2011 New York Mets: The loss of Santana and too many weird off-field stories will ruin the campaign

2010 Record: 79-83, 4th NL East
2010 Prediction: 81-81, 4th NL East
Diff: 2
2011 Prediction: 4th NL East

Impact Player: 3B David Wright
Impact Pitcher: LHP Mike Pelfrey
Best Reliever: RHP Francisco Rodriguez
Top Prospect: RHP Jenrry Mejia

General Manager: Sandy Alderson
Manager: Terry Collins (1st Season)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP D.J. Carrasco, RHP Taylor Buchholz, C Ronny Paulino, OF Scott Hairston, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Chris Young

Significant Departures:
OF Jeff Francoeur, INF Alex Cora, OF/1B Chris Carter, LHP Hisanori Takahashi, LHP Pedro Feliciano, RHP Elmer Dessens

Most of the media attention on the Mets this offseason had nothing to do with player acquisitions or the team’s on-field product, but with a scandal involving the their ownership group which has forced 25% of the team to be put up for sale.  Allegedly, Major League Baseball had to bail out the Mets last November to cover basic operating costs.

The scandal forced the Mets out of any major offseason bidding on free agents and their team remains largely unchanged from the end of last season.  New GM Sandy Alderson has inherited a job where the financial stability of ownership is most definitely in question and that’s never a good thing for a GM trying to make an impression.  The biggest move he made this offseason was naming Terry Collins his new manager in hopes that he’ll bring some much needed fire to the Mets clubhouse.  Unfortunately, they probably needed more talent than fire.

Starting Rotation
With ace Johan Santana out until at least July recovering from shoulder surgery, the Mets may find it extremely difficult to compete this season.  Santana was very good last year before being shut down going 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA and a 3.54 FIP.  His strikeout numbers tanked, most likely because of his injury, but he was still able to adjust and be effective.  That bodes well for his return mid-season.

In the meantime, Mike Pelfrey will assume the role as staff ace.  Pelfrey was solid last year going 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA and 3.82 FIP.  He doesn’t strikeout many batters, but he keeps the ball in the park and his walk numbers aren’t out of control.  Ideally, he’s a good number three or four, but he’ll have to step up if the Mets want to stand a chance at being competitive in 2011.

24-year-old lefty Jon Niese was okay last season in his first full campaign.  He posted a decent 2.39 K/BB ratio and kept the ball on the ground, but he’s hardly ready to be a top-of-the-rotation talent just yet, if ever.

R.A. Dickey came out of obscurity to post a career year in 2010 at the age of 35.  Dickey is a knuckleballer but has a fastball that he’ll mix in about 15-20% of the time.  He can also hit 86-87 mph with the fastball which is unheard of for a knuckleballer.  The knuckleball itself is much harder than most often hitting marks in the upper 70s.  For all his weirdness as a pitcher, Dickey figured it out last year posting a 2.84 ERA and 3.65 FIP.  A normal pitcher repeating those numbers at his age is nearly impossible, but knuckleballers are a weird breed; he could maintain some level of success going forward, but either way his ERA should come closer to his FIP in 2011.

The final two spots in the Mets’ rotation are being hotly contested in the Spring.  Chris Young is one of a couple reclamation projects in the organization having made only 36 major-league starts since 2007.  If his shoulder problems are a thing of the past, he could be a nice fit at the back of this rotation.

Top prospect Jenrry Mejia will be in the mix for a rotation spot as well.  He had a bullpen audition at the beginning of 2010 with the big club and wasn’t good.  His strike out numbers didn’t translate from the minors and the Mets optioned him to AA in June.  At only 20-years-old, he was the youngest player to make an Opening Day roster last year.  He found himself back in the majors late in the year and made a couple starts before an injury shut him down.  He had arm injuries twice last year which has to concern the Mets, but his ceiling is very high.  The front office has said that they would like Mejia to build up his innings total in AAA this season which means his impact could come in 2012.  If he can’t get footing as a starter then he could be a dominating reliever.

Other candidates for the final two spots in the rotation include left-handers Oliver Perez and Pat Misch who could both end up in the bullpen since there aren’t many other southpaw options.  Right-hander Taylor Buchholz is also in the mix, but would likely also be better served coming out of the ‘pen.  Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano, Josh Stinson and non-roster invites Boof Bonser and Tobi Stoner are also in the conversation.

Bullpen
Francisco Rodriguez is a terrific reliever, but like a lot of current Mets’ storylines, the K-Rod story has a disturbing twist.  After injuring himself allegedly beating on his father-in-law in a Mets’ press box last season, the Mets tried to void the remaining time on his contract to no avail.  If he refocuses and can push past the off-field stuff, K-Rod is still a dominating force.  He had a 2.20 ERA and 2.63 FIP last season to go along with 25 saves.

In the eighth inning, the Mets will turn to one of two righties in Manny Acosta and Bobby Parnell.  Acosta had a 2.95 ERA and struck out over a batter an inning in 2010 and probably has the stuff to close if Rodriguez’s off-field situation is still an issue.  Parnell is a converted starter who could end up back in the rotation at some point, but had a 2.83 ERA and stupidly good peripherals in 2010.  He finished with a 2.25 FIP.

Veteran D.J. Carrasco was signed to a two-year deal in the offseason after splitting last year with the Pirates and Diamondbacks.  Carrasco has turned himself into a solid reliever and will fit in nicely behind K-Rod, Acosta, and Parnell.

Buchholz, Perez, and Misch could round out the ‘pen, but they will be pushed by some non-roster players like Blaine Boyer, Tim Byrdak, Ryoto Igarashi, Taylor Tankersley and the ultimate reclamation project Jason Isringhausen who wants to make a comeback at the age of 38.

Catchers
After being called up from AAA-Buffalo last season, 24-year-old Josh Thole stepped in and played well.  He displayed a patient approach and very quickly accumulated a 1.4 WAR in only 73 games.  He finished with a .327 wOBA and a .277/.357/.366 slash line, which doesn’t exactly light the world on fire but for a catcher will do nicely.

If Thole regresses, the Mets signed Ronny Paulino who’s more than capable of handling the workload of a full-time catcher.  He proved to be a decent defensive catcher in 2010 and has played more than 80 games four times in his career.

Minor-league veteran Mike Nickeas is also around and is an outstanding defensive player, but has never been able to hit for long stretches of time.  He did, however, have a .386 wOBA in AA last year.

Veteran Raul Chavez will also provide some minor-league depth as he did last season for the Blue Jays organization.

Infielders
Third baseman David Wright proved his 2009 power-outage was an aberration hitting 29 homeruns in 2010, but his defence was awful for the second straight year.  He’s still a very good player, but he seems to have fallen off from his superstar status.  After averaging 6.7 WAR per season from 2005-2008, Wright has averaged just 3.8 WAR over the last two years.

Shortstop Jose Reyes appears to be healthy for the first time in a couple years which could mean a return to being the player he was from 2006-2008 when he averaged 5.7 WAR per season.  He played in 133 games last year but saw his walk-rate plummet which brought his wOBA down to its lowest mark since 2005.  Another indication that he wasn’t healthy last year was his lack of range on defence and the fact that he only stole 30 bases.  That may sound like a good number, but Reyes averaged 64.5 stolen bases in his first four years as a regular.

A lot of the Mets’ success or failure in 2011 is tied up in these two players; it’s no coincidence that the Mets were far more competitive when they were playing at their best.

At first base is Ike Davis who impressed in his rookie season posting a .264/.351/.440 slash line with 19 homeruns.  The Mets believe he will develop more power as he gets more comfortable at the major-league level.  Davis was also one of the best fielding first basemen in the NL accumulating a 10.1 UZR.

At second base is veteran Luis Castillo who is not good enough to be a regular anymore.  Last season he posted a regrettable .235/.337/.267 slash line and only stole 8 bases.  Health is certainly his biggest issue, but at 35 it’s clear he should no longer be starting.  The problem is, the Mets don’t really have a viable replacement at the moment.  Daniel Murphy missed most of last season and is barely a good first baseman or left fielder, let alone a second baseman while Luis Hernandez doesn’t hit enough to be a regular and has the defensive versatility to come off the bench; something Castillo does not have.

Brad Emaus was a Rule-5 draft pick from Toronto and could get an extended look.  If he proves capable of handling the position and proves he can hit, he might get a shot.

21-year-old Ruben Tejada needs a bit more time to develop his bat in the minors.

Outfielders
With multiple knee injuries under his belt, including one that he’s working his way through currently, Carlos Beltran decided it was in his best (and the team’s best) interest to move from center to rightfield which will hopefully keep him healthier.  The 34-year-old has been hated-on by Mets’ fans for a few years, but the fact remains that he is an excellent player when healthy.  If his knees are okay, he could put up some big numbers in 2011.

With Beltran’s move to rightfield, Angel Pagan finally has a regular spot in centerfield.  Pagan had a breakout year in 2010 with a .290/.340/.425 slash line to go along with 11 homeruns and 37 stolen bases.  He’s also more than capable of handling centerfield defensively.

Canadian Jason Bay is attempting to make his way back from a concussion, but even if he does, the Mets will soon realize just how bad of an idea it was to sign Bay to that massive contract last winter.  He’s not a bad player, but he’s being paid like a superstar; which he is not.

Veteran Scott Hairston and Murphy will be on the bench and both will see time on the outfield this season.  The final bench spot could go to another player capable of playing in the outfield with names such as Lucas Duda and Jason Pridie at the Mets’ spring training camp.

Fernando Martinez is also still around and is running out of time to prove that he’s anything more than a fourth outfielder in-waiting.

Hey look, it’s a chart detailing all you need to know statistically about the 2011 Mets!

 

Overview
With Santana out until July, the starting rotation lacks a true front-line talent and overall depth which will automatically put this team behind the 8-ball.  Beltran, Wright, and Reyes all need to get back to producing the way they did a few years ago and if they don’t, the Mets may find themselves in a battle with the Nationals for last place.  Either way, they don’t have the pitching to compete with the giants of the NL East.
Final Prediction: 74-88, 4th NL East

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