New York Mets
By Max Brill
2018 Record: 77-85 (4th NL East)
2018 Payroll: $150,187,987 (12th)
Projected 2019 Lineup:
1. RF Brandon Nimmo, .240/.353/.398, 2.4 WAR
2. 2B Jed Lowrie, .243/.327/.393, 2.0 WAR
3. 1B Robinson Cano, .278/.339/.457, 3.3 WAR
4. LF Michael Conforto, .244/.345/.454, 3.0 WAR
5. 3B Todd Frazier, .218/.310/.410, 0.8 WAR
6. C Wilson Ramos, .261/.312/.439, 2.3 WAR
7. SS Amed Rosario, .262/.304/.391, 2.0 WAR
8. CF Juan Lagares, .253/.300/.369, 0.7 WAR
Projected Starting Rotation
1. Jacob deGrom, 208 IP/2.93 ERA/1.06 WHIP, 5.8 WAR
2. Noah Syndergaard, 176 IP/3.51 ERA/1.17 WHIP, 3.6 WAR
3. Zack Wheeler, 171 IP/3.85 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 2.7 WAR
4. Steven Matz, 162 IP/4.04 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 1.9 WAR
5. Jason Vargas, 105 IP/4.37 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 0.8 WAR
The Mets may have done the most of any team this past offseason. The first, and perhaps most important, move they made was hiring a new general manager: Brodie Van Wagenen. Mr. Van Wagenen is a former player agent straight from the sports division of the Creative Artists Agency, one of the most robust talent agencies in the world.
BVW made a splash with his first major move, acquiring eight-time All-Star Robinson Cano and young flamethrower Edwin Diaz from the Mariners in exchange for prospects Justin Dunn and Jared Kelenic and some salary relief. The improvements didn’t stop there, though; Brodie signed Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia, Jed Lowrie, and a handful of others to MLB contracts so that the Mets might be able to make another playoff push before their loaded rotation hits free agency. Sure, they have like twenty second basemen now, but you can never have enough infielders, right?
No longer are the days of the “NL Easy.” The NL East projects to be a dogfight from top to bottom, save, of course, for the Marlins, who own a roster on which 60% of the players have fewer than two years of MLB service time. The Marlins are also the only team in the NL East projected to finish under .500 this season. You can read more about the Marlins upcoming sadfest here, if you must.
The Mets return three of their top four WAR-getters from last season in Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler. Somehow, deGrom didn’t win the Cy Young award unanimously last season despite doing all of the following things:
- Putting together the longest string of starts allowing three or fewer earned runs.
- Compiling an ERA that was 10th-lowest all-time among any qualified starter since WWII.
- Striking out 5.85 batters for every batter he walked while also striking out 32.2% of opposing hitters. There are only six pitchers ever to compile a higher K/BB ratio and K% in the same season: Pedro Martinez in 2000 (8.88, 34.8%) and 1999 (8.46, 37.5%), Justin Verlander in 2018 (7.84, 34.8%), Corey Kluber in 2017 (7.36, 34.1%), Clayton Kershaw in 2015 (7.17, 33.8%), Chris Sale in 2017 (7.16, 36.2%), and Max Scherzer in 2018 (5.88, 34.6).
He did other cool stuff too, like throw eight shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and just two hits in his final start of the year. Bottom line: he was good and should have won the Cy Young unanimously. Thank that writer in San Diego if you think Scherzer, or anybody else for that matter, should have won. You’re wrong but you’re entitled to your opinion. But to be clear, you’re wrong. Moving on.
Noah Syndergaard is also still a god. He missed parts of 2018 with a finger injury and hand, foot, and mouth disease (yeah, seriously) but was pretty excellent when he was healthy, throwing 154.1 innings of 3.03 ERA ball. Thor led the league in complete games and shutouts (with two and one respectively—welcome to 2018!) despite starting just 25 games. He’ll be firing on all cylinders for the Mets in 2019 as the #2 in what is sure to be the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball.
Zack Wheeler will join the above two studs in a fearsome top half of the rotation for the Amazins. Wheeler’s 1.68 second half ERA last season was the second-lowest among all qualified starters, one spot ahead of his teammate Jacob deGrom and one spot behind Pirates starter Trevor Williams. Trevor Williams has no business being at the top of that list, but Wheeler certainly does thanks to his 4.87 K/BB ratio and 2.53 FIP. Obviously, there is a little bit of luck involved in compiling an ERA under 2 in a half, but Wheeler’s peripherals indicate that his performance was not terribly flukey.
Steven Matz and Jason Vargas figure to round out the Mets rotation. I’d like to see them give Kyle Dowdy, a Rule Five pick from the Indians, a shot at starting regularly. Dowdy, a 12th round pick of the Tigers in 2015, sat in the low-to-mid 90s before he started working with a weighted ball and added about five miles per hour to his fastball. He can regularly touch 99 now and fanned almost one batter per inning in work across double- and triple-A in 2018. As of now, Dowdy will likely be on mop-up duty in the bullpen, but the Mets could call on him if they need a spot starter.
The newly-acquired Edwin Diaz is likely to slot into the closer role. Jeurys Familia, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and Justin Wilson will join him in what will be a much-improved bullpen from last season.
The pitching staff is not the only intriguing part of this roster, though. The lineup will feature young outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo, the former of whom is looking to return to his 2017 form and the latter of whom is looking to continue his 2018 success. These two first rounders are likely to appear towards the top of the Mets’ lineup this upcoming season.
They’ll also have a slew of fresh faces in the lineup, including aforementioned new acquisitions Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, and Jed Lowrie. Despite what Rotochamp says, I find it hard to believe that the Mets would start Cano at first base, especially with stud prospect Pete Alonso waiting in the wings. I think that their infield, when everyone is fully healthy, will shake out something like this:
- 1B: Pete Alonso
- 2B: Robinson Cano
- SS: Amed Rosario
- 3B: Jed Lowrie
Jeff McNeil, who hit .329 in his rookie season last year, will slot in around the infield and should also see some work in the outfield. As of right now, the Mets project to start the season with Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie both on the injured list, so McNeil will probably start at third until one of those two gets back to full health.
The tough news for this team is that although the roster looks as good as it has on paper in a long time, the Mets have to compete with the Bryce Harper-led Phillies, the Harper-less Nationals who signed Patrick Corbin to bolster the rotation, and the Braves with a new third baseman: Josh Donaldson. They’re going to have to stay healthy and play well from April to September in order to win what figures to be the toughest division in baseball this year.
Projected Record: 84-78
Player to Watch: Michael Conforto, OF
I already sang deGrom’s praises earlier in the article so I figured I’d give Michael Conforto some love. Most people think that Conforto, a former first-round pick out of Oregon State, had a down year and, on the surface, he did. His OPS dropped by 140 points and he hit just one more homer than in 2017 despite playing 44 more games.
The good news for Conforto is that his issues are very fixable. He actually struck out less in 2018 than 2017, walked more, and made more contact on pitches in the zone and overall. The largest obstacle he faced in 2018 was that he stopped hitting the ball in the air, and part of that can likely be traced to the shoulder injury that cut his 2017 short. With his shoulder surgery over a year in the past, Conforto should be able to find the stroke that brought him so much success in 2017.
Player to Watch: Pete Alonso, 1B
If not for the MLB’s rules about service time and free agency eligibility, Alonso may have made his big league debut in the middle of last season. He didn’t, though, and instead triple-slashed a light .285/.395/.579 with 36 homers in 132 minor league games across double- and triple-A. Alonso will be in Queens sooner rather than later, and when he does, he should immediately slot into Rookie of the Year discussions.
Player to Watch: Eric Hanhold, RP
Yes, I know you don’t know who Eric Hanhold is. Here’s a quick summary: 6’5″, high 90s fastball, high 80s slider. Sounds similar to Noah Syndergaard, right? Hanhold isn’t the next Thor, but he’s big and throws hard. Hanhold will get an opportunity for some big league relief work this season after spending most of 2018 in the minors and with his stuff, should work his way into meaningful bullpen work sooner rather than later.
Image: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports