Opening Day: A Day for Romanticism

Opening Day 2013 Photo Credit: Louis Milman

Opening Day 2013
Photo Credit: Louis Milman

Opening Day is here, finally. A chance to start fresh. An opportunity to take an entirely new ball of clay and turn it into a season of excitement and fun. 2014 could be a year of thrills for Mets fans, or yet another year of disappointment, but on Opening Day, fans can dream only of the former.

Last year at this time, I was at Citi Field, courtesy of the Mets and MLB’s #RandomActsOfOpeningDay. It was the first Opening Day I’d ever attended in person. The chance to watch the players line up on the foul lines, to have the team that I would spend the next six months watched nearly every day, to witness the season’s opening act…was something else entirely.

Expectations may be higher for 2014. Fans may be more skeptical. But when push comes to shove, Opening Day is pure newness. Citi Field will be awash with the glow of promise, and for a few hours, devoid of cynicism. The 2014 season is about to begin, and on Opening Day, that’s a beautiful thing.

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2014 Mets Position Outlook: Bullpen

We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part eight of the series, we’ll take a look at the bullpen.

Opening Day Closer: Bobby Parnell
Opening Day Rotation: Jose Valverde (Setup Man), Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, John Lannan, Scott Rice (Lefty Specialist), Carlos Torres (Long Man)
Looking to the Future: Jack Leathersich, Vic Black

If you think you have a good handle on how good the Mets bullpen will be, well, you’re probably lying. There are question marks — if not major concerns — with every single one of these players. A brief run-through:

Parnell – Return from neck surgery

Valverde – Bad 2013, spent time in Triple-A

Jeurys Familia – Must cut down on walks (7 BB/9 in brief MLB career)

Germen – Got hit hard in September, did he wear down, or was he pitching over his head?

Lannan – Has never pitched out of the bullpen before, can he do it?

Rice – Appeared in 73 games by early September, then needed surgery. Can he recover?

Torres – Also struggled in September, with an ERA over 4.00 in 31 innings. Worn out or regression to the mean?

So, what will the Mets get from their bullpen? I’ll hedge my bet and say “something around the league average.” Bullpens are fickle. Relief pitchers, with the exception of top-level closers, are impossible to predict from year to year. The individual pitchers on this list are talented, and it wouldn’t take too much effort to envision a hypothetical situation in which the bullpen is successful. It’s also not difficult to imagine the Mets bullpen imploding like the 2007-2010 Mets bullpens.

There are some popular names in the upper levels of the farm system, notably Black and Leathersich. Black is a hard-throwing righty and Leathersich is a lefty who typically tops out in the low-to-mid 90s. The two should both start the year in Triple-A and could easily force their way up to the big league team. The two are likely to bring plenty of strikeouts with them, but must cut down on their high walk rates.

The Mets also have veteran Kyle Farnsworth in the minor leagues. While he didn’t look very good in Spring Training, they’ll consider him decent depth in case of injury.

2014 Outlook:

My best guess is league average, though I’ll admit that “below average” is a safer bet than “above average.” There’s talent and plenty of hard throwers, but very little certainty. Even Parnell, who was a good closer in 2013, had been inconsistent from year-to-year before last season. If the bullpen performs, they could be holding onto plenty of leads — given the Mets relatively strong starting pitching. But that is a big “if.”

Stats:

Bobby Parnell

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Jose Valverde

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Jeurys Familia

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Gonzalez Germen

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

John Lannan

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Scott Rice

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Carlos Torres

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Vic Black

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Jack Leathersich

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:

Well, on the one hand, the Mets should not be too confident about their bullpen of question marks. On the other hand, neither should any other MLB team.

The Mets bullpen is constructed in a sound way. A pair of lefties, a long reliever, a closer and setup man with experience and plenty of high-velocity arms. There’s depth in the minor leagues and likely clearly defined roles in the majors. And yet, there are so many questions that it would take someone blinded by fanhood to presume the Mets bullpen won’t cause agita this season. So, Mets fans, you’ll probably be biting your fingernails and sitting on the edge of your seat come the 8th and 9th innings of close games this year. But that may be better than in past years, when there was no nervousness, because you knew the Mets bullpen was going to blow it. In 2014, I expect far more people to ask on Twitter “will the Mets blow this lead?” and fewer people to ask “We KNOW the Mets will blow this lead, the question is how?”

2014 Mets Position Outlook: Starting Pitching

We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part seven of the series, we’ll take a look at the starting rotation.

Opening Day Starter: Dillon Gee
Opening Day Rotation: Gee, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Niese
Opening Day Dark Horse: Jenrry Mejia (if Niese is unable to start April 6)
Looking to the Future: Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard

The rotation might be the best part of the 2014 Mets. There’s depth, veteran experience with youth mixed in and most of all, there’s talent.

Gee may not be the Opening Day starter that Mets fans were hoping for, but with Matt Harvey out for the year, Gee gets the call. His second-half ERA of 2.74 is darn impressive, and he looked like he had finally gotten “back” from his aneurysm scare last offseason. The fifth starter job seems likely to go to Dice-K, though many Mets fans were hoping Mejia would win the spot.

The talent is wonderful, the depth is nice and in 2015 both of those things will only be improved with Harvey’s return. By adding Colon, who had a stellar year in Oakland, the Mets can argue that — after a rash of injuries to the Braves — they have the second-best rotation in the division.

In a way, the rotation is boring. Other than Wheeler, there’s no starter on the Opening Day roster that wows you. But steadiness is a valuable commodity in pitchers. Which is why I think going into the season with Matsuzaka in the fifth starter spot over Mejia is a logical decision. Mejia has more talent, better stuff and is younger, but he’s never pitched 120 innings in a season. The team goes into the year with a reliable rotation and Mejia gets the chance to fine tune his readily apparent skills. Mejia will be in the rotation — if he’s healthy — by the end of the year, and if he looks like he did late last summer the Mets will be thrilled.

Colon, Gee and Niese are wildly different pitchers that can be described in the same way. They’re consistent. None of them are aces, but all three are the kind of pitcher who can take the mound every fifth day (the Mets hope) and keep their team in a game. Colon throws nearly all fastballs. Gee and Niese each rely more on their off-speed stuff. But Mets fans can be confident any day that any of the three are on the hill.

Expect Montero and/or Syndergaard to join the big league club in the area of June or July, as Harvey and Wheeler have before them. Montero is much more ready now, Syndergaard has much greater potential. Both will play a big part in the Mets success, either through performance or in Montero’s case, if the Mets opt to trade him.

Oh, and Zack Wheeler. He’s not Matt Harvey, and anyone making that comparison is fooling themselves. But Wheeler has brilliant stuff. If he can command his pitches better, Mets fans could be in store for another fun breakout season for one of their young pitchers.

2014 Outlook:

Very good. There are six guys who have an argument to be in the rotation come Monday. Two more who — again, assuming health — will inevitably join them. Between those eight, the amount of potential production and hypothetical trade value is through the roof. If the bullpen can hold opponents down, the Mets rotation will win more than their fair share of games.

Stats:

Dillon Gee

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Bartolo Colon

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Zack Wheeler

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Jon Niese

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Jenrry Mejia

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Rafael Montero

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Noah Syndergaard

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:

Pitching will probably be the Mets’ strength this season. There’s just so much of it, and even more in the pipeline. They may struggle to hit at times, which could limit the number of wins that the starters rack up (Channeling my inner-Brian Kenny #KillTheWin) and the bullpen is a question mark, but the starters should be sturdy. I can envision Gee, Niese and Colon each putting up numbers along the lines of a 3.50 to 3.70 ERA and a respectable 1.30 or so WHIP. Wheeler, if his command is improved, could be better than that. The remaining pitchers would then only need to live up to fifth starter status, which is more than doable.

That said, as Toby Hyde over at Mets Minor League Blog would remind us, “pitchers break. That’s what they do.” The Mets will more than likely lose a starter to an injury at some point this year. The hope is that by building up their depth, they can withstand such an injury. At the minimum, the rotation needs to stay intact until the summer when Montero or Syndergaard can serve as a replacement.

2014 Mets Position Outlook: Outfield

We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part six of the series, we’ll take a look at the outfield.

Opening Day Starters: Curtis Granderson (LF), Juan Lagares (CF), Chris Young (RF)
Opening Day Backup Possibilities: Eric Young Jr. (LF, CF, RF), Andrew Brown (LF, RF)
Opening Day Longshots: Kirk Nieuwenhuis (LF, CF, RF), Matt den Dekker (LF, CF, RF)
Looking to the Future: Cesar Puello (CF, RF), Brandon Nimmo (CF)

So we’re at the portion of these previews where we can either get bogged down by specifics and risk getting repetitive (which players are listed in each outfield spot, how to order starting pitchers or how to classify relief pitchers), or we can take more of an overview approach. So for the next three outlooks, we’ll look at the outfield, starting rotation and bullpen as one “position” each.

What’s interesting about the 2014 Mets outfield is that for the first time in what feels like forever, it’s incredibly versatile. I would argue that all three starters and Eric Young Jr., could play any of the outfield positions in a pinch. In fact, each of those players except Juan Lagares have — however small — major league experience at all three outfield positions (and Lagares’ defense is the least of anyone’s concerns). The current flexibility should allow the team to completely avoid any situation in which a bad outfielder — see Lucas Duda or Jordany Valdespin in just the last few years — has to take significant time in the outfield.

Most of the debate throughout spring training has been between EY Jr. and Lagares. I get it, EY provides speed and because of that is a nostalgic version of what a leadoff hitter should be. In fact, I like EY a lot. He can play a number of positions tolerably, he is fast, he’s not a bad contact hitter and he gets on base at a so-so rate. He’s a PERFECT fourth outfielder. He may even be a bit better than your average-to-above-average fourth outfielders. That’s a great problem to have. Lagares, meanwhile, is the best defensive outfielder the Mets have had since Carlos Beltran. Bar none. Lagares may not hit enough right now to warrant playing everyday, but with his defensive skill set, I believe he’s got to start until he proves he CAN’T be placed in the lineup everyday.

Granderson and Young were both brought in this offseason to provide power, but they also both play solid outfield defense and bring a bit of experience…and in Granderson’s case, a second veteran leader to pair with Wright. #Intangibles. Granderson spent most of last year healing from a pair of freak injuries, not the type of thing you expect to recur. He’s not gonna bat .300, but a .320 on-base percentage and a .450 to .500 slugging percentage would be more than fine.

CY, who’s been somewhere between a slightly below average bat and a slightly above average bat, is the toughest to judge. He strikes out a bit too much for my taste and hasn’t shown as much patience the last two years, playing two-thirds of the time. When he’s played everyday, he’s put up a slash line of .240/.319/.438, good enough for an OPS+ of 95, just below league average. He’s probably not going to be a star, but in the 6 or 7 spot in a lineup, he provides power and a so-so eye.

The other options are far less exciting. Nieuwenhuis and den Dekker are similar players. High-strikeout bats with pretty good gloves at any outfield position. Decent depth, but unlikely to be a major part of the next Mets contender.

Puello and Nimmo are very different players. Puello is probably AAA-bound, a hitter with some pop but a need to improve his plate discipline. Nimmo is a youngster, farther off, but by all accounts has great plate discipline and a line-drive bat. Nimmo’s got pop too, but hasn’t shown much of it in professional ball. Both have high ceilings, and the Mets — down the road — will probably be glad both are in their farm system.

2014 Outlook:

I’m optimistic. The outfield should be darn good defensively, with three guys with good range. Lagares as the captain of the outfield may regress somewhat from his absurd season last year, but from watching him play center field, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a top tier defensive outfielder. Young and Granderson should bring the pop that the Mets need to support Wright in the lineup. The only fear is that the two of them are no locks to provide significantly above average batting averages or on-base percentages — a fear that is mitigated by their other skills.

Stats:

Curtis Granderson

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Juan Lagares

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Chris Young

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Eric Young Jr.

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Kirk Nieuwenhuis

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Matt den Dekker

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Cesar Puello

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

Brandon Nimmo

Stats via Baseball Reference

Stats via Baseball Reference

How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:

I expect the Mets are decently confident. And I think they should be. Granderson and Young are veterans. They may have flaws in their game, and Granderson may be a bit older, but both can play baseball. I expect the two will provide good defense and at least average (Young) and good, not great (Granderson) offensive production provided they stay on the field. Lagares won’t be an offensive stud, but that glove/arm can play. Young’s a useful player and could be a player similar to Dave Roberts of the 2004 Red Sox, or even perhaps more productive (just maybe without the World Series appearance this year).

2014 Mets Position Outlook: Third Base

We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season.  Fittingly, in the fifth post in the series, we’ll look at #5, Mets Captain David Wright and third base.

Opening Day Starter: David Wright
Opening Day Backup Possibilities: Josh Satin, Daniel Murphy, Zach Lutz

Looking to the Future: Wilmer Flores

As I mentioned in yesterday’s second base outlook, third base is clearly the simplest position to project. After all, who could possibly start over “Captain America?” Wright is one of the three to five best third basemen in the major leagues. He may have missed time due to injury last season, but he was still worth over 5 wins above replacement. He’s a franchise player, with a franchise contract, who represents the Mets franchise in a way that no one has before. Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza are the only ones close.

Wright is 31 now, certainly reaching the end of his “prime,” but he’s got skills that tend to age well. Power and bat control like his often last, particularly due to his strong wrists. His stolen base numbers, a solid average of about 18 for 24 per year, is not based on speed, but on baserunning intelligence. His range is good, but based as much as positioning as it is a quick first step. Wright is a stud, and anyone who knows baseball knows it. Average, power, speed, glove…Wright’s got it.

Satin and Murphy will likely be the backups to start the year, and it’s beneficial to the Mets to have such flexibility. Murphy can play first or second base in addition to third, and Satin can at least play first base. Neither one would light the world on fire, but have shown decent bats. If Wright were to *knock on wood* miss significant time, I’d imagine Wilmer Flores would get the look. Flores’ bat — as mentioned in previous outlooks — is a true plus tool. He can hit the ball, and always has. Third base might be the best position for him, in that it requires less lateral quickness and range than shortstop and even second base.

For the future…well, it’s Flores, unless he’s traded. The Mets have Wright locked up for six more years, so the future is probably a ways off.

2014 Outlook:

Very, very good. Wright, as I said, is a top third baseman in the majors. He puts up every number you could possibly want and has shown himself to be a team leader with a lot of pride. The Mets should be fine at at least one possession. Even at the backup spots, the Mets can get decent offensive production in a pinch.

Stats:

David Wright

Wright Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

 

Josh Satin

Josh Satin Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

 

Daniel Murphy

Murphy Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

 

Zach Lutz

Lutz Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

 

Wilmer Flores

Flores Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:

As comfortable as they are about any other position on the diamond. Wright has been — with the exception of a mediocre 2011 — a productive and consistent star every year of his career. If healthy, he’s good for a slash line around .300/.360/.450 pretty easily. He’ll put up 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases and play solid defense. Any team in the big leagues would take David Wright, and considering free agent contracts this winter, he’s not terribly overpaid either. He is the team’s captain and their best player.

If Wright were to get hurt, that’d be damaging to the Mets, though they could probably get tolerable production from the Satin, Murphy, Flores group. The production would still drop, however, and their defense is not quite as sharp as Wright’s. Even still, third base would likely be the least of their concerns, with first base and shortstop being manned by question marks.

2014 Mets Position Outlook: Shortstop

We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In the fourth post in the series, we’ll look at shortstop.

Opening Day Starter: Ruben Tejada
Opening Day Backup Possibilities: Anthony Seratelli, Omar Quintanilla
, Wilfredo Tovar, Wilmer Flores
Looking to the Future: Gavin Cecchini

I’ll preface this writeup by admitting to being a Ruben Tejada defender. His 2013 season was an abomination. He didn’t hit well. He didn’t field well. He didn’t stay healthy. He couldn’t even stay on the good side of Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson. He managed all four tools of a bad season of baseball. And yet, I still think there’s hope for Ruben.

Between 2011 and 2012, a span in which Tejada accumulated 877 plate appearances in 210 games, Tejada was a shortstop who produced a slash line of .287/.345/.345. In the same span, he was an approximately league average defensive shortstop by range factor as well as Total Zone Rating’s fielding runs. He managed that, more than passable production, at age 21 and 22. So, despite a miserable — and I mean miserable — 2013, I’m hesitant to judge a 23-year-old based on 208 major league at bats.

Now, with my Tejada defense out of the way, let’s be brutally honest about the shortstop-by-default. He has never, and likely will never, hit for any power at all. He’s not a stellar defender, and based on 2013, trended downward. He’s not particularly speedy, meaning he’s an awkward fit in a lineup everyday, likely being best suited for the 8th spot in the National League. And he has been hurt each of the last two years.

All offseason, the Mets have been linked with free agent Stephen Drew. Whatever the reason — demands related to salary, length of contract, or anything else — Drew isn’t in Queens, and isn’t likely to move there anytime soon. The Mets are riding with Tejada for the foreseeable future, and if his 2014 resembles his 2013…the Mets don’t have a safety net. It’s a precarious situation and the Mets are gambling that Tejada is the player he was in 2011 and 2012 and not the one he was in 2013. They may be right, or they may be crazy.

The backups? Largely the same as the backups listed in the “Second Base” post, they’re not particularly good. Seratelli or Quintanilla probably top out as serviceable backup infielders. Flores would be the ideal scenario, but I don’t yet buy that he has to lateral mobility to play shortstop. Tovar would probably be the ideal Plan B for 2014, as he’s a very good defensive shortstop. Not sure he’s ready with the bat, and he was never really a consideration to start the year with the big league club.

Down the line, there’s high hopes for Cecchini, but projecting 20-year-old shortstops isn’t a particularly productive hobby.

2014 Outlook:

Yikes. I’m no more comfortable predicting how Tejada will play in 2014 than I would be if the Mets sent me out to shortstop on Opening Day. That said, I’ll stick with my original defense, and say that I expect him to return to 2011-2012 form. Tejada is more than capable of putting up a .280/.330/.350 type slash line. If he can do that and provide average defense, the Mets will take it.

Better hope he doesn’t miss time with an injury for the third consecutive year, though, because those backups are still below MLB-level.

Stats:

Ruben Tejada

Tejada Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Anthony Seratelli

Seratelli Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Omar Quintanilla

Quintanilla Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Wilfredo Tovar

Tovar Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Wilmer Flores

Flores Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Gavin Cecchini

Cecchini Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:

If there were an answer that meant less than “not at all,” I’d probably choose it. The Mets are going with an inconsistent player with multiple DL trips in the last two years who was called out for a lack of work ethic by their own front office last year. They can be optimistic, as I am, but they forfeit the right to be surprised if he has another bad season. Tejada is the college paper that you wrote on a book you didn’t read: You’re not really sure if it’s good or bad; it’s convincing enough for you, but that may not matter; and if it receives a failing grade, you’re honestly not surprised. The Mets are hoping that they pulled this one off, but it’s tough to be confident about their shortstops.

2014 Mets Position Outlook: Second Base

We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. The third post in the series takes us to second base.

Opening Day Starter: Daniel Murphy
Opening Day Backup Possibilities: Anthony Seratelli, Omar Quintanilla, Wilmer Flores 

Looking to the Future: Dilson Herrera?

Second base might be the most clear cut position on the diamond for the 2014 Mets with the exception of David Wright at third base. Daniel Murphy, a surprisingly polarizing player to Mets fans, has become about what the team could possibly have hoped he’d be. A nearly-average defensive second baseman who can swing the bat and hit the gaps. Murphy’s on-base percentage isn’t quite where I’d like to see it, but a .290/.333/.424 slash line at second base is nothing to sneeze at. He’s also stolen 33 of 38 bases in the last two seasons, a nice wrinkle in his game that hadn’t been seen earlier in his career.

It’s hard to fathom that Murph debuted in 2008, almost six years ago now. And since that debut, he’s had an OPS eight percent above league average. He’s been worth 7.8 wins above replacement in his four full seasons. The value is there, though with his salary climbing to $5.7 million this year, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Mets shop Murph to a team in need of a second or third baseman.

Personally, I happen to think Murph is a very good fit for the 2014 Mets. He’s a gap hitter who hasn’t been hurt by the expansive dimensions of Citi Field, he’s an iffy defensive second baseman, but on a team that features fly-ball pitchers in Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon and Daisuke Matsuzaka. With a strong first half, Murphy’s value could be pretty high at the July trade deadline.

The backups…less of a sure thing. Seratelli has never played an inning in the major leagues. Quintanilla was flat out bad last year, and doesn’t figure to be a particularly productive offensive player. Flores is a tempting player, and would probably get the first crack at second base if Murphy were to be traded, but the Mets won’t and shouldn’t keep a 22-year-old player with potential on the bench.

2014 Outlook:

Are they going to get all-star production from second base? Probably not. Though, Murphy will likely be in the conversation for top-5 second basemen in the National League. Look for Wilmer Flores to get an extended look if Murphy is either injured or traded at any point.

As for Seratelli and Quintanilla? Mets fans should hope to see as little of those two as possible.

Stats:

Daniel Murphy

Murphy Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Anthony Seratelli

Seratelli Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Omar Quintanilla

Quintanilla Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Wilmer Flores

Flores Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

Dilson Herrera

Herrera Stats

Stats via Baseball Reference

How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:

Pretty comfortable. As I said, second base is a pretty safe bet, as far as the Mets are concerned. Murphy is a pretty steady player, despite a slight proclivity for hot/cold streaks within a season. If he were to be hurt or traded, Flores showed signs — if he can keep his ankles in good shape — that he can be a major league-level hitter.