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The Mets figure to be the biggest divisional threat to the Braves in 2021

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Francisco Lindor is one of a handful of new faces who are looking to help put the Mets back on top of the NL East.

MLB: New York Mets-Workouts Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

If you ask any Mets fan about how they’re feeling heading into 2021, you’re probably going to hear something that you don’t usually hear from that particular crowd: Feelings of optimism and excitement. This is after Fred Wilpon and the Wilpon family finally sold the team to Steve Cohen, who immediately became the richest owner in all of Major League Baseball. The team also found themselves a new General Manager, who almost immediately and suddenly became their former General Manager after it was revealed that he was an extremely creepy individual.

Jared Porter’s firing happened almost immediately after he helped swing one of the biggest trades of the offseason by acquiring Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland in exchange for Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Josh Wolf, and Isaiah Greene. Simply put, the Mets were able to take advantage of a team that didn’t want to pay their star players and also managed to keep from paying a huge price in terms of prospect. It was a pretty obvious fleecing to acquire both an elite shortstop and a fantastic pitcher, so it was understandable that the Mets and their fans were over the moon when that trade went down.

With that being said, they didn’t go on the free agency shopping spree that many anticipated once Cohen got the keys to the building. Instead, Cohen decided that he didn’t want the team to break the luxury tax threshold for his first season, so the Mets ended up having more of a measured free agency experience this offseason. Their biggest free agency acquisition was bringing in James McCann for $40.6 million over four years. McCann is a perfectly good catcher, but I’m also sure that Mets fans had dreams of dancing dollar signs and J.T. Realmuto in blue-and-orange once ownership switched hands. Still, the Mets badly needed to make a quality addition at the backstop position and they accomplished that with the McCann signing.

What’s their lineup looking like?

CF - Brandon Nimmo
2B - Jeff McNeil
SS - Francisco Lindor
RF - Michael Conforto
1B - Pete Alonso
LF - Dominic Smith
3B - J.D. Davis
C - James McCann
[Pour out a little liquor for the NL DH in 2020]

That’s a pretty good lineup! From the top of the order to the eighth spot, any opponent dealing with this lineup will have to go through eight batters who, according to wRC+, range from being above average to being really good. The potential 3-4-5 combo of Lindor, Conforto, and Alonso will have some dangerous pop among the three of them, so the heart of this lineup is clearly a dangerous one. The good news is that the Braves still have a better lineup — if the Braves and Mets got into slugfests on a regular basis, the betting money would be on the Braves to out-slug the Mets at this point. With that being said, getting into a slugfest with this team is either a dangerous game or possibly a pipe dream. That’s due to the fact that New York’s rotation is pretty good and also pretty deep.

Well, talk about their rotation, then!

Jacob deGrom is their number one starter, and he really needs no introduction at this point. The man is incredible and he seems primed to have yet another great season. The second spot will likely go to Carlos Carrasco, and that’s saying something considering that he’d be at the very top of a lot of rotations across baseball. The third man coming out of spring training will probably be Marcus Stroman, and now the Mets are three deep when it comes to good pitching. That leaves the fourth spot coming out of spring training, and it’s safe to pencil in Taijuan Walker for that role. Walker has been a pretty intriguing pitcher for a while now, and the Mets are hoping that he’ll be able to realize his potential over the next two years and $20 million. Either David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi will be the fifth starter once the season starts, but they won’t be permanent fixtures in the rotation. That’s because Noah Syndergaard should be making his return from Tommy John surgery by sometime during or around June. If Syndergaard makes a successful return, then this rotation is unquestionably one of the best in all of baseball. It’s solid from top-to-bottom, and there won’t be too many easy days against this crew in 2021.

What’s the deal with their bullpen?

This has (often and hilariously) been the bane of the Mets’ existence for a few years, now. So obviously, New York has made numerous attempts to try to fix their bullpen. This year, the Mets wasted no time during this offseason — they gave Trevor May $15 million guaranteed over the next two years. He’ll be slotted in behind Edwin Diaz as the team’s set-up man, so the Mets are clearly hoping to have more security when it comes to high-leverage innings. They’ll be leaning on guys like Dellin Betances, Aaron Loup, Miguel Castro, and Jeurys Familia to come in either maintain what their starters have done or to clean up any situation they may be in. Either way, there’s definitely room for this bullpen to improve upon what they did (or didn’t do) in terms of production in 2020. It would be a real shame (for them, not for us Braves fans) if their bullpen once again finds a way to undo all the hard work that their rotation figures to do.

Will they have help coming from the farm?

According to MLB’s Top 100 Prospects list for this season, the Mets have four prospects on the list. Good job, Mets! Unfortunately for them, all of them have an ETA of either 2022 or 2023, so they’re not going to get any impact prospects making their MLB debut here in 2021. The most likely prospect to make a 2021 debut is newly-acquired outfield prospect Khalil Lee. Lee ended up in the Mets organization as the result of a very strange three-team trade between the Mets, Royals, and Red Sox. Either way, he’s seen as outfield depth at this point and could make some appearances off the bench for the Mets if he shows out during spring training. Ryley Gilliam and Thomas Szapucki could make cameo appearances as relievers if things go sideways with their bullpen, but I’d consider that to be a longshot.

So, how will the Mets do?

The Mets sure look like the the team that’s either going to give the Braves the most trouble or just topple them altogether. The team’s upgrades to their lineups and the fortification of depth in their rotation is really too good to ignore. The Mets look great on paper, but baseball is a weird game and if anybody can tell you exactly how weird this sport is, it’s a fan of the New York Mets. There’s always the possibility that this team could end up having another year where they get hit with cartoon-sized anvils and end up limping towards the finish line, but they’ve done very well during the offseason to strengthen this team against threats both real and cosmic. I’ll say that they’ll go 90-72 — nipping at the Braves’ heels all the way until the end of the season.