BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.– Well, the 2018 season did not exactly go the way the New York Mets wanted it, nor expected it to. September 30, 2018, the last game of the season, found the Amazin’s with the 20th best record (77-85) of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. In both of their pregame press conferences before that game on Sunday, Mets manager Mickey Callaway and COO Jeff Wilpon both used the word “disappointing” to describe this year’s campaign.
In terms of winning potential, Callaway, in his press conference, likened the Mets’ 2018 team (77-85, eleventh in the National League) to their team from 1968. In that year, the Mets were 73-89 and finished ninth in the National league. The very next year, 1969, Callaway pointed out, the Mets won 100 games…. and their first-ever World Series.
It is the dawn of a new day with the one of the most beloved Mets, “The Captain” David Wright’s retirement weekend and Jose Reyes likely having played his last game in Queens on Sunday.
— Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan) October 1, 2018
SEARCHING FOR A NEW GENERAL MANAGER
For the first time since 2010, the Mets are entering the general manager market. The game of baseball has evolved, even within the past eight years, and Mets’ COO Jeff Wilpon is ready to get back in the market. “By going back out in the marketplace and seeing what has changed and what’s there now for us. There might be some really different ideas that come to fruition and build a perennial contender, if we can.“
Despite their best attempts to get him to reveal what he’s looking for, Wilpon did not want to tip off members of the media as to which characteristics he was looking for in a general manager. That, understandably is to maintain the integrity of the interview process.
Some bites of what Wilpon mentioned:
- “I’ve gotten a lot of opinions from a lot of people.”
- “It’s going to be very broad, some untraditional candidates will be put into the mix.”
- Ricco, Minaya, and Ricciardi are “not there no matter what: They’re part of the failure we had this year, the same as I am and the rest of the front office.”
- Timetable: “We have to be fair to the process…. If we could have someone by the GM meetings, that’d be terrific, but, if not, the winter meetings… if we can.”
- Process: “At first with just John [Ricco] and myself [will interview] them…. We have not asked permission on anybody yet. We’ll start asking permission next week to start bringing people in to interview. I think that will show us what is out there and what we can expect to whittle down to a smaller group that will go through a more detailed interview on the second round”.
For me, sitting in the audience, the most notable bit of information was that Wilpon used the possessive adjectives “his” and “hers” when asked about qualifications for a new GM. He said: “We need a new GM in place with his ideas or her ideas to open up what we might do in that situation”. Furthermore, Wilpon did not turn down the idea of interviewing someone with the title of ‘president of baseball operations’. He explained: “It’s hard to get somebody to move over from a GM spot to a GM spot. That was one of the reasons why we waited until the end of the season before we went out and asked because we thought we’d be turned down for any of the lateral-type moves like that.”
I think there already is a front-runner in the competition. No female has ever been a GM in any major sport and there aren’t any GMs in the MLB of Asian descent, so that definitely falls under the category of: “untraditional candidate”. Kim Ng, senior vice-president of baseball operations, has an impressive, eyebrow-raising resume. As far back as 2005, Ng interviewed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a vacant GM position. She was not hired for that position, but was kept as the assistant to the GM. Subsequently, she has interviewed for the GM positions with the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, and the Anaheim Angels. She was not hired.
It is clear that she wants to be an MLB general manager. Additionally, Ng currently resides in Lower Manhattan, but grew up in Queens. There is a good chance she was a Mets fan growing up and, residing in their market, has been abreast of all of the goings-on with the team! If she was a fan of the team growing up, that is good news because, having spent a portion of her childhood in Queens, she’ll have an inherent desire for the Mets to succeed. After attending middle school on Long Island, Ng’s family moved to Bergen County, New Jersey, where she attended Ridgewood High School (class of 1986) and played tennis and softball.
For these reasons, Kim Ng is my number one choice to be the general manager of the Mets.
PIECES TO BUILD UPON
In 2018, the Mets front office made the wise decision to stand pat at the trade deadline to keep its starting pitching staff, one of the best in Major League Baseball, in-tact. Wilpon expressed that “not making any trades was a positive for us because a lot of those guys did better in the second half”. For their new general manager, there are some pieces that the Mets could build upon.
1. The Mets’ starting pitching staff: Lead by National League Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom, the Mets had arguably the best starting pitching rotation in the MLB. With a rotation of: deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Jason Vargas, opposing hitters had their work cut out for them through a majority of each game. This was not a surprise- the rotation has been highly touted for years. However, there was uncertainty about what the Mets’ front office would do at the trade deadline with any or all of their pitchers. I fielded phone calls (pun intended) for hours on WFAN of anxious callers wondering what was going to happen with, especially, deGrom and Syndergaard. (Download and stream links to those shows are at the bottom of this article). With the rotation totally in-tact and healthy for 2019, this is a huge advantage for the Mets.
— Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan) September 30, 2018
2. Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto: Nimmo, who I thought should have won a bid as a 2018 All-Star Game alternate, and Conforto, who, when healthy, is a tremendous player, are two key players for the Mets moving forward. The offensive production of Nimmo and Conforto have landed them at the top of four of five of the Mets most important offensive categories: Batting average (Nimmo- .263), home runs (Conforto- 28), runs batted in (Conforto- 82), and on-base percentage (Nimmo- .404). Shortstop Amed Rosario lead the team in the fifth most important category: hits (142). Conforto finished second on the team in hits (132) and Nimmo finished third (114). Of note: Rosario played in one more game than Conforto and in fourteen more games than Nimmo.
THE MOST OBVIOUS AREAS IN NEED OF IMPROVEMENT
1. Bullpen: Manager Mickey Callaway, in his final press conference of the year, addressed this concern right off-the-bat (pun intended): “I think that we obviously need some help and I’m sure we will address some of that this winter. I do think that we have some guys in place that are going to be very impactful right away next year. I think we have some guys that are going to continue to develop and get better… that are going to either help us … because they have all the potential in the world.” Wilpon briefly mentioned this need in his pregame press conference, as well. Despite being traded to the Oakland Athletics on July 22, Jeurys Familia saved the most games (17) for the Mets in 2018 in 40.2 innings of work. The pitcher with the second-most saves was Robert Gsellman (13) in 80 innings of work. Gsellman could be one of those “impactful guys” if he can lower his 4.28 earned run average and improve upon his six blown saves (tied for 12th most in the MLB). Another relief pitcher the Mets could look to build around is Seth Lugo. His ERA is much lower than Gsellman’s in almost the exact same number of innings, although still not great. Callaway is “excited about the bones of it, but [he] do[es] feel [the Mets] need to add a couple of more guys to be the bullpen to be to be a championship team”.
2. Catching: In 2018, the Mets gave up the second-most stolen bases: 134. The only team with (slightly) more was the Toronto Blue Jays (136). The Mets were tied with the Colorado Rockies for second-worst in caught stealing percentage (21%). The only team with a worse caught stealing percentage was the Texas Rangers (19%). The Mets offensive production from the position is of the bottom-of-the-barrel in the league, in: batting average, slugging percentage, hits, and stolen bases.
Callaway briefly mentioned the need for a solid, regular catcher. At least he is aware of it. As of today, the Mets have four catchers listed on their active roster: Devin Mesoraco, Jose Lobaton, Tomas Nido, and Kevin Plawecki. Mesoraco and Plawecki have handled most of the catching duties in 2018 due to Travis d’Arnaud season-ending torn UCL (result: Tommy John surgery). Mesoraco and Lobaton are free agents and probably won’t return to the Mets in 2019. This is the position with the single-most question marks on the Mets’ roster. Should the Mets cut ties with D’Arnaud to pursue starting catchers in free-agency? Will Plawecki improve? For his career, he owns a .208 batting average, 14 home runs, 75 runs batted in, one stolen base, and an on-base percentage of .638. In my opinion, that simply won’t cut it. With Lobaton’s drastic inconsistency, the Mets need to make a splash to find a new catcher… outside the organization.
As of today, the Mets players are relegated to their couches, not their dugouts, to watch post-season play. After making an appearance in the 2016 World Series as the Cleveland Indians’ pitching coach (defeated by the Cubs in seven games), Callaway described that feeling as “nauseating”. He said: “We talked, in [the players’] exit interviews about being a championship team. That’s our ultimate goal. [We talked about] how watching other teams celebrate and pop champagne bottles hurts... The post-season, and ultimately getting to a World Series and winning a World Series, is amazing.” He continued to say that there is only “one team that fulfills their ultimate goal” while “everybody else is going to be disappointed…. It’s going to be tough to sit there and watch that team that wins the World Series celebrate on the field, even if it’s a month later.” Callaway points to that as a motivating factor in the off-season. “Everybody in that room, everybody in the front office, everybody on the coaching staff has to have the best off-season they’ve ever had for us to win a championship and I think that’s going to be everybody’s goal this winter.” Mets fans certainly hope so.