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Opening Day Preview

With many burning questions surrounding the New York Mets ahead of the 2017 season, most of them now appear answered. Who will earn the final bench spots? Who is the Opening Day starting catcher? Does Zack Wheeler still exist? Your one-stop-shop for the preview of the 2017 Mets starts now.

Citi Field

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Jay Bruce: Your Opening Day Right Fielder

The Mets are now intent on retaining Jay Bruce as their Opening Day right fielder, according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.

After an offseason full of rumors involving trading Bruce, it appears he’s here to stay—for now. The $13 million lefty is entering the final year of his contract, following a 50-game stint in New York where he batted a disappointing .219 with eight homers.

The problem with Bruce staying in New York does not lay within his numbers—which are bound to increase with a larger sample size. It’s the glut of outfielders—particularly lefties.

Traded for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell at last year’s trade deadline, the intention for bringing Bruce aboard was twofold. It was expected that he would supply a power surge to an injury-riddled lineup. While that plan didn’t go as expected, the Mets still exercised his $13 million 2017 option to provide insurance for the departure of Yoenis Cespedes. After re-signing Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year contract, the Mets outfield now consists of Cespedes, Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares, and Brandon Nimmo—all of whom the front office would like to get significant playing time.

Entering his age-35 season and the final year of his contract, Grandersocurtis-grandersonn will make $15 million as the projected starting center fielder. Across 633 plate appearances last year, Granderson hit a respectable .237 while smacking 30 home runs. While the major concern is his aging defense in center field, Granderson showed all signs of mediocrity up the middle in 2016 across 251 innings, accumulating one Defensive Run Saved (DRS)—his highest in center since 2010. Granderson played to a 2.6 WAR last year, a steep drop in light of his 5.1 2015 campaign—perhaps due to more time in center field.

In a bold comparison to Granderson, Juan Lagares accumulated two DRS—a low mark compared to the 26 he put up in 2013 and 2014. This paved the way to a three and four-win player he became, respectively. The Mets rewarded him with a four-year, $23 million contract extension before the 2016 season. Lagares—a current fourth outfielder—has the potential to earn $9.5 million in 2020 should the Mets exercise his club option, which seems like an awful lot for a bench player.

Michael Conforto, the #10 overall pick in the 2014 draft, burst onto the scene in 2015, hitting nine home runs in just 194 plate appearances. However, his numbers took a severe dip as his expectations increased ahead of the 2016 campaign. His strikeout percentage increased to nearly 26%—the highest he’s had in his professional career. His defensive metrics dropped along with his offense, lowering his 2016 DRS to 1 in comparison to 9 the year before—making him probably not an ideal candidate for an everyday center fielder.

The Mets' Brandon Nimmo awaits a pitch in the 11th inning.Lastly, the #13 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Brandon Nimmo, got his first taste of the majors last year. Nimmo batted a respectable .274/.338/.329 across 80 plate appearances, and has been considered a center fielder for the vast majority of his professional career.

While there is certainly a logjam of outfielders for the upcoming season, with injury-prone players like Cespedes and Granderson, I don’t doubt that players like Lagares and Nimmo will be needed. And, with looming free agent departures in Granderson and Bruce, the outfield will appropriately thin out for the 2018 season.

Right now, whether you like it or not, Bruce is the right fielder. Granderson is bound to be in center and will probably be replaced with Lagares during the late innings. With Cespedes rounding things out in left,
Conforto will work his way into the lineup someway and somehow. Nimmo, despite a good showing in 2016, will almost certainly start the 2017 campaign in Triple-A Las Vegas.

Update: Remaining Mets Free Agents

With Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker retained and Bartolo Colon headed to Atlanta, the Mets offseason appears to be all but over. Yet still, quite a few 2016 Mets remain available on the open market—including Jerry Blevins, Alejandro De Aza, and James Loney, among others.

jerry-blevinsBlevins is the most notable Met still on the market. It’s believed in the industry that, given large contracts awarded to Michael Dunn and Brett Cecil given by the Rockies and Cardinals respectively, Blevins will command more than the Mets’ payroll will allow. Brought over from Washington in the Matt den Dekker trade, Blevins accumulated an impressive 2.79 ERA in his short stint with the Mets—his best mark since 2012. Throughout the offseason, he’s been most strongly linked to the Blue Jays.

Alejandro De Aza is another intriguing name still left out there. The market for outfielders has evolved slowly, with similar players in Michael Bourn and Gregor Blanco still available—not to mention much more attractive options in Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders, Colby Rasmus, and Rajai Davis. Given the plethora of options, the market for De Aza has been understandably slow. The 32-year old slashed .205/.297/.321 with six homers in his first and probably only season with New York.

James Loney, an unlikely cog in the 2016 Mets machine, is another Met whose market has developed very slowly. After being acquired from the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in April, Loney worked to a respectable .265/.307/.397 slash line with nine homers across 343 at-bats. In a similar situation as De Aza, Loney has to wait for his similar counterparts to fall off the first base market to evaluate his worth. With Mike Napoli, Adam Lind, Logan Morrison and Brandon Moss still available, Loney could be waiting a while.

jim-hendersonJim Henderson had a lackluster first season with the Mets, owning a 4.11 ERA across 35 major league innings pitched. The Mets picked up Henderson last winter post-Tommy John surgery with hope he would regain his 2013 form, when he posted impressive numbers as a closer in Milwaukee. Unfortunately for both sides, things did not go as planned, and Henderson will most likely need to accept a minor league contract if he hopes to continue his career.

Utility-man Kelly Johnson is still available, and has yet to re-sign with the Braves as he appears to do every winter. A case can be made for practically any team to sign Johnson, as his versatility and power off the bench are an asset to any team. He worked to a .268/.328/.459 slash line across 183 at-bats as a Met in 2016. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain similar numbers next year when he’s traded over from Atlanta at the trade deadline.

Another two-time Met in Jonathon Niese is unsurprisingly still avaijonathon-nieselable. Niese posted a 5.50 ERA in 2016, his worst of any qualifying season of his career. One report linked Niese to the White Sox in early December, but there is no indication of any imminent signing. In a thin free agent market for starting pitching, Niese is most likely looking at a major league deal despite a steady decline in production.

Lastly, reliever Fernando Salas‘ services are still on the open market. Brought over from the Angels at the waiver trade deadline, Salas was very effective in orange and blue. He posted a 2.08 ERA and 0.63 WHIP while limiting opposing hitters to a mere .177 batting average across 17.1 innings pitched. Given the strong finish to 2016, Salas should be rewarded in free agency with a major league contract—perhaps even a multiyear deal. It appears that of all the remaining Mets free agents, Salas is the most likely to return to Queens.

Andrew McCutchen in Orange and Blue?

The Mets have reached out to the Pirates in effort to trade for outfielder Andrew McCutchen, according to multiple reports.

The good news is in my 2017 MLB The Show season, I traded for Andrew McCutchen. So it can be done! Just with video game GM’s on veteran mode.

The bad news? He cost Daniel Murphy.

In reality, it is doubtful that the Mets could pull of the trade. The Nationals nearly landed McCutchen earlier this month, but talks stalled when the Pirates demanded their number-two prospect, outfielder Victor Robles. Reporters are skeptical that the Mets are willing to part ways with the youngsters the Pirates are asking for—Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, and top prospect Amed Rosario, among others.

Andrew McCutchen

Before running away with this fantasy, a trade will definitely not manifest if the Mets are not able to trade away an outfielder. Jay Bruce is at the top of Sandy Alderson’s naughty list, as the Mets have been aggressively shopping the outfielder. To the Mets’ dismay, Curtis Granderson has reportedly been receiving much more trade interest. The idea is for either Bruce or Granderson to be flipped for relief pitching (talks with the Orioles about Brad Brach are ongoing), and then toss some prospects in a deal for a player like McCutchen. The Reds’ Billy Hamilton and the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon are some other names that have been mentioned in trade rumors.

Will Andrew McCutchen be playing in orange and blue in 2017? Probably not. But an outfield with Yoenis Cespedes, Andrew McCutchen, and Michael Conforto sounds awfully intriguing.

Cardinals Sign Ruben Tejada

Just days after passing through waivers unclaimed, the Cardinals have signed ex-Met shortstop Ruben Tejada to a one year, $1.5 million deal.

The decision to release Tejada was, according to Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson, “a move we felt we needed to make.” After stockpiling the middle infield with the additions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, Tejada appeared to be an expendable component of the Mets bench, taking into account his $3 million salary for the upcoming season. With Tejada gone and Cabrera likely ready for Opening Night, shortstop prospect Matt Reynolds and super-utilityman Eric Campbell appear to be the favorites to win the final bench spot.

The addition of Tejada could not have come at a better time for the Cardinals, who have recently lost their star shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, to thumb surgery. Ruben will compete with the newly-acquired Jedd Gyorko to be the starting shortstop.

Tejada, of course, was made famous from this collision (that still infuriates me to this very day) with the Dodgers’ Chase Utley. Ruben worked to come back from the broken leg he suffered on the play only to be released by the one organization he’s ever known.

The phrase “up the middle” now horrifies me to my very core.

Ruben received a very warm last welcoming in Gam3 of the NLDS:

 

 

Mejia gets ‘Mejia Stomped’

From the minute Buddy Carlyle stepped on to the mound in Washington in the ninth inning of last year’s Opening Day, Jenrry Mejia’s career was all but over.

After heading to the Disabled List on Opening Day, Mejia served an 80-game suspension for testing positive for Stanozolol, a Performance Enhancing Drug. A few games afterward, bam: another suspension—this one 162 games. During that one, MLB reeled in Mejia and stomped a lifetime ban on him.

Mejia grew up in the Dominican Republic, shining shoes for $17 a day. He signed with the Mets in 2007 for $16,500. In 2016, he threw away what could’ve been over $2 million in one year’s salary. He threw away what many estimate to be an additional $40+ million in career earnings.

It’s really mind boggling to me how this guy gets caught on PED’s three times. Maybe the first time Mejia used Stanozolol to recover from his injury; that I can at least wrap my head around. When he gets caught, it requires a special amount of stupidity to think he can still get away with it not once more, but two more times. But still, Mejia tells Dominican sports reporter Hector Gomez; “It is not like they say. I am sure that I did not use anything.” Yeah, OK, Jenrry.

Mejia has the opportunity to appeal the ban after a minimum of two years.

As for the Mets, they’ll manage without Mejia. Jeurys Familia, a longtime friend of Mejia’s,  turned out to be an even better closer than Jenrry, and will likely continue his dominance in 2016. The Mets tendered a contract to set-up man Addison Reed, who performed uncharacteristically well in orange and blue last year. Other additions in Antonio Bastardo and Jerry Blevins seem to solidify an already great bullpen.

With this, I bid farewell to the trademark Mejia Stomp. We hardly knew ye.

 

Updates: Bernadina, Clippard, Torres, Ceciliani

The Mets have announced they have signed journeyman outfielder Roger Bernadina to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. With Lagares and De Aza locking up bench spots, Bernadina, who hit .276 with 15 homers and 20 stolen bases last year with  the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate, will almost certainly begin the year in Triple-A Las Vegas.

Bernadina, 31, has spent parts of eight years in the Nationals, Phillies, Reds, Dodgers, and Rockies organizations. A career .236 hitter and far better defender, Bernadina will function as left-handed outfield depth following the loss of Kirk Niewenhuis and Darrell Ceciliani, who was traded to the Blue Jays last week for cash.

Ceciliani, 25, hit .206 in 68 big league at-bats in 2015. He was designated for assignment following the signing of Yoenis Cespedes, and is now finding himself competing for a role on the Toronto bench. Ceciliani hit .345 in 229 at bats in Triple-A Las Vegas last year—Shades of Matt den Dekker’s numbers before being traded to Washington during the 2015 Spring Training.

Tyler Clippard, who helped the Mets significantly down the stretch in 2015, has reportedly signed a 2 year, $12.25 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a bit surprising to see Clippard still available so late in the offseason, given his wonderful showing in 2015 and proven track record. Clippard pitched to a 3.04 ERA in orange and blue, a little bit higher than the 2.88 ERA he owns for his career. Clippard and fellow veteran Brad Ziegler will anchor what will be a formidable force in the back end of Arizona’s bullpen. You can keep up with anything and everything Diamondbacks here.

Carlos Torres, designated for assignment to make room on the roster for Antonio Bastardo, elected free agency rather than a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. Torres will almost certainly surface with a major league team at some point this season, or could pursue opportunities in Japan, which is oftentimes more lucrative.