Mets promote Eric Chávez, Jeremy Barnes to new coaching roles, and a vision for 2023
Chávez and Barnes served as the hitting coach tandem for the Mets in 2022, while Sherlock was Showalter's bench coach
What’s Up with the Mets? 🍎
The Mets promoted Eric Chávez - their former hitting coach - to be Buck Showalter’s bench coach. In addition, Jeremy Barnes - last year’s assistant hitting coach - has been promoted to be their primary hitting coach, while Glenn Sherlock - Showalter’s former bench coach - will move into the catcher’s coach and game calling role (New York Post)
Jacob deGrom is the Mets primary starting pitching target in free agency (New York Post)
Reshaping the Mets roster is easier said than done… ✍🏻
We are inching closer and closer to baseball’s Winter Meetings. They officially begin on Monday, December 5 but league and club executives along with players, agents and other league personnel will begin to arrive and gather on Sunday afternoon, December 4 at the San Diego Marriott Marquis.
The Mets are positioned to be one of the busiest clubs in what we all knew a year ago at this time would be yet another pivotal junction point for the franchise. The Mets roster is thin at the moment, with 15 players either being granted or electing free agency due to expiring contracts, non-tenders (16 if Edwin Díaz is included, although he was retained on a five-year, $102 million contract at the beginning of the off-season).
The Mets basically have two shoe-ins for their starting rotation right now in Max Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco with other pieces like David Peterson, Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi around as potential depth for the back of the rotation. In the bullpen, they have Díaz, Drew Smith and that’s it as far as sure things go for the active roster.
They also need to sort out their situation in the outfield. Will it be Brandon Nimmo or somebody else in center? Do they shift Starling Marte and find a corner outfielder instead? This would create more options for the Mets in free agency, but keeping Marte fresh and healthy is essential and making him the regular center fielder at this stage in his career would not make that easy, at best.
There’s also the designated hitter situation. Is the solution going to be in the form of a platoon with Daniel Vogelbach as the left-handed option and maybe Francisco Álvarez as the right-handed option? Is it one or the other? Or is it neither and they go for someone like JD Martínez or Michael Brantley there? SNY’s Andy Martino says that as of right now, the Mets are looking internally but of course time will tell.
Then there is the cultural issue.
A key part of everyone’s resume on their free agent wish list last winter was their ability to help transform the culture and the personality of the clubhouse, and the Mets were successful in those endeavors when they procured Max Scherzer, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte, Chris Bassitt and Mark Canha. How do they fill these major roster gaps over the next couple of months while trying to recreate that same team personality and character which helped catapult the 2022 Mets into a 101-win team?
Doing all of that in free agency - when the bulk of the talent available is on the wrong side of 30 (and in some cases, closer to 40 than 30) - is a tall, tall task. A lot needs to go right for this front office and now, and it’s not as if the Mets came up all aces in their free agent contracts and trades last winter either.
I don’t envy the job Billy Eppler has right now, even with the loads of money he has at his disposal to do all of the above.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve begun to contemplate what I would like the 2023 Mets to look like. The Mets had a very good offense this past season. They were fifth in the majors in runs scored, second in batting average and on-base percentage, third in wRC+.
This is all superb. But there were quite a number of problems these numbers hide.
The Mets as a team drove produced 735 RBI. Again, a very good mark which was the sixth-best in the majors. But over 32 percent of those RBI came from two players - Francisco Lindor (107) and Pete Alonso (131). There were 23 other players who got at least one plate appearance for the Mets in 2022, that which produced the remaining 497 RBI with the next best individual total courtesy of Escobar at 69 (25 of which came in his final 30 games).
What that means is there was too much of a dependency on two players to be daily run producers and not slump (which they did, because everyone slumps), especially down the stretch when the Mets really needed the butter to be spread to all parts of the bagel.
They also depended too much and too often on scoring runs with two outs, a strategy that good teams employ but is not sustainable at the rate the Mets were at, especially early in the 2022 season.
For context, the Mets scored 321 runs with two outs or 42 percent of their total output, the third-highest total in the game - the Braves scored 331 with two outs, the Dodgers 321.
For what it’s worth, those three teams - who totaled 313 regular season games between them - combined for three wins and 34 runs combined in the playoffs in 2022, and none of them won a playoff series.
The easy answer is, the Mets need more run producers. And that can be solved by procuring additional power for the lineup and both lengthen and protect Lindor and Alonso better.
I don’t think it’s as simple as that, however. Yes, they need more power. Of course they need more power. Home runs are awesome.
But when we think about it on such simple terms, we forget what hindered the Mets perhaps more than anything during the year, and that was their speed, athleticism, first-to-third potential, and base running overall.
They need to depend less on the luckiness on the game and create more of a well-rounded threat.
Teams that make a lot of contact but don’t hit for a lot of power must be able to produce and manufacture runs and just run the bases well. That means they need to be more agile and athletic, take better calculated risks while on-base, and bleed teams to death in the process. The Mets actually became less athletic with their acquisitions of Vogelbach and Darin Ruf at the trade deadline which in-turn made their offense even worse despite Vogelbach producing an .830 OPS after he was acquired (for what it’s worth, he had a .740 OPS after August 12 as he dealt with a balky hamstring).
More context - the Mets were the fourth-worst base running team in the majors in 2022, per FanGraphs.
Then there’s the pitching staff, which of course was outstanding in 2022, but obviously fell short of fulfilling a dream led by a two-headed monster made up of Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. The lesson there of course is, don’t bank on hype, I suppose. Pitchers break, it’s just a matter of when. And those two pitchers combined for about $75 million in salary while combining for 34 starts between them in 2022.
Yet, they overcame that challenge and still won 101 games.
But now deGrom is a free agent, as are both Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker. They need to immediately replace both of those players if not re-sign Bassitt at a minimum (although I have concerns over how the pitch clock will impact Bassitt and pitchers of a similar ilk). David Peterson was a savior for their rotation right from the jump and deserves an opportunity to bid for a rotation spot at a minimum - this is now his time although he needs to evolve into a better (and higher quality) strike thrower to be a sustainable presence in a major league starting rotation.
For the sake of the conversation, let’s assume the Mets are able to re-sign deGrom, giving them three shoe-ins for the rotation heading into 2023. From there, I believe the Mets need to be more swing-and-miss even if that means they’re less efficient than someone like Bassitt. Perhaps less efficiency with more swing-and-miss potential over the same number of innings is the better route to take, and a better use of the money they’re going to need to spend on the third spot in the rotation? They also need to become more left-handed - perhaps Peterson can fill that void, or if the Mets aren’t able to retain deGrom they can check that box with Carlos Rodón.
Then there’s the bullpen.
We all know bullpen arms are volatile and can be hit or miss from year-to-year. It’s riskier business than ever because the perceived elite now require big, multi-year deals (remember Rafael Montero, the guy who was supposed to be in the Mets rotation over deGrom back in 2014? The Astros just gave him a three-year, $34.5 million contract, as one example).
To me, the bullpen situation is about value and shortening games year-over-year. The Astros, Braves and Dodgers in particular always do a great job getting outs 19-27 (I’ll throw the Yankees into that mix too overall, although they struggled in this area in 2022). They’re dynamic, universally match well with any team, get those swings and misses and always seem to get that big out when they need it. So, can they find better values for similar money than Seth Lugo or Trevor May and match up better against their primary competition than they have recently?
Even more context - the Mets paid May $15.5 million for a 4.00 ERA, 14 home runs and 33 walks allowed across 87.2 IP and generally league average production over the last two years (with a stress reaction in his arm bonking 2/3 of his 2022 season). Lugo was better and above league average during the same span but unquestionably saw his stuff diminish over that time, during which he earned around $6 million in his second and third year of arbitration.
Maybe they can find better value for the money with one, but not the other. But one thing is certain - the Mets bullpen needs more length as they cannot depend on Díaz and an Adam Ottavino or someone like him to get so many outs all the time.
And can the Mets find a reliable left-handed reliever or two please? I feel like I am asking for this nearly every year, and it never happens.
You are probably saying, “ok, how do the Mets accomplish all of this over the next couple of months?” My answer is, if I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn’t have a mortgage the size of Texas, and I’d be headed for one of those fancy suites with the other league executives at the San Diego Marriott Marquis on Sunday.
But I’d also say these answering the basic questions are easier than finding the actual solutions, those being about the club’s identity and what the front office wants the personality of the roster to be heading into 2023. We know what the Mets need to be better at - that’s what’s been outlined here.
Can the Mets now find dance partners? We will know more in a week.
Hot Stove 🔥
The Astros have agreed to sign DH José Abreu to a three-year, $60 million contract (USA Today)
The Dodgers met with Justin Verlander on Monday (New York Post)
Miguel Cabrera will likely retire after the 2023 season (MLB.com)
The Pirates are showing interest in RHP Kyle Gibson (Athletic)
One of Nathan Eovaldi or Matt Strahm could sign before the Winter Meetings (WEEI)