A variety of maladies were already plaguing the Mets before they met with the media on Thursday morning. Things would soon get worse, however. Reporters soon learned, for example, that in addition to the six Mets currently on the disabled list, Noah Syndergaard would not be making his start due to a bicep issue. Matt Harvey would be getting the ball that day instead. Before the day was out, Yoenis Cespedes would leave the game after further injuring a balky hamstring, and Harvey would fail to make it out of the fifth inning. They’ve now lost six straight games, and added further insults and injuries to an already large pile of both. Less than a month into the season, their playoff odds are starting to get ugly.
The Mets likely can’t be blamed for every single issue currently plaguing them. They can be blamed, however, for some of them. Too many of them, perhaps.
Prior to the start of the season, a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union was put into place. Among the new provisions within the document was a new 10-day disabled list, shortened from 15 days. It was created with the idea that teams could have more flexibility in giving time off to banged-up players. Clubs, in turn, would have more freedom to call up replacements and to avoin playing with an understaffed roster. Some teams, including the Mets, had gotten into a habit of playing a man or two down while players nursed injuries deemed too minor to merit a full 15 days on the DL. Now, teams can theoretically get players back five days earlier, and play with 25 men. Everybody wins, no?
The Mets have failed to fully embrace the possibilities afforded by a 10-day DL. Cespedes originally injured his hamstring on the 20th. He didn’t play again until Wednesday, partially due to an off day and a rainout, although he did come out on deck for a possible pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday before the Mets lost. The Mets and their training staff had decided that Cespedes didn’t need a full DL stint, just a few days off, with potentially a plate appearance off the bench mixed in.
Cespedes came up slightly lame when he hurt himself on the 20th. He needed help getting off the field yesterday. It’s not an ideal situation for a man who’s still dealing with the vestiges of a quad injury that sidelined him for part of the 2016 campaign and never really released him from its grip down the stretch.
Of course, Cespedes isn’t the only Met who has been carried along for the ride in such a fashion. Both Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis d’Arnaud were in similar states of limbo in the past week. The clubs has done this quite a bit over the last few seasons. It now appears to have cost Cespedes at least a few weeks of action.
Syndergaard’s pain is also concerning for obvious reasons. He’s probably the second-best starter in the National League behind Clayton Kershaw. The Mets need him. They also need Harvey, who was placed in the middle of a difficult situation yesterday. Harvey didn’t know that he was starting until after he woke up on Thursday morning, when he received a call from the team. He was understandably off-kilter on the mound, especially considering he’d done a heavy workout the day before as part of his normal routine, under the assumption that he was supposed to pitch on Friday.
The thing is, it seems the Mets knew about Syndergaard’s issue as early as Wednesday. It’s uncertain as to whether they learned of it before or after Harvey hit the gym. If they found out after, then it’s just bad timing. If they found out before and still let Harvey exert himself, it’s a massive blunder. Either way, the fact that Harvey didn’t know that he was starting until the morning of the game is unusual. It’s generally advisable that the day’s starter get a good night’s rest and eat well the night before, especially for an afternoon game. Harvey’s been known to enjoy New York’s night life. We don’t know if he spent Wednesday night out on the town, but if he did, who can blame him? He wasn’t supposed to pitch on Thursday.
Even if the Mets hadn’t settled on him as Thursday’s starter, it’s surprising that he wasn’t even told that he could be called upon to fill Syndergaard’s spot. The day was a bad one for the Mets because of the loss and the injury to Cespedes. It could have been made worse by Harvey hurting himself by pitching the day after he did a heavy workout.
The past two seasons have been marked by the Mets enduring heavy injury blows. This year’s injury bug came early, and it’s been made worse by an unwillingness to put important players on the disabled list and give Terry Collins a full roster with which to work. Zack Wheeler recently had to pinch-hit in the middle innings because Collins wanted to lift his starter but lacked a sufficient number of healthy position players to send up a viable bat in the spot. The new DL format is designed precisely to avoid such nonsense. The Mets are slightly hampered by the fact that their Triple-A affiliate is all the way out in Las Vegas, and that the commute from there to Queens is much longer than the journey most players take from Triple-A to the big leagues. It’s harder to have a player at the stadium in time on short notice.
But that doesn’t explain the lack of communication with one of the team’s most important players, nor their hesitation to give their most important hitter the time off he requires. Nor does it explain how the Mets are already out of outfielders on their 40-man roster, and their hesitance to add new faces to the 40-man means that a pitcher may very well come up when Cespedes is officially placed on the DL while the team is simultaneously carrying an extra catcher due to ongoing concerns with d’Arnaud.
Having six players already on the DL makes this calculus much more difficult. Life would be a lot easier if, say, Brandon Nimmo and Steven Matz were currently healthy. Wishing doesn’t make it so. The Mets have to reckon with the hand they’ve been dealt, and so far, they’re shooting themselves in the foot. Writing at FanGraphs is a lot different from doing Sandy Alderson’s job, or doing Ray Ramirez’s job (especially since I’m not anything remotely resembling an athletic trainer).
But roster management is paramount in today’s game. Not allowing Cespedes to fully heal up in the first place, not giving Harvey any indication that he might be needed… plans ought to be in place to address these sorts of logistical matters. The Mets can’t concern themselves over whether a full 10 days is needed, whether it’s the right time to start a player’s service-time clock or deplete a player’s options by calling him up to plug holes. They’re currently the fifth-place team in what should be a two-team NL East race, and the Nationals are looking like juggernauts. The Mets need to plug these holes fast.
They’re letting themselves take on more water than they can afford. They’re about to play three games with the Nationals.
You can’t win a season in April, the saying goes. But you sure can lose one.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.