We're going to continue our little series of positional comparisons by looking at another crosstown rivalry. The Mets were 79-83 in 2014, but they outscored their opponents by 11 runs. They added Michael Cuddyer as a free agent and did not add a shortstop, much to the consternation of Mets fans. The Yankees were 84-78, but they were outscored by their opponents by 31 runs. They did acquire Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks to replace Derek Jeter, but for the most part they're relying on the same cast of veterans.
Of course, Alex Rodriguez returns ... much to the consternation of Yankees fans.
Let's go position by position in the battle for the hearts of Big Apple baseball fans.
McCann had a disappointing season in 2014 after signing with the Yankees, hitting 23 home runs but posting a crummy .286 OBP. McCann used to have more variance to his offensive game, twice hitting .300 with the Braves, drawing as many 74 walks and hitting as many as 42 doubles. Now it's pretty much homer or nothing as he rarely hits doubles and had the lowest walk rate of his career. He hit just .215 against fastballs in 2014, a sign of a guy with a slow bat who can still pop a long one when he guesses correctly. I like d'Arnaud's potential with the bat although he needs to improve all facets of his defensive game.
Edge: Mets. McCann's veteran leadership and pitch framing are important, but I don't see much hope for a turnaround at the plate from him.
Teixeira is 35 and has been getting worse for years. There's no reason to expect better numbers in 2015. Duda got to play regularly for the first time in his career last season and popped 30 home runs. He's still useless against lefties (.180/.264/.252) and if the Mets are smart they'll platoon Cuddyer with him, which also helps the club by getting Cuddyer out of the outfield.
Edge: Mets. I don't know if Duda hits 30 homers again, but I think Duda plus Cuddyer is an edge over the fading Tex.
Murphy isn't as good as Mets fans seem to think -- he's averaged 1.7 WAR the past three seasons, hardly a star even if he did make the All-Star team in 2014 -- as he lacks range and doesn't get on base as much as you'd like from a guy who hits close to .300. Drew had a good season playing shortstop for the Red Sox in 2013, but got jilted in the free-agent market last year. He limped back to Boston in June and proceeded to hit .162, the fifth-lowest average ever for a player with 300 plate appearances. For some reason, the Yankees wanted him back. He'll do better, but he's 32 and I have no idea how much better.
As with Drew, the Yankees re-signed Headley after trading for him during the 2014 season. He had the big season in 2012 with the Padres when he led the National League in RBIs but that looks more and more like a fluke after he's averaged .246/.338/.387 the past two seasons. Getting out of Petco Park could help his power numbers but some of his value is tied to his above-average defense and, at 31, you wonder how long he'll remain a plus defender.
Wright is one of the key guys in the entire league. He played through a shoulder injury last year before finally shutting it down in early September and hit .269 with just eight home runs in 134 games. The injury clearly affected him, especially his ability to turn with authority on fastballs. Check out his numbers through the years against fastballs:
Assuming good health, Wright should bounce back. He was worth 5.8 WAR in 2013 and 7.0 in 2012 and could get back to that level as one of the best third basemen in the game.
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius versus Wilmer Flores
Mets fans treat Flores as if he's the Ebola virus. Look, the Mets weren't going to get Troy Tulowitzki and there wasn't much else out there. Flores projects as a slightly below-average shortstop -- Steamer has him at 1.7 WAR, as a shortstop with a little pop, mediocre defense and a sub-.300 OBP. I liked Gregorius when he first came up with Arizona in 2013, but he struggled at the plate last year and can't hit left-handers, so he probably works in a platoon with Brendan Ryan. At the minimum, the pair will be a big defensive upgrade on Jeter.
Edge: Do I have to pick?
Gardner added some power to his game in 2014, hitting 17 home runs, but you wonder if he got a little homer-happy in the second half because his average dropped to .217. His walk rate has also dropped 5 percent from his 2010 breakout. He would be better served working the count a little more and sacrificing a few home runs to get on base more. Anyway, not counting 2012, when he was injured, Gardner's WAR totals since 2010: 7.3, 4.1, 4.0, 4.5. He's a good player, if not quite the elite defender of a few years ago, a solid, all-around contributor. He's a better player now than his former teammate.
Numbers from 2014:
Ellsbury: .271/.328/.419, 39 SB, -5 defensive runs saved, 3.0 WAR
Lagares: .281/.321/.382, 13 SB, +28 defensive runs saved, 5.2 WAR
Projections for 2015:
Ellsbury: .271/.329/.418, 32 SB, 3.7 WAR
Lagares: .249/.291/.352, 12 SB, 2.5 WAR
Lagares had an otherworldly year on defense and his bat played better than expected, with an OBP that nearly matched Ellsbury's. You probably should expect both players to regress a little and that gives the edge to the more predictable player.
Right field: Carlos Beltran versus Michael Cuddyer
One old, sort of broken-down right fielder versus ... an old, sort of broken-down right fielder. Beltran hit .233/.301/.402 in 109 games after signing as a free agent last year and you can attribute that line to a bone spur in his elbow or to the fact that he was 37. Or a little of both. Now he's 38 and says he has to prove himself all over again. Cuddyer was a controversial free-agent signing as the Mets sacrificed their first-round pick to sign him to a two-year, $21 million contract. He's a defensive liability, especially now at 36, and while he hit a combined .331 the past two seasons with the Rockies, he also played just 49 games last year and he never hit higher than .284 before going to Colorado.
Edge: Yankees. Betting on a comeback of sorts from Beltran.
The Yankees have Rodriguez and Garrett Jones to serve as DHs and backups at third and first while Chris Young will give Beltran some off days in right field. The Mets' bench will include John Mayberry Jr., Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada and Anthony Recker, but keep an eye on second baseman Dilson Herrera. He doesn't have a job right now with Murphy, but he can hit.
Edge: Looks pretty even, barring a miraculous comeback from A-Rod.
It's a little unfair to expect Harvey to come back from Tommy John surgery and pitch as well he did in 2013. Plus, the Mets will monitor his workload, saying they'll skip a start here and there. But the expectations seem to be that Harvey won't skip a beat. There's no guarantee Tanaka will stay healthy as well after missing time with his own elbow issues last season. If healthy, both are Cy Young contenders, but both will enter 2015 as big question marks.
Edge: Assuming both are healthy and make 30 starts, who do you like? Based on his 2013 numbers -- 2.27 ERA/2.01 FIP, 191 strikeouts and 31 walks in 178.1 innings -- I give the edge to Harvey.
DeGrom came out of nowhere to win Rookie of the Year honors. There's nothing in his numbers that screams fluke and his stuff is legit with a four-seam fastball that touches 95 mph, a good sinker plus a changeup, slider and curveball. Among 127 pitchers who threw at least 125 innings last season, he ranked 12th in strikeout rate. Even accounting for some regression, he's the better bet at this point than Sabathia, who made just eight starts before undergoing season-ending knee surgery in 2014.
This is a fun one. Can Pineda stay healthy? Can Wheeler cut down on his walks and make The Leap with his great stuff?
Edge: It's all about risk. I like Pineda a little better but remember: He missed time in the minors, he had the shoulder surgery in 2012 that wiped out two seasons and then he missed nearly four months with a muscle strain in his back in 2014 (but posted a 1.89 ERA in the 13 starts he did make). Wheeler's stuff is ace-like, but his control isn't. I still see him as a solid No. 3 as opposed to a breakout performer.
Eovaldi, acquired from the Marlins, is a potential breakout candidate as well with his great arm, but the Mets have more depth here with top prospect Noah Syndergaard waiting for an opportunity to pitch as well.
The Yankees lost closer David Robertson but replaced him with lefty Andrew Miller, giving them an imposing 1-2 combo with Miller and Dellin Betances, the most valuable reliever in baseball last year. Assuming Betances takes over as the closer, it will be interesting to see how Joe Girardi uses him. He pitched 90 innings last year as the setup guy to Robertson, but closers usually top out around 70. The Yankees also picked up Justin Wilson and David Carpenter in the offseason. The Mets had the eighth-best bullpen ERA last season, but had the 24th-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (they were 28th in walk rate). It's a mediocre pen at best and potentially a bad one.
Where does that leave us? I see the Yankees as having as wide a range of possible outcomes as any team in the majors, owing to the age of the lineup and the health of Tanaka, Sabathia and Pineda. They could win 90; they could lose 90. Yes, everything could work out: The old guys play well, McCann and Ellsbury are better in their second year in the Bronx, Gregorius and Headley make the defense better, the rotation stays intact and Betances and Miller are the best bullpen duo in the majors.
That's a lot of ifs. The Mets maybe don't have the same upside, but I do love their depth in the starting rotation. If Wright bounces back and Duda produces close to what he did last year, the offense should be at least league average and maybe better. They're in a weak division with the Phillies and Braves and that will help.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson believes the club has the potential to improve by 10 wins. I'm not going quite that high, but I think the Mets will be in the wild-card race with 85 to 87 wins ... about seven more than the Yankees, who will suffer their first losing season since 1992.