The Mets’ 2017 season has been nothing short of a disaster thus far. Until recently, the team was getting solid pitching every day, but little to no run-support. Now, while the team has been scoring runs, the pitching has faltered.
It’s commonly believed for a baseball team to be successful, they need a combination of good hitting and solid pitching. Before the Mets were a playoff team each of the last two seasons, they were a bottom-of-the-barrel team in the National League for quite awhile. The charts below examine the Mets’ team batting averages (BA) and earned-run averages (ERA) since 2011 to those of the league averages in that same time frame.
The data below suggests a team built like the Mets can be successful with slightly below-average hitting as long as the pitching is superb. The data shown confirms the saying: “Good pitching beats good hitting.”
The disaster that has been the 2017 Mets season thus far has fans thinking “How can this get any worse,” every day. With Yoenis Cespedes and now Noah Syndergaard sidelined indefinitely with injuries, the Mets need to right the ship without their best pitcher and hitter.
Syndergaard’s injury may prove more costly in the long run. With Seth Lugo and Steven Matz still weeks away from returning from their own injuries, the Mets are without a decent replacement. The current plan for Friday is for Rafael Montero to start, but he’s failed to prove he belongs in the big leagues time and time again.
Assuming the Mets sign free agent Doug Fister (which they should), he would likely need two or three weeks to get himself ready to pitch in a major league game. As early as it is, the Mets could explore the trade market for a pitcher that can eat up innings.
Bartolo Colon, who the Mets let go in the offseason because they felt they already had enough pitching depth, could be a suitable target for Sandy Alderson. The Braves are in rebuilding mode, and with Colon signed on a one-year deal, he seems likely to be traded at some point this season. Colon proved incredibly reliable in his Mets tenure, eating up innings while pitching well. The Mets could really use a pitcher with a rubber arm like Colon’s right now. With the Mets beginning their first series at SunTrust Park in Atlanta tonight, this could be a good time for Alderson to talk with Braves general manager John Coppolella about working out a deal for Colon.
The Mets and Braves have gotten along well in recent years on the trade front. In July 2015, the Mets traded minor league pitchers John Gant and Rob Whalen for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. In June 2016 the Braves again traded Johnson to the Mets, this time for minor league pitcher Akeel Morris.
Of course there may be problems in negotiating a deal for Colon. The Braves may try to take advantage of the Mets’ desperation by asking for higher tier prospects in exchange for Colon. Additionally, Colon has an ERA of 5.59 in 29 innings pitched.
The Mets can’t afford to throw Montero out to the mound every five days for at least the next three weeks. Whether it’s through the waiver wire, free agency or trading, the Mets need to find a replacement that can give them a quality outing each start.
Perhaps one way to negotiate with the Braves is to consider offering media magnet Tim Tebow. The Braves just opened a new stadium, and need a way to sell more tickets. Arguably nobody draws as much a crowd as Tebow. While he alone wouldn’t be nearly enough for the Mets to give up for Colon, he could still draw the attention of the Braves if he continues to produce in the minor leagues. While he is only batting .237 for the Class A Columbia Fireflies, he did go 6-21 last week, posting a .285 average. Trading Tebow for Colon may just be stupid enough to work.
The Tim Tebow show arrived in Port St. Lucie a few weeks ago, and, this week, he appeared in two spring training games for the Mets. The 29-year old prospect went 0-7, with three strikeouts and a hit-by-pitch in the the Grapefruit League.
After signing with the Mets last summer to play full-time professional baseball for the first time since when he was a junior in high school in 2005, Tebow was thrown right into the wringer this spring. His Grapefruit League debut last Wednesday came against 2016 A.L. Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. Porcello struck him out looking on four pitches.
Tebow’s second at-bat seemed like a Hollywood movie moment in the making when he stepped into the box with the bases loaded and nobody out. A homer would’ve added to the circus that is Tim Tebow. While Tebow did hit the ball hard, it was on the ground and right at the second baseman, resulting in a double play.
After getting hit in the shoulder in his third at-bat, Tebow didn’t even flinch as he tossed his bat and went to first base. Tebow would get doubled up shortly after this when he was caught too far off first base on a lineout to second by L.J. Mazzili.
While Tebow and the Mets have been criticized for inserting him into the starting lineup, taking away playing time from potentially better ballplayers, it should be noted that Tebow was a very good baseball player in his high school days. Tebow’s former high school baseball coach, Greg “Boo” Mullins, described him as a “six-tool player,” the sixth tool being his character. In a 2013 interview with The Sporting News, the former Nease High (Ponte Vedre, Florida) baseball coach said “Everybody should know this: He wasn’t just a great football player, he was a great baseball player too. I believe he could have played in the big leagues.
In his junior year, Tebow batted .494, with four homers, 30 RBI, and 10 doubles. Mullins projected Tebow could’ve been drafted between the 7th and 12th rounds out of high school. He went as far to say that Tebow could’ve potentially be drafted in the second round had he played baseball in college. The reason he was never drafted, as Mullins points out, was that while multiple MLB teams were considering drafting him out of high school, they didn’t want to waste a pick on a man who had clear intentions of playing football over baseball.
Despite Tebow’s unsurprisingly poor spring performance, Mets manager Terry Collins did see some bright spots in the former Heisman Trophy winner. According to The New York Daily News, Collins said “The speed of the game is really something he hasn’t seen before. [Wednesday] was his first game, he went back and took live (batting practice) and he saw better at-bats [Friday]. He was more rested at the plate, a lot more comfortable. All things considered I thought he did a nice job.”
Regardless of how Tebow’s baseball career pans out, every at-bat, every defensive opportunity, and every game he participates in will be heavily covered by the media. For the Mets, this is just the beginning of the Tim Tebow circus sideshow.
With Mets first baseman Lucas Duda dealing with back and hip issues, now is the time for the Mets to test out some of their other players at first base. While there is no reason to think right now that Duda won’t be healthy by opening day, the Mets will need to have a backup plan at first in case Duda gets hurt, remains hurt, or struggles. It is worth noting that Duda missed most of last season due to a stress fracture in his back.
The leading candidates to take over first base for Duda are Neil Walker and Jay Bruce. Both players have been taking reps at the position this spring. While Walker moving to first base provides flexibility around the infield, allowing for Reyes and Wright to be in the lineup at the same time, it makes way more sense for the Mets to move Bruce to first base. With Bruce playing first base, Michael Conforto would be able to fit in at right field, solving the logjam the Mets face in their outfield. Additionally, Wilmer Flores would still see plenty of playing time at first base against lefties if the Mets were to go with Bruce at first base.
Duda’s injury couldn’t have come at a better time. Since it’s still very early in spring training, Bruce and Walker have plenty of time to get acclimated to the first base position. Even if Duda is healthy again before the end of spring training, the Mets would have should something happen to Duda.
Another first base option could be David Wright. Wright is still trying to get his arm strength back. Moving Wright to first base would allow for Reyes to play third while also sparing Wright from having to throw across the diamond. While this seems practical, it isn’t really necessary for the Mets to have another right-handed hitting first baseman. The Mets want Flores in the lineup against lefties. Last season against lefties, Flores hit .340, with a .319 on-base-percentage, .710 slugging percentage, and 11 homers.
The Mets have and will continue to be cautious in the workload of their young starting rotation. Terry Collins told reporters today that Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz won’t be appearing in a spring training game until as early as March 5th, and that Zack Wheeler could be seeing action in the Grapefruit League as early as March 8th. In an effort to keep them healthy, the Mets’ starting rotation has been kept to a lighter workload so far this spring.
Each of the young starters dealt with injuries in 2016 following their run into the 2015 World Series. Harvey was very ineffective before he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, requiring season-ending surgery. deGrom experienced fatigue early in the season, with his fastball velocity decreasing from the mid-to-upper-90s to the lower 90s. deGrom would catch the injury bug in September when he required elbow surgery to move the ulnar collateral ligament. Matz was diagnosed with a large bone spur in his pitching arm early last season. He attempted to pitch through it, but was eventually shut down in September after missing about a month due to a shoulder impingement. Wheeler hasn’t pitched in a major league game since September of 2014. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015, Wheeler suffered a series of setbacks in his rehab in 2016, before being shut down. Syndergaard was the only one from the young staff able to make it through the season, though he did so with a small bone spur in his pitching arm. There is also worry that Syndergaard may one day require Tommy John surgery. He is the only one of this young and dynamic rotation to have never had the surgery.
The Mets understand that they need to be conservative in how they use their starters this spring. They need to make sure the rotation is healthy and fresh, but not rusty. The Mets’ 2015 pennant-winning run likely contributed to at least some of the injuries on the starting core. With a whole offseason to recuperate, the Mets are optimistic that their rotation can stay intact this year and possibly lead them back to the World Series. There is no need to rush these pitchers into games. They don’t need to be throwing every single workout day. 2017 would mark the first time that all five of the Mets’ prized pitchers would be healthy and active at the same time.
The Mets and Neil Walker can’t seem to reach an agreement over a contract extension. Yesterday, Mike Puma of The New York Post reported that the extension talks are “probably dead.” Before Walker accepted the Mets’ $17.2 million qualifying offer, it was being reported by multiple sources that the sides were talking about a possible 3-year contract worth a little over $40 million. According to Marc Carig of Newsday, the extension talks “hit a snag” when the Mets wanted to restructure Walker’s 2017 salary of $17.2 million.
While the speculation sounds accurate, it also goes against Sandy Alderson’s statement Sunday concerning where the Mets’ payroll stands. Alderson told reporters, “We’re all in here,” going on to say that money isn’t too much of a factor at this point for the team, which currently has a payroll around $150 million. “I think it’s a credit to ownership that our payroll is as high as it is now, given where we’ve been as recently as two years ago and where our budget might have been. But we’ve had the fortune here recently of being able to take advantage of opportunities, or not have to make moves on the basis primarily of payroll. So from that standpoint, we should all be pleased,” Alderson said.
Alderson has flip-flopped on the team’s payroll already over the offseason. Early in the offseason, Alderson said he wanted to trade Jay Bruce as a means of lowering the team’s payroll and allowing him to sign some relievers. Not only has Alderson held onto Bruce and his $13 million, but he’s also added relievers Fernando Salas and Jerry Blevins, adding around $9.5 million to the payroll.
If the Mets are unable to sign Walker to an extension, they may end up turning to top prospect Gavin Cecchini as their second baseman of the future. While Cecchini has consistently shown the ability to hit, his defense has often been an issue. Last season in Triple-A Las Vegas, he hit .325, with a .390 on-base percentage and .448 slugging percentage, earning him a September call-up to the Mets. However, the shortsop also committed 33 errors last season, posting a fielding percentage of .931. Perhaps a switch to the second base position can help him to improve his defensive ability. Assuming the Mets organization moves him to second base in order to make room for star prospect Amed Rosario, maybe Tim Teufel can work with Cecchini in the same way he worked with Daniel Murphy in teaching him to play second base better. If the Mets are able to reach an agreement with Walker on an extension, third base could be a good position for Cecchini to work on.