Skip to content

Springtime Storylines: How long will the Mets spend in baseball purgatory?

Mar 30, 2012, 9:30 PM EST

Sandy Alderson AP AP

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The New York Mets.

The Big Question: How long will the Mets spend in baseball purgatory?

How much hope can there be for a team who is coming off three straight losing seasons, slashed payroll by a record amount and let their best player, Jose Reyes, sign with a division rival? Not a whole lot. The Marlins and Nationals are on the rise while the Braves are bringing back most of the same players and the Phillies still have “The Big Three.” Realistically, finishing in fourth place would be both a surprise and a significant accomplishment.

Most Mets fans have resigned themselves to this gloomy short-term fate, but this month’s settlement with Irving Picard in the Madoff case has at least changed the tone a little. The Mets’ owners were also able to close sales of 12 minority shares in the team, repaying loans to MLB and Bank of America in the process. The focus is back on the players on the field for the most part. However, this infusion of cash doesn’t mean the Mets will sign Cole Hamels or Matt Cain next winter. The intention was to cover team debt and operating expenses (or losses). And with expectations pretty low, attendance is likely to suffer once again. There’s also the team’s annual interest bond payments on Citi Field. I’ll admit there’s a lot we don’t know about their situation — for instance, what impact will the Dodgers’ sale have on their ability to refinance? — but it doesn’t look like the Mets’ owners are out of the woods yet.

I don’t think that the Mets need a mega payroll to contend again, but Sandy Alderson’s flexibility figures to be limited in the short-term. Johan Santana and Jason Bay are still owed a total of $90 million on their contracts. That’s a tremendous amount of payroll dedicated to just two players, so it’s unlikely they will make any major signings until those players are officially off the books. Of course, doling out massive long-term contracts is what got them into this mess in the first place.

The Mets will probably remain in this weird state of baseball purgatory until around 2014, but this is still a very important period of evaluation for the on-field product. This is the time to find out whether homegrown players like Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese and Josh Thole will play significant roles on the next contending team in Queens. With top prospects like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jeurys Familia inching closer to the big leagues, the Mets may actually have a pretty good (and cheap) core for the future.

What else is going on?

  • The Mets altered the dimensions and heights of the fences at Citi Field over the winter in an effort to make the park play more neutral. David Wright‘s old sweet spot in right-center field was moved in by 17 feet while Jason Bay will no longer have to put up with the 16-foot high “Great Wall of Flushing” in left field. I’ve heard the argument that Mets’ hitters will get a psychological lift with the changes and I suppose that’s true to a certain degree, but I’m not sure that gives them any real advantage. If the Mets’ pitching is bad and the opposing hitters are better, well, it doesn’t matter where the fences are.
  • I wouldn’t have believed this if you had told me even a month ago, but it appears Johan Santana will take the ball on Opening Day. While his velocity was down in his most recent outing, the rehabbing southpaw has a 3.44 ERA and 13/7 K/BB ratio over 18 1/3 inning this spring and hasn’t had any setbacks with his surgically repaired shoulder. He probably isn’t anything more than a six- or seven-inning pitcher right now, but it would be a huge boost if he could make even 20-25 starts.
  • You know how Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez were discussed as trade possibilities last year? Now it’s David Wright’s turn. The only difference is that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to deal him. At least right now. Wright can void his $16 million option for 2013 in the event of a trade while the new CBA stipulates that the acquiring team would not be able to offer him arbitration as a free agent. However, if the Mets pick up the option and trade him next offseason, the acquiring team would be able to offer him arbitration since he would spend the full season with his new club. In other words, don’t look for a trade unless the Mets are blown away by a desperate contender. I still think there’s a chance the Mets will keep him for the long haul, though.
  • The bullpen was the only area of the team that was improved over the winter. Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch were added as free agents while Ramon Ramirez was acquired from the Giants in the Angel Pagan deal. Francisco has looked terrible this spring and Rauch is on the decline, but they should be better than a group which was 28th in the majors last year with a 4.33 ERA and was a complete disaster after the All-Star break.
  • R.A. Dickey. That’s all.

How are they gonna do?

Oddly, for a team that is projected to finish last by nearly every baseball writer out there, the Mets entered camp with every spot in the lineup and rotation pretty much settled. The big issue, aside from a very shaky defense, is that they have little-to-no depth beyond those projected starters, especially in regard to the rotation. The Mets actually look like a pretty respectable team at the moment, but injuries at key positions could set them back in a big way. And I don’t think they have the reinforcements to compete in an improved division. I’m predicting 70-74 wins and a last-place finish.

Latest Posts
  1. The 2015 Hall of Fame ballot is out — Randy Jonson, Pedro Martinez are new on the ballot

    Nov 24, 2014, 11:03 AM EST

    Boston Red Sox Getty Images

    Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson should be shoe-ins. But which newbies — and which holdovers — also have a shot?

  2. Twins hire new pitching coach Neil Allen from Rays’ minors

    Nov 24, 2014, 10:47 AM EST

    neil allen

    Allen was the Triple-A pitching coach for the Rays from 2007-2014.

  3. Sandoval and the Red Sox is not done yet, but . . .

    Nov 24, 2014, 10:33 AM EST

    Pablo Sandoval AP

    I assume it will only be a matter of time.

  4. Before you go citing 2011 . . .

    Nov 24, 2014, 8:57 AM EST

    Best Team

    It’s easy to say “it didn’t work before, so it won’t work this time,” but doing so is to misread the current situation with the Boston Red Sox.

  5. So what would the Red Sox look like with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval?

    Nov 24, 2014, 6:38 AM EST

    red sox logo

    It could happen. It could happen as early as today, folks.

  6. Report: Red Sox finalizing a 5-year, $90 million deal with Hanley Ramirez

    Nov 23, 2014, 11:41 PM EST

    hanley ramirez getty Getty Images

    The Red Sox and Hanley Ramirez will finalize a deal on Monday in the range of five years and $90 million, according to Ken Rosenthal.

  7. Astros showing interest in David Robertson

    Nov 23, 2014, 11:10 PM EST

    Reuters David Robertson Reuters

    The Astros, in the market for a top-end closer, have spoken to the agent of David Robertson.

  8. MLB players react to Odell Beckham, Jr. catch on Sunday Night Football

    Nov 23, 2014, 10:20 PM EST

    Odell Beckham Jr. Odell Beckham Jr.

    Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. made a ridiculous catch on Sunday Night Football. MLB players reacted to it on Twitter.

  9. Rangers have spoken with the Braves about Justin Upton

    Nov 23, 2014, 9:35 PM EST

    Justin Upton

    The Braves have been shopping Justin Upton and the Rangers are interested.

  10. Marlins have discussed trading for Wade Miley

    Nov 23, 2014, 7:15 PM EST

    Baltimore Orioles v Arizona Diamondbacks Getty Images

    The Marlins have discussed swapping Nathan Eovaldi for Wade Miley.

  11. Red Sox going after both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez

    Nov 23, 2014, 6:05 PM EST

    Hanley Ramirez Hanley Ramirez

    The Red Sox could revamp the left side of their infield if they have their way in free agency.

  12. Pirates trade first baseman Ike Davis to the A’s

    Nov 23, 2014, 4:45 PM EST

    ike davis getty Getty Images

    Davis was designated for assignment by the Bucs a couple of days ago to open up a 40-man roster spot for top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon. Now the first baseman is headed to Oakland.

  13. “At least six” teams interested in Jon Lester

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:15 PM EST

    jon lester a's getty Getty Images

    The Red Sox and Cubs have long been considered the favorites to sign free agent Jon Lester, with the Braves and Cardinals also lingering. But there may be a surprise coming.

  14. Indians acquire Charles Brewer from the Diamondbacks

    Nov 23, 2014, 12:03 PM EST

    indians logo

    Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Indians have acquired right-hander Charles Brewer from the Diamondbacks in exchange for cash.

  15. Torii Hunter “favors the Twins”

    Nov 23, 2014, 10:51 AM EST

    th getty Getty Images

    Torii Hunter could be headed back to where it all began.

  16. Video: Introducing new commissioner Rob Manfred

    Nov 23, 2014, 9:44 AM EST

    manfred getty Getty Images

    Watch as former MLB commissioner Bud Selig introduces new commissioner Rob Manfred …

Featured video

Maddon has high hopes for Cubs
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. P. Sandoval (5119)
  2. Y. Tomas (3302)
  3. J. Lester (3188)
  4. G. Stanton (2722)
  5. J. Upton (2528)
  1. A. LaRoche (2497)
  2. T. Hunter (2427)
  3. H. Ramirez (2423)
  4. M. Scherzer (2199)
  5. B. Butler (1970)