The New York Mets have gone through numerous changes this offseason, including a massive contract extension for star David Wright, trading Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and cutting costs in anticipation of tens of millions of dollars in contracts coming off the books in 2014.
The franchise finally seems to be heading out of purgatory and has a sliver of hope toward the near-future.
The remaining players will look to improve on some surprisingly promising seasons, while the talented prospects in the farm system seem ready to make the jump to the majors within the next year or two.
Although, you never know what the future holds anymore with this team.
Here are six realistic expectations for the 2013 season.
Johan Santana's return from various 2012 injuries is just one of many injury storylines to follow already.
What’s a Mets season without a handful of crippling injuries to key players?
Johan Santana is still regaining his strength after being shut down late last season. Lucas Duda broke his wrist in the offseason. Tim Byrdak is trying to come back from shoulder surgery. Daniel Murphy received a cortisone shot for a strained right intercostal muscle. Pedro Feliciano recently found out he has a rare genetic heart condition. Zack Wheeler strained a muscle hitting in the batting cage. Frank Francisco has been struggling with arm injuries since last season, and it is unknown if or when he will get back to full strength.
This is just the injury news from the first couple weeks of spring training. One can only imagine what injuries will come up over the course of a 162-game season.
Wheeler is a bona fide ace, but the smart move financially is to wait until mid-season to debut the phenom.
Wheeler is one of the top prospects that the Mets have, and he is ready to make the jump to the majors at any moment.
The 22-year-old has been electric in his first major league camp, and a number of teammates are already saying he looks like a No. 1 starter.
Wheeler may be ready to establish himself as an ace, but he won’t be called up until around the All-Star break.
A couple of weeks ago, according to a tweet by Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, Terry Collins stated that Wheeler beginning the season in Triple-A is close to set in stone, with or without Santana.
Furthermore, if Wheeler begins the season in the majors, he could become eligible for Super Two arbitration.
Players normally apply for arbitration after playing in the majors for between 3-6 years.
Super Two arbitration means that if you were on a major league roster for at least two years and 86 days by the start of the next season, then if a few other very likely clauses occur, the player can still file for arbitration.
Quite simply, the cash-strapped Mets will want to keep their prized prospect as long as possible. Calling up Wheeler mid-season means the Mets can afford his services for an extra year before worrying about re-signing him.
But when Wheeler does get called up, expect him to quickly become one of the more dominating power pitchers in baseball.
Last season, Wheeler recorded 148 strikeouts in 149.0 total minor league innings. He also boasted a 3.26 ERA in Double-A and 3.27 ERA in Triple-A, which is about as consistent as you can get.
Wheeler is an ace in the making and will have Mets fans drooling for years to come, but those fans will also have to be patient for another few months for his much anticipated debut.
With crippling fatigue from Valley Fever, Davis still hit 32 home runs and 90 RBI, but he can improve both numbers now that he is healthy.
After a nightmare first half of 2012, Davis recovered his form and finished the season hitting .227 with 32 HR and 90 RBI.
There are a number of reasons to believe Davis will hit at an elite level throughout the course of the 2013 season.
First, Davis had Valley Fever before the 2012 season, but insisted that it had not, and would not affect his play that year.
However, he recently admitted that he was extremely fatigued in 2012 but that he is now fully recovered.
That gives plenty of optimism that Davis will have more stamina and more pop in his swing in 2013.
Even more, despite the crippling sickness, Davis had a phenomenal second half.
After the All-Star break, Davis had more home runs than any first baseman with 20.
That is far more than other big-name power hitters such as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, who only had 16 and 15 respectively.
Davis had a pedestrian .255 second-half batting average, he still ranked fourth in OPS for his position, at .888.
Davis also admits that he is obsessed with his batting average and believes last season was terrible. This is the same season that Davis managed to hit 32 home runs and 90 RBI in a poor Mets lineup that had few RBI opportunities.
Therefore, expect Davis to be motivated to prove his critics wrong this season.
Davis is a near-lock to bat cleanup as he looks for a fresh start to 2013. When hitting cleanup in 2012, Davis' batting average was almost 30 points higher and his OPS was over 160 points higher.
It is clear he thrives most when the Mets trust him to produce in the middle of the lineup.
With the Valley Fever now fully behind him, Davis should continue the incredible form he showed in the second half of last season.
It is more than reasonable to believe he could approach 35 home runs and 100 RBI in 2013, as well as skyrocket his poor 2012 batting average.
Expect big things from the 25-year-old this season.
Matt Harvey is one of many talented starters the Mets have for the 2013 season.
If the Mets will live and die by one thing this season, it will be their rotation.
Santana’s return to the mound is anyone’s guess now, but this franchise still has deep power pitching in the farm system and proven players on the current roster.
Matt Harvey was one of the few bright spots in 2012. He showed off his big frame and dangerous arsenal for the final months of the season.
Harvey finished 3-5, but that includes a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 70 strikeouts in only 59.1 innings pitched. Opposing batters hit an abysmal .200 against him.
Harvey also had a 1.88 ERA in pitcher-friendly Citi Field, and that should be no different this season.
After Harvey, Jonathon Niese has quietly established himself as one of the more consistent left-handed pitchers in baseball. The 26-year-old went 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in almost 200 innings last season.
Expect more of the same from the reliable Niese.
Next, Dillon Gee is healthy again following season-ending surgery in 2012 to remove a blood clot in his throwing shoulder. He may have had a 4.10 ERA last year, but his strikeouts were up and his walks were down.
Gee was primed for a breakout 2012 campaign, but he should be even better in 2013 now that he is fully healthy.
Lastly, newcomer Shaun Marcum is a superbly consistent pitcher. An injury in 2012 limited him to only 124.0 innings, but he was still 7-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
His previous two seasons were almost identical.
Marcum finished with a 3.64 ERA in 2010 and 3.54 ERA in 2011 with around 200 innings and exactly 13 wins in both seasons.
The Mets also have the aforementioned prized prospect, Zack Wheeler, to add to the staff midseason.
Other than Harvey and Wheeler, none of the Mets starters have anything too flashy to offer. But every single one of them has the ability to limit damage from opposing teams and keep the Mets in far more games this season.
Whatever happens to the team this season, it will begin with how well these starting five perform all year.
I could go all day with the puns about Collin Cowgill and Will Ferrell’s "More Cowbell" skit from Saturday Night Live.
But the more important thing for the Mets is that the recently acquired Cowgill will step up and win a starting spot in a weak Mets outfield.
At only 5’9” and 185 pounds, the diminutive Cowgill should also establish himself as a fan favorite with his aggressive style of play. And the SNL puns will only add to his popularity.
Cowgill has clearly got talent, too.
As a result, the 26-year-old has quickly risen through the minor leagues. Cowgill thrives when he has his feet firmly planted with one team.
He has gotten better and better when he stays with his minor league team throughout most of the season. This culminated in his breakout 2011 season in Triple-A.
In 98 games, Cowgill hit an incredible .354 with 24 doubles, eight triples, 13 HR, 70 RBI, 30 stolen bases, a .430 on-base percentage and .984 OPS. He had 140 hits and 95 runs in those 98 games.
But in 2012, Cowgill altered a number of times between Triple-A and the majors.
Not surprisingly, he struggled in both levels, hitting .250 in the minors and .269 in the majors.
Now that Cowgill gets to be a Met for the entire 2013 season, he should perform exceptionally and produce all-around like he did in 2011.
With spring training just beginning, Cowgill has already displayed that talent, aggressive baserunning and fearless style of play that fans will love.
It is only a matter of time before the cowbells start deafening every fan at Citi Field.
Ryan Howard (right) and Chase Utley (left) are two of many aging and injury-prone stars on the Phillies that simply cannot compete like they used to. The Phillies may fall to 4th place as a result.
Although the Mets are still a year or two from becoming serious contenders again, there is good reason to believe the team will finish third place in the NL East.
The Washington Nationals had an incredible 2012 season, winning the NL East by four games. They are young, deep and talented, and as one of the World Series favorites they will again come close to 100 wins in 2013.
The Atlanta Braves will be hurt by the loss of future Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones.
But the 94-win team has restocked, and they have one of the more talented outfields in baseball with Jason Heyward and the newly acquired Upton brothers.
However, although the Upton brothers may be star talents, they can be headcases at times. It will be interesting to see if that comes out and how it could affect the rest of the team.
As for the Philadelphia Phillies, they are ripe with star names, but they are also far too old and injured to be serious contenders.
They lost Shane Victorino and did nothing to improve their prospects after a disappointing .500 season.
The team will struggle all season and fade even more down the stretch, and the Mets will surely capitalize.
Lastly, the Miami Marlins imploded in 2012, and the team traded every viable major league not named Giancarlo Stanton this offseason.
Their farm system may have an abundance of high-ceiling talent now, but the 2013 team will be an embarrassment.
In the end, it is very fair to say the Nationals are far and away the best team in this division while the Marlins are the worst.
As for the middle three spots, the Braves lost its undeniable leader and face of the franchise for almost two decades. That is hard to recover from, no matter how talented the organization may be.
The Phillies didn't do anything to convince fans that 2012 will be better than 2013, especially since their injured, aging stars are all another year older.
Nevertheless, the Braves are also confident with great leadership, and they should still finish second this season.
The Phillies will have another disappointing season, and a rising Mets team stands a good chance of overtaking them and the Marlins to finish in third place in the NL East in 2013.
Stats from ESPN.com
Rankings from MLB.com