1. What production will the Mets get from second base? As of right now, it is looking more and more like Luis Castillo will be the Mets starting second baseman come April, and the eyes of millions of disgruntled Mets fans will be watching.
When the Mets traded for Castillo back in 2007 and then signed him to a now regretful four-year deal the following offseason, they thought that he would be a perfect complement to Jose Reyes while batting in the two-hole.
Although Castillo is entering only the second year of his contract, it seems so far that he has been anything but that. Last season he had an unrespectable batting average of .245 while only stealing 17 bases in 87 games.
In fact, Castillo was so bad in his first full season as a Met that management unsuccessfully attempted to convert their current platoon outfielder, Daniel Murphy, to his position.
Now, nobody is asking for Castillo to go back to his .300 hitting 50 stolen base days that he had on the Marlins, but what value does he have if he cannot hit the ball further than 100 feet while also not being able to run because he has bad knees?
Either way, Mets fans cannot help but cringe when they think about having “Slappy” as their second baseman while it is February and Orlando Hudson still does not have a home.
2. Will the new bullpen be able to hold down the fort? There is no doubt that Omar Minaya’s number one priority this offseason was to revamp the bullpen that many blame for the team’s September meltdowns the past two seasons. Well, he didn’t just revamp it; he demolished it and then rebuilt most of it from scratch.
He started by signing the new single season saves record holder, Francisco Rodriguez, to a three year $37 million deal.
Shortly after, Minaya, in a three team blockbuster deal with the Mariners and Indians traded right-handed pitchers Aaron Heilman and Joe Smith, fourth outfielder and fan favorite Endy Chavez, and four minor leaguers for closer J.J. Putz, reliever Sean Green, and utility outfielder and former top prospect Jeremy Reed.
He later traded lefty reliever Scott Schoeneweis to the Arizona Diamondbacks for 27-year old righty reliever Connor Robertson. So now, with K-Rod as their new closer, Putz as their new setup man, and a few new faces playing the role of middle relief, Mets fans and their cardiologists can only pray that the new bullpen will be able to shut the door night in and night out.
But hey, they have nowhere to go but up right?
3. Which Carlos Delgado will play in 2009? Before the Mets fired Willie Randolph, Delgado was on pace for one of the worst seasons of his career. Prior to Randolph’s departure, Delgado was batting .241 with 9 HR, 32 RBI.
After Jerry Manuel took over, Delgado belted 29 more HRs and drove in 83 more runs, thus finishing the season batting .271 with 38 HR and 115 RBI.
Delgado’s strong second half enticed the Mets to pick up his $12 million option. In order for the Mets to be successful this season it is vital that Carlos comes out of the gate the way he finished last season.
4. What production will the Mets get from the Murphy/Tatis platoon in left field? This morning, while appearing on WFAN, Omar Minaya clearly stated that the team is done making big moves and that the team he currently has will, for the most part, be the one on the field come opening day.
We might as well come to terms with it now, Manny Ramirez will NOT be starting in left field for the Mets in 2009, or probably ever. This means that the team will platoon rising star Daniel Murphy and the seemingly rejuvenated Fernando Tatis in left field.
While the two hitters showed sparks of brilliance in the batter’s box in the second half of 2008, many fans are not sure or confident that these two can carry the load for an entire season. Even though Murphy appears to be one of the more patient and confident young hitters in the game, he is entering only his first full major league season.
Meanwhile, Fernando Tatis, the NL’s 2008 Players Choice Comeback Player of the Year, only played in a combined 81 games from 2003-2007. Many think that the Mets are taking a huge risk by not signing or trading for a legitimate left-fielder.
Only time will tell if it pays off.
5. How will the Mets match up against the Phillies? Going into the 2009 season the NL East will be a division that baseball fans and analysts will be watching very closely. This is mainly because of the growing rivalry between the Mets and the defending world champion Phillies. The Phillies have one of the best cores in baseball with Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley, as well as one of the best pitchers in baseball in Cole Hamels.
While this is all well and good, the Phillies have a number of question marks on their team as well. How long can Brad Lidge stay perfect? How will the 50-game suspension of J.C. Romero affect the rest of the bullpen?
Which Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer are going to show up this season? Will they continue to be the studs that they were during second half of last year, or the demoted pitcher and the 46-year-old lefty who finally begins to show his age?
My “unbiased” verdict: If games ended in the eighth inning last season the Mets would have won the NL East by about six games. This nine or so game differential in the standings can clearly be explained by the team’s two bullpens.
The Phillies bullpen was as close to perfect as you can get, while the Mets bullpen was clearly as pathetic as you can get. For anyone to expect either of these teams to have the same results in their respective bullpens in 2009 is just ridiculous.
Even if you ignore the fact that the Fightin’ Phils have lost Romero for 50 games, you cannot possibly expect Brad Lidge and the rest of the bullpen not to give up a few game-tying or go ahead home runs in one of the best hitter’s parks in America.
Conversely, with the additions of K-Rod and Putz, as well as the subtractions of Schoeneweis and Heilman, there is no conceivable way that the Mets bullpen does not improve this season.
Therefore, I predict that these two bullpens will both lean closer to the league averages and that the Mets will win the NL East by three games.