by Paul West
After almost an entire offseason of clamoring by fans and many analysts, the Mets have re-signed Yoenis Cespedes to a contract that makes sense for both sides. The Mets’ fan base–and clubhouse–received a morale boost, as the Mets hung onto the player whose historically good second half fueled an offensive resurgence and helped spark a thrilling World Series run.
Of course, it would be a mistake to think the Mets’ meteoric rise was solely due to Cespedes’ acquisition. Along with a blistering rotation headlined by the Big Four, the Mets had one of the best offenses in baseball after the last week in July and it wasn’t a one-man show. They picked up Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, and there was David Wright‘s healthy return and Wilmer Flores‘ ascension to folk-hero status. Lucas Duda, finally provided with lineup support, had a couple of unbelievable weeks at the plate while the Mets were closing in on clinching the East. Last but far from least, there was the emergence of Michael Conforto as one of the best hitters of his draft and a future Mets centerpiece.
Still, the began with the loss of Daniel Murphy and questions about Wright’s health. Then the Mets set out to win the free agency period.
They landed Antonio Bastardo, a formidable lefty reliever, to help set up closer Jeurys Familia. They made up for the loss of Murphy with the signing of Neil Walker, a solid defensive second baseman who can switch-hit and has batted third for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They signed outfielder Alejandro De Aza, in a move that raised more questions than it answered, and switch-hitting high-upside shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Then, after some wrangling, GM Sandy Alderson made the move that silenced his detractors. And all of a sudden, the baseball world took notice.
Don’t look now, but the New York Mets have the kind of lineup you’d expect to see in the American League.
The Mets will open 2016 with power up and down their batting order, and from both sides of the plate. Duda and Cespedes have tremendous raw power to all fields, and Conforto has shown signs of the same along with looking like a possible .300 hitter. Wright, when healthy, has gap-to-gap power and can occasionally leave the yard; the same can be said of Walker. Travis d’Arnaud has formidable power from the right side, as does Flores, who out-hit most other National League shortstops after his now famous moment of on-field vulnerability. Curtis Granderson had a resurgent 2015, providing power from the left side at the top of the order. And it bears noting that once he healed from numerous injuries, Juan Lagares was one of the Mets’ best hitters in the latter part of the postseason and combines speed with often surprising gap power.
A look at the Mets’ possible Opening Day lineup shows little wiggle room for opposing pitchers:
- Curtis Granderson, RF
- David Wright, 3B
- Michael Conforto, LF
- Yoenis Cespedes, CF
- Lucas Duda, 1B
- Travis d’Arnaud, C
- Neil Walker, 2B
- Wilmer Flores, SS
David Wright can finally move to the second spot in the order, for which he’s arguably most well suited; and on Wright’s days off, Walker can bat second capably. This lineup alternates lefties and righties from top to bottom, and if Cabrera were to get the Opening Day start at shortstop, then the seventh and eighth positions would be occupied by switch-hitters. Walker, Flores and Cabrera all have power that belies a lower-third position–in a National League lineup. To find legitimate double-digit home run power in the lower third of the order, you’d normally look at an American League powerhouse like the Toronto Blue Jays (or the 2014 Oakland Athletics, when Cespedes was in their lineup and they were putting up football scores before one of the more baffling deadline deals in recent memory). But the 2016 Mets will have just such a lineup, along with what’s generally regarded as the best starting rotation in baseball.
The Mets’ lineup is not without its flaws. Cespedes, as has been noted, can be streaky (Duda, as well); Granderson, also streaky, still strikes out a lot for a leadoff hitter. Walker is far better as a lefty than from the right side, and d’Arnaud still has to stay healthy enough to continue to explore his upside. Speaking of health, estimates vary regarding how many games Wright will be able to play next season. But the Mets offense has a perceived legitimacy it hasn’t had in a decade, and the Mets will open 2016 with high hopes.