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The Mets actually have a chance to win the NL East

The projections are bullish on the Mets... but they’re still the Mets.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

After two disappointing seasons, the Mets succeeded in turning in an 86-win season in 2019, much to my surprise as a lifelong cynical Mets fan. They still came in three wins under their PECOTA projections, but projection systems can’t factor in this franchise Mets-ing things up.

The projections continue to be kind to the Mets. FanGraphs has them at about 87 wins, about a win short of the Nationals for the division, and with a 32 percent chance at an NL East crown. PECOTA is even more favorable towards the Mets, pegging them to win the division with 88 wins and giving them a 48.5 percent chance to do so! Again, let me remind you that the projections do not factor in the Mets doing Mets things.

The Mets are more or less bringing back the same lineup as last year, headlined by Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil. I expect some regression from Alonso, but I still expect him to hit pretty well, and certainly well enough to offset his subpar defense, which to be fair, was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. If this were an AL team, I would prefer to have Dom Smith play first and Alonso at DH, at least when there is not a tough lefty on the mound, but obviously that is not an option this year.

Robinson Canó really needs to bounce back after his disappointing 2019 season. Thankfully there are reasons to be optimistic that he will, as laid out here by my BtBS coworker Sheryl Ring. His keystone partner, Amed Rosario, should continue to improve given his age and the fact that his offense has improved in each of his three seasons in the majors. His defense continues to be frustrating by both the advanced metrics and the eye test, but as discussed in this article by FanGraphs’ Ben Clemens, that is continuing to improve as well.

As for the outfield, new manager Luis Rojas really has his work cut out for him. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo (if his heart is okay, of course) need to be in the lineup everyday, but after that, things get messy, which Jay Jaffe wrote about in depth. Their only true center fielder is new acquisition Jake Marisnick, who is a great fielder who can’t hit much, with a line of .233/.289/.411 in 2019 that is not projected to be any better this upcoming season.

Nimmo can play a passable center field, but it is not what the team would want everyday. They can get away with it more with pitchers who are more likely give him fewer opportunities in the field, such as Jacob deGrom because he’s deGrom, but also Marcus Stroman because of his high groundball rate. You can throw Noah Syndergaard in there too if he can finally get his strikeout rates back up.

Roster Resource currently has J.D. Davis as the starting left fielder, but his fielding is so bad that he might not be viable there even if he duplicates his 136 wRC+ from last year, which he likely will not, because he derived a lot of benefit from the juiced ball and a .355 BABIP. He is a 1B-only player on a team that already has two of them (Alonso and Dominic Smith), and in an era where teams carry ludicrously large bullpens, even the extra roster spot this year makes it tough to carry one 1B-only player on your bench, let alone two.

Speaking of Smith, he had a great offensive season, hitting .282/.355/.525, albeit in only 197 PA. Like with Davis, he should play in the outfield as little as possible, but again, first base is blocked. I think he has more upside than Davis, too, so if Rojas can continue to help him improve his outfield defense, he could be a heck of bench player.

Things will really get complicated for Rojas if Yoenis Céspedes returns, which he reportedly plans to do on Opening Day. There is already a roster crunch and just no telling what to expect from him. He missed all of last season, played only 38 games in 2018, and played 81 games in 2017. So now he is a 34-year-old corner outfielder coming off a major ankle injury who has not played in nearly two years. If it turns out he can no longer be a productive major leaguer, the Wilpons are probably going to force Rojas to play him anyway because they are not smart enough to understand the concept of a sunk cost.

The bench looks solid, but I’m dumbfounded to see Eduardo Núñez here as a non-roster invitee. Simply put, he is just not a major league quality player anymore, and has not been for a few years. Here’s hoping that Jed Lowrie can come back soon.

There is definitely a trade to make here for an everyday center fielder or some bullpen help, but whom do you pick? Davis and Smith both have five years of left on their rookie contracts, and Céspedes probably does not have a lot of trade value right now, especially since there is no way that the Wilpons will be willing to eat much or any of his salary. Frankly, I don’t trust Brodie Van Wagenen to get this right.

The Nationals deservedly get a lot of credit for the strength of their rotation, but the Mets’ rotation is right up there, which is good because this team will continue to be pretty bad defensively. Obviously it is led by back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, followed by Thor and Marcus Stroman. Steven Matz has surprisingly had consecutive seasons with 30 starts, so as long as he can stay healthy he should slot in just fine as the fourth starter.

So far Rick Porcello is slated as the fifth starter, whose 5.89 RA9 in 2019 was the worst in the majors among qualified starters. Yes, he pitched in Fenway Park against some strong competition, but he will face some strong competition in 2020 too, and his 6.06 DRA means he really did pitch poorly. Still, he is a positive regression candidate who is projected to be a 2-WAR pitcher by multiple projection systems. I would like to have seen the Mets spend money on the rotation this offseason, such as Dallas Keuchel or Hyun-jin Ryu, but this was a nice pick-up. It’s also nice to see a fellow native New Jerseyan play for the team he grew up rooting for!

The Mets’ bullpen was awful last season, but there is hope that it will be better in 2020. Edwin Díaz had one of the most confusing seasons I have ever seen a player have. He had a 2.95 DRA and struck out 39 percent of batters faced, both of which are roughly in line with his career numbers... but he had a disastrous 5.59 RA9 and blew several games. It’s like he pitched really well but still got lit up regardless. I am cautiously optimistic that my fellow boricua will get better results this season.

If Díaz really can’t cut it anymore, then I would start letting Seth Lugo take over for high leverage situations. Michael Wacha will make a nice addition to this bullpen when he is not starting, but it might be tough if he can’t improve his peripherals. I am a big fan of the Dellin Betances signing as a rare smart move by the Mets. It’s a great low risk, high reward move.

I would not bet on the Mets to win the division, but they really do have a fair shot at it. They are going to need some things to break right, and that bullpen has to at least be passable. And of course, for once they are going to have to not Mets anything up!

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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.