8 Biggest Questions Facing New York Mets Heading into 2013

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2012

8 Biggest Questions Facing New York Mets Heading into 2013

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    Whether fans want to or not, it’ll soon be time to meet the 2013 New York Mets.

    Playoff aspirations are not in the cards for this squad, but there are still several intriguing storylines surrounding the team to follow throughout the season.

    Not that the Mets ever stood a realistic chance, but trading 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays all but eliminated any pipe dream of embarking on a magical run.

    This year will mainly revolve around waiting for their top prospects to debut, hopefully setting the tone for more promising days ahead. Even if they’re not playing meaningful baseball in August and September, their young guns should make the waning games engaging television for true Mets fans.

    Since there’s still 162 games to be played, the Mets must scramble to assemble a squad that features few certainties.

    In addition to grabbing a pitcher to help lessen the wound of losing Dickey, the Mets will have to cure an incredibly weak outfield and bullpen.

    These questions weigh heavily on Mets fans’ minds as Opening Day continues to sneak up on us.

1. Who Will Play in the Outfield?

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    A jumbled outfield lacking any mainstays hampered an offense devoid of consistency and power last season.

    Barring some unforeseen moves this offseason, those problems will likely persist into the 2013 season, as not one of the three spots are locked down.

    Lucas Duda showed considerable promise toward the end of the 2011 season, slugging .546 after the All-Star break. The following year, however, shined a blinding light on his inability to make regular contact or offer any defensive value in the outfield.

    Kirk Nieuwenhuis won fans over for a New York minute, but he finished the year with a .315 on-base percentage and a 31.2 percent strikeout rate. Not exactly starting material.

    Mike Baxter is a fine fourth outfielder, but he’s not suited for an everyday role. They’re looking to retain Scott Hairston, but he’s a 32-year-old who mainly excels against left-handed pitching.

    Acquiring Collin Cowgill provided us all with a day worth of splendid entertainment, declaring that “the Mets' outfield has a fever, and the only prescription is more Cowgill.” But come on, he posted a .316 slugging percentage in 38 games last year.

    It’s bad enough that the Mets are “very interested” in taking a shot in the dark on Grady Sizemore, who hasn’t played a full season since 2008.

    The outfield spots will likely form into a carousel riding the hot hands, but someone eventually needs to rise to the occasion and cement a long-term role with the club.

    Hey, at least Jason Bay is gone.

2. How Will the Bullpen Shake Up?

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    If the Mets want to uphold the charade that they’re intending to compete this season, they must renovate a bullpen that ranked near the bottom of baseball.

    Their 4.65 team ERA topped the Milwaukee Brewers’ rate by 0.01 point to avoid holding the dubious honor of baseball's worst relieving corps.

    A quality bullpen can work wonders for a squad, often deciphering the difference between obscurity and contention. Two of last season’s most improbable success stories, the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s, sported bullpens that ranked among the league’s five best in terms of ERA.

    It’s fair to wonder who will pitch the ninth innings next year, but we don’t even know who’s pitching the eighth, seven and occasionally sixth and fifth innings in this lackluster bunch.

    Frank Francisco will receive a second chance following a tumultuous season, but it’s not good if he’s the guy New York will depend on. Bobby Parnell, the bullpen’s best performer last season, should factor into the later innings.

    With no major moves nearing the horizon, the Mets will count on youngsters such as Josh Edgin, Robert Carson and Jeurys Familia to stand out through an inexperienced batch of relievers.

3. Who Will Be Their No. 5 Starter?

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    Until Zack Wheeler is ready to inherit his spot in the starting rotation, the Mets need to locate another arm to round out their staff as the No. 5 starter.

    They could stay in house and reward the job to Collin McHugh or Jenry Mejia, but they will probably find a low-cost option in the free-agency market to supplement an already young group.

    The Mets are pursuing a slew of options to eat up innings. According to the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff, Carl Pavano could return to New York after a disastrous stint with the Yankees.

    Davidoff also reported the possibility of the Mets bringing back a familiar face in Chris Capuano, who served them well as a back-end starter in 2011. After signing Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to ship off some of their starting pitching surplus.

    While Shaun Marcum was also listed as a potential target, New York is more likely to chase a cheaper veteran, much like it did previously with Capuano and Chris Young. 

4. When Will the Top Prospects Arrive?

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    Since nobody should expect a playoff push from these Mets, fans will treat this season as a chance to scout the team's budding young talent that could potentially lead it to better days.

    Wheeler, who the Mets acquired for Carlos Beltran in 2011, is close to joining Matt Harvey in the big leagues in what will hopefully morph into an electric duo.

    Last season, Wheeler posted a 3.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 8.94 K/9 ratio in the minors. While most of those innings were logged in Double-A, his six Triple-A starts yielded similar numbers.

    Now, they have two more blue-chip prospects obtained through the Dickey deal. Although 20-year-old Noah Syndergaard still needs more seasoning before uniting with Harvey and Wheeler in the majors, Travis D’Arnaud should shortly start fueling Mets fans' dreams of him turning into the second coming of Mike Piazza.

    The young catcher crushed Triple-A pitching in 2012, producing a .333/.380/.595 slashing line in 67 games before a torn PCL blocked his path to the show.

    Both could probably hang with the big boys if given the chance to make the Opening Day roster, but the Mets will likely delay their arbitration clock by postponing their debuts until June.

    Soon enough this season, fans should receive a glimpse into the team’s future.

5. Is Johan Santana on the Way Out?

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    It’s likely Johan Santana follows Dickey’s path out of Flushing and gets traded during the season.

    His return from shoulder surgery began so promisingly, posting a 2.75 ERA through the first two months.

    After registering the first no-hitter in the franchise’s history, the 33-year-old imploded, finishing the year with a 4.85 ERA. Regardless of whether the 134-pitch outing caused his decay, the Mets are hoping he returns strong to draw a lively trade market for the former ace.

    If Santana can reemerge as a useful pitcher, which is very possible considering his 8.54 K/9 ratio and career-worst .301 BABIP, some team desperate for a pitcher to bolster its postseason chances will bite on the veteran.

    Unless the club decides to exercise Santana’s $25 million option for 2014, his gigantic contract comes off the books at the end of 2013. So bringing in Santana near the trading deadline won’t create a major financial burden.

    Can Sandy Alderson take another prestigious veteran in his final days as a Met and flip him for a top prospect?

6. Can Ike Davis Step Up?

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    The Mets need a lot more from Ike Davis.

    Not much offensive prowess surrounds David Wright in a lineup that amassed 650 runs and a .383 team slugging percentage last season. They won’t be able to fight through another abysmally slow start from their powerful first baseman.

    Throughout the opening months, Davis looked lost at the plate, doing everything possible to warrant a demotion. He posted a .201/.271/.388 line before the All-Star break, and that's after a strong June bolstered those numbers.

    Showing up for the latter portion of the year, Davis hit 20 home runs in the final 75 games. Even though Davis finished with an ugly .227 average, he led the team with 32 homers and fell three RBI behind Wright for the club’s top spot.

    Even at his best, Davis still possesses flaws that the 25-year-old must resolve. He concluded the season with a 24.1 strikeout rate and hit .174 against lefties.

    But his phenomenal power makes him one of the club’s most precious commodities. Fans are hoping that he catapults into a higher tier of first basemen by approaching the 40-homer barrier in 2013.

7. Is Matt Harvey the Real Deal?

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    Dickey stole the spotlight with his sensational pitching, but Matt Harvey assembled a remarkable rookie campaign.

    Promoted near the end of July when the team had already fallen out of contention, the first-round pick gave everyone a reason to stay tuned. He struck out 11 batters in his inaugural start and maintained that dominance throughout 59.1 innings.

    In 10 starts, Harvey registered a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 10.62 K/9 ratio. Can he deliver a worthy encore in his sophomore campaign?

    His control is a pivotal element of Harvey’s progress to monitor. Despite his overpowering stuff, Harvey amerced himself in danger by walking 3.94 batters per nine innings.

    He’s unlikely to maintain such eye-popping numbers due to the walks, a .262 BABIP and a 81.3 percent strand rate, but any 23-year-old who can generate 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings is still OK in my book.

    Another plot that will thicken as the season progresses is how New York manages the young hurler’s innings. Including his time spent at Triple-A, Harvey tossed 169.1 innings last season.

    If the Mets wanted to limit his innings, they could get away with shutting him down without an ensuing media riot since they don’t figure to factor into the playoff race.

    But last season probably would have been the time to enforce such a move. If they hold him to a tight pitch count now routine for a valuable young arm, he’ll probably max out around 190 innings, not much more than his 2012 workload, over the course of a full year.

8. Can They Stay out of Last Place?

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    Any realistic Mets fan will admit that there is virtually no chance of reaching the playoffs as they undergo a rebuilding phase. So can they at least save some pride and edge out the Miami Marlins for fourth place in the National League East?

    The Washington Nationals, last season’s reigning division champions, did little to alter the roster besides replacing Edwin Jackson with Dan Haren and acquiring Denard Span to play center field.

    Now that Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, barring injuries, will each play the full season, the Nationals could exceed the 100-win mark.

    Plagued by injuries, the Philadelphia Phillies caught fire once all their star players returned to the diamond. Maybe not a title contender, the Phillies still boast too many aces to veer too far down the standings.

    While losing Chipper Jones to retirement and swapping Michael Bourn with B.J. Upton will hurt their offense, the Atlanta Braves are still stacked with talented young pitchers.

    That leaves the Mets and Marlins fighting for fourth place in the NL East Megabowl. Since Miami gutted its roster by trading Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, the Mets should avoid last place again.