling the 8th inning with someone like Hansel Robles until the expected suspension of Jeurys Familia ends. From there he could be available to “swing,” moving into the rotation if perhaps Matz can’t go, or sticking to the pen if the rotation stays healthy the whole year (yeah, right). He doesn’t really block Edgin or Smoker if either proves to be effective beyond a cameo role or two.

Former Met GM Steve Phillips once coined the phrase “payroll flexibility.” Alderson and Collins seem somewhat hooked on a lineup flexibility and the 2017 Mets appear to be  constructed around players that can handle multiple roles, especially off the bench. Travis Wood represents another example of that type of player, should the Mets be interested.

Plus, they could probably get him cheap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Case For Keeping Jay Bruce

So everyday and sometimes several times a day, I visit or refresh MLB Trade Rumors to see if the Mets have moved Jay Bruce. Apparently, I’m not alone. Take yer 30-homers elsewhere ya big palooka, we want our boy Conforto playin’ right.

But, will the past prove to be prologue?

In 1975, the Mets had a hot rookie outfielder named Mike Vail, who burst on to the scene, highlighted by a 23 game hit streak, which was the best ever for a rookie up to then. He finished the year with a slash line of 302/339/420. The fans and apparently the FO were ecstatic enough about this guy, to the point where they deemed folk hero  Rusty Staub and his team-record 105 RBI’s expendable and traded him to Detroit that offseason to clear an outfield spot  for Vail.

Then, in a foreshadowing of Bobby O’s hedge trimmers and Duaner Sanchez’ cab ride, Vail hurt himself playing basketball during the winter, and began the ’76 season on the DL. He just never got untracked after that. He went on to have a semi-productive, but essentially unremarkable big league career, playing for half a dozen other teams. Only his immediate family, close friends, former teammates and Met geeks like me remember him as a big leaguer. Staub also played another 10 years, outhitting Vail and staying productive, albeit in a limited role, into his 40s. He is fondly remembered both here and in Montreal for his swagger and his style, and he threw out the first pitch at one of the 2015 home WS games. While Vail and his replacements struggled in 1976 (the last good Mets year for the next eight), Staub hit 299/386/433 for The Tigers that year, with a 4.5 WAR.

So….fast forward to January of 2017. The Mets have another prized young ouftielder named Michael Conforto, who broke into baseball at age 22 (one year younger than Vail) in 2015, wowing everyone with his offensive prowess.   Like Vail, he suffered an injury that essentially ruined his sophomore year, although by all accounts Conforto’s was baseball-related. Also like Vail, Conforto faces an early career crossroads in his third season. No one can determine if he is the next Moises Alou or the next Domonic Brown.

There is no guarantee that Conforto bounces back. Absent those assurances, doesn’t it make sense that the Mets hold on to Bruce, at least through Spring Training? Bruce will turn 30 right around Opening Day (Staub was 31 when the Mets traded him).  Could Bruce put together a season reminiscent of Staub’s 1976 campaign? Of course he could. He’s done it before. Think about the impact those types of numbers could have on the Mets attack and on the NL East. A right-left-right-left batting order of  Yoenis Cespedes, Bruce, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda could approach 90 homers and wear out a lot of pitching staffs.

Maybe Conforto is really that good. I hope so. Maybe Mets GM Sandy Alderson can get a good return for Bruce in the next few weeks, something that will shore up the bullpen or add some speed to the lineup. But if all he can fetch in return are some low-A ball flamethrowers and partial salary relief, isn’t he better off holding on to Bruce and setting up a loser leaves town competition in right field this spring between Bruce and Conforto? I don’t fully buy the idea that the Mets haven’t added any relief help because they’re pinching pennies. As of today, there are a glut of relievers still out on the market, meaning a passel of teams are suddenly cash-strapped or the majority of them have determined that the harvest has yet to ripen and the time for handing out contracts for all but the most elite of relievers hasn’t occurred yet.

Why make a bad deal, be it signing a pitcher like Mike Dunn to a incredible contract or trading Bruce and his power for scrubs? Answers to this question can be posted below.

 

 

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The Mets: Contract Year Pushes Coming?

Happy New Year everyone. Here’s a little something to ponder as you take down the decorations and re-start that fitness program: the end of the holidays means we are halfway through baseball’s offseason. In a little over six weeks, the 18-wheelers will be rolling out of Queens towards Port St. Lucie, carrying both equipment and the hopes and dreams of many Mets fans. I think there is genuine reason for hope in 2017 and not all of it resting on the health of starting pitchers.

As it stands today, the 2017 Mets will enter the season with seven players including  Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Addison Reed all in the final years of their current major league contracts. Now I understand that Bruce could be traded and that they have an option on Cabrera, but they are not committed to any of these players beyond 2017.  And, with the exception of Reed and possibly Reyes, they have highly-rated prospects either on the 25-man roster now or knocking on the door ready to take their places.

Depending on how you look at it, GM Sandy Alderson has either done a good job in positioning the Mets to jettison some more expensive contracts, replacing them with cheaper and just as productive players at the same time that his starting pitchers (and his closer) will begin to cost more money—OR he has set them up for an unsustainable run back to the World Series, as several of those aforementioned seven will have great seasons as they put on an extra “push” for a new contract.

Is that last statement just some type of urban legend that has grown up among baseball fans? Maybe there is a way to find out.

I am not a sabermatican nor do I play one on this blog. Plus to keep this readable, I focused on Wins Above Replacement or WAR, a stat that I must confess I don’t fully understand but does make sense to most otherwise serious baseball observers such as myself. And to keep this as current as possible, I picked those free agents that got a 3 year or longer deal after the 2014 season. My post, my rules!

So, true or false, do players tend to produce better results in their walk years? Let’s take a look at the Class of 2014:

Nick Markakis: Nick was a near replacement-level player for Baltimore in 2013 with a 0.1 WAR. He followed that up in 2014 with a 2.0 WAR and got himself a four-year deal with Atlanta, which was a surprise, as the Braves also began a rebuilding process the same offseason. Verdict: TRUE

Nelson Cruz: Yes that Nelson Cruz, a former Mets farmhand. He posted a 4.6 WAR, also for Baltimore in 2014, his best ever, converting that one-year pillow deal with the O’s into a nearly $60M deal with the Mariners. To his credit he has kept hitting, but 2014 has been his best season to date. Verdict: TRUE

Chase Headley: Never much of a fan of his, and not just because he is the first counterpoint to my argument. He WAR’d 1.4 with the Padres in only 77 games in 2014, which was way down for him from his previous campaigns. The fact that it was the Yankees who signed him only slightly mitigates my theory. Verdict: FALSE (with an asterisk because he was injured in ’14)

Jon Lester: OK this one doesn’t really count in that unless his arm fell off Lester was going to get his money anyway. He had a weird 2014, bouncing between Boston (2.7 WAR) and Oakland (1.9 WAR). While statistically 2014 was a down year for him, he still finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting and had a champion in Chicago named Theo Epstein who immediately signed him to a four year deal for the eventual World Champions. Verdict: FALSE

Victor Martinez: This one could go the other way, but Victor missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL. He started off slow in 2013, but rebounded the second half of that season. He then tore up opposing pitching in 2014 to the tune of a career-best 5.4 WAR. This convinced Detroit to resign him to a long term deal. He hasn’t come close to that kind of production since. Let the buyer beware. Verdict: TRUE (even though his hot streak began in 2013) 

Pablo Sandoval: Speaking of caveat emptor, the Red Sox have really taken a bath on this guy. After a 3.4 WAR with the Giants in 2014, the Sox gave him a big deal and the lovable, rolly-poly “Panda” has done a Jason Bay on them. They should have looked at his 2012 and 2013 stats a bit more closely and not what he did during a contract year. Like Martinez, there isn’t much chance he will turn in around. Verdict: TRUE

Andrew Miller: Now we come to a pair of relief pitchers. After a somewhat lackluster career, Miller began to achieve his potential, just in time for a big contract. He posted an at the time career-best WAR of 0.9 in 2014, getting him a big contract from the Yanks. Miller’s best days were still ahead of him as this past offseason would prove. However for the sake of this argument the verdict is TRUE

David Robertson: Hey, aren’t the Mets interested in this guy? He followed up a good (2.9 WAR) 2013 with the Yanks with a poor-ish (1.2 WAR) 2014 in the Bronx. They let him go, pursuing Miller instead. The White Sox grabbed Robertson and now are by most accounts trying to trade him. Cleveland aside, that 2017 AL Central could be a dumpster fire. Verdict: FALSE (and I hate relief pitchers)

Ervin Santana: Speaking of dislike, this guy has never been one of my favorites. His appearance is somewhat off-putting and while he is generally a bad pitcher, it seems the Mets run into him at the wrong time when he is pitching well and he gives them fits. Remember his seven shut out innings against them last September in that must win game against the Twins? (That was the Granderson two homers in extras game BTW). He had a decent 2013 but could only get a pillow deal with Atlanta for one year in 2014. He was bad that year, but the penny-pinching Twins somehow gave him a three year deal anyway. Screw him. Verdict: FALSE

Melky Cabrera: Eww. And people actually wanted the Mets to sign this cheater. Remember when he was tearing it up in 2012 for the Giants and then the secret to his success was revealed? He got suspended for 50 games. That didn’t stop the Blue Jays from giving him a two year deal after the 2012 season. He was bad in Year One and (surprise) much, much better in Year Two. This fooled the White Sox into giving him a three-year deal that they no doubt regret now. Can we get the Mets moved to the AL Central? Verdict: TRUE

Max Scherzer: This one is False, but only because Scherzer “dropped” from a 6.7 WAR in 2013 to a 6.0 WAR in 2014. Max is a great pitcher. Unfortunately, he is also a Washington National.

So that’s 11 players and 6 Trues or 55%. Does this mean that the 2017 Mets can depend on better than career norm years from four of their seven pending free agents? Maybe its more likely that one or two of them will, but just how good will they be? Could Lucas Duda hit like Nelson Cruz did in 2014, slashing his way to a 271/334/525, 40-homer season? That would go a long way towards returning the Mets to the post season. Maybe Grandy pulls a Victor Martinez-like 30+homer, 974 OPS season out of his hat. Those types of performances can be franchise altering, for both the team that benefits from the performance and the team that pays for it in subsequent years.

The point is (I think) is that a big year from an unlikely source is not impossible, especially  considering the extra motivation these players have to turn this type of performance into unimaginable riches. But, would those riches come from the Mets? Our would they be content to sip champagne with them after a deep post season run and then let them go? It makes for interesting conversations during an otherwise dreary part of the year, so please, sound off below.

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It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Joe McIlvaine’s Best Deal Ever

December 20, 1996: The New York Mets trade RHP Robert Person to the Toronto Blue Jays for 1B John Olerud.

What I remember most about this announcement was that it was the first  trade news that I ever got via the Internet. it came over a clipping service that the company I worked for at the time subscribed to. I had added the phrase “New York Mets” to a search string weeks before, and was online when this story broke.  I also remember being very puzzled and upset about this move, but in hindsight, it turned out to be the best move in Joe McIlvaine’s otherwise mostly awful tenure as GM of the Mets.

I fully acknowledged that the 1996 Mets had a lot of holes, but I didn’t think first base was one of them. The team had hit rock bottom in 1993, but had rebounded somewhat in the strike shortened years of 1994 and 1995. Under McIlvaine, they had shed the contracts of Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman and Bret Saberhagen and had an inspiring crop of prospects ready, or so it seemed then,  to bring back the glory days to Shea. A strong finish in 1995 had many of us thinking the squad was about to take the next step in 1996.

The hard-throwing Person was one of a quartet of starting pitchers that had already propelled the Mets Double A team to the Eastern League championship. The now infamous other three quarters of that star-crossed rotation, Bill Pulshipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson, were all touted as the Mets homegrown answer to the stellar Atlanta Braves rotation. Speaking of homegrown, the Mets also had the wonderfully-named Butch Huskey as their incumbent first baseman. Huskey had slashed a not-unimpressive 278/319/435 the year before. A genuinely decent and quiet young man, Butch seemed the perfect antidote to the toxicity of the now-departed veterans.

Much to the my dismay the Mets stumbled badly in 1996, throwing massive amounts of sand into the gears of this prospect-driven Mets renaissance that myself and many others had envisioned.

On the surface Olerud looked like another step backwards, a declining veteran with a big contract. Weren’t the Mets trying to get away from this type of player? He had a stellar 1993, winning the AL batting crown, but had steadily declined since then. He had one year left on his contract and the Blue Jays chipped in 80% of it. The deal had to be approved by the commissioner’s office because of the large amount of money changing hands. Remember, this was 1996; five million dollars certainly ain’t what it used to be!

This trade and Olerud’s tenure as a Met are frequently overlooked, which is a shame, because both were absolutely fabulous. Olerud slashed 294/400/489 in 1997 and drove in 102 runs. He signed a two year extension at the end of 1997, but instead of becoming complacent, he got better. He slashed 354/447/551 in 1998, that average breaking Cleon Jones’ 1969 Mets record for highest individual batting average in a single season. His fielding was impeccable, he was credited as the anchor man in the 1998-99 “Best Infield Ever” that  included Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez and Robin Ventura. He played all 162 games of the 1999 season and while his numbers tailed off slightly, he was a mainstay both offensively and defensively, as the Mets returned to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. They faced off against the Braves in the 1999 NLCS and his Game Four homer keyed a furious Mets comeback that unfortunately fell short  three games later in Turnerland.

Overall he slashed 315/425/501 in his three years here, the best stint of his career, even considering the big years he had in Toronto. Despite his success, he departed for his hometown of Seattle after the 1999 season. He enjoyed three more strong years in the Pacific Northwest before a farewell tour that included productive stops with the Yankees and Boston. In retrospect, the Mets should have pushed harder to keep him as they could have used his bat in the 2000 Subway Series and in their failed defense of the NL crown the next year.

It’s probably not too much of a stretch to think that had he stayed in New York, he might merit serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. As it stands, he is now largely ignored when the great hitters of the 1990’s are discussed.

Person went on to have a decent, if unremarkable career. He would go 46-37 for Toronto and the Phillies. For a long time he had more innings pitched, more wins and more strikeouts and any of his more highly-touted Binghamton Mets Generation K pitching rotation mates. Eventually and mainly by staging a comeback in 2011, Isringhausen caught up and passed him in those categories. Don’t get me wrong, Isringhausen definitely had the better career.

One more thing about this trade: it happened weeks after the Winter Meetings and wouldn’t be the last time that the Mets would strike a deal later on the winter. In fact, McIlvaine’s successor Steve Phillips added the pair of pitchers the Mets needed (Al Leiter in 1998 and Mike Hampton in 1999) to return to the post-season in deals made later in the winter (February and December 23rd) respectively than this one. Sometimes, patience can pay off, as it did for the Mets in all three of these post-Winter Meetings trades.

Something to ponder while we sit and wait for any trade or free agent signing news this time around. Happy Holidays, everyone.

 

 

 

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Mets bullpen needs a split

Putnam, Uehara, Holland

I’ve always been a fan of rare pitches. It’s made sense to me that a pitch batters see less often will be harder for them to recognize, and a pitch they get fewer swings against will be harder to barrel up. In today’s game, the cut fastball is the latest pitch to go from rarity to trend, and it’s recently gotten to the point where batters are crushing the mediocre ones.

Not so with our old friend the split-finger fastball. The big pitch of the 1980s is now thrown by very few MLB pitchers, and every time a guy from Japan comes over and features a good one, it seems to produce great results. Akinori Otsuka? Hideki Okajima? These guys weren’t studs in Japan, but their out-pitches sure translated to MLB. Was it because their splitters were particularly great? Or was it because MLB hitters didn’t have any to practice on? In 2006 Salomon Torres led MLB in appearances and was the Astros’ and Brewers’ kryptonite, throwing a fastball whose velocity was embarrassing for a late-inning short reliever. He didn’t throw it too much, though; his go-to pitch was his splitter.

The Mets aren’t primed to throw out huge dollars or give away huge talent for a sure-thing reliever. But bargain-hunting doesn’t seem appropriate for a team with a lot of “win now” to it either. So how about a mixed-bag guy with a great out pitch? How about betting on the splitter?

First up is Koji Uehara, a strike-thrower with the best K/BB rate in MLB history. He’s a free agent who’s willing to pitch in a variety of roles and shouldn’t break the bank. His fastball is deceptive and made more so by his sharp, diving splitter, which he throws a ton. The risks: he’s 41, can be homerun prone, and had his worst year as an MLB reliever last season.

Next up is Zach Putnam. Putnam throws his splitter almost exclusively in some outings. When it’s at its best, he doesn’t need anything else. Putnam pitches for the team which just traded away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, so I have a feeling he’s not off-limits. I’d guess that the Mets should be able to part with a palatable amount of minor league upside for him. The risks: health. Putnam’s arm is extremely late in his delivery, and he’s already had shoulder and elbow problems in his short career.

Finally, we have former elite closer Greg Holland, more of a guy who happens to throw a splitter than a “splitter guy” like Putnam and Uehara. At his best, Holland’s fastball, slider and splitter were all elite. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery and looking to re-establish himself, so this is as cheap as he’s going to get. Unfortunately, the place where he’s looking to re-establish himself is in the 9th inning, where the Mets’ incumbent just saved 51 games.

I don’t know which of these options is the best bet, and which is the most doable for the Mets. But I do think they’d be well-served to pick the best option and go for it. I’d love to see the swings the NL East would get against the splitters thrown by these guys they’ve never (or at least rarely) faced before. Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy may not have ever seen anything like it!

Which of these three pitchers would you prefer? Got any better ideas for relief help? Let us know in the comments!

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News Flash…

…the Mets contingent has just arrived at the Winter Meetings!

Seriously, I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot from them, but as was the case during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Winter Meetings, they came, they talked and they left empty-handed. Met fans that were fat and happy last December after a World Series berth are far less content this December, so this development has Mets bloggers, boardies and WFAN callers (yes they still exist) back in 2014 mode.

I’ll admit to feeling more than just a twinge of jealousy with some of the big deals being announced, while the biggest Mets news this week is that Tim Tebow won’t get an invite to their major league spring training camp. But, I think that spending $80-plus million for a closer on the wrong side of thirty or trading three top prospects for a good, but not great player (and then planning to play him in a different position) is a far worse development than telling a fan base ravenous for some player move news that diner has been delayed. Those Stupid Idiots on the Baseball Network and their 24/7 coverage aren’t helping either.

Let’s not forget that prior to the Winter Meetings, the Mets bagged Yoenis Cespedes, who had been ranked by many observers as the top player in this year’s Free Agent class. They retained the services of Neil Walker, who was a relatively unsung hero during the dog days of last summer and who’s presence in the lineup makes a world of difference. They also held onto seven young and cheap starting pitchers, uber-prospect Amed Rosario, and the ever-popular and still very useful Curtis Granderson.

They must have missed my article on Michael Conforto. Even worse than that, this week we all bumped our heads on the glass ceiling that is the Mets payroll budget. I get it that this is the Wilpon’s money (or most of it is) and that the current level of payroll is more money than any of us will ever see in our lifetimes. But this team is close, very close, and the right addition or two could make a huge difference.

I have read some speculation that Sandy Alderson’s recent comments are his subtle way of poking the Wilpons publically into loosening the purse strings some more. I agree. Alderson knows these guys and until proven otherwise, I believe he knows what he is doing.

Stay tuned and keep the faith.

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The Curious Case of Michael Conforto

Michael Conforto

Kudos to Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons on retaining the services of one Yoenis Cespedes. At “only” $110 million for four years, the deal has a chance to not be too terrible, or at least only terrible for a season or so. While Cespedes isn’t the ideal major league player, he fits with the Mets well.

Like perhaps many of you, I felt a shudder run through me when I read about the potential for Cespedes to pull in a 6 or 7 year deal, with an upwards of $150 million price tag. So, good job by the Mets to get this done at a rate that won’t leave Cespedes a baseball pauper (and may allow him to get one more lucrative contract before he retires), but doesn’t hamstring the team’s finances in the process. The fact that the deal was done before the calendar flips to December also gives the Mets the bulk of the remaining off-season to fill the other issues with their roster.

That however is where it gets tricky. The Mets still have a few holes to fill and they most likely will need to fill them in exchange for assets they already possess. In the past, Alderson has steadfastly refused to part with any of his young pitching (at least during the winter), so it is unlikely that he does so again this year. Injuries to several of those pitchers has more than likely lowered their value, making it even less probable that Alderson deals one of them.

Jay Bruce is probably a lock to be moved and soon, but I would be utterly shocked if The Mets received anything in return that resembled a missing piece to their 2017 puzzle, especially if they want their trading partner to pick up all of Bruce’s remaining salary. Curtis Granderson may garner some interest, but can you really see them trading away baseball’s 2016 Man of The Year? Me neither.

Which brings us to Mr. Conforto. Taken with the 10th pick of the June 2014 draft, he zoomed through the Mets system and was playing left field in the majors barely 13 months later. In fact, when the Mets dealt for Cespedes less than a week after Conforto’s arrival, they kept Conforto in left and moved Cespedes to center. Michael enjoyed a solid rookie season, slashing 270/335/506. He tailed off a bit in the NLDS and NLCS, but carried himself well in the World Series, hitting pair of homers. He began 2016 as the starting leftfielder (Cespedes stayed in center), but after a hot April, he just seemed to lose it. He hit .173 from May 1 on with a .255 OBP and was twice sent to AAA Las Vegas. The Mets left him off the roster for the Wild Card Game.

Hard to pinpoint exactly what happened, but the optics indicate a vulnerability to inside sliders, which was all he got a steady diet of from late April on. Those pitches don’t break in the hot, dry desert air the way they do at the major league level, he so while he put up video-game like numbers back in Vegas, he just struggled again upon his return to New York. It wasn’t exactly doing him any good to send him down, but they really had no other choice.

Conforto is a left fielder, pure and simple. He doesn’t run all that well and his throwing arm isn’t anything extraordinary. If he doesn’t hit, he isn’t even a replacement-level player. Last year, he didn’t hit. And with Cespedes locked up in left field until 2020, Conforto doesn’t really have a place to play. The Mets could stand an upgrade in center field, probably behind the plate and most definitely in late inning relief. Their lineup lacks speed. Could a trade of Conforto help fill at least two of those holes? If I’m Alderson, I’d be exploring that possibility.

On the plus side, Conforto is still young and has a great pedigree, both as a top draft pick as well as being the son of two elite athletes. He honed his craft at Oregon State, in a program that has produced over two dozen major league players. He has had some success at the major league level, and represents (on paper at least) a left-handed source of power, an desirable commodity that is in short supply right now. He also has five more seasons of team control. There is still a lot to like about him. Both the Mets and any potential trading partners will need to gamble on the veracity of his pedigree and 2015 performance vs. the reality that was his 2016 campaign. It could be a very interesting situation. A package of Conforto, one of the Mets surplus middle infielders and a lower-level arm might net a big fish in return.

Also, it wouldn’t be a Capwell Mets Today post without a little Mets history: back in the early 1970’s the Mets had a young outfielder whom they had drafted in 1967 and who was also (relative for that time) rushed to the big leagues. After a promising rookie campaign, he took a step backwards in his sophomore season, although his fall was not as dramatic as Conforto’s. That offseason, the Mets packaged him with other prospects in a big trade with the Montreal Expos for an established slugger. That young outfielder was named Ken Singleton and over the next 13 years he would average 282/388/436, and be named to three All Star teams. While his old team was floundering, he flourished away from Shea, finishing third in AL MVP voting in 1977 and then second in 1979 (The Expos traded him to Baltimore a year after getting him). The 1973 Mets were a win-now team and Rusty Staub, the player they got for Singleton and Co., did help them get to the World Series. So much time has passed since that it is difficult to gauge which was the better deal, the 1973 pennant or Singleton’s career, although in fairness, Singleton out-hit Staub in 1973. That deal, along with the rise of both Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan, also former Met farmhands, made the then nascent Mets fan me a “systems guy,” a strong proponent of building a team from within. 40-plus years later, I am more of a “win now” guy, probably due to the passage of time. On the flip side of the argument is Hubie Brooks, whom the Mets also traded after his sophomore season in a package for another Expos slugger. Even though Hubie would outhit the player the Mets acquired him for from the point of the trade until both had retired, this move proved to be the final piece in the Mets quest for a World Championship. The player the Mets got in return was Gary Carter.

So for me, it boils down to this: I favor a trade of Conforto if the return makes the team demonstrably better in 2017. If not, I guess I can live with Conforto in right and a Granderson/Juan Lagares platoon in center. I really hate the idea of playing Conforto in center. I am not too crazy about him in right either, but if he can rediscover his stroke, any defensive gaffs could probably be overlooked.

So what about you? Trade Conforto or keep him? Prefer him in center or in right? Remember Ken Singleton? Sound off below.

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