With spring training five weeks away, and a major storm due in two days, what better time to examine the top ten issues facing the Mets? Some projections have the Mets breezing back to the World Series, but I don’t see it. Things won’t be that easy for them. They never are. Other projections have them dropping off to 84 victories, which might not be enough for them to reach the playoffs.
I’m pegging them for at least 85, with the added expectation the Washington Nationals will be better.
1. What is the temperature of this team after its World Series run?
A. I recently wrote these guys are professional athletes and shouldn’t need a manager to motivate them. That being said, after 2006 the Mets entered spring training thinking all they needed to do was show up. Consequently, they didn’t do much to plug their holes, of which there were several, mostly pitching related. You, of course, remember the collapse of 2007? What Mets’ follower doesn’t? Actually, that bothered me more than the Carlos Beltran strikeout. The Mets don’t have to look any further than David Wright to know these opportunities are fleeting.
DeGROM: Can he get to 20? (GETTY)
2. How strong is the bullpen?
A: This is the prevailing issue to me. It appears they are banking on the returns of Jerry Blevins and Jennry Mejia, and if Hansel Robles can develop. They’ll have Addison Reed for the full season, and hopefully Jeurys Familia learned something after taking his World Series lumps. We shall see. Bartolo Colon will go to the pen once Zack Wheeler comes off the disabled list. It doesn’t matter what power hitting outfielder they might find in the next five weeks (I’m betting none), if their bullpen is shaky then so are the Mets’ chances.
3. How healthy is Wright?
A: Wright is already in Port St. Lucie. Who wasn’t expecting that? Wright finished the season feeling strong, but that was after two months of playing time. He’s preparing himself for at least six months of playing time. He’ll have a special routine before each game. It will be interesting to see how Terry Collins carves out his playing time.
4. Who’ll be in center field?
A: My pick is Juan Lagares because I don’t see them bringing back Yoenis Cespedes. He’s still in play, but I’m not betting on it. Let Lagares run with the opportunity.
5. Will any of the starters have innings or pitch-count restrictions?
A: Obviously, Wheeler will have some. Perhaps the same goes for Steven Matz, but Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard should be fine. If there are restrictions, hopefully the Mets will have learned from last year with Harvey. They Mets are touting their young pitching, as well they should. But, either Harvey or deGrom must make a leap toward 20 wins. Here’s hoping Harvey pitches with a massive chip on his shoulder.
6. Will the double-play combination mesh?
A: Collins has a new double-play combination of Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker. This involves timing and positioning and things don’t happen over night. Collins still needs to find time for Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada and Dilson Herrera. Collins needs to give them all a chance to work together so there will be no surprises. A lot is banking on this.
7. Who’ll be the catcher?
A: The Mets like both Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, but will have to decide on one and possibly move to trade the other. Among other things, d’Arnaud has to improve his throwing. After all, the base runners are trying to steal second base and not center field. The guess here is d’Arnaud will open the season as the starter, but Collins needs to have a defined platoon in mind.
8. How strong is the bench?
A: As of now, Plawecki, Flores, Tejada and Alejandro De Aza are the main figures coming off the bench. I prefer Lagares gets a chance to win the center field job outright, but if there is a platoon I hope it is something definitive. Flores is expected to relieve Wright at third, and I wonder what Collins’ thoughts are on that?
9. Are hot starts in order for left-handed power?
A: If Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson don’t hit coming out of the gate there will be rumblings about the big-popper the Mets didn’t sign. We can probably expect that anyway, hot starts by Duda and Granderson will alleviate pressure from the rest of the offense, especially if Wright doesn’t hit for power early on.
10. Who’ll be the big surprises?
A: A lot is expected from Michael Conforto. Hopefully, he’ll live up to the billing even if he doesn’t become Ted Williams right away. But, what about Brandon Nimmo? Isn’t it time for him to make a statement, even if it is, “I’ll see you this summer.” On the mound, the Mets are high on Rafael Montero. Can he become a viable bullpen presence coming out of spring training?