“Round Robinson”: 2015 NL East Team Previews – New York Mets
Normally, this is when I’d hit you with a brief synopsis of what the biggest points of interest are with a team going into 2015. As luck would have it (and for Mets fans, the luck couldn’t get much worse), some breaking news hit Queens that puts a serious damper on a typically hopeful time of year.
Zack Wheeler, the promising 24-year old I ranked 45th among fantasy starters just a few weeks ago, has a completely torn ulnar collateral ligament and is headed for Tommy John surgery. This marks the fifth pitcher New York has sent to the operating table for TJS in less than two years, a staggering number even in today’s elbow epidemic, putting a major dent in the young rotation that GM Sandy Alderson has assembled. Still, it’s not a complete death knell for the Amazin’s as there’s an intriguing mix of home-grown youth and recently-acquired vets that could still sneak this squad into the playoff hunt.
We may be in the midst of a transition, but at this point the face of the franchise is still David Wright. The Tidewater product has been a mainstay at the top of drafts for the last decade, but this year provides a unique opportunity to acquire Wright’s services on the cheap. Wright’s ADP currently sits at 98 (based on fantasypros.com), thanks in large part to the shoulder injury he fought through last season that sapped much of his power, resulting in career lows in home runs (8) and OPS (.698). Reports out of Port St. Lucie are that Wright’s shoulder is coming around very nicely and he could be in line for a bounce back season. Now, I don’t expect the steals to return to the mid-teens we’ve grown accustomed to from Wright, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see his other numbers return to pre-injury levels. An average at or close to .300, 18 HR, 75 RBI and 80 R feels possible if Wright can stay on the field for, let’s say, 145 games. He could be a nice little bargain, but it will all come down to health.
If you find yourself needing a suitable second baseman but don’t want to pay top-tier prices, then Daniel Murphy could very well be your man. He may not put you over the top in any category, but he’s a solid contributor that doesn’t have the name recognition of a Dustin Pedroia, and I expect their numbers to be very similar at the end of the year. If I’m not paying for elite production, I want a guy who I can consistently count on to return his draft price, and perhaps no middle infielder has been more consistent than Murphy. His yearly OPS numbers since 2012 read like this: .735, .733, .734, and his average those three seasons have each been within five points of each other. Tack on the ability to reach double digits in both homers and steals and Murphy makes for a solid mid-round selection.
Big Lucas Duda managed just 30 HR in 2012 and 2013 combined with many questioning both his fantasy and actual relevance. Last season, the power finally came to light and he busted out with 30 HR in 596 PA, becoming a favorite of those in search of cheap power. Duda’s splits continue to get more and more exaggerated (.273/.372/.543 vs. RHP; .180/.264/.252 vs LHP), so don’t be surprised to see him sitting more frequently against lefties while one of the Mets’ new acquisitions gets a few starts at 1B (more on him later). Still, if you can absorb the BA hit or play in a league that scores OBP instead of BA, I like Duda as a late source of 25+ HR in your CI or UTIL spot.
Much like Murphy at 2B, those who wait to find a catcher (something I highly recommend if you’re in a shallow mixed league) could still end up with solid production from a Met. Travis d’Arnaud dealt with injuries at the beginning and end of 2014, but there were some definite signs of his potential in between. After being called back up from a brief stint at AAA in June, d’Arnaud had a stretch of 38 games with an .829 OPS, 7 HR, 10 2B and 21 RBI. He offers as much upside of some being drafted in front of him (Rosario and possibly even Wieters come to mind) at a discounted price.
You probably won’t be coming to New York in search of a SS, at least not in shallower leagues. Wilmer Flores will probably get the nod on Opening Day, but the best thing you can point out is his six home runs in 259 AB last year. Perhaps, with a few more chances, he could sniff double digits, but even so there’s nothing to go with it. Still, Flores would probably be the preferred offensive option over Ruben Tejada, who offers even less production. Neither man provides anything in the running game either, so do what you can to avoid this tandem altogether.
Last week, I expressed my perplexity in the Braves signing veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a four-year deal. Have to say, I’m going back to the well and scratching my head over the Mets signing of Michael Cuddyer. Giving the 36-year old a two year deal worth $21 million would make sense if Cuddyer was viewed as the final piece to a championship contender, but New York is still a ways off from contending for a division title, let alone anything more. Unfortunately, Cuddyer’s fantasy prospects take a major nosedive themselves as he trades Coors for Citi Field. Both the power and average will take substantive dips, and that’s not even factoring in the injury concerns.
Another one of those “punting-batting-average” all-stars (and I use the term all-star loosely), Curtis Granderson resuscitated at least part of his value last year after an abysmal 2013, but his 20 HR and eight steals would have had a whole lot more value if they weren’t accompanied by a .227 AVG. They can move the fences in at Citi all they want, but it won’t help a guy who hasn’t hit over .232 in three seasons. Granderson just turned 34 this week, so while he may be good for a few taters here and there, don’t count on him for much more beyond that.
As Granderson is a source of cheap power, Juan Lagares could be a source of cheap speed without the damning batting average. Lagares stole 13 bases in 116 games last season, so 20+ isn’t out of the question in the future. The defensive ace made some strides last season at the plate, pushing his triple slash numbers up at least 30 points across the board. If he can put together 150+ games and avoid the injury bug, Lagares could provide modest returns in NL-only leagues.
As with most teams in the NL East, the Mets’ real fantasy intrigue comes from their pitching and, in particular, an impressive rotation. As mentioned earlier, losing Zack Wheeler is a tough blow, but there’s still plenty of fantasy goodness to be found. Nothing will make New York fans happier than seeing Matt Harvey take the mound after missing all of 2014. He snuck into my Top 20 SPs, but based on early returns from Spring Training, I may have been a little too low on him. Harvey’s looked good so far in preseason and has said all the right things when it comes to how his shoulder is feeling. Not only is he touching 98 MPH on the gun, but he’s been more willing to throw his nearly unhittable slider. If Harvey has this much confidence in his arm, maybe we should all be willing to do the same.
As optimistic as Harvey is, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the best stat line from the Mets doesn’t come from him, but rather Jacob deGrom. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year came from nowhere to post a spectacular 2.69 ERA and 9.2 K/9, including a 15-start stretch to end the season that saw deGrom go 9-2 with 110 K and a 1.99 ERA. Numbers like that are obviously non-repeatable, but even some moderate regression could result in an ERA in the low-threes and north of 180 K. He’s a borderline top-25 starter for me.
After the upside of the youngsters, the Mets have a couple reliable veterans that should provide useful numbers with limited upside. Jonathon Niese has always been a favorite of mine in the streaming game over the last couple seasons as he typically falls just short of being worthy of universal ownership in shallower leagues. Niese’s ERA has fallen between 3.40 and 4.40 in each of his five seasons as a full-time starter in New York, with last year’s number being on the low end of that spectrum. His limited strikeout ability caps his potential, but he still has the pedigree to be a solid SP5/6 and one who should be plugged in just about anytime he toes the rubber at home.
Speaking of reliable veterans, somehow someway Bartolo Colon churns out productive year after productive year. The Mets chose to hang on to their portly pitcher when it was rumored he could get dealt at the deadline last year. His 4.09 ERA was nearly a 50% increase over 2013, but the peripherals suggest he should be better this year and the jump to the NL resulted in an increase from 5.5 K/9 to 6.7. Colon continues to be an innings-eater and, much like Niese, will have selective usability. Pick and choose your spots with Colon and he could be a valuable late addition to your squad.
With Wheeler sidelined, the debate was on as to who would claim that fifth spot in the rotation. Despite clamoring from fans, it looks like the Mets are going with Dillon Gee for the foreseeable future. There’s nothing that makes Gee stand out as he’s bound to hover around a 4.00 ERA without striking out too many guys. If he struggles, expect fans to be even more boisterous in there desire to see top flight prospects Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Don’t be scared off by Syndergaard’s numbers last year. Playing in the launching pad that is Vegas and a self-described eye on his call-up date led to some skewed results. Even so, he still had a 3.37 K/BB ratio and has been overpowering at every level. If I had to pinpoint a time for his inevitable rise to the majors, I’d look at early May, so get the jump and add him beforehand.
Unlike the Phillies and Braves of weeks prior, the Mets path to saves is a bit more cloudy. It looks like Jenrry Mejia will get the ball in the 9th to start the season based on his 2014 track record. Mejia converted 28 of 31 chances but put way too many men on base and was prone to giving up the gopher ball every now and then as well. Considering the abilities of the pitchers behind him, it could be a quick hook for Mejia should he show cracks early on. The Mets have a returning pitcher in Bobby Parnell with plenty of closing experience, but he hasn’t seen a major league mound in almost a year. Parnell had 22 saves in 2013 with some good peripherals accompanying it, but he’s still not back to 100 percent. Odds are, even with a few good performances in the spring, Parnell will spend a few weeks in the minors to make sure he’s fully recovered.
The most interesting name to me is that of Jeurys Familia. He already owns righties at the plate, but needs to improve against lefties to fully be considered a closing candidate, something I think the 25-year old is capable of doing. Ultimately, his stuff just has the look of a closer more than that of Mejia or Parnell, but that can only take Familia so far. We’ll see if he can find that little bit extra to become a 9th inning staple.
The Zack Wheeler injury hurts, yes, but there’s enough talent on this team to make up for his loss. A lot will be determined by how players such as Harvey and Wright return from their own setbacks and if they can return to previous form or something close. Guys like Cuddyer, Granderson, Duda and Murphy don’t have to be world beaters, but they need to consistently produce to ensure this pitching staff doesn’t need to carry the squad. By July, a top three in the rotation of Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard might be able to do just that, and if so, the Mets could be a surprise in the Wild Card race. Ultimately, I think too much has to go right for New York to be a contender now. They’ll flirt with .500 but come up short when it’s all said and done.
2015 NL East Projection:
- New York Mets (78-84)
- Atlanta Braves (76-86)
- Philadelphia Phillies (70-92)
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