Baseball season returns this week. Feels like just a few days ago there was a foot of snow on the ground. Feels like we’re still in March. But alas, Opening Day is on Thursday. I love baseball season. I hate how baseball season plays out every year because the Mets are eternally doomed, but nonetheless the start of baseball season gets me excited in the pants. The last time I wrote about the Mets was in January when the team offered 50 Cent a chance at redemption for his historically bad ceremonial first pitch. Prior to that, it was a “season wrap up” of sorts. The Mets were out of it well before Summer even got going, but the nightmare of 2017 officially ended in early October.
Last season was a disaster of epic proportions for the Mets. They finished 70-92, far worse than anyone could have expected. My expectations will always be low for this team, but nobody could have expected a season like last’s. Injury after injury led to loss after loss, skid after skid, and sale after sale. The Mets ended up dumping all of their veterans around the trade deadline for virtually nothing. Fans, myself included, were calling for Terry Collins’s head all season long. They couldn’t get out of their own way. For crying out loud, the goddamn MASCOT gave the middle finger to the entire organization, literally. It became a chore to write about the Mets on a weekly basis. We all deserved better. We all deserve better.
I don’t want to harp much on last year’s struggles for a number of reasons. To name a few, there were far too many, I don’t want to give myself the aggravation, and, maybe most importantly, there’s some reason to be optimistic about 2018, albeit slightly. So as we turn our attention to the present and the future, we must first get caught up to speed. Ask 10 Mets fans what they think of the Mets offseason, and you’ll get 10 different answers. Forgive me if I’m disorganized. Forgive me if I’m inaccurate or have forgotten something. I’ve tried to jot down notes throughout the winter, and I’ll attempt to recap the moves and articulate my thoughts in an organized manner. But no promises.
New manager! Terry Collins is gone (but still somehow has a role within the organization). Mickey Callaway is in. We’ve got a fresh, young, new beginning in Mickey Callaway. Former Indians pitching coach, he brings a refreshing and hopeful perspective to the club. He’s got a great name for starters. Time will tell, naturally, but I think I speak on behalf of all Mets fans when I say I’m excited to give him a chance. Considering his background, it’s safe to assume the focus will be on the starting rotation and the health of our young pitchers; good. From the little I’ve seen/heard of Mickey, he appears to be personable, honest, progressive, and intelligent. That’s good enough for me. Personally, I don’t love the idea of bringing in a first-time manager, but so far I like the guy.
New-ish players! The Mets added Jay Bruce (again). Remember, they traded Bruce to the Indians in exchange for one bag of peanuts (because the Wilpon’s don’t give anyone free peanuts) and a half eaten bag of Big League Chew. All in all, a decent return for the Mets. They brought back 30-year-old Bruce on a 3-yr/$39M deal. The price isn’t horrible. I didn’t want him back, but he’s a good player with big time pop. Lorenzo Cain was another name in the running to fill that outfield spot, whom I like very much, but he got a bigger deal after the Mets tied the knot with Jay Bruce. Jose Reyes will also be back in a Mets uniform. 1-yr/$2M is dirt cheap even for a has-been. Reyes is a fine utility player in my opinion. He’s destined to get at bats and playing time with inevitable injuries, and even though he doesn’t excite me one bit, it could be worse. I would have preferred another option, but I don’t hate the idea of Amed Rosario learning from him.
New players! Anthony Swarzak was the Mets big bullpen addition. He’s coming off of a good year with the White Sox and Brewers, and the deal is relatively team friendly. $17M and 2 years seems like a lot, but not in today’s market, especially when reliable relied pitching is so hard to come by. I don’t think he’s enough to complete a bullpen that needed desperate help, but he’s a good addition nonetheless. Adrian Gonzalez is a Met now; the Mets have been rather open with their skepticism in Dom Smith. Adrian Gonzalez was awesome like ten years ago, but now he’s 35, almost 36, and not the answer. If Smith really isn’t going to be the player we were promised, then let’s pray that their’s plenty of A-Gonz juice left. We’ll soon find out just how much he’s got left in the tank. Jersey boy Todd Frazier has come across town from the Evil Empire to suit up for the Metropolitans. I feel bad for anyone who plays for the Mets after the Yankees. Frazier has shown flashes of brilliance over the years as well as glaring inconsistency. BUT the Mets haven’t had a suitable third basemen in what seems like a decade. Frazier has a good glove, and the Mets managed to lock him for only 2 years and $17M total. David Wright ain’t walking through that door anytime soon (aka ever). I don’t love the player, but I can’t knock the economics one bit. Obviously the Mets won’t break the bank for anyone, but in this case they didn’t have to. He’ll be a fan favorite if he produces, no doubt. Side note, the Mets only went after Todd Frazier once Asdrubal Cabrera told them he’s more comfortable playing 2B than 3B. This is the same player who demanded a trade last summer after being moved to 2B. *violently rolls eyes*
And finally, Jason Vargas. The Mets starting pitching earned their worst ERA in team history. With the injuries and question marks surrounding every pitcher on the staff, another arm was badly needed. The front office made it abundantly clear that they weren’t pursuing any of the “top” arms (Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb), so Vargas was their guy. This sole move is exactly what’s wrong with the dynamic of the Mets and Mets fans. People were stoked about this signing. People were satisfied with it despite better, younger pitchers being available. The “I’ll take what I can get” rhetoric is old fucking hat. It’s tired and exhausting. I remember seeing a tweet saying that Mets fans should be excited about Jason Vargas so long that it’s “thanks for the free beer” excited and not “we just won the lottery” excited. He’s a fine pitcher, but there were superior options. Leave it to the Mets to go after an aging vet on the cheap because the offseason market played right into their frugal ass laps. Oh yeah, and Jason Vargas is already hurt. Broken bone in his glove hand, getting surgery. Who knows what his deal is gonna be moving into and throughout the season? Doesn’t appear to be a major issue, but given his age and his new employer (the Mets) I’ll maintain my skepticism here. Ho hum.
Okay so now what? I ask myself this all the time. If you ask me, I’m not happy with the Mets offseason. Many fans are, and that’s fine. Time will tell who had the right idea, and I’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong. I look at what the Mets to-do list was, and I look at what changes/additions they’ve made. Seems to be that ownership decided to plug holes just enough to tread water. It’s a “wait and see” approach to see how the season unfolds at which point they’ll decided if it’s worth investing in the 2018 Mets come trade deadline; this has become par for the course for the Mets, and many fans have no problem accepting that. They’re putting a lot of stock in their key guys staying healthy, particularly the pitching, and playing to their potential (i.e. Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Michael Conforto). If the Wilpon’s wanted to open their wallets and add assets that would allow them to compete with the Nationals from Opening Day, they could have. And they didn’t. So it’s the ultimate roll of the dice hoping for the chips to fall our way.
Infield: Wow, another year of waiting for Travis d’Arnaud to blossom into the Travis d’Arnaud the Mets originally traded for. Friendly reminder that R.A. Dickey was traded to Toronto primarily for d’Arnaud, and Syndergaard was essentially a throw in. Considering that Travis isn’t really very good at anything a catcher is supposed to be good at, I have my doubts at the catcher’s position. Plawecki blows too. Adrian Gonzalez will be the Opening Day starter at first base. Dom Smith has struggled to earn his role, which is incredibly frustrating considering the hype around him. I don’t know if it’s a weight issue, a motivation issue, or simply a talent issue. Gonzalez has always produced when healthy, but the age is going to be a worry and probably, and understandably, a factor. Asdrubal Cabrera is the Mets second baseman. Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores will see time there as well. I think Drubs is a diva but could also be a catalyst for the team as well. His defense pretty much stinks, but I guess better off at 2nd than 3rd? Yuck. Amed Rosario is the Mets starting shortstop and will hopefully be so for the next decade. He only produced 10 RBIs in 165 at bats in his rookie season, but I’ve seen enough to stand by him today. We need him to continue to show progress at the plate while providing a stellar glove and much needed speed. Third base: see above. It’s Todd Frazier’s hot corner. David Wright is a corpse and is approaching two years without seeing the field.
Outfield: Well, Yoenis Cespedes will be in left, and Jay Bruce will be in right. It would be nice to see Yo stay healthy so he can put up the MVP-esque numbers that he’s more than capable of. Basic hydration has been a lingering issue with him leading to various leg injuries. From what I’ve read, he’s already been on and will remain on a more regular water-drinking schedule. It’s a fucking joke that I needed to even mention it. At the end of the day, I love Yoenis Cespedes and the swagger he brings. If he’s hitting, the Mets are winning, period, end of story. Bruce plays opposite him in right. There’s talk of him getting some work at first base, but I believe he’s taken exactly zero reps at first in Spring Training. Gotta love the foresight and proactivity being deployed by the Mets. Brandon Nimmo has earned the starting job in centerfield to start the season. Michael Conforto’s freak injury leaves him as a question mark for the time being; sounds like his rehabilitation is going well, but it would be a shock to see him before May 1. Truth be told I’m actually much more concerned than most seem to be despite his recent surge in Spring Training. Juan Lagares has struggled mightily at the dish this Spring, and Nimmo has been hitting the cover off the ball. Lagares’s bat has been his achilles heel his entire career. Nimmo, on the other hand, while still somewhat unproven, has at least showed the ability to get on base (something the Mets are in dire demand of). And that’s it. The Mets have 4 healthy outfielders right now. They brought back Reyes instead of another guy who can play in the OF, so they’re putting themselves in a tight spot until Conforto returns to health. There’s talk of playing Wilmer fuckin Flores in the outfield if need be, who’s the slowest man on planet earth and is NOT a good fielder. The Mets will rue the day they task Flores with chasing down fly balls and cutting off the gap.
Starting pitching: Mets fans are most likely going to see the “Big 5” in order for the first time ever. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler. I should be excited about that, but the only reason it’s happening is because Jason Vargas broke his hand. It’s a product of circumstance. It is NOT because they’ve emerged as the best 5 arms we’ve got. Sucks that we’ve been waiting years for this to happen and I can’t even be excited about it. I haven’t watched one second of Spring Training baseball (I never do), but my boots on the ground tell me Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler have been nothing short of awful this spring. I’ve got zero faith in each of them. See the above tweet from Anthony DiComo. I won’t go much into it, but Matz’s injury history speaks for itself. Matz has ace-caliber stuff; his inability to stay healthy has been the major hindrance to his success. Zack Wheeler has never pitched to the level we had hoped, nor has he provided any semblance of optimism; Seth Lugo should prob get the spot over him. Matt Harvey will never be the Dark Knight again. He has sucked. He says he feels better than ever, but we should take that with a grain of salt. This is the last year of his contract, so he either delivers and earns a paycheck, or he’s donezo. Thor and deGrom are the anchors and need to be exactly that. That 1-2 punch is arguably the best in baseball when they’re at the top of their respective games. Mets fans deserve to see them both pitch through the season and strike out one million batters each.
EDIT: I left the previous paragraph intact because it was written prior to the news that Zack Wheeler was being optioned to AAA-Las Vegas. It actually proves my point. There was a chance that we’d see the 5 pitch in sequence for the first time ever, and it would be a result of happenstance (and health) and not necessarily merit. It could still happen at some point, but this goes to show how mightily Wheeler has struggled to get back to form. Even with the Vargas injury, which is believed to be not too serious, Wheeler couldn’t make the team. Credit to Seth Lugo for his Spring Training success. I’m a big Seth Lugo fan. Sounds like Wheeler will be pitching once every 5 days in the minors which I am all in favor for. I don’t think he’ll ever be very good, but there’s no reason to pull the plug on him as a starter just yet.
Bullpen: Unfortunately for him, Rafael Montero is headed for the dreaded Tommy John surgery to repair his torn UCL. Fortunately for the Mets, that means he’ll miss the entire 2018 season. Obviously the injury sucks, and you never wanna see a pitcher go under the knife in this fashion, but Rafael Montero sucks and the Mets are better off without him. Hopefully he can bounce back, but hopefully it’s the end of this disastrous experiment the Mets were so fixated on. Hansel Robles has been optioned to AAA-Las Vegas. Hallelujah! Hansel Robles fucking sucks. I wish they would have designated his ass for assignment and cut ties completely, but he won’t be on the Opening Day roster, and I can find solace in that. It’s encouraging to know that the Mets staff had the foresight to see that Hansel Robles serves no purpose on this Mets roster.
Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman will be in the bullpen in long relief (EDIT: Seth Lugo will be in the starting rotation now that Wheeler has been demoted to AAA). These guys can be great assets for the Mets if they stay healthy; both have shown good-great stuff albeit a small sample size. Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, and Jerry Blevins (the lone lefty) need to be the 4 anchors of this bullpen. Mickey Callaway and new Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland are prepared to take a new approach this season in that there may not be a designated “closer”. They’ll play matchups and make decisions based on the circumstances of each game. They’ll have scheduled days off to, hopefully, preserve their arms and keep them fresh. Relief pitchers are a fickle bunch, but if the Mets are going to have any success, a ton of responsibility will fall on their shoulders. Some of Paul Sewald, Chris Flexen, AJ Griffin, Jacob Rhame, Kevin McGowan, and Jamie Callahan will make up the rest of the bullpen. Be prepared to see the others make their way to and from the minors at some point.
In summary: The current make up of the team is good enough to be competitive. I’m excited to see what Mickey Callaway can bring to the club. If the big guns stay healthy (Syndergaard, deGrom, Cespedes, Conforto), the Mets should be playing meaningful baseball throughout the season. These are major “ifs” and will remain as such. And that’s part of the problem for me. Prior to the 2017 season we were saying the same thing, and everything quickly fell apart. The Mets made some additions, but those moves don’t prove that the Mets are really going for it. Not yet at least. The “window” is just about closed on the Mets and this, what once was, “all worldly” pitching staff. They pay their starters almost nothing but have refused to be pot committed on winning NOW. I’m sick and tired of hoping that things pan out so that come time for the trade deadline we can pray that the Mets are buyers. We should be all in starting in April. We deserve better.
I remain pessimistic about the Mets, particularly in the long term. The clock is about to strike midnight on controlling these pitchers on the cheap. Of the Top 100 prospects in baseball, 0 of them are in the Mets organization. So other than the guys we see on Opening Day, there’s not much help on the horizon. It’s a thin roster, heavily invested on the big guns. Most teams rely on their starts to carry them, but the top heavy lineup leaves me skeptical. Again, I think the core of this team should be very good, but if things go sour again and again, the Mets are doomed. I won’t get too far into it as that’s worst case scenario and thus a conversation for another day, a day that I pray never arrives.
As of this time, I will not be going to any Mets home games. It’s a boycott. I don’t think I’m a better or worse fan than anyone else for it, but this is how I’m choosing to handle everything. I’ve had enough of the disappointment year after year after year. My empty seat may not make a difference. My withheld funds may not make a difference. But at the same time, I feel that by paying money to see the team play, I’m enabling ownership, and I simply cannot do that right now. Nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong. If the product is better than I anticipate, I’ll pay to see the Mets play. Being at Citi Field, drinking beers, eating food, and watching the Mets makes me happier than ever. But until I think the Mets are really, truly, wholeheartedly committed to winning, I’ll be watching from home. And I’ll watch every game, make no mistake about it. You can believe I’ll be yelling at my TV as if I was sitting front row behind the plate. My mood will be dictated with each and every pitch; it’s unhealthy and I wish it weren’t like this. But I’m way too emotionally invested to simply stop caring.
Prediction: The Mets go 80-82 and miss the playoffs.
Let’s go Mets.