Welcome to the second installment of our baseball chat, again with Chris Flanders. Most of this took place before the news about Robinson Cano hit but know that both of us were not disappointed at all.

Brian – Everyone was all excited about the dual Steve Cohen/Sandy Alderson press conference the other day and truthfully it would have been huge news if the fans didn’t come away pumped. There were so many positives, chief among them, at least for me, was they were going to be concerned about the acquisition, not the cost. But one thing that came across as a sour note was the discussion on retaining Luis Rojas. Alderson acknowledged the dugout gaffes but essentially swept them under the rug, saying it’s the easiest thing to learn/improve/fix.

I hate the idea that consistently making sub-optimal decisions in the dugout is no big deal. I hate the idea that it’s okay to have a dolt in the dugout as long as he doesn’t make mistakes with the press. Is it wrong to want the Mets manager to be more like Gil Hodges and less like Kellyanne Conway?

Chris – I was pleasantly surprised watching the news conference, and certainly got what I hoped to hear from Cohen. Instead of hyped-up hyperbole coming from meddling ownership, I saw a guy who looked at the landscape with optimism, but more importantly, realism. He certainly said all the right things from my perspective. Given he’s a numbers guy for a living, it strikes me that the approach he will take with the team will be based on facts. I also liked the notion that he’s not just planning to throw good money after bad in building a club. I plan to give Alderson regime number two the benefit of the doubt to begin with, despite my serious reservations about his idea of baseball. What I did like was his taking control of the front office with initial set of good-byes, the fact that his moving on selecting a GM, and his recognition of the abysmal defensive performance of the team (which he took shared responsibility for). That leads to your thoughts about who will be on the top step of the dugout next year.

I certainly see consistency in your negative view of the Rojas experiment. I wonder how you might consider that as part of a “small data” consideration? I did find it interesting that Rojas was not left in a more of a wait-and-see mode given the absence of a GM in place, who surely should have input on that decision. Next to Callaway, I thought Rojas looked pretty solid, and there is a clear affirmation from the clubhouse. I don’t think that can be entirely dismissed given the clear “group think” decision making in modern baseball. It will be interesting to see how the new GM fits in. Too bad Kim Ng was snapped up by the Marlins.

So, what do you see as the pressing matters for putting a team on the field? Having Stroman come back caught me by surprise, but clearly the diminished resources from last season took a toll. In that regard, Cohen is insulated from that assuming he’s already cleared the accrued debt from last season in the purchase. I still am a firm believer in the “strong-up-the-middle” approach so see catcher and center field as projects to address, and of course pitching. It is also time to get less left-handed at the plate.

Brian – I want to like Rojas. He came up through the system and he’s young enough where he could be here 20 years. But my preference is for an old guy who doesn’t screw things up over a young guy who does. My hope is that Rojas was being ordered by the previous administration to do some of the bonehead stuff that happened – we shall see.

To me the pressing matter for the team is pitching. They need at least one more high-end starter and it wouldn’t hurt to pick up another mid-rotation guy, too. And they need relief help, too. My roster makeover had them DFAing Jeurys Familia but that doesn’t seem very likely. But they still need a late-inning guy. After that, it would be nice to get J.T. Realmuto on a short-term deal, even if it means overpaying him. A two-year deal would be ideal and a one-year contract would be fine, too. Mets don’t need him for three years and no one needs him for five or more. George Springer would be a very nice addition but that absolutely necessitates a trade. Hard to argue for that route when we don’t know who the GM even is yet.

Who do you see being the team’s Opening Day left fielder?

Chris – I definitely think a bunch of decisions worked their way down from the GM to the dugout, whether pregame or as part of a fixed game plan (so many pitches, only two times through the line-up, matchy matchy for relievers etc.). Will be interesting to see if Rojas is on the top step next year. Say the new GM hires a veteran skipper, would you be good with having Rojas be bench coach?

There is no doubt pitching is a huge deal. I struggle to see how all the pitching needs will be addressed in a fashion that makes this team a serious contender for 2021, but hope springs eternal I suppose. I think they need to pick up three major leaguers. Do you see Thomas Szapucki making a difference next season? I know that is a long-debated topic here! I’m more skeptical about David Peterson for 2021 than pretty much everyone here. I would get him to Syracuse. I don’t place much value any numbers from this season for all the reasons imaginable. That’s not to say accomplishments weren’t real (good and bad), but that I question how representative they are for an actual 162-game season, not a projected one. I am surprisingly comfortable with the pen for the most part. In my eyes the pen is last issue to address – that is exactly where Brodie Van Wagenen went off the rails in trading for Edwin Diaz. I did not think the team was a legit contender.

The outfield is this never-ending problem largely made by Alderson, so it will be interesting to see how this works out. Alderson did make mention of needing to improve defense and the need for a center fielder, so that partly answers this question. I will be relieved if Brandon Nimmo is not in center, so I put him in left field on opening day, or in a different uniform. Michael Conforto has really taken to right field, being surprisingly nimble and confident. No need to change that up.

It is super interesting to hear the range of feelings about who will be on the hot corner next season. I really enjoyed reading your perspective on the Jeff McNeil option at third. I certainly see the idea that McNeil has some games behind him in the minors, but many more at second. The left side of the infield is so much harder to play defensively at game speed with the throws much longer with shorter time and a need for higher accuracy. The distance from home to the third baseman on a normal set up will be 100 – 110 feet, with a throw of 120-130 feet, whereas the distance to a second-base position is 140 – 155 feet, with a throw of 70 – 90 feet. An exit velo of 100 mph gets a ball to the third baseman in 0.75 seconds, whereas the same thing for second base is more than a second. I think one is born with the gift to play on the left side in the big leagues. How do you think this shakes out?

Brian – Isn’t a veteran manager’s bench coach essentially his drinking buddy? To me, Rojas’ big problem wasn’t making decisions in real time as much as it was making good decisions, period. Does that get solved being a bench coach? Seems unlikely to me.

At this point, Szapucki might as well be a unicorn in that he sounds fantastic but it’s hard to believe he’s real. How can you count on him for anything in 2021? It’s better to have no expectations and be pleasantly surprised. As for Peterson, it seems clear to me that there’s talent there and my preference would be to start him in the majors but be prepared to yank him if he performs more like his xFIP than his ERA. It just seems starting him in the minors would be an undeserved confidence killer after what he did in 2020.

In a way, the Mets are painted into a corner with their bullpen. There’s Diaz, Seth Lugo, Familia, Brad Brach, Chasen Shreve, Dellin Betances and Drew Smith. That’s not counting either Robert Gsellman or Justin Wilson or any of the swing guys who may be out of options. To me, the only way not to be concerned about that group is if you believe that Betances will rediscover his velocity and/or Smith takes a big step forward. There’s no indication they’ll use Familia in the sixth inning role he needs to be in and anyone who thinks they know what they’re getting from Brach and Shreve are kidding themselves. To me, the pen is a bigger concern than the defense.

We’re so conditioned to trust offensive numbers while being suspicious of defensive numbers because we believe we can evaluate defense better with our eyes. Conforto looks good with the eye test defensively in right field but DRS and UZR have him as essentially a league-average defender in right the past two seasons while Statcast has him as a fairly solid negative. To me, he’s not a problem defensively but it’s going overboard when people say he’s an asset. My guess is you’ll laugh, but in my mind, Conforto in RF is about equal to McNeil at 3B. Maybe they’re average, maybe they’re a little worse – but if that’s your biggest problem, you’ll probably be ok.

Chris – Wow, well wait a couple hours and things really move in Queens! Ordinarily that might be a lead in for astonishingly bad news, but since Cohen has become owner, there is nothing but unicorns and fairy dust falling around CitiField. Let’s hope the obvious answer to the suspension of serial cheater/doper Cano for 2021 is the installment of McNeil at his natural position on the right side of second base! Certainly, opens up options to address third base in different ways including using Cano’s salary to bring in a third baseman. The only better news would be Cohen eating the remainder of the contract and letting him walk. At the same time news is circulating that Michael Chernoff is a front runner to take the helm of baseball operations. I’ll say this, Alderson v 2.0 is a lot more to my liking already.

13 comments on “On Luis Rojas’ return, the top offseason priority, bullpen vs. defense

  • Thomas M Christensen

    Leaving Rojas as manager I think will be a big mistake because watching him for the past season I saw he really wasn’t aggressive enough in tight situations . Many times the Mets had 2 runners on at first and second and they needed a run to tie or go ahead he let the batter swing away instead of sacrificing those runners into scoring positions . The batter swung away and into a double play killing the rally . I’m from the old school if you need a run or 2 don’t go for broke get those runners in scoring position so a fly ball or a rolling grounder will get you a run . His ability to let a pitcher stay even though that pitcher doesn’t have it ,he gets behind by 5 runs after leaving the pitcher in that’s getting pounded .By that time the game is almost out of site . The name of the game is win and if you see the pitcher isn’t getting the job done go get him and bring in your long game relief pitcher . I watched Gil Hodges take control of his team and let the players know they are being paid to play pro baseball so if your going to forget that you’ll be a bench player . He always said there are guys sitting on the bench just waiting for the chance to show what they can do so you better get the job done as a regular or be a bench sitter. I love baseball and played it with all my heart and to see a player that’s getting big money and can’t do his job then he better wake up or loose his job to the sitter ! I hope that Cohan gets the people the Mets need and don’t sit back and get what’s left during the FA that’s under way because it will be same oh same oh all over again ! “Lets Go Mets ”

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  • JimO

    If/when the overall roster improves and if Rojas was hindered by GM-level instructions last year, we might all be saying that he could be a candidate for manager-of-the-year next year.

  • José

    What about Theo Epstein? He has parted ways with the Cubbies, and is a disciple of Beane, who was once protégé of Alderson.

    If the Mets don’t snag Epstein, I will be reduced to tears…

    • Chris F

      Theo is taking time off. I think theres little to no chance of hiring him.

  • Seattle Steve

    It is easy being a Monday morning QB…your 2…3…&4 SP either injured or a no show…your thrust into a situation where you are judged on 60 games…you have to deal with a pandemic…the team is defensively flawed…and Alonso was terrible compared to his rookie year…Rojas deserves to be retained…we do not need an old retread to become the manager.

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  • Metsense

    Rojas came up through the system just like Davey Johnson did. He worked for Alderson for eight years. He will have more analytics and scouting and no BVW or Jeffrey. He shouldn’t be judged by 60 games. Alderson’s judgement should be followed.
    Now with Cano gone they should get Realmuto (5/$120M), Springer (5/$120M), Morton (1/16M) and Walker (3/$30M). So …Nimmo is their leftfielder. The only defensive weak link would be Davis at third but use Guillorme as the late inning defensive replacement. Lugo in the bullpen will solidify it.

    • Rich

      Thank you, dead on. This is a guy who has paid his dues and done a great job at every stop. The same people that want a dynasty arent patient enough or smart enough to allow it to be built.

      This is a good leader and he is a true, loyal Met. Carry on Luis!

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  • Remember1969

    I too, would like to appreciate Luis Rojas. I think I would probably give him another year to show he is it for the long haul. I am not one for pulling in and recycling the managers.

    That being said, there needs to be a ‘what does this team look like’ directive among all management. I want to see better and more aggressive baserunning, better execution with runners in scoring position (or anywhere on the bases). First to third outs rather than strikeouts trying for the seats all the time; basically, just good fundamental, entertaining baseball.

    Defense matters. The management team needs to be bought into that concept.

    Pitching is needed, I agree. I would like to see a couple high-upside arms added. Not sold on a guy like Tanaka. Would rather try Walker or even Paxton. Odorizzi is fine. I think exploring a trade for a top level prospect that is ready to make an impression and is under team control for a few more years. Don’t trade the three top prospects.

  • Rich

    Gil Hodges was a great example in regards to Rojas. Sadly you guys got it backwards. Hodges was not some renowned strategist. He was a leader, a strong disciplinarian (most were in those days) and considered a players manager.

    What are our lasting memories of Hodges? Walking out to LF to take Cleon Jones out for not hustling. The shoe polish HBP. His bullpen management consisted of using Seaver and Koosman 9+ innings and then call on Tug until someone won. In fact in the 69 WS he used a total of 6 pitchers, in the entire series.

    Hodges was a great leader and they see that in Rojas. If you want to be competitive every year you need to find that manager who is going to be around a long time. They see that in him and think they could be right.

    • Brian Joura

      Tommie Agee was the ’69 Mets best power hitter but Hodges moved him to the leadoff spot because he couldn’t stomach Bud Harrelson’s .281 OBP batting first.
      Hodges ran platoons at 1B, 3B and RF
      He successfully balanced 6 SP for 5 spots
      He ran a deep bullpen that didn’t need to use guys 4 times in 5 days
      Successfully converted Tug McGraw to a reliever

      But sure – you go right ahead and pretend that all he brought to the table was “leadership.”

  • TexasGusCC

    Ok, time to contribute my opinions to some of the stuff I’ve read above.

    Luis Rojas: I remember reading about A. J. Hinch screwing up as a rookie manager. I recall Joe Torre in his first managerial job. He didn’t do that well but he obviously didn’t have the talent. How about Bruce Bochy of the Padres? They got rid of him so he can go to San Francisco and win three World Series. Or Bud Black in San Diego, now he’s well regarded in Colorado for some reason. If Rojas has talent, give him a real bench coach – not one that wants his job – and a real shot. That’s how talent is found.

    On Conforto: This is a big year for Conforto. His walk year and he needs to show that .412 BABIP wasn’t what will define him. If he goes back to his previous numbers, his huge payday will not be as big.

    The Mets never had a real base running coach, i.e. Davey Lopes. When the Nationals brought Trea Turner up, Lopes was in his ear all the time. Look at Turner now. Why can’t we have nice things? There are some good base runners ans stealers out there that can help a Rosario and improve a Nimmo.

    Lastly, if the bullpen is holding this team back again, it’d be a shame. If Betances doesn’t have velocity in March, don’t wait for it like this past year. If Brach loses the strike zone again for some reason, let him go; there’s no upside. Kilome has no options, so you need to put him in the back of the bullpen for evaluation. I wouldn’t hesitate to release some underperforming players rather than allow the team’s leads to keep disappearing. Tender everyone and evaluate all March. Take nothing for granted.

  • TexasGusCC

    Also, I’d like to see Carlos Beltran come back as a coach as he has much to offer on so many different levels. Cora is back, Hinch is back, Beltran deserves it. The Astros threw him under the bus. Sure Altuve didn’t want his jersey ripped off because “he was shy”. Right… and the whole team understood what he meant and left him alone. Beltran forced them all to cheat – whatever.

  • NYM6986

    Happy to give Rojas another year. He will improve on his decision making and have better players – hopefully. Managing is different if your team puts runs on the board- just ask anyone who gets to manage with frequent leads. Happy McNeil lands at 2B and let’s be realistic, we can be competitive but it’s going to take some time, some trades and some cash. This should be the start of something big!

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