Posted by Reese Kaplan at 10:00 AM
Pitchers and catchers are due to report in less than two weeks now and the feelings of anticipation and optimism are something that are like playing dress-up in another team's fans' clothing. When was the last time the Mets entered February with so few questions that need to be answered?
How are Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores doing after sacrificing their leg and ankle on the ball field while playing the game they love. Tejada's post-season takeout slide was on national television and has led to the national debate on what's right and wrong for middle infielders turning the double play with baserunners charging at them. Flores' story kind of flew somewhat under the radar when his hit-by-pitch during a November 26th game turned out to be more than a mere bruise and he was forced to sit out the rest of the Venezuelan Winter League.
Throw in the Juan Lagares into the list of walking wounded. While it was obvious to everyone except perhaps the Mets that something was wrong with Lagares' throwing last season, a period of rest betweeen the end of the World Series and the start of Winter League play led to reports of him looking more like the Gold Glover of 2014. With reacquisition of Yoenis Cespedes, his playing time may be limited to late inning defense and occasional starts against tough lefties when either Michael Conforto or Curtis Granderson are rested.
Jerry Blevins, Josh Edgin and Zack Wheeler all are working their way back from various injuries as well. Blevins broke his pitching arm twice last year, while the latter two are in different stages of recuperation from Tommy John Surgery. Fortunately there appears to be enough depth on the pitching front that they can afford to be patient with recovery times for all of them.
Everyone is also waiting with bated breath to see how a winter off has impacted David Wright's ability to stay on the field. Travis d'Arnaud is seemingly always a step away from a freak injury as well. Here's hoping they're carrying rabbit's feet or whatever it takes for them to stay healthy during 2016.
Last year the middle infield combination of primarily Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores wasn't going to make anyone forget Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion. Murphy's gaffes tended to be mental while Flores' limitations were more of the physical variety. The newly imported duo of Neil Walker and Adrubal Cabrera should provide incremental upgrades in the field without sacrificing anything at the plate. They've rendered Wilmer Flores' bat and Ruben Tejada's glove into bench players.
Althought we saw a great deal of Yoenis Cespedes in CF last year, he was out there sort of out of necessity to keep his bat in the lineup. This year the Mets have bet at minimum $27.5 million that he'll be able to adapt to the role virtually every day. The jury's still out on that one and for what he's being paid he'll be under quite the microscope.
Although Kevin Plawecki had a very rough start to his big league career, other teams rapidly learned that starter Travis d'Arnaud is not really much of a challenge for would-be base stealers. As a result, there's a chink in the armor the team puts out to help minimize the damage when the other team is on offense. If d'Arnaud's bat continues to develop as shown during his healthy months of 2015, then a position switch to preserve his health and improve the behind-the-plate defense may be in the offing.
After shutdown closer Jeurys Familia, the Mets opted to retain Addison Reed for another season after his very impressive late year audition. Jerry Blevins should be ready to start the season as well. Then they shocked the baseball world by securing the services of lefty Antonio Bastardo for 2016/2017. Rumors abound that they're still in touch with Tyler Clippard to see if he would be amenable to a short term deal and that his shoulder fatigue that hurt him at the end of the World Series run won't resurface. In addition, they have options including Hansel Robles, Sean Gilmartin and Erik Goeddel. Rafael Montero, Logan Verrett and Dario Alvarez all have had brief glimpses of the big leagues and after proving themselves for awhile in Las Vegas could make themselves a part of the mix as well. That's already 7 named players (without Clippard) for the roster with three reserves. In addition you have Josh Edgin due back at some point and Bartolo Colon shifting to the pen when Zack Wheeler is deemed healthy. It's nice to have an excess.
In retrospect, the already questionable decision to extend a nearly Lucas Duda level contract to journeyman Alejandro De Aza to warm the bench looks doubly bad now that Cespedes is back once again. Behind him you have the aforementioned Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada and Kevin Plawecki. Stories abound that Wilmer Flores is going to get a lot of reps at 1B to serve as a backup there as well, but it's possible another multipurpose player in the mold of (but perhaps more talent than) Eric Campbell could sneak his way onto the roster. A lot depends on whether they choose to go with a 5 or 6 man bench.
With a team featuring Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes and Travis d'Arnaud getting 75% of the starts, there's a lot of double play possibilities in the team's future on the basepaths. David Wright and Curtis Granderson don't run as much as they once did either. The team doesn't feature a single starter likely to eclipse 15 SBs for the entire season. That's a slow team. On the bench De Aza showed 20 SB capability during 2013 and 2014, plus it appeared during the last two years Juan Lagares added running as a dimension to his game, too. None are the type of pinch-runner type like the one trick pony, Eric Young, Jr.
Lucas Duda, David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson are all possibilities to exceed 150 Ks during the course of the year. Whatever happened to the patient philosophy of working the counts?
In the scheme of things, these minor issues and roster tinkering are the mark of a contender. No team is perfect but the Mets have precious few question to have answered during the soon-to-start Spring Training season. Assuming the solid gold starting pitching remains healthy, there's no reason they shouldn't be favored to repeat.