Happy New Year–Mets 2016 NL East Champs

Finally, the offseason that I envisioned when Sandy Alderson first took over as GM: a lot of smallish moves that incrementally improved the team, while positioning them for the sustained success that Alderson mentioned when he first came on board. If the Twitter-verse and the Blogosphere are any indication however, my opinion is in the definite minority. I guess some fans would rather that they spend a quarter billion dollars on a 30-year old pitcher or a give superstar slugger bucks to a right fielder known more for his defense–and then shift him to center.

And I know, it’s that World Series thingy that the Mets did last October that this offseason pales in comparison to. Still I like the trade for Neil Walker and the free agent signings of Asrubal Cabrera and Alejandro de Aza. I am happy they resigned Jerry Blevins and Bartolo Colon. I think this is just about enough to make the 2016 Mets the first team in their history to successfully defend an Eastern Division crown. Too soon to predict what will happen in the playoffs, but the first order of business is getting there.

So, in no particular order, here’s why I think they will indeed “get there.” This is Part One, Part Two will appear soon.

The starting pitching will be better. A BIG caveat: a season-ending injury to any one of the Mets four young starters and all bets are off. Last year, Mets starters tossed 1,080 innings. Jon Niese and Dillon Gee accounted for 215 of those, nearly one-fifth. The duo pitched to a combined 1.45 WHIP,  surrendering 122 runs, while losing 13 games. Those innings will be covered this year by a combination of Steven Matz, Colon and most likely Rafael Montero and Zack Wheeler. Those four, on paper at least, represent an major upgrade over Niese and Gee. For argument’s sake, lets increase the amount of innings projected by Mets starters in 2016 to 1,100. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom should once again reach 190 each. Let’s bump Noah Syndergaard and Matz both upwards, to 180 and 150 respectively. That’s a big jump for Matz, as injuries limited his workload last year.  So, project 710 innings pitched from the Mets Big Four.

Colon pitched 194.2 innings last year. The plan is for him to keep the fifth spot warm until Wheeler comes back, but I can see him making several spot starts after Zack returns, either for him or for one of the other arms. Dial Bart’s starting workload down to 175. Let’s only give Wheeler 125 as his wildness prior to surgery was a key factor in limiting his innings. Now we’re at 1,010. That leaves 90 or so innings to Montero or Logan Verrett or someone like Seth Lugo or Sean Gilmartin, much less than the 215 innings entrusted last year to Niese and Gee.

Young regulars can get better. Next to the health of the four young guns, the three/four spots in the order are the biggest issue for the Mets. Curtis Granderson unexpectedly re-invented himself into an effective leadoff hitter last year. In doing so, he relieved the Mets of a long standing hole in their lineup with a player already on the roster.   Ideally, Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud are ready to step up as middle of the order types. Should that occur, it means that they have solved their biggest offseason problem with in-house options. I believe the whispers about Travis taking reps at first base this spring is a clear indication that the Mets are leaning/hoping this way. If (and this is a big if) those two can successfully take the next step together, manager Terry Collins can wrap the rest of a solid, if unspectacular lineup around them and even use the left/right setup we saw during the stretch last year and into the post season.

The Middle Infield is better. I may feel different about him 40 or so games into the season, but right now, I love the Walker addition. He is a definite improvement over Daniel Murphy, a full win share (2.4 vs. 1.4) to be exact. Less exact is that he is playing for a contract this year, which evidence suggests serves as a further motivator on the field. FWIW, Pirates fans in my acquaintance hate this trade. I am less enthused about Cabrera, but he should be a league average, reliable shortstop (again an improvement over last year). This move had to be made as both incumbent Met shortstops suffered broken leg bones this past fall. Both Walker and Cabrera are switch-hitters and reportedly can play other positions, but that’s another story for another post.

The division didn’t improve. The Miami Marlins are probably the most improved team in the division so far with a return to health from Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. Too bad for them, the rest of their starting pitching is poor. The Nationals remain the biggest threat, but they continue to show signs of being the most dysfunctional team in the division. The really remind me of the post-86 Mets, talented yes, but unable to ever put it all together. Can they expect another season like 2015 out of Bryce Harper? I hate the idea of Daniel Murphy wearing their uniform, but I don’t think Murph is a difference-maker. The Phillies and the Braves appear to be in full rebuild mode. Winning the division is never easy, but the Mets appear to be the most solid of the five teams. And unlike their 2000 NL Champion counterparts these Mets don’t have a dynasty in the same division.

Quietly the Mets have left two roster spots still open. I’m still waiting on two more moves before I publish the rest of this post, but I feel that the described four developments alone put us in a good spot to be watching Met games to at least mid-October and hopefully beyond.

So, how was your first day back at work?

A Mets fan since 1971, Dan spent many summer nights of his childhood watching the Mets on WOR Channel Nine, which his Allentown, PA cable company carried. Dan was present at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and the Todd Pratt Walkoff Game in 1999. He is also the proud owner of two Shea Stadium seats. Professionally, Dan is a Marketing Manager in the Bulk Materials Handling industry. He lives in Bethlehem PA with his wife and son, neither of whom fully get his obsession with the Mets.
  1. DaveSchneck January 6, 2016 at 9:12 pm
    HNY Dan. First day back was hard, and the doldrums of winter won’t make it any better in the near term.

    I agree with most of what you said, but I’ll add there three points –
    1. SP should be better, but even if healthy (not missing starts) we’ll need to see what tool the 2015 workload has on Harvey, deGrom, and Syndy
    2. While most of the younger players will likely improve, Grandy in the leadoff is key, and at his age he could easily regress from his 2015 performance.
    3. I expect the the Mets and Nats aren’t yet finished this offseason, and I suspect that the Nats will add more than the Mets between now and opening day. How much they close the gap we shall see, but a couple of impact additions could make the division title much more competitive.

  2. argonbunnies January 7, 2016 at 6:16 am
    Agreed on liking Walker and Blevins. I would have preferred Chris Young to Colon, but Colon is fine.

    It’s also nice to raise the floor a bit at SS and CF, but I think that’s all Cabrera and De Aza bring: protection against disaster. I would have gone for Aybar and Span. Sometimes I wonder if this front office believes that defense matters.

  3. argonbunnies January 7, 2016 at 6:16 am
    Dan, I think your SP innings projections are realistic, but that doesn’t indicate better results to me. Replacing a few crappy Niese and Gee starts with a rusty Wheeler and a raw Matz and Montero is no surefire improvement plan. I’m sure they’ll have their moments, but so did Niese. Also: I’m not going to predict that any of our Big Three gets seriously injured, but any forecast of odds for success does need to consider the possibility.

    I do think we’ll get more total production from Conforto and d’Arnaud than we did last year, just thanks to playing time. Asking them to be a solid middle of the lineup is a bit much, though. Conforto’s still learning to hit MLB breaking balls, and d’Arnaud’s swing goes through funks where he can’t catch up to fastballs. I can’t remember the last young Mets hitter who improved upon being thrust into a key lineup spot. I do think the Mets lineup has fewer easy outs than in recent years, though, so hopefully no one or two guys will need to carry it.

    I will not miss Murphy’s glove. A Pirates fan I play with tells me that Walker, though streaky at the plate, is a pretty clutch guy both at bat and in the field.

    As for the competition, the Nats can’t possibly be as injured and un-clutch as they were last year. They’ve got a great squad on paper, and Dusty Baker is a fun and popular guy who should disperse the bad vibes. If Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott, Ollie and Petit can keep doing what they’ve been doing, I think the Nats will win 90+. I do see some potential for the bullpen to be a major problem, though. Then again, same for the Mets…