Posted by Reese Kaplan at 10:00 AM
Spring training is around the corner and with it comes the realization of the off-season speculation by us many pundits who proclaimed we are either on the yellow brick road to success or the highway to hell. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but success is what we all want. What needs to happen in order for the team to push into the magic land of the post season in which they are participating rather than watching?
Lucas Duda needs to show he’s for real. No one hits 30 HRs without some natural power and talent. However, the world is rife with people like Ike Davis, Brady Anderson and others who once reached a lofty plateau never to return. Duda showed some good patience at the plate but he also flailed rather listlessly against pedestrian southpaws. A repeat or slight improvement would go a long way towards making a believer out of the cynics.
Daniel Murphy is a conundrum for Mets fans. They like his grit and effort. They like his doubles and his clutch hitting. What they don’t like is his glove, his repeated boneheaded baserunning gaffes and (thinking like a GM for a moment) his price tag. Is he worth $8 million in today’s baseball economy? Here’s a hint – they paid Chris Young $7.25 for what HE produced, so $8 million for Murphy is certainly reasonable. However, with Dilson Herrera hot on his heals at minimum wage it would seem that Murphy is expendable. He’s likely here for the full year, however, since Sandy Alderson has been unable or unwilling to pull the trigger on trades, so a typical Murphy year of about .285/12/65 would be perfectly acceptable and help solidify production from the infield.
Wilmer Flores is a true wildcard here. I’m in the “true believer” section who feels that as long as he is better than HoJo or Kevin Mitchell out there then his bat will make up for his defensive shortcomings. How good should he be expected to be? Someone recently floated the comp of Melvin Mora out there. Mora had a respectable career (primarily with Baltimore) where he delivered on average 18 HRs, 79 RBIs and a .277 average. I think anyone of us would sign up for those numbers right now and it could turn Flores into a difference maker in the lineup. Whether or not he’ll get the chance batting in the 8th hole is debatable, however.
David Wright needs to return to some semblance of a star player. While he’s not likely on that Cooperstown path anymore, a solid .290/25/90 would be a tremendous shot in the arm to a franchise that needs his bat to come alive. Give him health and he should produce, particularly with the shorter fences this year.
Travis d’Arnaud may not be the .313 hitter he was in September against the late season scrubs, but a .275 or better hitter with power would be music to the Piazza-spoiled bunch in Queens. While most people are believers in his hitting ability, many would like to see him work on his defense. If he’s not going to hit like Piazza then there are higher expectations when he’s got a glove on his hand and baserunners to throw out. Like Wright, the most important thing we can hope for regarding d’Arnaud is health.
Curtis Granderson is a bit of an enigma. His 20 HRs last year showed there’s still some pop in the bat, but his .220 average and horrible strikeout percentage suggested that the league switch or age or health are catching up to him. Whether or not his former hitting coach can right the wrongs is debatable, but another 20/66 season won’t help propel the Mets forward, particularly if he resumes a spot somewhere in the middle of the order.
Terry Collins should be told in writing that playing Juan Lagares in the leadoff spot is just plain foolish. He’s not a bad hitter, but he is rather poor at getting on base. His major league struggles in this regard mirror his minor league record, so it’s not likely to improve. Just because a guy can steal a base doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ideal to lead off. (Remember Eric Young?) Lagares is probably better suited as the 8th man in the order where his batting average and baserunning speed are still assets but where he won’t be expected to set the table. Daniel Murphy is 10% better at getting on base and this change would enable Wilmer Flores to move into a more prominent position for run production. Of course, it’s all a pipe dream as there are certain realities in Terry Collins’ world, including a stolen base guy must lead off and the 2nd basemen must bat second.
Finally on offense there’s Michael Cuddyer, a professional hitter and DH being asked to play the outfield every day. There should be some Roger Cedeño moments in the future. Here’s hoping he’s healthy enough to play every day and that he’s his hitting which was fine in Minnesota does just as well in the lower altitude of New York after the launching pad out in Colorado for the past few years. Here’s hoping, that like Wright and d’Arnaud, he won’t run up the Mets health insurance rates this year.
As excited as everyone is for the return of Matt Harvey, I’m tempering my enthusiasm quite a bit. If he finishes with an ERA below 3.50 it will be considered a great success for a first year back from TJS. People here are thinking he’ll simply pick right up where he left off in 2013 with his All Star starting nod.
I have higher hopes this year for Zack Wheeler who was flat out dominant in the second half of 2014. As long as he can keep his pitch counts down, I think he could put together the best year on the staff.
Jacob de Grom is a bit of a character his success far exceeded what could reasonably be expected for a converted infielder. He’s another one who may fall victim to the hype machine so my expectations are Harvey-like – a 3.50 or better season would be just fine in my book. Teams are onto him now and there could be some regression during his sophomore campaign.
Jon Niese needs to stay healthy, too. He and everyone’s favorite trade fodder – Dillon Gee – have had real problems staying healthy for the past few years. Niese always shows glimpses of what he could become but never has managed to put together that one stellar season from start to finish with All-Star type stuff. Now last year his record was nothing special – below .500 at 9-11 – but his ERA was just 3.41 and he delivered a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio while doing a pretty good job keeping people off base. He has weird reverse platoon splits in which he actually does better against righties than he does against lefties. He’s never had a 200 inning season, but if he can manage to log one then the Mets could be heading into October baseball.
Bartolo Colon is something of an enigma. His ERA was considerably higher last year than the team would have liked, his at-bats were the subject of many amusing YouTube videos, yet he still managed to win 15 games as the Mets number one starter. This year expectations are tempered significantly with him likely slotted as the 5th starter, but he’s still better than many teams’ number one. Again, expectations are that he’ll be moved at some point to clear a path for Noah Syndergaard and/or Steve Matz and/or Rafael Montero, but Sandy Alderson has not been able to find a taker. If he’s still here by year’s end it means he’s doing something very right or the aforementioned trio are struggling mightily in Las Vegas.
The bullpen turned from a weakness in April and May into a strength for the rest of the season. With the continued maturation of Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, Vic Black and Josh Edgin it should only get better. Add in the return of Bobby Parnell and it could be something special. This strong pen coupled with a very deep rotation here and in Las Vegas means that the team’s mediocre offense may be enough to win.
Terry Collins is a proven loser. The numbers back it up. He sports a career record of 748-778, 30 games under .500. The Mets had options in each season he embarrassed the team but inexplicably they brought him back anyway. This past year they could have made a clean break but instead decided to stick with what’s not working. Article after article cites his horrific in-game tactical management, his poor lineup construction, his propensity to burn out pitchers and his nonsensical drivel like, “I’m not here to develop players.” Poll after poll has him at extreme disapproval yet here he remains for his 5th season “leading” the team. The few apologists left will say, “Well, he hasn’t had much to work with.” I happen to agree. Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons have not made the hard decisions necessary to build a major league team since taking over the reins for the 2011 season. Still, he’s gotten the least out of what he’s had, continually sitting the hot bats, trotting out veterans for 5th, 6th and 20th chances instead of trying something new, and positioning young players to fail through lineup construction or impatience when they don’t go 6-6 in a game. Having him in charge will put the team in a hole before the first pitch is thrown. Until a change is made in the field management, it’s highly unlikely the team can ascend to the next level. After all, Houston soared once he left. Anaheim flourished. Maybe the Mets need to read some baseball history.