Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Bullpen Shuffle and MLB's Failure

I feel as if I made a pretty good case yesterday why I wouldn't move Seth Lugo into the starting rotation. I don't find it all that surprising that the Mets chose to do exactly that, however. It's a pretty big gamble, but when you're left without any great choices, you're going to have to roll the dice. In the attempt to patch the big, glaring hole in their starting rotation, the Mets made a move that weakened what has become arguably one of their greatest strengths this season, the bullpen.

The news that Edwin Diaz has been returned to the closer role is a bit unnerving, particularly after a night where he blew a save by walking in a run. In fairness. Diaz was put into a mighty tough spot, and I'll give him some credit for coming back and getting the final out without further damage. He did look filthy striking out the side in the ninth, too. Even at his best, however, Diaz is a guy who always seems like he's one mistake away from blowing it. The Mets will live with that for at least the rest of this season.

In any case, Lugo has had some hiccups as closer this season also, and all of the rest of the candidates have their own baggage. Familia is still struggling with walking too many batters - 8 of them in 11.1 innings pitched. Betances has allowed 6 ER in 9 innings pitched. At times he looks okay, at other times very vulnerable. Justin Wilson has struggled at times. I'm sure that Luis Rojas will mix and match some rather than use Diaz exclusively, but all of his options have some warts.

I think this move shows, as much as anything, how little faith the Mets have in Steven Matz going forward. I don't think they weaken their bullpen like this if they thought he could turn it around. Maybe Matz will take this as a challenge and use it to motivate himself. I don't know, I've kind of given up trying to get any sort of read on the guy. He has the stuff to be a solid mid-rotation starter, but he consistently falls short of that. In a season where the team clearly needed him to step forward the most, he fell backwards instead. At this point he might need a change of scenery as much as anything.

The last time Lugo spent a significant amount of time as a starting pitcher was 2017. In 18 starts he averaged just under 5-1/2 innings per start and pitched to a 4.76 ERA. Opposing batters hit .286/.327/.445 against him. The sad thing is that those numbers would make him 3rd best starter on the team behind deGrom and Peterson. Obviously the hope is that his overall improvement as a pitcher will be reflected in better numbers as a starter. That remains to be seen.

Besides whatever positive impact this move might have on the current season, another benefit of it is that it's an audition for next year. As I mentioned yesterday, the free agent starting pitching pool for 2021 is pretty weak. Lugo gets a 6 or 7 start audition for next year. If he looks decent as a starter then Brodie Van Wagenen or whoever takes his place can look for bullpen pieces rather than wade into that tepid starting pitcher market. As for this season, there were no great options, anyway. Hopefully one or two of the Porcello, Wacha and Gsellman group can at least be decent going forward, and the other bullpen arms up their game. While I wasn't for this move, I don't absolutely hate it. We'll see how it goes.

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Whatever happens to the Mets for the rest of this season, it's hard not to look ahead to the sale of this club and the implications of that going forward. As we keep reading speculation over how it will all turn out - and I've read items guaranteeing that Steve Cohen will win the bidding along with other items just as confidently saying that he won't - one thing does seem quite clear. Whoever takes over ownership of this club will undoubtedly have immediate financial problems to deal with from both the effects of the pandemic and the Wilpons' woeful stewardship of this franchise.

As someone who is on the outside looking in on this whole matter, I still can't help but feel that a good part of the problem with the Mets is the fact that Major League Baseball propped up the Wilpons for so long. The Wilpons were popular with the other owners and the Commissioner's office. Because of this, they were given financial support and votes of confidence from the day the story of their part in the Madoff scandal became known.

That the Mets are in such poor financial shape right now reflects not only the poor decisions that their owners made, but the equally bad decisions that Bud Selig and the rest of the MLB crew made in enabling the Wilpons' continued ownership of the Mets. If they were forced to sell the club back in 2009 or 2010, this club would almost assuredly be in better shape right now. Instead, their friendship with Selig and other club owners earned them a ridiculous amount of financial support and the ability to have an extra decade of causing incalculable harm to this franchise.

In a piece in The Athletic yesterday, Daniel Kaplan does a nice job in breaking down the ongoing sale and the questions that surround what appear to be the 2 finalists, A-Rod's group and Steve Cohen. Among other things, there are apparently concerns that Cohen might be the next Jim Crane, an owner whose desire to win at all costs has given the game a pretty large black eye. And, of course, Jeff Wilpon hates the guy.

I don't know Steve Cohen, and I understand that he carries some baggage. I will say this, however. The next owner of the Mets will not only have to pay somewhere around $2 billion for the right to own the club, they're going to have to be willing to bleed more money for a good period of time as they work to undo the mismanagement of the Wilpons. Remember folks, the last decade of that mismanagement was aided and abetted by the same MLB folks who have reservations about allowing Cohen and his billions of dollars into their club.

If MLB and the crew think that Cohen might give them some regrets, they'd better be very careful that the next owner of the Mets can afford to buy the club and absorb the additional financial pain while everything is turning around. If Cohen is the only bidder with the resources to do that, so be it. What we don't need is someone coming in and forced to cut payroll and enter into a rebuild for financial reasons. The National League team from New York should be a marketing tool for baseball, not a bad joke and a cautionary tale for what happens to a fool and his money. MLB needs to do what's best for this franchise that they've already caused untold harm. If they have to swallow and hold their nose a little in the process, so be it.

Okay, I'm done for today. Going to take the pups out for a hike, trying very hard not to do anything stupid to myself in the process. Please stay safe, be well and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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