Mets will face a tough decision on Marcus Stroman

With the 2020 season up in the air, any Mets who were entering their walk years, will be suddenly facing free agency. This includes Yoenis Cespedes, Wilson Ramos, and several pitchers, most notably, Marcus Stroman.

After the Mets parted with two of their top pitching prospects – Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson – to land the former Blue Jays ace at last year’s summer trade deadline, the expectation was that Stroman would serve as the mid-rotation replacement for Zack Wheeler, who was on the verge of free agency. Once Noah Syndergaard went down for Tommy John surgery, Stroman became the Mets number two starter heading into the 2020 season.

The former ace, who is in the prime of his career and seems excited to be in New York, was up to the challenge. In less than half a season as a Met last season, Stroman showed an uncanny ability to induce ground balls, as well as the best fielding off the mound we’ve seen since Ron Darling was our number two. Stroman, short in stature, but long on athletic prowess, possesses an interesting pitch repertoire that offers a nice change of pace in the Mets hard throwing rotation. He relies on a mix of sinkers, two-seamers, cutters, sliders and change-ups. He generally pitches low in the zone and pitches to contact, though he does rack up his share of strikeouts too.

Born and raised in New York and just short of 29, Stroman seemed to be poised to have a nice second act with the Mets, only he’s very quickly going to hit free agency. The sacrifice in prospects was significant, but the Mets thought they were getting a season and a half of control at the time, which may not be the case now. Of course, the Mets could never have predicted that the 2020 season would be either shortened or canceled at the time of the trade, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to have to make an important decision on the right hander sooner than later.

Simply letting him walk is probably not wise given that, in 2021, Syndergaard will be coming off a lost season to surgery and entering his last year of control, and rotation mates Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha will also be hitting free agency. Stroman was set to earn $12 million this year, his last arbitration eligible season. On the open market, a prime age pitcher with Stroman’s pedigree is sure to command a $20 million per season, multi-year contract. Given the economic turn of events since Zack Wheeler cashed in on his deal, Stroman might command a bit less, but still will not come cheap given the dearth of quality, available starters each off-season.

Offering that type of deal would require a pretty big leap of faith on the part of Mets ownership who, fairly, won’t have seen much of Stroman in New York. However, with so much uncertainty right now, from the 2020 season to Mets ownership change rumors, it remains a possibility.

If, on the other hand, the Mets front office decides to let Stroman walk, the Mets would be left with both a depleted farm system and a half empty rotation.

Noah Syndergaard’s injury raises a lot of questions

That the hard-throwing, weight lifting Noah Syndergaard finally succumbed to Tommy John surgery wasn’t that big of a surprise. After all, the list of triple digit fastball throwers who haven’t torn their ulnar collateral ligament is a lot shorter than the list of pitchers with that tell-tale ugly scar on the inside of their arm. Whether this is due to modern training regimens, strict pitch counts, hard sliders, or other factors is beside the point. The inevitable happened and now we’re left to wonder how to overcome this loss, should the 2020 baseball season ever resume as scheduled. The injury raises several other questions as well.

Did the Mets organization see this coming?
It seems that way given that they’d made several attempts to trade Syndergaard over the past two years. There had been a lot of speculation, including from this blogger, that the Mets might be better served locking up Zack Wheeler and using Syndergaard as a valuable trade chip. Wheeler already has Tommy John surgery in the rear view and would likely come a little cheaper (though that remains to be seen in light of the monster contract Philadelphia gave him), plus the younger and more controllable Syndergaard was a more valuable in trade. Suspecting this injury was coming certainly would have helped instigate this push.

If the Mets thought this was inevitable, what was the main reason?
Is it really just that it seems to happen to all hard-throwing pitchers these days or was there more to the presumed speculation? Was the front office concerned about his weight lifting? Maybe they saw something in his mechanics that might make him more susceptible to an elbow injury? Or perhaps, more nefariously, their medical staff noted the hint of something during a physical exam? Purely conspiratorial speculation, but it’s no different than astute fans on Twitter and Reddit connecting the dots between Brodie Van Wagenen, A.J. Hinch, Jessica Mendoza, Carlos Beltran and Jake Marisnick.

How long will Syndergaard be out of service?
Obviously, he won’t step on a pitcher’s mound in 2020, though he will still collect every penny of his $9.7 million salary, so don’t feel too badly for him. If Syndergaard is able to have the surgery now, which is no given in this environment, it typically takes about 15 months for recovery which would put him into June 2021 and that’s optimistic. Wheeler needed two years. Matt Harvey and many others came back relatively quickly only to suffer a second, more serious injury.

Will he ever be the same pitcher?
Optimistically, he could be better. One of the issues with Syndergaard is that he seems to forget that he can’t just overpower Major Leaguers. This isn’t AAA where a 100 mph will blow most hitters away. At the highest level, no fastball is too fast, especially when it’s relatively flat. With a low-spin rate and an inability to pitch up in the zone, Syndergaard is surprisingly hittable for a pitcher with his power. If he loses a tick off his fastball, he might learn to rely on it less and get batters out with a better mix of secondary pitches and location.

Who will replace him in the rotation?
Well, at least we can knock off that stupid chatter about having six starters, as if that presented a problem. If and when this season starts, we can expect a rotation of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha. That’s not the best group of starters we’ve ever had in Queens, but it’s potentially strong enough to get us into the playoffs, particularly with a powerful lineup providing run support.

Who is next in line?
This is where it gets a little thorny. Given the injury histories of Wacha and Matz, and the lack of available free agents at this moment, the Mets would be wise to stretch out either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman to be ready to jump into the rotation. One could argue Lugo is already their third best starter. Meanwhile, if Gsellman can recapture his slider/sinker combo with a better baseball (i.e., higher seams) this year, he can certainly be effective as a starter, as he showed a few years ago. David Peterson, who is slated to begin the year in Syracuse, showed a lot of promise in spring training. The AAA rotation was also expected to include Corey Oswalt, Stephen Gonsalves, Walker Lockett and Erasmo Ramirez. Any of those arms could wind up in Flushing at some point in the season.

Does this foil our chances at a 2020 playoff run?
No. Syndergaard is an important part of the team, but we can win without him. This is not deGrom we’re talking about. Stroman is a very capable number two and the rest of the rotation is good enough. This looks to be the best offense we’ve had since 2006 and the bullpen, with a few bounce back years and the addition of Dellin Betances, should be at least good, if not great. At the mid-season trade deadline, whenever that turns out to be, the Mets could always look to make an addition, but for now, this rotation is good enough to begin the season with, and potentially good enough to lead us atop the NL East.

Mets keep it in-house with hire of Luis Rojas

Following the search, hire, and controversial dismissal of Carlos Beltran, the Mets opted to replace him with an in-house candidate and one of the runner-up candidates from their previous search, Luis Rojas.

Having been with the Mets organization since 2011, Rojas has been an organizational mainstay with managing stints with the rookie league, low A Savannah, high A St. Lucie, and AA Binghamton. Throughout that time, he not only became familiar with the front office, other coaches, and the spring training complex, but also got well-acquainted with several prominent players now on the big league club. Rojas managed Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith, among others.

Aside from his organizational familiarity, Rojas also brings some impressive baseball pedigree as a member of the illustrious and storied Alou family. He is the son of Felipe Alou and the brother of Moises Alou. Though Rojas only played one season of professional baseball at the rookie level, he has said that his aspirations always lied with coaching. Much younger than Moises, his childhood memories are of his father as a manager and now he’ll have the opportunity to carry on that tradition for a team for which his big brother once played.

Just 38-years-old, Rojas will not only be the youngest managers in Major League Baseball, but he’ll be younger than some relief pitchers and other active players, including future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. His youth may work to his advantage, allowing him to relate well to young players. Noah Syndergaard has commented about Rojas’ workout regimen and he’ll know doubt be hands on in spring training, taking the field during drills. By all accounts, he’s affable and approachable and being bilingual will certainly help him forge connections in the clubhouse with players like Yoenis Cespedes, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and others.

It may have taken a circuitous and nontraditional path to get to this hire, but handing the reigns over to Rojas may well turn out to be a smart decision for the Mets.

Ya Gotta Believe?!

Against all odds and reason, the Mets are now within spitting distance of the second wild card with a real chance to fight for the playoffs. These are the same Mets who were left for dead at the All-Star break a month ago, after a brutal month of June all but sunk their season. But something clicked and the team has gone on a miraculous 19-6 since then, to climb back in the hunt.

They’ve been feasting on a weak schedule. They’ve been riding a healthy rotation that’s hitting it’s stride. And the bullpen and defense haven’t been as disastrous as they were earlier in the season. Other NL teams went cold. Maybe Pete Alonso‘s rally cry of #LFGM got them going. Maybe it was the decision to not trade a starting pitcher and instead add one at the trade deadline. Maybe their new pitching coach has helped straighten out issues with some of the hurlers. Whatever the case is, this team has been more fun to root for since 2016.

The team now sits three games over .500 at 59-56 with a lot of baseball left to play – 47 games to be exact. Or, looking at it another way, 15 series. Of those 15, just five are against teams under .500 and eight are against NL East rivals. To “play meaningful games in September,” the Mets will need to win more than half of their remaining games, nine of which are against the division-leading Braves. Fifteen games will be against the Phillies, Nationals and Cubs, who all currently sit between the Mets and a wild card spot. The Mets will also play three against likely playoff-bound Cleveland. Simply beating up on the bad teams – Kansas City, Arizona, Colorado, Cincinnati and Miami – might not be enough to land a wild card. It will likely take at least 87 wins, which requires the Mets go 28-19 the rest of the way.

It’s not impossible. Especially with our rotation and the momentum we have going. Plus, we have more remaining games at home than on the road. But the remaining schedule makes it a real challenge. We may not have a chance to catch the Braves in the division, but we’d better stand up to them in three upcoming series if we’re to have a shot at the post-season. And let’s not forget, we’re in fourth place. The Phillies and Nationals won’t make it easy for us to leap frog them in the standings.

Savor this moment, fellow Mets fans. Wear your blue and orange hats and shirts proudly. For a few days, the sun is shining on us and we’re happily licking at our ice cream cones. It could be gone my Monday as the Nationals are coming to town this weekend with their three top pitchers looking to knock our cones splat on the sidewalk.

3 ex-Mets singin’ the swan song

In the past week, former Mets Matt Harvey, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lucas Duda were released by their teams. Harvey’s attempt to resurrect his stalled career with the Angels came up way short as he put up embarrassing numbers. Duda had a similar experience before being cut loose by Kansas City. Cabrera was  slashing a modest .235/.318/.393 when he was released by the Rangers. Everyone’s favorite ex-Met, Curtis Granderson, may be next in line as the veteran has been hitting below the Mendoza line almost all season for the Marlins.

It’s a bit sad really as these players all hold their place in Mets history. For too short a period, Harvey electrified the whole city as the Dark Knight. Though the back of his baseball card may not reflect it – thanks largely to a lack of run support – Harvey had two brilliant seasons for the Mets and a very memorable post-season. At his peak, Harvey had mound presence and swagger to go along with a filthy arsenal of pitches. He can still throw 95 mph, but the extra ticks, the late movement and the trademark two-strike slider are all gone. Harvey is still young enough to attempt a comeback. Maybe with some rest, strength training and the right mentors he can find a second life as a back-of-the-rotation guy or reliever.

Mets fans have a tainted view of Duda as he made one of the most costly errors in the 2015 World Series. He’s also well-remembered for hitting home runs either with a big lead or no one on base. That said, the big guy was a likable, soft-spoken guy with a boyish farmboy charm and you never knew when he might launch one onto Shea Bridge. Plus, he was such a good sport about letting Granderson and others make him the butt of clubhouse gags and social media jokes.

Granderson left an indelible mark on the Mets organization just through his charitable and community efforts. His infectious smile, energy on the field and penchant for the big hit certainly won over his New York fans as well. And who could forget his brilliant catch in the 2016 Wild Card game? This may be Granderson’s last year as a player, but, with his charm, you have to think we’ll be seeing more of him around the game. He’s really well suited as an MLB Network or ESPN personality.

Cabrera, due to his versatility, may well find a new home to finish out the season, and along with several other ex-Mets he’s hoping he might have one more good one left in the tank. Relievers Addison Reed, Fernando Salas and Carlos Torres have all struggled this year either with injuries, effectiveness or both. But with so many bullpens in disarray, a new job is always a phone call away.

When it comes to relievers, the Mets have a lot of ex-players floating around, some better than others – Darren O’Day, Ollie Perez, Hansel Robles, Jon Gant, Joe Smith, Jerry Blevins, Chasen Bradford, Gabriel Ynoa, Tyler Clippard and probably a few more that I missed. Relievers are hard to predict, but there are some ex-Met everyday players still making hay, like Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, and Neil Walker.  Catcher Travis d’Arnaud is bouncing like a dead cat in Tampa, while his former caddy, Kevin Plawecki, is hanging on as a backup in Cleveland.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I watch for these names in the box scores. They may not be on the Mets anymore, but some of them – like Granderson and Flores – are hard not to continue rooting for, as long as they’re not playing against the Mets.

 

Mets stand pat at the trade deadline

After shocking the baseball world by trading for Marcus Stroman and then surprising no one by giving away Jason Vargas to save a few bucks, the Mets stood pat at the trade deadline.

Zack Wheeler’s name was seemingly brought up more times than Donald Trump’s in the past 48 hours. But despite rumors having him attached to nine different teams, none came up with a deal that satisfied Brodie Van Wagenen. Similarly, Van Wagenen wasn’t blown away by any offers for Noah Syndergaard, Edwin Diaz, Todd Frazier, Dominic Smith, Wilson Ramos or any other Met rumored to be floated in trade scenarios.

So, basically we upgraded our rotation, at least in the short-term, by swapping out a five for a two.  To make this happen however, we had to part with two pitching prospects, further weakening our depleted farm system.

There will be a lot of questions in the off-season, starting with do we attempt to extend Zack Wheeler or offer him a qualifying offer? In the meantime, we’re playing good ball and have an outside shot of making a run for a wild card. With a strong rotation and nine easy games in front of us, we should at least be able to get back to .500 soon. Then we can see if this franchise has another miracle to rally around.

An interesting tidbit I found on Twitter is that at some point the Mets were considering flipping Stroman to the Yankees.

Could this be Jose Reyes’ swan song?

Some cringe at the thought, while others seem content moving in a different direction, but the universal thought of Jose Reyes not being the Mets everyday shortstop beyond this year would be anything but weird.

We’re not talking about Derek Jeter leaving the Yankees weird, but Jose Reyes and the Mets together have been synonymous ever since he was signed as a 16-year-old wunderkind from the Dominican Republic.

With contract negotiations between Reyes and the Mets likely being postponed until after the 2011 season, this very well could be the last we see of Reyes in a Mets uniform.

It’s a strange concept to wrap your head around. Reyes along with David Wright were set to be the franchise cornerstones. They were supposed to lead the Mets out of the dark and win championships.

That never happened, and may never will.

Reports this week have suggested that Reyes and the Mets will postpone extension talks until after the season is done, much the same way talks have broken down between Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals.

When Sandy Alderson was hired as the team’s general manager, one of the major issues he faced was how he would handle the core group of players (Reyes, Wright, Carlos Beltran, etc.). Well, nearly three months into the job Alderson has established that he has the same sentimental attachment to the core players as he does as a day old sock.

Alderson wants to mold the team in his image. He wants things to change. Most of all Alderson wants to win.

Despite calls from Mets fans to hire Wally Backman, Alderson hired a no-nonsense coach in Terry Collins to change the country club type atmosphere. Alderson has demonstrated that he will not be swayed by public sentiment.

Alderson has a vision. And with each passing day, that vision may not include Reyes in the future.

I’m getting a little far ahead of myself. I don’t know exactly what Alderson is thinking and it all depends on what Reyes does this year. If Reyes can churn out a career year, stay healthy and make the Mets a playoff contender then all bets are off.

Who knows, maybe this laissez faire attitude by Alderson is a motivational tactic set to light a fire under Reyes. However, the message is clear: shape up or ship out. No one is expendable.

From a personal side, I want Reyes to play motivated, get his money and make the Mets relevant again. It’s natural to have a sentimental attachment to Reyes. He is fiery, feisty, exuberant and above all else exciting. Plain and simple, he is a fan favorite.

But, sometimes we have to look at the bigger picture and check our sentimental hearts at the door. Mets fans who adore Reyes must brace for the possibility that this could be the last we see of him.

With the contracts for Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, Carlos Beltran and perhaps Francisco Rodriguez coming off the books, a new era is dawning.

Alderson will have a say if Reyes will be part of the new era. But mostly, it is Reyes who is in charge of writing the last chapter.