If you don’t think the Mets can outplay the juggernaut Nationals and win the NL East in 2018, then you can make the case the Brewers’ go-for-it moves this week added up to bad news for Team Callaway, making Milwaukee a real threat and potentially making the wild-card race all the more difficult.
I’d make the opposite argument, however. The Marlins, who continued stripping down their roster by trading Christian Yelich to the Brewers, will be so undermanned this season that they are practically handing the Mets 15 wins.
Nobody loses them all in the big leagues, of course. Even the ’62 Mets managed to win 40 games, while losing 120, so the Marlins probably won’t lose all 19 games they play against their divisional opponents this season.
But there’s no reason the Mets realistically can’t win 15 of the 19 against the least-talented team in the majors.
After all, the Marlins won 77 games last season mostly on the strength of an offense that ranked fifth in the NL in runs scored, and now Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon have all been traded, while it remains to be seen if J.T. Realmuto is dealt as well.
The point, of course, is that the Mets have a real opportunity to take advantage of what will be the weakest division in the league — by far.
Which, again, is why they should be loading up this winter for a run at the postseason. If they add more speed and athleticism by signing Eduardo Nunez or trading for Josh Harrison, then the signing of Jose Reyes as a utility infielder is fine.
If Reyes winds up as the starting second baseman, however, the Mets could have the oldest, most range-challenged infield in the majors, with Asdrubal Cabrera at third and likely Adrian Gonzalez at first.
Amed Rosario can only cover so much ground.
Whatever else they do offensively, I still think it’s vital the Mets add a proven starting pitcher. Counting on Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz to all be healthy and effective is a wild gamble, which is why I’ve been saying for months they really need to sign someone like Lance Lynn.
Hey, didn’t Jeff Wilpon say the other day the payroll isn’t set in stone, that it can go up if Sandy Alderson brings the owners an idea that makes sense, in terms of value and projected performance?
That shouldn’t mean it has to be a bargain. Remarkably, none of the top free-agent pitchers have signed yet, from Yu Darvish to Jake Arrieta to Alex Cobb to Lynn, but while GMs are trying to wait out players and hope prices fall, it’s worth noting that Lorenzo Cain signed with the Brewers for five years, $80 million, which is no bargain for a center fielder who turns 32 in April.
So after all the waiting, perhaps the prices aren’t going to fall so much, at least for the top free agents.
But as far as projected performance, Lynn would stabilize the rotation, with the consistency and durability that would slot in nicely behind Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
Even after missing the 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, Lynn came back to make 33 starts in ’17. For that matter, he’s never made fewer than 30 starts in any of his five full seasons, and he’s put up ERAs of 2.74, 3.03, and 3.43 in his last three seasons.
Adding Lynn would also give the Mets more flexibility to use the likes of Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, or, maybe even Harvey or Wheeler as a reliever if they struggle as starters.
Even at $16-17 million a year for four years, Lynn would provide the depth the Mets need if pitching is going to be the reason they return to contention.
Look, the Mets are going to have to pay for pitching soon anyway, with no significant prospects close to the majors, so why not this year, when the division is offering such a golden opportunity.
After all, it’s not just the Marlins. Neither the Phillies nor the Braves are ready to contend yet, but both might be in another year.
Meanwhile, the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals will beat each other up in the NL Central, and the NL West could be the most difficult division in baseball, if Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen help make the Giants contenders again.
If Wilpon truly shares the same frustrations as Mets’ fans, and wants to win as badly as he claimed this week, there’s still time to seize the moment in this slow-moving winter.
It’s not just about doing right by the fans. It makes sense.
When Wilpon made the case this week that winning isn’t all about payroll, he was right. The problem is that when you have precious few young players, either in the big leagues at pre-arbitration salaries, or on the way in the farm system, the only way to fill obvious roster holes is to spend.
And if you needed proof the Mets lack blue-chippers who are close to major league-ready, it is there in the lists of top 100 prospects that came out this week from Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law.
The Mets placed one player in Baseball America’s Top 100, 19-year old shortstop Andres Gimenez at No. 94, who played low Class A last year. They had one player on Law’s list — David Peterson at No. 58. He’s the lefty pitcher who was their first-round pick out of Oregon last June and has pitched only 32⁄3 professional innings.
Meanwhile, the Yankees placed six players on the Baseball America list and five on Law’s list.
In addition, five of the prospects they traded either last summer or in the Stanton deal, were also represented on one list or the other.
That’s 11 blue-chippers — projected as blue-chippers — not counting Clint Frazier, who graduated from the prospect list, or AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge.
CHIPPER OFF THE OL’ BLOCK
Best reaction from a newly-elected Hall of Famer last week?
Naturally, it had to be Chipper Jones’ appreciation for our classic back page, which saluted his Hall of Fame election with a proper reminder of how he tormented the Mets: “Go To Hall, Larry.”
The former Braves’ third baseman called it “pure gold” on Twitter, said “I love the Big Apple,” and then posed for pictures at Thursday’s Hall of Fame press conference in Manhattan while holding up a copy of the Daily News.
Larry, of course, is Chipper’s real first name, as he was often serenaded by fans at Shea Stadium in sing-song fashion, in attempts to get under his skin.
But nothing stopped him from hitting there. For his career Jones hit .313 with a .964 OPS and 19 home runs at Shea. The 19 long balls were the most he hit in any ballpark other than the two in Atlanta — first Fulton County Stadium and then Ted Turner.
Chipper enjoyed his home away from home so much that he famously named his son Shea, and he said this week that playing in the post-9/11 game in New York, which featured Mike Piazza’s legendary home run, was one of the most memorable nights of his career.
As he told Chris Russo on the MLB Network last week, he made a point of picking up a few of the cartridges from the 21-gun salute before the game, and still has them.
Edgar Martinez should have been voted into the Hall of Fame years ago, but it will be at least somewhat fitting if he goes in next year, as it appears he will after his vote total jumped to 71 percent — oh so close to the 75 percent needed for election.
After all, he would be going in with Mariano Rivera, and Martinez’s remarkable success against the former Yankees’ closer is all the proof anyone should need as to his status as an all-time great hitter.
For his career, in fact, Martinez went 11-for-19 against Rivera with three doubles, two home runs, three walks and two strikeouts.
No wonder Mariano is quick to name the former Mariner as the toughest hitter he faced during his career. Here’s how he answered that question from the Daily News’ Christian Red a few years ago:
“The toughest — and thank God he retired (in 2004) — was Edgar Martinez. Oh my God, I think every pitcher will say that because this man was tough. Great man, though. Respected the game, did what he had to do for his team.”
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