By just about any measure, the 2015 season was a big success for the New York Mets. Sure, they did lose the World Series in five games, but there’s no reason to be ashamed of 90 victories during the regular season and a trip to the Fall Classic. Given their high-end young starters, there was every reason to believe 2015 was the beginning of a sustained run of contention for the Mets.
In 2016 the Mets did indeed return to the postseason, though they were one-and-done in the NL Wild Card Game because Madison Bumgarner is a postseason demigod not even Thor himself could defeat. Watching your season end in that way is a bitter pill to swallow. The Mets retained Yoenis Cespedes over the winter and will go into 2017 with nearly the same exact roster as the one that won a 2016 wild card.
The Mets are heavy on power -- power bats and power arms in the rotation and bullpen. They do have some defensive concerns, especially in the outfield, and this isn’t a team that will steal many bases either. The Mets scored 51.1 percent of their runs on home runs last year, second most in baseball, and were often criticized for their lack of offensive diversity. That doesn’t figure to change in 2017.
Fortunately, the Mets are still quite talented. If you’re going to have a one-dimensional offense, having one that relies on power isn’t a bad way to go. In this age of high strikeout totals and defensive shifts, stringing together three or four hits in a row to score a run isn’t as easy as it used to be. Hitting the ball over the fence is quite effective.
Let’s preview the 2017 season for the Mets, shall we?
The Mets’ new additions: None
I wasn’t joking earlier when I said the Mets have the same exact roster as last year. They didn’t add a single new player to their big-league roster in the offseason. Not one. Here is a quick recap of their offseason moves:
- Nov. 3: Exercised club options for Jay Bruce ($13 million) and Jose Reyes (league minimum).
- Nov. 15: Neil Walker accepted the one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer.
- Nov. 30: Re-signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $110 million contract.
- Nov. 30: Traded Logan Verrett to the Orioles for cash.
- Feb. 9: Re-signed Jerry Blevins to a one-year, $6.5 million contract.
- Feb. 10: Traded Gabriel Ynoa to the Orioles for cash.
- Feb. 15: Re-signed Fernando Salas to a one-year, $3 million contract.
Add in a few minor-league contract signings (Tom Gorzelanny, Cory Burns, Ben Rowen, Wilfredo Boscan) and that’s it. That’s all the Mets did this offseason. They let fan favorite Bartolo Colon leave as a free agent and otherwise kept the band together.
It’s not often you see a bona fide World Series contender go through an entire offseason without adding a new player to the roster, but the Mets managed to do it this winter. Keep in mind this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Mets were pretty good last year, after all. It’s just sort of unusual. And I suppose kind of boring for fans. No new names to talk about, you know?
Will the super-rotation hold up?
You know the names. Noah Syndergaard. Matt Harvey. Jacob deGrom. Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler. There isn’t a general manager in baseball who wouldn’t sign up for that rotation right now. Syndergaard, Harvey and deGrom have all had ace-caliber seasons in their careers while both Wheeler and especially Matz have shown a ton of promise.
Now, all that said, both of the following statements are true:
- Few teams have as many high-end power starters as the Mets.
- Few teams have as many starters coming back from arm surgery as the Mets.
Syndergaard is the only one of those five who isn’t coming off an arm surgery. DeGrom had surgery to repair nerve damage in his elbow in September. Harvey had surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome last summer. Matz had a bone spur taken out of his elbow late last year. Wheeler had Tommy John surgery in March 2015 and hasn’t made it all the way back due to numerous setbacks.
The talent is undeniable. These are five potential aces here. The risk associated with the surgeries can’t be ignored either, especially in Harvey’s case, since thoracic outlet syndrome is nasty, nasty stuff. It’s not exactly a surprise his velocity has been underwhelming so far this spring.
I asked Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen when he expects Matt Harvey will have the arm strength to throw his old fastball: "End of May."— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) March 15, 2017
The good news is Syndergaard is throwing as hard as ever and deGrom has looked excellent during Grapefruit League play. According to the projection systems at FanGraphs, only the Dodgers project to have a better rotation than the Mets this season, and that’s with only two of New York’s studs (Syndergaard and deGrom) projected to clear 165 innings. They don’t need 200 innings out of each of these guys to have a dominant starting staff.
Still, the risk is pretty obvious. When you have that many guys coming back from arm surgery, you sort of have to prepare for potential complications. The Mets have some nice depth in Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, which is why they were comfortable letting Colon walk, though chances are they’ll need to dip even deeper into the farm system for help at some point. After all, this team used 12 different starters in 2016.
If their starters are healthy, the Mets will be a powerhouse. If not, chances are they’ll be merely pretty good rather than outright bad.
Wheeler’s role is still undefined
Reports indicate the Mets will limit Wheeler, who has missed the past two seasons after having his elbow rebuilt, to 120 innings in 2017. Now they’re trying to figure out how to best use those 120 innings. They’ve talked about starting him slow in the minors and calling him up during the summer. They’ve also talked about using him as a reliever for at least part of the season. I’m sure other ideas have been kicked around as well.
Innings limits are a necessary evil and there’s really no good way to manage workloads. You could put a guy in the bullpen, skip a start here and there, shut him down completely late in the season, all sorts of stuff. Whatever you do, it inevitably causes a headache. It has to be done though, especially so in Wheeler’s case given his two-year layoff. Bottom line: The Mets hope Wheeler can throw all 120 of those innings this year regardless of role. They want him healthy and on the mound, because when he is, they’re a better team.
The Mets shouldn’t count on their captain
Baseball can be cruel, and watching the great David Wright battle injury after injury these past few years is a shame. It really is. Wright is one of baseball’s good guys, an all-around great player who is a tremendous ambassador for the game. The league needs more players like him.
Unfortunately, spinal stenosis and neck surgery have limited Wright to only 75 games the past two seasons -- 38 games in 2015 and 37 in ‘16. His rehab from neck surgery was going well this spring until he resumed throwing, which led to a shoulder issue that is. Wright altered his throwing motion -- he now slings the ball sidearm across the diamond -- to alleviate stress on his back and neck, and that contributed to the shoulder problem.
The spinal stenosis isn’t going away. That’s something that will have to managed the rest of Wright’s career (and, really, the rest of his life). The neck surgery was serious -- a similar procedure sent Prince Fielder into retirement -- and it’s unclear how often Wright will be able to play going forward, and how productive he will be when he plays. Those are the reasons the Mets brought Reyes back, to provide insurance at third base. Right now, Wright is a complete unknown. The Mets can’t pencil him in for anything.
How will the outfield situation play out?
Give general manager Sandy Alderson a truth serum and I’m sure he would tell you he would love to trade Bruce before the regular season, preferably for a reliever and some salary relief. As it stands, the Mets have seven outfielders on their 40-man roster and not enough places to play them. Here is their outfield depth chart, listed by likelihood of being on the MLB roster:
- Yoenis Cespedes: Everyday left fielder
- Curtis Granderson: Likely to be the everyday center fielder
- Jay Bruce: Likely to be the everyday right fielder
- Juan Lagares: Fourth outfielder who figures to platoon with Bruce and Granderson
- Michael Conforto: Stuck on the bench as the fifth outfielder, or back in Triple-A
- Brandon Nimmo: Heading back to Triple-A for the time being
- Wuilmer Becerra: Prospect who has yet to play above high Class A and who’s likely ticketed for Double-A in 2017
The Mets don’t want to keep Conforto on the bench as their fifth outfielder, someone who pinch-hits nightly and starts one or two games a week. They want him in the lineup as often as possible because that’s the best thing for his development. Conforto is not going to unseat Cespedes and both Bruce and Granderson are Proven Veterans™ making good money, which has a way of keeping them in the lineup.
On one hand, depth is a good thing. You would rather have too many outfielders than not enough. On the other, the Mets are running the risk of seeing Conforto stagnate. He needs to be challenged to continue his development and he won’t get enough at-bats as a bench player. I’m not sure crushing Triple-A pitching -- Conforto hit .422/.483/.727 with nine home runs in 33 Triple-A games last season -- helps him much either. Conforto has nothing left to prove at that level.
So what do the Mets do with their young outfielder? This is a cop-out answer, but it will take care of itself. These situations always do. Maybe someone will get hurt and open playing time for Conforto, or maybe either Bruce or Granderson play so poorly that manager Terry Collins has no choice but to bench them. Right now, this looks like a problem. It’s more of a “problem,” though. Having too many quality players is a good thing.
This will sort itself out. I’m sure of it.
Familia’s suspension could create some bullpen issues
At some point MLB will announce a suspension for Mets closer Jeurys Familia under the league’s domestic violence policy. Familia was arrested in October after police found his wife with scratches on her chest and some bruising on her cheek, and while the case was eventually dismissed, there does not need to be a conviction for MLB to hand down a suspension.
Last year Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was suspended 30 games for his domestic violence incident despite not even being arrested, so chances are Familia is going to be hit with at least a 30-game ban. Whatever the number, the Mets will be without their dominant closer for the first few weeks of the season. That means Addison Reed will have to close while others like Salas and Blevins handle setup duty.
Simply put, the Mets are a worse team without Familia, and their bullpen will be short while he serves his suspension. That’s one less great reliever Collins will have at his disposal. Reed is a capable fill-in closer, though the middle innings will be a bit more vulnerable now, and it’s possible that will cost the Mets a game or two while Familia is out. And given how close the postseason race might be, those one or two games could have a huge impact.
Will we see Tebow this summer???
The odds are less than 50/50, though I definitely think it’s possible Tim Tebow will make a big-league cameo at some point this season, likely once rosters expand in September. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a handshake agreement made when he signed last year that Tebow would get call-up in September if he stuck it out all year in the minors. (.)
The Mets insist they signed Tebow for baseball reasons, though we’re not stupid; we know a huge factor in the decision was the marketing potential. That’s why the Mets had TEBOW shirts ready to go the day he signed., but he’s not a baseball savant, and he’s not going to jump from the low minors to the big leagues on merit. There’s a publicity stunt aspect to this, which is why I could see a September call-up happen even if he doesn’t perform well in the minors.
The Mets already know Wright will not be ready for Opening Day, and given the nature of his injuries, the team won’t rush him back. This isn’t so much a baseball issue as it is a quality-of-life issue. Spinal stenosis and neck surgery are serious stuff. Here’s the lineup Collins figures to use while Wright is sidelined:
- 3B Jose Reyes
- CF Curtis Granderson
- LF Yoenis Cespedes
- RF Jay Bruce
- 2B Neil Walker
- 1B Lucas Duda
- SS Asdubal Cabrera
- C Travis d’Arnaud
That’s a really nice lineup. Heavy on power and light on speed, there’s no doubt about that, but when you have guys like Duda and Cabrera hitting sixth and seventh, you’re doing alright. Flores and Lagares give Collins some quality right-handed platoon options on the bench as well.
Collins already took the mystery out of it and announced Syndergaard will be his Opening Day starter. He’ll be the team’s seventh different Opening Day starter in the past eight years. The last Mets pitcher to start consecutive Opening Days was Johan Santana, who started three straight from 2008-10 (and again in 2012). Anyway, here is the projected starting five:
- RHP Noah Syndergaard
- RHP Jacob deGrom
- RHP Matt Harvey
- LHP Steven Matz
- RHP Robert Gsellman
Lugo could very well get the fifth starter’s nod over Gsellman. It would be a surprise if Wheeler makes the Opening Day rotation. It seems likely the Mets will take it slow and have him start the season in the minors, or even extended spring training. Righty Rafael Montero and lefty Sean Gilmartin are other depth arms the Mets will surely have to call upon at some point. No team gets through a season using only five starters these days.
Because MLB has yet to announce Familia’s suspension -- it’s expected to happen at some point before Opening Day -- let’s move forward with the assumption that he’ll be on the roster. Here is the club’s projected relief crew:
- Closer: RHP Jeurys Familia
- Setup: RHP Addison Reed, LHP Jerry Blevins
- Middle: RHP Fernando Salas, RHP Hansel Robles, LHP Josh Edgin
- Long: LHP Sean Gilmartin
Lugo and Montero figure to be in the long relief mix along wth Gilmartin. Familia’s suspension could open the door for two of those three guys to make the Opening Day roster. Other bullpen candidates include Erik Goeddel, Josh Smoker, Paul Sewald, Gorzellany and Rowen. That final long relief spot could be something of a revolving door all season. The other six bullpen spots seem pretty well set.
SportsLine projection: 90-72 (second place in NL East)