The last few weeks of this disappointing 2018 season now will have a celebratory, yet somber, overtone with the announcement of the end of David Wright‘s career. Although I have taken a cold and business approach to Wright that last few weeks, it doesn’t preclude me to feel sadness and a component of “what-if” to Wright’s career. The days after September 29th will be an appropriate time to review his standing in Mets history, but for now my initial thought was who could be the next individual to take the mantle from Wright?
Historically the Mets go into deep dark periods after their superstar leaves. Seaver led to the late 70s, while Carter/Hernandez led to the “worst team money could buy.” Mike Piazza came to save the franchise, and his tenure ended with the hope and ascension of Wright. It was a rare seamless transition for the franchise. Unfortunately, the current team does not have the same obvious succession plan after Wright’s final game later this month.
Yes, you have the burgeoning of a “Fab 4” rotation (did I just coin a new marketing term?), but pitchers can’t lead every day like position players. Yoenis Cespedes? Even if healthy I see Cespedes as a thunderous bat that leads by example but doesn’t have much influence when it comes to helping manage a clubhouse or represent the logo. Peter Alonso, Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil, and even Brandon Nimmo are all still, to a certain degree, unknown as to their level of performance and impact.
Additionally, you can’t ask imports like Todd Frazier or Jay Bruce to be “Mets” when they have spent more time building their resume out in the Midwest than New York. Who is left? The name Michael Conforto comes to mind and I believe he may have the talent and persona to take over for the Captain. The time, however, is now and he must seize this opportunity.
We all know that Conforto can be an impact bat. Being a leader and face of the franchise starts with production on the field. Going into this season his career slash line was .246/.348/.495 for an OPS+ of 126. David Wright, in comparison, has a career OPS+ of 133 and a slash of .296/.376/.491 for a .867 OPS. Conforto has shown in short spurts that he can be an elite player with his performance down the stretch in 2015 and 2017 All-Star campaign. Can he become consistent now that he appears to be resembling that player in the second half of ‘18? Only time will tell.
The real problem is that we don’t know how Conforto can lead off the field. We don’t know much about him as a person. He appears to be a team player and good solider. There haven’t been any reports of selfishness or off-the-field drama. On the surface, he comes across articulate and professional. His interviews don’t seem much different than any of Wright’s throughout his career. Before yesterday you rarely got candor or emotion from Wright in front of the cameras.
In short, Conforto is an unknown outside of his stat line. If the Mets are going to compete next season they need a consistent impact bat. Cespedes can do that, if healthy, but we all know where he stands. As for a team leader, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado is probably not walking through that door. The Mets have historically either home-grown or acquired their leaders. Will we see a dark gap like the franchise experienced post-Seaver and Hernandez/Carter? Only time will tell, and I have a feeling that Michael Conforto will play a big part in answering that question.
Everyone knows the old saying that a team is never as good or bad as they look. You have to be honest when evaluating a team’s performance. The old “you are what your record says you are” is a credo I certainly subscribe to.
With that said, you have to do a deeper dive and “peel the onion” as to why a group with a championship-caliber rotation will only win about 75 games. Citi Field seems to play a part into that, but I don’t know if anyone has an answer to that statistical anomaly. More appropriate is how streaky the Mets have been this year.
Are the Mets the 11-1 team from April. No. They probably aren’t even the 17-9 team that was on pace to win 90 games and, in this current NL East climate, a division winner. They certainly aren’t the 1962 Mets or even the 2018 Orioles, which their 5-21 June suggested.
My opinion is the Mets are more like the 36-30 team that we have witnessed over the last 66 games. As constituted this team is 82-87 wins. Not good enough for a playoff spot but certainly not a disaster that deserves to be torn down and sold to the highest bidder. Twenty-five one-run losses indicate a thin margin of error that can swing the results wildly either way. Hence, the crazy runs we have since all season.
Fixing centerfield, the bullpen and behind the dish will take money. Let’s see what ownership is willing to invest now that Wright’s situation has been resolved. A lot will depend on Nimmo, Conforto, McNeil and either Alonso/Dominic Smith. The media will say you can’t rely on so many unknowns, but didn’t the Yankees do that with Andujar and Torres? Despite their talent, no one could have guaranteed both would be high-level impact bats.
The Mets have enough to be a team to talk about competitively in 2019. Now they need to decide whether they want to put a few chips to the center of the table and take advantage of the situation.