Jose Reyes: Gone, but not soon forgotten.
Reyes—with incendiary speed, an extraordinary bat, dazzling defense and an infectious smile—served as the Mets' spark plug at the top of the order and the middle of the infield for nearly a decade before the cash-strapped and underachieving franchise had to let him go.
Now that Reyes has gone south for more than just the winter, it's apparent the already-weakened Mets will have a hellish time competing in the National League East, a division they have only won once (and, incidentally, lost twice) since their last championship in 1986.
However, that's not the say the Mets do not have several winning pieces on their roster. It's just that all of them will need to play the best baseball of their careers all at the same time, a lofty goal and an impossible expectation.
A Capable Offense
Looking back, the 2011 Mets had a potentially formidable offense. With Reyes at the top of the lineup, David Wright in the three-hole, Ike Davis at cleanup, Carlos Beltran right behind him and a supposedly healthy Jason Bay rounding out the core of the order, the Amazin's had several All-Star Caliber hitters, save the inexperienced Davis.
If all of these players performed to the best of their ability, the Mets wouldn't have had much trouble scoring runs.
But while Jose Reyes had a career year—becoming the first Met to win the batting tittle—and the now-healthy Beltran produced offense at a high level, the rest of the Mets offense fell apart.
Who Will Be the Mets' Most Effective Hitter in 2012?
After a promising April, Ike Davis missed the rest of the season with a nagging and enigmatic ankle injury. Similarly, Wright and Bay were mired by injuries and general ineffectiveness, which was magnified after the Mets dealt Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants.
Yet the rest of the Mets supporting cast did an admirable job steering a sinking ship. The Mets team batting average was ranked second in the NL at .264 behind the NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals. With runners in scoring position, they batted .003 points lower, dropping them to fourth in the league.
The Mets drove in the second-most runs in the NL, once again behind the Cardinals, and drew the most walks. In fact, the only offensive category in which the Mets ranked in the bottom fourth of the NL was in Home Runs—tied at 12th with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Much of the Mets' offensive success was thanks to the efforts of 1B/2B/OF Daniel Murphy (.320/6/49) and rookie 1B/OF Lucas Duda (.290/10/50). Murphy will likely replace Ruben Tejada, who batted .285 and will take Reyes' spot at SS, at second base and Duda may see playing time in the outfield, at first base in relief of Ike Davis or as a pinch hitter.
However, the long-regarded catalyst of the Mets offense is gone, and time will only tell if the supporting cast can produce as well as they did last year and if the former All-Stars will be able to play even close to as well as they can.
Another critical factor will be the play of Andres Torres, an outfielder who does several things decently, but not incredibly, coming off a season in which injuries decimated his offensive output.
Essentially, The Mets do have the potential to be a strong offensive team, while, admittedly, the cohesiveness and effectiveness of their lineup is predicated on every player playing as well as he can.
Still, even if the Mets can drive in runs, preventing other teams from doing so is an entirely different story—complicated by injuries, mediocrity and the promise of youth.
While the Mets' offense on whole was adequate, the Mets' pitching was far from it.
Ace LHP Johan Santana missed the entire 2011 campaign rehabbing a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder. The Mets Opening Day rotation consisted of RHP Mike Pelfrey—who came off a promising 2011 season and was the de-facto ace—knuckleballer RHP R.A. Dickey, RHP Chris Young, LHP Jon Niese and LHP Chris Capuano.
Other than Dillon Gee, who replaced the injured Chris Young, the Mets' rotation on a whole took several steps backward for reasons ranging from injury to inconsistency. It goes without saying that the Mets' starting five will need to drastically improve their performances in 2012, but it isn't safe to assume that this will actually happen.
There is just too much inconsistency in the rotation, which is complicated by the enigmatic future of Johan Santa.
Who Will Win the Most Games for the Mets in 2012?
However, what I feel is most troubling is the Mets' bullpen.
The Mets' pitching staff gave up the fourth most runs in the NL last season overall. Adjust that figure for the seventh inning or later, and they gave up the most. They also had the second worst BAA and OBP in that same time frame, better than only the lowly Houston Astros, and blew 36 percent of save opportunities.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson tried to sure up the bullpen with RHPs Jon Rausch, Frank Francisco and Ramon Ramirez, but the lack of a bona fide closer will prove to be a major problem this season.
Even if Santana, Pelfrey or Niese pitches the Mets to a lead through six, there is nothing relieving about watching the Mets' bullpen try to nurse that lead through three more innings.
Defense was another category the Mets ranked poorly in, with the second most errors and the third worst fielding percentage and defense efficiency rating in the National League.
Unfortunately, things are only getting worse.
Ruben Tejada will serve as a suitable defensive replacement for Reyes, but the opening he creates at second base will likely be filled by the merely decent Daniel Murphy. With Beltran gone, it will be Bay, Torres, and possibly Lucas Duda who will patrol the albeit more manageable Citi Field outfield. Ike Davis is a solid defensive first baseman, but Wright's play at the hot corner has become worse and worse over the past few years.
They say defense wins championships, but with an even bleaker look to the Mets average starting nine, they'll be lucky to clinch fourth place unless a superhuman effort is put forth by the fielders or the pitchers simply don't allow any balls in play—both highly implausible.
The Final Diagnosis
Simply put, the Mets have a few promising components of a winning team, but there are just too many flaws and shortcomings in the roster, primarily on the defensive side of the ball, to overlook and overcome.
In theory, if the entire roster plays the best baseball it possibly can, the Mets may steal second place from the Atlanta Braves or Miami Marlins if they underachieve, but it will take a miracle for them to do so.