There isn’t much indication that Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel are closing in on new contracts, though that hasn’t stopped teams from keeping in touch with the two free agents. Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of The Athletic (subscription required) list the Mets and Brewers as two of the clubs checking in on both pitchers, though Milwaukee is more focused on Kimbrel as a potential add. The Rays are also still maintaining contact with Kimbrel, after reports during Spring Training suggested Tampa Bay was at least considering signing the closer. Rosenthal and Lin described the Mets’ interest in Keuchel and Kimbrel “as a matter of due diligence,” with MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo and Newsday’s Tim Healey (both Twitter links) adding that it doesn’t seem likely that either pitcher will end up in a Mets uniform.
Following an offseason that featured an arms race between several of the NL East’s contenders, expectations are higher than ever for the Braves, Mets, Nationals, and Phillies. For that reason, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post, there will be no excuses for managers Gabe Kapler, Dave Martinez, and Mickey Callaway this time around. The trio of rookie managers all endured disappointing 2018 seasons, but with their ballclubs making significant additions in the winter, the new year comes with heightened pressure to deliver and win now. It bears mentioning that first-year Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was not part of the front office that hired Callaway prior to last season. Though it’s still early to speculate about managerial turnover, the developing bloodbath in the NL East will be a story to watch throughout the season and into the winter.
Here are some other notes from the East…
- Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy, once an uber-prospect with tantalizing potential, has undergone well-documented struggles in recent years, culminating in his surrendering 41 home runs last season. Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun details new pitching coach Doug Brocail’s plan to implement changes that will help Bundy return to the form that brought him success earlier in his career, including his career-best 2016 season.
- Also in Baltimore, new skipper Brandon Hyde has thus far refrained from anointing a closer and does not intend to do so anytime soon, writes Meoli. Though Mychal Givens, who finished the 2018 season in the closer role after the midseason trades of Zack Britton and Brad Brach, appeared the best candidate to close, Hyde’s Orioles are comfortable sticking to a committee approach for the foreseeable future.
- Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has been dealing with left knee inflammation and began the season on the IL, will begin a rehab assignment on Thursday with the Class-A Greenville Drive, per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. Pedroia has been receiving at-bats in extended spring training; the timetable for his return to MLB action is yet unknown.
This is the latest post of MLBTR’s annual Offseason in Review series, in which we take stock of every team’s winter dealings.
Audacious general manager Brodie Van Wagenen hit the ground running in his first offseason atop the Mets. Now, after two straight down years, the revamped club has a realistic chance to compete for a playoff berth.
Major League Signings
- Jeurys Familia, RP: three years, $30MM
- Jed Lowrie, INF: two years, $20MM
- Wilson Ramos, C: two years, $19MM
- Justin Wilson, RP: two years, $10MM
- Total spend: $79MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired 2B Robinson Cano, RP Edwin Diaz and $20MM from the Mariners for OFs Jay Bruce and Jarred Kelenic and RHPs Anthony Swarzak, Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista
- Acquired OF Keon Broxton from the Brewers for RHPs Bobby Wahl and Adam Hill and 2B Felix Valerio
- Acquired INF/OF J.D. Davis and INF Cody Bohanek from the Astros for 2B Luis Santana, OF Ross Adolph and C Scott Manea.
- Acquired RHP Walker Lockett and INF Sam Haggerty from the Indians for C Kevin Plawecki
- Claimed OF/1B Jordan Patterson from the Rockies, then lost him on waivers to the Reds
- Selected RHP Kyle Dowdy from the Indians in the Rule 5 Draft, then lost him on waivers to the Rangers
Notable Minor League Signings
- Rene Rivera, Rajai Davis, Adeiny Hechavarria, Hector Santiago, Devin Mesoraco, Carlos Gomez, Luis Avilan, Gregor Blanco, Dilson Herrera, Rymer Liriano, Ruben Tejada, Danny Espinosa, Arismendy Alcantara, Arquimedes Caminero, Zach Lee, Sean Burnett, Ryan O’Rourke, Casey Coleman
- Bruce, Swarzak, Plawecki, David Wright, Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins, Austin Jackson, Jose Lobaton
Formerly one of baseball’s most accomplished agents, Van Wagenen took the reins in Queens with no prior front office experience. It was a controversial choice by the Mets to hand Van Wagenen the keys to their baseball department, though he never lacked for confidence upon landing the job.
“We will win now. We will win in the future. We will deliver a team this fanbase and this city can be proud of,” Van Wagenen declared at his introductory press conference on Oct. 30.
While there was plenty of skepticism over Van Wagenen five months ago, it’s hard to say he’s in over his head one winter into his pressure-packed new role. Van Wagenen reworked the Mets’ roster in impressive fashion over the past few months, turning a team that didn’t have enough support around core stars Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto into a formidable unit.
Much of Van Wagenen’s focus was on the Mets’ infield and bullpen, two areas he addressed in his first noteworthy move – a stunning, headline-stealing trade with the Mariners. Not only did the swap net the Mets Robinson Cano, one of the best second basemen in recent memory, but they also hauled in arguably baseball’s premier reliever in closer Edwin Diaz. The cost? Three capable prospects – including top 100 outfielder Jarred Kelenic (No. 56 at MLB.com) and right-hander Justin Dunn (No. 90) – a pair of expendable veterans (outfielder Jay Bruce and reliever Anthony Swarzak, both of whom struggled as Mets) and a willingness to take on $100MM of Cano’s remaining $120MM. Cano’s raking in that money thanks in part to his former agent, Van Wagenen, who scored the ex-Yankee a $240MM payday from the M’s in 2013.
There is an especially high amount of risk in welcoming the present-day version of Cano, as he’s a pricey 36-year-old coming off a season in which he sat 80 games because of a performance-enhancing drug suspension. At the same time, though, he stayed an excellent contributor in the 80 games he took the field, and the Mets are banking on the eight-time All-Star continuing to turn in Hall of Fame-caliber production for at least a bit longer. Whether that’s sensible on their part is debatable, but regardless, he’s slated to be on their books for the next half-decade. Meanwhile, they’re set to get four affordable years of Diaz (including one pre-arb campaign). The 25-year-old flamethrower was the less famous name in the return, but he could be the bigger prize for the Mets. Diaz has been nothing short of incredible since debuting in 2016, and should go a long way toward fixing what was an awful New York bullpen in 2018.
Diaz will have some imposing late-game company this year and beyond, in part because the Mets reunited with old friend Jeurys Familia and added Justin Wilson in free agency. Familia, whom the Mets traded to Oakland last July after a long initial run with the New York organization, went down as their most expensive free-agent signing at $30MM over three years. Committing large amounts of money to relievers is often risky, but the 29-year-old Familia’s contract looks fair when considering the numbers he has logged throughout his career. Likewise, the $10MM going to Wilson is hardly a crazy figure. Based on his output to date, he should give the Mets something the now-gone Jerry Blevins couldn’t provide last year: an effective left-handed reliever. With Diaz, Familia, Wilson and minor league signing Luis Avilan – who has been a solid lefty as well – joining holdovers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, it’s easy to see the Mets’ relief corps transforming from weakness to strength.
Similarly, the Mets’ position player contingent has the makings of an above-average group. Along with Nimmo, Conforto and Cano, the Mets’ main offensive threats look to be top first base prospect Pete Alonso – who, in an era of rampant service-time manipulation, cracked their season-opening roster – as well as infielders Jed Lowrie and Jeff McNeil and catcher Wilson Ramos. Both Lowrie and Ramos came aboard via free agency on the heels of terrific seasons. Lowrie was among the majors’ most productive second basemen in Oakland from 2017-18, but Cano’s presence should push him to the hot corner in New York. Health and age (35 in April) are the primary concerns with Lowrie, who has missed substantial time in the past and, thanks to a sprained left knee, may be a ways from making his Mets debut.
Ramos has battled his own knee troubles, including two right ACL tears, though the 31-year-old has typically been an adept backstop when healthy. Still, if the Mets had their druthers, Ramos probably wouldn’t be on the roster. Not only did the Mets reportedly pursue trades for then-Indian Yan Gomes and then-Marlin J.T. Realmuto, both of whom ended up with division rivals, but they chased Yasmani Grandal in free agency. Realmuto and Grandal are superior to Ramos, but New York reportedly balked at giving up Nimmo, Conforto or shortstop Amed Rosario for Realmuto, and the team pivoted away from Grandal when the now-Brewer turned down its sizable offer. That left New York to fork over a reasonable sum for Ramos, who’s a far better player than 2018 Mets catchers Kevin Plawecki, Travis d’Arnaud, Devin Mesoraco, Tomas Nido and Jose Lobaton. Plawecki’s now off the Mets, having been traded to the Indians, as is Lobaton. D’Arnaud is occupying his usual spot on the injured list, leaving the No. 2 job to Nido, and Mesoraco could retire instead of playing for the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.
While the Mets’ infielders appear to be a promising bunch, there’s room for some wariness. Lowrie’s health is worth monitoring, and the same applies to Todd Frazier. Although Frazier was quite durable with the Reds, White Sox and Yankees earlier in his career, he missed 47 games last year – his first as a Met – and began this season on the IL with a strained oblique. If healthy, though, the 33-year-old Frazier has the credentials to serve as a valuable corner infield reserve.
It’s questionable, on the other hand, how effective Alonso, McNeil, Rosario and Dominic Smith will be this year. Alonso was outstanding as a minor leaguer, but there’s no guarantee it will carry over. If it doesn’t, the Mets may turn to Smith, who, like Alonso, garnered top 100 hype as a prospect. Smith has been valueless as a major leaguer since he first came up in 2017, and he wasn’t any better in the minors last year. McNeil was a revelation in his 248-plate appearance debut last season, but he showed minimal power and an inflated .359 BABIP helped beget a .329 batting average. Rosario hasn’t hit since breaking into the bigs in 2017, nor has he fared well in the field, leaving one to wonder why the deep-pocketed Mets didn’t pursue Manny Machado in free agency.
For the most part, the Mets’ outfield is nicely equipped with Nimmo and Conforto occupying two everyday spots. Ideally, they’ll start in the corners, though Nimmo held down center in the team’s second game of the season on Saturday, giving left to McNeil and third to newcomer J.D. Davis. Nimmo wouldn’t need to play center if the Mets had a more surefire option there than Keon Broxton, whom they acquired in a January trade with the Brewers, or Juan Lagares. Broxton and Lagares are proven defenders, but offensive mediocrity abounds in both cases. That’s hardly the case for A.J. Pollock, a rumored offseason target of the Mets who ended up securing an appreciable raise to go from the Diamondbacks to the Dodgers. It didn’t seem as if the Mets fervently pursued Pollock before he came off the market, however, and they’re now down to Nimmo, Broxton, Lagares and a horde of center field minor league signings as a result.
Should Broxton and Lagares falter, we may see Nimmo take center on a regular basis if fellow corner outfielder Yoenis Cespedes returns from his heel surgeries during the season. It’s probably not worth holding your breath for that, though, considering the 33-year-old Cespedes endured back-to-back injury-ruined seasons prior to this one. For now, Cespedes looks like the franchise’s successor to David Wright – a once-fabulous player who turns into a forgotten man because of injuries.
Meantime, the pitching staff is no doubt among the Mets’ greatest strengths. DeGrom’s the reigning NL Cy Young winner, perhaps the game’s supreme ace, and the ex-Van Wagenen client will be with the franchise for a while longer after inking an extension last week. Syndergaaard, whom Van Wagenen also used to represent, is similarly imposing when healthy. However, whether the Mets can bank on his health is up in the air. Injuries held Syndergaard to 30 1/3 innings in 2017 and 154 1/3 last season, after which reports indicated they at least mulled trading the 26-year-old. Unlike deGrom, Syndergaard has not been an extension target for New York to this point. With that in mind, Syndergaard may continue to frequent trade rumors should no agreement come together between him and the team during his final three years of arbitration control.
Behind the enviable deGrom and Syndergaard duo, righty Zack Wheeler figures to further bolster the cause if his tremendous 2018 is any indication. Whether he can continue to stay healthy after missing nearly all of 2015-17 is in question, though. Injuries have also tormented southpaw Steven Matz, who did put forth an encouraging 2018 after a subpar 2017. Fellow lefty Jason Vargas was horrible last season, which gave the Mets room to upgrade their rotation over the winter. To that end, the club reportedly showed interest in Mike Minor, Gio Gonzalez, Martin Perez, Derek Holland, Josh Tomlin and even venerable Indians ace Corey Kluber. However, minor league pickup Hector Santiago is the sole battle-tested starter the Mets have reeled in since last season concluded.
2019 Season Outlook
This is not a team without concerns, but it would still be sane to expect the Mets to return to relevance in 2019. Van Wagenen, in his debut offseason at the controls, did a fine job enhancing the roster around the high-end talent that was already in place. The problem is that the NL East rival Phillies and Nationals also made their share of offseason splashes – and that’s to say nothing of a quality Braves team that reigned over the division last year. It wouldn’t be a surprise this season to see any of those clubs, including the Mets, win a wide-open division or miss the playoffs altogether.
How would you assess the Mets’ offseason? (Link for app users.)
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Some injury updates from around the game . . .
- Braves righty Mike Foltynewicz, shelf-ridden to began the year, threw 63 pitches in a minor-league game Friday, tweets the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien, who notes that the righty could be activated as soon as April 9. A healthy return for the sudden ace would break up the Braves’ rockpile of young rotation arms, a group that currently includes rookies Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, and second-year man Max Fried, who was curiously deployed in Opening-Day relief.
- More good news on the Atlanta rotation front comes from MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, who tweets that righty Kevin Gausman threw 90 pitches in a minor-league game today and reported no ill effects. Gausman’s slated to take the ball April 5 against Miami as he looks to reprise his inning-eating ways for the fourth consecutive year. The Braves, then, won’t have long to settle on an early-season rotation mix, and top prospect Mike Soroka’s eventual presence will only further complicate matters.
- O’Brien also tweets that the Braves could have late-inning presence A.J. Minter back as soon as Thursday. Minter, 25, threw just 58 carer minor-league innings before a scintillating 2017 debut. He doubled down last season, establishing himself as one of the National League’s top relievers after a 1.4 fWAR performance in just 61 1/3 IP. He’ll be leaned on heavily at the back end of a thin Atlanta ’pen in the early stages of 2019.
- Todd Frazier is almost ready to begin a rehab assignment as he recovers from a strained oblique, per Newsday’s Tim Healey (via Twitter). The Mets third baseman is set to return to game action in the minor leagues within the next couple of days, putting him on track to make his 2019 debut before the end of April. Infielder Jed Lowrie is less far along. As he rehabs from a sprained left knee, Lowrie is traveling with the team, and though the Mets haven’t put a timetable on his return, he was seen this morning taking grounders at third, per Deesha Thosar of the NY Daily News (via Twitter). In the meantime, Jeff McNeil got the start at third base on Opening Day alongside Amed Rosario, Robinson Cano and Pete Alonso in the infield. Today’s lineup will feature McNeil getting the start in left while J.D. Davis gets a turn at third. Let’s check in on some other health-related issues from around the league…
- The centerpiece of the Justin Verlander trade has been shut down for 4-6 weeks with shoulder tendonitis, per Chris McCosky of The Detroit News. Franklin Perez is the Tigers #4 ranked prospect according to Baseball America, #6 by Baseball Prospectus, and #5 by Fangraphs, while MLB.com has the hard-throwing righty the highest at #3. Separate instances of a lat strain and shoulder soreness limited his 2018 to only 7 appearances between two levels, topping out with a 7.94 ERA across four starts for High-A Lakeland – where he hoped to return to start 2019. The 21-year-old Venezuelan boasts a power heater that consistently reached 98 mph when he could stay on the field this spring, but health is the focus for Perez for the time being. Perez is one of three right-handers who make up the core of Detroit’s farm, along with Matt Manning and 2018’s #1 overall draft pick Casey Mize.
- There are no lingering issues with the groin injury that put Alex Cobb on the shelf to start the year. After throwing five innings in a minor league game yesterday, he is in line to start the Orioles’ home opener next Thursday, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). Nate Karns will make his Orioles debut on the bump today, and while there’s no strict pitch count, don’t expect Karns to make it much further than the second or third inning, per The Athletic’s Dan Connolly (via Twitter). Karns will play the role of Opener today, with Jimmy Yacabonis expected to see significant work as well.
March 27: The Mets have announced the signing.
March 25: The Mets have reportedly reached a minor-league agreement with free-agent catcher Rene Rivera, who recently opted out of a deal with the Giants. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle first reported the Mets’ interest over the weekend (Twitter link), with Jon Heyman of MLB Network reporting today that the sides were in talks (via Twitter). Andy Martino of SNY reported that there was an agreement (Twitter links), with Joel Sherman of the New York Post noting it was a minor-league deal (via Twitter).
This’ll be the second stint with the Mets for Rivera, who also spent time with the club from 2016-17. The reunion comes as something of a surprise; this time last week, indications were that Devin Mesoraco had a strong chance of making the Mets’ roster behind Wilson Ramos. At one point, Mets skipper Mickey Callaway suggested that the Mets could even carry Ramos, Mesoraco and Travis d’Arnaud to open the season.
However, d’Arnaud is now slated to begin the season on the injured list, and Mesoraco’s status is up in the air; as Newsday’s Tim Healey reported this weekend, Mesoraco has decided not to report to Triple-A after being reassigned to minor league camp by the Mets. He’s still under contract, so they’ll need to either grant him his release or place him on the restricted list. With both Mesoraco and d’Arnaud abruptly out of the mix for an Opening Day roster spot, Rivera could leapfrog defensive-minded 24-year-old Tomas Nido as the favorite to serve as a backup to Ramos early in the season.
Rivera, 35, split the 2018 season between the Angels and Braves, hitting a combined .233/.275/.419 in 91 trips to the plate. Rivera routinely posts elite caught-stealing rates and is a perennially solid framer as well, which would make him a quality backup option for the Mets at least until d’Arnaud mends. Over the past five seasons, Rivera is a .225/.280/.372 hitter in 1183 plate appearances.
TODAY: The deal includes $52.5MM in deferred money, all without interest, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports (Twitter links). $12MM in 2020, $13.5MM in 2021, $15MM in 2022, and $12MM in 2023 will all be pushed to the future. There’ll also be a $15MM deferral on the 2024 option, if it’s picked up.
The deferred money will be pushed back 15 years, per Ron Blum of the AP, which sets up a series of payouts beginning in 2035. Amusingly, and surely not coincidentally, deGrom’s payments will seamlessly take over the slot long occupied by annual payouts to former player Bobby Bonilla, Mike Mayer of Metsmerized notes on Twitter.
Those extensive deferrals clearly reduce the true value of the contract, though the precise amount depends upon what discount rate is utilized. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the $137.5MM owed to deGrom in the future has been assigned a present-day valuation of $108.9MM, though it’s unclear what basis was used to reach that number.
YESTERDAY, 4:52pm: The Mets have formally announced deGrom’s extension.
“This is a tremendous day for Jacob, his family, our fans and the entire Mets organization,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said in the press release announcing the contract. “Last year, Jacob had one of the most remarkable seasons in baseball history and we are excited to be able to reward him. Mets fans can celebrate knowing their ace will remain in Flushing.”
7:36am: The Mets have agreed to terms on an extension with star right-hander Jacob deGrom, according to Andy Martino of SNY.tv (Twitter links). deGrom, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, is undergoing a physical today. The contract includes four years and $120.5MM in new money, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported (Twitter links), with some of it deferred.
Earlier this year, deGrom agreed to a $17MM arbitration contract for the 2019 season. That effectively remains in place, though it is now restructured as a $10MM signing bonus and $7MM salary, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports on Twitter. What would have been deGrom’s final arbitration season, 2020, will be locked in at $23MM. He’ll then earn $33.5MM in each of the next two seasons and $30.5MM in 2023 — if he does not first opt out. The option-year value is $32.5MM, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan tweets.
If indeed a deal is finalized, it’d bring an end to a long-running and rather fascinating saga regarding deGrom’s future. It was just last summer that deGrom’s then-agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, was advocating that the team either work out an extension or trade the ace right-hander. In a cinematic twist, Van Wagenen became the Mets’ general manager last fall, recusing himself from direct extension talks with deGrom while the pitcher chose to remain with the same agency (CAA Baseball). (That recusal concept was evidently of rather limited scope, or has since been modified or waived, as Sherman tweets that Van Wagenen was personally on hand for the final negotiations.)
The sides held preliminary talks at the Winter Meetings, but then a lengthy silent period ensued. After agreeing to a 2019 arbitration salary, which included a record-setting $9.6MM raise, the deGrom camp put an Opening Day deadline on talks, so the clock was ticking. It seemed hopeful as camp opened that a deal would materialize, but the more recent vibe was much less promising. But Andy Martino of SNY.tv tweeted yesterday that talks were still ongoing, with Michael Mayer of MetsMerizedOnline adding on Twitter that there was some forward progress toward a deal.
As it turns out, the sides lined up on a contract that understandably includes some concessions in both directions. deGrom will turn 31 this June and was not set to reach the open market until the conclusion of the 2020 campaign. Compare that to Chris Sale, whose recent extension came just before his 30th birthday and entering his final season of contractual control. (Of course, the lefty was also coming off of an injury-limited second half to the 2018 season.) Sale’s contract provided five seasons and $145MM in new earnings; he’ll pitch the entire final season of that deal at 35 years of age. deGrom receives a slightly higher AAV, even though the first new contract year covers an arb-eligible season, and will celebrate his 35th birthday in the middle of his final guaranteed season (if he hasn’t already opted out).
Both of those outstanding hurlers might have found greater riches in free agency. Sale would’ve been the top arm available this coming winter, while deGrom surely would’ve been among the most desirable free agents of the 2020-21 offseason. Zack Greinke had already turned 32 when he secured a six-year, $206.5MM deal with the Diamondbacks. But that deal seemed an outlier when it was signed and the market has since shifted. Clayton Kershaw hadn’t yet turned 31 and had produced nothing but excellent results when he re-upped with the Dodgers last fall, but settled for a three-year pact after experiencing back issues and peripheral declines.
There’s also ample risk in pitching a full MLB season, so extensions have generally lagged free agency in value to a greater extent than is the case for position players. A few still-youthful hurlers nearing free agency have secured bigger money — Kershaw didn’t quite reach $200MM in his first long-term contract if you deduct his anticipated arbitration salary from that season; Stephen Strasburg secured $175MM over seven new seasons part-way through his final year of team control. But otherwise, the largest pitching extensions have gone to Sale ($145MM), Cole Hamels ($144.5MM), and Justin Verlander ($140MM).
[RELATED: MLBTR Extension Tracker]
For their money, the Mets will secure the services of one of the game’s very best hurlers for most or all of his remaining productive campaigns. Never overly hyped as a prospect, deGrom’s early development was slowed by Tommy John surgery. But he emerged in 2014, earning a call-up to the majors and succeeding beyond any reasonable expectations. While he was never much of a strikeout pitcher in the minors, deGrom steadily maintained about a K per inning in his early seasons. He began ramping that up further in 2017, which was also his first 200-plus-inning campaign, but didn’t really take the next step until last year.
Entering the 2018 campaign, deGrom carried a 2.98 ERA with 9.7 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 through 680 2/3 career innings. There had been a few health wobbles along the way but he was, by and large, a durable and thoroughly excellent pitcher. It seemed there wasn’t much more ceiling to reach, but he unquestionably found it.
Ramping up his velocity (96.7 mph average fastball) and increasingly shelving his sinker in favor of his two offspeed offerings (change and slider; combined usage of 40%) helped deGrom boost his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 15.1%. He drove his strikeout rate up to a personal-best 11.2 K/9 while maintaining a typically sparkling 1.9 BB/9 walk rate, cut back on the home run issues that had cropped up a bit in 2017, and induced nearly as much soft contact (25.2%) as he allowed hard contact (26.6%).
The results followed those impressive underlying numbers. deGrom finished the 2018 campaign with 217 innings of 1.70 ERA ball. Unsurprisingly, given the off-the-charts earned run outcomes, ERA estimators felt there was a bit of good fortune mixed in — but not enough to detract from deGrom’s excellence. He was credited with 1.99 FIP, 2.60 xFIP, and 2.78 SIERA.
Nothing is assured in this world, least of all when it comes to future pitching performance. But deGrom seems about as good a bet as any veteran hurler to keep producing into his mid-thirties. His ability to maintain top physical form will perhaps dictate the extent to which he can approach his newly established personal heights, but his multi-pitch arsenal and impeccable command seem to provide about as much of a floor as any starter.
The upside in the contract is plainly limited by deGrom’s age, but that doesn’t mean the Mets can’t hope to achieve good value. The organization will still retain a fair bit of payroll flexibility after the 2020 season, the final year of obligations to Yoenis Cespedes and a few other pricey veterans. deGrom knocks Cespedes off of the organization’s financial Mt. Rushmore, joining David Wright, Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran to make up the four largest contracts in Mets history.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Mets are preparing to select the contract of first base prospect Pete Alonso, according to Anthony DiComo of MLB.com (via Twitter). He’ll make the Opening Day roster — a possibility that grew throughout camp and that Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweeted recently was slated to take place.
Alonso’s path to the roster was cleared by injuries to Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie, but he may have forced his way up regardless. The 24-year-old has slugged his way up the prospect charts in recent years, drawing top-50 consensus rankings from prospect hounds after the 2018 season. He continued to drive the ball this spring, turning in a .368/.394/.647 slash with four home runs in 71 plate appearances against Grapefruit League pitching.
When it comes to prospect promotions, service time is always a major consideration. Even those players who are deemed ready for the big leagues and necessary for the roster may beheld down briefly to ensure they do not secure a full season of MLB service. Those considerations were no doubt part of the equation when Alonso failed to receive a September call-up last year.
In this case, though, there’s arguably not much reason for the Mets to stay their hand. First and foremost, Alonso is a 24-year-old first baseman who has played a full year in the upper minors — not, say, a 20-year-old shortstop who’s considered one of the very best prospects in baseball. Even if Alonso is never sent back down, the club will control him throughout his twenties.
Alonso’s age-30 season could well be a valuable one, but it’s not nearly so precious as the extra season might be for some other top prospects. That’s particularly true since hitter’s aging curves are hewing younger and toward a consistent downward trajectory. Alonso is a player whose value is expected to come more or less exclusively from his bat, so it’s all the more sensible to go ahead and bring him up. And if he doesn’t produce from the outset, or the roster situation otherwise demands it, the club can always shuttle him back to Triple-A and gain back that added year of control.
It’ll certainly be fun to see Alonso take the field alongside the many other new faces in New York and the rest of the NL East. The division promises to be a battle all year long. His ability to thrive out of the gates could have a meaningful impact for a club that doesn’t know whether or when it’ll see Yoenis Cespedes in its lineup.
Since he was drafted in the second round in 2016, Alonso has steadily produced in just over a thousand plate appearances of professional action. He’s a .290/.381/.560 hitter in the minors, with 59 total home runs (including 36 in the 2018 season) and 114 walks to go with 221 strikeouts. That’s a rather well-rounded profile, though power remains the calling card.
Defense and baserunning will likely never be strong suits, but the hope is that Alonso will hit enough that those factors will largely fade to the background. There aren’t really any major concerns with the bat, but his track record isn’t flawless. Even as he reached new power heights last year at Triple-A, Alonso’s strikeout rate popped up to 25.9%. He still managed a double-digit walk rate at the highest level of the minors, but the on-base outlook still comes with some uncertainty. Alonso will need to maintain a high batting average (as he did until ascending to Triple-A) or boost his walk rate to be a truly outstanding offensive producer.
The Rangers announced that they’ve claimed right-hander Kyle Dowdy off waivers from the Mets, bringing their 40-man roster count to a total of 38 players. Dowdy was New York’s selection in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft, meaning he’ll need to stick on Texas’ big league roster or else be exposed to waivers for a second time. If he clears, he’d need to be offered back to the organization from which he was originally selected: the Indians.
Dowdy, 26, posted unsightly results in a combined 124 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year: a 5.15 ERA with 8.7 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9. However, as Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser examined in depth earlier this spring, Dowdy caught the attention of scouts last season after an enormous velocity jump. Once regarded as a “pitchability” right-hander, with a fastball in the upper 80s and low 90s, Dowdy began working out on a weighted-ball program and altered his arm angle during the 2017-18 offseason. A fastball that previously topped out at 94 mph began sitting in the 94-96 range and even scraped 99 mph on radar guns.
The results weren’t there last season in the minors, and it was a similar tale for Dowdy this spring (seven runs on 15 hits and seven walks with seven strikeouts through 11 1/3 innings), but the rebuilding Rangers will at least take a look at the sudden hard-thrower in hopes of refining his newfound velocity.
March 26: Mesoraco has indeed been placed on the restricted list, tweets Jon Heyman of the MLB Network.
March 25: Veteran catcher Devin Mesoraco, who was in Spring Training with the Mets as a non-roster invitee but reassigned to minor league camp over the weekend, is now contemplating retirement, The Record’s Matt Ehalt reports (Twitter link). Mesoraco has no plans to report to Triple-A with the Mets, but rather than release him the organization could instead place him on the restricted list. If that happens, per Ehalt, Mesoraco’s inclination is to retire.
It’s a bizarre scenario in which a veteran player does not appear to have been contractually promised anything but may have had a handshake agreement with the team. As Newsday’s Tim Healey reported over the weekend, during their discussions on a minor league contract this winter, Mesoraco’s camp was given the impression that he’d have a path to the big leagues either in the event that Travis d’Arnaud proved unready for Opening Day or should the Mets carry three catchers. Now, despite the fact that d’Arnaud will indeed be on the injured list to begin the season, Mesoraco was assigned to minor league camp and asked to report to Triple-A.
Mesoraco’s contract doesn’t contain an opt-out provision, it seems, though multiple reports last week indicated that his contract did have an “upward mobility” clause. The Mets last Wednesday informed teams that Mesoraco would be available should any team wish to put him on the big league roster, at which point they had 48 hours to inform him of their intent to do so. The Mets, in turn, would’ve then had the opportunity to instead place him on their own 25-man roster to prevent him from leaving. As the New York Post’s Mike Puma reported (via Twitter), however, no team expressed the intent to add Mesoraco to its big leagues roster.
Given that report, it’s possible that Mesoraco wouldn’t find a more immediate path to the Majors elsewhere anyhow. That said, he’d still have the opportunity to speak to other clubs with less-solidified catching situations where he could have a more plausible chance at a promotion back to the show. While it’s impossible to know exactly what kind of verbal assurances were given or implied during negotiations, it’s also understandable that Mesoraco would feel jilted had he spent the entirety of camp believing himself to have been competing for an opportunity that was never really there. To this point in Spring Training, he’s gone 6-for-26 with a homer and three doubles after batting .222/.306/.409 in 222 plate appearances with the Mets last year.
Frankly, it’s difficult to see what the Mets gain by placing Mesoraco on the restricted list rather than releasing him. The team doesn’t view him as one of its best options behind the plate — they’re reportedly in agreement with Rene Rivera and also have d’Arnaud, Nido and Ramos on the 40-man roster — and all 29 other clubs already passed when the Mets made him available. Perhaps the organization feels that Mesoraco is in violation of his contractual terms and that a hard line simply needs to be drawn, but beyond that possibility the motive seems muddled.
- Likewise, Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud seems ticketed for the IL, Anthony DiComo of MLB.com relays. The oft-injured d’Arnaud is still working back from the Tommy John surgery he underwent on his right elbow last May. With d’Arnaud out and Devin Mesoraco having failed to make the team, it appears Tomas Nido will open the season as Wilson Ramos’ backup. Aside from d’Arnaud and Ramos, Nido is the lone catcher on the Mets’ 40-man roster.