Maybe it’s a little early to call the trade for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe a resounding success, but two games in, it certainly feels like it. On Saturday, Johnson went 2-fo-6 in his Mets debut, hitting one of the team’s four home runs, while on Sunday Uribe drove in the winning run in the 10th. If you asked Mets fans their satisfaction level with Sandy Alderson’s job performance after the last two games, they’d likely give it a thumbs up rather than the other figure they’d been using lately.
I always thought the concerns about the offense were a little overblown. Yes, it was horrid, and it likely wouldn’t have scared anyone outside the Eastern League, but there were solid hitters in that lineup that needed, well, someone to throw them the ball. Why should anyone ever throw Lucas Duda a pitch near the strike zone when the guy hitting behind him is 36, battling knee issues, and hitting .250 with eight home runs on the season? The simple fact is that there weren’t enough major league quality bats in their lineup and the team suffered for it. Bringing in one major bat seemed like a surefire way to jump start the offense, but one bat wasn’t going to do it. The team needed to boost the median, if you will, and not concentrate so much on the outliers.
The team regularly gives at-bats to Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, and Eric Campbell. The OBP for those three are .279, .281, and .303 respectively. Kirk Nieuwenhis has been murder against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers this season (a combined .667 batting average with three home runs, six runs scored, and 8 RBI), but against everyone else he’s hitting .133 with no home runs and five RBI in seven times the number of at bats. His story is great. He returns back from a Los Angeles vacation, and he immediately sparks a few big wins. It’s tough to win a lot of games when 1/3 of the lineup can’t seem to make it on base 1/3 of the time.
It’s certainly not an indictment on guys like Nieuwenhis and Campbell. In limited minutes, providing spot starts, they provide real value. Being asked to carry an offense, though, on a team that receives as much media attention as the Mets have this season no less, is taking things a bit too far. Everyone had an opinion on what the Mets should do to improve their woeful hitting and everyone was irate that Alderson did nothing. Once again, I thought this was a bit short sighted. What did people want Alderson to do? Create some magical trade that sent Jon Niese and Brandon Nimmo to Cincinnati for Brandon Phillips and Todd Frazier? No, better yet, why not send Dillon Gee and random fringe prospect to Oakland for Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard.
You have to sacrifice something to get something substantial in return, and dreams of Justin Upton and Zobrist without giving up anything of value were silly. If you want Alderson to make a deal in the best interests of the team long term, he needs time. Rash decisions based on the current standings were ridiculous. There’s a window here for the Mets to compete, but focusing too much on early favorable returns leads to trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. That trade still makes me sick, 11 years later, so I for one wanted Alderson to take his time in finding the right pieces for this club, no matter how ineffectual the offense is. Pennants may fly forever, but a horrid, short-sighted trade cuts deep and lives with you.
There’s a saying about losing feeling worse than winning feels good.
One thing missed in all this discussion, one thing glossed over by everyone in their dreams of big bats in the lineup, is that the Mets starters, no matter how ridiculously talented, are starting to pile up innings this season. Those innings are typically under the stress of close, low scoring games, and we’re all sort of assuming that Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard are going to motor right along come September. deGrom is already at 127 1/3 innings pitched and will eclipse last season’s career high of 140 1/3 likely in his next 2-3 starts.
Harvey is a year removed from Tommy John surgery, has thrown 125 1/3 innings, and will reach 2013’s total of 178 1/3 by season’s end. Will he still have gas in the tank? Will management rest him when needed if either the East or the wild card is so tantalizingly close? It’s great to trade Niese for some offensive dynamo, but the team needs his innings. I don’t know who I trust more between Niese and Bartolo Colon, but the team may need both of them by September, and rashly trading the former didn’t make much sense to me.
The point here isn’t that the team needs to hoard pitching. Major league capable starters sitting idly on the bench are wasted resources, but can anyone say what deGrom, Syndergaard, and Harvey are going to have left by September? deGrom touched 99-mph on the gun yesterday. What? Wasn’t the knock on deGrom prior to last season that he didn’t have that blazing fastball and he’d best be suited for relief duty? Will he have that extra gear by start 29?
We’ve all been operating under the belief that pitching would remain constant while Alderson could tinker with the bats. Give up Zach Wheeler to add a big bat? Why not? This is our time to shine! Think this through, please. If innings are going to be limited, and we’re looking at the long term health of the pitching staff, will a post-surgery Wheeler, at his lowest trade value, bring back enough of return to justify the cost long term? Sometimes you have to take a risk, but sometimes you just have to add major league quality starters, not import the big, gaudy numbers. Most of the time it’s been about execution on offense. Moving a guy from second to third with no outs. Driving a man in from third with less than two outs. I shouldn’t have to sit with a sense of despair when the team has runners on first and second with no outs. When did getting guys on base become depressing?
Here’s a thought: Wheeler was worth 2.5 wins last season according of Fangraphs. Is there anyone on the market that will provide that kind of return? How about a few seasons of those wins with the benefit of those relatively cheap arbitration years? Every move can’t be made with the fear of sacrificing years of decent return. Make a decision with a clear goal in mind, though, and that’s at least reasoned through. The thought of adding something to just make Jim Bowden prophetic seems like a gigantic waste, however.
The return of legitimate hitters such as Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright (maybe, possibly) will help add legitimacy to the lineup, but maybe instead of focusing on big bats and flashy names the team should look to add depth to the bullpen. Want to limit those innings? Make each of those starts six quick innings and around 80-90 pitches.
We’re still a few days shy of the July 31st trade deadline, and it would be great if another bat arrived to provide Duda some help. Each upgrade in the lineup is really adding two bats if pitchers are forced to throw Duda anything of quality. Still. Just having a lineup that looks like a major league lineup is nice start.