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.

 

 

Wheeler, Lugo, and Gsellman Will Compete for Fifth Starter Spot

In his first interview of spring training, Terry Collins revealed that Zack Wheeler will be competing with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for the role of the fifth starter in the Mets rotation.  Collins also said Wheeler will see time as a starter and from the bullpen in spring training games.

I feel that this could prove to benefit all three of the pitchers competing.  Wheeler, who hasn’t pitched since 2014, would be able to get his competitive spirit back.  Providing motivation for these pitchers would allow them to treat each spring training game as if it were a regular season game.

Regardless of who ends up getting the role of the 5th starter, the other two pitchers could help to add more depth to the Mets bullpen, while also providing spot starts every now and then.

By making the starting role open, Collins will be able to get a better look at Lugo and Gsellman, as well as to see how sharp Wheeler looks after not pitching in a major league game in two years.  Lugo and Gsellman need to prove that last season was no fluke for them.  If they pitch as well this spring training as they did for the Mets last season, and Wheeler shows little to no signs of rust, Collins would face a very good problem to have as a manager.  He would have 7 strong young starting pitchers to fill in 5 spots.  Many managers would kill to be in that kind of position.

Wheeler has made it no secret that he wants to be in the starting rotation come opening day.  “I know I belong in the starting rotation, there’s no question about that.  I’m a starter.  I want to be a starter,” Wheeler said last week.  Wheeler also voiced his concerns about being in the bullpen.  “I feel that guys that go to the bullpen get stuck in the bullpen, and I don’t want to do that.  Because either you are doing bad and stay in the bullpen because you can’t be a starter, or you are doing really good and they can’t afford to move you out of the bullpen.  So you are going to get stuck there, and that’s why I’m trying to let everybody know that I’m not a bullpen guy, I’m a starter,” said Wheeler.

For Wheeler, spring training will be his first test to see if he can return to the pitcher he was in the second half of 2014.  For Lugo and Gsellman, they are trying to prove to the Mets, as well as the rest of the league, that they can be just as good as the rest of the Mets starting rotation.  It should be exciting to watch these three pitch this spring.

How will the Mets Starting Rotation Look Like in 2017?

There are still questions as to who will begin the 2017 season as the 5th starter for the Mets rotation.  The Mets have a decision to make between Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman.  The Mets can’t go wrong with whichever one they choose.

Wheeler has shown signs of the hype around him when he was ranked as the 11th best prospect in all of baseball after the 2012 season by Baseball America.  While he was a little wild early in his career, Wheeler began to show more command of his pitches by the middle of the 2014 season.  Wheeler established himself as a pitcher with a lot of talent and potential at the major league level on June 19th, 2014, exactly a year and a day after he made his MLB debut.  On this day, Wheeler threw a complete game 3-hit shutout against the Marlins, facing only one over the minimum.  Going into that game, Wheeler had been struggling, with a 2-7 record and an ERA well over 4.00.  From this game on, Wheeler rebounded and dominated for the rest of the season, finishing his first full season with a record of 11-11 and an ERA of 3.54.  The concern with Wheeler going into 2017 is that he hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2014, due to Tommy John surgery shortly before the start of the 2015 season and suffering multiple setbacks while attempting to come back in 2016 before being shut down.  The Mets coaching staff will likely be keeping a close eye on him when spring training starts.  Depending on how he looks during spring training and where his velocity and command are, Wheeler will likely either start the 2017 season in the bullpen or be inserted into the role of the 5th starter.  Even if Wheeler ends up starting the season in the bullpen, he may end up returning to the rotation when he shakes off his rust and returns to looking like the stud pitcher he was in the second half of the 2014 season.

With Lugo and Gsellman, it’s a coin flip for the Mets as far as who starts and who goes to the bullpen.  Assuming Wheeler starts out in the bullpen, the Mets may choose to insert the pitcher that pitched better in spring training into the 5th starter’s role, while putting the other one in the bullpen.  Going by what I saw from Lugo and Gsellman last season, I would choose to have Lugo in as the 5th starter because I thought he was better at keeping his pitch count low while also staying effective late into ballgames.  I also feel that Lugo has better off-speed pitches than Gsellman, especially his curveball, which has so much rotation on it that it set a statcast record at 3,498 rpm.  Gsellman can still be very useful out of the bullpen, either as a long man or a 7th or 8th inning man.  The same can also be said about Zack Wheeler.

The way that Lugo, Gsellman, and Wheeler perform in spring training will likely determine what role each of the pitchers will begin the season at.  In the case of Lugo and Gsellman, they need to prove to the other players and coaches around the league that their 2016 seasons weren’t flukes.  If they can establish themselves in the same way that Jacob DeGrom did in 2014, than the Mets may have one of the most dominant rotations and bullpens in major league baseball in 2017, as long as the rotation and bullpen stays healthy and consistent.

10 of the Biggest Sports Moments of 2016: Part 1

Many would agree that 2016 has been a very difficult year.  From all the celebrity deaths to the U.S. presidential election, many people just can’t wait for the year to end.  But through this difficult year came many fascinating moments in the world of sports.  Here are 10 of many notable events that occurred in the world of sports in 2016.

#10: The Rio Olympics

Many were expecting the Olympic Games in Rio to be a disaster, given the troubles facing the country, from pollution in the water to the high crime rates to the fear of the spread of the Zika virus, many athletes were hesitant to participate.  The Olympics went surprisingly well (unless your name was Ryan Lochte).  Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt continued their utter dominance in their respective categories.  Phelps broke an Olympic record dating back over 2,000 years when he won his 13th individual Olympic medal, passing Leonidas of Rhodes for the most by any Olympian.  Leonidas won 12 individual Olympic medals from 164 B.C. to 152 B.C.

Ryan Lochte became one of the most hated Americans when he, along with some swimming teammates, vandalized a gas station bathroom after getting drunk.  He later claimed that he and his friends were robbed at gunpoint.  Shortly after this incident, he got on a plane and went back home to America.  While in America, it was revealed through security footage by the gas station that Lochte was lying.  Lochte’s teammates were detained while they were still in Rio.  Lochte’s lies and his abandonment of his teammates led to him being scorned by many in the world.

#9: A Cespedes for the Rest of us

When Yoenis Cespedes was traded to the Mets at the 2015 trade deadline, nobody would have expected him to carry the team as much as he did.  Cespedes ended up batting .287 while hitting 17 homers while driving in 44 runs in his two months with the Mets.  At one point, there was even talk of him being considered for the N.L. MVP despite the fact that he had only played two months in the N.L.  He quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his clutch hits and ability to perform under the bright lights of New York.  While many Mets fans wanted him back for 2016, the ownership and management didn’t expect to get him.  Luckily for them, Cespedes fell into their laps late in the offseason.  The Mets signed him to a 3 year, $75 million contract with an opt-out after the first year.  Cespedes continued to entertain Mets fans.  In spring training, he made daily headlines thanks to his tricked out rides that he would take to the field.  At one point, he and Noah Syndergaard even rode Cespedes’s horses around the spring training facility.  When the season began, Cespedes was able to prove to fans as well as players around the league that he wasn’t a one-trick pony, batting .280 while hitting 31 homers and driving in 86.  Cespedes was rewarded by the Mets this offseason with a four year, $110 million contract, with a no-trade clause.  Ceaspedes will be sticking around in Flushing for quite awhile.

 

#8: The Rise Of Lugo and Gsellman

Nobody doubted that the Mets starting rotation entering the 2016 season was one of the best, if not, the best in the MLB.  The Mets had Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Bartolo Colon, with Zack Wheeler scheduled to return around July.  Unfortunately, the Mets 2015 run to the World Series appeared to have a hangover effect on many of the pitchers.  Harvey struggled in 2016 before being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome in July.  His season ended when he elected for surgery to fix it shortly after the diagnosis.  Syndergaard and Matz were both diagnosed with bone spurs in their pitching arms, with Matz’s being large and requiring surgery at the end of the season.  While Syndergaard was able to pitch through the season with little to no effect on him from the bone spur, Matz struggled to pitch as well as he did before the diagnosis, as well as to stay healthy.  Matz was eventually shut down in late September.  DeGrom had issues with his velocity early in the season.  While he eventually recovered from this, he was eventually shut down in September when he needed surgery to repair an ulnar nerve.  The 43 year old Colon would end up being the healthiest and most consistent of the Mets starting rotation in 2016.

Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman were eventually brought on to try to replace Harvey and Matz.  From the moment that they joined the rotation, they shined brightly.  Many fans had not even heard of these two pitchers before they were brought in as reinforcements.  Gsellman ended up going 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA while Lugo went 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA since joining the starting rotation.  Both pitchers were key reasons as to why the Mets clinched a playoff birth for a second straight season for only the second time in franchise history despite all of the injuries that the team suffered.

#7: The Sanchize?

Gary Sanchez burst onto the scene with the New York Yankees in 2016 after making his season debut with them in early August.  In 53 games, Sanchez batted .299 with 20 homers and 42 runs batted in.  He tied Wally Berger as the fastest player to hit 20 homers to begin his career, at just 50 MLB appearances.  Yankees fans consider him a catalyst for the upcoming youth movement for the franchise.  The fans and organization hopes that Sanzhez will continue his strong play in 2017, and that some of the other top prospects in the organization can show promise just as Sanchez did in 2016.

 

#6: The Farewell Tours of Kobe and Big Papi

2016 saw the end of an era in Los Angeles and Boston.  Kobe Bryant announced that his 20th season in the NBA, all of which were with the Lakers, would be his last.  Bryant won 5 NBA championships as a member of the Lakers, winning MVP in 2 of the finals.  He was an 18 time NBA all star, including 4 all star game MVP awards.  He won the 2008 NBA MVP award.  Throughout the 2015-16 NBA season, he was greeted cheerfully by opposing players and fans in opposing arenas.  Kobe added to his hall of fame career in his final game when he led the Lakers to a victory over the Utah Jazz by scoring 60 points in the Staples Center in Los Angeles.  He ended his career with one last legendary performance, cemented his status as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

Shortly before the start of the 2016 baseball season, Red Sox star David Ortiz said that this would be his final season.  He then went on to have one of the greatest final seasons by an athlete.  Ortiz batted .315, hitting 38 homers, and leading the league in doubles with 48, runs batted in with 127, slugging percentage at .620, and OPS at 1.021.

In his 14 seasons as a member of the Boston Red Sox, Ortiz was a 10 time all star, 7 time silver slugger award winner, and 3 time World Series Champion, winning World Series MVP in 2013.  Ortiz played a critical role in ending the curse of the Bambino in 2004 when he led the Red Sox to a comeback to beat the Yankees after trailing them 3 games to none in the ALCS.  Ortiz hit the walk-off homer in the 12th inning of game 4 that extended the series, and hit a walk-off single in the 14th inning of game 5.  In the 2004 ALCS, Ortiz became the first DH to win the ALCS MVP award, batting .387 with 3 homers and 11 runs batted in.

Ortiz became the face of the Red Sox franchise in his years there.  It was only fitting that he give a powerful speech in the first Red Sox game at Fenway Park following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.  He concluded his speech as any Bostonian would- by swearing like a sailor.  He told the fans “This is our fucking city, and no one is going to dictate our freedom.  Stay strong.”  Ortiz and the Red Sox would face off against the Detroit Tigers in the 2013 ALCS.  Ortiz had another dramatic moment in him when he stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the 8th inning of game 2, representing the tying run.  Ortiz belted a game-tying grand slam homer that was just out of reach of the leaping Torii Hunter in right field.  The image of the ball landing in the bullpen and the raised hands and joyous expression of a Boston police officer in the bullpen became very iconic for the city of Boston.  The Red Sox would go on to win the game, and later, the series against the Tigers, before beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

David Ortiz established himself as one of the most clutch hitters in postseason history.  He finished his career with a .289 batting average in the playoffs (including a .455 average in 59 plate appearances in the World Series), with 17 homers and 61 runs batted in during the playoffs.  He transformed the Red Sox from a team that was cursed into one of the most dominant franchises of the 21st century.

 

 

Stay tuned tomorrow for the rest of this list.

 

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.