This continues my 2010 MLB preview. I intend to touch every team in the major leagues in installments by division. The lineups I provide will be what I predict will be the most productive for each team for the MAJORITY of the season (e.g., Jason Heyward will be listed as the Braves RF even though he may not begin the season as the starter).
I will also provide the stereotypical letter grade to each team's lineup, rotation, bullpen, and depth/bench. Though it is trite, I think all baseball fans can identify with the letter grade system.
Teams will be addressed respective to their predicted finish in their division.
Jose Reyes - SS
Luis Castillo - 2B
David Wright - 3B
Carlos Beltran - CF
Jason Bay - LF
Jeff Francoeur - RF
Daniel Murphy/Mike Jacobs - 1B
Omir Santos - C
OUTFIELD: With Carlos Beltran healthy, the Mets' outfield can really be something. The Mets won one with the signing of Jason Bay, but I doubt Bay did. He was a FAR better fit in Boston. Jeff Francoeur is a very good outfielder with a cannon for an arm, and his offense improved with the more energetic NYC setting, which fits his personality more so than did his hometown of Atlanta.
INFIELD: The middle of the Mets' infield must stay healthy. Luis Castillo is as solid an all-around 2B as you can have, minus power of course. His knees need to hold up as they seemed to much of last year. Jose Reyes must be in the lineup. He is the epitome of a fire starter. David Wright's head fuzzy because of the vast dimensions and high walls of Citi Field.
Notice however, that Wright also didn't hit homers away from Citi Field. 10 homeruns is unacceptable for Wright, regardless of lineup protection or the size of the park. Expect him to launch about 20 this season. Daniel Murphy has loyalty from manager Jerry Manuel from last season for enduring a very tough year for the club. But the signing of Mike Jacobs will take playing time away from Murphy—for good cause. Murphy hit 12 HRs lasts season. With 450 ABs, Jacobs is a lock for 20+ HRs anywhere.
CATCHING:Omir Santos showed some promise last season, though he will never be more than solid. This season, he gets the chance to prove if he can sustain his solid play as the everyday guy. Henry Blanco and Chris Coste will battle for the backup job, but in the next couple years, Josh Thole will be the guy. He should see some September ABs at least this year.
Johan Santana - L
John Maine - R
Mike Pelfrey - R
Oliver Perez - L
John Niese - L
The rotation of the Mets is still middling and completely untrustworthy. Behind Johan Santana, there are more questions than answers. John Maine I can label as "solid". Mike Pelfrey can achieve that label if he has another decent year. Oliver Perez is a head case and his once-promising career as Pirate has taken a sharp southward turn in New York. Jon Niese will probably win the 5th starter spot, and deserves the chance. Fernando Nieve is a similar talent and will also push for the job this spring.
Keep in mind that the Mets also have Kelvim Escobar this season. He has proven at times in the past that he can be a front line starter or reliever. If he shows that form this season, he could be something of a savant for the Mets; either in late-inning relief work or as a rotation member.
Bobby Parnell and Sean Green are good penmates as righties. If Escobar ends up there, he will help out too. Lefty Pedro Feliciano is always strong in his late-inning role. Brian Stokes and Pat Misch provide solid depth, while Francisco Rodriguez is always electric in the closer role. The pen is very solid, but the Mets could truly use an extra left handed arm. Swapping Escobar for Perez or Niese (both lefties) could alleviate this potential problem.
Make no mistake, the Mets have plenty of outfield depth this year. Their starting trio is extremely good overall. Furthermore, their top two backups—Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews, Jr.—are both true CFs with the ability to play the corners. Also, if a rash of injuries occur, Murphy can play the OF or the unimpressive Fernando Martinez could get another shot.
The infield depth isn't bad with good backups for every position except 3B. But since Wright appears to be the only Mets star who never seems to get hurt, perhaps he won't need a backup. Alex Cora and Anderson Hernandez are nice middle infield backups.
THOUGHTS: I believe the Mets will finish third in the division only by assuming that their starters remain relatively healthy. David Wright must hit for more power this season. Don't expect Bay to hit 30 bombs in his new XL park though. If Maine and Pelfrey can pitch above .500 and the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation can be settled, the pitching staff could look really good. The bullpen is fairly strong.
Thus, if the Mets can remain somewhat healthy they could fend off the Marlins for third place in the NL East. As it stands, they are only ahead of the Marlins by a hair. Truthfully, the best move for the Mets would be to trade some outfield depth for pitching help—assuming the pitching staff situation doesn't work itself out in the spring.