Let's face it...Mets fans have not had a whole lot to cheer about the last two seasons. There was the 2006 NLCS, then two straight September disasters.
But hope springs eternal for every Major League team around this time of year. It is a matter of days until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. And while every team is optimistic at this juncture, every team has its question marks.
In reverse order, the following are the most pressing questions the Mets need to answer this season:
10. How great would it be if Billy Wagner comes back in September and helps form the best 1-2-3 punch out of the bullpen in MLB?
Now, to set this straight, the probability of this happening is slim, at best. Wagner had surgery at the end of last season and is looking at at least a year's worth of recovery time. But, a guy can dream, can't he?
Imagine J.J. Putz trotting out in the seventh inning, followed by Billy Wagner in the eighth inning, and Francisco Rodriguez shutting things down in the ninth inning. Now, THAT is a bullpen that will not lose too many leads. And, for what it is worth, don't discount Wagner's drive to return to health quickly.
He is a very intense, dedicated guy who shed tears last year when he knew he was not going to be able to fulfill the full length of his Mets contract...
PREDICTION: Wagner returns to decent health, but is not quite 100%. The Mets err on the side of caution and decide to let him take the offseason to let him get back to full health rather than rushing him back.
9. Do the Mets have enough depth on the bench?
As presently constituted, the Mets bench on a typical day will consist of Ramon Castro, Alex Cora, Marlon Anderson, Jeremy Reed/Cory Sullivan, and Fernando Tatis. Where's the power off the bench? A right-handed bat like a Kevin Millar would be a nice addition...
PREDICTION: The Mets will need to tinker with this bench a bit. I could see Anderson getting released and some more pop added.
8. What Carlos Delgado will the Mets be getting in 2009?
Will we see the guy who hit .215 as late as May 28 last year or the guy who hit .303 after the All-Star break and hit 30 homers in the season's last four months?
PREDICTION: Somewhere in between. An acceptable year might be a .265 average, 25 HR, and 90 RBIs. Anything more would be a bonus.
7. Will Mike Pelfrey suffer for the "Verducci Effect?"
Tom Verducci has a theory that pitchers who throw more than 30 innings over their previous season high are at risk for injury. Pelfrey threw 200.2 innings last year for the Mets, exceeding his 2007 total by 48 innings.
Does his big body type help lessen the strain on his arm or is the 25-year old due for a blown-out arm?
PREDICTION: Pelfrey may see a drop in his production, but overall, his body holds up. If he is to improve, though, he'll have to do better than his 0-3 record in five September starts last season.
6. How long until Luis Castillo is no longer manning second base full-time?
According to all accounts, Castillo has been working hard this offseason to prove to Mets fans last year's .245 average was a fluke and he is more like the guy who hit at least .300 in six of the nine previous seasons.
PREDICTION: Castillo makes it until June as the starter, but can't shake his nagging injuries. Which leads us to his possible replacement...
5. Is the Daniel Murphy/Fernando Tatis platoon sufficient in left field?
Last year, the two combined to hit .302 with 13 HRs and 64 RBI in 403 at-bats. Expand that out to a 600 at-bat season and you are looking at 20 HRs and 96 RBI. If the Mets were given those numbers, they would sign up for that production from them in a heartbeat.
However, Omar Minaya may be the only person who thinks Tatis will hit the way he did last year. And, while Murphy seems like a gritty, meticulous player at the plate, he has just 131 at-bats in the bigs.
Also, anyone who saw Murphy play in left field clearly saw an infielder attempting to play in the outfield. While he didn't embarrass himself and is said to be working hard in the offseason to improve his defense, one look at his throwing motion shows you he is meant to be an infielder.
Wouldn't his offensive numbers fit so much better as a second baseman rather than a left fielder?
PREDICTION: Tatis declines, Murphy hits for average and gets on base, but doesn't produce much power. A move from left field to second base for Murphy would be ideal.
4. How much will Omar Minaya regret not pursuing Manny Ramirez?
To put it simply: Very, very much. Forget "Manny Being Manny," the hair, the antics, the lazy trots down to first on a ground ball. Forget it all. This man is a hitting machine, is right-handed, and would slide into the clean-up spot perfectly, giving the Mets one of the most potent lineups in all of baseball.
He is worth every penny, unless the Wilpons really don't have as many pennies as they used to because of Mr. Bernie Madoff...
PREDICTION: This may be the one person Omar hears about more than anybody else this season as the one that got away.
3. Will Oliver Perez make fans forget that the Mets did not sign a "front-line" starter?
While the Mets were wise not to shell out the $60 million the Braves did to Derek Lowe, he was clearly the No. 1 guy the Mets wanted to get to fill out the rotation. While re-signing Ollie was a sideways move, an improvement from him over last season as well as a nice contribution from low-risk, high-reward starter Freddy Garcia might make up for some of the disappointment.
PREDICTION: Ollie's next three years in a Met uniform will not be any less inconsistent than his first three years with the club.
2. Will the upgrades in the bullpen equal an upgrade in the NL East standings?
There is no doubt the Mets bullpen has been solidified and, barring injuries, will not be giving up leads on a daily basis like it did last September. The Mets were second in the league in runs scored last year and the starters gave them solid efforts most nights. The No. 1 weakness (the bullpen) has been fixed.
Therefore, everything should be good to go, right?
PREDICTION: The bullpen is fantastic in 2009, making Mets fans put down the Pepto Bismol in the late innings. What that means in the standings? No clue...
1. Will the Mets be able to avoid a third straight September collapse?
Which leads us to this one. At this point, Mets fans know that it doesn't matter what the team does in the first five months of the season. September is the time to be good.
PREDICTION: You know what? The Mets DO avoid a third straight collapse, despite the offense and rotation being nothing more than slightly above average. They win because of a combination of an improved bullpen, the acquisition of a power bat at the trading deadline, and the sheer difficulty the Phillies face this year as "the hunted."