The easiest thing to do for us armchair GMs is to propose making moves with absolutely no repercussions. But how many bad decisions do real GMs and managers get before they pay the price for their moves and/or non-moves? Unfortunately, at least for this piece, that’s a rhetorical question. But if we were judge, jury and executioner, how would we weight the scales to accurately rate decisions? And how long should a “good” or “bad” move stay on a person’s ledger?
For example, last year’s trade of J.D. Davis and three org fillers for Darin Ruf was a bad move by Billy Eppler. Should we still hold that against him 10 months later? And how much should the decision to cut Ruf, which was a good move, balance out that initial grade?
One thing that gets lost is how important it is not to justify moves by continuing to give players who don’t deserve them additional chances. Usually this is stated by: It’s bad enough you’re paying the guy, you don’t have to compound the mistake by continuing to play him, too.
It was a mistake by the Mets last year to bring Robinson Cano to Spring Training. They compounded the mistake by placing him on the Opening Day roster. But they finally made the right move when they cut him after 43 PA. You can say they moved fairly quickly in this regard, especially with the amount of money that was due him. Or you can say that if they had been more decisive with a move that seemed inevitable, that perhaps Davis and/or Dom Smith would have had a better shot to play up to their potential.
Last year, Davis had a 96 OPS+ with the Mets in 207 PA and the club deemed it not enough and sent him packing. Smith had a 61 OPS+ in 151 PA and was non-tendered in the offseason. Since leaving the Mets, Davis has a 134 OPS+ in 328 PA and Smith has a 95 OPS+ in 193 trips to the plate. And while it’s not instantly available in OPS+ form, Cano slashed .119/.148/.136 in 61 PA after the Mets let him go last year.
These three players were interconnected on the 2022 Mets and the decisions made for one also affected the other two. It’s my opinion they made a mistake with Cano, which at least partially contributed to their mistake with Davis. And while perhaps no mistakes were made with Smith, they let him go and another team has immediately gotten more production from him than the Mets were able to tease out of him in either of the previous two seasons.
Let’s state for the record that no player, manager or executive bats 1.000 and we don’t expect them too, either. All we can hope for is that each group examines where and why they came up short and look for ways to address that particular weakness, if possible. There are thousands of players in MLB history who were done in by a particular shortcoming that they just couldn’t overcome, whether that was the ability to hit breaking balls or have success versus LHP or any other obstacle.
But what if your manager and/or your GM have a weakness in a particular area that they seem unable to overcome?
It’s my opinion, without assigning direct blame, that the Mets have a weakness with how they evaluate old players. Davis, in his age-29 season, is sent out of town and replaced first with a 35 year old, one who puts up a 20 OPS+ and then this year with another 35 year old, one who has an 82 OPS+. All because a guy in his 20s was only putting up a 96 OPS+.
Currently, the Mets have two 34 year olds, corner outfielders who played well last year, but who are stinking up the joint here in 2023. How many opportunities do you give them before pulling the plug, even if not as drastic as the move to send Davis out of town last year?
There’s not any magic number you can use as a barometer. You can’t say that if Player A doesn’t turn it around in XX PA, he never will. It’s art, or intuition or feel. Without a doubt, some of these moves are based on what other options are available. Maybe you give a guy a longer leash if you believe there’s not a reasonable alternative immediately available.
And that’s okay. What’s not kosher is having decisions based on whether you were responsible for bringing in the player in the first place. If you move on from Davis because the previous GM brought him in, that doesn’t mean you give twice as long to a player you’re responsible for bringing in to the organization. Your decisions are every bit as fallible as the previous guy in your job.
This year, the Mets moved on from Eduardo Escobar after 53 PA. Escobar was lousy – .402 OPS – but it was relatively easy to do because Brett Baty was tearing the cover off the ball in Syracuse. Injuries forced them to move on from their lousy-hitting catchers. It should have been relatively easy to do that, too, with Francisco Alvarez hitting almost as good as Baty was. But the Mets thought he wasn’t ready.
It was a somewhat defensible decision at the end of Spring Training to send Alvarez down to work on his defense. But after having seen him in the majors, one of two things is correct. Either Alvarez has greatly improved in this regard – which seems to be the storyline in the mainstream media – or the club’s initial diagnosis was wrong. Regardless, Alvarez is clearly superior to any other option the club has available. At age 21, that would be looked at as terrific news by 29 other MLB teams. But there are rumors circulating that the Mets are considering sending him back to the minors when the two injured catchers return.
That would be completely insane.
If Alvarez was 34 years old, he’d have a spot on the team guaranteed based on his performance to date. Speaking of 34 year olds, the previously alluded to Mark Canha has an 87 OPS+ in 160 PA while Starling Marte has a 69 OPS+ in 173 PA. They’re 2-3 weeks of playing time away from the point last year where Davis was sent out of town. The Mets have an intermediate step they can do here. They don’t have to trade or DFA either player. They can simply stop writing their name into the lineup every day.
And to be fair, neither player is guaranteed to be in the lineup on a given day. But instead of playing 2-3 times a week, they’re playing 5-6 times. That’s because the option to replace them currently on the roster isn’t any better. If only they had an available option at Syracuse like they did with Baty and Alvarez…
Ike Davis looked like a future star when the Mets called him up in 2010. In his first 750 PA for the Mets, Davis had a 123 OPS+ and looked like he was on an upward trajectory. However, a flaw in Davis’ game was soon to be exploited and he either couldn’t or wouldn’t address it. Davis insisted on swinging at breaking balls a foot out of the strike zone. His problem was so bad that I wrote an article suggesting that the Mets give him the take sign whenever he got to a two-strike count. But nothing changed in this regard and instead of becoming a multi-year All-Star, Davis was out of the game before he turned 30, having played just 80 games his last two seasons in the majors.
The Mets’ preference for under-performing veterans is no different than Davis flailing at breaking balls. They keep trying the same thing again and again and again, despite what the results show. Hitters in their mid-30s and later are much, much more likely to continue on a downward path than they are to rebound and perform like they did in their 20s.
All Mets fans are hoping that Marte can rebound. And what we hope for is a return to what he produced just last year, not what he did several seasons ago. But my hope for Marte is greater than my hope for Canha, which is greater than my hope for Tommy Pham. With Marte, you can speculate that part of his poor play this year is injury-related. No such hope exists for the other two, at least that we know currently. While not as good as Marte, Canha was a solid starting position player last year, even if his year-long stats were greatly juiced by a six-week hot streak. Pham hasn’t been 2022-Canha-level good since 2019.
It seems like the Mets are equally hopeful with all three veterans. And that’s something they should be judged on, along with the potential idea of demoting Alvarez and the refusal to call up Ronny Mauricio. They need to stop swinging on hitters in their mid-30s. Or they’ll suffer the same fate.