By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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It’s been another disappointing season in Queens.
But seriously, who expected much from the Mets this season? We all knew that 90 wins was a ridiculous notion, and the additions of Curtis Granderson, Chris Young (good God) and Bartolo Colon weren’t going to propel this club into the playoffs.
But despite the frustration — the Amazin’s currently sit at 59-66, seven games behind the Giants for the second wild card spot in the National League — there have been a lot of positives to take away from 2014.
Jacob deGrom has blossomed into a young star, seemingly out of nowhere, and Zack Wheeler has continued to mature into a very good major league pitcher. And, for the first time in God knows how long, the Mets have a formidable back-end of the bullpen in Vic Black, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejía.
But enough about the diamond. The Mets’ strength is their pitching, and we know that. The main issue holding this team back is the offense, and certain players had plenty to prove this season if they were going to be part of the solution going forward.
Well, some of those players have shown us something, and it’s been remarkably encouraging to see.
New York had plenty of holes coming into 2014, three of which were at catcher, at first base and in center field. Travis d’Arnaud was a huge disappointment in 2013, leaving Mets fans scratching their heads over why this kid was such a highly touted prospect. Neither Lucas Duda nor Ike Davis wanted the job at first, it seemed, as both players struggled mightily. And while Juan Lagares showed glimpses of brilliance, it was a small sample size and there were questions about his bat.
Fast forward to mid-August, and d’Arnaud, Duda and Lagares have made tremendous progress and taken their games to new levels.
D’Arnaud was brutal out of the gate, but after a brief stint in Triple-A he’s come on strong with the bat. You can just see a difference in his demeanor, his approach. There’s a confidence there that wasn’t there before. Don’t let the former first-round pick’s .230 average fool you. Considering he spent most of the season hitting under .200, that figure looks pretty good. The 25-year-old has also shown a penchant for power, hitting 10 home runs in 278 at-bats. He doesn’t get cheated with his long balls, either. Catchers historically take some time to get into a rhythm at the MLB level — see Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers — and it certainly appears that d’Arnaud is finding that rhythm.
The backstop needs to become more adept at blocking pitches in the dirt and throwing runners out, but he should be a major piece of the puzzle for years to come. For the first time since Mike Piazza, the Mets have a legitimate catcher.
What can you say about Duda? The big man has had a breakout campaign and has solidified himself as a legitimate home-run threat. After Davis was shipped to Pittsburgh, the pressure was on the 28-year-old to prove that he could be an everyday player and hit for power consistently.
Duda has done just that, outplaying Davis since the trade and cementing himself as the only true slugger on the team. He’s batting .255 with 21 homers and 65 RBIs, and he’s continued to draw walks, which has resulted in a .353 on-base percentage. We’ll see next season if 2014 was an aberration, but there’s reason to believe that Duda can be counted on to drill 25 dingers and drive in 95 runs. It looks like general manager Sandy Alderson picked the right first baseman.
Duda isn’t exactly Keith Hernandez or Mark Teixeira with the glove, but he’s vastly improved and is serviceable at the position.
And then there’s Lagares. One of the most exciting players in the league to watch, he’s arguably the best defensive center fielder in baseball. Yeah, he’s that good out there. Not only does he track everything down, but he has a cannon for an arm to boot.
He doesn’t have any pop, but the 25-year-old has developed into a solid hitter to go along with his stellar defense. It would be nice if he ran more, considering his speed, but the second-year player currently boasts the second-best average on the team (.274) behind Daniel Murphy among regulars. He needs to walk more and cut down on his strikeouts, but his 4.5 WAR speaks for itself.
Now let me make this very clear: These players are not superstars. But they are legitimate, productive major leaguers who can be counted on to complement Murphy, David Wright and Granderson. They’re essentially three fewer holes that Alderson has to worry about filling in the offseason.
It makes this winter that much easier for the GM. There are really only two holes left to fill: shortstop and left field. If the Mets can fill one of these holes with a speedy, top-of-the-order type and the other with a middle-of-the-order run producer, this club can contend in the NL East as early as next season.
I won’t predict who Sandy will go out and get, or make a case for any two players. It’s been done to death and, frankly, I’m tired of speculating. But whether its via free agency or trade, there are players to be had. Alderson needs to get two of the following: Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Starlin Castro, Hanley Ramirez, Yasmani Tomás, Rusney Castillo, Melky Cabrera, Michael Morse, Asdrubal Cabrera and J.J. Hardy. Some of these players will be out of the Wilpons’ price range, some will cost too many prospects and some will be gambles. And I’m probably missing some intriguing options.
But you get the idea.
Land two players from the aforementioned list, and you have a prospective lineup that looks like this:
2B Daniel Murphy
1B Lucas Duda
3B David Wright
RF Curtis Granderson
C Travis d’Arnaud
CF Juan Lagares
That lineup would sufficiently support a pitching staff consisting of five of the following: deGrom, Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Colon, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee.
Not only are d’Arnaud, Duda and Lagares enjoyable to watch, but they’re making the Mets’ future look that much brighter.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.
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