With Spring Training behind us, and rosters formulated, here’s a look at how the Mets and Yankees stack up with Opening Day upon us.Mets and Yankees – Starting Pitching
The Mets open the season with their rotation fully staffed and healthy. The one-two punch of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard with a very scary and confident Zack Wheeler as their number three is unequaled in the National League. Jason Vargas impressed during Spring Training while Steven Matz did not. Matz, in particular, is on the bubble and in danger of losing his spot if he continues to be wild in the strike zone.
Sorting out and finalizing a contract extension for deGrom before Thursday is of utmost importance, especially if the New York media pounds deGrom 423 times during the season with the same question – “Jake, are you bitter with the team because you couldn’t get a deal done?”
The Yankees opened Spring Training with high hopes that Brian Cashman had at least put a band-aid on the always in flux starting rotation. James Paxton (trade) and J.A. Happ (resigned) were brought in to compliment Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia. Not to be though as Severino and Sabathia will begin the season on the Injured List (IL) – while Cashman struggles to fill the void.
Gio Gonzalez was signed to a minor league deal, but his presence and potential value are still unsettled. Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa, both homegrown products, are highly touted by the Yankees and most likely to begin the season with a show-and-tell demonstration very much in the picture. Domingo German lags behind.
Edge: MetsMets and Yankees – The Infield
Much like the Yankees and their starting pitching, the Mets were thrown off-balance with injuries to Todd Frazier and newly acquired Jed Lowrie. Both will begin the season on the IL and there is no timetable for their return. Fortunately, Pete Alonso has been brilliant and will claim the job at first base, leaving Dominic Smith, who also had a credible Spring, in limbo and left in the unenviable position of having to wait for Alonso to fail or fall with an injury.
Robinson Cano is in la-la land, coming back from his self-imposed exile from New York in Seattle. His presence is everywhere and all of it is positive, especially the relationship he is developing with Amed Rosario.
The Yankees knew they would begin the season without Didi Gregorius. So, with plenty of time to prepare, they gave Gleyber Torres a tune-up at shortstop during the Spring. Troy Tulowitzki, in need or more than just a tune-up, was brought in and will be the team’s primary shortstop, along with a hope and a prayer he remains injury free after two seasons of playing only a handful of games.
Miguel Andujar is working doggedly to improve his defense at third base and continues to look like a mainstay there for the next decade. The battle between Luke Voit and Greg Bird for the job at first base turned out to be non-existent, and both will go North with the team on a platoon basis with one or the other taking the DH spot, but only on a temporary basis. DJ Lemahieu, signed as a free agent, is a former NL batting champion, and Aaron Boone will see he gets a liberal amount of playing time.
Edge: YankeesMets and Yankees – The Outfield
Michael Conforto is the second coming of David Wright in terms of his fast-developing stature on the team. A breakout season is on the way and the Mets are hoping it comes this season. A sparkplug along the lines (pun intended) of Lenny Dykstra, Brandon Nimmo is a throw-back and a joy to watch playing a boy’s game.
Left field is being held for the improbable return of Yoenis Cespedes, but converted second baseman, Jeff McNeil has earned the spot in the interim with a bat that is sure to help the Mets lineup. Oft-injured Juan Lagares is a no-show, and if not released soon will be traded.
The injury to Aaron Hicks threw everything off-kilter in the Yankees outfield. Hicks says he’ll return soon, but the Yankees wisely say he’ll play when the doctors say he can. Abruptly, Giancarlo Stanton becomes the Yankees left fielder, moving a rejuvenated Brett Gardner to center field with Aaron Judge in his normal position in right field.
Clint Frazier had a clear chance to make the team as a fourth outfielder, but he couldn’t find his bat and will begin the season at Triple-A Scranton. Estevan Florial, an All-Star in the making and sure to be in the Yankees outfield picture, was hit by a pitch and begins the season on the IL. Hicks holds the key to a stable Yankees outfield.
Edge: YankeesMets and Yankees – The Bullpen
Newly installed Mets General Manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, recognized and fulfilled the need to overhaul the Mets bullpen. Seizing on the Seattle Mariners need to unload payroll (Robinson Cano), Van Wagenen included Edwin Diaz as part of the trade, instantly moving the Mets bullpen up a level.
Somewhat of a surprise, Van Wagenen also brought back Jeurys Familia, a closer with a checkered history with the Mets. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, both converted starters, but now reliable veterans as relievers provide flexibility and Justin Wilson is counted on as a swingman.
No one more than Brian Cashman has bought into the recent trend in baseball that bullpens are everything. That is almost to the point that Cashman is checking himself daily to not call the agent of Craig Kimbrel to add to the Yankees arsenal.
Down the line, start with Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Dellin Betances (headed for the IL), Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, newly acquired Adam Ottavino, it’s possible the Yankees barely even need a starting staff if the bullpen is managed perfectly. The key, however, will be exactly that – how the Yankees bullpen is managed.
Edge: YankeesMets and Yankees – The Catchers
Brodie Van Wagenen correctly saw the need for the Mets to have a bonafide major league catcher behind the plate. Accordingly, a veteran catcher and noted “handler” of a pitching staff, Wilson Ramos, was obtained to fill the starting position.
Travis d’ Arnaud is still, for reasons unknown to this writer, the favorite of the Mets to assume the role of Ramos, despite the fact he has yet to make an impact after the six years following his trade to the Mets from the Toronto Blue Jays. A decision still pending is whether to carry two or three catchers heading North.
Ordinarily, the catching position should be a lock for the Yankees with Gary Sanchez ascending to All-Star and beyond heights. Instead, despite all accolades thrust his way by Yankees coaches and management, Sanchez continues to be a bust at the plate – with no apparent and justifying physical reasons to support the alarming decline – managing only eight hits in 36 at-bats with a lone home run during Spring Training.
Fortunately, the Yankees still have a more than credible backup on their roster in Austin Romine. But this is not the way it was planned and despite the Yankees inexhaustible belief in Sanchez, everyone is still left waiting…
Edge: EvenMets and Yankees – The Managers
Mickey Callaway and Aaron Boone are both in the crosshairs of fan bases looking for more in 2019. They are rookies no more, and therefore more is expected.
This is New York, and when you have two general managers working tirelessly to do what they can to stack their rosters, when the bell rings on Thursday their job is done, at least for the moment, with the spotlight now centering on the manager.
Both teams have expectations to make the playoffs – as a beginning. And while Callaway and Boone each have a fairly good relationship with the New York media, this can turn in an instant if either (or both) teams get off to a rough start.
This is bound to be an “uncomfortable” season for both managers, but at the same time, the rewards are high with visions of a parade down Broadway in the balance.
The Mets and Yankees have everything on the table to make the 2019 season successful and enjoyable for fans. All that remains, of course, is playing out the 162 game schedule. For all teams, that is the lure of a baseball season. Play ball…