Predicting New York Mets Depth Charts a Month Ahead of Spring Training
"Depth" is a loaded word for the New York Mets.
The Mets won the National League pennant in 2015 on the strength of their stacked, young starting rotation. Last season, the same group was beset by injuries, and it is a question mark going into 2017.
New York is also dealing with a glut of corner outfielders and uncertainty in center field, and it is likely to lose its closer for a significant stretch due to a domestic violence suspension. Injury issues lurk in the infield as well.
All that said, this is a talented roster fully capable of competing for an NL East title and making another deep postseason run.
As we slog through the final month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, let's run down the Mets' depth chart, with the obvious caveat that further trades or signings will change the calculus. We'll also take a look at some players waiting in the wings for when holes inevitably open up.
Starting C: Travis d'Arnaud (RHB)
Travis d'Arnaud maintained his injury-prone reputation in 2016, as he battled a rotator cuff strain, appeared in just 75 games and hit .247 with a .629 OPS.
At the same time, d'Arnaud owns 30 home runs and 102 RBI over 281 big league games and has shown flashes of an All-Star-caliber backstop. Now, the gauntlet has been thrown down.
Backup C: Rene Rivera (RHB)
Rene Rivera hit .222 in 65 games last season, though the 33-year-old did flash some pop with six homers and four doubles in 185 at-bats.
Next in Line
Kevin Plawecki (RHB)
Kevin Plawecki hit .197 in 48 MLB games last season and owns a .211 big league average overall. Still, the 2012 first-round pick has potential and has logged minor league innings at first base.
Starting 1B: Lucas Duda (LHB)
Lucas Duda was limited to 47 games last season due to a back injury and posted a .229/.302/.412 slash line. He hit 57 home runs for the Mets between 2014 and 2015, however, and will be a key offensive cog entering his age-31 season, provided he's healthy.
Starting 2B: Neil Walker (SH)
Speaking of health (and this will be a recurring theme), Neil Walker also missed significant time with a back injury that ultimately required surgery. He did finish with 23 home runs and an .823 OPS and is entering a contract year after accepting the Mets' qualifying offer.
Starting SS: Asdrubal Cabrera (SH)
Asdrubal Cabrera went on a late-season tear for New York, hitting .405 in August and clubbing six home runs with 18 RBI in September. You can argue convincingly that the Mets would not have made it to the NL Wild Card Game without him. The 31-year-old will become a free agent after this season if the Mets don't exercise his $8.5 million team option, so he should be extra motivated at the plate.
Starting 3B: David Wright (RHB)
Continuing on the injury theme, David Wright appeared in a career-low 37 games and hit .226 in 2016 while wrestling with neck issues. At age 34, it's worth wondering how much the Mets' former franchise player has left to give, though the $67 million he's owed through 2020 gives New York every reason to find out.
Backup INF: Jose Reyes (SH)
Jose Reyes' return to Queens was far from an abject failure, as the veteran infielder hit .267 with eight home runs and nine stolen bases in 60 games. He could see reps in the outfield this spring, per Christian Red of the New York Daily News, but seems most likely to provide coverage in the injury-marred infield.
Backup INF: Wilmer Flores (RHB)
Wilmer Flores hit .267 with 16 home runs last season while logging innings at every infield position except catcher. With so many health questions looming, the 25-year-old should see ample action in 2017 and could claim a starting role.
Next in Line
T.J. Rivera (RHB)
If the Mets shed an outfielder (more on that in a moment), T.J. Rivera might make the Opening Day cut. At the least, the 28-year-old earned a long look after hitting .333 with an .821 OPS in his long-awaited MLB debut last season.
Starting LF: Yoenis Cespedes (RHB)
The Mets couldn't afford to lose Yoenis Cespedes to free agency, so they paid dearly to keep him. Specifically, New York shelled out $110 million over four years, the only nine-figure deal awarded this winter.
Cespedes will turn 35 at the back end of the contract, but for now, he's a 30-plus-homer masher with legitimate defensive skills in left field who's capable of anchoring/carrying this offense.
Starting CF: Curtis Granderson (LHB)
Curtis Granderson, who turns 36 in March, is no one's idea of a prototypical center fielder. He might not even be anyone's idea of a passable center fielder. He can still hit, however, as his 30-homer 2016 performance proves. New York just needs to figure out a way to move him to a corner outfield spot.
Starting RF: Jay Bruce (LHB)
Jay Bruce is the most obvious trade candidate. He's been tough to trade, though, since New York picked up his $13 million option, a mistake in hindsight as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal noted.
Bruce hit 33 home runs with 99 RBI between the Cincinnati Reds and Mets last season, so he's not devoid of value. The Mets, however, may have to eat some cash and accept a minimal return to get him out of Queens.
Fourth OF: Michael Conforto (LHB)
The 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Michael Conforto posted an .841 OPS in his 2015 rookie season. He took a step backward in 2016, as he hit .220 with a .725 OPS in 109 games. Still, the 23-year-old boasts undeniable potential.
In November, Alderson told reporters Conforto would feature "prominently" in the team's 2017 plans and even suggested he could enter the center field mix.
Fifth OF: Juan Lagares (RHB)
Speaking of center field, Juan Lagares grades well defensively at the position but owns an anemic .633 career OPS against right-handed pitching. He's probably best suited for a platoon role, though that's up in the air at this point, as are most things related to the Mets outfield.
Next in Line
Brandon Nimmo (LHB)
Things are complicated enough as it is, but 23-year-old Brandon Nimmo made a case for himself last season, hitting .274 in 32 games. The 2011 first-round pick saw big league action at all three outfield positions, adding versatility to the "special skills" section on his resume.
No. 1: Noah Syndergaard (RHP)
In a season when a lot went wrong for the Mets rotation, Noah Syndergaard went decidedly right.
The big bolt-thrower earned his Norse god nickname and then some with a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings. He took a tough-luck no-decision in the Mets' NL Wild Card Game loss to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, but he's undisputedly one of the top arms in baseball entering 2017.
No. 2: Jacob deGrom (RHP)
The numbers were good for Jacob deGrom, as he posted a 3.04 ERA in 24 starts, but he missed time with a nerve issue in his throwing elbow. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year turns 29 in June, so there's no reason to assume he can't return to health. He's not the only Mets starter with injury issues, however.
No. 3: Matt Harvey (RHP)
Matt Harvey was an unvarnished disappointment in 2016, posting a 4.86 ERA through 17 starts before landing on the disabled list and ultimately undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. The Dark Knight turns 28 in March; as with deGrom, time is on his side. Injury comebacks, however, are never guaranteed.
No. 4: Steven Matz (LHP)
Continuing with the theme, Steven Matz went 9-8 with a 3.40 ERA but went under the knife to remove bone chips from his elbow. He's also just 25 years old.
Youth and potential are the saving graces here, as former Mets pitcher and current analyst Ron Darling indicated.
"I really expect a magical year out of those guys," Darling said of the Mets rotation, per Brendan Kuty of NJ Advance Media. "We haven't seen the full effect of five studs going out there every fifth day and doing their thing."
No. 5: Robert Gsellman (RHP)
One of the young pitchers who stepped into New York's injury void last season, 23-year-old Robert Gsellman posted a 2.42 ERA in seven starts with 42 strikeouts in 44.2 innings.
Next in Line
Seth Lugo (RHP)
Seth Lugo made 17 appearances and eight starts for the Mets in 2016, posting a 2.67 ERA. The 27-year-old could compete for a bullpen spot but is also an option for the rotation if injuries strike again.
Closer: Jeurys Familia (RHP)
Jeurys Familia led both leagues with 51 saves in 2016 and struck out 84 in 77.2 innings. He's facing a suspension of "at least 30 games" under MLB's domestic violence protocols, however, per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News.
There are bigger issues at play than baseball, obviously, but that will leave a hole at the back end of New York's pen.
Setup: Addison Reed (RHP)
If Familia is suspended, closing duties will likely fall to Addison Reed, who posted a 1.97 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 77.2 innings in 2016. Reed has door-slamming experience with the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks and has racked up 106 saves in his six-year career.
Setup: Hansel Robles
If Reed assumes ninth-inning duties, Hansel Robles would become the primary setup man. The 26-year-old Dominican has the stuff, as he proved by tallying 85 strikeouts in 77.2 innings last season, though he also issued 36 walks.
Middle Relief: Josh Smoker (LHP)
One of a few lefty options in the New York pen, Josh Smoker posted a 4.70 ERA as a rookie in 2016 but notched an impressive 25 strikeouts in 15.1 innings and held right-handed batters to a .200 average.
Middle Relief: Josh Edgin (LHP)
Another southpaw option, 30-year-old Josh Edgin has more traditional splits, as he's held lefties to a .201 average compared to .248 for right-handed hitters.
Middle Relief: Erik Goeddel (RHP)
After posting a 2.43 ERA in 35 games in 2015, Erik Goeddel regressed in 2016 to the tune of a 4.54 ERA in 36 games. He still averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, however, and looks like a decent bet to grab a bullpen spot with a strong spring.
Middle Relief/Long Man: Zack Wheeler (RHP)
After missing two full seasons in the wake of Tommy John surgery, Zack Wheeler is poised to return to action for New York. He could be inserted directly into the rotation, but the Mets may opt to ease him back via the bullpen, as Kevin Kernan of the New York Post noted.
If so, the 2009 first-round pick would present an intriguing option for manager Terry Collins either as a long man or mid-inning specialist.
Next in Line
Sean Gilmartin (LHP)
Sean Gilmartin posted a 2.67 ERA in 57.1 innings in 2015 but saw that figure balloon to 7.13 in 17.2 innings last year. Bullpens are as fluid as reliever performances, so he's in the picture.
INF: Ty Kelly (SH)
Ty Kelly debuted with the Mets in 2016 and slashed .241/.352/.345 in 49 games while logging innings at first, second and third base and all three outfield spots. He could get squeezed in a jumbled position-player shuffle, but he figures to be among the first men up if injuries and/or trades take their toll.
INF: Gavin Cecchini (RHB)
The 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Gavin Cecchini made his MLB debut in September, going 2-for-6 with a pair of doubles and two RBI. The 23-year-old isn't the only prized shortstop in the Mets system, but he's sure to get another look at some point in 2017.
SS: Amed Rosario (RHB)
Speaking of prized shortstops, Amed Rosario checks in as New York's No. 1 prospect, per MLB.com, and is primed to make his big league debut after hitting .324 with 19 stolen bases between High-A and Double-A last season. At just 21 years old, there's no reason to rush Rosario, but there's also little reason to hold him back.
1B: Dominic Smith (LHB)
With injury concerns surrounding Duda at first base, Dominic Smith could get a look sooner than later. The 11th overall pick in 2013, he hit .302 with 14 home runs and 91 RBI at Double-A in 2016.