MLB: New York Mets at Cincinnati Reds

The Mets’ Groundhog Day Problem

Kelly Johnson is a Met again, so let’s start there and work backwards now, just as the Mets appear to be caught in some sort of repetitive loop. This is their Groundhog Day.

The beauty of sports, and baseball especially, is that it always seems to provide comps and context. For the Mets, it’s easy this year. It’s 2015 all over again, it seems. The good start, the two-team race with the Nationals, the sudden discombobulation as their roster reveals itself to be a Mr. Potato Head in a baseball jersey.

But what’s interesting about this season as opposed to last is the tenor and the context. There isn’t the same, um, shall we say, panic amongst the non-organizational employees. Baseball teams view issues as problems to solve and looks for ways to do so. The rest of us tend to be a bit more myopic at times.

Now consider these Mets as opposed to last year’s. Their starting third baseman, first baseman, and catcher are all injured–which constitutes a healthy portion of the lineup. Not surprisingly, of course, that’s led to a decay in offensive production. Just two National League teams have scored fewer runs than the Mets and they are the Braves and Phillies, two teams predicted in the offseason to be the worst in baseball.

The effects of attrition are clear and undesirable. Ty Kelly. Eric Campbell. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera. These are not the pieces any team would want to be relying upon in a division battle. Wilmer Flores might be palatable offensively in the middle infield, but he’s not enough bat at first.

“There’s no instant fix, no scramble the lineup, take this guy out,” Terry Collins told reporters Tuesday after the Pirates swept a doubleheader. “It’s a total package. You’ve got to get everybody going and we’re not hitting as a group.”

So we get to the return of Johnson. He is, by no means, an answer. His current .562 OPS is putrid. He ranks 861st out of 905 players in Baseball Prospectus’ Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) leaderboard. Thats not quite as miserable as Mark Teixeira–this year no one is–but not quite as not-good as Alex Rodriguez. (Mets punchline Eric Campbell is 868th, just a few spaces away from Johnson.)

But he is again an opening to the likely thinking of the Mets front office. The Mets are looking for respectability on the bench and they are unwilling to wait for it to find them. Last July, they almost made it to the trade deadline before a deal as the Nationals left the division for the taking. That open window is what spurred a week of trades and drama. This year, general manager Sandy Alderson is pulling the trigger early–unwilling to watch the Mets atrophy into the summer.

The Mets are still just three and a half games back of Washington–essentially the same place they were when Johnson came aboard a year ago–and are looking for an infusion of major league players to stem the tide until the major talent gets back. To do it, Akeel Morris had to go. The Braves are just happy to have one more lottery ticket for their rebuild. The Mets had to deal a pitcher on their 40-man roster to make this move work. After all the deals of the past year, their farm system isn’t barren, but it has been depleted. Each trade comes with a larger opportunity cost now because there aren’t as many prospects to throw around.

More intriguing will be to see how Alderson and the Mets act in the coming months. The 2015 season has given them the shield of success but also weighty expectations. There are no more reasons left to stand pat if these struggles persist. The National League East is more competitive this year and there (probably) won’t be a Jonathan Papelbon bomb to implode the Nationals. And the Cubs are the behemoth looming over the entire league. With Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets already have the dynamic talents they sought last year to prop up that dynamic pitching staff–but now they need help around them.

We’ll have to wait and see if the return of Kelly Johnson is 2015 déjà vu or if this is where the similarities end.

Photo Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

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