The high expectations center around the return of Matt Harvey who missed all of last season with Tommy John's Surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow. Two years ago, Harvey took New York by storm by winning nine games, pitching to a 2.27 ERA, and starting in that year's All Star game, which was also at the Mets' Citi Field. 2013 was a break out year for Harvey and the Mets found a new ace after Johan Santana fizzled from a weary arm and age.
The Mets missed Harvey last year, and many believe that if they had him in the rotation they would have been a better ball club. Yet with Harvey back now to lead a rotation and staff of young pitchers the franchise believes its time.
Just take a look: the Mets have promising Noah Syndergarrd coming up through the minors; Rafael Montero is in the bullpen to start the year, and Jacob DeGrom, last year's Rookie of the Year, is the Mets number two man in the major league rotation. Such youth bring great optimism.
Yet there is a difference between expectations and reality. Reality is the Mets might be more fun to watch this year, but they may not be ready to win and contend just yet.
The Mets received some bad news when Zack Wheeler was lost of the year with an elbow injury of his own, and will also have season ending Tommy John's Surgery. Add Josh Edgin and Vic Black to the DL and already some dents are showing up in the armor. While those three players weren't the be-all-end-all of the Mets plans, losing them hurts, especially when it allows 41-year old Bartolo Colon to make the rotation.
The Mets rotation of Harvey, DeGrom and Jon Niese is a solid 1-2-3 that has the potential to dominate. Dillon Gee is an important cog, but the Mets have tried to trade him this past off-season, and he probably will be a chip in July. Colon? Eh ... let's move on. While it is a solid rotation on paper, they all have to produce, and of course, Harvey has to show he can return to his 2013 form.
The bullpen is going to be a big question mark for the Mets. A strength in 2014, it might be a weakness this year. The Mets still do not have a closer to lead the staff. They are pinning their hopes on emotional Jenrry Mejia, who while he did save 28 games, is a guy who has a tendency to get into trouble with walks. Jeurys Familia might be the Mets best option to close, but he is going to start the year as the set-up man. Then there are questions about new comers Alex Torres and Jerry Blevins. The Mets acquired both a week ago to replace the lost Edgin and Black. Both are veteran left-handers, but like most vets, we have to wait and see how they develop their roles in the pen.
If there is one weakness for this Mets team it might be their offense. Last season the Mets were 22nd in runs scored, 28th in hits, 20th in home runs, and 28th in batting average. And all Sandy Alderson had to show for it in the off-season was signing oft-injured Michael Cuddyer.
Don't get me wrong, Cuddyer when healthy is a valuable commodity. He will help out David Wright in providing steady clubhouse leadership, but he missed most of the last year with nagging injuries, and has only played in 130 games once in the past three seasons. He's 36-years-old, so there should be concern about his long term durability. The Mets desperately need some right-handed power to accompany that of Wright, and if Cuddyer is healthy he could be that guy.
Meanwhile, the other veteran out fielder, Curtis Granderson, is coming off a horrible first year with the Mets in 2014. Hitting .227 and striking out 141 times, he looked like a shell of the hitter he was with the Yankees and Tigers. The Mets need Grandson to pick it up a bit if they are going to compete.
If Granderson and Cuddyer pick it up, they'll take a load of pressure off of David Wright. If not, it will be tough for the Mets to win consistently.
In addition, the Mets hope that a new $23 million contract for Juan Lagares proves to be a genius move. While Lagares is a solid center fielder, he is still learning to become a complete hitter. He needs to get the average and on base percentage up this year, as well as the stolen bases. I expect this to be a break out year for Lagares, and if it is, Alderson will look like a genius for signing him up before arbitration.
Lucas Duda, whom the Mets suspended contract negotiations with, needs to prove that 2014 was no fluke. He belted 30 home runs and hit .253 last year, both career highs. Yet Duda still struggles to hit left handers (.180 average), and has developed a reputation as an all-or-nothing kind of hitter. If Duda slips back into old habits, the Mets will need a new first baseman.
Amazing, all these questions and I haven't even talked about short stop. Coming into spring training the Mets were not sure who their starting short stop would be. Yet Wilmur Flores grabbed the bull by the horns and earned the starting job over Ruben Tejada. While Tejada will make the team, Flores has more upside from a power standpoint. Keep in mind though that if Flores falters, Matt Reynolds is down on the farm and could see a call up this year.
WATCH FOR: Daniel Murphy to get traded. Murphy has done everything the Mets have asked him to over the past six years, yet it looks like his time in blue and orange is coming to a close. The Mets will not re-sign him in the off-season, and will look to trade the 2014 All Star come July.
Matt Harvey vs. the Mets. What? Yes, this will be interesting. The Mets have tried to corral Matt Harvey and his propensity to put himself on Page 6 for years now. The fact the team won't give him the ball on opening day so he could pitch the second game of the following weeks home stand speaks volumes that the front office is afraid of Harvey becoming a major super star. He is a year away from arbitration, and is not a free agent until 2018, yet contract negotiations will be a developing story especially if he has a big year. By the way, did I mention Harvey's agent is Scott Boras?
PREDICTION: 83 - 79 3rd NL East. The Mets are going to be better and for the first time since 2008 they will finish with a winning record. But no playoffs? No, not this year. The Mets are still two big prime bats away from being a real contender in the National League. While they will be fun to watch, until the Mets address some key issues, they won't be as good as the hype.