Pleas from fans couldn't keep Jose Reyes in New York
Is there anything good to say about the New York Mets?
Look at the headlines lately: A federal judge ruled that the team's owners may have to pay out around $83 million to victims of the Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme. Former Mets star Lenny Dysktra was sentenced to three years in prison for fraud. The team lost its spring training opener.
And that was just on Monday.
No doubt the Mets are a snake-bitten team. The biggest bite was the loss of shortstop Jose Reyes to the Miami Marlins over the winter. It capped a year in which very little went right. Pitching ace Johan Santana sat out the entire season, recovering from surgery on his left shoulder. David Wright became the subject of trade rumors after batting just .254 in 2011. Jason Bay also struggled throughout the year.
So is there something, anything, to look forward to for 2012? Can the Mets stay competitive, at least enough to keep fans from bailing out of Citi Field before August?
The answer is yes. Or more precisely, yes, if...
Here are five reasons why the Mets could overcome predictions of a 2012 Maya-style apocalypse.
Until this week, Johan Santana had not pitched an inning of major league ball since Sept.2, 2010.
He and his teammates, coaches and fans spent all of 2011 wondering whether he would regain his dominant form after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. This week, they all let out a big sigh of relief.
Santana pitched two strong innings against the Cardinals in his spring training debut on Tuesday. Seventeen of his 29 pitches were strikes, and more importantly, his velocity was in the 88-90 mph range.
It was more than expected for Santana's first go. Santana himself was satisfied; the New York Daily News reported that he greeted Manager Terry Collins with a firm "Yeah, baby!" while leaving the game.
Santana continued to look strong in his between-starts bullpen session on Thursday. The real test is whether Santana's shoulder will hold up for the duration. His next start is scheduled for Sunday against the Marlins.
Mike Baxter was one of the Mets off to the races on Monday night.
Mets manager Terry Collins has his team off to the races.
The Mets opened the spring with five stolen bases in six attempts against the Nationals on Monday night. That's about as unusual as asking a starting pitcher to go more than two or three innings in his first spring start.
It's an indication that Collins won't ease up on stolen base attempts, notwithstanding GM Sandy Alderson's comment that "stolen bases are a footnote."
Reyes was responsible for much of the Mets' success in stolen bases in recent years. He led the NL in stolen bases for three years running and was batting champion last year. Now that he's gone, the Mets won't be nearly as speedy, but Collins seems ready to keep them running.
Ramon Ramirez has joined a reinforced Mets bullpen.
The Mets starting rotation is pretty thin once you get past Santana. Of the other starters—Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese, R.A. Dickey and Dillon Gee—only Gee had a winning percentage above .500 last year. Worse still, the bullpen wasn't strong enough to prop them up.
That could change in 2012. GM Sandy Alderson, forced to keep the purse strings tight as the financially-troubled Mets hacked away at the payroll, may have picked up a few bullpen bargains over the winter.
Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch join the Amazins from Toronto. Ramon Ramirez came over from the Giants in the Angel Pagan trade. None of them are overpowering, but each has strong specialties that could keep the Mets close in tight games.
Francisco has excellent control and has been a rock-steady reliever the past few years. Ramirez has a nasty slider that keeps hitters off balance. Rauch, at 6'11", has a natural advantage; his height makes it seem as if his pitches are coming down from the moon.
Tim Byrdak and Manny Acosta round out the players guaranteed to go north with the team. Mets fans can be reasonably confident that the bullpen will improve on its dismal performance last year, when it was ranked 28th in the league with a collective ERA of 4.33
The Mets are free of their pay-for-no-play deal with Oliver Perez.
There was a lot of chatter over the winter about the drastic reduction in the Mets' payroll. How is it possible to cut $52 million and still field a competitive team?
Well, it may not be as bad as it sounds. The coffers are certainly depleted, but there were some important savings to help cushion the blow.
The Mets released both infielder Luis Castillo and reliever Oliver Perez before the 2011 campaign began, but they were still on the hook for their salaries. That's a combined $18 million that the Mets can write off the books this year.
Also, when the Mets shipped Carlos Beltran off to San Francisco and closer Francisco Rodriguez to Milwaukee, they sent along a combined $9 million to cover part of their salaries.
Alas, the Mets are still saddled with the worst deferred payment contract in the history of everything. The team will be issuing checks to Bobby Bonilla until 2035.
Let's face it, the Mets have a lot of obstacles to overcome in 2012. But no matter how well or how poorly they do, fans can take solace in this: It isn't 1962.
The players representing the newly-enfranchised New York Metropolitan Baseball Club first took the field a half-century ago. National League baseball had returned to the city five years after the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants departed, and their fans put the names O'Malley and Stoneham right up there with Stalin and Satan.
Maybe the city would have been better off with just the Yankees. The Mets lost a record 120 games.
Seven years later, the Mets were champions of the world. This year, the franchise will celebrate its 50th year with tributes to the '69 and '86 championship teams, and the great and near-great players in its roller-coaster history. Even the Lovable Losers of '62 can expect some love.
If nothing else, then, Mets fans can look forward to looking back.