After a surprising first half of 2012 that saw the New York Mets 46-40 at the All-Star break, the team fell back to Earth in the second half of the season, finishing with a record of 74-88.
The team has gone through significant changes this offseason. Most notably, they traded NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package that includes stud catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud. The Mets also got rid of the monster contract to Jason Bay, whose tenure with the Mets has been nothing short of a disaster.
As of now, rumors are swirling about whether or not the Mets will sign star outfielder Michael Bourn as a free agent.
Regardless of where Bourn ends up, things finally seem somewhat bright for the Mets.
Thus, here are six reasons why the Mets will improve their record from last season:
Harvey posted a 2.73 ERA during his late-season call up.
Firstly, there is no replacing R.A. Dickey.
Aside from the 20-win season and NL Cy Young Award, perhaps the most daunting aspect that the Mets need to replace is the 233.2 innings that Dickey pitched last season.
However, this year’s rotation has far more potential heading into this year than last year.
Johan Santana was shut down in the middle of last season, but on the bright side not due to shoulder trouble. During a contract year, he should be back and give a solid first half of the season before perhaps being traded to a contender for a valuable hitting prospect (this article is why the Mets will improve, not make the playoffs).
Meanwhile, Jon Niese was quietly one of the more consistent pitchers in the league, and perhaps one of the better left-handed pitchers in baseball. Although not the flashiest, Niese threw for nearly 200 innings and posted a 3.40 ERA and only 49 walks. He must lower the 22 home runs allowed to maximize his success, especially at Citi Field.
The Mets can also expect high production from their younger pitchers as well.
Dillon Gee is healthy again, and with his experience he should be able to replace many of the innings that Dickey has left behind.
Matt Harvey proved at the end of last season why he was such a highly rated prospect. The 23-year-old had a 2.73 ERA and 70 strikeouts in only 59.1 innings. Expect those kinds of numbers from him over the course of an entire season, making it that much easier to replace Dickey's innings.
Lastly, at about the same time the Mets could theoretically trade Santana, expect them to call up Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler may only throw just as many innings as Harvey threw last season, but he should be incredibly productive. His appearance should round out what will soon be a very solid starting rotation.
D'Arnaud is expected to compete for the starting spot this spring.
Gone are the days of Josh Thole bloop singles and seeing the name Mike Nickeas in a major league batting lineup.
Instead, in the aforementioned trade of Dickey, the Mets landed former All-Star John Buck and the man widely regarded as the top catching prospect in baseball, Travis d’Arnaud.
In fact, GM Sandy Alderson reported that they tried to trade Dickey to an unnamed team for two elite prospects, but that team declined. However, when that team found out the Mets landed d’Arnaud, the team immediately called the Mets and offered both prospects for d’Arnaud alone, which the Mets declined.
The mystery team could possibly be the Texas Rangers, who Dickey was strongly linked to days before the official trade, but that is speculation.
Regardless, Buck is a veteran and strong defensive catcher, and should be a mentor to d’Arnaud beginning this season.
Buck may also only be two seasons removed from his All-Star appearance, but at 32 years old he is on the decline, and Mets fans should be much more excited about d’Arnaud.
Due to a knee injury, d’Arnaud only had 279 at-bats last season. However, he hit .333 with 16 home runs, 21 doubles, and a .975 OPS. D’Arnaud already has a good arm and improving defensive skills, but the most impressive aspect of his game is that his offensive numbers have steadily improved the higher level he goes. After hitting .255 in Class-A in 2009, he hit .259 in High-A ball in 2010, .311 with 21 home runs in Double-A the next year, and lastly hit .333 in his break-out 2012 season in Triple-A.
Knee injuries, though, are rightfully very worrisome for players, especially catchers. But d’Arnaud’s injury was in the PCL, which is considered the least serious knee injury and does not require surgery.
He is fully healed and will be ready for spring training.
The Mets have desperately needed catching and right-handed power hitting help. Buck and d’Arnaud fit that need, and d’Arnaud has the upside to be one of the best catchers in Mets history.
Wright during a late September game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It’s been a good year for David Wright.
After numerous injuries and uncharacteristically poor production in 2011, the 30-year-old Wright bounced back to hit .306 with 21 home runs and 93 RBI in 2012. He also signed an eight-year, $138 million extension from the Mets, and even had time to marry a supermodel.
But perhaps Wright’s most defining moment of 2012 was when he got subbed out of a game.
In baseball, when a pitcher hits an opposing team’s star player with a pitch, it is “customary” for the other team’s pitcher to then hit that team’s star player with a pitch later in the game.
On May 15, Wright was leading the majors in batting average at .408 and having the best year of his life. When Mets pitcher D.J. Carrasco hit Milwaukee Brewers star (and eventual MVP runner-up) Ryan Braun, New York manager Terry Collins pulled Wright out of the game for his safety. To Collins, it was still unknown if Wright’s new health and incredible production would sustain over the remainder of the season. With the Mets’ surprising early success, Collins wanted to avoid anything that could jeopardize Wright’s health.
But instead of quietly following the manager’s orders, Wright had an intense argument with Collins in front of the entire team, and on live television.
The Mets were getting blown out 8-0 and shut down by Zack Greinke, but Wright was furious that Collins took him out.
He knew that as the star player he was going to get hit by a Greinke fastball, and he was willing to do that for this overachieving team. Wright has felt “more and more comfortable each year” being in a leadership role, and that spontaneous event showed why he is the undisputed captain and leader of this team. It says a lot about your leader that he knows what is expected of him and is willing to face that. If the Mets are to play themselves back into relevancy, it starts with Wright.
On the field, Wright is a perennial All-Star and Gold Glove candidate.
He was a shoo-in to the All-Star game this year, at the time hitting .351 with 27 doubles, 11 home runs and a ridiculous 1.004 OPS.
Wright’s big extension proves that he believes the Mets are committed to winning. If the Mets are going to improve their record this year and for years to come, they could not have a much better face of the franchise than David Wright.
Ozzie Guillen was fired after one season, as the Marlins went 69-93.
After a nightmare season last year, the Miami Marlins unloaded nearly all of their big contracts as they try to develop prospects for the future.
The Philadelphia Phillies, meanwhile, have not done much to improve on a disappointing 81-81 season.
The likelihood of a poor Marlins season is a no-brainer.
The list of big-name players they have traded include former Mets star shortstop Jose Reyes, starters Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, and outfielder Emilio Bonafacio. In return, the Marlins acquired a number of promising prospects. However, the present team is in no way fit to contend, and 2013 is a throwaway year for them.
The lone star player left, Giancarlo Stanton, has been the subject of trade rumors for months and could perhaps be gone soon as well.
The Phillies, on the other hand, are either old or injured or both.
Roy Halladay is 35 and coming off a mediocre and injury-riddled season. Halladay only threw 156.1 innings and was 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA, which is nothing like the younger, dominant Halladay. To be fair, if he can remain healthy he has the skill and work ethic to still pitch well even at his age. But a 35-year-old who missed about two months with a shoulder strain is not a promising start.
Ryan Howard is 33 and coming off a disastrous season where he struggled to recover from an Achilles injury and missed over half the year. When he was there, Howard hit a mere .219 with almost 100 strikeouts, though he should improve on that somewhat this year.
Chase Utley also missed almost half the season with knee injuries, and the 34-year-old only batted .256 when he was healthy. Utley, though, is the most likely aging star to have a comeback year.
Cole Hamels, 29, had a career year going 17-6 with 216 strikeouts and a 3.05 ERA last season. However, he labored through shoulder soreness by the end of 2012. It will be interesting if he can keep up his production in 2013.
Other aging stars include Jimmy Rollins, 34, Jonathan Papelbon, 32, and Carlos Ruiz, 34.
The biggest replacements Philadelphia acquired this offseason are 36-year-old Michael Young, and last year’s ALCS MVP, 27-year-old Delmon Young.
This is the same Delmon Young who is recovering from microfracture surgery on his ankle, and also has a new weight clause in his contract from the Phillies for not being fat. Quite simply, the Phillies can weigh him at any six points this season, and if Young is under a pre-determined weight at the weigh-in then he receives a $100,000 bonus.
Supposedly, Young has lost 20 pounds due to a healthier diet, but still must play right field for the first time in years. It is also worth noting Young was a full-time DH last season.
The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves will still be just as competitive. For the Braves, the loss of Chipper Jones and the addition of the talented but enigmatic Upton brothers should have an immense impact on their season, for better or worse.
But regardless of the success of the Nationals and Braves, potentially subpar seasons for the Phillies and Marlins should guide the Mets to a better record this season.
Bay striking out in an April 9 game against the Washington Nationals.
Jason Bay may go down as one of the worst free-agent signings in baseball history.
During the 2009 season, Bay hit .267 with 36 home runs and 119 RBI with the Boston Red Sox.
The Mets then signed him to a four-year deal worth a guaranteed $66 million.
Over the following three seasons with the Mets, Bay hit a combined total of .234 with 26 home runs and 124 RBI. Bay also had 27 more strikeouts than hits over the three-year span, as well as a .256 batting average at Citi Field. During his Mets career, Bay hit a dismal .217 with runners in scoring position.
Bay’s stock does not improve much when it comes to defense. He does not commit many errors, but his range and arm are both incredibly poor.
To Bay’s immense credit, the British Columbia native has been a consummate professional. Even after the horrible career he had with the team, both Wilpon and Alderson heaped nothing but praise on Bay for his character and work ethic, and rightfully so. Despite the complete lack of production and constant boos from home fans that could weigh any man down mentally, Bay always showed incredible hustle and never once stopped trying.
Nevertheless, baseball is a business, and Bay was not worth a fraction of what the Mets were paying him. He had to go.
Even though Bay is a true class act, his on-field results had become an overwhelming negative distraction for the team, and the 2013 Mets will benefit greatly without his presence.
Davis (top right) after a walk-off home run August 26 against the Houston Astros, his second of the game.
Ike Davis, who before the season suffered a bout of Valley Fever, was not 100% all season.
Valley Fever is known to dramatically reduce a person’s energy and strength, and it is reasonable to assume it affected Davis’s play, especially early in the season.
Davis got off to a nightmare beginning of 2012. By the end of May, he was hitting .170 with only five home runs and almost 50 strikeouts. By the All-Star break, Davis only had a .201 batting average and 12 home runs. For a player who is practically obsessed with his batting average, that must have taken a toll on him mentally.
Nevertheless, Davis recovered to hit .255 after the All-Star break with an impressive 20 home runs, finishing the year hitting .227 with 32 home runs and 90 RBIs.
Considering the horrible batting average and the fact that the Mets ranked 25th in runs last season, 90 RBIs is an even more respectable feat.
Furthermore, at only 25 years old, Davis is not even performing in his prime.
Additionally, with the departure of embarrassing underachievers such as Bay and Andres Torres and the addition of new offensive weapons such as Buck and d’Arnaud, Davis should see his numbers increase even more. Davis could very conceivably approach 100 RBIs this season and beyond, but he also must significantly reduce his 141 strikeouts from last season.
Rumors about the potential addition of Michael Bourn, one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, should only add to the number of RBI opportunities Davis will have next season if the Mets do acquire him.
With the Valley Fever now far behind him and a fresh chance at a reputable batting average, expect a motivated Davis to have a breakout year in both average and power and ultimately propel the Mets to a better record in 2012.