New York Mets: Can a "Fruit and Nuts" Franchise Still Compete in the NL East?

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New York Mets: Can a
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Earlier this week, during baseball's Winter Meetings, super agent Scott Boras categorized the New York Mets as a team that is normally in the "steaks section," but now find themselves in the "fruits and nuts category a lot."

Any Mets fan will admit there are plenty of nuts running around the organization at the moment.

It's far too late to claim that fans want a contender—they're dying for one.

In the wake of Jose Reyes signing with the newly-christened Miami Marlins, the only thing the Mets can do is shop around in the bargain bin and find any way to keep butts in the seats while their better prospects develop.

General manager Sandy Alderson, completely unwilling (and rightfully so) to concede anything, including the upcoming 2012 season, hopes to build a long-term contender no later than 2014. And with prospects like Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, Matt Harvey and Brandon Nimmo in the fold, that just might be possible.

Yes, they should trade David Wright, but that's an article for another day.

But with the farm system still unable to bear Major League-ready fruit, can the Mets actually find a way to compete within the NL East—a division which is arguably the best in baseball?

After several days of inactivity, Alderson finally made a flurry of moves, trading Angel Pagan to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Andres Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez, and signing relievers Frank Francisco (two-years, $12 million) and Jon Rauch (one-year, $3.5 million).

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Ramirez, Rauch and Francisco give manager Terry Collins plenty of arms to choose from in Spring Training.

Francisco, 32, went 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA and had 17 saves in 54 relief appearances for the Toronto Blue Jays last season. Rauch, 33, is a good match for the Mets, finishing 2011 5-4 with a 4.85 ERA in 53 relief appearances. He missed the remainder of the season after being sidelined September 4 with torn cartilage in his right knee. Ramirez, 30, went 3-3 with a 2.62 ERA in 66 relief appearances for the San Francisco Giants last season.

In adding Torres, Alderson took a page out of the Moneyball Handbook, hoping that the Torres of 2010 will reemerge. He hit just .221 with four home runs and a .312 OBP last season, but two seasons ago, Torres was a monster.

Although he produced a ho-hum slash line of .268/.343/.479, he was tied with the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista with a 6.8 WAR. Defensively, he posted a revised zone rating of 96 percent, first among centerfielders.

While Torres might be a slight upgrade, especially defensively, over Pagan, and the addition of three relievers gives Collins more flexibility to sort out the bullpen, Alderson didn't add any actually wins to the Mets roster.

Once again, the Mets bullpen is going to be a trial-by-error system—everyone will have a chance to fill a role until they begin to show imperfections, at which time, hopefully, Collins will make a change.

Last season, the Mets bullpen ranked 15th in the NL in both BAA (.267) and ERA (4.33).

The Mets will enter 2012 with a team of retreads and returning players, like first baseman Ike Davis and starting pitcher Johan Santana. Unless Alderson puts the hammer down and trades a player like David Wright, the next few seasons will be highlighted by continual futility and failure.

When will the Mets field a "competitive" team?

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Will the Philadelphia Phillies finally start to show their age? Will expectations become too much for the completely revamped Miami Marlins? The Atlanta Braves missed the playoffs only because of a nightmare September collapse; will they recover or enter a free fall not unlike the Mets'?

Heck, even the Washington Nationals, who are expected to break camp with stud Bryce Harper, have a brighter future than the Mets.

So what can Alderson, Collins and the Mets actually do?

For now...nothing.

If Alderson is unwilling to concede the season and start making serious trades, there isn't much to be done. Yes, the Mets have reportedly been shopping young players like reliever Bobby Parnell and starting pitcher Jon Niese, but Alderson didn't seem very willing to actually pull the trigger, and it's unclear exactly what the market's interest was.

We'll have to wait and see if the Mets will make any aggressive moves between now and the start of Spring Training, but it seems that, once again, Mets fans will be looking at another season of disappointment.

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