Before this season began, the feeling among most Mets fans was despair, and the reporting by both local and national outlets framed the team as lost for years to come. There were reporters who were comfortable with writing off not only 2013, but 2014 and 2015 as well. The Mets were too far gone, they said.
There were a fraction of fans who saw what was coming with the Mets. Fans who thought that while the team was unlikely to seriously compete in 2013, contending in 2014 was not only possible, but probable. The Mets’ current record (58-67) isn’t much different than what it was at this point in 2011 or 2012. They’re still likely to finish with a win total in the mid-70′s. What’s different, is the feeling.
Even though the team isn’t in contention, and although they’ve been hit hard lately with injuries (David Wright, Bobby Parnell, Jenrry Mejia), they’ve still given the fan base something to look forward to night after night: a solid brand of baseball played by a substantial number of players who’ll be part of the future.
Coming into the season, Matt Harvey wasn’t a given. Now? He’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Zack Wheeler had yet to make a pitch in the big leagues. Now? He’s a rookie who’s starting to back up the hype that’s followed him around for years. Jenrry Mejia was an afterthought. Now? He’s someone who will likely be in the opening day rotation in 2014 – an electric pitcher who’s younger than Matt Harvey. In Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee, the Mets have the pitchers to round out that rotation (without including Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard).
While most of the talk surrounding the Mets and their potentially quick rise to relevance has revolved around their starting pitchers, one of the biggest surprises came almost out of nowhere.
Juan Lagares, a 24 year old center fielder who had yet to play above AA before the season began, has emerged as a key piece. It’s true that his bat is still a bit of an unknown, but the defense Lagares has provided in center field has been off the charts incredible. He (much like Carlos Beltran) makes tough plays look routine, while making his fair share of spectacular, highlight reel plays. Lagares gets insane jumps on balls, has a cannon for an arm (he has 11 outfield assists), and a nose for the game. He’s only played full time for part of the season, but already has 21 defensive runs saved, ranking near the top of all major leaguers in that category. Before the season, Lagares, much like Jenrry Mejia, was an afterthought. Now? He’s viewed as one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, and will likely be in center for the Mets on Opening Day in 2014.
Right as Lagares was getting noticed by the rest of baseball, both Wilmer Flores and Travis d’Arnaud made their big league debuts. Flores’ future with the team is uncertain, but there’s a strong chance that the 22 year old Venezuelan could turn out to be part of the future at either first base or second base. D’Arnaud, 24, is seen as the catcher of the future, one of the gems (along with Syndergaard) of the deal that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto. D’Arnaud’s season was interrupted by a broken foot, but now that he’s here, the fans and players are both getting a glimpse of the guy who’ll likely be behind the plate at Citi Field for the next decade.
It isn’t often that one of the words that first comes to mind about a 58-67 team is “exciting,” but that’s what this team is. Not so much for what they are now, but for what they can be beginning in 2014. The starting rotation that’s forming in front of our eyes has a chance to be special, the recent influx of potential impact position players is something the fans haven’t seen in years, and the flexibility the front office has (both in terms of trades they can make and money they can spend) is immense.
The conversation the last few years has been about how many holes the team had. The conversation now, is about the final pieces the team needs.
Here’s what the team has:
- A starting rotation that should be one of the best in baseball by the middle of 2014, potentially containing Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese, Noah Syndergaard, and Rafael Montero.
- A bullpen that should include Bobby Parnell as its closer, with several other power arms vying for key spots (Josh Edgin, Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, etc).
- David Wright at third base, Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate, Juan Lagares in center field, Daniel Murphy at second base, and a potential combination of Ike Davis and Wilmer Flores at first base.
What does this team need?
They need a few outfielders. They don’t need to search for starting pitching, or a closer, or an answer at catcher or center field (they have them). They simply need a few outfielders.
With tons of money coming off the books and with several key pieces other teams value via trade, securing the two outfielders this team needs (ideally one who can lead off and another who can hit for power), shouldn’t be difficult. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo are out there via free agency, and Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gonzalez may both be available via trade. The Mets have the money to sign either Ellsbury or Choo, and the prospects needed to trade for either Stanton or Gonzalez. If the Mets were to trade for either Stanton or Gonzalez, they’d likely have to part with a number of their top prospects (including one of Montero or Syndergaard). That would sting, but it’d be a necessary risk.
After years of rebuilding, waiting, hoping, and pleading, it’s come down to this: if the Mets can acquire two above average outfielders before the beginning of 2014, they should be legitimate contenders. This isn’t hyperbole, and it isn’t wishful thinking. It’s reality.