Somewhere back in the 1980s Bill James said that throughout MLB history, we’ve asked catchers to do more and more and pitchers to do less and less. With catchers, you have to think that improved protective equipment plays a big role in that, along with fewer doubleheaders. The 1969 Mets played 22 doubleheaders. Last year it seemed the Mets played a bunch of twinbills and they only played four.
Last year, Steven Matz had a terrific Spring Training. In Grapefruit League play in 2020, Matz put up a 1.50 ERA, as he allowed just two hits and one run in six innings, while fanning five without allowing a walk. But he was unable to bring his strong results into the regular season. In fact, Matz had his worst year as a pro last season, as he put up a 9.68 ERA and a 1.696 WHIP. The biggest black mark against Matz was that he allowed 14 HR, which worked out to a ghastly 4.1 HR/9 mark.
The Mets tendered Matz a contract in his last season before becoming eligible for free agency. And now the Mets are in limbo. Do they trust a rotation slot to a guy who was horrible last year? Do you send a guy making $5 million plus to the pen to be a low-leverage long man? Why would you go to Spring Training and have him “earn” a rotation slot, given how last year went? Should we have faith that a normal Spring Training and regular season will result in Matz being a league-average starter, much like what he was in 2018-19? Will a new catcher, one he’s worked with before in the offseason, help Matz get back on track? Or is he destined to throw too many pitches middle-middle that end up being crushed?
There’s an awful lot of questions without much hope of getting a good answer before the games start for real.
Are you comfortable with Steven Matz opening the year in the rotation?
We’ve seen a little bit of clarity with the moves that the Mets have made so far. The rotation got a needed boost when Marcus Stroman accepted the Qualifying Offer and the team addressed the catching situation with the signing of James McCann. But there are still several positions or areas to address. You could make a case for needing two starting pitchers, a third baseman and a center fielder. And if Dellin Betances, Brad Brach, Jeurys Familia and Drew Smith don’t fill you with optimism – you could add a relief pitcher, too. It feels odd to have a solid one-two punch at the head of the rotation, a closer with elite stuff – if not always elite results – and a potent offense and still feel like there are so many question marks.
The question has been asked many times about which guy you want the team to acquire. But as we saw with J.T. Realmuto, sometimes the issue gets solved without getting the best guy on the market. Which brings us to today’s poll question.
Which scenario would you find most disappointing on Opening Day?
All of us were knocked for a loop over the Covid madness of 2020. The joke is if 2020 was a product, everyone would rate it one star with the “wouldn’t recommend” tagline. But as Mets fans, the last few months of 2020 have been the best we’ve experienced in several years. Since then, we’ve lost the Wilpons and gained Steve Cohen. Lost Brodie Van Wagenen and gained Sandy Alderson. Lost Robinson Cano and gained Marcus Stroman. Forget the “gained” aspect of those three sets – even if there were no replacements in place, those would be three terrific examples of addition by subtraction. The Wilpons were meddling, bumbling clowns, Van Wagenen was in over his head and Cano was an overpaid drug cheat. Not having to root for those three parts will make being a Mets fan going forward so much more enjoyable.
But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. The team still has some significant holes, poor defensive fits and too many similar players. Cano being busted for PEDs helps tremendously as it takes one of the lefty-hitting corner players and allows him to move to the position he should have been playing the past two years. Hopefully the Mets don’t botch this rare sports do-over that allows them to rectify a giant mistake of the past.
But unless they go on a spending spree similar to what Chris Dial proposed last month, it seems likely that there will still be an issue or three with how the team is shaped for Opening Day. Which brings us to today’s poll question:
What's the one thing you don't want to see happen in 2021?
Someone besides Jeff McNeil being the primary starter at 2B (38%, 10 Votes)
Brandon Nimmo being the primary starter in CF (35%, 9 Votes)
Dominic Smith being the primary starter in LF (19%, 5 Votes)
J.D. Davis being the primary starter at 3B (8%, 2 Votes)
There was an ESPN piece published today ranking every World Series. It’s posted in The Garden, if you haven’t seen it yet. Anyway, it’s a reminder that the Mets are 2-3 in five trips to the Series. If we asked a poll question about which was the best World Series, my guess is that it would split along age lines. Those 60 and older would vote for 1969 and those younger would choose 1986. But the flip side isn’t so cut and dried. And let’s expand it to include some playoff defeats. Here are our contenders:
1973 World Series – Rusty Staub playing heroically – and terrifically – with an injured shoulder, Willie Mays pleading with the umpire over a blown call, the Mets having a 3-2 lead in the series only to have the manager panic and pitch guys on short rest in the final two games. They really should have won.
1988 NLCS – Darryl Strawberry‘s 165 OPS+, David Cone going 20-3, an NLCS matchup against a Dodgers squad that they went 10-1 against during the regular season, leaving Doc Gooden in for the 9th inning in Game 4, Sid Fernandez throwing beachballs in Game 5. They really should have won.
1999 NLCS – The best defensive infield ever, the season-ending sweep to force a tie for the Wild Card, Al Leiter‘s two-hit shutout in Game 163, Todd Pratt‘s walkoff HR in the NLDS, losing the first three games of the series only to battle back, John Olerud‘s two-run single off John Rocker, Robin Ventura‘s grand slam single, falling behind by five runs in the first inning of Game 6 but coming back to force extra innings. Maybe they shouldn’t have won but it was such a fun group and a memorable series.
2000 World Series – This isn’t the most painful one to me but it’s the one I like to think about the least. This team wasn’t the same as the year before and even though they went further, they lost to the Yankees. We can argue if they should have won but it should have been longer than five games.
2006 NLCS – Carlos Beltran with 127 runs, 116 RBIs and a .982 OPS, the senior citizen starting pitching that was decimated by injuries when the playoffs rolled around, a three-game sweep of the Dodgers for Part I of the 1988 NLCS revenge, #$%^& Aaron Heilman & #$%&#* Yadier Molina. And that MF curveball by Adam Wainwright. They really should have won.
2015 World Series – The closing kick to finish the season, the power surge of Daniel Murphy, the brutality of Chase Utley‘s slide, Part II of the 1988 revenge with a defeat of the Dodgers in the NLDS, A .650 OPS despite having to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke twice in a five-game series, the annihilation of the Cubs in the NLCS, an .833 OPS despite having to face Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, the complete collapse of the offense in the World Series, managing just a .552 OPS. You’ll remember dropped balls and lousy throws home but do you remember how inept the offense was? They were absolutely the better team – the offense just picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
2016 Wild Card – Sorry, this one doesn’t even register.
There are things that happened on the field in 2020 for the Mets that it would be nice to know who should be held accountable. Who thought it was a good idea to give Robert Gsellman a start when he had pitched one inning in the last 364 days? Who thought it was a good idea to bat Amed Rosario and his lifetime .305 OBP coming into the year and his .231 OBP during the year in the first slot in the order? Who thought it was a good idea to give Michael Wacha a start following one bullpen appearance after he was demoted for having allowed a 9.00 ERA and a 1.895 WHIP in his previous five starts? Who thought it was a good idea to make Brandon Nimmo, who had a lifetime .783 OPS versus LHP coming into the year, a platoon player based on 20 PA? Who thought it was a good idea to pitch a middle reliever four times in six days with a 10-man bullpen? These are the ones off the top of my head. No doubt if you looked at the game logs you would come up with others.
In the 20th Century, you’d lay the blame for each and every one of these decisions at the feet of the manager, in this case Luis Rojas. These days, though, who knows? It’s very possible that Brodie Van Wagenen ordered Rojas to do several, if not all of these moves. Based on his performance in the traditional GM role, Van Wagenen deserves to be fired. If he had a hand in any of the moves listed above, that just makes the case for his dismissal even more concrete.
The buzzword these days around managers is “communication.” There’s seemingly no higher praise you can give a skipper than to say he’s an excellent communicator. While not suggesting that a manager should be a mute, is it possible that we add that he doesn’t do knucklehead things during a game to the list of admirable traits?
Back when Terry Collins was managing the club, he received a ton of praise for having a good clubhouse. That always struck me as strange, in that with David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera – Collins had universally acknowledged high-character guys. A good clubhouse should have been expected, not fawned over like it was some special accomplishment. And of course, when Collins was in his last few days as club manager, Marc Carig wrote a scathing piece over his tenure, busting a lot of the myths that had been built up around the Collins-era Mets.
Mickey Callaway was hired to replace Collins. Callaway’s starters were remarkably healthy during his tenure, which may have been the result of something Callaway did or it might have been blind luck. Other than that, it’s hard to point to achievements during his tenure and few were sad when he was let go roughly a year ago. One of the things that made the Callaway era so difficult was that in his second year, he worked under a different GM than the one who hired him. Van Wagenen felt Callaway wasn’t the right fit and he didn’t do a whole lot to hide that impression.
Are we looking at duplicating that scenario again? Most expect Van Wagenen to be gone once Steve Cohen officially takes over the team. Should the new GM be stuck with the manager he didn’t pick, like what happened to Van Wagenen in 2019?
Rojas seems like a good guy. His players really like him and he’s done a good job of handling the media. Those things are important and no one is pretending otherwise. But my preference is for a manager’s blunders to happen in media briefings, rather than in the dugout. The GM can always step in to smooth things over with the press. But you can never win back a game in the clubhouse or in front of a microphone that you lost in the dugout. Van Wagenen stepped in for Callaway in this respect in 2019, the team didn’t implode and ended up winning 86 games. He didn’t have to do it for Rojas but his team was on a 70-win pace.
No one wants a return of the clubhouse from the “Worst Team Money Can Buy” years, when players were out of control, making verbal threats, throwing firecrackers and spraying bleach. But that was an extreme situation and it’s foolish to equate any clubhouse that’s not button down to those early 90s Mets. It’s like saying any fielder who isn’t above average is like Wilmer Flores out there.
It’s my firm belief that creative friction is a good thing. Maybe that’s because my first dynasty was the Swingin’ A’s of the early 70s and my second one was The Bronx Zoo of the mid-to-late 70s. And no one thinks the 80s Mets were choir boys, either. You need fire and passion and the willingness to fight anyone who’s going to keep you from doing the right thing and win as many games as possible. I want to root for players like Keith Hernandez and Reggie Jackson and managers like Earl Weaver and Davey Johnson.
It’s my opinion that Pete Alonso is that type of guy. He’s someone you could see going to the mound and telling his pitcher if he throws a fastball to this hitter that they’re going to fight, much like Hernandez did to Jesse Orosco back in the ’86 NLCS.
As for Johnson, here’s an excerpt from his book: “Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond,” as printed in ThePostGame:
Early in the 1984 season, GM Frank Cashen took a seat in my office — concerned about something he had just observed.
“We have a disjointed clubhouse,” he said. “Should we make it smaller?”
“No, Frank,” I said. “Everybody just needs to know his role on the ballclub and they’ll be fine.”
“Well, Keith (Hernandez) likes to do crossword puzzles and he’s a Civil War buff, and … ”
“Who cares about that?” I interrupted. “Just let everybody do their own thing.”
I basically wanted the guys to come to the ballpark and enjoy being in the clubhouse. I wanted it to be fun for them and even more comfortable than being in their own homes with all their kids running around. And if there was ever an issue, I would always tell Keith and later Gary Carter, “You guys handle it.” I didn’t want to be the one monitoring minor clubhouse problems. And I never wanted to have an environment where there was a whole lot of policing going on.
Can you imagine Rojas telling the GM, whoever it may be, this?
Nothing makes for a good manager quite like good players. The important thing for fans – and yes, the managers themselves – is to keep this thought in the front of their mind at all times. It brings to mind this famous quote by Bill James on Sparky Anderson:
Later in life, James offered an olive branch to Anderson. When asked to describe the best thing about Anderson as a manager, James responded, “his record.” And since managers are ultimately judged on wins and losses, it was a nice compliment. You may need good players to have a good record but you also have to be sure not to mess things up. And that’s easier said than done.
Is Rojas a good manager? Beats me although it makes my skin crawl whenever someone, especially those in the mainstream media, make the claim that Rojas is making all of the right moves. It doesn’t matter who your favorite manager is – Anderson or Casey Stengel or Gil Hodges or Earl Weaver or whoever – no one makes all of the right moves. Here’s a partial list of managerial moves – which may or may not be in Rojas’ power to make – that certainly don’t seem “right” 21 games into this weird season:
1. Ultra conservative pitch counts in Jacob deGrom’s first two starts of the season, especially the second one.
2. Using Justin Wilson four times in six days.
3. Taking Brandon Nimmo and his .400+ OBP out of the leadoff spot.
4. Insisting that Amed Rosario bat first against LHP despite his dismal failure to get on base at a reasonable clip both throughout his career and especially here in 2020.
5. Giving starts to Robert Gsellman (2 IP, 3 ER) and Walker Lockett (6 IP, 5 ER) before Seth Lugo.
And here’s a partial listing of managerial moves that were nice to see from Rojas, or whoever was the actual responsible one:
1. Not batting Robinson Cano third as the default position.
2. Removing Edwin Diaz from the closer’s role quickly and moving him to low-leverage spots.
3. Starting on the first day of the season, putting in better defensive players late in the game.
4. Flipping the defensive positions of J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil.
5. Giving 11 starts to rookie Andres Gimenez and four to veteran Brian Dozier.
Is Rojas a good manager? Beats me. Seems like you can see what you want to see and not be too far from reality. The Mets are 9-12 and maybe that’s what they should be with the injuries and Covid defections they’ve faced.
Going forward, my main concern is that Gimenez remains the starter and Rojas looks for ways to keep Rosario involved, rather than the other way around. It’s also imperative that with a nine or 10-man bullpen that nobody is being used too much. And maybe no one gets used too little, either. With the bullpen regularly asked to give four innings per night, no one should go five days without being used. Finally, no one should envy the decision Rojas has to make if Dominic Smith (1.092 OPS) and Pete Alonso (.715 OPS) continue their current paces.
How would you rate the managerial job of Luis Rojas?
One star - only because you can't give a zero (58%, 30 Votes)
Yoenis Cespedes opting out of his contract opens up regular playing time in the lineup. And because Cespedes was playing DH, the Mets have many different ways they can look to fill his absence. They can also try to give his playing time to several different players. But it seems likely that they will land on a preferred option and go from there. However, with three players coming down with injuries on Monday, it may be a few days before we know what the Mets’ preferred option is. Which makes this an ideal poll question.
Do you want to see Andres Gimenez and better infield defense? Or do you want to see better outfield defense and have the Mets play a defense-first center fielder and slide Brandon Nimmo to left? Or do you want to see more offense and go with Dominic Smith in left and move J.D. Davis to DH? All of these choices offer upside and that’s a nice dilemma to have.
Who do you hope gets the most playing time now with Cespedes gone?
Dominic Smith (82%, 23 Votes)
Andres Gimenez (14%, 4 Votes)
Jake Marisnick/Juan Lagares/Billy Hamilton (4%, 1 Votes)
When the Mets made the disastrous trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, speculation was that the Mariners allowed them to protect two of their minor leaguers from being involved in the trade and that the Mets chose Pete Alonso and Andres Gimenez, their two top prospects closest to the majors. The Mariners ended up taking Jarred Kelenic, the Mets’ top pick in the 2018 Draft. Meanwhile, Gimenez had a disappointing season while Kelenic did even better than expected. If given a do-over, the Mets wouldn’t make the deal – at least we hope they wouldn’t make the deal. But if given a do-over on the protected player aspect, clearly they would keep Kelenic over Gimenez.
But, let’s say the Mariners called up the Mets right now and instead of a mythical do-over, they offered a trade. With Evan White and his .838 OPS last year in Double-A atop the major league depth chart at first base and with another multi-tool OF in the system in Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners offer Kelenic for Alonso straight up. What would the Mets do?
Of course, Alonso hit 53 HR and won Rookie of the Year last year at age 24. Kelenic, at age 19, went from Lo-A to Double-A and put up a combined .904 OPS at three levels. In 92 PA in the hitter-friendly Texas League, Kelenic had an .857 OPS, albeit with a .246 BABIP.
With Alonso, you have proven MLB production and a million-dollar personality. With Kelenic you have someone on target to be in MLB by age 22 (if not earlier) at a much more demanding defensive position. And while he’s no Alonso, the Mets do have someone likely better than White to play 1B with Dominic Smith.
Could this trade be a giant win for the Mets, giving them perhaps the finest season of Alonso’s career along with all of Kelenic’s MLB production? Or would it be the continuation of a horrible trade, giving up a superstar after just one season in return for a guy who may never play a day in the majors? How bad do you want to see Kelenic in a Mets uniform?
There seems to be a lot of momentum for the MLB season to get underway in early July with a schedule of around 80 games. Of course, we still don’t know all of the details, including where the games will be played. One recent proposal was for games to be played in MLB parks right from the start, even if there are no fans right away. This is an idea that’s been around – to play in empty stadiums. Of course what’s frequently left unasked is if fans will go to the games even if they’re allowed to attend.
We have a fractured society, with many believing that we should return to normalcy ASAP, with others feeling that we need to take things much slower, to avoid unnecessary fatalities. Of course there’s a difference in wanting to go to your local bar with 75 people compared to going to a stadium with 30,000 people in attendance. Maybe people who want to socialize in a medium-sized setting wouldn’t feel comfortable in a huge gathering. Are you missing baseball enough to go to a game with thousands of your closest friends?
Will you see an MLB game this year
No (80%, 20 Votes)
Only if they play in a minor league park near me (12%, 3 Votes)
No one knows when/if the 2020 season will get underway. Maybe the only thing we can say with a high level of certainty is that we won’t have a 162-game regular season this year. We haven’t seen a truncated season since 1995 and that year teams still played 144 games. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the 2020 season contained half that many games. Even in the strike-shortened 1981 season, each team played at least 103 games. We’re in uncharted waters here.
The uncertainty at how long the season will be also creates uncertainty at what’s going to be most important. You manage differently for a 162-game season than you do in a best-of-seven series. But those postseason series have more days off than a regular season. Rumor has it that we might see more games – think doubleheaders – bunched in the schedule, however long that schedule may be. Knowing what’s most important will help determine how to fill out rosters should, as rumored, the plan to play in 2020 includes up to 29 roster spots per team.
What will be most important in a shortened season?
Starting Pitching (62%, 13 Votes)
Relief Pitching (14%, 3 Votes)
Depth (14%, 3 Votes)
Other - Specify what in comments section (10%, 2 Votes)
I wanna be Bob Dylan
Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky
When everybody love you
Oh! Son, that’s just about as funky as you can be!
The magic wand is out today and it’s going to grant you your biggest baseball wish. Well, you know, within reason. Aw, shoot, let me just tell you what your choices are.
1. Pete Alonso – yes, you get to be the young star with the world at his feet. Nothing but opportunity lies ahead. But you’re also not a made man yet. It could all blow up in your face.
2. Yoenis Cespedes – You have an extensive collection of terrific cars, a ranch you’re passionate about and more than enough money to live the life you want. But you’re on the downside of your baseball career and are coming off very serious injuries. The public doubts your ability to come back and while people respect what you’ve done, the word “beloved” has never been mentioned in conjunction with your name. But a healthy season in 2020 where you drive the team to the championship could give you that one missing thing.
3. Luis Rojas – After years of being a company man, the big boss puts you in charge of the signature product line. You may not be in your 20s anymore but you’re one of the youngest guys currently to have the prestigious position that you do. You do well, you’re a made man and can write your ticket. You stumble, you still can be a company man somewhere else and still get a shot – perhaps older and wiser – at the top with a competitor.
4. Brodie Van Wagenen – You’re a millionaire with Ken-doll looks and you’re in complete control of your destiny. Your team has a reasonable shot at the playoffs and if/when you make the postseason you have the front-line pitching to match up with anyone. You win and bring a championship to the Mets for the first time in 30+ years, you’re considered royalty. If you don’t win, it’s a shrug of the shoulders from the rest of the world. Tremendous upside, very little downside – other than having to play golf with the younger Wilpon.
5. Jeff Wilpon – You’re the COO of the Mets and you’re the one they’re going to hand the World Series trophy to on live television. You’re also a VP or some such similar title in your dad’s other business ventures and you’ve got a cushy job in all of them. You’re wealthy by almost any definition of the word and if your dad sells the Mets and you invest wisely, you could end up being a billionaire. You’re also generally disliked by everyone and considered to be incompetent by the masses. But you wipe your tears with $1,000 bills.