The Mets have not been great since the middle of the last decade, for a variety of reasons involving roster construction, a lack of quality players, and, of course, that whole Ponzi scheme thing. They're close to turning things around, though, closer than many might think given the usual LOL METS reaction of the Internet, but even with that, recent comments from general manager Sandy Alderson are surprising.
Alderson reportedly told Mets' executives and personnel that he "strongly believes" New York can win 90 games in 2014. The first reaction upon seeing that is likely "nope" or "You know Matt Harvey is out for the year, right?", but let's be fair to Alderson and take a closer look at this roster. Let's see what it would take for the Mets to win 90 games in 2014, so we can find out to just what degree this statement is either foolish or prescient, or, hey, somewhere in between.
For starters, let's check their projected records. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasting system pegs the Mets at 73 wins, and Bovada agrees with their latest over/under odds, putting the Mets at 73.5. It's worth pointing out, though, that these tend to be conservative figures: PECOTA also has the National League East victor winning all of 88 contests, just one NL club with over 90 victories, and none of the 15 AL clubs winning 90 at all. So, we can probably say the Mets are more like a 75- or 76-win team per PECOTA. It's a small difference, but it at least lessens the gap between their projection and that 90-win goal.
Where are they going to make up those other 14-15 wins, though? The most obvious place is the rotation, where the five rotation regulars are projected to account for 137 of the 162 starts per PECOTA: they're also only forecasted for about three wins above replacement. The pessimistic projections makes sense when you break down the rotation, but doing that also shows you how they could be much, much better than they're shown to be here.
Dillon Gee posted an average ERA+ in 2013, but also threw 199 innings. If he's able to replicate that season, he'll be worth much more than the half-win PECOTA forecasts: in fact, Prospectus valued him closer to two wins last season. Bartolo Colon's projection is similarly cautious, likely because Colon will be 41 years old. He's moving to the less difficult league, however, where he will rarely have to face designated hitters, and is coming off of a three-year stretch in the AL where he posted a 119 ERA+, and averaged about 2.5 wins above replacement according to Baseball Prospectus. It doesn't take much to believe Colon, who throws quality strikes with pinpoint accuracy and unparalleled consistency, has another well above-average campaign in him.
Then there is Jon Niese, whose shoulder MRI came back clean on Thursday. Rotator cuff issues hampered his 2013, making the season a disappointing follow-up to his breakout 2012 campaign, in which he set a career-high in innings (190) and strikeout-to-walk ratio while posting a 112 ERA+. If he's healthy and able to build on that season, the Mets will still miss Harvey, but they'll have a quality number two in the rotation to complement Colon.
Last year's 11th-ranked prospect per Baseball America, Zack Wheeler tossed 100 frames with a 104 ERA+ in 2013. He threw just under 170 innings total between Triple-A and the majors, meaning that the Mets will allow him near the 200-inning threshold should his performance bring him there. A full season of Wheeler, even if he's "only" league-average by ERA standards, would be worth quite a bit, as we've already discussed with Gee. There's also potential for breakout here: Wheeler was tipping his pitches at the start of his big-league career, but once he quit, opposing lineups suffered. Wheeler posted a 2.92 ERA and averaged over six innings per start over his last eight games: it's easy to believe he can best his mediocre projection.
The guy you might have to dream on the most is Jenrry Mejia. He used to be a starting pitching prospect, back when Omar Minaya was running the Mets, but injuries interrupted his career. He reappeared in 2013 to strike out almost seven times as many batters as he walked in 27 major-league innings, and while expecting ace-like numbers for him is inviting disappointment into your life, there's room here for him to be more than just a capable back-end piece.
The Mets have the potential for a fantastic rotation here, even without Harvey, and without bringing up top prospect Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero. Things could go awry, or they could all pitch to their projections, but the possibility for a high-quality starting five with multiple number two-caliber starters is real.
They would still need the lineup to take a similar step up, however. Signing Curtis Granderson is a lovely start, as a healthy Granderson is a vital piece given he no longer struggles against lefties like he used to in his Yankees' days. He might miss the short porch in right, but Granderson's bat is still legitimate. Prospect Travis d'Arnaud should boost the offense as well: his questions have more to do with health than ability. David Wright is wonderful, of course, and Daniel Murphy has turned into a useful ballplayer.
There's also shortstop Ruben Tejada, though, who was miserable in 2013 and hasn't been much of a hitter even during his better days, as well as free agent signing Chris Young. The lineup needs not one, but both to rebound, or Alderson needs to complete a trade for someone like the Mariners' Nick Franklin in order to bring up the lineup's floor a bit. The Mets are also relying on one of Ike Davis or Lucas Duda to take hold of the first base job without depressing an entire fan base, a fact that comfortably resides in "believe it when I see it" territory.
Even if everything goes right with the rotation, the Mets probably won't win 90 games if they can't produce at least a league-average offense. They could, especially if they aren't done tweaking the roster yet, but it's not a given. We can see that Alderson isn't out of his mind when he believes the Mets can win 90 games, at least, as there is a believable path for this team to get there. As far as an expectation for 90, however, Sandy might want to dial it back a bit.