Once the Mets officially gave up on the 2017 season, fans started looking forward to this offseason, like Tom (the cat) salivating as he prepared to eat a Jerry (the mouse) sandwich on the beloved cartoon. The Mets, who had come so close to tasting championship champagne in 2015, and managed to sneak into the postseason long enough for an October cup of coffee in 2016, were starved from the get-go last season. With less than two weeks until pitchers, catchers, and players in the best shape of their careers report to spring training, most people are still waiting for the Mets to order their main course.
Don’t count Mets management as members of this dinner party, however, at least not publicly. Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, and General Manager Sandy Alderson would like to convince the faithful followers that the team they have is good enough to win, or least good enough to keep them going until later in the season when difference-makers might become available. Understandably, many fans find this tough to swallow. They don’t want a team where Wilmer Flores, while a fan favorite in Queens, is an everyday player. They weren’t confident in Asdrubal Cabrera when his knees were functioning, so they’re even less so now. They’re too worried that the once gifted and young starting rotation has lost some talent, is no longer so young, and is just as likely to break down as they have in past seasons. And many of these same fans have all but given up on the once-hyped catcher Travis d’Arnaud and semi-hyped catcher Kevin Plawecki. If you’ve been paying attention to any fan-generated Mets content (blogs, radio shows, conversations on the train) in the past few weeks, it’s likely you’ve heard the names Moustakas, Lynn, and Lucroy being tossed around as potential saviors for a Mets team otherwise going nowhere. But is this accurate?
Last year easily Mike Moustakas’ most complete season in his first seven years in the majors. After a torn ACL in his right knee ended his 2016 season before it ever really got started, Moustakas came into 2017 with something to prove, and he proved it, mostly. He had career-highs or near-career-highs in ever batting stat, including 38 home runs. But just because his 2017 was better than his 2011-2016, doesn’t necessarily mean that his numbers were actually wow-worthy. His .314 on-base percentage was hardly impressive, his .835 OPS could be described as fairly pedestrian, and his 1.8 WAR indicates that he was essentially an average contributor, and doesn’t even rank him in the top 200 players in the game. Surprisingly, Asdrubal Cabrera’s numbers are comparable. And while he may not have the power numbers that Moustakas has, he did get on base more, and there’s obviously some significant value in that.
For those lamenting the Mets Lance Lynn inactivity…there are many areas of concern. Lynn missed the entire 2016 season (hey, I’m noticing a trend here) while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Despite pitching a complete season in 2017, including 33 starts, there were some significant red flags about his production, the reddest one being a major dropoff in strikeouts. To be fair, the Mets wouldn’t be asking Lynn to be the staff ace, they’d be asking him to be insurance in case one, or more, of their current rotation members goes down with an injury. Sadly, this is more likely a case of “when” and not “if”. When Matt Harvey pitched well in his first season back from TJS (in 2015), many used this as a case that proves the potential benefits of the surgery. Then, when he struggled in 2016, those same people said that the second season after returning from TJS is often the toughest. While Harvey’s issues were related to a separate injury at that point, the message was still clear – the second season following Tommy John surgery recovery is usually full of struggles and inconsistency. This doesn’t sound like the kind of pitcher the Mets need right now.
And then there’s Jonathan Lucroy. When Lucroy was on the Milwaukee Brewers’ trading block in 2016, he was one of the hottest commodities around. The Texas Rangers paid a fairly hefty price for him, and he rewarded them with a quality 47-game stint, including 11 home runs in 152 at-bats. And then in 2017, his age-31 season, Lucroy’s productivity declined pretty sharply. In 281 at-bats for the Rangers, he had six home runs. A year after giving up some talent to acquire him, the Rangers traded him to the Colorado Rockies for a player to be named later. While Lucroy did hit fairly well for the Rockies over the final 46 games of the season, he only hit 2 home runs in 142 at-bats. Again, that’s 2 home runs for Colorado. I just hit one to the fence in Colorado while writing this post. Lucroy will turn 32 before the All-Star Break. Catchers not named “Molina” do not improve when they reach this age. Travis d’Arnaud will turn 29 in less than a week. While it doesn’t seem like he’ll ever live up to the expectations that he brought with him when the Mets got him from Toronto, it is reasonable to anticipate that he’ll be more productive in 2018 than Lucroy.
Perhaps the front office is…right? Perhaps breaking the Mets compromised bank for players who are no sure thing is not a wise way to operate. Perhaps the players on the current roster will fare better than the ones for whom fans are clamoring. This could all be true. But this doesn’t mean the Mets don’t need to improve soon. Just because Moustakas/Lynn/Lucroy are not automatically better than what the Mets currently possess, does not mean that the players the Mets currently possess are the ones who will take them deep into the postseason. If the Mets go into this season with the same hopes they had when last season began, and don’t make any moves to improve the team quickly, it’s likely that the fans will be left hungry again. Or maybe they’ll just lose their appetite.