(Image Credit: Ryan Hatch | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
New York Mets
by Max Brill
2017 Record: 70-92 (4th NL East)
2017 Payroll: $154,829,658 (14th in MLB)
All player projections for 2018 from Steamer
Projected 2018 Opening Day Lineup:
2B Asdrubal Cabrera .260 AVG/.324 OBP/.428 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
3B Todd Frazier .227/.318/.436, 2.1 fWAR
LF Yoenis Cespedes .269/.332/.509, 2.7 fWAR
RF Jay Bruce .239/.308/.464, 0.9 fWAR
1B Adrian Gonzalez .255/.326/.422, 0.1 fWAR
C Travis d’Arnaud .252/.313/.430, 1.4 fWAR
SS Amed Rosario .257/.296/.374, 1.0 fWAR
CF Juan Lagares .255/.299/.379, 0.6 fWAR
**OF Michael Conforto is likely to start the year on the disabled list. He is projected by Steamer to lead the Mets in fWAR in 2018 with 2.9 thanks to a projected .260/.349/.491 triple-slash.
Projected 2018 Rotation:
Noah Syndergaard, 182.0 IP/3.10 ERA/1.09 WHIP, 5.5 fWAR
Jacob deGrom 203.0 IP/3.34 ERA/1.16 WHIP, 4.8 fWAR
Jason Vargas 157.0 IP/4.45 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 1.6 fWAR
Matt Harvey 134.0 IP/4.76 ERA/1.41 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR
Zack Wheeler 116.0 IP/4.25 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 1.6 fWAR
**Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and Steven Matz are all in contention for Opening Day rotation spots in place of Wheeler.
After a disappointing 2017 season, the Mets made a splash in free agency in an effort to return to the postseason in 2018. Though the Amazins opted to not chase any of the big names on the market (think J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish), they filled out their roster with a handful of solid pieces that should give this team an opportunity to play some October baseball for the third time in four seasons.
The first notable move GM Sandy Alderson made was inking reliever Anthony Swarzak to a two-year deal worth $7MM annually. New York is not a new city for Swarzak; the righty spent a season with the Yankees in 2016 before moving to the Brewers where he finally broke out. Swarzak, who sports a middling (especially for a reliever) 4.22 career ERA, will bolster the back end of the Mets bullpen after a 2017 season that saw him post career-bests in nearly every pitching statistic.
After the Swarzak signing, the Mets front office really kicked their offseason activities into gear. The team re-signed fan favorite Jay Bruce to a three-year, $39MM contract viewed by many experts and fans alike as a bargain considering that Bruce was seeking a five-year deal. Bruce will slot back into the middle of the lineup and is likely to see regular playing time until Michael Conforto returns to the field in late April or early May.
The bargain spree didn’t end with Bruce, though. The Mets signed corner infielders Adrian Gonzalez and Todd Frazier to extremely team-friendly contracts in late January and early February, respectively. Gonzalez is coming off an injury-riddled 2017 season in which he suffered from recurring back issues and eventually lost his starting spot to Dodgers rookie phenom Cody Bellinger. The Mets have Gonzalez on a veteran minimum salary, so if the experiment does not work out as planned, rookie Dominic Smith will be waiting in the wings.
Frazier, on the other hand, will look to continue his success from 2017, when he posted a career-best walk rate of 14.4%, an improvement of nearly 5% over his previous career high. Frazier also jacked 27 home runs despite batting only .213 for the season, so his power will be a welcome addition to the Mets lineup.
The last significant offseason move the Mets made was signing innings-eater Jason Vargas to a two-year, $16MM contract. Vargas does not do anything particularly well, but he is not terrible at anything either and has demonstrated that he is capable of throwing 175+ solid innings. Given the Mets’ history of injury, especially with pitchers, Vargas will be welcomed to the rotation with open arms.
The 2018 season, much like every other season for the Mets, is going to come down to health. Team captain David Wright (remember him?) is unlikely to see the field due to his spinal stenosis and other injuries but will be a valuable asset for the team in the clubhouse. Pitchers Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman, all of whom are competing for rotation spots, will all look to go through 2018 healthy after injury-filled 2017 campaigns.
Also looking to rebound from injury in 2017 (isn’t everyone on the Mets?) is star OF Yoenis Cespedes. In 2017, the first year La Potencia’s four-year, $110MM contract, spent just about as much time off the field as on it. He played just 81 games but triple-slashed .292/.352/.540 with 17 HR, good for 31% above league average. A full, healthy season from Cespedes could instantly turn this team into a World Series contender.
The Mets will also benefit from a full season of youngster Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo, in 69 games during 2017, sported a 15.3% walk rate, which is not only among baseball’s best, but is even more impressive considering that Nimmo will be just 25 on Opening Day. The 27.9% strikeout rate could use some improvement, but if Nimmo is going to make soft contact just 15% of the time and walk over 15% of the time, that has the makings of a top-tier MLB leadoff hitter.
The strength of this team is in the pitching. Both Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have established themselves as elite MLB pitchers and are the 1A and 1B pitchers of this team. The back end of the rotation has a lot of talent, with blue-chip prospects Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz all in contention for spots in the rotation. The rotation is deep, but if injuries knock this pitching train off the tracks, the offense may not be able to carry the load as it did during the Mets’ miracle run to the World Series in 2015.
The Mets have a lot of potential and talent on their 2018 roster, but the team’s postseason chances will be determined by the health of the players. If this team manages to stay mostly healthy for the entire season, it could threaten 90 wins. On the flip side, another injury-riddled season will likely see this team struggle to finish at .500 once again.
Predicted Record: 86-76
Player to Watch: Noah Syndergaard, P
Monster. Animal. Norse God. Thor.
Those are just some of the names Noah Syndergaard has been called and there’s a common theme among them: not human. Not human is probably the best way to describe Syndergaard. In Thor’s first spring training start he hit triple digits on the radar gun 11 times. After the game, he explained (while not wearing a shirt, obviously) to reporters that he was not even trying to dial it up and that everything felt natural.
Thor followed that insane debut up by striking out seven straight batters in his spring training start on Thursday (March 8th). This man is nothing short of a monster. Thor is an apt nickname.
Since entering the league in 2015, Syndergaard has a 2.89 ERA and 1.10 WHIP to go along with a 10.34 (!!!) K/9. Only four starters in the National League have a better K/9 than Syndergaard since his debut: Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, and Robbie Ray. Pretty good company, huh? If Syndergaard manages to throw more than 200 innings in 2018, he should contend with Scherzer and Kershaw for the NL Cy Young crown.
Player to Watch (Young player/rookie/prospect): Amed Rosario, SS
Rosario is like the anti-Nimmo. Nimmo doesn’t really have flashy tools (except for an 80-grade smile 😊) and Rosario has a whole bunch of them. For starters, Rosario swiped 129 bags in the minors in 2016 and 2017 combined. He has a good glove and good range at short, and while he may not end up as good of a hitter as Nimmo, he will likely become a valuable major league starter due to his defensive abilities, his foot speed, and his propensity for hitting line drives.
The one drawback of Rosario’s game is that he has terrible plate discipline. His approach should improve as he gains more experience with MLB pitching, but the 22-year-old posted abysmal MLB strikeout and walk rates of 28.8% and 1.8%, respectively, in 2017. He’ll have a full season to adjust to major league pitching, but until his plate discipline improves, Rosario will be a glove-first prospect.
Player to Watch: Matt Harvey, P
Matt Harvey, known to some as The Dark Knight due to saving Gotham City in the early days of his career, struggled through injuries (shocker) in 2016 and 2017. Harvey had Tommy John surgery in 2014, won Comeback Player of the Year in 2015, and then went on the disabled list for thoracic outlet syndrome in 2016 and shoulder issues in 2017. Basically, Harvey has been hurt a lot, just like any other Met.
That does not mean Harvey cannot return to form. Yes, his 6.70 ERA in 2017 was by far his career worst, but this is a 28-year-old (he’ll be 29 on Opening Day), with a career ERA of 3.51, WHIP of 1.18 and K/BB of 3.57. The talent and pedigree are both there (Harvey was the #7 overall selection in the 2010 MLB draft), he just needs to pitch a full season healthy. Harvey was once expected to command a multi-year, nine-figure contract in free agency following the 2018 season. He probably will not do that, but a bounce back 2018 could secure Harvey more than just a one-year pact in free agency.