By Joe Rini
Mercifully, the Mets 2017 season ends this Sunday in Philadelphia against the Phillies.
In between the high hopes of spring training and these last two months of games that resembled spring training in personnel and lack of drama, it was too often a season of disabled lists, dismal play, and ultimately, disappointment for the Mets. Two years after winning the NL pennant with 90 wins, this Mets team has already lost 90 games and clinched fourth place in the NL East, nearly 30 games behind the Washington Nationals. We know what’s happened in 2017 but what happens next in 2018?
This weekend will likely be Terry Collins’ last weekend as Mets manager, and a new skipper will be helming the team in 2018. The 68-year old Collins, who became the longest tenured manager in franchise history this year, is the oldest manager in the majors and the consensus among observers of the team for months has been that Collins was expected to retire as manager at the end of this season, especially since he doesn’t have a contract for next year.
Speaking about Collins’ status on September 22, GM Sandy Alderson said, “That situation is and will be resolved very shortly after the end of the season.” As for potential replacements for Collins, speculation has turned to bench coach Dick Scott and batting coach Kevin Long while candidates outside the organization include Bob Geren, Chip Hale, Alex Cora, and Robin Ventura, each of whom has had a prior connection to the Mets.
Whereas two year ago the biggest questions about the Mets starters seemed to be who would win 20 games or start an All-Star game, now it appears to be who can stay healthy and return to form. Noah Syndergaard returned from his partially torn lat muscle to pitch an inning against the Nationals on September 22 in his first appearance since April 30.
While Syndergaard is expected to be ready for next season atop the rotation with Jacob deGrom, questions remain about the health of Matt Harvey, Steve Matz, and Zack Wheeler. Given that six of the seven top starting pitchers on the Mets depth chart in spring training wound up on the disabled list during the season, Alderson did not rule out trying to acquire a starting pitcher who could pitch 180-200 innings in the number 3, 4, or 5 spot in the rotation to help stabilize the pitching staff.
The franchise’s top two prospects, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, have played regularly down the stretch of the season and have shown flashes of promise for 2018 and beyond but they need to continue to improve. Rosario’s range at shortstop is superior to the play of veterans Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera and he’s hit a respectable .263 in 42 games but with only three bases on balls, he needs to improve his plate discipline.
Smith has hit for more power than expected (seven homeruns in 156 at bats) but a deep slump in the past 10 days has dropped his average to .199. In his comments about Smith over the past few weeks, Collins has mentioned the need for Smith not to pressure himself and has compared him to Michael Conforto in his ability to hit to all fields. Collins stated about Smith in his postgame comments on September 9, “Be patient with Dom…He’s a good looking hitter. When you talk to him about hitting, he knows what he is doing.”
More questions abound about 2018 Mets, including the remaking of the bullpen, the future of David Wright, the health of Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, and potential free agent signings. With the end of the season in sight, the hot stove is already warming up for the 2018 Mets.