Gaard-ing the Rotation
If you're in a redraft league, Syndergaard is tempting. According to NFBC drafts over the last month, Syndergaard is being selected as the 131st pitcher off the board. Worth a gamble, right? Or is it?
Based on multiple reports, while he is progressing nicely in his rehab, he still won't be back until likely June. That could be about the same time Carlos Carrasco returns from his hamstring injury and starter/reliever Seth Lugo will be back from surgery to remove a bone spur. If they all come back healthy, and that is a gigantic "if," the Mets will have a lot of arms, many of whom need protection. Besides the currently injured players, New York's other rotation mainstays are the oft-injured Taijuan Walker, someone who didn't pitch at all last year in Marcus Stroman, David Peterson who has never thrown more than 128 innings in professional baseball and Jacob deGrom. Joey Lucchesi appears to have the edge for the final spot in the rotation. Other than deGrom, there are a lot of question marks in that rotation, and even if and when Carrasco, Syndergaard and Lugo come back, the question marks do not disappear. We are trying to figure out this rotation in April, but what the heck is it going to look like in June?!
Which brings us back to Syndergaard. Even if his rehab continues to go smoothly, there's little reason to expect the Mets will give him a significant workload. That will be a delicately managed rotation by that point. Furthermore, what will his slider look like? Will his velo return to full strength (reports say he is hitting 96 right now)? Will command be an issue? It's just difficult to imagine much production in 2021.
As for dynasty leagues, now is a great time to pounce on the 28 year old. If your roster construction is amenable to a player that won't help much this season, there are plenty of tales of pitchers returning successfully from TJS. Look no further than Syndergaard's Cy Young-winning teammate. DeGrom underwent the surgery in the minor leagues and built a Hall of Fame career. However, deGrom's development was slowed by the operation and the same can be expected of Syndergaard. He wasn't a perfect pitcher before the injury. Now the progression he was hoping to make is on pause while he comes back. Even at full strength he will need to find more consistency, command his fastball better and become even more dominant. Those are normal developments that took a backseat to the rehab.
There are a lot of questions surrounding Syndergaard in 2021, and perhaps the biggest could end up being 'Will he end the season on the Mets?' For more on that...
What If the Deals Don't Get Done?
The Mets are in talks...
Negotiations are ongoing...
A deal could come soon...
So we hear.
But what if the Mets don't get extensions signed with Francisco Lindor or Michael Conforto? What would that mean if the team is underperforming near the trade deadline?
Okay, let's set the scene. Since trading for Lindor at the beginning of the calendar year, the franchise and the talented shortstop have said they want to sign a multi-year extension. However, Lindor said he won't negotiate once the season begins. Well, we're less than a week from that self-imposed deadline and no deal is done.
Furthermore, like Lindor, Conforto will be a free agent after the 2021 season if the team can't work out an extension with its former first round pick. Conforto is represented by agent Scott Boras and contract negotiations are reportedly not very far along.
Lindor and Conforto aren't the Mets' only pending free agents. Other notables like Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard are not under contract beyond the upcoming season.
While new owner Steve Cohen has a lot of money and has shown a willingness to make splashy moves, there is no guarantee he will go above market value for massive contracts. New York's shuffling of general managers this offseason likely slowed the process as well.
While players in a contract year often perform well as they seek a bigger contract, let's look at this from a purely hypothetical perspective: what if the Mets struggle? What if it's July 15 and the Mets are 10 games out of first place in the NL East? Could Conforto be on the move? Might a recently-activated Noah Syndergaard draw some trade interest from a contender? Stroman, too? And is it possible the Mets try to recoup some of the assets they surrendered in the Lindor trade by sending him somewhere else?
If these deals don't get completed, the Mets are facing some burning questions. That makes it all the more pertinent to lock Lindor and Conforto up. Now.
Setting Up the Setup
I refuse to believe Edwin Diaz will be anything other than a standard closer. Even though Mets manager Luis Rojas refuses to officially name the former Mariner the full-time closer, it makes little sense to mess around with the position, and part of the reason for that is there aren't clear options other than Diaz.
So who is next in line? And more importantly if you're in a holds league, who are your targets in the Mets bullpen? Scratch journeyman Tommy Hunter off the list. He was released on Thursday.
Robert Gsellman is at risk of starting the season in the minor leagues and Seth Lugo is not expected to return from injury until May. While both could be options for holds later in the season, the current cast of characters in the Mets bullpen involves former closers, elite setup men and starters.
The most likely candidate for holds is Trevor May. May offers above-average strikeout potential and recorded 17 holds in 2019 with Minnesota. He peaked in velocity last year, measuring in the mid-to-high 90's. May would be the most likely candidate to get save opportunities if Diaz is removed from the role.
Dellin Betances used to be a holds machine, piling up strikeouts and delivering on ratios as a late-inning arm with the Yankees. He racked up some saves as well and looked like he could wind up as an elite closer in the league. Then injuries started piling up, from his shoulder to his lat to his achilles. He was miserable in a brief stint last season and his fastball velo is about 10 mph lower than his elite seasons in the Bronx. Unless that velocity returns, it's best to leave him on the waiver wire.
Miguel Castro is interesting. Acquired in a trade with Baltimore at last year's trade deadline, Castro is only 26 years old and showed great improvement in 2020. He has closer material with three pitches, one of which is a 98-mph sinking fastball. He adjusts his arsenal to two pitches for righties and two different pitches for lefties, but he has the pitch mix to excel. He needs to continue to improve against lefties (.424 wOBA allowed vs LHP in 2020), but Castro has pitched well this spring and could rise up the ranks of the Mets bullpen.
Jeurys Familia saved 94 games for the Mets between 2015 and 2016, but he has declined in recent years and continues to struggle with control this spring.
Aaron Loup is a veteran left-handed option who will be deployed situationally and Jacob Barnes should have a role, although the Mets aren't likely to outright trust him with high-leverage situations.
I like Trevor May in a holds league and Miguel Castro is worth monitoring.
Again, Who's Closing
The Cardinals have not yet named a closer. It is likely Carlos Martinez and John Gant will be in the rotation, thus leaving 4-5 pitchers in play for the closer role. The primary contenders are Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller and Alex Reyes. Ryan Helsley could still end up a future closer, but don't expect him to record saves this season.
Hicks served as the Cardinals closer for a short stint in 2019, but Tommy John surgery ended his season and he opted out of the 2020 season. While he appears to be at full strength, his velocity is high but not quite as spectacular as it was before the surgery. St. Louis will probably ease him back into high-leverage situations.
Andrew Miller is nearly 36 years old and a steep decline in velocity coincides with regression in performance. Last year's 2.77 ERA outperformed his advanced metrics. Miller just isn't good enough anymore to assume the 9th-inning role.
Gallegos could never really get going last year after testing positive for COVID-19 and dealing with a groin injury in September. In spite of that, he still finished with a 2.73 xFIP with four saves in 16 appearances. His swinging strike rate over the last two seasons is highly impressive and he keeps his walks low. A fully healthy season could help Gallegos emerge as the best option among the group.
Reyes is the wildcard. He has the most potential in the Cardinals bullpen, and you could argue his ceiling is higher than any pitcher on the St. Louis roster. However, after years of injuries the Cardinals seem intent on using him in a long-reliever role. The goal is to work him up to 100 innings, which actually presents value to fantasy owners as he could pile up strikeouts and maybe even snag a few wins, but if you're looking for saves Reyes does not appear to be the answer.
The answer may not be imminent, but Gallegos is the most likely option in the short-term and if he excels, he could stick. If Gallegos struggles, Hicks has the potential to assume the role at some point during the season.
Hels on Wheels
Helsley gained attention as the de-facto closer last year after Jordan Hicks opted out, Carlos Martinez entered the rotation and Giovanny Gallegos landed on the injured list. Voila! The 25-year-old Helsley is the 9th-inning guy.
Well, it didn't really go particularly well. Helsely only recorded one save and finished with a 6.51 xFIP in 12 innings. If he could only reduce his walks, Helsley has the tools to be a very good relief pitcher. His fastball touches the high-90's and he has a surprisingly effective curveball to complement the fastball/cutter combo. In his career, he has allowed a .228 batting average against, but home runs and walks are his bugaboo. A 92-mph average exit velocity and 51.5% flyball rate buoyed a 2.25 HR/9 rate in 2020. That is a concern but not as much as his 15.4% walk rate. Unfortunately double-digit walk rates were commonplace for Helsley throughout the minor leagues and the biggest factor holding him back from turning into an elite reliever.
All in all, the immediate production isn't there for Helsley, but he has the talent to develop into a significant contributor in the future.
Opening in the Outfield
According to Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, center fielder Harrison Bader will miss at least four weeks due to forearm discomfort. That means Dylan Carlson is expected to get the bulk of starts in center before potentially moving back to the corner when Bader returns. Tyler O'Neill's role appears to be solidified with the Bader injury. O'Neill has been really good this spring and should secure most of the starts in left field.
So Carlson in center. O'Neill in left. In baseball we still play three guys in the outfield. So who's in right? It could turn into a platoon with the left-handed Justin Williams and the right-handed Lane Thomas or Austin Dean. All three players have decent power but none come with elite pedigree. Thomas is probably the best fielder of them all, but the Cardinals have been resistant to committing significant playing time to him. Williams offers a left-handed bat in a predominantly right-handed lineup and has shown improved adjustments to his swing this spring, but he has very limited experience and never particularly stood out at the minor league level. Another option is moving the versatile Tommy Edman to the outfield and getting more starts for Matt Carpenter at 2B, but Carpenter is terrible and Edman is much better suited for the infield.
Bader has always sort of bordered on being a starter/4th outfielder. His defense earns him more playing time, but now he is out and that presents these inexperienced options a chance to win the job. All are worth closely monitoring.
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AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Eloy Jimenez, OF (CHW)
The big, smashing news of the day is rising star Eloy Jimenez will miss 5-6 months with a torn pectoral muscle. He tore the muscle trying to rob a home run in Wednesday's spring training game. The 5-6 month timeline means Jimenez will either return sometime in September or he could be done for the season. As difficult as this is to say, you can go ahead and drop him in redraft leagues. This further solidifies the White Sox' need for Andrew Vaughn. You can also expect Leury Garcia and Adam Engel to see more opportunities. It's also feasible the Sox will seek a trade for a more potent bat to replace their fallen slugger.
Juan Soto, OF (WAS)
Soto left Thursday's spring training game after one plate appearance. Fortunately it is being reported as nothing more than calf soreness and he should be fine. Soto walked in the top of the 1st inning. He took first base but then never took the field in the bottom of the inning. He was seen leaving the field of play for the clubhouse with his bats and glove, but observers say he didn't appear to be injured. Sounds like the Nationals dodged a bullet with their top offensive threat. Feel free to continue drafting him among the top-4 picks.
Nick Anderson, RP (TB)
Tampa Bay's ace reliever is expected to miss significant time after being diagnosed with a partial tear of his elbow ligament. Reports suggest he could be out until after the All-Star break. Anderson's velocity was dipping this spring and he was given some mental and physical breaks, but it ultimately turned out to be an issue with his elbow. Right now doctors are not recommending surgery, but that could change. Pete Fairbanks, Diego Castillo, Ryan Thompson and Chaz Roe are the most likely candidates to pick up saves for the Rays, but it is the Rays and playing the lottery is oftentimes easier than deconstructing Tampa's bullpen.
Christian Vazquez, C (BOS)
Vazquez was scratched from Thursday's Grapefruit League game after getting hit in the eye by a ball during batting practice. Vazquez suffered an eye laceration and contusion but should be fine for Opening Day. With that being said, Vazquez is a top-10 catcher and fantasy owners should monitor his status over the next couple days. Is his vision impaired? Does he need surgery? Keep an eye on his availability.
Mitch Garver, C (MIN)
All these catchers getting hurt in freak accidents! Garver took a foul ball to his non-throwing hand in Thursday's spring training contest and had to leave the game. The team is referring to the injury merely as a bruise, which shouldn't have any impact on Garver's Opening Day availability. Garver's outlook heading into the 2021 season has dimmed mightily since last offseason, but he is still capable of delivering top-10 catcher production.
Frankie Montas, SP (OAK)
Montas left Thursday's spring training start with a torn cuticle on his right middle finger. He walked Dylan Moore to leadoff the 3rd inning and then hit Jarred Kelenic with a pitch. The A's pulled him from the game after seeing blood dripping from his finger. He will throw a simulated game next week and if all goes well could return to game action right around the beginning of the season. If the nail isn't healing quickly, Montas could begin the season on the injured list. Montas is getting drafted around 50th overall among pitchers in NFBC drafts.
Freddy Peralta, SP (MIL)
Peralta was named a starter, beating out Josh Lindblom for the final spot in the Brewers rotation. Peralta has made nine starts and 45 relief appearances for Milwaukee over the last two seasons, but in three spring training appearances the 24-year-old righty has allowed only one run while striking out 15 batters in 8.1 innings. Peralta continues to improve his arsenal as well. Last year he added a slider. This year he is working on a changeup. That would certainly give him a starter's pitch mix. He could be a sneaky pick this season, but based off Thursday's news expect his 330 ADP to fly up over the next several days.
Brandon Belt, 1B (SF)
Belt has dealt with his fair share of obstacles this offseason. He had surgery to remove a bone spur in his heel in October. Then he battled COVID-19 in January, only to recover from that and then contract mononucleosis at the beginning of spring training. Nevertheless Belt was able to get back on the field Thursday, making his first start of the spring. The Giants maintain it's possible Belt will be available on Opening Day, but it's important to recognize all the time he has missed. As a veteran he probably doesn't need a full spring training, but he'll only have a few games under his belt before the Giants open their season. Belt was quietly sensational in the shortened 2020 season, finishing with a 172 wRC+ and a career-high 47% hard-hit rate. Don't overlook the steady hand at first base.
Kyle Freeland, SP (COL)
Freeland is expected to miss at least a month with a strained left shoulder. The Rockies southpaw is not expected to need surgery but the injury requires rest. After stellar production in 2018, Freeland's surface stats started to mirror his advanced metrics. He does not strike batters out, walks more than a less-than-overpowering pitcher should and he pitches for the Rockies. Because he will miss time AND could be dealing with a lingering injury, Freeland is free to be cast aside on draft boards.
Starlin Castro, 2B (WAS)
Castro was diagnosed with a mild hamstring strain after leaving Tuesday's game. The team initially ruled it a cramp, but an MRI revealed the more serious injury. With that being said, it's possible he won't miss much time and could be back by Opening Day. For now manager Dave Martinez is calling Castro 'day-to-day.' Castro is one of the more consistent middle infielders in the game. He hit a career-high 22 home runs in 2019 and showed similar power in a very limited sample size last season. Castro debuted at 20 years old and is still only 31, having celebrated his birthday on Wednesday.
Alec Bohm, 3B (PHI)
Bohm left Thursday's game with left-leg tightness, but manager Joe Girardi says the decision to take him out was precautionary and he is day-to-day. While Bohm is not expected to play on Friday, he should be fine for Opening Day. Bohm shined as a rookie last year, slashing .338/.400/.481, but he was boosted by a .410 BABIP. Still Bohm is a solid corner infielder with a pretty nice floor for a young player.