The New York Mets have been undergoing one of the deepest rebuilding efforts in the history of the franchise. Though the team has had more losing seasons than winning, the Mets losing has historically been a product of bad transactions as opposed to conceding the now to win in the future. The most recent Mets run has been compared to the early 1980s version of the franchise. That group, led by General Manager Frank Cashen, they rebuilt their farm system and gradually came back to respectability. Cashen drafted Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, and made trades for young pitchers like Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Walt Terrell. Hired just before the 1980 season, it was Cashen’s 5th season as the team’s GM and President that the Mets finally arrived. The 1984 Mets won 90 games, the first of seven straight winning seasons which featured a World Series Championship and another appearance in the NLCS.
The current rebuilding operation has been led by Sandy Alderson and has been both praised and criticized by fans and the media. While Cashen was more honest about the time it would take to turn the organization around, Alderson was not. His intentions were to turn this into a long rebuild, but he felt inclined to make it seem like he expected success within the first couple seasons. Mostly through the farm system (much of which was players who were in the system when Alderson took over) and through trades the Mets have built themselves into an up-and-coming team. One that is expected to win more games in 2015 than any of the past six seasons.
The 2014 Mets were 79-83, finishing tied for second place with the collapsing Braves in the NL East. The Mets were 15-10 in the months of April, July and September. However, they were 11-18 in May, 11-17 in June and 12-17 in August. For those scoring at home, the Mets were 45-30 in the good months and 34-52 in the bad months. The Mets’ biggest acquisition of the off season is the return of RHP Matt Harvey (9-5, 2.26, 29 starts, 191 Ks, just over 178 IP, league-leading 2.01 FIP in 2013). Though pitchers who come back from Tommy John surgery have a track record of returning to form, history has shown it takes time. There is no doubt, barring a setback, that Harvey will be on the mound for the Mets within the first week of the 2015 season. It is worth mentioning that he is unlikely to be as dominant as he was in 2013 — see Adam Wainwright (2012: 14-13, 3.94, 32 starts, 184 Ks in just under 199 IP; 2013: 19-9, 2.94, 34 starts, 219 Ks in just under 242 IP). I can see a Harvey season similar to Wainwright’s 2012.
The Mets moved very quickly to sign OF Michael Cuddyer to a free-agent contract. Held to just 49 games, but did hit .332 for Colorado last season after winning the batting title (.331, 20, 84) in 130 games in 2013. Similar (but different) to Harvey, Cuddyer is looking to get back to his 2013 form. Like most players who are entering the latter part of their 30s, Cuddyer will need more rest, which the Mets look to do by playing him at 1B against left hand pitchers and DHing him when the team plays games in American League ballparks. John Mayberry Jr (.212, 7, 23 in 78 games for Phillies and Blue Jays) comes over known for his success against LHP. Outside of LHP Sean Gilmartin (9-7, 3.71, 26 games, 26 starts for AA and AAA in the Atlanta system), who was taken in the Rule 5 draft, the Mets have no other notable additions coming into this spring.
The two major questions for the Mets this spring involve the shortstop position and the back of the starting rotation. It seemed like the rotation was set, with Harvey, Zack Wheeler (11-11, 3.54, 32 starts), Jonathon Niese (9-11, 3.40, 30 starts), NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom (9-6, 2.69, 22 starts) and veteran Bartolo Colon (15-13, 4.09, 31 starts). Dillon Gee (7-8, 4.00, 22 starts) seemed headed to the bullpen. Obviously, that changed after the Mets announced that Wheeler would be undergoing TJ himself, putting Gee back in the rotation.
The shortstop question looks like it is both solved and, at the same time, a big concern. The Mets were known by the baseball community as the team that was in most need for a SS during this off season. Any potential deal either was not attempted or fell through, leaving the Mets in the position they are right now. The position they are in right now is great for 23-year-old Wilmer Flores. Signed by the Mets at the age of 16 in 2007, he has spent the last almost seven years in the Mets’ minor league system. While Flores was noticed to outgrow the SS position, making him more of 3B or 2B, the Mets returned him to SS for the 2014 season after spending 2012 and 2013 at 2B and 3B, mostly 2B. In 55 games in AAA, Flores hit .323 with 13 HR. In 78 games for the Mets, he hit .251, 6, 29. Flores had a strong stretch to end the season, going 19 for his last 54 with 3 HR and 11 RBI. Prior to that streak, he did go 0-17 but before that he was an additional 11-28. With the 0-17, he still managed to go 30-99 after August 29th of last season. Flores also looked serviceable as a SS, though not comfortable. If he hits, he will play. Having Ruben Tejada (.237, 5, 34) as a backup allows the Mets to assure better defense later in games. If Flores does not hit, I would expect the Mets to be active in talks to make a trade, even if it includes giving up a pitcher or two they may not want to.
Counting down from 5 to 1 of the most encouraging stories of 2014 for the Mets involve the evolution of Jenrry Mejia from a starting pitcher to a closer. Mejia was good as a starter, but seemed to get tired the third time through the batting order. He finished the season 6-6, 3.65 in 63 games, 7 starts with 28 saves and 98 Ks in just under 94 IP. He is expected to be the closer once again in 2015. Number 4 would be the development of RHP Jeurys Familia (2-5, 2.21, 76 games) as the 8th inning man. Coming into the 2014 season, there were some doubts over whether he could stay healthy and get big league hitters out. While concerns over the former may never be resolved, he sure answered the second.
CF Juan Lagares won his first Gold Glove Award last season. While his defense was always known, it was the steps he took offensively that caught my eye. His numbers (.281, 4, 47, 13 SB) are a testament to his hard work and his willingness to improve. For the first time in his career, there is no doubt that he is the starting CF for the New York Mets. Another concern for the Mets last season was what to do at 1B. Ike Davis and Lucas Duda seemed to be battling it out for the starting spot, with Duda getting the job as the season started. Davis (.233, 11, 51 in 143 games) was traded to the Pirates allowing Duda to relax. Duda answered the bell, hitting his 30th HR on the final game of the season against the Astros.
To me, the most encouraging story of 2014 for the Mets was the development of RHP Wheeler. He finished with 187 Ks in just over 185 IP, but it was his second half that reminded us what was thought when Alderson acquired him from the Giants for Carlos Beltran. After his June 19th CG SHO against the Marlins, he went 9-4, 2.92 with 108 Ks in 107 1/3 IP. In spite of all the talent in the projected Mets starting rotation, I was leaning towards Wheeler having the biggest impact in 2015. Of course, that will not happen. Not having Wheeler puts more pressure on deGrom, who will eventually have to adjust to the hitters that are already set to be adjusted to him.
3B David Wright (.269, 8, 63) is coming off his worst season in the big leagues. He is also coming off an injury that cost him the final month of 2014. Assuming he is now healthy, 2015 will be important in telling whether he can still be a top offensive player on this team or he is in decline. 2B Daniel Murphy (.289, 9, 57), Curtis Granderson (.227, 20, 66) and C Travis d’Arnaud (.242, 13, 41) round out the projected lineup. Though I can see a lot of different combinations, this is the one I would go with: Lagares CF, Granderson LF, Wright 3B, Duda 1B, Cuddyer RF, Murphy 2B, d’Arnaud C, Flores SS. Much can change depending on who is hitting and who is not, which includes d’Arnaud and Flores.
The Mets bench will be led by Mayberry, Tejada and probably Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Eric Campbell. Nieuwenhuis likely gets the spot over Matt den Dekker because Kirk is out of options. The place on the Mets bench that I would like to see the team take more of a look at is backup catcher. Anthony Recker (.201, 7, 27) has been here the past two seasons and has shown what he is. A decent catcher who can play once a week and occasionally hit a HR. If d’Arnaud gets hurt and is out for an extended period of time, Recker gets exposed very easily. If Kevin Plawecki is ready to play in the big leagues, I think he should come north with the club. He can gain experience being on the big league bench and learn from a former catcher himself in bench coach Bob Geren. Plawecki can also learn from d’Arnaud in regards to catching the ball and framing pitches.
The Mets bullpen will feature Mejia, Familia, Carlos Torres (8-6, 3.06, 73 games), Josh Edgin (1-0, 1.32, 47 games) and Vic Black (2-3, 2.60, 41 games). RHP Bobby Parnell is recovering from TJ and will likely join the team after the season starts. In addition to Gilmartin, who seems right now to be the favorite to become the second lefty in the pen, the Mets have Scott Rice, Dario Alvarez and Jack Leathersich (guest on the Passed Ball Show) in to compete. Veteran RHP Buddy Carlyle (1-0, 1.45, 27 games) was a good story last year and remains in the mix to make the team if there is an injury. Gee rounds out the bullpen.
RHP Noah Syndergaard remains the Mets top overall prospect and will make his debut sometime in 2015. The depth of the Mets rotation at the moment may delay his start, but when he comes up, it should be for good, similar to Harvey, Wheeler and deGrom. It remains to be seen if Syndergaard is able to answer the hype. Outside of Plawecki, 2B Dilson Herrera looks to be the most intriguing offensive prospect going into this season. With Murphy likely gone as a FA after the season is over, Herrera looks like he will be the Mets 2B of the future. OFs Michael Conforto (2014 first-round draft pick) and Brandon Nimmo have the ability to be solid MLB players but are unlikely to join the team in 2015. 19-year-old Dominic Smith (PBS guest) will take some time to develop as he was one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League last season. Don’t forget about pitchers Steven Matz, Rafael Montero and Akeel Morris (PBS guest with the sub 1.00 ERA last season). They are all champing at the bit to get a chance to be part of the big club.
The Mets’ pitching should allow them to compete with anybody in 2015. However, it will only go as far as their offense takes them. If they fail to score runs, which has been a problem over the past couple seasons, they will not succeed. The game of baseball has changed to where most teams have capable to good starting pitchers and it has been proven that the teams that struggle mightily offensively have the most problems winning games. Vegas puts the Mets O/U at 81 1/2, which I think is right on. If their lineup produces, they can win upwards to about 87-88 games this year. If they do not, they may win about 80-82 games. I am going right in the middle at 84-78, finishing 2nd in the NL East division.