How the 2019 Mets Have to Handle Their Veterans

Settle in, this is a LONG article with a lot of great information for you to take in.

Second Half Recap

In the second half of this 2018 campaign, the New York Mets have found ways to win by scoring enough to back up their elite starting pitchers. Although the Mets have essentially been out of the playoff hunt since early July they have been able to use the second half of this season to evaluate what they have going into next season.

The Mets have been playing rookie second baseman, Jeff McNeil, Amed Rosario, Michael Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo just about every game since late July and they have all proven themselves worthy of being part of the Mets 2019 plans. Those 4 players have been the focal point of the Mets offense, helping the team score the 6th most runs in baseball since the All-Star break while ranking in the middle of the pack when it comes to home runs.

Rosario has finally broken out and is stepping towards the full potential the Mets believed he has, in the second half he has played in 56 games and hit  .277 with an on-base percentage of .306. He has 5 home runs 10 doubles, 3 triples, and 15 stolen bases since the All-Star break while exploding in September and August in particular with a combined batting average of over .290 and the majority of his output coming in those two months. He is definitely part of the future.

Rookie second baseman Jeff McNeil has continued his minor league success while seemingly improving every day. In 56 games and 195 at-bats, McNeil has hit to a slash line of .328/.382/.487 and has an OPS of .869. He has only hit 3 home runs, but has 10 doubles, 6 triples, and 5 stolen bases. McNeil has impressed everyone with his old school plate approach simply trying to put the ball in play and not strike out. He has been so good that he has a shot at starting for the Mets next season, but I hope they plan to use him as a bench player and sign a proven veteran instead.

Conforto is back. Michael Conforto absolutely stunk in the first half making me worry that he might not be that good anymore, but he has shut me up. Since the All-Star break, he has hit .272 with an on-base percentage of .362. Solid numbers but not the important stats, he has played in 61 games since the break and has been a run producer. He has 16 home runs and 13 doubles which largely contributed to his 47 RBI’s. This has been a half that the Mets needed to see from Conforto to know just who he is as a player.

The last young guy I need to talk about is Brandon Nimmo. He broke out in the first half and was the teams best player for a two-month stretch then went on a long cold streak that extended through July, only to break out in a big way in August where he hit .349 in 17 games. He has been very good in the second half with an average of  .277 and an OBP of .388. He only has 4 home runs in 48 games, but he has 18 other extra-base hits to make up for the power outage. He should be the leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future.

The Mets starting pitchers have been great in the second half as well, largely contributing to the teams 32-27 record in the second half. When you have the favorite to win the NL Cy Young in Jacob deGrom and the person with the best ERA in the national league post-All-Star break in Zack Wheeler (1.68 ERA)  it makes winning a heck of a lot easier. Noah Syndergaard hasn’t been great, but a 3.75 second half ERA will get the job done a decent amount of the time. Steven Matz and Jason Vargas have been inconsistent, but have had some good games in the second half as well.

What is up with the Veterans?

What all this means for the Mets is that they have a core they can believe in, but they need veterans such as Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Wilmer Flores, and Juan Lagares to stay healthy to complement that core. Frazier and Bruce have been resurgent since returning from injury in the second half and Wilmer Flores was productive this season even though he had less power in his swing with only 11 home runs. He will miss the rest of the season with arthritis in his knees, which he does not believe will impact him long term.

Juan Lagares is a completely different story. He changed his swing in the offseason, hoping to hit more line drives and complement his elite defense with solid offensive production. Through the first month of the season, he was producing. Lagares was pinch-hitting a lot with a few starts mixed in and he was getting the job done. He was 20/59 and was playing great defense until he tore the plantar plate in his left foot making a highlight reel grab and has missed the entire season since mid-May.

Lagares is due 9 million dollars next season, so he will be on the roster and with the Mets finally realizing they need a great defense to back up their elite pitching he is likely going to see significant playing time in center field next year.

It is hard to tell what the Mets roster will look like next season considering the fact that they are going to be looking for a new GM, want to compete, and have not sent any messages as to how aggressive they will be in the upcoming free agency. I have personally laid out 4 different directions the team can go in this offseason, one being a defensive-minded team and the other three based on spending a lot of money, some money, or no money.

Constructing the Position Players for 2019

I think the Mets will focus their money on their bullpen and sign 2-4 relievers while signing one starting caliber infielder that can play second or short. The purpose of this part of the article is just to show you how the Mets should handle their lineup next season to keep guys like Jay Bruce Todd Frazier and Juan Lagares off the DL while also keeping the team’s bench players fresh.

I don’t know who the Mets will sign in the offseason, but I hope they sign DJ LeMehieu and/or Manny Machado. The latter of the two is less likely to be signed, but for the purpose of this plan, I will say that the Mets will be able to get the uber-talented SS/3B to sign with the blue and orange. Machado and Martin Maldonado will be the only two players I add to the Mets roster offensively.

With that being said the position players on the Mets Major League roster next season will be as follows:

(This is a depth chart so some names will repeat) Catcher: Kevin Plawecki and Martin Maldonado, 1st: Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, and Dom Smith, 2nd: Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil, TJ Rivera, and Wilmer Flores 3rd: Todd Frazier, Manny Machado, Jeff McNeil, and TJ Rivera SS: Manny Machado and Amed Rosario LF: Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Dom Smith CF: Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto RF: Brandon Nimmo, Jay Bruce, and Michael Conforto

There are 13 names on that list and I have a plan to get all of those guys regular or semi-regular playing time, allowing everyone to feel fresh and like a valued member of the big league club. There are some interesting things I’m sure you noticed and trust me I’m going to get to it all quickly before I get into my plan.

First off, Rosario is the starting second baseman. Let’s face it Rosario hasn’t been the elite defender we were led to believe he would be, so the Mets can move him to second base where he can use his great range to plug up that hole while allowing Machado to play at his preferred position, shortstop.

You may be confused why McNeil is on the bench instead of Todd Frazier and I understand the question, but it has an easy answer. Although McNeil has been great so far we can’t just assume it will continue because the more you play the easier it is to gameplan against you and it usually takes about 200 AB’s for the league to find your weaknesses and McNeil is only now creeping up on that number.

Having McNeil off the bench makes the team stronger because he has proven to be a starter, so if there is an injury he can step up and the team knows what they are getting. And don’t you worry I have found a decent amount of playing time for the 26-year old that you will see later.

The last eye-popping thing you may have noticed is that Bruce is my starting first baseman and the highly touted Peter Alonso isn’t even on the big league roster. Bruce is a natural outfielder, but Conforto and Nimmo need to play every day and Lagares should be in center as much as possible. So, for Bruce to get his bat in the lineup 1st is the best place to be. As for Alonso, his offense is there, but he is believed to be a butcher in the field, so him starting the season in AAA as depth is the best thing for the organization.

How to Keep the Veterans Fresh

Now you finally will get to see my master plan. The premise is simply to give players scheduled, regular rest. The bench this team has is very strong with all 5 guys capable of starting or at least platooning at the major league level. Well, let’s take a look at what I have in mind.

I want the Mets to break up their schedule into 10 game sets where every player is scheduled to start a certain amount of the 10 games. It can be a fluid situation depending on the starters the other team has, if that player is extremely hot or cold at the plate, or if the player just needs a day off. I’m going to break this down position by position to simplify the plan for you.

Catcher: Kevin Plawecki 6/10 games Martin Maldonado 4/10 games. In baseball today there is only a handful of starters that can play 120-130 offensively productive games and the Mets don’t have one. They have Kevin Plawecki who goes on streaks where he is an above average catcher, which is why I am giving him a slight edge in this platoon.

However, Maldonado is an elite defender with a cannon of an arm, which can help the Mets in so many ways. I hope the Mets sign him if they don’t go for Wilson Ramos because of his defense. He can’t hit much which is why I gave him a smaller part in the platoon, but this would be a fluid situation where the Mets ride the hot hand. If things stay like this provisional plan Plawecki would start 97 games and Maldonado would start 65.

First Base: Jay Bruce 4/10 Wilmer Flores 3/10 Dom Smith 3/10. This is a very interesting position because there are a lot of moving parts going into this platoon. Bruce is the  #1 first baseman, but he is also the 4th outfielder that I am planning on having play a few games out of the 10 game sets in right field. Smith is the best defender at first, but also may be needed from time to time in left.

Also, Jay Bruce CANNOT play against lefties, he can’t hit them, so those will be the games Flores starts at first. This platoon would lead to Bruce starting 65 times at first Flores starting 49 and Smith starting 48 while also coming in late in games for defense.

Second Base: Amed Rosario 6/10 Jeff McNeil 4/10 TJ Rivera 0/10. Don’t worry I don’t want Rosario to only play 6/10 games throughout the year, I have a plan for him to get plenty of work at short as well. McNeil will get the games at second when Rosario doesn’t play there and he will also be the first guy off the bench to start if there is an injury to Rosario, Frazier, or Machado.

TJ Rivera doesn’t have any planned starts here, but trust me he’ll get his playing time. He is a solid pinch hitter and can play 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base. Injuries happen and he will be involved when they do, but as of now, he is their 25th man. At second base with this plan, Rosario will have 97 starts and McNeil will have 65.

Third Base: Todd Frazier 7/10 Manny Machado 2/10 TJ Rivera 1/10. Todd Frazier is still a productive player with pop in his bat and a very good glove defensively at third. However, he’s not a great player at this stage of his career and he needs to be scheduled rest to keep him fresh and healthy. Luckily with the signing of Machado, the Mets can use his elite glove at third to replace Frazier and keep the defense strong at the hot corner.

I felt bad not giving TJ any starts, so I plugged him in for 1 start every 10 games here to keep him in the mix. The guy can hit so even though his defense is poor he can still help the Mets win. This plan will give Frazier 113 starts next year. On his days off he will still be able to pinch hit and switch in for defense late if necessary.

Machado would start 32 games at 3rd and don’t worry he’ll play a lot at short. Rivera has been allotted 17 starts at the hot corner, but remember he can work his way in at second as well if he produces.

Shortstop: Manny Machado 7/10 Amed Rosario 3/10. The Mets will have two solid shortstops on their roster with these guys and they will eat up the playing time here. They both handle the field well and can hit the ball too which is why they will play 9/10 games in each set.

They will get a day off every other week but will still start in 146 games overall with pinch-hit appearances and defensive replacements being possibilities in the 16 games they aren’t going to start. The split here will be 113 starts for Machado and 49 for Rosario at short.

Left Field: Michael Conforto 7/10 Dom Smith 3/10. Michael Conforto will be a mainstay in the Mets lineup next season batting in the middle of the order. The only question is what position he will play. He is best at left field, but can handle center and right field. With Lagares in center, the Mets will need to find ways to keep him fresh and with only 4 true outfielders on the roster that means Conforto and Nimmo will have to move around like Rosario and Machado.

Dom Smith belongs at first base, he is smooth and comfortable over there, however, if it means getting his bat in the lineup a bit more by playing in left 3/10 games I’m sure he won’t complain. This split would have Conforto in left 114 times and Smith 48 times. That would mean Smith would start 96 games next season, not too bad. Remember Cespedes will return at some point and impact the outfield plan, but we’ll see what happens.

Center Field: Juan Lagares 6/10 Brandon Nimmo 4/10. Listen, I love Lagares. He is one of my favorite Mets because his defense is eye-popping, but the fact of the matter is he can’t stay healthy. The Mets simply have to plan to give him regular rest to keep him healthy. If he hits then this can be adjusted to 7/10 starts but he hasn’t played in over 100 games since 2015, so we have to assume he won’t be able to.

Brandon Nimmo can play center field, he just isn’t elite like Lagares, but he his above average in the corners, as is Conforto so when Lagares, Conforto, and Nimmo are out there Mets pitchers can feel a bit more comfortable. This will be a fluid platoon that can be impacted if Lagares proves health and an ability to produce offensively.

Lagares would start 97 games in this plan with Nimmo getting 65. In the games Lagares doesn’t start he should be subbed in late for defense regularly, especially when they have Smith in left.

Right Field: Brandon Nimmo 5/10 Jay Bruce 3/10 Michael Conforto 2/10. Finally, we have gone around the horn and this position, much like first base has a lot of moving parts. Nimmo will play here half the time and the rest will be handled by Bruce and Conforto. All three guys can play a solid right field and can hit the ball, so no matter who plays here the team should receive output on both offense and defense.

In right field, Nimmo will start 81 games, Bruce will start 49, and Conforto will start 32. All three guys will play a lot of games at different positions. Nimmo and Conforto will start in 146 games like Machado and Rosario while being available off the bench to pinch hit and play defense on their off days.

Jay Bruce will be scheduled 114 starts, less than he is used to, but like Frazier, this should keep him fresh and off the DL.

Recap: The point of this plan is to have a plan. The Mets have an older roster, which leads to a higher risk of injury, they also have a strong bench that can’t be left cold, which is why everyone on the roster would be scheduled at least 49 starts besides TJ Rivera who I only gave 17 starts.

Remember that all of this is fluid. If Lagares or McNeil can’t hit they will get reduced playing time, if Maldonado outperforms Plawecki he’ll lead the platoon, if the Mets are expected to face 5 lefties in 10 games Bruce will play less and Flores will play more.

The Mets probably won’t sign Machado or even a guy who deserves to start 145+ times and that would change the equation entirely.

My point is that nobody should start in more than 9 consecutive games anymore and they should have a plan games in advance as to who they want to start and who gets the day off that day. It would be as simple as Callway sitting down with his coaching staff every Monday and planning out each game for the next week with the season long plan in mind.

Nobody will know what the team will do until Spring Training at the earliest, but I know Mickey Callaway loves reading my articles and he will see the genius in this provisional plan.

September 23, 2018

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