Prior to the Mets-Cubs game on August 28, interim general manager John Ricco made a controversial announcement. Despite the Mets announcing the promotion of David Wright to Triple-A earlier that day, Ricco said the team hasn’t seen enough progress to warrant a promotion to the majors anytime soon.
Despite the immense amount of progress made by Wright and him being moved up to a level just below the majors, Ricco said the Mets haven’t seen enough progress to call him up anytime soon in a lost season. “Quite frankly at this point, he hasn’t been able to make some of the benchmarks that were laid out for him,” Ricco said.
When asked what Wright’s biggest issues were, Ricco said the Mets “haven’t seen that level of being able to play on a quantity or quality basis at this point.” But Wright’s hitting has improved after an 0 for 14 start. He’s also playing nine innings at third base, being able to do so in consecutive days. While he may still have work to do before reaching the major league level, the way in which Wright’s looked both offensively and defensively, as well as the fact that he was moved up to Triple-A, suggest that there aren’t many benchmarks left to hit and that he could be ready for the majors within a couple of weeks.
Most fans immediately speculated the Mets may not want Wright to play this year because the Wilpons want to save as much money from the insurance in Wright’s contract as they could. According to David Lennon of Newsday, Wright is scheduled to earn $3.21 million in September. If he doesn’t come off the disabled list though, the insurance allows the Mets to recoup $2.41 million of that sum. It’s also worth noting that last January, Fred Wilpon said the team has not reinvested any of the money saved from the insurance in the contract from 2015 to 2017.
By our calculations, Wright is scheduled to earn $3.21M for September. If he does not come off the DL, #Mets recoup $2.41M of that sum through insurance.
Based on the evidence shown from Wright’s rehab so far and the comments from Ricco, there appears to be a disconnect between the two parties. As a result, some Mets fans have come to the conclusion that the Wilpons don’t want Wright to play in September so they could pocket more money from Wright’s contract insurance. Frankly, if this is true, and the Wilpons continue to just pocket the insurance money rather than spend it on free agents, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred should take a look at Mets ownership because if the owners are petty enough to ruin a feel-good story for the sake of pocketing almost $2 million, they shouldn’t be allowed to own a MLB team, especially in a big market like New York City.
The Mets have a long history of either failing to identify talent or having talented prospects fail to establish themselves in the majors. One of the most notorious instances of this came in the 1966 MLB draft, where the Mets passed on Reggie Jackson for the first overall pick, opting instead for Steve Chilcott, who never played a game in the majors. Yet another infamous example were the three Mets pitching prospects in 1995: Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen. Injuries and poor performance ruined the promising careers of the former two, but Isringhausen was able to overcome them and transition into a dominant closer upon being traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1999.
While not all of the Mets’ much-hyped prospects have underperformed, there is certainly a large amount who have, especially in recent years. One of the biggest criticisms that can be made of the Sandy Alderson regime is that he failed to develop many players that he drafted. Until recently, 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo was viewed as a bust. Gavin Cecchini is looking like a bust. Amed Rosario has been inconsistent thus far in his young MLB career. It can be argued the only top prospect Alderson drafted that’s worked out has been Michael Conforto, but he too has struggled at times. But the way in which the organization has handled and treated 2013 first-round pick Dominic Smith has been awful.
While Smith certainly hasn’t done himself any favors with the multiple opportunities he’s been given over the last calendar year, the Mets have put him in positions to fail and haven’t done a good job in attempting to help him. Smith arrived to spring training overweight in 2017. However, he was very productive in Triple-A Las Vegas that season, and, like Rosario that year, seemed to have nothing left to learn at that level. But the Mets didn’t call him up until mid-August. An argument can be made that Smith’s development was stalled because everything left for him to learn could only be learned in the major leagues. When Smith finally got called up to the majors, he struggled mightily, albeit while also showing flashes of power. He finished the year batting .198 with nine homers in 167 at-bats, with 49 strikeouts.
Aiming to improve himself, Smith lost 30 pounds last off-season. When the Mets signed a washed-up Adrian Gonzalez, they said he would likely be the opening day first baseman rather than make it a competition between the aging veteran and the struggling youngster. He again lost the Mets’ trust when he overslept and arrived late for a team meeting at the beginning of spring training, resulting in him getting benched. After just one spring training game Smith injured his quad, resulting in him losing any chance he had on making the team’s opening day roster.
When Smith completed his rehab for the quad injury, the Mets decided to have him focus on learning on a new position by placing him in the outfield during minor league games. Based on his struggles in the majors in 2017, the organization probably should have worked with him more on improving his hitting than teaching him how to play the outfield.
The Mets didn’t do Smith any favors by repeatedly calling him up and sending him down, with much of his time in the majors being spent on the bench. Of the 17 games Smith’s started for the Mets, six of them were in the outfield, where he looks absolutely lost, bringing back memories of when the organization placed Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda in the outfield. But unlike when Duda and Murphy played the outfield, Smith is playing in the outfield at a time when the team doesn’t really have an actual first baseman. Utility infielder Wilmer Flores has seen the majority of the time at first base since the release of Adrian Gonzalez. For over a year the team has talked about having Flores see some time in the outfield in order to improve his versatility and balance out an outfield mostly made up of left-handed hitters. But this plan has yet to come to fruition, and the result is a defensive liability playing first base over a defensively solid first baseman, with the latter player being dropped into the outfield where his inexperience is very visible.
By moving Smith out of his comfort zone and through the stories of upper management criticizing him, Smith’s confidence has taken a heavy blow since his call-up to the majors last season. Even after taking efforts to improve himself, he is still looked down upon by the organization and its fans. With one month left in a lost season and the first base position in question for next year, Smith should be given the opportunity to start a majority of the Mets’ remaining games at first. Flores could always be moved to another position. It may also be beneficial to have Flores see some time in the outfield. If the Mets don’t intend to call up top first base prospect Peter Alonso, there isn’t a great excuse not to put Smith in the lineup at first base for a majority of the remaining games.
The Mets said they intend to compete in the 2019 season, but they have many holes to fill in order to make that a reality. The first and most crucial step is signing free agent Manny Machado, who, along with Bryce Harper, will be seeking a fortune on the market. While the Mets need Machado, most fans don’t see this becoming a reality due to the team’s unwillingness to spend money.
The previous off-season only fuels Mets fans’ skepticism of the team’s desire to compete being reflected by a willingness to spend on the more talented free agents. The team basically bought from the discount rack, passing on the likes of Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, Addison Reed and Tony Watson for cheaper players with lower ceilings like Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas and Anthony Swarzak, who have each been dreadful this season.
With Yoenis Cespedes expected to be out for at least the first month of the 2019 season, the Mets are in dire need of a right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup. Machado presents a huge offensive upgrade both offensively and defensively, and he would change the complexion of the lineup. With Amed Rosario failing to show consistency thus far in his big-league career, the Mets shouldn’t be afraid to move him out of the starting shortstop position, possibly shifting him to third base or second base.
If the Mets were to sign Machado, it would likely create a renewal of faith in the organization that’s been lost the last couple years. In addition to showing fans the team is willing to go after the top free agents, it would also show that the team is willing to offer expensive long-term contracts to the right types of players.
But even if the Mets surprise their skeptical fanbase and sign Machado, they still have other improvements to make. They need to sign two or three solid relievers in a free agent market that will be loaded with them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they need to go after Craig Kimbrel (though that would be nice), but they need relievers with a history of success rather than one coming off one great year, like Swarzak. They should be looking at guys like Jeurys Familia, Adam Ottavino, Justin Wilson, Adam Warren and Kelvin Herrera. Taking gambles on relievers like Jonny Venters shouldn’t be a first priority in a market this loaded.
Even if the Mets were to address those needs, they still have question marks at other positions. Will Todd Frazier be the starting third baseman next season? Is Peter Alonso the 2019 everyday first baseman? Can Amed Rosario shift over to second base if the Mets get Machado, and can he hit with consistency? Should the Mets proceed with the catching tandem of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, or should they look at free agent catchers like Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal? When Cespedes returns, should the Mets consider moving Jay Bruce to first base? Just about the only thing that isn’t a question mark is four-fifths of the starting rotation. In regards to the fifth starter, should the team stick with Jason Vargas despite his brutal 2018 season, go with a young pitcher in the organization like Corey Oswalt or look at the free agent market?
The questions aren’t limited to the players. The team needs to find a new general manager. In addition to seeking to fill the holes on the roster, this new general manager needs to decide the fate of manager Mickey Callaway, who has looked clueless, brutal and completely outmatched in his first season managing the team. Judging by how awful Callaway’s been as a manager, it might be beneficial for the team to get rid of him and try to get someone like Joe Girardi.
The future of the Mets ultimately depends upon the Wilpons’ willingness (or lack thereof) to spend money on top free agent talents, especially in an off-season loaded with top free agents. Signing Machado would signify a culture change in the team by showing the fans they are willing to spend money in order to improve their team. Rarely does the opportunity present itself that a star player becomes a free agent at just 26 years of age. If necessary, the Mets should offer Machado a share of ownership of the team if it means getting him.
Last off-season the Mets could’ve corrected their glaring weaknesses through free agent signings. The bullpen and offense had been a disaster in 2017 and the team had a chance to fix it. They signed reliever Anthony Swarzak, starting pitcher Jason Vargas, third baseman Todd Frazier and brought back outfielder Jay Bruce. They passed on adding further bullpen depth or signing better starting pitchers who were still available and had their asking prices reduce significantly late in the off-season.
Even as last season’s trade deadline approached and the Mets were selling off many assets who were pending free agents, they wasted an opportunity to significantly improve their barren farm system. The Mets weren’t willing to take on any portion of the salaries of the players they were willing to trade. As a result they didn’t get better prospects than they could have.
Between the trades in 2017 and the bargain-barrel off-season shopping, the obvious yet constant problem with the Mets is an unwillingness to spend to go to the next level. They decided Swarzak was enough to stabilize a bullpen that was disastrous in 2017, with the second-worst ERA in the majors at 4.82, even though reliable relievers like Addison Reed and Tony Watson were available and undervalued. They decided to sign Jason Vargas to round out their rotation when better options were available, including an extremely undervalued Jake Arrieta. They decided to claim an aging Adrian Gonzalez and pay him the MLB-minimum instead of working on further developing Dominic Smith. They designated reliever Chasen Bradford for assignment despite pitching well and showing improvement at the major-league level, posting a 3.74 ERA in 2017.
The fundamental problem with the team is an unwillingness to spend. This likely comes from the Wilpons, who don’t seem to understand the concept that a willingness to spend on talented players often equates to success, especially in a big market like New York City.
Instead of signing big free agents or even good complementary pieces, the Mets are content with covering their obvious flaws with bandages. This isn’t even a new issue for the Mets. Ownership has built quite the track record in meddling with what the front office can and can’t do, as well as the players. While most Mets fans would love for the Wilpons to sell the team, it’s unlikely that they do this anytime soon.
The team’s future may be dependent on how their 2018-19 off-season plays out. Among the vast amount of notable free agents that will be available are Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Machado could be a perfect fit for the Mets to change their lineup from one of the worst in the majors to one of the most-feared. There is no doubt that the price on him will be very high. They also need to reinforce their abysmal bullpen. Among the upcoming notable free agent relievers are Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Craig Kimbrel, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller. Getting at least two reliable relievers could go a long way in fixing the bullpen. If there was ever a time for the Wilpons to finally open their checkbooks, the 2018-19 off-season would be the time. They need Machado and they need dependable relievers.
Fred Wilpon may very well be responsible for turning a talented Mets team that’s a few pieces away from being World Series contenders into a franchise in no-mans land.
Despite a high amount of ticket sales in 2017, including at the minor league level (thanks to Tim Tebow), the Mets expect to have a much lower payroll in 2018, down from $155 million to around $130-135 million. This announcement came after the team traded away most of their pending free agents around the deadline for basically nothing. Rather than taking on at least a portion of the remaining salary from players like Jay Bruce and Neil Walker in exchange for better prospects to replenish a dried up farm system, the Mets took no-names and long-shots while their trade partners took on the remaining salaries.
Why, then, are the Mets lowering their payroll at a time where they’re doing well financially and have a great opportunity to be contenders? The blame can be placed on owner Fred Wilpon, who, unlike Derek Jeter, refuses to face his critics or even explain his actions to the New York media. According to a New York Post story, Fred Wilpon gets upset whenever the Yankees make a big move, like their acquisition of 2017 N.L. MVP Giancarlo Stanton. While this alone frustrates Mets fans to no end, as the team has done nothing but sign reliever Anthony Swarzak, Wilpon managed to make himself look worse. Wilpon apparently believes the Yankees’ willingness to spend money in excess in order to compete almost every year is not a good long-term formula for financial success. The Yankees have been doing this for the last 20-30 years, and show no sign of slowing down. They are the definition of success. Wilpon’s logic makes zero sense!
If this is Wilpon’s best argument for refusing to allow general manager Sandy Alderson to even know how much money he has to spend this off-season, then he shouldn’t be the owner of a major league baseball team at all, let alone one in the big market of New York City.
The Mets should be pursuing free agents like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. While they’ve been attached to free agents like Jay Bruce and Addison Reed, who could both be very useful, they’ve shown a reluctance to spend big on these candidates, to the point they haven’t even made any offers. Instead, the player the Mets have been most closely attached to at this stage of the off-season has been Adrian Gonzalez, who will be 36 next season and is coming off a season in which he suffered major back injuries, because he’d only need to be paid the major-league minimum. Additionally, the Mets may have wasted their opportunity to acquire second baseman Jason Kipnis from the Indians, who are now more reluctant to trade him than during the winter meetings. Negotiations stalled when the Mets were reluctant to take on most, if not all, of the $30.5 million on Kipnis’ remaining contract through 2020.
There is still plenty of time left this off-season for the Mets to fill the holes needed to be corrected, but with only $10 million believed to be left to spend, this wouldn’t be enough to inspire much optimism for a big signing any time soon. There has been no reason given as to why the Mets are cutting their payroll, which was just the 12th-highest last season, by $20 million. The Mets window of competing won’t last much longer. If the reason behind this is because Fred Wilpon doesn’t think the starting rotation can live up to expectations or stay healthy, this is not a good excuse. Regardless of how the rest of the rotation performs, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom can be one of the best one-two starters in the MLB.
Several Mets fans, upset at ownership’s lack of confidence and financial investment in the team, are considering boycotting the team if nothing is done this off-season to inspire confidence. These fans are talking about cancelling their season-ticket orders and not tuning into Mets games on TV or the radio. While the Wilpons have never been liked by Mets fans, they are facing hostility from their team’s fanbase not seen since the fallout from the Madoff scandal, which left the owners in financial ruin. With the Wilpons acting as though they are in financial trouble, fans have again called for them to sell the team, so that both sides may benefit.
There is no reason a New York baseball team that was in the World Series just two years ago should be run like a small-market team. There is no reason the Mets shouldn’t be in the market for players like Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas. There is no reason for money to get in the way from signing Jay Bruce and Addison Reed, with the former providing a solution at both first base and right field and the latter being perhaps the final piece to a potentially strong bullpen that would also consist of Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak. There is no reason small-market teams like the Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals, and rebuilding teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, should be out-spending the Mets.
Mets fans are under the impression that most of the money coming towards the team is just ending up in the Wilpons’ bank vault, where there is enough money for them to dive into and swim in, similar to Scrooge McDuck. If the Mets’ needs aren’t addressed this off-season, there is a good chance that this time, the fans will fight back by not spending on a team whose owners refuse to spend on. Fred Wilpon needs to stop questioning the Yankees’ model for success, and start following it.
The left side of the Mets infield played a big role in making them playoff contenders from 2005 to 2008. Jose Reyes, nicknamed “Mr. Excitement,” presented a threat to opposing pitchers and catchers every time he got on base. He provided life at the top of the lineup. So often would he start the first inning with a single and a stolen base or a triple before scoring, that the term “Reyes run” was used to refer to this. Over this four-year period, Reyes stole a combined 258 bases, leading the league in that category in all but one year, including a franchise-record 78 stolen bases in 2007. He had no fewer than 190 hits in any of these seasons. In 2008, he posted a league-best 204 hits. Reyes also combined for 65 triples, leading the league in that category in three of the four years.
While Reyes provided the speed, Wright provided the power. He hit 116 home runs and drove in 449 runs over that span. He finished fourth in MVP-voting in 2007, when he had a 30-30 year, batted .325, slugged .546 and had an OBP of .416. It became a familiar sight for Mets fans to see David Wright driving in Jose Reyes. Not since Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s had there been such a talented and admired duo of Mets. The young dynamic duo seemed destined for Hall of Fame careers, but injuries kept sidelining them, likely ruining their chances.
While the two have been reunited as teammates on the Mets, Wright has yet to take the field since Reyes was signed to replace his injured buddy. Injuries have kept the captain sidelined for over a year, but he recently took a big step forward when he was cleared to resume baseball activities. Reyes has been vocal of how much he misses Wright, and is optimistic that the captain will play this season.
While Strawberry and Gooden were terrific athletes in their Mets careers, they didn’t get along as well as many people actually believed. Throughout their baseball careers, David Wright and Jose Reyes have been known to be very close friends. Reyes often described their bond as similar to that of brothers.
Now, 13 years after Wright and Reyes shared the left side of the infield for the first time, a new young duo has appeared in Queens. Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, the Mets top two prospects, have now made their MLB debuts. Their relationship in the minors was very similar to that of Wright’s and Reyes’. After the game in which Smith made his MLB debut and Rosario hit his first career homer, both players spoke highly of each other and described the bond they shared as akin to that of brothers, just as Wright and Reyes have described their relationship.
Many Mets fans have already expressed that the new duo reminds them in both skills and personalities of those of Wright and Reyes. Like Reyes at his age, Rosario is a speedy shortstop with strong defensive skills and the potential to be a great hitter. Reyes has even become a mentor to Rosario since Spring Training, texting him almost every day. Since Rosario’s promotion to the Mets, he and Reyes are often spotted fooling around and having fun together. They both have a youthful and bubbly personality, making them likable in the clubhouse.
While Dominic Smith doesn’t play the same position as Wright, he has shown the same defensive ability as a young Wright. Perhaps the biggest similarity between the two is their ability to use the whole field effectively. Smith has shown strong opposite-field power in AAA Vegas this season, something Wright made a career doing (until Citi Field opened, designed basically against him with a deep rightfield). Both Smith and Wright showed a strong maturity despite their young ages. Perhaps Wright can become a mentor to Smith in the same way Reyes has for Rosario.
Whether or not Rosario and Smith can be as successful as Wright and Reyes, while also avoiding the constant injuries that slowed down the latter two, has yet to be seen. They haven’t played a month in the big leagues, but the hype surrounding them is very similar to when Reyes and Wright were top prospects. Time will tell whether or not they live up to the expectations presented to them.
The Mets’ trade of Jay Bruce to the Indians speaks a lot about the state of the organization right now. Ownership appears to be focused more on saving money than getting valuable prospects in return. While the trades of Lucas Duda to the Rays and Addison Reed to the Red Sox allowed for the Mets to save money too, the prospects received in return may prove valuable pieces of the Mets bullpen in the near future. All of the young arms the Mets acquired in these trades are described as throwing in the mid-to-upper-90s by scouts. All three of the pitchers acquired for Reed are hard-throwing 22-year-olds. However, some of the pitchers are further along in their development than others.
The pitcher the Mets received for Jay Bruce, Ryder Ryan, wasn’t even a ranked prospect in the Indians’ system. A 30th round pick, Ryan has posted a 4.50 ERA in two minor league seasons. Considering how solid Bruce has been this season, this trade is mind-boggling. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Mets were focused more on getting a team to pick up the $5 million remaining on Bruce’s contract than to receive decent prospects in return. This is further shown by the fact that the Yankees were willing to give the Mets multiple prospects who were much better than Ryan in exchange for Bruce if the Mets were willing to take on 4/5 of his salary.
For several years, Mets fans have complained about the Wilpons preferring to pad their own wallets rather than improving the team they own. This trade has only added more fuel to this notion. As far as MLB contracts are concerned, $5 million isn’t that much money. If the goal is to save money for free agent signings in the upcoming offseason, the Mets could’ve (and should’ve) taken the Yankees offer, which allowed them to save some money while also gain valuable prospects in return. By trading Bruce for what likely amounts to a player who will never see the MLB, the Mets wasted one of their most valuable trade chips. They likely would’ve received a better return by keeping Bruce and giving him a qualifying offer at the end of the season.
Drew Smith was Tampa Bay’s 30th ranked prospect when he was traded, with a fastball that could reach 98 m.p.h. He has pitched well at each level in the minors, posting a career 1.74 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 129 innings. While he was assigned by the Mets to AA Binghamton, Smith could play a valuable role for the team in 2018.
Stephen Nogosek may be the furthest from being major-league ready among the young arms the Mets received from Boston. However, he was also the highest-rated among the three pitchers acquired for Reed, at number 18. He was assigned to High-A St. Lucie upon his acquisition. He’s posted a 3.27 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 85.1 innings pitched in the minors. The main point of concern for Nogosek right now is that he has control problems, with a career 3.5 walks per nine innings. While he clocks in as reaching 96 miles per hour, his fastball has no movement whatsoever.
Jamie Callahan may debut for the Mets as early as September. He’s currently pitching for AAA Las Vegas. In 376 career minor league innings, Callahan has posted a 4.79 ERA with 365 strikeouts. His velocity typically sits in the mid-90s. He was ranked as the 23rd-best prospect in the Red Sox system. Since being moved from a starter to a reliever, his velocity has increased from the low-90s to the mid-to-upper-90s. He has a great splitter that has become his out-pitch. However, like Nogosek, Callahan has very little movement on his four-seamer and has control issues, with 4 walks per nine innings in 28 innings pitched this season.
Gerson Bautista has a 2.73 ERA with 167 strikeouts in 198 innings in his minor league career thus far. He was ranked as the 28th-best prospect in the Red Sox farm system upon being traded. Along with Nogosek, Bautista was assigned to High-A St. Lucie. He’s shown the ability to reach 100 miles per hour at times, but also has control problems, with 4.1 walks per nine innings in his career. While he does have a slider that sits in the high 80s, he hasn’t mastered the pitch yet. The slider can prove to be very effective if he can get better control and movement from it. Another issue is that he was suspended in 2013 for testing positive for PED use.
The trade of Bruce may also signify the Mets may not be that interested in attempting to re-sign him in the offseason. While the Mets recently said they believe Michael Conforto could play centerfield in the long term, this trade may mean they will be pursuing a centerfielder in the offseason and move Conforto to rightfield. As a result, the Mets may be more focused on pursuing Lorenzo Cain than Jay Bruce this winter.
The Mets basically traded Bruce for money. Players who are usually traded for cash are usually minor leaguers who may have had cups of coffee in the majors, not star players. The one positive thing to come out of this trade is that, unlike the Rangers with Ernesto Frieri, the Mets didn’t trade Bruce for $1.