Complete 2014 New York Mets Season Preview
This is the year New York Mets fans have been patiently (or impatiently) waiting for.
When Sandy Alderson joined the organization as general manager following the 2010 season, he pointed toward 2014.
That amount of time would allow the front office to gain financial flexibility from bad contracts, replenish the minor leagues and bring up young talent to help the big league club.
Thankfully, all three have happened.
The contracts from poor performers such as Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Frank Francisco are gone. Johan Santana’s monster deal is also a thing of the past.
Keith Law of ESPN (Insider subscription required) ranked New York’s farm system the sixth-best in the league.
The Mets have also welcomed impact prospects to the major leagues in recent seasons, some of which include Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud.
2014 is supposed to be the start of consistently competitive Mets baseball. Harvey missing the season due to Tommy John surgery threw a wrench into this plan, but the front office forged ahead this past winter, becoming active in free agency.
John Harper of the New York Daily News reported Alderson has set the expectation at 90 wins this year.
Let’s take a look at how they stack up against that goal heading into the regular season.
Spring Training Recap
Spring training is used to answer questions and uncertainties before the regular season begins.
For the Mets, their most pressing issues were centered on first base, shortstop and the outfield. There was hope that performances from certain players would make these decisions easier.
That hasn’t happened.
The competition for first base was stalled for most of the spring with Ike Davis and Lucas Duda injured. That allowed Eric Campbell to take advantage, putting together a .326/.396/.535 line in 43 Grapefruit League at-bats.
Duda’s strained hamstring gave some outfielders an opportunity to show what they could offer as bench players. Matt den Dekker (.350/.426/.450 in 40 at-bats) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.256/.370/.487 in 39 at-bats) impressed before getting optioned to minor league camp.
Center fielder Juan Lagares hasn’t shown much power this spring (three extra-base hits in 53 at-bats). However, his approach has improved, and he’s been getting on base more often (.362 OBP). Eric Young Jr.’s speed and leadoff experience are things Collins has been hung up on throughout camp.
The organization hoped an offseason full of working out would help Ruben Tejada take a step forward. But he’s hitting .205/.279/.282 in 39 at-bats, while not looking impressive in the field.
Travis d’Arnaud got off to a slow start during Grapefruit League action. His .171/.261/.366 line in 41 at-bats isn’t pretty, but he has hit home runs on March 22 and 25.
Hitting coach Dave Hudgens told Marc Carig of Newsday about the catcher's tendencies at the plate: "He has a bit of a tendency to change a little bit from at-bat to at-bat if something doesn't feel good," he said. "So he's got to find something that feels good and stick with it."
Swings resulting in home runs should help him feel more comfortable.
As the roster started taking shape, it was surprising to see Josh Edgin sent to minor league camp after the first round of cuts. His 12.00 ERA and 3.67 WHIP in three innings weren’t good, but it was thought he’d have a longer leash to prove himself.
Injury Updates Entering Opening Day
SP Jonathon Niese (elbow discomfort)
1B Ike Davis (calf/fatigue)
1B/OF Lucas Duda (strained hamstring)
SP Jeremy Hefner (Tommy John surgery)
SP Matt Harvey (Tommy John surgery)
Niese was expected to make his second Opening Day start, but elbow discomfort on March 16 prevented that. ESPN New York's Adam Rubin reports he’ll start the season on the disabled list to build his arm strength, getting activated on April 6 to face the Cincinnati Reds.
He’s not concerned with technically being the team’s fifth starter: "Whatever. I don’t have an ego. I just want to get my arm ready. If that means I’m the fifth starter, the eighth starter, it doesn’t matter to me, just as long as I get my arm right and I’m healthy so we can play in October."
There isn’t much time to determine whether Davis or Duda is more deserving of playing first base every day, but Collins must figure it out.
The manager told Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger about his strategy to decide: "I wish I could tell you how we’re going to do it. I don’t know. I really can’t. We have not sat down and etched anything in the works. Right now, it’s probably going to be who is going to be the healthiest."
Hefner and Harvey continue rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. However, Hefner is going through his rehab process much quieter than his fellow hurler, who is expected to miss the entire 2014 season while he works his way back onto the mound in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
On March 18, Hefner tweeted that he took another positive step in his recovery process by throwing from 75 feet.
Harvey hasn’t been quiet during camp and had been adamant about staying with the team while rehabbing instead of at the spring training complex. Rubin reports the two sides agreed he’d be in Flushing until he’s ready to face minor league hitters, but he won’t be traveling with the team.
- Eric Young Jr., LF (.249/.310/.336 in 148 games)
- Daniel Murphy, 2B (.286/.319/.415 in 161 games)
- David Wright, 3B (.307/.390/.514 in 112 games)
- Curtis Granderson, RF (.229/.317/.407 in 61 games)
- Chris Young, CF (.200/.280/.379 in 107 games)
- Ike Davis, 1B (.205/.326/.334 in 103 games)
- Travis d’Arnaud, C (.202/.286/.263 in 31 games)
- Ruben Tejada, SS (.202/.259/.260 in 57 games)
Projected Lineup (with 2013 statistics)
Projected Bench (with 2013 statistics)
Anthony Recker, C (.215/.280/.400 in 50 games)
Omar Quintanilla, IF (.222/.306/.283 in 95 games)
Juan Lagares, OF (.242/.281/.352 in 121 games)
Josh Satin, IF (.279/.376/.405 in 75 games)
IF/OF Lucas Duda (.223/.352/.415 in 100 games)
Davis and Tejada are still penciled in as the starters, but only by default.
The biggest part still up for discussion resides in the outfield. In February, Collins told John Rowe of NorthJersey.com that EY Jr. had to get on base more often to justify being the regular leadoff hitter:
I wish I could put a number on it. Ideally, you wish he would have a .350 on-base. I don’t know if he’s going to, but you hope he does.
All I know is what an impact this guy made on our team when we got him [in midseason last year]. When he got on, exciting things happened and we scored runs. So we’re certainly going to focus a lot on trying to get Eric to bunt a little more, maybe be a little more selective at the plate.
He has seemingly been in the lead all spring. In talking about Lagares, Alderson may have tipped his hand as to who will get the first opportunity once the season starts, according to ESPN New York:
I think everybody would probably agree he's our best [defensive] outfielder, he's our best center fielder. But he's going to have to hit a little bit, too. So if he were to start in center field on Opening Day, we'd have to see over a period of time -- how long, how short I don't know -- that he can carry the offensive side of the game as well. And if that's not the case, then typically a guy like that would be better off playing every day somewhere else. But that's premature.
Lagares has posted a .302/.362/.377 line this spring, which should be enough to merit a starting job. Having him in center gives New York its best chance at winning 90 games. His presence strengthens the outfield defense and benefits the pitching staff by preventing runs.
Which should be just as important as scoring runs.
If EY Jr. isn't leading off, Chris Young will likely move from the middle of the order to the top. Since he, Granderson and Davis all have a tendency to strike out at a higher rate, it's best to separate them in the lineup.
Andrew Brown is the likely candidate to start the year in New York before Niese is activated off the disabled list.
- Dillon Gee, RHP (12-11 record, 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 199 IP)
- Bartolo Colon, RHP (18-6 record, 2.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 190.1 IP)
- Zack Wheeler, RHP (7-5 record, 3.42 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 100 IP)
- Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP (3-3 record, 4.42 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 38.2 IP)
- Jonathon Niese, LHP (8-8 record, 3.71 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 143 IP)
Projected starting rotation (with 2013 statistics)
There are no surprises for most of the rotation. Gee, Colon, Wheeler and Niese were all locks heading into camp.
The surprising cut of Edgin essentially moved John Lannan from the fifth-starter competition to the bullpen to pair with Scott Rice as the second left-hander.
The last open spot in the rotation is still up for grabs between Matsuzaka and Jenrry Mejia. Signs have pointed that Dice-K would get the nod, pushing Mejia to Triple-A.
New York had to tell Matsuzaka by Tuesday whether or not he made the major league roster. Instead, they opted to pay a $100K fee to have the right to send him to the minors.
This essentially deferred the decision until the weekend, when both hurlers are expected to pitch in their final spring training game.
Alderson told ESPN New York that their next performances won't determine who wins:
What happens on Friday and Saturday isn't necessarily going to be determinative. I don't want to set up the expectation that somebody throws a shutout and the other one doesn't that suddenly he has won the competition. But I don't want to get into the other considerations. ... We want to take the right guy. Not the guy that is pitching the best at the moment, but the guy that gives us the best chance to win 90 games.
His last sentence sticks out the most. Mejia pitched well in limited time last year (2.30 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 27.1 innings) and has continued this spring with a 2.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 10 strikeouts in 9.1 innings pitched. He provides more upside and has the ability to help New York reach that goal.
He's the one that should be awarded the remaining open rotation spot.
Projected Bullpen (with 2013 statistics)
- CL: Bobby Parnell, RHP (2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 22 saves, 50 IP)
- SU: Jose Valverde, RHP (5.59 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9 saves 19.1 IP)
- MID: Gonzalez Germen (3.93 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 34.1 IP)
- MID: Scott Rice, LHP (3.71 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 51 IP)
- MID: John Lannan, LHP (5.33 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 74.1 IP)
- MID: Jeurys Familia, RHP (4.22 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 10.2 IP)
- LR: Carlos Torres (3.44 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 86.1 IP)
After having season-ending neck surgery last September, it was important for Parnell to prove he’s healthy. He’s looked impressive in six innings, posting a 1.50 ERA and 0.50 WHIP.
Vic Black was originally a lock for the bullpen, but his spring-long struggles finally caught up to him, as the Mets optioned him to Triple-A on Wednesday. He posted a 5.79 ERA, 2.46 WHIP, nine strikeouts and 10 walks in 9.1 innings pitched.
He spoke with Matt Ehalt of NorthJersey.com earlier this spring about his ineffectiveness:
I’ve been trying to overthrow and do too much rather than trust in spring training it’s about the process and getting your body where it needs to be for the season. I just want to jump back in and be August again but it’s not. It’s spring and I haven’t done it in a while so you have to take it slow and that’s something I’m not good at but I’m going to get better.
His demotion likely clears the way for Germen to make the Opening Day roster. He's put together a 6.97 ERA in 10.1 innings pitched, walking six and striking out eight more during that time.
The biggest surprise is the inclusion of Lannan. He told Rubin he doesn’t mind relieving if it means being on the Opening Day roster: "I think that’s been the plan since Day 1. They’ve been pretty transparent with that. TC asked me how I felt about it. Obviously I’ll do anything to help the team, in any capacity."
With a mostly young bullpen, there are uncertainties heading into the season. Going north with a group of young, live arms is exciting, but they must prove they can be consistently productive.
Prospects to Watch
In his first big league camp, Syndergaard posted a 5.19 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with five walks and 10 strikeouts in 8.2 innings pitched. He was reassigned to minor league camp on March 18.
While he wished that day wouldn't come, ESPN New York's Rubin quoted “Thor”: "It’s always disappointing when you get a taste of being in the big-league clubhouse, getting the treatment like a big leaguer gets, and then you’ve got to go back over to the minor-league side where things aren’t so glamorous. So that’s kind of disappointing."
He added, per NorthJersey.com's Matt Ehalt: "The message was we’ll see you pretty soon, basically. That’s always a good thing to hear."
Similar to Harvey and Wheeler, he’ll debut this summer, in either late June or early July.
Mike Puma of the New York Post reported the young right-hander is already excited about the 2015 rotation, which could include him, Harvey and Wheeler.
“We’re going to be probably one of the best rotations in baseball,” Syndergaard said. "Those names on that list, who knows where everyone is going to be?"
Rafael Montero will join Syndergaard in what looks to be a formidable rotation for the Las Vegas 51s. Prior to getting optioned to minor league camp, the Dominican-born pitcher had a solid spring, posting a 3.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in nine innings.
After throwing 88.2 innings in Triple-A last season, he could also be ready for the majors by the summer. With the possibility of a crowded rotation, Montero could find a spot in the big league bullpen.
His poise on the mound and control throughout his minor league career—he owns a 1.7 BB/9, 8.4 K/9 and 1.02 WHIP in 348.1 innings—should help him adjust to a relief role.
The presence of Cesar Puello may be the reason why Alderson signed Young to just a one-year, $7.25 million deal this past winter. A breakout season in 2013 with Double-A Binghamton put him back on the organization’s radar.
However, a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs forced a premature end to his year. Prior to getting sent back to minor league camp, Puello impressed by hitting .364/.533/.545 in 11 spring at-bats.
His biggest task in 2014 will be to prove that the .326/.403/.547 line he posted in 331 at-bats last season wasn’t an aberration.
If he continues hitting like he did this spring, he will make his way to the big league roster soon. His role in the majors probably won’t be very significant, but his overall performance could dictate whether he’s the first option to take an open outfield spot next season.
Bernie Pleskoff of MLB.com wrote in January that Familia has the potential to be dominant on the mound: "With his 95-96 mph velocity on his four-seam and sinking fastball, Familia has the pitch that can miss bats and induce highly desirable strikeouts when they are needed the most. Once the hitter is set up with the heater, his 82-83 mph slider buckles knees and has the hitter swinging at air."
Issues with his control have been his biggest problem during his young career.
If his 1.00 WHIP in 10 shutout innings this spring are any indication, this will be Familia’s year to break out.
Lagares’ defensive reputation is well known. He posted a 24.4 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in 904 innings played last season.
His defense alone should keep him in center field for most of 2014, but he’ll soon show he’s more than capable of becoming a successful big league hitter.
Lagares has hit well throughout his minor league career, posting a .282/.322/.405 line in 2,400 at-bats. He made significant progress once promoted to High-A.
Last year was an adjustment period in the majors for the 25-year-old, as he hit .242/.281/.352 in 121 games. Though he was known more for his defense, in 2014, people will start recognizing his offensive ability, as well.
Wheeler’s biggest task toward having a Harvey-like season is to control his pitches. The 4.1 BB/9 he posted in 2013 prevented him from getting deeper into games at times.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News how the young hurler can accomplish this: "He can physically do it, but he is still having trouble monitoring the adrenaline to let his mechanics or his delivery be repeatable. Slowing it down, and being able to repeat. He wants to jump, get out there, try to throw too hard."
He’s harnessed his control so far, walking six in 18.2 innings pitched. The experience he received through 100 innings pitched in the majors last season was incredibly important to his 2014 production. He’s already more relaxed and able to get himself under control. That will lead to great results.
Top Keys to Success
For the Mets to reach the 90-win expectation, a lot of things need to fall their way. The two most important keys to their success in 2014 will be seeing major free-agent acquisitions perform up to expectation and key players staying healthy.
As Mets fans have seen in recent years, these keys to success are much easier said than done.
New York hasn’t had much luck when venturing into free agency over the past few winters. Santana was useful when healthy, but that didn’t happen often. High-priced players like Bay, Perez and Castillo were all busts.
Alderson hasn’t had much luck, either. Just ask him how Francisco, Shaun Marcum and Brandon Lyon worked out.
The organization is looking at Granderson, Young and Colon to bring significant productivity to the lineup this season. The offense needs a boost behind David Wright and Murphy, while the rotation could use some stabilization without Harvey.
Yahoo! Sports reports Collins is happy with the new additions for his offense: "All of the sudden, our middle of the lineup is a completely different scenario than it was a year ago," he said. "I think right there makes us better."
In addition to that, they all must stay healthy for a majority of the season. Murphy has shown his durability over the last two years, but Wright must do the same.
Every team encounters injuries throughout a season, testing organizational depth. However, top contributors can’t miss a large amount of time if Collins expects his team to contend for a playoff spot in September.
Previewing New York's Opening Series vs. Washington
Game 1: Stephen Strasburg vs. Dillon Gee
Game 2: Gio Gonzalez vs. Bartolo Colon
Game 3: Jordan Zimmermann vs. Zack Wheeler
New York is opening the 2014 season on March 31 at home against the Washington Nationals. First-year manager Matt Williams will give the Mets all they can handle right away, sending his top three starters to the mound at Citi Field.
For the Mets to compete in the National League East, they must win more head-to-head matchups. In 2013, New York posted a 34-42 record within the division.
Despite posting a 41-40 road record, the Mets struggled at home, going 33-48 in Flushing.
Starting the season with a series win against Washington will get them going in the right direction.
A successful season has to start somewhere, and New York is the best in the business when it comes to Opening Day. Its 34-18 record in the season’s first game is the best in baseball.
To continue that trend, Collins explained why he was leaning toward Gee as his Opening Day starter before making it official, per ESPN New York's Rubin: "He's probably the lead guy because of his success against the Nationals. And, to be honest, no disrespect to Bartolo [Colon] or anybody else, but this guy has won more games, I think, for us in three years than anybody on the staff. We're kind of leaning that way."
Gee went 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA against the Nationals last season. Going up against Strasburg, he gives New York its best chance at continuing this Opening Day dominance.
Once that game is in the books, all Collins will have to worry about are the 161 other ones.
2014 Mets Season Outlook
Final record: 85-77
NL East Finish: Third
Mike Puma of the New York Post noted that the way the Mets ended the 2013 season is what helped Collins earn his two-year contract extension. Once Wheeler made his big league debut on June 18, they posted a 49-48 record over the season’s final 97 games.
Alderson took notice in his explanation for extending his manager: "If you look at the last 100 games of the season, we played .500 baseball. In many ways, Terry had an outstanding year. The team never quit, continued to play hard, continued to play with the resources it had at hand and finish as well as we could."
His goal of a 90-win season seems a bit ambitious. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s better to be ambitious than not with goal-setting.
The biggest reasons why analysts don’t feel the Mets can post their first winning season since 2008 are the obvious ones.
Shortstop and first base are big question marks, and Harvey is sidelined for the entire year.
However, Collins kept his squad motivated throughout the second half of 2013 despite losing Wright, Parnell, Hefner and Harvey to injury, and after watching Marlon Byrd get traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It was also able to do this without much production from Tejada, Davis or Duda.
So, while New York has significant issues heading into Opening Day, they aren’t new problems.
If free-agent additions perform and one of the incumbent players bounces back, 85 or more wins isn’t outlandish.
If the Mets do end up with an 85-win season, it won’t be enough to grab the final playoff spot in the National League. However, it would be a step in the right direction looking toward 2015.
All player statistics sourced from Mets.com, unless noted otherwise.
Matt's baseball opinions have been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Yahoo! Sports, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.