Mailbag: Why isn’t anyone talking about Justin Upton and the Mets?

BaronMichael Caruso: What’s the deal with Upton? Isn’t he more of a Sandy-type player? Have the Mets expressed any interest in him?

The Mets wanted Upton at the trade deadline, and were actually waiting for Padres GM AJ Preller to give the OK on July 31, but it never came which led them to acquire Yoenis Cespedes, Sandy Alderson explained earlier this year.

But at the time, the need in the outfield was different, mostly because the Mets might not have been fully prepared to commit to Michael Conforto in left field.

Now they are.

And, the Mets have Curtis Granderson in right field for two more years, and they wouldn’t sign Upton to be in a platoon – that’s one expensive right field solution.

So Upton is probably not a fit for the Mets on paper anymore, as he profiles as a corner outfielder. The Mets need a centerfielder, but he has never played center in his big league career. He’s also a league-average defender at best at a corner position – putting him in an unfamiliar role in a big ballpark might devalue him and hurt the team in the process, whether its with the Mets or another club.

He’s also a very strange hitter.

His career marks are obviously very enticing. He has an .825 career OPS and he’s only 28. He’s consistent against both left-handers and right-handers, with a little more power coming against southpaws. He’s got some speed, which of course is something the Mets lack. His final lines – year after year – suggest he’s consistently an above average producer at the plate, he’s hit 25 or more home runs in each of the last three years, and he still has plenty of prime seasons left.

But he’s been prone to some really deep funks over the last couple of years. It happened in Atlanta in 2014, and San Diego in 2015. Last year, he hit under .200 with next to no production for two months in the middle of the season, and had a power drought for the final four months of the 2014 season.

emailThat’s not to say Upton’s bat wouldn’t be valuable for the Mets. Every player slumps – that’s just baseball.

He’s still young and very much in his prime, and those slumps could be flukes, for sure. It’s worth noting Petco Park is not the easiest place to hit in, nor is Turner Field for that matter either. Citi Field might be a fairer park than it once was, but it’s not exactly Chase Field, and the parks in the division are not exactly hitter-friendly, either.

Now that the outfield market is becoming defined with Jason Heyward’s deal, Upton seems poised to get a similar deal in terms of years. All things being equal, it’s hard to see the Mets committing to a player for such a long term, and with Upton, all is far from equal, since he’s not a natural fit to begin with.

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Mailbag: When will Brandon Nimmo and Dominic Smith arrive to Flushing?

Nimmo Smith

BaronTom Vereline: What do you see as projected call-up dates for Brandon Nimmo and Dominic Smith? Any chance Smith gets a cup of coffee come September 1st?

All things being equal, Nimmo should be on target for a mid-2016 call-up. His track got slowed a bit in 2015 thanks to a knee injury, and that arguably delayed his promotion to Triple-A a little bit which limited the number of plate appearances he had with the 51s. So, he needs a little more time and some more plate appearances at the highest minor league level before being considered for a promotion.

That injury probably didn’t change Nimmo projected call-up, however. It probably just ensured he would not make the team out of spring training in 2016.

But there are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering Nimmo for a promotion.

First off, his name has been mentioned a lot in trade rumors over the last few months, and it seems pretty clear the club would be willing to deal him under the right circumstances. Those circumstances may not be for a reliever or a platoon partner for Juan Lagares, but he could conceivably be moved for a regular middle infielder if they fail to sign someone on the free agent market. So, don’t be surprised if the Mets move Nimmo at some point over the next year, making all of this moot.

Second, if the Mets sign a left-handed bat to platoon with Lagares, there may not be an immediate place for Nimmo, assuming everybody is healthy. He can play all three outfield positions, but Nimmo is primarily a centerfielder, who happens to hit left-handed. Assuming the Mets procure that left-handed outfielder, the Mets will have four left-handed hitting outfielders already, including Kirk Nieuwenhuis. 

That’s not to say Nimmo can’t replace Nieuwenhuis, but there has to be playing time available for Nimmo – he serves no purpose from a developmental perspective by sitting on the bench.

As for Smith, he seems to be on target for a mid-2017 promotion, assuming he stays healthy and continues to build upon his breakout 2015 campaign, in which he won the Florida State Player of the Year Award after hitting .305/.354/.417 with six home runs and 79 RBI in 118 games with Single-A St. Lucie.

It’s hard to see Smith even getting a cup of coffee in 2016. Due to his age when he was drafted (17), Smith doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster a year from now in order to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. He gets four years of protection, so he doesn’t have to join the 40-man roster until the winter of 2017.

So, there isn’t an immediate need to add him to the roster in 2016.

He also hasn’t played a day above Single-A St. Lucie. He has to take the giant step to Double-A, a step which most evaluators believe is the most difficult step to take in the minor leagues. He will probably spend a full year with the B-Mets in 2016, and perhaps getting a taste in Las Vegas in September if the 51s make the postseason. He will likely spend at least the first half of the 2017 season in Las Vegas as well, if not most of that season.

Like Nimmo, there also has to be a need and an opening for Smith. There is no sense in bringing him here – whether its in 2016 or 2017 – if there is no playing time available for him. And right now, the Mets have a power-hitting left-handed first baseman in Lucas Duda, who is arbitration-eligible in 2016 and 2017, after which he can become a free agent.

emailThe timing just seems right to give Smith a taste sometime in the second half of the 2017 season, assuming everyone stays healthy and Smith remains on-track. He’s an exciting talent who has a good understanding of hitting, has a tremendous work ethic, and is finally starting to live up to his top-prospect status.

But unlike Michael Conforto – who made the unusual jump from Double-A to the big leagues and succeeded with the Mets – Smith is very young (he just turned 20), so he needs time and patience and probably some more success at the higher level of the minor leagues before getting here.

Nimmo was selected by the Mets in the first-round (13th overall) of the 2011 first-year player draft. Smith was selected by the Mets in the first-round (11th overall) of the 2013 first-year player draft.

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Mailbag: Is Daniel Murphy a Plan B to Ben Zobrist?

Murphy Zobrist

BaronCorné Hogeveen: If the Mets will be outbid for Ben Zobrist who they (and I) really like, do you see them going after Daniel Murphy?

It’s really hard to see the Mets circling back on Murphy, Corné.

There are certainly the sentimental reasons to retain Murphy. He has been very public in his desire to stay with the Mets, and he has done whatever he has been asked to do and embarrassed himself in the process in an effort to help the organization. He’s also a proven success story in New York, and the Mets know he can produce in the postseason as well.

Aside from Zobrist, there aren’t many appealing, proven success stories to turn to on either the trade or free agent markets this winter to fill the Mets need at second base.

And Murphy had a magical run through the postseason, launching seven home runs and single-handedly carrying the Mets offense to two series wins against the Dodgers and Cubs. His performance was one for the ages and will go down in the record books as one of the greatest single postseason performances of all-time.

But this is not an organization that all of a sudden switches gears based on a small sample size. And the Mets really want to get more versatile and improve their defense up the middle.

Retaining Murphy for second base doesn’t really do that for the club, as sad as it is to say that.

Earlier in November, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York wrote the Mets would make an effort to retain Murphy, and said there are people in the organization who believe Murphy might consider the Mets. But it would have to be at a discount and it remains to be seen how much of a discount Murphy would be willing to take as he compares whatever the Mets intend to offer to offers from other suitors.

emailBut it’s just so hard to see the Mets re-engaging with Murphy in the end, Corné, and this just seems like a way to create leverage in negotiations for Zobrist or other players they might be interested in.

For years, people from within the organization have made no mention of Murphy’s name when discussing the future of second base. All of the talk about his internal replacement has surrounded Dilson Herrera, who is more athletic, has speed, better upside defensively, and has the potential to hit for more power.

But Herrera is young and unproven, and obviously, it’s logical to conclude that talk of signing Zobrist means the Mets are not quite ready to commit to Herrera in a win-now situation.

That of course brings the merry-go-round back to Murphy if they fail to sign Zobrist. But if the Mets were seriously interested in a long-term engagement with Murphy, why would they would wait until he’s a free agent to consider a new deal?

They could have signed him at anytime during the 2015 season, or in prior seasons as well.

It’s also important to consider letting Murphy sign with another team will net the Mets a second draft pick before the second round of the 2016 draft. If they retain Murphy, they will not get that draft pick, and after relinquishing their first-round pick to sign Michael Cuddyer in 2014, trading pieces away to acquire Tyler Clippard and Yoenis Cespedes this past summer, losing Jack Leathersich to to the Cubs in waivers, and their Rule 5 draft losses last winter, the Mets need to consider fattening up parts of their farm system again.

It’s for these reasons why it would be a complete surprise if the Mets brought Murphy back.

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Mailbag: Could the Mets sign Tony Sipp for their bullpen?

Tony Sipp 1 slice

BaronMarc C.: I think Tony Sipp would be an excellent addition to the Mets bullpen.  What would it take to happen?  Is it a good idea?

Sipp, 31, had an outstanding year for the Astros. And with the Mets lacking any kind of reliable left-handed relief specialist, one might think Sipp is an excellent fit for the Mets. He posted an ERA+ of 203, went 3-4 with a 1.99 ERA in 60 relief appearances while allowing only 41 hits, 15 walks and five home runs with 62 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings for Houston in 2015. He was also outstanding in the postseason against the Yankees and Royals, allowing only one hit with two walks and five strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings over six playoff games.

But if the Mets are looking strictly for a left-handed relief specialist, Sipp may not necessarily be their guy.

He had reverse splits in 2015, and while left-handed hitters posted a moderately lower OPS against him than right-handed hitters did (.613 vs. .599), left-handed hitters hit nearly 40 points higher against him than right-handed hitters (.190 vs. .227).

That trend is in-line with his career numbers as well.

emailThat’s not to say Sipp wouldn’t be a good fit for the Mets bullpen. His career marks against left-handed hitters is .213/.293/.387, which is better than anything they have in-house right now. He could certainly be a very effective cross-over left-handed reliever as well, which could help Terry Collins save his bullpen rather than use a guy like Sipp for one batter only.

But if the Mets really want a specialized left-handed reliever, they may be better suited to re-sign Jerry Blevins, who is a better left-handed specialist than Sipp is. Blevins may come cheaper and with less of a commitment than Sipp thanks to his injury-plagued year in which he required surgery to repair his broken left arm.

Player Q&A: Getting to know Michael Conforto

Andrew Harts

Michael Conforto has been extremely impressive in his time with the Mets this season, slowly becoming a household name.

The 22-year-old rookie phenom has been precisely as advertised, hitting for power with a good eye at the plate along with showing off his continually-improving defense in left field.

In 153 plate appearances, Conforto has hit .286/.366/.526 with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 45 games. He is second on the club with eight defensive runs saved (DRS), according to FanGraphs.

In this Q&A, I got a little more insight into who Conforto is off the field… Continue reading