The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is this afternoon and the Mets are in a position where they’ve been linked to both acquiring bigger name players and trading off talented players. Things could get pretty crazy (or not, if you believe Sandy Alderson’s publicly spoken words). So, to help you all keep everything straight, I’ve come up with some things to consider:
1) The most likely scenario involves the Mets making no moves. Seriously. Sandy Alderson has already said it. Terry Collins has said it. There’s been very little heat surrounding the Mets, and the most likely reason is that the two pieces that are both valuable to other teams and reasonable for them to trade away are probably best dealt later on. Bartolo Colon has pitched well, but the market for him is clearly not desperate enough yet. If you hold onto Colon, you can attempt to pass him through waivers in August and either trade him if he goes unclaimed, try to trade him to a team that does claim him, or hold onto him until the offseason and trade him then. Pretty much the same can be said for Daniel Murphy, though I expect the second baseman is a better trade chip for the offseason.
2) Even if they do make a trade, the Mets are incredibly unlikely to acquire a star by the deadline. I mean, first and foremost because there likely isn’t a star available. We’ve all heard about Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton and whoever else. Let me be the (probably not) first to tell you, that these guys aren’t going anywhere right now. The Rockies will probably have to trade the no longer remarkably young and talented pair of CarGo and Tulo sometime in the not-too-distant future. But they are in no rush. And they’re going to ask for the world. So, don’t hold your breath on either player moving to Queens anytime soon. Stanton? He could be traded down the road, but the Marlins would be insane to do so now. He’s one of the game’s best players. And even if they did move him immediately, they won’t trade him within the National League East. I suspect that the most likely “star” to be dealt by Thursday’s deadline is probably Tampa Bay’s David Price. And since the Mets pitching has been the least of their problems, there’s no way they surrender the prospect value necessary to bring Price to Flushing.
3) If the Mets were to make a move, there’s a specific type of player they’d be looking for. The Mets, over the past few weeks, have actually shown that they may only be a couple of pieces away from contention. Now much of that exists within a small sample size, and is not PROOF of how close the Mets are. But it also means they probably want to give younger players a chance to prove that their performance has been no fluke. Travis d’Arnaud and Lucas Duda are the two biggest examples. The pair may not be quite as remarkable as the level they’re currently playing at, but the Mets probably don’t need to go out and deal for an older catcher or first baseman. With a strong pitching rotation, a vastly improved bullpen and a stocked farm system (at least pitching-wise), the Mets can upgrade at shortstop and left field. That’s about it. Look for the team to target younger players (29 or younger, would be my assumption) at those two positions. Based on previous statements, my guess is they’d prefer players not on a contract longer than 3-4 years — Sandy Alderson has exhibited a bit of disdain for long-term contracts.
4) Trading young-ish players isn’t out of the question. Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee. These three are still in their primes, still relatively inexpensive (in Murphy’s case, that may not be true for long), and they’ve all performed well at the big league level. But trading them isn’t automatically a mistake. The Mets have pitching depth (a potential 2015 rotation race could include Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard and even the forgotten Jeremy Hefner). They also have a pair of kids who can (to varying levels of skill, according to reports) play second base and are destroying their current minor league level. Wilmer Flores was lighting up Triple-A before being inexplicably promoted to sit on the bench. Dilson Herrera is killing it in Double-A, and could start next year in Triple-A. Now, if the Mets trade one of the players listed above, they’d be best suited to get a sure thing in return. But none of them are untouchable.
5) Equally important, trading prospects is not necessarily a bad idea either. The point of building a farm system is two-fold. Part one involves developing young talent to perform in the major leagues, but part two involves trading the surplus of that talent for established players. The Mets shouldn’t sell the farm, and they shouldn’t give up too much if the deal isn’t right. But, even the prospects we’ve all heard so much about — Syndergaard for example — are far from guarantees. You don’t trade them away lightly, but you also don’t mark them untouchable.
More than likely, the trade deadline will pass without anything changing for the Mets. But that in and of itself is not a bad thing (or a good thing). There’ll be chances for Alderson and Co. to make changes in August and in the offseason. For now, enjoy the drama and the action that is the MLB trade deadline.
Before I go ahead and publish a primer on Thursday’s trade deadline, I thought I’d post something with some tips for following along as Sandy Alderson and Co. spend the next 24 hours probably not sleeping and making dozens of phone calls.
Tip #1) Not every team fits cleanly as a “Buyer” or “Seller.” As it happens, the Mets are a perfect example of this. They don’t have to sell pieces. They don’t need to (further) cut payroll. They don’t have very many players who don’t provide value. They also aren’t in a position where they can or should give away pieces for the future for a short-term solution. The Mets won’t be in on a rental player like Jon Lester or Marlon Byrd, for good reason. They won’t just give away Bartolo Colon for free. They won’t sell talented players like Jon Niese or Dillon Gee for less than their market value.
Tip #2) Remember that nobody knows anything until it happens. Most of the next 24 hours is pure speculation. Which teams need players at which positions? Which teams want to win now? Which want to rebuild? Which are in between? Some reporters have good sources. They may jump on news more quickly than others. But at the end of the day, no news is news until the teams agree. No reporter can know something for sure until after that happens.
Tip #3) Be wary of fake Twitter accounts and the like. I love Twitter. It’s incredibly useful. But there are also far too many fake accounts purporting to be “real” reporters. It’s irritating. But before you retweet something, or before you assume news is breaking, find a reliable person (see below) and see what they have to say.
Tip #4) Following the Mets gives you options when it comes to news sources. The Mets have a great bunch of beat writers. You can follow any of the people on this Twitter list, for one. In fact, as I tweeted a few days ago, the Mets beat writers are crazy but awesome to follow. So you should follow everyone on that list. Nationally, you should rely on guys like Jayson Stark, Ken Rosenthal, Buster Olney, etc.
Tip #5) MLB Trade Rumors is your friend. If you’ve never used the site, you’re missing out. They constantly cover all the goings on in Major League Baseball. Check it out.
Tip #6) In Sandy Alderson We (Should) Trust. I could write a series of pieces on this tip. Sandy Alderson, especially when it comes to trades, is a magician. He traded two months of Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler. He traded two months of John Buck and Marlon Byrd (who he signed for a pittance) for stud prospect Dilson Herrera and Vic Black. He dealt an aging R.A. Dickey and a pair of mediocre-or-worse catchers for Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard (AND Wuilmer Becerra, another prospect with some potential). Sandy Alderson and the Mets front office knows what it’s doing. They scout well. They judge value pretty well. And they clearly know how to negotiate. Trust them. They won’t steer the Mets wrong.
Tip #7) Most of all, have fun with it. The MLB trade deadline is amazing fun. Rumors flying back and forth, information changing constantly, every team looking into goodness-knows how many solutions to their problems and considering a number of deals. Keep up on the latest info, but don’t get bent out of shape.
Let’s get this out of the way: Sandy Alderson’s front office and Terry Collins as manager have not brought nearly as many wins to the Mets organization as many Mets fans thought they would have by now. That is frustrating. Many of the team’s many losses have been in disheartening fashion. That’s even more frustrating. But I wonder what could really have been expected.
I remember when Sandy Alderson was introduced as the Mets’ General Manager. I remember a lot of talk after that opening press conference surrounding the idea of being in playoff contention within three years or so. But is that really realistic? Yes, teams often reload in one offseason, franchises can do a 180 degree turn in a shorter timespan, but most of those organizations didn’t have absurd amounts of money tied up in aging former-stars like Jason Bay, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez and Johan Santana. Most of those organizations also don’t have ownership dealing with the aftermath of a Ponzi scheme (thanks, Bernie!)
So, fans gave Alderson some leeway. After all, it made more sense to blame ownership and the previous front office. They were the ones who messed up the team’s financial situation.
Somewhere along the way, though, the fans gave up being patient. Every failure became a criticism of Alderson, every tiny success an accident.
You signed Frank Francisco and Brandon Lyon to reasonable deals? Traded for Ramon Ramirez? All three busted? Obviously you have no idea how to work a bullpen.
You signed Curtis Granderson after fans SCREAMED that you needed to do SOMETHING? He didn’t hit immediately? Obviously you don’t know how to negotiate deals or pick free agents.
Travis d’Arnaud is struggling in his first full season in the majors? Obviously your trades for prospects were overhyped and not meaningful.
It’s all craziness, and to an extent that’s how New York sports work. Alderson has failed to put together a successful bullpen. The prospects he’s acquired are either not yet in the bigs or have dealt with struggles. This is the fourth season that Alderson has run the Mets, and they don’t appear to have improved substantially over his first season in terms of on-the-field wins.
The point is that it’s totally rational to be frustrated by continued losing. It’s okay to criticize Alderson too. His moves haven’t (as of this writing) worked out. But take an honest stock of the organization. The Mets have, once Noah Syndergaard makes it to the majors, seven starting pitchers under 30 who are (or should be) capable of success: Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard. He managed to keep “face of the frachise” David Wright, acquired a potential cornerstone catcher (Travis d’Arnaud) who fans and scouts alike fawned over, appeased fans by trading Ike Davis and letting Lucas Duda play daily in a place that isn’t the outfield. The team has a potential stud in centerfield with Juan Lagares.
There’s talent in Queens. There’s talent in the minor leagues too. The Mets may still be just a 75-80 win team this year, and they will probably continue to lose in new, frustrating and “Metsian” ways. But to say that the direction of the franchise isn’t trending up? That’s just silly.
So, Mets fans, I understand if you complain about the slow going of this rebuild. I get that you’re frustrated by losing. I empathize with you entirely. Where we diverge, however, is the search for anything to complain about. I’d much rather watch a four-hour loss than not watch baseball. It doesn’t serve anyone to manufacture new complaints. To reserve a neurotic belief that Terry Collins is intentionally benching his best outfielder (Juan Lagares), or that he’s the worst manager this side of Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. Sometimes, guys, the players on the field need to perform. So far, the players on the 2014 Mets haven’t. And they may not do enough this year to meet Alderson’s 90 win “goal.” (Which, by the way, is a discussion for another time.)
What the Mets have done is improve their overall position. Imagine a car stuck in a ditch. Once you’ve extricate the car, you’ve got a long way to go. Sandy Alderson dumped the contracts that were acting as anchors around the Mets organization’s neck. Now he’s gotta build a team around the prospects and core. Three years was never a realistic timeline. Let’s just accept that and enjoy the baseball we’ve got. Because sooner than you realize, it’ll be the offseason and most of us will be counting down the days till Opening Day 2015.
Early on this season — and on May 13th, it is still early on — the Mets have been nothing if not inconsistent. A 15-11 start, followed by a 1-8 stretch, and as of this writing, two straight wins. We’ve seen hot streaks (Juan Lagares until his hamstring injury, Dillon Gee, Curtis Granderson since May 1, etc.) and cold streaks (Travis d’Arnaud, Ruben Tejada and Bartolo Colon, among others). What should give Mets fans some cause for optimism…you remember what that is, right?…is that some of those cold streaks, even the ones that have lasted through the entirety of the first 37 games, are not particularly likely to continue.
Now, I could likely just as easily point out the successes that are unlikely to continue, but for the sake of optimism — and on May 13, we’re still in the domain of optimism — let’s look at why some of the struggling Mets are likely (or at least capable) of improving over the rest of the season.
It might seem silly to start with Wheeker, after all he’s been pretty darn good as it is. He’s put up an ERA below 4.00 (thanks to a scoring change that took place Tuesday afternoon), he’s got a strong strikeout rate and has kept the Mets in games. But truth be told, Wheeler could be pitching even better. Here’s his stats via Fangraphs:
Now, many of those numbers look about right. But what if we look at the things that can be improved upon? First, his walk rate. He’s basically had no better control than his rookie season. Typically, you can expect pitchers, the more experience they gain, to walk fewer batters. That’s not universal, but he could certainly improve just a bit, perhaps drop that BB/9 figure to about 3.5. Next, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The major league average is .295 so far this year. Wheeler’s figure is way higher. Part of that is likely pitching in the expanse of Citi Field’s outfield, but probably not all of it. With the Mets’ outfield defense, Wheeler should be able to turn more batted balls into outs.
If Wheeler can walk fewer batters and give up fewer hits, it stands to reason all of the other statistics will begin to look better. Not the least of which are wins and losses (which, for a pitcher are not important, but the more wins Wheeler gets, the more wins the Mets get, and that’s a good thing).
Rice was far from a world-beater last year, and if we’re being fair, it’s tough to expect too much more from a pitcher who never broke into the majors until his age 31 season. But looking at Rice’s numbers, it’s hard to argue that he shouldn’t pitch better than he has thus far. His statistics via Fangraphs:
Rice has been pretty poor when it comes to three major statistics: walk rate, strikeout rate and BABIP. Striking out just 6.5 batters per nine innings is not just below his figure from last year, it’s thoroughly mediocre. The same goes for walking 5.6 batters per nine innings. A sample size of just under 10 innings makes looking at relievers a bit of a farce in May, but it’s hard to imagine that Rice can’t improve both his strikeout and walk rates.
Add in a BABIP similar to Wheeler’s, and you can easily imagine a scenario in which Rice allows fewer runners and strikes out more batters. That’d allow him to strand more inherited runners and and give up fewer of his own. A pretty good combination, if he can manage it.
This one will be unpopular. Let’s get the simplest stuff out of the way. Tejada has been mediocre for much of this year. And until the last two games, that would have been generous. I’ve been a defender of Tejada’s since Spring Training. At that point, I looked at his situation pretty simply: He put together 877 terrific plate appearances in 2011 and 2012. He hit over .280, played decent defense, and was about what you wanted as a number eight hitter…all while playing in the majors before the age of 24. Last year was terrible. He didn’t hit well, he didn’t field well and he got hurt. It was bad. But I put more stock in 877 plate appearances than I did in 227 from last year. Bigger sample size means more predictive.
The early season hasn’t quieted my fears about Tejada or anyone else’s. But looking deeper than the statistics shown during broadcasts paints a slightly different picture. Tejada has struck out more than he did in 2011 or 2012, which is a bad sign, but he’s also walking a LOT more. Add in a higher line drive percentage and a lower BABIP (that’s not a combination you often see), and one could argue Tejada has been somewhat unlucky.
Remember in 2012, when Tejada worked countless at bats to full counts, especially after falling behind 0-2? Tejada’s always had a good batting eye. If he maintains his walk rate — and even if his strikeout rate remains a bit higher than you’d like — you can expect his line drive rate and BABIP to balance out. His LD% won’t likely stay above 30%, but his BABIP should climb in the direction of major league average (which, again, is .295). I don’t know that I’m confident Ruben will hit .280 with a .330+ on-base percentage like he did in 2011-2012, but I do think he’ll see his batting average climb towards .260ish and his on-base percentage climb ever-so-slightly towards about .320. Those numbers would please any Mets fan.
I’ll allow Toby Hyde of Mets Minor League Blog to start off this section:
It’s pretty simple really. He’s got above average walk and strikeout rates, which mean he’s got a good idea of where the strike zone is and he’s not swinging at too many bad pitches. He’s got a slightly below league average line drive rate, which you’d think he can improve upon. On top of all that he’s got a .230 BABIP, which is FAR below the league average. His numbers may not be there, but since an 0-15 start, he’s got a borderline respectable .244/.319/.390 slash line. Those numbers aren’t great either, but it’s a start. Look for d’Arnaud to hit even better as he gets more and more comfortable.
He’s a 40-year-old, overweight pitcher who’s coming off a career year. So, expectations of Colon should have been tempered. He has struggled mightily — BUT — he’s only really struggled in three of his eight starts. Five of the eight have been pretty good quality.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s look at his numbers as a whole. His strikeout rate is just a hair above his career rate and his walk rate is significantly better. Much like Wheeler and Rice, Colon has been victimized by a high BABIP. Once again, that is partly because he’s playing in a big outfield where more batted balls will fall in. But it’s still a much higher number than you’d expect.
With Colon, there’s one other stat that I think lends itself to improvement between now and September: home runs allowed per fly ball. Colon was never likely to live up to his crazy rate from last year — where only six percent of fly balls allowed by Colon ended up over the fence. But to double that? That’s equally crazy. A rate of 11.8% is about average, Colon’s typically been better than average. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that he can drop that figure a bit. If he can improve any two of those four statistics (strikeouts, walks, hits allowed and home runs allowed), you’re looking at a tolerable if excruciatingly uninteresting pitcher. The Mets would take that.
Now, all of this is an exercise in small sample sizes, best guesses and hypotheticals based on baseball (which Suzyn Waldman would have you all know, “you can’t predict”). Still, it’s far from crazy to think that these five Mets — key players all — can be noticeably better than they’ve been thus far. And if that happens, the Mets are looking a handful more wins over the rest of the season.
Note: I’m sorry for playing into the overuse of “____-gate” for the title of a scandal.
Matt Harvey caused trouble for himself and for the Mets today by tweeting out a photograph of himself in a hospital bed — giving the middle finger. Plenty of sportswriters, reporters, social media strategists and fans are asking why Harvey would do this. But the real question is: why the heck do we care?
Yes, Matt Harvey is a famous and talented athlete with a large following. Yes, children idolize him. Yes, it would be nice for him to be a “proper role model,” but the belief that all athletes should subscribe to the Derek Jeter strategy of ultra-saccharine, say-nothing, vagueness is silly. If every athlete answered every question with “I just try to give 110 percent” and “it’s good for us to get the win” and constantly called their owners and coaches by their last name, we fans would get bored. If Harvey was Derek Jeter-lite, Mets fans would find a way to criticize that. “We don’t want to just imitate the Yankees,” they would say.
I understand the criticism. Harvey putting out a photograph of what many people consider a supremely vulgar hand gesture is — one might argue — the wrong thing to do for any celebrity. But let’s recall that Harvey is a 25-year-old man who wants to pitch in the city that never sleeps. He may take advantage of his “celebrity,” but let’s remember that he didn’t ask for it. That is a key point.
It’s easy to pick up this “story” and to shame Harvey for making an “immature decision,” or for being “inappropriate.” But the truth is, he doesn’t have any responsibility to the fans or the media. His responsibilities lie solely with himself and his organization. The only expectations he needs to meet are those that involve rehab, and one day, pitching again.
That’s why it’s unfortunate that Harvey opted to delete his Twitter account. Because while his wasn’t the funniest, most insightful or most unique athlete Twitter, it did provide his followers with a glimpse into his personality, his life as a star athlete. It was honest. Now, I imagine the pressure on Harvey to be vague, boring and saccharine will only increase. If he ever returns to Twitter, I’d expect his account to be even less honest, to hide his personality and emit a facade that more closely meets the ridiculous and pointless expectations that many people apparently have for him.
Matt Harvey didn’t need to apologize for his tweet. The Mets reportedly asked him to delete the image. He should have done whatever the team asked. But he could have simultaneously owned that image. He could have owned that decision. He could have owned the fact that he, unlikely any number of athletes, does and says the things he does because he feels like it. He could have proved to the public that his public persona is the real him, and not the perfectly-crafted facade that many athletes use.
Instead, we’ll spend the next week hearing about how Harvey’s tweet proves his immaturity and how unlike Derek Jeter he really is. As far as I’m concerned…*yawn*
I wish there was a statistic that covered “almost-comebacks.” The experience, exactly like Wednesday night’s Mets game, where a team falls behind and NEARLY comes back, inevitably falling just short. I’d like to see this statistic, because I wonder whether my belief that this almost-comeback experience, is maddeningly common for the Mets in particular is true.
In the absence of an official statistic, we’ll have to deal in the abstract.
On Wednesday night, the Mets fell behind 4-0 before rallying for three runs in the ninth. Just enough to get fans on the edge of their seat, but all the while, many of them just knew how it would end. We’ve seen this movie before. Leave runners on base early? Fail to hit for eight innings? Give up late insurance runs? Well, after all that, why wouldn’t the Mets make it appear like the game was particularly close. They seem to do it often.
Heck, if you Google search the phrase “Mets comeback falls short,” you can find stories about tonight’s game, August 2010 games against the Phillies and Marlins, and 2012 games against the Cubs and Brewers. And that’s all in the first two pages.
That’s felt like the formula. The Braves took the early lead, built on it in the middle of the game while the Mets lineup slumbered, and hung on for dear life. Make no mistake, the Braves were the better team on Wednesday, and a four-run comeback against Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel is a HUGE task to ask of any lineup. But when you watch a team get so close, it’s maddening to see them fall one hit short.
It’s an art to lose games late, and the Mets have perfected it. With closers over the years like Braden Looper, Billy Wagner, Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell who’d make their livings walking a tightrope, the Mets have kept their fans nervous in the ninth since I became a fan in the late 1990s. In recent years though, it’s less nerves. It’s excitement. But still an excitement where — since 2006 — fans expect that tinge of disappointment. The late runs are promising, a positive thing to take away from games against better teams, but a disappointment nonetheless.
I may not have statistics to back it up, but anyone who’s watched the late-2000s Mets has likely felt the same way at some point — with varying degrees of optimism or frustration.
That’s sort of how the Mets have operated over the last eight years. They’ve always felt closer than they actually were.
Since 2007’s collapse, the Mets have been behind the eight ball pretty much annually. In the offseasons before the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, the team tried to just plug holes. The starting rotation needed strengthening, so Omar Minaya traded for Johan Santana. The bullpen failed them in 2007 and 2008, so Minaya acquired J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. The lineup was week in 2009 — due to injuries, actually — so he added Jason Bay. Each time, there was a certain logic — albeit flawed — behind the acquisition. Minaya added a foursome of talented players. And none of them led the Mets to so much as a playoff appearance.
So, over the last few years, when a game ends the way Wednesday night’s did, Mets fans have barely flinched. The Mets have been a team that played “gritty” baseball for a decent portion of the year, only to fall apart.
It’s a defense mechanism for Mets fans. Expect failure and you won’t be too disappointed. But with the pieces (seemingly) coming together, young stars cracking into the big leagues…the days of expected disappointment may be numbered.
In the meantime, enjoy games like this. Losses are rarely fun, but for a flawed team, being that excited up through the final pitch? That’s what baseball should be like. That’s what Mets baseball has been, is and will be. That’s what competitive baseball feels like. And the last few years has just been the faintest taste of what Mets fans hope to experience in the near future.
Other than the actual baseball, my favorite part about Opening Day is the statistics that come out of it. I remember in 2005, Dmitri Young hit three home runs on Opening Day, prompting a cavalcade of “He’s on pace for 486 home run” statements. So, every year, after Opening Day, I like remind myself that individual games are not predictive of anything — and that statistics, while actually very important, can and are selected to prove what the person speaking wants them to prove.
So, the statistics from Opening Day that translate to the full season:
– Andrew Brown, Juan Lagares and even David Wright will not hit 162 home runs.
– Curtis Granderson won’t strike out 486 times.
– The Mets won’t score 1,134 runs.
– Neither Scott Rice nor Carlos Torres will walk every batter they face all season.
– The Mets will not go 0-162 and will not lose a key player to a season-ending injury every day of the season.
While those statistics, both good and bad, will not go continue on their “pace,” there are things that we CAN take out of Opening Day’s game:
– Juan Lagares showed a little bit with his bat early, and didn’t get too anxious to swing in the 10th inning. If he can swing a decent bat and maintain plate discipline, he will end up playing way more than Eric Young Jr. (0-4, 4 K’s on Opening Day)
– The Mets need to strike out less. They are unlikely to show the kind of power they did on Opening Day, slamming three home runs. So, if they can’t string together base hits, the lineup will look similar to a stretch late last summer where they averaged about two runs per game.
– Dillon Gee looked, until his final inning, like the Dillon Gee from the second half of last year. He’s no lock to be that kind of pitcher all year long, but he may be the kind of pitcher capable of keeping the Mets in most games he pitches.
– The bullpen is STILL a huge question mark. Jose Valverde’s success can’t be counted upon based on one outing any more than the rest of the bullpen’s failure can. But all of the concerns that I outlined here, still exist.
Is Opening Day an accurate way to analyze or define any team? Absolutely not. Could most of the predictions made in this post turn out wrong? Sure. There’s a reason the baseball season is 162 games long — so that we don’t have to judge a team on a small sample size. So, sit back, get ready for game 2 of 162 tonight, and remember, when someone TRIES to give their way-too-early analysis, refer to this song by Ted Berg, now of USA Today.
Opening Day is here, finally. A chance to start fresh. An opportunity to take an entirely new ball of clay and turn it into a season of excitement and fun. 2014 could be a year of thrills for Mets fans, or yet another year of disappointment, but on Opening Day, fans can dream only of the former.
Last year at this time, I was at Citi Field, courtesy of the Mets and MLB’s #RandomActsOfOpeningDay. It was the first Opening Day I’d ever attended in person. The chance to watch the players line up on the foul lines, to have the team that I would spend the next six months watched nearly every day, to witness the season’s opening act…was something else entirely.
Expectations may be higher for 2014. Fans may be more skeptical. But when push comes to shove, Opening Day is pure newness. Citi Field will be awash with the glow of promise, and for a few hours, devoid of cynicism. The 2014 season is about to begin, and on Opening Day, that’s a beautiful thing.
We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part eight of the series, we’ll take a look at the bullpen.
Opening Day Closer: Bobby Parnell
Opening Day Rotation: Jose Valverde (Setup Man), Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, John Lannan, Scott Rice (Lefty Specialist), Carlos Torres (Long Man)
Looking to the Future: Jack Leathersich, Vic Black
If you think you have a good handle on how good the Mets bullpen will be, well, you’re probably lying. There are question marks — if not major concerns — with every single one of these players. A brief run-through:
Parnell – Return from neck surgery
Valverde – Bad 2013, spent time in Triple-A
Jeurys Familia – Must cut down on walks (7 BB/9 in brief MLB career)
Germen – Got hit hard in September, did he wear down, or was he pitching over his head?
Lannan – Has never pitched out of the bullpen before, can he do it?
Rice – Appeared in 73 games by early September, then needed surgery. Can he recover?
Torres – Also struggled in September, with an ERA over 4.00 in 31 innings. Worn out or regression to the mean?
So, what will the Mets get from their bullpen? I’ll hedge my bet and say “something around the league average.” Bullpens are fickle. Relief pitchers, with the exception of top-level closers, are impossible to predict from year to year. The individual pitchers on this list are talented, and it wouldn’t take too much effort to envision a hypothetical situation in which the bullpen is successful. It’s also not difficult to imagine the Mets bullpen imploding like the 2007-2010 Mets bullpens.
There are some popular names in the upper levels of the farm system, notably Black and Leathersich. Black is a hard-throwing righty and Leathersich is a lefty who typically tops out in the low-to-mid 90s. The two should both start the year in Triple-A and could easily force their way up to the big league team. The two are likely to bring plenty of strikeouts with them, but must cut down on their high walk rates.
The Mets also have veteran Kyle Farnsworth in the minor leagues. While he didn’t look very good in Spring Training, they’ll consider him decent depth in case of injury.
My best guess is league average, though I’ll admit that “below average” is a safer bet than “above average.” There’s talent and plenty of hard throwers, but very little certainty. Even Parnell, who was a good closer in 2013, had been inconsistent from year-to-year before last season. If the bullpen performs, they could be holding onto plenty of leads — given the Mets relatively strong starting pitching. But that is a big “if.”
How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:
Well, on the one hand, the Mets should not be too confident about their bullpen of question marks. On the other hand, neither should any other MLB team.
The Mets bullpen is constructed in a sound way. A pair of lefties, a long reliever, a closer and setup man with experience and plenty of high-velocity arms. There’s depth in the minor leagues and likely clearly defined roles in the majors. And yet, there are so many questions that it would take someone blinded by fanhood to presume the Mets bullpen won’t cause agita this season. So, Mets fans, you’ll probably be biting your fingernails and sitting on the edge of your seat come the 8th and 9th innings of close games this year. But that may be better than in past years, when there was no nervousness, because you knew the Mets bullpen was going to blow it. In 2014, I expect far more people to ask on Twitter “will the Mets blow this lead?” and fewer people to ask “We KNOW the Mets will blow this lead, the question is how?”
We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part seven of the series, we’ll take a look at the starting rotation.
Opening Day Starter: Dillon Gee
Opening Day Rotation: Gee, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Niese
Opening Day Dark Horse: Jenrry Mejia (if Niese is unable to start April 6)
Looking to the Future: Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard
The rotation might be the best part of the 2014 Mets. There’s depth, veteran experience with youth mixed in and most of all, there’s talent.
Gee may not be the Opening Day starter that Mets fans were hoping for, but with Matt Harvey out for the year, Gee gets the call. His second-half ERA of 2.74 is darn impressive, and he looked like he had finally gotten “back” from his aneurysm scare last offseason. The fifth starter job seems likely to go to Dice-K, though many Mets fans were hoping Mejia would win the spot.
The talent is wonderful, the depth is nice and in 2015 both of those things will only be improved with Harvey’s return. By adding Colon, who had a stellar year in Oakland, the Mets can argue that — after a rash of injuries to the Braves — they have the second-best rotation in the division.
In a way, the rotation is boring. Other than Wheeler, there’s no starter on the Opening Day roster that wows you. But steadiness is a valuable commodity in pitchers. Which is why I think going into the season with Matsuzaka in the fifth starter spot over Mejia is a logical decision. Mejia has more talent, better stuff and is younger, but he’s never pitched 120 innings in a season. The team goes into the year with a reliable rotation and Mejia gets the chance to fine tune his readily apparent skills. Mejia will be in the rotation — if he’s healthy — by the end of the year, and if he looks like he did late last summer the Mets will be thrilled.
Colon, Gee and Niese are wildly different pitchers that can be described in the same way. They’re consistent. None of them are aces, but all three are the kind of pitcher who can take the mound every fifth day (the Mets hope) and keep their team in a game. Colon throws nearly all fastballs. Gee and Niese each rely more on their off-speed stuff. But Mets fans can be confident any day that any of the three are on the hill.
Expect Montero and/or Syndergaard to join the big league club in the area of June or July, as Harvey and Wheeler have before them. Montero is much more ready now, Syndergaard has much greater potential. Both will play a big part in the Mets success, either through performance or in Montero’s case, if the Mets opt to trade him.
Oh, and Zack Wheeler. He’s not Matt Harvey, and anyone making that comparison is fooling themselves. But Wheeler has brilliant stuff. If he can command his pitches better, Mets fans could be in store for another fun breakout season for one of their young pitchers.
Very good. There are six guys who have an argument to be in the rotation come Monday. Two more who — again, assuming health — will inevitably join them. Between those eight, the amount of potential production and hypothetical trade value is through the roof. If the bullpen can hold opponents down, the Mets rotation will win more than their fair share of games.
How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:
Pitching will probably be the Mets’ strength this season. There’s just so much of it, and even more in the pipeline. They may struggle to hit at times, which could limit the number of wins that the starters rack up (Channeling my inner-Brian Kenny #KillTheWin) and the bullpen is a question mark, but the starters should be sturdy. I can envision Gee, Niese and Colon each putting up numbers along the lines of a 3.50 to 3.70 ERA and a respectable 1.30 or so WHIP. Wheeler, if his command is improved, could be better than that. The remaining pitchers would then only need to live up to fifth starter status, which is more than doable.
That said, as Toby Hyde over at Mets Minor League Blog would remind us, “pitchers break. That’s what they do.” The Mets will more than likely lose a starter to an injury at some point this year. The hope is that by building up their depth, they can withstand such an injury. At the minimum, the rotation needs to stay intact until the summer when Montero or Syndergaard can serve as a replacement.