The Mets have 22 games left. Yes, this disastrous season is almost over. Believe it or not though, the Mets still have some work to do. They need to start planning for next season and addressing their needs. Here are just a few aspects they will need to decide on and some players they should take an extended look at now that rosters have expanded.
The end might very well be near for Travis d’Arnaud as the catcher of this team. He has had another sub-par season with a slash line of .232/.281/.394. That prompted the Mets to try to see what they have in Kevin Plawecki as they let go of Rene Rivera via waivers to the Cubs. Since the Mets called up Plawecki, he has hit .364/.440/.591 in 22 at-bats.
While this is certainly a small sample size, it is certainly worth finding out over the next month whether he can handle being the everyday catcher for this team. So down the stretch, the Mets should really try to play him two out of every three games to evaluate him. If he can handle it, the Mets might have their 2018 catcher of the future. If not, the Mets might need to look in another direction.
They could conceivably call up catching prospect Tomas Nido as well, but his .237/.292/.363 slash line at Double-A Binghamton suggests he might not be ready to handle MLB pitching. He does have a reputation of being a good defensive catcher, however. For example, he has thrown out 44% of potential base-stealers this season which would put him second in the MLB among catchers with at least 80 games played this season, behind Tucker Barnhart. If Plawecki falters next season, Nido might be a more plausible scenario at that point.
Second Base/Third Base
Flores has gotten a huge chunk of playing time this season at third base, second base, and first base. Its time to figure out whether he can handle an everyday spot in the infield. While his defense at third base has been abysmal, he has looked relatively average at second. His bat can play at the MLB level though as he currently has 17 homers to go along with a .270/.306/.482 slash line.
Cecchini, meanwhile, hasn’t really gotten much of a chance to prove he can handle the position this season, and really does deserve a chance to at least get to prove his worth in a utility infield role down the stretch. He has only received 35 at-bats at the MLB level this season, despite being ranked as the Mets ninth-best prospect by MLB.com.
Asdrubal Cabrera has gotten his chance. However, he is the one that needs to play possibly the most with his impending club option. The Mets need to find out if he can man third base for this team next season or not. Otherwise, they are likely heading out to the free agent market and will have to spend $100 million+ to secure Mike Moustakas, as the market drops significantly in talent after that.
Cabrera’s 10 home runs with a mere .259 average just makes this decision even more murky as that is just mediocre in nature and after the season he had in 2016 (.280 average, 23 homers), it is really difficult to judge which Asdrubal Cabrera the team is going to get for the 2018 season. Add to this that David Wright is still under contract through 2020, and all of sudden keeping Cabrera might seem like the most plausible move financially going forward.
The problem is, Terry Collins has been playing Flores at third base and Cabrera at second. As previously mentioned, Flores has been terrible at third base but isn’t bad at second base. Cabrera, on the other hand, is worse at second base where he has -6 DRS in just 274.1 innings this season compared to -1 DRS in 183 innings at third base. If both of these players are going to be in the 2018 Opening Day line-up, Flores should be at second base with Cabrera at third.
Luis Guillorme is also someone that deserves a look after his solid season at Binghamton (.287/.379/.336). Offense aside, Guillorme is arguably the best defender in the entire Mets organization, and removing Lagares from the equation, Guillorme is definitely the best defensive infielder. However, with the plethora of options on this team already its hard to envision him getting his chance to play the rest of the season, somewhat along the lines of Nido in this department.
T.J. Rivera is the guy, however, that really would have been nice to look at, but with his elbow injury it appears likely that the Mets won’t get their chance to get a longer look at him. In his brief time this season, he hit .290 is his 214 at-bats. They will probably hope that he is the real deal and that Flores can take his spot if he isn’t next season, instead of going out to try to find a replacement at the position.
Two of these spot are essentially decided from the start. Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes both will have a spot reserved for them next season no matter what happens down the stretch. However, with Cespedes and Conforto both have injury problems going into next season, the outfield is not as settled as it might seem.
The Mets have to figure out their center field/right field situation going into next season (depending on the Mets comfort level with playing Michael Conforto in center field). A couple of players they need to get long looks at are Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo.
With the injuries to Conforto and Cespedes being season-ending, the two young outfielders will get their chance everyday down the stretch (or at least they were going to until the signing of Norichika Aoki). If one or both of them play well enough to either platoon or play everyday, they might have less work to do at this spot.
However, both of them are considered light hitters and the Mets might choose to just keep these guys in a reserve capacity. At the very least, the Mets need to let these two players earn their spots on next year’s roster over the next month. Lagares has an edge, of course, because of his elite defense in center field.
With the outfield market being robust with Lorenzo Cain, J.D. Martinez, and Jay Bruce set to hit the market, the Mets might very well try to go outside the organization to fill this position regardless the play of the two down the stretch.
This is by far the murkiest of all the situations next season for the Mets. Seth Lugo, Matt Harvey, Robert Gsellman, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and even Tommy Milone have all missed time for the Mets this year on the DL.
Despite Harvey’s unimpressive return on Saturday and Noah Syndergaard likely to return briefly as well, the Mets need to let them pitch the rest of the season to see how they look. This applies more so to Harvey as the team knows what Syndergaard is long-term. Nobody knows who or what Harvey is anymore and with his free agency closing in after the 2018 season, the Mets need to figure out how to maximize his abilities.
Chris Flexen will likely continue to get a look as well, as he has improved in almost every start since coming up to the big leagues. Or at least he was until his implosion on Sunday, leaving his ERA at an overall uninspiring 7.85 mark. On merit alone, he would rank among the likeliest to get booted from the rotation.
Seth Lugo will get to start the rest of the season in all likelihood as he tries to continue to pitch with a partial ligament tear in his elbow, that has potentially been the reason behind his dip in velocity this season. However, the Mets should also try to get a look at him in the bullpen, as he potentially could be more effective in a mid-inning/long-relief role on this team. That could help address another issue for this team, and Robert Gsellman should be considered in this capacity as well.
The interesting case in all of this, though, is Rafael Montero. In his last four starts, Montero has been absolutely dominant. He has surrendered only six runs in the 25.2 innings he has pitched in that span which has to be turning heads in the Mets organization. He has also enjoyed a slight up-tick in velocity over that span with 24 strikeouts to show for it. In a season that has been abysmal, this development has been nice to watch.
While his 5.12 ERA still suggests he is far from a sure thing, he has made himself an option for next season and he deserves every chance to prove his worth, especially since he is out of options next season and will have to make the MLB team if the Mets want to keep him.
In all likelihood, the Mets will have Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard pegged in the rotation, try to sign an innings eater, and hope that two of Harvey, Matz, Gsellman, Wheeler, Montero, and Flexen can help fill out the rotation.
Finally, the Mets need to start looking at the bullpen. They have a plethora of options down the stretch that they can try out after the trades they made over the last two months. The ones that need extended looks are Jacob Rhame, Jamie Callahan, and P.J. Conlon. Rhame and Callahan were both called up before the Astros series.
Rhame, who was acquired in the Curtis Granderson deal, has been great in his six innings of work with Triple-A Las Vegas in which he has 11 strikeouts and has only allowed one run. While he needs a little fine-tuning and needs to develop a secondary pitch, he should be given every opportunity to try to do that at the big league level down the stretch.
Callahan (acquired as part of the Addison Reed trade) boasts a mid-90s fastball. He has also been very solid since being acquired as he has allowed two runs in 10 innings of work since joining Las Vegas and has 10 strikeouts to add to it. Callahan is likely farther along than Rhame as he already has decent secondary pitches. Callahan likely has a better chance of being on the team next season as it is likely he doesn’t need as much fine-tuning.
P.J. Conlon is an interesting candidate here as he only recently transitioned to the bullpen. However, he has only allowed one run in his five appearances while striking out eight batters for Double-A Binghamton. While this is obviously a small sample size, he should get a chance down the stretch to compete for the second lefty job next season.
Paul Sewald, Jerry Blevins, AJ Ramos, and Jeurys Familia are all locks to get spots in the 2018 bullpen. After that, it is very unclear. It is likely the Mets will only add at maximum one or two relievers as they probably will hope some of these young arms they traded for as well as any of the starters that don’t make the rotation can fill out the rest of the pen.
These are all serious questions going into 2018, some easier to answer than others. But with the Mets having traded away many huge pieces this summer, many holes need to be filled. One up-side to all of this is that now the Mets will have a younger, faster team that can put a better defense behind their pitching staff. The problem is that when they’re not playing defense, they’ve got to score runs.