The Mets' performance was so uninspiring against a clearly inferior opponent that ownership has no choice but to consider dismissing second-year manager Mickey Callaway. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman and Andy Martino of SNY both report the skipper’s job is intact (for now) as the team begins the week with a four-game set against the Nationals.
But the Mets’ skid isn’t about the manager who never could find his footing in Flushing; his fate essentially has been sealed since Brodie Van Wagenen took over as GM and elected not to hire his own manager. Anything short of Callaway leading the Mets to their first World Series title since 1986 would’ve been enough a reason for the front office to let him go. Firing him soon just expedites the inevitable.
The real issue for the Mets is, once again, they aren’t that good.
They’ve received minimal returns from veterans Robinson Canó, Wilson Ramos and Todd Frazier. Their best player this season, Michael Conforto with a 2.0 WAR, is on the injured list with a concussion. One of his replacements, Keon Broxton, was just designated for assignment and recently complained about his lack of playing time. Even the team’s rotation, anchored by Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, has been mediocre. Each of their five starters has an ERA+ below 100, meaning all five are performing worse than league average. (deGrom has a 97 ERA+ after getting shellacked by the Marlins Friday night.) The team also designed archaic rules for when to use All-Star closer Edwin Díaz.
So where do the Mets go from here?
Well, they could stay the course—with or without Callaway—based on the notion that they can’t get much worse than getting shut out for 18 innings and combining for three hits on Saturday and Sunday. Somehow, despite their five-game losing streak and 5-10 record in May, the Mets are only 6.5 games behind the first-place Phillies in the NL East. That’s far from an insurmountable deficit, at least in theory.
Of course, the problem with that is the Mets no longer look like the contending team Van Wagenen touted them as before the season, even if most of their roster remains the same. It’s safe to assume deGrom and Syndergaard will be above league-average starters eventually this season, and Zack Wheeler’s low FIP suggests he’ll improve, too.
But deGrom, Syndergaard and Wheeler weren’t the problem last season. With them right, the Mets are essentially the same team they were last year: a fourth-place team with a 77-85 record; a solid starting rotation gives way to a lifeless offense.
Other than the injured Conforto, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso, the Mets’ lineup has shown no signs of heating up. Canó’s return to the Big Apple has been worse than expected. The 36-year-old is hitting .245/.293/.374, a slashline that will do little to protect him when his lack of hustle leads to double plays, which was the case twice against the Marlins. Instead, he blamed the first no-hustle DP on the scoreboard incorrectly showing there were two outs; the second, a dribbler to the catcher that he thought was foul.
All of this, then, suggests the Mets would be foolish to continue on with the same team this season. Firing Callaway—whenever that happens—should only be the beginning of a Mets overhaul in 2019. If they start now, it shouldn’t take that long to replenish.
Both Syndergaard and Wheeler should net decent returns in a trade. The Padres have been looking to add another frontline starter for a while now. They were reportedly players in the Syndergaard sweepstakes during the offseason before the Mets decided to buy instead of sell, and were pursuing a few of Cleveland’s elite righthanders. Van Wagenen should be calling the Padres to try and work out a deal involving Syndergaard in exchange for a few prospects from San Diego’s top-ranked farm system.
Teams in need of starting pitching could especially be interested in Wheeler, whose 4.85 ERA has been significantly inflated by the Mets’ dreadful defense. (They rank last in the NL with -35 defensive runs saved, per Fangraphs.) His 2.87 FIP ranks fourth in the NL, behind Max Scherzer, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Stephen Strasburg, and the difference between his ERA and FIP is the highest among all qualified starters in the majors.
Bottom line: put Wheeler on a defensively sound team and he’s one of the better starters in baseball. In this context, he’s more valuable to the Mets in what they could get for him in a trade.
Naturally, the Mets might not fancy the idea of dealing the two starters and weakening their only real strength, especially when it’s only May and they’re theoretically in the NL East “race.”
But after a disastrous weekend against baseball’s worst team, the worst thing for the Mets to do is to change nothing at all.