For the Mets, September looks a lot like spring training

It’s often said that games played at the end of a non-playoff season are meaningless, but for the young players trying to prove their worth and the front office executives evaluating them, that’s hardly the case. Indeed, as this disappointing Mets season winds down, there’s an odd feeling of spring training in the air.

If the coming off season will be all about completing an incomplete puzzle, the next month will be about determining what pieces we have in place. This is not an easy exercise when you consider the injuries, the unproven rookies, and all those marginal guys desperately trying to demonstrate their value. Throw in the fact that we have both a lame duck manager and GM, and we’ve got the makings of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Step one is to evaluate the kids. Amed Rosario looks like the real deal at shortstop. He’s smooth in the field, quick on the bases, and has a nice bat. His patience and eye at the plate still needs work if he ever wants to bat atop the lineup however. Management needs to keep an eye on this as they determine if a leadoff hitter needs to be a priority this offseason. Dom Smith hasn’t gotten off to as strong a start as his buddy, but his glove looks like a nice upgrade and a few more weeks should give him time to adjust to Major League pitching. As he pointed out himself, and his stats back it up, he’s always needed a month or so at each new level to adapt. He’ll get that chance now.  Injuries have also finally given Brandon Nimmo a chance to play every day. The long-time prospect has shown a nice ability to get on base and a decent glove in the outfield, but it would be nice to see a little more power. He very well could serve as a fourth outfielder next year if he steps it up.

Step two is to look at the marginal guys. Rafael Montero seems to have finally figured it out. His Wednesday start against a strong Cincinnati lineup certainly helps his cause. He’s finally trusting his stuff and mixing locations more. He struck out a few batters on high fastballs, a pitch he never seemed to trust before. For next year, he could prove a viable option in reserve. Meanwhile, Robert Gsellman seems to have taken several steps backward and has fallen below Montero in the pecking order. Now working with Frank Viola in Las Vegas, Gsellman should be back as a September call up with another chance to prove himself worthy of the big leagues.

Other marginal players who will get a look see include Matt Reynolds, Gavin Cecchini and Kevin Plawecki. Thus far, the latter is finally hitting a bit in perhaps his last attempt to prove he is more than a AAAA player. Plawecki has endeared himself with solid defense and an ability to pitch in mop-up duty, but he’s got to be able to hit at least .220 if he wants to be a backup next year. Cecchini is like the forgotten Mets prospect. The organization rightly figured out that he’s more of a second baseman than a true shortstop, but his bat has gone quiet this season in Vegas and Terry Collins doesn’t seem to trust him much on the Mets. Reynolds, while he hasn’t historically hit much at the top level, brings versatility and has surprised in the clutch a few times.

While virtually assured of a place on the 2018 roster, Juan Lagares needs to prove he can stay healthy and hit enough to warrant consideration as either a centerfield platoon partner or at least as a fourth outfielder. Travis d’Arnaud is in a similar position. He’s still arbitration eligible and because there are few good alternatives out there, he’s likely to be back at catcher next year, at least in a platoon role. While his bat hasn’t come around as we’d hoped thus far, his defense has improved under the watchful eye of Glen Sherlock, and he has stayed reasonably healthy.

Fan favorite Wilmer Flores, pending free agent Jose Reyes, and T.J. Rivera, if he proves healthy, are all options for the essentially unclaimed second and third base and super utility roles for next year. They are all auditioning, whether they realize it or not.  Speaking of auditioning, Josh Smoker, Chasen Bradford and Chris Flexen are doing likewise for the pitching staff, which will need all the depth it can find. The front office will also be keeping a close eye on the minor league progress of the new bullpen additions acquired in waiver deals. Several of them look like viable candidates for the 2018 club.

As for the rotation, it’s all about gauging health. It’s safe to say that Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard (no one seems to be concerned about his injury) will form a formidable 1-2 punch next year, but the rest of the starters all have big question marks. Seth Lugo has been good when healthy, but his elbow may be a ticking time bomb. Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler will sit out the remainder of the season nursing their own arms back to health so management will need to wait until the off-season to re-evaluate their health.

And then there’s Matt Harvey. Sigh. Tomorrow the fallen star will make his latest comeback bid and, I can’t believe I’m writing this, the front office will need to determine if it’s worth bringing him back next season in his last season of arbitration. It seems a foregone conclusion that Harvey will finish his career elsewhere, but the Mets will need to weigh DFAing him in the off-season and saving $6 or $7 million vs. resigning him and allowing him to re-establish value for a mid-season trade.

Other injuries that require serious monitoring and evaluation include Yoenis Cespedes, who clearly needs to rethink his heavy weight routines, Michael Conforto, who we hope will be ready for spring training, and Jeurys Familia, who needs to prove he can still be an effective closer.

The best thing the Mets can do right now is make sure that Collins is on the same page as the front office, assembling lineups that allow them the best opportunity to evaluate. Getting concrete answers will lead to a more efficient and effective off-season. As for the fans, we ask for your patience.

10 comments for “For the Mets, September looks a lot like spring training

  1. Jimmy P
    September 1, 2017 at 9:47 am

    You just named a long list of mostly uninspiring players who would have fit in nicely with Sandy’s first four years, 2011-2014.

    The Mets don’t need to see anything else from Matt Reynolds. Just to shoot one fish in one barrel.

    But I’m moved to write about the supposed defensive upgrade at 1B with Dom Smith. I’ve heard the reputation, but I have not witnessed it yet.

    I’ve seen an incredibly weak throw to 2B. I’ve seen that he’s slow on pop-ups, not covering much ground. I have not seen him range effectively or make any “wow” plays. The word “catlike” does not spring to mind. But mostly, he’s short. At 1B, that’s a disadvantage. Life’s not fair, but he doesn’t have the reach that other first basemen possess. Isn’t that a negative? I think it’s a negative. I’ve seen many plays where a tall 1B will stretch high for a throw while keeping his foot on the ball to record an out. And I think, “Dom Smith doesn’t make that play.”

    So maybe the hands are very good. My point is not to bury the guy — he’s doing that with his bat, so far — just to say that I am aware of the hype, but it doesn’t match what I’ve seen so far. Pencil him in at 1B next year at your own risk.

    We might be waiting for Alonso.

    • DED
      September 1, 2017 at 10:41 am

      “The word “catlike” does not spring to mind.”

      Ha!

      Actually it does, if you’re a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan: “with cat like tread (crash!)/ Upon our prey we steal, (crash!)”…. and so on.

    • MattyMets
      September 1, 2017 at 11:30 am

      I’m not sure anyone is completely sold on Dom Smith, but I do like his reflexes and instincts as compared to Duda. He saves a lot of bad throws which you need with Flores in the infield. On that note, I don’t understand why Collins keeps putting him at third where he has proven he cannot make that throw. Not that it’s perfect, but I prefer the alternative of Cabrera at third and Flores at second. If T.J. returns this season I’d like to give him another look over there as well.

  2. September 1, 2017 at 10:21 am

    “He’s finally trusting his stuff and mixing locations more.”

    Is it Montero who’s trusting his stuff or is it the game plan is finally calling for pitches besides low and away? The pitcher doesn’t call the pitches. The pitcher can shake off the sign – and we have seen Montero do this a time or two – but the key is that the originally called pitches are now inside much more than they were previously.

    • Jimmy P
      September 1, 2017 at 11:19 am

      I can’t believe that he gets a free pass on this. A pitcher is part of the game plan, talks to the catcher, the coaches. He’s the guy holding the ball — and his career — in his own hands.

      When I pitch, even at my ridiculous level, I’ll always talk to my catcher about inside, outside, how to go after different hitters and so on.

      Going inside is a scary thing to do, because when you miss it often goes very, very badly.

      Look: We all agree that it’s good Montero is finally mixing it up. We all remember that insane game in Atlanta back when he threw something like 23 straight low-and-away fastballs. It was weird.

      I’ll agree that some blame can go around. But this is not something we’ve seen with any other Mets pitcher. Same catcher, same coaches. What’s different?

      • September 1, 2017 at 11:37 am

        In a time where everything is orchestrated by others at the major league level, I’m shocked you think that a young pitcher with no history of success in the majors is responsible for the pitching game plan.

        Maybe he’s in the meetings, maybe he isn’t. I don’t pretend to know. But I don’t believe it’s a huge limb to be going out on that even if he is in the meetings that the kid who doesn’t speak English doesn’t get up and demand a greater say in formulating the game plan.

        I’m sorry but where you pitch, there are not millions of dollars riding on the outcome. Your personal experience in whatever league you play in has zero relevance to Major League Baseball and how the players prepare and execute the game plan.

  3. MattyMets
    September 1, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Montero also seems to have a little extra hop on his fastball lately. Meanwhile, deGrom seems be feeling the dog day effects of a long season. Hope he has a few more good starts left in his right arm.

    • Jimmy P
      September 1, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      Again, I think we need to embrace the six-inning starts and think long haul. He pushed himself to go deep into games but seems a little worn out. What if these games mattered?

      Build a deep and lethal bullpen.

      Crazy that MLB is bringing up 100+ players today with expanded rosters. The games always get longer in September. Come on, MLB! The damn thing is broken. Fix it.

      • MattyMets
        September 1, 2017 at 1:35 pm

        Jimmy P – After you mentioned that I checked the remaining schedule to make sure the Mets don’t have to play the Cardinals again. Mike Matheny will be making 10 pitching changes per game now.

        • TexasGusCC
          September 2, 2017 at 2:29 am

          Actually, Dusty Baker is on a level with Collins on tons of changes.

          You have to bring back Harvey. There is too much talent there that can be unleashed if he’s healthy and you’re going to let it go over $6MM?

          Check Mike Puma’s article in the NY Post. Cabrera seems to be a cheap option at third base, our favorite type of option. Guess he was being showcased but since the Angels went for Brandon Phillips, now the Mets can put Cabrera at third.

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