- The Mets haven’t seriously discussed the possibility of signing Ubaldo Jimenez, Heyman hears from a person connected with the team. The past relationship between Jimenez and Mets manager Mickey Callaway (Jimenez had a strong 2013 season with the Indians when Callaway was Cleveland’s pitching coach) led to some rumors that New York could consider adding the veteran right-hander as rotation depth. Jimenez is coming off rough seasons in both 2016 and 2017 with the Orioles, and as a result has drawn no known interest all winter as he tries to catch on with another club.
TODAY: Montero is headed back to New York this weekend and will undergo Tommy John surgery soon, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo tweets.
The news represents the latest disappointment for a pitcher who was once viewed as a future part of the New York rotation. Entering the coming season without an option year remaining, Montero had been fighting for one of the final bullpen slots this spring. He has allowed an earned run for each of the nine Grapefruit League innings he threw and therefore was already at risk of being outrighted.
To this point, Montero has worked to a middling 5.38 ERA in his 192 1/3 MLB innings. But he had earned his most extensive action to date in 2017 as the club dealt with a bevy of injuries, and there were some positive signs. Montero sat at 94 mph with his fastball, recorded a personal-best 10.1% swinging-strike rate, and drew groundballs at a 48.1% rate. He was likely unlucky to have surrendered a .366 BABIP, too, with Statcast showing a big split in his xwOBA (.316) and wOBA (.362).
For Montero to earn another shot at the majors, he’ll first have to undergo an extensive rehab process. The 27-year-old will accrue a full season of MLB service time while recovering, meaning he’ll be eligible for arbitration next fall. Though Montero likely won’t command a terribly steep rate of pay, salary and roster pressures may well compel the Mets to remove him from the 40-man at some point.
It appears that the Phillies are transitioning right-hander Jake Thompson into a relief role, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Once part of the six-player return for Cole Hamels, Thompson has only made four relief appearances in his professional career (majors and minors included). Three of those appearances came last year, however, and he’s been used largely out of the bullpen in Grapefruit League play. Thompson says that nobody has directly told him he’ll become a reliever, but believes it to be the case. “They think the slider and split can work in short periods, miss bats and get ground balls,” Thompson said of Philadelphia’s coaching staff. “They’ve built up my pitch count a little bit, so if something happens I can still do both. I’m fine with it. Anything that can get me in the big leagues and stay I’d be willing to do.”
Other news from some of baseball’s Eastern teams…
- It wasn’t long ago that Braves third baseman Rio Ruiz was struggling with a new swing and seemed destined to start the season in the minors, David O’Brien writes in a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That outlook has changed dramatically, as Ruiz’ offensive output has been a lot more impressive over the past couple weeks. The 23-year-old’s uptick in production coincides with an injury to Johan Camargo, who’s set to open the season on the disabled list. Though the organization seems to believe Camargo can return as soon as he’s eligible, manager Brian Snitker left room for interpretation on whether Ruiz can stick at the position even then. ““Rio has worked his ass off the last couple of years. He’s getting better,” said Snitker. “You never know, situations happen, door gets opened and a guy doesn’t give it back. You never know.”
- Mets manager Mickey Callaway says he doesn’t expect Adrian Gonzalez to play every day, and not even against every right-hander (h/t Anthony DiComo of MLB.com). That likely means more playing time for Wilmer Flores. “Wilmer deserves to play, and not just against lefties,” said Callaway. That’s not the only interesting comment Callaway made today, as he confirmed that Seth Lugo is being considered as a rotation candidate following an excellent Grapefruit League outing in which the right-hander struck out five while allowing no runs across four innings. The presence of Lugo in the rotation would likely make Zack Wheeler, who had another rough showing today, the odd man out. “”We have some big decisions to make,” Callaway said on the subject.
- Having allowed six earned runs on 15 hits in eight innings this spring, Mets righty Zack Wheeler isn’t a lock to be part of the team’s season-opening rotation, Mike Puma and Fred Kerber of the New York Post report. If Wheeler doesn’t show well against Washington on Thursday, the Mets could elect to give the fifth spot in their starting staff to Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo, the reporters add. But any of Wheeler, Gsellman or Lugo would likely be a placeholder, as the Mets just need a fill-in while Jason Vargas recovers from surgery on his non-pitching hand. The other four spots in their rotation belong to Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz.
- Neil Walker kept the idea of a return to the Mets open until the team signed Todd Frazier, Walker tells Brendan Kuty of NJ Advance Media. The infielder and the Mets “just kept in touch about interest levels, so on and so forth,” Walker said. “They were just checking in to see if I was willing to come back and things like that. I certainly was. But, really, when Frazier came in, we kind of felt like it wasn’t a possibility.” The Mets were known to be exploring a wide range of options at second and third base, ranging from everyday players to utility options, and they eventually struck on both fronts by re-signing Jose Reyes for a backup role and signing Frazier for more or less everyday duties at the hot corner. Walker ended up signing with New York’s other team, inking a one-year $4MM deal with the Yankees
- Tim Britton of The Athletic (subscription link) examines the Mets’ pitching plans, focusing on the multi-inning capabilities of anticipated relievers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Skipper Mickey Callaway explains that “to put a [starter] in the bullpen and all of a sudden start using him like a traditional reliever would be a mistake,” so there are elements of both need and opportunity in the approach that the organization seems to be lining up. The practicalities will also impact the precise way the staff is deployed, as Britton explores in detail, with Callaway emphasizing that it’ll ultimately be a process that unfolds as the season goes on with “constant communication” between coaches and pitchers.
- Even though Mets left-hander Jason Vargas will undergo surgery on his right hand Tuesday, he might not miss any regular-season time, Tim Britton of The Athletic tweets. It’s not as if the soft-tossing Vargas is going to have to regain lost velocity, manager Mickey Callaway noted – “It’s not going to be too hard to go back and get his 84 again,” he said – while GM Sandy Alderson essentially expressed no concern over the situation. “If he can catch the ball coming back from the catcher, he’s probably good to go,” Alderson offered.
6:06PM: Vargas will indeed undergo surgery to remove his hamate bone, with the Mets announcing that the procedure will take place on Tuesday.
9:22AM: Mets left-hander Jason Vargas suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right hamate bone during his outing Friday, the team announced. It’s unclear how long Vargas will be on the shelf, though Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News estimates two to six weeks, depending on whether he undergoes surgery. General manager Sandy Alderson told Tim Britton of The Athletic and other reporters Sunday that surgery is an option for Vargas, who will see a hand specialist Sunday.
“He’ll either pitch through it or he’ll have it surgically repaired,” Alderson said.
Vargas’ injury is the latest in a run of poor health for Mets starters, who suffered through a disastrous 2017. Jacob deGrom was the only member of the group to get through the season unscathed, while ace Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman each sat out significant periods of time. The only member of that injury-plagued group who delivered a high-end performance was Syndergaard. The rest struggled mightily when they stepped on the mound, contributing to the Mets’ unexpected fall from grace in 2017. Mets starters finished 17th in the majors in fWAR (8.8, exactly half of which came from deGrom) and 27th in ERA (5.12).
In response to last season’s issues in their rotation, the Mets added Vargas on a two-year, $16MM guarantee over the winter with the hope he’d competently eat innings. The 35-year-old did just that in 2017 as a member of the Royals, logging a 4.16 ERA (with a much less encouraging 4.67 FIP) over 179 2/3 frames. Now, it seems the beginning of his second stint with the Mets, with whom he previously pitched in 2007, will be delayed. If that ends up being the case, the Mets will likely plug Wheeler into their rotation to join Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey and Matz, Mike Puma of the New York Post suggests.
- The Mets are considering trading out-of-options right-hander Rafael Montero, who’s drawing some interest from other teams, Matt Ehalt of The Record reports. A deal is not imminent, though, according to Ehalt. The 27-year-old struggled in the majors last season during his first extensive action in the bigs, with a 5.52 ERA and a 5.07 BB/9 over 119 innings (34 appearances, 18 starts). He did strike out 8.62 batters per nine and log a 4.37 FIP, though, to go with a 48.1 groundball percentage.
- Mets southpaw Jason Vargas took a line drive off the right hand Friday, and now his status for the start of the season is in question, per Tim Healey of Newsday. X-rays came back negative, but Vargas noted that “it’s sore,” and he’s set to see a hand specialist (though he seems largely unconcerned). Manager Mickey Callaway added that he’s “not quite sure” whether the Mets will be able to open the year with Vargas, who’s currently in line to start their third game of the season. The Mets added Vargas on a two-year, $16MM deal in the offseason, hoping he’d provide a competent innings eater to a rotation that lacked those during an injury-plagued 2017.
- More on the Mets, who utilized infielder Wilmer Flores in left field on Saturday. If the Mets are serious about Flores as an outfield option, it could benefit the rest of their roster, Tim Britton of The Athletic observes (subscription required). Flores as a fifth outfielder would give the Mets the ability to assemble a 13-man pitching staff, including eight in the bullpen, Britton notes. Regardless, Callaway is intent on finding at-bats for Flores, who was an above-average hitter from 2016-17. “You saw why he needs to be playing multiple positions, because the kid can hit,” Callaway said. “We need to get him as many at-bats as we can this season.”
Neil Walker’s one-year, $4MM deal with the Yankees seems like one of the better bargains achieved by a team in an unprecedentedly slow offseason for free agents, and Ken Davidoff of the New York Post looks back to last offseason when the infielder was discussing a longer-term pact with the Mets. At some point last winter, the Mets floated a three-year extension for Walker that would’ve been worth “about” $42MM, per Davidoff. Presumably that would include the 2017 season, during which he was already set to be paid $17.2MM, as it seems unlikely both that the Mets would offer three new years with Walker returning from back surgery and equally unlikely that Walker’s camp would reject said notion (though that’s just my own speculation). If that number is indeed accurate, Walker will obviously come out behind ($21.2MM over the first two of those three seasons), though certainly no one saw this type of free-agent freeze coming. Davidoff adds that Walker’s camp tried to reignite those “contentious” discussions later in the winter, but the Mets declined.