For teams in deep rebuild like the Marlins and half the American League it’s easy to just point to the lack of talent as the reason why they can’t finish over .500 and compete for the playoffs. For the rest of MLB, talent can win some games, but to make the playoffs you have to minimize the notable flaws. The 2018 Mets had several, but GM Brodie Van Wagenen perceived the two biggest as the bullpen and roster depth. He’s clearly addressed both of these areas so that now a strong relief corp and a deep bench/AAA will supplement a strong rotation and, hopefully, a strong enough lineup to allow this Mets team to turn the corner.
A team is only as strong as its weakest link. By mid-summer, even the best teams are looking for reinforcements in the trade market as the dog days of summer start to expose their flaws. To get to the point where a team is over .500 at the All Star break, they typically have the core pieces in place – a good 1-2 rotation punch, a closer and at least one reliable set-up man, and a solid top of the batting order. By filling in at the margins teams hope to polish their roster for a playoff run.
Looking at the Mets right now, the flaws are not in obvious places. Unlike the Nationals, we have a strong and deep bullpen and unlike the 2018 Mets, we have a solid bench. When the 25-man roster shakes out there will be additional depth in AAA – now more conveniently located in the same time zone. Hopefully, the Mets will stash one more veteran starting pitcher there for added assurance. The back end of the Mets rotation may not be as strong as the Indians or Cubs, but it’s certainly a lot stronger than the Braves or Phillies. The bottom of the lineup is one potential weakness. If Jeff McNeil can make it as an outfielder and Peter Alonso can stick at first base, the lineup becomes pretty solid top to bottom. If not, the lineup has to support either Todd Frazier or Dom Smith at first base and either Keon Broxton or Juan Lagares from the outfield. A lineup that features Frazier-Lagares-Rosario-pitcher at the bottom is going to struggle to string together rallies. By summer we’ll know where we stand with this situation, as well as the health and potential return of Yoenis Cespedes, the offensive progress of Amed Rosario and the health of the rest of the hitters. Worst case scenario, we can trade for an outfielder in July while beat writer John Harper has an aneurysm ranting about why the Mets didn’t sign A.J. Pollock. MattyMets thinks by then the Dodgers will bemoan signing the expensive guy on the injured list instead of Bryce Harper.
One other potential problem area for the Mets is defense. The world champion Red Sox boasted three Gold Glove winners. The Mets had none and haven’t had one since 2014. In fact, Lagares’ Rawlings award is the only one a Met has won this decade. A far cry from the previous decade when Carlos Beltran and David Wright combined for five, or past eras when players like Rey Ordonez and Keith Hernandez were collecting trophies. Okay, Gold Gloves aren’t everything, but the Mets were not strong on defense last year. Whether the moves they’ve made will improve the defense is hard to say.
The addition of two-time Gold Glover Robinson Cano gives us an upgrade at the keystone that should lead to more double plays and fewer ground ball singles through the right side – a familiar sight with rangeless wonders like Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores manning second base. Maybe his presence also helps Rosario improve with the glove some. Wilson Ramos is certainly an offensive upgrade, but is the backstop combo of him and Travis d’Arnaud really so much better defensively than Devin Mesoraco and Kevin Plawecki? We certainly didn’t have any Hernandez flashbacks at first last year from Adrian Gonzalez, Wilmer Flores and Smith, but Frazier will be adapting to a new position and Alonso’s defense has been called into question. And speaking of players out of position, Jed Lowrie, considered one of the better second baseman around will shift to the less familiar third base, where the superior Frazier will be moved to first. The 35-year-old Lowrie will also be tasked with backing up shortstop where he hasn’t played in three years. Meanwhile, infielder Jeff McNeil will be learning how to play outfield for the first time since college. In the corners, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto are solid if not spectacular. Our best defensive players are two center fielders with suspect bats. Broxton and Lagares will be fine as defensive replacements, but with them on the bench, center field will be manned far less adequately by either Nimmo or McNeil.
Van Wagenen made a lot of moves to improve this team and unlike Sandy Alderson, he paid close attention to depth to protect us from injuries. However, just like his predecessor, he seems to have under-estimated the importance of defense.