The New York Mets are mired in another abysmal season, winning just 49 of the first 109 games of the year. The club’s record is closer to that of the Astros, the worst team in baseball, that of the NL East Division-leading Braves.
The ballclub’s run differential is staggeringly poor at -37, the fifth worst total in the National League and the tenth worst in all of baseball.
Manager Terry Collins is running out an outfield that has collectively hit .244/.314/.409; a catcher, John Buck, that’s batting .206/.285/.304 since the calendar flipped to May, a once-promising first baseman’s triple-slash line that makes Buck look like Hall of Famer Gary Carter, and a 23-year-old shortstop that couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag for most of the season, despite showing some serious potential the two prior years. Outside of closer Bobby Parnell, the bullpen’s filled with a bunch of aging veterans with middling (at best) results.
And, yet, there’s reason for hope — a lot, actually. So much so, in fact, that the Mets could potentially find themselves on the north-side of .500 within the next year or two, something the team hasn’t done since 2008.
The strength of this team, both now and for the foreseeable future, rests solely on the rotation. Matt Harvey, just three years removed from being the seventh pick in the draft, is already one of the best pitchers on the planet. He’s second in baseball with a 10.27 K/9, tied for first in wins above replacement (FanGraphs) among hurlers, and his control has taken a serious step forward this season. After walking 26 batters through 59.1 innings during his debut in 2012, Harvey has issued just 29 in nearly triple the innings this season.
The team recently promoted its top pitching prospect, Zach Wheeler, putting the organization in the enviable position of having one of the top young duos in the game.
Wheeler, who was acquired for what amounted to 44 games of Carlos Beltran,
was whom I ranked as the 16th best prospect prior to the year. He’s consistently missed an above-average amount of bats throughout his minor league career (9.7 K/9) and his control has improved every season. And while his ceiling isn’t as high as Harvey’s, Wheeler should settle in as a very good #2 for many seasons to come.
Outside of that pair, the current rotation has another duo that are all under team control for several more years.
Since the beginning of 2012, Dillon Gee has averaged 7.28 K/9 and just 2.46 BB/9 to go along with a 3.89 Skill Independent ERA. Right-hander Jeremy Hefner is having an underrated year (7.2 K/9, 2.44 BB/9 and 4.00 SIERA).
Plus, the team has a wild card in left-hander Jonathon Niese, who’s . Obviously, shoulder injuries are quite tricky, but Niese had been a serviceable mid- to backend-guy for the past three years.
All three are either 26- or 27-years-old.
And while Niese may not be able to contribute up to his typical norms going forward, the farm system also has Rafael Montero, 22, knocking on the door (8.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 3.10 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A), and Noah Syndergaard, 20, a few more years away (9.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 2.67 ERA between High-A and Double-A).
Offensively speaking, there are a few building blocks currently on the big league roster: David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and Lucas Duda.
Wright, 30, still has three, maybe four, more years before any noticeable decline sets in. Murphy, 28, owns a career .289/.333/.425 line and has been 7% better than the league average offensively during his tenure. And Duda has some on-base skills with solid-average power.
Travis d’Arnaud, one of the game’s top catching prospects, is back from a fractured toe. And not only does he represent a tremendous upgrade over incumbent John Buck, but he also could be the starter by next Opening Day. Infielder Wilmer Flores, 21, is hitting .322/.358/.532 in Triple-A (.297/.348/.478 away from the 51s hitter-friendly home). And Flores’ total production has been 29% better than the PCL average.
Cesar Puello, 22, is another wild card due to his involvement with Biogenesis, but is hitting .328/.405/.550 in the Eastern League.
Finally, what to make out of Davis and Tejada?
Davis has never been a dominant big league bat; during both of his two full seasons he’s been 16% and 10% better than the league average on offense. This season, however, he’s cratered: .188/.295/.290, which eventually earned him a refresher course in Triple-A. His numbers have improved drastically since his return on July 5 (.261/.420/.377), but he’s still not hitting for any power.
Tejada, on the other hand, totaled 3.3 wins above replacement (FanGraphs) is his previous 210 games. And unlike Davis’ struggles, the club’s young shortstop looks like he’s suffering from bad luck. Prior to his demotion, his walk rate is close to his career norm (6.9% to 7.3%), as was his power (.053 vs. .059 ISOs), but his BABIP has dropped off nearly 70 points. His groundball rate (46.3%) is up a bit and line-drive rate is down (19.1%), but he’s a strong rebound candidate given his age and other peripherals.
Despite the problems this season, the Mets have some talent to work with: a very young, promising rotation, an elite third baseman and near-big league ready top catching prospect, a solid young shortstop, and several complementary pieces at the big league level and in Triple-A. Average bullpens can be cobbled together. And, really, a prudent move or two to bring in some more offense over the next year could go a long way – as would rebounds from Davis and Tejada.
Plus, the contracts of Johan Santana, Frank Francisco, Shaun Marcum, John Buck and most of Jason Bay’s buyout will be coming off the books following the year. Meaning: more money to spend.
The Mets could very easily top the .500 mark within the next two seasons, maybe as soon as 2014. And depending what types of moves they make they could find themselves winning 85 or so games and on the brink of the playoffs.
Photo of Matt Harvey Courtesy of Brad Rempel/Icon SMI via SI.com