It’s pretty telling that the opportunity to write an article about why we should be worried about the upcoming season appeared more enticing than something a little more positive. But such is life as a Mets fan.
After Chris McShane helped shine the light at the end of the tunnel yesterday, it’s only fitting that we quickly shut it off. Even though the Mets appear headed in the right direction, there’s still some tunnel left to get through.
Here’s exactly why 2014 should be more of a stepping-stone than a banner year.
The Mets hope to feature a stronger lineup in 2014 than they have in recent years. New additions Curtis Granderson and Chris Young will add some pop to the lineup—and that could be it. Young has a career 315 on-base percentage, and Granderson hasn’t topped .320 in the past two seasons.
The last outfield spot will likely be a black hole for offense, so much so that Eric Young—he of the career .299 wOBA—is considered an upgrade over defensive wizard Juan Lagares.
The infield will be led by David Wright, but there’s not much after him. Daniel Murphy projects to be slightly above-average with the bat and on the bases, but the Mets will probably need more than that to make up for light-hitting Ruben Tejada at shortstop and whichever version of Ike Davis shows up at first. Few doubt that rookie catcher Travis d’Arnaud can eventually hit big league pitching, but the Mets should anticipate some growing pains. Hopefully those are the only pains the oft-injured catcher experiences.
All things considered, the team shouldn’t be expected to score many more runs than it did last year. The projections don’t give them much of a chance, despite the offseason additions.
As previously mentioned, the Mets appear to have something in defensive wizard Juan Lagares, if they decide to play him. Terry Collins seems infatuated with the idea of starting Eric Young because of his ability to steal bases. Lagares should still manage a decent amount of playing time, unless the team struggles to score and he finds himself benched.
Chris Young and Granderson could be adequate or better defenders in the outfield if their bodies allow it. If they break down, a solid defensive outfield on paper will turn into a below average defensive outfield on the field.
The infield has even more questions marks. If Tejada doesn’t hit, the team doesn’t really have a true replacement at shortstop. Combine that with a still-below-average Murphy at second base, and the middle of the infield could allow a lot of ground balls to sneak through for hits.
The Mets could have had a sneaky-good rotation, except their ace is only making headlines for his disagreements with management. On top of that, de facto ace Jon Niese won’t be able to make his first start, making Dillon Gee—one of baseball’s best fifth starters—the Mets' Opening Day starter.
Zack Wheeler has the potential to provide flashes of brilliance. He also has the potential to be regularly pulled in the fifth inning with 105 pitches and four walks under his belt. His ability to throw strikes will be one of the key developments of 2014.
Meanwhile, Jenrry Mejia should offer a nice distraction for Mets fans eager to see the team’s top pitching prospects, which is perfect because they will probably be ready to debut around the time Mejia makes his first trip to the disabled list.
Considering all the year-to-year variance in relief pitcher performance, it’s kind of amazing that the Mets bullpen has been so bad for so long. This year’s pen could be the best since 2006, but that's not saying much. Bobby Parnell needs to prove he’s healthy, and young guns Jeurys Familia and Vic Black need to prove they can throw just enough strikes. If not, this could easily become another failpen.
Yes, the team does have a highly regarded minor league system for the first time in a long time. Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, and others should make the jump to the majors this year and help make things a bit more exciting in Queens.
The rest of the team’s top prospects are too young to expect any time soon, and too far away from the majors to reasonably count on to contribute down the line. This group of minor leagues is also where you’ll find most of the team's top hitting prospects, although there’s also the recently-suspended Cesar Puello and the position-less Wilmer Flores to provide a more immediate impact.
It would be foolish to say that 2014 will be a long year for the Mets. A truly long year would be one that extends deep into October, and that’s not likely to happen in Queens until at least 2015.
The Mets will provide their usual early and mid-season glimmers of hope. Someone will have surprising success in a small sample (Ike Davis?) and everyone will jump on board when the team goes on a six-game winning streak in June. The Yankees will slump around that time, and New York will feel like a Mets town again. Then the season’s first off-the-field scandal will appear on Deadspin, the six game winning streak will be followed by an eight-game losing streak, and everyone will be left counting down until the days until Thor’s debut.