The Mets' current lineup is better than last year with the additions of Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos, but is it enough to avoid the offensive ups and downs suffered the past few seasons?
The way it stands, FanGraphs.com projects the Mets to have the seventh-most productive set of bats in the National League. Overall, the team projects to be the NL's fifth-best, but that is largely due to the pitching staff, which projects to be the best.
The thing is, if Cano, Ramos or Michael Conforto go down with an injury, let alone two of them dropping at the same time, the Mets will return to scrambling when forced to again lean on Todd Frazier to be a veteran, power presence in the lineup. Which is why they need to add more.
"At this stage of his career, Frazier can never be your second- or third-best hitter, let alone your most prominent hitter," a rival talent evaluator recently told me. "Frazier is a fourth or fifth guy at best. If you're leaning on his bat, you're probably fighting to be around .500."
In a best case scenario, Brodie Van Wagenen's current lineup likely starts with Brandon Nimmo in center field, followed by Jeff McNeil in left field and Conforto in right field. Ramos has been talked about as the team's cleanup hitter, after which Cano, rookie Peter Alonso and Frazier will follow. Amed Rosario and the team's starting pitcher will bounce between the final two slots.
Frazier, Rosario and McNeil will likely switch around depending on the situation.
It's a nice lineup. Similarly, in the last week or so, Van Wagenen has done a nice job adding players with big-league experience to bring much-needed depth and stability to the bottom of the roster.
However, as FanGraphs WAR projections clearly point out, Van Wagenen would be wise to upgrade his power in the outfield, which would let him move McNeil to third base and either trade Frazier or transition him to a backup at first, third and right field.
FanGraphs is currently spreading McNeil's projected production (1.3 WAR) around left field, second and third base. It would be more if playing 150 games at third base. They have Conforto and Nimmo full time in the corners (with a combined 5.5 WAR), which leaves Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton as the main producers in center (combining for less than 1.0 WAR).
The only way left to make a significant impact in the outfield would be to sign Bryce Harper or A.J. Pollock, both of whom most of the team's beat writers tell us has zero chance of happening.
I think it's unlikely, but I don't believe the Mets are 100 percent out on either player. Because, by adding Pollock to center field, which would move McNeil to third and Frazier to the bench, Van Wagenen's projected production bumps up two or three spots in the National League (and up to around third or fourth overall and on par with the Nationals).
I realize adding Broxton and having Lagares make it seem Pollock is no longer an option. But, my hunch is Van Wagenen sees Broxton as depth with him and Lagares being a defense-first fallback option up the middle.
Pollock started this winter seeking a five-to-seven year contract, which is of no interest to the Mets and anyone else. However, like Lorenzo Cain experienced last year, MLB insiders all expect Pollock will eventually accept a four-year, $50-60 million contract. There are up to 10 to 12 teams that could use a center fielder, but none fit as well as the Mets, who have the exact amount of room for him in their budget and roster.
Harper would allow for a larger bump in the team's projected production, but things with other teams first must play out the right way and, even if they do, he'll still cost a lot more money and a much bigger commitment than Pollock.
The Mets currently project to have $147 million in annual salaries on their roster, which allows for close to $60 million before they hit the year one luxury tax. They can go with the current roster, expect immediate maturity from Alonso and hope no one gets hurt. Or, they could lock in one more, high-priced, every day player and let consistency and better projections trickle down the roster.
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Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!