By Michael Citron, Contributing Writer
New York, NY (NYSportscene.com) – As a 32 year old lifelong New York Mets fan, I have had my share of disappointment. None greater than 2006 however, because they were so close and had the best chance to win it all in 20 years.
The closer you get to winning it all, the worse the disappointment is when you lose. The thing that made the 2006 Mets team so great is how it was constructed. Although fundamentally flawed with its lack of pitching, especially front line starters (Ollie Perez was forced to pitch game 7), the team followed the tried and true way to build a winning franchise to sustain success for years to come. This year’s Mets team is looking awfully similar to how things were in 2004-2005 when the Mets were on the verge of contention but not quite there yet.
In 2006, the Mets had their own established prospects playing at a very high level (Wright and Reyes) and were getting major contributions from free agent sluggers (Beltran and Delgado) amongst others. This year’s team has homegrown veterans (Wright and Murphy) and some nice young talent brought up through the Mets minor league system either via trade or drafting. Although d’Arnaud and Syndergaard were acquired when the Mets sent Cy Young award winner RA Dickey to Toronto, these are guys the Mets have been able to mature within their minor league system as they prepare to contribute at the Major League level.
It appears to me that this team is in an even better position than the 2006 squad because this team still holds assets that can be utilized to push the team into further contention for a Championship. As presently constructed, the Mets are a 54-61 ball club in 4th place in the NL East. They don’t seem like they’re breaking out in any way but if you carefully examine their current path, there are strong odds that they will be a serious playoff threat for next season and beyond. All of this has to come with an asterisk of “injuries can derail anyone’s best laid plans” but if things hold steady for the Mets, going into next season they will be just a few pieces away from being a serious threat in the National League.
The Mets made a wise decision moving Ike Davis and making Lucas Duda their starter at first. At 28 years old, Duda has broken out this season and seems poised to give the Mets a first baseman who hits .260 with 25-30 hrs and 80-90 rbis for the next few years.
If they lock up Murphy to a contract, second base will be taken care of as well. If not, the team must hope that when Murphy walks as a 30 year old free agent in 2016 that prospect Dilson Herrera is ready to take over. Herrera is a prospect the Mets received last year for Marlon Byrd & John Buck and the Mets are currently high on his outlook as a Major League 2nd baseman.
Shortstop is a true position of need for the Mets as their best prospect at the position is an 18 year old kid playing A-ball named Amed Rosario. Even if he makes it to the Majors at some point, it wouldn’t be before 2017 and Ruben Tejada clearly isn’t the current answer. Wilmer Flores has been playing shortstop lately and although he might have the bat skills, it doesn’t seem to be a good idea to have both Murphy and Flores as defensively-challenged middle infielders.
David Wright is solid at third base as the leader and a “good-character” veteran to have around the clubhouse. Curtis Granderson shares the same positive attributes as the Mets’ rightfielder although he could switch to left if they find a stronger option in right. Granderson and Wright now lead a clubhouse that brings up kids the “right way” with the correct attitude and demeanor which is something that was missing in the days of prospects such as Lastings Milledge.
These two guys have made a huge difference in the Mets clubhouse and that has helped this turn around the Mets are going through.
In centerfield, Juan Lagares is a stud fielder who has shown flashes with his bat at times. If he develops some consistency with his offensive game, he is a keeper in centerfield. The Mets would be wise to sign a veteran in the offseason who can play centerfield as an insurance policy in the case that Lagares struggles, as he has been susceptible to the prolonged slump.
Left field is a barren wasteland for the Mets and a place they need to find a stud who can hit in the cleanup spot in the lineup. This is a huge area of need for a team looking to move up within the National League ranks.
At catcher, they have Travis d’Arnaud looking really good lately and they have prospect Kevin Plawecki waiting in the wings at AAA in case he falters. This should be another position of strength as the team moves forward.
The offense still needs some work but the seeds have been planted and the offensive outlook is more positive than the current team’s record suggests. The bullpen and starting pitching staff are also major reasons for optimism. I will touch on the pen before I get into the highlight of the team, the starting pitching staff.
The bullpen has been completely overhauled with young homegrown talent. Mejia has taken to the closers role like a fish takes to water. His command and variety of pitches makes him an excellent closer and someone who can do the job for the next decade. Familia has stepped up as the 8th inning role similar to how Betances has for the Yankees. They were both starter prospects who after injuries have been reinvented as excellent relief options. Trading for Vic Black in the Marlon Byrd trade was also a key acquisition. Getting a lefty and a veteran to join this group will give them a playoff worthy bullpen for years to come.
That leaves the rotation, which is in the best shape it’s been in as long as I can remember. Even with ace Matt Harvey on the shelf, the rotation is such a team strength. The Mets should set out to keep Niese, Harvey, deGrom & Wheeler and be willing to trade any of their other starters to improve their lineup. They have a massive arsenal of top pitching prospects and I would be willing to give up any combination of Noah Syndergaard, Dillon Gee, Rafael Montero, Steven Matz, Gabriel Ynoa and/or Jack Leathersich. Any combination of these guys could be used to acquire a stud like Giancarlo Stanton. If the Mets want to go really crazy they could give up three of these guys with Wilmer Flores and/or another position prospect to get both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez from the Rockies.
If the Mets ever grew a pair and made a deal like that, I would say they would be the prohibitive favorites in the NL East and right up there with the Dodgers and anyone else in the National League. They just need to aim high when they set out their target in the trade market. There are only a handful of guys in all of baseball in this category and very few of them are ever available. Stanton is on this level, Tulo would be if he could stay healthy and the Mets would absolve themselves of that risk if they received him and Cargo in the same deal. The only other guys like this in baseball are “untradeable guys” like Trout and McCutchen. The Mets should be on the phone with both the Marlins and Rockies this offseason trying to complete the puzzle with the final piece to a Championship contender.
The Mets have the necessary mix of youth & age, homegrown talent & free agent/trade acquisitions, and enough prospects to trade for any player available on the market. They have the payroll flexibility to take on any contract and make any signing necessary. Their next big move will be the most important as it will either propel them into contention or set them back through yet another rebuilding process. I am hoping for the prior because as I stated earlier, the Mets are closer to contention than you think.
Michael Citron is a New York Sports fanatic and die-hard Mets fan. Questions and comments can be sent to Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.