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The Mets and their fans were taken on an emotional roller coaster this past season, going from hopeful to hopeless, back to hopeful, then landing in a cold bucket of September reality.
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“We’re definitely not satisfied with where we’re at,” Michael Conforto told reporters after the team was eliminated from playoff contention on Sept. 25. “We want to play in October. That’s the goal. I think we have the guys in here to do it. We have to put six months of baseball together and we didn’t do that this year.”
The bullpen has been the default answer when media and fans debate what the Mets need to improve when building a better team for 2020. However, for me, it’s third on the list…
1) Score more runs
The three teams that scored the most runs in the NL also ended with the three best records. The Mets finished seventh in scoring and finished with the sixth-best overall record.
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It is an offensive league. Power, pop, and putting the ball in play are more important today than at any point during the past 15 years because 60 feet away is usually a pitcher firing fastballs into the strike zone. The Mets scored a lot of runs in 2019, but they need to score more in 2020.
It’s easy to say, “Robinson Cano can have a better season,” and “Michael Conforto will perform better if Pete Alonso is batting behind him,” or, “Alonso will hit more home runs next season,” or, “Brandon Nimmo was injured most of 2019 and will return to his 2018 numbers in 2020,” or, “Amed Rosario will bring in to next year what he did during the second half this past season.”
It’s true that all of the above can happen, but it’s also true that a lot can go wrong. Age, attitude, and knowing someone — if not more than one player — will become injured and miss time are a few things that could go awry. The lineup will change multiple times between Opening Day and the end of the season — it’s the nature of the game.
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To protect against this inevitably, plus increase run production, the Mets have to add a consistent run producer to the lineup. It would be great to add more than one, but I don’t want to be greedy.
Third base or corner outfield is the most obvious spot(s) to upgrade since Todd Frazier is almost certain to be leaving as a free agent. And if he did return, it should not be as an everyday player.
Jeff McNeil showed he can be a productive corner outfielder, though I still think he’s better served at second or third base. The Mets have Cano, though, who will continue playing second with Alonso locked in at first.
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Brodie Van Wagenen can add a third basemen because McNeil has shown he can be productive outfielder. Or Van Wagenen can acquire a power-hitting corner outfielder and start McNeil everyday at third base.
I was impressed with the season J.D. Davis had at the plate, and I believe he has the talent to always be in the lineup. For now, though, Davis should remain second tier until Van Wagenen comes up short on finding a more predictable addition.
It’s worth noting that Yoenis Cespedes is expected to play again next season. He has only played 119 games the past three years, and will be 34 years old next season after missing all of 2019. The point is, there is no way to know what he’s capable of doing on field or if he’ll even remain on the field given his recent history of leg injuries. He can in no way be counted on by Van Wagenen when trying to add run production.
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Free-agent 3B Anthony Rendon would be the ideal, pie-in-the-sky solution, which would give the Mets an MVP-caliber third baseman moving the inevitable NL batting champ, McNeil, to the outfield.
Alderson would have laid up putting Davis at third base. I expect more from Brodie…
The New York Mets were obviously high on Francisco Alvarez when they gave him the largest signing bonus to an international free agent in team history of $2.7 million in 2018.
If the bonus wasn’t enough of a sign the team was high on him, the Mets would be very aggressive with him having him starting his career stateside and getting called up to the Appalachian League after just seven games in the Gulf Coast League.
In 35 games with Kingsport, Alvarez would hit .282/.377/.443 with six doubles, five homers, and 16 RBI. He would also throw out 29 percent of attempted base stealers. With his skill set and this strong season, Alvarez would be named by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Appalachian League.
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During the season, Alvarez showed “extremely strong hands and forearms, with an advanced swing, solid barrel control and impressive usage of the opposite field with impact.” In addition to his advanced offensive approach, Alvarez impressed behind the plate notably handling Kingsport’s staff well and showing the “tools to be an above-average defender with continued refinement.”
The biggest sign Alvarez is an impressive prospect with tools well beyond his years was how opposing managers spoke about him. In Baseball America’s article, they cited another Appalachian League manager who was “shocked” when finding out Alvarez was only 17.
As surprising as Alvarez’s season was, it may be more surprising to see him ranked ahead of first round draft pick Brett Baty. While Alvarez was ranked higher, it was not much higher with Baty being ranked as the second best prospect in the league.
Baty hit .222/.339/.437 in 42 games with 12 doubles, two triples, six homers, and 22 RBI before getting called up to Brooklyn to help them win their first outright New York-Penn League title. Overall, Baty would show the “ability to hit with authority to the opposite field and with his defensive work at third, citing a strong, accurate arm and reliable hands.”
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Jaylen Palmer/Photo by Allen Greene Photography
Jaylen Palmer was the tenth ranked prospect in the league. During the season, Palmer showed his raw but considerable tools, and as a result, he was “routinely brought up by managers.” The reason he is brought up due to his instincts on the left side of the infield as well as “what’s already an exciting, power-oriented offensive game.” Overall, an Appalachian League manager would say Palmer is “just now tapping into who he could be.”
In addition to the three position player prospects, RHP Junior Santos would crack the rankings at 12. The 17-year-old Santos was 3.7 years younger than league average, which could partially explain his going 0-5 with a 5.09 ERA, 1.746 WHIP, 5.5 BB/9, and an 8.0 K/9. Even through those numbers, he impressed. Baseball America noted Santos’ “physicality and fastball velocity are the two biggest tools he possesses, with a heater that reaches the 94-95 mph range and should continue to improve as he develops.”
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And we should expect him to continue to develop as he has been noted to have an impressive work ethic. When you have a strong work ethic, you can trust a player is going to get the most out of his talent, which is going to give him every chance to advance through the Mets farm system.
Overall, the Mets had the top two prospects in the Appalachian League and four of the top 12. This is evidence of how there is real talent in the lower levels of the Mets farm system, and with that comes real hope for the future.
Jul 6, 2019; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets right fielder Jeff McNeil (6) hits an RBI single against the Philadelphia Phillies during the second inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports (Brad Penner)
2) Be better in the field
The Mets were dead last among NL teams in defensive runs saved (DRS) this past season, during which they also made the fifth-most errors.
It’s not so much that the Mets need to score more runs as it is widening their run differential by giving up fewer runs by way of extra outs to the other team, especially when Marcus Stroman is on the mound.
As mentioned above, there aren’t many spots to add better defensive players, especially since I first stated they need to prioritize adding a bat. However, I do think a more consistent lineup will improve their fielding by giving them more time to become comfortable with and trust one another to be in the right spot and make the right decision.
Oct. 10: The Mets will interview Girardi next week, Andy Martino of SNY tweets.
Oct. 9: The Mets plan to hold in-person interviews with recently retired outfielder Carlos Beltran and Diamondbacks vice president of player development Mike Bell in their search for a new manager, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (via Twitter). MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported earlier today that the Mets are conducting phone interviews with some candidates before committing to face-to-face sitdowns (Twitter link), adding that former Yankees skipper Joe Girardi is “sure” to be interviewed in person. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that Bell’s interview is likely to take place next week. Other candidates are sure to emerge in the coming weeks.
Beltran, 42, is currently serving as a special advisor to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, though he’s long been touted as a potential manager. The likely Hall of Famer reportedly interviewed with the Yankees prior to their hiring of Aaron Boone. He’s also said to have declined the opportunity to interview with the Padres this offseason, and it stands to reason that other clubs will have interest in sitting down with him.
Bell, 44, is the younger brother of Reds skipper David Bell. He’s currently in the same position with the Diamondbacks that his older brother was with the Giants prior to being hired away by the Cincinnati organization last winter. Bell interviewed with both the Rangers and the Orioles last offseason, and Rosenthal notes that the Pirates also have some interest in Bell. The 2019 season was Bell’s third in that role, but he’s previously served as the team’s director of player development in addition to three years as a minor league manager. In all, he’s been with the D-backs as a minor league skipper or a front office executive for 13 years.
The 54-year-old Girardi, of course, is no stranger to New Yorkers. He spent a decade at the helm with the Yankees and was the manager in the Bronx for the Yankees’ most recent World Series title back in 2009. He’s been clear about his desire to manage again recently and was set for an interview with the Cubs today. He’ll draw his share of interest from other clubs over the coming weeks and seems like a strong candidate to land back in a Major League dugout sooner rather than later. Since parting ways with the Yankees, he’s served as a television analyst on MLB Network.
Rosario, who contributed to a large portion of the team’s poor defensive metrics, was significantly better after the All-Star break. Alonso also looked more comfortable charging the ball, fielding throws in the dirt, and holding runners to first base. These two having a full season together on big-league dirt, Cano’s leadership and steadiness at second, and an everyday, professional third baseman will go a long way in keeping the ball in the infield and receiving throws from the outfield, which increases the chances of more double plays.
Similarly, McNeil will be better in left field after playing a full season in that role. Conforto and Nimmo know one another well, so the trio should also be more sound as a group.
I have hope things will naturally improve, but it’s all predicated on routine, trust, and a more locked-in lineup, all of which is helped by adding a quality glove and bat at third base.
Sep 7, 2019; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets shortstop Amed Rosario (1) throws to first against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports (Andy Marlin)
No. 3: Bullpen
Van Wagenen told reporters in late September that he has no intention of trading Edwin Diaz this winter.
“Diaz is going to be on our team next year,” he said. That’s our full expectation.”
MLB executives are notorious for stating true facts in the moment. I’ll believe his statement only if he’s making it again in March. Otherwise, I’ll assume anything is possible, as it should be.
That said, I wouldn’t trade Diaz unless it somehow helps to upgrade in one of the other areas mentioned in this post. Because, despite what we saw from his last summer, 22-year-old pitchers that throw 97 mph and have 135 saves in four years do not grow on trees. And, as we know, the majority of relief pitchers are rarely consistent.
Along those lines, this is why I put upgrading the bullpen second to improving the team’s fielding. And that’s because relievers are inconsistent. It’s also quite common that, when a team decides to make wholesale changes to their bullpen, it rarely goes according to plan.
While signing Aroldis Chapman or Will Smith could go well, Tylor Bashlor or Walker Lockett could find their groove and become the reliever no one in baseball had heard of until their sudden success.
The four pitchers could also have difficult seasons. It happens every year to countless relievers. So, while acquiring and releasing bullpen arms is tempting, there is no one playbook for doing it right.
This is not to say targeting an improved bullpen isn’t important, because it is. I’m simply saying I would rather see Van Wagenen use most of his time and resources — especially early in the offseason — upgrading more known qualities, such as hitting and fielding, than the more risky world of pursuing relief pitchers.