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.

Nov 27

Adding Machado, Harper Or Cano Won’t Be Enough To Lift The Mets

New York sports-radio is all for the Mets signing Manny Machado, but that would be one of the worst things the organization could do. Then again, New York sports-talk radio is for a lot of things that don’t make sense.

Signing both Machado and Bryce Harper would set the franchise back over a decade, by which time all those young, vaunted arms would likely be gone.

New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen vowed the Mets would be competitive this season, but adding Machado or Harper won’t make that happen because that expensive a power bat doesn’t begin to fill all the holes facing them.

There are numerous questions surrounding the rotation beginning with Jacob deGrom who is coming off a historic season. The thing about historic seasons is they usually happen once. While it is doubtful deGrom will duplicate his 1.70 ERA, but it would be great if he won more than 10 games even if it means having a higher ERA.

Zack Wheeler demonstrated breakout signs, but can he continue to progress? So far, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard have been an uncashed check regarding their potential. Will it ever happen for either of them? The New York papers have been loaded with articles about the Mets shopping Syndergaard, but their asking price is exorbitant.

That leaves another rotation question: Who will be the fifth starter?

The bullpen needs to be completely rebuilt, which means at least six more questions.

The Mets’ best catcher last season regarding defense, game calling and controlling the running game was Devon Mesaraco, but there’s been no mention of bringing him back. There has been talk of trading for the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, but Miami wants a haul in return. Kevin Plawecki figures to come back but the odds are long for Travis d’Arnaud.

First base is another wide-open position as Dominick Smith hasn’t proven worthy of getting the position long-term. We know the Mets aren’t sold on Wilmer Flores. The Diamondbacks will listen to offers for Paul Goldschmidt. I’d rather have him than Realmuto, but he’s also going to cost plenty, both in terms of prospects and salary.

Seattle is actively trying to trade second baseman Robinson Cano, and in hope of finding a sucker reached out to the Mets. Cano is 36, coming off a PED suspension and with $120 million remaining on his contract through 2023. Cano also has a reputation from his years with the Yankees for not hustling. That hasn’t changed much from his years in Seattle. Do you want that kind of player on the Mets?

Trading for Cano would be a catastrophic deal of monumental proportions, especially since second base isn’t a priority. Personally, I’d rather have Jeff McNeil, who hustles and has a high on-base percentage.

Third base belongs to Todd Frazier unless the Mets can do better, and that doesn’t mean Machado, whose, ”I’m not Johnny Hustle,” quote during the playoffs has come back to haunt him. The only thing worse than saying something so stupid was his trying to walk it back. If you say something like that. at least own up to it.

The Mets are also open for a right-handed hitting outfielder with Yoenis Cespedes out until at least the All-Star break.

Cano at $120 million and Machado and Harper at a reported $300 million each represent a lot of money which can go a long way at answering all their questions, which I have at least 16 at last count.

If the Mets are going to sign anybody to a long-term mega contract, it will go to deGrom, and even that won’t help them. Competitive isn’t what the Mets are going to be in 2019. Not even close.

Oct 31

Four Items On Van Wagenen’s Plate

New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said there are 11 parts to his plans to remaking the Mets. He wouldn’t elaborate what they were, but it is believed he touched on one when he said he wanted Mickey Callaway to return as manager.

I’m speculating the following four are on his list:

Increase the Payroll: They should come in no higher than $160 million. Given the money they’ll save with David Wright’s retirement ($15 million for this summer) and what insurance will pick up with Yoenis Cespedes not likely to return before July, offset by raises earmarked for Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo and what the Mets might do in upgrading their bullpen, don’t expect them to splurge on free agents Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.

The Mets are expected to bring back second baseman Jeff McNeil to a raise and need to bring in a center fielder, a catcher and perhaps a first baseman, not to mention a significant reliever. Whether that reliever is top shelf or middle tier, it will cost.

Keep the Rotation Intact: The Mets entertained trading all of their starters last season, and are expected to keep them all this winter. DeGrom and Syndergaard will get hefty raises. Since they aren’t anticipated to do a bullpen game for the fifth slot, they’ll need a fifth starter. Is it Seth Lugo, Jason Vargas or Robert Gsellman, or somebody from the minors?

Van Wagenen will confer with Callaway, John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi this week to get a handle on the rotation. The rotation is potentially the team’s strength and the first four must be kept, but it will increase payroll.

Improving the Lineup: Don’t expect the Mets to dive deep into the free-agent or trade markets despite the optimism Van Wagenen and COO Jeff Wilpon portrayed. The Mets must upgrade at catcher and I don’t see them tendering a contract to Travis d’Arnaud. First base is a concern and decisions must be made on Peter Alonso or Dominic Smith, or will Van Wagenen fool around with Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores or Todd Frazier? If the Mets are serious about winning now they must improve catcher and first base. They could have traded for Paul Goldschmidt from Arizona, but that boat sailed when they picked up his option yesterday. The radio call-in shows in New York were filled with callers chiming for Machado, but that would be a horrible mistake.

I was against signing Cespedes because the money would have been better spent on filling the numerous holes the Mets have and still do. Considering Machado is reportedly due twice as much as Cespedes, think of all the improvements the Mets could make.

Upgrade the Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Joe Kelly are the most enticing names in the market. Of course, all will want long-term, expensive contracts. Former GM Sandy Alderson failed to build a bullpen and consistently used the scrap-heap approach. Van Wagenen has to sign a name reliever, and that discounts the possibility of a reunion with Jeurys Familia. Rookies Tyler Bashlor and Drew Smith, and Lugo or Gsellman all pitched well last season at times.

They need to sign one of the four because they desperately need a closer. Bringing back Familia would be a step back. The Mets have plenty of inexperienced hard-throwing relievers, who didn’t distinguish themselves last summer. They have a half-dozen hard-throwers but need at least two or three to show something during spring training.

These four items say the Mets aren’t ready to win now. And, there are at least seven more issues to go.

 

Aug 19

Granderson Trade Officially Closes Mets’ Window

The Mets’ Great Salary Dump of 2017 continued today when the Mets traded Curtis Granderson to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a player to be named later or cash. Dealing Granderson marked the symbolic closing of the Mets’ window of contention.

The Mets signed Granderson to a four-year, $60-million contract in 2013, and with their young pitching, they promised to be a contender. It wouldn’t be until 2015 that they overachieved and not only reached the playoffs but made it to the World Series.

GRANDERSON: Trade closes Mets window. (AP)

GRANDERSON: Trade closes Mets window. (AP)

They lost in the wild-card game last year but were heavy favorites to return to October – with many thinking the World Series – this season.

I ask: If injuries were the number one cause of the failure this season, doesn’t it stand to reason that with a little tweaking added to the present core, then how far off could the Mets be for 2018? That’s with, or without, David Wright.

That GM Sandy Alderson would cast off so many of the Mets’ veteran assets is only indicative how poorly he constructed this team. Granderson, combined with Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Addison Reed, and soon to be Rene Rivera, adds up to six future free agents after this season.

It stands to reason Alderson wouldn’t bring back all of them. But, to not bring back any of them is simply poor management.

You don’t construct your roster to have eight expiring contracts – don’t forget Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera – at the same time. That’s 33 percent of your roster. And, coupled with casting off Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy, and that’s just a terrible job by the man whose biographer refers to him as the game’s smartest general manager.

Maybe you don’t keep them all, but if you’re telling the public your goal is to compete, you try to keep the core together. Of all the remnants the Mets received in return, only AJ Ramos – projected in a set-up reliever role – figure to make the 2018 roster.

Turner, for spiteful reasons, brought nothing from the Dodgers. He’s an All-Star who could win the NL batting title this year. Murphy, of course, walked because they wouldn’t spend the money.

Hell, that’s the case with all of them.

The Mets threw good money after bad with trading for and extending Walker when they could have kept Murphy.

Duda, well he was only keeping the seat warm for Dominic Smith. Reed could have been extended when Jeurys Familia was first suspended, then injured. Bruce was signed as a hedge in case the Mets didn’t re-sign Yoenis Cespedes, who, so far, has turned out to be a bust.

Cespedes has been a health and hustling concern each of the past two years. Having Bruce’s 29 homers would be needed next season.

And, still, Alderson tells us he expects the Mets to compete next year. That is, if the three of the core rotation that is on the disabled list return healthy next year, and a fourth – Steven Matz – rights himself.

Ex-Mets Granderson and Turner could meet ex-Met Murphy or ex-Met Rivera, who was claimed on waivers by the Cubs, in the NLCS for the right to possibly meet ex-Mets Bruce or Reed in the World Series.

As it is now, the Mets have only Jacob deGrom from that vaunted rotation. What can you count on from Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Matz? Remember, that rotation has yet to pitch in turn since 2013.

Their best player is Michael Conforto, but they don’t have a set position for him. Smith and Amed Rosario are promising questions. They refuse to play Wilmer Flores full time and Wright can’t be counted on.

The bullpen outside of Jerry Blevins is awful. Do you really trust Ramos and Familia? Don’t tell me you trust Hansel Robles.

I think Rosario could be a star, but as with what happened with Conforto, there could be growing pains. I like Smith, but he needs to get into shape. How will Rosario and Smith fare in a full major league schedule?

So, in looking at the Mets’ current roster, I only trust Conforto, deGrom and Blevins. Everybody else is a question or a black hole.

We know the Mets won’t be big spenders this winter as all their money is tied up wet-nursing Cespedes. There won’t be big-name help coming in from the outside. So, you’re delusional if you think they really would go after Manny Machado or Evan Longoria.

The Mets window to compete opened when they signed Granderson. It officially closed today.