Third baseman David Wright needs to replicate his 2012 success.
Overall, this club wasn't impressive in 2012. New York finished fourth in the NL East standings (again) and drew the lowest total attendance since opening Citi Field.
There's pressure on "lame-duck" manager Terry Collins to get better results this coming season. Continue reading for an in-depth look at the personnel he'll be working with.
2012 Record: 74-88.
Trade acquisitions: OF Wuilmer Becerra, OF Collin Cowgill, C John Buck, C Travis d'Arnaud, IF Brandon Hicks.
Major league signings: RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP Shaun Marcum.
Minor league signings: RHP Scott Atchison, IF/OF Brian Bixler, 1B/OF Andrew Brown, RHP Greg Burke, OF Marlon Byrd, LHP Pedro Feliciano, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, OF Jamie Hoffmann, LHP Aaron Laffey, OF Corey Patterson, C Landon Powell, INF Omar Quintanilla, LHP Scott Rice, RHP Carlos Torres, OF Mike Wilson.
Waiver Claims: C Anthony Recker.
Trade losses: RHP R.A. Dickey, LHP Kyle Lobstein (Rule 5 draft selection), INF Jefry Marte, C Mike Nickeas, C Josh Thole.
Free-agent losses: RHP Manny Acosta, INF Ronny Cedeno, OF Scott Hairston, RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Ramon Ramirez, RHP Jon Rauch, C Kelly Shoppach, OF Andres Torres.
Projected Rotation (with 2012 stats)
- LHP Johan Santana (6-9, 4.81 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in 117.0 IP)
- LHP Jon Niese (13-9, 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 190.1 IP)
- RHP Shaun Marcum (7-4, 3.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP in 124.0 IP)
- RHP Matt Harvey (3-5, 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 59.1 IP)
- RHP Dillon Gee (6-7, 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 109.2 IP)
Projected Lineup (with 2012 stats)
- SS Ruben Tejada (.289/.333/.351 in 501 PA)
- 2B Daniel Murphy (.291/.332/.403 in 612 PA)
- 3B David Wright (.306/.391/.492 in 670 PA)
- 1B Ike Davis (.227/.308/.462 in 584 PA)
- LF Lucas Duda (.239/.329/.389 in 459 PA)
- RF Mike Baxter (.263/.365/.413 in 211 PA)
- C John Buck (.192/.297/.347 in 398 PA)
- CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.252/.315/.376 in 314 PA)
- Pitchers spot
Bullpen Candidates (with 2012 stats)
RHP Bobby Parnell (2.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7 SV in 68.2 IP)
RHP Frank Francisco (5.53 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 23 SV in 41.2 IP)
RHP Brandon Lyon (3.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 61.0 IP)
RHP Scott Atchison (1.58 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in 51.1 IP)
LHP Josh Edgin (4.56 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 25.2 IP)
RHP LaTroy Hawkins (3.64 ERA, 1.38 WHIP in 42.0 IP)
RHP Jeremy Hefner (5.09 ERA, 1.37 WHIP in 93.2 IP)
RHP Greg Burke (did not play in majors)
LHP Pedro Feliciano (did not play in majors)
Starting Pitching Analysis
Knuckleballer Dickey is gone after three outstanding seasons in Queens.
Marcum will replace him after settling for a $4 million deal in free agency.
The right-hander was in line for a much bigger payday (think Jeremy Guthrie money) before missing a two-month chunk of the 2012 season with elbow tightness. He also missed the entire 2009 campaign following Tommy John surgery. The 31-year-old can trigger performance bonuses based on innings pitched and days on the active roster, and potentially double his salary to $8 million.
When healthy, Marcum throws a high percentage of first-pitch strikes. He induces tons of fly balls, but that could work to his advantage at spacious Citi Field.
Collins tells Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com that he expects Santana to get the Opening Day assignment on April 1.
The former Cy Young Award winner tossed an 134-pitch gem last June, which was the first no-hitter in Mets history. Through that evening (his 11th start of the season), Santana's 2.38 ERA was among the best in the National League.
However, the happiness didn't last. He averaged fewer than five innings per outing from that point forward, landing on the disabled list with ankle and lower back injuries. As you can see above, the final stats were disappointing.
Santana earns $25.5 million in the final guaranteed year of his contract. The Mets will almost certainly buy out his 2014 option. Keep in mind, though, that it automatically vests at $25 million if he totals 215 innings during the regular season and pitches through September.
The rest of the rotation is homegrown.
Niese, the most experienced member of the trio, broke out in the first year of his $25.5 million contract extension. The Ohio native performed surprisingly well against right-handed batters and improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio for the fourth straight season.
Entering his age-27 campaign, Gee could be a bit rusty. He underwent surgery to address a blood clot in his shoulder and didn't pitch after the All-Star break.
Harvey also has a very high ceiling. Per FanGraphs, his average fastball was 94.7 mph in limited MLB action. He even helped his own cause with extra-base hits and a .333/.333/.444 batting line.
Coming off a season where he threw 169.1 professional innings, the former first-round draft pick is not expected to be on an innings limit.
So what if one of these starters suffers a significant injury? Who's next in the pecking order?
Zack Wheeler, 22, excelled in the minors last summer. After a few more months of development at Triple-A, we should be ready to debut. Dominican right-hander Jenrry Mejia might get an opportunity...if he ever reports to camp. Major League Baseball is currently investigating his age and identity, delaying him from obtaining a visa (h/t Anthony DiComo, MLB.com).
The Mets disbanded their dysfunctional group of relievers. Twenty-two men pitched out of the bullpen in 2012, combining for the second-worst earned run average in the majors.
Francisco initially looked awful in the closer's role, but found his groove in mid-May. The next month, he went down with an oblique injury. He struggled upon returning in August and took the mound for the final time on Sept. 16.
Last year's version of Francisco should not be trusted in high-leverage situation. Then again, if he reverts to 2007-2011 form (3.76 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 9.9 SO/9), he'll be worth the $6.5 million salary.
The 33-year-old underwent elbow surgery during the winter and still hasn't been cleared for baseball activities. If he is unavailable, Parnell will get the ninth-inning job, according to Adam Rubin.
Once upon the time, New York envisioned him as a rotation member. Though that never panned out, Parnell possesses the demeanor and overpowering repertoire to hold slim leads. It's also rare to find a pitcher with such even platoon splits.
Lyon will join them at the back end of the bullpen. Like Marcum, his incentive-laden major league contract increases in value when he reaches durability and workload milestones.
Rubin reports that Terry Collins will defer to veterans in the spring-training competition for relief spots. That means Atchison, Feliciano and Hawkins have an edge.
The most interesting bullpen storyline involves Burke, a 30-year-old submarine-style option. He decimated minor leaguers in 2012 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles organization (1.53 ERA, 0.94 WHIP in 64.2 IP.) Former Mets coach/pitching genius Rick Peterson supervised his conversion from "normal" mechanics, so the recent success is hardly surprising.
Here's more about the right-hander (via ESPNNewYork.com):
Burke is unconventional even by submarine standards. Often, righty sidearm/submarine relievers will overwhelm righty batters with a sweeping motion away from the hitter from the awkward angle.
Burke actually has two types of fastballs from that angle -- a two-seamer that dives and a four-seamer that bores in on the righty batter rather than veers away."
New York lacked lineup depth this past season and scored barely four runs per contest. Despite such mediocre production, the front office has not made any obvious upgrades.
Rather, much of the Mets success this summer will hinge on bounce-back years from a pair of left-handed sluggers.
Which homegrown Mets hitter has the brightest future?
Davis started off miserably in 2012, possibly due to a lingering case of Valley Fever. Whatever the actual explanation, his .170/.235/.291 batting line through 50 games made the club seriously consider removing him from the lineup. Davis was New York's leading power source beginning in mid-June and finished with 32 home runs, but an inability to contribute against southpaws still limits him from blossoming into an All-Star. The Mets also value his smooth fielding at first base.
The 25-year-old was rumored to be on the trading block in October, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Ultimately, general manager Sandy Alderson expressed a belief that "the team needs to strengthen, not weaken, its supply of power hitters."
Similarly, Duda regressed in his third MLB season. He doesn't share Davis' defensive value, so the Mets actually demoted him to Triple-A when a midsummer slump went on for too long.
Even when the 2012 season veered off the tracks, fans stayed tuned to watch Wright at the plate. The third baseman enjoyed one of his finest years and led the Mets in most offensive categories. Moreover, he should have received the NL Gold Glove.
Such all-around brilliance gave his agent leverage heading into contract extension negotiations. At the Winter Meetings in December, his eight-year, $138 million deal became official. It is the largest guarantee in Mets history.
Aside from Wright, this team is without accomplished base-stealers. Even up-the-middle players like Murphy, Nieuwenhuis and Tejada have never swiped 20 bags in any professional season. That's why center fielder Michael Bourn seemed like a great fit.
Fortunately, utility man Jordany Valdespin provides speed off the bench.
Prospects to Watch
Both d'Arnaud (No. 6) and Wheeler (No. 8) rank among baseball's Top 10 prospects, according to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo.
N.Y. acquired the former from the Toronto Blue Jays as part of the Dickey trade. The catcher was showered with praise during the first days of spring training.
Paul DePodesta (VP for player development) highlighted the positives to Andrew Keh of The New York Times:
"We really believe he can be an above-average defender and an above-average offensive player at the same time, while playing a position where that sort of player can be really, really hard to find. He’s always been a highly touted guy, and there’s no doubt that his abilities for his age exceed his peer group.”
Projected big-league starter Buck is entering the final year of his contract. If he posts another .192/.297/.347 batting line through Memorial Day, we might see d'Arnaud debut.
Also keep your eyes peeled for Wilmer Flores, a 21-year-old Venezuelan native. He will "just play wherever" the Mets need him after originally signing as a shortstop (via Adam Rubin).
Replicating his Double-A batting line of .311/.361/.494 at the next level while working on his versatility will earn him a call-up by September (if not sooner).
Why Mets Might Thrive
New York has a chance (albeit a very slim one) to do the same.
But Santana must avoid DL stints and contribute length to keep the relievers fresh. Same goes for Marcum.
Even if the heart of the lineup meets expectations with, say, 75 home runs and 250 runs batted in, there simply isn't enough surrounding talent. For the Mets to reach 90 wins, they'll need instant production from d'Arnaud and assistance from an established outfielder (possibly Alfonso Soriano or Josh Willingham).
Why Mets Might Fail
Defense "wasn't exactly a positive last year," explains Dan Haefeli of Rising Apple. All projections suggest that the team will struggle in that facet once again.
If Wright gets hurt early in the season before Flores has finished developing, the Mets will feel the effects, especially in the field.
The bullpen still looks like a weakness. Collins could wind up exposing it if, in desperation to stay employed, he starts "over-managing." Skippers on the hot seat have a tendency to make constant changes and player substitutions to nip losing streaks in the bud...and it often backfires.
2013 Prediction: 80-82 (fourth in NL East)
That's right, a fifth straight losing season, but the highest win total for the New York Mets since 2008.
Where will the 2013 Mets finish in the NL East?
Based on recent history, we have to doubt that both graybeards in the rotation can pitch full seasons. Though Wheeler might succeed as an emergency starter, Mejia nor anybody else would adequately replace a second injured arm.
In the near future, owner Fred Wilpon expects to raise payroll back up to pre-Ponzi-scheme levels, reports Marc Carig of Newsday. He'll agree to sign another power bat or take on a hefty contract via trade.
But this spending probably isn't going to happen prior to the 2013 trade deadline.
Be patient, Mets fans. The club will soon return to relevance.
Just not this summer.