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2020 NL East Preview: Analyzing the Washington Nationals and New York Mets

For the third part of our look at the Washington Nationals’ division rivals, we do a deep dive into the New York Mets...

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Onto the second half of our 2020 National League East preview as we continue to look at how the Washington Nationals are going to stack up to the rest of their division this season.

This week, we have a series of articles to preview each of the other NL East teams and see how the defending champs compare to the main foes. In each piece, we look at the team’s offseason, lineup, rotation, bullpen, and prospects who could make an impact in 2020.

So far, we’ve covered the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies in this series. Next up for their preview are the New York Mets...

Notable Arrivals

  • SP, Stephen Gonsalves
  • RP, Chasen Shreve (MiL deal)
  • OF, Jake Marisnick
  • SP, Michael Wacha
  • SP, Rick Porcello
  • RP, Dellin Betances
  • INF, Eduardo Núñez (MiL deal)
  • 1B, Matt Adams (MiL deal)

Notable Departures

  • SP, Zack Wheeler
  • RP, Luis Avilán
  • 3B, Todd Frazier
  • 2B, Joe Panik
  • OF, Juan Lagares

Offseason summary: It wasn’t quite as adventurous as last year when they went all guns blazing under new GM Brodie Van Wagenen, but the Mets continued to make moves to try to contend.

All in all, the only significant departure they had this offseason was Wheeler who, despite several flashes of his talent, never quite lived up to his hype in Queens.

And to combat the loss of the right-hander, they brought in a pair of experienced starters in Porcello and Wacha. The former should be a lock for the rotation, with the latter expected to be both a solid starter and reliever for his new team.

The other key piece that they were able to add was Betances from the crosstown New York Yankees. It’s certainly a risk given with shoulder and Achilles injury he suffered last season — and nobody needs reminding how the last season’s big bullpen move blew up in their face — but the upside is there for him to shore up what’s shaping up to be a good bullpen.

There’s even a Big City sighting as 2019 World Series champion Adams signed late this winter.

Meanwhile, off the field, the Mets had an interesting time nailing down a new manager this winter.

Carlos Beltrán was the team’s initial choice. However, as the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal came out, the Mets felt like they couldn’t continue with Beltrán, the former Astro, so they showed him the door and hired Luis Rojas.

After an underwhelming spell under first-time manager Mickey Callaway, the Mets are hoping that someone like Rojas, with a bit more managerial experience, albeit at the minor league level, will help steady the ship in 2020.

Potential Lineup

  1. 3B, Jeff McNeil
  2. CF, Brandon Nimmo
  3. 2B, Robinson Cano
  4. 1B, Pete Alonso
  5. RF, Michael Conforto
  6. C, Wilson Ramos
  7. LF, J.D. Davis
  8. SS, Amed Rosario
  9. Pitcher

Ever since the Mets surged back into relevance again in 2015, they’ve been primarily based on the stellar young starting pitching that they nurtured all the way to the major leagues.

But now, you could argue that their biggest strength could be in their impressive lineup.

That being said, when McNeil and Alonso go, this lineup goes. Both players still have less than 200 big league games but with McNeil showing some of the best pure contact skills in the big leagues along with the power-hitting polar bear, it’s a pretty fearsome duo.

Also in the top part of the lineup, the Mets have a pair of underrated outfielders in Nimmo and Conforto. Both boast excellent on-base skills with sneaky power while having career OPS+ numbers north of 120 and the potential to be even better with experience.

Then the strength of the bottom of the order just emphasizes how much depth the Mets have.

Former National Ramos is still a threat with the bat, even if his defense has tailed off somewhat. Davis had a breakout year with a 138 OPS+, though he may not hit much higher than sixth or seventh, and Rosario could be one of the best eight-spot hitters in the NL.

However, one factor that isn’t talked about enough is the potential return of Yoenis Céspedes.

The outfielder has taken live batting practice at Spring Training and is hoping to be ready for Opening Day against the Nationals. If he’s even anywhere close to player that he has been for the Mets when healthy, that’s yet another jolt of life to this batting order.

How do the Nationals compare?: Assuming that the Mets are able to keep their lineup healthy, which is now becoming an annual question for this team, they get the edge here.

Though the Nationals can somewhat match the top-end talent with the production of Trea Turner and Juan Soto (projected combined 129 wRC+) more-or-less equivalent to that of Alonso and McNeil (projected combined 122 wRC+), it’s the depth where the Mets shine.

The only player in their projected starting lineup that Steamer projects to have a wRC+ of less than 100 is Rosario, and even he’s at 96. Obviously these projections aren’t perfect, but it’s the best way to show the depth they clearly have in what is a very underrated lineup.

Verdict: Advantage Mets

Potential Rotation

  1. Jacob deGrom
  2. Noah Syndergaard
  3. Marcus Stroman
  4. Rick Porcello
  5. Steven Matz

Not quite as strong as it was when it carried them to the 2015 Fall Classic, the Mets’ rotation is still looking formidable as they enter the 2020 season.

As Nationals fans know, it always helps to have the best pitcher in baseball on your staff. That’s exactly what the Mets have in deGrom right now, who needs no introduction to his 2.05 ERA, 11.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 189 ERA+, and two Cy Young awards from the last two years.

Following deGrom are a pair of talented right-handed hurlers in Syndergaard and Stroman.

Though they don’t really need an introduction, they will be key to any success this team could have. If they perform up to expectations, they will be among the best #2 and #3 starters in baseball. If not, it will put a lot more pressure on their fellow starters to pick up the slack.

At this point in his career, Porcello is primarily an innings-eater who could provide a solid enough ERA now that he’s on the senior circuit for the first time in his career. Given the injury history the Mets have, having the right-hander there every fifth day is huge.

Finally, it’s tough to gauge which way the Mets are leaning with their final rotation spot between Matz and Wacha. There’s even been some talk of it being a platoon of sorts.

With four right-handers already in the rotation, Matz is probably the early favorite if the Mets stick with a traditional five-man rotation, but at this point who knows. Regardless of who gets it, they will likely be an above-average option for the fifth spot.

How do the Nationals compare?: If it were about who has the single best pitcher, then the Mets would win this comfortably. However, it’s the quality depth that the Nationals have in the rotation that sets them apart here.

Sure, deGrom is better than Max Scherzer, but you could make a good argument that the Nats have an advantage in the 2-4 spots in the rotation, while the fifth spot is up in the air, with both sides likely to roll with the hot hand out from some once-promising arms.

Verdict: Advantage Nationals

Potential Bullpen

  • Dellin Betances
  • Brad Brach
  • Edwin Díaz
  • Jeurys Familia
  • Robert Gsellman
  • Seth Lugo
  • Michael Wacha
  • Justin Wilson

Quite often in recent years, the Mets have actually had a solid bullpen. That changed last year as they could only just muster up a 4.99 ERA, good for fifth-worst in the major leagues.

The unit’s instability stemmed from the complete collapse of Díaz. He was brought in to be one of the most dominant closers in all of baseball, but the fireballing right-hander put up a hideous 5.59 ERA, blowing 7 of his 33 save opportunities while losing his closer’s job.

Though the Mets haven’t officially announced anything yet, Díaz looks like he’ll start the year as the closer. Realistically, they need him to be the guy he was in Seattle to allow everything to fall into place in this bullpen, or they could be left scrambling once again.

If Díaz does indeed falter, then the next men up are likely Betances and Lugo.

Unfortunately, both of them are at risk of missing the start of the season, with neither having made their spring debuts just yet and Opening Day just over three weeks away.

In middle-relief, you can expect to see a cavalcade of experienced relievers trotting out, most of whom have a decent amount of big league closing experience.

Brach, Familia, Gsellman, and Wilson have 189 big league saves between them, though they have also shown varying signs of decline in the last couple of years. In theory, they could all reclaim their old form, but if they don’t, they can’t do a huge amount of harm in mid-relief.

Much like the Nats, the last spot in the bullpens should go to the pitcher who misses out on a rotation spot this spring.

Right now, that looks like Wacha, but if the Mets go with a platoon fifth starter, it might rotate between him and Matz as the eighth relief arm.

How do the Nationals compare?: This is probably the closest call between the Nationals and the Mets of the three sections we’re covering in this season preview.

In the end, from top to bottom, this Mets group appears to have a slight edge which mostly comes down to the vast late-inning experience in the group. The Nats, on the other hand, may have more upside with their younger arms but have a much lower floor.

With the volatility of relievers these days, the Mets seem like a slightly safer bet to pitch well.

Verdict: Small advantage Mets

Prospects to know for 2020

  • SS, Andres Gimenez
  • SP, David Peterson
  • SP, Thomas Szapucki
  • 3B, Will Toffey
  • SP, Franklyn Kilomé

With the strength of the Mets’ system coming from high-upside players in the lower levels of the minor leaguers, there probably won’t be too many impact prospects coming up in 2020.

The best prospect in the upper-minors is Gimenez. Though his prospect stock has dipped a little lately, he’s only 20 and has made it to Double-A without a wRC+ below 100 at any level.

Most of his value comes from his defense though, so if Cano or Rosario has to miss significant time at any point, Gimenez could come up and field well at either middle infield position. That said, he will need to show a bit more extra-base power in the minors first.

Szapucki is still working back from Tommy John surgery and only had four innings worth of work in 2019. But as he’s already on the 40-man roster, he could very easily be a late-season call-up working out of the bullpen, though the Mets could very easily play things exceptionally safe with their left-hander and shut him down in the summer.

Acquired from the Phillies in the Asdrúbal Cabrera deal, Kilomé will likely have his third and final option used this year. The flamethrower is also still recovering from Tommy John that caused him to miss all of 2019, which means we could see him out of the bullpen this year.

Another trade acquisition in 2018, Toffey is the only other non-catcher position player on FanGraphs’ Top 31 Mets’ prospects list aside from Gimenez, though he only really profiles as a utility-type big leaguer.

Final Thoughts

As it always will be with the Mets in their current form, the biggest point of emphasis for them will be health. If they can stay healthy, they will be very competitive this season.

If they can get Betances and Lugo healthy, they could be a dominant late-inning forces that help stabilize the bullpen. If they can get Céspedes healthy, that’s yet another middle of the order bat. If the rotation stays healthy, it’s potentially a top five unit in all of baseball.

It’s less ifs than some other wannabe contenders, but for the Mets, staying healthy is a big if.

Their talent is undeniable though and that’s shown in PECOTA projecting them at 88.3 wins, the highest projection in the NL East as well as a 76.9% projection of them making the playoffs.

Could this be the best team in the division this year? It’s entirely possible. The Mets should at least remain in the mix throughout the season with everyone else except the Marlins.