MLB Free Agency: 10 Ways Mets Can Improve in 2013 Without Raising the Payroll

Shale BriskinContributor IIIAugust 30, 2012

MLB Free Agency: 10 Ways Mets Can Improve in 2013 Without Raising the Payroll

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    With such little expectations to win a lot and compete, the New York Mets surprised everyone at the start of the season by going 46-40 before the All-Star break.

    However, the Mets have been a very different team since the All-Star break. They have been 14-29 so far since the Midsummer Classic. The Mets had been in postseason contention for most of the first half, but that opportunity vanished after poor play in the middle of July, particularly a homestand in which they got swept by both the Nationals and Dodgers.

    After that, they seemingly had trouble winning two consecutive games, and just about every part of the team fell apart in the process. The Mets and their fans, though, can always look forward to the 2013 season, which should be a lot more promising, especially because the farm system has been developing much better in recent years.

    Unfortunately, the Mets will still have one thing working against them going forward. Despite the fact that Fred Wilpon and the Mets ownership has gotten past their legal issues, this does not mean that they will have a lot more money available to use on upgrading talent.

    Here are 10 ways in which the Mets can improve in 2013 without increasing payroll.

1. A More Consistent Season from Ike Davis

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    First baseman Ike Davis has, in a way, had two different seasons this year. For the first three months, Davis struggled mightily and had a lot of trouble with breaking balls. By late June, his average was still under .200 and the Mets were thinking of possibly demoting him to the minor leagues.

    But in the final days of June, Davis all of a sudden was hitting more consistently and hitting more home runs as well. He has now worked his average over .220 and has 24 home runs to lead the Mets by a good margin. If Davis can find his consistent hitting from April to September of 2013, he could easily get to 35-to-40 home runs and over 120 RBI.

    Considering he has 24 home runs and 71 RBI in this inconsistent season of his, these should be reasonable expectations for next year.

2. Find an Everyday Role for Jordany Valdespin

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    Ever since Jose Reyes left the Mets in the previous offseason, the team has been lacking someone to replace his energetic game play and persona. However, it seems as if New York has already found an unlikely source of energy in the organization.

    That player is rookie Jordany Valdespin, who invigorated the team with his five pinch-hit home runs and youthful energy in moments that looked as if the Mets were going to let down and lose again.

    Valdespin's energy may not be as critical and noticeable in the clubhouse, but it has been the closest of anyone to what Reyes once was for the Mets. The one problem for Valdespin, though, was that the Mets were not always able to find regular playing time for him during much of the season.

    Valdespin is a natural second baseman, but because of the presence of Daniel Murphy at second base and Ruben Tejada at shortstop, Valdespin has played mostly in the outfield. Another reason for this is that the Mets have gotten such poor production from their outfielders this year, so Valdespin's bat has really helped him get more playing time.

    In the offseason, the Mets will have to make a critical decision on what to do with Valdespin. The Mets should either have him start every day in the outfield or use him as a trade chip to upgrade other areas of the team. All in all, Valdespin can be valuable to the Mets in various ways.

3. Have Lucas Duda Become the Everyday Left Fielder

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    At the beginning of the season, Lucas Duda had been one of the more promising hitters on the Mets, despite his defensive issues in right field. He provided explosive power and a powerful presence in the lineup behind David Wright.

    However, as he season progressed, Duda's hitting diminished, and he kept having adventures in right field. As a result, the Mets demoted him to the minor leagues for about a month. He started playing left field there, and he is now the Mets' main left fielder.

    In the offseason, the Mets need to see what they plan on doing with Duda going forward. Could the natural first baseman be a productive left fielder for the Mets next year? Or is he better off being a first baseman on another team? The Mets will have to determine what would be best for the team. But if Duda still remains a Met, he needs to be an everyday left fielder.

4. Keep Jason Bay Confined to the Bench

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    For a while, Jason Bay had been one of the more feared National League hitters in baseball. However, after he became a Met, he has not been the same.

    Expected to be a big-time run producer behind David Wright in the Mets lineup, Bay failed miserably in 2010 with just six home runs and never found his groove offensively. He ran hard in the field and showed the effort, but this only went so far, being that he simply could not hit well at all.

    Bay's hitting has not improved in both 2011 and 2012, which has led to an increased amount of boos from Mets fans everywhere. More recently, Bay has been starting exclusively against left-handed pitching, but his playing time could diminish even more now that Lucas Duda has been starting regularly in left field.

    At this point, having Bay in the Mets outfield is taking away from the opportunity for younger players to show what kind of talent they have. Bay would be best off being released due to his age and complete lack of production in recent years. General manager Sandy Alderson has released unpopular players before, but it will be interesting to see what he plans on doing with Bay and his larger contract.

    All in all, Bay is not part of the solution for the Mets next year, and having him get at-bats will only hurt the team. He needs a change of scenery for his own sake—hopefully, the Mets will send him packing.

5. Sign Kelly Shoppach as the Starting Catcher and Trade Josh Thole

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    Ever since his recent arrival, Kelly Shoppach has made the catcher position relevant for the first time in years. Shoppach already has two home runs as a Met, which is as much as the other three Mets catchers—Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas and Rob Johnson—have combined for throughout the season.

    Thole has struggled at the plate as the Mets' regular catcher, so Shoppach has definitely brought some more offense to the position, which will only help. Defensively, Shoppach has worked well with the Mets pitchers, and it's not a surprise that his veteran presence has led to the bullpen, in particular, pitching better.

    If the Mets plan on improving this year, they need to stick with Shoppach as their catcher for at least 2013. The Mets had been hoping for an improved year from Thole, but he simply hasn't gotten anything done at the plate and is hitting slightly worse than he did in 2011.

    Some may feel that Thole is still young and could possibly break out later on in a big way, similar to what former Mets catcher Todd Hundley did in 1996 with 41 home runs after never hitting more than 16 in a season during the first four years of his career.

    Expecting Thole to ever put up those numbers would be asking for a lot, and the bullpen's struggles in the past few years could be an indication that the Mets need a new regular presence behind the plate.

    If the Mets can find a deal for Thole, they should take it because he will never become an elite catcher. The Mets' minor league system does not have great depth with catchers, so now could be a good time to acquire catching prospects who could help in the future.

6. A Solid and Healthy Season from Johan Santana

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    Expected to be the ace of the Mets this year, Johan Santana has instead regressed back to being the aging and injury-prone pitcher he has been since 2009.

    After coming back from shoulder surgery Santana got off to a very solid start, even though—as usual—he did not get too much run support from his offense. He even made a strong case for being an All-Star, especially with his no-hitter in June. However, since July, Santana has not been the same.

    He started to get knocked around more than usual and simply did not execute good pitches. He spent time on the disabled list due to an ankle injury, and now he will be shut down for the rest of the year because of a back injury. One can only wonder what the Mets could even get from Santana in 2013, which will almost certainly be his final season with the team.

    In order to be a solid contributor, he will have to stay healthy and have excellent control thanks to his diminished velocity. It will also be important for the Mets to have good pitching depth across the organization in case yet another injury occurs.

    Much of the Mets' 2013 success will depend on how much they will get from Santana and if he can return to form as the same pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006. Hopefully, Santana will redeem himself and be productive for the Mets next year.

7. A More Consistent Season for Jon Niese

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    Southpaw Jon Niese has had a solid season overall this year, yet at times he still looks inconsistent from one start to another.

    Niese has always been the kind of pitcher who can amaze people when he dominates good opposing lineups. However, he can also make people scratch their heads if he pitches very poorly. Thus, Niese has always been a slightly above-average pitcher.

    Niese's current 3.51 ERA has been certainly better than it was in previous seasons. With a 10-7 record to this point, he could very likely set a new career high in wins if he gets to at least 12.

    Niese is clearly having a very good season overall; however, if he wants the Mets to get to the postseason, he will have to start pitching more like teammate R.A. Dickey than Jon Niese. The sky is the limit for Niese's potential.

8. A Full Season from Matt Harvey

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    Despite the Mets' struggles in the second half, there have been some bright spots, and Matt Harvey has been by far one of the brightest of them all.

    Harvey made his major league debut in late July and has been quite impressive in the majority of his starts so far. He combines his high velocity with great command to be successful.

    For the past few years, Harvey has been hyped up to be one of the future pitching cornerstones. It will be great to see what he can do in his first full season next year. He has a ton of potential and could even become a future Cy Young Award winner down the road.

9. Promote Zack Wheeler When Needed

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    The other future Mets pitching cornerstone will be Zack Wheeler, who is currently developing in the minor leagues.

    Wheeler is expected to be even better than Harvey and will likely make his major league debut sometime in 2013. It could be right out of spring training or further in the season, but with his talent, he will debut in 2013. The Mets will need his pitching to help them get to the postseason, but at the same time, the Mets should not rush him in at all costs.

    It will be quite fascinating to see how Wheeler's development gets played out next year, especially in spring training. Hopefully, he will get promoted when he's ready and pitch well as a Met for years.

10. Make Bobby Parnell the Future Closer

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    This past offseason, the Mets signed Frank Francisco to be their new closer for this year and 2013. Unfortunately, that has turned out to be one of the worst signings Sandy Alderson has made as the Mets general manager.

    Francisco has been inconsistent all season long and has basically had a terrible year. Despite having 22 saves, his ERA is almost at 5.00, and for a while it had been over 6.00. Francisco has also had emotional meltdowns and has occasionally been taken out of ninth-inning situations due to his struggles.

    The Mets cannot afford to have Francisco anchor the bullpen again next year.

    Ideally, the Mets would love to sign another proven closer, but they likely will not be able to afford doing so. Thus, the Mets should look within the organization and decide that Bobby Parnell should be the new closer in 2013. He pitched well as a closer when Francisco was on the disabled list and should definitely get those opportunities next year.

    Jon Rauch will be a free agent and is very unlikely to re-sign with the Mets. As a result, Parnell will be the only other Mets reliever with previous major league closing experience. It has not been determined for sure that Parnell is being thought of by the Mets as a future closer, but next year would be a great time for the Mets to see if Parnell can really handle himself as a closer over a full season. If his command and breaking pitches are as good as his fastball, then the sky will be the limit for him.