New Kid On The Block: Mallex Smith

It may have happened a little sooner than most were expecting, but the Braves have officially called up outfield prospect Mallex Smith to replace Ender Inciarte, who went on the 15 day disabled list due to a strained hamstring . Some may be unfamiliar with Smith, so lets delve a little deeper into what he brings to the Braves, on and off the field.

Mallex Smith was drafted in the 5th Round of the 2012 Major League Draft  out of Sante Fe College to the San Diego Padres, where he played his first three seasons of professional ball. Then, in the offseason before the 2015 season, Mallex was traded along with Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson, and Max Fried to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Justin Upton.

Still just 22 years old, Mallex is ahead of most prospects his age, consistently being below the league average for age at each minor league stop along his road to Atlanta, including being nearly 5 years younger than the average Triple-A player last season in Gwinnett .

The key for Mallex to have success with the big league club is his 80 grade speed, in my earlier piece , I discussed Mallex briefly, stating that I believe he will provide a much needed spark to the Braves offense (he led the minor leagues in stolen bases with 88 in 2014 ). However that doesn’t mean he will rely solely on said speed to be effective offensively.  Throughout his minor league career, Smith has put up a batting average of .295 as well as hitting .303/.371/.378 over 479 at bats in Double-A, Mississippi, and Triple-A, Gwinnett last season.

Not only is Mallex talented on the field, he’s quite the guy off of it.  He brings an electric personality to match his speed and I’m not sure I have ever seen him not smiling.  Early on, one can hope that Mallex will be a leader of future Braves teams in a way that players will enjoy being around him, appreciate his work ethic, and then hopefully follow suit. Just watch this interview of Mallex with MLB.com and try not to fall in love before you have even seen him take the field .

Last night, Mallex made his debut, where Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez batted him in the leadoff spot, an appropriate placement given the state of the current Braves lineup.  Mallex struck out swinging at a Max Scherzer pitch in his first at bat, but then in the second inning recorded his first Major League hit and later came across to score for Atlanta.

Unfortunately for Braves fans, Smith’s debut was short-lived.  After reaching base in the fourth inning, he attempted his first steal and injured himself on the slide. In one of the strangest injuries I have ever witnessed, his helmet fell forward into the bag, bounced back, and hit him square in the forehead, leaving a nasty looking laceration. He will require stitches and is listed as day-to-day. For video and more information on the incident, look here .

As he becomes one of the first of the many Braves’ prospects to be making his debut in the coming seasons, Mallex will battle for one of the now-crowded outfield spots with Hector Olivera, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis. Braves fans will enjoy watching Mallex’s unique blend of speed and personality and I envision him quickly endearing himself to the Atlanta faithful. Above all else, Mallex Smith is an amazing and talented kid who the Braves are very fortunate to have in the organization.

 

Syndergaard Shows the Royals He’s Not Intimidated

A lot has been made this past week about the feud between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. It goes back to Game 3 of last year’s World Series, when Syndergaard threw a pitch up and inside to Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to begin the game. The Mets would go on to win that game, but they ended up losing the series in five games. The two teams played each other to open up the 2016 season earlier in the week. Last month, Newsday reported that Kansas City was planing on getting revenge for the pitch in the opening series against the Mets. However, they did not retaliate in either of the two games. In the end, the one who ended up making a statement was Syndergaard.

The Mets and Royals played on Sunday night and Tuesday afternoon. On Sunday, the Royals raised their World Series Championship banner in a pregame ceremony while the Mets stood on the the third baseline. The team tagged Mets starter Matt Harvey for three earned runs, and they went on to beat New York 4-3. They continued the festivities on Tuesday with a pregame ring ceremony. When Syndergaard took the mound for the Mets in the bottom of the first inning, he was heavily booed by the Royals fans. As he warmed up, the song “American Woman” played throughout Kauffman Stadium. The boos of the fans quickly turned to cheers when Alcides Escobar led off the game with a triple. Unfortunately for the fans, that was the last time in the game that Syndergaard gave them something to cheer about.

Syndergaard did not let the leadoff triple get to him. He proceeded to strike out Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer to escape the inning. Syndergaard looked very much in control for the remainder of the game. He was able to throw his fastball in the high-nineties consistently. He was also able to throw his nasty curveball effectively. What’s more, he also threw his slider in the mid-nineties. This is a pitch that he really didn’t throw that often when the Mets first called him up in May of last season. However, Syndergaard really worked on his slider in the offseason, and it showed on Tuesday. The Royals could not hit it.

The only other major rally Kansas City was able to muster against him came in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the Mets leading 2-0, the Royals had runners on second and third with two outs. Syndergaard walked Hosmer to load the bases. This sent Kendrys Morales to the plate with a chance to tie the game, or even take the lead. Syndergaard stayed calm however, and he got Morales to swing and miss at three straight sliders. That ended the inning, and the Royals’ chances of making a comeback in the game.

Mets manager Terry Collins decided to pull Syndergaard after that sixth inning, as his pitch count was at 92. Over the six innings of work, he allowed only three hits and one walk, while collecting nine strikeouts. The Royals do not strikeout very often, but Tuesday was an exception. The Mets bullpen held up, and they won the game 2-0 to earn a split in the series.

The Mets and Royals will see each other again for a two-game series at Citi Field in June. Syndergaard is one of the few Mets pitchers that has actually had success against the Royals, in the World Series or this season. When June comes around, he certainly won’t mind facing the Royals again.

Mets and Royals Set for World Series Rematch on Opening Night

This Sunday night, the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals will play in Kansas City to open up the 2016 MLB season. The game will be the last of four games being played on Sunday as part of Opening Day 2016. Both teams are very familiar with each other, as they faced off last October in the 2015 World Series.

The Royals will raise their World Series Championship Banner on Sunday night. It was just five months ago that they defeated the Mets in five games to capture their second championship in franchise history. As good as the Mets were, they could not handle the relentlessness of the Royals’ hitters. Kansas City’s shortstop Alcides Escobar especially hurt the Mets at the top of the lineup with his first-pitch aggressiveness. New York clearly had the better pitching in the World Series, but the Royals’  explosive offense overcame them.

Tensions will certainly be high on Sunday. For the Mets, the memory of the Royals celebrating after winning Game 5 at Citi Field is still fresh in their minds. The Royals are apparently seeking revenge as well, but for a much different reason. Game 3 of the World Series last year opened up with Noah Syndergaard throwing a pitch high and inside to Alcides Escobar. Clearly, this was meant to intimidate Escobar and to make sure he didn’t swing at the first pitch. The Royals didn’t take too kindly to this. They obviously didn’t retaliate right away, but reports came out this week that they’re planning on getting revenge. It’s unclear whether or not they will, but it’s definitely something worth watching for.   

It’ll be interesting to see if either team can get back to the World Series this year. The Mets boast one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball with Matt HarveyJacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Bartolo ColonZack Wheeler will join this stellar rotation later in the year, as he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Additionally, the team had a decent offseason, as they re-signed slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The also signed shortstop Asdrúbal Cabrera and traded for power-hitting second baseman Neil Walker. With this team, the Mets have a good chance to get back to the World Series.

The Royals are in a similar situation. Their team is not that much different than the one that won it all in October. The only thing that has really changed at all is the starting rotation. Johnny Cueto left Kansas City this offseason and signed with the San Francisco Giants. Cueto basically became the team’s ace after he was traded to them from the Cincinnati Reds back in July. He had a stellar start in Game 2 of the World Series, helping the Royals jump out to a 2-0 series lead. To replace Cueto, the Royals signed Ian Kennedy. Their starting pitching really isn’t their strength anyway. Probably their biggest strength is their fantastic bullpen, which includes Kelvin HerreraLuke Hochevar, and Wade Davis. These three pitchers make up a very dangerous 7-8-9 combo. All three were vital during the Royals’ playoff run last season. Their offense will also be a major factor again this year. In addition to Escobar, guys like Alex GordonLorenzo CainSalvador PerezMike MoustakasEric Hosmer, and Kendrys Morales are all poised to have good years. This Royals team is just as dangerous as they were last season. It would be a surprise to no one if they reached the World Series for the third consecutive year.

When both teams take the field on Sunday night, there will certainly be a lot of excitement in the air. Opening Night of the baseball season is always a great night in the sports world. Matt Harvey will start for the Mets, while Edinson Volquez will go for the Royals. The 2016 MLB season is finally ready to commence. It’s time to get it started.

Can the Nationals Rebound in 2016?

The Washington Nationals were one of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball last season. They were one the favorites to win the World Series this time last year. Shockingly, the team finished 83-79 and missed the postseason completely. Now, they’re looking ahead to 2016 with the hope of a better result.

No one expected the Nationals to fall flat last season. In 2014 they finished with the best record in the National League, but lost in the NLDS to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants. Many people around baseball were optimistic that they would get further in 2015, especially after they signed 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Offensively, guys like Bryce HarperRyan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond were expected to have big years. Things didn’t go as planned however. Scherzer and Harper had to carry the team for the entire season. No one else really lived up to their potential, and the team was plagued by injuries. Even though they missed the playoffs, Harper was still names the 2015 NL MVP. Manager Matt Williams was fired just days after the regular season ended.

On November 3, the team hired Dusty Baker as their new manager. Bake has had previous managerial stints with the Giants, Cubs, and Reds. Many praised the hiring, saying that it was a step in the right direction for the Nationals. The rest of the offseason saw the team losing some of their key players. They lost one of their best pitchers, Jordan Zimmermann, in free agency to the Detroit Tigers. Ian Desmond left Washington and recently signed with the Texas Rangers. The team traded relief pitcher Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere.

The only major player the Nationals signed this offseason was second baseman Daniel Murphy. The two sides agreed on a three-year, $37.5 million deal back in January. Murphy was a major factor for the New York Mets in the playoffs last season.

Given that they didn’t make many acquisitions, it’ll be interesting to see if the Nationals can rebound this season. It would be untrue to say that they’ve gotten any better. The one player that they should have gotten rid of they didn’t. Closer Jonathan Papelbon is still on the team’s roster. Papelbon infamously choked Bryce Harper in the Nationals’ dugout during a game back on September 27. He was upset over Harper’s lack of hustle. The Nationals later suspended him four games. However, they did not release him, nor did they trade him. Papelbon and Harper are apparently on decent terms for now, but that could change quickly.

If Washington hopes to give the Mets a run for their money in the NL East in 2016, they definitely need to stay healthy. Injuries to guys like Werth, Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon really hurt the team last year. All three need to perform well if the National are going to make the playoffs. They can’t do that unless they stay on the field. Additionally, Harper is going to need to have another MVP-type season. In 2015, he batted .330 with 42 home runs and 99 RBIs. He needs to continue this success, and also needs to be a leader in the clubhouse. The team is also going to need Scherzer to pitch like he did last season. He won 14 games last year and posted a 2.79 ERA in 33 starts.

Dusty Baker needs to unify the Nationals. Obviously, he doesn’t have an easy task. His old-school style of managing might be just what the team needs. We probably won’t be seeing another dugout fight in Washington with Baker at the helm. He has to get the most out of his players. The team has a lot of talent, but it’s how they use that talent that will determine how far they go.

The Nationals have a chip on their shoulder going into the 2016 season. The Mets got all the way to the World Series last year while they underachieved and finished in second place in the division. We’ll see if they can turn last season’s failure into motivation for this upcoming season.

Matt Harvey’s Future With the Mets Remains Murky

It’s been almost three years since Matt Harvey burst onto the scene in New York City. Now, his future in the Big Apple is becoming a major topic.

Pitchers and catchers for the majority of MLB teams reported to Spring Training this week. Harvey reported to Port St. Lucie on Monday, three days earlier than the New York Mets required. Reporters immediately questioned him about his future with the organization. Harvey expressed his willingness to eventually sign a long-term extension with the Mets. This offseason, he was arbitration-eligible for the first time and is due to make $4.325 million in 2016. He is under contract with the team through the 2018 season.

Even though it seems as though Harvey wants to stay in New York past 2018, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will. He and the organization haven’t exactly been on the best terms in the past year. In September, his agent Scott Boras came out and expressed concern about the amount of innings he had already thrown in 2015. Boras knew the Mets were planning on pitching Harvey in the playoffs, which would certainly put him over 180 innings for the year. This was apparently the amount of innings that Dr. James Andrews suggested that he be capped at, considering this was his first year coming off Tommy John surgery. Although initially hesitant to defy Boras and potentially risk his future health, Harvey came out and stated to the Met fans that the innings limit only applied to the regular season. He would be ready to pitch in the playoffs.

This whole episode left Met fans were left questioning Harvey’s commitment to the team. This was a guy who wanted to make his return to the team in September of 2014, just eleven months after the surgery. The Mets obviously did not let him do this. So why was he now concerned about the amount of innings he threw? The answer of course is because of concern over his own health. Harvey is expecting to get a big contract when he is a free agent in 2019. Another injury would certainly hinder this from happening. It’s very understandable that he would be worried about this. However, fans don’t necessarily care about such things. When their team is in the heat of a pennant race, they want the best players out on the field. Harvey appeased the team and the fans for the time being when he made it clear that he would be available for the playoffs. Had he decided to sit out the postseason, he would have been labeled selfish by the fans and possibly even by teammates.

The Mets got all the way to the World Series, and Harvey was a big reason why. In four postseason starts, he went 2-0 with a 3.04 ERA and 27 strikeouts. His most memorable moment in the playoffs came in Game 5 of the World Series when he carried a complete-game shutout into the ninth inning. He had convinced Mets manager Terry Collins to leave him in for ninth inning, despite a high pitch count. The decision ended up backfiring on Collins, as Harvey allowed a walk followed by an RBI double. He was pulled from the game after this, and the Kansas City Royals went on to win the game in extra innings, capturing their first World Series Championship. This was a situation where Harvey was trying to prove his commitment and determination.

When healthy, there’s no question that Harvey is one of the better pitchers in all of baseball. He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2013, and also started the All-Star Game for the National League. That year, he went 9-5 with an ERA of 2.27. After missing all of 2014, he was very impressive last season. Most pitchers struggle the first year after having Tommy John surgery. Harvey did not. In 29 starts, he went 13-8 and posted a 2.71 ERA. Because he’ll be fully healthy in 2016, Harvey will probably put up even better numbers.

There’s been much speculation over the last few months about Harvey’s future in New York. Considering the fact that he and the organization aren’t in the best place, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Mets might try and trade him before 2019. That way, they’d get something in return for him as opposed to losing him in free agency. If they don’t trade him, they have to be willing to sign him to lucrative a long-term contract. Considering Harvey’s talent level, that’s what it’s going to take to re-sign him.

Since Harvey has recently said he is open to signing a long-term contract extension with the Mets, they should really consider negotiating with him. If they don’t, then that should be taken as a sign that the team isn’t interested in having him around past the 2018 season. If everyone in the organization feels as if he’s really worth it, then should start negotiating right now. After all, when Harvey becomes a free agent, he’ll have more than a few suitors. The Mets need decide where they stand on this issue, and soon.

 

 

Can Arizona Make The Playoffs?

The only thing that might get hotter than the Mojave desert this summer in Arizona, is the Diamondbacks. There’s no denying the D-Backs sent a shockwave through the National League West when they signed free agent starting pitcher Zack Greinke, formerly with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After inking the veteran to a multi-year mega deal, the Diamondbacks didn’t stop there. Arizona went on to trade for ex Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Shelby Miller, as well as former all-star and Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura. Combine those moves with their recent signing of relief pitcher Tyler Clippard (formerly with the New York Mets) and you get a revamped roster that’s ready to compete in 2016.

So, as the title of this post asks, are the D-Backs in a position to make a push for the post-season?

Before I address that question, I’ll recap where Arizona was last year, and what lies ahead in 2016. Like the saying goes, “You can’t know where your going, until you know where you’ve been.”

 

 

(Picture Courtesy of FOX Sports)

(Picture Courtesy of FOX Sports)

 

Recoiling to Strike Back

 

Arizona ended last season at third place in the NL west, failing to reach the .500 mark with a record of 79-83.  Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers, helped in part by Greinke’s 19-3 pitching record, won the division with a record of 92-70.

Despite finishing 2015 behind both the Dodgers  and the San Francisco Giants (who did some fine off-season work themselves), the Diamondbacks managed to finish in the top 10 or higher in nearly every team batting statistic (aside from ranking 14th in the majors for home runs).

Pitching ultimately kept Arizona from placing higher in the standings, as they ranked towards the middle to bottom half of the MLB in each category.

Hence the desire to grab Greinke, trade for Miller, and solidify the bullpen with Clippard. Given the probable rotation of Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, and Robbie Ray, Arizona should likely see those pitching numbers improve this season.

Meanwhile, the addition of SS Jean Segura (25 steals in 2015) should add to last years success of stolen bases by Arizona. The D-backs finished 2015 second only to the Cincinnati Reds (134) in total team steals with 132. Outfielder A.J. Pollock (who recently avoided arbitration with Arizona) led the team in 2015 with 39 steals.

I believe with an improved pitching staff, new role players, and perhaps some luck, the Diamondbacks can make the playoffs this year. However, Arizona’s path to the post-season will not be an easy one. Lets examine what could keep them from playing further into October.

 

(Photo Credit to Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit to Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

 

Potential Road Blocks

 

When searching for reasons why Arizona would not make the playoffs this year, look no further than last years NL West champs. The Dodgers, in my opinion, will be one of the key reasons the Diamondbacks do or don’t make the playoffs.

For those wondering if I’ve forgotten how the Giants will affect Arizona’s chances, I have San Francisco reclaiming the NL West title this year (as I feel they can win 95-97 games).

Meaning one playoff spot will already be taken if the Giants do in-fact win the division. So, presumably that leaves second place in the West and one of two wild card spots up for grabs between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. So, unless Arizona can capitalize on their divisional games against LA this season, their chances of being in the playoff hunt come September will be slim.

Another wall that could stand in Arizona’s way, is the number of playoff teams from last year appearing on this years schedule. Of the 10 teams that made the post-season in 2015, eight of them are on the D-Backs regular season schedule.

(Picture Courtesy of MLB.com)

(Picture Courtesy of MLB.com)

With multiple series against the Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, and interleague play with the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Toronto Blue Jays before the All-Star break in July, Arizona could struggle to be above .500 early in the year. This leads to one last, and probably the biggest, speed bump.

To sneak into the playoffs, these desert snakes will need to win between 92-94 games this season (a 12-15 win improvement from last year). Why 92-94 wins? The 2015 MLB Playoffs featured three National League Central teams that won 97 or more games (Cubs-97, Pirates-98, Cardinals-100), with the Dodgers (92) and the Mets (90) rounding out the rest of the playoff field.

Considering most of those teams from the 2015 playoffs look primed to put up similar 2016 win-loss records, Arizona will have to get 92-94 wins in order to be in the playoff picture for 2016.

Final Thought:

If Paul Goldschmidt and the offense has another top ten overall finish, Greinke & Co. can total 60 wins from combined pitching records, plus say 25-30 saves from the bullpen, a 92+ win season doesn’t seem impossible for the Diamondbacks in 2016.

Looking at the New York Mets Bullpen

The bullpen was a known issue for the 2015 New York Mets. It was good enough to get the Mets to their first World Series since 2000, but faltered in the World Series, as the Mets lost multiple late game leads on their way to a series loss against the Royals.

 

It was an obvious need going into Spring Training, but did General Manager Sandy Alderson fix this need, especially in the seventh and eighth innings?

 

The back of the bullpen is very sure going into the season. Jeurys Familia had a coming out party last season and established himself as one of the premier closers in the MLB. His 43 saves were good for third in the MLB, and he partnered that with a 1.85 ERA, a 2.55 xFIP (for reference, a 3.80 xFIP is considered average), and a 1.9 WAR. He also had a very good pairing of a 9.92 K/9 ratio and 2.19 BB/9 ratio; he made a lot of bats miss and he did not let batters get on freely. More than half of the total balls hit against him were groundballs (58.3%), and he left a lot of runners on base (89.4%). He was excellent last year, and there is no reason to think anything otherwise will happen in 2016. He was not a part of the problem.

 

Addison Reed, who was acquired at the deadline last year and tendered a contract this offseason, was excellent for the Mets in his half season in Queens. While the sample size was somewhat small, only 17 games and 15.1 IP, he was much better in Queens than he was in Arizona. In New York he had a superb 9.98 K/9 ratio, with 2.93 BB/9, and a (totally unsustainable) 95.9% LOB (left on base percentage), along with a 1.17 ERA and an xFIP of 3.15. Many of these are close to his career averages, especially the xFIP, K/9 ratio and BB/9 ratio; it is a safe bet that he can be a similar pitcher this season. He also has closing experience, saving 29, 40 and 32 games in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively, which is valuable, in case Familia gets injured, or needs a rest.

 

One very good addition to the pen is Antonio Bastardo. Recently signed to a two year, $12m deal , he will become an immediate impact player in the bullpen. He has made a career out of striking people out (11.04 K/9 rate for his career) and shutting down lefties (.176 BAA, 11.49 K/9 rate); although righties hit him better, they are still only hitting .207 against him for his career, so he is definitely a full inning lefty who can be counted on to get tough hitters out. He does have his issues, however. He walks a ton of people (4.30 per 9 for his career), and he has a very average xFIP of 3.87. He is still a very good pitcher, especially for a lefty specialist/seventh-inning man.

 

The rest of the bullpen should be solid as well. Jerry Blevins was perfect in his 7 appearances last season before various injuries ended his season very prematurely. He has held lefties to a .200 BAA in his career; he is going to be a solid lefty specialist. Other pitchers like Sean Gilmartin, Hansel Robles, a returning Josh Edgin, as well as younger pitchers such as Josh Smoker and Dario Alvarez will all compete for spots, and Bartolo Colon will be moved there too after Zack Wheeler comes back, hopefully in July.

 

Besides Familia and Reed (once he arrived) the Mets bullpen had problems in the seventh and eighth innings. This year, however, it should be much improved, which will go a long way in getting back to the Fall Classic and trying to change the ending.

All stats taken from fangraphs.com

What Zack Wheeler’s Return Will Mean for the Mets

In 2015, the New York Mets surprised many people when they won the NL East and were able to reach the World Series. This stellar season came just one after the team won only 79 games. One of the main reasons the Mets got as far as they did last year was because of their stellar starting pitching. Between the young talented hurlers Matt Harvey, Jacob deGromNoah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, as well as the veteran Bartolo Colon, the team boasted one of the best rotations in all of baseball. Because of how well this rotation did in 2015, there’s one young Met pitcher that everyone’s forgotten about. His name is Zack Wheeler.

You might not remember Wheeler. That is, unless you’re a Mets fan. The 25-year old right-hander was called-up by the team in June of 2013. At the time, Matt Harvey had already been in the big leagues for almost a year. Syndergaard, deGrom, and Matz were still in the minor leagues. Wheeler immediately made a good impression. He showed right away that he could blow hitters away with his fastball, a pitch he consistently threw in the mid-to-high-nineties. In 17 starts in 2013, he went 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA.

Wheeler had a full season’s work in 2014. He built on his success in 2013, going 11-11 with an ERA of 3.54. In the 185.1 innings pitched, he recorded 187 strikeouts. Because Harvey missed all of 2014 due to a torn UCL, Wheeler was basically the Mets ace.

Many were optimistic that Wheeler was going to be even better in 2015. He had spent 2014 offseason working on his control, the one part of his game that really needed improvement. However, the young power pitcher hit a major snag in Spring Training when he tore the UCL in his right elbow. Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery on March 25.

He missed the entire 2015 season because of the surgery. The most eventful moment for Wheeler during this recovery time came in late July when he was practically traded to the Milwaukee Brewers along with Wilmer Flores in exchange for Carlos Gomez. The Mets pulled out the deal at the last minute because of an injury concern regarding Gomez. It was reported that Wheeler called Mets general manager Sandy Alderson during this time and asked not to be traded. He wanted to remain with the team. Two days later, they acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers, and Wheeler was not in the deal.

Right now, Wheeler’s primary focus is to get back to full strength. The Mets are eying July 1 as his return. When he finally takes the mound again, there’s a chance that he’ll be better than he was pre-surgery. Many pitchers come back from Tommy John surgery stronger than before. Some change their arm angles, something that Wheeler is working on now. This decreases the risk of having to have the surgery again in the future. His velocity might be slightly down, but it’ll still be higher than most pitchers.

When Wheeler returns in July, the Mets will have an even more dynamic starting rotation. Right now, it’s arguably the best rotation in all of baseball. Wheeler will just give it more depth and make it even better. If the Mets do make the playoffs in 2016, they’ll have a tough time figuring out which four pitchers will make up their postseason rotation. It’ll be tough to pick the best four out of this exciting bunch.

Every Met fan should be very excited for Zack Wheeler’s return. Remember, there was a time when many people in the organization thought he was going to better than Matt Harvey. We haven’t seen enough of Wheeler yet to truly make this comparison. Soon enough, we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

David Wright: Looking at His Past and His Future

David Wright, since his arrival in Queens in 2004, was billed as the new face of the franchise, the man who will usher the team into unprecedented success. While the plans of that very good mid-2000s team went awry, David Wright stayed throughout the really deep bottoms, and persevered as the face of the franchise.

His career thus far has been very successful. He has a career average of .298, with an 11% walk rate. He has a career WAR of 52.9, with a 134 wRC+. He also has a very solid .377 OBP and .492 SLG. His 235 HRs and 931 RBIs are also very solid numbers. While these are not MLB Hall of Fame numbers, these are definitely indicative of a good career, and one Mets fans will remember fondly.

However, since 2011, injuries have begun to creep on the now 33 year old 3rd baseman. He suffered a stress fracture in his back in 2011, in 2013 he dealt with hamstring injuries, in 2014 he dealt with shoulder injuries and in 2015 he only played in 38 games due to spinal stenosis (which, if we’re being honest, is a miracle he even came back from).  He’s only played 130 games or more twice since 2011.

While David Wright can still be productive, as evidenced by his .289 average, 5 home runs, 24 RBIs, and 133 wRC+ in only 38 games last season. When he is healthy, he is still a very good hitter, albeit a different kind of hitter.

Due to his extremely severe back injury, his days of being a 30 home run threat are gone. In the early stages of his career, he was a virtual lock for a .300 avg, 27-30 HR, 100 RBI, 3+ WAR and a 125+ wRC+. From 2005-2010 his numbers support that:

2005: .306 avg, 27 HRs, 102 RBIs, 5.8 WAR, 142 wRC+

2006: .311 avg, 26 HRs, 116 RBIs, 4.7 WAR, 132 wRC+

2007: .325 avg, 30 HRs, 107 RBIs, 8.4 WAR, 151 wRC+

2008: .302 avg, 33 HRs, 124 RBIs, 7.0 WAR, 143 wRC+

2009: .307 avg, 10 HRs, 88 RBIs, 3.3 WAR, 125 wRC+ (Citi Field’s inaugural season)

2010: .283 avg, 29 HRs, 103 RBIs, 3.5 WAR, 129 wRC+

He was an incredibly consistent middle of the order threat, outside of 2009, but that is more of an indictment of how hard it was to hit with the original Citi Field dimensions. However, due to his health, that is not going to come back; his power numbers since 2012 have gone from 21, to 18, to 8, to 5.

This does not mean he will not, or cannot be productive, though. When Terry Collins revealed his first choice lineup for the 2016 season, he had David Wright slotted in the number two hole. That is perfect for today’s David Wright. He does not have the power to bat lower in the lineup, but he still has good plate discipline, as shown by the 11.0% walk rate for his career, and he is still capable of hitting 25-30 doubles, and around the .270 mark. The biggest issue going forward is if he can stay on the field, but having a more than capable backup in Wilmer Flores will allow Wright to take days off when need be. He probably will not play 150 games again, but he can play 110-120 and be very productive.

David Wright is playing with a serious back injury; it is a career-threatening one, and by all accounts a career shortening one. Ex-Met Lenny Dykstra had his career pre-maturely end in 1998 from the same injury . While medicine has advanced since then, the injury is still a severe one.

His contract, which ends in 2021, will almost certainly not be seen to its completion; I would be shocked if he plays more than three more years. His once (possibly) Hall of Fame bound career has been derailed by injuries, but that does not mean he cannot still produce in a different way while he continues to be the captain of the Amazin’s as they go into one of the most exciting times in the franchise’s history.

Where Ian Desmond Could End Up

One of the top free-agents that is currently still on the market is Ian Desmond. The 30-year old right-handed hitting shortstop has put up good offensive numbers in his career while playing for the Washington Nationals. However, he didn’t have his best season last year. This is part of the reason that he still remains unsigned.

A three-time Silver Slugger Award winner and one-time All-Star, Desmond is a career .264 hitter. He’s always been a power threat, hitting 20 or more home runs in a season three times over the course his career. Desmond’s best season so far came in 2o12 when he batted .292 and hit 25 home runs while driving in 73 runs. He collected 80 RBIs the following season and 91 in 2014. Unfortunately, 2015 was not such a good year as he only hit .233, a career low. To make matters worse, he also committed 27 errors at shortstop. This disastrous season is the main reason for Desmond’s stock plummeting.

With Alexi Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera both off the board, Desmond is the best remaining free-agent shortstop. There aren’t too many teams currently looking for someone at that position right now, although there is some interest in Desmond as a second baseman. He’s never played the position before in the MLB, but the transition probably wouldn’t be too difficult. Second base is actually an easier position to play. He might even play better defensively there.

The St. Louis Cardinals have reportedly expressed interest in Desmond. According to Jon Morosi of MLB Network, their starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta has spoken to team officials about playing different positions in the future. He could potentially be moved to the outfield. If the Cardinals did end up signing Desmond, he would most likely play shortstop and serve as a backup second baseman to Kolten Wong. That is, if Peralta is willing to try another position right away. The Cardinals have always valued depth at all positions. Adding Desmond would definitely help add depth in the middle of the infield.

The Tampa Bay Rays are also apparently interested in Desmond. Right now, Brad Miller is the team’s starting shortstop. He was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Rays back in November. Miller is a young player and the Rays reportedly think he could be the starting shortstop of the future. This combined with the fact they’d lose a draft pick by signing Desmond means that it’s unlikely that the Rays really pursue him. Also, the money he’s going to want is probably more than they’re willing to spend.

The Arizona Diamondbacks could potentially land Desmond. This is a team that would probably play him at second base as opposed to shortstop. It’s been reported that Arizona is looking to upgrade at that position. Chris Owings is their starting second baseman as of right now. Desmond would certainly be an upgrade over him. The Diamondbacks have dramatically improved their starting pitching this offseason, and are expected to to compete for a division title in 2016. Adding Desmond would help improve their offense and cap off a very good offseason.

A return to Washington seems very unlikely at this point. Desmond turned down the Nationals’ one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer. He figured he’d make more money somewhere else. This seems very improbable, especially considering where we’re at in the offseason. The best thing Desmond can do is sign with a team as quickly as possible, whether that team be the Cardinals, Rays, Diamondbacks, or someone else. The sooner, the better.