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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Mets 68-game grades

There are now two weeks to go before the midway point of the season. I’m hoping that a lot happens in those two weeks to clarify what kind of team the 2021 Mets can be. Will hot players cool off? Will slumping players bounce back? Will injured players return and contribute? Before we get the answers to those questions, let’s take stock what we’ve already seen.

The Manager

Luis Rojas – B
The team has been hit as hard by injuries as any team I’ve seen, and the healthy lineup anchors have underperformed. And yet, somehow, the Mets’ fortunes climbed as high as a 35-25 record with a 5 game lead in the NL East. That’s the stuff Manager of the Year campaigns are made of.

The 2021 team has stayed positive and pretty focused. The pitching has excelled despite all sorts of disruptions which have required multiple bullpen games.

Rojas does make the occasional strategic blunder, which is why I’m not giving him an “A”, but no manager is perfect, and Luis has done an admirable job overall with what he’s had to work with.

The Players

Jacob deGrom – A+
Jake has had trouble staying on the mound due to various arm issues, but on a per inning basis is off to the best start in MLB history. Two 1-0 losses leave his record less than perfect, but team has actually held leads for him for a change. He’s 7-2, with the team 9-3 in his starts.

Taijuan Walker – A
Walker has given the Mets more than they could have possibly expected. He doesn’t always hit the glove, but he has decreased his walks as the season’s gone on, while keeping hitters off-balance with pitch variety and movement.

Marcus Stroman – A-
Stro’s rate stats are nothing special, but he has been consistent, tough with men on base, and a groundball machine. His 2.32 ERA is spectacular, and he leads the team in innings.

Edwin Diaz – B+
Diaz has 2 losses, and his ERA is nothing special, but he’s 15 for 16 in save chances, and his walks are down.

Aaron Loup – B+
Loup has been tough on lefties and has survived against righties. He’s gotten a lot of big outs.

Jonathan Villar – B+
He’s only hitting .240, but Villar has been stellar in other areas. He’s currently fourth on the team in plate appearances (due to injuries to the planned starters) and the Mets would have been lost without him. Villar has contributed some great defense, some great baserunning, some walks and some homers. He’s prone to the occasional gaffe, but he more than makes up for it.

Kevin Pillar – B
Pillar hasn’t gotten on base much, but has provided more power than expected. His speed is not what it used to be, but he’s still a good OF. Also a fantastic leader by example.

Tomas Nido – B
Nido got hot and carried the offense to a few low-scoring wins when everyone else was cold or hurt, leaving him as the team leader in Win Probability Added even now, after he’s regressed to his usual levels of offense. Solid behind the plate as always.

Miguel Castro – B
Castro has had a few clunkers and a lot of walk-induced nail-biters, but has gotten the job done more often than not. His change-up was dominant in April, but now he’s throwing all sliders. His fastball command remains poor, but its velocity complements his other pitches well.

Seth Lugo – B
Lugo has jumped right into a high-leverage role off the injured list. He was great at first, but has struggled recently.

Jeurys Familia – B
Recently Familia has been worked hard, and his performance and health have suffered. Before that, though, he looked the best he has since 2016, getting lots of weak grounders. Some of those have found holes, making his numbers look worse than how well he’s pitched.

Sean Reid-Foley – B
Sean has provided great value as multi-inning reliever. After seven excellent appearances, he got lit up in his last one.

Robert Gsellman – C+
His sinker was actually sinking again, and his walks and HRs were down… until he tore a lat muscle and now will miss 2 months.

James McCann – C+
MCCann has looked more like the hitter he was in Detroit (poor) than Chicago (good), but his defense has been even better than advertised, as the best game-caller in recent memory among Mets primary catchers.

Pete Alonso – C
Pete has been excellent with the glove, but has rarely squared up the ball at the plate, and has already had several slumps where he’s waved at junk and popped up meatballs. He looked like 2019 Pete in spring training, but hasn’t carried it over to the games that count.

Joey Lucchesi – C
Lucchesi initially struggled while pitching irregularly, but became quite effective two times through the lineup as a regular starter. Pitching his best baseball of the year, he tore his UCL last week and is now finished for the season.

Trevor May – C-
Erratic; dominant one day, batting practice the next.

Dominic Smith – C-
Smith has gotten better in LF but is still below average. 2021 has seen a huge decline with the bat. He’s rarely squaring up pitches to hit, and he’s also waving at a ton of stuff above the zone or in the dirt middle-to-in. The back foot breaking ball is an almost automatic chase.

Michael Conforto – C-
At the start of 2021, Conforto did not resemble the hitter he was in 2020, when he hit a ton of opposite-field, 2-strike singles. Instead, he looked back to his old all-or-nothing self… but without the power. Then he got hurt.

Jeff McNeil – C-
McNeil rarely struck out, but he couldn’t square up many pitches, looking bad on anything up or away. He got hurt in the same game as Conforto.

Lindor – D
Anyone who expected Lindor to save the Mets has to be very disappointed. He’s provided great first-step quickness and range in the field, and he’s always talking and effervescent, but the positives stop there.

Lindor has shown an ugly swing, terrible situational hitting, and a propensity for choking with RISP. His arm is mediocre, and he’s made several questionable decisions in the field, such as turning down DPs in favor of one easy out. He sometimes runs hard to first, but sometimes not. He didn’t attempt any steals until he got hot at the plate, despite having drawn plenty of walks.

As one of two healthy guys in there all year (alongside Dom Smith), Lindor had the chance to be an enormous difference maker in all the low-scoring games the Mets played. Instead, he’s slashed .212/.304/.351 and contributed -0.3 WPA.

He’s appointed himself the leader of the team, and perhaps his positive attitude is helping, but he certainly isn’t leading by example at the plate.

David Peterson – D
Two excellent starts, six okay starts, and five absolute disasters. Peterson has tended to lose control very badly and not get it back, resulting in both walks and homers.

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Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2020?

This is the eighth annual article on this topic.

Links to previous editions: 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020

The story so far…

The 2017-2019 Mets gave fans ulcers, finding myriad ways to disappoint, from starting pitching (2017) to health and defense (2018) to the manager and closer (2019). Each year, preseason forecasts saw the Mets as contenders, and each year, they failed to live up to the predictions.

Nevertheless, a certain amount of optimism surrounded the team after their 86-win 2019, thanks to huge breakouts from young players Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, and especially Pete Alonso. If the starting pitching could hold steady while the offense continued to mature, then perhaps new manager Luis Rojas and a return to form from relievers Jeurys Familia and Edwin Diaz could get the Mets over the hump in 2020 for their first playoff games since 2016…

2020-2021 developments

More ulcers! More disappointment! More great individual performances wasted! National pundits have latched onto the Mets franchise as a punchline for self-sabotage, and in 2020 they were at it again, as the Mets offered a clinic in choking.

The Mets offense put up exceptional numbers, leading the league in batting average and OPS+ while finishing 3rd in OPS overall… but they were only 7th in runs. With men on, and especially with men in scoring position, the bats went silent time and time again. Boasting a .272 average and a .245 mark with RISP, the Mets’ -27 point difference was the worst in the majors.

This sort of choke fest can be a sign of a fractious and dysfunctional team or clubhouse, but the 2020 Mets actually seemed quite harmonious. The guys seemed to really like each other, and Luis Rojas showed a much better knack for communication than his predecessor. From all appearances, Rojas did his best to run out the best lineup every day, and he didn’t make any enemies among the players he had to bench or demote in the process. Luis managed to be honest with the media while keeping any criticisms of players professional and goal-oriented. By all accounts, he kept a very even keel, and the players loved him. The team-wide failure in the clutch defied any simple “bad environment” explanations.

To be fair, clutch hitting wasn’t the Mets’ only weakness. Their defense rated near the bottom of the league, and their pitching was unreliable. Late in the season, it seemed like every time the offense did turn hits into runs, a pitcher would blow a lead. The starting pitching was terrible all year, and the up-and-down bullpen was not very clutch in the second half.

The bar for making the MLB postseason has never been anywhere near as low as it was in 2020, and the Mets just couldn’t scratch out wins. They ended the year tied for the 3rd worst record in the league.

Despite all that, the team’s poor play wasn’t at the forefront of fans’ minds in October 2020. The main storyline was the sale of the team from the resented Wilpons to billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen. By early November, the sale to Cohen was official, and he was telling Mets fans exactly what they wanted to hear: that he wanted to build a World Series winner, and was willing to pay to make that happen.

Cohen’s regime got off to an odd start, when he brought recent (and largely unsuccessful) Mets GM Sandy Alderson back to be team president, then couldn’t find a taker for the team’s President of Baseball Operations position, meaning Alderson had to fill that role himself.

Fortunately, new GM Jared Porter quickly diverged from Alderson’s previous strategy of “waiting out the market” for everything, instead pouncing quickly on some useful pieces and then swinging a trade for the most talented available player in Francisco Lindor.

The Porter era came to an abrupt end 12 days later: he was fired after news broke that he’d spent a good chunk of 2016 making unwanted advances on a reporter. Zack Scott, who’d interviewed for the GM job before being hired to assist Porter, was named Interim GM.

Stock Up, Stock Down

Let’s take a deeper look at how the players performed in 2020, and see what we can take away for 2021. Given those performances, as well as the subsequent changes in personnel, should we be more or less bullish on the Mets now than we were heading into last season? Is the team trending up, or trending down?

Catcher

James McCannstock: unchanged
Wilson Ramos was a complete disaster in 2020, but he came in with a much better offensive track record than McCann brings to the Mets. Ramos was a solid hitter for most of the previous 9 years, while McCann was a terrible hitter for 4 years in Detroit before putting up good numbers over 149 games with the White Sox.

On the defensive side, McCann and Ramos boast similar Caught Stealing numbers, and McCann’s framing stats have been all over the place, but it’s a safe bet that McCann constitutes a defensive upgrade from Ramos. Ramos showed no mobility, failing to get down multiple tags at home, and the leg-extended crouch he used to better frame low pitches left him completely unable to move side to side to stop any potential wild pitches.

Tomas Nidostock: unchanged
Nido missed time due to COVID-19 and only got into 7 games.

First Base

Pete Alonsostock: down
Few expected Pete to repeat his 53-homer 2019, and his strikeout rate was always going to be an issue, but 2020 still had to qualify as a disappointment. Something about his set-up, stride, and swing looked different from 2019, and he wound up spinning and falling over the plate on every hack, completely unable to cover the outside edge (which was a strength in 2019). A surge in the season’s final week elevated his stats, but up until then, Pete was an easy out.

Fans now have to hope the Polar Bear can rediscover his 2019 form, as the only thing he really needed to improve on from there was pitch selection and chasing fewer balls out of the zone.

Second Base

Jeff McNeilstock: down (personal), way up (Mets 2B)
It looked like the Mets were going to play 2020 with a washed-up Cano at second base, so using McNeil there in 2021 certainly has to be seen as a better way to head into a season. In reality, Cano had a fantastic 2020 at the plate, one McNeil will be hard-pressed to match.

McNeil kept the open stance he adopted halfway through 2019, and suffered the worst of both worlds, failing to retain his power while also keeping the uppercut that ruined his previous line-drive ways. Although no longer the impressive force he was in early 2019, McNeil still proved to be a good hitter overall, mixing in one red-hot stretch with some more pedestrian periods.

Robinson Canostock: unchanged
In 2020, Cano showed a much quicker bat than in 2019. He still wasn’t great in the field, but looked like he old self at the plate. Was he juicing again? Yep. He eventually got caught and will miss the 2021 season due to the resulting suspension.

Third Base

J.D. Davisstock: down
J.D. did not reprise 2020’s offensive breakout in 2021, hitting the ball with much less authority. He did show a good eye, and his high OBP meant he still qualified as an above-average bat in the lineup. Unfortunately, regular playing time did not improve his defense, which was awful in just about every way.

Shortstop

Francisco Lindorstock: way up
Even though hopes were high for Amed Rosario after a solid 2019, Lindor has to be seen as a huge upgrade. Francisco is universally regarded as one of the best shortstops in the game, a good-to-great fielder with great contact ability, good speed, and above-average pop. With the Mets locking him up for 11 years and $363m, there’s every reason to think he’ll be a star for the next 3-5 years and a payroll black hole for much of the subsequent 6-8, so here’s hoping Steve Cohen doesn’t care about luxury taxes!

As for Amed Rosario, he’s gone to Cleveland after reverting to his wild-swinging ways in 2020 (he got an ovation when he drew his first walk at 100+ ABs). It was a disappointing ride for a prospect once regarded by some as #1 in baseball. Also gone in the Lindor trade is Andres Gimenez, who had an impressive 2020 debut, showing speed, defense, basestealing ability, and flashes of being a legitimate hitter.

Left Field

Dominic Smithstock: up
Though clearly miscast as an outfielder due to his lack of speed, Dom didn’t let his journey between 1B, DH and LF affect his swing. Smith absolutely raked in 2020, until a slump at the very end of the season got his OPS under 1.000. Dom nearly led the league in doubles, and was easily the Mets’ best RBI machine and clutch hitter.

Along the way, Dom wound up as one of the faces of MLB for racial justice, not due to any brilliant speeches or campaigning, but rather by being vulnerable and honest in public, and being so well liked by his teammates that they wanted to support him and the issues that mattered to him. Smith was one of MLB’s good guys of 2020.

Meanwhile, Yoenis Cespedes disappeared on the team one day and never came back, eventually claiming COVID-19 concerns, but actually upset about not being given enough playing time to earn his performance bonuses. This after a .161 start. The team’s star of 2015-2016 will not be missed.

Center Field

Brandon Nimmostock: up
Back to full health after neck problems in 2019, Nimmo returned to his .400-OBP ways in 2020, while posting the lowest K rate of his career. Unfortunately, he was still terrible in center field. With the Mets prioritizing upgrades in other areas this past offseason, and currently using LF to shoehorn Dom Smith’s bat into the lineup, Nimmo returns for another go in center, this time with a plan to play deeper.

Right Field

Michael Confortostock: up
In 2020, Conforto suddenly learned how to fight off pitches to the opposite field, producing lots of singles. That .322 avg looks like a whole new hitter, but Michael posted the same strikeout rate as every other year of his career, which makes me wonder if his huge BABIP jump was mostly luck.

Starting Pitcher

Jacob deGromstock: unchanged
With two Cy Young awards already on his mantle, deGrom threw harder than ever in 2020 and struck out more batters than ever, whiffing a ridiculous 13.8 per 9 innings, which would have been an NL record in a full season.

Earlier in his career, Jake used to keep hitters off balance by mixing pitches, but by 2020 he had evolved into more of a pure power guy, identifying a pitch for each hitter that the hitter couldn’t handle, and largely just sticking with that pitch. In 2020, that was often his slider, which was more of a true slider than ever before. Back in 2018, the pitch looked more like a slider-cutter hybrid — it had a very short break and deGrom was able to locate it very consistently, without a single “hanger” of the type that happens from time to time with a true breaking ball. In 2020, the pitch no longer resembled a cutter — it had a sizable two-plane break that missed bats, but deGrom also hung a few that were clobbered.

It was strange to watch deGrom throw the same one or two pitches over and over, allowing hitters to time them and lineups to predict them. His strike-throwing was also bit less consistent than in the past, with fewer pitches at the knees. In the end, though, he finished 3rd in the Cy Young vote and is still regarded by many as the game’s best pitcher.

Marcus Stromanstock: unchanged
Stroman sat out 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, but looks ready to go for 2021. Based on an up-and-down career so far, Marcus offers serious upside but minimal certainty.

Carlos Carrascostock: up
Carrasco’s track record with the Indians as a dominant breaking ball pitcher would make him the Mets’ clear #2 if he were healthy. Unfortunately, Carlos tore a hamstring doing routine conditioning drills in the spring. For this 34-year-old veteran, is this just a blip, or the beginning of the end? Assuming he makes it back at all in 2021, one would expect Carrasco to be an improvement over the Mets’ #3 candidates in 2020.

Gone is longtime Met Steven Matz, who really didn’t do anything well at any point in 2020. Rick Porcello occasionally looked really good, going right after batters, but his propensity for throwing 0-2 pitches down the middle with men in scoring position was maddening, and his final line was ugly. Michael Wacha showed strikeout stuff between his elite change-up and weird arm angle, but made way too many mistakes over the middle for homeruns.

Taijuan Walkerstock: up
Walker’s stock over the years has been as up and down as any player in the game, from ultra-elite prospect to underwhelming big leaguer to injury casualty to stretch drive hero. In his final six starts with Toronto in 2020, Taijuan posted a 1.37 ERA to help the Blue Jays clinch a wild card spot, leading some to think the once-hyped hurler had finally “figured it out”. Less encouragingly, Walker’s key rate stats – walks, strikeouts, homeruns – were all below average, suggesting he may have gotten lucky. He’ll probably need to improve those numbers to be anything more than a back-end starter in 2021, but he’s definitely a better bet than Wacha was!

David Petersonstock: way up
With Jacob deGrom followed in the rotation by a bunch of total disasters, emergency promotion David Peterson stepped up as the team’s #2 in 2020. Although he walked far too many batters, he showed a knack for getting out of trouble, often making a big pitch when he had to. He didn’t look fazed by the big stage, with his walks resulting more from occasional lapses in control than from nibbling.

Peterson showed a good slider, an adequate change-up, and a fastball that didn’t get barreled up too much. It’s unclear what to expect from him going forward, but simply having a chance to stick in the 2021 rotation has to be seen as a huge leap forward.

Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamotostock: up
I’m not sure if these pitchers provide any more guarantee of quality than 2020’s back end starters did, but I’ll take the upside and years of team control. As a lefty with a weird motion (dramatic front shoulder lift a la Chris Young) and unusual pitch (“churve” change-up curveball hybrid), Lucchesi has the potential to give hitters fits. Yamamoto starts the year in the minors.

Noah Syndergaardstock: unchanged
Thor continues his Tommy John rehab, with a possible return in June. Some look at him as a mid-season difference-maker who warrants an extension before free agency. I see a pitcher who needs to prove he can perform after disappointing in 3 of the last 4 years.

Bullpen

Edwin Diazstock: unchanged
Diaz posted some dominant rate stats in 2020, but was extremely un-clutch and couldn’t be trusted in a big spot. He also didn’t show much control, and was a bit lucky that all those walks didn’t lead to more runs. His astronomical K rate declined as the year went on, and he seemed to have lost some gas by the end of the shortened season. His elite stuff is a welcome inclusion in the Mets bullpen, but employing him as the last line of defense with no safety net rightly makes many Mets fans very nervous.

Trevor Maystock: unchanged
A high fastball pitcher with tons of strikeouts and tons of homeruns on his resume, May signed early in the offseason to be the Mets’ set-up man after the Twins let him walk. Whether he’s a big asset in the 8th inning remains to be seen, but at least he adds another capable arm to offset the loss of Justin Wilson, who the Mets did not re-sign.

Seth Lugostock: unchanged
Lugo pitched very well in relief in 2020, although nowhere near his utter dominance from late 2019. Moved to the rotation to finish the year, Seth alternated excellent starts with terrible ones, unable to avert meltdowns once they started. He’s ticketed for the ‘pen in 2021 once he recovers from “minor” elbow surgery.

Miguel Castrostock: unchanged
Castro has eye-catching stuff but little ability to harness it. At age 26, the Mets hope he still has some time to figure out how to get his 100 mph heat where he wants it on a regular basis.

Tantalizing upside plus known issues? This reminds me of how Dellin Betances entered 2020. Betances, though still with the team in 2021, turned out to be finished.

Jeurys Familiastock: unchanged
After being unusable in 2019, Familia returned to getting grounders and limiting homeruns in 2020. Unfortunately his strikeouts declined and he averaged 6.4 walks per 9 innings. He enters 2021 somewhere in the middle of the bullpen depth chart, mostly out of necessity.

Bullpen depthstock: down
Aaron Loup was acquired to be a lefty specialist, an interesting proposition in the 3-batter era. He’s also the only lefty on the staff. Robert Gsellman, Jacob Barnes, Trevor Hildenberger, Stephen Tarpley, Sam McWilliams and Drew Smith are all in the running to soak up some low-leverage innings. This group has even less of a track record than 2020’s back-end corps.

Minor leaguers of note

The minor leagues didn’t play in 2020, so the Mets are still waiting to see the next step from talented kids Ronny Mauricio, Francisco Alvarez, and 2019 draftees Brett Baty and Matthew Allan, plus new draftee Pete Crow-Armstrong. No prospects are currently knocking on the big league door.

Summing it up

Changes since a year ago

Stock way down: The Mets haven’t really had any player or position fall off a cliff since opening day 2020.

Stock down: Pete Alonso, J.D. Davis, and Jeff McNeil. Three 2019 breakouts couldn’t reach those levels in 2020, but were still solid.

Stock unchanged: deGrom, the bullpen, the catcher, and the MIA list

Stock up: Carlos Carrasco is a nice addition, while Nimmo, Conforto, and Dom Smith all had good years in 2020. Walker, Lucchesi and Yamamoto upgrade the starting pitching depth.

Stock way up: David Peterson skipped AAA and found success in the majors, and Francisco Lindor joins the Mets as an established star.

Multi-Year Trends

With most of the Mets’ ascending players having leveled off, only Dominic Smith continued a multi-season rise in 2020.

What it all means

Did Francisco Lindor just get handed the largest assignment in baseball? He just signed one of the richest contracts in sports history, and he’s being asked to address many of the team’s biggest needs.

  • The Mets have been a bad defensive team for a long time. Lindor is a gold glove shortstop.
  • The Mets have underachievd for years, with many viewing the organization as dysfunctional losers. Lindor is a charismatic leader known as “Mr. Smile”, and he’s played in four of the last five postseasons.
  • The Mets have looked good but not great to most prediction models over the last four years, a probable contender but not a favorite. Lindor’s big WAR boost vaults the Mets to the top of the projections (or just behind the Braves, depending on the model).

Whether anyone in the Mets organization really expects all that of Lindor or not, he certainly was the centerpiece of the Mets’ offseason. With Steve Cohen talking about building a champion, some expected him to land multiple top free agents from the group of George Springer, J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer. The Mets acquired none of them (they did outbid the Dodgers for Bauer, but Bauer decided to join the proven winner).

With most of the Mets’ other offseason moves being relatively modest, spring training saw some fans getting anxious to see Cohen back up his words with dollars. Giving Lindor another $341 million probably puts that question to rest. Now the question is whether Cohen, Alderson, and the rest of the front office can spend effectively.

If the 2021 Mets are going to succeed, they need to overcome more than just their own history: three out of their four division rivals are stacked with talent, and the fourth one (Miami) made the playoff last year and boasts a nasty young rotation. Lindor and improved starting pitching should make the Mets a better team than 2020’s 26-34 squad, but the huge leap forward they’ll need in order to take the NL East crown will require better performances up and down the roster, including everything from fielding to baserunning to clutch hitting. If they can’t quite make it past the Braves, a wild card may be a longshot, given the easier competition faced by West and Central contenders.

Cohen said his goal was a championship in 3-5 years, not in year 1. But it sure would be nice if the Mets made the playoffs in 2021 to show they’re on the right track. If not, don’t be surprised if Luis Rojas’s mild demeanor gets painted as a lack of urgency and competitive fire, and a new manager gets brought in to “teach the Mets how to win”. Mets fans will be watching closely this year to see whether the play on the field looks like a new era or just more of the same.

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Fixing the Mets’ roster for 2020

Bumgarner Buxton Kluber

The 2019 Mets were an erratic bunch, a team that could go toe to toe with the Dodgers in one series and get swept by the Marlins in another. Although few individual performances went as anticipated, the team overall did about what was expected of them: most projection models had them at 83-89 wins, and they finished with 86.

Now for the next task: how do the Mets go from a wild card contender (86 wins) to a wild card favorite and division title contender (92 wins)?

The Current Team

The Mets have an interesting array of assets to keep, trade, or shuffle around the field. By my estimation, the best use of the current roster would be:

 

C Wilson Ramos
1B Pete Alonso
2B Jeff McNeil
3B J.D. Davis
SS Amed Rosario
LF Brandon Nimmo
RF Michael Conforto
CF new acquisition

Bullpen: Seth Lugo, new acquisitions, Justin Wilson, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, re-sign Brad Brach
Bench: Robinson Cano, Dominic Smith, Jed Lowrie, Luis Guillorme, new acquisitions

(I’m sure that some of that assessment will be controversial, but in brief: I saw a free swinger who did little damage on fastballs and showed minimal range in Robbie Cano; I saw a terrible fielder with a great arm and bat in J.D. Davis; and I saw a player miss his entire age-35 season in Jed Lowrie.)

Free Agents

Can the Mets land a fifth starter, set-up man, center fielder and depth in free agency? Possibly. Brett Gardner, Tanner Roark, and Will Harris would add up to a significant cost, but if the Wilpons figured that would push them into the playoffs, I’m sure they could afford it.

Does that sound like a 92-win team to you, though? Aside from Harris (possibly the best free agent reliever out there), I think the Mets need to aim higher.

If I had to pick one free agent to target, it would be Madison Bumgarner. He’s not the strikeout pitcher he once was, and his flyball ways are dangerous with today’s rubber rocket ball, but he limits walks, takes the ball, and is as clutch as they come. Plus, the Mets cannot hit him at all, and his top rumored suitor is the Braves.

My back-up plans would be Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu. All three pitchers are way better than what the Mets have in-house or could get from the free agent bargain bin.

If the Mets can’t spend big in free agency, then I’d target Tyler Clippard to stabilize the ‘pen and Michael Pineda to hold down the #5 spot (with Robert Gsellman making starts in AAA to hedge against injury).

Trades

Stay away from Starling Marte. Kazmir fiasco architect Jim Duquette recently proposed a swap of Andres Gimenez, Franklyn Kilome, and either Mark Vientos or David Peterson. That package might be appropriate for Marte three years ago, but it’s not appropriate for Marte now, and if he costs anything like that, the Mets should pass. Starling used to be a gold glove speedster with no plate discipline and good contact ability. Now he’s an average-to-below center fielder with no plate discipline and good contact ability.

I’m honestly not all that high on any of those prospects, but I think the Mets ought to hold onto them to fill other needs.

I am pretty high on J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, and Noah Syndergaard, but I think trading them might get the Mets players that would greatly upgrade the team. Here are a few trade ideas:

 

Noah Syndergaard for Byron Buxton and Tyler Duffey

A risky move for both teams, as Buxton could still wind up as an All-Star or a tragic flame-out. He may never stay healthy, and he may never hit much. But he’s still one of the fastest men in the game and one of the best defenders. The Twins, in a great position to contend, may need a proven starting pitcher with ace potential much more than they need Buxton. Depending on how both players are viewed, the Mets might also ask for the Twins’ curveball-specialist reliever.

 

Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, Jed Lowrie and cash for Corey Kluber or Jose Ramirez

Reports claim that the Indians need to cut payroll and do some level of rebuilding, but they’re not in a position where they have to tank to do so. I would think the ideal fit for a team in this position would be players who have proven themselves as major leaguers and who still have tons of service time left at cheap salaries. Dom and J.D. might be exactly what Cleveland is looking for. If so, the Indians might be persuaded to move their high-salaried ace, or even their former MVP candidate (though his contract is a great deal, so perhaps not).

If the Mets hold onto Thor and still need a center fielder, they could consider offering Kluber or Ramirez for Buxton and Duffey. A three-team trade with additional prospects involved might be the best way for each team to get what they want.

 

Dominic Smith for Tyler Naquin

I realize that many of the above scenarios are improbable for various reasons, but I think this one has a real chance. Naquin’s bat and health are no sure thing, and he’s about to stop being cheap as he hits arbitration, but all the defensive metrics love him. Smith can pinch hit and share time at 1B, LF, and DH in 2020. Then Dom can take over 1B when Carlos Santana leaves in 2021, and he still won’t be arbitration eligible.

 

What are your thoughts on how to improve the Mets roster? Zany trade ideas obviously welcome.

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The Mets’ new manager

Carlos Beltran Mets manager

When Mickey Callaway was first brought on board, I thought he was the perfect hire in every way except for one big unknown: experience.

He seemed like a sharp enough guy to figure out the right tactical moves, but as it turned out, when it came to the heat of the moment… not so much.

There was really no way to predict that, one way or the other, before Mickey actually went out there and managed. So it was a risky hire, and in that respect, it didn’t work out.

Accordingly, I assumed that if the Mets were to replace Callaway this offseason, their main reason for doing so would be to get a proven, experienced in-game tactician.

Instead they just tabbed a guy who’s never managed or coached at any level.

I don’t have anything against Beltran for the final out in 2006, or for being hostile to the press for most of his time as a Met. He was a great player! But of all the manager candidates remaining, I had him pegged as probably the worst option.

Tim Bogar, Derek Shelton and Pat Murphy have way more experience. Eduardo Perez has a little more experience, and is 1000 times better with the media. After Maddon & Girardi signed elsewhere, I sort of figured we’d get Perez, because he’s loud and fun and analytics-savvy and is great in front of a camera. It would have been a gamble, and I wouldn’t have agreed with it, but I’d have understood it.

Picking Beltran, I don’t understand at all.

I don’t find Girardi at all likable, but he has proven he can do the job. That’s really what the Mets needed for 2020. If they weren’t going to get that, I’d have just as soon stuck with Callaway.

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Who wants a Mets-Mariners blockbuster?

Rosario Cano

How badly do the Mets and their much-maligned owners and their brand new GM really want a title shot in 2019?

How badly do they want to build an affordable core that can promise contention into the future?

These two goals may be directly opposed. Which will win out?

Mets fans, which do you want to win out?

The Seattle Mariners have provided Brodie Van Wagenen with exactly the sort of opportunity I often chastised Sandy Alderson for not pouncing on. The opportunity has arrived to shop at a fire sale. Surely the Mariners will have plenty of buyers dropping by for a look, but the rumor mill currently has the Mets leading the charge to mine Seattle for valuables in exchange for taking on Robinson Cano’s contract.

The Mets and Mariners have an enormous number of potential matches:

If the Mets want to win in 2019, they’d be wise to upgrade at center field, catcher, shortstop, another infield position, and closer. The Mariners have good but expensive players at second and short, and players in their primes at center and closer.

If the Mariners want to launch a rebuild, they’d be wise to acquire a bunch of talented first- or second-year players, as well as minor leaguers on the cusp of bursting onto the MLB scene. The Mets have several intriguing prospects at various positions in the upper levels of their system, as well as some very young talent on the major league roster.

What would happen if the Mets swapped Amed Rosario, Peter Alonso, Andres Gimenez and Justin Dunn for Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and Mallex Smith?

Would the Mets win 90 games in 2019 but then feature $45M in dead weight in 2022, with no good young players on the roster?

And if so… would that be worth it?

How much would this trade help the Mets?

Segura, Cano, and Diaz each project to be worth about 2 wins above the players they’d be replacing on the Mets. Add another win or so for Smith. If the current Mets are an 83-win team, they would jump to a 90-win team with a single trade. That’s hard to do.

How much would this trade help the Mariners?

The Mariners would get two middle infielders, one slugging first baseman, and one hard-throwing pitcher. Rosario and Alonso are ready for the big leagues, with Dunn not far behind, and Gimenez an extra year away. They won’t all be good players, but maybe more than one pans out, and maybe there’s a star in there somewhere. This is exactly what a rebuilding team needs.

How much would this trade hurt the Mets?

I don’t think the Mets would miss the talent they’d give up. Dunn struggles with command, lacks a great build, and is viewed by some as a future reliever. Rosario’s hitting fundamentals are woeful, and he’s been surprisingly ineffective in the field for someone with such athletic grace. Gimenez looks to be good at everything, but maybe not good enough at hitting to be a real asset. Alonso will hit homers, but also be a whiff-prone first baseman, offering an eminently replaceable skill set.

The real cost I see is money. Even if the players the Mets lose will be barely average, they’ll be barely average for the minimum salary, allowing the Mets to spend elsewhere. As for the players the Mets get back, Segura will rapidly go from underpaid to overpaid as his range and offense decline with age, while Cano is already overpaid and may claim the crown for most overpaid by the time his contract ends.

How much would this trade hurt the Mariners?

Mallex Smith is young, cheap, and exciting, with room to grow. He’s exactly the sort of player a rebuilding team should keep (unless they’re planning a very long rebuild). Edwin Diaz is the type of dominant reliever that a contender might overpay for at the trade deadline, bringing back great prospects without moving Smith and Segura at the same time. Also, maybe the Mariners see the same limitations in the Mets’ players that I do.

What’s the verdict?

I would make this trade. It’s hard to put too high a price on getting exactly what you need to compete. Yes, this will ruin any chance of the Mets competing as a mid-payroll team, but I don’t see that happening anyway. Their prospects and young players just aren’t elite enough to do what Cleveland did. Now is a time for the Mets to make bold moves, crack open the wallets, and start winning. The Wilpons can plan to recoup those payroll costs in the form of ticket sales and playoff games.

And yes, to win in 2022 they’ll have to spend even more… and a business model of escalating costs can’t be sustained forever… but no MLB team stays great forever. Give me a solid boom before the next bust, and I’ll be happy.

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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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