Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeruys Famillia and Wilson Ramos (so far), Mets’ general manager Brodie Van Wagenen proclaimed that his club just might be the team to beat in the National League East.
Van Wagenen has shown that he likes to operate with a touch of swagger – not a bad thing at all – as he improves the Mets roster and keeps them in the news. His comment was a bit hyperbolic – the Braves, already a rising team that’s now added Josh Donaldson – are most definitely the team to beat in the division. But Van Wagenen may not be too far off.
With the assets they have, and with a dose of good luck regarding health, the Mets should expect to finish ahead of the other three teams in the N.L. East. The Nationals may have fortified their rotation with Patrick Corbin, but of course they stand to lose Bryce Harper. With the centerpiece of their lineup removed, it’s hard to imagine last year’s underachieving team (82-80) getting better. The Nats could still retain Harper, which would change the equation, but that doesn’t seem likely.
Meantime the Phillies used smoke and mirrors to contend for a good chunk of 2018 until reality caught up to them down the stretch. When ace Aaron Nola is essentially your only good player, it’s tough. Even if the Phils add Manny Machado – and they seem to be strongly in the mix – it doesn’t figure to be enough. Baseball isn’t basketball – a couple of studs can’t carry you.
The Marlins? Well, they’re the Marlins.
Overtaking the Braves isn’t out of the question either, but it will be a lot tougher. Despite looking a bit better on paper, the Mets’ head into spring training with the same dreaded cloud hanging over them that they had last year - a few too many “ifs.”
If the starting pitchers are healthy. If Juan Lagares stays healthy and makes it through a full season this time. If shortstop Amed Rosario keeps improving. If rookie first baseman Peter Alonso wins the starting job and lives up to the expectations brought on by his big minor league numbers. If Brandon Nimmo proves that 2018 wasn’t a fluke. And if Yoenis Cespedes comes back by midseason to provide that all-important right-handed pop. Piling up the “ifs” is never a good sign – the law of averages works against you.
With a roughly $150 million payroll investment for 2019 and unfortunately not much noise in the air regarding a splurge for Harper, figure the Mets to tinker with the pitching. A bullpen lefty is needed. So is some rotation depth at the minor league level to hedge against injuries. With highly touted prospect Justin Dunn gone in the Cano trade and Franklyn Kilome, last summer’s return for Asdrubel Cabrera, out for Tommy John surgery, it’s uncertain who the Mets would call up to step into the rotation.
Brodie Van Wagenen seems to believe that many of the “ifs” will break the Mets’ way in 2019. It may be wishful thinking, but hey, they may be due.