As the New York Mets embark on the final month of the 2013 season, a few things are quite clear: This year will likely mark the fifth straight losing campaign in Flushing, long-term positions aren't filled across the diamond, and, with Matt Harvey's 2014 in jeopardy, thoughts of competing next year have been shelved.
While it feels like more doom and gloom in Queens, NY, there are reasons to watch this baseball team in September.
No, I won't advise anyone on how to spend their money, especially in the aftermath of the Marlon Byrd t-shirt night fiasco, but, the Mets still should be appointment viewing for television or radio fans of New York's National League baseball team.
Let's dive into seven important variables that require September attention.
Heading into a Labor Day weekend showdown in Washington, Terry Collins has posted a 211-245 record as Mets skipper since 2011. Considering the rosters he's had to work with over the last three seasons, expecting more out of the 64-year-old baseball lifer wouldn't be fair.
Yet, despite dealing with injuries, payroll slashing and a rebuilding phase that has kept high-end talent away from Flushing for significant chunks of his tenure, Collins is a lame duck. When September ends, he will be without a contract for 2014.
From the start of the season, general manager Sandy Alderson has said that Collins will be judged on more than just wins and losses.
If that's to be believed, what else does Terry have to prove? He's not a great in-game manager but hardly a terrible one. Pinning the blame for Matt Harvey's injury on him wouldn't be fair. For the most part, he's handled the New York media well. Despite the obstacles, his roster plays hard on a daily basis.
When the organization makes a final decision on Terry, finding out what went into it will be fascinating.
He has one more month to prove his long-term worth.
With every dominant start by Matt Harvey, the spotlight on Zack Wheeler grew smaller in New York.
Despite his status as the return for Carlos Beltran and hype around his arrival, Wheeler was able to take his turn in the rotation every fifth day since June in the shadow of Harvey, perhaps the best pitcher in the National League.
Now, with Harvey down and out, Wheeler's progression and impact are thrust atop the list of things Mets fans are watching for this month.
Can Wheeler, at the age of 23, be an ace? Is he good enough right now to assume that role from Harvey and hand it back to him in 2014 or 2015 via a co-ace duo atop the rotation?
So far, so good in Flushing.
Over his last nine starts, Wheeler has posted a 3.09 ERA, struck out 53 batters in 55 innings and held opposing batters to a .659 OPS.
If he can continue to display that type of production in September, the Mets will feel better about their rotation sans Harvey in 2014.
When David Wright went down with a hamstring strain in early August, few fans would have blamed him for resting up for 2014. After all, with a six-week time frame from injury to recovery, the best-case scenario for a Wright return would be sometime in mid or late September.
In other words, all the rehab work and time put in to revive his season for 10 or 15 games?
For the Mets' captain, that matters.
As ESPN New York's Adam Rubin uncovered when speaking to Wright on Thursday, his reason for playing again in 2013 is two-fold: Helping a team ravaged by injuries and trades, and, perhaps more importantly, playing again this season so next spring training isn't an unknown when testing out his hamstring.
On the latter point, Wright had this to say: “And then the second part of that is, personally, I don’t want the next time to take the field to be spring training, with the uncertainty of not being able to finish the season strong and healthy.”
Seeing Wright again means little for 2013, but a healthy and productive captain for even just a few games will take one thing off the list of worries for the 2014 Mets.
Who is the real Ike Davis? For a franchise that has to make a decision on an arbitration figure with the 26-year-old first baseman this winter, the Mets would surely like to know.
The following are Davis' first and second-half splits over the last two seasons. It's worth noting that a minor league demotion was part of his 2013 season, so the statistics since he returned could be taken with a different perspective.
2012 first half: .201/.271/.388
2012 second half: .255/.346/.542
2013 first half: .165/.255/.250
2013 second half: .257/.455/.485
According to Fangraphs' wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) statistic, Davis has been the third most productive first baseman in the sport since the All-Star break.
If he builds on that with a big September, the Mets may be closer to a decision on his future in New York. If he scuffles, the jury will be out again.
If you've watched the 2013 Mets, the defense of center fielder Juan Lagares has likely stood out.
While defensive metrics and the "eye test" don't always match up, the graceful defense of the 24-year-old outfielder has this season.
His tremendous range and anticipation, not to mention 11 outfield assists, have matched up with a Defensive Runs Saved score of 22 above average, according to the calculations by Baseball Info Solutions.
Now, the key to Lagares becoming a cost-effective everyday player for the future Mets outfield: offense.
Specifically, plate discipline. As Andy Martino of the New York Daily News pointed out on Friday, the process of changing his approach from a free swinger to disciplined hitter is a work in progress for Lagares.
Keep an eye on that progress through September.
For a catcher with a career minor league OPS of .823, there's little doubt about Travis d'Arnaud's ability to bring an impact bat to the lineup from the catching position.
His ability to play excellent defense and stay healthy, however, are in question.
If d'Arnaud is going to be an All-Star level hitter, decent defense and game-calling skills will suffice. As for health, simply staying on the field through the end of September should be enough to appease the Mets fanbase.
When general manager Sandy Alderson shipped R.A. Dickey to Toronto last offseason, d'Arnaud's future made the deal worth the risk of moving a reigning Cy Young award winner.
September can begin the process of proving that risk a smart one.
Due to inning restrictions and 40-man roster issues, three top pitching prospects, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom, won't be arriving in Flushing next month.
However, that doesn't mean players from the system won't join the team with the ability to put a stamp on their futures and play a role on the roster in 2014.
Shortstop Ruben Tejada, the former starter, will likely return when the Triple-A season ends. His fall from grace, from starter to Triple-A demotion after injury, has been stark.
Also keep an eye on newly acquired reliever Vic Black. Part of the haul in this week's Marlon Byrd/John Buck deal with Pittsburgh, Black is a hard-throwing right-hander with the ability to be a cost-effective relief option next season.
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