When was the last time I was this excited for a baseball season? Maybe never, as 2017 is lining up to be the most fascinating season for both NY baseball teams since I can’t even remember. It’s a tale of two cities, with the Yankees in the unfamiliar position of rebuilding while staying competitive, and the 2016 NL Wild Card Mets bringing back an almost identical roster. Despite my undoubted Yankee allegiance, I can’t help but acknowledge when both teams are competitive how much more exciting it makes New York; the energy is fantastic. I did my 9th grade public speaking piece on an excerpt from a Subway Series book, and would love nothing more than another Subway Series. Let’s take a look at our two contenders in the battle for bragging rights to the city – let the fight commence!
In 2015 the Mets steamrolled the Cubs to reach the World Series, just in time for Jeurys Familia to author one of the most epic World Series meltdowns ever. After being lights out in the regular season, Familia proceeded to blow not one, not two, but three games in the World Series. I almost felt bad for the guy…almost. Where’s Jesse Orosco when you need him? For their 2016 redemption tour, the injury bug decimated the Mets as their heralded young guns each broke down. If they could only channel their inner Big Sexy, who is old enough to be the rest of the rotation’s father, and somehow led the team with 191 innings and 15 wins. He also quietly led the NL again with the lowest BB/9 with 1.5 per 9 innings. On Bartolo’s back, or maybe his gut, the Mets made the NL Wild Card Game with 87 wins. The depleted Metropolitans had the pleasure of meeting Madison Bumgarner, who is basically superman in the playoffs, and he promptly threw a 4-hit shutout. The Mets really didn’t stand a chance but adding insult to injury, Familia once again got blasted in the playoffs and took the loss. Having made the playoffs the past two seasons and coming up short, this third season could see everything finally click for the Mets.
It’s no secret the Mets have arguably the best 20-something starting rotation in baseball. They will live and die by the health of their young stars, but there’s a couple factors giving them the eternal optimism that so many clubs enjoy this time of year. Having reportedly added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, a healthy Noah Syndergaard and his 100-MPH fastballs could elevate him to the top of the NL CY Young conversation by seasons end. I see Syndergaard transforming into the second coming of Tom Seaver, throwing 215 IP with 260K’s and leading the league in ERA. It’s crazy to compare anyone to Seaver, but that’s the type of ceiling Syndergaard has if he can stay healthy. My favorite Mets starter, Jacob deGrom, is poised for a rebound after having his 2016 cut short by injury. He’ll turn 29 mid-season, and is already throwing 97-MPH gas this spring. He should also register 200+ innings and 200+ strikeouts, while lowering his miniscule 2.74 career ERA. After losing Colon’s 33 starts and 191 IP, the Mets will need deGrom and Syndergaard to stay healthy because the rest of the rotation is less likely to reach 30+ starts and 200+ quality innings. Matt Harvey, coming off Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery and a 4.86 ERA, has much to prove. The Mets’ drama queen needs to let his pitching do the talking and strictly focus on realigning his career if he wants any chance of getting the payday agent Scott Boras once dreamed of. He’ll be a free agent after 2018, but might be an afterthought in this potentially star studded free agent class: Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Zach Britton, Clayton Kershaw Opt-Out Clause, David Price Opt-Out Clause. Harvey is the wild card that will make or break a Mets World Series run, as three dominant starters are what it takes to lock down a championship. I’m betting Two-Face reappears. In the four spot, Steven Matz has a chance to be the Mets knight in shining armor and balance out the inconsistent Harvey. Matz, the 26-year old Long Island native only threw 132 innings last year, so the kid gloves will still be on but if healthy he should provide roughly 180 quality innings. Syndergaard went from 150 innings to 183 last year, and I’d expect the Mets to handle Matz no differently. He reminds me a bit of Tom Glavine with better stuff, but he’s got a long way to go as Glavine captured his first NL CY at 25 and in his age-26 season posted his second 20-win season. I expect Matz to win 13-15 games this year, which is more than I think Harvey will net. I fear Zach Wheeler will forever be a casualty of Tommy John, never regaining the form which once made him a front half of the rotation starter. Luckily, the Mets have a couple sleepers who stepped up last year in Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo. Gsellman will throw some important innings for the Mets, and at 23 fits right in with the youthful rotation. With their young core now a little more seasoned for 2017, third time could be the charm.
The Mets brought back slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes for a whopping 4yrs/$110M, and now have an outfield glut that will sort itself out via injuries. The offense remains largely intact from last season, and Jay Bruce can only be better in his second go around with the Amazins after hitting a paltry .219. I also expect a nice bounce back year from 2014 1st round pick Michael Conforto and defensively challenged 1B Lucas Duda. Nobody had a career year last year, so similar to improved production from multiple starters should be expected. Top prospect, 21-year old Amed Rosario, could be fast-tracked to AAA after hitting .341 in 54 games at AA. Look for Rosario to receive a late-season call-up to infuse the club with some much needed speed for the playoff push. This is a guy that not only will energize the team but Mets fans can truly get excited about him as he looks like the real deal. Worse case he’ll still be better than fan favorite Rey Ordonez. Infielders Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera quietly each hit 23 dingers last year and are solid pieces up the middle. It’s truly a shame David Wright’s body has completely failed him as his career has taken an eerily similar path to another NY Captain, Don Mattingly. Despite Wright being relegated to cheerleading for a good chunk of the season, the Mets still have the edge over the Yankees youthful position players. The fate of the Mets season rests on the health of the arms in their rotation, with the offense providing plenty of firepower to win games. The Mets don’t grade well when it comes to advanced defensive metrics, but who needs defense when Thor’s striking out the side. The Mets can’t possibly be as injury prone as they were last year, right?
Opposing the Metropolitans as the current underdog in the fight, the cross-town rival New York Yankees have taken a more humble standing the past couple seasons. The longtime Mets big-brother has missed the postseason three of the past four seasons. However, despite the Mets going to the World Series in 2015, both teams were only separated by 3 wins in 2016. The Yankees averted their first losing season since 1992 by going 84-80 amid the first fire-sale of my lifetime. It truly was something I’ve never witnessed, and remember pleading with the baseball gods they sell whatever pieces they could to get younger and more athletic – my prayers were answered and now the Yankees have the 2nd best minor league system in MLB according to Baseball America.
The 2017 season for the Yankees is the most fascinating season in memory not only because it’ll be the first full season for rising stars Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge, but also for the impact it’ll have on the future of the pitching rotation that will compliment this exciting new core of players.Three fifths of the starting rotation can be free-agents after this season, and it would have been four fifths had Nathan Eovaldi’s elbow not imploded down the stretch accelerating his departure. This looming black hole in the rotation is the biggest crisis the Yankees face and how the starters perform in 2017 will largely impact whether they’re in pinstripes in 2018. Masahiro Tanaka can opt-out of his contract at the end of the season, and is hands down the Yankees best starter. Tanaka is realistically better suited as a number two instead of an ace, but if he has a healthy 2017 he could command a 6-year deal given his relative youth. He finally lasted a full season for the first time last year, and I think he’ll easily clear 200 IP for the first time in his career. As long as his splitter keeps being filthy, he’ll be among the league leaders in WHIP and ERA again. In the two spot, Michael Pineda has tantalizing talent and after leading the AL in SO/9 at 10.6, seems like a solid candidate to realize his potential. He’s also in his walk-year, giving him even more reason to put it all together. He’s the same age as Tanaka and could command a 5-year deal approaching $100 million, similar to 5 Yr/$90M deal Jeff Samardzija landed last offseason. For reference, Samardzija led the AL in hits allowed, ER allowed, HR allowed, while going 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA and still landed that deal, so assuming Pineda stays healthy, Hal Steinbrenner will need to open the coffers to keep him. Like Tanaka and Pineda, CC Sabathia can also be a free-agent. Two years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about letting him walk, but he seems to be re-inventing himself into a crafty lefty who might be serviceable if his knee, shoulder, and drinking problems don’t flare up. At a robust 300 LBS, this is a lot to ask of the 37-year old, but having already made over $217 million in his career, Sabathia, a resident of Alpine NJ, might feel comfortable taking a modest deal to stay close to home. Whether the Yankees will be interested completely depends on whether he stays healthy in 2017 and finishes reinventing himself on the mound. Given their impending free agency, I think the Yankees front three will each have quality seasons keeping the Yankees in contention. While they don’t stack up against the Mets front three, each rotations proven ability to get injured doesn’t necessarily give the Mets a significant edge, albeit they have the edge.
The real wild card in the rotation for the Yanks is Luis Severino and the list of baby bombers behind him fighting for a rotation spot (Mitchell, Green, Cessa, Montgomery). Excelling during his call-up in 2015 as a 21-year old, Severino hands down was the Yankees biggest disappointment in 2016. With expectations tempered, hopefully Severino will learn to throw his changeup with conviction as major leaguers feasted on his two-pitch arsenal last year. I’m genuinely concerned Severino will go down as another failed Yankee pitching prospect, only to end up in the bullpen where his two-pitch repertoire will play better. Last year he went 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA in 11 starts before rebounding in the bullpen. The problem is, if the Yankees lose two of their top three starters, or even all three, they have nobody in the rotation who can be counted on to fill the void at this point. Severino’s development as a starter in 2017 is absolutely critical to the team’s long-term success.
To help solve the rotation dilemma, the Yankees now have the pieces to swing a trade for a quality starter, but with so much of the future depending on how their starters perform this year, waiting until at least the trade-deadline to make any significant moves could prove most prudent. Realistically, the Yankees aren’t going to overtake the Mets or even division rival Boston Red Sox in 2017, but it’s a pivotal year of building that will set up a legitimate challenge in 2018, not to mention expose any glaring holes that the free-agent bonanza later that offseason can fill. Can you say, Manny Machado? I’m dreaming of a 2019 infield with Machado at 3B, Gary Sanchez at C, Greg Bird at 1B, Gleyber Torres at 2B, and Didi Gregorius at SS. After 2017, the Yankees will potentially shed $60 million in payroll between Sabathia, A-Rod (yes, he’s still getting paid $21 million), Holliday, and Carter. These funds can largely be applied to resigning Pineda/Tanaka if their health doesn’t send them to Dr. James Andrews. So while a new window is opening for the Yankees, the Mets are hitting their prime and need to capitalize before their window closes. For 2017, the Mets have a significant edge over the Yankees and I predict they’ll return to the World Series on the strength of Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz, plus a lineup loaded with big bats like Cespedes, Bruce, Granderson, and Duda. Both teams will be exciting to watch for a variety of reasons and fans have much to look forward to. The Mets better enjoy 2017 as the best team in NY, because in 2018 the Yankees could very well dethrone them. I’m so ready for the season to start – let’s play ball!