Evaluating the Mets’ big roster decisions: Lindor, Wheeler


Jake Odorizzi made public last week that he believed he was going to be a Met before Jared Porter was hired as general manager, and then Zack Scott came aboard, first as a lieutenant to Porter then as his replacement.

That duo did not value Odorizzi as Sandy Alderson had when he was briefly running baseball operations. So the Mets pivoted to try to make a big deal with Trevor Bauer, and — when the 2020 NL Cy Young award winner went to the Dodgers — the Mets ultimately considered James Paxton before signing Taijuan Walker to a two-year, $20 million contract.

So this provides a game within a game to track how Walker does compared to, in particular, Odorizzi and Paxton and — to some degree — Bauer. For Bauer was a different financial class, the one player left on the board later in the offseason for whom Steve Cohen was going to approve exceeding the $210 million luxury-tax threshold for 2021.

Paxton signed for one year at $8.5 million to return to his original team, the Mariners. And here is a mea culpa: I thought the Mets should have signed Paxton. With the Mets determined to try to win a title this year, I believed Paxton on a one-year deal was worth the risk despite his persistent injury history, because his stuff would play best in a postseason game over Odorizzi or Walker. Paxton faced five batters this season for Seattle before leaving with elbow pain that necessitated Tommy John surgery and his absence for, at least, the rest of this year. Who knows if the same would have occurred with Paxton if he had been with the Mets?

Thus, we shift to watching Odorizzi versus Walker. Odorizzi signed a similar two-year, $20.5 million pact with the Astros, got a late beginning to his season and struggled in his only start to date (five runs in 3 ¹/₃ innings against the Tigers). Walker has performed well in two starts as he tries to prove he can stay healthy and pitch to his overt talent level.

Baseball derives much of its interest from obsession with the local team and a general disregard for the national picture. So I thought I would tie some national figures to the Mets and create matchups to see if I can broaden interest:

Francisco Lindor vs. Fernando Tatis Jr.

It became clear to the Mets that to make Lindor the first substantial signing of the Cohen regime, they would have to pay him more than the $340 million that Tatis had been guaranteed by the Padres five weeks earlier. That is how Lindor received $341 million. Lindor, more proven and older, has a 10-year extension compared to Tatis’ 14-year pact.

Tatis suffered a shoulder injury five games into the season that initially raised worry that he could miss most, if not all, of the rest of the season. But he came off the injured list Friday as the Padres began an anticipated series against the team they are doggedly pursuing in the NL West, the defending champion Dodgers. Lindor’s offense was meh through the Mets’ disjointed opening to the season, but his elite defense and enthusiasm stand out.

This is a matchup that will extend beyond this season. And it also will be intriguing how much it impacts the coming free agent shortstop class that, even with Lindor extracted, includes Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Trevor Story. After all, Lindor leveraged Tatis’ total. Thus, we should expect Lindor’s $341 million to be used. Seager, a Scott Boras client, in particular is setting himself up well by showing early this year that his rise last year in the regular and postseason for the Dodgers was no blip.

Jed Lowrie vs. Wilson Ramos

They are not Jarred Kelenic, but they are unsatisfactory ties to Brodie Van Wagenen’s two-year reign who have moved on — and have you noticed what escape from New York has brought. At least early?

When the weekend began, Ramos, playing for Detroit, had an AL-high six homers — or one more than the Mets had as a team.

Remember the mention of how great Seager looked this year? He had a .348/.455/.543 slash line. Lowrie had a .348/.434/.543 slash line and — wait for it — had played in all 13 of Oakland’s games, or four more than he managed in his two Mets seasons (and there were 11 starts in there compared to none as a Met). Lowrie also went into the weekend with five straight multi-hit games and RBIs in six straight. And recently there was a report that the Mets would not allow Lowrie to get a knee surgery he said he needed and subsequently received this offseason.

Steven Matz vs. Zack Wheeler

No one doubted the talent of Matz or Wheeler when they were Mets and, in pockets, they showed that talent. But is it possible that liberation from Flushing is the key to sustained excellence?

Wheeler — since rejecting the Mets’ qualifying offer and signing a five-year, $118 million pact with the Phillies — had a 2.93 ERA bridging 14 starts from last year to this season. In that time, he was eighth in the majors in pitching wins above replacement (Fangraphs). The Mets traded Matz to the Blue Jays in late January for three pitchers to help with organizational depth and to redirect his $5.2 million for 2021 elsewhere.

The Blue Jays felt that getting the Long Island native out of Queens would be a mental benefit for the lefty, and through two starts while using his slider more often, Matz was inducing weaker contact and more grounders to help him to a 1.46 ERA.

It was not long ago that the Mets thought they would chase multiple championships with a rotation of Matz, Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey. With his fifth team in the last four seasons, Harvey had a 5.02 ERA through three starts with the Orioles.

Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler
AP (2)

Noah Syndergaard vs. Luis Severino vs. Chris Sale

The trio had Tommy John surgery within a month of each other in February-March 2020. None of them can return before June. Syndergaard seems the furthest along in rehab, followed by Severino. Sale was slowed by a neck injury and a case of COVID-19 during the winter. The timing of Sale’s return did not seem as urgent because the Red Sox were not perceived to be as strong a contender as either the Mets or Yankees. But Boston had the AL’s best record through two weeks, so you begin to wonder if he could be a factor for a surprising Red Sox run later in the year.

The early struggles of Domingo German, Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon suggest that the Yankees will need Severino, but since that trio (especially Kluber and Taillon) hardly pitched in 2019-20, how much can the Yankees expect from Severino, who started three times in 2019-20?

As for Syndergaard, the timing of his return could be key. With so many games postponed or suspended early this year, the Mets have four doubleheaders from June 19-Sept. 4 already scheduled and will need extra arms to endure.

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