Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The New York Mets.
The Big Question: Can the Mets finish with 80 or more wins for the first time since 2008?
After abstaining from the free agent market last off-season, the Mets jumped in and signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million deal to patrol the outfield at Citi Field. The Mets had some newfound financial flexibility with Johan Santana and Jason Bay’s contracts off the books. They also added starter Bartolo Colon with a two-year, $20 million deal – their answer to losing Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery.
However, the Mets didn’t do a whole lot aside from signing Granderson and Colon. They signed Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. He’ll play opposite Granderson in right field.
The Mets will be relying on a lot of young players, including top prospect Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate. In his first taste of the big leagues last season, d’Arnaud struggled, posting a .548 OPS in 112 plate appearances.
The bullpen is another area of youth. Bobby Parnell is expected to be the closer after recovering from a neck injury during the second half of the 2013 season. Parnell has been quite reliable, averaging at least three strikeouts for every one walk and posting a sub-3.00 ERA in three out of the last four seasons. Behind Parnell, Scott Rice and Kyle Farnsworth may be the only members born prior to 1986.
What else is going on?
- The Mets are reluctantly going with Ruben Tejada at shortstop to start the season. Many expected them to wind up with Stephen Drew, who is still a free agent. Tejada posted a .519 OPS last season and the team wasn’t thrilled with his conditioning. Something will give between now and the trade deadline; it’s unlikely the Mets stick with him at shortstop, especially if they are competitive in the first half.
- Lucas Duda and Ike Davis are battling it out for the job at first base. The loser will wind up on the bench and likely traded. Duda posted a .767 OPS in 384 plate appearances last season, spending a majority of his playing time in left field. Davis had a nightmare season, posting an even .500 OPS before a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas in mid-June. When he returned to the Mets on July 5, he was much improved. He didn’t rediscover his power stroke, but he cut down on the strikeouts and drew more walks. From July 5 through the end of the season, Davis drew 38 walks and struck out 35 times in 170 plate appearances.
- The Mets have another positional battle in center field. Juan Lagares was great there defensively last season, but left a lot to be desired with the bat. The Mets lack a lead-off hitter as well, and that could spur them to give Eric Young, Jr. a shot. In the event Young beats out Lagares, Lagares could start at Triple-A. Young would start in left, Granderson would move to right, and Young would move to center.
- The Mets are hoping Zack Wheeler can be to them in 2014 as Harvey was last season. Wheeler made 17 starts in 2013, finishing with a 3.42 ERA in an even 100 innings. He walked a few too many – 44 unintentionally – so he would have to improve his control. But he’s 23 years old and the sky is the limit for the right-hander
Prediction: The Mets are better than they were last season, even without Matt Harvey. They could go back and forth with the Phillies between third and fourth place throughout the season, but I have them ultimately finishing ahead of the Phillies in third place in the NL East.
MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports that the Blue Jays are closing in on a deal with free agent outfielder Jose Bautista. This is not particularly surprising, as Bautista’s market has been slow to develop despite recent reports having listed the Orioles, Twins, and Indians as other interested teams.
Bautista, 36, is coming off of a lackluster 2016 performance. Over 517 plate appearances, the six-time All-Star hit .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI.
The Blue Jays needed to provide some clarity in their outfield as Ezequiel Carrera was listed first on the depth chart. Bautista, of course, will supplant him if and when the deal is finalized.
Astros pitcher Collin McHugh was among those who took to social media on Saturday after Donald Trump disparaged Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis on Twitter.
During NBC News’ “Meet the Press” interview on Friday, Lewis called Trump’s presidency into question, casting doubt on its legitimacy after the alleged tampering of the election results by Russian hackers. In response, Trump posted a series of tweets that criticized Lewis for not spending enough time “fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested),” despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Trump also accused Lewis of being “all talk, talk, talk – no actions or results.” The Congressman, whose efforts to further civil rights span over 50 years, served as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963-66 and is considered one of the six fundamental leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
McHugh was one of many to call out Trump on Twitter, defending Lewis and speaking directly to his own experiences in Atlanta:
Last year, McHugh was also one of several players to speak out on social media when Trump dismissed his own crude, misogynistic comments as “locker room talk” after an Access Hollywood video was leaked prior to the election.
I don't like to comment on politics publicly. I never feel competent or knowledgeable enough to say something that a thousand more well-informed people haven't already said. However, I feel the need to comment on the language that Donald Trump classified the other day as "locker room talk", given my daily exposure to it. Have I heard comments like Trump's (i.e. sexist, disrespectful, crude, sexually aggressive, egotistical, etc.) in a clubhouse? Yes. But I've also heard some of those same comments other places. Cafes, planes, the subway, walking down the street and even at the dinner table. To generalize his hateful language as "locker room talk" is incredibly offensive to me and the men I share a locker room with every day for 8 months a year. Men of conscience and integrity, who would never be caught dead talking about women in that way. You want to know what "locker room talk" sounds like from my first hand perspective? Baseball talk. Swinging, pitching, home runs, double plays, shifts. The rush of victory and the frustration of defeat. Family talk. Nap schedules for our kids. Loneliness of being on the road so much. Off-season family vacations. And most importantly, coffee talk! The best places to find quality #coldbrew. What's currently brewing on the #aeropress in the empty locker between me and Doug, affectionately known as #CafeStros? How strong do you need it today? Kid wouldn't sleep last night? I'll make it a little stronger for ya. Maybe Mr. Trump does talk like that in his country club locker room. Perhaps he's simply not privy to the kind of conversations that take place in other locker rooms. But as for me and my @astros team, our "locker room talk" sounds absolutely nothing like his. And I couldn't be more proud of that.
While some applauded McHugh for his strong words on Saturday, the pitcher was quick to state that he doesn’t consider himself “anti-Trump,” just “anti-bullying and pro-respect.”