Monday, January 25, 2021

Time for Action, Part 2

Before I take a look at where things currently stand with the Mets infielders and outfielders, I'll take a moment to react to Brad Hand signing with the Nationals. The accounts I have read said that the Mets were willing to pay Hand and give him a second year on the contract, but that Hand preferred a one-year deal with the Nationals and the opportunity to close. If the Nats had simply outbid the Mets I would have been ready to write something very uncomplimentary here. I'm still not happy when a Mets free agent target chooses to go elsewhere, particularly to a division rival, but I get that it's tricky to sign someone as a setup man who had been a closer and still wants to close.

I think there is a much larger question here about the practicality of needing to spend big bucks to sign bullpen pieces. History shows us pretty convincingly that this is not at all the most cost-effective way to build a bullpen, and it often blows up on the team choosing to do it that way. Look how well it went so far with Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances.

One of the front office personnel moves the Mets made under Alderson was to hire Kevin Howard to be their Executive Director of Player Development. I hope that one of his mandates is to help the organization develop some relief pitchers for their own bullpen. That the Mets already signed Trevor May and tried hard to sign Hand was a necessary evil, but it shouldn't be this way for the foreseeable future. Develop some effective young relievers and the money that you save can be used for important signings and retaining some of your own players as they approach free agency. I'd be really disappointed if, three or four years down the road, the Mets were still chasing expensive relievers to build a competitive bullpen. More on this in a future post, I'm sure.

Yesterday, in Part 1 of this post, we looked at where things stand with the starting pitchers, relievers, and catchers. Today we'll finish up with the infielders and outfielders.

Infielders
Not to pick on someone when he's down but, other than the trade for Francisco Lindor, the second most important thing that happened to the Mets infield this offseason was when Robinson Cano was suspended for the season for his second PED infraction. I lost a ten dollar bill a few weeks ago and felt a bit a sting over it. I wonder what it feels like when arrogance and stupidity costs you $24 million and a place in the Hall of Fame? It's mind boggling.

For the Mets infield now, having Jeff McNeill as the regular second baseman is a big plus. With McNeill and Francisco Lindor as the double play combo, the Mets look more solid than they have since Jose Reyes departed the first time — and Lindor is a better defensive shortstop than Jose ever was. Questions about whether there will be a DH in the National League in 2021 open up a lot of questions about the two infield corners. It also matters if the Mets still pursue a full-time CF like Jackie Bradley Jr. or mix Dom Smith and J.D. Davis in the outfield and leave Brandon Nimmo as the everyday CF.

If there is a DH and the Mets bring in JBJ, the Mets should really consider letting Dom Smith play a lot of the 1B and let Pete Alonso get a lot of his ABs as a DH. I understand why they hesitated to do that last year. Alonso likes playing the field and it keeps him in the game better. Pete has also been willing to work very hard to improve defensively. Still, Dom is so much better at first than Alonso, it would be really tough to defend not taking the defensive upgrade.

As things stand right now, J.D. Davis would probably at least have a leg up on the third baseman job. Concerns about Davis' defense and prolonged hitting struggle last season — albeit in such a small sample — might still lead to the Mets bringing in someone else to play. As long as those who make the evaluations still believe in his bat, I'd like to see the Mets give Davis first shot at the job and work hard with him on his defense from the start of spring training. I like Davis, and I think a lot of people read too much into a tough month with the bat in a season that only lasted a couple of months. That's just my personal preference, but we'll see if the Mets elect to trade for a 3B.

Luis Guillorme is the primary backup infielder. He's a good defender at 2B, SS and 3B, and last year showed that he could hit a little — again, small sample size warning. In 57 AB he slashed an outstanding .333/.426/.865, while his lifetime MLB batting line is .259/.343/.683. But, then again, he's only totaled 185 lifetime ABs. I think the fairest way to look at Guillorme is that he's shown some promise to be at least a decent hitter, is a more than capable defender at multiple positions, and he's still only 26. Provided that MLB manages to play at least close to a full 162-game schedule, I think we have a better idea at the end of the season exactly what Guillorme's ceiling can be. 

Robel García is the only other infielder on the 40-man. He had 80 plate appearances for the Cubs in 2019 and slashed .208/.275/.500. Luis Carpio (who only has seen limited time in Double-A), Jake Hager (a 27-year-old minor leaguer), José Peraza (lifetime MLB OPS+ of 79), and Wilfredo Tovar (another career minor leaguer), are the non-roster invitees for 2021. It would seem to me that finding another right-handed hitting utility guy who can hit against LHP would be an important addition. Enrique Hernandez seemed like a good fit, but he signed with the Red Sox.

Outfielders
So many questions here depending on whether the NL has the DH and whether the Mets sign Jackie Bradley Jr or go another way with CF.

Assuming they don't sign JBJ, Brandon Nimmo looks to spend a significant amount of time in CF. We know he's not a good defensive centerfielder. In fact, fielding metrics think he is among the worst at this position in baseball. Now, you might get by with a sub-par CF if you have two solid corner guys flanking him, but Michael Conforto is an adequate defender in right, while another year of Dom Smith/J.D. Davis/Jeff McNeill in LF promises to be another year of catchable balls finding grass instead of leather. Nimmo is an excellent offensive player, but I'd love to see him spending more time as a LF.

The fact that MLB continues to let this DH question linger is really unforgiveable. Apparently the hold up is over MLB's decision to try to bargain for expanded playoffs in exchange for the DH. The problem with this is that both sides have incentives to want a DH. Too bad they just can't agree to it and negotiate playoffs separately. But logic never seems to drive negotiations between MLB and the Players Association.

It's going to be difficult for the Mets to sign a true CF like JBJ with the DH question still hanging. If they don't, I'd rather see them sign a better right-handed hitting CF who can actually play the position than Guillermo Heredia. Seriously. Heredia is a Wilpon Mets type player. Please do better, Sandy.

José Martínez was a nice signing, but he needs to bounce back to being the hitter he was in 2017 and 2018. In 2019 and 2020 he combined for a .251/.325/.386 slash line, and that wouldn't justify playing time for a bat-first player. On the other hand, numbers closer to the .306/.369/.478 he slashed in almost 900 PA the previous two years would make Martinez an excellent right-handed hitting bat in a part-time role for this lefty-heavy team. In 2019 he still hit LHP quite well, so at the very least he seems a good bet in that role.

Michael Conforto looked like a star in the making as a 24-year-old in 2017. Then he had the freak shoulder dislocation swinging the bat and just didn't look like quite the same player in 2018 and 2019, although he still managed OPS+ in the 120s both years. I always wondered if the aftereffects of that injury didn't have something to do with it. While his .322/.412/.515 line last year is unquestionably small sample size, he really did look like a more complete hitter to the eye in 2020. He may not be a .320 hitter, but think he is a genuine star player for the Mets. I hope they can keep him.

Whichever way they go with CF, I think the Mets OF is very much still a work in progress. At the very least I expect them to get an upgrade to Heredia. I'm sure will be revisiting this when more players are signed.

There's too much time left in the offseason to definitively critique the Mets front office on the current roster. We know more will be done. In looking at where things stand currently, I expect to see the following things happen:

  • With no Brad Hand, at least a competent LH reliever should be signed. I still don't like the question marks in the back of the bullpen, primarily Familia and Betances, so maybe try to bring in some other options to at least contend for bullpen spots.
  • Catcher is a problem waiting to happen. None of the options beyond Nido are very appealing. I'm not sure who's still out there, but at least one other contender for backup C would be nice.
  • A right-handed hitting utility guy who can play IF and maybe corner OF who can actually hit.
  • If not Jackie Bradley Jr, an upgrade to Guillermo Heredia as a competent right-handed CF.
It's been a tough stretch for the Mets. Missing out on George Springer and Brad Hand sucked, but there's still time here. I'm not completely against Trevor Bauer as a option, but I'd prefer they take that money and split it up. There is still most definitely work to be done in deepening this roster.

I'm going to withhold judgement on the Alderson regime's work this offseason until it's clear that the majority of the work is completed. It's already been a significant winter with the additions of Trevor May, James McCann, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. I liked the José Martínez signing. I'm also realistic about the Mets not getting every player they wish to sign. Still, this offseason feels very much incomplete at this point, and the work still to be done can very well mean the difference between a successful or a disappointing 2021 season.

Please stay safe, be well and take care.



 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

5 comments:

  1. More good stuff. I agree with you on almost all of it with only a couple exceptions.

    My major disagreement with most Mets fans and commenters across the web is my concern with Jeff McNeil as a second baseman. I just feel that he will be exposed with a lack of range and agility if installed as a starter. I have read (not seen) that he is not particularly good at turning the double play. My fear is that Lindor will be forced to play with McNeil as his keystone partner and decide that this is not the place to be!

    My only other disagreement is what I see as a head scratching signing of Jose Martinez. He is not a good defender anywhere making him another excellent DH candidate. I do believe he is a better hitter than just a bench guy, but don't see where that fits on this team.

    I do agree with you about needing a lefty in the pen and that spending a lot of free agent money on relievers is a real crap shoot. In the theme of development, I still think Zamora is a serviceable option. Drew Smith, while they got him in a trade, and is a righty, is probably the other best bet from the farm at this point.

    Infield. Yes, Dom over Pete if at all possible at first. I 100% agree with you about Davis. I think they give him the position and he will be fine. Perhaps not great, but he'll hold his own over there and not be the achilles heel that everybody is projecting. I was pulling for Profar as the super utility guy, followed closely by Hernandez, but alas, neither is in New York now.

    Spot on and well said on the rest of your points.

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  2. I threatened to put some words together on the imbalances of the New York Mets and worked out a piece that I'll throw out here. For some reason this was a tough one, but I guess it's a start:

    The Out of Balance New York Mets Part 1

    I have been thinking recently about how the Mets are certainly not the Libra of baseball. The imbalance of righty-lefty hitters in the lineup that has been discussed is not even in the top five in my list of all the out of balance conditions.

    The executive team is one area where this organization is out of whack.

    With Alderson and only an assistant GM, it is hard to tell if and how decisions are going to be made for a while. Will it affect the extension discussions with Lindor, Conforto, or even Syndergaard or Stroman? You have to think they have a straw-man or some strategy of what they need to accomplish, but without all the executive pieces in place, can they get it done? They are out of balance with a strong owner on one side and a very week baseball executive office on the other.

    Turning to the baseball playing side of things, the biggest imbalance is the defense. It almost seems pointless to obtain and pay top dollar for one of the top three defensive shortstops in baseball only to insert him into an otherwise poor defensive infield. They have one very good defender in Lindor, a couple average defenders in Conforto and McCann, a couple players that are thought to be good defenders at their primary positions, but cannot play them for one reason or another in Smith and Nimmo. They have a couple of players who are generally considered to be below average in Davis and Alonso, and one major unknown in how McNeil will play second base on a permanent basis. At least Stroman is a good fielder when on the mound.

    They seem to have an imbalance with the number of players they have at each position. Two first basemen (one that can hit and not field well), no real second basemen, one shortstop (hope he never gets hurt), a couple of third baseman that are better at other positions, an assumed left fielder who is a lousy fielder there and a better fielder than the starter at another position, three other players whose best position is left field, but are playing elsewhere because nobody else is there (centerfield, third base, and second base), a center fielder whose best position is left field and one right fielder. Oh yes, one starting catcher and a backup that nobody seems to trust. General bench depth to get to 25 players is poor, even worse when extrapolating to the 40 man. Trading two MLB shortstops in the same trade seems shortsighted.

    The second issue on the field is an offensive imbalance. While they were near the top of the league in hitting for batting average and above average in the power numbers, their team speed, general base running, ability to hit with runners in scoring position is all below par. In 2020, this team was third in the majors in OPS, yet only 13th in runs scored. This inability to convert hits and base runners into runs scored without a home run is concerning. This fact, despite the popular bashing of the pitching staff, is what ultimately led to the unsatisfying end of the 2020 season. Improving the ability to score without hitting a homer will bring the entire offense back into balance.

    As many people are talking about now, the bullpen is very right handed. While the LOOGY specialist has been minimalized with the three batter limit, there is always the need for a lefty to start an inning with the tough lefty hitters in the NL East.




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  3. The Out of Balance New York Mets Part 2

    Moving off the field to the general organization, the minor leagues are very imbalanced with a dearth of prospects at the top levels ready to make a difference in New York in 2021 or 2022. The top seven prospects according to MLB.com are all at A-ball or ROK level, and even #8, Thomas Szapucki, who is listed at MLB level has not thrown many minor league innings and is not thought to be an impact pitcher. There are five outfielders on the top 30 list, the top four of them all being in Rookie level ball. The other, at #30 is Quinn Brody at the AAA level is already 25 and is not on anyone's radar now for being helpful to the big club this year. Also out of balance is the aforementioned Szapucki being the only left handed pitcher on the 30 man prospect list. 15 of the 30 are right handed pitchers.

    This system just doesn't look like it will be ready to provide any help to New York before at least 2023, further hamstringing the front office decisions. Perhaps the closest position players to be called a true prospect at this point is Mark Vientos, a third baseman, and Ronny Mauricio, a shortstop. If Lindor is signed long term, Mauricio will need to move off short, most likely to third, causing a logjam in a couple of years with Vientos and Brett Baty, another top 5 prospect and also a third baseman. It is possible that Mauricio could be moved to second to be the natural successor there.

    Another argument on the minor league imbalance, the last time the Mets added a true prospect through trade was the 2012 acquisition of Noah Syndergaard and Travis d'Arnaud from Toronto for the then Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Now I am not advocating trading deGrom for prospects, and this team is a lot closer to being relevant than the 2013 version, but the loss of top prospects Kelenic, Dunn, Woods-Richardson, and Kay has hurt without being back-filled. Was there an opportunity to trade Syndergaard for top prospects a couple years ago? Can he be that player again at the trade deadline? How about a player like McNeil who seems to be a hitting machine, but really doesn't have a best place to play (arguably, left field is his best position)? Could he bring back a couple of automatic top 10 high level prospects (AA or AAA, or even major league ready)?

    One last place that seems a bit out of balance is the international draft that just took place a couple weeks ago when they signed 30 players, none of whom are thought to be top 50 prospects. This will not help the system down the road. They do have a few promising international players signed in prior drafts in the system, but most are years away from the big leagues.

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  4. The Out of Balance New York Mets Part 3

    What does this all mean when trying to build the 2021 roster through free agency and/or trades? It is hard to tell which issue to truly address.
    * Signing a centerfielder like Jackie Bradley, Jr. would certainly help the defense and team speed, but that is imperfect in that it may take at bats away from Dom Smith whose bat came alive in 2020 and who most people believe is the real deal and want to see him in the lineup.
    * There has been recent chatter about signing Kolten Wong to play second base because of his defense. That leaves a question about Jeff McNeil? Moving him to third? Trade for starting pitching and a prospect or two? Push him to left field and trade Smith or Nimmo?
    * Calling third base defense the most important issue and trying to solve that will cost big bucks, as nobody short of Bryant or Arenado really solves the problem. The money due Arenado would handcuff the team for other additions - any additional starting pitching, relief pitching, or even the outfield (and not just this year).

    Lastly, part of my plan which I have not yet tackled is to do a salary analysis against 2021, 2022, and 2023. The extensions of Lindor (almost definite?) and Conforto (almost required), and the resolution of 40 percent of the rotation for next year must be part of that study. Conforto is almost required because he is far and away the best right fielder (outfielder) in the 2022 free agent class, and they don't have a ton of trade chips to deal. The only other option is to plan to use McNeil in right field for his last 3 years of team control. A year from now they'll need to figure out Nimmo's situation, as well as Diaz.

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  5. I'm not going to be able to respond everything you wrote, obviously, but a couple of things.

    McNeill is a very good athlete who has played 2B competently in a part time role. I think he benefits from being given the chance to play it every day. I think he's a winning ballplayer, too.

    Except for last year Martinez crushes lefties. I think he's a useful part time player because of that.

    The Mets have a lot of work ahead of them to straighten out this organization. You did a good job of analyzing the challenges.

    I only had time to skim your comments, as I have some appointments today. Looking forward to taking my time and reading them later on.

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