The 2017 New York Mets enter the season with a lot of optimism, cautious optimism that is. The team will once again have a group of very talented starting pitchers to go along with an offense that is capable of blasting the ball out of the ballpark from any spot in the lineup.
The team’s greatest flaw is not their bullpen or their defense, it’s their ability to remain on the field. Aside from Noah Syndergaard, all of their young starting pitchers had their seasons cut short due to injury in 2016. Offensively, Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores all saw time on the disabled list. The team is full of talent, it’s just a matter of whether or not that talent can remain healthy.
If the Mets are going to succeed in 2017, it will lie in the hands of their starting pitching. Over the last few years, and really throughout their history, the Mets’ biggest strength has been their pitching. Again, it will come down to how each of their arms hold up. Syndergaard had a wonderful 2016 season, posting a 14-9 record with a 2.60 ERA, 218 strikeouts and allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings with 0.5. His sheer dominance and ability to stay healthy has allowed him to emerge as the ace of the staff.
All of the other Mets starters endured a rough season in 2016. Jacob deGrom posted a respectable 3.04 ERA, but last year underwent surgery on an ulnar nerve that had been bothering his elbow and fingers all season. Steven Matz also notched a solid ERA of 3.40, but had surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Zack Wheeler did not see any action, as he suffered multiple setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John surgery before the 2015 season. Matt Harvey statistically had the worst season of all the starters, posting a 4-10 record with a dreadful 4.86 ERA. It turns out Harvey had a shoulder condition called thoracic outlet syndrome, and opted to undergo season-ending surgery in July.
The silver lining of all the injuries last season is that it allowed Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo to emerge as two very good starting pitchers. Seeing as just about each member of the starting rotation has health issues, this means that if one or two of them go down, Gsellman and Lugo can step up and hopefully replicate their success from 2016.
As mentioned, the offense has quite a few health concerns as well. However, similar to the starting rotation, there are many names that can fill in if the injury bug starts hitting the Mets again.
The Opening Day outfield will likely consist of the aforementioned Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, who the Mets tried desperately to trade before the season but to no avail. Defensive wizard Juan Lagares will be platooning in center field with Granderson, so this means Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo will likely both start in the minors. After a solid rookie campaign, Conforto struggled mightily in 2016. He batted .220 and struck out 89 times in just 348 plate appearances. However, he had a very strong April in 2016 and has looked very good this spring. Seeing as how Conforto is just 24-years-old, it’s likely he suffered from the proverbial “sophomore slump” and can hopefully still emerge as the excellent hitter the Mets expect him to be. Nimmo is another young player who showed a lot of promise in 2016, batting .274 in limited playing time. Should anyone in the outfield get hurt, the Mets have the depth to fill in those spots.
The same can be said of the infield. The biggest question mark here is third base, as Wright continues to struggle with his rash of injuries and will likely not be ready for Opening Day. Both Reyes and Flores can man the hot corner, with Reyes able to play his natural position of shortstop as well and Flores being able to play every infield position.
Aside from third base, Duda will be starting at first with Walker at second and Cabrera at shortstop. The double play combination of Walker and Cabrera is either very solid or spectacular. Both are very good defensively and had very good seasons offensively last year-when they were healthy that is.
This could be Duda’s last season on the Mets, as the slugger is in the final year of his contract and top prospect Dominic Smith could take his position as early as this year. Although a defensive liability, Duda has shown some incredible power with his bat. He is a very streaky player, as he is just as likely to carry the team on his back as he is to strike out four times in one game.
Not only do Reyes and Flores provide depth all around the infield, but the Mets boast a collection of infield prospects who could potentially see action in 2017. Gavin Cecchini had a brief stint in the majors last season and is expected to be a very solid infielder once he is ready, which could be very soon. Amed Rosario probably won’t see any time in the majors this season at just 21 years old, but he has progressed through the minors very quickly. Just like the outfield and starting rotation, there are players who could emerge as very good starters if health proves to be an issue yet again.
Behind the plate, the position of catcher does not have quite as much depth. d’Arnaud is a very solid bat in the lineup, but has yet to make it through an entire season without missing significant time due to injury. Rene Rivera is a steady backup and much better defensively than d’Arnaud, but he doesn’t provide nearly the same offense d’Arnaud does. Kevin Plawecki, the Mets’ third-string catcher, is not exactly someone who gets me excited, but he is young and could still come into his own.
The bullpen is also an area that the Mets lack depth in. Closer Jeurys Familia is likely to be suspended at some point for his domestic abuse scandal that occurred during the offseason. In his absence, it is likely that Addison Reed will become the team’s closer. Reed has been wonderful since the Mets acquired him near the end of the 2015 season, as he has posted a 1.84 ERA and walked only 18 batters since joining New York. Names such as Fernando Salas, Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins, Sean Gilmartin and Josh Edgin will also see time in relief. All of which have been solid relievers, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can rediscover or continue their success in 2017. An interesting case for the Mets is Rafael Montero. Once a top prospect, Montero has yet to do a whole lot for the team despite possessing a lot of talent. However, he is still rather young and it’s not too late for him to become a valuable pitcher for the team. Outside of these names, the Mets don’t have a whole lot of guys worth noting. But bullpens are nearly impossible to predict, as very few relievers are able to find consistent success. I’m sure a reliever I mentioned is going to have a dreadful season, while a reliever I didn’t mention is going to have a wonderful season.
The Mets are counting on a lot of things to break their way in order to have another deep postseason run. No one can accurately predict the health of any team. Injuries are a given any season, it’s just that most teams don’t seem to experience them as severely as the Mets do. Their main challenger in the National League East, the Washington Nationals, have a number of injury questions as well. The Nationals won the division last season with a relatively healthy team, and key pieces such as Met-killer Wilson Ramos and Mark Melancon will not be back in 2017.
For those reasons, I do believe that the Mets will re-capture the division crown from the Nats in 2017. The Nationals did not have a good offseason and were unable to bring in a big superstar player and did not find anyone to replace Melancon as their closer. Throw in the losses of some important players and the health issues and this team is not as strong as they were in 2016. The Mets are, without a doubt, the better team when healthy. I don’t think the Mets will make it through the season with perfect health, but I do believe the team has enough depth to survive whatever injuries come their way.
I acknowledge that we have seen in the past that when the Mets have high expectations and a lot of talent, multiple injuries and lackluster performances lead to a disappointing season. For the Mets, 2017 is as likely to be another disappointment as it is to be the year Mets fans have waited decades for.