Mets' 2015 plan includes small but impactful changes

NY believes top-notch rotation, led by Harvey, will carry team to contention

Mets' 2015 plan includes small but impactful changes

NEW YORK -- The Mets have no grand plans to change much over the winter. When pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., four and a half months from now, the roster will not look markedly different from the one that populated Citi Field last Sunday.

But the Mets have reason to believe that with even modest improvements, they can be significantly better. The team expects more productive seasons from third baseman David Wright and outfielder Curtis Granderson, to say the least, and anticipates a boost from starting pitcher Matt Harvey in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. By boasting one of the top rotations in baseball, the Mets believe, they can transform an average club into a playoff contender.

Beyond Wright, Granderson and Harvey, the Mets hope to see improvement from many of their young players -- from Juan Lagares in the outfield to Wilmer Flores in the infield and Zack Wheeler in the rotation.

"Now we've got to move forward," manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to play more consistently. We've got to do a better job of situational hitting. And we've got to get David and Grandy going. David, his offensive production is down this year, probably due to the fact that he was hurt. But we need him in the lineup. We need him in the middle of the lineup doing what he does, and that's get big hits."

General manager Sandy Alderson has already said the Mets do not plan to expand their payroll much beyond its current level, which is just shy of $90 million. But Alderson doesn't believe his club needs that luxury. Outside of left field and possibly shortstop, the Mets do not see any irreparable weaknesses on their roster. Instead, they see a team ripe for improvement in multiple areas.

Arbitration-eligible: C Anthony Recker, 1B Lucas Duda, 2B Daniel Murphy, SS Ruben Tejada, OF Eric Young Jr., RHP Buddy Carlyle, RHP Dana Eveland, RHP Jenrry Mejia, RHP Dillon Gee, RHP Bobby Parnell.

Free agents: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Rotation: How the Mets address their rotation over the winter should be telling. A clear surplus of starting pitching exists, with Harvey returning to a rotation that already includes Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Jon Niese, Gee and Bartolo Colon. The Mets also have top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero waiting in the wings, giving New York what Collins called a series of "good decisions" to make. There is a decent chance the Mets trade one of their starters, with Colon and Niese the most likely candidates. But Alderson has often emphasized the importance of starting-pitching depth, knowing injuries are an unavoidable part of the game. Both Niese and Gee have proven injury-prone in recent years, giving the Mets an excuse to hang on to as many arms as possible.

Bullpen: For the first time in years, the Mets are set with their relief corps heading into the winter -- the only question is who their closer will be. Mejia handled the job relatively well in 2014, but fell victim to numerous minor injuries throughout the summer. That could be enough for the Mets to give the ninth inning back to Parnell as soon as he is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, perhaps even sometime in April. Another option is Jeurys Familia, who was the Mets' best reliever all year before enduring a rough patch in September. Regardless of their roles, those three will reunite with left-hander Josh Edgin and right-handers Carlos Torres and Vic Black, giving the Mets an extremely stable bullpen core heading into the winter. The team is unlikely to add even a single big league piece to that mix through free agency.

Catcher: This, too, is a relatively stable area for the Mets -- albeit one in which the team may soon have to make another of Collins' "good decisions." Travis d'Arnaud's breakout in 2014 ensured that he will be the unquestioned starter heading into Spring Training, leaving no obvious spot for prospect Kevin Plawecki, who has surged through the ranks since Alderson selected him in the supplemental round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. The Mets may soon have no choice but to begin shopping Plawecki, a bat-first catcher known for his patience at the plate. It remains unclear who will back up d'Arnaud, with Recker due to hit arbitration for the first time. Though the Mets value Recker in his current role, his escalating salary could prompt them to non-tender him.

First base: With his hot midseason run in 2014, Duda bought himself plenty of time as the Mets' unquestioned starting first baseman. Concerns still exist, particularly regarding Duda's ability to hit left-handed pitching. But the starting job is his to lose going into the offseason, while Eric Campbell and Josh Satin figure to battle it out in Spring Training for the backup gig that Campbell held for most of 2014. The Mets' top first-base prospect on the farm, Dominic Smith, struggled through his first full professional season in 2014 and remains years away from entering the big league conversation.

Second base: A worthy first-time All-Star in 2014, Murphy remains one of the best pure hitters in the game and successful enough at the dish to make up for his defensive shortcomings. Given their sudden glut of middle-infield options, the Mets could once again look to trade Murphy this winter, though that window may have closed for good; Murphy should earn close to an eight-figure salary through arbitration, decreasing the chance that rival teams would give up anything of value for him. Assuming Murphy stays, 20-year-old prospect Dilson Herrera should open the regular season at Triple-A Las Vegas, giving the Mets ample insurance in the event of an injury or in-season deal.

Shortstop: No position on the diamond offers more varied possibilities for the Mets than shortstop, where Flores may have done enough in September to make the team think twice about acquiring someone from outside the organization. Flores' ability to hit and defend at the big league level both remain in question, but the Mets don't have any better in-house options; prospect Matt Reynolds is raw and untested, while Tejada has long since worn out his welcome. The Mets could swing a trade or invest in one of several tempting free-agent options -- J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera, to name three. But with a limited payroll, the club is more likely to give Flores first crack at the position, knowing Reynolds will be available should things go south.

Third base: No one -- not Wright, not the Mets, not their trainers -- knows for sure how much the captain's nagging shoulder injury was to blame for his poor 2014 production. All the Mets can do is hope that it affected him to an extreme extent, knowing they need a major bounceback from Wright in 2015. The Mets are committed to him for another six seasons and $107 million. At best, he is still an elite, albeit injury-prone player entering his age-32 season. At worst, he is already well into the decline phase of his career. The Wright of 2006-08 may be gone forever, but the Mets desperately need him to be at least the Wright of 2012-13.

Outfield: Left field is the big issue here, with Lagares set to man center field for the foreseeable future and Granderson locked into right for three more seasons. With no obvious options on the farm, the Mets should look to free agency, where Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz highlight a weak pool of options. One intriguing name is 24-year-old Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas, who may not be ready for the big leagues by Opening Day and could easily prove too expensive for the Mets' taste. Alderson could also go cheaper by investing in an aging free agent such as Michael Cuddyer, who happens to be friends with Wright. Beyond the starters, Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis figure to compete for one backup job, while Young is a non-tender candidate in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Top prospects Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto both have high ceilings, but neither is ready to make an impact in 2015.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.