While everyone’s attention is on the GM Meetings, mine are focused more on an internal issue. While important groundwork is laid during these meetings, typically very little is consummated right now. Which is why my mind is centered on the walking wounded. One of the problems with the offseason is that we don’t get updates on how injured players are progressing. And when seemingly half of your team finished the season on the DL, that’s a pretty big issue.
It’s been apparent that the Mets can’t really move forward with their offseason plan without some idea of how Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler are doing and where they expect to be, health-wise, at the start of the season. Surely, Sandy Alderson has a much better idea than anyone else. It just makes it much more difficult for the armchair GMs out there.
What little we’ve heard about Harvey seems to come from new manager Mickey Callaway, who seemingly has no illusions about a return to 2013 or 2015 form for the former ace. Instead, Callaway wants Harvey to be the best his body will allow him to be in 2018. That’s either an extremely pragmatic or extremely depressing point of view. Perhaps it’s both things at once. Either way, hopefully Scott Boras will come out with a 25-page book detailing Harvey’s offseason workout in an effort to build up his trade value. Not because of a preference to see Harvey traded but rather so we know what’s going on with him.
Lugo pitched last year with a partial tear in his elbow and also missed two starts due to a minor shoulder injury. Because of his elbow issues, the Mets decided he would be better off working as a starting pitcher, with the more established work/recovery patterns. But all things considered, it’s likely the Mets would prefer to use Lugo out of the pen. Will he be recovered enough this year to be a reliever? While he may have the lowest ceiling of the five pitchers mentioned in the second graph, his health might be the biggest factor in how the team’s offseason plans unfold.
Few were surprised that Matz was injured again last season. But there’s more, for lack of a better word, optimism around this particular issue than the ones he’s suffered previously. That’s because Matz had the same injury and surgery in late 2017 that Jacob deGrom had in late 2016. And deGrom was easily the Mets’ best pitcher last year. Can Matz make the same recovery that deGrom did? That might be the default stance if it was another pitcher. But given Matz’ history, it seems that most people are just waiting for the next injury to happen.
Syndergaard was so good in 2016 and the club was expecting more of the same last season. Instead he came down with a lat injury that cost him most of the year. The good news is that Syndergaard came back and made two Spring Training-like appearances for the Mets at the end of the season. The reasonable projection would be for Syndergaard to be the healthiest of our quintet. And since he’s the best pitcher of the group right now, that’s indeed good news. But since it seems like we’re not allowed to have good things, you’ll forgive those of us who are still nervous about his health.
Wheeler was shut down with a stress reaction in his pitching arm. It was originally thought he would return in 2017 but after throwing off flat ground in mid-August, his rehab was terminated. While his injury history isn’t as lengthy as Matz’, Wheeler seems to be doing his best to catch up to the lefty in that regard. We saw a glimpse of what a healthy Wheeler could be last year, as in a 10-start stretch he had a 2.91 ERA and a 1.227 WHIP. Getting that over 30 starts would be wonderful. But does anyone have any idea if Wheeler can actually give the club that?
Last year the plan seemed to be for the Mets to have three healthy pitchers all year long and rotate four guys through the remaining two spots depending on who was off the DL at the time. Of course the plan was doomed from the start, as Lugo and Matz both failed to make the Opening Day roster due to injury and they were soon joined by nearly everyone else. Only deGrom and Robert Gsellman were healthy all season and Gsellman was ineffective and sent to the minors.
Can the Mets make the same sort of gamble this time around? With Rafael Montero (18 starts last year) and Chris Flexen (9 starts) being more of an option that they were this time last year, the Mets would appear to have six pitchers to rotate through two spots, assuming three could remain healthy. But it seems unlikely that Alderson would go down that path again.
So the offseason direction might hinge on which pitcher(s) the front office feels the most confident about being healthy in 2018. The most likely outcome would have the team chasing a mid-rotation guy, leaving money for a half decent offensive addition, too. Maybe a Lance Lynn–Neil Walker combo or something similar. Recall that the Mets were open to a multi-year deal with Walker last offseason but – presumably due to pressure from the MLBPA – they couldn’t come to terms. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Walker back in Queens next year.
My preference would be to aim higher, either Jake Arrieta or J.D. Martinez, with Arrieta being the clear top choice due to Martinez’ defensive issues. Sure, that means other spots would have to be filled with current options or bargain basement free agents. Some people would rather spread the risk around and import upgrades at several positions. That’s certainly a defensible position.
But the Mets are playing a high-risk, high-reward type of game, trying to remain a playoff contender with an injury-filled roster. My opinion is that a high impact player fits better with what’s already on the team. Yet my expectation is that Alderson doesn’t view the team this way and will instead look to spread the risk around with multiple additions.