Well, the Super Bowl has ended and football season is officially over. We’ve reached the mid-season lulls of the NHL and NBA. Only one thing can reinvigorate sports fans during this time of the year: MLB Spring Training. Of course, with pitchers and catchers reporting, predictions will run rampant and tons of sports writers will bet their lives that the Nationals will win the World Series. While I do think this 2017 Mets team can bounce back to become a real championship contender, I won’t make a serious season prediction for them with exact win totals and advanced stats. All I’ll say is there’s no reason this organization at full strength can’t win 90+ games and the division.
Before we can even talk about the World Series, there are a few questions the Mets, specifically Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins, need to answer first.
1. What will the Mets rotation look like throughout the season?
If I had to guess, I’d say Noah Syndergaard has more than earned the Opening Day nod with a tremendous breakout season in 2016. After that, I think Jacob deGrom slots in at number two due to experience and consistency. Matt Harvey will most likely edge out Steven Matz for the third spot, leaving Matz at number four. The real question lies in the fifth (and possibly sixth) spot. For years now, nearly the entire Mets fan base has dreamed of the day when the stars aligned and we got to see our five young stud pitchers all in the same rotation. With Zack Wheeler finally probable to return from injury, that time may be now. Of course, this are the New York Mets we’re speaking about, and things never seem to go according to plan. My money is on Wheeler coming out of the bullpen for a while to not only build up his strength, but limit his innings count for the year. That leaves Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo to compete for the fifth spot to start the year. Both men bring unique skill sets to the table and phenomenal track records filling in last year for injured starters, but I think it’ll be Gsellman who gets the final spot. Lugo will shift to the bullpen and spot start whenever an injury occurs. Once the staff feels ready to let Wheeler start a game, the Mets will transition to the much maligned six man rotation. Finally, they’ll trim it down to a five man rotation after Wheeler gets some good work in. Just don’t get your hopes up though because like I said, these are the New York Mets and as we know very well, things never go according to plan.
2. How will the team handle the infield surplus?
It’s no secret that the Mets have talent in the infield. In fact, they probably have the single deepest infield in all of baseball. Walker, Cabrera, Reyes, Wright, Duda, Flores, Rivera, Reynolds. Cecchini, Rosario and Smith right on the cusp. Maybe Conforto and d’Arnaud learning some first base? Maybe Reyes taking himself out of that logjam by learning some outfield? The truth is no one knows exactly how it’ll sort itself out in the long run. The one thing I can tell you though is that this is really a great problem to have. The Mets now have the luxury of mixing and matching to find the combination that they like best. Also, when the inevitable injuries occur, they can plug in a guy like Wilmer Flores who would be a quality starter on any team, or T.J. Rivera who is on the same track. Eventually the right move may be to trade away one or two of their infielders to help elsewhere, but that can’t be a decision made in February. In all likelihood, the main infield will end up being Wright-Cabrera-Walker-Duda, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be their best combo. Personally, I’d like to see Reyes as a starter a majority of the time, with Wright taking a backseat. If we all had it our way, Wright would barely be playing at all because there are just too many talented young players fighting for time. The main player that comes to mind is Wilmer Flores. This is really going to be the turning point in his career, especially with Amed Rosario breathing down his neck, and he needs to either be given a shot to play everyday soon or the Mets need to find a new home for him because he’s wasting away his potential and trade value. One crazy proposition: have a rotating infield every day for the entire season. One day you have Wright-Cabrera-Walker-Duda, the next day you give Wright the day off, then the day after that Cabrera, then Walker, then Duda. Doing that appeals to a lot of crowds: the younger guys get more ABs than usual and stay game-ready, the older guys get more days off and remain fresh, management can showcase all of the talent on the team without really hurting anyone’s stock, and most importantly the team has a leg up on everybody else come playoff time because all the other teams run their starters to the ground. It would be a radical change from conventional, archaic systems in baseball, but that’s the way the game is headed and the Mets are in prime position to set the precedent.
4. Who will manage the team after this season?
This question is more so one that needs to be asked after the season, not before it, but it’s worth talking about now. Terry Collins has already insinuated this could be his last season, and the Mets need to start thinking now about options to replace him. When the time comes there will be some good outside options, currently guys like Walt Weiss and Mets legend Robin Ventura are still on the market, and some good managers will likely get fired before the Mets need to make a decision. The team could also decide to hire from within, with options like bench coach Dick Scott and AAA manager Pedro Lopez. The final option is to get a little creative. It would be another unprecedented move, but the Mets should consider talking either Curtis Granderson or David Wright into retiring from their playing days and taking up the coaching mantle. I know being a manager is an incredibly nuanced and difficult job, but a majority of managers around the league are former players and it seems as though teams have been looking to hire younger and younger guys in management positions. Plus, Granderson and Wright are two guys who have had very long, successful careers and are well respected among both their team and the league. Bringing in an outside presence can run the risk of ruining the chemistry that has taken years to build up, so maybe the best course of action with a club looking to win now is to stay in house. Dick Scott would be a safe and likely choice, but he’s another guy in his mid-fifties who probably has a similar style to Collins and shared line of thinking. Maybe what the Mets truly need to get over the hump is a fresh face who has his finger on the pulse of the game as it is today, not thirty years ago. Added bonus: convincing Wright to move to a coaching role would mean a possible renegotiation of his contract on top of the fact that the team wouldn’t have to pay a new coach. I know it sounds like penny-pinching, but that could be the extra few million that helps sign one of the young stars down the road. It’s an extreme long shot, but handing the team over to a guy like Granderson or Wright could end up being a brilliant decision.