Karpin: Take The Right “Fork,” Mets

The late, great Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” If you can decipher the illogical meaning of Berra’s revered colloquialism, it involves a “sense of direction.” The “fork in the road” is whether the Mets should try again with a formula that did not work for this season or to try something else with next season in mind.

Whatever direction that the Mets take will be key as they formulate their plan for the 2019 season. Will they roll the dice once again and keep the rotation intact with the idea to build around it, will they actually go out and spend on a quality free agent or will they gamble and use one of the starters as trade bait to improve the team?

Those decisions will be made, but not before we see how the front office shakes out. There have been reports that the Mets are planning to hire a President of Baseball Operations along with a new General Manager. No matter who comes in, that person or persons will be supported by Omar Minaya who does not want a second term as the Mets GM. Assistants John Ricco and J.P. Ricciardi may become collateral damage. Both are solid baseball men and would likely hook up elsewhere.

Going into the 2018 season, the Mets gambled on their starting rotation remaining intact to lead the way to a post season berth. The team felt they had enough support in the other areas (offense and bullpen) to make a run but neither belief panned out.

Noah Syndergaard missed six weeks at a time when the season was slipping away. Jacob deGrom had his fantastic season and Zack Wheeler started to live up to his potential in the second half but the rest of the rotation was in flux. Manager Mickey Calloway and pitching coach Dave Eiland were influential in getting the rotation to start producing a consistent cycle but that came too late to save the season.

Injuries to Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce derailed any hopes of an offense that could support the pitching. The Mets offense struggled to hit at home as evidenced by a .215/.292/.354 slash line. That’s not the way that you’re going to put “fannies in the seats” at CitiField.

Michael Conforto’s second half numbers were an indication that he may have been rushed back too soon from his 2017 shoulder surgery. The most notable gain was Conforto raising his slugging percentage from .366 in the first half to .539 in the second half.

The Mets need to shake the narrative that they won’t spend on a quality free agent. There are eligible players on the market that can turn things around in a hurry. Let’s be real, how do you think the fan base would react if the Mets did sign Manny Machado. Of course, the cynical Met fan that reads this will sarcastically utter under their breath, ‘yeah, we’ll sign Machado.’ That’s what hangs over the team and something they need to rid themselves of.

The Mets have already “wasted” a career year from Jacob deGrom. That’s no one’s fault, just a fact. It’s not that deGrom can’t be a top pitcher in years to come, but his numbers were “off the charts” this season and that’s hard to duplicate. If they intend to maximize the potential of this starting rotation, they will need to work quickly to support it with the best team that they can possibly put on the field behind them. Considering how they are structured at the present time, the Mets should have a “sense of urgency” attached to this off season.

There are pressing needs that include a right handed bat in the outfield, a closer and depth in the bullpen, and the catching position needs to be addressed. The Mets cannot and will not count on Travis d’Arnaud while Kevin Plawecki failed to seize the opportunity of the starting job when it was staring him in the face.

Ol’ nemesis Wilson Ramos is a free agent and could be someone who the Mets might want to take a serious run at. Ramos, who is 31 years old (he’ll be 32 next August) is a career .273 hitter and a solid defensive catcher. He signed a two year deal with Tampa Bay, I think the Mets can come up with an offer. Sign Ramos and bring back Plawecki (whom they have control of) as the back up. A reunion with Devin Mesoraco is not out of the question.

There is not an abundance of reliable relievers on the free agent market. Andrew Miller would be intriguing but there will stiff competition for his services, provided he’s healthy as he’s had some issues the past two seasons. I don’t think a reunion with Jeurys Familia is in the cards. I’ve always believed relievers are a “dime-a-dozen” because of their unpredictability from year to year. Maybe the Mets have something from one of their young arms that they showcased down the stretch.

Here’s the dilemma when trying to solve the issue of a right handed bat in the outfield, the Mets already have one, but do they?

Cespedes, who played in only 38 games last season, will undergo the second of two scheduled surgeries on October 23rd for the build up of calcium deposits (bone calcifications) on both of his heels.

At Sunday’s season finale, Cespedes met the media for the first time since the initial surgery in early August. When asked about his status for next season, he offered this foreboding response. “I cannot say I will play X,Y,Z amount of games,” he said to the media through an interpreter. “That’s not something I can predict so far.” Yikes!

According to reports, the recovery time for Cespedes after the second surgery could be as much as four months which would be early February. Even after that recovery period, it would reportedly take some more time for Cespedes to even start running again. Cespedes still has two years and $58.5 million dollars left on his contract so that will obviously have an effect on the club’s thought process.

A free agent outfielder that may fit the bill is local product A.J. Pollock, who hails from Hebron, Connecticut. Pollock is an underrated hitter and very good defender in center field who has had some injury woes over the past few seasons. That could work to the Mets’ advantage because he is 31 years old and the status of his ability to stay on the field will probably keep his price down. I know that ‘s a risk but one that may be worth taking..

The Mets are going to have to take some chances. I don’t expect them to go crazy and throw money around like “drunken sailors” but they can’t keep practicing frugality either. If they expect to win and compete in this market that features a fairly young Yankee team that figures to be competitive for awhile, the Mets need to have a productive off season.

With that in mind, the Mets should pursue a strategy that begins with signing a big name free agent or a player that’s close to fitting that description. Zero in on one of the pressing needs. You don’t have to break the bank to get something good. The next move should be to monitor the trade market because they have an attractive asset to offer. With some creativity, the Mets could use that asset to solve multiple problems.

If the Mets don’t want to spend big on this year’s free agent class, what about a player who’s scheduled to become a free agent after next season. If the Mets wanted to use a starting pitcher to trade for a player with one year remaining on his contract, they would have leverage to say that they would want a chance to sign that player before they shake hands on any deal.

29-year old Marcell Ozuna fits that description. Nice right handed bat to fit right into the Mets’ lineup in front of or behind Conforto. Would the Cardinals be willing to deal Ozuna for a starting pitcher after he played just one season in St. Louis? Ozuna is a free agent after next season and figures to get a nice arbitration award in the spring. Just a thought, but this is what I mean about being creative.

As my nysportsday.com colleague Rich Mancuso noted in his column, “Mets Can Contend in 2019,” there are some positives to build on. Amed Rosario’s continuing development as a major leaguer and the emergence of second-baseman Jeff McNeil, along with Conforto’s strong second half, gives the Mets some hope with their lineup.

The Mets should heed the message of the “legendary wordsmith” who once wore their uniform and take the right “fork.”

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