I have a few pictures of Madison and Lynnette on the camera from our excursion yesterday. Regrettably, they won’t find their way into this space today. No, today, hundreds of Major League pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training. That’s right. This is the first of what will possibly be many (if the Mets win), but likely few (because they probably won’t) entries covering my beloved New York Mets. The following is what I consider the current state of the team. It will probably come across like I hate them. Make no mistake: I do hate them, but only because I love them.
Reader’s Note: I will likely use the pronoun “we” when referring to the Mets as if I am a member of the team. Just go with it.
Infield: David Wright signed a huge contract over the off-season which will presumably make him a Met for life. Like, really, for life, not in the NWO “for life,” which as we would find had an expiration date remarkably shorter than indicated by those intricate hand signs. Wright had a pretty solid all-around year last season, doing .306/.391/.492 coming in with 21 homers and in the low 90s in runs and RBI. He was on a torrid pace during the first half and slowed remarkably in the second. First baseman Ike Davis was slowed by what was diagnosed as Valley Fever to start the season and it sapped him of energy. He finished the year with 32 homers and 90 RBI despite a dreadful first half. He hit .227 for the season and there’s no way he’ll hit that poorly again. Right?
The middle infield is unchanged as well, with Rueben Tejada – a solid glove man who doesn’t offer much with the bat – playing shortstop. I will say this for him: he never gives away at-bats. He grinds them out. I like that. Daniel Murphy will play second base, his third best position behind third base and first base. A few years ago we gave him a shot in left field and it was a disaster that could have fit easily into the films The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. To Murphy’s credit, he’s worked hard to be a decent second baseman and made a few solid plays last season. He really just need to make all the routine ones.
What it’ll take for the Mets to win: Wright will have to play like a star. If he plays all season like he did in the first half of 2012, that would be fantastic. Davis needs to take a step forward and become a more consistent power threat and cut down on the strike outs. Tejada and Murphy have to improve up their on-base averages of .333 and .332 respectively so Wright and Davis have people to drive in.
Outfield: This is really depressing. The four outfielders likely to make the regular season roster are Lucas Duda, Collin Cowgill, Mike Baxter, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. A Facebook comment from my friend Chris (a Braves fan) about the Mets outfield situation:
This might make me an asshole, but I thought about the Braves outfield, then I read the names you just listed for your outfield, then I laughed…hard…for a good twenty seconds. Sorry.
First thing’s first: he’s an asshole. But he’s also right. The Upton/Upton/Heyward outfield in Atlanta is pretty scary, to say nothing of Washington’s Harper/Span/Werth combination. Defensively, Duda and I have similar range, which would be fine except I’m not a Major League outfielder. There will likely be a center field platoon with Cowgill (R) and Nieuwenhuis (L). I don’t know what that means for Baxter.
What it’ll take for the Mets to win: Nothing less than career years from everyone involved. We’re rumored to still be in on Michael Bourn. His defense in center would help, as would his presence atop the batting order. But I’m skeptical this will get done. The Mets have burned me too many times. I mean why would they sign Bourn (30) to the deal he reportedly wants (5 years)? The only reason to do that is if you think you’re a year or two out of true contention and would like to have Bourn already on board. Must…not…buy…into… ah, what the hell, let’s just do the thing.
Starting Rotation: The Mets don’t have a true ace, so they’ll try to do the thing where they throw up a bunch of 3-5 starters and hope for 200 solid innings from each. In some order, the starting rotation will be Jonathan Niese, Johan Santana, Matt Harvey, Shaun Marcum, and Dillon Gee.
Niese: After bouts with injuries in seasons past, he’s gradually become a solid starter. He posted his first sub-4.00 ERA last season and racked up 155 strikeouts in 190.1 innings pitched. Both totals represent career highs. His 1.17 WHIP was also easily the lowest of his career. I don’t know if this is his ceiling, but another step foward – 210 innings, 170 strikeouts would be both incredible and a welcomed development.
Johan: He did throw the first no-hitter in Mets history last season, but was plagued by injuries and shut down before the season ended. I can’t even begin to guess what we’ll get out of Johan this season. The hope is that he’ll simply stay healthy and be a serviceable mid-rotation starter. I think the best case scenario is that he pitches slightly better than that and the Mets flip him for a mid-range prospect while paying down a significant chunk of his contract.
Harvey: He was recalled from AAA late in the season and put up an eye-popping 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings pitched. That rate is likely unsustainable, and he did walk 26 batters in those innings. He did pitch better than his 3-5 record, posting a 2.73 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP in an admittedly small sample size. Mets fans can only hope this season is another solid step in Harvey’s development into a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Marcum: I don’t know how much the Mets are counting on Marcum. He’s reached the 200-innings milestone only once in the past five seasons due to a number of injuries. He has, however, notched fine WHIP totals throughout his career and his K/9 rate is in the neighborhood of a respectable 7. Like Johan, we’re really just hoping for a full, healthy season from Marcum. If he is able to do that and pitch as he has over his career, he’ll be worth far more than the modest contract the Mets signed him too in the past month.
Gee: A blood clot in his shoulder ended his 2012 prematurely. He made only 17 starts and was on his way to a great season in his young career. The 97 strikeouts in 109.2 innings were impressive, but the 12 homers allowed and 108 hits overall were troublesome. Since Gee’s stuff is not overpowering, he will be at the mercy of random chance and the Mets defense. Gulp.
What it’ll take for the Mets to win: Healthy seasons from everyone. Next-level steps from Niese and Harvey would be nice. Also, Zack Wheeler is waiting in the wings. It would be a good sign, however, if the Mets recall him later rather than sooner.
Bullpen: To put it mildly, the Mets bullpen was atrocious last season. The bullpen ERA was the worst in the Majors and the opposite of a joy to watch. Every time I watched Terry Collins hand over a lead to the bullpen, I cringed with a sense of evil foreboding I had not experienced since the days of Mike Stanton and Tyler Yates.
In addition to the guys who were in the ‘pen last season – and can’t possibly be that bad again this year (fingers crossed!), here are the non-roster invitees for the bullpen:
Scott Atchison, Pedro Feliciano (he’s back!), LaTroy Hawkins, and Brandon Lyon. I know, I wish we had them all 10 years ago, too.
In truth, I suppose it doesn’t matter who is in the pen, so long as they get outs. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just effective.
There is a kind-of, sort-of closer controversy brewing. General Manager Sandy Alderson has been reticent to name Frank Francisco – he of the 5.53 ERA last season – as the closer. Manager Terry Collins disagrees, saying that Francisco is his man – with the caveat that Francisco is healthy. Nice escape hatch, Terry.
What it’ll take for the Mets to win: I’m not even going to be picky here. They just need to hold on to leads as they’ll likely hard to come by.
Season prediction: 78-84