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Staff AAOP 2018-19: I’ve made a huge mistake.

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This is the story of a team that lost 85 games last year, and the one man who had no choice but to keep them all together.

Every year, the AAOP contest is one of the highlights of the offseason (particularly when the Mets don’t do anything fun or good). This year, a group of writers wanted to get in on the action, and put together our own AAOPs. The judgement criteria are the same - and you can read them here - and you, the readers, get to vote on which writer put together the most well executed and entertaining plan. We’ll be publishing four staff AAOPs today, and putting out a poll tomorrow morning.


In approaching my first AAOP, I’ve decided that the team’s biggest needs are as follows:

  • Pitching Depth: Primarily in the form of an improved Bullpen, either by adding relief pitchers, or starting pitching depth so that you you’re giving fewer innings to bad pitchers.
  • Overall Offensive Performance: This team needs to add offense. Some of this will come from young players taking on bigger roles going forward (McNeil, Alonso, etc...) and some will come from adding talent outside of the organization.
  • Catcher: Probably the biggest position of need outside of the bullpen. Mets catchers ranked 25th in baseball last season in fWAR. For the team to be competitive, they’re probably going to need to upgrade behind the plate.

There’s also a loose Arrested Development theme, because everyone else had one and I think this plan is really boring without some kind of visual.

So with all of that in mind, pour yourself a stiff drink before vodka goes bad, and lets get started.

Under Contract:

I mean it’s one aging corner-outfielder with a lengthy injury history, Michael, what could it cost? 10 dollars?

We should begin by taking stock of the talent that we currently have on the roster for next season. Below is a list of players that are currently under-contract, team control, or arbitration eligible for the 2019 season along with some general notes on where they fit into the club’s future:

We’re paying a combined $32.75 million to players who are not likely to contribute much in 2019...taste the sad, Michael.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF - For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to assume he will miss the entirety of the 2019 season. To be clear, I love Cespedes, and believe that the heel surgery was a necessary sacrifice to save his career and allow him to play pain-free going forward. Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I’ve always felt that it is better to plan for an injured player’s absence, than it is to count on a player who is scheduled to miss an extended period due to injury to return without experiencing any setbacks. The $29 million he is owed this season is difficult to get past, but the goal should be to get him back on the field at some point in 2019 so that he can be counted on to be a contributor again in 2020.

David Wright, 3B - Wright will always be one of my favorite Mets, but he’s received his glorious sendoff, and it appears his playing career has come to an end. It’s time for him to spend his time on things that are more important than baseball, like his family and helping his community. He doesn’t really factor into the team’s plan going forward, although he is still scheduled to earn $3.75 million in 2019 as part of the insurance settlement on the remainder of his contract.

Jay Bruce, OF - At this point Bruce is what he is: a slightly above league-average hitting corner outfielder who may no longer be a viable defender in right field. He’s owed $14 million in 2019, and another $14 million in 2020, and is coming off of a rough year in which he hit .223/.310/.370 which was good for an 89 wRC+. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone is going to be willing to trade anything of value for Bruce and the remaining $28 million on his contract, so Bruce will factor into the team’s plan in right field and/or first base.

Todd Frazier, 3B - 2018 was probably the worst season of Frazier’s career, as he hit just .213/.303/.390 and landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career. However, Frazier’s defensive contributions made him a solid regular at third base last season, and ended up being worth between 1.5-3.0 WAR depending on how the particular WAR metric factors in his defense. With a limited budget, I feel that I have much bigger fish to fry than trying to find an upgrade over Frazier at third base. He leaves a lot to be desired, and is probably best suited to a bench role on a team with playoff aspirations, but given his combination of roughly league-average offensive performance and solid defense at the hot corner, I’m willing to role with Frazier as the team’s primary starting third baseman.

Juan Lagares, OF - Given his lengthy injury history, and his lackluster offensive performance since the 2014 season, I think Juan is more valuable to the team as a back-up outfielder and late inning defensive replacement than he would be in trade. I don’t see him commanding much in the way of a return, and I highly doubt that anyone is willing to take on the money he is owed unless it’s included as a salary dump, so he will begin the season as the team’s fourth outfielder. Lagares will also get rotated in to the starting lineup against tough left-handed pitching, and occasionally to give each starting outfielder a day off.

You mean I can’t just pretend that Vargas and Swarzak don’t exist?...oh, come on!

Jason Vargas, LHP - There’s no moving this contract, so we’re going to have to hope Vargas performs more like he did in the second half of 2018 than the first half. While Vargas will factor into the team’s plans for 2019, one of my major goals for the offseason is to acquire enough pitching depth so that Vargas can begin the year in the bullpen, and only spot start as needed. In the bullpen, I’m hoping that Vargas’ deception and excellent secondary pitches will make him a viable long reliever.

Anthony Swarzak, RHP - Swarzak spent most of last season hurt or ineffective. He’s got too short a track record of success, and is owed too much money to trade, so Swarzak is going to be in the bullpen in 2019. As with Vargas, my goal is to add enough pitching depth so that I’m not counting on Swarzak to do much more than eat innings, although he;s certainly a candidate to have a bounce-back season.

Cheap Talent:

Me when a young player comes up and succeeds.

Brandon Nimmo, OF - After his breakout performance in 2018, Nimmo has certainly earned a starting spot in the outfield. I’m assuming that either Conforto or Nimmo will have to play centerfield next season, and I think I’d choose Nimmo as the better of the two up the middle. While I’m not sure if I fully buy into his newfound power numbers, Nimmo is pretty safe bet to be an above-average regular in the outfield.

Jeff McNeil, 2B - McNeil’s breakout 2018 earned him the starting spot for next season at second base. He’s exactly the type of cheap player with upside that the Mets should want to give every opportunity to. Let’s hope that McNeil is able to build on his 2018 success in 2019 and beyond.

Amed Rosario, SS - 2018 was a year of development for the former top prospect. Rosario is going to again be counted on to be the team’s primary shortstop, with the hope being that he consolidates the gains he made offensively down the stretch last season. He’s still very young and athletic enough to have decent upside on both sides of the ball.

Peter Alonso, 1B - While some combination of free agent acquisition (see below) or Jay Bruce will likely man the position until the extra year of team control is secured (I hate that I have to type that), Peter Alonso is going to be my primary first baseman. There’s some risk here, namely that he struggles too much against right-handed pitching and that his defense is unplayable at first, but there’s also plenty of upside. Furthermore, I’m tired of blocking talented young players with older stopgaps, so Alonso gets his chance to prove that he belongs in the big leagues in 2019. My hope is that we’ll be able to make a definitive evaluation about Alonso’s place in the organization’s future plans by the end of the 2019 season.

Seth Lugo, RHP - Seth Lugo was probably the best reliever on the team in 2018, when he wasn’t spot starting in the place of an injured starter. While Lugo can certainly be trusted to start games, I personally think he’s best utilized as a shutdown multi-inning reliever than as a back of the rotation starter. As I said above in my blurb about Vargas, one of my goals for the offseason is to ensure that Seth Lugo can spend as much time as possible protecting leads out of the bullpen.

Robert Gsellman, RHP - Gsellman generally struggled in 2018, but still has talent. My goal is for him to be in the big league bullpen, but in more of a middle-relief role than a back end of the bullpen role. He’ll certainly be in the mix, and be tasked with getting big outs from time to time, but I’d prefer to add depth around him to limit the number of close games hes brought in to.

Daniel Zamora, LHP, Drew Smith, RHP, Tyler Bashlor, RHP, Justin Dunn, RHP - Depth arms competing for the last spot in the bullpen. They all saw some big league time in 2018, and factor to ride the shuttle back and forth between Flushing and Triple-A Syracuse for most of 2019. In the middle of the season, I would also consider adding Justin Dunn to this group if the team is in contention for a playoff spot and in need of a quality bullpen arm. I’ve long been fascinated by the Cardinal’s strategy of calling up starting pitching prospects to fill a bullpen spot when they first get called up. I feel that it serves as a valuable development opportunity for the prospect to begin adjustment process and get valuable experience against big league hitters. I think Dunn would be a good candidate for this because I think he would make a very good reliever relatively quickly, given the fact that he’s already seen his stuff play way up out of the bullpen when he was closing games for most of his collegiate career pitching for Boston College.

One of TJ Rivera or Luis Guillorme makes the team out of spring training...well, you can win every argument that way, but it doesn’t mean you’re right.

TJ Rivera, IF, Luis Guillorme, IF - Ideally, T.J. Rivera would serve in the right-handed bat off the bench role recently vacated by Wilmer Flores. While I think this is a slight downgrade over Flores, he’s around $4 million dollars cheaper. Assuming he eventually is ready to return to action following his long and complicated recovery from Tommy John Surgery, he will take the 25th spot on the roster, and will fill in at first base, second base, and maybe even third (hopefully not much, given that I’ve always felt that trying to make the throw across the diamond was a major contributor to his injury in the first place). If Rivera’s road back continues to take frequent detours, Luis Guillorme will sneak onto the roster with the last spot. Guillorme is probably the first infielder up in the event of an injury to a middle infielder anyway, and would provide excellent defense at any infield spot, even if his offensive skill set leaves something to be desired. If I had say, another $6 million to work with, I would consider upgrading this roster spot by signing Brian Dozier, or someone of that ilk, for infield depth and to pinch hit. But, with the budget being what it is, I’m willing to ride with Rivera and Guillorme in the last spot on the active roster.

Arbitration Eligible:

*A note about pitcher extensions: I would love to extend deGrom, Wheeler, and Syndergaard this offseason, but given the resources that I have to work with I’m opting to kick the can down the road for another season, at least on Syndergaard and deGrom (Wheeler is discussed below). I tried to work extensions for all three pitchers into the plan, but kept coming back to the old Billy Beane quote from Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, about how when “you have no money you can’t afford long-term solutions, only short-term ones.” I unfortunately don’t think I have the resources available to field both a competitive team in 2019, given the state of the rest of the roster, and plan for the future by locking up one or more young starter long-term. It’s probably the wrong move in reality, but with only $160 million to spend, and a good chunk of funds already accounted for, it’s a decision I felt I had to make. In short, I don’t feel good about it, but I felt it was the decision I had to make.

Here’s your arbitration raise. Go see a star war.

Jacob deGrom, RHP - The reigning Cy Young award winner in the National League, deGrom is exactly the kind of ace you should want to build a team around. I’d really like to extend deGrom, but given the budgetary constraints I didn’t feel like I could work out an extension and still

Zack Wheeler, RHP - After missing almost 2.5 seasons recovering from Tommy John and other arm problems, Zack Wheeler finally put it all together in 2018. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the second half of last season, and seems to be finally healthy for the first time in years. I would love to extend Wheeler for a few extra seasons, but given the team’s budgetary constraints, and Wheeler’s extensive injury history, I’m not willing to risk extending him. If there was a little bit of wiggle room in the total budget, this would likely be one of the first things I would try to do, because I feel there’s enough upside to justify taking on the risk at the right number.

Noah Syndergaard, RHP - Syndergaard is roughly a top ten pitcher in baseball when healthy, and he’s still relatively cheap in his second year of arbitration in 2019. He’s a no-brainer to want to keep around.

Michael Conforto, OF - It was a tale of two halves for Conforto in 2018. He struggled for the first few months of the season after rushing back from offseason shoulder surgery, but came on extremely strong in the second half. Conforto is going to be penciled in as the team’s starting primary left-fielder in 2019, and will hope to build on his excellent second half of the 2018 season going forward.

Steven Matz, LHP - At this point Matz is what he is: a solid back-end of the rotation starter. He’s coming off of the first 30 start season of his career, and is likely to miss starts from time to time, but he’s definitely cromulent in a fourth or fifth starter role.

Kevin Plawecki, C - Plawecki proved to be more of a good backup than a starting player behind the plate for the Mets last season. While he definitely factors in to my plan in a complementary role, one of my goals is to improve the catching situation for 2019.

On to the tender/non-tender decisions....

Tender/Non-Tender Decisions:

Tender Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, and Kevin Plawecki.

All of the above will play prominent roles on the team in 2019.

Non-tender Wilmer Flores.

Trust me, this hurts me than it hurts you. I love Wilmer. In addition to being kind of a fascinating dude, he’s also a perfectly useful right-handed hitter off the bench. However, there’s also some added injury risk that factors into the decision, given the fact that Flores was diagnosed with early onset arthritis in his knees in mid-September. Unfortunately with the budgetary constraints being what they are, and with only one relatively expensive year of control remaining on his contract, I’ve decided that I need to use the $4.7 million dollars he is scheduled to earn in 2019 elsewhere. I would love to bring Wilmer back on either a minor league deal, or some kind of split contract, but I suspect someone picks him up to mash lefties off the bench or serve as the short-side of a platoon somewhere on the infield.

Non-tender Travis d’Arnaud.

In all seriousness, saying goodbye to d’Arnaud is bittersweet. I had very high hopes for d’Arnaud from the time he entered the organization in the R.A. Dickey trade, all the way through and beyond his 2015 breakout second half, but he’s either been hurt or roughly replacement-level for most of the last three seasons. Once you factor in the uncertainty surrounding his already below-average arm strength coming off of Tommy John Surgery, I believe the $3.7 million dollars he would earn in 2019 could be better spent elsewhere.

Now that we’ve established the talent that we have within the organization, it’s time to begin looking at adding talent from outside of the organization....

Free Agent Signings:

The Mets sign Yasmani Grandal to a 3 year, $44 million contract ($11 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $17 million in 2021).

Having non-tendered Travis d’Arnaud, and determined that Kevin Plawecki is best utilized in a complimentary role, I’d like to begin by signing Yasmani Grandal to a 3 year $44 million deal. While there is some risk in Grandal’s profile, I think he’s pretty clearly the best catcher on the market, given his contributions on both sides of the ball. Grandal is coming off of a season in which he posted a 125 wRC+, and has been between 2.3 and 3.6 fWAR in each of the last four seasons. Grandal’s framing also helps to separate him fro mthe rest of the free agent pack, as he’s been worth between 4.9 and 6.9 WAR according to Baseball Prospectus’ WARP, which factors pitch-framing into it’s WAR calculation. He’s routinely among the top two or three framers in the league. Perhaps the biggest reason I decided to spring for Grandal over Wilson Ramos, or any of the other free agent catchers, is Grandal’s durability, as he’s managed to appear in over 120 games in each of the last four seasons. If I’m going to give a relatively long-term contract to a catcher, I think it makes a good amount of sense to give it to the catcher who has a track record of staying on the field.

The Mets sign Charlie Morton to a 2 year, $32 million contract ($14 million in 2019, $18 million in 2020).

Am I going to add starting pitching depth? Oh most definitely.

After looking through the list of the best relievers on the free agent market, I decided I’d rather spend money on a free agent starter whose stuff would play up in relief should the need to move him there arise. I decided I’d rather give Charlie Morton a contract with a $16 million AAV (backloaded of course, this is the Mets we’re talking about), than give a $15 Million AAV deal to Craig Kimbrel or something. Morton has been worth around 3 WAR in each of the last two seasons by fWAR and WARP, and has eclipsed 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings as well. He would be a sizable upgrade over Vargas in the rotation, and would allow Vargas to be used in more of a long-relief role going forward. I also think that, should the need arise, Morton’s stuff would play very well out of the pen. His combination of mid-nineties heat and a high-spin curveball should allow him to adapt to a relief role quite nicely if needed. In summation, if I’m going to give a contract of this size to a pitcher, I’d rather give it to someone who isn’t limited to a single role. I considered going with Nathan Eovaldi here instead of Morton, but ultimately decided to go Morton because he’s been healthier in the more recent past (Eovaldi having already had two Tommy John Surgeries scares me). Morton’s flexibility makes him a good candidate to improve the team in 2019.

The Mets sign Andrew Miller to a 3 year, $27 million contract ($7 million in 2019, $10 million in 2020, and $10 million in 2021).

I mean....him?

The Mets definitely can’t stop after adding just one pitcher, so I decided to sign Andrew Miller to a 3 year, $27 million contract (again backloaded so it’s cheaper in the first year). A lot has been made of Miller’s struggles in 2018, but he’s only a year removed from being one of the best relievers in the game. I’m hoping that reuniting Miller with former pitching coach Mickey Callaway helps him regain his dominant form from 2014-2017, and that managing his workload a little more cautiously (I can dream can’t I), might help keep him fresh for longer. This may be slightly flawed logic, but I feel pretty good about signing Miller at an AAV of $9 million, because Anthony Swarzak managed to get a contract with a similar AAV last season, despite a much shorter track record of effectiveness. I’m pretty confident that Andrew Miller is a better pitcher than Anthony Swarzak. I did have some reticence at giving Miller a three year contract, but ultimately decided it would be worth it to lower the overall amount owed to him. At an AAV of $9 Million over three years, I think even a modest bounce back season from Miller in 2019 would be a pretty great value.

The Mets sign Marwin Gonzalez to a 3 year, $30 million contract ($7 million in 2019, $11 million in 2020, and $12 million in 2021).

Gonzalez means we don’t have to put all of our Anns in the Bruce or Alonso baskets.

Finally, I decided to sign Marwin Gonzalez to a 3 year, $30 million contract. I’m not necessarily sold that Gonzalez is all that good, and I don’t like the idea of paying for versatility, but he was probably the best bench piece I could find that fit the remainder of my budget. The plan for Gonzalez is to use him as insurance in the event that either Bruce ends up looking more like he did in 2018 than he did in 2017, or Alonso comes up and struggles to the point where he’s not a viable option at first base. Gonzalez is a solid bench piece who can play multiple positions.

Trades:

There’s a joke in here somewhere about spending on free agent relievers being like setting money on fire.

Free Agent relievers are always risky investments, so instead of spending big on more than one small-sample artist, I’m going to attempt to trade for a few cheaper relievers. This has two benefits:

  • It helps keep the payroll down in the short term and allows resources to be spent on other parts of the roster.
  • It allows you to move on from them without having to eat a bunch of money (See Swarzak, Anthony) in the event of injury or severe under-performance, because you can always non-tender them if it doesn’t work out. I’m not sure if this should influence me as much as it has, but I like the flexibility.

Both of these trades fall under the same umbrella of trading guys that the organization has given up on for unproven relievers coming off of good seasons. Both of these trades may be somewhat unrealistic, (I don’t really know how to judge these things) but whatever, just assume I threw a bunch of slot money or something in there to even it out. I tried to justify the moves by citing the recent Kyle Barraclough trade between the Marlins and Nationals as a precedent (The Marlins only received IFA money in the deal). Going after cheap ARB1 relievers coming off of breakout campaigns seemed like a good way to add upside to the pen.

I think these trades are decent, although there is a chance I end up falling off the second floor awning. Only time will tell.

The New York Mets trade Dominic Smith, Anthony Kay, and Luis Carpio, to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Scott Oberg.

In swapping Smith, Kay, and Carpio for Scott Oberg, the Mets add a reliever fresh off of a breakout campaign who is under control, relatively cheaply for three seasons. Oberg is coming off of the best season of his career, in which he posted a 2.45 ERA to go with a 2.87 FIP, while playing half of his games in Coors Field. Oberg also posted excellent K/BB numbers, stirking out 8.74 batters per nine while walking only 1.84.

The Rockies trade a reliever with no track record of success beyond this past season for a trio of young players. They get Smith, who can compete with Ian Desmond, and Ryan McMahon for the first base job, Anthony Kay, who has a half decent shot to be a decent fifth starter, and Carpio as a throw-in. I chose to send Smith to the Rockies in this deal, because I think he deserves a chance to prove he belongs in a different organization. Again, I’m not sure this is realistic but whatever, this is all meaningless anyway. Eat Arbys.

The New York Mets trade Gavin Cecchini, Desmond Lindsay, and Will Toffey, to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Trevor May.

In swapping Cecchini, Lindsay, and Toffey for Trevor May, the Mets again add a reliever who is under control for a few more seasons, and showed glimpses of brilliance in 2018. May’s injury history is long, and the sample of success in 2018 is admittedly small (He only provided 25.1 innings pitched 2018 in), but he did manage to post a 3.24 ERA with an even better 3.08 FIP. He also struck out a staggering 12.79 batter per nine innings while walking only 1.78 batters per nine.

The Twins would receive a trip of interesting young players in exchange for an oft-injured reliever with two years of cheap control left. They’d be getting a more or less big league ready bench piece in Gavin Cecchini (depending on how generous you’re feeling), an intriguing prospect with his own injury woes but plenty of upside, and a generic third prospect. I chose Cecchini to headline this package for the same reason that I chose Smith to headline the last trade. The Mets have seemingly given up on Cecchini, and he probably deserves a chance in another organization.

So there you have it, my plan for the 2019 Mets. I feel that I’ve addressed the biggest needs of the team, by adding pitching depth in the form of Charlie Morton, Andrew Miller, Scott Oberg, and Trevor May, and improved the offense addressed the catching situation in the form of adding Yasmani Grandal, and Marwin Gonzalez.

I’m not sure I’ve done enough for this team to be a real contender, but I think it’s a decent team given the budgetary constraints.

I’ve laid out the roster and payroll obligations in the tables below:

2019 Roster and Payroll Obligations

Player Position 2019 Salary (Millions/$) Future Obligations and Notes
Player Position 2019 Salary (Millions/$) Future Obligations and Notes
Cespedes, Yoenis OF (Disabled List) 29 Owed $29.5 in 2020, UFA in 2021
Wright, David (Disabled List) 3.75 Owed $12 in 2020, UFA in 2021
Bruce, Jay OF 14 Owed $14 in 2020, UFA in 2021
Frazier, Todd 3B 9 UFA in 2020
Lagares, Juan OF 9 $9.00 Club option in 2020, $0.500 Buyout
Vargas, Jason SP 8 $2.00 buyout in 2020
Swarzak, Anthony RP 8.5 UFA in 2020
deGrom, Jacob SP 12.9 ARB3
Wheeler, Zack SP 5.3 ARB3
Syndergaard, Noah SP 5.9 ARB2
Conforto, Michael OF 4.4 ARB1
Matz, Steven SP 3 ARB1
Plawecki, Kevin C 1.3 ARB1
Lugo, Seth RP 0.55 Pre-Arb
Gsellman, Robert RP 0.55 Pre-Arb
Rosario, Amed SS 0.55 Pre-Arb
McNeil, Jeff 2B 0.55 Pre-Arb
Nimmo, Brandon OF 0.55 Pre-Arb
Alonso, Peter 1B 0.55 Pre-Arb
Zamora/Smith/Bashlor RP 0.55 Pre-Arb
Rivera, TJ IF 0.55 Pre-Arb, Luis Guillorme if Rivera is hurt
Grandal, Yasmani C 11 3/$44 split out as 11/16/17
Morton, Charlie SP 14 2/$32 split out as 14/18
Gonzalez, Marwin UT 7 3/$30 split out as 7/11/12
Miller, Andrew RP 7 3/$27 split out as 7/10/10
Oberg, Scott RP 1.2 Acquired in ARB1
May, Trevor RP 1.1 Acquired in ARB1
Total 159.75 0.25

Project Opening Day Lineup and Rotation

Projected Opening Day Lineup Position Projected Opening Day Rotation Position
Projected Opening Day Lineup Position Projected Opening Day Rotation Position
Grandal, Yasmani C deGrom, Jacob SP
Alonso, Peter 1B Syndergaard, Noah SP
McNeil, Jeff 2B Wheeler, Zack SP
Rosario, Amed SS Matz, Steven SP
Frazier, Todd 3B Morton, Charlie SP
Bruce, Jay RF Vargas, Jason RP
Nimmo, Brandon CF Lugo, Seth RP
Conforto, Michael RF Gsellman, Robert RP
Plawecki, Kevin Bench Swarzak, Anthony RP
Lagares, Juan Bench Oberg, Scott RP
Gonzalez, Marwin Bench May, Trevor RP
Guillorme, Luis Bench Miller, Andrew RP
Zamora/Smith/Bashlor RP

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I’ve decided there wasn’t enough Tobias content in here, so.....

No, I’m afraid I just “blue” the budget...

Poll

So is this team bad?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Blue yourself!
    (11 votes)
  • 31%
    Oh most definitely
    (17 votes)
  • 48%
    I don’t understand the questions and I won’t respond to it.
    (26 votes)
54 votes total Vote Now