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The New York Mets’ Wild Card playoff game against the San Francisco Giants was a smaller representation of the overall pattern in 2016: A solid night on the mound, a quiet night at the plate, and some runners were left stranded. The only thing that seemed to be missing was the plethora of home runs.
But, from a wider lens, it wasn’t just the dingers that seemed to misplaced.
Jacob deGrom. Matt Harvey. Steven Matz. Zack Wheeler. Neil Walker… David Wright.
The Mets successfully salvaged an injury-plagued season by returning to the playoffs for a second consecutive season, and in the end, the 2016 campaign should be seen as a positive one that allowed the team to groom farmhands like TJ Rivera, Brandon Nimmo, Robert Gsellman, and Seth Lugo. Heading into next season, the Mets will now have more options than anticipated, and in an upcoming offseason of uncertainty surrounding Yoenis Cespedes, the farmhands will provide the Mets with some useful trade bait, if necessary.
Notably, the Mets have options in the outfield should Cespedes decide to walk, but the fact of the matter is that the Mets were a sub-.500 team when Cespedes was not in the lineup. Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares, Nimmo, and Curtis Granderson are expected to be a part of New York’s plans heading into Spring Training, and most importantly, Mets fans desperately hope Bruce is able to settle into New York. Nimmo, for all of his promise and value, isn’t ready to be an every day player. Juan Lagares is an outstanding defensive player, a former gold glover, and has potential as a hitter, but Terry Collins has always limited his playing time. All things considered, there are enough questions in the outfield to warrant a strong push to retain Cespedes. Bruce is inconsistent, and although his return is likely, it is not a sure thing; Conforto endured a sophomore slump and may explore a shift to first base; and Curtis Granderson, despite a late-season resurgence once he moved down in the order, spent most of the season lagging behind in hits, RBIs, and walks. Granderson will also be 36 years old on opening day.
The crowded outfield is a good problem to have for Sandy Alderson, who has done an outstanding job piecing together this team in recent years. On the surface, acquiring players such as Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and Rene Rivera did not seem to be all that impactful at the time, especially compared to the big splash when the team retained Cespedes. But the Mets would not have made the playoffs without these guys, and all three of them managed to carve out an important role on the team: Rivera became the only viable defensive catcher and served as an extremely important veteran presence for the young pitchers; Cabrera exceeded expectations, especially considering his age, and performed both defensive and offensively; and Reyes returned to the Mets as the leadoff spark plug he was when he left, only this time he was much more humble and remorseful after an alarming and disappointing domestic abuse case last offseason. It should also be noted that Neil Walker, despite missing the end of the season, still played 113 games and tied his career-high in homers with 23.
Heading into 2017, the infield will be prepared with plenty of backup plans. David Wright will tentatively return to third base, which would likely move Reyes over to second base with Cabrera returning. Lucas Duda is expected to be tendered, which would pave the way for his powerful bat to return to the lineup on a daily basis. However, if Wright’s offseason rehab backfires, Reyes may return to third and the Mets could explore re-signing Walker, but that is not as likely. The Mets will probably treat his case like Murphy’s in that they will send him a qualifying offer, then leave it at that if he wants to go elsewhere. If he departs and Reyes shifts to third in the event that Wright can’t return, the Mets would likely prefer to see TJ Rivera and Wilmer Flores fight for the job at second base. Flores will likely see plenty of playing time anyway, with Wright’s spinal stenosis limiting his playing time.
Meanwhile, the Mets are said to be considering Conforto at first as a backup option if Duda gets hurt. Alternatively, Conforto could be inserted at first when Duda needs a day off in order to get Conforto some much-needed at-bats.
Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard matured immensely in 2016, and deGrom’s late-season injury should not overshadow the fact that he managed to keep his composure after a rough start to the season. As always, he powered through when he didn’t have his best stuff — including a dip in velocity for awhile — and ultimately learned even more about how to get himself through tough innings and tough outings. Syndergaard’s biggest achilles hill — his slow delivery — was exposed and exploited, but he is working on it. He is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and once he trims his pitch count, he will be even more spectacular.
As for the rest of the rotation, it is not a given that they will have a perfectly smooth return. And, although Bartolo Colon kept the magic alive for another season and hopes to return, he will be 44 next season. The Mets will be preparing for anything, making the emergence of Gsellman and Lugo that much more important. In the bullpen, the Mets should be thrilled that the two most important pieces, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, will be back in Flushing. Lefty specialist Jerry Blevins played well and seeks a return to the Mets, but it is too early to know how exactly they plan to fill in the rest of the bullpen. For all of Familia’s postseason struggles, he still was an outstanding piece of the puzzle in 2016. He gave up only one home run, collected the most saves in a season in Mets history, and finished the season with the most saves in baseball.
Keys for 2017:
- Average: If Cespedes walks, the Mets should look to spend on a player who can hit for average. The team is so power-heavy and so reliant on home runs that the scoreboard tends to show all or nothing. Further, the team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position is alarming enough that this player could simultaneously help put runners on base and drive runners in. It does not help that Granderson’s on-base percentage dipped, ultimately limiting the team’s chance to score extra runs on the long ball.
- Lefty specialist: The Mets may retain Blevins, but if not, they cannot settle for a mediocre lefty like they did with Antonio Bastardo, who was a disaster before the Mets shipped him back to Pittsburgh. Between Reed, Familia, and even Robles, the Mets have plenty of right-hand options in the bullpen. Lefty Sean Gilmartin was decent out of the bullpen in 2015, but struggled mightily in 2016.
- Production from the catcher position: The Mets are growing impatient with Travis d’Arnaud, who has underperformed defensively and offensively. He also has a problem staying healthy. Things are certainly not looking up for a player who was such a disappointment that the team felt more comfortable with a 33-year-old catcher who only hit .222. If d’Arnaud can rebound with a season reminiscent of the one he had in 2015, it could ease the concerns, but as it stands today, the Mets know they are not getting what they need at the position. They have also provided plenty of opportunities to Kevin Plawecki, but he has demonstrated that he is not a regular option at catcher and simply cannot hit. If d’Arnaud struggles out of the gate in 2017, the Mets should look to make a mid-season move in 2017 by acquiring a true catcher. Time is running out on the clock to groom young catchers at this point.
- Health: The Mets lost nearly the entire starting rotation and nearly the entire infield. Ideally, they’re looking for the exact opposite in 2017, but the infield is not young. Wright, Cabrera, Reyes, and Duda are all in their 30s, and more than one of them have had a long history of injuries. To counter this, the good news is that Flores can play any position in the infield and TJ Rivera serves as a viable option as a middle infielder. Conforto may be able to slide in at first, if necessary, and the Mets were even considering Travis d’Arnaud at first base in spring training in 2016.
- Coaching Staff: Terry Collins is retaining his entire coaching staff in 2017, and with the exception of Teufel, Collins and his staff did a great job utilizing the limited resources they had to work with in 2016. They deserve another shot. But Terry Collins, despite his reputation for being a great manager off the field, has lost far too many games on the field — a more important job and one that should weigh much, much more than what he does off the field. It is likely the reason why the Mets were considering firing him in August. He needs to be more aware of the circumstances and should listen to his own gut instinct rather than just going by how the pitchers feel in the later innings. He lost far too many games with poor judgement and his lineups have always been inconsistent and questionable — both in the regular season and postseason. Meanwhile, Teufel was wildly inconsistent and indecisive as a third base coach. Kevin Long has been credited with turning players such as Daniel Murphy into hitters, but outside of home runs, the team turned in a lackluster season at the plate. While Collins has his problems, the rest of the coaching staff needs to do a better job of assisting him down the stretch. The obvious silver lining on this coaching staff was Dan Warthen, who deserves the most credit for the job he did with the limited pitching staff.
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