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On paper, the New York Mets can make a run at the NL East

Their strengths are grand and their shortcomings are small. The challenge is their division and playing in the NL East doesn’t guarantee anything for the New York Mets.

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Mets Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, yes. The New York Mets. A team that has become so synonymous with chaos and controversy that you likely deserve someone far more capable of possessing the lexicon and delivering the nuance to approach the monumental task that now stands before me in previewing them. After all, there are many reasons to be excited about the 2021 iteration of the New York Mets.

But that isn’t without the aforementioned chaos and controversy. The winter began with the official sale of the team to Steve Cohen, the terminally online billionaire with a history that includes accusations of insider trading. Their hiring practices are also the subject of deserved condemnation, as they fired new general manager Jared Porter and have continued to face emerging details about former manager Mickey Callaway following multiple allegations of sexual harassment on both their parts. Such issues leave questions to linger over the Mets’ organizational structure (and baseball at large), and could certainly leave a metaphorical cloud to loom over the team regardless of what success they may attain in 2021.

As for the team on the field, Cohen’s presence alone had the Mets associated with anyone and everyone available via free agency or trade this offseason. Some of those moves (Francisco Lindor) came to fruition, while others (George Springer) did not. Ultimately, the roster infrastructure that was in place, as well as those additions, certainly have the Mets vying for contention in the gauntlet that is the National League East.

The trade for Francisco Lindor was easily one of the more significant moves across the MLB landscape over the course of the winter. Since 2015, Lindor leads all Major League shortstops in fWAR (29.2) and is tied for the sixth-highest wRC+ (118) among the 55 qualifying players at the position over that span of time. Some other fun stats: he ranks fifth in on-base percentage (.346), ninth in ISO (.202), and features the third-lowest CSW% (called strikes + whiffs) among that group (22.7 percent). He also possesses the second highest Def rating (88.5), trailing only noted defensive star Andrelton Simmons, and the second-best UZR (54.0).

Simply put: Lindor is a superstar who will serve as a catalyst for a Mets lineup that was already quite good. This is, of course, an obvious statement. As a team, New York posted the second-highest wRC+ in the league (at 121), while their ISO, at .187 was tied for seventh. They also struck out at one of the league’s lowest rates (21.9 percent). Adding Lindor to the mix makes the group more dynamic, while also improving a team defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every category (more on that shortly).

If there’s a knock against this lineup, it’s that it does read as a little too left-handed. Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo, and Jeff McNeil are all projected starters that hit from the left side. That leaves only former Florida Gator Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis as the only true right-handed starters. This could present some issues in a division that features several southpaws scattered throughout the various rotations. Regardless, there’s enough bat-to-ball skill and power in this lineup that they should be able to compensate.

As a lineup-adjacent issue, perhaps the largest concern with this team is the defensive configuration. Lindor obviously helps quite a bit. But, boy, this team is rough around the edges in matters of glove. Pete Alonso’s -4 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) puts him at second-to-last among qualifying first basemen since 2018. J.D. Davis is the slowpitch softball equivalent of myself at third base in that you love the bat, but hope to God that a ball never goes anywhere near him. His DRS in 2019 was -9 followed by a -8 in 2020. Even Jeff McNeil is coming off of a -2 season at second base, where he figures to spend much of 2021. Michael Conforto (-6) also comes on the negative side of the metric, ranking 40th out of 50 qualifying outfielders. Brandon Nimmo’s got a -5 in center.

If there’s positive news, it’s behind the plate. New starting catcher James McCann is, at worst, league average in regard to framing and can throw a runner out. And catching metrics love Tomás Nido. So for a team that is more reliant on strikeouts than others, you can likely compensate some with a solid catching duo and your bevy of power arms. And the Mets have that. As for how much their below average defense will hold them back in the long-term, well, a DH in the National League might’ve helped.

For as many reasons as there are to be excited about the bats in the lineup, you have to love the starting staff assembled in Flushing as well. This was a rotation that posted the second best K/9 in the NL in 2020 (9.42), as well as the third-lowest BB/9 (2.66). Their group FIP, at 3.86) ranked third in all of baseball.

Obviously having Jacob deGrom at the top helps. He’s the best pitcher in baseball. There isn’t any reason to vomit a bunch of words to prove it. He just is. Then you add a healthy Marcus Stroman. Then you add Taijuan Walker who is coming off of his first healthy season since 2017 (60-game campaign be damned). Then you get Carlos Carrasco back from a hamstring injury. And eventually you add Noah Syndergaard. That’s an absurd group.

With Syndergaard still on the shelf for at least a couple of months following Tommy John, as well as Carrasco’s injury, the Mets will have to make it work on the backend to start. David Peterson had a decent enough rookie year, and he’ll likely team up with with Joey Lucchesi to give the starting five a lefty flavor to start the year. Jordan Yamamoto and Robert Gsellman also figure to be in the mix at some point. No matter the configuration, though, the Mets certainly have the arms to roll out a more-than-formidable rotation as the season progresses, with the existing upside of perhaps being one fo the best starting groups in the game.

There’s upside for the bullpen, as well. Edwin Díaz rebounded extremely well after a brutal 2019, to the tune of a 17.53 K/9 and 2.18 FIP. Trevor May (14.66 K/9) also brings some big strikeout numbers to the backend. Miguel Castro and lefty Aaron Loup will likely be leaned upon pretty heavily as well. That’s a solid start. Beyond that, it does get a little sketchy. Jeurys Familia’s walk rates are brutal, and Dellin Betances clearly isn’t the pitcher he once was. Seth Lugo will also miss time after having a bone spur removed from his elbow. The core of this ‘pen is really strong, but it’s not particularly deep and as high as the upside is, the chance of some kind of volatility on a given night is as equally towering.

FanGraphs loves the Mets. They give them a 55.7 percent chance of winning the division and an 81.2 percent chance of reaching the postseason, with a 10.9 percent shot at a World Series title. PECOTA also loves the Mets, with a 62.7 percent chance of the division and a projected 91.7 wins bestowed upon them. We should all learn to love in such a way.

Of course, the love being tossed New York’s way is completely warranted. The lineup is potent. The rotation is dynamite and has the depth to maintain it. Their owner’s willingness to spend is astronomical. The defense is a concern. As is the depth in the bullpen. Add the NL East context to it. You know who else has a great lineup and solid pitching depth? Atlanta. Probably Washington, too. Philadelphia’s got at least one of those things. So while there are absolutely reasons to love this Mets team, they all exist on paper. They’ll have to combat their shortcomings, however minor they may appear, in conjunction with overcoming a beast of a division.

They can certainly do it. Just don’t ask a Mets fan for confirmation.

Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.