Despite clear upgrades across the New York Mets’ 25-and-40-man rosters, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s refurbishing of an almost-there organization is garnering a touch of criticism from rival executives.
In an article by Mike Puma of the New York Post, two anonymous members of National League front offices expressed apprehension at categorizing the Mets as a true contender, even based on the litany of roster-strengthening moves Van Wagenen has made over his first few months on the job.
New positional depth in Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, Keon Broxton, and J.D. Davis, the shifting of Jeff McNeil and Todd Frazier from starting infielders to bench players, the highly-anticipated debut and continued development of first baseman Peter Alonso, and the return of Juan Lagares to the lineup should viably accentuate the existing core of Amed Rosario, Michael Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo.
One of the executives Puma spoke to certainly doesn’t appear to be impressed, saying “I still don’t like the team on the field that much”, before conceding at least one positive aspect to Van Wagenen’s rehauling.
“They have made significant upgrades and they will have a much better bench, so there won’t be a precipitous drop if there’s an injury,” the exec told Puma. “Like when [Yoenis Cespedes] went down [and] the whole team was done.”
The Mets’ bullpen has been reinforced to extreme levels, with Van Wagenen acquiring Major League Baseball’s 2018 saves leader Edwin Diaz in the deal that secured Cano, bringing Jeurys Familia back home on a three-year contract, and adding left-hander Justin Wilson to the already-in-place duo of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Who’s going to fill out the remaining spots in the ‘pen is yet to be determined.
One executive told Puma, “addressing the bullpen was probably the best thing that they did”. That’s probably accurate, but there are still a couple of holes on this roster that a true contender would shore up before cutting the ribbon on a new, potentially success-filled season.
One area the Mets haven’t put much effort into solidifying is their starting rotation. The incumbent starting five of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Jason Vargas put together a 3.54 earned run average as a group last season, good for sixth-best in the majors (Astros led the way with a 3.16 ERA).
Naturally, the Mets weren’t going to be all that interested in adding big-name hurlers such as Patrick Corbin, who signed with Washington for six years, $140 million, or Nathan Eovaldi, who returned to Boston for four years, $68 million, or even Dallas Keuchel, who remarkably remains unsigned with under 48 hours until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, with their star-studded, potential-laden top-four (yes, four).
Second-tier guys like Gio Gonzalez or Clay Buchholz, also still available, would add MLB-ready depth in case of injury, but Van Wagenen appears to be comfortable heading into the season with new additions Hector Santiago and Walker Lockett, as well as the Mets’ part-time starter (but much more effective reliever) Seth Lugo as the group’s safety net.
Of course, relying on Wheeler to duplicate his extreme 2018 success, Vargas to churn out results similar to his more-than-respectable second half of last season, and Steven Matz to finally break through as an upper-echelon starting pitcher — while all well within the realm of possibility — is contradictory to what Van Wagenen said he wouldn’t do at the helm of the Mets, which is counting on ifs.
“Contrary to what Brodie says, every team is built on ifs, […] because all it takes is one guy in any kind of rotation to go down and then what do they do?” another executive said. “I think the big question with the Mets [is] can they stay healthy and all their pitchers make 25 to 30 starts?”
That’s an alarmingly fair point, suit.