If you spent this entire offseason only listening to the things the Mets’ front office had said about their roster going into the 2019 season, you’d think there were backup plans upon backup plans, all of which would be good enough to keep the team in contention for at least a Wild Card spot throughout the season.
New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has talked up depth, whether he’s used that exact word or just alluded to it, consistently since he started in the role. Among other things, he’s said that his goal was to eliminate ifs—the inevitable things that go wrong for any major league team in the course of the season and test an organization’s depth. He recently made light of a question that was asked about Jeff McNeil getting enough playing time by saying he was glad that people were worried that the Mets have too many good players. But nobody thinks that.
To Van Wagenen’s credit, the Mets’ roster looks considerably better than it did when the offseason began. Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Jeurys Familia, Wilson Ramos, and Jed Lowrie were all clear upgrades from what the Mets had before Van Wagenen made his first move. And operating under the fair assumption that it is Fred and Jeff Wilpon keeping payroll very comfortably below Major League Baseball’s luxury tax threshold, Van Wagenen has done well with the budget he’s been given.
But that doesn’t mean that the Mets actually have depth in a broad sense. On the infield, at least if Amed Rosario stays healthy and improves upon his level of play from last year, the Mets can say they have depth. Along with Cano, Lowrie, Todd Frazier, and Peter Alonso—plus Jeff McNeil, who Van Wagenen recently mentioned is moving to the outfield full time, an experiment that may or may not work—the Mets have plenty of options for filling first, second, and third base in a manner that allows them to be competitive. That’s really where their depth ends, though.
Behind the plate, Wilson Ramos hasn’t had major durability issues, but he hasn’t been injury-free over the course of his career, either. That’s completely fine for a starting catcher, but Travis d’Arnaud is his backup and is attempting to return from Tommy John surgery—and has had a litany of other injuries over the years. It won’t take much for the Mets to be giving starts to Tomas Nido, who had a 20 wRC+ in 90 major league plate appearances last year.
In the outfield, they have Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo, both of whom should be very good regulars. But center field figures to be manned by Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton, both of whom have significant flaws. If McNeil proves to be a truly capable outfielder in spring training, maybe those two get pushed to the fourth and fifth outfielder roles. J.D. Davis, one of Van Wagenen’s relatively minor acquisitions, could factor in as corner outfield depth, but he’s played all of 26 major league innings in the outfield and had a 36 wRC+ in 113 plate appearances with the Astros last year.
Beyond that, they have Gregor Blanco, who had a 58 wRC+ last year, and Rajai Davis, who had a 50 wRC+ last year, trying to earn roster spots in spring training, and 2015 was the last time both of those two were at least league average with the bat. And after that, the options are bleak. Just the other day, Jeff Wilpon used Yoenis Cespedes’s salary as an excuse for the team not signing Bryce Harper, and the team’s tone about his return from surgery on both heels has changed from making plans for him not to play in 2019 to hyping up his return, as Tim Healey summed up succinctly on Twitter.
If the outfield depth seems bad, it looks pretty good compared to what the Mets have when it comes to pitching. In the rotation, they’re relying upon good health and performance from Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz, and at the moment, they’re relying on Jason Vargas to bounce back from a miserable 2018 season. When something goes wrong with one of those five, the options aren’t good: Hector Santiago, who fared very poorly as a starter last year, and hasn’t put up a sub-4.00 ERA as a starter since 2015.
Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman could theoretically move out of their bullpen roles—further weakening the bullpen depth that we’ll get to shortly—but there would be reasons for concern with either pitcher being used as a starter for an extended period of time. The Mets took Kyle Dowdy in the Rule 5 draft, and if they’re trying to retain him, they’ll need to keep him on the major league roster all season. In thirty appearances in the minors last year, twenty of which were starts, he had a 5.15 ERA in his age-25 season. And beyond that, the team would be looking at Chris Flexen, Corey Oswalt, Drew Gagnon, and Van Wagenen acquisition Walker Lockett, who came over in the Kevin Plawecki trade and had a 4.72 ERA in the minors for the Padres last year and a 9.60 ERA in 15 innings with them in the big leagues last year.
And that brings us to the bullpen, which got better with the recent addition of Justin Wilson. After the excellent duo of Diaz and Familia, Wilson, Lugo, and Gsellman should gives the Mets five out of seven or eight spots that can be reasonably expected to perform at least capably. After those five, the team has Luis Avilan, who should have a good shot at making the major league roster if only because he’s put up decent major league numbers in the past three seasons, and a group of uncertain arms. Then it’s the aforementioned Dowdy and a host of pitchers who just aren’t locks to be good major league relievers: Drew Smith, Paul Sewald, Tim Peterson, Jacob Rhame, Tyler Bashlor, and Eric Hanhold, among others. Some of those pitchers showed promise last year, while others decidedly did not.
In total, there are still plenty of ifs. The Mets might not need absolutely everything to break right to be good this year, but with major league backups who aren’t locks and a lack of real depth in the upper minors, they are still entering this season with plenty of risk. They might have enough good players to pull off a contending season, but they certainly don’t have too many.