Be careful, folks; the New York Mets may just possess the perfect recipe to shock the entire baseball world during the MLB season of 2019.
The toughest aspect of the entire situation was accepting the reckless “win-now” model. The very moment the Wilpons pegged young Brodie Van Wagenen as the New York Mets newest front office boss was the split second Queens understood reality.
The Mets were not satisfied with a rebuild. They refused to roll with a quick reset.
In owning two bona fide starting pitchers—Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard—the temptation of a modern general manager to trade one for young positional assets is massive. The 30-year-old NL Cy Young award winner (who’ll turn 31 in June) is scheduled to hop on the open market after 2020. Surely, it’s a sticky situation.
Trading Syndergaard instead is even on the table. Though it makes less sense than the deGrom situation, having two aces in a positional-dominant game creates incredible opportunity.
To no avail. The little brothers of New York baseball stood their ground which ultimately led to an offseason of “modest” perception. Old man Robinson Cano? Really? Jeurys Familia, again? Come on. Wilson Ramos as the potential clean-up hitter? You have got to be kidding me.
Be careful. Despite any thoughts regarding organizational vision, this 2019 Mets club possesses the ability to shock the baseball world.
All or Nothing Lineup Strategy Is Gone
Power seemingly rules the baseball regular season (far less so in the postseason). The top-four home-run hitting teams a year ago (the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers) all qualified for October. The narrative falls a little short once investigated further.
The Toronto Blue Jays smacked 217 home runs, good enough for fifth in baseball, and failed to make the playoffs with a 73-89 record. The Los Angeles Angels finished seventh yet also finished under .500. The St. Louis Cardinals (11th), Texas Rangers (12th), Washington Nationals (13th), Baltimore Orioles (14th) and Philadelphia Phillies (15th) also all missed out on October.
The defending champion Boston Red Sox finished ninth. The NL East champion Atlanta Braves finished 19th. The Chicago Cubs ended the year in the 22nd hole. All three teams, of course, qualified for the second season. (The Mets finished 21st, for reference.)
Though power in the tightly-wound baseball era is critical, it isn’t the only factor. Van Wagenen understands the notion unlike his predecessor, Sandy Alderson, whose “Walk and a blast” motto fell out of style a couple of decades ago.
Cano isn’t just power. His career on-base of .355 brings something to the table the Mets haven’t enjoyed in quite some time. Jed Lowrie, though currently on the shelf, is yet again another table-setter and situational hitter. Instead of looking for a pure power bat off the bench, the Mets tabbed versatile Keon Broxton as a 2019 piece.
Then there’s Chili Davis, the new batting instructor whose explicit “situational teaching” brings freshness to the table.
No longer are these the Mets that possessed no speed and all power, praying for a three-run shot to spark the offense. The lineup is incredibly balanced and deep despite the lack of brand names.
- Brandon Nimmo, L-CF
- Jed Lowrie, S-3B
- Robinson Cano, L-2B
- Pete Alonso, R-1B
- Michael Conforto, L-RF
- Wilson Ramos, R-C
- Jeff McNeil, L-LF
- Amed Rosario, R-SS
With Lowrie in the mix, Amed Rosario is hitting seventh or eighth, interchangeable with Jeff McNeil, another tremendous situational hitter. The depth is obvious. The speed is also worth noting as a minimal improvement (especially by way of the bench), which is key.
Boston’s offense produced a ninth-place ranking in home runs and a third-place spot in stolen bases. Cleveland finished sixth (home runs) and first (stolen bases), Milwaukee finished fourth and fourth, Colorado finished eighth and ninth, and Atlanta, who struggled in the power department, took the NL East while finishing 10th in stolen bases.
The amazing Oakland Athletics of 2018 finished dead last in stolen bases yet sported one of baseball’s best defenses (third per FanGraphs). The Cubbies struggled in the power department yet finished fifth in defense.
The formula isn’t tried and tested, but generally speaking, power plus stolen bases plus defense equals the better teams in the land (while simultaneously ignoring the pitching aspect).
The Power is Still Improved
The peculiar aspect of the lineup’s new strategy is that the power is actually improved. Last year’s home run number of 170 looks to be an easy mark.
- Pete Alonso: 32 HR
- Michael Conforto: 27 HR
- Robinson Cano: 24 HR
- Wilson Ramos: 18 HR
- Amed Rosario: 15 HR
- Jeff McNeil: 14 HR
- Todd Frazier: 13 HR
- Brandon Nimmo: 12 HR
- Jed Lowrie: 12 HR
- Keon Broxton: 10 HR
- Dominic Smith: 8 HR
Though Alonso’s number is over-projected, a few others, such as Wilson Ramos and Amed Rosario, may represent modest predictions. The grand total is 173 with these 11 players alone, already surpassing last year’s meager output. Sprinkle in the rest of the players over the course of the season and suddenly these guys are in the top 10 of the league. (Houston finished 10th with 205 moonshots a year ago.)
In the stolen base game, not much improvement was had (though Keon Broxton and perhaps Carlos Gomez and Rajai Davis will contribute off the bench). Defense is a different story with a steady Jed Lowrie glove and Wilson Ramos’s behind-the-plate command.
Alonso is a Monster
The only way you don’t yet believe in Pete Alonso is simply a product of pessimism. Sure, the kid has to prove it first. Of course, spring training means nothing without the same performance on the legitimate stage. But this kid passes every eye test imaginable.
His four home runs and 10 runs batted in while hitting a cool .356 in 59 at-bats has Mets fandom going nuts. He literally represents the entirety of the Mets lineup fortunes in 2019. Will he struggle at times? Of course. But he’s still the make-or-break piece to the offense.
Everything we’ve witnessed thus far suggests he’ll make the lineup whole. His potential 20-plus home runs remain critical when projecting over the course of 162.
Starting Pitching Injuries
It’s doubtful Jacob deGrom duplicates his scary 2018 production. It’s also doubtful the health of the rotation can fall any further.
For years, this club has dealt with starting pitching injuries. Simply pitching more games than prior years will immediately improve the rotation’s production—even with deGrom’s potential decline.
Finally, a Bullpen
No, this isn’t a pen that rivals the best in the league. It also won’t repeat the 2018 porous performance that saw the pen finish 28th in baseball with a 4.96 ERA.
Edwin Diaz still has a lot to prove. Jeurys Familia doesn’t feel like the same guy that close out games in 2015. It matters very little when determining improvement. The talent within this pen is an immediate upgrade.
- Power: Improved (greatly depends on Pete Alonso)
- Speed: Slightly improved (thanks to bench speed)
- Defense: Improved
- Starting Pitching: Slightly improved (greatly depends on health)
- Bullpen: Greatly improved
- Dugout: Improved (Mickey Callaway‘s second season and Jim Riggleman‘s presence)
Of course, no full-on delusions should be experienced. There are entirely too many “maybes” up and down the roster. The max potential versus burn of an Alonso is great. How will Brandon Nimmo repeat as the team’s only real leadoff hitter? Can Michael Conforto finally break out during his age-26 season (one year prior to the famed age-27 campaign)?
Can Noah Syndergaard remain healthy? Is Zack Wheeler truly ready for primetime? Is Edwin Diaz more than just a one-year dominant wonder?
Does Mickey Callaway know what he’s doing?
It’s a team that truly can break either way. What we do know, however, is that they are improved, perhaps more than the baseball world thinks.
The greatest three areas the Mets could have worked on, they accomplished. They created a formidable bullpen, improved the defense, and, most importantly, completely shifted gears away from the all-or-nothing offense to a situational-hitting strategy.
The teams that showcase balance in several areas are those that usually experience the most success, especially in October. Power at the plate and on the mound as a strict strategy just doesn’t get it done anymore.
If Pete Alonso breaks out, Michael Conforto stays healthy, Brandon Nimmo nearly repeats, Robinson Cano showcases his usual self, the starting rotation pitches its fair share of games, and the bullpen is just slightly above average, the New York Mets can absolutely shock the baseball world in 2019.