New York Mets: Projecting the Starting Lineup, Rotation for 2011

Jason LempertCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2011

New York Mets: Projecting the Starting Lineup, Rotation for 2011

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    Terry Collins will have his work cut out for him in his first year as the Mets' skipper.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    The New York Mets spent this past offseason filling holes in their front office, as well as on the field. They hired a new general manager, Sandy Alderson. He hired Terry Collins to be the new manager of the team. The Mets also brought in Paul DePodesta and J.P. Riccardi for other front office roles.

    As far as player personnel, the Mets will have more-or-less the same roster they had a season ago, with a couple of minor changes. On paper, this team looks like it could have been a contender in the National League East, until the rival Philadelphia Phillies brought in Cliff Lee to give them one of the most dominant pitching rotations the game has ever seen.

    This team has the potential to really surprise, or really disappoint. The quality of stars on this squad is equal to just about any other team in the league. But in recent years, these stars have not performed up to their reputation. If these men are able to repeat past seasons in 2011, the Mets could really turn some heads.

    With that, let's take a look at the potential starting rotation and lineup, based on the 40 man roster as of March 11th, 2011.

1. Jose Reyes, SS

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    Jose Reyes is the spark that makes the rest of the Mets go.Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Jose Reyes is multi-talented. He can hit for power, he's a slick fielder and when he gets on base he gives pitchers fits. That makes him an ideal leadoff man.

    Reyes finished in the top 10 among National League players in hits from 2005-2008, including when he led the league with 204 in '08. He's led the league three times in stolen bases and triples during his career. Overall, Reyes can be absolute pitcher's nightmare when he steps into the batters box.

    The problem with Reyes over the last two seasons was staying healthy. He missed most of the 2009 season, and a good portion of last season with various injuries. If Reyes is able to stay healthy in 2011 and put up numbers similar to his '05-'08 run, he should provide the rest of the lineup with the spark that has been missing for sometime. He will also look to cash in with a big free agent contract after the season.

2. Angel Pagan, CF

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    Angel Pagan will start the season as the Mets' center fielderAl Bello/Getty Images

    Angel Pagan came out of left field (almost literally) in 2010 and really was the Mets' MVP last year. In a season where Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay were mostly absent from the lineup, Pagan really stepped up his game to have a career year.

    Pagan posted career highs in just about every offensive category. And no matter if he played in right, center or left field, Pagan always had his chin up and played exceptionally well.

    Due to his success in 2010 and Beltran's worrisome knees, Pagan will start the year in center field, while Beltran will shift over to right. The Mets may find, however, that this move will not necessarily be as beneficial as they are hoping. Right-center field at Citi Field is almost as deep as straight-away center, due to the stadium's "Mo Zone". Beltran will be doing just as much running in right as he would have in center.

    But regardless, Pagan will look to build on his breakout campaign. He'll be 30 years old in July, so he's become a bit of a late bloomer. But if he can even come close to his 2010 numbers, the Mets could have themselves one heck of a number two hitter.

3. Carlos Beltran, RF

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    The Mets are hoping Carlos Beltran has his knees under him and can have a bounce back 2011 season.Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Having Carlos Beltran plugged into the starting lineup right now may be a bit of a stretch. He is still trying to find his groove after coming back late last season following right knee surgery. But early on in spring training, Beltran has been battling left knee tendinitis and is going to be sidelined for about the next week.

    But if Beltran is deemed healthy enough to start the season regular season, I envision him batting in the third position. When the top three batters of a team's lineup are all switch hitters, that can be a valuable asset. Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan and Beltran all hit from either side of the plate, making late-game strategy awfully difficult for opposing managers.

    And even with Beltran's ailing knees, he can still hit with power. Last year, in limited action, Beltran smacked seven home runs—five of them coming in September. Having him in the third slot behind Reyes and Pagan could lead the Mets to a number of run scoring chances early in games. He is out to prove he is still capable of producing Beltran-like numbers, and with his contract expiring after the 2011 season, Beltran is determined to put together a very strong campaign.

    If Beltran is forced to start the season on the DL, look for Scott Hairston or Willie Harris to be in right field (Hairston may be a more likely candidate, since he is already on the 40 man roster).

4. David Wright, 3B

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    David Wright hit 29 home runs a season ago.Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Who else but David Wright should bat cleanup in the Mets' batting order? He is an RBI machine, and with Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan's ability to get on base, he has a legitimate chance of knocking in well more than the 103 he drove in last year.

    Wright struggled adjusting to his new home in his first year at CitiField. In 2009, he only managed 10 home runs and 72 RBI. But he rebounded with another strong season in 2010, and seems to have adapted to his new confines. He's only 28 and he's the face of the franchise. He should be the Mets' number four batter in 2011.

5. Ike Davis, 1B

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    Ike Davis finished among the top 10 in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2010.Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Ike Davis was certainly a bright spot for the Mets during what was otherwise a disappointing 2010 season. He was the Mets' first round draft pick in 2008, and made his Major League debut last year.

    He finished seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting, after finishing with 19 big flies and 71 RBI. His  offensive ability and defensive prowess at first base reminds many of a young Keith Hernandez or John Olerud. High praise for the 24-year-old out of Arizona State.

    Look for Davis to bat in the fifth spot for the majority of the season, since the bottom of the Mets' batting order will likely contain a number of left-handed bats. On days when the Mets face a left-handed starting pitcher, Davis may see some time in the sixth slot.

    But no matter where he bats, Davis has a bright future ahead of him and the Mets should start seeing true dividends sooner than later.

6. Jason Bay, LF

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    To say Jason Bay had a down year in 2010 would be an understatementChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Jason Bay had a rough debut season with the New York Mets. After signing a four year, $66 million contract prior to the 2010 season, Bay hit six home runs and had a .259 batting average in just 348 at-bats.

    Bay struggled to begin the year, and then a concussion in July ended what was left of a disappointing season. But he's healthy and symptom-free. It wasn't too long ago that he hit 36 home runs for the Boston Red Sox. And with the amount of talent that could potentially hit in front of him in the order, he could approach those numbers in 2011.

    I have him batting sixth to begin the year, but if he gets hot early on, look for him to get moved up to possibly the third spot. A legitimate Comeback Player of the Year candidate here.

7. Josh Thole, C

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    Josh Thole is a young, up-and-coming catcher with lots of potential.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The New York Mets selected Josh Thole in the 13th round of the 2005 draft. He's pretty much flown under the radar in his young career, but he has a good eye at the plate and has learned how to call a game.

    Thole debuted in 2009 and he batted .321 in 53 at-bats that year. The Mets were very impressed with what they were seeing from the youngster offensively, but his defensive ability and his focus were a bit of a concern (when Thole had a bad performance at the plate, he would sulk and slump behind the plate). So, Thole began the 2010 season in Triple-A to work on becoming a better catcher and learning how to handle a pitching staff.

    They brought him back up to the big leagues at the end of June, and Thole had an impressive rookie campaign. The 2010 season saw him hit .277, drive in 17 runs and he almost flawlessly was able to catch R.A. Dickey's knuckleball.

    Thole has had a lot of strong mentors along the way. Veteran catchers Brian Schneider, Henry Blanco, Rod Barajas and now Ronny Paulino have all shared their wisdom with the 24-year-old.

    Thole begins the 2011 season as the Mets' unquestioned starting catcher. They brought in Paulino this offseason to serve as a back-up/mentor figure. Should Thole show some signs of weakness, look for Paulino (who will miss the first eight days of the season while finishing a 50 game suspension) to step in.

8. Daniel Murphy, 2B

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    Daniel Murphy has never played a Major League game at second base.Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Daniel Murphy was starting to look like the real deal for the 2009 Mets. In that season, he belted 12 home runs, and drove in 63 runs. Offensively, he was coming into his own.

    But defensively, he could not find his way in left field. He was consistently positioned wrong, was not able to read fly balls adequately and just looked lost out there. So on May 20th, the Mets decided to make him the everyday first baseman. And for the most part, he was successful there.

    However, Murphy did not play a game in the big leagues in 2010. Right at the end of spring training, he suffered a sprained MCL. Then, while on a rehab assignment in Buffalo, Murphy got taken out at second base while trying to turn a double play. He was diagnosed with a tear of the same MCL, and missed the remainder of the season.

    Yet Murphy, who has never played a Major League game at second base, played winter ball in the Dominican this offseason and has been getting back in shape and should begin the season with a bill of health. He is hopeful to be the Mets' Opening Day second baseman. However, the Mets still have the contractual burden of Luis Castillo to deal with. All signs are pointing to Castillo being released before the team breaks camp however.

    Behind Murphy are a slew of young middle infielders, as the Mets try to find the right solution at second base. Chin-lung Hu, Justin Turner, Luis Rodriguez and prospect Brad Emaus are all listed at second base on the Mets' depth chart. But even if Murphy is not named the starting second baseman, he has a great chance of making the team. His work ethic has not gone unnoticed, and his experience in left field, third base and first base make him a valuable asset.

No. 1 Starter, Mike Pelfrey

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    Mike Pelfrey will have a ton of pressure put on him in 2011.Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    There's no guarantee when staff ace Johan Santana will pitch in 2011, or if he will at all. So at least for the beginning of the season, big Mike Pelfrey will begin the season as the Mets No. 1 starter.

    This is a lot of pressure for the 27-year-old out of Wichita State, but the Mets seem to have confidence in the 6'7" right-hander, and rightfully so. He had a breakout season in 2010, posting career highs in just about every pitching category. He has five Major League seasons under his belt, and he's shown improvements each year.

    It was an ugly beginning for Big Pelf, and some Mets' fans were growing weary of the 2005 first round draft pick. But the Mets stuck with him, and will begin the 2011 season as the ace of the staff.

No. 2 Starter, Jonathon Niese

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    Jon Niese had an impressive 2010 campaign.Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Jonathon Niese is a 24-year-old lefty out of Defiance, Ohio. In 2010, he turned some heads, both in and out of the Mets' organization.

    Last year, his first full season in the big leagues (30 starts), Niese struck out 148 batters and had a respectable 4.20 ERA. He started to wear down towards the end of the season, but he hung in there and put together a nice line of stats.

    He will likely be asked to at the very least duplicate last year's numbers in 2011. The Mets are going to try and contend with the likes of the Phillies and Braves, and Niese's role in the rotation makes him a very important key to their success. And at only 24 years of age, the southpaw is just heading into his prime and could become a very good pitcher for the boys in blue and orange.

No. 3 Starter, R.A. Dickey

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    R.A. Dickey was a pleasant surprise in 2010.Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    There's always a bright side to a team's worst season, right? Well in the case of the 2010 Mets, R.A. Dickey was a bright spot in an otherwise gloom year.

    The Mets signed the knuckleballer in December of 2009 to a minor league contract. He didn't make the club out of spring training, but was a very pleasant surprise after his call up in mid-May. And at 35 years of age, Dickey had the best season of his eight year career.

    His 2.84 ERA was good for seventh best in the National League. And in a roller coaster season for the rotation, Dickey was a constant cog for the Mets.

    The team rewarded Dickey with a two year extension this offseason, the first time he had been given any multi-year deal during his career.

No. 4 Starter, Chris Young

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    Chris Young is one of the few newcomers to the Mets in 2011.Marc Serota/Getty Images

    It seemed to take a while, but the Mets finally landed Chris Young in January. They signed the 6'10" right-hander to a one year, $1.1 million contract. There is mutual hope that Young can right the ship of his career and make this signing a complete bargain for the Mets.

    In five seasons while pitching for the San Diego Padres (2006-2010), Young won 33 games and showed some great poise on the mound, but injuries got the best of him in the later years.

    He made 14 starts in 2009 before missing the rest of the season after suffering a strained right shoulder, which required arthroscopic surgery in August. Last year, Young missed the majority of the season with right shoulder inflammation. He made four starts in 2010.

    But if he can prove that he is healthy and ready to go, Young can be a stable, constant arm in that rotation—something the Mets desperately need.

No. 5 Starter, Chris Capuano

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    Chris Capuano is out to show that he is healthy and can once again be effective in 2011.Marc Serota/Getty Images

    The signing of Chris Capuano may have been one of the riskiest of any of the 30 teams this offseason. But as a minor league signee, the risk was low and the reward could be high. After all, he did win 18 games with the 2005 Brewers.

    But Capuano has had not one, but two Tommy John surgeries. The most recent operation caused him to miss the '08 and '09 seasons. He returned to the Brewers rotation last June and posted decent numbers.

    Now Capuano, another Mets' reclamation project, will look to help his new team solidify the back end of the rotation—at least until Johan Santana returns to the rotation, but he has competition.

    Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia, Taylor Buchholz and possibly to a lesser extent, Oliver Perez are all trying to crack the fifth spot of the Mets' rotation in 2011.

    New manager Terry Collins is content with the pitching depth the Mets have, and perhaps rightfully so. Without Santana, they lack that big name pitcher. But the arms they do have in house have shown signs of belonging and the Mets could have themselves one of the surprise rotations in baseball.