The Mets had one of the busiest winters of the offseason. They remade their front office and overhauled their roster by importing numerous All-Stars, and now have renewed hopes in the National League East following a disappointing season.
Will this be the year the Mets win their first postseason game since 2015, or will they fall beneath .500 for a third consecutive season?
- Brandon Nimmo, CF
- Jeff McNeil, 3B
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Wilson Ramos, C
- Michael Conforto, RF
- Dominic Smith, 1B
- Keon Broxton, LF
- Amed Rosario, SS
Rest assured, this isn’t the Mets lineup at full strength. Jed Lowrie, Todd Frazier, and Yoenis Cespedes — who could return to the club around the start of the second half — are each missing, as is first-base prospect Pete Alonso. There are still things to like about this group, particularly the top of the order. Nimmo has great on-base skills, and should provide Cano with ample RBI opportunities. Don’t overlook how good Cano remains, by the way. It’s easy to overlook his production because of his age, salary, and performance-enhancing drug suspension, but he posted a 136 OPS+ in 80 games last season — and hasn’t finished below 110 since 2008. Ramos was the second-best catcher on the market, while Conforto is coming off a season that saw him homer 24 times and post a 124 OPS+. Then there’s McNeil, whose introduction to the majors went about as well as it possibly could have. The rest of the lineup has its charm, too. Rosario can fly, and both Davis and Broxton ought to provide pop (and strikeouts) after being acquired in small winter deals. Hechavarria and Lagares, meanwhile, will serve as defensive subs.
The Mets are hopeful the rotation serves as their backbone, the way it did when they won the pennant in 2015. It’s hard to question the top of the rotation. DeGrom is coming off one of the best pitching seasons in recent memory; Syndergaard is great when healthy; and Wheeler had the best year of his career in 2018. After that, Matz has to prove last season wasn’t a fluke, and Vargas has to prove that last year was a fluke. Corey Oswalt and Chris Flexen are both familiar names to Mets fans, will hang around Triple-A waiting for an injury. The Mets added Walter Lockett for depth purposes, and could promote prospect David Peterson to the majors if and/or when they need a spot-starter. Veteran Hector Santiago may also factor into emergency plans. He was somewhat effective last season, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen with the Chicago White Sox.
Diaz is one of a few pitchers who can reasonably claim that they’re the best closer in baseball. He saved 57 games last season and showed no ill effect from being used often on zero days’ rest. Familia is familiar to Mets fans, and figures to serve as the primary setup man. Wilson was a smart addition — a high-velocity, high-spin fastball tosser who has high-leverage inning experience. Lugo and Gsellman both showed some promise last season, in their first full years as relievers. Dowdy, meanwhile, is an intriguing Rule 5 pick who has seen his velocity tick up. This group could be above-average. Some others who could factor into the equation: Jacob Rhame, Paul Sewald, and Tyler Bashlor. A name worth knowing — not because he’s particularly likely to matter in the grand scheme of things, but c’mon: Arquimedes Caminero. Yes, he’s back.
As previously hinted at, the Mets made significant changes to their organization over the winter.
Those began at the top, as the Mets hired longtime player agent Brodie Van Wagenen to run the organization — that despite numerous conflicts of interest. Van Wagenen has since overhauled the Mets analytical department, hiring a number of public figures, including former Baseball Prospectus author Russell Carleton.
The more obvious changes occurred to the roster.
Of the 24 players listed above, 10 weren’t in the organization at the end of last season. Cano was the most significant addition, but the Mets were also wise to land Ramos and Lowrie, a pair of veterans at up-the-middle positions coming off All-Star campaigns. All the moving and shaking left the Mets with a projected Opening Day payroll of $162 million, a new franchise-high.
Health is the thing
This being the Mets, you can’t overlook the importance of health.
Roster Resource tracks DL stints and tries to place a number on how much value is lost through that missed time. There’s no absolute way of knowing, but Roster Resource’s metric suggests the Mets suffered the majors’ second-biggest loss in production due to injury, behind only the Los Angeles Angels. That sounds reasonable.
The Mets are already battling various maladies entering the season. Yoenis Cespedes likely won’t return until the second half; Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier are dinged up; and one of their top prospects, Franklyn Kilome, will miss the year due to Tommy John surgery. Add in how some (like Ramos) are almost certain to hit the DL once throughout the year, and New York’s depth is going to be tested.
The Mets tried buttressing their core by adding interesting reserve pieces here and there — Broxton and Davis, for instance; and Lockett and Hector Santiago on the pitching side — but ultimately they’re going to need their top performers to stay on the field if they’re serious about competing in the NL East.
Normally, we’d say there’s no way of knowing how that will play out — and there isn’t. The Mets, though, always seem to have more injury issues than the typical team. Keep that in mind as we note that ..
A real opportunity
… the Mets are in position to make a serious run.
For evidence, consider that Baseball Prospectus has the Mets projected to win 87 games — or two fewer than both the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies. FanGraphs is less kind, pegging the Mets for 84 wins — six fewer than the Nationals, but just two behind the Wild Card teams, the Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Mets, then, are well within striking distance of the playoffs despite playing in one of the stiffest divisions in baseball. That’s about all you can ask for at this point in the year.
Some help coming
One can’t write about the Mets without noting that they do have some internal help coming.
There are reasonable questions to be asked about first baseman Pete Alonso’s defense and his long-term viability in the field. But there’s no doubting he has big-time power potential, and could serve as another above-average stick in the New York lineup as soon as the club decides to bring him to the majors. It’s at least possible that he’ll break camp with the Mets, though it seems more likely they’ll suppress his service time in order to gain an extra year of control.
Depending on the publication, most sources have Alonso as either the No. 1 or 2 prospect in the system. Shortstop Andres Gimenez is Alonso’s competition, and he too could reach the majors this season, contingent on his development as well as Amed Rosario’s maturation. Gimenez doesn’t feature a standout tool like Rosario’s wheels, but all except his power to grade as above-average or better.
Keep an eye on both, since they could help change the complexion of the Mets season.