“Ya gotta believe!”
Tug McGraw once coined the phrase that has epitomized the Mets franchise for half a century. Met fans took those words and transformed them into a movement that has resonated with the franchise for many years. Fans of the New York Metropolitans have been believing for 50 years now, but this coming season might be one of the most difficult to believe in.
However, with the start of spring training comes hope for all major league teams.
Most of us don’t remember the 1969 Amazin’ Mets, but we know how the story goes. We know how a perennial loser became the champions of baseball and the toast of the town.
Now, with the first Grapefruit League game on March 5 in sight, we prepare for a new season with new hope, new obstacles and new people telling us it’s over before we’ve begun.
With that being said, let’s look at some of the most important storylines this spring training for Terry Collins and the Mets in 2012.
Johan Santana, Can He Come Back?
On the mound Johan Santana is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, but the problem for the Mets is he didn’t throw a pitch last season. He underwent surgery to repair an anterior capsule tear in his pitching shoulder in September of 2010 and has been rehabbing since.
The two-time Cy Young winner has been throwing this offseason, but his workload has been heavily monitored. Whether or not he will be able to return for Opening Day remains a question, but manager Terry Collins is optimistic.
“In my mind right now, in my heart, he’ll be ready, I don’t think there’s any question,” Collins said yesterday during his state of the Mets address to open camp.
Santana himself has been more cautiously optimistic, refusing to put a date on his return to the majors, but if he can come back and be effective, it provides an enormous boost to the pitching staff and gives the Mets veteran leadership that will resonate with the entire team.
The Pitching Rotation, Can They Compete?
The NL East is full of great pitching, and the starters for New York will have to step up in order to keep the team competitive. The rotation looks vastly different depending on if Santana is in it, but let’s take a page out of Terry Collins' managing book and be optimistic he will be.
That leaves R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee to fill out the rotation. I believe these four starters are underestimated by the league and can put up numbers that outsiders would call “overachieving,” but in reality they’d be pitching to their potential.
Niese and Gee are impressive young pitchers that can build off of 2011.
Niese has shown flashes of dominance and is coming off a season that ended in injury after going 11-11. A healthy Niese can go deep into games and hopefully can study and learn from fellow lefty Johan Santana and put together a solid season.
In his first season with significant playing time, Gee notched 13 wins in 30 appearances and should improve this season. He will be someone to watch closely in his spring training starts and someone manager Terry Collins expects to perform well.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, fresh off a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro this offseason, befuddles hitters with his 80 mph knuckler.
Mike Pelfrey is a big question mark for the club. Pelfrey had 15 wins and an ERA of 3.66 in 2010, but his numbers diminished significantly in 2011. He recorded only seven wins and his ERA was alarmingly high at 4.74. The 6’7” righty needs to find his form and revert back to the 2010 reliable starter he once was using his fastball to attack hitters.
There are numerous questions surrounding the rotation this season, but there is reason for optimism. If pitching coach Dan Warthen can get his young guns performing consistently and fix the problems that plagued Pelfrey last year, the Mets rotation can surprise people around the league and make watching the Mets a whole lot more enjoyable.
Here Come the Prospects!
If Johan can not return to form, the young pitchers can’t figure it out and Pelfrey can’t get anyone out again, look out for some young exciting prospects to get their call-ups to the majors this season.
Keep in mind that the Mets certainly don’t want to call up their young pitching prospects, but if it were to happen, it would be must see for any Mets fan.
Twenty-two-year-old Matt Harvey was the seventh overall choice in the 2010 draft out of the University of North Carolina. He is a 6’4” right-hander with mid-to-upper-90’s heat and a sharp slider.
In Single-A last year he averaged 10.3 Ks per nine innings before moving up to Double-A ball. This spring he is looking to introduce a sinker into his repertoire, so watch for it in his appearances and take notes, as it could be an indicator of whether or not he gets a big league call-up this season.
The other 6’4” righty the Mets have in their farm system is Zack Wheeler, who came from San Francisco in the Carlos Beltran trade. The 21-year-old had an ERA of 3.52 in Single-A ball while recording 129 Ks to 55 BB. The league is high on Wheeler, and fans should watch him closely this spring.
The organization is excited about these two young men, and fans will want to see their stuff in action in Grapefruit games. Hopefully, they have time to develop in the minors before getting their call-up, but if things go south, the Mets might want to take a look at what these youngsters can do against major league talent.
The Offense, Will It Be Offensive?
The Mets arguably lost their two biggest offensive threats last season in Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. In their absence, Terry Collins expects players to step up and contribute and needs certain players to live up to their enormous contracts.
Speaking of Jason Bay, the Mets need him to play at a level that somewhat resembles the power hitter he was with the Red Sox, or he will go down as one of the biggest busts in Met history. (Putting him in tough competition with the likes of Mo Vaughn and Bobby Bonilla.)
In his final year with Boston, Bay hit 36 HRs and drove in 119 runs. In two combined seasons in Flushing, he has hit 18 HRs and has 104 RBIs.
After his stellar 2009 in Boston, and having demonstrated offensive consistency in his seven years prior, the Mets gave Bay a $66 million dollar contract over four years, with an option for a fifth. Right now that contract stands as possibly the worst investment in Mets history. (Well…not the worst investment.)
A Jason Bay that contributes much needed power would provide a huge boost to the offense, and for Bay this is his last chance to prove he can still perform, as the Mets most likely won’t move the fences any further in.
Ike Davis is an exciting slugging lefty who has the potential to be one of the best offensive first basemen in the National League.
He missed three-quarters of the 2011 campaign, but when he played, he put up numbers and absolutely crushed right-handed pitchers hitting .372 with seven HRs in 99 AB. As a rookie he demonstrated good power hitting 19 HRs in 36 games. Watch out for him to have a breakout 2012.
Once upon a time, David Wright represented an optimistic future, one that would be filled with division championships and NL pennants. That seems like an eternity ago. Present day David Wright is looking to bounce back from an underachieving 2011.
He hit .254 with only 14 HRs. He is still a solid player with the tools to be great, and Collins expects a rebound season for David, one that may or may not end in Queens, but that’s a question for a separate article. (Wright has a $16 million dollar option for next year.) For now, Met fans are eager to see their third basemen return to All-Star form and remind them of that wonderful time before August of 2007.
The final key to the Mets offense is none other than Daniel Murphy, a fantastic hitter looking for a position in the field. Now the starting second basemen, Met fans will hold their breaths on every double-play ball.
The past two seasons have seen Murph go down with injuries on plays at second. When he is in the lineup though, he is an offensive force. In 391 AB last season, Murph hit .320 and showed why the Mets are so adamant about finding him a position to play in the field. Simply put, a guy with a bat like his needs to play everyday, and so the Daniel Murphy experiment goes on.
Like the pitching staff, the Mets offense has potential with a mix of former All-Stars and young up-and-comers looking to break out.
The New York Mets shed $50 million off their payroll from last year and were not big players in the offseason. The money they did spend went to improving the bullpen, and time will tell if the money was wisely spent. The bullpen is just one of many questions the Mets face with the start of spring training approaching.
Will the Wilpons retain control of the team?
Will Johan be back and be effective? Will David Wright finish the season in Queens? Is Jason Bay going to end up the biggest bust in franchise history?
Why the hell are we paying Bobby Bonilla so much money in 2012 and beyond?
Are there any Jeremy Lin-type players ready to break onto the scene?
Lastly, can the Mets put together a season that the fans can be proud of (or not embarrassed by)?
One thing is certain, the Mets are an underdog, which is a comfortable and familiar place for a Mets fan to be.