Why the Mets are clear favorites to repeat as NL East champions
My, how quickly things can change. Just a day after it appeared he was destined to join the Washington Nationals, free-agent slugger Yoenis Cespedes (No. 52) agreed to a three-year, $75 million deal to return to the New York Mets. And the impact of that move will be similar to Cespedes’ addition to New York’s lineup last August. With him aboard, the Mets will remain the class of the NL -- by a large margin. Here’s why . . .
Sean M. Haffey
The return of Yoenis Cespedes
While the Mets still could have been a playoff team without Cespedes, his absence would have left a sizeable void in the middle of the batting order. This was a completely different offense -- last in the majors in OPS and runs per game -- before he joined the lineup on Aug. 1 last season. Left fielder Michael Conforto should continue to develop in his sophomore season, and the Mets are almost certain to have third baseman David Wright and catcher Travis d'Arnaud in the lineup for more than the 105 games they combined to play in 2015.
Getty ImagesMike Stobe
Remember the buzz about the Mets possibly trading Matt Harvey this offseason to improve in other areas? It never happened. Instead, it was Jonathan Niese who was dealt. That means a full season from Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, who will be joined eventually by Zack Wheeler, who missed the 2015 season after Tommy John surgery. In the meantime, Bartolo Colon is back to serve as the fifth starter.
MLB Photos via Getty ImagesAnthony Causi
The upgrade at second base
As otherworldly (16 for 38, seven homers, 11 RBI) as Daniel Murphy was in the NLDS and NLCS, he had three hits (all singles) and no RBI in 20 World Series at-bats. And his 14 homers during the 2015 regular season were a career high. Defensively, he made two key errors in the World Series, exposing the biggest flaw. His replacement, Neil Walker, isn’t known for his glove, either, but is a better defender and a better run producer.
Getty ImagesJared Wickerham
In his first season as closer, Jeurys Familia was dominant. He finished third in the majors with 43 saves (in 48 opportunities), his 1.85 ERA was second only to Aroldis Chapman among relievers with more than 30 saves, and he allowed just one earned run (albeit a huge one) in 14 2/3 postseason innings. Plus, the Mets have added lefty Antonio Bastardo to a strong unit that will get Jerry Blevins and Josh Edgin back from injuries and will have Addison Reed for a full season.
MLB Photos via Getty ImagesRon Vesely
Yoenis Cespedes’ return pushes Juan Lagares, a Gold Glove winner in 2014, to the bench. Joining him there is underrated offseason pickup Alejandro De Aza, who can play all three outfield positions. In the infield, both Ruben Tejada (fibula) and Wilmer Flores (ankle) are expected to be ready for spring training. They both should serve as backup infielders after the addition of free-agent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
The Nationals haven't improved
Gone are shortstop Ian Desmond, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, third baseman Yunel Escobar, relievers Drew Storen and Matt Thornton, center fielder Denard Span and starter/reliever Doug Fister. Oddly still around is closer Jonathan Papelbon. In addition, the team was unsuccessful in its pursuit of free agents Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Darren O’Day. The Nationals went 8-11 against the Mets last season, and it’s shaping up to be another futile pursuit for Bryce Harper and Co. in 2016.
Getty ImagesG Fiume
The rest of the division is weak
The Marlins should be improved, but nowhere near enough to dethrone the Mets. In addition, the NL East features two teams -- the Braves and Phillies -- in full rebuilding mode. New York went 25-13 against Atlanta and Philadelphia last season, and it should be even more one-sided this season. The Mets had the fewest wins (90) among the five NL playoff teams in 2015, but that won’t be the case in 2016.