The New York Mets had as much to be excited about going into the spring as any team in the majors. Following a devastating loss to the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card Series, they had spent the winter signing star after star. They had made the playoffs for the first time in six years last season. Unfortunately, injuries are putting that enthusiasm to the test and may even be corroding it with less than two weeks until Opening Day.
Simply reflect on what happened the previous week. First, the Mets revealed that veteran starter José Quintana will miss the first half of the season due to rib-area bone graft surgery. But, while celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory in the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday, closer Edwin Dáz sustained a torn patellar tendon that would terminate his season. Now, to complete the hat trick, starting center fielder Brandon Nimmo hurt himself on Friday on an unfortunate slide. Nimmo is deemed “week-to-week” after suffering a low-grade sprain to his knee and ankle.
Yet, you can understand if the Mets (and their supporters) are feeling off after a busy and worrying week. For this reason, we’ve listed three justifications below for the Mets’ continued optimism for the next season. Would you please scroll slowly with us?
1. What’s left is still good
You no longer have to rely solely on your own gut instinct to assess a team’s caliber, which is one of the current blessings of being a baseball consumer. Instead, there are a ton of tools that might help show a team’s genuine level of talent. To put it another way, this is the time of year when projection systems can assist set reasonable expectations and baselines. These projection systems are designed in a way that enables them to take into account fresh information throughout the course of the year, such as changes to a team’s actual record or injuries.
We don’t need to ponder and second-guess ourselves in the case of the Mets to determine how much D’Az and Quintana’s absence will hurt their place in the National League East. Already modified projection systems are in use. For instance, FanGraphs’ ZiPS is aware that Dáz won’t make a single pitch this year and that Quintana won’t get a full schedule of starts. ZiPS still ranks the Mets seventh in baseball with 89 wins, so they still have a ways to go. Meanwhile, SportsLine predicts the Mets will win 93 games.
Projections systems aren’t flawless devices, though. Even the top teams typically miss by five games on average. As relievers’ impact is situationally dependent in a way that other roles are not, they are very picky about them. The fact that the Atlanta Braves are one of the four teams predicted to win more than 89 games also won’t comfort Mets supporters. ZiPS predicts that the Braves will be the best team in the majors with 93 victories.
Nonetheless, despite not being considered the preseason favorites by every method, the Mets team continues to be among the most skilled in the majors, thus their chances of winning the division shouldn’t be underestimated. Of course, Daz and Quintana would be even better with a complete season, but that brings us to the following point: there is still plenty of time to make up for those defeats.
2. They have the means to upgrade
After Dáz’s injury was discovered, there was a scramble on social media to identify a replacement player for the Mets.
With all due respect to people purchasing personalized David Bednar Mets jerseys, “probably no one” is the correct response at this time of year. This close to Opening Day, teams are always hesitant to part with valuable contributors for fear of misrepresenting their fan base and clubhouse. In the upcoming weeks, the Mets might still find some lower-level assistance (on Friday, they claimed right-hander Dennis Santana off waivers), but a deal for a top-notch closer is probably going to have to wait until the summer.
Although it’s not the best option, it’s important to keep in mind that the Mets will have the time and resources to strengthen their roster.
The Mets’ farm system does indeed have enough talent for them to consider making significant midseason additions. The Mets’ starting lineup this year may include catchers Francisco lvarez and Brett Baty, who both made their major league debuts last year. In addition to those two, there are also two first-round picks from last summer in the positions of catcher Kevin Parada and shortstop Jett Williams, as well as outfielder Alex Ramirez, righty Blade Tidwell, shortstop Ronny Mauricio, and third baseman Mark Vientos.
If and when Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani becomes available, the Mets are predicted to be in the running to sign him. General manager Billy Eppler should still be able to make a splash before the stretch run should the Angels perform well enough to stay in the hunt and postpone the Mets’ chase until the winter. In an effort to make up for Dáz’s absence, that will probably entail adding a solid reliever, but it might also need addressing a different roster flaw.
3. It’s a long season
Let’s face it: The baseball season will inevitably include injuries.
When they affect one team in a cluster, as they have the Mets over the past week and a half, it stinks anytime they do and it stinks even more. Yet the Mets aren’t going to be the only team to incur defeats on these grounds. Every team’s roster will be in jeopardy throughout the course of the year. With certain exceptions on both sides of the spectrum, those injuries will probably even out.
For an example of what we mean, just look at the remainder of the NL East. The Phillies could be without Bryce Harper until midseason, and may not be able to play him in the outfield once he returns. The Braves, however, will not have top reliever Tyler Matzek after he underwent Tommy John surgery last autumn. You can argue about which injury hurts more — we’re certainly not claiming that players are equals, or that their lost production washes out — but the broader issue remains true. No club will go through the regular season without experiencing some difficulties, including the Mets.
As a fan, your sole expectations should be that 1) the surviving team is competent enough to complete the task, and 2) the front office has the resources to bring in additional talent as the season progresses in order to make up for the losses. The Mets still have a lot of cause for optimism in those areas.