Reese Kaplan -- Where It Went Wrong -- Pre-Season


As people wring their hands (and wish they could wring the necks) of folks in the front office, one needs look no further than the final series of 2017 to see the blueprint for where things unraveled and why 2018 was doomed for failure. 

In that three game series on September 29th, 30th and October 1st, starting assignments were given to pending free agents Jose Reyes (and his .246 average) and Norichiki Aoki.  Gavin Cecchini got but one opportunity, Kevin Plawecki got one start at 1B and Matt Reynolds made a rare LF appearance.  This was clearly a team in trouble, both then and in need of a serious overhaul during the offseason. 

The Mets did manage to purge some payroll dollars in the deals that saw Addison Reed, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, Jay Bruce and Neil Walker leave town.  Many assumed some of that moolah would be reinvested into the team’s roster during the offseason.  As they say, be careful what you wish for…

It was clear going into 2018 that there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed.  Juan Lagares had never returned to his 2014 form that landed him his lucrative contract extension, so it seemed reasonable to assume the club would target a true centerfielder to stand between Yoenis Cespedes in LF and, when healthy, Michael Conforto in RF.  Coincidentally, one of the best centerfielders in the game, Lorenzo Cain, was a free agent and could solve both the CF and leadoff batter problem. 

Now the Mets seemed to avoid any player with Qualifying Offers in order to avoid giving up the draft pick compensation.  (Apparently Michael Cuddyer still stings.)  Cain wound up signing with the small market Milwaukee Brewers for $80 million over 5 years, $14 million this year, then going up one million per year thereafter. 

The penny wise and pound foolish New York Mets signed Jay Bruce for $13 million per year AAV for three years.  Even without the injuries and subpar performance, they were simply not the same types of players.  Bruce was an all-or-nothing slugger who could carry or bury a team with his at-bats.  Cain is a consistent hitter, stellar fielder, high OBP leadoff extraordinaire and a base stealer.  Depressingly, Cain is hitting .297 for the first place Brewers with a .401 OBP, an .840 OPS and 17 SBs.  You get what you pay for.

I won’t belabor the awful performance of Anthony Swarzak who likely is still recovering from his injuries and thus not feeling like himself on the mound.  However, Sandy Alderson seemingly bid against himself to give the one year flash-in-the-pan a two year deal worth $14 million.  He’s a career 23-31 pitcher with a 4.28 ERA. 

Steve Cishek and his career 2.67 ERA went to the Cubs for $6.5 million.  Brandon Kintzler and his career 3.32 ERA signed for just $5 million with the Nationals.  Fernando Rodney who has a career 3.70 ERA signed for $4.25 million with the small market Minnesota Twins.  Tony Watson and his career 2.58 ERA went to the Giants for a cool $3 million.  David Hernandez and his career 3.89 ERA went to the small market Cincinnati Reds for the whopping sum of $2.5 million.  Craig Stammen and his career 3.72 ERA went to the Padres for $2.25 million.  Seunghwan Oh signed for just $1.75 million with the small market Toronto Blue Jays after sporting a two year American career of 2.88 ERA and a nearly 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio.     Peter Moylan and his career 3.11 ERA went to Atlanta for $575K. 

Now suppose they had gone for a couple of those arms instead of Anthony Swarzak?  Where would the league’s worst bullpen be now?  How about just ONE of those arms and then using the money saved to pay the incremental difference for Lorenzo Cain?

The Jose Reyes contract was small but it was clear last year he was nearly done as a big league player.  He could no longer field, took more than half the season to begin hitting to finish below .250.  All he had left was some speed.  The narrative that he was there to mentor Amed Rosario doesn’t seem to hold water as the re-upped Asdrubal Cabrera was a Spanish speaking former shortstop who could do the same while playing alongside him.  That was simply money thrown down the drain and it shows with his .169 average and -2 DRS at 3B.  Don't you think Gavin Cecchini or Phil Evans or (and I can't believe I'm saying this) even Ty Kelly could deliver that much, ahem, offense?  

Now many people were clamoring for the Mets to open the vaults for either Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn.  It turns out both have had rough times adjusting to their new homes, but no one has had a rougher time than Jason Vargas.  I guess when they captured over-the-hill glory with Bartolo Colon and thought perhaps they could do the same again with Vargas.  Pitching coach Dave Eiland knew him from KC but it also meant he was there for his second half plummet off the cliff when he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. 

Again, there were alternatives that would have been far more prudent even before the 2018 implosion and injury that have rendered Vargas into the pitching equivalent of Jason Bay.  Lefty Francisco Liriano has won more games, had a lower career ERA and signed with the Tigers for just $4 million.  Doug Fister was available and signed for $3.5 million.  Trevor Cahill signed with Oakland for under $2 million with superior stats.  Jeremy Hellickson is making minimum wage.  Take a deep breath…Jason Vargas will earn $6 million this year, $8 million next year and we must pay another $2 million to get out of a third year – total of a minimum of $16 million.  Ugh!

The one lone transaction made by the club in the offseason that seemed to bring about almost universal accolades was the contract extended to Todd Frazier.  Yes, he’s a great clubhouse presence and has demonstrated some good glove work around 3B, but his output and injuries have made the modest AAV of $8.5 million per year investment also look somewhat suspect.  By contrast Mike Moustakas signed for $6.5 million and is currently hitting .251/17/56 for LESS MONEY.  

Then there was the decision to go with a rookie manager who had been a pitching coach with no managerial experience whatsoever.  Mickey Callaway was pretty much applauded across the board for the things he said, but anyone who has hired people know that there are great folks who are terrible at interviews and terrible choices who, to borrow an Art Howe era phrase, “lit up the room”.  On the surface a veteran team with players slated to be in the lineup including Adrian Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Todd Frazier, Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce should have been a cinch for a pitching-oriented field general.  The best laid plans, however, don’t always come to fruition.  He’s had issues with batting out of order, not waiting for the pinch hitters to be announced before making pitching changes and stubbornly sticking with failing veterans instead of giving kids a chance during a lost season.  He also needs to get his facts straight before opening his mouth.  The most recent example was stating that Jeff McNeil (you know, he of the .393 batting average) was strictly a 2nd baseman as the rationale for why Kelly was promoted over him, when in fact he has played 148 games at 3B to Jose Reyes' 99.

Now, to be fair, the injury bug has hit the team VERY hard, but actually the Los Angeles Dodgers have lost many more games to the DL.  However, they currently sit just a half game out of first.  Something is endemically wrong here and a few band aids at the trading deadline aren’t going to be sufficient when you are hemorrhaging.  The team needs to show the courage to do a true rebuild and stop insisting that that duct tape is once again the long term solution.


Mack Ade said...

Reese -


My guess is the Mets just wanted the season to end.

Thomas Brennan said...

Lots and lots of bad decisions, especially with the pen.

Question: did Bruce have plantar fasciatis last year, even if not a hot issue then? If so, giving him 3 years was a really bad decision. I liked his signing IF he was healthy.

Gavin fouls a ball off his foot and has missed 11-12 weeks? Que passa?

You know my take on playing the vets in Sept - cost us a 2 or 3 draft slots - maybe we take Jarred Kelenic anyway, but the vets nonsense was really stupid.

I was not thrilled with the Frazier signing - too low an average hitter, so why are we surprised that is where he is at in 2018?

Get McNeil the heck up here - pronto. I'd rather have Kelly Clarkson than Ty Kelly here.

Bob Gregory said...

Sadly, it isn't even the All-Star break and Met fans want the season to end.

Thomas Brennan said...

Steve Nogosek, one of our trade acquisitions from the 2017 vet purge, is finding that Binghamton is his Vegas.

Thirteen is an unlucky # to many, and Nogo has tossed 13+ AA innings and allowed 13 earned runs on 13 hits and 13 walks in his last 10 games between A ball and AA. 10 runs in his last 3 innings.

Met Monkey said...

The refusal to throw in salary during last year's sell-off was criminal and poison. The free agent acquisitions impossibly imprudent. The Wilpon's fallibility receives no exclamation point, it's just smooth mediocrity and cool insouciance. They replicate mistakes with implacable efficiency calamitous season after season.

Reese Kaplan said...

All we can hope is that this year they aim for quality over quantity during the 2018 fire sale.

Mack Ade said...

Met Monkey -

What he said!

Reese Kaplan said...

Repeating what doesn't work is the Mets' collective MO. They bring back folks who have been here before and re-up those who have failed (see, Collins, Terry).

Unknown said...

Reese, great article. The Swarzak signing was truly terrible when you consider the other options (and his career numbers). Swapping Cain for Bruce could've completely changed this season for us.

Robb said...

Im not sure the mets will in the future pass on any free agents w a qualifying offer. However, i dont think the mets are willing to spend on the type of player with a qualifying offer who is worth giving up a 1st round pick.

Giving up a 1st round pick for Machado or Arenado is worth it, for Mustakous not so much.

At the moment i have no faith in the wilpons not to screw it up worse.

Eddie Corona said...

worse is the rumors that Bruce, and Walker were wanted by the yankees for better returns and we passed... Who cares if Bruce or Walker were yankees...

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