New York Mets Team Preview
The New York Mets have finished fourth in the National League East in four straight seasons, so the franchise clearly must turn its eye to the future.
The Mets made sure that David Wright will be part of those plans and also sold high on 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, sending the knuckleballer to the Toronto Blue Jays to acquire some more young prospects to fill holes.
Though New York did not land a big-name free agent for a third straight winter as it continues to emerge from the rubble of the Bernie Madoff fraud scheme, it feels it replaced Dickey with an adequate arm in Shawn Marcum while securing a short-term solution behind the plate in John Buck via the Blue Jays trade.
That deal also brought in big-time catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud and highly-regarded right-hander Noah Syndergaard, who is all of 20 years old, stocking the Mets minor league shelves alongside 22-year-old Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler was acquired from the San Francisco Giants for aging outfielder Carlos Beltran in 2011 and is ranked as the eighth-best prospect according to MLB.com, two slots behind d'Arnaud.
The rest of New York's moves this offseason were meant to field a team in 2013 as they brought in 33-year-old reliever Brandon Lyon, 40-year-old bullpen arm LaTroy Hawkins and outfielder Marlon Byrd.
The fact that Hawkins and Byrd, 35, are likely to make the team after signing minor league contracts shows just how early on the Mets are in their rebuilding effort. The disaster that was Jason Bay, signed to a four-year, $65 million deal back in 2010 didn't help much either and New York finally lasered the wart by buying out the disappointing outfielder for $21 million early in the offseason.
The Mets have not made the playoffs for six straight seasons and have seen their win total decrease from 79 to 77 to last season's 74-88 campaign. The presence of Wright and first baseman Ike Davis mashing homers out of the corner infield positions gives hope, as does the young arms coming up through the system, but 2013 could be a long one in Flushing.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Mets, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
WHY DID THE METS TRADE DICKEY?
|Mets Projected Lineup|
|(74-88) - Fourth Place (NL East)|
|Key Offseason additions|
|Shaun Marcum (RHP), John Buck (C), Brandon Lyon (RHP), Brandon Hicks (INF), Collin Cowgill (OF), Anthony Recker (C), Travis d'Arnaud (C), Marlon Byrd (OF), LaTroy Hawkins (RHP)|
|Key Offseason subtractions|
|R.A. Dickey (RHP), Jason Bay (OF), Jon Rauch (RHP), Ramon Ramirez (RHP), Andres Torres (OF), Josh Thole (C), Mike Pelfrey (RHP), Ronny Cedeno (SS), Scott Hairston (OF), Kelly Shoppach (C), Manny Acosta (RHP)|
Having a Cy Young winner in your rotation is usually a good thing for the future, but Dickey is 38 years old and had won just 41 games in his first nine seasons before last year's 20-6 record.
Yes, Dickey's 2.73 earned run average in 2012 was a career best and knuckleballers do have longevity, but giving the righty the long-term deal he wanted would still have been a gamble. While it was probably hard to deal a starter who went 39-28 with a 2.95 ERA in three seasons with the Mets, the return haul for New York puts it in a better position down the road.
Of course, the loss of Dickey would be easier to sell if Johan Santana was ready to take the ball on Opening Day, but that won't be the case because of left shoulder fatigue.
Santana, a two-time Cy Young winner, pitched himself into Mets lore by throwing the franchise's first ever no-hitter on June 1 and appeared to be on his way to returning at full strength from a left shoulder surgery that held him out of the entire 2011 campaign. But after throwing a career-high 134 pitches in his no-hitter, Santana went 3-5 with a 6.54 earned run average in eight starts and eventually landed on the disabled list due to a sprained right ankle. He returned for two more starts and yielded 14 runs over 6 1/3 innings before missing the rest of the campaign due to a back injury.
The Mets didn't anticipate any problems with Santana, who has a $25 million club option for next season, going into 2013, but they were also displeased with the shape that the left-hander came into camp in and he could begin the season on the DL.
That leaves Marcum, Opening Day starter Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee to fill out the rotation, with Wheeler likely to join the mix midseason like the 23-year-old Harvey did last year.
Marcum, who like Dickey doesn't blow hitters away and excels with control, went 7-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 21 starts last season, but missed just over two months of action due to an elbow injury. Gee, meanwhile, hasn't pitched in the majors since July 7 following emergency surgery due to a blood clot in his right shoulder.
DOES WRIGHT HAVE ANY HELP?
He better, because the star third baseman is already primed to begin the season battling a strained left intercostal muscle that knocked him out of the World Baseball Classic early.
Wright, a six-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, was plagued by a back injury in 2011, but hit .306 with 21 homers and 93 RBI in 156 games a season ago. That was good enough for the Mets, who locked up their all-time leader in hits, runs, walks and runs batted in with an eight-year, $138 million contract over the winter and also named him the fourth captain in team history just prior to the start of the season.
New York will hope that his latest injury won't linger all season and that he can get some help in a lineup that was middle of the road last season with a collective .249 average, 139 homers and 625 RBI.
Davis, who was hitting just .208 at the end of July before batting .264 with 12 homers and 30 RBI over his final 57 games, is the most likely to help and will hit cleanup behind Wright but needs to find consistency.
There are a lot of questions after that. New York will try to find a leadoff hitter out of center fielder Collin Cowgill, shortstop Ruben Tejada or even infielder/outfielder Jordany Valdespin and the outfield as a whole lacks an impact bat.
Some excitement could come when d'Arnaud is given a shot at the big-league level. Like Wheeler, d'Arnaud is expected to get some more seasoning in the minors, where he hit .333 with 16 homers in 67 games at the Triple-A level last season before a knee injury, and should take over for Buck by midseason.
HOW SOLID IS THE BACK END OF THE METS' BULLPEN?
Frank Francisco was slotted to be the club's closer again in 2013, but his season will be delayed due to inflammation in his right pitching elbow. That came after he had surgery over the winter to remove bone spurs from the area.
The Mets converted just 36 of their 55 save chances last season, with Francisco going 1-3 with a 5.53 ERA and 23 saves in 26 opportunities in 48 games. Meanwhile, Bobby Parnell blew five of his 12 save chances and jettisoned reliever Jon Rauch only converted half of his eight chances.
New York has long hoped that Parnell will emerge as a possible ninth-inning solution, but the 28-year-old posted a 5.75 ERA in save situations a season ago and is 14-for-31 lifetime in save chances. Still, he'll get the first crack at filling in for Francisco and could keep the job full-time.
The Mets parted ways with a number of their bullpen arms walk after the 2012 season, including Rauch, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Acosta and brought Lyon in to fill a set-up spot after he posted a combined 3.10 ERA in 67 games last season with the Houston Astros and Blue Jays.
X-FACTOR: LUCAS DUDA, OF
Duda occupied this spot last season too but only hit .239 with 15 homers, 57 RBI and 120 strikeouts in 121 games. That earned him some time in Triple-A and with the Mets devoid of a spark in the outfield they would really love for the 27-year-old to take a big step forward and finally fill the void left by the 2011 Beltran trade.
Duda, coming off right wrist surgery in November, struggles on defense and he'll need to produce at the plate to make up for those deficiencies. Finding his power stroke will help and New York appears to hoping that will be the case after not bringing in any real competition for his spot in left field.
The Mets are making small steps towards turning things around, but a lot of that is dependent on youth. The pressure is off in keeping Wright happy now that he has signed on for the rebuilding so 2013 will be all about the young guys. It is also likely to be the final year for Santana in the Big Apple and his pending exit after the season will completely turn the page. New York's bullpen could be decent if Parnell finally realizes his potential and Francisco comes back healthy, while the likes of Davis, Duda, Niese and Harvey will also dictate how successful the season will be. The offense just doesn't seem to be there, though, for the Mets and they will mostly just be eating up the clock until d'Arnaud and Wheeler arrive.
- By Michael Rushton, Contributing MLB Editor