Five Questions for the New York Mets' 2009 Season

Gary G.Correspondent IFebruary 25, 2009

Can Mike Pelfrey duplicate his 2008 performance?

For the first two years of his career, Mike Pelfrey was the type of pitcher you would sigh over seeing his name as the probable pitcher for the upcoming ball game.

Not much changed in 2008 in the start of the season. Pelfrey's first nine starts of the 2008 season led him to a 2-6 record with a 5.33 ERA, nearly two months into the season.

Of those nine starts, he pitched through six innings in only three of them, one of which resulted in a win. It was seemingly the same thing in every Mets fan's mind...the same old Pelfrey.

On May 31, the Mets hosted the Dodgers in the third game of a four-game series at Shea Stadium. This game was the turning point of Pelfrey's season as he pitched solid ball, going seven and two-thirds innings allowing just two earned runs.

From that game on through August, Pelfrey went on an 11-2 streak, while significantly dropping his ERA into the mid 3's. He finished up the season with a 13-11 record and a 3.72 ERA, all while pitching 200+ innings for the first time in his young career.

Mets fans were finally able to be proud of their 2005 first-round draft pick after he had a turnaround season. The question remains on whether or not Pelfrey will be able to duplicate his success into the 2009 season. The Mets are banking on him to likely be their No. 2 or No. 3 starter this season.

What can Luis Castillo bring to the table?

Kudos to anyone who can name how many different players have started a game for the Mets at second base over the past three years. (Answer at the bottom of the article)

After signing a four-year, $25 million deal prior to the 2008 campaign, Luis Castillo ended up playing 87 games for the Mets and was seemingly a black hole in the lineup day in and day out.

Castillo finished up the 2008 season with a .245 average, three homers, and 28 RBIs, though he did have a .355 on-base percentage, which is reasonable. The question just seems to be, can his 33-year old knees hold up, or is it just the end of the line for the three-time all-star?

Castillo reported to spring training 17 pounds lighter than last season, has gone on record in stating that his knees no longer bother him and that he was embarrassed by his 2008 performance.

The Mets have options such as Alex Cora, Argenis Reyes, Marlon Anderson, and Jose Valentin in camp right now as insurance in case the oft-injured Castillo goes down during the season with an injury.

Who is going to win the final rotation spot out of spring training?

One good thing about the Mets this year, as opposed to past seasons, is that they actually have a number of solid names in camp who can compete for the final spot in the rotation.

Early in the offseason, the Mets signed former Nationals pitcher and New York native, Tim Redding to a one-year, $2.25 million deal. The Mets also picked up Freddy Garcia and Livan Hernandez off the free agent pile and signed them to minor-league deals.

The team is also bringing back Tony Armas and Nelson Figueroa, who made spot starts for the Mets during the 2008 season, as well as allowing young southpaw Jonathan Niese to compete for the spot in the rotation.

It's quite clear the Mets have solid depth this year as opposed to previous years dealing with the likes of your Aaron Sele's or Jose Lima's.

Right now, I'd have to guess that Hernandez, Garcia and Redding are the top candidates to win the job. The 34-year old Hernandez managed to pick up 13 wins with the Twins last season, despite having an enormous 6.05 ERA.

Garcia was limited to just 16 games over the past two seasons after he underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder in August of 2007.

Garcia's best season came in 2005 when he went 14-8 with a 3.87 ERA, helping the White Sox win the World Series. Redding went 10-11 with a 4.95 ERA for the Washington Nationals last season.

It has been discussed that if Redding doesn't win the fifth starter job, he'll likely be relegated to long-relief duty in 2009, something the Mets truly did not have during the 2008 season.

How will Daniel Murphy fare in his sophomore season as a full-time starter?

The 23-year old took the Mets fans by storm last season, joining the team in August. Daniel Murphy, a third-baseman by trade, didn't quite have the opportunity to play that position in the majors with David Wright clearly occupying that position.

The Mets decided to send Murphy out into left field. While Murphy had never played left field before regularly, the Mets were in love with his bat and continued to platoon him as the left-handed compliment to Fernando Tatis.

In 131 at-bats over the final two months of the season, Murphy finished up with a .313 average with two home runs and 17 RBIs with 24 runs scored.

Murphy may not be the prototypical power hitter that a lot of teams covet with the left field position, but he brings a great approach to the table, in addition to his superb pitch recognition and tremendous bat control. He should be an excellent asset to lineup.

While it was assumed throughout the offseason that the Mets would platoon Murphy with Fernando Tatis in left field, manager Jerry Manuel showed enough confidence in him early on in camp to name him the full-time starter in left field this past week, despite only have 10 at-bats against major league left-handers.

"I don't need to see it," Manuel said. "I've seen it. I'm confident. The way he swings the bat, I'm confident that he can handle that. I don't have a problem with that."

So, what is the bullpen going to look like?

The Mets biggest issue last season was the bullpen once again, as they failed to hold the fort down after the ball was taken from the starter in the late games of September.

Omar Minaya went out and signed the top closer on the market in Francisco Rodriguez. He wasn't finished yet. It was evident that Minaya wanted to get rid of the bad taste left in Mets fans' mouths after the 2008 season.

The Mets sent relievers Aaron Heilman and Joe Smith packing and acquired Mariners closer J.J. Putz and middle reliever Sean Green. Minaya also sent left-handed specialist Scott Schoeneweis to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Out with the with the new.

The Mets bullpen now consists of Rodriguez, Putz, Green, Pedro Feliciano, and Duaner Sanchez. Right now, those five are likely considered locks to make the 2009 squad. One more name that is pretty much a guarantee is Brian Stokes, whom the Mets called up in August and did a tremendous job out of the bullpen in 2008.

Why is he a lock? Stokes is out of minor-league options and there is a good chance that he will end up making the team because of that alone.

One darkhorse who could become a major player for the Mets later on in the 2009 season is someone who Mets fans know all to well as their former closer, Billy Wagner.

Right now, it has been reported that Wagner is ahead of schedule after having Tommy John Surgery to repair his elbow this past season. He is now eyeing a return to the Mets perhaps in August if all things go well in his rehab.

Having a healthy Wagner in the seventh inning in September to go along with J.J. Putz and K-Rod would be a spectacular thing to watch.

Overall: The Mets do have a number of questions yet to be answered and it will be interesting to see how things go this spring. I'm anxious to see both how Luis Castillo's progress is going in his attempt to jump start his career back on track as well as seeing how Daniel Murphy will do in a full season's work.

Answer: The Mets have had 11 different players to hold the fort down at second base since the start of the 2006 season. Luis Castillo, Ruben Gotay, Jose Valentin, David Newhan, Damion Easley, Ramon Martinez, Marlon Anderson, Argenis Reyes, Anderson Hernandez, Chris Woodward, and Kaz Matsui.


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