Last year was an outlier. 2017, like 2009, was a once every decade or so occurrence when a team gets snake bitten and injuries spread like pink eye at a pre-school. That said, injuries are inevitable and often times the team that are best prepared to overcome them are the ones left standing in October.
Clearly, no amount of depth could have helped the Mets overcome the losses of 4/5 of their rotation, their closer, best hitter, etc., last season. But a normal number of injuries can be managed when you have clearly identified bench players, bullpen arms and AAA reinforcements ready to step in when called upon. Now, given the limitations of payroll and the intricacies of a 40-man roster, there are limits to how deep you can go, but as of this writing, it looks like the Mets are prepared to overcome the more typical season bumps and bruises with an improved medical staff and training approach and yes, a deeper team than they’ve had in some time. Let’s take a look.
At the moment at least, it seems the Mets have nine starting pitchers and there’s chatter about bullpen transitions, minor league options and even possibly trades. Who reading this wouldn’t bet their right arm that at least one of these guys will find a way to start the season on the disabled list or at least in extended spring training? Even if two or three wind up there, we should be okay to start the season.
Let’s make a few quick assumptions for the purposes of off-season speculation. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are 1 and 1a atop the rotation. That’s a darn good start. A healthy and hopefully rejuvenated Matt Harvey and the newly acquired Jason Vargas are 3 and 4. Whomever is healthy of Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler is 5. If by mystical powers of Zeus both are healthy, Wheeler goes to the bullpen, as does Rafael Montero, as he is out of options. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman begin the season in AAA to stay stretched out as starters. More realistically, someone is injured which puts Lugo in the bullpen. This group is well positioned to withstand an injury or two.
The bullpen can say the same. especially with support from the former group. At the back end Jeurys Familia and AJ Ramos can both close and we have two quality set up men in Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak. Wheeler and/or Lugo can add to that mix. For the situational guys and middle relievers, Mickey Callaway plans to shuttle guys between AAA and the big league club to keep arms fresh. Paul Sewald looks like he belongs and Hansel Robles will be given one last chance to put his power arm to good use. A host of other arms will be available, including Jamie Callahan, Jacob Rhame, P.J. Conlon, Matt Purke, Kevin McGowan, and others.
A bench of Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes, Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Plawecki is pretty formidable and it will welcome the addition of Juan Lagares once Michael Conforto returns to health. The bench will be further bolstered by the return of T.J. Rivera, who proved he can hit and play multiple positions. The versatility of Rivera, Flores and Reyes, not to mention Asdrubal Cabrera, will help this team overcome most offensive injuries. Having Tomas Nido and Jose Lobaton in the minors offers depth at catcher for when Travis d’Arnaud inevitably slips on a banana peel.
If you go position by position, there’s not a single player on this team that doesn’t have a clear backup. Dominic Smith, who may end up starting the season in AAA may turn out to be an improvement over Adrian Gonzalez. Of course, in some cases the drop off is significant – Yoenis Cespedes, Syndergaard, deGrom – but as is the case with every team, keeping your stars healthy is essential to success. But having some insurance for the inevitable makes injuries a lot easier to overcome.
The Mets will begin the season with a pretty thin outfield, but the team wisely brought back Matt den Dekker, who will likely begin the season in AAA, but offers speed, defense, and the ability to play all three outfield positions, if not a big bat. Reyes and Flores have also been taking some reps out on the grass in spring training so that either can fill in in a pinch early in the season.
The Mets could stand to bring in some additional reinforcements in AAA. In this strange off-season, certainly we can find a few veterans to stash down there in case the injury bug hits again. Think of them as the emergency food reserves in a bomb shelter. We may not need them, but it’s reassuring to know they’re there and man, we sure could have used a few cans of soup last year.