One of the new features that you'll be seeing at Federal Baseball this season will be series previews, so we're not going to go too crazy with a look at the other teams in the division. I imagine that dc Roach will have plenty more to add about the Washington Nationals upcoming opponents throughout the year, and I'm looking forward to some pretty neat infographics from B. Sheridan this season as well! I'm just going to take a broad look at each of the other four teams in the NL East as opening day approaches. Over the past couple of days, we've looked at the Phillies and the Braves. We'll continue this series today with a look at the New York Mets.
SB Nation Site: Amazin' Avenue
2014 Record: 79-83, tied for 2nd in NL East
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Michael Cuddyer, John Mayberry, Jr., Jerry Blevins, Alex Torres
Key Offseason Losses: Eric Young, Jr., Matt den Dekker, Bobby Abreu, Daisuke Matsuzaka
The Mets had a relatively quiet offseason. They started the winter off with a bang, signing Cuddyer to a two year, $21 million deal in early November. After that, they mainly just focused on re-signing their own players and adding a little depth throughout the system. The only other player that they really added over the winter that figures to be part of the big league roster was Mayberry, who will give them a nice corner outfield/first base option off the bench. Mayberry does mash lefties, so there's some potential for him to platoon on occasion with first baseman Lucas Duda. They did bolster their bullpen a bit by trading for Blevins and Torres over the past week.
Did the Mets miss an opportunity this offseason? Maybe. Most of you reading this are obviously Nats fans, but it's no secret that the national media has proclaimed the Nats overwhelming favorites to repeat as NL East champs. The expectation is that the Marlins and Mets will battle for second place, but the Phillies and Braves figure to be weak enough so that there's an excellent chance that one of the wildcard teams comes from the NL East. The Mets certainly have the foundation of a team with a good shot at 80-85 wins, so finding a way to add four or five wins to their roster (at SS maybe?) could end up making the difference between whether they're playing or watching October baseball.
Obviously, there weren't any shortstops on the free agent market who would have given the Mets an expected four or five win boost. There were a few shortstops who could have been had on the trade market that might have, though. It obviously would have cost the Mets quite a bit of talent to acquire a player like Troy Tulowitzki or (speculating on his potential a bit) Starlin Castro, but a shot at October glory may have been worth it. As Nats fans have seen first-hand twice in the past three years, any team that makes the playoffs can be dangerous.
Best Pitcher: Matt Harvey
I really wanted to throw Jacob deGrom some love here, too, but it's difficult to go against Harvey. Even coming off of a lost season, nobody else in this rotation has the ability that Harvey does. When he last pitched in 2013, Harvey went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA (2.00 FIP!) and a 191:31 strikeout to walk ratio in 178 innings. He finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting that season despite missing the final season due to his torn UCL.
Harvey throws a devastating four pitch mix which features a fastball that can touch 100 and a slider that occasionally touches the low 90s. He complements his filthy stuff with outstanding command. Of course, we have to expect that he'll have a hiccup or two as he returns from Tommy John surgery, but Harvey does have the potential to be one of the top five pitchers in the league.
The Mets entire rotation figures to be dangerous... even with the loss of Zack Wheeler. deGrom won the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year and had a 2.65 ERA (2.67 FIP) while striking out more than a batter per inning as a rookie. Bartolo Colon's late career resurgence suddenly has him as likely to survive an apocalypse as cockroaches and Twinkies.... assuming he doesn't eat all of the Twinkies. Jonathon Niese would probably be at least a back end starter on every team in baseball. Wheeler's replacement has a nickname at Federal Baseball.... Cy Gee. What's scary is that their rotation figures to be among the top ten in baseball in 2015 without Wheeler and with a top prospect like Noah Syndergaard knocking on the door.
Best Reliever: Jeurys Familia
As the Nats have seen the past few years, the Mets bullpen is a definite chink in their armor. They'll open the year with Jenrry Mejia as the closer, but I like Familia's stuff a bit better. He throws just a bit harder than Mejia does and brings a nasty sinker/slider combo to the table. The Mets will try to hang on with a pretty thin bullpen until Bobby Parnell and Vic Black get healthy, though the additions of Blevins and Torres should help them a bit from the left side.
Sleeper Pitcher: Noah Syndergaard
The Mets young starting pitching hasn't all reached the majors yet. Syndergaard was a key piece that New York acquired in the R.A. Dickey deal a couple of years ago, and we should see him at some point this season. He's another kid with a plus fastball who throws a curve and change that look like they'll end up being above average secondary pitches. Look beyond his AAA ERA (4.60) and WHIP (1.48) from last season and realize that he was pitching in the best hitter's park in an extreme hitter's league at Las Vegas. There's just no way that he's going to allow a .378 BABIP in Citi Field with a better defense behind him. He was also young for the level (21). Thor did show that he can dominate despite the ERA and WHIP with a 145:43 strikeout to walk ratio in 133 innings. He's banging on the door, and will likely be ready to make the jump to the majors if anyone in the rotation suffers an injury.
Best Position Player: David Wright
It isn't as clear as it used to be, but Wright is still probably the best position player in the Mets' lineup. Wright had a disappointing 2014 season as he played through a rotator cuff injury, but he's still just a year removed from consecutive 6+ WAR seasons. Do I think he goes back to being the .307/.391/.501 hitter he was in 2012 and 2013? Probably not. However, he's liable to be quite a bit better than last season's .269/.324/.374 line indicates. Expect him to hit about .285/.350/.450 as the power stroke comes back a little this season. He'll still provide a strong glove at third as well. The other candidates that the Mets have to outhit Wright (Duda, Cuddyer, Granderson, Murphy) have very little defensive value while the players that they have who will have similar/better defensive value (Lagares) just don't hit enough. Wright is the most complete position player on this roster.
Sleeper Position Player: Wilmer Flores
Flores is a bat first infielder who stuck as the Mets shortstop around the middle of last season. Amazingly enough, he was passable defensively at SS last season, actually finishing with just -3 DRS and +7.4 Defensive Runs Above Average because of his positional value. Whether or not that continues is anybody's guess. What we do know about Flores is that he can hit.
As a 20-year-old, Flores hit .300/.349/.479 with 18 HR between A+ and AA ball in 2012. He followed it up with a .321/.357/.531 line with 15 HR at (hitter friendly) Las Vegas in 2013 and then hit .284/.322/.466 with 19 HR between AAA and the majors last season. He's still just 23 and should continue to improve with experience at the big league level. While it's difficult to see him being an asset with the glove, Flores' bat could really lengthen that lineup a bit. If only he could draw the occasional walk........
Summing it up
The Mets' rotation depth is scary good. It's not Scherzer/Zimmermann/Strasburg/Gio/Fister, but they can really pitch. If they can piece together a strong enough bullpen, get a nice rebound season from Wright, and see improved production at the plate from youngsters like Travis d'Arnaud, Juan Lagares, and Flores, they could actually pose a challenge for the Nats this season. They weren't a bad team in 2014 (79-83, +11 run differential) and even though they didn't add much from outside of the organization, they look like they should be better in 2015. With some potential doormats in the division in the Phillies and Braves, the Mets should be able to pad their win total with the unbalanced schedule a bit more than some of the other wildcard contenders (namely those that play in the Central). I think the Marlins might be just a little bit stronger, but it wouldn't be that surprising to see the Mets make the playoffs.