As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.
The Mets followed up a run to the World Series by getting even better. They surprisingly re-signed their star center fielder and improved their lineup by adding veterans and depth. But their success last year wasn’t just about Yoenis Cespedes, it was centered on their sterling starting rotation, and that quartet of aces is still around and could be even better this year as the Mets start 2016 as title contenders.
There may not be a better one in all of baseball. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are all young, talented and hard throwers. The Mets rode this staff all the way to the World Series. Harvey should be even better in his second season back from Tommy John surgery, and he was already plenty good in 2015. And deGrom has proven that he is a dominant ace, too, mixing his mid-90s fastball with a lethal slider. Syndergaard could have the best pure stuff of any pitcher in the sport, regularly hitting triple-digits with his fastball and finally harnessing his off-speed pitches. Matz is injury-prone, but when he’s healthy, the Mets have a lefty who can match up with almost anyone. And Zack Wheeler should be back sometime in June from the Tommy John surgery he underwent last March. Until then, Bartolo Colon will keep his spot warm in the rotation, somehow still fooling hitters with a high-80s fastball at age 43.
Other than Jeurys Familia in the ninth inning, there are question marks here. Familia, however, is a problem solver. After just one full season in the role, he’s developed into one of the more dominant closers in the game. A split-fingered fastball makes him only that much more deadly and keeps hitters from sitting on his fastball and slider. But who can say for sure who will set up for him? Addison Reed will likely get the first opportunity, but the righthander has shown himself to be shaky with runners on base. The Mets signed Antonio Bastardo as left-handed option for the late innings and could share the role with Reed.
Hansel Robles, Logan Verrett and Erik Goeddel all showed flashes of potential but are still unsure commodities in high-leverage situations. Sean Gilmartin is dependable in long relief after sticking around all year as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Jerry Blevins got a $4 million deal to be the lefty out of the bullpen, although he missed almost all of last season with a broken left forearm. But he can get big outs against the feared left-handed hitters in the NL – lefties have a .579 OPS against him for his career. Josh Edgin will be back after missing all of 2015 because of Tommy John surgery. Jenrry Mejia tested positive for a banned substance for the third time and was permanently banned from by Major League baseball in February.
Neil Walker will add power to the middle of the Mets infield. Walker will probably last only one year in New York, with Dilson Herrera in the wings, but the Mets gave up starter Jon Niese to get him. He’s hit at least 16 home runs in each of the last three seasons and is an upgrade defensively on the departed Murphy. He’ll have a new shortstop to work with, too, as Asdrubal Cabrera takes over. He’s not much of a defender, but the Mets clearly prefer offense to defense, and he’ll try to follow up on his best season since 2012. With two switch-hitters in the lineup now, the Mets have more versatility. Defense, however, could still be a worry.
It’s hard to predict what David Wright will bring in 2016 because the Mets don’t even know. He came back to play on a semi-regular basis after being diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, but this season will be the bigger test to see how Wright holds up to spring training and beyond. He has played just one full season since 2011, and while he’s the face of the franchise, Wright hasn’t lived up to his $138 million deal. He’ll probably miss a few games each week, with a mix of backups sliding in at third, but Wright should still be able to hit for average, if not his usual power. At first base, Lucas Duda is locked in. He’ll provide around 30 home runs and drive in around 80 runs. He showed he could hit left-handed pitching last year and is getting better defensively. When he’s in the zone, there are few hitters more dangerous, but when Duda is cold, he’s nearly unplayable.
It took a while but the Mets brought back Yoenis Cespedes. That gives the team its slugger in the middle of the lineup. Cespedes will play center field and give the Mets the fearsome right-handed hitter they needed. Michael Conforto will step into an everyday role after a promising rookie season. He can hit for average and power, with nine home runs and 14 doubles in just 56 games, and will slide into the middle of the lineup. It’s still uncertain whether he can consistently hit lefties, but he’ll have the opportunity to do it.
Curtis Granderson will retake his place as the leadoff hitter and has learned to mix a patient eye (.364 on-base percentage) with the ability to drive the ball. His 2015 season made up for a difficult debut season with the Mets, and he was probably their team MVP. And with Cespedes’ return, the Mets have significant depth on the bench. Juan Lagares dropped off from his Gold Glove-winning defense last year and was miserable at the plate, essentially losing his job in August, but as a defensive replacement and bat against left-handed pitching, he should be adept.
Travis d’Arnaud comes with a qualifier: if healthy. He’s played just 175 games over the last two years, missing time for various reasons. Last year he was on the disabled list with three different injuries. But d’Arnaud can hit for average and power and is one of the best catchers in baseball when on the field. Kevin Plawecki, his backup, might actually be an even better pitch framer and game caller, but he struggled to hit last year (.576 OPS) after coming into the year as one of the best catching prospects in baseball. Which is even more reason for the Mets to hope d’Arnaud can remain healthy for a full season rather than wait on Plawecki to adjust to major league pitching.
It’s certainly a lot better than at the start of last year. Michael Cuddyer’s retirement is addition by subtraction. Wilmer Flores will roam around as a position-less utility man, likely playing each of the four infield spots. The Mets will be more likely to look past his .295 on-base percentage from last year if he’s coming off the bench and flashing his 16-homer power than if they had to watch him play every day. Meanwhile, Ruben Tejada will likely be used as a late-inning defensive replacement, and the Mets will hope to ride his occasional hot streak. Alejandro De Aza could be useful against right-handed pitchers (.800 OPS against them last year), while Lagares will often be used as a late-inning defensive replacement when he doesn’t start.
Sandy Alderson is the reigning Executive of the Year and showed the wherewithal last summer to get a deal done when needed. No one is really quite sure how high the Mets’ payroll can go, but Alderson has shown he can make moves even with limitations. Manager Terry Collins will keep the Mets playing hard even in the darkest of days and has shown himself to be capable if given good players. He received a two-year extension after 2015 and is now one of the more popular people in the organization.
The Mets have dynamic starting pitching, and that alone makes them contenders. But their lineup should be even deeper and better than it was last year, which means they should avoid the pitfalls of last season. With the National League East weak and probably the worst division in baseball, they should emerge into the playoffs. And their first championship in 30 years isn’t such a crazy thought. In fact, they are probably the favorites to make it out of the National League.
Prediction: 1st NL East
RF Curtis Granderson (L)
3B David Wright (R)
CF Yoenis Cespedes (R)
1B Lucas Duda (L)
2B Neil Walker (S)
LF Michael Conforto (L)
C Travis d’Arnaud (R)
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
C Kevin Plawecki (R)
INF Wilmer Flores (R)
SS Ruben Tejada (R)
OF Alejandro De Aza (L)
CF Juan Lagares (R)
RHP Jacob deGrom
RHP Matt Harvey
RHP Noah Syndergaard
LHP Steven Matz
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Jeurys Familia (Closer)
RHP Addison Reed
RHP Hansel Robles
LHP Antonio Bastardo
RHP Erik Goeddel
LHP Sean Gilmartin
LHP Jerry Blevins