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New York Mets: 10 Areas to Strengthen at the 2012 Trade Deadline If Contending

Shale BriskinContributor IIIApril 10, 2012

New York Mets: 10 Areas to Strengthen at the 2012 Trade Deadline If Contending

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    Now that the Mets have begun the 2012 season at 4-0, the possibility of them actually contending for the postseason this year could become talked about more and more.

    In the offseason, the Mets lost their All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, but upgraded their bullpen by signing Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, plus trading for Ramon Ramirez. They also got center fielder Andres Torres in the deal that brought Ramirez over.

    Few other moves were made because the Mets at the time did not have much financial security at all. However, now that the Wilpons got their case settled, the Mets can work with more money if necessary.

    Here is a position-by-position breakdown of what the Mets may try to do at the trade deadline if, in fact, they are in contention by the All-Star break.

Catcher

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    One of the stronger positions throughout Mets history, the Mets seem to be all but set with Josh Thole as the everyday catcher and Mike Nickeas as the right-handed-hitting backup.

    Thole is more of an all-around player, with his lack of power being an exception. Offensively, he puts the ball in play and gets on base at a pretty good rate. He is a doubles hitter and does not possess the best speed on the bases. As a result, the best places in the lineup to put him would be either in the seventh or eighth spots, with the second spot being another potential option.

    Thole takes a lot of pride in his defense. He calls good games generally speaking and is always very positive when working with the pitchers. His fielding and throwing arm are both above average as well. Furthermore, Thole has always been an energetic player and his enthusiasm has always been great for the team chemistry.

    As for Nickeas, he is much better defensively than he is at the plate, which is no different than most other backup catchers. While his defense, throwing arm and ability to call good games for pitchers are all way above average, Nickeas has always been overwhelmed offensively. He is a career .179 hitter and has never possessed much power.

    If the Mets want to improve their catching position, they could acquire a veteran right-handed-hitting backup that could provide some power against left-handed pitchers. Miguel Olivo of the Mariners could be a good fit if the Mets choose to go this route.

First Base

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    If one position within the Mets is stable, it is first base. Ike Davis is the first baseman of the future for the Mets and is expected to soon become one of the most feared sluggers in all of baseball.

    The Mets also have a good number of players on the major league roster that are capable of playing first base. Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner all have a lot of experience at the position.

    The Mets will not have to make any moves to strengthen first base any further, unless they feel like acquiring a right-handed bench hitter that can play the position.

    However, this would be made to improve the bench more than anything.

Second Base

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    Ever since Wally Backman was traded after the 1988 season, second base has been an unstable position. Very few second basemen in that span have been everyday starters for over three consecutive seasons.

    With this being said, the Mets are hoping that they find a long-term second baseman in the recently converted Daniel Murphy.

    Murphy is now the regular starter, mostly thanks to his offense. He batted .320 in 2011 and is off to a great start so far in 2012. He is a doubles hitter that gets on base a lot and provides occasional power surges. He is also very good at hitting the ball to the opposite field.

    Defense is another story for Murphy. Being a natural third baseman, he was forced to play second base in order to be in the lineup every day. He has had trouble staying healthy the past two seasons, mostly due to his previous inability to turn double plays consistently.

    Hopefully, he will be able to stay healthy for a full season this year and keep developing as a player.

    The Mets also have two other players on their roster that can play second base. One of them is Justin Turner, who is now the Mets' utility infielder. He was basically the odd man out of the lineup, but he is still valuable to the lineup in his new role. Should Murphy get hurt once again this year, Turner would almost certainly become the new second baseman.

    The other option is Ronny Cedeno, who was ultimately brought in for his defense. He has played in the ninth innings of the first three games of the season for his better defensive skills.

    The Mets would be very unlikely to bring in another second baseman, but if it were to happen, it would likely be a right-handed-hitting veteran backup with some sort of power.

Shortstop

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    Now that Jose Reyes is on the Marlins, the Mets have had to settle with Ruben Tejada at shortstop for at least this year.

    Tejada is not the same kind of player that Reyes is. Tejada can hold his own defensively and also has a great throwing arm, but his hitting is definitely not up to par with that of Reyes and the other elite shortstops.

    Despite his lack of hitting, he will still be given a chance to be the Mets' everyday shortstop. If the Mets happen to be in contention and they decide to try and upgrade the shortstop position, they could acquire a veteran shortstop that will help mentor Tejada the same way that Reyes did for a few years.

Third Base

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    The face of the Mets, David Wright will not get replaced by anyone else at third base, unless he of course gets traded elsewhere. Unless that happens, though, Wright will be at third base just about every day for the Mets.

    Since his arrival in 2004, Wright has asserted himself as one the top three, if not the best third baseman in all of baseball. He is a five-tool player that he can hit for average and power, run the bases well, and play his position in the field as well as anyone else.

    In the event that Wright happens to get hurt, the Mets could always put in Justin Turner or move Daniel Murphy to third base. Hopefully, that never happens again, but this is still worth noting.

    All in all, Wright will be the Mets' third baseman for as long as he is on the team.

Outfield

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    One of the most uneven positions on the Mets right now is their outfield and there are two big reasons why.

    The first one is in left field and has to do with Jason Bay's struggles. Ever since he signed the four-year $66 million contract the Mets gave him, Bay has simply not been hitting well at all. He has looked lost at the plate and his production simply took a sharp and dramatic decrease. So far this season, Bay has yet to really show that he can hit as well as he did for years with the Pirates.

    If Bay still can't get it together, the Mets will have to find a way to get rid of him, even if it would require eating the remainder of his contract. If he simply cannot hit, there is no reason why he should be playing and causing a younger player to essentially be "blocked" from the position.

    The Mets are rebuilding and cannot afford to have Bay's lack of hitting to get in the way.

    The other reason is in center field and relates to Andres Torres, whom the Mets acquired in the offseason. Torres battled leg injuries during spring training and was forced to exit Opening Day after re-injuring the same calf muscle that bothered him in the spring.

    As a result, top outfield prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis was called up and will likely play center field every day, at least until Torres is ready to return. If Nieuwenhuis is hitting well, though, Torres may not be able to start anymore.

    With Lucas Duda now a fixture in right field, mainly due to his hitting, left and center field are the two outfield spots that should be of concern for the Mets. They could acquire another player to replace Bay in left field under the right circumstances, or they could also acquire a left-handed-hitting reserve outfielder that has experience in all three outfield positions.

Utility Player

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    As a team, the 2012 Mets are quite versatile. Many of them can play at least two or three different positions and have been flexible in doing so for years. Not every team is blessed with having a player like Joe McEwing, whom the Mets once had as a super utility man that could play every position in the field.

    The closest thing the Mets have to a super utility player is Justin Turner, but he can only play all the infield positions. It is yet to be determined whether Turner could ever play the outfield, but it would not be too surprising if he could.

    Regardless, the Mets should have enough depth so that they won't even need a complete utility hitter, but if the team chooses to pursue such a player, it would only improve the depth that the Mets already have.

Bench

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    Offensively, aside from Jason Bay's lack of production, the bench is the Mets' biggest weakness. It currently consists of backup catcher Mike Nickeas, utility infielder Justin Turner, middle infielder Ronny Cedeno, outfielder Scott Hairston and outfielder Mike Baxter.

    Overall, this group isn't terrible and can hold its own in the field for the most part. However, the Mets lack that clutch pinch-hitter that they would like to rely in certain late-inning situations. None of these players would really strike any fear into opposing pitchers.

    If the Mets are in contention for the postseason by the All-Star break, they should seriously consider trading for a pinch-hitter that could improve the bench depth a lot.

Starting Pitchers

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    Going into this season, the Mets' biggest question mark had to do with their starting rotation. Mets ace Johan Santana is coming back from missing more than a year due to injuries and Mike Pelfrey took a big step backward in his progression during the 2011 season.

    As a result, both of them were viewed as perhaps the most significant X-factors regarding whether the Mets in 2012 will be successful or not.

    Not as much concern was placed on the other three starters: R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. Dickey, the knuckleballer, is expected to contribute numbers similar to his of the last two years. Niese is expected to have a breakout season and Gee should hopefully pitch at least as well as he did in his rookie season last year.

    If the Mets are in contention, or if they are not and at least one of either Santana or Pelfrey is pitching well, look for at least one of them to get traded at the trade deadline for a package of prospects.

    Trading Santana would be less likely to happen because of his huge contract, but the Mets would almost certainly have to eat the contract regardless.

    Also, if the Mets do have a great record by the All-Star break, they could shop for a veteran pitcher or two that plays for a non-contending team, but would be open to playing for a contender. Whether this actually materializes is yet to be determined, but many successful teams build up at the trade deadline, so if the Mets are fortunate enough, they could acquire some new and established pitchers of their own.

Relief Pitchers

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    Finally, last but not least, there are the relief pitchers.

    In the offseason, the Mets completely revamped their bullpen by signing Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. They also acquired Ramon Ramirez through a trade with the Giants. This has become the back end of the current Mets bullpen.

    The bullpen also includes four holdovers in righties Manny Acosta, Miguel Batista and Bobby Parnell, plus lefty Tim Byrdak. All in all, it's a relatively solid bullpen for the Mets and is certainly better than any Mets bullpen of the past three or four years.

    With this being said, if the Mets are contending by July, they could even make trades to improve the bullpen even further. With Byrdak as the only southpaw in the bullpen, the Mets could always bring in another veteran left-handed specialist to make Byrdak's job a little easier. Many different relievers across the league could fit the description, so it will be interesting to see which of them become available by the trade deadline.

    On the other hand, if the Mets struggle this year, there is the possibility that some of those relievers may be available in potential trades to help other contending teams.

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