2017 New York Mets Preview: Pennant or bust?

by Paul West

In 2016, the New York Mets overcame numerous obstacles and made the postseason for the second straight year, the first time in franchise history they’d done so. Unfortunately, they lost a thrilling Wild Card game to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants. Going into the 2017 season, the Mets are expected to more closely resemble the 2015 team that went on a memorable run to the National League Pennant–which is to say, they’re expected to be reasonably whole once again. At one point last season, the Mets were missing more than half of their Opening Day lineup; but for all of his questionable strategic decisions, manager Terry Collins demonstrated his ability to fuel the team’s resiliency. If they can avoid the injury bug, the Mets will remain on the short list of teams to beat in the National League.

Yoenis Cespedes looks to bring star power and consistency to the Mets’ potent offense.

POSITION PLAYERS: INFIELD

There’s a fine line between roster depth and a logjam, and the Mets are straddling that line at multiple positions. One thing which temporarily offsets this problem is the health struggles of captain, and possible future Hall of Famer, David Wright. Wright continues to be dogged by structural ailments, most prominently his development of spinal stenosis; at this point, even if he can return to the lineup, it will almost certainly not be as an everyday player. This clears a path for the electric, resurgent Jose Reyes to take over at third. In Reyes, the Mets have a true leadoff hitter with gap power and speed; just as importantly, the former shortstop continues to get more comfortable at the hot corner. If he can continue last year’s resurgence, the Mets have a good looking infield. Shortstop is patrolled by Asdrubal Cabrera, also resurgent, who’s reminded observers why he was once so heralded in his early days with Cleveland. He’s got great hands, spectacular creativity, and underrated range. He’s also a switch hitter with intermittent power, a description which also befits second baseman Neil Walker. Walker is one of the most sneaky-good acquisitions any team’s made in recent years; he hits line drives, he’s a capable fielder, he tends to remain healthy, and he’s got experience in pennant races from his time with the both the Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. First base could be a dangerous platoon: Lucas Duda from the left side, and Wilmer Flores from the right. Duda has soft hands at first, ridiculous natural power at the plate, and when healthy he’s consistently one of the National League’s leaders in hard-hit balls. He’s also calm in temperament, uses the entire field, and is capable of ludicrous power binges when he gets hot. Flores is more athletic than people seem to believe, and he’s also got decent hands at first as well as a strong arm. He’s got the natural power to hit 15-20 home runs, his confidence continues to increase, and his knack for the big moment is well known among Mets fans. He’s still only 25, and last but not least, he destroys left-handed pitching. Should the Mets decide to play Duda every day, Flores plays serviceably at all four infield positions and needs to be given regular at bats.

POSITION PLAYERS: OUTFIELD

One of the more astonishing developments of the Mets’ preseason is that Michael Conforto‘s status is at all in question. Despite his early-season swoon last year, everyone in baseball seems to see that Conforto looks like a third hitter waiting to happen; but the ill-advised, ill-fated acquisition of Jay Bruce has clouded the Mets’ view. Conforto has good power from line to line, and the swing and approach to hit .300. He’s a solid fielder, despite mystifying early scouting reports which labeled him as defensively challenged; he can capably play all three outfield positions. He should be the Mets’ everyday right fielder to start the season, but unfortunately, there’s no guarantee this will happen. As for center field, Juan Lagares continues to struggle to remain healthy; he’s currently battling an oblique strain, and will likely begin the season on the disabled list. Lagares has speed, athleticism and underrated natural power, and his defense once won him a Gold Glove and reminded people of Devon White or a young Andruw Jones. For now, the Mets’ Opening Day center fielder looks like ageless wonder Curtis Granderson. Meanwhile, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes is embracing his role as as the team’s primary slugger. Having signed a four-year deal that removed any doubt that he’s committed to helping the Mets win a World Series, Cespedes provides both star power and an epicenter to an offense that’s potent, but can lag at times.

Noah Syndergaard will start things off for a Mets pitching staff that could be baseball’s best.

BULLPEN

The 2017 Mets’ bullpen is a bit of a wild card. Hansel Robles fell off dramatically last season, after spending time as one of the best righty setup men in baseball. Addison Reed will begin the season as the Mets’ closer, as dominant righty Jeurys Familia serves a 15-game suspension for a domestic violence incident; Reed has experienced success in ninth innings, albeit several years ago with the Chicago White Sox. Josh Edgin, Josh Smoker, and veteran Jerry Blevins will be asked to manage the setup innings; if they can avoid being overworked early in the season, they’re a capable enough bunch to at the very least not be a liability in a pennant race or beyond.

STARTING ROTATION

The Mets’ starting rotation is their biggest strength, and it’s arguably the best in baseball when healthy. The problem, of course, is that their health is by no means to be taken for granted, even by the dicey standards of modern-day power arms. Noah Syndergaard, known to the baseball world as “Thor,” will take the ball on Opening Day and is generally considered the ace among aces. Lengthy, languid, and composed, Jacob deGrom will be the Mets’ number two starter; he would be the top starter on most other teams. In his second year back from Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey has finally begun to look and feel like the man who helped fuel the Mets’ return to relevance; and Zack Wheeler, once an anticipated prospect, will work from the bottom half of the rotation to regain his form. Bringing up the rear will be Robert Gsellman, a rangy athlete who turned heads last year with a handful of impressive starts. If Wheeler and Harvey are healthy, they have the kind of stuff that will make the Mets’ rotation a murderer’s row.

PROJECTED LINEUP

The Mets are in search of a return to the offensive explosiveness they showed in the last few months of the 2015 season. As I do every season, rather than post the projected lineup I’ll suggest what I believe is their best lineup, given their current talent.

  1. Jose Reyes, 3B
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  3. Michael Conforto, RF
  4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
  5. Lucas Duda, 1B
  6. Neil Walker, 2B
  7. Curtis Granderson, CF
  8. Travis d’Arnaud, C

PROGNOSIS

How the Mets do this season may come down to how they do in May. From Opening Day through May, they play exclusively teams from the NL East; that means that by early May, they could be on their way to buried if they get off to a slow start. But if they can stay intact, the Mets have the pitching, power, and playoff experience to go all the way.

Prediction: 97-65, first in NL East

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