Last Tuesday, we published a breakdown of the Mets’ outlook for 2018 and beyond. The first draft of that article was much, much longer, however, and the original provides a much deeper dive into how the Mets got to this point, what the problems with the team currently are, and where the team is probably headed. Over the next few days, we’ll be publishing that longer original in parts, digging into the Mets’ organization to reset our understanding of the current roster. This is Part 2.
On the back of a very disappointing two-year stretch, Mets management didn’t have a ton to work with entering the 2017-2018 offseason. Simply put, the Mets’ farm is terrible. Andres Gimenez, Chris Flexen, and David Peterson are probably the only non-relievers with a chance to make relevant contributions over the next two seasons, but none are impact players - Gimenez is a solid fielding middle infielder who can hit a little, Peterson is a polished college arm that should slot into the back half of a rotation, and Flexen’s lack of stamina and control lead to some ghastly numbers in his MLB debut. Peter Alonso and Thomas Nido also merit mentioning, particularly since the Nido logged time with the major league team last season. Nido’s overaggressive approach remains problematic, however, and Alonso has to answer questions about his ability to make contact in the high minors.
As with the major league roster, injuries are a big reason behind the dilapidated state of the system. Thomas Szapucki, who was running a K/9 of 15 as a starter in 2016, hurt his shoulder and then wound up needing Tommy John after only 29 innings. Jordan Humphreys was in the midst of his own breakout, running a 10:1 K:BB ratio in Single-A before he too needed Tommy John. Top 2015 draft pick Desmond Lindsay has continued to struggle with lower body injuries, and top 2016 draft pick Justin Dunn had a mysterious shoulder injury towards the end of the season. Anthony Kay, the Mets’ second pick in 2016, hasn’t thrown a pitch as a professional after undergoing Tommy John shortly after being drafted. Marcos Molina, a breakout star in 2014, has yet to see his stuff return after his own Tommy John procedure in 2015.
Beyond the few potentially useful position players and the pile of broken arms, there’s little to talk about. The Mets acquired a boatload of relievers at the trade deadline in 2017, but almost all of them fit have seventh inning ceilings. The exception is Gerson Bautista, a flamethrower who could be a closer if he ever gains a semblance of an idea of where the ball is going. There’s also fan favorite Luis Guillorme, who made the famous bat catch last spring training and has looked noticeably more beefed up this year. Still, in modern baseball, there are few players who offer so little with the bat, even if they are an 8 at second base defensively.
All of this is to say that the Mets don’t have much more reinforcement coming internally. Cheap, pre-arb depth is useful, but the Mets are lacking in that, let alone any sort of impact contributors that could help the major league team over the next two seasons. For the most part, the young core that dazzled in 2015 is still the only source of youthful upside in the organization.
Of course, the star of that group has diminished significantly. Matt Harvey, the first of the Mets heralded group of starters to debut, will probably never be the same after his TOS procedure in 2016. Zack Wheeler finally made it back to the field in 2017 after missing two years with a very rough Tommy John recovery, only to run an ERA over five in 86.1 innings before fracturing his elbow on a pitch; in response, he spent the offseason injecting bone strengthening medication in the hopes of being more durable. Steven Matz was even worse in 2017 than Wheeler, with an ERA over six, before finally being shut down and undergoing an ulnar nerve repositioning (the same procedure Jacob deGrom underwent at the end of 2016). Noah Syndergaard has perhaps the most rosy outlook, despite missing the majority of 2017 with a lat strain.
Pitchers on every team break all the time, so there’s definitely an element of bad luck at play. However, management deserves their fair share of blame for the catastrophe that was 2017. Matz’s elbow often swelled to the size of a grapefruit between starts. Syndergaard famously refused an MRI the start before tearing his lat, and the team responded by basically shrugging their shoulders and letting their young ace head back out there. They also misdiagnosed his lat soreness as bicep tendinitis leading up to the injury, a common mistake but one you think a professional baseball team would be aware of. Harvey, meanwhile, pitched the majority of the season with muscles in his throwing shoulder that were half the size of those in his non-throwing shoulder, something the Mets didn’t notice until they finally placed him on the DL in June. Add in the team’s consistent refusal to actually place players on the DL (which is even more ridiculous with the reduction from 15 to 10 days) and you have a damning picture of the Mets’ injury management practices.
The position player talent pool is similarly thin. Conforto is a legitimate star when he’s on the field, but shoulder injuries are tricky - Matt Kemp (when he was still a good player) took a whole season to return to form. Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki offer an above-average but unspectacular catching duo. Amed Rosario has a great glove and blazing speed, but very little plate discipline and likely needs time to adjust. Dominic Smith was so bad that the Mets brought in Adrian Gonzalez (coming off a 69 wRC+ and -1.1 fWAR in fewer than 300 PA) to replace him. Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares are solid depth, and the former has performed very well in spring training, but neither should be relied upon for significant contributions to a contending team. Yoenis Cespedes is a stud when on the field, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and has struggled to keep his legs healthy.
Put these three components together - bad minor leagues, beat up pitching staff, thin position player talent pool - and it’s a rather grim picture of the Mets’ future. We’ve also gone this far without mentioning that most of the significant talents are entering arbitration, which will further restrict the Mets’ roster. This is a team at a crossroads, with an aging core accruing injuries and salary, and no help on the horizon.
That leaves the team with two options. The first is to admit that the end is near and blow the team up, as there’s no point hanging around to win 70-80 games. However, the Mets can still trade their most significant assets next offseason if they want to start a rebuild, and lose little value by holding their core for one more year (though this recent’s market makes predicting future league wide management trends difficult, young, controllable stars like deGrom, Syndergaard, and Conforto will always be in demand). It seems more worthwhile, therefore, to take one last swing at contention, going all in to supplement what’s left of the core in the hopes of dragging this team into the playoffs and praying to the baseball gods that things work out from there. This seems to have been the path the Mets have chosen (not that the Wilpons would ever let the team go into a full rebuild, but again, more on that later).