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Mets mailbag: Catchers, Yoenis Cespedes, contracts, up-and-down start and more

Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets strikes out against

Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets strikes out against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on May 3. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Newsday’s Tim Healey answered questions from Twitter followers for a Mets mailbag this week as the Amazin’s try to right the ship after a hot-and-cold start to the season.

Here are a few answers:

@thegreatgould: When will the front office realize a trade for a catcher is necessary and who will be the targets/ trades for them?

This question came in before the Mets acquired Devin Mesoraco, but it might still stand. For now, the Mets are rolling with Mesoraco and Jose Lobaton, and when Kevin Plawecki returns — at a time to be determined; he started hitting and catching this week — he’ll replace Lobaton.

Who is the starter? Neither Mesoraco nor Plawecki are established as major-league regulars. The Mets like Plawecki, but he’s never proven his worthiness over a prolonged stretch. Keith Hernandez said on Twitter after one Mesoraco start that he “could be our catcher of the future,” which seems like a bit much. He hasn’t been good since 2014, when he was an All-Star. He says he is healthy now, but everybody is healthy until they’re not.

My bet is a Mesoraco/Plawecki timeshare upon the latter’s return. That will still give the Mets two-ish months before the trade deadline to decide if that’s good enough to stick with for what they hope will be a run at the playoffs.

And if it isn’t good enough? A benefit part of the Mesoraco trade is that it didn’t lessen the Mets’ in-season financial flexibility, however much of that exists. They’re only on the hook for what they would have paid Harvey.

As for other targets, there are no obvious good fits. The Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto is the big one, but the Mets obtaining him is doubtful at best. Miami is far from committed to trading Realmuto, and the Mets don’t have the type of blue-chip prospect the Marlins desire in return. The Rays’ Wilson Ramos is another popular name among fans, it seems, but he’s making $10.5 million this year. How much of an upgrade would he be over Mesoraco/Plawecki? How about when you factor in Ramos’ lack of familiarity with the Mets’ pitchers?

@aninsanemetsfan: Should Yoenis Cespedes play at 80% or should he be DLed so he can come back stronger?

Mickey Callaway acknowledged Wednesday that Cespedes has been playing hurt and it has affected his on-field performance, particularly on defense. There have been a couple of occasions on the bases this week when he wasn’t hustling, but given his right quad issue, you can chalk that up to common-sense effort management.

For now, it makes sense for the Mets to manage Cespedes’ ailment instead of giving him a longer rest. They need his bat. Todd Frazier is out for another week. Conforto isn’t hitting. Catcher is an offensive black hole. If the team gets to a point where it’s rolling good offensively, and Cespedes’ leg is still bothering him, it should reconsider.

@WxJase: Is there any sort of ETA for Anthony Swarzak? Will Adrian Gonzalez have the starting 1B job through at least the All Star break?

Anthony Swarzak (left oblique strain) is on the 60-day DL as of Tuesday. He can’t come back until May 31. Swarzak estimated — while stressing that he does not decide on his own rehab program — last week that he would have a week of throwing, a week of bullpens and a week of rehab games. If he follows that schedule, or even is delayed by a couple of days, he should be back as soon as he is eligible.

I’ve said it periodically on Twitter and on WOR, but Swarzak’s absence has changed a lot for the bullpen. Think about the blown late leads and times Jeurys Familia entered in the eighth last month. If Swarzak is healthy and good, the Mets can lessen the load on Robert Gsellman, who has turned into a primary setup man, and don’t need to use the AJ Ramos/Jerry Blevins platoon in late-and-close situations (which the Mets have largely stayed away from recently anyway) unless they re-prove themselves to be reliable.

My money is on Adrian Gonzalez being the starting first baseman — or at least the starting first baseman to the degree he is now, with Wilmer Flores and sometimes Jay Bruce mixed in — through the first half. Aug. 1 could be a different story. I’d be fascinated to see what the Mets do if Peter Alonso, who is mashing for Double-A Binghamton, can keep mashing and force the issue. Don’t forget, Conforto was purportedly not ready for the majors in 2015 (when he was, yes, mashing for Binghamton) until the Mets suddenly called him up.

@jackramseyy: your honest first impression of Mets fans?

I’m honestly a fan of Mets fans. Coming from covering the Marlins — whose fan base has its smart and dedicated fans but is nonetheless much smaller — the number of and intense interest from Mets fans has been a fun change of pace. I’m still pleasantly surprised when someone tweets or emails a comment about a tidbit toward the bottom of a routine daily notebook. Hey, thanks for reading the whole thing! Sure, you have your trolls, but every fan base has those. From what I’ve seen, Mets fans mostly get it.

One thing I’d change, though: The “oh, they’ll amputate (the limb in question) next week” or “Sore leg? His season is probably over” jokes about injury scares. I get that the jokes are based in reality, but y’all can be funnier than that.

@Paranormal_Bass: What’s the main reason for the Mets Jekyll & Hyde start to the season?

You can attribute the Jekyll-and-Hyde start to the Mets’ season to the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of baseball. For any given stretch, any club can look like the best or worst team. The cliché that you’re never as good as you look when you’re winning and you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing is true. The Mets were never 11-1 talented last month. And they’re not eight-losses-in-nine-games, lose-a-series-to-the-freaking-Reds talented now.

How good are the 2018 Mets? Beats me. My preseason expectation was for them to compete for a wild-card spot if they stayed healthy. That’s still what I expect. They’re on pace for 83 wins, which is on the lower end of that range.

@mombo_99: maybe it’s Mets fans usual panic but I feel like the losing lately can wipe out this season. How long do they continue to let Vargas, the SS’s, etc go out there before we get to the point of no return?

Amed Rosario’s leash is not short. General manager Sandy Alderson set low expectations for him this year on Opening Day, saying his goal was for Rosario to keep his everyday job. The bar there isn’t very high.

Rosario’s struggles — and he has struggled — are spotlighted by the lineup’s collective struggles. If the rest of the Mets can hit well enough that Callaway can leave Rosario in the No. 9 spot, he’ll be better off. Rosario is slashing .248/.278/.330 on the year, but .295/.309/.410 when batting last. Rosario was one of the top prospects in baseball for a reason, so you don’t just give up on that less than four months into his major-league career.

The Mets aren’t going to give up on Jason Vargas any time soon, either. He’s only three (ugly) starts into a two-year contract. The Mets aren’t exactly overflowing with good starter depth. Fans tend to mention Lugo, but they also want him to replace all of Vargas, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler whenever one of them has a bad outing. Patience is needed with Vargas, who should be adequate.

@aamiraziz_: mets window with arbitration deals is quickly closing, 0 players in top 100 pipeline, and a lot of NL teams currently exceeding expectations (making the Wild Card tougher than expected) should the Mets be sellers with an eye on the future?

The Mets’ approach should be the same as last year. They hoped to contend and probably would have been buyers at the trade deadline had that come to fruition. Instead, things fell apart and they sold off a few free-agents-to-be with eyes indeed on the future — the near future, i.e. right now.

So to answer the question: If the Mets don’t appear to be contenders by July, they should again trade guys in their contract year: Jeurys Familia, Asdrubal Cabrera, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins (and Jose Reyes).

The bigger picture is more daunting, but the Mets should not go for the complete teardown. Yes, the farm system is not highly regarded. Yes, the NL wild-card field looks to be a crowded one. But whether or not the Mets contend in 2018, they still have Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard under team control for two and three more seasons, respectively. They are the Mets’ most important pieces.

The wholesale rebuild is in vogue right now, with the Cubs and Astros serving as sexy examples of why it’s a good idea. But think of a team like the Reds, who have been at it for years and are seemingly stuck in rebuild purgatory. Rebuilding does not guarantee winning it all. For as long as the Mets have deGrom and Syndergaard — the envy of almost every other rotation in the game — they should try to win.

Ask again in a year, though.

@CharlieChemtob: Hotdog - Sandwich or nah?


@ByKevinDillon: Over/under 0.5 dingers for Tim Tebow in a New York Mets uniform this season?

This feels like a trick question, right? Of course Tim Tebow won’t homer in the majors.

Tebow has been better than last year but still mediocre for Binghamton — slashing .244/.323/.430 with four times as many strikeouts as walks in 26 games — and at this point promoting him to the majors would be a sham.

But (but!) given how weird that whole story is, if (if!) the Mets for some reason did decide to bring him up, it would be very Mets and very Tebow for him to homer in, like, his first at-bat. Remember how Tebow homered on Opening Day this year and last?

(Under. The answer is under 0.5 homers. Probably.)

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