30 in 30: New York Mets

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For what feels like the 20th consecutive year, the Mets can either be very, very good, or very, very bad. I mean, it’s almost an annual mystery trying to figure out what to expect from them.

Newly hired general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has self-proclaimed the Mets as the favorites to win the NL East. Could it happen? Sure it can! The Mets have a monstrous pitching staff, some new faces in the starting lineup, and a new, bold general manager. What’s stopping them?

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There weren’t too many positives to take away from the 2018 season. Jacob deGrom had a historic season, becoming one of six pitchers in MLB history to have a 1.70 ERA or better with at least 215 innings thrown. Of those six, he threw the most strikeouts (269). His astonishing season earned him a Cy Young trophy.

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Fellow starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard also pitched well, winning 13 games and losing four. Zack Wheeler also had a good season, and most importantly stayed healthy enough to pitch in 29 games. He went 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA, which is almost two runs lower than his 2017 ERA of 5.21.

Outside of pitching, there isn’t much to write about regarding the 2018 New York Mets. Perhaps the only positive is Michael Conforto’s 28 home runs, which led the team. Amed Rosario stole 24 bases, which is almost unheard of regarding Mets players in recent years. Brandon Nimmo had a decent season as well, posting a .404 OBP and leading the Mets in WAR with a 4.0.

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Van Wagenen went all-in on a win now philosophy, dealing prospects left and right for veteran pieces. He made it clear the Mets are not rebuilding, despite a lackluster 2018 season, finishing under .500 for the second consecutive year.

All In On Winning

Arguably the biggest move of the offseason for the Mets was a deal with the Seattle Mariners. The Mets acquired Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz in exchange for Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Gerson Bautista, Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. The Mets added one of the best closers in baseball, along with a veteran bat who has proven he can still put up good numbers in the batter’s box.

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This deal solidified the team’s win-now approach, as they traded two of their top prospects. Kelenic, the team’s 2018 first round pick, has the potential to be a ‘superstar’ in the MLB. The 19-year old phenom posted elite numbers in the Rookie League, playing against guys who are up to five years older than him.

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Justin Dunn was also a good prospect the Mets had to wave goodbye to in the deal. He was their first round pick in 2016, and pitched for the Mets’ double-A affiliate last season. The Mets also gave up Gerson Bautista, who pitched in the majors in 2018. He was the least difficult to let go of all the prospects the Mets dealt, and only ranks 20th in the Mariners farm system.

Along with dealing those prospects, the Mets gave up Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak. The departure of those two is more of a sigh of relief than it is a disappointment. The Mets dumped their big salaries and their lackluster play. They killed two birds with one stone by dumping them.

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By dealing those pieces, the Mets got one of the best closers in baseball. Edwin Diaz led the MLB in saves by a large margin with 57 saves on 61 opportunities. He was second among relievers in WAR with a rating of 3.5. He led relievers in FIP (which is ERA if the defense wasn’t a factor) with a 1.61. Diaz is only 25 years old and the Mets can keep him until 2022. This was a stellar acquisition for the Mets’ bullpen.

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The team also brought in Robinson Cano through the trade. This was a shaky addition for many Mets fans because of his age (36), but stats show he can still swing the bat. Cano posted a .364 wOBA (weighted on-base average) and a 2.9 WAR rating. He was suspended for half of the season in 2018 for allegedly using and masking performance-enhancing drugs. If he can stay on the field, he will be a valuable piece for the Mets’ batting order.

Van Wagenen’s offseason moves went beyond this trade. Arguably his biggest free agent signing was catcher Wilson Ramos, who joined the Mets on a two-year deal in December. Ramos had a strong 2018 season with the Rays and the Phillies, posting a .361 wOBA, 15 home runs, and a .487 slugging percentage. He’s a solid defender as well, after only having five errors in 794 innings. He caught 14 players stealing as well.

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Second baseman Jed Lowrie joined the team during the offseason as well, signing a two year deal. Lowrie may turn out to be a sneaky good signing for the Mets, and his numbers from 2018 can prove it. Lowrie hit a career-high 23 home runs in 2018 and had a solid WAR rating of 4.9. He’s coming off the best offensive season of his MLB career, and looks to build off of his momentum in 2019. He only missed five games in 2018, but is already hurt in Spring Training this season. If he can get himself healthy, he will be a great bat for the Mets.

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The team also signed veteran outfielder Rajai Davis to a contract. The 38-year-old speedster is still a solid defender, having posted 0 errors on 115 defensive chances, but his offensive production is cause for concern. His -0.2 WAR and his .251 wOBA is well below par. Davis probably won’t be more than a defensive substitute for the Mets, and will provide steady defensive play and speed in center field when necessary.

The Mets also brought back Jeurys Familia on a three-year deal, and could benefit from moving to a reliever role with Edwin Diaz likely taking the closing role. Familia was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, but he has since fallen off due to injuries and lack of production. Time will tell how a switch to a reliever will affect his performance.

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What to Expect

As always, you can expect deGrom to dominate every team that comes his way. He’ll be playing for a contract this season, so it’s pretty fair to expect him to keep pitching at a historic rate of success. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to see him improve off of his 2018 performance, but you never know.

The rest of the rotation has a huge load of potential. The expected rotation will be deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Stephen Matz, and Jason Vargas. This can be one of the best rotations of baseball under one condition: staying healthy. The Mets have yet to see the full potential of this rotation over the course of a season primarily due to injuries. Although it’s unlikely, if they stay healthy, this is a rotation that wins you playoff series.

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As for the position players, who knows? It seems like we get a new form of the New York Mets every year when it comes to hitting and fielding. In the best case scenario, we would see Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil build off of their solid 2018 seasons. And, arguably more importantly, a breakout season from Amed Rosario.

Rosario was one of the most hyped up Mets prospects since Jose Reyes, and although he hasn’t done terribly, he hasn’t lived up to the hype. A breakout year from him would put the Mets over the top due to his all-around potential. He can steal bases, play defense, and swing the bat. The question is, will he?

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NL East Favorites?

The Mets can talk all they want. The fact of the matter is, they’re in one of the most stacked divisions in baseball and haven’t won more than 80 games since 2016. Are the 2019 Mets going to be any different than the 2018 Mets?

The potential is definitely there. They have arguably the best starting pitchers in baseball, the best closer in baseball, and solid relievers. Combine that with a good outfield and a solid infield, and they can certainly compete. And they’re going to have to compete if they want to find themselves on the top of their division.

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The NL East has evolved into one of, if not the best division in baseball. The Braves and the Phillies both appear to be contenders to win the National League. The Phillies have built a star-studded roster this offseason, adding big names like Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen. The Braves had a promising 2018, and are only getting better. And don’t count the Nationals out, either.

Can the Mets win their division? It’s certainly a possibility. If they can stay healthy throughout the season, anything can happen. But, it could take almost 100 wins to come out of the NL East as division champs. I don’t see the Mets winning 100 games. I think the Phillies take the NL East, and the Mets and Braves will both heavily compete for a Wild Card spot.

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Record Prediction: 86-76

Team MVP: Jacob deGrom

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