NEW YORK -- Now that Spring Training has arrived, Opening Day isn’t too far in the future. Even as the Mets continue making tweaks to their roster, they already have a decent sense of who might toe the line come Opening Day.
While the next six weeks are sure to bring a few surprises, here is how the roster looks at the start of camp:
Heading into the offseason, one of the Mets’ primary goals was to find a starting catcher. They could have waited out the market for J.T. Realmuto, but they decided instead to act early on a four-year, $40.6 million contract for McCann. If nothing else, McCann represents a significant defensive upgrade over Wilson Ramos, the Mets’ starting catcher from 2019-20. McCann also offers plenty of offensive upside, with an .808 OPS and 25 home runs over 149 games the past two seasons. Now, McCann will try to repeat that performance as a full-time starter for the first time in his career.
Nido is the clear favorite to return as McCann’s backup; he’ll ostensibly compete for the job in Spring Training but should win it, barring injury.
While questions remain about Alonso’s ability to rebound from his down 2020 season, he’ll receive every opportunity to do so in ’21. With Smith ticketed for something approximating a full-time role in left field, Alonso should start most games at first base, provided he hits consistently enough to earn that trust. The Mets think he will. Martínez is on the roster bubble as a pinch-hit option who can spell Alonso from time to time. If the Mets decide to prioritize offense, Martínez could make the team. If they prioritize defense, he may not.
Despite losing Robinson Canó to a full-season PED suspension, the Mets are well-covered at second, which is McNeil’s natural position. Should roster issues elsewhere force McNeil to left field, Guillorme or Villar could step in to replace him, but the plan is for McNeil to receive most of the reps at the keystone. The backup situation is fluid, as Guillorme and Villar are both capable of playing second, third and shortstop. They’re the most likely substitute infielders to make the team because they’re already on the 40-man roster. But Drury could make a run at a roster spot with a strong camp.
One of most significant reasons for optimism in Flushing these days is Lindor, the Mets’ blockbuster offseason trade acquisition. If all goes to plan, Lindor will start 150-plus games at short, with the other names on this list serving as nothing more than depth.
Third base (1): J.D. Davis
Other possibilities: Guillorme, Villar, Drury
Verbally, Mets officials never really committed to Davis this winter, keeping open the possibility that they could trade for Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant or some other big-ticket third baseman. Questions certainly surround Davis’ defensive aptitude at the hot corner, despite the fact that it’s his natural position (and that he possesses one of the strongest throwing arms of any big league infielder). Advanced metrics call Davis’ range and ability into question, which became more of an issue because he took a step back offensively in 2020, as well.
All that said, the Mets never actually made a move to replace Davis, so he enters camp as the team’s starting third baseman with something to prove. If Davis can become a stronger defender while giving the Mets something closer to his 2019 level of offensive production, the offseason whispers would quickly disappear.
On paper, this is a potent-hitting outfield but a questionable defensive one. The Mets explored the possibility of acquiring an everyday center fielder who could push Nimmo to left, but they settled instead on a pair of lesser options in Pillar and Almora. They also spent much of the winter believing Smith could serve as their designated hitter -- a rule that, as of now, won’t be returning to the National League. As such, the Mets will rely on Smith and Nimmo in left and center, where they both profile as roughly average defensively, with Pillar as a platoon option. The Mets at least have an outfield cornerstone in Conforto for one more season at minimum; his extension talks will be one of this spring’s significant stories.
The Mets’ early-spring addition of Walker gave them four rotation locks, with the fifth spot unclear. Peterson probably deserves it based on his strong rookie season, but concerns over his innings total -- he threw just 49 2/3 last season -- could prompt the Mets to start him in the Minors instead. That would open a spot for Lucchesi. The Mets hope Noah Syndergaard will return from Tommy John surgery by June, but it’s too early to estimate the certainty of that. A significant question here is how many innings might be feasible for Stroman, who missed all of 2020 over pandemic concerns, as well as for Peterson and others. Depth will be important, and the Mets are likely to use far more than five starters -- perhaps even utilizing openers from time to time -- over the course of the season.
The loss of Seth Lugo was a blow to this unit; the Mets hope to have him back at some point in May. In the interim, they’ll rely on offseason acquisitions May and Loup to keep them afloat, while hoping for rebound seasons from Familia and Betances. The first six names on this list are locks barring injury, while the back end remains unsettled. There are jobs to be won here, both by young relievers like Smith and McWilliams or non-roster veterans such as Blevins, Hildenberger and Vizcaíno. Camp performances will be crucial for those who haven’t pitched much over the past 18 months.