2013 Preview: New York Mets

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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 2013 season. Up next: The New York Mets.

The Big Question: Can David Wright carry the Mets to .500?

The Mets are in a transition period. The outfield is thin, the bullpen is thin, the starting rotation is a combination of young arms and injury-prone veterans, and the infield aside from David Wright is lacking. Here’s how good Wright was compared to the rest of his teammates last year: according to FanGraphs, he was worth a team-best 7.8 Wins Above Replacement. The next-best on offense? Ruben Tejada at 2.1. Among pitchers, only the now-departed R.A. Dickey challenged at 4.6.

Having added very little via free agency during the off-season, the Mets are hoping a young core can make steady progress while the veterans stay healthy and avoid pitfalls. They have already dealt with their first bit of adversity when closer Frank Francisco’s elbow started bothering him. Though he may be ready by Opening Day, 28-year-old Bobby Parnell with 17 career saves will take over the ninth inning in his stead.

25-year-old first baseman Ike Davis disappointed last season, finishing with a .227 average and .308 on-base percentage despite 32 home runs. Soon-to-be 24-year-old Matt Harvey is expected to improve on ten impressive starts in his first taste of MLB action last year, when he posted a 2.73 ERA and averaged nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis will need to recapture his April magic from last year, when he hit .325.

On the flip side, they will need veterans Johan Santana (back), Shaun Marcum (elbow), and Francisco to stay healthy. But even if everything goes right, it’s hard to see them finishing above .500, though stranger things have happened.

What else is going on? 

  • Johan Santana had some issues with the Mets not too long ago, but those have apparently been settled. GM Sandy Alderson criticized the lefty for not arriving to camp “in pitching shape”. That upset Santana, who threw unscheduled from a mound a day later. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News described Santana’s anger as “palpable”. While one would hope these issues are put to bed forever, you never know what may rise to the surface should the Mets or Santana specifically get off to a slow start.
  • David Wright has been on fire during the World Baseball Classic for Team USA. In 17 at-bats, the third baseman has seven hits including one home run (a grand slam) and ten RBI, a good harbinger for the upcoming regular season. Despite having his best season since 2008, Wright finished sixth in NL MVP voting but it would surprise no one if he went home with some hardware after the 2013 season.
  • You might see prospect Zack Wheeler at some point during the season, most likely as a September call-up when rosters expand. Acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade, Wheeler posted a 3.26 ERA in 149 innings spent between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo, mostly in Double-A. Baseball America rated him the #11 overall prospect heading into this season, so you can imagine the excitement Mets have with a future rotation that may include  him and Matt Harvey.
  • The Mets moved in the fences after the 2011 season, hoping to inspire more offense, but it didn’t seem to work. Their collective .726 home OPS in 2011 dropped to .679 last year. It could have been a fluke, but I don’t think Citi Field’s dimensions are at the root of their offensive issues.

Prediction: Fourth place, National League East.

If 2020 season is canceled, which players would be hurt the most?

Miguel Cabrera
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Last week, I went over a few teams that stood to be hurt most if there were to be no 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, we will look at some players who may be adversely effected by a lost year.

Milestones

Players chasing milestones, especially those towards the end of their careers, would be stymied by a lost season. Tigers DH and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is the first one that comes to mind. He is 23 home runs short of joining the 500 home run club. Though he hasn’t hit more than 16 in a year since 2016, he would likely have at least hit a few this year and would have had an easier time getting there in 2021. He turns 37 years old in 10 days. Cabrera may be under contract through 2023, but it is not clear that his age and his health would allow him to play regularly such that he would be able to reach 500 home runs if the 2020 season were to be canceled. (Cabrera is also 185 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.)

Mike Trout has 285 home runs for his career. It’s almost a given that he would get to 300 and beyond in 2020. He is currently one of only 13 players with at least 250 home runs through his age-27 season. The only players with more: Álex Rodríguez (345), Jimmie Foxx (302), Eddie Mathews (299), and Ken Griffey Jr. (294). Trout likely would have also reached 1,000 runs for his career, as he is currently at 903. Losing a full season could really make a difference where he winds up on the all-time leaderboards at the end of his career.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent at season’s end, though he and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a contract extension. He turns 38 this summer and is 37 hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Even if this season never happens, Molina will likely join the 2,000 hit club in 2021 whether or not he signs a multi-year extension. Molina is also 84 RBI shy of 1,000 and 21 doubles shy of 400.

Free Agents

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto headline the free agent class heading into the 2021 season. Even if there eventually is a 2020 season, or something resembling it, teams are losing money across the board and that will result in stinginess in the free agent market. Make no mistake, Betts and Realmuto, as well as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, and Marcus Stroman will still get paid handsomely, but they likely won’t get as much as they would following a typical year. The players that really stand to get hurt are the mid-tier free agents, whose cost won’t match their relative upside — players like James McCann, Howie Kendrick, Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner, Michael Grantley, Marcell Ozuna, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jay Bruce, and Josh Reddick.

2020-21 Draftees and International Free Agents

At the end of March, MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a deal covering issues including service time, pay during the pandemic, and the amateur draft. In exchange for players on active rosters getting credit for a full year of service time whether or not there is a 2020 season, the league got the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds. The league also gained the right to delay the start of the 2020 and 2021-22 international signing periods.

The MLBPA effectively sold out what will be their future union members. A shortened draft this year and/or next year would mean that players who would otherwise have been drafted this year will go undrafted and thus will either become unsigned free agents or return to the draft next year as part of a crowded pool of players. Likewise, pushing back the international signing period will add more players to the market at the same time. This, obviously, benefits ownership as a surplus of labor diminishes those laborers’ leverage.

Bounce-back Candidates

Players coming off of injuries or otherwise down years in 2019 were hoping to use 2020 to bounce back, reestablishing themselves in the league. Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani didn’t pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in the first half of a normal 2020 season. We learned yesterday that Ohtani is expected to throw off a mound “soon.” If a 2020 season does happen, it likely wouldn’t begin for another couple of months at minimum, which should afford him enough time to get into pitching shape.

Ohtani’s teammate and perennial Gold Glove Award candidate Andrelton Simmons played in only 103 games last season due to an ankle injury. He mustered a meager .673 OPS as well, compiling just 1.9 WAR, his lowest total in any season since debuting in 2012. In 2017, he peaked at 7.8 WAR and put up 6.3 the following season. Simmons will become a free agent after the 2020 season, so he most certainly needed a healthy and productive 2020 to maximize his leverage on the market.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, now 36 years old, is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career. He hit .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 608 plate appearances, continuing a downward trend. He registered a 167 adjusted OPS as recently as 2017, but that declined to 126 in ’18 and 98 last year. The Reds, back to being competitive, were definitely banking on a bounce-back year from Votto. (Votto, by the way, is also 56 RBI short of the 1,000 milestone for his career.)