The New York Mets Need Their Young Core to Take the Next Step to Contend in 2019

The New York Mets have been one of the most active teams in Major League Baseball this offseason and are surely a National League playoff threat in 2019. But if the Mets aspire to be an NL pennant threat, they need their young core to take the next step.

The Mets missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season in 2018. In the midst of a 77-win season, their offense was a recurring issue. Finishing 2018 23rd in MLB in runs (676), 29th in hits (1,282), 21st in home runs (170), 26th in total bases (2,125) 29th in batting average (.234), 21st in on-base percentage (.312), 26th in slugging (.389), and 24th in OPS (.701), their lineup was one of the least productive units in the sport. To shore up that aspect of their ballclub, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has been aggressive in upgrading around the diamond.

Acquiring Robinson Cano from the Seattle Mariners gives the Mets one of the best infielders and hitters in the sport. A career .304 hitter and a slick defender, the veteran gives them a premier second baseman. Edwin Diaz, who also came over from the Mariners, gives the Mets a young closer on the rise — who was also an All-Star last season.

The Mets have also been busy on the free agent market. Signing veteran catcher Wilson Ramos, infielder Jed Lowrie, and outfielder Keon Broxton, they have deepened manager Mickey Callaway‘s depth chart. Ramos is one of the most productive hitting catchers in the sport and a reliable presence behind the plate; Lowrie is a steady contact hitter fresh off totaling a career-best 99 RBIs and can play all four infield positions; Broxton is a high-level defender who gives the Mets insurance for Yoenis Cespedes — whose health remains an area of concern.

The Mets have had a great offseason, and have lined themselves up to be playoff threats in 2019. But as @RPStratakos writes, they can go no further without their young core blossoming.Click To Tweet

The Mets also signed right-hander Jeurys Familia on a three-year deal — returning the reliever to Citi Field after being traded to the Oakland Athletics in July — and left-hander Justin Wilson on a two-year deal adding reliability to their bullpen.

Cano, Ramos, and Lowrie bolster the Mets lineup; a starting rotation of 2018 NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz is one of the best in the sport; Diaz, Familia, and Wilson give the Mets a respectable bullpen. So, what could get in the way of a well-rounded Mets team from reaching the playoffs and/or going on a magic carpet ride in October? Their young everyday players.

Sure, they’ll be respectable, but the Mets offense is heavily reliant on the likes of outfielders Michael Conforto (25) and Brandon Nimmo (25), as well as infielders Amed Rosario (23) and Peter Alonso (24) producing on a consistent basis in 2019.

Conforto has been one of few bright spots for the Mets in recent memory, as he has totaled 55 home runs over the last two seasons and hit .279 in 2017 while holding his own in the field. At the same time, he hit just .243 in 2018, has been inconsistent, and records too many strikeouts. He has a good eye, but Conforto needs to hit for contact more if he’s going to blossom into a franchise player.

In his first complete season at the MLB level, Nimmo was productive at the plate, hitting .263 while totaling 17 home runs. He’s also a reliable fielder who can play all three outfield positions. But his offensive production has come in spurts. At times, he badly whiffs at pitches and his swing can be erratic. It’s crucial that the 25-year-old becomes a more consistent hitter in his second full season.

Once the team’s top prospect, Rosario has been the Mets starting shortstop for the majority of the last year and a half. While he’s one of the fastest individuals in the sport and a flashy fielder, Rosario’s offensive production needs improving. He’s a career .255 hitter and gets caught off-balanced at the plate, resulting in many groundouts. Rosario needs to find ways to get on base more often and level out his swing.

The Mets appear willing to make the highly regarded Alonso their starting first baseman in 2019. His production in the minor leagues in 2018 backs up their desire to do so. Hitting .285 while totaling 36 home runs and 119 RBIs in split time in the Mets Double and Triple-A affiliate, Alonso was one of the best hitters in the minor leagues last season. To expect those same results in 2019 with the Mets would be foolish, but the organization can’t afford for Alonso to become the next Dominic Smith and be sent up and down from Triple-A due to disappointing results.

Conforto, Nimmo, Rosario, and Alonso project to make up 44.4 percent of the Mets starting lineup. While his role is unclear given Cano’s arrival, infielder Jeff McNeil could also play a role in their everyday order after hitting an impressive .329 in 225 at-bats in 2018. If the Mets young core can take things to the next level offensively and establish themselves as fixtures at their respective positions, the Mets could be a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, if that group continues to be promising, but merely produces the same results, the Mets offense will not be a high-octane unit — which would be detrimental to their hopes of going on a deep playoff run.

The NL features many formidable and/or proven teams. The Los Angeles Dodgers have won the NL Pennant in each of the last two seasons; the Milwaukee Brewers were one game away from reaching the World Series last season; the Colorado Rockies have been a Wild Card team in each of the last two seasons; the Chicago Cubs have won 92-plus games a season since 2015; the St. Louis Cardinals won 88 games in 2018 and have added perennial All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and reliever Andrew Miller this offseason.

With that said, the Mets most daunting task this season will be overcoming the NL East — a once dead, but now lively division.

The Atlanta Braves won the division last season, have a young core that can only improve in the coming years, and possess a reliable starting rotation. This offseason they’ve added third baseman Josh Donaldson, catcher Brian McCann, and re-signed outfielder Nick Markakis. There’s no reason why their ballclub can’t work off, or replicate their success last season in 2019.

While they may lose Bryce Harper to free agency, the Washington Nationals have added left-hander Patrick Corbin, right-hander Anibal Sanchez, catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, infielders Brian Dozier and Matt Adams, and relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough this offseason. With one of the best starting rotations in the sport and an improving young lineup, the Nationals are a playoff threat in 2019.

The Philadelphia Phillies have also been active this offseason. Adding Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, and David Robertson, they’ve filled multiple voids on their roster. With one of the best rotation duos in the sport in Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, as well as a young positional core, the Phillies are a team capable of competing for the postseason. See the Mets’ problem here?

Getting into the playoffs will be challenging for the Mets, but it’s not far-fetched. On the other hand, when it comes to contending, there’s no margin for error. The Mets’ best chance of prevailing in the NL East and the NL, as a whole, is their young core blossoming; it’ll be their make-or-break factor.

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