Mets: Year in Review and a Look Ahead

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Arthur Pardavila III/Flickr

The New York Mets’ Wild Card playoff game against the San Francisco Giants was a smaller representation of the overall pattern in 2016: A solid night on the mound, a quiet night at the plate, and some runners were left stranded. The only thing that seemed to be missing was the plethora of home runs.

But, from a wider lens, it wasn’t just the dingers that seemed to misplaced.

Jacob deGrom. Matt Harvey. Steven Matz. Zack Wheeler. Neil Walker… David Wright.
The Mets successfully salvaged an injury-plagued season by returning to the playoffs for a second consecutive season, and in the end, the 2016 campaign should be seen as a positive one that allowed the team to groom farmhands like TJ Rivera, Brandon Nimmo, Robert Gsellman, and Seth Lugo. Heading into next season, the Mets will now have more options than anticipated, and in an upcoming offseason of uncertainty surrounding Yoenis Cespedes, the farmhands will provide the Mets with some useful trade bait, if necessary.
Outfield
Notably, the Mets have options in the outfield should Cespedes decide to walk, but the fact of the matter is that the Mets were a sub-.500 team when Cespedes was not in the lineup. Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares, Nimmo, and Curtis Granderson are expected to be a part of New York’s plans heading into Spring Training, and most importantly, Mets fans desperately hope Bruce is able to settle into New York. Nimmo, for all of his promise and value, isn’t ready to be an every day player. Juan Lagares is an outstanding defensive player, a former gold glover, and has potential as a hitter, but Terry Collins has always limited his playing time. All things considered, there are enough questions in the outfield to warrant a strong push to retain Cespedes. Bruce is inconsistent, and although his return is likely, it is not a sure thing; Conforto endured a sophomore slump and may explore a shift to first base; and Curtis Granderson, despite a late-season resurgence once he moved down in the order, spent most of the season lagging behind in hits, RBIs, and walks. Granderson will also be 36 years old on opening day.
Key pickups
The crowded outfield is a good problem to have for Sandy Alderson, who has done an outstanding job piecing together this team in recent years. On the surface, acquiring players such as Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and Rene Rivera did not seem to be all that impactful at the time, especially compared to the big splash when the team retained Cespedes. But the Mets would not have made the playoffs without these guys, and all three of them managed to carve out an important role on the team: Rivera became the only viable defensive catcher and served as an extremely important veteran presence for the young pitchers; Cabrera exceeded expectations, especially considering his age, and performed both defensive and offensively; and Reyes returned to the Mets as the leadoff spark plug he was when he left, only this time he was much more humble and remorseful after an alarming and disappointing domestic abuse case last offseason. It should also be noted that Neil Walker, despite missing the end of the season, still played 113 games and tied his career-high in homers with 23.
Infield
Heading into 2017, the infield will be prepared with plenty of backup plans. David Wright will tentatively return to third base, which would likely move Reyes over to second base with Cabrera returning. Lucas Duda is expected to be tendered, which would pave the way for his powerful bat to return to the lineup on a daily basis. However, if Wright’s offseason rehab backfires, Reyes may return to third and the Mets could explore re-signing Walker, but that is not as likely. The Mets will probably treat his case like Murphy’s in that they will send him a qualifying offer, then leave it at that if he wants to go elsewhere. If he departs and Reyes shifts to third in the event that Wright can’t return, the Mets would likely prefer to see TJ Rivera and Wilmer Flores fight for the job at second base. Flores will likely see plenty of playing time anyway, with Wright’s spinal stenosis limiting his playing time.
Meanwhile, the Mets are said to be considering Conforto at first as a backup option if Duda gets hurt. Alternatively, Conforto could be inserted at first when Duda needs a day off in order to get Conforto some much-needed at-bats.
Pitching
Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard matured immensely in 2016, and deGrom’s late-season injury should not overshadow the fact that he managed to keep his composure after a rough start to the season. As always, he powered through when he didn’t have his best stuff — including a dip in velocity for awhile — and ultimately learned even more about how to get himself through tough innings and tough outings. Syndergaard’s biggest achilles hill — his slow delivery — was exposed and exploited, but he is working on it. He is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and once he trims his pitch count, he will be even more spectacular.
As for the rest of the rotation, it is not a given that they will have a perfectly smooth return. And, although Bartolo Colon kept the magic alive for another season and hopes to return, he will be 44 next season. The Mets will be preparing for anything, making the emergence of Gsellman and Lugo that much more important. In the bullpen, the Mets should be thrilled that the two most important pieces, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, will be back in Flushing. Lefty specialist Jerry Blevins played well and seeks a return to the Mets, but it is too early to know how exactly they plan to fill in the rest of the bullpen. For all of Familia’s postseason struggles, he still was an outstanding piece of the puzzle in 2016. He gave up only one home run, collected the most saves in a season in Mets history, and finished the season with the most saves in baseball.
Keys for 2017:
  • Average: If Cespedes walks, the Mets should look to spend on a player who can hit for average. The team is so power-heavy and so reliant on home runs that the scoreboard tends to show all or nothing. Further, the team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position is alarming enough that this player could simultaneously help put runners on base and drive runners in. It does not help that Granderson’s on-base percentage dipped, ultimately limiting the team’s chance to score extra runs on the long ball.
  • Lefty specialist: The Mets may retain Blevins, but if not, they cannot settle for a mediocre lefty like they did with Antonio Bastardo, who was a disaster before the Mets shipped him back to Pittsburgh. Between Reed, Familia, and even Robles, the Mets have plenty of right-hand options in the bullpen. Lefty Sean Gilmartin was decent out of the bullpen in 2015, but struggled mightily in 2016.
  • Production from the catcher position: The Mets are growing impatient with Travis d’Arnaud, who has underperformed defensively and offensively. He also has a problem staying healthy. Things are certainly not looking up for a player who was such a disappointment that the team felt more comfortable with a 33-year-old catcher who only hit .222. If d’Arnaud can rebound with a season reminiscent of the one he had in 2015, it could ease the concerns, but as it stands today, the Mets know they are not getting what they need at the position. They have also provided plenty of opportunities to Kevin Plawecki, but he has demonstrated that he is not a regular option at catcher and simply cannot hit. If d’Arnaud struggles out of the gate in 2017, the Mets should look to make a mid-season move in 2017 by acquiring a true catcher. Time is running out on the clock to groom young catchers at this point.
  • Health: The Mets lost nearly the entire starting rotation and nearly the entire infield. Ideally, they’re looking for the exact opposite in 2017, but the infield is not young. Wright, Cabrera, Reyes, and Duda are all in their 30s, and more than one of them have had a long history of injuries. To counter this, the good news is that Flores can play any position in the infield and TJ Rivera serves as a viable option as a middle infielder. Conforto may be able to slide in at first, if necessary, and the Mets were even considering Travis d’Arnaud at first base in spring training in 2016.
  • Coaching Staff: Terry Collins is retaining his entire coaching staff in 2017, and with the exception of Teufel, Collins and his staff did a great job utilizing the limited resources they had to work with in 2016. They deserve another shot. But Terry Collins, despite his reputation for being a great manager off the field, has lost far too many games on the field — a more important job and one that should weigh much, much more than what he does off the field. It is likely the reason why the Mets were considering firing him in August. He needs to be more aware of the circumstances and should listen to his own gut instinct rather than just going by how the pitchers feel in the later innings. He lost far too many games with poor judgement and his lineups have always been inconsistent and questionable — both in the regular season and postseason. Meanwhile, Teufel was wildly inconsistent and indecisive as a third base coach. Kevin Long has been credited with turning players such as Daniel Murphy into hitters, but outside of home runs, the team turned in a lackluster season at the plate. While Collins has his problems, the rest of the coaching staff needs to do a better job of assisting him down the stretch. The obvious silver lining on this coaching staff was Dan Warthen, who deserves the most credit for the job he did with the limited pitching staff.

Follow Matt on Twitter @matttracy or contact him via e-mail at mail@matttracy.com

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Reflecting on Reyes: In what may be his final games as a Met, Reyes fights for batting title

Jose Reyes and Ryan Braun are neck-to-neck in the race for the batting title in the National League, but Mets fans are worried that their days of watching their beloved Jose in a Mets uniform may be numbered.

The Mets, long since eliminated from playoff contention, are embarking on a six-game home stand that will conclude their season full of back-page tabloids regarding the club’s financial hardships, underachieving and overpaid stars, and of course the potential final season of having Jose Reyes.

Reyes has a deep history with the organization, the only team he has been with — dating back to his young days in the Dominican Republic in 1999. Eddy Toledo, a scout for the Mets at the time, pressured the team to sign the 16-year-old Reyes after an impressive tryout. Omar Minaya was the head of International Scouting for the Mets at the time and convinced upper management to take a look at him despite his small frame, and Reyes was offered a $22,000 bonus. The team was so impressed that they had him skip the usual process of sending Dominican players to the Dominican Academy to assimilate them and prepare them for the transition to American culture. The team just sent him straight to the minor leagues.

Reyes made an immediate impact though, blowing through Rookie League ball, Single-A, and Double-A, leading the minors in several categories. In Reyes’ first game in Double-A, he had five hits and four RBI. Reyes ended up winning Double-A All-Star honors and was named the Most Valuable Player of the MLB Futures Game in 2002.

The Mets were preparing for Reyes to be their future shortstop, and signed veteran Rey Ordonez to a one-year contract in 2002 to pace Reyes and give him some time to prepare. Reyes was called up a day before his 20th birthday and impressed everyone from the beginning. He had a multi-hit game in his debut and hit a grand slam later that week.

It wasn’t too long after that Reyes became the every day starter for the Mets, becoming a key part of their lineup and infield for years to come. He led the Majors in triples three out of four seasons, and led the National League in stolen bases three years in a row. A four-time NL All-Star, it is not surprising that Reyes also holds the Mets record for runs scored, stolen bases, and triples.

Reyes became a fan-favorite in a hurry. Reyes would be caught on camera with a huge smile on his face and an energetic attitude, regardless of how poorly the team was playing. Reyes became known for taking time out of his pre-game stretching to sign autographs for fans and he earned the respect of the fans early on. He entertained the Shea (and now CitiField) faithful with his Professor Reyes Spanish Academy series on the JumboTron during games, as he would teach fans a new Spanish Word and react to how well they could or couldn’t say the word. He proved to be an essential piece of the organization, from being a fan favorite to his performance on the field.

As it comes full circle, the free-agent-to-be Reyes is still at the top of his game at the age of 28, despite a history of injuries. Whether he leaves or not, he will go down as one of the best players to ever put on a Mets uniform. After having an exceptional season at the plate, Reyes is currently tied with Braun for the National League batting title with a .329 average with just two series remaining in the 2011 season. Braun’s Milwaukee Brewers, who have already wrapped up the NL Central Division Title, are concluding their season with a home stand against the Marlins and Pirates.

Reyes and the Mets hope to end their season on a high note as the star shortstop fights for his first batting title. At least for the CitiField faithful, there is something to cheer about — they just hope it won’t be the last time they cheer for Jose in a Mets uniform.

My interview with HoJo and his take on the state of the Mets

He’s a fan favorite in Queens, and he has nothing to do with the chain of hotels. He ranks in the top three on the Mets’ all-time list in home runs, RBI, doubles, and stolen bases. Howard “HoJo” Johnson sat down with me in downtown Cooperstown in what was his first chance in several years to come to the historic town, as he just finished a four-year stint as the first base and hitting coach for the New York Mets.

“It’s pretty awesome (to be in Cooperstown) because I get to be around so much baseball history,” said Johnson. “I get to see players I played with and against.”

That he did. Johnson was sitting at the same table as the great Dale Murphy, former Braves outfielder and first baseman. Murphy, who won consecutive NL MVP awards during his playing days, was sharing laughs with Johnson and many others who were in Cooperstown for the Induction Weekend festivities to celebrate the enshrinement of Roberto Alomar, Pat Gillick, and Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame.

“I have a lot of respect for all of these guys,” Johnson said. “Having the chance to sit next to Dale Murphy and Pete Rose the last two days, you just can’t beat that for a couple days in Cooperstown.”

Now that Johnson has completed two separate stints with the Mets — one as a player and one as a coach, I asked him what the difference was like to be a part of the Mets organization as a coach compared to a player.

“When I was a coach, it was a little bit different because I had to learn how to deal with each guy’s personality and get the best out of them,” he explained. “When I was a player, I just worried about myself.”

Johnson knows that the structure of the coaching stuff and upper management looks much different now than it did when he coached his last game for the Mets in 2010, but he doesn’t seem to think much has improved.

“They’re playing .500 ball, which is probably about as good as they can be,” he said. “When I was a coach with them, we were above .500 every year until the last couple and the only reason we did that was because of so many injuries. It’s too hard to compete with the Phillies and Braves when there are so many injuries.”

Johnson also said he wasn’t sure where Mets shortstop Jose Reyes will end up after the season. Reyes, who is hitting .353 and leading the league in several categories, is expecting to cash in big as he becomes a free-agent this off-season.

“It’s hard to say where he will end up,” said Johnson. “He’s going to be getting quite a payday next year and nobody really knows where he will end up. He’s well deserving, whatever he gets and wherever he goes.”

Finally, I asked Johnson for an update on his own life these days now that he is finished with the Mets, and he said he’s doing some little things but nothing too big.

“I’m living down in Atlanta now,” he said. “I’ve been doing some work on amateur baseball there and just trying to stay busy.”

At the conclusion of the interview, Johnson wasted no time. He  stood right up and asked everyone where Murphy ran off to. HoJo slipped through the nearby door in pursuit of his old friend Murphy as the two continued their weekend in Cooperstown.

Mets get back on track thanks to the return of Reyes and Beltran

No Carlos Beltran, no David Wright, no Ike Davis, and most importantly, no Jose Reyes. That was all you needed to know to understand how difficult it was for the Mets to get through the past couple weeks, and most recently, the last couple days.

Thankfully for the Mets, however, Reyes returned from his hamstring injury last night after missing a couple weeks, and Beltran was also back in the lineup after missing the weekend due to the flu. The Mets could not have asked for much more from either of them in their return.

While the pair may not be in the same lineup for very much longer as Beltran is likely on his way out the door, they made an immediate impact as Beltran reached base five times and went 3-for-3 with two doubles and Reyes had yet ANOTHER multi-hit game in his return.

The rumors swirling around baseball right now indicate that Beltran is all but gone. Sandy Alderson probably doesn’t believe the Mets have a shot at catching the Braves, and he will gladly ship the healthy Beltran while his value is sky high and hope for a decent prospect in return. Some rumors have indicated that the Mets and Phillies are talking about swapping Beltran for top Phillies prospect Dominic Brown. This may be a long shot, but Alderson has been shopping Beltran for some time now and it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets several teams that are in the NL playoff race in a bidding war for Beltran, which would force them to give up more than they want just so that they prevent Beltran from going to a fellow contender.

With that said, it is no surprise that sources say that the Mets are definitely not trading Reyes this season and they will allow him to play out the remainder of his contract this season before he becomes a free-agent. I personally have no idea how the Mets would manage without him — the middle infield was just atrocious in his absence — botched double play opportunities, bobbled balls, miscommunications, and rookie mistakes by the shortstop Tejada hurt the Mets and in turn allowed too many unnecessary runs to score.

With Alderson already shipping Francisco Rodriguez to Milwaukee, it seems he has already started to carry out his plans for 2012 and the Beltran trade rumors easily confirm his intentions. I would expect that the Mets will continue to rebuild their minor league system and create some cheaper options for 2012 so that they are able to have a shot at affording Reyes.

Despite the high price tag that will come with Reyes this off-season, it is obvious that the Mets absolutely need to do whatever it takes to re-sign him.

Lack of trade talk shows Mets are serious about contending in ’11

The Mets could have considered trading soon-to-be free agent Carlos Beltran and some other key parts of the Mets’ lineup by this point, but they have remained in contention in the National League and all indications point toward the club keeping Beltran for the remainder of the season. There was talk earlier this season that the Mets were considering trading Jose Reyes, but he is now in the midst of the best season of his career, by far. This doesn’t mean that the Mets are not hoping to make some moves before the trade deadline.

The New York Daily News claims that Mets GM Sandy Alderson is currently shopping relievers Jason Isringhausen, Tim Byrdak, and closer Francisco Rodriguez. All of these relievers have had decent seasons so far, which increases their value for another contending team that could use them. The Mets are especially shopping K-Rod due to the expensive option in his contract that would take effect in 2012.

Besides these three relievers, don’t expect many other Mets players to be considered when trade discussions take place. The Mets have already exceeded expectations thus far and the team is fairly confident that they have the pieces in place to contend in 2011 or at least remain in the middle of the pack. Despite injuries to David Wright, Ike Davis, Johan Santana, Chris Young, and others, the team has poked their head above water as they sit at 43-42 and in third place in the National League East.

SNY announcer Keith Hernandez should be more careful of what he says

Keith Hernandez has a history of saying controversial statements on the air during Mets games on SNY. In 2006, he made headlines and was reprimanded by SNY when he said the following statements when he noticed there was a woman in the Padres dugout:

“Who is the girl in the dugout, with the long hair?” Hernandez said. “What’s going on here? You have got to be kidding me. Only player personnel in the dugout. I won’t say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don’t belong in the dugout.”

People haven’t forgotten that Hernandez said that, and just the other day he made another controversial comment. During the Mets/Cubs game at Wrigley Field, Hernandez was explaining how the weather impacts baseball players. He went onto compare how players dressed for colder weather during his career as opposed to today, arguing that players shouldn’t wear anything more than just a turtleneck to keep their upper body warm. He said that he has seen players who wear hoods during games, and he said that they shouldn’t wear a hood because baseball is a “manly sport”.

People didn’t make a big deal about what he said this time, and that is probably because he didn’t direct it towards anybody in specific. However, you would think he would know to be careful when he is discussing anything that has to do with gender or masculinity after he landed in some hot water the first time when he said that women do not belong in the dugout.

Matt Cerrone’s Q&A with the new general manager

Matt Cerrone had the chance to speak with new Mets’ general manager Sandy Alderson by phone yesterday, and he asked a great question for the fans. Many fans only see Alderson in front of a camera or behind the microphone, so they don’t really know what happens behind closed doors. Cerrone asked Alderson about his day-to-day operations as general manager and what a typical day at the office is like.

Here is what Alderson had to say:

Well, it’s important to keep in mind that when you have a game, there’s sort of a daily cycle that starts after the game when adjusting to a win or loss and the emotional response to coming down from that. I probably get to bed late, then get back to the ballpark around 9 am or so, followed by more discussion about the game from the night before. We might have a staff meeting to coordinate what’s going on in our scouting and player development operations, and there may be some administrative work that needs to be done. And so most of the office time is spent in the morning, early afternoon before the manager, the coaches and players report back to the ballpark and you prepare for the game.

Cerrone also asked Alderson what kind of communication he has with the coaches and manager during the season.

Yes, there might be a meeting or two with coaches and the manager, just a quick conversation, to talk about where we are and check in with the trainers, to begin preparing for the game that night. It’s all a 24-hour cycle that repeats itself.

As always, great work Matt.