By Zach Gewelb
At the beginning of the 2017 season, this column questioned whether New York City had become a Mets town. It was a logical question to ask, given the Mets success in 2015 and 2016 while the Yankees were clearly a step behind.
But, man, what a difference eight months has made. The Mets had a chance to seize New York with their homegrown pitching studs and veteran talent across the diamond. They entered the 2017 season with playoff expectations and World Series aspirations. The Yankees were breaking in a new, young and unproven core and had low expectations.
The Mets finished the season with a 70-92 record, while the Yankees were a win away from advancing to the World Series.
Additionally, the Yankees reclaimed their “Evil Empire” reputation after trading for Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning National League MVP, from the Miami Marlins. With their 2017 success and big-time trade, the Yankees have taken back New York — did they ever truly lose it? — while the Mets return to being the “little brother” of baseball in the Big Apple.
But it’s not crazy to think that they can be as good, if not better, than the Yankees. As currently constructed, the Mets are behind the Yankees in terms of talent. But the gap isn’t all that big.
The Mets’ biggest advantage is their pitching staff, which — when healthy — stacks up with some of the best rotations in the league. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better one-two punch than Noah Syndergaard and Jacob de Grom at the top of a rotation. Steven Matz is a solid No. 3 pitcher, while the team can fill out the rotation with arms like Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo.
The Mets also have some good options in the outfield, including former All-Star Yoenis Cespedes and 2017 All-Star Michael Conforto. Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo have a lot to offer as well.
In the infield, the Mets have Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores to support youngsters Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith with Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate.
Now, this core may not be as elite as the Yankees’, which includes Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorious. But there is more talent in Queens than the Mets’ 70-92 season indicates. And there’s reason to believe things are looking up for the Mets.
The team imported a new coaching staff — led by new manager Mickey Callaway — and more importantly, a new training staff. The new staff will be more hands-on in terms of monitoring players during the offseason. While it should be an obvious thing to do, the Mets have not done so in the past, and the disconnect between the players and trainers led to another injury-riddled campaign. There is hope the new staff will help limit the amount of injuries moving forward.
The Mets are also looking to add some talent to their team during the offseason. They’ve been connected to free agent second basemen and relievers, two areas of need.
While the team boasts a solid bullpen featuring Jeurys Fmailia, Jerry Blevins and A.J. Ramos, the Mets have been looking to add another reliever to the mix. They missed out on one of their top targets, Bryan Shaw, who signed with the Rockies. But there are other solid arms still available.
The Mets have also been connected with second basemen Ryan Goins, Josh Harrison, Ian Kinsler, Jurickson Profar and Jason Kipnis.
Adding a reliever and a second basemen to a healthy pitching staff would put the Mets on the short list of contenders heading into the 2018 season.
And if all goes right, they might be in a position to take over New York once again.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe