MLB, New York Mets

Inside the Clubhouse: Say hello to the new Mets, same as the old Mets

This week Inside the Clubhouse looks at the New York Mets who keep hitting rock bottom and then somehow find a way to dig themselves even deeper.

The New York Mets’ season has been a disaster — and it’s somehow getting worse.

First, it was general manager Jared Porter being fired after sending explicit texts to a female reporter. Then it was Francisco Lindor and Javier Báez responding to fans’ boos with thumbs-down, with team president Sandy Alderson saying the gestures were “totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” Then acting GM Zack Scott was arrested and faces charges for allegedly drunk driving in White Plains at 4:17 on Tuesday morning.

This was not supposed to happen under owner Steve Cohen, who promised a new era of Mets baseball when he purchased the team in November 2020. He promised a World Series championship within three to five years. He sought to improve an internal culture that was fractured under the Wilpon ownership, telling a fan on Twitter in November, “Hire them smarter than you. That has worked for me in the hedge fund biz.”

In hiring Porter and Scott, Cohen has clearly failed in that department. And it’s on Cohen to get it right when he hires a full-time GM in the offseason.

The Mets were considering Scott for the full-time position, but his seat grew warm when his team underperformed and fell under .500. He made only one trade before the July 30 trade deadline, acquiring Javier Báez from the Chicago Cubs. At that point, he had 131 strikeouts in 335 at-bats, a strange fit when Cohen and the Mets front office had said they believed, “the best teams have a more disciplined approach.” The trade was viewed by rival executives as a “head-scratcher” at the time and has only gotten worse as Báez has struggled mightily in New York.

Scott, 44, will be given the chance to explain why White Plains police officers spotted him sleeping in his car at 4:17 Tuesday morning. He will also be given the opportunity to explain why he refused a breathalyzer or blood test. Perhaps this is all a big misunderstanding and Scott is cleared to return to work in baseball. It’s just hard to see that opportunity ever coming with the Mets again.

After all, Scott is the same person who criticized Mets players on Aug. 10 for not taking accountability on plans to stay healthy, saying: “You’ve got to take ownership of your career and your health.”

The hypocrisy.

If the Mets indeed move on from Scott, their first call is likely to Theo Epstein. He has told friends close to him that when he returns to a team that he wants to be part of an ownership group, not an employee. Would Cohen be okay with that arrangement? Even if he was, would he want to hire Epstein, who was responsible for hiring Porter and Scott in Boston and later hired Porter in Chicago?

Alderson, 73, might also be on the hot seat, considering he is ultimately the one who hired Porter and Scott, not to mention manager Mickey Callaway, who was fired by the Los Angeles Angels in June and suspended through the 2022 season following an investigation into sexual assault allegations. He also aggressively pursued Trevor Bauer this past offseason, who instead signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and is now under investigation for allegations of sexual assault in California.

But in a season of embarrassments, Scott’s DUI arrest represents rock bottom. And Cohen and the Mets can’t move forward with him as GM if they want to prove they are serious about finally getting their front office culture right.

Romy Gonzalez is the rising star no one saw soming

Entering the regular season, Romy Gonzalez hadn’t played since 2019 and hadn’t appeared above Single-A. Fast forward six months, after he hit .275/.357/.525 with 23 homers in 335 at-bats at Double and Triple-A, and here he is making his major-league debut with the Chicago White Sox.

So how did he get here?

Gonzalez, 24, suffered a serious back injury at American Senior High School in Hialeah, Fla. that limited him in his sophomore and junior seasons while he wore a back brace. At the University of Miami, he flashed potential and played all over the infield and outfield, but struggled with consistency, though scouts remained intrigued by his athleticism.

He was eventually drafted by the White Sox in the 18th round of the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft. In his first game action, a 54-game stint with the Advanced Rookie Great Falls, he hit 10 home runs in 201 at-bats, with one scout following Gonzalez at the time saying, “It showed, ‘OK, he can do something if he continues to figure it out.”

The following year, Gonzalez struggled. Then COVID shut down the country and he dedicated himself to becoming a student of hitting. He tweaked his swing. He saw instant results once play resumed in 2021, hitting .267/.355/.502 with 20 home runs in 303 at-bats in Double-A. He was promoted to Triple-A, playing in nine games and hitting .344/.382/.750 with three home runs, before getting the call that he was being promoted when rosters expanded on Sept. 1.

“He’s a kid that refused to believe he was that type of player that was going to play a few years and then get released,” a source close to Gonzalez said. “Figured out what was right for him and trusted the process.”

The Cardinals are a fit for Trevor Story

The St. Louis Cardinals expressed interest in Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story at the trade deadline, according to major-league sources, and could express interest once again when Story becomes a free agent in the offseason.

For an underperforming Cardinals offense, shortstop represents the most obvious position to upgrade. Paul DeJong, their current starting shortstop, is slashing .200/.292/.387 with 16 home runs in 305 at-bats and has an 88 OPS+, making him 12 percent worse than the league-average hitter. Edmundo Sosa has provided some stability, but in an offseason with a historically deep free-agent shortstop class, the Cardinals are expected to explore external upgrades.

The top options include Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Javier Báez and Story. The first three are likely to be out of the Cardinals’ price range, with Correa and Seager likely to sign contracts north of $300 million. Báez is struggling with the Mets while recent reports have connected him with the Chicago Cubs, leaving Story as the most obvious fit for the Cardinals.

Story, 28, is a candidate to sign a lucrative one-year deal in the offseason and test the free-agent market again after the 2022 season. He has struggled both offensively and defensively, hitting .246/.325/.447 with 16 home runs in 418 at-bats, leaving some executives to wonder if he’s still dealing with the effects of right elbow inflammation that put him on the injured list from May 29 to June 10 or if playing on a non-contending team is wearing on him.

The Cardinals, or any other team interested in Story, would hope getting out of Colorado and into a winning environment would net better results. He would, at least in theory, provide an upgrade both offensively and defensively over DeJong. He has obvious familiarity with Arenado, having played five seasons with him in Colorado, and could influence his decision when he decides whether to opt out of his contract after the 2022 season.

If the Cardinals signed Story, they could trade DeJong to a team that misses on one of the top shortstops in free agency. But their trade deadline pursuit of Story, along with DeJong’s struggles, revealed that they are open to upgrading the shortstop position — and there will be no better time to do it than this winter.

Austin Riley is forcing his way into the MVP conversation

Freddie Freeman won the National League MVP in 2021 and Ronald Acuña Jr. entered this season among the favorites to win the award. But with 30 games left and the Atlanta Braves in first place in the NL East, their top candidate is third baseman Austin Riley.

“When you’re on the same team as Freddie Freeman, “ one National League executive said recently, “you’re going to get overlooked.”

Now, let’s be clear: If Fernando Tatis Jr. stays healthy, he will likely win NL MVP. But that is no guarantee when he has made two separate appearances on the injured list with a left shoulder injury and after testing positive for COVID-19. And not when Freeman, Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Trea Turner and Max Muncy loom as other strong candidates.

But Riley has forced himself into the conversation. He has overcome a slow first two weeks of the season and now ranks sixth in the NL with a 151 wRC+ since April 20. His .360 average since the All-Star break ranks second in baseball behind Mookie Betts. He’s tied for fourth in home runs (14) and his 1.074 OPS ranks seventh behind Betts, Harper, Juan Soto and Joey Votto, among others, within that span.

Riley, 24, has helped the Braves overcome the loss of Acuña and become one of the most productive offenses in baseball. The addition of Jorge Soler, who has hit seven home runs since being acquired on July 30, and performances of Freeman and Ozzie Albies have surely played a large factor.

But Riley, who is hitting .303/.373/.532 with 28 home runs and 80 RBI, is not just arguably the Braves’ best hitter, he’s emerged as one of the best players in the NL. It’s time we start recognizing him as such.

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