John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In making calls for a Wilson Ramos column last week, I heard a comment from a scout that in some ways summed up Brodie Van Wagenen's misguided attempt at assembling a win-now team in his first attempt as a GM.
"The Mets need to figure out who they are," the scout said.
He explained that for a team that believed its strength was a dominant starting rotation, the Mets needed a defense-first catcher who could enhance the abilities of the starting pitchers -- not a defensive liability like Ramos.
The same could be said for Van Wagenen's belief in trading for Robinson Cano, whose defensive decline at age 36 was far more predictable than his rather stunning lack of offense.
And while BVW did trade for defense in Keon Broxton, suffice it to say he didn't find an answer to the black hole that has been center field at Citi Field for far too long.
For that matter, if Jed Lowrie hadn't gotten hurt, the 35-year old second baseman would have wound up mostly at third, replacing Todd Frazier -- the best glove in the infield -- thereby further weakening the defense.
To be fair, there's always an argument to be made for offense over defense -- a concept Sandy Alderson believed in -- and Dominic Smith in left field may prove to be a good example.
But most championship-caliber teams are at least strong up the middle defensively, and with Amed Rosario below-average with the glove at short, in addition to the problems at catcher, second base and center field, the Mets are about as weak up the middle as any team in baseball.
If only Van Wagenen had believed in Jeff McNeil, and left him at second base rather than trading for Cano and Edwin Diaz, allowing him to spend more money on the bullpen instead. In that case, the Mets at least would have a brighter future with top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn still in the organization -- and they wouldn't have Cano's albatross contract for another four years.
All of that and I haven't mentioned Jeurys Familia.
In short, even giving Van Wagenen points for acquiring J.D. Davis, there's no getting around the obvious: the front office, built around the outside-the-box hiring of an agent as GM, deserves a midterm grade of "F."
If you knew Jason Vargas would have a 3.77 ERA in 14 starts during what was a mostly injury-free first half for the starting rotation, you'd have sworn the Mets would be leading the NL East. But the inconsistency of Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, and even a few clunkers from Jacob deGrom, add up to a 4.45 ERA for the starters, which ranks ninth in the NL.
The 5.57 bullpen ERA coming in at third-worst in the majors is bad enough, but the Mets have also blown 20 saves -- the highest total in the majors. All of this after Van Wagenen traded for the best young reliever in baseball last year. Nobody saw Diaz going bust, but certainly the Familia signing came with risk, given his control issues the last couple of years. And whatever happened to all those young, power relief arms the Mets traded for when they fell out of the race a couple of years ago?
If nothing else, Pete Alonso makes the Mets worth watching, no matter where they are in the standings. With the Home Run Derby title to go with 30 dingers, he's a monster, but he has also proven to be much more than an all-or-nothing slugger. Even so, Alonso's star quality, along with Todd Frazier's bounce-back season, is at least partly negated by Cano's dreadful play -- as well as Rosario's alarmingly erratic defense.
Like Alonso, just in an entirely different way, Jeff McNeil is great fun to watch, and he gives the Mets hope for the future. Beyond his Ichiro-like ability to put the bat on the ball, he has great instincts for the game that show up in some way almost every day. Meanwhile, Smith has been a revelation, seemingly ok in left field while proving he can hit. Michael Conforto has been solid, but will he ever be that perennial All-Star that everyone expects?
GRADE: B +
At this point Ramos' defensive problems have been well-documented, and even if it's unlikely they can trade him, it's simply time for the Mets to give Tomas Nido more playing time. Nido is a smooth receiver, seems to have a good feel for game-calling, and while he'll never provide a lot of offense, he looks like he can hit enough to justify catching him for his defense.
And now for some individual highs and lows...
MVP: Pete Alonso
With more help on all fronts, Alonso's power bat could have been the unexpected weapon the Mets needed to be serious contenders. The good news is he's just getting started.
Most Surprising: Dominic Smith
He was a forgotten man last year, and the organization seemed ready to give up on him. Still only 24 years old, he has a .939 OPS in 157 plate appearances this season as he forces his way into the future plans.
Most Disappointing: Robinson Cano
Plenty of possibilities, but it has to be him. Cano was supposed to anchor this lineup as the No. 3 hitter and provide veteran leadership. Instead he looks like he's 46 instead of 36, and his infamous lack of hustle has been an issue this team doesn't need.
Most Entertaining: Jeff McNeil
Alonso's power may be more eye-popping, but everything about McNeil demands watching. He has those unteachable baseball instincts that help his team win games in small ways, to go with that mesmerizing ability to put the ball in play in any direction. If only the Mets had recognized what they had in him after getting a taste last year.
Most Overhyped: Amed Rosario
There's no getting around it at this point, Rosario is nearly two full seasons into his big-league career, and still yet to look like the player so many evaluators were touting as one of the very best prospects in baseball. Defense is the bigger issue than offense at the moment, and the Mets should follow through on their talk of trying him center field.
Most Exasperating: Zack Wheeler
Really thought he was over the hump with his brilliant second half last year, and he has dominated at times this season with his dazzling stuff. But too many mistake pitches have proved decisive and turned his season mediocre.
Most Enigmatic: Noah Syndergaard
Somewhat like Wheeler, Syndergaard has his days when he still looks like he's about to fully blossom into a dominant starter, with sometimes-unhittable stuff. Just not enough of them, and the difference is that he still seems to be trying to figure out which pitches work best for him.