From when he was hired and again in spring training, General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen spoke of going with “the best 25 players.” This sounded like a simple enough concept, albeit one previous regimes never stuck with – either because there was pressure to play higher salaried players or because a manager favored veteran players. However, when Van Wagenen boldly ignored the merits of arbitration and concerns of super 2 status and opened the season with rookie Pete Alonso on the roster, “the best 25 players” became more than a concept. It became a mantra.
It also became a rallying cry for marginalized players like Dominic Smith, players returning from injury and any number of relief pitchers on the bubble. For the first few weeks of the season while the team was playing well and Todd Frazier, Jed Lowrie and Travis d’Arnaud were all on the injured list, it seemed to be working. Lots of smiles and high fives. Now the offense has slowed down significantly while the pitching has picked up. Injured hitters are working their way back while pitchers are becoming familiar with the injured list.
In-season moves are very common with this regime. With a deeper 40-man roster than this team has seen in years and a AAA affiliate back in the same time zone, there are constant transactions. Players are shuttled back and forth between Syracuse, Flushing, the injured list and, in the case of the badly struggling d’Arnaud, the cut list. After incredulously agreeing to bring the injury prone catcher back as a backup for over $3 million (and trading away or effectively releasing two other internal options), the front office kept a very short leash on him and boldly DFA’d him after a few bad weeks. It may have been a bit ruthless or premature, but you could argue that this fits the meritocracy model. As does calling up Adeiny Hechavarria with Amed Rosario having a fielding slump. Though this move had more to do with contract particulars.
Meritocracy is a nuanced concept though. Look at third base for example. J.D. Davis can hit but can’t field. Todd Frazier can field but can’t hit. Jeff McNeil can do both but can play multiple positions and is a much better hitter than either of our lightweight center fielders.. And, oh yeah, Jed Lowrie is about to join the roster. This one is going to be tough. If we take “the best 25” at face value, Davis shouldn’t be sitting on the bench. You could argue that Frazier’s glove and intangibles even things out, but that is far from the case once Lowrie returns. Lowrie’s return could well spell the end of the line for Frazier, provided there aren’t other injuries and the Wilpons and their aversion to sunk cost don’t step in
Another player who is yet to earn his spot on the roster in Keon Broxton. He’s young, he has some raw talent, he’s out of options and we traded pieces to get him. Again, sunk cost. Obviously, he’s the odd man out when Cespedes returns. But even before then, would we get more out of Carlos Gomez, Rajai Davis or Gregor Blanco? All three veterans are stashed in Syracuse patiently waiting for the call to return to the majors. Also waiting for that call are catcher Rene Rivera, infielders Smith, Luis Guillorme, Dilson Herrera and Danny Espinosa, as well as pitchers Hector Santiago and Paul Sewald.
Aside from playing Frazier too much and letting Broxton hog a roster spot, another head scratching move that doesn’t fit the with “the best 25” concept was demoting Dom Smith, who was one of the team’s hottest hitters at the time. Though he wasn’t playing regularly, he delivered a number of big pinch hits and his energy on the bench helped spark the team. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the team started losing after they sent him down. You could argue it was about getting him regular playing time, but for what? You don’t showcase a guy as trade bait by demoting him. He had value on the big league roster. At the moment, the Mets have a five-man bench that features four very weak hitters. Not good.
d’Arnaud may have been the first shoe to drop. If this team doesn’t right the ship soon, others will follow him out the door. The guys on the field need to know that there are hungry players nipping at their heels. If they don’t belong among “the best 25” Van Wagenen will let them know soon enough.