By: Michael Ganci

Nine Innings with Anthony DiComo

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Anthony DiComo is the Mets beat writer for MLB.com.

Today, he plays the roll of Mets critic as he looks at the Amazins’ and their season ahead and gives us his take on today’s edition of #9innings.

For previous editions of #9innings, click here.

Here are his thoughts:

What do you make of this Mets’ team as currently constituted? Are they ready to contend?

For the first time since 2009, I think the Mets have put themselves in fringe contention heading into the season. They are now at a point where they can make the playoffs if more things break right than wrong. Unlike the Nationals, the Mets do not belong to the game’s upper crust, which certainly doesn’t mean they’ll fail — it just means they have a thinner margin for error once things start going wrong (and believe me, unexpected things WILL go wrong for every team in the league). I’d say 84-78 is a fair baseline for this team, plus or minus a half dozen wins.

If they’re missing something, what is that piece? Who would be the guy you’d go out and get and why?

Contrary to what many people think, I don’t believe shortstop is what’s missing. Maybe it’s because I know Wilmer Flores and respect his work ethic, or maybe it’s just because I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but I truly believe he can play a passable shortstop while developing into an above-average offensive player at that position.

So what is? I actually think it’s an ace. Matt Harvey is terrific, but I’m not confident he’ll replicate his 2013 success fresh off Tommy John surgery. I’m also not sold on Jacob deGrom being that guy over a full season; more likely, he settles in as a nice No. 2. I’m not saying this to pour cold water on the rotation, or because I expected the Mets to go out and land Max Scherzer — that was never going to happen. I’m saying it because I genuinely believe Zack Wheeler is the most critical man on the roster. Wheeler has the stuff, makeup and maturity to develop into an ace as soon as this summer. If he does, the Mets are probably a playoff team. If he settles in as a mid-rotation starter instead, they may struggle to match up with other contenders.

How do the Mets compete with the Nationals with that superstar rotation? Is the NL East title a distant pipe dream?

I sort of answered this question with the last one, but I’ll reiterate here that starting pitching is king. The Mets may have a really nice rotation, but they’d have you believe it’s one of the game’s absolute best when it’s not. There are some great staffs around the league these days, and the one in Washington, in everyone’s eyes, is clearly better. But the Mets do have gobs of potential in there, plus lots of depth for when injuries strike. If Harvey gives them 180 All-Star-caliber innings, deGrom holds onto his gains and Wheeler develops into a frontline guy, the Mets can compete with absolutely anyone. I think that’s more likely than banking on Curtis Granderson, David Wright and Michael Cuddyer to carry you.

David Wright had a career-worst year in 2014. Do you think we should expect a marginalized player moving forward or do you have hope in a resurgence?

If you’re hoping for a return to 2005-08 levels of production, those days are long gone. But I do think a return to his ’09-13 profile — a .293 batting average with 18 homers — is a fair baseline. Wright is an incredibly cerebral player, which both helps and hurts him. With Lucas Duda, Cuddyer and Granderson hitting behind him, Wright should be able to grow more selective at the plate, and more productive as a result. He’ll probably never get back to being the right-center-field line drive machine he once was, but I’d like to see him trend in that direction.

The big thing for Wright, obviously, is health. Guys don’t magically start finding it easier to stay healthy at age 32, and Wright has had more than his share of issues in the past. If he can play in 150 games, he’ll be productive.

Who’s the guy who needs to step up to put the Mets offense over the top?

In a sense, I actually think it’s Duda. He hit 30 home runs last year, and the Mets seem to have him penciled in for 30 again. Nothing in his peripherals suggests he can’t do it, but what happens if he hits 20? All of the sudden the offense isn’t looking as hot.

But if you’re talking about someone who didn’t really produce last year, it’s clearly Granderson. He’s done it several times before so it’s not unreasonable to expect him to do it again. And a productive Granderson, as I mentioned earlier, would be huge for Wright. I really view David as a player who needs that presence behind him in the lineup, so he’s not trying to do it all himself. The statistics (chase rates and all that) back that up. And if there’s one guy in the lineup with realistic potential to be much better than last year, it’s Granderson.

What are your thoughts on the Yankees? Do you hate them? 

Doing my job, it’s hard to hate any team. I find myself rooting for individual players, whether they’re on the Mets or other teams. Covering the World Series, for example, I got to know Joe Panik (a New Yorker) a little bit, and he couldn’t have been more gracious with his time. That made me root for him. When I heard the story of how Juan Perez learned of Oscar Taveras’ passing, that made me root for him. Last spring, I rooted for Anthony Seratelli to make the roster after learning about what he went through to reach that point. If I covered the Yankees, it would be no different.

That said, of course I understand why many Mets fans hate the Yankees. I grew up outside Boston and love the New England Patriots, which makes me hate the Jets (sorry guys). It’s part of what makes following a sports team fun.

If you could have one team as currently constituted, farm system and all, would you rather have the Mets or the Yankees? Why?

Oh the Mets, no doubt. Beyond the fact that the Mets have better pitching and a much, much better farm, I always lean toward the homegrown teams. They’re more fun to watch and more fun to cover, and it means a little more in my opinion when a predominantly homegrown team like, say, the Royals does well. Going back to the Patriots analogy, it was more fun to root for Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski than it was for Randy Moss and Wes Welker. If Darrelle Revis had done what Malcolm Butler did, it wouldn’t have been as great a story.

What’s the best thing to eat or drink at Citi Field?

Well Shake Shack is tremendous, but you can get that anywhere (even in Dubai!) I’m a big fan of Mama’s in the right-field corner. For $12, you get an Italian sub that’s big enough to share (though of course I never do).

Finish this sentence. By the end of the season, the Mets will be…

In second place in the NL East. Whether that will be enough for a Wild Card berth, I genuinely can’t predict.

About Michael Ganci

Michael Ganci is the Co-Founder of the Daily Stache, along with Matthew Falkenbury. Since 2008, Ganci has eat, drank and dreamt all things Mets, and he’d have it no other way. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @DailyStache.

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