Skip to content

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

Mar 30, 2012, 9:30 PM EDT

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. Mark Teixeira hopes to return from lat strain on Tuesday

    Jul 28, 2014, 8:28 PM EDT

    Mark Teixeira AP AP

    Mark Teixeira is out of the Yankees’ starting lineup for the eighth straight game tonight due to a lower lat strain, but he’s aiming to make his return tomorrow.

  2. Blue Jays acquire Danny Valencia from Royals for Erik Kratz and Liam Hendriks

    Jul 28, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT

    Danny Valencia Getty Getty Images

    It’s not a big deal, but the Blue Jays and Royals have pulled off a trade this evening which will send infielder Danny Valencia to Toronto and catcher Erik Kratz and right-hander Liam Hendriks to Kansas City.

  3. The Mariners and Orioles have called the Red Sox about Jon Lester

    Jul 28, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT

    Jon Lester Jon Lester

    We heard yesterday that the Dodgers have been in touch with the Red Sox about a deal for left-hander Jon Lester, but they figure to have plenty of competition leading up to Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

  4. Report: Indians “very willing” to trade Justin Masterson

    Jul 28, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT

    Justin Masterson Getty Getty Images

    An impending free agent, Justin Masterson owns a disappointing 5.51 ERA over 18 starts this season and is currently on the disabled list with right knee inflammation.

  5. Brewers minor leaguer suspended for drugs

    Jul 28, 2014, 5:34 PM EDT

    Police Blotter

    Looks like he picked the wrong week to not stop doing amphetamines.

  6. A’s lose Craig Gentry to broken hand, call up speedster Billy Burns

    Jul 28, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT

    Craig Gentry A's AP

    A’s outfielder Craig Gentry began the season on the disabled list with a back injury and now, after hitting just .264 with zero homers and a .625 OPS in 80 games, he’s going on the shelf again with a broken hand.

  7. A lost Red Sox World Series ring leads to some good things for a Yankees fan

    Jul 28, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 4.43.30 PM AP

    Do the right thing and good things happen. Not always, but here, yes.

  8. Yankees designate Jeff Francis for assignment

    Jul 28, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT

    Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs Getty Images

    Two weeks ago the Yankees acquired Jeff Francis from the A’s as a roster reinforcement, but now they’ve designated the journeyman left-hander for assignment.

  9. So maybe Cole Hamels is available after all

    Jul 28, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    cole hamels getty Getty Images

    After a couple months worth of reports that Cole Hamels is not on the market . . . maybe he’s on the market.

  10. Rays activate Joel Peralta, designate Erik Bedard for assignment

    Jul 28, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    Joel Peralta AP

    Bedard was demoted from the rotation to the bullpen three weeks ago, but has barely pitched since then and at age 35 could be nearing the end of the line.

  11. Andrelton Simmons made another incredible play

    Jul 28, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    andrelton simmons getty Getty Images

    At this point I’m almost convinced that the ground balls are purposely doing strange things just to test the limits of what Simmons is capable of.

  12. Dodgers acquire Darwin Barney from Cubs

    Jul 28, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT

    Darwin Barney Getty Getty Images

    Last week the Cubs designated infielder Darwin Barney for assignment and now Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports that they’re close to trading him to the Dodgers.

  13. Oswaldo Arcia Bo Jackson’d his bat after a strikeout

    Jul 28, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT

    Oswaldo Arcia AP

    Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia was unhappy about striking out yesterday against the White Sox, so he snapped his bat over his knee, Bo Jackson-style.

  14. Ray Rice is awful, but let’s not pretend baseball has a great record on domestic violence

    Jul 28, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT

    Milton Bradley angry

    The NFL weighed in on domestic violence and concluded “eh, no big deal.” MLB has tended to avoid the matter altogether.

  15. Jason Heyward leaves game with back injury

    Jul 28, 2014, 1:18 PM EDT

    Jason Heyward Getty Getty Images

    Braves right fielder Jason Heyward left this afternoon’s game what the team is calling lower back soreness.

  16. Phillies release Tony Gwynn Jr.

    Jul 28, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT

    tony gwynn jr. getty Getty Images

    Gwynn had a brief run as a regular for the Padres and Dodgers, but he profiles strictly as a backup outfielder at this point and at age 31 will likely have to prove himself at Triple-A for a while after hitting just .163 in 67 games for the Phillies.

  17. “If The Boss Was Still Alive” Watch: George Steinbrenner was absent from Joe Torre’s Hall of Fame speech

    Jul 28, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 11.55.47 AM

    Soon we’ll be praying to Steinbrenner before every meal and thanking him for all that He has bestowed upon us.

  18. Before and after: Dmitri Young lost a TON of weight

    Jul 28, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT

    John McDonnell / TWP and via @Nationals) John McDonnell / TWP and via @Nationals)

    During his 13-year MLB career Dmitri Young was one of the largest players in baseball, often struggling with his weight while being listed at 6-foot-2, 295 pounds.

Featured video

Three legends off to Cooperstown
Top 10 MLB Player Searches