Mets rookie manager Luis Rojas faces double-duty in this shortened 2020 season. Player safety comes first, but there’s a more formidable challenge as well.
Luis Rojas inherits a Mets team that pretty much managed itself to a wild ride over the second half of the 2019 season, ultimately finishing six games over .500. They were short of the playoffs but better than most expected after yet another disastrous display of dysfunction by ownership and the front office.
The camaraderie in the clubhouse, led by the effervescent Pete Alonso, remains and barely needs recharging.
The team is blessed with a decent, though not overpowering starting rotation led by Jacob deGrom, who will be seeking his third consecutive Cy Young.
This is punctuated by a separately motivated complement of teammates like Marcus Stroman (walk year), Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello (revitalizing downward careers), and Steven Matz (just another pitcher or something special).
For Luis Rojas, the pitching staff, including a talented but question-filled bullpen, is likely to be left mostly in the hands of former Mets’ starting pitcher Jeremy Hefner is set to return to the team in 2020, this time as the pitching coach.
The more cautious challenge for Rojas will be managing an unprecedented (for the Mets) wealth of offensive talent that is accented by the introduction of the Designated Hitter as a new and welcome weapon in his lineup.
Luis Rojas: “Let’s See How Things Play Out”
Fans participating in fantasy leagues are most apt to latch onto Yoenis Cespedes as the designated DH in any league – hands down.
But to his credit, Luis Rojas is in a hold on – not so fast mode. His frame of mind as Spring Training II gets underway is best measured in these words:
Among the candidates, Luis Rojas has at his disposal are Robinson Cano, Dominic Smith, Matt Adams, and Wilson Ramos.
Mets DH With The Mostest
An aging but still offensive threat Cano provides Rojas with a TLC approach to a former All-Star who is motivated to prove GM Brodie VanWagenen was not on drugs when he dealt for the temperamental diva.
Wilson Ramos (age 32) represents perhaps the last vestige of the offensive catcher (J.T. Realmuto excepted), and Luis Rojas will be mindful of keeping him fresh off the chores of everyday catching duties.
But the most intriguing of all is Dominic Smith, who sparks interest as a potential hitting machine, a la David Ortiz in the DH position.
Smith still warms the hearts of Mets fans who remember his first at-bat in several months on the final day of the 2019 season.
On the cusp of sweeping the division-winning Atlanta Braves, it was Smith who launched a game-deciding home run, converting a sweep of the Braves, and a memory propelling the team to 2020. (Video Below)
Once here, the DH in the National League (sorry purists) is here to stay. With Cespedes in the final year of his contract with the Mets, Luis Rojas sees the future as much as the present for his team.
Obligated with the charge to win now, Luis Rojas still maintains a wait-and-see approach to Cespedes, and it appears the onus is on Cespedes to prove his value to the Mets and his manager, including his ability to play in the field.
On July 24, the Mets are scheduled to play their first game of the 2020 season. The date also marks the last time Yoenis Cespedes appeared in a game wearing a Mets uniform.
Luis Rojas deserves credit for not falling into the trap of pre-determining anything about his team.
Described by Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post as the Gerald Ford of baseball – cool, calm, and, most of all, collected, Rojas promises to be someone to watch, and hopefully behold this season.
And no one should hear that more clearly and forcefully than Yoenis Cespedes.