The New York Mets entered the spring with as much reason for excitement as any team in the majors. They had made the playoffs last season for the first time in six years, and following a disappointing loss to the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card Series, had spent the offseason signing one star after another. Unfortunately, with less than a fortnight remaining until Opening Day, that enthusiasm is being tested, and perhaps even corroded, by injuries.
Just consider the events of the past week. First, the Mets announced that veteran starter José Quintana will miss the season's first half following bone graft surgery to his rib area. Then, closer Edwin Díaz suffered a season-ending torn patellar tendon while celebrating Puerto Rico's victory in the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday. And, to complete the hat trick, starting center fielder Brandon Nimmo hurt himself on Friday on an awkward slide. Nimmo is considered "week-to-week" after suffering a low-grade sprain to his knee and ankle.
Still, you can understand if the Mets (and their fans) are feeling out of sorts after an eventful and ominous week. That's why, in the space below, we've offered up three reasons why the Mets should remain optimistic about the year to come. Scroll slowly with us, won't you?
1. What's left is still good
One of the modern blessings of being a baseball consumer is that you don't have to rely on your own gut feel to measure a team's quality.
Rather, there are oodles of resources available that can help reveal a team's true-talent level. To wit, this is the time of the year where projection systems help establish realistic baselines and expectations. Those projection systems are constructed in a manner that allows them to incorporate new developments throughout the year, be it a team's actual record or injuries.
In the case of the Mets, we do not have to hem and haw and rely on our own wits to estimate how much Díaz and Quintana's absences will harm their standing in the National League East. The projection systems have already been modified. FanGraphs' ZiPS, for instance, knows that Díaz won't throw a single pitch this season, and that Quintana won't get a full slate of starts. Even still, ZiPS has the Mets down for 89 wins, or the fifth most in baseball. SportsLine, meanwhile, has the Mets tabbed for 93 wins.
Now, projection systems aren't perfect mechanisms. Even the best tend to miss on average by five games per team. They're particularly finicky when it comes to relievers, since their impact is situationally dependent in ways that other positions are not. It also won't make Mets fans feel better that the Atlanta Braves are one of the four teams pegged for more than 89 wins. (The Braves, at 93 wins, are forecasted by ZiPS to be the majors' top team.)
Nevertheless, the Mets roster remains one of the most talented in the majors, and their chances of winning the division should not be discounted just because one system doesn't see them as the preseason favorites. Having a full season of Díaz and Quintana would make them even better, of course, but that leads us to the next point: there's ample time to atone for those losses.
2. They have the means to upgrade
After Díaz's injury was diagnosed, there was a rush on social media to figure out who the Mets could acquire to take his place.
With due respect to those ordering custom David Bednar Mets jerseys, the answer at this time of the year is "probably no one." Teams are always reluctant to trade meaningful contributors this close to Opening Day, lest they give their clubhouse and fan base the wrong impression heading into the long season. The Mets may still find some lower-grade help over the coming weeks (on Friday they claimed right-hander Dennis Santana off waivers), but a trade for a high-quality closer will likely have to wait until the summer.
That's not an ideal solution, but we think that it's helpful to remember the Mets will have the time and the means to bolster their roster.
Indeed, there's enough talent on the Mets farm system to envision them making meaningful midseason additions. Catcher Francisco Álvarez and third baseman Brett Baty made their big-league debuts last season, and could end up factoring into the Mets' lineup this year. Even if those two prove to be important parts of the equation and make themselves untradeable, there's also a pair of first-round picks from last summer -- catcher Kevin Parada and shortstop Jett Williams -- as well as outfielder Alex Ramirez, righty Blade Tidwell, shortstop Ronny Mauricio, and third baseman Mark Vientos.
The Mets are expected to be in the running for Los Angeles Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani if and when he's made available. Should the Angels play well enough to remain in the hunt and delay the Mets' pursuit until the winter, general manager Billy Eppler should still be able to make a splash before the stretch run. That will likely entail adding a good reliever in an attempt to counterbalance Díaz's absence, but it could also mean shoring up another weakness elsewhere on the roster.
3. It's a long season
Let's face it, injuries are an inevitable part of the baseball season.
It stinks whenever they happen, and it especially stinks when one team is hit with them in a cluster, the way the Mets have been the past week-plus. But the Mets aren't going to be the only team to suffer losses on these grounds. Every club will have their roster compromised throughout the season. With some exceptions on both sides of the spectrum, those injuries will probably even out.
For an example of what we mean, just look at the rest of the NL East. The Phillies could be without Bryce Harper until midseason, and may not be able to play him in the outfield once he returns. The Braves, meanwhile, will not have top reliever Tyler Matzek after he underwent Tommy John surgery last fall. You can argue about which injury hurts more -- we're certainly not implying those players are equals, or that their lost production washes out -- but the larger point remains true. The Mets were never, ever going to get through the regular season without some trials and tribulations -- no team will.
The only things you can hope for as a fan are 1) that the remaining team is good enough to get the job done, and 2) that the front office has the means to add even more talent to offset the losses as the year goes on.
In those respects, the Mets still very much have reason for optimism.