It’s a weird thing to look at the Mets now, almost like an optical illusion. They are the playoff contender going nowhere. Or the 2017 gazer a hot week away from a wildcard spot. Just let Bartolo Colon be your Rorschach Test.
It’s this lack of definition that must make it so difficult to understand the Mets right now and for their fans to know how to think about it. Mets Twitter is vacillating somewhere between calling for Terry Collins’ lineup card so someone new can lead the way the rest of the year and salvage it, and calling for Steven Matz to be shut down for the future’s sake.
Actually, Erik Malinowski did just that here this week. And he’s right. There is a very strong and reasonable argument to put Matz on the disabled list. Let his elbow mend, dispose of that troublesome bone spur and get on with next season already. And maybe even consider doing the same to Noah Syndergaard. Talented arms are nothing to risk with, after all.
And then you take a look at the standings again. And you see the Mets are still three games behind the Cardinals for the second wildcard spot. Somehow just three games out of the playoffs despite a season that can kindly be described as a factory line of crap(py luck). And then that decision doesn’t become so easy after all.
The Mets know better than most what a hot stretch can get you, especially in August. And especially with that pitching staff they still have mostly intact and what it can do in the postseason. That’s why waving a white flag on 2016 isn’t easy nor prudent. The Mets may have the eighth best odds to make the playoffs in the National League but they’re also not unreasonable just yet.
But this type of neither here-nor-there confusion does cause problems. Unlike last season, when the Mets were expecting returns to Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright and their rotation was healthy, they could afford to go full bore for a playoff chase. It helped the Nationals were also so troubled.
This year, they have no such parachute. It’s partly why they spent their resources on Jay Bruce. The Mets needed help now but they needed help for 2017 as well. Their window doesn’t close after this season and by late July it became clear that was a major consideration too. The pain and marginal advantage of this season must come with a gain next year.
It’s why these last two months have and will look stilted. What else are the Mets to do? They are playoff contenders who need to worry about 2017. There is no pivot to the future because they’ve already called up all the high-end talent in the system that’s near the major league level. While the Yankees can bench Brian McCann because Gary Sanchez deserves the at-bats, the Mets have no such luxury. Matz, Syndergaard and Conforto came in a wave last year.
The rest of this season will be predicated on two things primarily. Even as they contend for October, there must be a way to preserve Syndergaard and Matz. Their 2017 rotation is already growing fragile with Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler having their own issues this year. While Harvey is supposed to be back to normal next year, we know by now there are no guarantees. And Wheeler’s future is murkier by the day.
Syndergaard is on pace for another season of about 200 innings–no light load to begin his career. Matz, bone spur and all, is on pace to jump up about 25 innings from last year.
Whatever choice Yoenis Cespedes makes this offseason and whoever ends up at second base, preserving their bedrock rotation is the Mets’ key goal over the next few months. At some point, they’ll have to decide what this season means to them. They’ll either remain in the playoff chase and push their starters further, or spiral out and decide to call it a year.
These are the decisions the Mets must already be thinking about, and surely they are. Because next year seems as if it will be an even tougher road in their division. The Nationals’ rotation should only get stronger and a likely rebound season from Bryce Harper. The Marlins seem as if they are getting better. And the Mets have more question marks now than they did in the spring.
But by choosing to divert their resources to Bruce before the trade deadline, it will be interesting to see how they try to augment their roster in the offseason.
For now, however, the Mets must make sure they don’t end up spoiling next year by prioritizing this year at a cost.
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