Dec 20

Just How Much Better Are The Mets?

New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen vowed the Mets would compete in 2019, and his early moves dictated his seriousness in following through with that promise. Trading for closer Edwin Diaz and second baseman Robinson Cano, with whom the Mets will be on the hook for roughly $100 million remaining on the latter’s contract was indeed a big splash.

In addition, the Mets signed catcher Wilson Ramos to fill a significant void, outfielder Rajai Davis to a minor league contract to compete in center field, and brought back former closer Jeurys Familia to fill a set-up role. Combined, they are appreciably better than the team that finished 22 games under .500 last year, but not close enough to be the contender Van Wagenen hopes.

However, the three teams that finished ahead of them in the National League East last season also improved. Atlanta added third baseman Josh Donaldson and brought back catcher Brian McCann; Washington added lefty starter Patrick Corbin, but doesn’t appear to have a chance to bring back Bryce Harper; and Philadelphia added outfielder Andrew McCutcheon and second baseman Jean Segura, and will host Manny Machado today. They are also reportedly interested in Harper.

Should the Phillies land both Machado and Harper it would make them the odds-on favorites to win the East, ahead of the Braves and Nationals, with the Mets slated for fourth place regardless of what they do, and the Marlins last, despite whom they bring in for catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Ramos was a better signing then Realmuto because it enabled the Mets to keep prospects outfielder Brandon Nimmo and shortstop Amed Rosario, or possibly Noah Syndergaard. Dealing Syndergaard was never going to happen, but not surrendering players was essential to the Mets, who are thin in major league ready talent.

I wrote at the time of the Cano-Diaz trade, which enabled the Mets to shed the remaining $26 million left on Jay Bruce’s contract (that would amount to only one year of Cano’s deal). I didn’t like the trade – still don’t – but added we had to wait on the rest of Van Wagenen’s offseason to draw a full conclusion.

I’m not crazy about bringing back Familia, who will go into the set-up role. I would have preferred they make a serious run at Andrew Miller, which would fill the void of a left-handed reliever. Miller was off last year because of inflammation in his right knee which accounted for two stints on the disabled list, including one of 60 days.

Philadelphia is also a player for Miller, as are a half-dozen other teams. With the money earmarked for Cano and Familia, the Mets are on the outside looking in on Miller, who worked 96.2 innings over the past two seasons.

They still have a myriad of questions: Ramos has a long history of injuries; Peter Alfonso is untested at first base; Cano is 36 and on a downward slide; Rosario has offensive issues; Yoenis Cespedes will be out until at least the All-Star break; the bullpen is still thin despite Ruiz and Familia; and the rotation, outside of Jacob deGrom, is more potential than proven performance.

Van Wagenen has talked a good game so far and the Mets have been on their fair share of back pages but have won nothing, yet. The Mets seem more inclined to make lower profile deals than a blockbuster trade or sign a major free agent.

What the Mets have now is what they’ll likely go into spring training with and that isn’t good enough to contend, which we already knew.

Oct 23

Callaway Era Begins

Sure, it was a gamble, and nobody knows how Mickey Callaway will pan out as the 21st manager in Mets’ history, but after listening to him this afternoon GM Sandy Alderson deserves credit for thinking outside the box.

I wondered yesterday whether Callaway represents a risk as to whether Alderson reached out and got the Mets a nugget or whether he was seduced by a hot “flavor of the month.”

NEW METS ERA

           NEW METS ERA

Alderson said the Mets had on their board a list of roughly 35 names and after their research, they whittled it down to six. Originally, Alderson planned a second round of interviews, but Callaway blew him away with his session.

“All of us came out of [Callaway’s interview] excited for the possibility that Mickey would be our manager,’’ Alderson said. “That’s a visceral reaction, not one that you can put down on a checklist, but to me that said everything. I think it was consistent throughout.’’

Callaway said the feeling was mutual.

“When I sat in the room and listened to the words that Sandy, [assistant general managers J.P. Ricciardi and John Ricco] and [Chief Operating Officer] Jeff [Wilpon] were saying to me and the questions they were asking me, I knew right then we were going to be in alignment in what we wanted,’’ Callaway said. “That’s why I was so excited when I called my family after. The team itself, the pitching is something that can be some of the greatest guys on the planet. So that obviously is very exciting to me.’’

Callaway impressed today at Citi Field with his enthusiasm and charisma.

“First, we’re in the greatest city in the world,’’ Callaway said. “This is one of the greatest franchises in the world. … When I look at the New York Mets, I see a team that can contend and compete with anybody and that’s what we’ll work hard to do.’’

Secondly, and this might be most important, is his pitching background. If the Mets are to get back to the postseason, they must pitch. The 42-year-old Callaway built a staff in Cleveland that included Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Andrew Miller that led the majors in ERA (3.30), strikeouts (1,614) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.1).

Callaway favors fastballs and curveballs opposed to the sliders under former pitching coach Dan Warthen. It will be interesting to see if there is a reduction in the number of sliders thrown and how it might cause a decrease in the injuries that crippled the staff for the past two years.

Callaway has already spoken with several players – but only singled out David Wright – and said he was eager to start making calls. But, one of his first orders of business is working with Alderson and his staff on finding a pitching coach.

“We already have a partial list, we want to make sure it’s as inclusive as possible,’’ Alderson said. “I think Mickey and the front office will work collaboratively to find someone that he’s comfortable with. One of the things that we’re going to do over the next few days is put together a list of potential pitching coaches.

“I think that it’s important to recognize that yes, Mickey is a former pitching coach and it’s important for us because that’s our strength. But at the same time, Mickey will be focused entirely on the 25-man roster and the pitching coach will be very important.’’

While Terry Collins’ name wasn’t mentioned today, there was a disconnect between several of the younger players and the former manager. Callaway vows that won’t happen with him.

“We’re going to care more about the players than anyone has before. We’re going to value their work. Value their dedication,’’ Callaway promised. “I’m going to reach out to the players. I know they got the news obviously from some other source than myself, but I’m going to reach out to them, let them know how excited I am, and we’re going to start this very, very important 2018 offseason. These next three months are going to be critical to what we try to do in the season and we’re going to get to work right away.’’

And, there’s so much work to be done.