Mets Looking Up?

Noah+Syndergaard%27s+health+is+a+big+variable+for+the+Mets+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29.
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Mets Looking Up?

Noah Syndergaard's health is a big variable for the Mets (Courtesy of Twitter).

Noah Syndergaard's health is a big variable for the Mets (Courtesy of Twitter).

Noah Syndergaard's health is a big variable for the Mets (Courtesy of Twitter).

Noah Syndergaard's health is a big variable for the Mets (Courtesy of Twitter).

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By Evan Biancardi

Noah Syndergaard’s health is a big variable for the Mets (Courtesy of Twitter).

The Mets would certainly like to forget about 2017. After watching stars like Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto hit the DL early and often, the Mets fell to fourth place in the division and finished the campaign with a 70-92 record. By September, the team had traded away Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker, and it seemed as though the team was headed for a rebuild. However, with the pitching core still largely intact, there’s no reason why this team can’t contend for a playoff spot in 2018.

Last year, the Mets’ pitching staff ranked 28th in the league in ERA, allowing just over five runs per game. They were also 28th in walks allowed, and their .273 batting-average-against was dead-last in the National League. Unsurprisingly, this had everything to do with injuries. Aside from Jacob deGrom, who started 31 games last season, the only other Mets pitcher to start at least 20 games was Robert Gsellman.

It’s safe to assume, though, that this will not be the case again in 2018. Syndergaard and deGrom are off to solid starts this spring, and both Matt Harvey and Steven Matz have shown what they’re capable of this upcoming season. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the Mets has been Zack Wheeler, who could be headed for minor league camp after struggling so far this spring. And with newly-signed lefty Jason Vargas injuring his non-throwing hand last week, it appears as though Gsellman or Seth Lugo will round out the Mets’ rotation. Regardless, there’s no question that the pitching staff will improve in 2018, and the addition of righty Anthony Swarzak will most definitely help lock down the later innings.

Sandy Alderson also addressed several of the team’s offensive holes this offseason. At the end of last year, it looked as though the Mets were going to have to rely on youngsters Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera to fill out the depth chart. Now, it’ll be surprising if any of them even make the club come Opening Day. The return of Jay Bruce and the acquisition of Todd Frazier adds much-needed depth to the lineup, and the signing of Adrian Gonzalez gives Smith more time to develop at first base. The move also allows Wilmer Flores to serve as a utility player and puts less strain on the club should an injury arise.

The only moves left for the Mets to make would be to find a suitor for outfielder Juan Lagares and to make Kevin Plawecki the primary backstop. Lagares is slated to make $6.5 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019 as the team’s fourth outfielder. Multiple teams have been linked to the slick-fielding centerfielder this offseason, but it doesn’t appear as though a trade is in the works. A deal seems most sensible, though, considering Nimmo is capable of serving in such a role and has only one minor league option remaining.

As far as the catching situation goes, new manager Mickey Callaway has suggested that a platoon is in the works for Plawecki and Travis d’Arnaud. With Plawecki likely to get the nod against right-handed pitching, it’s probable that the 27-year-old will see most of the playing time behind the plate. This move is long overdue, considering d’Arnaud has hit just .245/.306/.406 through five injury-plagued seasons.

While the Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies all look primed to contend in 2018, don’t sleep on the Mets. The Nationals still sit atop the division, but the team from Queens will most surely be in the playoff conversation this fall.