Santana's success---and health---will be as crucial to the Mets' success this season as much as any other player
It is no secret right now in New York sports that the Mets are a second-class citizen when compared to the Yankees. The Mets are in financial ruin, their tickets sell for pennies on the dollar on secondary markets, they haven't made the playoffs since 2006, they haven't won a World Series since 1986 and aren't even expected to have a winning record for this upcoming 2012 MLB season.
On the other hand, the Yankees have by far the highest payroll in the MLB, their tickets are nearly worth their weight in gold (not really, but you get what I mean), they won their division last season, won a World Series in 2009 and are serious contenders for another championship this season.
As one might think when shown all of these evidences for the ineptitude of the Mets, New York's second-best MLB team is viewed as a laughingstock and with a rag-tag roster with no more than five established talents on it, that pessimism is justified amongst the media and even the fans. However, the Mets' situation isn't as bad as it is expressed in the public eye simply because the Mets won't be that terrible/awful this season.
Let's take a look at all the reasons why the Mets should be better than last year and actually be somewhat respectable this season:
1. No More Reyes and Beltran Distractions
The proverbial "dark cloud" hanging over the entire Mets team last season was what the front office was doing to do with team cornerstones in Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, whose contracts were to expire at the end of the year. New York sports radio and TV analysts dissected over and over again whether or not the two players would be Mets by the end of the season, and this no doubt affected the play of the team throughout its losing campaign. Of course, both of those guys aren't in New York as Beltran was traded to the San Francisco Giants in late July for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler while Reyes signed a lucrative six-year contract with the Miami Marlins this past December.
Should the Mets have made a bigger attempt to re-sign Reyes than they did?
Sure, the Mets will miss their talent and what they brought to the field, but the pall their looming departures had cast on the team hurt the team more than their play helped it. It's never easy to lose fan-favorite, star-players, but when it became a distraction that consumed and engulfed the team—the LeBron James syndrome so to speak—it became better for the Mets to cut their ties and start anew without them.
2. Johan Santana Is Healthy...Finally
That isn't saying much, especially because the actual regular season hasn't started yet, but it's notable because it means that Mets ace starting pitcher Johan Santana is finally healthy and is projected to be on the mound at Citi Field on Thursday for Opening Day. The former All-Star and Cy Young winner hasn't pitched in a regular season game for the Mets since Sept. 2 of 2010, missing all of last season with a sever shoulder injury. His return to the field is invaluable for this team that lacked a true rotational ace of last season; Santana provides that and more. Every five days, the Mets will be able to trot out one of the best starters in baseball. That is an advantage that any team needs in order to win games.
3. Bullpen Improvement Through Offseason Moves
It is no secret that the Mets had one of the MLB's worst bullpens last season and that was the major area GM Sandy Alderson addressed this offseason. He signed former Blue Jays' relievers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch to serve as the Mets' closer and projected set-up man. He also traded outfielder Angel Pagan to the Giants for Ramon Ramirez, a middle-relief pitcher. Granted, none of these players are superstars at their respective positions but they are serviceable and will undoubtedly add stability to a pen that couldn't hold any type of lead at all last season. Also, Alderson was able to do this on a limited budget, making his efforts even more commendable.
4. The Fences Are In
I know what you might think; you might think that the offseason "bringing-in" of Citi Field's fences helps both the Mets and their opponents hit more home runs, but in reality, it improves the Mets more than it hurts them. More specifically, the shortening of Citi Field's dimensions helps David Wright and Jason Bay more than any other Met. Last season was incredibly disappointing for both the third baseman and left fielder who, when not hampered by injuries, were basically inept and helpless to the team at the plate. Moving in the fences works to improve the fragile confidence of both these players that can produce 25+ home-runs and 100+ RBIs per season if they find their grooves. As shown by the complete inability of the Mets to score runs last season, they aren't a very good team when Wright and Bay don't hit. Conversely, they could be a really good offensive team if those two hit well. Hopefully the cure to their hitting woes can be fixed by the changes to Citi. If not, we could be in for a long, arduous season of more losing.
5. The Wilpons Aren't Bankrupt (And Can Afford to Run This Team)
The recent court settlement between the Wilpons and the trustee for Bernie Madoff's victims is a major sigh-of-relief for the Mets' brass. The Wilpons still owe a lot of money to victims of the biggest Ponzi scheme perpetrator this country has ever seen. However, the money they are going to need to pay pales in comparison to the $1 billion they were rumored to be on the hook for earlier in the case. This good news for the Mets' organization, and bad news for the victims, means that the team's long-time owners will probably be at the helm for a much longer time. It also means that they have more accessible cash revenue to spend on the team and hopefully improve it to become a World Series contender.