A shortened season isn’t ideal for anyone, but the New York Mets are going to get some benefits from the unprecedented circumstances.
2020 has been an awful year for sports. It’s arguable that MLB got hit the worst. They lost months of time and will play the shortest season in the league’s history. Players are opting out of playing, and others are sick. Luckily, the New York Mets haven’t been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
They’ve only reported one player having tested positive for COVID-19, and it doesn’t seem to have been a starter. They haven’t had any players opt-out either. No, their problems began to arise before the pandemic.
Their new manager Carlos Beltran was caught up in a cheating scandal that cost him his job. Star pitcher Noah Syndergaard tore his UCL and had Tommy John surgery. The Wilpons sale of the team has been a distraction since they announced the deal in December, and it only got worse when the deal fell apart in February.
None of those problems have gone away in the past few months. Luis Rojas is still a first-year major league manager, the Mets still don’t have Thor, and the sale is still ongoing. However, the delayed start to the season did fix some more minor issues. In fact, the shortened season could prove to be a huge benefit for the New York Mets.
The Mets were remarkably healthy in 2019. Only two starting position players missed significant time, Robinson Cano and Brandon Nimmo. In fact, their core trio of Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil all played over 130 games.
The pitching was even more durable. The Mets were the only team in MLB who got 30 starts out of each of their five starting spots, Mets did it with Jason Vargas and Marcus Stroman sharing a spot. Point being they didn’t have a single injury to a starting pitcher.
That luck is already starting to run out with Syndergaard going down. However, the delay has allowed a number of acquisitions and old faces to rest up.
Dellin Betances was a question mark for Opening Day back in February. Now he’s mostly recovered from his torn Achilles and is ramping up. His addition to the bullpen is huge for one of the worst groups in MLB, but more on that later. Having a healthy version of Betances will make a huge difference.
Yoenis Cespedes was not going to be ready for Opening Day. The Mets were hoping and praying he would be, but it wasn’t likely to happen. He still wasn’t running the bases and fielding in February. Even now, five months later he still isn’t 100% healthy. However, he is healthy enough to get back onto the field.
Cespedes has been crushing the ball in batting practice and simulated games. He’s running the bases and has gotten out into the field, but he’s still behind the other outfielders. The good news is the shortened season is going to give the Mets a designated hitter, so that might not matter much.
Adding Cespedes’ bat to the lineup is a game-changer for the Mets. Even at his worst in Queens, Cespedes was still one of the elite hitters in baseball. If that guy is back in the lineup, even for just 60 games it’s a huge win for the Mets.
The most mysterious member of the Mets is Jed Lowrie. The utility man was supposed to play all over the field for the Mets in 2019, but an injury cost him his season. It had still been plaguing him in spring training, but he seems healthy now.
He’s running the bases, playing in the field, and even crushed a double off Jacob deGrom in a simulated game. It’s easy to forget, but Lowrie was coming off a five fWAR season in 2018 when the Mets signed him. If he can be just half of that guy in 2020 then the Mets just added one of the best bench bats in all of baseball.
The Mets have a number of aging veterans on their roster. Cano, Cespedes, Lowrie, Jared Hughes, Rene Rivera, Gordon Beckham, and Melky Cabrera are all 34 or older, and all of them are in the Mets’ 60-man player pool. Many are expected to be on the Mets’ 30-man Opening Day roster.
One of the big issues with aging players is that they tend to struggle for long stretches. Usually at the end of a long season when injuries pile up. The Mets won’t have to worry about that in 2020.
With a 60-game season, those injuries that pile up over the course of a season that nag aging players will disappear. That should allow the Mets to get the most out of their aging starters, relievers, and bench pieces. The most notable being Cano, Lowrie, Cespedes, and Hughes.
All four are going to have key roles in 2020 if they stay healthy. By shortening the season and getting the most out of these veterans, the Mets should turn what’s normally a major weakness into a source of strength.
The New York Mets’ bullpen may be the single most volatile unit in all of baseball. They have the talent to be the most dominant unit in the league with guys like Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, Brad Brach, Jared Hughes, Seth Lugo, and Dellin Betances. Not a single one of those relievers has a career ERA over 3.35. They’re all among the most dominant relievers in baseball when they’re at their best.
However, a number of them aren’t at their best. Hughes, Brach, Diaz, and Familia are coming off career-worst years. All three had ERAs over five in 2019. Dellin Betances is coming off an injury-riddled season. The only two relievers who pitched well in 2019 were Seth Lugo and Justin Wilson.
If the Mets relievers return to their career means, they’ll be one of the best bullpens in baseball. If things don’t get better after a dreadful 2019, it could cost them a postseason berth.
The one thing they’ve got going is a shortened season. With fewer games to play, the relievers will be pitching fewer innings, which means less stress on their arms. That should mean better pitching throughout the season.
It also means that the Mets will be able to throw relievers out more frequently. The Mets will be able to ride the hot arm out of the bullpen without fear of wearing them out over the course of a full season. That alone could turn the Mets into a true contender.
The only downside is that there are fewer off days. With only five off days that means there will be days that even the most durable relievers will have to take a break. The hope is that with seven potentially elite relievers in the bullpen the Mets should always have someone to rely on no matter what the circumstance is.