Injuries decimated the Mets’ roster, particularly that largely homegrown pitching staff, so the team has had to improvise. Along the way, New York found major contributors from unlikely sources up and down the roster to land a Wild Card spot.
“Going into the offseason, following 2015, we thought we had a pretty good nucleus,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “We were looking to add to it, but in limited ways. We had a strong interest in Ben Zobrist. That didn’t happen, so we had to shift and made a trade for Neil Walker.”
“That set the tone for the entire offseason, and subsequently the season itself,” Alderson continued. “We were constantly shifting, looking for replacements, looking for additions, looking for ways to supplement what we had. Fortunately for us, many of the players who came in and were given an opportunity, either from within or outside of it, performed to the point where we got to in clinching the Wild Card.”
Here’s a look at how each player on the Mets’ projected Division Series roster was initially acquired during his current stint with the club:
Player, how acquired, year
Juan Lagares, Int’l sign, 2006
Lucas Duda, Draft, 2007 (7th round)
Jeurys Familia, Int’l sign, 2007
Hansel Robles, Int’l sign, 2008
Josh Edgin, Draft, 2010 (30th round)
Robert Gsellman, Draft, 2011 (13th round)
Seth Lugo, Draft, 2011 (34th round)
T.J. Rivera, Non-drafted free agent, 2011
They were supposed to have the most feared rotation in the National League, led by homegrown arms: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, along with Noah Syndergaard. It seemed the type of staff that could carry them back to World Series. That, of course, was on paper. Harvey, deGrom and Matz are all not on the Mets’ postseason roster.
The script is still very similar, but the starring roles were filled by understudies. Stepping into the spotlight, and excelling, were a pair of arms the Mets took in the later rounds of the 2011 Draft. Robert Gsellman was a 13th-round pick from the Los Angeles high school ranks. Gsellman began the year in Double-A, didn’t pitch particularly well with Triple-A Las Vegas, but has been a godsend in New York, with a 2.42 ERA over his 44 2/3 innings of work.
Seth Lugo was an even longer shot, a 34th-rounder from that Draft out of Centenary College of Louisiana. He had a 6.55 ERA in Las Vegas when he was brought up for the first time at the start of July. Filling in out of the bullpen and the rotation, he’s compiled a 2.67 ERA over 64 IP.
“Gsellman and Lugo were both on the 40-man roster at the beginning of the year, but we didn’t expect them to make any sort of contribution this season,” Alderson said. “Given the numbers at Las Vegas in particular for both of those guys, their performance at the Major League has been a little surprising, but very gratifying.”
The unexpected help hasn’t just been on the mound. T.J. Rivera, a non-drafted free agent whom the Mets didn’t even put on the 40-man roster last offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, has stepped up at second base as Walker’s replacement following his back surgery.
“He wasn’t even the second baseman of the future until Dilson Herrera was traded,” Alderson said. “He’s probably still a little over-aggressive, but you don’t fool with a guy who is in this kind of groove at the moment.
“These are performance guys, these aren’t tools guys. They didn’t have the great pedigree, but they continue to perform, continue to play well. Surprising? Yes. But these things happen in baseball.”
Player, year, acquired from
Travis d’Arnaud, 2012, Blue Jays
Noah Syndergaard, 2012, Blue Jays
Jerry Blevins, 2015, Nationals
Yoenis Cespedes, 2015, Tigers
Addison Reed, 2015, D-backs
Kelly Johnson, 2016, Braves
James Loney, 2016, Padres*
Jay Bruce, 2016, Reds
Fernando Salas, 2016, Angels
Adding Yoenis Cespedes to the mix at last year’s Trade Deadline turned around what had been a fairly moribund offense. The big trade the Mets made this year — bringing in outfielder Jay Bruce when Cespedes (along with Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes) were hurt — looked for the longest while like it wouldn’t pan out like last year’s Deadline deal did.
Bruce hit .183 in August with a .552 OPS in 93 at-bats. He was mired in a huge slump in September when manager Terry Collins gave him time off to clear his head.
The move worked. Bruce hit .480 with four homers and eight RBIs over his last eight games, providing the kind of power the Mets had hoped for when they acquired him from the Reds and helping the Mets secure home field for the Wild Card Game. “When we first got him, he was trying to do much to compensate for the absence of Cespedes, Cabrera and Reyes,” Alderson said. “He’s a streaky guy anyway, that’s been his history.
“Terry gave him some time off, which was viewed as a benching by some, but was really an attempt to give him time to work without worrying about playing, sitting him for some period of time, just getting him back on the road. New York can be a tough place, people will react if you don’t produce. We wanted to get him through the homestand and get him on the road and get him back in there. That’s where the transformation took place.”
Much has and should be said about the decision to bring Cespedes back after his contributions post-trade in 2015. Signing Asdrubal Cabrera has provided another consistent offensive producer, when healthy. But has there been a free agent signing that has been more important — and more surprisingly so — than 43-year-old Bartolo Colon?
“He’s been incredible,” Alderson said. “When we signed him before the 2014 season, we were criticized for giving him a two-year contract, but we needed that kind of depth in our rotation. You realize at some point, at some age, he’ll fall off the cliff, but it hasn’t happened.
“The thing that’s additionally rewarding, beyond how well he’s pitched for us — he has 15 wins and we thought he’d be in the bullpen by midseason — is his presence in the clubhouse. It’s something you can’t overestimate. He’s had such an impact on the younger pitchers. That’s been an important element as well and is one of the reasons why you take the risk because he does bring that element that is enhanced with age.”
The other free agent acquisition Alderson caught some fire for was signing Jose Reyes following a suspension stemming from an offseason domestic violence incident. Given a second chance, in the place he has long called home, Reyes has been more than just a model citizen.
“He’s been everything we could’ve hoped for,” Alderson said. “On the field, he’s provided an element of speed. The versatility he’s provided, he’s played third which he’d never played, he’s played it well, and he can go to shortstop if necessary. As a switch-hitter, he’s given us a lot of flexibility as well. His enthusiasm, his energy, his excitement. That’s been as important as anything over the last month and a half, since he returned from the disabled list. I think we expected this would happen because he was coming back to New York. This is where he grew up.”
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Source: Mets News / How they were built: Mets