Examining the team's MLB season ahead.
The Mets, who have enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in almost a decade, are now knee-deep into their World Series-chasing phase. This offseason, instead of waiting and hoping that Yoenis Cespedes would come back, general manager Sandy Alderson struck early and signed possibly the best free agent on the market and gave him a rich contract and a no-trade clause.
The biggest question mark for the Mets this season will again be based around their health. If they avoid the long run of injuries that nearly submarined them over the last two years, they could be among the best teams in the National League. If they don’t, then they’ll need to find a way to squeeze into the postseason again.
The team is still centered around its starting rotation, with Noah Syndergaard emerging as the ace and the rest of the rotation all under 30. But as the club learned this past season, relying on hard-throwing arms can be a dangerous game. Still, the Mets should spend the season somewhere near the top of the National League East, battling with Washington for division supremacy.
Syndergaard is among the most talented pitchers in baseball. It’s hard to top his 100-mph fastball, hellacious 92-mph slider and off-speed pitches. Last season, that meant an eighth-place finish in the Cy Young voting and a 2.60 ERA. But like every other member of the rotation, he battled injury. Steven Matz had shoulder woes and underwent offseason elbow surgery. Jacob deGrom had surgery on his ulnar nerve in his elbow. Matt Harvey missed the entire second half because of surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. Zack Wheeler hasn’t pitched since 2014 because of Tommy John surgery. But the Mets remain well stocked with immensely talented, though healing, pitchers. Mets starters had the third-lowest ERA of any staff in baseball last year, and that was despite all of those injuries. So the ceiling is high for 2017. They will, however, miss innings eater Bartolo Colon, who signed with Atlanta. Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo were nice late-season surprises and will serve as depth and insurance — though if the Mets turn to them for prolonged periods of time, it means something has gone wrong again.
Asdrubal Cabrera was a breakout star in 2016. He suddenly turned into a power hitter, swatting 23 home runs and posting a career-best .810 OPS, as well as proving to be a stable defender at shortstop. He’s entering the last year of his two-year contract, and the Mets now have a top-half-of-the-order hitter on a bargain at just $8.25 million this season. Neil Walker is back, too, although on a one-year, $17.2 million contract. Before his season ended because of back surgery, he tied a career high with 23 home runs in just 113 games. That gives the Mets certainty at second base for another year. With Walker and Cabrera, the Mets have a solid and productive, if unspectacular, middle of the diamond.
Between them, Lucas Duda and David Wright played in 84 total games last season. They were a shining example of the injury woes that beset the Mets. A stress fracture in his back sidelined Duda for four months. Wright had neck surgery and is the more worrisome case. He hasn’t been an All-Star since 2013 and has played more than 112 games in a season just once in the last four years. The Mets can’t rely on him anymore, and whatever they get from the 34-year-old at this point seems like a blessing. That’s why Jose Reyes is back for another year as much-needed stand-in. Duda, as long as he’s not hurt, should put a 30-home run bat back into the lineup.
The Mets have an overflow of riches here. Cespedes will probably shift to left field full time this season after playing center in his first two years in New York. He’s the centerpiece of the offense, and the Mets need to keep him in the lineup. Who plays around him, though, will be interesting. Michael Conforto regressed after a strong debut, even going down to the minors again, but the Mets still believe he can develop into an All-Star and be the quintessential No. 3 hitter — maybe even this year. The Mets had Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce on the trade market in the offseason since both are in the last year of their contracts. Juan Lagares still can’t hit much, but he is — again, when healthy — a Gold Glove-level center fielder. Too bad for him and the Mets he hurt his shoulder in winter ball.
It wasn’t a good sign for Travis d’Arnaud that he seemed to lose the primary catching job to Rene Rivera, who batted only .222. Still, D’Arnaud should be the starter behind the plate and has the potential to hit 20-plus home runs and be a strong pitch-framer. Rivera doesn’t hit much but developed a rapport with Syndergaard and could steal away more playing time.
Reyes resurrected his career in Queens, and he will be relied on to spell Wright at third when needed. Wilmer Flores hit 16 home runs playing all around the infield, but a wrist injury cut short his 2016 season. The team’s surplus in the outfield will help strengthen the bench.
Manager Terry Collins has shown the wherewithal to withstand ugly patches during a season and keep the Mets humming, though he can make questionable bullpen choices every once in awhile. He works well in tandem with Alderson, who keeps finding prospects in the farm system to trade away for reinforcements — though that ability could be tested this year. Pitching coach Dan Warthen has shown a capability to get the most out of his staff.
If Syndergaard, Harvey, deGrom and Matz all pitch to their talent level, the Mets could be scary good and have a rotation that rivals any in baseball. And the lineup could be in the top half of the NL, too, with enough hitters still around their prime. But there are no certainties with the Mets — as we’ve learned in recent seasons. If all goes well, this is a team capable of winning the World Series. If it doesn’t, the Mets could struggle to reach .500.