It’s been quite the eventful offseason for the Mets both in terms of the players they actually acquired and the numerous others they’ve reportedly been “in on.” Some of the non-moves, like losing out on George Springer to the Blue Jays and the seemingly 11th-hour change of heart (to put it kindly) from Trevor Bauer, have been met with varying degrees of disappointment or relief depending on your viewpoint. Surprise acquisitions like Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco weren’t part of the splashy spending splurge many expected when Steve Cohen officially became owner, yet they brought star power and high-end talent to the team nonetheless.
As Spring Training gets into full swing, there’s little question that Sandy Alderson, Zack Scott, and the rest of the Mets front office have made the requisite moves to build a roster that has more overall talent than in recent years and, despite the uncertainty that remains on the 40-man roster’s fringes, appears to be deeper than in recent memory as well. The actual quality of the depth is an open question, but the chances are high that most of the playing time up and down the roster is apt to go to players that can contribute at the major league level when the inevitable injuries occur.
There’s little doubt that, barring catastrophe, the Mets should contend at the highest levels in 2021. Just how high their peak will be is also an open question, and one that’s reflected in projections that range from the team securing a wild card berth to outright winning the division. The Mets, as it turns out, can be a hard team to peg. What’s becoming abundantly clear, however, is that the team has been quietly building what could be the best offense in all of baseball in 2021 and beyond.
That’s a bold claim to be sure, but the success of the team’s young offensive core in 2019 appeared to foreshadow their scorching 2020 season. The 2019 season saw the monstrous debut of Pete Alonso, but also breakout performances from Jeff McNeil, Dominic Smith, and J.D. Davis, with Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo contributing above average performances if not quite up to par with their previous seasons. The team finished tied for seventh in baseball with a wRC+ of 104. Not bad for a team with bundles of dead weight taking up plate appearances on the roster.
During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Mets’ offense kicked it into high-gear and took their performance into the stratosphere. Their 121 wRC+ was second only to the Dodgers and even set a new franchise record by smashing the 1988 team’s wRC+ of 111. Now, we obviously have to take into account the fact that the shortened season likely played into the team’s ability to put up such gaudy numbers. A schedule consisting of only 60 games could theoretically shield players from prolonged slumps impacting their overall numbers, but the fact that wRC+ is a rate stat is an encouraging sign that their performances weren’t simply flukes of circumstance.
What does the 2021 season project to look like for the Mets’ burgeoning offensive core? While the projection systems don’t believe that any of the hitters will replicate anything close to their best recent seasons, seven of the team’s eight projected starters (led by Conforto’s 124) are tabbed to perform above average by wRC+ according to Steamer. Which starter is the only one projected to be below average? Steamer projects catcher James McCann to significantly underperform when compared to his last two seasons and doesn’t seem to believe in his breakout, mostly due to his fairly underwhelming career before the 2019 season.
I’m of the mind that the projection systems are pessimistic on most of the team’s hitters heading into 2021, particularly McCann. While we can’t expect any given player to match their historical best, it’s become clear that on the whole the Mets’ projected lineup has the potential to be truly elite, particularly with the addition of Lindor and to a lesser extent McCann. While it would be a tall order to outperform the likes of the Dodgers and the Braves, it’s certainly possible that the Mets could find themselves in the top five offensive teams in baseball once again this season.
With the solidification of the team’s rotation, the additions to the bullpen, and the reinforcement of quality depth pieces on the bench, the 2021 season has the potential to be a special one for the Mets and their fans. For a team with a history steeped in pitching, it sure would be fun to watch a veritable murderers row lineup that’s lethal from top to bottom.