As the baseball season draws nearer, there’s at least some hope that the Mets will surprise the baseball world and be good this year. While few will pick the team to make the playoffs, never mind win the pennant, it would be foolish to completely count the Mets out before Opening Day.
If the Mets are going to succeed, they’ll need their free-agent acquisitions and young players to perform well enough to complement their captain, David Wright. A bounce-back year from one or both of Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis would go a long way towards making the Mets postseason-relevant, too. Sandy Alderson has undoubtedly built a stronger outfield than he did heading into last season. While the worst-case scenarios for Curtis Granderson and Chris Young aren’t pretty, neither player is too far removed from his last good season. If Juan Lagares can hit enough to stick in center field, Mets fans will get to find out if his excellent defense last year is sustainable. There’s a non-zero chance that the team will have three 3.0 WAR outfielders this season, and that wasn’t the case a year ago at this time.
Unfortunately, half of the team’s infield was terrible last year. Ruben Tejada was decent in 2011 and 2012 but fell apart completely last year, and Ike Davis turned in his second straight miserable first half. Neither player needs to turn into a superstar to make the Mets good again, but they would definitely have do better than replacement-level. With superstar David Wright at third base and the steadily-decent Daniel Murphy at second, the infield as a whole might look okay if Tejada and Davis—or, if he fails, Lucas Duda—play like major leaguers. While John Buck wasn’t bad for the Mets last year, the team clearly expects better production from top prospect Travis d’Arnaud.
As for pitchers, there’s plenty to like about the team’s starting rotation. Jon Niese and Dillon Gee might not be All-stars, but both pitchers had success in the second half last year; Bartolo Colon is old and doesn’t figure to make 30 starts this year, but he has been awfully effective over the last couple of years; Zack Wheeler showed some promise in his rookie season. With a bunch of other arms at or near the major league level, including Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom, the Mets have starting pitching depth that they simply didn’t have over the last couple of years.
The Mets’ bullpen is a question mark. Bobby Parnell, the team’s only experienced pitcher who was also very good last year, is returning from neck surgery. There are plenty of other young arms who could be good, plus Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde, both of whom were signed to minor league deals. The team’s bullpen has been one of the worst in baseball for years, so there’s virtually nowhere to go but up.
Those are the best-case scenario Mets: a pretty good outfield, a decent infield, good starting pitching, and a not-worst-in-the-league bullpen. That alone might not get the team into the postseason, but it doesn’t hurt that some of their division rivals don’t look particularly intimidating. The Braves got worse. Brian McCann left for the Yankees, Tim Hudson left for the Giants, and Atlanta replaced them with Gavin Floyd and Ryan Doumit. That’s not to say the Braves will be terrible, but it’s not hard to see them winning fewer games than they did last year. The Phillies don’t look great, either, even with the addition of A.J. Burnett. And the Marlins have a couple of young superstars in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, but they could very well finish in fifth place again. The Nationals will be picked by many to win the division, of course, as their team looks at least as strong as it did on paper one year ago.
Those teams aren’t the Mets’ only competition for the playoffs, but in a top-heavy National League, the bar could be relatively low for the second Wild Card spot. There are teams other than the Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers that are projected to fare better than the Mets this year, but perhaps the team can slip into the one-game playoff… And once they do, Matt Harvey will force his way back on to the pitcher’s mound and propel the Mets to their first postseason series since 2006.