The Bruce is Loose

By Ethan Marshall

 

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.

 

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Drew Smith pitching for the Rays’ Advanced A Charlotte Stone Crabs.  Photo Credit: Dilip Sridhar.

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.

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Stephen Nogosek pitching for the Oregon Ducks college baseball team.  Photo credit: Mark Humphrey.

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.

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Jamie Callahan pitching for the Red Sox low-A affiliate Lowell Spinners.  Photo credit: Jonathan Raymond.

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.

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Gerson Bautista pitching for the Red Sox organization.  Photo credit: Kelly O’Connor.

 

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.

Who’s at First?

By Ethan Marshall

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Walking Away: By Ethan Marshall

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.

While the extension talks between Walker and the Mets may be dead for now, Marc Carig of Newsday reports that “A source said the parties are seeking a resolution before the beginning of the regular season, when contract talks could become a distraction.”  This revelation still hints at the possibility of the two sides reaching an agreement later this spring.

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.

Conforto Could Start Season in Vegas

When asked about Michael Conforto’s role yesterday, Sandy Alderson hinted at the possibility of having Michael Conforto start the 2017 season in Triple-A.

When asked about the Mets outfield situation, Alderson said “I don’t want to forecast what’s going to happen in spring training, but I don’t see [Conforto] picking up at-bats at first-base, picking up ABs here and there.”  Alderson also joked “Michael Conforto is a long-term asset for us unless we can trade an outfielder for Carmelo Anthony,” on SNY.

If Conforto does end up starting in the minors, Brandon Nimmo may take over the role of the extra left-handed-hitting outfielder.  Putting Conforto in Vegas would allow for him to get regular playing time, something he wouldn’t be able to get with the Mets.

Of course, things can change over the course of spring training.  If Conforto has a very strong spring training while either Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce struggle, this may make the Mets decide to reward him for his strong play.  Additionally, while Alderson’s statements indicate that Conforto probably won’t be seeing time at first base this spring, that doesn’t necessarily mean Bruce won’t see time there.

Conforto may very well find himself competing for a starting outfield spot this spring.  Even if he doesn’t make the opening day roster, he will probably be the go-to-guy if and when one of the other outfielders gets hurt.  No matter where he starts the 2017 season, he will likely finish it with the Mets.

Mets Re-Sign Blevins, Salas; Sign Tom Gorzelanny

Sandy Alderson had quite a busy day yesterday.  First, he signed left-handed pitcher Tom Gorzelanny to a minor league deal, providing a safety net as a lefty specialist in case they couldn’t sign Blevins or Craig Breslow.  Shortly after that, Alderson brought back Fernando Salas in a one-year, $3 million deal.  Finally, Alderson brought back Jerry Blevins in a $6 million deal, with a second year option.  These moves appear to have stabilized the Mets bullpen.

The 34-year-old Gorzelanny has struggled over the last 2 seasons, including allowing 7 runs in 3 innings of work over the 7 games he appeared in for Cleveland last season.  However, from 2012-2014, he pitched to a 3.13 ERA, with 8.5 Ks per nine innings, and a ground-ball rate of 43.5% over 178.1 innings.  Over parts of 12 seasons in the majors, he has held lefties to a batting line of .229/.302/.356.

Salas was traded to the Mets in late August last season, and pitched very well for them in the roll off the seventh-inning man.  In 17.1 innings pitched with the Mets, Salas allowed just 4 runs, pitching to a 2.08 ERA.  He also posted 19 strike-outs and didn’t walk a single batter.  His role in the beginning of the season will likely be to pitch in the 8th inning, setting things up for Addison Reed to close until Jeurys Familia returns from his inevitable suspension.  When Familia returns, Salas would likely go back to pitching in the 7th inning while Reed pitches the 8th.

I’m most happy about the Jerry Blevins signing.  He was a solid reliever for the Mets in 2016, posting a 2.79 ERA over 42 innings and a career-high 73 appearances.  He had 11.1 Ks per nine innings and a 45.8% ground-ball rate.  Perhaps the biggest reason why I wanted him back was due to the fact that he was also effective against right-handed hitters in 2016.  This may allow for him to be used as a reliever to pitch a whole inning rather than just a lefty-specialist.

With these signings, I would think that Alderson is finished making any major league signings for the rest of the offseason.  This offseason proved to be a very successful one for Alderson.  Although he was unable to trade Jay Bruce, he did manage to bring back Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, Jerry Blevins, and Fernando Salas.  The only free agent that seemed to have gotten away from him was the incomparable Bartolo Colon, who signed with the Braves, where he would get the opportunity to start.  Still, the Mets starting rotation and bullpen now look very stacked.  The way the team looks right now, they may be able to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive season in for the first time in franchise history, and maybe even reach and win the World Series.

What Should the Mets do With Conforto?

The Mets intended to trade away Jay Bruce over the offseason in order to clear up the team payroll and the crowded outfield.  With the Mets deciding not to trade Jay Bruce, it appears that Michael Conforto is the odd man out in the outfield.  The Mets wanted to use Conforto as their everyday rightfielder in hopes that putting him in the lineup on a regular basis would help him with his confidence and allow him to recover from the sophomore slump he suffered last season.  As it stands now, Conforto may be reduced to a bench role.

The Mets need to make sure they don’t mishandle the 23-year-old outfielder.  Sending him to the minors doesn’t seem to be a realistic solution at this point, considering he hit .422 in 33 games for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s in 2016.  The best solution of getting regular playing time for Conforto may be to move him or Jay Bruce to first base.  First baseman Lucas Duda is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 season, and there is some uncertainty to just how healthy and effective he may be in 2017.  Having Bruce or Conforto available to play first base in case Duda is unable to play or struggling allows for Conforto to get extra playing time while also keeping the bat of Bruce in the lineup.

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Michael Conforto.  Photo Credit: Anthony J. Causi.

The Mets can also have Conforto take reps in center field during spring training.  This would allow for an alternative offensive threat from that position if Curtis Granderson is hurt or struggling.  He played 6 games at the position last season without making any errors, though he didn’t seem 100% comfortable at the position.  Having a whole spring training to learn and practice more at this position may let him look and feel more comfortable.

If Conforto is on the bench, it may also be likely that he gets a lot of opportunities pinch-hitting.  Just because he isn’t starting a game doesn’t mean he won’t see a lot of action.  He adds depth to an already impressive Mets bench, providing power and likely getting many opportunities to get big hits and drive in runs.  If Conforto starts to look impressive off the bench, the Mets may just start putting him in the starting lineup over other players who may not be hitting as well as him.  Conforto and the rest of the Mets hitters need to remember Terry Collins’ mantra that the players that are hitting get to be in the strating lineup.

 

Sources: Mets may be Open to Giving Blevins Two-Year Deal

It was reported last night by Andy Martino of The Daily News that the Mets are willing to offer reliever Jerry Blevins a two-year deal.  If this rumor is true, it seems likely that Blevins would re-sign with the Mets.  The other teams linked to Blevins are very hesitant to offer him any more than a one-year deal.

I really hope that this rumor is true.  I, like most Mets fans, really like Jerry Blevins.  He has pitched very well during his tenure with the Mets after they traded outfielder Matt den Dekker for him prior to the 2015 season.  Additionally, Blevins has been a very positive clubhouse influence.

While the Blue Jays, Dodgers, and Yankees have also expressed at least some interest in Blevins over the last month, none of these teams is willing to give Blevins a multi-year deal.  If the Mets are truly willing to offer him a two-year deal, it seems likely that he would take it.  Blevins could once again be a valuable piece of the Mets bullpen, possibly even as a setup man rather than just a lefty specialist.

If the Mets do end up signing Blevins, it will be interesting to see whether or not the team still pursues one more reliever.  Potentially useful setup men still remaining on the free agent market include Sergio Romo, Fernando Salas, Joe Blanton, and Joe Smith.  While these players wouldn’t necessarily cost a fortune, the Mets may be hesitant to sign these players if they have already signed Blevins.  The team wants to save money.  With Jay Bruce remaining on the roster, the Mets are more limited in their spending for the remainder of the off-season.  The way the Mets act in approaching Blevins and the other relievers will likely determine just how much more money they are willing to spend.