New York Mets: 11 Biggest Questions Heading Into 2011

James Stewart-Meudt@@JSMeudtCorrespondent IIFebruary 3, 2011

New York Mets: 11 Biggest Questions Heading Into 2011

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    There is no team in baseball faced with as much uncertainty as the New York Mets. What started out as concerns about health and starting pitching have degraded into whether they even have enough money to keep the team afloat.

    Up until now, the reporting regarding the situation with Bernie Madoff and the Mets' finances has been poor at best. Each report has a different amount of money they made, or lost, or owe or have. Until the lawsuit produces an exact amount of money, the Mets must return or what portion of the team they sell, we can't know exactly what effect this will have on the team.

    On paper, the Mets have a good team—a mixture of star power and veteran experience. But there are still a ton of questions.

    Here are the 11 biggest questions surrounding the Mets in 2011.

11. Will Oliver Perez Or Luis Castillo Make The Team?

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    If there's one thing Mets fans can all agree on, it's that neither of these guys should make the team. Neither has been productive for the Mets and both hold terrible contracts as a result. While they are both free agents at the end of the 2011 season, meaning they'll be gone no matter what, neither has much of a shot of making the team. That said, one might be worth more than the other.

    Manager Terry Collins has made it very clear that Castillo's only chance to make the team is by winning the starting second base job. Castillo has to get past at least three other players to do that: Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy and Brad Emaus. All three guys are younger and much better offensively, and if any of them are able to be even servicable defenisvely, Castillo has almost no chance.

    Castillo appeared in just 86 games for the Mets last season, batting .235 with a misleading .993 fielding percentage. Brad Emaus seems to be the frontrunner to win the second base job right now, but many people think Murphy can raise some eyebrows in Spring Training.

    As for Oliver Perez, Collins has said he will enter Spring Training as a starting pitcher but could make the team as a situational reliever. Right now, the only opening in the rotation is the No. 5 slot, and the Mets could certainly use a lefty there, but it's unlikely Perez and his 6.80 ERA and 2.07 WHIP from 2010 make it.

    If Perez makes the team, it would be in the bullpen as a lefty reliever, which is about he only thing Perez has ever done well. He owns the big lefty bats of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Brian McCann in the NL East, but the Mets have also added Taylor Tankersley and Tim Byrdak on minor league contracts.

    Right now, neither Perez nor Castillo has much of a shot at making the team, and it's just a matter of time before they're released.

10. What Kind Of Hitter Will David Wright Be?

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    In his first season at Citi Field in 2009, Wright had no problem admitting the field's spacious confines had an effect on his hitting. Normally a lock for 25-30 homers, Wright hit just 10 that season, five of which came at home.

    Last season, Wright had a resurgent season, though not without issue. He hit .283 with 29 home runs (12 at home) and 103 RBI. Power wasn't his problem, strikeouts were.

    Last season, Wright's BB/K rate fell from 0.53 in 2009 to 0.43 in 2010, and his OBP fell drastically to .354, almost 40 points lower than 2009.

    Wright is making less contact and striking out more, yet he still manages to be the best offensive player on the Mets. His strikeouts have increased dramatically since 2008.

    Along with several other players, the Mets need Wright to keep putting the ball in play and be a bit more selective with his pitches. Anyone who watched enough Mets games last season knew that if Wright had two strikes against him in the count, the next pitch was a breaking ball or off speed pitch to the outside part of the plate.

    Wright needs to keep putting up big numbers for the Mets in 2011, but keep the strikeouts to a minimum.

9. Will Jason Bay Bounce Back?

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    The Mets' big offseason acquisition last year, Jason Bay was supposed to give the Mets a power bat in the middle of the lineup. Instead, Bay produced terrible numbers before finally going down for the season in July with a concussion.

    Coming off a 36 home run, 119 RBI performance for the Boston Red Sox in 2009, Bay hit just six home runs for the Mets, four of which came in multi-home run games against the Yankees on May 23 and the Marlins on June 28. Bay had as many triples as homers.

    That's not Bay's game. Normally a lock for 30 homers, Bay needs to hit at least that many to erase his 2010 performance.

    Like so many Mets, health is the key word for Bay. He says he's fully recovered from his concussion and is ready to play in 2011. Let's hope so, or else it could be another long season in Queens.

8. Who Will Be The Mets' LOOGY?

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    The Mets bullpen lost two big arms in Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi to free agency this year and will hope to get big performances out of some new additions.

    Feliciano was the Mets' most reliable reliever for the last four years. He signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the New York Yankees earlier this offseason. He appeared in an MLB-high 92 games last season, holding lefties to a .211 BA.

    The Mets will need to find a lefty reliever to keep the big lefty bats of the NL East in check if they want to have any chance of competing in 2011.

    Hisanori Takahashi was extremely versatile for the Mets last season, appearing as both a starter and reliever. In 53 games, including 12 starts, Takahashi went 10-6 with a 3.61 ERA while holding lefties to a .217 BA.

    There were some good left-handed options available to the Mets this offseason, including Brian Fuentes, Will Ohman and Authur Rhodes, but the Mets instead chose to only add lefty relievers on minor league deals.

    Tim Byrdak and Taylor Tankersley both received minor league deals, while Chris Capuano was signed to a one-year, $1.5 million dollar deal. Capuano has an excellent chance to make the starting rotation because there are too many right-handed pitchers there right now, but if not, could serve as a long man and lefty specialist.

    It's not hard to find a left-handed reliever who can keep lefty hitters in check, which could explain the Mets' reluctance to give Feliciano $8 million, but we'll see how the Mets' additions play out in Spring Training.

7. Will R.A. Dickey Repeat His 2010 Performance?

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    The Mets thought enough of R.A. Dickey to reward him with a multi-year deal earlier this week. Dickey, who did not makes the Mets out of Spring Training, came out of nowhere to go 11-9 with a team-best 2.89 ERA.

    His knuckleball kept hitters guessing all season, but can he do it again in 2011? Familiarity may go against Dickey this season, as hitters now have an idea of what he's trying to do, but as the Mets' No. 2 starter, they'll need him to be the pitcher they saw last season.

    Eighteen of Dickey's 26 starts last season were quality starts (6 IP, 3 ER or less). If the Mets can get that type of production out of Dickey for the whole season, the Mets' rotation will be in good shape.

6. What Can We Expect From Mike Pelfrey As The No.1 Starter?

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    It was a tale of two seasons for Mike Pelfrey in 2010. He went 10-1 with a 2.68 ERA over the first three months of the season, but saw his ERA balloon to an ugly 10.02 in August where he went 0-3. He was up and down after that, but still finished the season 15-9 3.66 ERA and 1.38 WHIP.

    When Pelfrey is getting ground balls, he can be as good as any pitcher in baseball; it's his bread and butter. His GB% was 47.8 percent in 2010, down from 51.3 in 2009. He was able to cut down on the home runs though, reducing his HR/9 from 0.88 in 2009 to 0.53 last season. Keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark is essential for Pelfrey in 2011.

    As the Mets' No. 1 starter, he has a lot on his shoulders to start the season. Will be be able to handle the pressure? The Mets had better hope so, or else that starting rotation will be in even worse shape than it already is.

5. Who Will Be The Mets' No. 5 Starter?

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    Right now, the Mets starting rotation consists of Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese and Chris Young. That's three righties and Niese, the lefty. There really aren't a lot of options for the No. 5 spot.

    Chris Capuano would be the early favorite to win the job simply because he's a lefty, but he needs to show Manager Terry Collins that he's able to handle the workload of an entire season. He made only nine starts and pitched 66 innings last season for the Milwaukee Brewers. He's also gone through two Tommy John surgeries, so the questions about his durability are justified.

    The other candidate, Dillon Gee, has both positives and negatives. For one, he's a righty, which we've already discussed why that's bad. A September call-up last season, Gee made five starts, going 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA. Three of his starts came against NL East opponents. He pitched well against both the Phillies and Nationals, going seven innings in both starts and giving up just three runs combined. He also went seven innings against Atlanta, giving up just three runs but taking the hard luck loss.

    Gee does have minor league options should he not make the team or he could find a home in the bullpen, but I don't think he would make for a good reliever.

    Unless someone else can step up during Spring Training or the Mets want to add another pitcher, Capuano looks to be the odds-on favorite to win the fifth spot in the rotation.

4. What Will The Mets Do With Carlos Beltran?

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    Carlos Beltran is probably the biggest question mark heading into 2011 as far as position players are concerned. Beltran elected to have knee surgery last offseason, against the wishes of team doctors, and appeared in only 64 games for the Mets last season.

    Over that span, Beltran hit .255 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs. He also managed to steal three bases and score 21 runs. When healthy, Beltran can be a productive player, but since he'll be a free agent at the end of this season, the Mets have some decisions to make.

    The most likely scenario is that Beltran finds himself on the trading block during the season. For that, two things have to happen: the Mets have to fall out of contention and Beltran has to stay healthy and productive.

    No one really expects the Mets to contend in 2011, but if they are, Beltran will have to be a big part of that. Should they be in contention, and by "contention" I mean within five games of first place at the All-Star Break, the Mets will need Beltran to stay there.

    However, it would probably be most worthwhile to trade Beltran no matter what. Any contending team could use a player like Beltran for the late-season push and if he's producing, Beltran could fetch a decent bounty of prospects. Teams like the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels have expressed interest in trading for Beltran, but both teams acquired outfielders this offseason so a trade for Beltran may no longer be needed.

    For any trade to happen, Beltran has to prove he's healthy and able to produce, something he says he's ready to do.

3. Will The Mets Resign Jose Reyes?

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    Much like Carlos Beltran, the Mets may end up trading Jose Reyes. But unlike Beltran, Reyes has much more value to the Mets when healthy, and therefore has a much better chance of being resigned.

    But given Reyes' recent injury history, the Mets may be less apt to offer him a long-term deal. Reyes appeared in only 36 games in 2009 and missed 29 games last season due to various issues, including a thyroid disorder.

    Reyes batted .282 with 11 home runs, 54 RBI and 83 runs scored. He also stole 30 bases with a .321 OBP.

    When Reyes is healthy, he IS the Mets' offense. In 335 games from 2005-2008, Reyes scored at least one run and the Mets went 237-98 over that span. During that same time, Reyes was very durable, appearing in at least 153 games each season.

    If Reyes can prove he can stay healthy, there's no reason the Mets shouldn't resign him. The only issue will be that Reyes has said he wont negotiate a contract during the season, so the Mets will have to contend with other teams if they don't re-sign him before the season stats, which they don't seem to want to do.

    Buster Olney of ESPN believes Reyes can be a $100 million player if healthy, and there are plenty of teams who need a shortstop of Reyes' ability.

2. Who Will Start at Second Base For The Mets in 2011?

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    The competition for second base comes down to Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Brad Emaus. Castillo has almost no chance and we've already discussed his odds of making the team.

    As far as the other candidates are concerned, it's a pretty tight race.

    Brad Emaus, the Mets' Rule 5 pick this year, could be considered the front-runner for the job. In 87 games in the Blue Jay's Triple-A system, Emaus had a slash line of .298/.395/.495 with 10 home runs, 49 RBI and 58 runs scored. He has a short, compact swing that could be built for Citi Field if he can find the gaps. Also, Emaus hits right-handed, so he'd break up the lefties of Ike Davis and Josh Thole at the bottom of the lineup.

    As for Daniel Murphy, you have to give the guy credit; he wants to make the team in whatever capacity he can. He last played for the Mets in 2009, when he appeared in 155 games, and hit .266 with 12 home runs and 66 RBI. A knee injury kept Murphy from starting for the Mets last season and Ike Davis has entrenched himself at first base. Murphy will be given a shot to play second base, but could also make the Mets' bench out of Spring Training.

    Justin Turner was acquired by the Mets as a waiver claim from the Baltimore Orioles last May. He has the least chance of winning the second base job because he still has two minor league options and can be sent to Buffalo without being exposed to waivers. He hit .333 at Triple-A Buffalo last season.

    My money is on Emaus to win the second base job, with Murphy winning a spot as a left-handed bat off the bench.

1. How Will The Madoff Situation Affect The Team in 2011?

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    No matter how hard you try, you just can't get away from this Madoff situation. The short story is that the Mets, specifically the Wilpon brain trust, invested hundreds of millions of dollars with convicted financier Bernie Madoff. The Mets were able to turn of profit of $48 million before the Ponzi scheme collapsed, but are now involved in a lawsuit by the trustee charged with recouping funds from anyone who made money off of Madoff.

    The reporting of the Madoff situation and the Mets' involvement has been terrible. Everyone has different numbers and different information so it's unclear exactly what effect this will have on the Mets. I've heard everything from the Mets were RUNNING the Ponzi scheme WITH Madoff to the Mets made $500 million off of it. 

    One thing we do know is that while the Wilpons initially said this would have no effect on the team, they're now looking to sell 20-25 percent of the team in order to infuse cash while they await the final figures from the lawsuit.

    Initially, they said this percentage would not include SNY, but they have since backed off from that stance, which should make finding investors much easier.

    One thing I will say is that perhaps the Mets can spin this into a positive. It's one thing to sell a portion of the team to some company or rich business, but if they could get people that Mets fans know and like to invest in the team, it might make people feel better about this.

    Imagine Jerry Seinfeld and Mike Piazza as minority owners of the Mets. Yes, they still will have sold the team, but certainly those names sound a lot better than some faceless business with no connection to the team.

    Only time will tell how this will affect the team this season. Will they have the money to resign Jose Reyes? With roughly $55 million coming off the books after the season, how much of that will be put back into the team? There are a million questions surround this issue but only patience will yield any answers.