Painful. No other word for what I felt, for what we all felt, as we watched a pitching duel for the ages come to a crashing halt with a disastrous ninth inning. Many of us vented on social media; many of us flooded the comments section of this blog, to let out our frustration. Blame was tossed around; Familia was both vilified (he can’t come through in big spots!) and greatly defended (he had a great year!). Some praised the efforts of what we felt was an overachieving bunch, more survivors than achievers from a team riddled by attrition through the year so that there was barely a hint of our April roster left at the end.
I wanted to take a look at the Mets’ Big Picture and try to assess the direction this team is going. What is the Big Picture? The building blocks… The players we wanted to see develop and improve… The ones we counted on to help us not only with this year, but over the next several (hopefully) highly competitive years. I am not referring to players we don’t anticipate being here 2-3 seasons from now (which probably include great contributors like Colon, Cabrera, Walker). So let’s examine which young hopefuls took that next step and who didn’t in 2016.
Pitching: There was more bad than good here but let’s discuss the obvious tremendous humongous THOR sized positive from the 2016 season. Noah Syndergaard did everything that could be asked of him, and more. He established himself as a true ace, a dominant pitcher who led the team (and was third in the National League) with a 2.60 ERA, strike outs with 218 (fourth in the National League) and somehow only let up 11 home runs all year. Additionally he gutted out innings while pitching with a nagging bone spur, and showed he was as big game as you can get with his performance in the wild card game.
Much of the other news isn’t as promising. It is becoming more and more worrisome that we simply will never have our dream rotation for even a season. Zack Wheeler not only hasn’t pitched an inning in two years, he really never came close to returning as he had setback after setback. Matt Harvey has, for all intents and purposes, missed two and a half of the last three and a half seasons. Steven Matz always seems to be hurt. And Jacob deGrom finished the year with almost fifty less innings than last season as he also went under the knife.
Obviously this could have been a freak occurrence in 2016. Perhaps next year we will laud our rotation as they stay on the field and throw ace after ace again the evil Giants, Nationals and Cubs. But this year was not one to build confidence that this dream rotation will ever fully blossom as a whole.
Position Players: This was a tough year for our young position players. We went into this season with hopes that Michael Conforto would become our everyday left fielder and number three hitter, and for a month it worked beautifully…until he went into a slump, and pretty much never came out. Now we even wonder how he fits into the outfield configuration next year. Of course other dominoes have to fall—we all expect Bruce’s contract to be picked up, but can we resign Cespedes? Whether we do or do not, does Sandy feel like he can go into 2017 penciling Michael in as the opening day left fielder?
Even more troublesome was the performance of Travis d’Arnaud, who might have played himself from prospect to afterthought. He simply could not get it together all season, either offensively or defensively. It was well publicized that we offered him to the Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy and they said “no thank you”. Additionally, when TDA got hurt and Kevin Plawecki was given the chance to take the reins and run with it, he also stumbled, or limped, or just plain fell down. Our big young position players simply did not improve as we had hoped in 2016, and all sat on the bench in the wild card game as spectators.
Organization Depth: Okay, I admit that going into this season I was questioning Sandy’s drafts. I didn’t see any real standout performances from our prospects among our minor league teams, and outside of international free agent Amed Rosario and first baseman Dominic Smith, I didn’t see any of our players rated that high in the minors by those prospect experts. I am happy to see he made my doubts look foolish. Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo delivered amazing performances down the stretch, both with sub 3.00 ERAs, to insure our wild card berth. Could their stuff hold up over repeated viewings by opponents for an entire season? That’s for the future to tell, but in the short term they showed both the temperament and the stuff to compete at the major league level.
I was even more impressed with T.J. Rivera. A career .324 hitter in the minors, he came up and hit .333 in the majors in the last month of the season, showing the ability to hit to all fields with occasional pop in his bat. He also got our only extra base hit against Madison Bumgarner. I hope he is given a legit chance to earn the second base position next year.
Coaching and intangibles: First to Terry Collins. I know his in game decisions are occasionally baffling (though none worse than when he admitted screwing up and leaving Wilmer Flores in the game, a mistake that hurt us every step of the rest of the way). But the one thing I will say on his behalf: his players like to play for him and even when they’re struggling he keeps them grinding (to use of his clichés). How about we hire a bench coach to make all in game decisions and leave Terry to the keep-the-team-focused speeches? Terry coached his way into another season, but I sense a short leash for him.
Finally, the intangibles. I believe the Mets made a huge step forward this year. Not only by going to the playoffs a second year in a row, but in some ways by willing themselves to the play offs on the arms and backs of so many spare parts and surprise contributors. It always amazes me when you look up in October and those same teams are there; the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Red Sox. Almost like they believed in themselves in a way we didn’t. I think this year that changed. I think this year the Mets felt like they were supposed to be there in October…and they were.
Okay. That is my assessment of the Big Picture after 2016. There were a few too many negatives but the positives we have established – a dominant ace, a farm system which consistently provided players who were able to contribute immediately, and an overall culture of winning – will definitely serve us well in the future. Now we just need to keep some of those other players on the field in 2017…