During Spring Training, I would have never believed that I’d be sitting here in June already writing off the season as a failure and looking toward the future…again.
As Mets fans, it’s something that we’re conditioned to: the gloom and doom and the constant peering over the horizon hoping to see the glimmer of better days ahead, but this time, it was supposed to be different. We were supposed to be in the middle of a new golden age of Mets baseball. Instead, we’re back to “same, old Mets”.
As we begin the day, the team is 13.5 games out of the Wild Card and divisional races and there is little reason to expect a turnaround. Once again, the Mets have been besieged by injuries to just about every player who was depended on to put up a big season and those who have stayed healthy have underperformed in almost all facets of the game which have led to a rash of embarrassing losses and a team that has become close to unwatchable to all but the most die-hard of fans.
I often say that when things go wrong for the Mets, it’s not just that the wheels fall off, it’s that the entire car drives off a cliff and bursts into flames and that has never been more evident than this season. The worst part is you can’t pinpoint just one factor that led to this. So rather than try to do that, let’s go over how we got here:
The obvious beginner. While “if healthy” is always the equalizer when making any kind of prediction coming into a season, the magnitude to which the Mets have been bitten by the injury bug this season has been otherworldly. Just this season alone, the team has seen time spent on the disabled list from:
- Steven Matz
- Seth Lugo
- Matt Harvey
- Noah Syndergaard
- Zack Wheeler
- Jeurys Familia
- Tommy Milone
- Josh Smoker
Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Now take a look at that list again and realize that it’s only pitchers! Because – in the immortal words of Billy Mays – wait, there’s more!
- Yoenis Cespedes
- Travis d’Arnaud
- David Wright
- Asdrubal Cabrera
- Juan Lagares
- Lucas Duda
- Neil Walker
- Wilmer Flores
And that’s just off the top of my head! There could even be others that I’m missing. Hell, you can count Brandon Nimmo if you want since he was shut down in Spring Training. That is a lot of people and there’s not a team on the planet in any sport that has enough depth to replace all of those players for a period of time.
We can debate how the team’s medical and strength and conditioning staff operates, but that’s for another time and is much better covered by Jerry Crasnick at ESPN. But not having the horses you depended on make it incredibly hard to win a race. This is defending anybody/thing, just pointing out a fact.
OK, OK, OK. I hate Terry Collins, I know. I’ve been calling for his termination for years at this point and, while you can’t say everything this year is his fault, he’s still shown himself to be a horrible in-game manager. He is Colactus the Devourer of Bullpens, along with being the guy who will blindly give an aging and underperforming veteran way too much playing time instead of the younger player who needs time on the field to develop. This isn’t even just some loudmouth taking up a cause. Anybody who watches this team regularly is consistently amazed by his ineptitude on multiple levels.
Recently, MLB Network ran a segment that ranked all 30 MLB managers as tacticians. Not surprisingly, Collins ranked near the bottom at 27th overall. Surprisingly, there are three managers that the makers of this list consider worse.
The problem with getting rid of Collins now, though, is who do you get to replace him? There’s not exactly a guy waiting in the wings on the current coaching staff or in the minors and how many times do you want a thrice-fired retread leading the way? They never had any intention of going the Wally Backman route when he was running the Triple A Las Vegas 51s and have left themselves in a position to once again sift through the scrap heap if and when they finally decide to make a move.
The Wilpons Are Still Broke/Baseball Operations
You’re tired of hearing it, I’m tired of saying it, but it’s a fact of life. This team has not shown anything to make you believe that they owners are willing and able to act like a major-market team yet. Sure, they resigned Yoenis Cespedes to a big money contract, but they didn’t add a single free agent at the Major League level that didn’t end the season with them last year. Was that financial or strictly a baseball decision?
I know a lot of people who want to see spending just for the sake of spending, but it’s more about spending money correctly. Especially when you are not being operated like a big market franchise. This team simply can’t afford to miss on a big contract or signing. With David Wright basically being a dead man walking, the team is collecting heavily on his insured contract, but that money hasn’t even been reinvested in the roster.
When it comes down to it, neither Fred or Jeff Wilpon has ever been accused of caring too much about their team. MLB, when Bud Selig was in charge, went out of the way to ensure the Wilpons were able to keep control despite the way they strong-armed Frank McCourt into selling the Dodgers. Wilpon and Selig are friends and, because of that, Wilpon isn’t going anywhere. That is not a good thing.
So with all that said, we’re back to: is this finances or the baseball people overestimating the talent they had in-house? We probably won’t ever know the extent to which it ebbs one way or the other, but the way this roster was constructed is most certainly flawed.
I’ve always been a supporter and believer in General Manager, Sandy Alderson, but you can’t help but question the logic of coming into this season without a real center fielder or legitimate everyday option for third base. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on things like the depth of the pitching staff and bullpen because of the sheer volume of injuries suffered, but there was no excuse to field such a limited and unathletic roster that has little athleticism and flexibility to be able to consistently catch the baseball and gives the opposition way too many extra outs to play with. That is on Sandy and crew and there’s no way around that.
Where Sandy also has to pick up blame is in the draft and that was on perfect display for the last few days against the Dodgers. In today’s NY Post, Kevin Kernan wrote an article highlighting some questionable personnel decisions that the front office has made since taking over which includes drafting Gavin Cecchini six spots before Los Angeles selected wonderkind shortstop, Corey Seager. There are more examples of such misses (the article mentions letting Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner walk, which isn’t entirely fair), but then again, sixteen other teams also passed on Seager that year.
The MLB Draft is such a crapshoot. You don’t see any real return or potential for a couple of years after making your picks, but you have to wonder what goes on in situations like these. You constantly hear about the grizzled, old baseball lifer complaining about the new stats-driven period we’re living in saying that you have to use the “eye-test” and be able to spot things that don’t show up in a box score. While Sandy Alderson certainly leans towards data and is the Godfather of Sabrmetric usage in front offices, he’s not exactly at the forefront of that movement any longer and has been around the game so long that he probably is more old-school now than people really think. He certainly hasn’t found the latest inefficiency to exploit like some of his cohorts around the league and the Mets may be suffering because of it.
Underperformance, Over Reliance, Indecision
This can easily be broken into their own sections, but I’ll try to combine them to save space and time. Look, I’ve written before about how much I love Jose Reyes (domestic violence incident notwithstanding), but you can’t watch the current version of him and honestly say he’s a Major League player right now. At the plate, he’s been an unmitigated disaster, hovering well below the Mendoza line for the majority of 2017 thus far and getting so jumpy while hitting with men on base that he resembles somebody stuck on the subway who just wants to get to the next stop so they can run off the train and find somewhere to drop a deuce. He hasn’t been any better in the field either as his diminished range and lack of comfort at 3B have made him a liability on both ends.
To further pile on Jose, because of Terry Collins’ insistence on playing vets, he was getting way too much undeserved playing time while Wilmer Flores, TJ Rivera and anybody else who was younger and could maybe represent an upgrade rotted on the bench until semi-recently. It’s not just Reyes, but he represents the most glaring example on a roster that can’t afford to keep dead weight around. Which brings us to…
The 900 lb elephant in the room, Amed Rosario is the Mets’ best prospect and has been tearing things up at Triple A Las Vegas so far this season. We could all sit here and accept that the Mets had to wait to call him up until the deadline for Super 2 had passed (or else lose a year of team control at a very team-friendly salary), but with other huge market teams (like the Milwaukee Brewers *eyeroll*) having already made moves to bring their players to the bigs, the Mets are out of excuses.
Rosario wouldn’t come here and be a savior, but he certainly represents an upgrade of Reyes and the incredibly diminished Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera, who was as steady and solid a player as we could have hoped for in 2016, has turned into a poor facsimile of last year’s edition and is now a butcher in the field. Cabrera was never thought of as a great defensive shortstop, but he did seem to make all the plays you’re supposed to make. That has dramatically changed this year.
Quite simply, while Amed Rosario is a member of the Las Vegas 51s, the New York Mets are not doing everything in their power to win baseball games.
He may not be a completely finished product, but he’s better than what’s currently here and that’s all that should matter. I constantly hear people also clamor for the Mets to promote Dominic Smith – their top first base prospect – but it’s clear that those people just want to see moves for the sake of it. Smith isn’t close to the level of ready that Rosario is. Maybe he gets a late-season call-up to get a taste of the bigs this season, but the hole at 1B on the big club also isn’t as terrible as the one currently occupying SS. There should be no rush with Smith.
The 2017 edition of the Mets is simply a case study for Murphy’s Law (especially when playing the Nationals). Anything that can go wrong, will and things don’t necessarily have to get better.
As we get closer to the non-waiver trade deadline, it’s already apparent that the Mets should be sellers. They have a decent array of players who are potential free agents who could be attractive to contenders, but nobody that will demand a huge return that will restock or replenish a far system that has thinned out with the number of players promoted and/or moved during the postseason runs of the past two years.
Lucas Duda, Jay Bruce, Neil Walker (if healthy), Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins could be helpful to teams making a late-season push, but the return on those players wouldn’t be the kind of mega-haul that teams hope to bring back when selling at the deadline. In addition, the Mets are still a team that believes that their window for winning in the immediate future is still open (key phrase here) if healthy and they will be struck with the arduous task of replacing these players and more going into next season.
It is a completely horrible situation to be in and, as this West Coast road trip continues to see the team fall even further from contention, the crowds at Citi Field will continue to thin out especially as the crosstown Yankees (despite their recent struggles) showcase a better product with a player like Aaron Judge becoming the new toast of the town.
Any goodwill and stake in the marketplace that the Mets had built up over the past few seasons is rapidly evaporating and there should be a very real sense of urgency in the front office to find ways to improve the situation as rapidly as possible before all the Cespedes and Syndergaard shirts in town are replaced by Judge and Sanchez models.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The Mets put all their chips on their young pitching and it hasn’t led to the sustainable run they were banking on. There is plenty of reason to worry about what the immediate future will look like since it’s not exactly like these pitchers are all in their early 20s still. Noah Syndergaard is the youngest amongst the big five at 24, but Matt Harvey (28), Jacob deGrom (29), Steven Matz (26) and Zack Wheeler (27) are all quickly closing in on 30 and only have a combined 128 career wins between the five for a staff that you’d think would feature that number individually with all the hype that has surrounded them.
Unless the Mets are able to totally defeat the demons of their past and recent history and not only keep these players healthy, but return them to top form, the 2017 season may just be the iceberg that sunk the Mets Titanic championship dreams.