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I Told You So!!! Looking Ahead to 2013 and the Mets Numerous Holes.

By, Kevin Casey

It has been a long while since I've posted an entry on here, and out of pure curiosity I decided to check out how this blog was doing.  Let me preface this by saying that I never have a problem admitting where and when I am wrong with something, but I couldn't believe how dead on correct I was with my assessment of the New York Mets in my last post.  I couldn't have been more wrong when I trashed Ruben Tejada and had no faith in him picking up the slack when Reyes departed, however I was pretty damn spot-on with just about everything else.  Since I wrote that entry, I have received nothing but negative feedback from fellow Mets fans, telling me I had no idea what I was talking about.  I'll be honest... just like any other competitive person in this world, I get enjoyment when I can turn around and tell someone, "I told you so."  However, in this case, I don't get great enjoyment out of saying that because the team I love and the players I don't love so much happened to follow through on my negative foresight.  No matter how correct I was a year ago when I posted my last entry, there are still some Mets fans that will not give credit where credit is due, and will not give the respect that is deserved.

There is a fine line between being a pessimist and a realist, and there is a fine line between being an optimist and being delusional.  While many people would view my opinions and assessments of the Mets as being overly pessimistic, I would argue that it is being a realist.  I have loved this team through its ups and downs, never wavering.  I will give credit to a player or management when credit is due, but I will also call them out when I feel that it is required.

The 2012 Mets season began with not many people expecting them to make much noise in a competitive division.  The Mets faltered during spring training and couldn't seem to do anything correct.  Making matters worse, you knew that the other teams in the NL East were going to be vastly improved from 2011. Many people recognized that the Phillies were getting a little long in the tooth, but anchored by Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, it was not outside the realm of possibility that the Phillies would make another strong run at an NL East crown and a National League Pennant. It looks like the age of their core players was more than they could overcome. We all saw the Nieman Marcus spending spree the newly branded Miami Marlins went on this offseason, adding our beloved Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, and were also serious players to add Albert Pujols. They hoodwinked all of us and actually went on their shopping spree at J.C. Penny, putting their bounty in Nieman Marcus bags. Then we had the Braves; the same Braves that ruined many of summers for me in my teenage years.  With Chipper Jones coming back for a final hurrah, I fully expected them to rally around their leader and be serious contenders in the National League.  They weren't very loud during the offseason, but they are stocked with Major League ready pitching talent on their farm system. After faltering a little in May and early June, it looks like they are serious players going forward.  Finally, the decade-long jokes of the NL East, the Nationals. Anyone who knows an iota of baseball should have known they were going to be a force to reckon with this season.  I didn't expect Bryce Harper to make much of an impact, however with a 1-2-3 pitching rotation of Strasburg, Zimmerman and Gonzalez, I saw them as a serious dark horse contender to take the NL East in 2012.  As high as I was on them, they exceeded even my wildest expectations and will find themselves on top for a long time going forward.  Then there are our Mets.  They had us all riding high, having their young players play way above their talent levels.  They were exciting the first half of the season and were one of the best stories in baseball along with the A's and the Pirates.  They reached the All-Star Break at 6 games over .500, then fell apart from there.  To the untrained eye, this was extremely painful to watch.  However, to those who know baseball could have seen this collapse coming for a few weeks before it actually happened.

Being the realist that I am with my Mets, I fully understand the 2012 baseball season is all but over.  It's time to look ahead to this offseason and see where improvement is needed and what could be done to effectuate those improvements.  Going into this season, many people expected that certain young players would step up and would identify themselves as players the Mets could count on and build around going forward.  Unfortunately, there are more questions and holes as we sit here right now than there was a few months ago.  That is, unless you agreed with my prior post and foresaw these holes almost a year ago.  Let's take a look at where the Mets stand and what can be done going forward.

Catcher - Josh Thole:
I saw this as an issue a long time ago, but many Mets fans disagreed.  Let me reiterate this... Josh Thole is not a Major League caliber starting catcher.  The catcher position is not one with great talent in the Major Leagues today.  There are very few "complete" catchers; those who are solid on defense, call a good game, and produce with the bat.  When you look at complete catchers, the only ones who come to mind are Buster Posey, Matt Wieters, Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana.  With the lack of quality, all around catchers, it is important to have either a strong defensive catcher, or a catcher who is below average on defense, but whose offense produces at a rate that can offset the defensive deficiencies.  Unfortunately for the Mets, they don't have a catcher that can either hit or defend.  Josh Thole is an absolute joke behind the plate and he has hurt this team on numerous occasions this season.  Thole has been given more than an ample opportunity to show that he can hack it behind the plate and he has shown he does not belong being a starter on any team in Major League Baseball.  Thole is once again towards the bottom of baseball in Catcher ERA (only Thole supporters consider that statistic meaningless); Thole isn't allowed to call his own game despite being in his third year behind the plate; and his hitting is an absolute joke.  Knowing he has being handed the starting catching job in 2012, he had significant time to improve his defense during the offseason, but couldn't get it done.  If you believe Thole, he did in fact spend significant time working on his defense during the offseason, but obviously that work did not result in an improvement.  On the other side, he has never been a productive offensive player.  Thole will never be a guy who hits even 15 home runs in a season; Thole is a singles hitter who slaps the ball.  When you are so bad behind the plate of defense, you must produce on offense in order to justify being a starter. Thole just hasn't produced.  Period.  He is going to be lucky to hit .260, hit 3 home runs and drive in 30 runs for the season.  By any standard, those numbers are atrocious and he needs to go.  Bringing in a right handed hitting catcher to platoon with Thole shouldn't even be an option for Sandy Alderson; the Mets need to either cut ties with him or make him a permanent back up.  For those of you who believe Catcher ERA is a useless and meaningless statistic, Thole's WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is 0.9.  Thole's 0.9 WAR is 6th worst in the Major's this year amongst Catchers with at least 250 plate appearances.  Bye Josh!
I am not sure what the Mets should do with their catching situation in 2013.  After taking a look at their minor league roster and Baseball America Rankings, they don't have an in-house option right now.  This past offseason, the Mets were shopping around Jonathan Neise and from reports that have surfaced during the season, the Blue Jays were interested and were willing to part with their catching prospect Travis D'Arnaud.  This offer was also confirmed to me from a close friend who works within the Mets organization.  So long as this was a possibility, I don't understand why the trigger was not pulled on the deal.  D'Arnaud projects to be a Posey/Wieters-type catcher who is average to slightly above average on defense, but plus-plus with his bat.  D'Arnaud is MLB-ready and is only langusihing in the Blue Jays system so they can control him longer, but should be up in September.  This is a deal that Alderson should possibly revisit, but Neise's trade value has remained the same with D'Arnaud's improving due to another strong season in the minors.  The risk in such a move is that having a young catcher leading a projected young pitching staff could be problematic.  With that being said, the Blue Jays can't keep D'Arnaud in the minors after this season and that is going to make J.P. Arbencebia expendable.  Arbencebia is a solid defensive catcher and has an average bat; he could be a nice pick up for the Mets should they be able to swing such a deal.  In the alternative, I can see Alderson revisiting a possible deal for Ramon Hernandez this offseason and adding another backstop to platoon with him.  Regardless of what direction the Mets go in, they cannot afford another season with Josh Thole as their primary catcher.

Second Base - Daniel Murphy:
Man, where in the world did Murphy's power go?  Murph was never going to be a 25-30 HR guy, but he did project to be a 15-20 HR hitter before this season.  Let me preface this by saying that I love Daniel Murphy.  Aside from David Wright, Murphy is my favorite player on this team.  With that being said, I don't see him being on this team come Spring Training 2013.  As a matter of fact, had he not been injured last season, I don't believe he would have been on the Mets this season.  Unfortunately for Murphy, he's a man without a position.  Murph has been okay at second base this year, but he isn't going to receive any accolades for his defense any time soon.  Despite being below average on defense, he justifies being in the starting lineup because he is a doubles machine.  He has been more streaky than usual this season, but when he gets hot he goes on tears.  As a result, he has some trade value, specifically to a small market team looking for a solid average and on base percentage third baseman, his natural position.  To the dismay to many Mets fans, I fully expect Alderson to move Murphy this offseason, packaging him in a trade to an aforementioned small market team for bullpen or outfield help.  It'll be tough to see him go, but sometimes you need to give up something good to get something good in return.  Additionally, the Mets have options down in the minors that have higher ceilings than Murphy and could immediately step in and not miss a beat.
There are four players I can see competing for the starting second base job once Murph is moved.  They are: (1) Jordanny Valdespin; (2) Justin Turner; (3) Reese Havens; and (4) Wilmer Flores.
(1) Jordanny Valdespin - I am not convinced he will be on the team next year either.  I can definitely see the Mets shipping him out in a package with Murphy to improve other areas.  From what I gather speaking to people involved with the team, the Mets' hierarchy are not happy with Valdespin and his attitude, namely his maturity.  There is no question that Valdespin is a talented player who has produced for the Mets this season, but his "I made it" attitude has allegedly rubbed veterans and management the wrong way.  We all heard about the "tee shirt incident" a couple weeks back, but that supposedly hasn't been the first problem with him.  Nevertheless, if he is here this season and does some work in Winter Ball at second base, he will be in the running to be the everyday player there.
(2) Justin Turner - From what I've seen of Turner, he isn't an everyday player and his value is as a reserve, utility infielder and pinch hitter with runners in scoring position.  I don't doubt for a second that he will be here next season, and as a favorite of Terry Collins he will get a look, but the only way I see him getting the starting nod is if no one else steps up, and that would be a problem, leaving a hole on the bench.
(3) Reese Havens - I find Havens as the most intriguing and promising option here.  For those of you who don't know, Havens was a high draft pick of the Mets and was highly regarded coming into the draft.  Havens has been in the minor league system for a few years now and should have already been here were it not for health issues.  As a matter of fact, Havens hasn't been able to stay healthy at all.  However, when healthy, with the exception of the beginning of this season, Havens has been extremely productive with the bat, both average and power, and he has a plus glove and arm at second base.  Havens has a high cieling and could be a cornerstone for this team going forward, once again, so long as he stays healthy.  There have been numerous examples throughout the history of baseball where a player cannot stay healthy in the minors, but once he gets to the Bigs, he stays off the mend.  I surely hope that is the case here, but then again we are talking about the Mets; the most bug bitten team in baseball.  We should get a glimpse of Havens and his potential next month with September call-ups.  It will be a foregone conclusion that Murphy gets traded this offseason if Havens comes up and produces in September.
(4) Wilmer Flores - Here is an outside, dark horse candidate for the second base job next season.  Right now Flores is playing third base in the minors after being moved there from shortstop.  Due to his body size and frame, it was expected that Flores would be moved from shortstop, and it happened.  Flores was an international signing by the Mets and was considered a top prospect in the Mets' system until significantly underperforming in 2010 and 2011.  Flores seems to have gotten back on track this season to an extent, and he projects to have plus power (30 HR) and plus average (.300+).  I call him an outside, dark horse candidate because it is highly likely the Mets are going to move him to a corner outfield spot for Winter Ball and the minors next season.  Nevertheless, he has middle infield experience and could make a case for the second base job with a solid spring showing.  We should all be careful here with Flores, though.  The Mets have a long list of top position prospects not panning out from the two Alexes to Lastings Milledge, to Carlos Gomez, to Fernando Martinez.  In my opinion, Murphy will be moved and Reese Havens will be the Mets' 2013 second baseman.  If Havens falters or gets injured again, maybe we can finally see Alderson get creative by maybe bringing in someone like Michael Cuddyer or Ian Kinsler, who either he or Nelson Cruz will be available if Hamilton resigns with the Rangers.  However, I truly believe the Mets would rather fill this hole from within due to the other pressing holes they have elsewhere.

Shortstop - Ruben Tejada:
The only reason I am mentioning Tejada is because I was wrong with my prior assessment of the Mets.  I was harsh on Tejada and did not see him being a plausible replacement for Jose Reyes.  Well, I couldn't have been more wrong there.  Tejada has always had a plus glove and arm at shortstop, but he has impressed me with his improvement at the plate.  Tejada looked lost at the plate the past two seasons, but he has really made some great adjustments.  I would like to see some more pop from him, which may or may not come with time and age, but he is just fine the way he is.  You can certainly live with and succeed with a superior defensive shortstop who hits .300-.320.  You can deal with his lack of power so long as the Mets upgrade their power positions (LF/RF).
The Mets are fine with Tejada at shortstop and no upgrade is needed.  He has been the only young player on this team that has stepped up and identified himself as a player they can count on as being part of their future.

Center Field - Andres Torres:
The Mets are in dire straits with each outfield position, but center field is probably the least of their worries.  With that being said, Andres Torres is not the answer as an everyday center fielder going forward.  I am very glad the Mets moved Angel Pagan, as I called for in my post last year, but I believe they did so too late.  Pagan was a revelation in the 2010 season and his trade value was very high that offseason.  At that time the Mets had Carlos Beltran coming off of his knee issues, which they clearly overstated and wrongfully thought he could no longer play center field.  Instead of trading Pagan at his peak, they allowed him to destroy his trade value with a dismal 2011 and were only able to get Torres and Ramon Ramirez in return for him.  Torres' glove has been overestimated and overstated, he's average at best in the field, and his hitting is not much more impressive.  He is currently the only player on the squad with 30 stolen base potential, but he doesn't get use it as much as I would like.  Despite his underwhelming offensive season, he is still an upgrade over Pagan and actually has a significantly higher on-base percentage than Pagan (.353 to .330).  I do not agree with every aspect of Moneyball acquisitions, but I do believe that OBP is a highly undervalued stat when evaluating a player.  The only way you score is if you get on base; remember, you can't steal first base.  While Torres is an upgrade over what they had, his weaknesses have been exposed when he has been playing on an everyday basis and may very well be suited in a platoon role or serving as a 4th outfielder.
While center field is an area of weakness on the Mets, they could certainly live with Torres and his .353 OBP, especially since they has more pressing needs at the corner outfield positions.  I liked what I saw from Kirk Nieuwenhuis when he was originally called up, but he really fell off the map starting in July.  Torres is a switch hitter who is significantly better as a right handed hitter than as a lefty over his career (.256/.343 v. .239/.316), and platooning Nieuwenhuis, a lefty, with Torres is a plausible option the Mets could live with in 2013.  However, one player to keep an eye on for next year is Matt Den Dekker. Den Dekker was on a tear at AA this season, but has struggled since being promoted to AAA.  There are many people who see him as the Mets' future center fielder, and the future may come in 2013.

Right Field - Unknown:
I said it last year and I'll say it again, LUCAS DUDA IS GARBAGE!  As I said in the opening, there is a fine line between being optimistic and being delusional; well, if you honestly believe that Lucas Duda should be the Mets' everyday right fielder, you are delusional.  Duda has not shown that he belongs in the Majors, let alone a starter on a Major League squad.  There were many of you that stated Duda was better suited for Left Field and that had he been playing there he would've been better.  I'll tell you right now that you're full of it and you have no idea what you are talking about.  Let's break down Duda's tools: he's overweight; he's slow; he has terrible bat speed; he can't hit for average; he can't hit for power; and he cannot field the ball.  There were numerous times where Duda couldn't get you easy fly balls in right field and he wouldn't have gotten to them in left field because he is slow.  There were numerous occasions where Duda dropped easy fly balls in right field and he would've dropped them in left field because he cannot field.  When it comes to hitting, he has the bat speed of a 40 year old and bat speed is not something that is easily taught, learned or developed.  Duda had a decent second half of 2011 when the Mets were out of contention and the games meant nothing.  However, don't get it twisted, it wasn't as though he was smacking the cover off the ball.  Duda was projected as a plus-power type player, but that power has not come to fruition; he has a worse AB/HR number than Dexter Fowler, Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino, not exactly "power hitters."  If you are not too young to remember, Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer and Mike Jacobs all had a few good months in the Major Leagues and each one of them were projected as everyday starters with power.  Well, how did those careers pan out?  Duda's meager production the second half of 2011 followed by his significant regression in 2012 are eerily similar to the production and fall off of the aforementioned three players.  Duda was handed the left field job without any pressure from other players competing for his spot.  Duda had all offseason to work on his fielding and become at least an average fielder at possibly the easiest position to play on the baseball field.  The result of his attempt at improvement was that he was so bad that the only way he could justify being on the field was if he put up Mike Trout numbers.  As we all know, his numbers came nowhere close to that and he was sent down to AAA, where he belongs.  Who knows? Maybe Duda finds a niche and becomes a decent bat off the bench, but I doubt it.  What I do know is that he doesn't belong on the Mets and he doesn't belong anywhere on the field.  Duda is one of those AAAA players who will be lucky to make it as a reserve.  Despite being terrible this season, Duda has a little trade value and the Mets should capitalize on that minimal value while it is still there.  Duda will most likely find himself in a package along with Murphy being sent to an AL team in return for bullpen or outfield help.  I will be happy and breathe a sigh of relief when that day happens.
Right now the Mets are lost in Left Field.  They have been playing Hairston there with regularity, but we all know that his true value is that of a pinch hitter and 4th outfielder, not a starter, despite his great power season.  When you look at solid teams, there are 4 positions that are historically power positions that require run production and home runs.  Those positions are: (1) Right Field; (2) Left Field; (3) First Base; and (4) Third Base.  You can live with below average run production at those position with solid fielders when you have power and runs coming from a non-traditional power position such as Center Field, Second Base, Shortstop, or Catcher.  When you look at the Mets, they don't have power or run production in any of the non-traditional power positions, so it is a necessity that they get production from the traditional power positions.  They are solid at Third Base with Wright, and First Base with Davis, but they have nothing at Right Field and Left Field (to be discussed later).  In addition to the lack of power at these positions, the Mets have not been able to produce a solid, run producing, everyday corner outfielder since Daryl Strawberry; that is a long drought.  They need an upgrade here and it is going to cost money and prospects.  As we all know, Josh Hamilton is a free agent this offseason.  However, due to his injury history and substance abuse issues, he would be too much of a risk to bring to New York, especially since he will command about 5-6 years at $22-$25 million per season.  I fully expect Hamilton to resign with the Texas Rangers this offseason, and as a result, Nelson Cruz will become available.  It is going to take a solid deal with prospects to get him, but he is an ideal fit for the Mets.  Cruz has an injury history, but his salary makes that risk well worth it in light of his production when healthy.  Cruz has a history with the Mets in that they originally signed him to his first contract as a teenager, so there is a chance he may want to be here.  If I were Alderson, Cruz would be target number 1 for me this offseason.  Another name that comes to mind is Justin Upton.  Upton is a phenomenal player who is young and extremely durable.  The Diamondbacks have made it clear that he is available and whether the Mets grab Cruz or not, they should look into adding him as well.  Upton is on the cusp of being a superstar and his career numbers follow those of Matt Kemp in an eerily similar manner. Upton is in the middle of a down season, but just like Cruz, Upton is going to command a lot in the form of prospects.  Adding Upton and Cruz this offseason is not outside the realm of possibility and would immediately fill two holes, making the Mets immediate contenders.  It is also very possible that the Mets can add both players without having to part with either Harvey or Wheeler.  Mets fans have a habit of overvaluing the team's prospects and it bares notice that approximately one out of every six prospects actually live up to their hype and potential.  Adding these two players would almost certainly result in Murphy, Duda, Valdespin, Flores, Nimmo, Familia and Mejia being gone, but we know what we are getting with Upton and Cruz whereas we don't know much about our prospects.  It is an absolute necessity that the Mets upgrade this position and that Duda is not there in 2013.  It is also an absolute necessity that the Mets go big when upgrading this position.  With Andre Ethier signing a 5 year / $85 million contract on June 14, the free agent market is without a difference maker at the corner outfield spots and the only way the Mets upgrade this position is through a trade.

There are three other areas that need to be addressed for the Mets going forward: Left Field; Starting Pitching; and Bullpen.  Left Field and the Bullpen could be posts in their own, however I will address the remaining three in a post later in the week.  In the meantime, please feel free to comment below with you opinion and input on what was said above.  Thank you for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Reese Havens, is not going to be a major league player.......he is getting to old, gets injured to much, and does'nt show enough.....