Brodie Van Wagenen’s meritocracy is being tested

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.

19 comments for “Brodie Van Wagenen’s meritocracy is being tested

  1. NYM6986
    May 10, 2019 at 7:23 am

    It looks more and more that we will need to wait till next year to get rid the contracts of Frazier and Lagares and Vargas because they won’t eat those sunk in costs. With all the complaints about the manager and GM, neither get to hit, pitch or field a position. When does Ramos start hitting to make up for his defensive woes? Why not send Nimmo down to work on his stroke? How in the world is McNeil not penciled in everyday? What happened to their approach to go the other way to beat the shift that Chili preached early on? They were winning with small ball but now long for the long ball. And management should be fined for thinking of resting Alonso who is the only layer to put a charge on this team. It’s always been hard to be a Mets fan but I wouldn’t switch.

    • May 10, 2019 at 8:44 am

      The Mets have played 37 games and McNeil has played in 36. The only game he hasn’t played in was on April 3. Since April 7, he’s started 28 of 29 games and played three innings in the other game. That’s about as everyday as you can get.

  2. MattyMets
    May 10, 2019 at 7:40 am

    Note: this post was written before Smith got called back up.

    • Michael
      May 10, 2019 at 8:38 am

      That’s good to hear because he should never have been sent down.

  3. NYM6986
    May 10, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Oops. I stand correct on McNeil. Thanks.

  4. Metsense
    May 10, 2019 at 10:04 am

    This is a thought provoking article. I and glad that Dominic Smith is back because he was 1 all of the 25 best players on the team. I am a supporter of Guillermo, AH is a better player.
    When Lowrie gets back, the big decision will be Frazier or Broxton. Broxton should be the one who is released because he is redundant to Lagares. Davis can play the corner Outfield positions. I think Frasier is really on thin ice and should be replaced by Gonzalez of Syracuse. This move would balance the roster.
    TDA should have never been signed.

    • MattyMets
      May 10, 2019 at 2:19 pm

      Devil’s advocate- Broxton has 3 years of control and Lagares is in his walk year. Lagares, Nimmo and Conforto have all struggled with staying on the field. AAA alternatives are all older dudes looking for a last gasp.

      That said I still think he’s a DFA candidate unless he really shows something soon.

  5. Mike Walczak
    May 10, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Could also be the end of the line for Tebow. he is hitting .131.

    • Chris F
      May 10, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      While there is so much money to make? No chance!

  6. Chris F
    May 10, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    “Meritocracy is a nuanced concept though.”

    This.

    • May 10, 2019 at 4:46 pm

      My daughter is reading “Animal Farm,” and if I recall correctly — All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others

  7. Jack Strawb
    May 10, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    ” Obviously, [Broxton’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.”

    Broxton was worth something like 4.0 bWAR in 800 PAs prior to 2019, so dumping him because of 50 PAs this year would be unwise unless he’s simply done–while dumping him in order to bring up the truly washed up trio of Gomez, Davis, and Blanco would be GM malfeasance. Of the four, only Broxton has a realistic chance to be productive.

    Given Lagares’ frailty and that McNeil has no business in the OF (there’s a reason why, in an era where positional flexibility is prized, he was never more than an emergency LFer prior to 2019), even with Cespedes back the Mets will need the full complement of 5 OFers. Nimmo, Conforto, Cespedes (who needs to be handled gently–if he comes back at all), and… ? It’s a small chance Lagares can handle the pace the Mets have him on, so it’s entirely possible, even probable, that Cespedes will give the Mets all of 3 guys who should actually play the OF.

    They’re going to need Broxton. Badly.

    • May 10, 2019 at 7:10 pm

      This is a very charitable reading for Broxton. You’re lumping everything he’s done prior to this year in one pile, as if he’s been consistently productive throughout his time in the majors. What he did in 2016 is propping up the rest of his number.

      In 602 PA since the start of 2017, he has a .208/.290/.398 line for a 79 OPS+ and that’s simply not good.

      • Jack Strawb
        May 10, 2019 at 9:49 pm

        Yes, I’m including 2016 because, get this, it actually happened. It is part of Broxton’s actual ability. It is representative of his skill set. And because of when it happened it is an essential and projectable part of his resume.

        Another way to put it is, Broxton’s downside is what we can expect from Gomez, Davis, and Blanco, while none of them have Broxton’s upside at this point in their careers, from where they couldn’t snag even a Granderson-level contract from the sad Marlins franchise.

        There’s also the plain fact that Broxton’s defense–which you blatantly want to pretend doesn’t exist (why else would you simply write it out of his record as if the only thing position players did was hit the ball?)–was so extraordinary in 2018 that it made that season 75% as valuable as the season you want to claim is the long lost pinnacle of his career.
        Come on.

        • May 10, 2019 at 10:22 pm

          Broxton’s MLB career will soon be over because he can no longer hit at an acceptable rate. I didn’t talk about him being successful on four of his five steal attempts, either. It’s nice that he can do those things. They don’t come close to making up for what he can no longer do.

        • Metsense
          May 11, 2019 at 7:05 am

          Contending teams Fields the best 25 players. Braxton is not one of those 25 players this year. I hope when they cut him that no one claims him and they can put him in the minors. That said, every year there is a Carlos Gonzales, Rajai Davis or a Blanco to fill the your roster. Broxton is not a building block.

  8. May 11, 2019 at 8:42 am

    Broxton Badly needs ab’s…his contact problems have increased with less play. It’s difficult to give him ab’s at the Big Level, and it’s tough to dismiss the talent and the price point. I believe he’s outperform Lagares if they were both playing consistently….again, comparing them may not be the point as much as salvaging some value in either of them—trade or roster piece.

    I’ll admit…I’ve mostly given up on Juan—i didn’t want to. I’m holding hope for Broxton,,,it may not be in the logistics for it to happen here. Again…he needs AB’s at some level.

  9. May 11, 2019 at 8:43 am

    Jack Strawb…. I think we cross path’s on the Knicks blog??????

    • MattyMets
      May 11, 2019 at 10:22 am

      the Mets roster has too many players who can field but can’t hit and visa versa. This has been an ongoing theme for as long as I can remember. I chalk it up to being a mid level team. We’re rarely the worst team so we don’t get the #1 pick to ever get the generational talent, plus our budget dictates that we have to settle for second tier free agents.

      One of the few exceptions among position players is Michael Conforto. He has all-star potential but too streaky. I think McNeil could be there too if he was allowed to play the infield.

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