Could defense be the Mets achilles heel?

For teams in deep rebuild like the Marlins and half the American League it’s easy to just point to the lack of talent as the reason why they can’t finish over .500 and compete for the playoffs. For the rest of MLB, talent can win some games, but to make the playoffs you have to minimize the notable flaws. The 2018 Mets had several, but GM Brodie Van Wagenen perceived the two biggest as the bullpen and roster depth. He’s clearly addressed both of these areas so that now a strong relief corp and a deep bench/AAA will supplement a strong rotation and, hopefully, a strong enough lineup to allow this Mets team to turn the corner.

A team is only as strong as its weakest link. By mid-summer, even the best teams are looking for reinforcements in the trade market as the dog days of summer start to expose their flaws. To get to the point where a team is over .500 at the All Star break, they typically have the core pieces in place – a good 1-2 rotation punch, a closer and at least one reliable set-up man, and a solid top of the batting order. By filling in at the margins teams hope to polish their roster for a playoff run.

Looking at the Mets right now, the flaws are not in obvious places. Unlike the Nationals, we have a strong and deep bullpen and unlike the 2018 Mets, we have a solid bench. When the 25-man roster shakes out there will be additional depth in AAA – now more conveniently located in the same time zone. Hopefully, the Mets will stash one more veteran starting pitcher there for added assurance. The back end of the Mets rotation may not be as strong as the Indians or Cubs, but it’s certainly a lot stronger than the Braves or Phillies. The bottom of the lineup is one potential weakness. If Jeff McNeil can make it as an outfielder and Peter Alonso can stick at first base, the lineup becomes pretty solid top to bottom. If not, the lineup has to support either Todd Frazier or Dom Smith at first base and either Keon Broxton or Juan Lagares from the outfield. A lineup that features Frazier-Lagares-Rosario-pitcher at the bottom is going to struggle to string together rallies. By summer we’ll know where we stand with this situation, as well as the health and potential return of Yoenis Cespedes, the offensive progress of Amed Rosario and the health of the rest of the hitters. Worst case scenario, we can trade for an outfielder in July while beat writer John Harper has an aneurysm ranting about why the Mets didn’t sign A.J. Pollock. MattyMets thinks by then the Dodgers will bemoan signing the expensive guy on the injured list instead of Bryce Harper.

One other potential problem area for the Mets is defense. The world champion Red Sox boasted three Gold Glove winners. The Mets had none and haven’t had one since 2014. In fact, Lagares’ Rawlings award is the only one a Met has won this decade. A far cry from the previous decade when Carlos Beltran and David Wright combined for five, or past eras when players like Rey Ordonez and Keith Hernandez were collecting trophies. Okay, Gold Gloves aren’t everything, but the Mets were not strong on defense last year. Whether the moves they’ve made will improve the defense is hard to say.

The addition of two-time Gold Glover Robinson Cano gives us an upgrade at the keystone that should lead to more double plays and fewer ground ball singles through the right side – a familiar sight with rangeless wonders like Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores manning second base. Maybe his presence also helps Rosario improve with the glove some. Wilson Ramos is certainly an offensive upgrade, but is the backstop combo of him and Travis d’Arnaud really so much better defensively than Devin Mesoraco and Kevin Plawecki? We certainly didn’t have any Hernandez flashbacks at first last year from Adrian Gonzalez, Wilmer Flores and Smith, but Frazier will be adapting to a new position and Alonso’s defense has been called into question. And speaking of players out of position, Jed Lowrie, considered one of the better second baseman around will shift to the less familiar third base, where the superior Frazier will be moved to first. The 35-year-old Lowrie will also be tasked with backing up shortstop where he hasn’t played in three years. Meanwhile, infielder Jeff McNeil will be learning how to play outfield for the first time since college. In the corners, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto are solid if not spectacular. Our best defensive players are two center fielders with suspect bats. Broxton and Lagares will be fine as defensive replacements, but with them on the bench, center field will be manned far less adequately by either Nimmo or McNeil.

Van Wagenen made a lot of moves to improve this team and unlike Sandy Alderson, he paid close attention to depth to protect us from injuries. However, just like his predecessor, he seems to have under-estimated the importance of defense.

23 comments for “Could defense be the Mets achilles heel?

  1. NYM6986
    February 15, 2019 at 7:38 am

    There is nothing that two more runs scored a game won’t help cure. With two more runs a game Jake would have won 20-25 games and not the 10 that he recorded. Wheels 9-1 record to finish the season was as much about his pitching as it was about run support. Yes, only a few verified gold glovers on the team but they have upgraded across the roster and made an injury not a death sentence by needing to bring up a not ready for prime time player. They are much stronger in the field than you present. Neither Conforto or Nimmo embarrassed themselves playing CF and teaching a player to play outfield (McNeil) is not rocket science. We expect Lagares to go down but look at the depth behind him for this year coming up. In the end, it’s less about what you are inferring are defensive inadequacies and more about keeping players off the new named IL. One more solid RH bat could push them to the top of their division (Machado). Then Cespedes’ return pushes them deep into the playoffs. Don’t understand why they don’t make this big investment when additional fans in their seats and those enormous prices for food and drink will recover significant dollars spent on payroll. And you know the contract talks with Jake are just fodder for back pages. Our GM knows exactly what it will take to sign him and it would be shocking if they don’t add 5 years to his contract with big dollars kicking in after 2020 when loads of payroll come off the books. All in all we have to be happy where the team is. And living only a few hours from our new AAA location, I can’t wait to see Alonso hit some out while he awaits the call up to Citifield.

  2. TexasGusCC
    February 15, 2019 at 7:49 am

    Matt, didn’t you hear Peter Alonso was defensive player of the month in July? I’m trying to find the names of the other months’ stalwarts, but not finding them.

    While it may have been stating the obvious, couldn’t Callaway on the first day of camp keep his mouth shut about the outfield alignment? Would it have killed him to keep an open mind on the other players involved, or at least not dash their hopes on Day 1? What has McNeil done exactly to deserve such honor? Callaway seemed a little too giddy. Wonder how Girardi will handle his first day next year.

    • February 15, 2019 at 10:19 am

      Everyone that’s scouted him says he’s barely playable there and another reason why the Mets would be helped by a universal dh.

  3. February 15, 2019 at 9:34 am

    If you’re counting on Robinson Cano to be an improvement in range over Asdrubal Cabrera – don’t hold your breath. Cano had an RZR lower than Cabrera last year. The best defensive second basemen have an RZR in the 800s, Cabrera had a .722 mark and Cano was at .711 and placed 28th among 33 second basemen with at least 500 innings played.

    Cano hasn’t had an RZR in the 800s since 2013. His last three years have been .729, .688 and .711

    Five of the top 10 teams and eight of the top 15 teams in DRS last year did not make the playoffs. With UZR, it’s 4/10 and 8/15

    I’m more concerned about getting in the top 10 in the majors in runs scored. Nine of the top 10 teams last year in runs made the playoffs.

    • February 15, 2019 at 10:15 am

      Cano’s defensive metrics have been scratch or better the last few years no? I mean by drs and uzr

      • February 15, 2019 at 10:09 am

        Matt specifically said, “fewer ground ball singles through the right side” which is talking about range. And while sure hands and a strong arm are part of the Cano package – range unfortunately is not.

        • MattyMets
          February 17, 2019 at 1:55 pm

          Okay, maybe Cano is not the gold Glover he once was but regardless of what these flawed stats say, I’ll take his glove over Cabrera’s and certainly over Flores.

          As for the McNeil in the OF concern, he played some in college and is way more athletic than Duda or Murphy. Not sure what kind of arm he’s gonna show out there though.

    • NYM6986
      February 15, 2019 at 8:51 pm

      Brian, runs scored hits it right on the head especially with our starters and reinforced pen.

  4. Chris F
    February 15, 2019 at 10:27 am

    I think there is reason to be concerned with the defense, but even bigger than that, I think the team has holes, and too many “ifs” (all teams do of course, but these are important). I dont believe anyone can look at Nimmo as a legit centerfielder. Really his best position is LF, where his noodle arm isnt so exposed. Conforto is good in RF, but also not a CF. McNeil is a total unknown and expecting to get ABs from a new position, leaving Lagares and whats his face fighting out for defensive innings. Im not overly excited. I think 1B is a big question mark. Im as excited as can be about Alonso, but most hitters get schooled big time by major league pitching, just ask Conforto. And the defense there fixes to be below average. We will see about 3B and filling it with an ageing 2B, while we have an ageing 2B that Brian rightly points out is not likely to be much of a defensive improvement.

    Brian, the game happens on both sides of the diamond, and they are not independent. Look at Jake last year, even scoring a couple extra runs gets him more magic, but all season long the team pressed for more and got nothing. Also, as defense struggles, it places more stress on the offense, again, a thing this team has not responded to at the plate. Lastly, in general, the team plays 81 games in a park they dont hit well in.

    I think BVW has improved the team. I also think there could be a new approach that generates more runs. Its no secret I absolutely detested the Alderson HR ubber alles game planning, which was by almost all measures a complete failure. That said, Im not sure theres a ton more runs coming unless a bunch of the “ifs” land for the good guys. Im in wait-see mode.

    • February 15, 2019 at 10:23 am

      We have to differentiate between what happens randomly and what happens consistently. According to B-R, Jake got an average of 3.49 rpg last year. Just because that was his total last year, doesn’t mean it’s going to be what he gets this year. In 2017, he had an average of 5.13 RPG and in 2016 the number was 3.53 and in 2015 it was 4.42 – bottom line is if the team scores more runs, you have to figure deGrom will get more runs, too.

      And while the H/R split has been noticeable in three of the past four years for our hitters – all four years the pitchers have been noticeably better at home. We can’t celebrate deGrom’s .494 OPS allowed at home and then complain when the hitters perform better on the road.

    • Rae
      February 15, 2019 at 11:10 am

      Luis Guillorme needs to be the back up SS, 2B man, and 3B man at least from a defensive perspective. Marwin Gonzalez is still a free agent, and he is still looking for a team to sign a contract with for the 2019 season. The Mets really should consider signing Mar Go as he can play every position other than catcher and pitcher. Hey this cat has even pitched relief a time or two while in the Majors. Mar Go brings some speed, the ability to catch and throw the ball from multiple positions plus he knows how to make contact too, and is a real good base runner. Since Marwin’s price has recently dropped the Mets could look to sign him to a two year contract which they really need to do as they would be able to leave Guillorme in AAA/Syracuse, and play Mar Go wherever they need him the most.

      • MattyMets
        February 15, 2019 at 3:15 pm

        Rae – Marwin made a lot more sense for this team than Lowrie but he, presumably, would have cost a lot more. I’m shocked he’s still available. There’s not a team in baseball that couldnt justify a 3/39 deal for him, but maybe he’s holding out for a longer term deal like Keuchel, and Kimbrel.

  5. February 15, 2019 at 11:36 am

    There is no need to carry a defense only MI’fielder….Luis is at Syracuse, and you can get him for a week or two when you need him.

    Defensive shifting and the continued cooperation of LH Hitters makes At’em Balls the rule of the Day…. “nifty” takes place almost exclusively around the 2nd base bag…the the 2bman. There is also a good bit of “Nifty” at First base—I trust the rumor that Alonzo may be a problem….we’ll see.

    They have rotational players for outfield D— They will be ok…range continues to be a big factor in the outfield—- at the very least, make the obvious plays and throw to the right bases—don’t give bases away

    Derek Jeter was a great player, and all he did (certainly, for his last 10 years or more) was catch balls hit at him and make the play in front of him…The Mets can do that.

    • February 15, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      Severino follows Nola in signing extensions the Mets should offer Syndergaard this type of deal https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2019/02/yankees-extend-luis-severino.html

      • February 15, 2019 at 1:09 pm

        Mets rarely buy out arb years and free agent years beyond Wright and Reyes thirteen years ago and Lagares and Niese a few years ago.

        • MattyMets
          February 15, 2019 at 3:16 pm

          David Klein – I had the same thought. Mets haven’t made an attempt to do this since Lagares. We have a few players ripe for this type of deal.

          • Name
            February 15, 2019 at 5:31 pm

            How do you know there haven’t been any attempts? Unless someone wants to be a sneaky rat and go to tell the press, we don’t know what kind of discussions take place between GMs and players

    • February 15, 2019 at 12:21 pm

      Agree on Luis with four man benches you can’t carry a banjo hitter like Guillorme

  6. TJ
    February 15, 2019 at 4:30 pm

    I don’t expect Cano to be a gold glover, but I do expect him to move better than Cabby. And, shifts vs lefties helps.

    Nimmo in CF is not good. My hope is that either of the RH gold glove CFs show enough offense to start some vs RHP.

    Alonso at 1b is a concern, but no one will know until he plays enough innings in the bigs. 35 HR will cure most of his glove issues.

    Ramos should add some improvement and Rosario should also be much better, some of that we saw in the 2nd half of 2018.

    Overall, if they can hang in the middle of the league that should be an improvement over what we saw collectively in recent years.

  7. footballhead
    February 15, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    My relatives that are ardent Mets fans (like me), think I’m crazy that the Mets getting Cano was a mistake that’s causing more problems then what he’s worth. I understand that Seattle gave us Diaz in a trade IF we took Cano; and we bit. Wouldn’t it be nice if Cano got injured in spring training and that McNeil went right back to the position that wowed us last year? Instead, the Mets are attempting to pound square pegs into round holes. Sad.

    • February 16, 2019 at 2:04 am

      No it’s never nice when a player gets injured.

    • MattyMets
      February 16, 2019 at 7:59 am

      Football head – it was the Lowrie signing that triggered moving 3 players out of position – him at third, Frazier at first and McNeil to the outfield. Cano only pushed McNeil to third/backup IF.

  8. TexasGusCC
    February 15, 2019 at 11:39 pm

    While most continue to lament the back end of the five year deal Cano is due, I don’t care. If he gives two or three solid seasons at 2B, and then is moved to 3B, I have no problem. We got rid of the entire contracts for two substandard players that no one else would take off our hands and received possibly the best closer in the game for two prospects – one in the lower minors. Just understand, for a reliever like Brad Hand who was less of a pitcher and more expensive than Diaz, the Indians gave up a top 25 prospect catcher, so the fare wasn’t terrible for Diaz. We should look at the positives sometimes. It pretty depressing that most people bitch about this or bitch about that without seeing a positive side in anything.

    As for the defense, I’d love to see Lagares in CF full time. My thinking is an offensive infield needs a defensive outfield. While I expect McNeil to be fine put there, and want to remind everyone that Alex Gordon went from being a third baseman to a left fielder with no prior experience, McNeil at least has that. We all hope he hits .330 like he did last year, but if he hits .280 and Lagares hits .270, who provides more overall?

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