Pop the champagne bottles and prepare the libations as the Mets gear up for their 2016 season! Okay maybe this is a slight overreaction, but we do have ample reason to be excited and hopeful this year. Between the rotation back at full force, David Wright‘s recovery, Yoenis Cespedes‘ return, Wilmer Flores‘ new role, and a brand new double play combo, these are some of the storylines to watch as the Mets defend their National League Championship this season.
1. A Full Year of Rotation Domination
There is no secret that the New York Mets starting rotation is “the meat and potatoes” of the entire team. This is the driving force to any sustained success. Between Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard – they have three aces. Not to mention Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon, and the inevitable return of Zack Wheeler. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Last season, Matt Harvey had to prove that he was fully healthy – he did. Jacob deGrom had to prove that the previous season was not a fluke – he did. Meanwhile, Syndergaard proved to be a force atop the rotation. Now that we get to watch these studs compete every fifth day – we are in for a treat.
Each pitch of every game is a must watch because these guys are capable of achieving something that we may have never witnessed before. It is almost like watching Ken Griffey Jr. or Bo Jackson, you would never walk away from the TV when they were up because you were afraid you might miss something special. This Mets rotation manages to do the same. Simply enjoy it, because having all this talent assembled into one rotation is as rare as seeing a unicorn.
2. Cespedes’ Return
If there is one downside to Cespedes returning to the Mets – it is because he will be playing center field. That is a problem and the Mets know it. Sandy Alderson himself trumpeted to the public how bad he was, calling him a square peg. We have seen some blunders in the past that have left us wondering what he is thinking or if he was thinking at all. But the offensive package he brings far outweighs any of that. Sandy Alderson said as much too after he re-signed him.
The reason why Yoenis Cespedes is back with the Mets is his immense offensive firepower. Last season, Cespedes enjoyed career highs in homeruns (35), RBI’s (105), SLG (.542), OPS (.870), doubles (42), base-hits (184), and runs scored (101). Yes, I do think it is fair to say that Cespedes enjoyed a career-year and he did a great deal of that damage while with the Mets in a historic six week period. He may not necessarily put up numbers quite like that this season, he’s a force to be reckoned with and the most feared hitter in the Mets lineup. It is safe to anticipate a slash line of about .285/.330/.520, to go with 25-30 homeruns and 100+ RBIs.
3. A New Double Play Combo
“Grounded to second, and it gets by Murphy!” That is something that we’ve heard far too often over the past few seasons. While I love Murphy’s style of play and offensive game, there was little to like about his defensive game at second base. Ruben Tejada‘s offensive game at shortstop wasn’t the worst in baseball, but warranted an upgrade. Wilmer Flores committed 14 errors at shortstop during 103 games at short and proved useful at the position once in awhile in a pinch, just not everyday.
Departing the starting roles are Flores/Tejada and Murphy. Those jobs have been filled by Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker. During 136 games at short, Cabrera committed just nine errors last season or less than half of Tejada and Flores combined. There are some question marks about his ability to make plays in the holes due to limited range, but he will make all the routine plays that a major league shortstop should make. Cabrera provides the Mets with a solid stopgap until Amed Rosario or Gavin Cecchini are ready for the majors. His bat brings consistent run production.
Neil Walker will provide the Mets with slightly more pop than Murphy and a lower average. But the main reason why most people see Walker as a significant upgrade to Murphy is because of his solid defense at second. In 146 games Walker committed seven errors, while Murphy committed 6 errors in only 69 games at second. The new double play combo should provide more stability to the team that will prove to be invaluable to our pitchers.
4. Wilmer Flores’ New Role
Over the years, the Mets have tried to make Wilmer Flores an everyday shortstop. However there is one problem, he is not an everyday shortstop. He can play a little bit of second, shortstop, third, and is even learning how to play first. He could have complained about his demotion, but he has handled this like a player willing to do anything to help the team win.
The Mets let go of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe this offseason, even though they both contributed to the Mets’ playoff run. Wilmer should be able to contribute in a similar way to both Johnson and Uribe and perhaps more so. Flores also gives the Mets a solid bat off the bench against left-handed pitching and versatility in the field. He will be a huge part of the 2016 Mets despite the fact that he will serve mostly in an expanded utility role.
5. David Wright’s Recovery
The past 10-12 months have not been kind to David Wright’s health. He has had to endure a grueling rehab after his diagnosis of Spinal Stenosis. His back will never feel perfect ever again, but it should not be a diagnosis that causes Wright to miss a significant amount of time if managed properly. This condition will never go away, instead he will have to live with it.
Sandy Alderson has said that he hopes Wright can play in 130 games this season – which I would absolutely take right now. However don’t be shocked if it’s closer to 120 games. It is really difficult to project exactly what Wright will do this season. However, if he does play 130 games with a slash line of .270/.350/.450 to go with 12-15 homers and 60 RBIs – would anyone object? He also brings a real leadership quality to the team that is invaluable.