The start of the 2017 MLB season is upon us. Other than Steven Matz being shut down for three weeks due to his sore elbow, it appears the Mets may make it out of Florida with the majority of their projected 2017 roster intact. Obviously David Wright isn’t coming north but nobody actually thought that was happening. He’ll be in Port St. Lucie forever.
This team has a chance to be anywhere from very good (86-93 wins) to the class of the National League (94-97 wins). It all depends on the performance and health of the pitching staff and Yoenis Cespedes. Same story as last season.
Other than retaining Yo and letting rotation workhorse Bartolo Colon walk, Sandy Alderson decided to double down with the same roster as last year. The Mets will be using the same roster all over again and expecting different results. Einstein called that insane. Sandy says to hell with Einstein. He’s going all in on this Metsane approach, and the entire season is riding on his bet.
I actually like the idea to some extent. The pitching staff was ravaged by injury in 2016. Pitchers always break, but the odds tell us we should fare better this season in terms of rotation health. The lineup is made up of the same group of veteran feast or famine sluggers. Last season we had historically bad luck with runners in scoring position and set a franchise record for homers. The odds say we’ll fare better with RISP this season if we launch homers at a similar rate.
The Walk Year Season
I’m always a big fan of players in contract years. Whether the data supports it or not, I feel like these types of players come into the season hungry and ready to earn a big payday. So I love that Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera (unless we pick up his 2018 contract option), Jose Reyes, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and Addison Reed are all playing for the big bucks.
Position By Position Thoughts
Outfield: I love Yoenis Cespedes. I think he’ll probably play left field for the majority of the 2017 season which will seriously boost his value on defense. He also arrived at spring training looking jacked. I think he’s about to have an MVP caliber season in the first year of his new deal.
I’m hoping Grandy survives the season at 36 years old and gives the team his usual 25 bombs. But honestly it’s unrealistic to expect that he will survive a grueling full season in center field. The roster doesn’t have a true center fielder and based on that I see no reason why we wouldn’t just shove Michael Conforto out there some of the time. The Mets should be rotating their outfielders to keep the veterans fresh and to ensure Conforto plays almost everyday. The potential re-emergence of Conforto is the type of development that could launch this team to an elite status.
Everybody hates Jay Bruce, but I think he’ll do what he’s historically done this season i.e. hit home runs and suck on defense. I think he will add value to this club even if WAR and the other advanced metrics tell you he won’t. But the roster still needs a true center fielder, and I can imagine the team will be forced to address that at some point this season. If old man Grandy goes down to injury they’ll be forced to play Juan Lagares out there for long stretches. Lagares can’t hit or stay healthy so that’s not an ideal backup solution. Brandon Nimmo offers some nice depth at Triple-A.
Infield: Half of our infield crew is dealing with chronic back problems. Neil Walker says the surgery fixed his back issue. Duda says rest healed his back pain. Wright says he hopes to throw a baseball again this season. Hopefully at least Walker and Duda are telling the truth. Walker, Cabrera, and Duda can/should all mash 20 plus homers which will hopefully make up for their mediocre defense. Reyes should be able to fill in for Wright at third base and handle the top of the order until his hamstrings blows out.
Catching: The Mets should have added a catcher in the offseason. Travis d’Arnaud
can’t throw the ball to second base and struggled to hit all of last season. He’s supposedly fixed the mechanical issue that caused his 2016 hitting woes. I still suspect the issue was injury related, and I don’t expect Mr. Glass to magically transform into a durable player in 2017. It would be nice if he hits during his 80 games instead of serving as a useless black hole in the lineup. Rene Rivera is solely here for defense. Kevin Plawecki is solely here to remind us that prospects can wind up being total busts.
Bench: T.J. Rivera showed everyone last season that he’s more than a quadruple-A bum. He keeps hitting .300. Minors. Majors. World Baseball Classic. He just keeps hitting. I like his bat off the bench. Wilmer Flores hit like Babe Ruth against left-handed pitching last season. It’d be nice if he could boost his production against righties. He’ll wind up playing everyday if he’s able to bridge the gap in his splits.
I’d prefer to replace Ty Kelly with Kelly Johnson. It can still happen since Johnson is still on the free agent scrap heap. Overall I think the bench has some versatility with Flores and Rivera. If Lagares ever returns from that oblique strain he’ll serve as a nice late inning defensive replacement off the bench. That’s really all he’s good for at this point.
Starting Pitching: The entire season rides on the health and performance of the starting staff. I wrote about this recently but we really need three of these guys to be reliable and give us close to 200 innings. Last year we depended on Noah Syndergaard and Colon as those full season constants on the mound. Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom gave the team quality innings when they were healthy, but they fizzled out by September. Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo saved the team in September once deGrom and Matz fizzled. Without them the team never makes the playoffs.
Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are total wild cards. Will Harvey recover from thoracic outlet syndrome? After a two year absence will Wheeler thrive now that he’s been named as part of the Opening Day rotation? I have to believe that three of these seven young arms will step up and stay healthy for a full season. There’s a scenario where this team has the best pitching staff in the league by far and Thor/deGrom make a Cy Young push while Gsellman/Lugo battle for Rookie of the Year. There’s a scenario where Rafael Montero is making meaningful starts by the All-Star Break. I expect something closer to the former scenario. I think we are bound to see a few of these guys come up big and stay healthy.
Bullpen: The Jeurys Familia suspension turned out to be a light 15 games. He’ll be back in no time and after seeing him toss 100 MPH fastballs during the World Baseball Classic, I’m expecting a big season. I know he’s in a contract year, but I expect a regression from Addison Reed. He was arguably the best reliever in the NL last season. I think he’ll be serviceable as a set up man, but I’m not getting my hopes up for the level of dominance he displayed in 2016.
Fernando Salas and Jerry Blevins should form a nice late inning righty/lefty tandem. We need Hansel Robles to step up and show some consistency. At times last year he was a dominant go to arm. And then he had stretches where he seemed to crumble every time he stepped on the mound. It’s always Terry’s fault. He overuses all of these guys. Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin will probably round out the pen to start the season. We’re going with a lefty heavy pen mainly because Edgin is out of options.
Prospect Watch: I think we are about a year away from seeing some of our big time prospects like shortstop stud Amed Rosario and first baseman of the future Dominic Smith. However, one injury could speed up the major league path for these guys. If Rosario and Smith are mashing at Triple-A they could be in line for a promotion if Cabrera’s knees act up at shortstop or if Duda’s back remains cracked.
Weaknesses: The team defense is going to be horrendous. Infielders with no range, a catcher that has no arm, guys playing out of position, no true center fielder. There’s really no positive spin for this club on defense. The Mets could wind up shopping for a new catcher and center fielder during the season. I also think the bullpen could be a weakness. If the starting rotation remains healthy, then guys like Lugo and Wheeler could wind up seeing time in the pen and potentially bolstering that crew. But if they are needed in the rotation for long stretches, I think Sandy winds up trading for an arm in June or July.
Predictions: I think that Thor and Cespedes have a chance to post close to the highest combined WAR for a Mets pitcher/position player in team history. It’s going to be tough to match the 19 WAR posted by Gary Carter (6.9) and Dwight Gooden (12.1) in 1985, but I can see Thor/Yo making a run for the crown.
Ultimately, I think this team wins 91 games and wins a Wild Card spot again. The Mets will battle the Nationals for the division crown up until the final week of the season. I cursed the one game Wild Card playoff the day it was created. At that time I thought the Mets would never make the playoffs again, but now I know that we were simply destined to be a victim of the one-game crapshoot format every time we qualify for the playoffs.