Shea Bridge Report: Hildenberger, Lugo, #VoteMarkakis

The Mets have some relief issues and some solutions, and Nick Markakis is the ultimate compiler.

Hildenberger

The Mets signed Mike Montgomery and Tommy Hunter to minor-league deals yesterday. Those two pitchers, the thinking goes, will fill out the back end of the bullpen and provide depth as experienced, big-league relievers. There’s some upside — both have had excellent seasons before — but mostly, they’re reliable, established professionals.

Montgomery and Hunter are both fine options. But there’s another name to watch as the Mets fill out their bullpen: sidearming righty Trevor Hildenberger.

Hildenberger isn’t a complete no-name. He had a 3.21 E.R.A. for the Twins in 2017, and pitched well in the first half of 2018. But he hasn’t been the same since. When I talked to him early in the offseason, however, he told me he’d been working to recapture his 2017 form, and was almost there. His bullpen catchers agreed.

This is probably colored somewhat by the fact that Hildenberger gave Shea Bridge Report an exclusive interview, and was more accommodating than I could ever have hoped for. But it’s not just that: when he’s on his game, Hildenberger is genuinely nasty. Just look at this appearance from 2017, in which he struck out three batters, two on off-speed pitches that fell completely out of sight. If he can find his way back to pitching like this, Trevor Hildenberger is a major league reliever, and a good one. 

Yes, the Mets bullpen is mostly set. But there’s always some room for a quirky guy who was really good a little while ago to come in and make his mark. Call it the Isringhausen Lane, or the Jim Henderson Parable. Hildenberger’s path back to the MLB mound won’t be easy, but it’s definitely there — and if he follows it, he has a chance to be a genuine weapon in the Mets bullpen.

Lugo

Hildenberger’s path to the Mets bullpen actually became a bit easier this week, for a grim reason. Seth Lugo has something called a “loose body” in his elbow; he’ll take at least six weeks off to recover, and probably more.

Lugo is obviously a loss for the pen, but at least this year, he’s a loss that can be temporarily absorbed. It’s not like 2019, when the bullpen was basically Lugo, Justin Wilson, and a few different versions of Wilmer Font. The Mets have Trevor May and a resurgent Edwin Díaz, as well as some lottery tickets like Miguel Castro, who at least has the raw tools to be an impressive reliever, and Aaron Loup, who could be deceptive enough to be useful.

I have a gut feeling that the Mets bullpen is going to be a strength this year. Make of that what you will, since my previous gut feelings include such gems as “the 2011 Mets are going to shock the world and win the division” and “Juan Lagares is going to bat .320 this year.” But for whatever it’s worth — and that’s very much up to you — I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s relief crew.

#VoteMarkakis

Finally this week, we turn to a question of philosophy. Is “compiling” a bad thing? Is it as difficult, more difficult, or less difficult than putting up equivalent numbers in a briefer but more electric stretch? And how should it figure into everyone’s favorite topic of debate, Hall of Fame voting?

I ask because of Nick Markakis, who is a free agent but who, because of unfortunate coincidences of timing and need, the Mets will almost certainly not pursue. Markakis has 2388 career hits. If he can average 160 or so for the next four seasons, as he has most of his career, he’ll have 3000. 

Should that make him a Hall of Famer?

Not remotely, some people say. He’s the ultimate compiler, the argument goes; he’s never been great, never even had a top-10 MVP finish. Pick any given season, and you probably won’t find anything that impressive about his numbers. He’s just an average player who’s been around for a while. 

I couldn’t disagree more.

Markakis is an average player who lasted a while, sure. But why doesn’t that itself count as something impressive? If he retires with 3000 hits — not to mention, probably, 200 home runs — he’ll have lasted long enough in the big leagues to put up those numbers, MVP-type seasons or not. 32 players in history have 3000 hits. Do you know how many players in baseball history have 3000 hits, 200 home runs, and zero ties to steroid use? The answer is 16. In history. Markakis is 612 hits and 11 home runs away from achieving both. 

If Markakis joins that club, he should be a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Does it really make sense to deny him baseball immortality because he got there via stunning consistency, as opposed to brief flashes of brilliance?