Billy Eppler recaps off-season, discusses plan for top prospects, bullpen strategy, and Carlos Beltran's role
The Mets are prioritizing defensive development with their top prospects
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The Mets are unlikely to sign LHP Zach Britton (MLB.com)
Mets GM Billy Eppler held court with reports on Saturday in Port St. Lucie and said the following:
The team’s priority was reconstructing the pitching staff over upgrading the lineup over the winter
The organization felt confident in their ability to cultivate offense from within over the course of the 2023 season, whereas they would not be able to do so at a high level with their pitching
The Mets might continue to, “take a knee” on trades which only benefit the roster in the short-term while costing them longer-term pieces - the Mets will be more interested in trades giving them multiple years of control of the return
Francisco Álvarez, Brett Baty and Mark Vientos must improve their defense, which means they are likely headed to Triple-A Syracuse to start the season
If Álvarez is going to be on the team, they want to be able to have him catch
They are looking at ways to make Ronny Mauricio more versatile since he is blocked by Francisco Lindor at shortstop, but don’t want to rush a positional change on him - he will play shortstop only this spring
The Mets will send Khalil Lee to minor league camp on March 2 - he is no longer invited to major league spring training
A large portion of Carlos Beltran’s role with the Mets will be to support and help grow the player development side of the organization
The club is looking to have five high-leverage relievers in their bullpen
The Mets are all about pitching and defense, and they are going to wait for the latter to develop with their prospects ✍🏻
Pitching and defense. It’s an old formula in baseball.
For the Mets, an organization with a rich history in cultivating pitching, is prioritizing the other part of that formula among their prospects as they forge ahead in their minor league development plan.
On Saturday, Mets GM Billy Eppler said the Mets don’t plan to have Francisco Álvarez in the major leagues until his defense develops behind the plate.
“We want to wait for the complete package to be there,” Eppler explained. “The long-term trajectory for this young man is to be able to catch.”
So, what does that mean for the roster now?
Basically, the Mets don’t intend to satisfy a need in their lineup in lieu of developing the defense of their top prospects. And from the tenor and tone of Eppler’s comments on Saturday, it certainly seems like there’s more work to be done not just for Álvarez behind the plate, but for Brett Baty and Mark Vientos as well.
“Gotta play defense here,” Eppler said of Baty specifically. “We have a big ballpark. That was probably demonstrated last year by some of the personnel decisions we made that defense is important. It’s critical.”
Of course, circumstances can indeed change and Eppler suggested as much. But it’s clear, between their emphasis on developing defense and a continued unwillingness to deal prospects for a short-term gain, the Mets intention is to continue to procure what they need through free agency over the next couple of years as they hope to begin to see that pipeline from the minor leagues flow up to the big leagues.
But the Mets know and are clearly concerned about rushing players to the major leagues prematurely, as they do not want to sacrifice what they believe has become another core strength of their club to check the graduation box of one or more prospects now (although technically, Álvarez, Baty and Vientos have graduated).
Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not that will actually happen with these prospects. And to be fair, the Mets did show similar concern for Alonso’s defense at first base, but a) he has become competent on his worst day at first base, and has shown glimmers of elite defense on his best, b) his offensive production outweighs and will always outweigh whatever he evolves into defensively at first base.
For Álvarez specifically, yes he needs to be a major league competent catcher, and he clearly hasn’t reached that bar yet in his professional career. His bat is clearly ahead of his defense, and that’s fine - he’s just 21. Who can argue that Álvarez isn’t quite ready to catch and call games for Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer?
Of course, both would throw to him if they had to but it’s fair to assume they’d prefer to throw to players like Omar Narváez and Tomás Nido right now while Álvarez develops into that complete package, as Eppler put it.
Around the League ⚾️
Jacob deGrom is feeling better after being shutdown with a side injury - he is expected to throw off a mound early next week (Dallas Morning News)
The Brewers signed former Met Justin Wilson to a one-year contract (official release)
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is not under contract for 2024, but he isn’t worried about being a lame duck (Washington Post)
The Padres had until February 16 to sign Manny Machado a new contract extension (San Diego Tribune)