Mets fans are conditioned to hope for the best and expect the worst. Long-lasting success has proved elusive for the Mets thanks to a combination of front office mismanagement, underachieving superstars, injuries, and bad luck. After enduring a woeful 70-win season, it would be hard to blame Mets fans for being negative. However, there are plenty of reasons to believe the 2018 Mets have what it takes to secure their third playoff berth in four years.
1. New Faces
It was refreshing to see the Mets make some much-needed changes after last year. Terry Collins stepped down as Mets manager and was replaced by former Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. The success of the Indians pitching staff under his tutelage bodes well for the Mets, who will need their talented young starters to rebound after an injury-plagued and underwhelming 2017. The Mets have surrounded Callaway with a great coaching staff, including former Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina and former Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, all of whom will assist Callaway as he navigates his first year as skipper. Though his in-game management style and decision making remain to be seen, Callaway has already proven that he can make tough decisions and hold players accountable after benching Dom Smith following a late arrival to a pregame meeting earlier this spring.
The Mets also took advantage of a slow-moving free agent market by making a number of economical signings. Todd Frazier, the team’s new third baseman, is expected to provide clubhouse leadership and add some power from the right side of the plate. Jay Bruce, who slugged 29 home runs for the Mets last year before being traded to Cleveland, found his way back to Queens and will feature prominently in the middle of the batting order. The Mets also signed Anthony Swarzak and Jason Vargas to address needs in their bullpen and rotation, respectively.
2. The Kids Are All Right
The Mets have a number of young players looking to prove themselves in 2018, including Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. The two have struggled to maintain success in the majors, but there is reason to think 2018 will be different. After struggling through much of last year, d’Arnaud put together an impressive September, with a slash line of .297/.343/.656 in the final 20 games. He continued that run into spring training, where he recorded 12 hits in 36 at-bats. Plawecki also finished 2017 strong, hitting .307 over the final two months of the season and carrying the momentum into spring training. Callaway rewarded Plawecki with an Opening Day start, but the two are expected to share catching responsibilities.
Perhaps no Met had a more impressive spring than center fielder Brandon Nimmo, who will lead off on Opening Day. Brandon Nimmo’s plate discipline is a key asset, highlighted by a 15.3-percent walk rate in 2017. Nimmo had arguably the best Spring Training of any Met regular, posting a .306 average and leading the team in hits. If Nimmo can keep up with his .367 career on-base percentage, he should prove to be a viable lead-off hitter.
The Mets will also get a better look at shortstop Amed Rosario, who was ranked as the second best prospect in all of baseball last July before his call up. Rosario hit .248 in 165 at-bats last season and showed nice range and stellar defense in limited action. There is plenty of room for improvement in all facets of Rosario’s game, but it’s important to remember that, at 22 years old, he’s nowhere near his full potential. Watching Rosario develop will certainly be fun for Mets fans in the coming years.
3. Two Aces
MLB.com listed Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom as the best pitching duo in all of baseball. That is high praise when you consider the competition around the league, and it’s easy to understand why they would top the list. Noah Syndergaard, who missed most of 2017 with a partial tear in his right lat after an All-Star 2016 season, appeared healthy during a dominant spring training showing. Jacob deGrom, who was the Mets’ most dependable starter in 2017, looked strong throughout Grapefruit League Action. If Syndergaard and deGrom can pitch like a pair of aces, the Mets will be well positioned in 2018.
While there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this team, there are also concerns heading into the 2018 season.
1. Are They Healthy?
The question of health will follow the Mets until they can prove that it’s not an issue. The Mets had 28 total disabled list stints in 2017, which was tied third most in the league, including significant stints for Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes, Jeurys Familia, Michael Conforto, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz. The Mets revamped their training staff over the offseason as they parted ways with longtime head trainer Ray Ramirez and replaced him with Jim Cavallini. It remains to be seen if Cavallini can change the narrative and make the necessary changes to the way the Mets handle injuries and approach strength and conditioning.
While injuries are inescapable, the Mets will need Jeurys Familia, Yoenis Cespedes, and Noah Syndergaard to stay healthy in order to compete. The Mets also cannot afford Matt Harvey and Steven Matz to miss significant time as they have over the past two seasons.
2. Pitching Beyond the Aces
Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will both garner Cy Young Award consideration, but the rest of the staff is a question mark. Matt Harvey, who will be a free agent following the season, is pitching to prove to the Mets and the rest of the league that he can still be an effective major league starter. The past two years have been a nightmare for Harvey, who has amassed a 9-17 record in 35 starts during that stretch. Steven Matz, who pitched in only 13 games last year, has not been able to piece together an injury-free season to date. That leaves Jason Vargas, who was signed to be the veteran innings eater, but is missing the start of the season due to an injury suffered during spring training. Vargas, who won a career-high 18 games in 2017, will also need to show he can replicate that success for the Mets.
The same questions surround the bullpen. Jeurys Familia is back after missing significant time in 2017 following a domestic violence suspension and a blood clot, but it remains to be seen whether he can rediscover his dominant 2015 form. A.J. Ramos, Jerry Blevins, and Anthony Swarzak have the opportunity to form a strong pen, but beyond that there are few guarantees. Can Robert Gsellman make the transition from starter to reliever? Will Zack Wheeler find his way into the pen at some point? Can Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame prove that they belong in the majors? Will Hansel Robles make an appearance and can he be salvaged?
3. The Competition
The Washington Nationals are the consensus pick to win the National League East, and it’s easy to understand why. The Nationals have a star-studded line-up, headlined by Bryce Harper and former Met Daniel Murphy, a fearsome rotation, and an improved bullpen. The Mets, who went 13-25 against the Nationals over the past two seasons, will need to figure out how to conquer their divisional foes in head-to-head match-ups if they want any shot of dethroning them. Look no further than 2015, when the Mets went 11-8 against the Nationals en route to winning the division.
Beyond the Nationals, there are a lot of teams that will be competing for a Wild Card spot. The Philadelphia Phillies, who added ace Jake Arrieta and slugger Carlos Santana, figure to be competitive. The Milwaukee Brewers revamped their outfield, adding Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, and improved their bullpen by signing Matt Albers and Boone Logan. The Rockies, who grabbed the top Wild Card spot in 2017, added two of the top offseason relief targets in closer Wade Davis and set-up man Bryan Shaw. The Diamondbacks and Cardinals will also factor into the race, making for a crowded field of teams vying for two spots. The Mets will need to fare better against the competition than they did in 2017, when they went 12-33 against the five National League playoff teams.