When Can We Realistically Expect the Mets to Contend for a Title Again?

Shale BriskinContributor IIISeptember 23, 2013

Matt Harvey will be expected to lead the Mets to the postseason.
Matt Harvey will be expected to lead the Mets to the postseason.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It has been seven years since the Mets' last NL East division title in 2006, 13 years since the Mets' last World Series appearance in 2000 and 27 years since the Mets' most recent championship in 1986.

Postseason appearances have been hard to come by for the Mets, who have only been to the postseason seven times in their 52-year history.

When the Mets won the NL East division title in 2006, they unfortunately lost to the Cardinals in the seventh game of the NLCS that year. It may have originally looked like the team at the time was only going to get better, but they actually ended up beginning a downward trend.

The Mets had two consecutive September collapses in 2007 and 2008 in which they missed the postseason both years on the very last day of the regular season. By then, Shea Stadium was done, and the Mets moved into Citi Field in 2009.

The crosstown Yankees also moved into a new stadium in 2009 and won their most recent championship that year. The Mets have yet to find similar success in their current home.

The 2009-2013 teams have all had losing records and many glaring issues across the entire organization. A few of these issues would include bloated contracts, various injuries and a Phillies team that won five consecutive NL East division titles from 2007-2011. The Mets' problems, though, were not just on-field.

There were plenty of off-field problems as well, such as owner Fred Wilpon's alleged involvement with Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme that was eventually settled in 2012. Two other examples were more of physical altercations.

In 2009, former player development VP Tony Bernazard took off his shirt and challenged some Double-A Mets minor league players to a fight. Bernazard was fired days after the incident occurred. A year later, closer Francisco Rodriguez was arrested after getting into a post-game fight with his father-in-law. That incident became a big off-field media distraction for the Mets for the rest of the 2010 season.

Zack Wheeler made his MLB debut in June.
Zack Wheeler made his MLB debut in June.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

All this time though, the Mets have been rebuilding for the long-term future. The 2009 Mets' 72-90 record helped them get the seventh pick in the 2010 MLB draft, which they used to draft Matt Harvey. Harvey breezed through the Mets' minor league system and made his MLB debut in July 2012.

Current Mets general manager Sandy Alderson also made two brilliant trades in his time with the Mets so far. The first occurred in 2011 when the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants for pitcher Zack Wheeler, who was the sixth-overall pick in the 2009 MLB draft. While Beltran did not return to the Giants after the 2011 season, Wheeler made his major league debut this past June and is now a mainstay in the Mets rotation.

Mets pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard has a very bright future.
Mets pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard has a very bright future.Elsa/Getty Images

The other trade occurred in the previous offseason, when the Mets dealt 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas for catchers John Buck and Travis d'Arnaud, pitcher Noah Syndergaard and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra. Dickey is currently 13-12 with a 4.21 ERA with the Blue Jays, while Thole and Nickeas have both received very little time in the major leagues.

On the Mets' end, Buck hit 15 home runs and drove in 60 RBI before getting traded to the Pirates. His successor, d'Arnaud made his much-anticipated major league debut this past August.

Syndergaard could see the major leagues himself sometime in 2014 after going 9-4 with a 3.06 ERA this year while splitting time with Single-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. The young Becerra spent the year with the Gulf Coast League Mets.

Harvey, Wheeler, d'Arnaud and Syndergaard are not the only big potential pieces for the Mets' future though. The Mets' vast, young pitching depth also includes Rafael Montero, Cory Mazzoni, Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia and Josh Edgin, among others. The Mets' ideal rotation of the future could include Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Montero and veteran southpaw Jon Niese. Dillon Gee figures to still be in the mix as well.

The Mets' future offensive depth is not as deep. D'Arnaud, Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares all look very promising, but there is a chance Flores could get traded if the Mets cannot find a permanent position for him in the infield.

The minor leagues also include notable prospects such as outfielders Cesar Puello and Brandon Nimmo, as well as shortstop Gavin Cecchini. There is a clear need for more offensive depth, and the Mets will likely try to improve on that this offseason.

The Mets are a young team, but they have their fair share of veterans as well. Jon Niese and Dillon Gee may have only been on the Mets for four and three seasons, respectively, but with the young pitching depth the Mets have, they should be considered more as veterans at this point. Anchoring the bullpen will likely continue to be Bobby Parnell, who became the Mets' full-time closer this season.

Offensively, team captain David Wright will almost certainly continue to man third base for the rest of his career. Second baseman Daniel Murphy will remain a big part of the Mets' future as well unless the Mets decide to trade him. Beyond Wright, Murphy and d'Arnaud though, the Mets' future lineup may be rather uncertain right now.

Juan Lagares could be the Mets' Opening Day center fielder in 2014.
Juan Lagares could be the Mets' Opening Day center fielder in 2014.Elsa/Getty Images

The Mets will need to make various offensive upgrades, particularly at shortstop and in the outfield in order to get closer to competing for the postseason in future seasons. Whether these upgrades are completed through free agency or the trade market is yet to be determined.

The first base dilemma will need to be sorted out as well, with the Mets eventually having to choose among Ike Davis, Lucas Duda or someone else as the long-term first baseman. Lagares should have the best shot of any Mets outfielder in being part of the future, but generally speaking, no outfield position should be considered "safe."

With the young starting pitching depth the Mets have, a few veteran hitters to build around and some extra money to spend—being that the Johan Santana and Jason Bay contracts will come to an end after this season—the Mets seem to be getting closer to finishing their rebuild and becoming a legitimate postseason contender.

If they can find ways to improve certain positions like shortstop, left field, right field and middle relief, the Mets might even be able to compete as soon as 2014. If 2014 does not work out though, the Mets should be even more ready to really contend in 2015.

The Mets themselves, though, will very likely have some good NL East competition going forward. The Braves and Nationals both have young teams as well that are more established right now, with solid lineups and deep pitching depths in both organizations.

On the other hand, the aging Phillies seem to be very close to starting their own rebuild, while the Marlins are in a rebuild themselves and are not as close as the Mets to being a contender.

That being said, the next five, six or seven seasons could include an intense three-team NL East race between the Braves, Nationals and Mets. The Mets will need to play particularly well against these two teams in order to have a better chance of making the postseason. The road to the playoffs will definitely not be easy for any team.

Again, how much longer it will take before the Mets actually become notable postseason contenders largely depends on what happens in the offseason. If the Mets make significant upgrades this offseason, they could instantly turn into a projected contender. But if they have a rather quiet offseason, it could be even longer until the Mets are back in the postseason.

The young talent in certain areas is already there, but the glaring holes must be filled before the Mets can be taken seriously. Time will tell how and when Sandy Alderson and his assistants put together a winning National League team in New York.


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