We’re on the cusp of a 60-game season with 30-man rosters, no fans in the stadiums, the DH in the National League and a rookie manager. What could possibly go wrong? Hanging over everything is the knowledge that this truncated baseball campaign might not even be completed as now scheduled. Some people don’t even think we should have a season. Me? This seems like the perfect time to apply the old chestnut – “The only real failure is the failure to try.”
Besides, as Mets fans our real worry isn’t that the season will have to shut down due to Covid-19 concerns. Instead, our fear is that this team that expected to challenge for a playoff berth in a normal year will find itself buried early and unable to overcome an 8-game deficit created in the first one-third of the season. In a year where you need to get out of the starting blocks like Ben Johnson on steroids and close like Carl Lewis – there can be no prolonged slumps.
But let’s look beyond a team-wide concern and focus on individual players. What are the main worries for the Mets? And let’s eliminate the garden-variety “keep everyone healthy.” We all know that an injury to Jacob deGrom is crippling. So, let’s look at things that aren’t quite so obvious. Here’s one take on the 10 things that could torpedo the season.
10. Wilson Ramos suffers another drop in SLG
When the Mets signed Ramos as a free agent, the two main worries were how healthy he would be and how poor the non-throwing part of his defense would be. Ramos was remarkably healthy in 2019. The defense, especially in the first half of the season, was even worse than advertised. Perhaps because his throwing was so bad or maybe because he displayed a knack for driving in runs, what got lost is that Ramos went from a .483 SLG over 1,163 PA from 2016-2018 to a .416 mark in the happy ball environment of 2019. What if the ball resembles the one used in the playoffs, rather than the regular season? Can the Mets play a defensively-challenged catcher who struggles to post a .700 OPS? No one wants to see 2011 Josh Thole again.
9. Pete Alonso endures the dreaded sophomore slump
At one point, the Mets seemingly had a reputation around the league of overhyping their prospects. Then Alonso comes along and plays better than even his staunchest proponent would have imagined. My writings on him contained the idea that he had 40-HR potential. As you know, he delivered 53 HR as a rookie. As noted on Sunday, two of the previous biggest HR seasons by rookies in MLB were followed up with significantly fewer dingers the following year. Right now it seems a given by Mets fans that Alonso will be as big of an impact in 2020 as he was in 2019. Methinks Indians fans thought the same thing about Joe Charboneau prior to the 1981 season. Hey, at least Alonso doesn’t eat lit cigarettes or open beer bottles with his eye socket, like Charboneau did. That we know of…
8. Brandon Nimmo can’t handle center field
The Mets of this century – and let’s be honest, the 20th Century Mets, too – haven’t placed a great emphasis on defense. But there comes a point where even they start to care about catching the ball. After all, they eventually stopped playing Lucas Duda in the outfield. And they never even considered playing Wilmer Flores there. No one has any illusions of Nimmo being a strong defensive player in center. But what’s the point where they say this isn’t working? In 719.1 innings in CF, Nimmo has a (-5.5) UZR and a (-9) DRS. For what it’s worth, Duda had a (-17) DRS in 846.1 innings in the outfield in 2012 and they put him out there again in 2013. But the shortened season and playoff aspirations might mean a quicker hook on shaky defense in 2020. No one wants to see a bad defender in center. Even fewer people should want to see Jake Marisnick get four ABs per day on a regular basis.
7. Yoenis Cespedes and the Joe F. syndrome
Joe F. was a slightly older guy on an old softball team of mine. He was a pretty good hitter but every game he made some of the dumbest plays you could possibly imagine. A guy who had been on the team longer than me told me that when he was younger, Joe F. was the exact same way. But he was athletic enough that he could pull off a fair number of the bonehead plays that he attempted. Once he got older, he never made any allowances for his decreased athleticism. It seems like the same thing could happen with Cespedes. We’ve all seen some bonehead plays from him when he was healthier. And even a move away from center field didn’t stop that, as every center fielder – yes, even Juan Lagares – deferred to Cespedes on balls hit between center and left. It’s hard to imagine Nimmo reeling in or putting a stop to some of Cespedes’ antics in the field. We all want Cespedes healthy enough to play the field. Just remember that along with that cannon of an arm comes some questionable decision making.
6. Jeff McNeil tries too hard to do it all
In 2018, a finally-healthy McNeil put up a .368/.427/.600 line in Triple-A. Yeah, it was Las Vegas so you have to take the numbers with a grain of salt. But he hit for both AVG and power earlier that year in Binghamton, too. When he came to the majors in 2018, McNeil concentrated on hitting for contact and posted a .329 AVG. He did not show the power that he had in the minors. Instead of his .232 ISO from Las Vegas, his MLB ISO was .142 as a rookie. It was more of the same for the first four months of 2019. After his first 89 games last year, McNeil had a .340 AVG and a .173 ISO. But in his final 44 games, he had a .272 AVG and a whopping .296 ISO. That would be a top 10 mark in the majors if he did it over an entire season. McNeil has said he wants to win the batting title. Does he want to win the HR title, too? We’ve seen his hostile reaction to making outs. What happens if he tries to hit for both AVG and power and puts too much pressure on himself to excel at both? Can he harness his incredible passion if things don’t go his way?
5. Michael Conforto meets the squirrel that carries the plague
Gilda Radner could have been talking about Conforto when her SNL character would go, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” We’ve seen the poor BABIP streak, the ill-timed shoulder injury, the rush to return to the field and then the concussion. It’s gotten to the point where we expect something to happen to Conforto – we just don’t know what it is. Maybe the crazy year of 2020 will give us a normal-person season for Conforto. But doesn’t it seem just as likely that he would be self-isolating and feeding the squirrels in his back yard and come down with the plague? Or get bitten by one of those Murder Hornets? Or whatever the latest threat to our well-being is, it seems like Conforto could find it.
4. J.D. Davis and BABIP regression
Perhaps the best feel-good story of the year was how Davis came to the team as a lefty masher and ended up punishing pitchers who threw with their right hand, too. Prior to the start of 2019, no one predicted that Davis would put up an .895 OPS in 453 PA. And now it seems like everyone is expecting him to come pretty close to that production in 2020. As Mallex Smith fans will tell you, you just can’t bank on putting up a super-high BABIP every year. Last year Davis had a .355 BABIP. We know he’s not here for his defense, so what happens if his offense takes a tumble?
3. Amed Rosario stops improving
The 2020 Mets have a lot of eggs in the basket known as Rosario. The backup SS is Luis Guillorme, who’s the infield equivalent of Marisnick. Since arriving in the majors, Rosario has shown both strong durability and solid improvement. He’s gone from a 75 wRC+ to an 85 to a 100 mark in the category last season. He was considered one of the top prospects in the game when he was promoted to the majors and he’s at an age where he should be improving. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he posted a 110 wRC+ this season. But a 90 mark wouldn’t be a shock, either. Rosario’s not the most rock-solid defender so he needs to be a plus with the bat. Few doubt the talent but results are what matter.
2. Robinson Cano plays like a 37-year-old second baseman
Last year we saw a 109-point drop in OPS from Cano and the previous year. Another drop and we’ll be longing for Guillorme to be in there.
1. Mets bury their heads in the sand over Edwin Diaz’ results
In 2018 Diaz was outstanding. Last year – eh, not so much. Relievers are fickle and if you poke around online, you’ll find plenty of articles suggesting that Diaz was unlucky in 2019 and is primed for a bounceback season. No one doubts that he has great stuff. But this is a bottom-line, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. And lately, Diaz has not delivered results. He wasn’t good last year, he wasn’t good in Spring Training and his summer camp outing against the Yankees – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – wasn’t good. And no one seems to be saying this might be a problem and maybe someone else should be the closer. Allegedly the reason that the Mets went out and got Diaz is because Brodie Van Wagenen couldn’t stomach the pen blowing leads for deGrom. Oops. Cano leads a charmed life being a former client of Van Wagenen. We don’t need Diaz to enjoy that same status, as Van Wagenen’s first marquee addition. He shouldn’t be gifted the closer’s spot when his pitching has been so spotty.
On Thursday there will be a little more optimism in this space, as we’ll run the annual predictions column.