Inbox: Should the Mets use Lugo as a starter?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers questions from fans

November 22nd, 2019

While nobody knows how quickly the Hot Stove will begin to simmer this season, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has indicated -- similar to last year -- that his preference is to strike quickly. Does that mean toward the end of November, like in 2019? Or at the Winter Meetings? While we wait to find out, here’s a batch of offseason-themed questions and answers:

Can be a reliable starting pitcher? If so, should the Mets plug him in?
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Of course he can. He already has been, posting a 4.06 ERA as a starter from 2016-18 -- and that was before Lugo reached his current level of dominance as a reliever. Even out of the bullpen, Lugo routinely throws five pitches, some of them with variations that increase the total number. Moving to the rotation might cause a bit of a velocity drop, perhaps preventing Lugo from being quite as elite as he is in the bullpen. But there’s little doubt he could be a successful, above-average starter, which is just what the Mets need at the back of their rotation.

The second question is a bit tougher to answer. Should the Mets shift Lugo, knowing what a hole it would leave in their relief corps? Van Wagenen has made it seem like the Mets could invest in their rotation and keep Lugo in the bullpen, or move Lugo to the rotation and invest more heavily in the bullpen, but not both. If it were me, I’d give Lugo a shot at starting while acquiring significant help in both areas, but I’m not the one writing the checks.

Short of a shopping spree, I believe pitchers can always provide more value in the rotation, so Lugo deserves at least a chance there. If it doesn’t work, the Mets already know he can be a dynamite reliever.

How strongly will the Mets try to re-sign ?
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They’re certainly going to keep tabs on him, with an eye toward re-signing him if the price is right. But with so many other teams intrigued by Wheeler, I’ll remain skeptical about the Mets’ chances until the day he returns to Queens. Right now, it just seems smarter to bet the field.

Any update on since he took batting practice?
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For those who didn’t see, former Mets outfielder and current minor league instructor Endy Chavez posted -- then deleted, about two hours later -- a video showing Céspedes taking batting practice this week in Port St. Lucie. The world turned a bit crazy after that, with people assuming all sorts of things about Céspedes’ health and well-being.

The truth is, neither the Mets nor Céspedes’ camp is saying anything regarding the outfielder’s status. Batting practice is one thing; running anything close to full speed is quite another.

What we know is that Céspedes is 34 years old, hasn’t played since July 2018, is coming off multiple heel surgeries and is due $29.5 million in 2020 -- a significant portion of which the Mets’ insurance policy is covering. Of course, the Mets would welcome a Céspedes return if they knew he could deliver anything close to his 2015-17 production, but that’s far, far from a sure thing. And no matter how productive he is, Céspedes’ return would complicate the Mets’ payroll and roster situations.

The point is this: I’ve cautioned in this space before to expect nothing from Céspedes and consider it a bonus if he’s healthy and productive. A 60-second Instagram video isn’t going to change my advice.

Of the guys the Mets protected/added to the 40-man roster, whom do you expect to make an impact the earliest?
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Probably Ali Sanchez, a defense-first catcher who could reach the big leagues as soon as this season and is ranked the No. 17 prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline. Of the four players the Mets protected, shortstop Andrés Giménez (No.3, No. 92 in MLB) and left-handed starter Thomas Szapucki (No. 12) have the highest ceilings, but neither is likely to make a major impact in 2020.

Are the Mets going to bring back Phil Regan as the pitching coach?
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I don’t know the final answer to that question, but I do know the Mets wouldn’t be conducting a thorough pitching coach search -- they’ve reportedly interviewed Jeremy Hefner and Steve Karsay for the position, potentially among others -- if they weren’t at least seriously considering making a change.

No matter what happens, Van Wagenen has said he’d like Regan, at age 83, to remain part of the organization. Whether that means staying on the big league staff in some capacity or dropping back to the Minors remains to be seen.

What will have to do to make it into the Hall of Fame?
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Take what he’s done so far, and double it.

That may sound harsh, but it’s actually impressive that less than six years into his big league career, deGrom is roughly halfway to Cooperstown. Because he did not reach the Majors until he was nearly 26 years old, deGrom is unlikely to compile a gaudy innings total throughout his career. What he can do is build a case based on the impressiveness of his prime years: a collection of Cy Youngs, a low ERA, a high ERA+ and lots of strikeouts per innings pitched.

For deGrom, making the Hall of Fame would likely require him to pitch as well in his early to mid-30s as he did in his mid- to late 20s. If he can do that, maybe pick up one more Cy Young Award and perhaps add to his postseason resume, he’ll have an excellent chance.

It’s a tall order, but we’re talking about the Hall of Fame here. It should be a tall order.

Tony, if you eat a hotdog inside a bun in the press box, do you consider that a sandwich?
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Sigh. No, and neither should you.