David Wright Dunzo: David Wright is officially going on the disabled list today. The Mets say he’ll be out 6-8 weeks with this herniated disk in his neck, and then they’ll re-evaluate or whatever. I wrote about David earlier in the week. The Mets should have placed him on the DL a week ago. Playing shorthanded while waiting to see if David’s spine/neck feels better is an absurd strategy. In that prior post, I wrote about how sad the demise of David has been. It’s sad to watch a childhood sports hero of mine crumble. My question is how did we get here and what do we do next? Did the Mets preseason blueprint fail?
Preseason Depth Delusion: In my season preview, I talked about how the Mets finally had some depth to speak of on the major league roster. In the offseason the Mets added a new starter at second base and shortstop in Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. They also retained Yoenis Cespedes. By bolstering the starting corps, they simultaneously enhanced the bench by pushing Ruben Tejada, Wilmer Flores, Alejandro De Aza, and Juan Lagares to part time roles. Finally, we were taking the pressure off of young players like Lagares, Tejada, and Wilmer by taking them out of the starting lineup and giving them a chance to excel in a limited role. The Opening Day bench was supposed to consist of these known commodities. Yes that’s right I’m calling Lagares, Flores, and Tejada known commodities. We knew with absolute certainty that Ruben Tejada was a mediocre light-hitting backup middle infielder. Light hitting meaning .240 not .140 like most of the bums we’ve seen this year. Prior to this season, Wilmer Flores was approaching 1000 MLB plate appearances. In that time he showed the Mets that he had a competent bat with a little pop. He showed the Mets that he had a weak glove, but he was at least capable of standing and wearing that glove at second base, shortstop and third base. Juan Lagares showed the Mets he could play gold glove defense in the outfield and hit left handed pitching. Alejandro De Aza had a lengthy major league resume with success against right handed pitching and a decent glove at all three outfield positions. The Mets felt they had depth for the regular season. The only place where the Mets took a bit of a risk was at the catching position. Kevin Plawecki essentially failed in his 2015 catching audition. He failed to hit and the Mets really struggled during the stretch of the 2015 season when he filled in for Travis d’Arnaud. But the Mets took a chance on a young player that they have a lot of confidence in. They felt he would take a step forward and produce. Or at least they felt he would outperform the garbage alternatives that were available in the offseason.
Has The Blueprint Failed?: So far this season the blueprint has failed miserably. Alejandro De Aza has struggled mightily in his limited role. He’s batting .196. Wilmer Flores got injured and has failed to produce at all offensively. He’s hitting .167 with one dinger. His production has literally been non-existent. The Mets inexplicably dumped Ruben Tejada at the end of the spring in favor of unknowns and quadruple-A player options. Those unknowns like Eric Campbell and Ty Kelly have turned out to be significantly worse than Ruben which is saying a lot. Not only have the quadruple-A bums been miserable, but they’ve been getting a ton of ABs which has been the primary reason for our recent offensive struggles. Kevin Plawecki has taken a step backwards this season. He’s struggled to produce offensively and his receiving skills have been outshined by non-hitting veteran journeyman Rene Rivera. So yeah the Mets blueprint has failed so far.
Why No “Super Team”?: This recent stretch of horrendous offense has led me to question the Mets offseason approach. Specifically, I’ve found myself saying things like “I wish we had Daniel Murphy too” and “I wish we made a crazy high bid to get Ben Zobrist”. I’ve seen a lot of people say these exact things. Here’s the bottom line. A “super team” sounds amazing. Obviously we would all love to have Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Daniel Murphy on this team. But we were never going to be able to practically assemble that team especially with David Wright on the roster. Think about it for a second. Let’s say hypothetically that the Mets signed Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes on day one of the 2015 offseason. Do you think Ben Zobrist would have entertained signing with the Mets as a backup? Do you think the Mets would have traded for silver slugger second basemen Neil Walker and rendered the recently signed Murphy a backup? I’m not saying that we couldn’t use both those players today. Obviously without Wright, we have a place for Murphy at third base. But these established veteran players don’t sign contracts and cross their fingers that they will get a chance to play. They sign deals with teams that give them the most playing team. I love the idea of Neil Walker and Ben Zobrist on the same team. I love the thought of having Daniel Murphy right now. But that was a pipe dream and was never going to happen. And if we just signed Murphy and that was it, then we’d have Wilmer at second base and Murph at third and we’d be no better off.
The Real Problems: The real problem with our blueprint is two-fold. The first issue was that we never replaced Michael Cuddyer. With Lagares, De Aza, Plawecki, and Flores the Mets really had one spot open on the bench. They dumped Tejada and they needed to replace him with a real major league player with a resume. Instead they gave us garbage. They passed on Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Steve Pearce, and many others. But the real problem is a dearth of upper level minor league position player talent. Let’s be real here. I wrote a couple days ago that the Cubs did it right. The Cubs had arguably the top position players in the league. And they bolstered that in the offseason by signing Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and retaining Dexter Fowler. But wait a minute. That’s very similar to what the Mets did. The Mets added starting position players and bumped their young players to the bench. The difference is the Cubs have way more talented young players like Jorge Soler and Javier Baez to bump to the bench. The Mets didn’t have players of that caliber to demote to the bench. And the Mets clearly don’t have any position players other than Dilson Herrera at Triple-A ready to contribute. If they had players like that at AAA they would have been promoted already. So yeah the Mets deserve criticism for that. They’ve promoted a butt-load of talent over the past few seasons. So it makes some sense that the cupboard is empty. But the winning won’t be sustainable without an influx of upper level minor league talent. And that certainly won’t happen if we ship whatever we have left off to replace David Wright.
The Inevitable External Solution: As much as we can’t afford to ship off what’s left of our upper level minor league system, that’s looking more and more like a lock. I don’t think the Mets are realistically going to be able to get an impact bat. Every team will ask for Zack Wheeler in the “impact bat” conversation. Nobody is going to help the Mets unless we part with Zack, and we can’t afford to do that. In the same way that the Cubs have that position player depth, we have that in our pitching staff, and that pitching is the only chance we have to win it all. In all likelihood, we will do the same thing we did last year with Uribe or Johnson. We’ll get a veteran bench/starter swingman. We will finally fill that Michael Cuddyer bench vacancy that we should have filled in the spring.
The Real Test: The blueprint has failed so far, but it’s not a complete failure yet. Why? Because Wilmer Flores has had like 60 ABs. Alejandro De Aza has had like 50 ABs, and James Loney just got here. The real test of the blueprint will be in June and July. The Mets need to make a trade no matter what because of the major injuries to multiple starting players and the need to fill the Cuddy bench hole that I mentioned above. They need to remove the quadruple-A players from the bench and replace them ASAP. But if Wilmer continues to fail as the replacement for Wright and Plawecki is a complete bust as a replacement for Travis d’Arnaud, then yes the Mets blueprint has been a total bust. The Mets will be able to find a way to add a veteran player for the bench. But it’s going to be very challenging adding a player that provides starting caliber production without surrendering Wheeler. Over the next few weeks, Wilmer Flores, Kevin Plawecki, and even James Loney can completely change the narrative. Let’s hope they are successful, because the acquisition of a bench veteran alone may not be enough to keep the Mets afloat until these injured players return. To stay afloat, they need the players they penciled in as “depth” in spring training to come through as originally expected. In the end, that may turn out to be just as much of a pipe dream as the “super team”.