I am going to use the word “if” many times in this article. I am also going to say that I believe the Mets are going to make the playoffs. If you want to scroll down to the bottom of the page and criticize me saying I’m young and naive, go right ahead, that’s you’re prerogative.
However, I will say that the folks dead-set on selling at the deadline will not be totally disappointed in what I propose as I think the Mets could sell at the deadline and actually get better.
Hey, It Could Happen!
The Mets have played 81 games, half their season, and are 38-46, nine games under .500. Before you scroll down to the bottom of the page and say, “Ah-ha! That’s wrong!” I urge you to read on. That is a fact – after 81 games, the Mets were 35-46, nine games under .500. I am not talking about the current Mets team, however. I’m talking about the 1973 National League Champion Mets. Our Mets are 38-43, five games under .500.
Yes, the team that was nine games under .500 after playing 81 games (33-41, eight games under .500 on July 3rd), went to the World Series. They finished with a 82-79 record to conquer the NL East.
You are right, 82 wins will not get the Mets to the playoffs. What will? 85? 86? The 2017 Mets have won three more games than their 1972 counterparts, so if they have the same record from now until the end of the season that the ’73 team had, 47-33 (.702), they will finish 85-76. The Mets only played 161 games in 1973, so let’s assume the Mets win that 162nd game for an 86-76 record.
The Washington Nationals are currently 48-34 and would need to go 38-42 to finish with a 86-76 record. I don’t have to remind you that in 2015, when the Mets made it to the World Series, the Nationals were the clear favorite to win the division, just as they are now.
On July 3, 2015, the Nationals were 43-36 (having played two less games at that point than the current team). For the remainder of the season, the Nationals and 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper went 40-43, finishing 83-79 – losing the division to the 90-72 Mets (who were 40-40 on July 3, 2015).
My point is that a playoff run is not totally implausible, especially once you take into account a recent stroke of bad luck for the Nationals. Starting shortstop and lead-off hitter Trea Turner was hit by a pitch by Cubs reliever Pedro Strop and suffered a broken right wrist last Thursday.
Turner had been slashing .279/.324/.422 with seven home runs and 32 RBI, while still leading the Majors with 35 stolen bases. Per Baseball Reference, he has accounted for a 2.0 WAR so far this season.
The Nationals will be without him for an extended period of time, and if his timetable is similar to Freddie Freeman‘s who has been out six weeks with a similar injury and has still not returned, the Nationals are going to have a tough go of it.
Turner is adept at getting into scoring position when he reaches base in front of the Nationals formidable 2-through-5 section of their lineup. Without his speed up top, however, those hitters will have less RBI opportunities. Less RBI opportunities equals less runs.
The Nationals plan to use Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin in the leadoff spot in Turner’s absence, neither of whom can provide the All-Star caliber offense Turner can. I am not one to wish an injury upon another, however this turn of events can only help the Mets as they start a three-game set with the Nationals on Monday.
The Mets have a chance at snagging the NL East as they did in 2015, but it will surely be difficult. A more realistic goal would be a Wild Card berth, however that might be even harder.
The Wild, Wild Card
The National League West is particularly strong this season. The Dodgers are in first place with a 55-29 record with the Diamondbacks behind them at 52-31 followed by the Rockies at 48-36. The Diamondbacks and Rockies are also the first and second place teams for the NL Wild Card.
The Diamondbacks are enjoying a resurgence of Zack Greinke (10-2, 3.05 ERA) as well as another strong campaign from perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt (.316/.437/.588, 19 HR, 66 RBI). With a bullpen that has the fourth-lowest ERA in the Majors as well as a strong rotation and starting line-up, they seem poised to snatch up a Wild Card spot.
The Rockies, on the other hand, have lost nine of their last ten games and are currently riding a two-game losing streak.
Closer Greg Holland has enjoyed plenty of success as he leads the Major Leagues with 26 saves and has pitched to a 1.48 ERA, 2.31 FIP, and 0.989 WHIP, striking out 40 batters in 30 1/3 innings pitched. The Rockies bullpen has struggled as a whole, however, posting a 4.41 ERA even with Holland’s low mark.
Before their recent losing binge, their starting rotation had been enjoying success that seemed too good to be true. Further, they have a strong 1-through-5 in their lineup with Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, Mark Reynolds, and Ian Desmond, but shortstop Trevor Story and right fielder Carlos Gonzalez have struggled mightily, hitting .226 and .221, respectively. It is probable this skid will continue as their starting pitchers are solved by opposing batters, blowing the second Wild Card spot wide open.
Between them and the Mets are the 41-41 Cubs, 40-41 Braves, and 39-42 Cardinals. Out of those three teams, the Cubs are the one to be most concerned about. They are healthy but underperforming, and nobody can be tagged with that evaluation quite like Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta had a strong start against the weak Reds yesterday, pitching seven one-hit innings and earning the win. Even with that gem, he is 7-7 on the season with a 4.33 ERA.
If he can make a trend starting with yesterday’s game and turn his season around, he is obviously a difference-maker. However, the Cubs had two starters finish in the top three in Cy Young voting last season, and neither are continuing their success this year.
Jon Lester, who finished second in voting last year, is 5-4 with a 3.69 ERA and 3.63 FIP.
Kyle Hendricks, who finished fourth, is 4-3 with a 4.09 ERA and 4.50 FIP.
Throw in John Lackey‘s 5-9 record and 5.24 ERA and you’ve got a struggling rotation.
The Cubs are clearly a talented team with names such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Wade Davis. However with their struggling starting pitching, they will need to make some moves at the deadline in order to reaffirm themselves in the race.
The Mets have one of two options: Pass the Rockies, Cubs, Braves, and Cardinals for the Wild Card, or beat the Nationals for the division. Both are possible, both are improbable – but they are possible.
It’s Getting Better All The Time
How are the Mets going to improve other than by just playing better? One answer that most fans (including myself) love to think about is the call-up of Amed Rosario. It is reasonable to assume that he would instantly improve the team’s defense by playing an exemplary shortstop, however the Mets don’t want to call him up too soon so that he is overmatched by the pitching.
At the time this article was written, Rosario is hitting .318 with seven home runs, 16 doubles, seven triples, and 14 stolen bases at Triple-A Las Vegas. In a perfect world, he could put up similar numbers and serve as a solid lead-off hitter while providing that gold defense at shortstop. Right now though, with Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera both swinging a hot bat (excluding last night’s two-hitter against the Phillies), there is not much reason to call him up right now other than the defense.
The thing about those two middle infielders, however, is that they are free agents at the end of this season. If the Mets do not trade or re-sign them, they will be lost to free agency with the Mets getting nothing in return. They are swinging hot bats, though, and there are teams in playoff races that could use some bats up the middle. The Mets could theoretically sell one or both of them and still be competitive, if not better.
Say the Mets trade Asdrubal Cabrera to the Red Sox where he would play third base. The Sox would send back prospects to replenish the Mets farm system while the Mets could just call up Rosario to play shortstop, moving Reyes back to third base or even second base where he might be better suited (if not trading him as well).
Another name that’s been brought up in trade talks is Lucas Duda, especially with Dominic Smith lurking in Triple-A. It’s basically the same argument with Rosario – trade Duda to a contender for prospects, call up Smith who is hitting .323/.378/.466 with eight home runs and 20 doubles in 81 games. Smith also has a reputation for being an above average defender at first base, however the defense argument isn’t terribly compelling as Duda isn’t nearly as bad as Cabrera.
So far, the Mets have lost Asdrubal Cabrera and Lucas Duda, gained many prospects, and called up Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. The next order of business is the outfield.
First and foremost, the Mets couldn’t trade Yoenis Cespedes even if they wanted to due to a no-trade clause in his contract. All Star Michael Conforto is clearly untouchable, and Juan Lagares is on the disabled list. In this scenario, it is likely that either Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson are going to hit the road.
Could-have-been-an-All-Star Jay Bruce is having possibly the best season of his career to date, hitting .261 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIs, and an .852 OPS. He is on pace for a 40 HR – 100 RBI season and has actually been solid in right field, posting a 0.1 dWAR to go with his 1.4 oWAR and 15 oRAR.
Curtis Granderson, who is pretty much David Wright‘s co-captain, is hitting .234/.331/.468 with 12 home runs on the season. In June, however, he swung a hot bat to the tune of a .316 batting average with eight home runs in 76 at-bats. Unlike Bruce, he can play every outfield position, including center field. He has a 0.0 dWAR on the season paired with a 1.2 oWAR and 12 oRAR.
While Bruce is limited to right field and Curtis can roam, they are comparable defenders. Bruce is the better hitter while Granderson gets on base more (he had a .442 OBP in June), but Granderson is extremely valuable in the clubhouse as he’s known as one of the best human beings in the world.
It is hard to guess which the Mets will trade if they are in the playoff hunt, both if they both continue hitting, either player would bring in a serious haul of prospects. The remaining outfield would also include Cespedes, Conforto, Lagares, and Brandon Nimmo.
Remember that guy with the flowing blonde locks? That’s Noah Syndergaard. He’s been gone for a while with a torn lat muscle, but he’ll be back this season. So will closer Jeurys Familia, second baseman Neil Walker, and RHP Matt Harvey. All of those players are serious difference-makers when healthy. If the Mets can tread water until their returns, they would provide a big boost to the team.
If it’s July 25th and the Mets are not within striking distance of the Wild Card, I will be another voice in the crowd urging Sandy to sell. Sell Duda, Cabrera, Reyes, Reed, Blevins, Bruce, Granderson – all of them. Give the Mets a great future and a solid team for 2018. However, if Sandy is smart, which I certainly believe he is, he can sell enough pending free agents while making this team better.
Remember all those prospects we got in return for Duda, Cabrera/Reyes, and Bruce/Granderson? The Mets could flip them for young, controllable players that could help the team win now while not compromising the future. Reds closer Raisel Iglesias comes to mind. The 27 year-old has had a breakout season as the Reds closer, pitching to a 1.59 ERA and 2.69 FIP in 39.2 innings.
If the Mets are poised to compete before the trade deadline, Sandy has got to improve the team. However he does that is up to him, he’s the boss, but he must also think about the future. If he can improve the team by selling, which is entirely possible, he should explore that possibility. In the meantime, however, he should wait until mid-July to see how the Mets and other teams in the hunt are doing, keeping the return of a few of their best players in mind.
What should the fans do? Ya gotta continue to watch the Mets, ya gotta continue to cheer, but most importantly, Ya Gotta Believe!