Fred Wilpon is Scrooging the Mets and Their Fans Over

By Ethan Marshall

 

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.

 

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Mets owners (from left to right): Jeff Wilpon, Saul Katz and Fred Wilpon.   Photo credit: Mets Merized Online.

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 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.