New York Mets: What Has to Go Right to Escape 4th Place?
Despite signing Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million contract this offseason, the New York Mets are still not expected to push past the Atlanta Braves or the Washington Nationals in the National League East.
But while ousting the Braves and Nationals would be far-fetched, third place is a very attainable outcome for the Mets—that is, only if a few scenarios come to fruition.
For instance, the Mets need shortstop Ruben Tejada to be a producer in 2014. And even though Tejada will never be Jose Reyes, the team simply needs the 24-year-old to be league average—not the Mendoza Line hitter he was in 2013.
Read on to see all the scenarios that must go right for the Mets to escape fourth place in the National League East.
Lucas Duda or Ike Davis Runs Away with First Base Job
Suggesting the Mets have a lot of first base depth doesn’t properly identify the team’s actual situation at the position. Instead, the Mets have two underachieving left-handed hitters heading into make-or-break seasons in Ike Davis and Lucas Duda.
Assuming the Mets don’t trade Davis before the season, both first basemen will make the Opening Day roster—which means the pair will have to fight for a starting gig. Davis, who is just a season removed from hitting 32 home runs, is likely the front-runner. But Duda, whom the Mets seemed to prefer according to New York Daily News’ Andy Martino, can’t be counted out either.
If one of Davis and Duda realizes his potential, thus running away with the starting job, the Mets might finally find themselves with some much-needed production out of their first baseman.
Zack Wheeler Becomes Rotation Anchor
Mets fans were dealt a mighty blow in late 2013, when the team announced Matt Harvey would likely miss all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery.
Losing Harvey created a unique void in the Mets rotation—one the team simply could not address externally or internally. Yet, top organizational pitcher Zack Wheeler appears to be primed for a leadership role in 2014.
According to ESPN’s Adam Rubin, Wheeler wants to get the Opening Day nod for the Mets. And with Jonathon Niese already exhibiting arm issues this spring, it’s quite possible the Mets could give Wheeler the ball against the Washington Nationals on March 31.
While it’s unreasonable to expect Wheeler to directly replace Harvey’s production, ZiPS projects Wheeler to toss a 3.62 ERA over 166.2 innings in 2014. If Wheeler can prove to be a rotation anchor—as opposed to an inconsistent sophomore—the Mets’ rotation outlook might not appear as grim.
Travis d'Arnaud Plays a Full Season
It’s been quite a while since the Mets have sported a young catcher with star potential behind the dish. But given Travis d’Arnaud’s inability to stay healthy—even in the minor leagues—it has put a slight damper on fans’ ability to get truly excited for the catcher’s first full season with the Mets.
In fact, d’Arnaud hasn’t enjoyed a mostly injury-free season since 2011, when he collected a .914 OPS and 21 home runs over 466 plate appearances at Double-A.
ZiPS’ 2014 projection for d’Arnaud is rightfully skeptical of the 25-year-old’s coming season, pegging the right-handed hitter for just 366 plate appearances. But if d’Arnaud is able to stay off the disabled list, Oliver projects the California native to post a park-adjusted 99 wRC+ with 16 home runs over 600 plate appearances in 2014.
Juan Lagares Is an Elite Defender, Again
When it comes to hitting, Juan Lagares does just about everything wrong. The right-handed hitter posted a .242 batting average, 4.8 percent walk rate, park-adjusted 80 OPS+ and an alarming 22.8 percent strikeout rate in 2013.
But as woeful as Lagares is in the batter’s box, the 25-year-old proved to be one of the game’s premier defenders last season. Lagares gloved a 26 DRS and 33.1 UZR/150 over 819.2 innings in center field in 2013. According to FanGraphs, the center fielder’s defensive runs saved (DRS) metric was sixth best in the major leagues.
Given Lagares' drastic hitting/fielding splits, the sophomore’s 2014 value will be closely tied to him repeating his dynamic glove work. And considering Lagares was worth 3.7 bWAR in 2013, it would be quite a blow to the Mets if his high-caliber defense regressed.
Ruben Tejada Is League Average
Going into the offseason, it appeared as though finding a new shortstop was atop general manager Sandy Alderson’s “to do” list. Yet, after watching Jhonny Peralta sign a massive contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, Alderson’s stance on incumbent Ruben Tejada changed.
All of a sudden, Alderson was content with Tejada as his starter. But perhaps all Tejada needs to do in 2014 to avoid scorn is be league average.
But despite the disappointing season, it’s easy to forget that Tejada is just 24 years old. And as illustrated by his 91 OPS+ campaign in 2012, the shortstop is capable of producing.
If Tejada can simply produce at a league-average level—or beyond—in 2014, it might ease the regret of not overpaying for Stephen Drew.