Ya gotta believe! Maybe, kinda, sorta. That’s the New York Mets' approach as they look ahead to the 2018 season.
FanGraphs' projections for the coming year peg the Mets at 80 wins, 11 games behind the Nationals in the National League East. The most positive thing you can say is it puts them only four games behind the Giants for the second wild-card spot. By these numbers, the Mets are better than the Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Pirates, Brewers, Reds, Rockies and Padres in the National League.
Eighty wins is a lousy place to be, though, because you’re at the bottom edge of contention but not close enough to the bottom of the standings to net a premium draft pick.
Bruce was worth nearly 3 WAR last season, according to both Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, but was basically replacement level when you mix in his numbers from 2014 to 2016. Swarzak was between a 2- and 3-WAR pitcher out of the bullpen last season, but that went a good ways beyond anything he had done in the past.
Gonzalez, hampered by a back injury, was among the worst position players in baseball last season, at minus-1.2 WAR. He’ll turn 36 in May, and the track record for first basemen age 36 or older isn’t great. In the past six seasons, just one has been worth more than 0.5 WAR (per Baseball-Reference.com): Paul Konerko in 2012 (1.9). Of the eight instances of a first baseman age 36 or older playing at least 100 games in that span, six were negative-WAR players. There’s no reason to have high expectations for him.
Gonzalez is heading to Flushing to be lightning in a bottle and to provide mentoring and a motivational push for 22-year-old first baseman Dominic Smith. Smith’s minus-1.2 WAR, by the way, matched Gonzalez’s last season. He has a ways to climb.
The tough thing for a Mets fan to swallow is the team’s lack of major moves. For example, the Giants' trades for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen project to be worth about 6 WAR. Those were major moves. The Mets went with careful spending. Their moves are projected to be worth about 2.5 WAR.
What’s left for a Mets fan to do?
• Hope that shortstop Amed Rosario learned that three walks in 170 plate appearances isn't a good ratio and that he isn’t a 1-WAR player, but is a 2- or 3-WAR player befitting from his top-five prospect status.
• Hope that catcher Travis d'Arnaud can stay healthy for a full season. That hasn’t happened yet, but maybe if he does, his 1.6 WAR projection will double.
• Hope that the motivational push for Smith works (a jump from minus-1 to 1 WAR for him, Gonzalez or both would be noteworthy), that Bruce’s 3-WAR season wasn’t just the result of a free-agency push and that Swarzak’s 2017 wasn’t a fluke.
• Hope that Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are rescued by the magic of new manager Mickey Callaway and new pitching coach Dave Eiland. All three starting pitchers are forecast for ERAs above 4.00 next season. FanGraphs tabs them for slightly more than 300 combined innings. If those three combine for 450, with ERAs in the 3.00s, the Mets likely would be overjoyed, and their pitching WAR ranking at FanGraphs likely would climb from tied for seventh (which gives them at least a little hope) into the top five.
• Hope that A.J. Ramos pitches like former Met Addison Reed, whether he’s the closer or the eighth-inning guy. Ramos will make about a million dollars more than Reed will get from the Twins this year, while over the past two seasons, Reed was worth 5.3 WAR to Ramos' 1.6. So you're asking for a lot.
If all of those things happen and Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto fully recover from their injuries, maybe the Mets have something. Perhaps that 80-win projection will turn into a 90-win season.
But the Mets' spending so far -- for Bruce, Swarzak and Gonzalez -- is lacking in significant impact, which means the Mets probably won't be making a significant impact in October, either.