MMO Fan Shot: State of Mets

An MMO Fan Shot by Marc M. (Not4)

It’s always interesting how fans’ views can be so polarized. Two different people can look at the same situation and come away with utterly different and contradictory conclusions. One group of fans may love a player that the other group loathes with a passion. Despite this axiomatic truth, it’s a safe bet that virtually all fans would agree that, thus far, the Mets’ 2018 season has been disappointing, to say the least.

Other than the hot start for Asdrubal Cabrera and Brandon Nimmo (who have both recently cooled off), the offense has been pretty dreadful. The relief pitching, which started the year looking like it could be a strength of the team, has likewise largely been a major Achilles Heel the past several weeks. The rotation has been the lone unit that has performed fairly well, particularly as of late, though there remain legitimate questions as to whether Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler have turned a corner (just too soon to say) and whether Jason Vargas will be able to pitch well enough to remain in the rotation or if the team determines that Seth Lugo deserves that last spot in the rotation when Noah Syndergaard returns (and Vargas gets moved to the pen).

The Mets’ underperformance to date has stirred yet another polarizing debate among fans in terms of how to view the future prospects of the organization. Some view it as a lost cause and want to blow up the team and start anew, espousing trading away Jacob deGrom and/or Syndergaard in hopes of obtaining young, solid position players to build around.

On the other end of the spectrum, some see a team with enough solid, young players that, despite the obvious flaws with the team as currently constructed, form a core that can be built around. Emotion and preconceived notions usually are key drivers of each fan’s perspective and conclusion – often to a fault where it clouds judgment.

As we sithere in the middle of June, it’s hard to tell which side of the argument is the winner. The potential return for trading one of Syndergaard or deGrom is extremely tempting. On the other hand, many of us (me included) tend to lose sight of just how extraordinary it is to have two legitimate aces on one team. Having two aces is particularly beneficial during post-season play, which probably explains why we have lost sight, considering that the prospect of playing in the post season seems like a distant dream right now. With this team at a crossroads of sorts right now, it is difficult to discern which is the correct path to follow.

Before digging in, it bears noting something that is obvious to most – this Mets team was poorly constructed over the winter. Given the amount that the team spent on payroll – which though still not enough for many is certainly enough to build a solid team – there is no reason to continue to try to fill round holes with square pegs. The Mets’ two biggest offensive FA signings (Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier) this winter each have their virtues and, perhaps in a vacuum, one or both could make sense. But for a team which already had far too much “swing and miss” / “feast or famine” on the roster, it’s hard to justify adding more of the same. A team full of these types of players leads to extended losing streaks like we are seeing now. Add in that Brandon Nimmo brings an entirely different approach, looked good last year in his extended audition, and did not require a 3-year, $39 million commitment, and the Bruce signing in particular is a head scratcher and ill conceived.

Given the market and the need for a third baseman, coupled with the shorter and less costly contract and the clubhouse presence he brings, I can live with the Frazier signing. And to be clear, I like Bruce as a player and think he’ll turn around his season, but he still is a square peg for a round hole and a poor allocation of our resources. The Bruce signing also speaks to the Mets’ failure to recognize the talent of a homegrown player already on its roster. Nimmo showed enough last year to warrant a fair look as the third starting outfielder, rather than dedicating meaningful dollars and years to an older player like Bruce. Even if Nimmo’s hot start to the season is not sustainable, his approach of grinding out at-bats and getting on base is a much needed change up from too many other players’ approach on this team.

Likewise, although I do not fall into the “virus” camp, bringing back Jose Reyes made little sense. The argument that he provides versatility simply does not hold water because he no longer does anything well and no longer has the speed to steal bases – put simply, Reyes does not do anything well enough to warrant a roster spot. And even though $2M is not a huge number, it is still $1.5M too high as the Mets have in-house candidates who are as good as or better than Reyes. With the Mets carrying only four bench players for much of the year, it’s hard to justify carrying Reyes on this team.

So, turning to the million dollar question of what the Mets should do from here. To me, it hinges on how many current players can and are likely to be key contributors on a winning team, going forward, assuming we do not blow up the team. Unfortunately, this analysis is not black and white, as there are
several players that come with question marks, which clouds the issue.

But, big picture, the Mets currently have four  position players who form a solid core –Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Nimmo and Amed Rosario:

1. Cespedes has largely been an impact player in his time with the Mets and in MLB; in that regard, he is a no-brainer as a core player. But health continues to be his big question and a recurring problem for Cespedes. When will he return and can he finally stay healthy? His bat, and the resources we have dedicated to him, is the biggest key to improving what has been a pathetic lineup.

2. Conforto has been enigmatic to say the least. Everything about him last year and his rookie year and first month of 2016 scream rising star and someone to build around. Hopefully, this is nothing more than a slow start to the season, impacted perhaps by missing time recovering from his injured shoulder. If it is more than that, and he never returns to his pre-injury level, it would be a huge blow to this team both this year and in the future.

3. Contrary to many on who are really down on Rosario, I did not expect him to have a meteoric offensive start to his career – I hoped for it, but did not expect it. The reality is that he still needs to work on controlling the strike zone – something that in a perfect world, he would have improved upon more in the minors. But he kept on forcing his way into promotions with stellar play despite the issue, and with the Mets out of it early last year, Rosario was called up
prematurely at least in regards to his ability to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone.

Now, it wasn’t the worst thing – most players finish improving in the big leagues – and he is gaining invaluable experience. But it was overly optimistic to view him as a kid who would immediately be an impact bat. I still believe he will become one as he learns to control the strike zone and fills out a little – both of which will take some time. That said, after a slow/crappy start to the year in his first 27 games (97 PA, .222/.263/.300/.563 with 5 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 4 BB and 25 SO), he has had a pretty respectable last 30 games, hitting .269/.294/.413/.707, covering 109 PA, with 4 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 4 BB, 17 SO. Not earth shattering numbers, but a step in the right direction which I believe he will continue to build upon as the kid has incredibly quick hands and a willingness to learn.

Defensively, he has made his fair share of mistakes, which most young players do, but he is still an above-average defensive SS in all regards and will settle down and demonstrate that in time. Bottom line, I’m not worried about the kid – he just needs some time, and he will be a true asset for this team. The question is whether he can continue to improve during the course of the year (as I believe he will), so that he will be considered an asset offensively sooner rather than later (even if he does not fully develop for another year or two).

4. As noted above, Nimmo still has to prove that his hot start is sustainable, particularly as the league adjusts to him. But, based upon his entire history, I have faith that he will be a high OBP guy and think he’ll continue to tap into the power he has been showing of late. He may not be a perennial all star, but think he has a good shot to be a solid every-day outfielder, who brings a different, patient/pesky approach than most on the team.

Having a core of four position player starters – three of which are young – is a good start, but obviously more is needed if this team can be expected to compete. Before returning to the last four position players, let’s focus on pitching for a moment. Again, this is an area that has its fair share of questions, but it also has its fair share of upside.

Our rotation should be more than fine for the next few years with deGrom and Syndergaard heading it and guys like Matz, Wheeler, Seth Lugo and
Robert Gsellman filling out the rest of the rotation. David Peterson and one or both of Justin Dunn and Thomas Szapucki should be in position to help add depth and replace one or more existing rotation pieces when they leave via free agency.

The bullpen will have a plethora of arms from last year’s trades and guys we already had coming through the system – not all will produce, but we have enough high-end arms working their way through the farm system, that we should be more than fine. We’ll have to spend some money on two or three vets (and/or resign some ours), but that is already effectively factored into the budget between what they are paying Familia, Ramos, Blevins and Swarzak. So, even though the bullpen has been a problem the past several weeks, it seems very fixable and we have a lot of options that will help over the next few years.

Turning back to the last four position players, I do not view guys like Cabrera, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier as core players going forward. And while I cannot rule out that perhaps Plawecki or Nido grow into a solid everyday catcher, clearly that cannot be counted on, at least not at this point. But I do feel like we can likely count on two players in our system, which would bring the number to six core players:

First, between Peter Alonso and Dominic Smith, we likely have our first baseman of the future. Presumably Smith will get the bulk of the starts at least until Cespedes returns. While I still think Smith has a chance to be very solid, I really am intrigued by Alonso’s power upside and his defensive improvements he has made this year. Again, while there are no guarantees, I like the chances that at least one of the two of them pan out as a solid MLB first baseman.

Second, even though he is probably at least a full year away or maybe a little more (assuming he is promoted to AA in the next few weeks), I think Andres Gimenez is likely to establish himself as another core player. Best case, he could be knocking at the door by the middle of next season or, perhaps more likely, he will be a September call up next year. Either way, hopefully by no later than the middle of the following year (2020) and possibly (hopefully, probably) after 3 weeks in 2020, he will be a member of our starting infield.

That would give us six guys we can hopefully count on – all of whom are relatively young (other than Cespedes), cheap and under control. The other two spots can be filled in with either free agents, perhaps a prospect who surprises (still not writing off Gavin Cecchini or Desmond Lindsay, though Lindsay would more likely be a replacement for Cespedes and not an answer for the last two positions we need to fill in IF and C) or even a trade (though not a particularly deep farm at this point).

The biggest risk is that with so few high end prospects, we need Gimenez and one of Alonso or Smith to develop into the players we hope they will be – there is little room for error there, which is why it’s always better to have several such prospects to increase the odds. So, despite the questions, there seems to be more than enough young and controllable talent at or near the MLB level to decide not to blow up this team. Sure there are questions, but all teams have vary in degrees of questions.

The key will be how well the Mets develop their players and whether the Mets bring in the right players (via free agency or trade) for those last two spots. If they continue to plug holes with older players who are past their prime and who are not good fits for the team, we will need everything to go right to be a winner – something that recent history has shown is unlikely to occur. But if they spend the money wisely and bring in one or two high end guys, it can make all the difference in the world.

While some of the decisions they made last season seem to be, at least in part, based upon perceived financial constraints, the simple reality is that it was not the amount of money spent, but rather how it was poorly spent that is causing issues for the team. If allocated differently, this team
likely would be performing significantly better than the one we are watching right now.


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