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.