Lucas Duda more than proved that management made the right choice in keeping him and jettisoning Ike Davis. Duda hit 30 home runs and drove in 92 in his first year as primary first baseman. His .253 average is shielded by his high walk rate and ability to get extra bases when he does make contact. I think Duda is good for these numbers on a yearly basis going forward. It may be prudent for GM Sandy Alderson to offer him a long term deal to avoid getting raked over the coals in arbitration. Second baseman Daniel Murphy heads into the final year of his contract fresh off his first All-Star Game appearance. Murphy's value is hard to gauge because for all his positives at the plate, he is one of the crummiest defensive second baseman in the National League. Paired with Wilmer Flores at shortstop (RIP The Ruben Tejada Era), the Mets are going to be hoping for a lot of pulled balls this season. With Flores, the Mets are looking to sacrifice defensively for the potential power output Flores displayed in the Minor Leagues. The Venezuelan is also two years younger than the deposed Tejada, so the Mets can give him more time to find his swing with the big club. The face of the franchise, third baseman David Wright, is looking to show last season was a fluke. For the first time as a Met, Wright failed to hit double digits in home runs. His .324 OBP was also the worst he's ever mustered. Just as troublesome as the power outage was the fact that Wright also didn't reach double digits in stolen bases for the first time since his midseason call-up in 2004. At 32, Wright is clearly not the player he was when he signed his contract extension in 2012. He is definitely better than he played last year though. The Mets can't realistically expect a return to the mid-2000's for Wright but somewhere between last year's abomination and those glory days wouldn't be unreasonable. Rounding out the infield is catcher Travis d'Arnaud. d'Arnaud showed last year that when he is healthy, he is a very capable Major League backstop. The thing with that is those spells of health come few and far between. His checkered injury history has followed him all through his professional baseball career. With only low grade Anthony Recker to back him up, unless they rush Kevin Plawecki to Flushing, the Mets need d'Arnaud to buck that trend in 2015.
Curtis Granderson found out real quick that though he may still be in New York, Citi Field is no Yankee Stadium. The Grandyman was still able to park 20 homers in 2014 but only 7 of those came at home. He was a trooper in the outfield by playing each position but Mets fans would probably like to see him stay put in right for the majority of 2015. Center field saw the introduction of Juan Lagares to defensive baseball fans everywhere. He was a highlight waiting to happen every time a ball entered his vortex in center and earned his first Gold Glove in the process. His bat was a pleasant surprise as well, battling through injuries and several prolonged slumps to finish .281/.321/.382. Web Gems will more than likely have a segment devoted to the flashy Dominican in 2015. The one monkey wrench in the outfield is new signing Michael Cuddyer. I still can't wrap my head around giving a player a two year deal when his current team was hoping and praying that he wouldn't sign their qualifying offer. The Mets lose the 15th pick in the draft for a player who missed all but 49 games last year, cannot play defense anymore, and just turned 36. Granted Cuddyer hit .332 in those 49 games and led the National League just one year ago in hitting at .331. I just think it was not enough reward to warrant this risk. Just like Granderson found out, Cuddyer is going to learn real quick that Citi Field is no Coors Field.
The starting staff was a point of strength last year for the Mets and is mightily bolstered by the return of ace Matt Harvey. Tommy John surgery wiped out Harvey's entire 2014 but he finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting in 2013 behind a sparkling 2.27 ERA and 191/31 K/BB ratio. Harvey has shown no signs of rust this spring whiffing 17 to just one free pass in 18 2/3 innings. Harvey may be the staff's ace but he will not start Opening Day. That honor has been bestowed by manager Terry Collins to 41 year old Bartolo Colon. The Round Mound of the Mound led the team with 15 wins in 2014 and was the only Met to surpass the 200 inning mark. He still strikes out a lot of hitters (151 K) but more and more of the Bartolo Heat is getting raked for base hits (218 allowed). This is the last year of his contract with the Mets but will it be his last in the league? Who knows. Zach Wheeler was slated to be the #3 starter before he made sure the Mets had at least two consecutive years of sending Tommy John surgeons some work. It was a big blow to the squad but if there is anything the Mets have plenty of, it's starting pitching. The new number three is reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom. While most New Yorkers clamored for the call-up of Noah Syndergaard, their consolation prize put together quite the campaign. DeGrom struck out 144 in 140 1/3 innings and won nine of his 22 starts. His 2.69 ERA would have ranked him in the top 10 in the NL if he qualified. Fourth starter Jon Niese has seemingly been around forever so it is easy to forget that he is just 28 entering 2015. Niese doesn't have overpowering stuff but he gets deep into games more often than not. A bad summer (2-6, 4.64 ERA in July/August) hurt Niese's overall line in 2014. The fifth spot is probably Dillon Gee's to lose as of now. With Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero ready and waiting at Triple-A Las Vegas though, Gee will have little wiggle room.
While the starting staff is the Mets biggest given, the bullpen is the biggest question mark. Former closer Bobby Parnell will return in May. He may have to deal as a set up man unless new ninth inning man Jenrry Mejia slips up. After Parnell went down after his first game, the Mets tried several different pitchers in the ninth. Mejia got the most work and led the team with 28 saves. Jeurys Familia got the second most opportunities but thrived more as a situational right hander than as the closer. The problem is that with Carlos Torres, Vic Black, and Buddy Carlyle the Mets pen has no discernible left handed specialist. Josh Edgin joined Wheeler in Tommy Johnville and the pickings are slim in the free agent market. Top left handed prospect Steven Matz is more suited as a starter, but he could be pressed into the pen to fill the southpaw void.
The Mets are looking upwards after years of turmoil following the Bernie Madoff swindling of Mets ownership. They still have a ways to go to catch the Nationals in the East but are at least believable contenders for one of the two National League Wild Card spots. That is a gigantic step forward and hey, they'll at least be better than the Braves and Yankees. That has to mean something right?
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #21 (UP 7)
PREDICTED RECORD: 84-78
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Matt Harvey (starting pitcher), Lucas Duda (first baseman), David Wright (third baseman)
Trevor Utley really hopes that the Mets have taken down the Shea Stadium from the train stop. It's been seven years already.
Image Credit: Mets logo (sportslogos.net)