2012 Previews: The New York Mets

2011 Record: 77-85, 4th NL East
2011 Prediction: 74-88, 4th NL East

Impact Player: 3B David Wright
Impact Pitcher:
LHP Jon Niese
Best Reliever:
RHP Frank Francisco
Top Prospect:
RHP Zack Wheeler

Last Year
The Mets newest front office regime, led by Sandy Alderson, has had to deal with a lot since taking over early in the 2010-2011 offseason. The ownership problems that were a problem at this time last year continue to hamper the team financially while the team has lost several key on-the-field pieces over the past year with the free agency of shortstop Jose Reyes and the trading of outfielder Carlos Beltran. Alderson and company are now officially embarking on a rebuild, which is ultimately a good thing long-term for the franchise, but the next few years could be painful.

The good news is that it appears Johan Santana is healthy once again after missing all of last season with shoulder problems, but not even a fully healthy Santana and a rebound from third baseman David Wright can bring this team out of the NL East cellar.

Only three NL teams gave up more runs in 2011 than the Mets. Without Santana, the rotation lacked a true number one, or number two for that matter and not even pitcher-friendly CitiField could help. If Santana can provide even some of his previously tremendous value, the Mets should allow fewer runs in 2012, but if he can’t stay healthy or sees a significant decline (he is 33, after all), things might not get much better.

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey had another solid year, pitching to a 3.28 ERA and a 2.5 fWAR. Aside from the fact that he’s one bad-ass daddy trucker, he’s also moulded himself into a pretty good pitcher. Given the relative lack of stress on his arm, there’s no reason not to think that it will continue even at his advanced age.

If Santana can’t find his form, the best pitcher on the team is probably lefthander Jon Niese who was rumoured to be on the trading block all winter. Niese led the pitching staff in fWAR thanks to excellent peripherals, but he has yet to show the ability to pitch to them. He’s just now entering his age-25 season so perhaps this is the year he takes that next step.

Mike Pelfrey had a difficult 2011, but the truth is, he was never as good as he looked at times in 2010. His K/BB ratio is routinely near the very worst in the league due to an inability to strike batters out and a rather middling walk-rate. The one thing he should give you is close to 200-innings of production; he’s logged at least 184 innings in each of his four full seasons.

The final spot will likely go to Dillon Gee who wasn’t awful in 160.2 innings as a rookie, but wasn’t what you would call ‘good’ either. The 26-year-old walks too many batters to be anything more than a back-end option. If he can’t hold it down or there’s an injury somewhere, Jeurys Familia, Jeremy Hefner and Jenrry Mejia are waiting in the wings, although Mejia will be out until at least May recovering from Tommy John’s surgery. Top prospects Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey are more likely to make an impact next season.

In about an hour during the Winter Meetings in early December, the Mets built the entire back-end of their 2012 bullpen. First they traded centerfielder Angel Pagan to the Giants and received outfielder Andres Torres and righthander Ramon Ramirez in return, and then they signed Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch who both played last season with the Blue Jays. Francisco figures to be the closer after a very good second-half with Toronto, while Rauch and Ramirez will set him up. Rauch had an awful year and has lost a lot of velocity on his fastball, which has rendered him mostly ineffective while Ramirez put up solid numbers in San Francisco, pitching to a 3.47 xFIP in 68.2 innings of work.

The other four spots in the ‘pen will go to incumbents Manny Acosta, Bobby Parnell, D.J. Carrasco and lefty Tim Byrdak who will miss the start of the season due to knee surgery. Acosta and Parnell were both decent last season and until the Mets acquired Francisco, it looked like Parnell might have been in line to be the closer. He managed to increase his strike out rate significantly, but also saw a spike in his walk-rate. Still, he keeps the ball on the ground enough to be a very effective middle reliever.

Until Byrdak returns, lefties Garrett Olson, Danny Ray Herrera and Chuck James will battle for the final spot. The ancient Miguel Batista and the versatile Pedro Beato will provide some depth as well.

The Mets offense was much better than their pitching in 2011, finishing sixth in the NL in runs scored in spite of the fact that they were 13th in home runs. The accomplished the feat by leading in NL in walks and finishing second in on-base percentage. They’ll be hard-pressed to repeat those heights in 2012 with the loss of Reyes and a full season with Beltran. Still, their lineup doesn’t look terrible and should be somewhat of a strength for the team.

If the Mets want any measure of success in 2012, they’ll need a better season from Wright. He has now posted calamitous defensive numbers three years in a row and his ability to stay at the hot corner long term has to be questioned. Offensively, Wright had a career-low 118 wRC+ and couldn’t stay healthy, playing in just 102 games. His batted-ball average was significantly lower than his career mark so there is some hope that with a return to healthy, Wright will bounce back.

Across the diamond at first base will be Ike Davis who played in just 36 games in 2011, but was excellent in them accumulating a 1.4 fWAR and a .391 wOBA. Obviously, the sample size is far too small to gleam any real information about Davis’ long-term ability, but provided he can stay on the field, he should at least be an average first baseman, if not a bit better.

The second base job will go to Daniel Murphy who finally showed some defensive ability at the position last year. He doesn’t walk much but is a near shoe-in to hit .300. Like most Mets, he needs to stay healthy. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Speaking of first basemen playing out of position, Lucas Duda is expected to break camp with the starting rightfield job. Duda is somewhat of a late bloomer, but there’s not much doubt that he’ll hit. In 100 major League games last year, he hit an impressive .292/.370/.482 with ten home runs. If he can hold his own in the outfield (which is doubtful), he should be a productive player. If Davis can’t stay on the field, he’ll move to first very quickly.

In the other corner outfield spot is Jason Bay who is still owed $35-million and has been downright awful for two full seasons. Last year he again had trouble staying healthy (are we surprised? He’s a Met!) and saw his wOBA fall to a career-worst .315. At least the Mets have moved the leftfield wall in which may help him hit an extra homerun or two and should prevent him from looking like a total lost cause defensively. Torres will take over for Pagan in centerfield, but 34-year-old late bloomers rarely bounce back after a bad season; he might end up losing his job to Kirk Nieuwenhuis who has the highest upside of any outfielder on the roster.

The starting catcher will be Josh Thole who gets on base at a decent clip but has no power to speak of. He’s also somewhat of a liability behind the plate. Mike Nickeas, Rob Johnson or Lucas May could end up taking over the everyday job if he struggles.

Finally, the starting shortstop is expected to be 22-year-old Ruben Tejada who looks like he could be at least an average everyday shortstop going forward. He knows how to take a walk and made up for his lack of power by hitting a high percentage of line drives which upped his BABIP. Whether or not that’s sustainable is yet to be seen, but the Mets could do much worse.

Nickeas, Johnson and May will battle for the backup catcher job with Nickeas appearing to have the inside track while Mike Baxter will provide depth at first and in the corner outfield spots. Ronny Cedeno and Justin Turner are expected to make the team as extra infielders who could push Tejada if he struggles at short while veteran Scott Hairston is back as the fourth outfielder, but may miss the start of the year with an injury. If he does, Adam Loewen or Nieuwenhuis could step in.

For a more detailed look at the Mets roster, click here.

The Mets have a number of problems, but their biggest one has been the failure to recognize health as a skill. As a result, many key pieces are massive injury risks and there’s a good chance many of them will see significant DL time. In a tough division with an already razor-thin margin of error due to a lack of overall talent, New York could be in for a long year. It will take at least another season or two before the fruits of the new regime’s labour will start to show up at the Major League level.

2012 Prediction: 68-94, 5th NL East