Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be previewing each team by eavesdropping on an extended conversation about them. For the full archive of each 2018 team preview, click here.
New York Mets PECOTA Projections:
Runs Scored: 723
Runs Allowed: 727
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .245/.305/.405 (.251)
Total WARP: 24.4 (11.7 pitching, 12.7 non-pitching)
Jarrett Seidler: As of today—and it looks like both teams are done with big moves—the Mets and Phillies are projected for a second-place tie in the NL East at 81-81, in the mix for the two Wild Card spots as part of a glut of six teams projected between 81-87 wins, all well behind the division leaders. At the risk of doing the old Mike and the Mad Dog ovah/undah game, is this actually a reasonable, winning playoff contender? Maybe even with a shot at the Nationals?
Kate Feldman: No.
More seriously (and less obnoxiously pessimistically): maybe. Look, if everyone stays healthy and lives up to their projections, this could very easily be a playoff team. They have two of the league’s best pitchers in Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Yoenis Cespedes is still Yoenis Cespedes. If Michael Conforto’s bizarre injury rehabs like normal and he comes back, he’s going to be a perennial All-Star. But that’s an awful lot of question marks, and the division got tougher this year.
Seidler: It did, and they got lucky that it didn’t get a lot tougher. Miami might’ve been closer to contention than the Mets, and they did the Wayne Huizenga memorial strip-mining job instead. Atlanta didn’t push forward anywhere near as hard as they could have, and possibly should have. Even Philadelphia could have gone nuts and pushed themselves into obvious contention, and instead made some shrewd bigger acquisitions while leaving a lot of spots for their young players to grow into over the next few years.
And then there’s the Mets. They made a lot of moves. Each move, I think, was individually defensible in terms of value on the baseball field relative to contract at the time it was made. And each move, in the light of March, when we know how cheaply stars ended up signing, looks like an overpay or over-commitment. Except maybe Todd Frazier, and he may have geographically limited his own options.
Feldman: If you asked me on November 1 what the Mets needed in order to compete in 2018, I would have said, at minimum: a third baseman, an outfielder, a starting pitcher, and at least one reliever. Technically, the Mets did all of that. The problem is that they filled those holes with the most aggressively mediocre players they could find. Instead of J.D. Martinez, they got Jay Bruce. Instead of Yu Darvish, they got Jason Vargas. So yeah, sure, Jose Reyes is a bench player now instead of the starting second baseman, but the Mets could have, and should have, done better. The funniest part is that the Bruce contract is going to end up being a wild overpay considering what everyone else got this offseason.
Seidler: The one that gets me the worst is Vargas, and not just for the reasons I wrote about at the time. Had the Mets waited another couple of weeks into spring training—and unlike much of the offseason weirdness, this did not require clairvoyance—they could’ve snagged Lance Lynn or perhaps Alex Cobb for less money. Those pitchers are just way better bets than Vargas. Again, Vargas isn’t a bad move in a vacuum—or wasn’t, before his injury—but they needed more and better.
Feldman: You know better than most that I am not inclined to give the Mets the benefit of the doubt on … anything, but no one could have guessed Cobb was still going to be a free agent on March 15. They still should have done better than Vargas, but it’s hard for me to say they should have known to wait out the market on Lynn.
Seidler: I think that’s a fair point for most of the transactions, like Anthony Swarzak or even Bruce. But they waited so long to sign a starting pitcher. They waited out the Tyler Chatwood-type contracts until the bargains started hitting, and then they tried to sell everyone that Lynn/Cobb/Vargas were a group and hey wait Vargas is actually the best bargain because he doesn’t cost international slot money and a second-round pick. Maybe it wasn’t obvious Lynn was going to end up at one year and $12 million, but I think it was obvious by mid-February that Lynn, Cobb, and even Jake Arrieta were going to come in way under projected “market value,” and then all of a sudden maintaining a half-million in international slot money became the most important thing in the world. As if you can’t easily get double that back from the Orioles for your 23rd-best prospect in July.
Feldman: I will happily agree with that. I also think the Mets should have signed Lynn or Cobb for what they actually deserve, but that’s an entirely different story.
Seidler: The pitching situation behind deGrom and Syndergaard really isn’t great, and it feels like they’re going to run out of innings again despite having somewhere between 8-10 “major-league starters.” It didn’t have to be this way; the top of the rotation is about as good a bet as any top tandem to provide you 300-400 great innings. But what’s really behind them? Vargas is both a health and performance risk, not a locked in mid-rotation piece on a contender. Matt Harvey is going to get run out for 20 starts based on name recognition, but the last time he looked remotely like The Dark Knight of Gotham was in the eighth inning of the 2015 World Series. Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz are in a camp battle for the fifth spot, theoretically, but I think you’re basically hoping they can combine to pull together one rotation spot by not being hurt at the same time too often.
Feldman: The Mets have a lot of starting pitchers! They’re just, you know, not great. If you assume, as I do, that Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Matz, and Rafael Montero are all either headed to Triple-A Las Vegas or to the bullpen to start the season, they have guys for when Wheeler’s arm falls off on May 15 and Harvey is, in fact, toast. But if you’re running Montero out as a starting pitcher in September, you’re probably not having a great time of it.
Relievers are a different story, because the bullpen makeup seems to be more “guys who didn’t make the rotation” than “guys who are actually good relievers.” I honestly have no idea what Jeurys Familia is right now, but he’s suddenly lost all ability to get swings and misses and that is … less than awe-inspiring. I like Swarzak, but he’s already hurt and there’s as good a chance that last year was a fluke as that it was a breakout. A.J. Ramos gives up a lot of home runs and Jerry Blevins is going to end up throwing 100 innings as the only lefty and there aren’t exactly guys waiting in the wings.
Seidler: Do we both think Harvey is toast? I’ve been on record as thinking he might be toast since last spring, and nothing has really ever changed my mind there.
Feldman: I wrote in an original draft for Montero’s BP Annual comment that, every dozen starts, he throws seven innings that make you believe in God, then goes back to being Montero. Harvey is trending that way, except he doesn’t even wait a full rotation after a three-inning, six-run outing to remind you that 2013 was a really, really long time ago. The new Harvey can’t make up his mind from inning to inning. I’m inclined to say that makes him more suited to a bullpen role (also I just hate saying guys are toast even when they clearly are), but honestly I just don’t know what to do with him anymore.
Seidler: I’ve wondered for awhile now why the Mets never tried him there. It was certainly talked about a lot as a potential future spot for him as a prospect. It has to be ego on everyone’s part, right?
Feldman: I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s because he’s still Matt Harvey. We joke a lot about the Mets and #OldFriends but they stick with their guys, for better or worse.
Seidler: A sort of old friend who looks headed for King of Spring Training is Brandon Nimmo. For what seems like eons now, but is really only five or six years of prospect percolation, we’ve been expecting Nimmo to uppercut the ball and hit for real power. He has never done so. He may be doing so this spring, but it’s against garbage pitching and I’m scarred by memories of the annual Jeff Francoeur runs of good spring plate discipline to trust these things even when they look right and fit narratively. Can he be the breakout dude and can he even find playing time?
Feldman: Remember when Eric Campbell hit .300 that one spring?
Seidler: I do! I also remember the many hundreds of at-bats they threw at him because they understood exit velocity but not launch angle.
Feldman: I’m going to get really depressed if we keep talking about Campbell so let’s go back to Nimmo and his dorky smile. I feel like we’ve been asking about his potential breakout for years now and every time I so badly want to say it’s finally time. Spring training small sample size and all, he’s looked good so far! He still can’t really hit lefties but he does enough else that it looks real if you close your left eye and you squint really hard and you tilt your head. For now, it sounds like he’ll platoon with Juan Lagares in center field until Conforto comes back (which is an entirely different issue), but the trade rumors about Lagares make me wonder if they think Nimmo could actually be a starter after all this time.
If you’ll forgive me for the galaxy brain take for a second, there is a relatively easy way to get him more playing time: move Jay Bruce to first base. Adrian Gonzalez is—and I’m sorry to him and his family—no longer good. Dominic Smith may or may not be a major league-caliber player, but we’re certainly not going to find that out to start the season. Bruce probably won’t be winning any Gold Gloves at first base, but he can hold his own and that frees up some more at-bats to figure out if the Nimmo breakout is real this time.
Seidler: Bruce’s willingness to play first is always in question. If Conforto really is ahead of schedule and going to be back for Opening Day or soon thereafter, bumping Bruce to first does solve that problem. So would’ve signing any of a dozen cheap free agents over the past month, of course.
I like Adrian Gonzalez. This was another move that was defensible at the time; there was no real investment financially, and no apparent investment in the player. He might still be a capable left-handed-hitting part of a first base platoon, and I wouldn’t even rule that out today. It just turned out there were better options—even familiar options like Lucas Duda and Neil Walker—available for peanuts out of the MLBPA spring training facility.
Feldman: My concern with Gonzalez is that the Mets won’t pull the plug when they need to (remember all those at-bats Campbell got?). If I had faith in them DFA’ing him on April 15 or May 1 or May 15, I’d be more comfortable with the situation, but I just don’t think they have the trigger-finger to make this work.
Seidler: There’s a fate even worse than that: Gonzo randomly puts up an .800 OPS for a month and a half despite being done, and they play him the rest of the way into sub-replacementness.
Feldman: I wish I had enough optimism to believe he has a month and a half of an .800 OPS left in him.
Seidler: And there’s so little depth in upper-level hitters that we could legitimately, sort of on merit/because there’s nobody else left, actually see a somewhat plausible Tim Tebow call-up at some point this season. It’s that scary. One of our suggested topics for these previews is “midseason call-ups” and, well, we’ve already seen Chris Flexen and Tomas Nido. I have half-sarcastically predicted Peter Alonso could force his way into the first base picture, but that wouldn’t happen earlier than around the All-Star break even under a best case. They really better have found a passable first base solution by then. Past that, you’re hoping to hit on a 5-10 percent shot that Luis Guillorme is the new Chris Taylor.
Feldman: You are not baiting me into a Tebow fight, Jarrett Seidler, no matter how hard you try. My opinions are well known. But no, there are not exactly guys waiting in the wings (or in Vegas). I guess we should count Dom Smith here? That feels weird, but I don’t know what to do with him either. You know the prospects better than I do, but there have to be some relievers who will end up in Flushing, right? One of the million indistinguishable arms they got back for veterans at the trade deadline last year? I know they don’t quite count as consequential, but anyone is going to be better than Hansel Robles.
Seidler: They ran through so many pitchers last year that most of the interesting ones were up without distinguishing themselves, which could still make them better than Robles. Of the remaining crop, Tyler Bashlor could be a dude very quickly, but he needs to hold command and velocity gains. Gerson Bautista needs to make command gains, let alone hold them. Drew Smith and Corey Oswalt are probably still a half-season or more from being anything other than emergency depth.
Feldman: Well that was decidedly less than encouraging.
Seidler: It feels utterly bizarre that we’ve made it this far into a Mets preview without talking about The Captain, David Wright, but here we are. The Mets announced recently that Wright hopes to start a spring-like program in mid-May, which theoretically might make him an MLB candidate in July or August. I think we both believe the situation to be less optimistic than that given the endless setbacks and what we know of his spinal stenosis condition. Do we see Wright take the field in the late summer or fall this year? Do we see him take the field ever again?
Feldman: He’ll get one last standing ovation, one last at-bat, at Citi Field in September and that’ll be the end of David Wright. He’ll get his goodbye. Now leave me alone to mourn the death of all that is good and beautiful in this world.