Opening day is just a week away and it's time to get ready for a long summer of baseball, in what promises to be an exciting year. Traditional powers are seemingly down this year, and this year has the feel that just about anybody can make a cinderella run to the postseason. While I'm not going to predict that for the Mets, it also isn't impossible. But the Nationals are the clear team to beat in the NL East, and the Braves are improved with the addition of the Upton brothers, giving them one of the best outfields in baseball... and the outfield is a big topic of discussion for the Mets. Last year, the Mets went 74-88, had the NL Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey, and the first no-hitter in club history, even though it was a controversial one. The Mets hung around until the All-Star break, a surprising 46-40... before going 28-48 the rest of the way... OUCH. But last year is last year, and this is the time of year where hope Springs eternal... so without further ado...
The 5 Reasons the Mets Could Surprise in 2013...
1. The starting pitching, even without Santana starting the regular season on the DL as expected, can be a strength of this team. This is the first full year of Matt Harvey. And Harvey looked dominant at times last season and in the spring. He is a top of the rotation guy, and as long as he avoids the injury-bug, the Mets are looking to get 30+ starts out of him. Last year, he had a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts with 70 strikeouts in just 59.1 innings. he's a stud, and the Mets will give him more freedom in his starts now than they did when the brought him up last season. I mentioned Harvey first even though Jonathan Niese is the opening day starter. Niese had a fine 2012, got near 200 innings, a 3.40 ERA, and went 13-9. 13-9 isn't great, but he did it on a bad team. Niese is a pitcher on the rise. He should top all of those numbers this season. Behind him, Shawn Marcum was added. Marcum is a steady arm, went 7-4 last year with a 3.70 ERA in 124 innings. Marcum is the kind of pitcher who brings stability to the rotation, he's not a top of the rotation guy, and the Mets won't expect him to pitch like one. Dillon Gee has struggled this spring and even though he is in the rotation now, if he doesn't produce, he might find himself out of the rotation not too long into the season. At his best, Gee is a decent back-end of the rotation guy anyway. Ideally, if he has a future here, he will be a guy who will compete every 5th day and eat up 200 innings. If he doesn't, Jeremy Hefner, who will start the season in the rotation because of Santana, has had a great spring, he's been very efficient and a surprising 19 strikeouts in 20.1 innings with a 1.13 WHIP. If Hefner breaks out this year, he could be a strong fixture as a middle of the rotation starter in the future. But this rotation will make it's name on Zack Wheeler. The 6'4" right-hander is going to be ready to go in the rotation by June at the latest, more than likely, and the pitching future of this team looks to be in good hands with Niese, Harvey, and Wheeler, and Wheeler is probably going to be the best of the bunch. By the All-Star break, the Mets could feature a rotation of Niese, Harvey, Santana, Wheeler, and Marcum. Johan doesn't look to be ready to go until early May at the soonest. But if Johan can be a pretty good pitcher, all the better for the Mets. This team is looking to 2014 as the year they are targeting to have a perennial contender. By then, the kid gloves will be off for Wheeler, as they are now off for Harvey. And the better Johan pitches, the more likely the Mets can maybe move him for a good outfielder, even a prospect who is close to major league ready. This team is not counting on Santana any more, but he has a chance to make some final good memories here, help this team win some games, and either go to a contender, or hopefully help the Mets make a push.
The future of the rotation would look even better if Jennry Mejia is able to make the bigs and stick. He is another starter with a high ceiling for the Mets.
2. Ike Davis - The Valley Fever has passed. Even though Davis had a disappointing batting average last season at .227, he still hit 32 bombs and drove in 90 runs. This Spring, Davis has really worked on hitting the other way, helping him to beat the shift and to a .341 Spring average. I will say very confidently that Davis is going to be a better hitter this year. With the power production he's already enjoying, and more hits, with his glove, he will start to get recognition as one of, if not the best all-around first basemen in the NL (especially with Pujols being an Angel). Davis is not a .227 hitter. I don't really know around where he'll hit. But I feel pretty confident he is going to be a lot closer to a .280 hitter this year, and maybe better, than a .227 hitter. Look for Davis to top 30 homers again this season and drive in over 100 runs.
3. The Outfielders - Many think the Mets have the worst outfield in baseball. Time will tell, but this outfield is not devoid of talent. Lucas Duda is looking for a bounce back season. Duda was demoted last year for being terrible. Just all around terrible. He'll never be known for his glove, and he'll likely never be a guy that doesn't strike out a lot. But what he has is country strong power. And he appears to be hitting better now, after the work he's put in. The Mets will look to get him to hit around .260 to .275, and if he does that, fantastic. Because if he plays everyday in LF as he's expected to do, he has 35+ home run ability. Even Davis marvels at Duda's power. The Mets picked up Collin Cowgill in a trade, and the dimunitive one has tore up Spring, showing pop, intensity, and contact ability. Cowgill has batted .333 with a .397 OBP and 4 home runs this Spring. He's a gamer, I got to see him play in person and this guy will run out every ground ball, he will steal every bag he can, and he will put his face in the dirt if that's what it takes. The Mets sorely needed a player like him last year, and if he can carry over his Spring success to the regular season, he will be an enormous boost to this lineup and the clubhouse. Jordany Valdespin is another guy who will see time in the outfield and second base, particularly if Murphy isn’t ready on Opening Day. ‘Spin showed big power and a controversial personality last year that some vets didn’t like. But he can rake and that’s why he’ll have every chance to rub some people the wrong way even more at the Major League level. He’s tied with the club lead with four homeruns in the Spring. Showing huge power and just seems to hit the ball hard all the time. And he has speed, a team need. Get this, in the Spring he’s batted .327 with a .965 OPS. He’s still a bit of an enigma, and still needs some work with his defense. But the Mets figure to play him an awful lot in the early going, and he has the chance to put someone out of a job. Valdespin wasn’t really expected to make this team but he has played his way on it. No player on the Mets roster has the ceiling that Valdespin does. His talent is immense, if he can harness it, be a coachable player, and a good teammate. Finally Marlon Byrd is a reclamation project that is making Sandy Alderson look like a genius. Byrd looks to slot in to right field, and he’s hit .311 in the Spring. He’s 35 years old, and he doesn’t fit into long term plans, but he seems to have a renewed sense of vigor about him, just really covering the ball right now. And I think his confidence has been restored by Terry Collins challenging him. He is one of the better stories out of Mets’ camp. It may be too much to ask to see both Cowgill and ‘Spin take off as players, Duda to figure it out, and Byrd to re-vitalize his career. But if the Mets can find one star out of this group, they can and will have the flexibility to add a piece later if needed. And there are young players waiting in the wings. Wilmer Flores is getting some outfield reps, and he could get a late season call-up. Nieuwenheis is getting healthy and trying to re-capture his stroke and command of the strike zone. And Matt Den Dekker has the best outfield glove in the organization. He did just break his wrist, and his bat is not major league ready, but there is promise here.
4. Catchers – I’ll get to Travis d’Arnaud in a moment. But even with John Buck and Anthony Recker starting out the season, what the Mets have today both in terms of catching ability and production with the bat from the catcher position is much better this year. John Buck is a guy with big power, and is a veteran. He’s not going to be a player that people come to the ball park to see, but he will help this team, the young (and older) pitchers, and the power production alone will be a boost. He’s probably going to hit in the low .200’s and that’s ok. Because d’Arnaud is almost here. He’ll start the year in Vegas, where he should produce big numbers, and come to the big club in May with his confidence soaring. He is the whole package behind the plate. There is no catcher in the major leagues outside of Buster Posey that compares to him. And he makes the R.A. Dickey trade a win, and that is an amazing statement to make. R.A. Dickey, brings the Cy to Queens, maybe the most popular pitcher since Pedro Martinez or maybe even David Cone, who had maybe the most dominating 2 month pitching stretch in Mets history last year, and d’Arnaud makes that trade a win for the Mets. Sure, it’s a win for the Jays as well, but we’ll take a win-win to get a player who figures to be a 10 year starter behind the plate, and more than that, a perennial all-star catcher. When d’Arnaud gets to the big leagues, he is going to slot right in behind Davis more than likely, and you are looking at a very dangerous middle of the order in Wright, Davis, and d’Arnaud. I can’t wait to see this guy play.
5. David Wright - I could mention that we have the right manager here to make this thing work, a GM that seems to know what he’s doing, the blossoming of Daniel Murphy as a hitter and a second baseman, but I think I’ll go with Wright. Now he’s signed long term and is the captain of the team, deservedly so, looks to be almost ready for Opening Day, and he’s ready to lead. He has it all, the glove, batting average, and power. And he has the ability and confidence to give this team what it needs to make the next step. In short, Wright has graduated. He's turned into a guy who has struggled at times with his confidence and maybe the dimensions of Citi, to a player that is confident, and views himself as a leader as well as being looked upon as one. And he doesn't have to worry about a contract anymore. I didn’t always have the faith that Wright would blossom into the player he has, but I’m glad I was wrong about him. He has to be at his best this season. I’d be happy to see him repeat 2012, but if he has an even better year, he can propel this team to a winning season.
No, I’m not under any illusions this team is a 95-win team. But when d’Arnaud and Wheeler is here, if this rotation and lineup can be fully loaded by late May, this team could be tough to beat.
Five Reasons for More of the DisappointMets
1. Wheeler and d’Arnaud won’t come up until May at the earliest… to start the season, this rotation could be bad. I fully expect it will be better as Wheeler comes up and perhaps Santana gets healthy and contributes. But there won’t be a Santana in April, and no Wheeler either, and of course, no R.A. Dickey. So this rotation will be Niese and Harvey and some crossed fingers for awhile. Hopefully Marcum’s shoulder impingement isn’t a big concern. Hopefully Hefner’s strong Spring will translate, and hopefully Gee won’t be terrible. This team can’t afford to fall into a huge hole early, not from a mental standpoint. The Mets have to win on smoke and mirrors for awhile until the kids come up to contribute. The Mets are on a plan to really compete next year, and so they are preparing for that, and anything this year would be a pleasant surprise.
2. The ‘pen. Who knows what to expect. The Mets are saying good things about Parnell in the closer’s role, and they hope he can be rock solid at least until Frank Francisco is ready, and maybe beyond. But beyond that, Latroy Hawkins? Brandon Lyon? I do like Josh Edgin and Elvin Ramirez, but these guys are young. Maybe Darin Gorski and Jeurys Familia help out here, but they are young as well. Who is the set up man here? It looks to be a combination of Edgin for lefties out of the gate and maybe Brandon Lyon against righties. Francisco needs to get back in a hurry, and hopefully Familia is the real deal.
3. The Outfield – Just as there is plenty of potential in the outfield, there is also is a significant chance that Duda still won’t put it together, Cowgill proves to be nothing more than a 4th outfielder, Valdespin shows his immaturity and fails to reach his potential, and Marlon Byrd isn’t the 2010 version of Marlon Byrd again, but more of the 2011 and 2012 version, the Marlon Byrd that has little pop and a middling hitter. And more than likely, that is what he’ll be. And it’s pretty likely Baxter is just a 4th outfielder as well. It would be great if the Mets hit on Cowgill and Valdespin in a big way. But there’s probably a better than even chance the Mets will be looking to land a top outfield prospect or player before the trade deadline or in the offseason. Even with Jason Bay now not part of the outfield, it could remain a disaster. Fingers crossed.
4. The Injuries – David Wright should be ready for Opening Day. Emphasis on should. He needs to be over the intercostal strain on April 1st. The Mets don’t want to start the season without their newly named Captain. There’s a chance Murphy will be on the DL to start the season, and he is an important bat in the lineup. And of course, Santana, who is assured of missing at least the first 4 or 5 weeks of the season because of shoulder weakness. When Santana is pitching and pitching well, the team gets excited for his starts, and the team has a whole different feel. But without Santana, the feel is just about waiting for 2014. And it would be nice if Santana could win this year with the Mets. It’s probably too optimistic to feel he can come in and pitch great from mid-May on. But that’s my hope nonetheless. And as mentioned, Frank Francisco’s injury means that everyone moves up a slot in the bullpen.
5. The Wilpons - Lying morons still own this team. Same #5 as last year. Even though the reports are that the Mets are in a much better financial place now, and that there is flexibility with payroll, you have to be wary of these jerks throwing the plan that Alderson has set into motion into instability. If the Mets falter this year, will they operate in the best interests of the club? I hope so. The regime of Alderson and Terry Collins has given me hope. I think they are the right guys in the right position to build this team. But the Wilpons can turn any good situation into a complete FUBAR.
So here’s how your opening day lineup is likely going to look…
2. Ruben Tejada
3. David Wright
4. Ike Davis
5. Marlon Byrd
6. Lucas Duda
7. John Buck
1. Jonathan Niese
2. Matt Harvey
3. Shawn Marcum
4. Dillon Gee
5. Jeremy Hefner
Closer – Bobby Parnell
And a little ways into the season, hopefully we’ll see d’Arnaud right behind Davis, and Wheeler and Santana in that rotation, and things will look a lot better.
Prediction? Hard to predict a team that only won 74 times last season can improve on that after losing the NL Cy Young Award winner. And Bovada has the over at 74.5. But I think that this team will score more runs. I’m excited about the young bats, and I think the debut of Wheeler is going to do a tremendous amount of good for this team, so I think this team cracks .500. Give me 82-80. Bring on the games.
2013 Mets Season Warm-Up
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