The Mets entered this season with a number of roster holes; so many in fact, that you could make a case for tearing it down and rebuilding. In recent years, the Reds, White Sox, Blue Jays, Rangers, Tigers, Orioles, Royals, and, most recently, the Mariners, made the difficult decision to throw in the towel and start over. Each of those teams had talented players on their roster but lacked the trade chips and/or budget flexibility to fill in at the margins and remain competitive.
That most of the above mentioned teams are in the American League is no coincidence. With the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and Indians all stacked with talent and virtually assured playoff spots for the next few years, that leaves just one wild card spot for everyone else to fight for a one game, do-or-die playoff against the Yankees or Red Sox. Is that really worth trading the farm or stretching the payroll? Fortunately for the Mets, there’s a bit more parity in the National League, where there is no juggernaut team positioned for a dynasty. Despite having rosters loaded with quality hitters and pitchers, the Nationals, Dodgers and Cubs are all fallible and beatable, especially by a team with a monster pitching staff like the Mets.
In the second half of 2015 and into the playoffs, when this team was firing on all cylinders, we learned that a dominant rotation and a lights out closer can make mince meat of a great lineup. And with enough offensive support, such a team can win a pennant. The Mets roster has seen some churn since then, but it’s still built around a killer rotation of flame throwing starting pitchers. With the addition of Edwin Diaz, the return of Jeurys Familia and the emergence of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, the bullpen should also be a strength going forward. The Mets could potentially have the best pitching staff in baseball in 2019 with a bit more depth in the bullpen. If everyone is healthy and if a few of those young right-handed relievers step up the Mets pitching could be special, like 1969, 1986 special. Problem is, Mets fans and their new GM are leery of ifs. Ifs don’t lead to rings and banners.
To solidify a roster, you have to envision it in-season and with the typical injuries, slumps and streaks. So, when and not if a Mets starter gets injured what is the reverb? Either someone like Corey Oswalt comes up from Syracuse (or is it “comes down,” since they’re heading south?) weakening the rotation, or else Lugo or Gsellman steps into the rotation, weakening he bullpen. Ideally, the Mets add another strong, reliable bullpen arm, preferably a lefty. This bullpen is going to get worked hard. Jason Vargas is a five-inning pitcher and so is Lugo if he’s in the rotation. Steven Matz isn’t known for going deep either and Zack Wheeler has had issues with pitch counts. As it stands now, the Mets have a very good bullpen, but it’s not deep enough.
The same can be said of the outfield, where the Mets are currently flimsier than a subway platform knock-off tee. It’s easy to dream about a Mets lineup built around a middle order of Cano-Cespedes-Conforto, but the reality is that we won’t see that until summer and possibly not at all in 2019. Yoenis Cespedes‘ injury is serious. The surgery recovery is complicated. Without a certain timetable for his return, the Mets need a sure thing. Injury-prone, light hitting Juan Lagares is an “if” and Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo, while great emerging players, will never be mentioned in the same sentence as Cal Ripken and Lou Gherig. Rajai Davis was a nice depth pickup. He makes for a good fifth outfielder and Lagares makes for a good fourth. Until Cespedes returns we need a third.
The additions of Wilson Ramos and Robinson Cano give us significant upgrades at two positions. If Peter Alonso does what we think he’s gonna do, make that three positional upgrades. Factor in continued improvement from Amed Rosario and Brandon Nimmo, and healthy seasons for Michael Conforto and Todd Frazier and we should be improved all over the diamond, except for one hole in the outfield.
Van Wagenen has done a nice job improving the team thus far, and not just by plugging holes like his predecessor. Ramos and Cano do more than just provide upgrades at their respective positions; they also help mitigate the loss of Cespedes in the lineup. The National League East has been the busiest division this off-season. The Braves, Nationals and Phillies have all made moves and are far from done. To really be the division favorite he speaks of, Van Waganen needs to complete the puzzle with another solid reliever and a good outfielder.