The New York Mets are a sinking ship.
It was all but publicly decried when neophyte manager Mickey Callaway held a state of affairs address with his team behind closed doors. This, coming shortly after Callaway said team meetings seem to be useless because they don’t help in the physical act of playing the game the right way.
And yet here we are. The Mets have lost four in a row, including a four-game sweep by a Chicago Cubs team that outplayed and outclassed them at every opportunity. It was a stark contrast between two teams trending in different directions; the Cubs are 10 games over .500 as they push for that first place spot in the NL Central. The Mets, meanwhile, have lost eight out of their last 10 and are seven games back from the first-place Atlanta Braves.
You’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten about the incredible 11-1 start to the year. For the first few weeks of the season, it was the Mets, not the Yankees, who were the talk of New York sports. But since then, the Mets have gone 16-27, have seen teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, and aforementioned Braves surge past them, and have seen some messy melodrama form once again in a clubhouse that always seems rife with it.
So it begs the question: how did the Mets get here?
Injuries are part of the game. Through the grueling 162-game schedule, every team must weather the storm. Players get hurt, and the team must adapt.
Yoenis Cespedes, Todd Frazier, Travis d’Arnaud, and Noah Syndergaard. These are the names that have spent significant time on the disabled list. None bigger than Syndergaard, who was supposed to lead the rotation into a resurgence but then strained a ligament in his finger; none bigger than Cespedes, who was the focal point of an offensive lineup that needed a big bat to prove they can match the potential of their pitching.
But Cespedes’ stint on the 10-day DL due to a strained hip flexor has made this Mets’ lineup woefully thin. Frazier is expected to return Thursday, but he’s not the dynamic hitter they lose with Cespedes being out. He’s a talented and veteran hitter, but not quite the man they need.
Meanwhile, the Mets face a tricky situation with Syndergaard’s strained ligament in his finger. He, above all other players on the DL, can’t be rushed back even though he’s assumed the mantle of the ace of the staff after Matt Harvey’s long-expected departure. He and Jacob deGrom have been the most consistent pitchers in a rotation featuring names like Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, but strained ligaments in pitchers are difficult to determine; will Syndergaard need a longer stint than the requisite 10 days? Is it a sign that there’s something more serious lying beneath the surface?
Not to mention Michael Conforto has disappointed after his time on the disabled list, and the same can be said with Zack Wheeler. The Mets find that even when they get players healthy again, they are often disappointed with the level of production. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time; Conforto has flashed moments of being too good of a hitter in his young career to just have a .238 average on the year.
And for every good start Wheeler has, it’s coupled with a clunker soon after.
For the players that have stayed healthy, their numbers are not good enough. If the league OPS average is .700, the Mets fielded four of eight pure hitters (not including the pitcher) below league average against a Cubs team with eight players above it. A combined team OPS of .697 is fifth-worst in all of baseball. For context, their cleanup hitter against Chicago was Kevin Plawecki, a backup catcher with seven career home runs and 47 RBI.
The injury bug plagues every team, eventually. But what separates the good teams from the bad is if you can weather that storm when it comes. The Mets have not and with a farm system lacking any big talent on the verge of breaking out as they continue to fall in the standings, they might want to consider a makeover.
On the verge of a change
When healthy, Syndergaard is one of the game’s best. So is Cespedes.
But the question is how much of their value has taken a hit with their inability to be 100% healthy. It’s hard to imagine, however, that there isn’t a team on the playoff bubble willing to trade a few assets for those guys to make a final push for the postseason.
If the team continues to trend in the direction it has been, the Mets will have to make calls. Yes, guys like Syndergaard and Cespedes are the guys you build teams around, but the Mets system is so thin that, for as long as they keep one or the other, it will be a patchwork of players for a mediocre team.
If the Mets have learned anything, it’s that you can’t build a championship team from pitching. It’s too fragile. The dreams of an MLB-best rotation led by guys like Harvey and Syndergaard and deGrom were short lived because you need to score more runs than the other team to win, and the Mets’ best offensive prospects are not expected for at least another year. Remember when Amed Rosario was considered their best position prospect? How much does it sting the Mets as they wait for him to take off in a way that Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar have over in the Bronx?
A lot can change for the Mets if they move the right pieces. The Yankees did it in 2016 with guys like Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Is it too safe to say a guy like deGrom could command as much of a king’s ransom as Chapman did to the right buyer? What about Syndergaard, or even Cespedes? They may only be seven games out of first place in the NL East, but ahead of them are three teams that have experienced a revitalization of their organizations predicated on the strength of their youth. What would the Mets’ answer to the Braves’ Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. be? Or the Nationals’ Trea Turner and Juan Soto? The Phillies have Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera.
There isn’t a single Mets prospect included in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball. Again, all of that can change if the right pieces are moved. This is the chance for the Mets to get a mulligan, to do it all over again and build a roster that’s deep and talented and not predicated on the fickle nature of pitching.
If they continue trending in the wrong direction, the Mets can’t hesitate.
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