Last Tuesday, we published a breakdown of the Mets’ outlook for 2018 and beyond. The first draft of that article was much, much longer, however, and the original provides a much deeper dive into how the Mets got to this point, what the problems with the team currently are, and where the team is probably headed. Over the next few days, we’ll be publishing that longer original in parts, digging into the Mets’ organization to reset our understanding of the current roster. This is Part 4.
As we said, this Mets team is projected as roughly a .500 team, despite some very justifiable disappointment with management and ownership. That projection doesn’t really tell the whole story, however. This squad has a ton of variance, possibly the most of any team in the majors. That’s a big reason why many are concerned that the pitchers will all get hurt, the rookies will struggle, Conforto won’t be the same, and 2017 will repeat itself.
There’s a flip side to that though, one that Mets fans are often too hesitant to acknowledge. Yes, Harvey, Wheeler, Matz, and Gsellman have all been some combination of terrible and injured in recent years, but all four ranked as top 40 prospects or better prior to their debut, and three have had successful major league seasons. Rosario was regarded as the best prospect in baseball, blessed with quick wrists and blazing speed, and should provide excellent defense even if the bat is limited to glimpses of brilliance. Smith, while more controversial among evaluators, was highly regarded by some experts. Conforto’s injury, meanwhile, was to his rear shoulder, which should hopefully allow him to avoid the struggles of other power hitters with injuries to their lead shoulder.
This is still a team with the best 1-2 punch in baseball at the top of their rotation with deGrom and Syndergaard. If one or two of the high upside guys behind them click, the Mets will likely have a top 5 rotation. If Conforto and Cespedes can stay on the field, the Mets’ outfield offers as much offensive upside as any in baseball (save the Yankees and the Angels). The infield is a solid blend of current production and future potential, with a very solid insurance policy in Flores. The bullpen has four guys with recent success in high leverage rolls. If the baseball gods smile upon Queens, the Mets could roll their way into another 90 win season and recreate the magic of 2015.
Looking past 2018, things get more murky. In 2019, the core of the current bullpen - Familia, Ramos, and Blevins - along with Cabrera and Harvey are scheduled to hit free agency. Still, the most essential parts of the team will remain. Syndergaard and deGrom will still head a rotation filled with a hodge-podge of former potential aces, and the trio of powerful outfield bats will remain. Flores or Andres Gimenez could step in to replace Cabrera. Patching the bullpen will be harder, but there are a handful of internal options (Jaime Callahan, Jacob Rhame, Adonis Uceta, Tyler Bashlor, Drew Smith) that could blossom and be ready for a larger role.
The double-edged sword to keeping most of the roster intact is that the Mets won’t have a ton of money to spend. Wright gets cheaper, but Frazier, Bruce, Vargas, Swarzak, and Lagares will all see raises, and the rest of the team will be due bumps in arbitration. Some of those bumps, such as those to deGrom, Syndergaard, and Conforto, could be quite hefty. With ownership having set clear financial limits on the roster, it seems like we shouldn’t expect significant additions to the team next offseason.
Still, the 2019 team will be much the same as the 2018 version; an elite 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation (assuming neither deGrom or Syndergaard suffers a major injury or gets traded) and a ton of power in the outfield backed up by a solid, albeit unspectacular infield and a plethora of high risk, high upside arms. Another team that should be projected around .500 with potential for a lot more if the variance goes in the Mets’ favor.
Looking to the next decade, the outlook is much worse. As stated before, the farm is barren in terms of impact major league talent. Frazier, Lagares, and Swarzak will leave as free agents, and the rest of the Mets’ talent will be deep into arbitration. This will likely create a congested payroll, devoid of depth or even viable starters at multiple positions. The four best talents (Cespedes, Conforto, Syndergaard, and deGrom) will still be on the roster, but the supporting cast will be very weak. Without a huge, 2018 Giants-esque bump in spending, the 2020 Mets will be a bad team, likely in need of a reboot.
Things can change quickly in baseball of course - Matz or Gsellman or Wheeler could all make minor alterations, have a ton more health luck, and give the Mets a five-ace rotation that lasts til the early 2020’s. Surprise prospect breakouts could revamp the farm and make the Mets sustainable longer than I’m projecting. The most reasonable estimates, however, show a team with a two-year window that has to capitalize now before beginning an almost unavoidable rebuilding period.
Mets fans (including myself) are, for lack of a better word, a whiny bunch. We seem to relish the inevitable failures of our franchise, one that the baseball gods always seem to find a way to smite. From an objective standpoint, it’s a bit silly - there are nine other teams with longer World Series droughts, and of those only the Indians have made the World Series more recently than the Mets.
The 2018 season hasn’t even begun, yet it has already inspired the same sort of angst the Mets are so good at bringing. There’s always a sense of disappointment of what could have been - what could this team do with a healthy Wright, the Dark Knight version of Harvey, and a payroll befitting a New York team? At the same time, the 2018 team offers an equal amount of hope. There are legitimate stars on the roster, and if you squint hard and follow your lucky tradition of choice, you can imagine a team that rides the same talent that carried the team in 2015 but finishes the job this time.
It’s this hope that breeds Mets’ fans attitudes. Being consistently bad is easy - you expect nothing and get nothing. The Mets, however, have repeatedly built teams that are just good enough to get you imagining the exuberance of playoff baseball only to tear your heart out as soon as you suspend your disbelief and convince yourself this time it’s for real. And while that constant disappointment isn’t great in the moment, I think the years of pent-up disappointment will make the moment when the Mets break through to their third World Series title all the sweeter.
We’re in for more of the same old ride in 2018. Enjoy every time deGrom and Syndergaard take the mound. Enjoy the glimpses of domination from the pile of broken arms. Enjoy every Cespedes dinger and every crack of Conforto’s bat. Enjoy Rosario’s great defense and Flores’s lovable attitude. This team has a better chance than most to be the last one standing, and maybe this is finally the year our disappointment is replaced with joy.