The New York Mets must resist the temptation of replacing Zack Wheeler with Seth Lugo.
While Monday’s press conference was about officially introducing Carlos Beltran as the New York Mets 22nd manager, it was also a rare opportunity for the media to question general manager Brodie Van Wagenen.
Everyone in the media was interested in what was going on with Zack Wheeler. Van Wagenen confirmed that the Mets would offer Wheeler the qualifying offer, but his answers left a lot be desired.
He dodged questions about whether Wheeler would return and offered alternatives. Specifically, Van Wagenen and Carlos Beltran mentioned the possibility of moving Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman back to the starting rotation.
Moving Lugo back to the rotation would be a devastatingly bad move for the Mets. While it would solve the issue of replacing Wheeler, it would open a larger hole in bullpen this franchise can ill-afford.
Seth Lugo and the Bullpen
Seth Lugo has been a key part of Mets bullpen for two years now. A move was made because Lugo suffers from a partially torn UCL, which could fully tear resulting in Tommy John surgery if the Mets aren’t careful.
Lugo has excelled since then. Lugo compiled a 3.92 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 1.8 FWAR as a starter in 2016 and 2017. Since he moved to the bullpen full time in 2018, Lugo has put together a 2.68 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 3.7 FWAR.
Lugo has become one of the top 10 relievers of baseball since his move. The Mets’ bullpen, which was one of the five worst in baseball last season, can’t afford to lose that.
Things got so bad in 2019 that the Mets had to move Lugo to the closer role for the first time in his career. The Mets can’t afford to lose their closer for 2020 because they won’t replace him.
The Heart of the issue
The real issue here is that the Mets are trying to avoid spending money. For the first time in franchise history, the Mets will have a payroll over $160 million in 2020.
That’s before the Mets sign anybody. The team is also just $17 million away from the luxury tax. This is all to say that the Mets are absolutely cash-strapped. (It’s a reality no fan wants to hear, but is very real, nonetheless.)
They don’t want to spend anymore then they have to. That’s always been true for the Wilpon family. So, they usually look for creative options.
It’s very cheap and easy to move Seth Lugo to the rotation. It solves the rotation issue without costing the team a dime while making the team much weaker. Lugo is not at Wheeler’s level as a starting pitcher. Plus, it makes the Mets’ biggest weakness even weaker.
In the end, they would have to replace Lugo in the bullpen and sign additional pitchers to improve the bullpen. However, it’s not likely the Mets would go to that length to improve the bullpen.
Rather, it’s more likely that they would attempt to improve the bullpen with bargain-bin signings and prospects. The Mets have already started bargain shopping by picking up Stephen Gonsalves up off waivers.
Gonsalves was a top 100 prospect in 2018, but struggled his brief stint the majors and was plagued with elbow issues in 2019. He’s now 25-years-old with limited experience in the majors and injury issues.
Yet, the Mets saw fit to hand him a 40-man roster spot. Similarly to how the Mets traded for Walker Lockett last year. Lockett was a disaster in 2019 pitching to an 8.34 ERA in 22.2 IP.
The Mets can’t afford to replace Lugo in the bullpen with pitchers of that caliber. That would do more damage to the team than replacing Zack Wheeler with a cheap number five pitcher in the mold of a Wade Miley or Michael Pineda would.
Seth Lugo is simply too valuable as a reliever to move out of the bullpen right now. Instead, the Mets should be looking for a middle of the rotation arm to replace Wheeler.
Pitchers like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, Julio Teheran and Gio Gonzalez will be available this year. While none of those are ideal replacements for Wheeler, they would all be at least as good as Lugo as a starter while allowing the team to keep their best reliever in the bullpen.
The only way for the Mets to improve over their 2019 roster will be to spend money. They can’t allow themselves to be blinded by cheap and easy options.
Leave the spin master in the pen.