Today, we continue our look around the NL East by looking at the Washington Nationals first opponent in the 2015 regular season, the New York Mets. This is a team that the Nats dominated last year as they went 15-4 in the 19 matchups. For New York, the 2015 season is about getting back to playoff contention. It is a fanbase that wants to see results and see their younger players start to develop into a team that can challenge for a NL Wild Card spot.
Early this offseason, New York made what some considered a bold move when they gave up their first round pick in this June’s MLB Draft to sign outfielder Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million deal. Cuddyer only played 49 games for the Rockies last season, but the 36-year old has had an excellent spring down at Port St. Lucie. He is hitting .349 with six home runs and nine RBI’s in 20 games.
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For the Mets, Cuddyer signified going for it in 2015. Another unheralded move that New York made was the signing of former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. So far, Long has had a good impact as the hitting coach of the Mets if you look at the spring numbers. New York is second in the NL in batting average (.291), third in home runs (37) and second in RBI’s (157). The Mets are hoping that Long’s coaching can help an offense that had the third worst batting average in the National League a year ago (.239).
Of course, when you talk about the Mets, starting pitching is the first thing that comes to mind. While Zack Wheeler is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, manager Terry Collins gets his ace back as Matt Harvey returns to the rotation. Harvey will make his first start since 2013 on April 9 against Stephen Strasburg. Harvey and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom will be at the front of the rotation in 2015. If the Mets are going to contend and keep Collins from losing his job, the pitching has to be the strength of the team.
To get some more insight on the expectations for the Mets this season, I recently spoke with Daniel Abriano, the editor of Rising Apple about the Cuddyer signing, Collins on the hot seat, and much more. Here is our Q+A:
Daniel: Even before Harvey showed during Spring Training that he had the same stuff he did pre-surgery (with an improved curveball to boot), I was expecting him to return as the same pitcher he was in 2013: one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball, capable of putting up a sub-1.00 WHIP while featuring one of the nastiest four-pitch arsenals in the game. Harvey is such a hard worker and is simply a different animal when it comes to his craft. He craves the ball and craves the responsibility of leading this team. I expect him to dominate.
R: Now with Zack Wheeler out for the season due to his own Tommy John surgery, who needs to step up for a Mets rotation that has been well-known for its depth? Is Wheeler’s injury the main reason why the team couldn’t get a deal done involving Dillon Gee?
D: I’ll take the second part first. Sandy Alderson was quoted as saying that although the Mets knew that Wheeler’s elbow was a huge concern, it had no bearing on their refusal to trade Dillon Gee. As it pertains to Gee, I think Alderson overplayed his hand. I don’t believe the team wanted to go into the season with Gee – Wheeler injury or not. As far as who needs to step up, I’d say Noah Syndergaard, but there’s a caveat. The Mets’ rotation was very good in 2014, and Harvey is basically replacing Wheeler (whose season was solid but not great). If Syndergaard can step in around late-April or early-May and be a factor right away, the Mets’ rotation will be scary-good. There’s also Steven Matz who’s just about ready, but there just isn’t room for him yet. That could change midseason if the Mets deal Bartolo Colon or Gee and/or another pitcher gets hurt.
R: Were you surprised that the Mets gave up their first round pick in this June’s draft to sign Michael Cuddyer? What do you think he will do in 2015 and what have you noticed about him this spring with the way he is hitting home runs?
D: I was stunned that they gave up their first-round pick in the draft for Cuddyer. Not because it was such a crazy move, but because everything we had heard beforehand was that the Mets had zero interest in forfeiting the pick for Cuddyer. I wouldn’t have done it. My play would’ve been to obtain a potential offensive difference maker via trade. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think the move will work. I see Cuddyer as another David Wright-type in the clubhouse, which will help take pressure off Wright. On the field, I think that if he’s healthy, he’ll settle in as the perfect guy to hit behind Lucas Duda while lengthening the lineup.
R: How do you think the addition of Kevin Long as the team’s hitting coach will impact this Mets’ lineup?
The most important beneficiary of the hiring of Long will likely be Curtis Granderson, who played under Long with the Yankees while having some of his best years. As far as how Long helps the other players, they’ve all had nothing but rave reviews so far. He’s both hands-on and analytical, which is a great combination.
R: If New York gets off to a bad start in the first couple of months, do you think that GM Sandy Alderson will fire manager Terry Collins in the middle of the season?
D: I think if the Mets have a terrible April or are a few games under .500 in either May or June, Collins will get fired. There was a recent report that indicated Alderson was strongly considering letting Collins go after 2014, so the leash is obviously a short one. Collins is not a strong between-the-lines guy, but he’s done a solid job motivating his players. Time is running out for him, though, and there aren’t any excuses left.
R: Who is the X-Factor for this team? What would you say is the biggest concern on this roster?
D: Wilmer Flores is the answer to both. The Mets’ biggest failure this offseason was not adding a shortstop who can actually handle the position defensively. I expect Flores to be a valuable offensive piece, meaning his worth hinges on whether or not his range at shortstop is something the team can live with or something it can’t.
D: Matt den Dekker is definitely a useful major league piece, especially on the defensive side of things. However, he was blocked on the Mets and destined for Triple-A Las Vegas. Before Juan Lagares emerged as perhaps the best center fielder in baseball, Matt den Dekker was viewed by some as the best defensive outfielder on the Mets. Perfectly suited for center field, den Dekker told me last season that he was getting more comfortable in the corners, which could make him an ideal fourth outfielder type. The offense has yet to click for him in the majors, but his combination of speed and a bit of pop should play if he’s able to hit just a little bit.
R: Two-part prediction question! How many wins do you think the Mets finish with in the NL East and will the head-to-head record vs. the Nats be better than the 4-15 record it was last year?
D: I have the Mets finishing 87-75 and snagging the second Wild Card. As far as their record against the Nats…if their overall record improves as I believe it will, I expect their record against the Nats to reflect that.