On these pages, all winter long, Mets 360 writers and contributors (and what a knowledgeable bunch we are) have dissected and debated every move our bold new general manager has made. Brian and others were not on board with the big Seattle trade – either because they find Robinson Cano‘s contract hard to swallow or couldn’t bear to part with Jarred Kelenic. I was not a fan of the Jed Lowrie signing as I thought the younger and more versatile (and still unsigned) Marwin Gonzalez was a better fit. Really, you could question a lot of Brodie Van Wagenen’s moves – who he signed and who he didn’t consider signing – but one thing he’s done differently than his predecessors, that you have to applaud, is build up the B team.
Many fans and writers felt the Mets should have been in on the big names, like the four most impactful free agents who still remain unsigned. Signing one of those players might have made for a good story, but upgrading the roster will get us more wins. That FanGraphs has us pegged for an 8-win improvement speaks to the improvement and I’m here to argue that their estimate is too conservative. When I look at this roster compared to that of the last two seasons, I see more talent, more depth and more injury insurance.
For too long this franchise has been writing off seasons to injuries. Smart GMs and owners recognize that injuries are an inevitable part of the game and plan accordingly. A big part of the sustained success of the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers can be attributed to filling out the 40 man roster with solid players and not just AAAA guys and cast-offs.
The Mets will improve significantly this year based on this alone. For the past five years or more we’ve been filling in for injured or resting players with guys who don’t belong in the majors. 2018 might not have gone off the rails in May and June if we had real depth. Last season we gave 800 ABs to Jose Reyes, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Lobaton and Jose Bautista. Those four retread castoffs looked washed up and can’t find jobs this year, yet they combined to appear in 269 Mets games last year. Think the Mets might have won a few more games if those 800 at bats were given to the likes of Jed Lowrie, Peter Alonzo, Travis d’Arnaud and Keon Broxton? You could argue that it took several injuries to lead to the mid-season signing of Jose Bautista, but the Mets have wisely signed some solid veteran players to minor league contracts so we can stash a few solid backups in AAA to start the season, including outfielders Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco, infielder Dilson Herrera, and catcher Devin Mesoraco, as well as a number of interesting arms like Luis Avilan, Hector Santiago and others. Additionally, versatile newcomer J.D. Davis will help push infielders T.J. Rivera and Dominic Smith into this group of Syracuse standbys.
Last season Corey Oswalt got 12 starts (5.85 ERA) of which the team won four. Five other games were started by relievers or AAAA guys that didn’t give us a chance, including P.J. Conlon (2), Chris Flexon, Drew Gagnon, and, yikes, Jerry Blevins. That’s 17 games we essentially gave away. This year, those games will be started by Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman, who the Mets can better afford to borrow from a much deeper bullpen. And speaking of which, the bullpen was easily our biggest weakness last year. In the second half, we had no closer. Now we have two and one is lights out. Last year we had one ineffective lefty, now we have three southpaw options. Whereas we were auditioning unproven guys for key spots, this year those same guys will battle it out for the last spot, while the others stay loose in nearby Syracuse awaiting the call.
Over the course of a 162-game season there will be injuries, hot and cold streaks, tougher and easier schedule stretches. One way to win 90 games is to give away as few games as possible and give the team a chance to win each time. A day game after a night game or the second game of a double header should not be given away because we have to put guys on the field who don’t belong there. When the scheduled starting pitcher gets food poisoning or tweaks his back in warm-ups, we shouldn’t have to basically forfeit by handing the ball to an ill-equipped set-up man.
When Van Wagenen spoke of “eliminating if’s” he wasn’t introducing a brand new concept. This is what the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers always do. They don’t throw in the towel over a few injuries. They expect them and have players in place to step in and step up. The importance of deepening and lengthening our roster cannot be understated. There’s still time for Van Wagenen to add even more depth by seizing on the veteran desperation that is starting to simmer among the available second tier free agents. In the past week, some name players have started accepting minor league deals, including Mesoraco with the Mets. Stashing a few more insurance guys in AAA – namely another starting pitcher, would be wise. There are plenty of worthy candidates like Ervin Santana, Doug Fister, Clay Bucholz, James Shields, Yovani Gallardo, Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson, and our old friend Bartolo Colon.
As a fan, won’t it be nice to not have to give up hope on our season by July because of a few inevitable injuries? Such a simple strategy, yet we’ve overlooked it for years. Funny we needed to hire an agent to be our general manager in order to figure this out. In any case, it’s time to take this team seriously again.