When Brodie Van Wagenen declared last week the Mets should now be viewed as the favorites to win the National League East next year he sure caught a lot of people by surprise, and you have to wonder if Mickey Callaway wasn’t foremost among them. That’s quite an onus on the Mets manager considering what a disaster his 2017 maiden voyage was.
While it was arguably the right decision on the part of the Mets high command not to take the wrecking ball to the team that finished 77-85 and instead keep intact, for at least one more season, the rotation of young, talented starting pitchers they’ve been touting for four years now, the fact remains it’s still a decision that will require Van Wagenen, Callaway & Co. to hold their breath, daily, beginning on the first day of spring training. They are gambling that Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz are all going to stay healthy and finally reach their maximum potential – a big lift since they have never all been able to stay healthy for a whole season.
One can just imagine Terry Collins, who knows a thing about Mets injuries, approaching Callaway in spring training and whispering: “Division favorites? Good luck, fella!”
It was interesting that Van Wagenen made his proclamation on the day he was introducing 31-year-old Wilson Ramos as the new Mets catcher to handle his talented but delicate rotation. Coming off his most productive season (.306/15 HR/70 RBI), there’s no denying Ramos potentially brings the most offense the Mets have had at catcher since Mike Piazza. But there is also no denying his own injury record – torn medial meniscus in his right knee in 2012, two trips to the DL with hamstring issues in 2013, broken hamate bone after being hit by a foul tip, and another hamstring injury in 2014, torn right ACL in 2016 and a month on the DL last year with anther strained hamstring – is almost as lengthy as that of Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz combined.
In making his “we’re the favorites now” statement, Van Wagenen indicated he’s pretty much finished with the heavy lifting in fortifying the Mets around the starting pitchers corps — and that one last major expenditure on, say, an A.J. Pollack for a big bat in center field , is not in the offing. (Yep, when it comes to the outfield, signing Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco to minor league contracts apparently was it.) Rather, he is also banking on 36-year-old Robinson Cano to continue supplying 25-homer offense at second base while also hoping Juan Lagares, the king of injuries who’s been hurt most of the last three seasons, can finally grab hold of the center field job and keep it all year without again breaking down.
Let’s be honest here. Van Wagenen’s bold prediction is an “on paper” prediction, based on everyone on the Mets avoiding lengthy injuries and having peak seasons (with maybe a comeback by Yoenis Cespedes thrown in). It does not take into account that, if any of the core four starters — deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz — go down, there is no safety net behind them. But now that he’s said it, it stands that, if whatever reason the Mets do not get off to a fast start, there is no safety net for Callaway either. As Collins can tell him, injuries, which have been a way of life around the Mets these past three years, are a pitch.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD