New York Mets: Latest Predictions for the Winner of Each Key Position Battle
The strength of the New York Mets in 2013 will certainly consist of strong starting pitching and one of the best all-around infields in the game.
Unfortunately, nobody will be comparing the outfield with the 1995 "Blake Street Bombers" Colorado Rockies team. Or the 2012 Stony Brook Seawolves, for that matter.
Also, the bullpen is relying on a combination of reclamation projects, aging power pitchers, newly converted submariners and Pedro Feliciano, who hasn't thrown a pitch in two years and has a hole in his heart.
With that being the case, there are a number of variables which could sink the Mets to another 70-win season. Or perhaps the cream will rise to the top, like the 2012 Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics.
Here are the position battles that will determine the fate of the club.
The starting spots will consist of the exact quartet from last season, and John Buck will open the year behind the plate until Travis d'Arnaud is ready.
The departure of Ronny Cedeno created the need for a reliable middle infielder.
Despite recent trade rumors, Justin Turner appears to be an obvious addition to the roster. He has the ability to play all the infield positions and has proven to be a clutch bat off the bench.
I would be inclined to make Jordany Valdespin return to his natural infield position. He was shaky during his emergency outing at shortstop but has a lot of pop at the plate, evidenced by his five pinch-hit home runs. The kid has ice water in his veins and is important off the bench, especially with the absence of Scott Hairston.
Omar Quintanilla is another option, but he is on a minor league deal which would mean removing a player from the 40-man roster.
Brandon Hicks is a versatile infielder as well, and is on the 40-man roster, but he is 12-for-90 in the big leagues since 2010.
Behind the plate it will be John Buck and Anthony Recker until d'Arnaud is ready, which will then most likely lead to the demotion of Recker.
This will be the weakest part of the team, unless somebody magically turns into a productive player.
If there is one player that has the ability to do so, it's Marlon Byrd.
The 35-year-old outfielder was an All-Star as recently as 2010 with the Chicago Cubs, but his career took a significant hit last season.
He was 3-for-43 in Chicago before being sent to Boston, where he performed like a marginal player. Ultimately, he was suspended for the use of a banned substance.
Byrd is the favorite to win a spot in the outfield, at least as the right-handed option in a platoon with Mike Baxter.
The other options, highlighted by Andrew Brown, are underwhelming.
If he performs well enough, Byrd may actually win the starting spot, according to manager Terry Collins.
Despite his brutal beginning to spring training, Lucas Duda will be the left fielder with a platoon of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill, who already has begun to win fans over with his incredible hustle.
The outfield will never carry this team. But if they can avoid being a disaster, the Mets can win despite its lack of star power.
No. 5 Spot in Rotation
The rotation was already in need of an arm to emerge, but that will be exacerbated if Johan Santana begins the season on the disabled list.
The team could opt to choose the conservative route and use a low-risk, low-reward spot starter such as Jeremy Hefner and Collin McHugh.
If they are feeling risky, they could choose either of their young fireballers in Jenrry Mejia or Zack Wheeler.
Of those two, Mejia is the more logical choice considering he has experience in the big leagues (his free-agent clock has already begun). That may seem like an insignificant detail, but it factors in to the decision when considering a premier prospect like Wheeler.
Teams value elite under-control pitching prospects and the Mets would be wise to delay Wheeler's promotion until after April, the way the Los Angeles Angels did with Mike Trout.
In the event that the Mets are without Santana on Opening Day, the rotation will most likely be; Jon Niese, Shaun Marcum, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee and Mejia.
No. 2 Lefty in Bullpen and Situational Righty
Just two years ago, Pedro Feliciano was easily one of the most valuable assets for any bullpen.
He was extremely effective against left-handed hitters. He thrived on pitching consecutive days and was unfazed by crucial moments in the game. Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel relied on him so much that he averaged 82 appearances from 2006-2010, highlighted by 92 in the ladder year.
He has posted a 3.30 career ERA while averaging 8.2 K/9.
After missing the last two seasons with a shoulder injury after signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the New York Yankees, Feliciano is now looking to be the second lefty in the bullpen behind Josh Edgin.
To show how much uncertainty there is in the bullpen, Edgin is considered a lock to make the Opening Day roster despite his 4.56 ERA in 25.1 career innings.
To his credit, Edgin did display tenacity on the mound and a potent fastball/slider combination that should bode well for success as a specialized reliever.
Feliciano probably had the edge to become the second lefty. However, he is now shut down for two weeks for a heart condition which could put his spot in jeopardy.
Look for Robert Carson to take that spot.
The rest of the bullpen should consist of Bobby Parnell, Brandon Lyon, LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison, Frank Francisco and a long reliever like Jeremy Hefner or Chris Schwinden.
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