The New York Mets have put together back to back playoff seasons after missing the post-season for almost a decade. While the Mets aren’t quite the “Bad Boys” who won the franchise’s lone championship in 1986, they are a very good baseball team who are on the cusp of greatness if they can manage to stay healthy.
Longtime Met, David Wright is still slotted in as the starting third basemen; but, he is unlikely to start the season due to a recurring shoulder injury. He has battled various back and shoulder ailments over the past few seasons and it’s very unlikely he will ever get back to the all-star level that he was once at during his prime. While he is still a useful player when healthy, it’s unlikely he will be able to be a full time player again. Over the past two seasons he has only played 38 and 37 games respectively. Now age 34, Wright is better suited to be a DH since his defense is declined and the wear and tear of playing every day is too much. Unfortunately in the National League Wright has to tough it out or be relegated to a pinch hitter off the bench which is not going to happen due to his 4 years and 67 million dollar contract that will run through 2020.
The Mets and Wright really have no choice but to hope Wright can get healthy since he holds a full no trade clause and is simply too expensive to easily move anyways. He may get moved to first base eventually but who knows. Anyhow, enough with the background; what can be expected of Wright in 2017? I would expect him to play 60 to 70 games at best, hit 8 to 10 home runs, 30 to 35 runs and RBI’s, hit .250 and steal a couple bases. The production pro-rated over an entire season would be respectable but it’s nowhere near what Wright or the Mets need at third base.
With Wright likely to be on the shelf for periods of time or require every other day off, The Mets will utilize another fading and injury prone veteran and domestic assaulter, Jose Reyes. The former all-star is also a shell of his former self and no longer has the range to play shortstop every day. Reyes doesn’t have the top speed that once made him one of the best players in baseball but he is still a threat to steal bases. Reyes will likely play some shortstop from time to time, but I would imagine he sticks to third base for the most part from here on out. It’s hard to predict what Reyes has left in the tank but he should be able to provide a respectable batting average, some stolen bases and a few scattered home runs in his limited playing time.
Asdrubal Cabrera will begin his second season in New York and he is coming off one of his better offensive seasons. Some regression in the home run department is likely since he hit the second highest total of his career last year with 23 and at age 33. It’s really unlikely he has another power gear we haven’t seen. In reality, Cabrera isn’t much more then a middle of the road shortstop at this stage of his career but he’s good enough for the Mets for the time being. His batting average and power is slightly above average but his speed is below average. His counting stats in 2017 will be highly dependent upon where he ends up in the batting order. Last year he hit as high as 2nd, as well as in the four hole but also spent a lot of time in the 7th spot. I would not be surprised if he ends up slotting lower in the order this year but it’s a situation to monitor as spring training progresses.
At second base, Neil Walker will try to pick up where he left off last season. Walker was on a tear in 2016 but was playing through some major back pain and in early September elected for season ending back surgery. Walker is already fully recovered and claims to be pain free for the first time in four years. Will this help the slugging second basemen reach new heights? Walker is now 31 years old and is playing the best baseball of his career. His advanced hitting metrics don’t scream regression and he generally does everything at the plate pretty well so there’s no reason to believe that he won’t put up numbers similar to those from the past three seasons. Walker takes walks, has a good average, doesn’t strike out too often (17.4% career) and has solid isolated power numbers that range from .158 to .195 over the past three years. He will likely be the Mets’ cleanup hitter, so big things should be expected.
First basemen, Luca Duda is another player with injury concerns headed into 2017. He has been receiving cortisone shots due to back issues but claims he will be fine. These kind of injuries have a tendency to linger so this is another situation worth monitoring. Duda had a really bad 2016 season and missed most of it with back issues and he is hoping for a clean bill of health this year. In 2014 and 2015 Duda broke out in a big way and hit 27 and 30 home runs. He has developed a good eye and walks 11% of the time while only striking out in 23.4% of his at bats. He is a lefty that struggled against lefty pitchers but his power against rightys is as good as anyone in the league; so if can play a full season, another 30 home runs is in the cards. I’m not holding my breathe that he will be able to be healthy for 162 games. If Duda misses any time, Wilmer Flores is currently slotted to play first base which is a significant downgrade but as I mentioned I could see a situation where David Wright is moved to first base if his health allows for it. There’s also the possibility of Jay Bruce stepping in at first which I’ll discuss a little later.
While we are on the injury train let’s move to catcher where long time top prospect Travis D’Arnaud is hoping to stay healthy so he can finally break out. D’Arnaud is now 28 and is unlikely to ever reach the once lofty heights his prospect status carried. In parts of four seasons, D’Arnaud has now only played in 281 games and had 1077 at bats. The power has yet to develop and his catching abilities are still below average. This will be a very telling year for D’Arnaud and the Mets will need him to stay healthy because their backup catcher battle between Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki is not one that will yield dividends for the Mets. Any offensive output from D’Arnaud would be gravy but don’t expect much on that front. D’Arnaud’s season will be considered a success if he can play 120 games and hit 10 home runs and provide a .250 average. He is likely to be the team’s 8th hitter so RBI and runs will be scarce from D’Arnaud.
The Mets outfield has some solid sluggers in Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce. It’s a pretty crowded outfield but it’s very possible Jay Bruce is moved to first base if Duda misses time as he’s taking reps at first base already during spring training. There’s also no natural centre fielder in that mix which leaves Juan Lagares mainly on the bench of used as a pinch defender/pnch runner at this point.
Curtis Granderson is a very streaky player and for years it seems he was supposed to slow down and regress. When he left the Yankees in free agency and joined the Mets he held a 28% strike out rate. During his last three years that rate has dropped to between 20% to 22%. He may not be hitting 40 home runs anymore but he has hit 20, 26 and 30 home runs in 2014 to 2016 respectively. His batting average will always be a little below average due to his far above average fly ball rate (44% in his career compared to 35% league average), but he continues to hit the ball hard. As he enters his age 36 season and is set to enter free agency at the seasons end, it’s likely his days as an outfielder are numbered as his defense is well below average. Nonetheless, he will continue to see regular playing time in the Mets order and will chip in around 25 home runs, 80 RBI’s and 70 runs. He will be hungry for a contract as a DH in the American League.
Yoenis Cespedes returns to the Mets for a third season after flirting in free agency for the second year in a row. Cespedes is another not so young player (31 years old) but is only entering his 5th MLB season. He is much better suited to play left field where he has made a few highlight worthy throws but plays a below average centre field out of necessity. Cespedes is almost offensively identical to Granderson in the fact that he hits a lot of fly balls, has above average power and has reasonable walk and strike out rates. I feel pretty comfortable predicting Cespedes will come close to repeating his 2016 performance if he remains healthy. 30 Home runs with 90 RBI’s, 80 runs and a .275 average is likely where the Cuban masher settles in.
Jay Bruce comes over to the Mets from the Reds. Bruce had a bit of resurgent year at the plate but let’s be honest, he’s not that good. This trade is pretty questionable given that the Mets already have Michael Conforto and aren’t really in need of another slugger who lacks defensive ability. The rumour is that the Mets have been trying to trade him for assets but with no luck. Eventually I’m sure he is destined to became a full time first basemen or DH once he hits free agency but for now he will plod around right field and remain a defensive liability who cannot hit for average and pops the ball up a lot, but he will hit 20ish home runs. Over his past three seasons he has put up a combined 0.2 WAR while former beloved Blue Jay and current Chicago Cubs infielder Munenori Kawasaki is a 0.8 WAR player in the same time period as a fringe major league bench player. What I’m trying to say is that Jay Bruce isn’t a very good baseball player and I’d take Kawasaki any day of the week over him. Even if Bruce gets placed at first base this year he still won’t be a great option. He’s the number three option on the team for first base but at least this would make room for a better outfielder to play everyday…
Michael Conforto is the team’s fourth outfielder and may not see everyday playing time to begin the season. His rookie campaign in 2015 was pretty good as he hit .270/.335/.506 and added 9 home runs and 30 RBI’s in under 200 at bats. 2016 was a step back for the youngster but he battled back and wrist injuries. His batting averages took a fall but an ailing wrist will have a tendency to adversely impact a batter’s performance. Conforto was killing it in April for the Mets as he batted .369 but the average quickly fell to below the Mendoza line in the months of May and June respectively. Sophomore slump and injuries aside it appears Conforto is a better player then his 2016 performance. The former top 10 pick is only 24 years old and has shown during his quick ascent to the majors that he has the tools to be a good well rounded hitter. I’d expect that Conforto plays his way into a starting role somewhere in the outfield in 2016 and he could have a big season in store if he is healthy and takes a step forward.
Now that I have gotten the position players out of the way I can get giddy and talk about one of the best pitching staffs in baseball!
Noah Syndergaard or the man they call Thor has quickly become the team’s ace and one of the best pitcher’s in all of baseball. The kid can absolutely huck the ball as he touches 98 Mph with his heater and as a starter this is simply awesome. This velocity helps Thor hold an amazing strike out rate in the 10.5 K/9 range which is downright elite. Thor’s slider is already a great pitch and the change up has been coming along nicely. At the age of 24 he has already harnessed his command to a respectable 2.1 walks per 9 innings and it’s likely that he has room and ability to improve on all the these fronts. Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball but the young Syndergaard is knocking on the door and in 2017 should move into the conversation. Expect very big things from the blonde wonder.
Jacob deGrom is the second arm in a long line of talent in New York. deGrom had a huge breakout in 2015 and that success carried over relatively well into 2016. He does not throw as hard as Syndergaard but throwing a 94 Mph heater is still fast. Last year his strike out rate hovered just below 9 K’s per 9 innings and he had a solid 2.19 walks per 9 innings ratio. Like Thor, deGrom has a very good fastball and killer slider. He needs to develop his change up a bit more, but that’s a feel pitch that usually comes with time and experience. A bit more regression to his ERA is likely as he had an 80% strand rate in 2016 which is not sustainable, but if he can continue to limit walks deGrom should be just fine. So if 2016 is close to his floor then the Mets have two aces on their hands.
Steve Matz is set to be the team’s third starter and like deGrom and Thor he had a solid 2016 as well. Similar to the aforementioned pitchers I’ve profiled he possesses a very good slider but instead of a fastball he uses a very good sinker and curve ball to induce ground balls at an impressive 51% rate. Matz also has great strike out ability and flirted with 9 K’s per 9 innings last year as well. Barring injury Matz should be able to put up similar numbers to those of deGrom and a 3.5 ERA is realistic again.
How the mighty have fallen…The Dark Knight Matt Harvey is the Mets number four starter. After a heavy workload in 2015, Harvey had some significant shoulder issues in 2016. He experienced something called thoracic outlet syndrome and required surgery for the symptoms. He was said to have felt a dead arm and shoulder and was losing feeling in his fingers. He was shut down from July onward and ended up only pitching in half a season that saw a big drop to his ERA. The ERA problems can be related partially to some bad luck but his strike out rate dropped about 1.5 K’s per 9 and his fastball saw nearly a 1 Mph drop in velocity. Considering that he may deal with shoulder issues again and missed the entire 2014 season after Tommy John surgery this is not good. He’s a very good candidate to hit the IR again and the dreaded Tommy John surgery that often hits hard slider throwing pitchers could be needed again which would be game over. However, if Harvey appears healthy in spring training and can regain his velocity then I will take back my words and be very excited to see the Dark Knight again.
Seth Lugo is expected to hold onto the final starter position until Zach Wheeler returns from Tommy John rehab. Unlike the other four starters, Lugo was not a big strike out guy last year but he did manage to greatly outperform his FIP in his short 2016 MLB debut. His 2.6 ERA will likely regress to the 4.6 range in 2017 due to ridiculously lucky strand and BABIP luck. His strike out potential is greater then what we saw in 2016 so I’d expect a tick up to 7 to 7.5 K’s per 9 this year. As the last starter he will be just fine if he can get through a batting order twice every fifth day but isn’t that exciting otherwise.
Robert Gsellman is another young arm who has a chance to break camp with the Mets as a starter. The chance he supplants Lugo is possible and he showed some great promise during the majority of his minor league career. In his 44 major league innings last year he posted an elite home run rate at 0.2 HR per 9. It was only 44 innings so that is not going to sustain but outside of his struggles in a short AAA stop in Vegas where home runs are common, Gsellman has never allowed more than .39 HR per 9 innings. Those kind of numbers are elite amongst the elite. He is more of a pitch to contact pitcher so don’t expect a lot of strike outs from him but as a 5th starter he’s got a shot at being a reliable gem if he cracks the rotation. Even if Gsellman doesn’t break camp it’s very likely one of the Mets starters misses time this year (63 combined starts for deGrom, Matz and Harvey last year only) and Gsellman will be a nice fill in with upside.
The Mets haven’t made any significant changes to their bullpen since last season. To start the season, Jeurys Familia will likely miss at a minimum the month of April. Under MLB’s new domestic abuse policy he is due to miss 30 games but this hasn’t been confirmed yet. I don’t want to write too much about this wife beater but he’s been one of the better closers in baseball over the past two seasons. After two solid regular seasons he has also had two playoff stints where he had key meltdowns. I don’t think that will carry over into 2017’s regular season though.
With the suspension to Familia looming, setup man Addison Reed is expected to serve as the club’s closer in Familia’s absence. Reed has lots of 9th inning experience as he was the White Sox closer from 2012 through 2013 and held the role with the Diamondbacks in 2014. Reed actually had his best season in the big leagues last year. His strike out rate was up, the home runs allowed held at a very low mark for the second year in a row and his walk rate was superb. I could see a situation where if Reed gets on a role in April he actually holds the closing job until he falters regardless of Familia’s return.
After the top two relievers, Hansel Robles is the next best right handed reliever on the squad. The 26 year old had a pretty good second season in the bigs. He has a 95 Mph heater and strikes out about 10 batters per 9 innings. If he can improve his slider he has potential to make that strike out rate increase even further. Robles would be a dark horse to get some saves eventually if things go sideways for the Mets.
Fernando Salas will likely be at 6th or 7th inning guy as he looks to rebound from a mediocre season where his home run rate rose substantially and his strike outs were also down from 9.36 K/9 in 2014 and 10.46 K/9 in 2015 and all the way down to 7.8 K/9 in 2016. Unfortunately for Salas he was hit harder then at any other point in his career. I wouldn’t expect a huge rebound from Salas as he is likely going to stay in the mid 4 ERA range this year if his strike out rates don’t suddenly come back up.
The last important name in the pen Is Jerry Blevins who will return to the Mets as he flirted with free agency. He will be the primary lefty out of the pen. He has some pretty good strike out stuff and will be used in high leverage situations mainly against hard hitting lefties. The Mets could use another solid lefty and I’m sure they will try to shop Jay Bruce to solve that problem.
Health will be the critical factor in the New York Mets season. A few key position players are already dealing with lingering issues from the start of Spring Training but the Mets have some backup players and positional flexibility to make due. The starting rotation is downright filthy but again like the positional players have a few injury concerns to worry about. At least the Mets have depth to help pick them up if and when a key starter goes down. If the Mets position players could be counted on for reliable health I would have no issue taking them to win the division but a lot of the key players are well over 30 and dealing with injuries so I think they will be in a dogfight to win a wild card position with 86 wins this year.
Noah Syndergaard – If he remains healthy (Which is always a risk with pitchers) I think Syndergaard finishes as a top 5 starting pitch. With his swing and miss pitches he will rack up over 225 strike outs, win 17 games and have an ERA of 2.80 and a WHIP of 1.11. Those are Cy Young caliber numbers. Draft Thor with confidence and you’ll be rewarded!
Yoenis Cespedes – The Cuban masher has shown no signs of slowing down and will hit in the heart of a power hitting line up. I expect that he will hit 0.275/.329/.499 and add 30 home runs, 90 RBI’s and 80 runs. He is not quite a top caliber outfielder but he’s a damn fine number two to slot into your fantasy squad.
Matt Harvey – I don’t feel anyone on the Mets is rated improperly so I’m going to have to pick on Matt Harvey. His injury that ended his 2016 campaign is worrisome. He’s not being drafted until around the 120th pick in most drafts which is fair but I’d rather take Steven Matz who is going about 25 picks later in some formats. If Harvey stays healthy he should be fine but I will be shocked if he pitches more then 15 games this year and I expect his ERA to stay in the 4.00 range. Don’t draft a guy you know is going to get hurt and probably put up mediocre numbers.
Addison Reed – I don’t believe in paying for saves and so far it seems Reed is going cheap enough in drafts that you can snag him late. He will get you at least one months worth of saves and has solid ratio’s and strike out potential. Worst case scenario you drop him for another reliever on waivers and best case he holds onto the closing job for a playoff bound squad. I expect that he will get 6 or 7 saves alone in April but that he will hold onto the closing job for the year and end up with 30+ saves while striking out a batter per inning with a sub 3.00 ERA.