Following an improbable run to the World Series last year, the New York Mets had every reason to believe that entering 2016, they were the best team in the National League.
With dominant young starters anchoring the rotation (Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz), offensive additions shoring up the lineup (Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker), young assets poised for their first full and/or healthy season (Michael Conforto, Travis d’Arnaud), and incumbents ready to continue their success (Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, David Wright), the Amazin’s were in great shape.
However, a barrage of injuries, down seasons, and worst case scenarios have put the team in a daunting position, 8.5 games out of first place in the National League East. While the Mets are just two games out of a Wild Card spot, losing their best hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to the 15-day disabled list after Wednesday’s 9-5 loss to the New York Yankees, and likely being without several key pieces for the rest of 2016 casts doubt on the club’s playoff aspirations.
Looking back at the Mets’ offseason decisions, here are some that have hurt the team’s once near-certain playoff hopes.
5. Signing Alejandro De Aza
Sure, De Aza’s.375 average in the month of July was great. But he was a black hole in the lineup for the first three months of his Mets tenure and sports a 0.211/0.300/0.323 slash line with three homers and nine runs batted in. Originally signed to be the team’s full-time centerfielder, De Aza was displaced when the Mets caved in and re-signed Cespedes to a three-year, $75 million deal with an opt-out after year one.
— New York Mets (@Mets) August 1, 2016
It’s possible that a lack of playing time played a role in De Aza’s struggles, and his $5 million salary makes the move nothing more than a one-year gaffe. But it’s clear that following Cespedes’ return, De Aza had no clear spot on the roster and up until a month ago, his performance suffered.
4. Not re-signing Juan Uribe
The Mets have an opportunity at a reunion with Uribe, who was designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians on Monday. He hit 0.206/0.259/0.332 with seven long balls and 25 RBIs in 73 games with Cleveland. However, the 16-year veteran brings infield versatility and championship pedigree from his two World Series wins with the Chicago White Sox (2005) and San Francisco Giants (2010). After starting with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, he was traded twice, also playing with the Braves and Mets. In 44 games with the Mets, Uribe hit 0.219/0.301/0.430 with six homers and 20 RBIs.
With injuries to Jose Reyes, David Wright, Duda, the Mets’ infield has been depleted. While Reyes, and Kelly Johnson — who the Mets acquired from the Braves for the second consecutive season — helped put a warm body around the infield, it hasn’t been enough. Seeking stability and reliability in the infield, a reunion with Uribe — somebody who was well-liked in the Mets’ clubhouse — looks likely.
3. Signing Antonio Bastardo to a two-year, $12 million deal
Bastardo enjoyed a solid campaign out of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen last season, going 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 57-and-one third innings over 66 games. Originally a Philadelphia Phillies farmhand, Bastardo made a successful transition from the rotation to the bullpen in 2011, becoming one of the more solid left-handed relievers in baseball.
— Pirates SPORTalk (@SPORTalkPirates) August 1, 2016
However, his Mets stint went poorly as he pitched to a 4.74 ERA in 41 games. His strikeout totals (46 punchouts in 43-and-two-thirds inning) were fine, he failed to neutralize left-handed batters as they hit 0.278 against him in 72 at-bats. Bastardo was pitching less like 2009 Pedro Feliciano but more like 2007 Scott Schoeneweis.
On Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Mets pulled the plug on the Bastardo experiment, trading him back to the Pirates in exchange for longtime Mets pitcher Jon Niese. Known as a starter, Niese will start in the Mets’ bullpen, filling a similar role to Bastardo moving forward.
2. Re-signing Yoenis Cespedes to play center field
Without Cespedes’ bat, the Mets would likely be closer to NL East cellar dwellers than fringe contenders. Before going on the DL following yesterday’s loss, “La Potencia” was slashing 0.292/0.364/0.551 with 22 HR and 59 RBIs — all of which lead the Mets. The problem for the last month has been Cespedes’ health as he’s nursed balky legs — the result of covering a lot of ground in Citi Field’s spacious centerfield.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) August 4, 2016
The Mets made it clear that they prioritize offense over defense by sticking Cespedes in centerfield, where FanGraphs rates his Ultimate Zone Rating at -18.8 and his Defensive Runs Saved at -6. In reality, the Mets had no choice as their plans called for former first-round pick Michael Conforto to be the full-time left fielder and veteran Curtis Granderson to play right field.
While Cespedes was able to slide over to left field — where he won a Gold Glove from his time with the Detroit Tigers last season –after a struggling Conforto was demoted.
It’s unclear when Cespedes will return to the lineup but he will miss at least the next two weeks. When he returns, the Mets will avoid putting him in center field, as recent acquisition Jay Bruce plays right field and a platoon of Conforto and Granderson plays in center field.
1.Not Re-signing Daniel Murphy
Despite his historic postseason in 2015, hitting.431 with seven homers and 11 RBIs in the NLDS and NLCS combined, Murphy’s time in New York was numbered. He was a free agent at season’s end and entering his age 31 season, the Mets did not want to overpay — dollars and years — for a defensively-challenged line drive hitter.
While Walker has been solid for the Mets, hitting 0.263/0.327/0.444 with 18 bombs and 47 RBIs, he has been streaky both at the plate and in the field. Murphy, on the other hand, is arguably the NL MVP through his first 102 games with the Washington Nationals. He leads the NL in batting average (.358), hits (138), doubles (38), slugging (.630), and OPS (1.027), OPS + (167), and total bases (243). Murphy is also 13th in home runs (21) and second in RBIs (80). To rub salt in the wounds, Murphy has pummeled the Mets in 13 games, slashing 0.423/0.446/0.885 with seven homers and 21 RBIs.
Murphy is under contract for two more seasons after 2016 as part of the three-year, $37.5 million deal he signed this past offseason. As for the Mets, they have huge questions surrounding the position after 2016. Walker is a free agent — and general manager Sandy Alderson did not even mention him as a possible fixture next season at a press conference on Monday. Top prospect Dilson Herrera was traded for Jay Bruce on Monday, thinning out an already anemic second base core. Not re-signing Murphy, a seven-year veteran in the organization, could hurt the team for years to come.
Honorable mention: Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Once believed to be a fixture of the Mets’ outfield, Nieuwenhuis’ bat never matched his reputation in New York. Outside of a 10-game cameo with the Angels last season, the Mets were the only organization “Captain Kirk” ever knew.
— FOX Sports Wisconsin (@fswisconsin) July 30, 2016
However, despite some big moments — including a three-HR game and a go-ahead blast against the Nats last year — the Mets placed Nieuwenhuis on waivers in the offseason and later awarded him to the Milwaukee Brewers.
While his batting 0.218/0.329/0.411 is in line with career norms, Nieuwenhuis has set a career-high in homers (10) and RBIs (34) as a reserve outfielder. Last week, Nieuwenhuis belted five homers during a Brewers homestand.
[Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images]