I think it is pretty safe to say that going into the season, not many people thought they would see the Mets and Royals in the World Series. The Royals were there last year, of course, but many expected to see some regression from them after they barely made the playoffs while outperforming their Pythagorean record by five wins. The Mets, on the other hand, had not made the playoffs since 2006, and very few expected them to seriously challenge the Nationals for the NL East title. Clearly, each team was surprisingly successful in 2015, but is it realistic to expect either team to be back in the World Series a year from now?
To start, we should get a good understanding of just how good each team was in 2015. Obviously, we have each team's win-loss record, but at times, these numbers can be misleading. Here is a look at each team's actual, Pythagorean, and BaseRuns records in 2015.
Pythagorean record is based on runs scored and runs allowed; BaseRuns goes a step further and takes out the sequencing involved in turning specific plays into runs scored and runs allowed. The Mets' actual record is in line with their Pythagorean and BaseRuns records, while the Royals outperformed their Pythagorean and BaseRuns records by several wins for the second year in a row. This would seem to indicate that the Mets were the stronger team in 2015 once we eliminate the effects of sequencing, which are typically not sustainable over long periods of time. With that being said, I do not want to call the Royals' success "luck", since there are some factors, such as a strong bullpen, that can help a team outperform their Pythagorean and BaseRuns records.
In any case, I think it is fair to use BaseRuns record as a starting point for estimating how good a team is at this moment in time, and in turn, estimating how good a team will be a year from now, after subtracting contributions from players who are likely to leave via free agency. Obviously, we cannot know what moves these teams will make this offseason, but we can at least get a good estimate of where they will be starting from, based on which players we know are under contract for next season.
Let's begin with the Royals. Here is a list of the players they are set to lose in free agency. I have included each player's 2015 fWAR totals in parentheses.
- Alex Gordon (2.8)
- Johnny Cueto (1.1)
- Alex Rios (0.2)
- Jeremy Guthrie (-0.8)
- Greg Holland (0.8)
- Ben Zobrist (1.2)
- Jonny Gomes (-0.3)
- Franklin Morales (0.4)
- Ryan Madson (0.9)
- Joba Chamberlain (0.0)
- Chris Young (0.9)
(I am assuming that Gordon will decline his player option, Holland will be non-tendered, and Rios, Guthrie, and Gomes will not have their options picked up.)
In total, the Royals are set to lose 7.2 wins in free agency, which would put them at a baseline of around 77 wins. If we're looking for internal improvements, it is not unreasonable to expect a little more next season from players like Yordano Ventura (Steamer projects him for a 0.6 bump in WAR) and Kris Medlen (who missed the first half of the season with injury).
Unfortunately, the Royals do not have a strong minor league system, especially after trading away Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, John Lamb, and Sean Manaea in trades at the deadline earlier this year. Their top two prospects are Kyle Zimmer and Raul Mondesi, and it would probably be unreasonable to expect major contributions from either player at the major league level in 2016. Even if we give the Royals a couple extra wins under the assumption that they are inherently skilled at outperforming their BaseRuns win total, they are, at best, a .500 team going into the offseason.
With that being said, the Royals will likely have some money to spend this offseason. Their 2015 payroll is just under $113 million, and they currently have $73 million in obligations for 2016, assuming they exercise team-friendly options for Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar. This total will increase after arbitration raises to Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, but they will still be significantly under their current payroll even after these raises are factored in.
Depending on what the Royals do in free agency, it wouldn't be unreasonable to see them have a mid-to-high 80s win total in 2016, which has been enough for at least a wild card spot in recent years. Nevertheless, the AL Central figures to be much stronger next year, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Royals missed the playoffs entirely in 2016.
There is also a good deal of uncertainty surrounding the Mets going forward. According to BaseRuns, they played like a 90 win team, but they, too, are expected to lose some key contributors in free agency. Here is a list of all their impending free agents, with fWAR totals in parentheses.
- Yoenis Cespedes (2.7)
- Bartolo Colon (2.6)
- Tyler Clippard (-0.1)
- Daniel Murphy (2.5)
- Juan Uribe (0.7)
- Eric O'Flaherty (-0.1)
- Bobby Parnell (-0.1)
- Jerry Blevins (0.2)
The Mets are currently set to lose 8.4 wins in free agency, which would put them in the 81-82 win range. Unlike the Royals, though, the Mets can expect to see internal improvements from several different players, especially if they are able to stay healthy. First, the Mets should expect to see Zack Wheeler back in the rotation at some point in early-to-mid 2016, assuming he doesn't have any setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. They should also receive more playing time from David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud, who missed a good portion of the season due to injury. In addition, they will presumably get more production from Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, who each started the year in the minors leagues.
Even without Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy, the Mets may already be a 90+ win team for next year if they are able to avoid major injuries with the players they already have under team control. They may also have the ability to add a good player or two in free agency, especially with the extra revenue they have received from an uptick in attendance and a run to the World Series. While it is likely that the Nationals will challenge the Mets for the division title a year from now, the rest of the NL East is probably still at least another year away from contending.
The Royals and the Mets may have been seen as fringe contenders before the season started, but they have defied expectations and made it all the way to the World Series. Both teams are in a position to be relatively competitive again in 2016, and I wouldn't be all that surprised to see either team back in the World Series a year from now. At this point, though, the Mets appear to be in a much better position going forward, as they have accumulated an enviable core of young talent that should make them competitive for years to come.