The 2015 New York Mets are a unique breed, falling somewhere between postseason sleepers and just more headaches waiting to happen.
While the club still does not boast the baseball pedigree of the crosstown-rival New York Yankees, Forbes recently ranked the team as the seventh-most valuable in the MLB. With a $1.35 billion worth, the Mets boasted the third-best television audience in the MLB in 2014.
According to FanGraphs, the Mets also have a 27.5 percent chance to make the National League playoffs this upcoming season. Despite coming into 2015 with six consecutive losing seasons, the site predicts the Mets to have better postseason chances than the defending World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants—who are pegged at 26.2 percent.
These odds were updated March 26, one day after the team issued a statement (via ESPNNewYork.com) explaining that star pitcher Zack Wheeler’s Tommy John surgery was “successful” and that he is expected to make a full recovery.
Wheeler’s injury is devastating for Mets fans; they now likely have to wait until June 2016 to see the young hurler regain his spot in an impressive pitching rotation. The team, however, feels confident that his injury will not change their projected success.
"It's not like we assumed he was going to go down," said Mets GM Sandy Alderson via ESPN.com. “But, at the same time, we feel like there's depth. And we feel confident in our depth."
Rafael Montero, a 24-year-old pitcher from the Dominican Republic, is one example of that depth. He impressed in spring training and now competes with Dillon Gee for the newly vacated spot in the rotation left by Wheeler.
Gee has not allowed a run in his most recent 7.2 innings pitched, lowering his ERA to 2.45 over 14.2 innings this spring. Montero, however, threw four strikeouts and allowed just one run and three hits through four innings against the Yankees on Wednesday.
After the impressive first effort as a starter in spring training, Mets head coach Terry Collins said that Montero would likely have a roster spot “somewhere” once the season begins, via NJ.com's Mike Vorkunov.
"He's got a really good arm," added New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, according to Vorkunov. “He should be a nice asset for that team for a long time."
Montero, who projects at the most MLB-ready of Mets pitching prospects including Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, would join Jacob deGrom as the latest talent to join the impressive rotation.
Last season, deGrom threw 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings with a 2.69 ERA. It was enough to earn him the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He has kept his momentum in spring training, boasting a 0.800 WHIP and 17 strikeouts over 15 innings.
Matt Harvey, who started for the National League in the 2013 All-Star Game, will return to the Mets rotation after missing the season with a torn UCL in 2014.
He hasn’t missed a beat over 14.1 innings during spring training with 12 strikeouts, a 0.837 WHIP and a 1.26 ERA. “That’s as good as you can be. You can’t throw better than he is throwing,” said one baseball evaluator, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. “Hall of Fame stuff.”
When Opening Day comes around, however, don’t expect to see Harvey on the mound.
Bartolo Colon becomes the oldest pitcher to ever start as pitcher for the Mets on opening day—a recent tweet from MLB said that Colon will be 41 years and 317 days old on April 6, the day of the game. He last threw on Opening Day in 2006, when Harvey was only 17 years old.
“Obviously, Bartolo throwing 200 innings and getting 15 wins is well-deserved for Opening Day,” said Harvey, via the NY Daily News' Andy Martino.
The Mets also do not plan to pitch Harvey for their home opener with the Nationals, either. Instead, that honor will go to deGrom. Harvey, thankfully, does not appear to mind either of these decisions.
“For not throwing at all last year, I’m happy to be playing again,” said Harvey, via the New York Times' Tim Rohan. “So whatever is decided on when I get to throw, I’m going to be all excited and all for it.”
The same story, however, suggests that the Mets plan to save Harvey for economic reasons. While the home opener will likely sell out no matter who is pitching, the Mets have struggled with attendance in the last few seasons since opening Citi Field in 2009.
According to ESPN.com, the Mets ranked 19th overall in sellout percentage during the 2014 season with 64.3 percent. Further evidence indicates that 2.14 million total attendance figure for the Mets was the third-worst total in the National League.
No matter what, expect the Mets' overall pitching to compete in 2015 despite the losses of Wheeler and valuable lefty reliever Josh Edgin.
Pitching, of course, has become the most impressive trait for the team.
As such, the coaching staff has planned some quirkier adjustments for the upcoming season. For example, infield coach Tim Teufel is working on adjustments to traditional defensive alignments this offseason.
“Our percentage is really good on balls at us and not too far away from us,” said Teufel, via The Wall Street Journal's Jared Diamond. “If we can get them in the area, we’re going to be a lot more efficient.”
Similarly, the New York Post's Joel Sherman suggests Collins is also considering using outfielder Juan Lagares as the ninth batter in 2015.
Lagares, 26, has been on a hot streak in spring training. He has a .432 on-base percentage and a .625 slugging percentage with five doubles, a triple and a home run through 13 games this spring.
A change like this would move the pitcher to the eighth spot in the order, with Lagares adding strength and more RBI potential to the top half of the order once the team has gone through the order once. The Mets used their pitcher in the eighth spot 10 times last season, knowing that deGrom and Jonathan Niese are both above-average hitters for the position.
Such a move allows the Mets to go righty-lefty-righty-lefty-righty-lefty-righty—with Curtis Granderson, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Michael Cuddyer, Daniel Murphy, Travis d’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores and the pitching spot all before Lagares.
“It negates a lefty reliever coming in and taking out an entire inning easily,” added Collins, via Sherman.
Granderson was most impressive against lefties last season, with a .388 on-base percentage and a .536 slugging percentage compared to a respective .310 and .352 slugging versus righties. He has looked good once again in a much smaller sample size this spring, with an overall .512 on-base percentage and a .667 slugging percentage.
For a better look at the offseason in review, Jeff Todd from MLB Trade Rumors explains.
“On the whole, this offseason was less about pushing the organization’s chips onto the table than it was about gathering its young core for a first real effort at winning.”
Luckily, the Mets' biggest free-agent pickup, veteran Michael Cuddyer, has also crushed it in spring training.
Cuddyer, who will join Granderson in the outfield as the left fielder, has a .368 on-base percentage and a .865 slugging percentage with five home runs and two doubles in the last 13 games.
Duda and Murphy are nearing returns to full health, though Murphy could be traded later in the season if he doesn’t perform at expectations during his contract year.
“Perhaps, then, the true test will come this summer,” asks Todd. “If New York is in the hunt and has a few areas of need, will it part with prospects and/or commit payroll to bolster its roster down the stretch?”
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