The optimistic Mets fan might be singing “Don’t worry, be happy” this offseason. And why not, with a team including a bunch of young, elite players, led by Pete Alonso. The pessimistic Mets fan, on the other hand, might well sing “Oh, got something worrying me” with a respectable number of worries to fret about during the offseason. In this piece we will look at the worries. We’ll count them down David Letterman style from five to one.
5. The Jeff McNeil “wrist watch.”
No, we’re not talking about his Timex, but about that wrist fracture that occurred on September 25 when Josh Smith of the Marlins fired an inside fastball that struck McNeil on his right wrist. That errant pitch resulted in a right distal ulnar fracture. The ulnar bone is one of two bones that connect the wrist to the forearm. McNeil had surgery on the wrist on October 2, and reports indicate he should be about ready to go by spring training.
The wrist is an important component of a batter’s swing, and even a slight degradation of the strength and/or the flexibility of the wrist could be cause for trouble. McNeil throws right-handed, and of course the wrist is a key part of the throwing motion as well. Most likely McNeil will heal on schedule and he’ll continue being about the player he has been for the Mets, but for the pessimist, that lingering worry will continue until we see McNeil again contending for the batting title.
4. Zack Wheeler and the looming hole in the rotation.
Wheeler had a good year as a starter for the Mets in 2018 with full year totals of 11-8, 3.96 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. He was really a beast in the latter part of the season, pitching like an ace. As the Mets made their bid for the postseason in the last month, Wheeler was 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. However, Wheeler is a free agent, and most people expect him to sign a hefty contract elsewhere.
Teams with a stacked farm system can often replace a starter from within without losing too much production. The Mets are not one of those teams. So that will most likely mean shopping for a veteran off the free agent list, and the best of those pitchers will have plenty of suitors, including teams with bigger budgets than the Mets. Maybe GM Brodie Van Wagenen can unearth an under-appreciated gem of a starter, or maybe he will end up with a retread on the downside of his career. The 2020 starting rotation is unsettled at this point.
3. The manager-front office interaction.
As of this writing no new Mets manager has been announced. Whoever occupies that position will have to contend with a meddlesome front office. We know that in 2019 the GM phoned in an in-game move (removing deGrom from a game) at least once and most likely more than that. The curious placement of Robinson Cano in the middle of the batting order for much of the season, while he was struggling, also has Van Wagenen’s fingerprints all over it. The GM needs to have input, but micromanaging game decisions is a recipe for trouble.
2. Van Wagenens’ poor record of acquisitions.
The first year GM and ex-agent made a splash in his first off-season, and not in a good way. He showed a marked preference for for aging veterans, especially players who were previously his clients. Sure there were a couple of successes, namely reliever Justin Wilson and slugger J. D. Davis, but there many more misses.
Exhibit A is seemingly redundant infielder Jed Lowrie, inked to a 20 million dollar, two year deal. He was injured almost the entire 2019 season, and when he finally played he had seven at bats with no hits, one walk, and four strikeouts. More misses included aging infielder Cano, the badly regressing relievers Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia (see below) and redundant outfielder Keon Broxton. Maybe Van Wagenen learned from his first year, or, heaven forbid, maybe he follows his MO of last year.
1. The bullpen arsonists need to rebound
Going in to the 2019 season, the Mets seemed to have a solid relief corps with free agent (after a long Mets career) Familia slotted for the eighth inning set-up role, and newcomer Diaz (traded from Seattle,) as the closer. Both were terrible, and both had to be demoted from pitching in high-leverage situations as the year wore on. Familia’s biggest woe was his control, the big right-hander handed out 43 free passes in his 62 innings of work. Far too many of those base runners came around to score, and Familia ended up with a 5.70 ERA and no saves.
For Diaz, his biggest problem was his loss of command of his slider. Diaz has only two pitches in his arsenal, his fastball and the slider, and batters were teeing off on that slider. Diaz finished the year with a 5.70 ERA, and 15 home runs surrendered in 58 IP.
Maybe over spring training Diaz can tweak his slider grip and Familia can learn to find the plate again. If not the FO is going to have somehow find more successful arms to bolster the bullpen, or another disappointing season awaits the Mets.