Monday, November 28, 2022

There Are Reasons Beyond Money to Be a New York Met

For years, the Mets had to overpay or settle for lesser free agents. Those days are mercifully over.

As I noted in my previous post, baseball media pundits have shifted from a speculative consensus that Jacob deGrom would sign with another team this winter to a much more optimistic narrative (outside of ESPN) that the New York Mets could actually retain their ace. My personal preference has always been for the Mets to retain one of their all-time great pitchers. Not at all costs, however, but rather after making a proper assessment of Jake's future value. After all, no other team in baseball should have a better idea of where deGrom stands medically and how much it is reasonable to expect from him going forward. As long as another team doesn't go way out on a limb with their offer, I hope the Mets re-sign him.

I understand there is disagreement on this, and I'm not trying to convert those of you who would rather see the club spend owner Steve Cohen's money elsewhere. Wherever you stand on that issue, I think it's pretty amazing how differently the Mets organization is perceived by their own players and those outside the organization. I think this note from Mike Puma's piece in the New York Post last week offers Mets fans a reason to smile whether or not Jacob deGrom is on their wish list:

A source said deGrom places a high value on winning and believes the Mets have reached a place at which they can compete for the World Series regularly. DeGrom has also told teammates past and present — as The Post has reported — that he is happy playing for the Mets.

Think about it. We're almost exactly two years out from Steve Cohen buying the club from Fred and Jeff Wilpon. Had deGrom's opt-out happened when the Wilpons still signed the checks, Jake would not have seen the Mets as a club that would "compete for the World Series regularly." Beyond that, there is a vast difference in the perception of how the organization is run from top to bottom all around baseball.

It feels like a distant memory now, but Steve Cohen took quite a bit of criticism for the rough start to his regime. The club couldn't entice a big name to be their President of Baseball Operations. Then they had to fire GM Jared Porter a month after hiring him. His replacement Zack Scott didn't make it all the way through his first season without being sacked for a bizarre incident after the Mets limped home to a 77-85 record despite a significantly upgraded payroll. As the season was winding down to a disappointing conclusion that September, Mike Puma in the New York Post had a quote from an (of course) unnamed "former MLB executive" that the first year of Cohen owning the team, "the value of the team has gone backward significantly."

The article was full of negative, reactionary quotes from this "former MLB executive," who, if nothing else, provided ample evidence of why his job title was prefaced with the word "former." The tone and quality of his analysis made me wonder if it was someone formerly affiliated with the Mets — perhaps Steve Phillips — or worse, maybe Jeff Wilpon? But I digress...

Things were indeed looking a bit grim as Cohen's regime staggered toward the first anniversary of his purchase. And the idea that the Mets were building something was greatly obscured by the stumbles of an organization still laboring to find its footing. But the following spring, before the 2022 season got underway, it was becoming clear that all the doomsaying and handwringing from the previous year was premature and, frankly, more than a little ridiculous. Putting the worst possible spin on events was an unfortunate holdover from the Wilpon years.

If Fred and Jeff were still running the show, I doubt Jake would even consider staying with the Mets. Nor do I believe Max Scherzer would have signed with the Mets last winter. Whether or not deGrom and Brandon Nimmo join Edwin Díaz back with the Mets next season, it's pretty remarkable that these guys expressed that they would like to be back with the Mets. It wasn't all that long ago that players seemed to be jumping at the chance to jump on the next lifeboat off the foundering ship. I've been a Mets fan for so long, and I'm still not quite used to the idea that MLB players can actually see the Mets as a preferred landing place. I vastly prefer this new reality, however, and hope I get the chance to get used to it.

So getting back to the hot stove intrigue, I hope the Mets retain Jacob deGrom and Brandon Nimmo as long as the contracts make sense. But, whatever happens, I'm pretty sure the Mets will field a competitive team next season. Although the ending of the 2022 season was far from ideal, I don't overlook the importance of the Mets reestablishing themselves as a genuine contender again. I would have traded the 100+ wins for a victory in at least one playoff series, but I don't discount the value of that achievement. In the quest to build credibility for an organization, nothing works as well as simply winning.

In that vein, I want to get ahead of a narrative we're likely to see next season. With so much roster upheaval, I believe 90+ wins and a playoff slot are worthwhile goals for 2023. Now, it's likely that the media will undoubtedly portray a 2023 Mets season that comes short of 100 wins as a step backward. But, as long as the Mets can keep the winning going, establish themselves as a yearly contender for a playoff berth, and continue to upgrade the farm system, I won't be buying into a negative narrative. Even if some corners of the media will likely be selling that hard.

One thing that I am very curious to see in 2023 is how the Mets fare building a bullpen, mostly from scratch. They've spent the early part of this offseason acquiring interesting arms that have been cut loose from other organizations. I have no problem with this. It's how many progressive clubs build their bullpens. Not all of these pickups will be winners, but it's really important that some of them become contributors next season.

Right now, the depth chart at Mets.com has Edwin Díaz, followed by Drew SmithBryce Montes de Oca, and lefty waiver pickup Tayler Saucedo. I think you could safely add Stephen Nogosek and John Curtiss to that mix, along with Joey Lucchesi, depending on what role the Mets have in mind for the southpaw. There are some important questions to be answered in that group. Can Smith stay healthy for an entire season and find some consistency? Can Montes de Oca remain healthy and find the strike zone with his electric arm more than just occasionally? Can Curtiss and Lucchesi rebound from Tommy John surgery to contribute? Can Nogosek take another step forward after a season when he finally looked like more than just an option of last resort?

Taylor Saucedo is interesting. He's a lefty with 28 innings of MLB experience with the Blue Jays. He pitched more for Toronto in 2021 and induced decent ground balls. Last year he pitched mainly in Triple-A Buffalo, inducing fewer grounders but upping his strikeout totals to 13.5 per 9 IP. It will be interesting to see if this new version of Saucedo is better equipped to pitch in a major league bullpen.

After that, you have all the pickups off the scrap heap in November. Stephen Ridings was a waiver pickup from the Yankees, a righty with a big arm. RHPs Elieser Hernandez and Jeff Brigham came over in a minor trade with the Marlins. William Woods, another righty, was DFA'ed by the Braves. A few other arms were minor league signings. They can provide the Mets with some flexibility during the season, as many of them have minor league options remaining. None of them were significant deals, but this group should be a test of how far the Mets have come in their transition into a club that can "fix" an arm or two in this group and turns them into contributors. Successfully making that transition would significantly help the Mets to compete regularly in the future, holding down costs in the bullpen and allowing more spending in other areas of the roster.

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Speaking of the future, I've been following the success of Mets' prospect Ronny Mauricio in the Dominican Winter League. After not doing well in that league last season — slashing .244/.277/.367 in 94 PA  Mauricio has done much better so far. Ronny's line this season is .314/.358/.496. I've read that he's being more patient and getting more pitches to hit as a result. Mauricio has 12 2B, 2 3B, and 3 HR in 148 PA after a Double-A campaign that saw Ronny bust out with 26 HR in 123 games.

The power potential is why Ronny Mauricio ranks high on most prospect lists despite his glaring lack of plate discipline. I look forward to Mauricio's upcoming minor league season, likely at Triple-A Syracuse, to see if he's finally learned to curb the over-aggressiveness that has held him down at the plate. It makes Ronny much more attractive as an option for the Mets at 3B or in the OF if he can accomplish this. At the very least, Mauricio's value as a trade chip increases.

That will do it for today. Thanks for stopping by. We'll continue to post here throughout the offseason. Please be well and take care.


Follow me on Twitter, until Elon kills it off, @MikeSteffanos.

2 comments:

  1. It's been a long time since the Mets had offensive prospects in the upper minors. What scares me, however, is the glaring lack of pitching there. Montes de Oca can throw hard. However, where it goes is often a mystery and his minor league numbers are not eye popping. If that's the best, then they're going to have to lure in free agents and make trades to address both the bullpen and starting rotation.

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    Replies
    1. Montes de Oca is an interesting arm. Sooner or later they're going to need to be able to get a guy like that over the hump

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