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Springtime storylines: Will the Mets look the same in September?

Mar 27, 2011, 9:14 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: The Sandy Alderson-led New York Mets.

The Big Question: Will the Mets look the same in September?

There are many questions facing the Mets this season, but this is probably the most relevant one. In addition to the tenuous ownership situation and the pending Madoff lawsuit — more on that later — the Mets have a number of players who may find themselves in different uniforms before the end of the season.

Jose Reyes, now the longest-tenured Met, is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career this winter. New GM Sandy Alderson has repeatedly said that he would like to see how the shortstop performs before discussing a potential contract extension, but there is some risk attached to a bounceback season. Reyes doesn’t turn 28 until June, so taking into account his dynamic ability at the shortstop position, he could find $100 million on the open market, potentially pricing the Mets out of the bidding.

If the Mets are out of things this summer, Alderson may seriously have to consider trading Reyes before the deadline. While it would be a bold and polarizing move — in fact, it would probably define Alderson’s tenure as general manager in New York — many projected contenders (Red Sox, Reds, Twins, Athletics, Giants) would likely have interest.

And now we move to Carlos Beltran, who is also in the final year of his contact. This is a pretty simple one to understand. If his knees hold up with the move to right field, he’ll be an attractive piece for a contender, especially in the American League, where he could be used at DH. The no-trade clause could allow him to decide his destination, but I think he’s more likely to go than Reyes.

Perhaps the most interesting situation to watch is how the Mets will handle Francisco Rodriguez, whose $17.5 million option for 2012 becomes guaranteed if he finishes 55 games. While the Mets would be wise to limit his appearances to just save opportunities, you can bet that the MLBPA will be watching their every move. K-Rod can block deals to 10 clubs, but the best solution might be to trade him to a situation where he will not be saving games, thus ensuring that his new team will not be on the hook for 2012.

Of course, none of this will matter if the Mets can hang around in the standings. Expectations are pretty low right now, but if Reyes and Beltran stay healthy and Jason Bay can return to form, new manager Terry Collins will field one of the better lineups in the National League. Reyes, Pagan, Wright, Beltran, Bay, Davis. That’s a pretty good top six. Remember, on-base blackholes Jeff Francoeur, Rod Barajas, Gary Matthews Jr. and Alex Cora combined for 966 plate appearances last season, so it might not take much for them to be better, at least offensively.

So what else is going on?

  • Oh yeah, the starting rotation. That might not be as good. Johan Santana hasn’t even pitched off a mound yet and the best-case scenario is that he’ll return somewhere around the All-Star break. That leaves Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Chris Young and Chris Capuano holding things down for the foreseeable future. While offseason additions Young and Capuano have looked pretty good this spring, it’s hard to rely on them given their past injury issues. Dickey has quickly become a fan favorite, but there are questions about whether he’ll be able to repeat his success from last season. Do they have the potential to surprise? Yes. But this staff is no match for the Phillies and Braves or even the Marlins.
  • Following the release of Luis Castillo, the Mets appear poised to give the second base job to Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, someone who has never played in a major league game. He put up some solid numbers with Triple-A Las Vegas last season, but played his home games in Cashman Field, a place that is known to inflate offense. The options aren’t great if Emaus falls flat on his face — Daniel Murphy, Chin-lung Hu and Justin Turner, among others  — but it’s a nice change of pace to see the Mets take a chance on a young, cheap asset as opposed to repeating past mistakes.
  • The new front office let Type-B free agent Pedro Feliciano walk over the winter, which netted them a supplemental draft pick in June’s First-Year Player Draft. While it will be darn near impossible to replace Feliciano’s durability in the bullpen, his exit was met with overwhelming approval from a fanbase that would like to see the Mets build through the draft. Alderson has indicated a willingness to go overslot in order to sign draft picks — a strategy used by many other clubs — so it will be interesting to see how they spend, especially given the current ownership situation.
  • Did you hear the Wilpons are having some cash flow issues and are trying to sell a minority part of the team? OK, cool. Thought you may have missed it. I don’t want to speak for too many Mets fans, because I’m sure there are those who obsess over it, but I can tell you there’s already some Madoff fatigue going on here. I have no idea where this situation is headed — the Wilpons might have to sell the team completely before long — but the games will be a welcome distraction, at least for a little while.

So how are they going to do?

If all goes well with the big “ifs” — Reyes, Beltran, Bay and Santana — the Mets could be in the conversation for the Wild Card. That probably won’t happen, though. I tend to think they’ll be right around .500, finishing ahead of the Nationals, but only good enough for a third straight fourth place finish.

  1. cur68 - Mar 27, 2011 at 9:37 PM

    “they’ll be right around .500″.
    I admire optimism as much as the next man lads, but this is a bit much. I’m not jumping on the “bash the Mets” train either, here. I don’ believe in going for low hanging fruit. However, while I hope you are right, I don’t see it. The atmosphere in New York is too much of a cloud to have these guys playing under to expect anything less than failure from them. They’ll finish behind the National and it gives me no pleasure to say this. I wish them well and hope I’m wrong.

    • Ari Collins - Mar 27, 2011 at 10:29 PM

      The National are a good band, and it’s no shame to finish behind them.

      Also, I’m pretty sure that the talent on hand, and the talent’s health, matters more than a cloudy New York atmosphere.

      • cur68 - Mar 27, 2011 at 11:07 PM

        Hi Ari; I base what I say on the experience I saw with the Phoenix Coyotes NHL club. Under ownership issues, poorly coached, & troubled financially, they sucked so hard you could the giant straw at the bottom of the milkshake cup. That team was tremendously talented but it took a change in coach and team attitude before they dramatically stopped sucking and started winning. Unless the poor beleaguered Mets have a dynamite manager to will them along, they are in for a rough season, IMO. Do you think Terry Collins is such a manager? I hope so.

      • Ari Collins - Mar 28, 2011 at 12:07 AM

        Maybe hockey managers make more of a difference? I don’t think managers make much of a difference to the bottom line wins and losses each year in baseball, personally. I’m not saying they’re not important, just that they don’t cause a 5-10 game swing in the standings. They can get more or less out of the talent on hand, but it’s the talent that’s most important.

        I mean, the Mets did win 79 games last year, with Jerry Manuel. I don’t know anything really about Terry Collins, but I don’t think I’ve heard people say he’s a BAD manager, and with a little bit more health, I think the Mets will probably win a few more games this year. .500, or mayb even a few games better, seems reasonable to me!

  2. chrisny3 - Mar 27, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    Excellent writeup and very accurate, D.J. I only disagree with the conclusion.

    Some writers who like to inflame the fan base are speculating about a fire sale, but it won’t happen. I agree that Beltran might be traded, however, if he has a good year, and that’s because his bum knees make him best suited to a DH role. K-Rod’s option is likely to vest unless he gets hurt, but he seems to be in great shape and is pitching extremely well this spring.

    As for the conclusion, I think the Mets will win a minimum of around 88 games this season, which is probably good for at least 3rd place. That is, unless they suffer the devastating amount of injuries they had during 2009 and 2010. But I don’t think that will happen as it’s unlikely any team is that unlucky 3 years in a row. While Capuano and Young are coming off of injuries, both are healthy now and the Mets don’t expect more than 50 starts out of the two anyway (according to Warthen), so they have depth in Gee, Bonser and, later in the year, perhaps Santana and Mejia to fill the void.

    I love it that everyone is underestimating the Mets, even going so far as to predict a last place finish. The doubters will be proven wrong.

    • Old Gator - Mar 28, 2011 at 1:09 AM

      They’re not doubters. They’re looking pretty clearheadedly at a pisspoor team with a lot of long injury histories to what pass for key players. They’re better by subtraction for the loss of Ollie and Castillo, but that won’t make the difference. The Feelies alone will probably pin ten to twelve losses on them at a minimum. The Reds and Cardinals are good for four or five more each. The Brewers – look out for those guys – could sweep them without any problem. The Braves could take 10 of 18 and even the Feesh could take 10 of 18 if their rotation stays healthy. With Santana out till July at best, this team will be well out of contention by the All Star break. The Mutts have a good two years ahead of them to reconstitute themselves, dump inertial payroll and find a way out of the financial wilderness before they’re in any sort of position to turn around. The rotation is easily the worst of it, and clearly this non-contending team, if it has learned anything from its payroll peccadilloes, is going to try to unload K-Rod, his inflated vesting threat and his embarrassing personal antics, thus reducing – for the time being – its bullpen to the approximate level of its starting rotation. Dream on, by all means – even the survivors of the Titanic got picked up the next morning.

      • chrisny3 - Mar 28, 2011 at 9:08 AM

        LOL, let me start by repeating something I told you a few weeks ago. The fish will end up this season peering at the “Mutts” butts. Enjoy the view. Even saying the fish will finish third is overrating that watered down bunch. Apart from Johnson, Hanley and Stanton, there’s not much to really like. The Mets pitching staff had a better ERA last year than the Marlins, and I don’t expect that to change this year. Javier Vazquez? Haha! His fastball lost 3 mph last year alone, and at age 35, it will likely only get worse. Not to mention he has the mental makeup of a worm.

        Now for my “Mutts” … They have one of the most talented lineups in the division. Park adjusted, their offense will likely be one of the best, with improved production and wOBA over last year from 2B, catcher, RF and LF, assuming Bay plays nearly a full season.

        In terms of the pitching, a full year of Capuano/Young/Dickey vs. having Maine/Perez/Misch in the rotation is enough of a bump to offset the loss of Santana. No one is going to try to “unload K-Rod” who could very easily be the best closer in the division and who will probably see his option vest.

        So, yes, the Mets’ turnaround has already started and will manifest itself on the field this year (again, barring a boatload of injuries), while your fish will be at its rightful preordained place in the division – near the bottom of the barrel (4th or 5th place).

        Finally, thank you for giving me this opportunity to be able to look back at Old Gator’s words at the end of the season and laugh at you.

      • Ari Collins - Mar 28, 2011 at 10:21 AM

        The issue is that you’re very unlikely to see “a full year of Capuano/Young/Dickey”.

      • chrisny3 - Mar 28, 2011 at 10:43 AM

        Ari, you’re 2/3’s right. Dickey should be good to go the entire year. Capuano and Young, not. I should have said: Capuano/Young/Dickey/Gee/Bonser/Mejia for an entire year vs. Perez/Maine/Misch/Valdez/Nieve is enough of a bump to offset the loss of Santana.

      • BC - Mar 28, 2011 at 12:11 PM

        Gator, your inspiring speech makes me want to eat a bullet. Unfortunately I own a .38, which while enhancing the splatter effect would take all of the fun out of it. I don’t suppose they have arsenic down at the local Walgreens, do they?

      • Old Gator - Mar 28, 2011 at 1:11 PM

        In that oddly puerile-sounding, delusional fanboy world you inhabit, you also conveniently neglect to admit that I’ve been pretty reasonable – and not nearly as mindlessly rah-rah – about the Feesh as you tend to be about the Mutts. Sure, there are lots of things to go wrong with either team, but none of the Feesh’s key people are as frangible or dysfunctional as the Mutts’ key people. A goodly bit of that inflated ERA the Feesh peetchers posted last season departed with Andrew Miller, Rick Vanden Hurk and a bunch of relievers – and also includes a fair dollop of Ricky Nolasco’s pre-senddown travail from the early part of the season, after which he was pretty much lights out. It also includes Anibal Sanchez’s readjustment period following his return from a year on the DL. Seen his numbers this Spring? There’s as much, if not more, of a chance that if he stays healthy, he’ll be a colossal swing factor. Even so, there’s nothing as close to an Anton Chigurh coin flip about any of the Feesh, even Coghlan, as, say, Beltran’s knees, Reyes’ head or Santana’s arm. As far as managers, if that’s a factor, the teams are dead even: both have boring, by-the-book company men at the helm. It’s a wash. All things being equal, no one is going to be looking up at the Mutts except the Gnats in October.

      • Old Gator - Mar 28, 2011 at 1:18 PM

        BC – save your bullets till all the fudge factors are resolved, then use them, Misrata hospital plaza style, on the Feelies and Bravos. In a couple of years, Alderson – who has made the hard decisions this spring – will have a great shot to turn things around. And by then the Wilpon-Picard fiasco will have played itself out, and chances are the team will either belong to someone else or someone will have squirted its coffers full of wish money.

        If you want to whack yourself, do it slowly and purposefully. Go on down to Sammy’s Roumanian and have a big bowl of chopped liver with greeven and schmaltz, with a sauropod steak chaser and a gobstopper of steak fries. Wash it all down with an egg cream made at the table, a few glasses of Chateau la Drech, and a couple of rugelach for dessert. Yes, you’ll still die, eventually, but it will taste much better than a bullet.

      • chrisny3 - Mar 28, 2011 at 4:01 PM

        fish boy, reply right below.

    • chrisny3 - Mar 28, 2011 at 4:00 PM

      Priceless. King of the extremely lame and juvenile nickname-for-everyone-and-everything shtick calling someone “puerile” … LOL (just for you). To top it off, here’s someone accusing someone else of living in a “delusional fanboy world” but has enough faith in an obscure prediction of a unlikely Marlins second-place finish to actually promote it here, then tries to argue that Infante doesn’t represent a big overall downgrade from Uggla … LMAO (that’s just for you, too).

      Another indication of “delusional fanboyism” – the fan of a team that has Loria as an owner calling Mets owners “frangible and dysfunctional” LMAO … then implies the owner, once the talent level and payroll have been set, has an impact on the team. (OK, there’s a kernel of truth there as evidenced by the time Loria went out of control, going at an umpire and pissing off his own manager.)

      Here’s the kicker – the guppies fan then goes on to point out A. Sanchez’ good spring numbers to try to pump up his boys, but then doesn’t mention the ghastly spring numbers of Nolasco, Volstad, Sanabia, Vazquez, and even Johnson. Live by the sword, die by the sword!

      You’re desperate, fish boy … trying to call out Reye’s head. LOL. He’s already shown when he’s healthy, his head is just dandy and he can be an elite shortstop. As for Beltran’s knees and Santana’s arm, the Mets aren’t counting on getting full healthy seasons from both of them. So anything they do get out of the two will be gravy.

      By season’s end, the fish will be fighting to stay out of the cellar and staring up at the “Mutts” butts.

  3. mrznyc - Mar 28, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    The good luck Bernie Madoff brought to Mets fans hasn’t completely played out yet as Fred & Jeff are still behind the wheel. That has to change pretty soon and Mets fans will be able to turn the page on the horrible stewardship that is the Wilpons – A crowd more obsessed with the Dodgers than the Mets. The debt/liability load this team carries is up in the Billions. That’s a lot of overpriced beer and hot dogs. There is no way out and there is no room for maneuver so nothing can/will be done until the team is sold. That is simply the hard, cold fact.

  4. sdelmonte - Mar 28, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    Wow. An honest, calm assessment of things in notShea. Oh for more of these.

    I think you are underrating the rotation, though. At season’s end, the Mets were seeing quality starts most nights. A great rotation? No. One that I think can deliver something good. Yes.

  5. tsi431 - Mar 28, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    I actually believe the Braves are the team to beat in our division, not the Phillies. The Phillies are the new Mets. The injuries will derail the Phillies due to age and bad contracts. Still, they will do better then us, but I am seeing the Mets 3rd place 90 wins.

    Heck going into the last series before all star break we were only 3 games back. Then Bay went out, Rodriguez beat up his father-in-law, still no Beltran, Santana out. Reyes just getting healthy. I see a much improved team, but just missing out on postseason.

  6. yankeesfanlen - Mar 28, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    Seems like I’m bashing through the NL-AL Twilight Zone. Are the people who propose 88-90 wins for the Metropolitans the same ones who post it for the Yankees?If so, there’s something pretty strange in the water in certain jurisdictioins in the metro area.

  7. Ari Collins - Mar 28, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    Reyes’ 2012 option makes him more valuable to other teams than he is to the unlikely-to-compete Mets. IF he’s healthy and IF the Mets decide to trade him, there should be an interesting market for him during the summer.

    • D.J. Short - Mar 28, 2011 at 10:31 AM

      Reyes’ option was for 2011, which was exercised by the Mets. He’ll be a free agent this winter.

    • chrisny3 - Mar 28, 2011 at 10:48 AM

      As DJ said, there is no 2012 option. I don’t see a likely scenario for trading Reyes. If nothing else, Alderson will not want to deal with the backlash from trading one of the team’s most popular players in-season and so will settle for the compensation pick if he has to.

    • Ari Collins - Mar 28, 2011 at 12:19 PM

      Thanks for the correction! I was surprised to “learn” that, and it turns out the surprise was well-earned. : )

  8. BC - Mar 28, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    78 wins, tops. And if they ditch Reyes and Beltran (which they should) they’ll be closer to 70. They’re going to stink on ice. I still don’t get the Ike Davis thing – the guy hit .255 or something last year. He’s not Albert Pujols. And you won’t see Santana pitch until after the All Star break if at all this year. This team is BAD.
    Elwood: The motor. We’ve thrown a rod.
    Jake: Is that serious?
    Elwood: Yup.

  9. mrznyc - Mar 31, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    This is a Mets article so we obviously have a lot of the faithful posting – BUT – The rosy view of loyal fans can’t obscure the fact that this is, and has always been, a team without a center. There is no leader in the clubhouse or on the field. Yes, there are a few talented players but this has never been a cohesive unit. Listen to Ron and Keith and you hear what leadership should be (and must have been back in the day), but that is nowhere to be found on this team. Couple that with the mess the Wilpons have made of just about everything, the injuries, the division they’re in, and you have a recipe for failure. Don’t like to say it, but there it is.
    -z-

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