The sky isn’t falling, Mets fans. It just feels like it.
If the Mets season begins to spiral in the next few weeks, their recently completed six-game home sweep will be the obvious turning point. The thing is, it doesn’t have to go that way. Thanks to their phenomenal start to 2018, New York is still on pace to finish with 88 wins, and if they can find a way to survive and play around .500 when they aren’t at their best, they’ll be fine. The Mets have a ton of talent, much of which has yet to produce at the level they were expected to, and also a plethora of options to both shuffle the deck and supplement what is already here.
General manager Sandy Alderson has proven he’s willing to do what it takes to change things up when he believes his team has a legitimate chance at contention. Remember in 2015 when this club had lost seven in a row in June, fell below .500, and John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell were batting three and four in the lineup? Shortly thereafter, Alderson acquired Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Addison Reed and, most importantly, Yoenis Cespedes, while also aggressively promoting his best offensive prospect, Michael Conforto, directly from Double-A. How did that year end up?
Baseball can be a fickle sport in that a relatively small sample size, like just a day or two, can completely change the feeling around a team. And while Jacob deGrom appears to have escaped any serious damage to his arm and cutting bait on Matt Harvey really was the right baseball move, the Mets clearly do have other issues, beginning with, in my opinion, their most pressing problem: the catching situation. While both Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki are far from stars, what they are is Major League-caliber backstops. Since losing the pair to the disabled list in Miami more than three weeks ago, New York has gotten less than nothing out of the position. Between April 13, when Plawecki hit the DL, and May 6, Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido have combined to hit .147 with a .237 OBP, while striking out 23 times in 68 at-bats. Their spot in the line-up is often non-competitive and, coupled with the pitcher, it is giving opposing teams essentially back to back automatic outs multiple times a game.
So what can New York do?
I’ve written already that I believe they should be actively engaging with the Marlins on J.T. Realmuto, as, despite his high price tag, the fit for this team is just too perfect. But if not the big fish (pun fully intended) in Miami, there are other options. We’ve heard Wilson Ramos and Jonathan Lucroy mentioned as potential targets but Tampa Bay and Oakland respectively are unlikely to aggressively shop them since they are still playing competitively. Other teams that are already buried in the standings would certainly pick up the phone, though.
What would it cost to get Salvador Perez out of Kansas City?
What would Cincinnati ask for Devin Mesoraco?
Are the Padres ready to give up on Austin Hedges?
These are questions I’d absolutely want to know the answer to if I were the Mets. Veterans Miguel Montero and Carlos Ruiz are both free-agents and wouldn’t cost anything. Former Met Johnny Monell was brought back into the organization to catch in Triple-A when the minor league catchers had to be promoted to Flushing, and is currently hitting .245 for the 51’s while getting on-base at a .371 clip. Any and all of these names would be welcomed at this point, as they simply cannot be worse than what is currently here. It has been abundantly clear for some time that the Lobaton and Nido combination is not working, and Mickey Callaway is currently unable to manage the way he wants to late in games, because not only does he have to hit for his pitcher, he must also pinch-hit for his catcher.
Another thing I’m sure you’ve read a lot about is that Brandon Nimmo needs to play more. I’ll take it a step further even, and will with confidence say that Juan Lagares does as well, as the Mets pair of reserve outfielders have been arguably their two most consistent hitters all year. The obvious and most publicized way to accomplish this is by moving Jay Bruce to first base, opening up an outfield spot where Nimmo/Lagares can platoon. New York’s investment in current first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is next to nothing, and his .231 batting average has left a lot to be desired. Before Monday’s game, Gonzalez was tied for second on the club with 17 RBIs, although it is important to note that nine of them came in two games, and the rest of the time he’s been in there has been largely uninspiring.
The situation at first base bears watching in the days ahead, especially as a semi-permanent shift for Bruce would leave Gonzalez without a clear role. In the event the Mets do realign their starting lineup, it would not be a surprise if New York were to cut ties with the veteran in the relative short-term, as both Dom Smith and Peter Alonso are hitting well in the minor leagues, and first base could get very crowded shortly.
Something else that hasn’t been mentioned much publicly but has been very much on my mind, is the lack of production from young shortstop Amed Rosario. The 22-year-old was the top prospect in New York’s system when he was promoted last August, and while he was a lifetime .291 minor league hitter, that hasn’t translated to the big leagues. This season Rosario has hit just .230 to date, while disturbingly walking only four times in 107 official plate appearances. We knew the youngster was a free-swinger, but early in the year he had been doing a better job of laying off pitches in the dirt. Recently Rosario has looked lost, often flailing at offerings well out of the strike zone, allowing the opposition to let him get himself out, and not delivering competitive at-bats for his team. I feel he could clearly benefit from a few weeks in Las Vegas to beat up on lesser competition and get some confidence back, but what would that mean for the major league roster?
Jose Reyes is currently New York’s back-up at position number six on your scorecard, and among Mets with any reasonable number of at-bats this season, only Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard have hit for a lower average. The issue to me, though, is that if the Mets agree Rosario would benefit from a short stint in Triple-A but won’t make the move because they don’t want Reyes playing every day, why is he even on the team? You can’t risk stunting a top prospect’s development by continually burying his confidence.
Part of New York’s turnaround will have to come largely from better performance out of players that are already here, particularly in the starting rotation. Most of us have heard Keith Hernandez talk about the 1948 Boston Braves rotation which became the subject of a poem:(Warren) Spahn and (Johnny) Sain and pray for rain. The 2018 Mets similarly can be summed up as deGrom and Thor and not much more. In 15 starts this year deGrom and Syndergaard have combined to pitch to a 2.50 ERA in 90 innings. In 15 starts made by the the combination of Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Jason Vargas and Zack Wheeler, the quadruplet has pitched to a cumulative ERA of 6.29. It’s very difficult for a team with two of the top starters in baseball to have a rotation problem, but the Mets have found a way to do just that and it simply must change immediately.
These questions I’ve addressed here essentially sum up the challenge in front of the Mets, as they’ll need to answer all of them to get where they want to go in 2018, but it’s important to remember how quickly things can change both good and bad. One offensive slugfest in Cincinnati helps, but only if it’s a turning point, not a fluke.
Photo credit: Gregory Fisher – USA Today Sports