There are two big days that I look forward to every year. One is Christmas, the other is the day pitchers and catchers report to camp for spring training. Seeing the players just having a catch gets me more than excited to see what the upcoming baseball season will bring. This time of year gives any team hope that they can succeed — even the Mets.
Teams will go down to Florida and Arizona and have the highest of expectations for themselves. For the Amazin’s, this hasn’t really been the case since the 2006-2009 “team to beat” clubs, and we all know how that ended. But this year, even with the devastating injury to ace Matt Harvey, I hold some hope that 2014 can be an exciting year for the team in Flushing.
For one, David Wright is back. Obviously one man can’t be the entire team, but he’s one of the top third baseman in all of baseball and his presence and leadership makes him one of the best guys to have on on any club (some may say the Face of Major League Baseball). Yes he was injured last season, but still put up strong numbers and finished with a 6.0 WAR, an incredible number for a guy who played in 112 games. With full health and more protection in the lineup, I can see Wright putting up just as good, if not better numbers than he has in the past.
Speaking of that protection surrounding the captain, the Mets have a brand new outfield that is taking shape. Remember that time the Mets outfield was considered the worst to ever take the field? With the likes of Collin Cowgill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis playing regularly in the early portion of 2013, I could not blame them for saying that. But with improved bats and tremendous defense, the 2014 outfield has the potential to be one of the strengths on this team.
I was huge proponent of bringing in Curtis Granderson, even before the real negotiation talks started. He’s played and thrived in the big market of New York, and I felt having him sit behind David Wright in the lineup would provide great dividends. No he will not be the 40-plus home run hitter he was in the bandbox in the Bronx, but he will most likely still give you around 25-30 long balls, something any team would welcome.
Especially since Nelson Cruz appears to be close to finalizing a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, many fans have complained that the Mets should have gone after him, rather than Chris Young. Young did have a dreadful year in 2013 with Oakland, but to me, he can have a bounce back year. While he was not an on-base machine in Arizona, he provided some pop to go along with strong outfield defense from 2009-2012. Young posted defensive runs saved numbers of 20 and 18, respectively, in 2010 and 2011, something that would definitely not hurt having in the outfield this season. The contract he got may have been a little bit much, but I would not be shocked if Young played better than many expect.
The final outfield spot seems to be somewhat of a question mark, but to me, it’s an easy choice. With Juan Lagares‘ speed and incredible defensive ability, he should be rounding out a much improved outfield. His 21.5 UZR and 26 defensive runs saved speak for themselves. He never fails to make the unbelievable catch, and to have him in the expanses of Citi Field is a huge bonus.
Behind the plate, the rookie Travis d’Arnaud will be getting the shot to do the signal calling. Injuries have prolonged the start of his career, but he’s finally looking like the every day catcher. He struggled at the plate during his month-long stint last year, but he handled the pitchers well, and is generally considered one of the top defensive catching prospects in the game. I expect his bat to come around, and I could see him hitting near .260, hitting mostly line drives, but possibly around 15-20 homers. If he can do that and call the game he’s capable of calling, there’s a chance he could have a Rookie of the Year plaque hanging above his mantle.
Finally, when talking about this team, you can’t help but talk about the pitching. Harvey will most likely miss most, if not all of 2014, but there are other options. Jonathon Niese has proved to be one the better lefties in the National League, Zack Wheeler will be back for his first full season in the big leagues and Dillon Gee looks to perform how he did in the second half of 2013. Newly acquired Bartolo Colon is coming off of a near CY Young season, and while he is 40 years of age, he can provide the Mets with strong stuff and innings. With the likes of Rafael Montero and the Noah Syndergaard probably making their way to the team at some point this year, there is much to like with this staff, even without the Dark Knight of Gotham.
I may be giving this team too much credit. The past two years they’ve won just 74 games, so why should this be different? But right now, it’s spring training. It’s the time of year to think that anything is possible. It could end up being another down year filled with disappointment and injuries, but sometimes, you just gotta believe.