MLB Spring Training 2011: 10 Things to Watch for the New York Mets
Spring training is less than two weeks away.
Though the New York Mets' offseason has been mired in financial difficulty, there is still much to anticipate in 2011.
If a few things fall into place, who knows what we will be saying about this team in a few months?
They have talent, and now appear to finally have some leadership.
Here are the 10 biggest developments to keep your eye on during spring training for the Mets.
10. Can the Mets Put the Madoff Scandal behind Them?
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Earlier this week, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig met with the Mets brass to discuss the team’s finances. There have been rumors that the Mets would like to complete a partial sale of the team by June.
Now, reports have surfaced that the only reason Sandy Alderson took the GM job was due to pressure by Selig. Selig saw Alderson as the savior of the Mets.
Regardless of this off-the-field drama, there is one way to take the attention off these matters: Win baseball games.
The Madoff scandal may have hurt the team’s finances, but they still have the pieces to compete.
9. What Should the Mets Do with Their Young Talent?
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
While the Mets did not have a prospect in the top 50, they still have some young pieces that can contribute on the Major League level.
It looks like Jenrry Mejia will be starting the season in the minors, as will Ruben Tejada.
The real question marks surround Lucas Duda and Nick Evans. Both saw some time late last season and hit pretty well.
The Mets brought in Scott Hairston and Willie Harris to compete for the final two bench spots, so the best course of action may be to allow Duda and Evans to play every day in Buffalo and be prepared if a starter suffers a major injury.
Fernando Martinez needs to prove he can stay healthy before being considered for the big club.
8. How Will the Players Coming off Injuries Rebound?
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Carlos Beltran missed the entire first half last year and struggled mightily at the plate when he returned.
Jason Bay was having a mediocre season at best, until suffering a concussion by crashing into the outfield wall in Los Angeles effectively ended his season.
Jose Reyes was limited early in the season due to a thyroid condition.
New acquisition Chris Young, formerly of the San Diego Padres, started only four games last year and just 36 over the last three seasons.
These are all talented players and huge keys to the Mets’ success this year. They need to stay healthy and contribute for the team to make some noise.
7. What Will Be Dillon Gee’s Role?
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Spring training may determine what the Mets plan to do with Dillon Gee.
Gee showed some promise in five starts in September, going 2-2 with a sub-3.00 ERA.
All of a sudden, the Mets rotation went from empty to overcrowded. Chris Capuano has pitched out of the bullpen before, so if the Mets feel Gee is ready, he would slide into the fifth spot with Capuano assuming long reliever responsibilities.
Gee is a great insurance plan to have, but it seems that the Mets will start the season with a rotation consisting of Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Chris Young and Chris Capuano.
6. How Will the Team Respond Without Johan Santana?
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Santana had elbow surgery and hasn’t even begun throwing. Optimistically, he should rejoin the Mets after the All-Star break.
Though he is aging, he is still a bona fide ace in this league and leaves a huge hole atop the Mets' rotation.
Mike Pelfrey will attempt to fill that void, but it will have to be a group effort by all the starters.
One pitcher cannot pick up the slack of a Santana-type ace, so everyone will have to carry his weight.
5. What Will the Bullpen Look Like?
Al Bello/Getty Images
If you thought the Mets had a ton of options for the starting rotation, there are even more for the bullpen.
In no particular order: Bobby Parnell, Francisco Rodriguez, D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Buchholz, Taylor Tankersley, Tim Byrdak, Blaine Boyer, Manny Acosta, Pedro Beato, Pat Misch, Boof Bonser, Ryota Igarashi and (dare I say) Oliver Perez will be competing for seven spots.
That might only be six spots, depending on the Dillon Gee/Chris Capuano situation.
Parnell, Rodriguez and Carrasco are guaranteed spots. Buchholz and Byrdak appear to be early favorites.
Everything else is a crapshoot.
Spring training will determine who heads to the Mets' Triple A affiliate in Buffalo.
4. How Will the Team Accept K-Rod?
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
As of now, K-Rod isn’t even on the 40-man roster, but he will have to be activated after spring training.
He claims to be healthy and ready to get back to action.
His season was cut short last year by that ugly incident involving him punching his girlfriend's father, so it will be interesting to see how his teammates (and the fans) respond to him.
Everyone deserves a second chance. He was having a good season before the fight, so he hopefully has a little something left in the tank entering his contract year.
Based on the roster, the Mets will likely be involved in many close games, so it is imperative that they have a strong closer.
3. Who Will Play Center Field?
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Angel Pagan “spread his wings” last year to the tune of a .290 BA and 37 SB. More importantly, he played stellar center field defense for the first half of the season.
When incumbent Carlos Beltran returned, he immediately assumed center field duties despite his injured knee. Pagan shifted to right for the remainder of the year.
If Beltran is healthy and shows he still has some mobility, it is his job to lose. Pagan has more experience in right, not only after last season, but also since he has been a fourth outfielder most of his career.
Terry Collins has said that he wants this dilemma solved early on during spring training so the two players can get comfortable in their respective positions.
2. Who Will Start at Second Base?
Doug Benc/Getty Images
The Mets have plenty of in-house candidates to take over the second base position.
Luis Castillo is still around, and it looks like the Mets will want to be 100 percent sure he cannot play the position before handing it over to someone else.
Castillo has been in a steady physical decline during his entire tenure with the Mets. He did hit .302 in 2009, but he regressed so much last year that it seems the Mets are ready to go in a different direction.
Daniel Murphy looks like the favorite. He did not play last year due to an injury he suffered while playing second base, but he has the bat, so if his defense can come around, he is a sound option.
Justin Turner and Rule-5 pick Brad Emaus will also get a look for the spot, or even the utility infielder’s role.
1. How Will the Team Respond to Terry Collins?
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Terry Collins joins the long list of men to take the helm of the New York Mets.
Many of the younger players are familiar with him since Collins served as a Minor League instructor last season.
He is known for his passion and intensity, which could really wake up some of these Mets players in need of a jolt. He doesn’t appear afraid to approach a player to get his point across.
While the spring training games don't count, it will be important for Collins to rattle off a few wins to build his team’s confidence.
Some analysts think that a change of regime was exactly what the Mets needed to turn things around.
The new regime is there, so let’s see how the team responds in spring training.