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New York Mets

Mets must face 2017’s reality and prepare for 2018

New York Mets shortstop Amed Rosario laughs during the second inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Notwithstanding the New York Mets‘ come-from-behind 10-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night and barring a repeat of the 1973 “Ya Gotta Believe” run to the National League pennant, the club’s 2017 fortunes are set. General manager Sandy Alderson acknowledged as much on trade deadline weekend by dealing Lucas Duda to the Tampa Bay Rays and and Addison Reed to the Boston Red Sox, respectively, for a combined four minor-league power arms. New York “bought”only A.J. Ramos from the Miami Marlins, with an eye on replacing Reed and having a backup closer/setup man for 2018 as Jeurys Familia returns from injury.

The Mets are 13.5 games out of first place in the NL East; they’re 10.5 games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card race. Were they playing better, or had a favorable schedule in August and September like 2016 when they did make a late run to the playoffs, there would be an argument to focus on the now. There isn’t. A 10-9 record since the All-Star break and the same inconsistencies that buried them in the first half are evident. This is not the formula to getting back into the playoff conversation.

Alderson and his staff are experienced enough to know this without tacitly announcing it. Manager Terry Collins and the players know it too, but their agendas tend to diverge from the front office, causing potential complications. Right now, the Mets must look toward 2018 and beyond no matter what the manager and veteran players think. In the final two months of the 2017 season, here are New York’s steps in preparing for the future.

  • Don’t rush back the injured pitchers.

Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Familia are at various stages of rehab from their injuries. Were the Mets in legitimate contention, there would be a greater sense of urgency to get them healthy so they could contribute. But the team is not contending and the injuries are not the typical “sore shoulder” or “strained flexor tendon” that pitchers usually get. Harvey’s back shoulder weakness and stress injury to his scapula must be addressed in the offseason. Bringing him back for several token appearances makes little sense. Familia’s arterial clot and Syndergaard’s partially torn latissimus are more definable, but it’s unwise to have them pitch in more than a few late-season games to give them peace of mind heading into the offseason.

As for Zack Wheeler, it’s becoming clear that a sudden awakening is unlikely. The “stress reaction” in his right arm is a “what’s that?” injury, strangely reflective of Wheeler’s entire career.

FLUSHING, NY - MAY 09: New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) pitches during the first inning of the Major League Baseball game between the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants on May 8, 2017, at Citi Field in Flushing, NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

  • Think about the training regimens.

The quickest route to drawing the ire of the Mets and their fans is to throw the “that’s not what the Yankees would do” at them, but there are instances in which it is not done in an obnoxious, smug, hypocritical and conveniently forgetful Michael Kay manner, which is designed specifically to take cheap shots at the Mets. Sometimes it’s accurate.

The Mets must decide what to do with strength and conditioning consultant Mike Barwis. Outsider analysis and randomness about his program are relatively meaningless. Veteran players are responsible for their own fitness programs and most have personal trainers, nutritionists and “experts” who give advice. However, there is a sense that Barwis’ background as a trainer of football players is not suitable to baseball. The video clips of him encouraging Yoenis Cespedes to squat 900 pounds went viral not just because of the amount of weight, but because such training tactics are historically antagonistic to what is optimal for baseball.

It might not be Barwis’ fault that the players are getting these unusual injuries, but his presence is creating a negative aura around the club.

Contrast that to when the Yankees had a similar situation 10 years ago.

In 2007, Yankees GM Brian Cashman hired Marty Miller to be the “director of performance enhancement.” Miller had been a country club fitness instructor before joining the Yankees and was fired early in his first season after numerous players suffered hamstring and back injuries. They dismissed Miller while he had a three-year contract for the job.

Like Cashman said at the time, the perception is a problem independent of there being an actual problem. Obviously, Barwis is qualified, but the Mets must either alter their training strategies to something more applicable to baseball or change the person running the program.

Presumably, the discussion about Barwis is ongoing as the season is winding down.

  • Get as high a draft pick as possible.

Punting on the season means what it sounds like it means. Half-measures might give a better aesthetic at season’s end and let the club finish at or around .500, but how does that help them in 2018? In fact, pushing for that hurts them.

If the season ended today, the Mets would have the ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. They snagged Michael Conforto with the 10th pick in 2014 and he was helping them to the pennant slightly more than a year later. Ending up somewhere in the middle is useless given their current situation. And they can find a college-age arm or bat who is close to being major-league ready to help them almost immediately at the big-league level as Conforto did. Getting within the top five picks is best and hurts no one.

  • Give the young players a legit shot in their planned roles for 2018 and truly assess the veterans.

It’s easy to say but not easy to implement this strategy, particularly if Collins is agreeing to one thing with the front office and doing something else when he writes the lineup.

Amed Rosario will play regularly for the remainder of the season. Collins giving him periodic days off as a break from the mental, physical and emotional grind of his rookie season, or as a disciplinary procedure, is perfectly fine. But the manager cannot sit him for three games in a row just because – something Collins is wont to do if left to his own devices.

Dominic Smith is reportedly coming to the majors sooner rather than later. The timing could be contingent on August waiver trades. Regardless, if younger players are in the big leagues, they must play regularly so the Mets can assess what they are and let the players acclimate to life in the majors.

Collins is admirably loyal to his veteran players and, given that this may be his last run as the manager, he will not want to develop youth at the expense of winning which only benefits the next guy. The reciprocal trust Collins has formulated with his players diametrically opposes how he was perceived – and mostly hated – by a large faction of the players in his two previous managerial stops in Anaheim and Houston. While he will not have won a championship, having overseen the Mets’ rebuild, won a pennant and achieved two playoff spots is a strong managerial epilogue, especially considering where he was when the Mets hired him. This is not linked to 2018 and beyond and the future takes precedence.

Not only do they need a barometer for Rosario and Smith, but it was whispered this season that Robert Gsellman might have the temperament and stuff to be a solid reliever – they should have a look at him in that role.

Are they thinking of re-signing Jose Reyes to be the all-around utility/bench guy they had envisioned for 2017? If so, then he needs to play in left and center field to see if he can be competent as an outfielder, not for one inning as he did earlier in the season.

Given the few catching options on the market, it’s clear that Travis d’Arnaud will return as the primary starter in 2018 – he must play five of every seven games for the remainder of this season.

There are multiple everyday players and pitchers who must be analyzed for 2018. That is what the rest of the season should be dedicated to.

Neither the Mets nor Collins want to end their union in an ugly, contentious fashion with the manager being fired before the season is out. They’d rather let him walk away with the parties saying it’s mutual even if it isn’t. If he does not get onboard with the organization’s path, that’s exactly what they will have to do with bench coach Dick Scott as the caretaker.

It’s doubtful this is the preferred course of action.

***

The Mets were open in their statements of 2017 being an “all-in” year; that they were ready to spend to improve if they were in playoff position at midseason. It didn’t work out that way. With their list of contracts coming off the books, a farm system with a moderate boost in power pitching depth, a pitching staff largely set to be intact and reasonably inexpensive in 2018, and a free agent class with players who could help the Mets, this team can spin it around quickly and contend next season. Part of that is understanding where they are in August of 2017 and acting accordingly. They were all-in in the spring and they should be all-in now — for 2018, that is.

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