BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
When the New York Mets reached a verbal agreement with Carlos Correa in the late night hours of Dec. 21, it appeared as if the team owner had given fans the perfect Christmas gift.
The Mets were a very good team in 2022 but floundered down the stretch, looking worn out and anemic in their loss to San Diego during the opening round of the playoffs. Cohen knew it; so when the chance to bring in a quality bat and a proven winner like Correa came along, it was a no-brainer.
Cohen told the New York Post, shortly after the deal was consummated, that “We needed one more thing, and this [Correa] is it. This really makes a big difference. I feel like our pitching was in good shape. We needed one more hitter. This puts us over the top.”
The Mets ultimately didn’t like what they saw in Correa’s physical and the deal fell through. So, the Mets were left scrambling and continued their search for Cohen’s “it factor” that would put them over the top. Fast forward to this weekend when New York Mets general manager Billy Eppler announced that prospects Brett Baty and Mark Vientos were being shipped to Triple-A Syracuse.
Both were having terrific springs and fans were excited about the prospect of some homegrown, energetic talent in a lineup that was, in Cohen’s words, in need of more. But there was Eppler spouting some drivel about how Baty and Vientos needed more seasoning in Triple-A. Vientos has hit at every level at which he’s played and spent all of last season at Triple-A where he hit .280 with 24 homers.
Baty, meanwhile, hit .325 this spring with a .460 OBP and put in a great deal of work on his defense, a sticking point for management last season. But that didn’t seem to matter, because they appear to have had their minds made up about these two before camp even started.
So, the idea of the Mets needing more in their lineup has essentially turned into flailing fourth outfielders Tommy Pham and Tim Locastro, and part-time catcher Omar Narvaez.
Rather than show some creativity and take the chance on the youngsters like so many other teams have – the Braves have turned it into an art form over the last few years and the Yankees just named Anthony Volpe and his 22 games of experience at Triple-A as the starting shortstop – the Mets will once again trot out the tired likes of Pham and Daniel Vogelbach in an effort to try and convince anyone that will listen, including themselves, that Eppler knows what he is doing. At least they rid themselves of Darin Ruf on Monday, designating Eppler’s big deadline trade from last season for assignment.
In righting that wrong they could have righted another with some simple juggling by giving that roster spot to either Baty or Vientos. Instead, they added reliever Tommy Hunter to the roster, a 36-year-old favorite of manager Buck Showalter who has pitched 60 1/3 innings in the Major Leagues over the last four years. By adding a low-leverage emergency arm to the pen rather than add one of the two promising rookies, the Mets once again leave us scratching our heads about their management’s decision making.
So now the Mets have Pham, Vogelbach, and Locastro as bench players/DH candidates, none of whom should have anyone jumping for joy. Locastro got a great deal of love from everyone around the team and from many media outlets after a solid but nothing special spring in which he hit .289. The 30-year-old has been a bit player with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Yankees in his six-year career, a career in which he’s hit .227 over 475 at-bats. He hit .180 and .186 in each of the last two seasons while splitting time between Arizona and the Yankees.
New York Mets infielder Brett Baty is photographed before a spring training game against the Miami Marlins, on March 1, 2023, at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, FL. (Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images)
Vogelbach, meanwhile, hit .205 through 39 at-bats this spring. He’s a career .222 hitter who’s a liability on the bases and can’t play the field. Then there’s Pham, the 35-year-old journeyman whose last three seasons have seen him scorch it to the tune of hitting .211, .229, and .236. He hit .156 [7-for-45] this spring.
The Mets needed more from their lineup. They got less from the general manager who was their 15th or 25th or 35th choice for the job – we stopped counting – after everyone else in the universe turned down the job or was denied permission to speak with New York. Eppler was a flop with the Angels as their GM. Anaheim didn’t have a winning season in his five years at the helm, finishing a combined 44 games under .500. And that was with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
The Mets’ need for another big bat in their lineup is glaring. Having that bat became even more of a need when closer Edwin Diaz went down for the season after getting hurt in the World Baseball Classic. All those close games that New York won last season because of Diaz will be much more difficult to win this season with aging David Robertson and the bullpen by committee New York will employ. The Mets need more offense – which will, hopefully for them, limit the number of late inning nail biters.
Locastro, Vogelbach, and Pham aren’t going to get that done. Throw in the fact that Eduardo Escobar, who was horrible for five months last year before turning it on in September, is back to play third and the question marks abound for this lineup. Escobar, by the way, hit .118 [4-for-34] in spring training in addition to going 1-for-10 for Venezuela in the WBC and should, in a more logical world, be starting the season on the bench.
Mark Vientos #27 of the New York Mets runs out a double during the second inning of a spring training game against the Houston Astros at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 18, 2023 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
New York’s is a lineup that is lacking. And it’s a lineup that is no better than it was last season when the Mets faded down the stretch.
When discussing Baty, Eppler tried to sell the fact that other third basemen like Nolan Arenado and Rafael Devers had 400-plus minor league games on their respective resumes when they were called up. Comparing those situations to that of Baty, or even to that of Vientos (who already has reached Eppler’s nonsensical 400-game minor-league benchmark), isn’t fair. Different players, different teams, different needs. And based on what the Mets need, if Locastro and Pham are their backup outfielders and DH candidates then the Mets have some serious issues.
This doesn’t even include the fact that the way it’s currently constituted, the Mets might also have one of the worst benches in baseball – Pham, Locastro, Tomas Nido, and Luis Guillorme.
“While he [Baty] had a great camp and we’re excited about his future, there are still some developmental markers for him to reach,” Eppler told the media following Baty’s demotion. What about the developmental markers for a GM? Eppler clearly hasn’t hit any of them; yet he’ll be traveling north with the team.
This is a win-now team, particularly with top of the rotation guys like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Neither is a long term solution in terms of starting pitching and in Scherzer’s case, the short term isn’t even a slam dunk option after he faded down the stretch in each of the last two seasons.
So, go out and try to win now. Don’t settle, don’t allow the GM to justify his lousy trades and awful signings. Show some guts and put the players who earned a place on the team, on the team. Cohen said they needed more. Surprisingly, though, he, like his GM and his manager, has settled for less.