With another NL East opponent on the horizon I asked Allison McCague, on of the editors at our sister site Amazin’ Avenue, a few question about the Mets, their offseason, and what we can expect this season. Allison was very gracious in answering them in a fantastic manner on short notice.
1. The Mets hired a new front office this year, and reached for a bit different choice. What can you tell us about the fan reaction to the choice, and to his moves so far?
I think most fans were cautiously optimistic, but wary about the choice. It was definitely out of the box and because there isn’t much precedent for a player manager transitioning to the role of general manager, fans understandably took a “wait and see” sort of approach. There was some concern about conflicts of interest and some of his offseason moves—Robinson Cano and Jed Lowrie are represented by CAA, Van Wagenen’s former agency, for example—vindicated those concerns somewhat. That said, I think the fan reaction to his offseason moves has been overwhelmingly positive. Most of the fanbase understands that the Mets’ unwillingness to go after the truly big ticket items in Manny Machado or Bryce Harper stems from ownership, not from Van Wagenen. And most Mets fans feel that the new front office has done about the best they can do, given those constraints. The Cano/Diaz trade was creative and smart. The Ramos, Familia, Lowrie, and Wilson signings were all good moves in the eyes of most of the fanbase and other than Lowrie who is currently on the injured list, have all paid dividends already this season. And of course, Mets fans are very pleased that Van Wagenen was able to finally get the deGrom extension done at the 11th hour.
2. The Mets made some big moves during the off-season, but they’ve done that before. What makes this year different, if anything? Do they have a chance to win it all, or is it just another case of a big market team throwing resources around?
The thing is, I don’t see this offseason as a case of a big market team throwing resources around. While it’s true that they are a top-10 payroll team (depending on how you want to measure it), they were never a serious contender for the likes of Machado or Harper. In taking on Robinson Cano’s contract, they shed Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak’s salaries in exchange and also netted a young cost-controlled closer. What I do think makes this year different is that this team—at least on the position player side—is deeper than the teams of years past. Brodie Van Wagenen spent a lot of the offseason preaching “no more what-ifs” and to a certain extent, he has fulfilled that promise. The Mets made a lot of depth signings in the form of minor league contracts, which means the Mets have some legitimate major league role players waiting in Triple-A, should injury or ineffectiveness befall members of the active roster. The 2018 Mets gave a significant number of at-bats to Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Reyes, Austin Jackson, and Jose Bautista, among others. The 2019 team is built such that hopefully that will not have to happen again. This team is a high variance team, so yes, I think there is a chance they could win it all. But, like most Mets teams of the recent past, it’s highly dependent on the health of their pitching and that is the area where the depth is probably the weakest, which is why you may have seen many Mets fans on Twitter clamoring for Dallas Keuchel. The NL East is one of the toughest divisions in baseball this year, so the road to the playoffs isn’t going to be an easy one for the Mets. I’m at least hoping for the Mets to be part of an exciting and hard-fought division race well into the late summer.
3. What’s been the biggest surprise so far about your team?
Probably Pete Alonso, the Mets’ top prospect and now starting first baseman. He has come out of the gate scorching hot and currently holds a 1.256 OPS and a 219 wRC+ in his first 37 plate appearances. He’s also been in the top 10% of the league in exit velocity. He’s crushing it. I won’t say he was a complete surprise because anyone who follows the Mets farm system knew he had the chance to be something special and he absolutely raked in spring, which is why he is with the big league club in the first place, rather than having his service time manipulated. But there were some questions about whether his 80 grade raw power would actually translate to in-game power, as well as about whether he would connect well enough on off-speed pitches to hit for average and show that in-game power. Of course we don’t have a definitive answer to either of those questions from a nine game sample, but early returns seem to indicate the answer to both of those questions may be “yes,” and if they are, he has the chance to be a really special player for the Mets.
4. Who wins the series? Twins sweep, Mets sweep, or split?
Almost any Mets fan would feel pretty confident with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard on the mound, especially the former. The Twins have the unfortunate timing to have to face both, so I’m inclined to call a sweep, but as a Mets fan, it’s also hard to feel confident in the Mets not Metsing, so I’ll go with a split: the Mets take the first game and the Twins take the second.
5. Obviously the frontline starters get most of the press for the Mets, and we’ve seen a lot of Robby Cano over the years. Who is a player or two we probably haven’t heard of who could make a big impact on this series?
I already mentioned Pete Alonso. He is certainly one. Two other names that Twins fans may come away from this series remembering are Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil. Conforto has been on the Mets since the second half of 2015, when he was a key cog in the Mets’ run to the World Series. But injuries have held him back somewhat since. His breakout year was 2017, when he was an All-Star, but that season ended with him dislocating his shoulder swinging the bat. He needed surgery and many fans feel he was rushed back in 2018 to his detriment. But he had fantastic second half numbers last season and fans are hoping for another All-Star caliber year from him this season. Jeff McNeil burst onto the scene last year, putting together one of the best second-half rookie campaigns in Mets history, despite not being a highly regarded prospect. So far in 2019, he’s picking up exactly where he left off and fans are hoping this means that last season was no fluke and McNeil is for real. Given that both Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier (both currently on the injured list, so the Twins won’t be seeing them this series) are on the roster in addition to Robinson Cano, the Mets have turned McNeil into sort of a super-utility man just to get his bat into the lineup. He’ll be seeing more reps in the outfield once Lowrie and Frazier return.
6. Anything else I should have asked you but didn’t?
I don’t think so, but I just want to let Twins fans know that I’m really excited to see Willians Astudillo play!