On the eve of Opening Day, the New York Mets made a number of important decisions regarding their starting pitchers. The biggest among them was sending Zack Wheeler down to Triple-A, which had the ripple effect of Seth Lugo claiming the fifth starter spot in place of the injured Jason Vargas. Where the Mets go from here is anyone’s guess, which is probably MMO received questions on this very topic:
Patrick O asks . . .
How concerned should we be with Wheeler heading into the 2018 season? He will be 28 by June, has an extensive injury history, has lost his starting rotation spot, and will begin the year in the minors. What is the most Met fans can hope for at this point?
John replies . . .
When it comes to Wheeler, there are many things we discuss about him. He walks too many guys. Despite what appears to be great stuff, he has trouble putting guys away. There is the debate about whether he’s better suited to the bullpen where he can max out his fastball, or if he’s ill-suited for that role because of the injuries he’s suffered.
Right now, I am personally at the point where we should be saying this is a guy who may not be cut out for New York.
Last year, he turned into Dikembe Mutombo blocking all Mets fans on Twitter. He was noticeably angry and perturbed when the Mets signed Vargas. More than that, he came to Spring Training presumably healthy and with a real chance to claim a spot in the rotation, and he responded with an 8.10 ERA and 2.400 WHIP in Spring Training. When the pressure has been on him, Wheeler has wilted rather than thrived.
As Mets fans, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing how some guys thrive in New York and how some guys just can’t block out all the noise. In his brief MLB career, Wheeler looks like the latter.
With that in mind, Wheeler going to Triple-A could be a blessing. He will be out of the limelight a bit, and he will be able to just focus on getting better. He’s going to be fortunate to work with Glenn Abbott, who is an underrated pitching coach. Mostly, he’s going to be able to get up to full strength and hone his mechanics.
Sooner or later, he’s going to get an opportunity with the Mets again. At some point this season, the Mets will need him to make at least one start. When that opportunity arises, he’s going to be in the best position to succeed since donning a Mets uniform. Only time will tell if he’s able to block out the noise and just pitch.
NYM_Gelbs asks . . .
If all five starters pitch well in the first three weeks, what happens when Vargas comes off the disabled list?
John replies . . .
When Vargas comes off the disabled list, the Mets are going to put him in the rotation. While we can bicker back and forth whether this is the right move, the organization signed the 35-year-old, 12 year Major League veteran to be a starting pitcher. The Mets are not going to start the first month of a two-year deal by reneging on a promise to Vargas he would be a starting pitcher.
However, as the season progresses, we could see Vargas’ spot in the rotation become all the more vulnerable.
After an All-Star start to his 2017 season, he fell off considerably. In the second half, he was 6-8 with a 6.38 ERA and a 1.595 WHIP. Batters were teeing off on him to the tune of a .292/.366/.538 batting line. This could be partially due to his fastball velocity dropping from 87.55 MPH to 86.04 MPH. (Brooks Baseball).
To begin the season, we saw Mickey Callaway have the mantra this team needs to carry it’s best pitchers. The Mets actually followed through with that by putting Wheeler and Hansel Robles in Vegas. That was just the first step. Ensuing from there are 162 steps. If during those steps, Vargas shows he’s not one of the best five starting pitchers, he should be dropped from the rotation and transitioned more into a 2006 Darren Oliver type of role.
And keep in mind, the Mets hands may be forced sooner or later. As noted above, Wheeler is in a good spot to re-establish himself. Robert Gsellman may show the Mets he has returned to being the pitcher he was in September 2016. Chris Flexen could remind the Mets why they were so willing to have him go straight from Double-A to the majors.
Overall, there is real Major League ready starting pitching talent in this organization. While Vargas may initially join the rotation after his stint on the disabled list, he will have to continuously re-prove himself with each and every start in order to keep that spot in the rotation.
Tim Ryder asks . . .
What are the chances we see The Big Tebow-ski in Flushing this year?
John replies . . .
The one thing Sandy Alderson doesn’t get enough credit for is acknowledging the Mets signing of Tim Tebow was a bit of a sideshow. In part, baseball is an entertainment business, and both football and baseball fans have been entertained by watching Tebow play baseball.
We have seen him draw record crowds to both Columbia and St. Lucie. This has left the fans and minor league affiliates very happy. We’re about to see if he will do the same for Double-A Binghamton where he will begin the season.
The cynic in me believes Tebow was assigned to Binghamton this season is because the team wants him to be ready to play in Triple-A next year. While the Mets have officially assumed ownership of the Triple-A Syracuse franchise, it will not become the Mets Triple-A affiliate until 2019. Personally, I believe the organization wants Tebow to be in that Opening Day lineup to ensure a smooth transition and a happy, new fan base.
That doesn’t rule out the possibility Tebow will make the majors either this year or the next. As we recall, Sandy Alderson himself said he could envision it happening.
If we see Tebow this year, it means things went horribly wrong. Matt Harvey and Steven Matz were once again both injured and bad. Michael Conforto was rushed too soon to play again, and he suffered another more tragic injury. Yoenis Cespedes took up golf again, and he tore every ligament in his legs. I won’t belabor the point.
The point is if the Mets are fighting for a postseason spot, or the team is preparing for a postseason run, they are not going to bring in Tebow. Tebow is a broken glass in case of an emergency situation where the Mets will look to boost attendance for a failed season.
With the Mets opening the season tomorrow, I am as optimistic about the team as I’ve been since last year. Being a homer, I think this team is going to win the division and World Series. As a result, I say no Tebow this year.
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Hopefully, you enjoyed this mailbag as much as I enjoyed answering your questions. Keep the questions and comments coming and make sure to send them to AskMMO@metsmerizedonline.com