The New York Mets entered the spring with as much cause for excitement as any other team in the majors. They had made the playoffs for the first time in six years last season and after a disappointing loss to the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card Series had signed one star after another in the off-season. Sadly, with less than two weeks to go until Opening Day, that enthusiasm is being tested and perhaps even tarnished by injuries.
Just think about the events of the past week. First, the Mets announced that veteran starter José Quintana will miss the first half of the season following bone graft surgery to his rib area. Then closer Edwin Díaz suffered a torn patellar tendon on Wednesday while celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory in the World Baseball Classic. And to complete the hat-trick, starting midfielder Brandon Nimmo hurt his ankle on an awkward slide on Friday. Nimmo is expected to undergo an MRI on Saturday, but the Mets have already expressed their optimism that his injury is not a disaster.
Still, you can understand if the Mets (and their fans) are feeling unwell after an eventful and foreboding week. Therefore, in the space below, we’ve provided three reasons why the Mets should remain optimistic about the year ahead. Scroll slowly with us, don’t you?
1. What’s left is still good
One of the modern blessings of being a baseball consumer is that you don’t have to rely on your own gut to gauge the quality of a team.
On the contrary, there are tons of resources available that can help reveal a team’s true level of talent. This is the time of year when projection systems help establish realistic baselines and expectations. Those projection systems are constructed to accommodate new developments throughout the year, whether it’s a team’s actual record or injuries.
In the case of the Mets, we don’t have to rely on our own minds to estimate how much the absence of Díaz and Quintana will hurt their position in the National League East. The projection systems have already been adapted. For example, FanGraphs’ ZiPS knows that Díaz will not throw a single pitch this season and that Quintana will not get a full slate of starts. Still, ZiPS has beaten the Mets for 89 wins, or fifth most in baseball. SportsLine, meanwhile, has the Mets on the tab for 93 wins.
Projection systems are not perfect mechanisms. Even the best miss an average of five games per team. They are particularly picky when it comes to relievers because their impact depends on the situation in a way that other positions are not. It also won’t make Mets fans feel any better that the Atlanta Braves are one of four teams tied for more than 89 wins. (The Braves, with 93 wins, are predicted by ZiPS to be the top team in the majors.)
Nevertheless, the Mets roster remains one of the most talented in the majors, and their chances of winning the division shouldn’t be discounted just because one system doesn’t consider them the preseason favorites. A full season of Díaz and Quintana would of course make them even better, but that brings us to the next point: there is plenty of time to make up for those losses.
2. They have the resources to upgrade
After Díaz’s injury was diagnosed, there was a social media rush to find out who the Mets could buy to take his place.
With all due respect to those ordering custom David Bednar Mets jerseys, the answer at this time of year is “probably no one”. Teams are always reluctant to trade meaningful contributors this close to opening day lest they give their clubhouse and fan base the wrong impression heading into the long season. The Mets may still find some lower-quality help in the coming weeks (on Friday they claimed right-hander Dennis Santana waivers), but a trade for a high-quality closer will probably have to wait until the summer.
That’s not an ideal solution, but we think it’s helpful to remember that the Mets will have the time and resources to strengthen their roster.
Indeed, there is enough talent on the Mets farm system to envision them making meaningful mid-season additions. Catcher Francisco Álvarez and third baseman Brett Baty made their big league-debut last season and could play a role in the line-up of the Mets this year. Even if those two prove to be key pieces of the equation and make themselves unmanageable, there are also a few first round picks from last summer — catcher Kevin Parada and short stop Jet Williams — as well as outfielder Alex Ramirez, right winger Blade Tidwell, shortstop Ronny Mauricio and third baseman Mark Vientos.
The Mets are expected to be in the running for Los Angeles Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani if and when he is made available. Should the Angels play well enough to stay in the hunt and put off chasing the Mets until winter, general manager Billy Eppler should still be able to make a splash for the stretch run. That will probably mean adding a good reliever in an attempt to make up for Díaz’s absence, but it could also mean strengthening another weakness elsewhere on the roster.
3. It’s a long season
Let’s face it, injuries are an inevitable part of baseball season.
It stinks when they happen, and it especially stinks when a team gets hit with them in a cluster, as the Mets have been for the past week. But the Mets won’t be the only team to suffer losses on these grounds. Every club has suffered from a compromised squad throughout the season. With some exceptions on both ends of the spectrum, those injuries are likely to go away.
For an example of what we mean, just look at the rest of NL East. The Phillies could be without Bryce Harper until mid-season and may not be able to play him in the outfield once he returns. The Braves, meanwhile, will not have top reliever Tyler Matzek after he underwent Tommy John surgery last fall. You can argue about which injury hurts more – we’re certainly not suggesting that those players are equal, or that their lost production washes away – but the larger point remains true. The Mets would never make it through the regular season without some trials and tribulations – no team will.
All you can hope for as a fan is 1) that the remaining team is good enough to get the job done, and 2) that the front office has the resources to add even more talent to make up for losses over the course of the game. year to compensate.
On that note, the Mets still have plenty of cause for optimism.