ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin is well known for his intensive coverage of the Mets, live tweeting games, interviewing players, and breaking stories as they happen. I recently had the chance to talk with Adam and hear his take on the young aces, David Wright, and his expectations of the team this season.
Noah: Coming off an unexpected run of success in 2015, what has been the atmosphere surrounding the Mets this spring training?
Adam: Well it’s certainly upbeat, and it’s warranted. The starting pitching is absolutely elite. With the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the hitting is very strong. The team understands that they are going to be the hunted this year and there’s going to be a lot of expectations of them. But they believe that they are justified in being the favorite in the national league this year.
Noah: Who’s setting the tone for this mindset?
Adam: Well Terry Collins met with the players at the start of spring training and said to them “you’re the hunted now.” But I don’t know if there’s any one person setting that tone. There’s just a lot of confidence, even from the younger players like (Noah) Syndergaard and Matt Harvey. These guys understand that they’re very good and they expect to win.
Noah: Obviously, the talent level on this team is different this year, but how is this team different also off the field?
Adam: With Harvey and Cespedes, there is a swagger that we haven’t really seen since 1986. I don’t think that this team has the same level of craziness, but that swagger is definitely still there.
Noah: For the first time since 2006, the Mets have some pretty decent depth. But that depth also pushes guys like Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares out of defined roles. Now with that said, what are their roles this season and how many at bats can we expect them to get?
Adam: Even though Wilmer Flores is likely not a starter at any position, he may get 400 or more at bats this year. When you think about David Wright, how many games is he realistically going to play? Is it 130, -that’s probably overly optimistic- is it 120, 110? Wilmer’s probably going to be the guy at third base barring something bad happening this last week of spring training. So that’s 40 or 50 games right there that he could play.
Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop looks like he’s going to avoid the disabled list to start the year, but he’s not going to play 162 games so Wilmer is going to get some time there. At second base, Neil Walker‘s numbers against left handed pitching aren’t great, so I bet Wilmer sees some time there as well. And then Lucas Duda isn’t going to face every tough lefty starter, so we may see Wilmer Flores there as the primary back up at first base too. Between the four positions, he could very easily get 400 at bats.
As for Juan Lagares, the resigning of Yoenis Cespedes directly affects him. I think it’s going to be largely like it was during the last two months of last season where Lagares starts against left handed pitching. Otherwise he’s a defensive replacement and a pinch hitter. So not a lot of playing time because the Mets don’t see a ton of left handed pitching, but certainly he’ll be in the mix.
The interesting wrinkle is whether he’s going to play centerfield or left field. Terry Collins recently decided to put Cespedes in center and Lagares in left. I don’t believe that’s going to happen during the regular season, but it’s something to watch.
Noah: What was the logic behind that positional switch? Moving Lagares to left and Cespedes to center doesn’t make a lot of sense, even though Lagares is clearly the better defender.
Adam: Terry’s rationale is that if Cespedes plays just one position, it might be easier for him (to adjust.) But Cespedes won a Gold Glove with the Tigers last year in leftfield before the trade. And Lagares won a Gold Glove in centerfield two years ago with the Mets. So I think that logic is ultimately going to prevail, (the move) just doesn’t make a ton of sense right now.
Noah: You mentioned David Wright and the concerns surrounding his back. Right now, what are the organization’s realistic expectations for him this season?
Adam: Sandy Alderson way early in camp mentioned 130 games as a possibility. But he’s just guessing. I don’t think anyone really knows (how much he’ll play.) David missed four months of last season with the spinal stenosis in his back. Now he knows how to manage it, but it’s not gone. We’ll see how his back responds as the year goes on. He did play the last month of last season plus the playoffs with some strategic rest. He’s going to be rested from time to time, he’s not going to start day games after night games in all likelihood. He’s also 33 years old now, aside from the back, you start seeing skills deteriorate a little bit. So how many games he plays this year is definitely an open question.
Noah: So what are the performance expectations for him this season? I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect 2006 or 2007 David Wright to show up again.
Adam: You’re right. Even aside from the back, I don’t see him generating those kind of power numbers again. He’s a guy who might hit .280 or .290 with 10-15 home runs and a fair amount of doubles. We’ll see what he is, I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that.
Noah: Switching gears now, of the young starting pitching, who looks poised to take the greatest step in their development this season?
Adam: Well if you look at Tommy John surgery (recoveries), usually year two is a lot better than year one. Adam Wainwright for instance, had a full run lower ERA his second year back from Tommy John surgery with the Cardinals. So Matt Harvey could be tremendously better this year than last year; and last year was very good. They say with the exception of that blip against the Astros this spring, Harvey nonetheless has looked sharp this spring training. His slider is back, his fastball velocity is comparable to past years, but it has that late life back too. So certainly Harvey has a chance to take a big step forward.
Still, Noah Syndergaard might end up being the best pitcher of them all when all is said and done. When I asked the Mets players who’s the most intimidating pitcher in baseball, some named Greinke and Kershaw, but the people who named a Met named not Harvey or deGrom, but Syndergaard. It just shows you how much respect he has among his teammates.
Noah: Overall, what should we expect from the young aces this year? Is this when they all put it together?
Adam: There’s no reason to believe that any of them will take steps backward. These are all guys who are number one or number two type pitchers that on paper make up the best pitching staff in baseball. Certainly the Mets are blessed with young starting pitching and any one of those guys can have an elite season.
Noah: I think Mets fans and media can agree that this is the strongest team out of the gate since we’ve seen in a very long time. Still, is there any glaring weakness that this team acknowledges out of the gate?
Adam: Certainly the bullpen (has questions.) I don’t want to say it’s a weakness, but it’s not extraordinary beyond the closer. Jeurys Familia is very good, if you look at his regular season, he didn’t blow a save after July 30th -when he gave up that home run to Justin Upton- until the World Series. However, Addison Reed and Antonio Bastardo as the primary set up men are not extraordinary. Hansel Robles is also a work in progress. So the bullpen is one area to watch.
They also don’t have a lot of team speed, the fielding up the middle -especially with Cespedes in centerfield- is not ideal, and the catchers are working to throw out more runners. So those are some problematic areas, but every team has some issues. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the Mets’ issues compared to other teams’.
Noah: Lastly, what would constitute a successful season for this team? Is it really World Series or bust?
Adam: Well the fans would certainly be very disappointed if they didn’t win the World Series, but it’s not going to be an easy road back. I firmly expect them to win the division, or at least make the playoffs. The Nationals are still a strong team, and I wouldn’t write them off yet. With the Braves and Phillies retooling, I would expect the Mets and Nationals to get a lot of wins off of those two teams and make the postseason.
From there, I wouldn’t say it’s a crap-shoot, certainly the Mets’ starting pitching gives them a distinct edge in the postseason. Still, there’s a lot of talented teams in the National League with the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cardinals shaping up to be strong competition. It’s really hard to say that the Mets will win the World Series or even be in the World Series because of the disparity between the several really good teams and the bad teams. There’s going to be a lot of competition. We’ll see what happens, but they will certainly be back to the playoffs.