Panic Time for the Mets’ Rotation?

By Ethan Marshall

 

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.

Noah Syndergaard walks off the field with trainer Ray Ramirez after suffering a partial tear of his right lat muscle yesterday in Washington.  Photo credit: AP Photo/Nick Wass.

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.

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Bartolo Colon pitching at Citi Field against the Mets.  Photo credit: Getty Images.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Mets Intend to Keep Jay Bruce

Yesterday, the Mets said they intend to keep Jay Bruce as their starting rightfielder.  This would push Michael Conforto to a bench role.  Ever since the Mets re-signed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in November, the team had been looking to trade Bruce in order to save money as well as to clear up an already crowded outfield.

Just because the Mets said they intend to keep Bruce doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be traded.  General manager Sandy Alderson said the same thing about R.A. Dickey shortly after winning the 2012 N.L. Cy Young Award, but traded him away not long after making this statement.  However, it seems unlikely that the Mets would find a suitable trade partner for Bruce at this point.  The only teams connected to him at this point that haven’t found an outfielder or DH are the Rangers and Giants.  In the case of the Rangers, it seems likely that they will be getting Mike Napoli instead of Jay Bruce.  As for the Giants, they may just try to sign a less expensive outfielder on the free agent market since they want to lower their payroll.

If the Mets are truly in a win-now state of mind, they shouldn’t be worrying about trying to lower the payroll by trading Bruce.  They also shouldn’t let the fact that they are keeping Bruce affect who they want to sign to bolster the bullpen.  They should still be trying to re-sign Jerry Blevins and either re-sign Fernando Salas or sign Sergio Romo.  Considering the fact that this is a team with one of the best pitching rotations in all of baseball, they have a good shot at competing for the playoffs.  Adding a couple of bullpen arms may be the key to the Mets making a return to the Fall Classic.  If the team plays well, people will pay for seats to the game.  Money shouldn’t be as big of an issue when the only moves necessary at this point are to sign relievers that may be able to start the season as the 7th and 8th inning guys.

It’s no secret that Blevins wants to return to the Mets, and that the Mets want to bring him back.  At this point, Blevins likely won’t receive the 3-year deal he wanted.  If the Mets offer him a 2-year deal or a decent 1-year deal, Blevins may be willing to take it.  The remaining free agents will likely lower their asking prices more and more as spring training draws closer with each passing day.  The time for the Mets to act on signing relievers is now.  Money shouldn’t get in the way at this point from possibly putting on the finishing touches of a team with the potential to win it all in 2017.  For Alderson and the free agents, time is ticking.

What Should the Mets do About Their Bullpen?

With spring training less than two months away, the Mets are still in need of bullpen help.  With Jeurys Familia likely being suspended for at least the first 30 games of the season, the Mets are without a setup man since Addison Reed will be stepping in to the closer’s role for Familia.  While Sandy Alderson has expressed a desire to lower the Mets payroll to under $140 million.  As it stands now, the Mets payroll stands at just over $150 million.

It’s no secret that the Mets are currently trying to trade Jay Bruce for a good reliever or good prospect.  This would potentially allow for the Mets to get their payroll under $140 million while also solving their problem with relief.  Unfortunately, Jay Bruce’s value dropped due to the Jason Bay-like performance he had as a member of the Mets when he was acquired at the trade deadline.  However, I believe that his value will rise when the free agency outfield market gets thinner this offseason.  The Mets need to remind potential trade partners that Bruce hit over 30 homers last season while driving in 99.  In addition to this, Bruce will only be 30 years old by early April.  He is in the prime of his career.

I feel that the perfect trade partners for the Mets would either be the Orioles or the White Sox.  I feel the Mets should offer Bruce and Kevin Plawecki to the Orioles for Brad Brach, whom the Mets have already expressed interest in.  I would offer the same two players to the White Sox for David Robertson.  The issue for the Mets with Robertson is that he is making a little more than what Bruce is currently making.  The Mets would have to keep their payroll between $140 and $160 million.  Both the White Sox and Orioles are in need of an outfielder and a long term catcher.  In the White Sox’s case, they could flip Bruce at the deadline for high-level prospects assuming he raises his value.  I feel that, in the White Sox’s case, they could get a lot more at the trade deadline for Jay Bruce than they would for David Robertson.  In the case of Plawecki, while the Mets have just about given up on him, there are still other teams that may believe he can still live up to his potential.  This is evident in the fact that his name was brought up during the winter meetings.

Another option the Mets have for their bullpen would be to try to re-sign Jerry Blevins.  As it stands now, Blevins is demanding a 3-year deal, which Alderson doesn’t want to commit to with a reliever.  If I were Alderson, I would offer Blevins a 2-year deal in the $15-$25 million range.  He may be willing to accept this kind of offer since he doesn’t seem to be valued as highly by other teams due to the fact that he is still on the market.  Many teams, like the Mets, may be reluctant to give Blevins the third year.  I would love for the Mets to be able to hang on to Blevins.  He reminds me a little bit of Pedro Feliciano in that he has the ability to get both lefties and righties out.

As it stands now, it is probable that the Mets would have Zack Wheeler and either Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo pitching the 7th and 8th innings.  While these options aren’t bad, I feel that getting a more accomplished reliever would be a better option.  This would allow for more flexibility for the Mets in the back end of their starting rotation.  The 2016 season taught the Mets that they need as many good starting pitchers with them as they can get.  Gsellman and Lugo played key roles in getting the Mets to the playoffs in 2016.  The Mets may end up asking them to do the same thing again in a different way in 2017 if they can’t fill out the hole in their bullpen from external options.