Mar 30, 2012, 9:30 PM EST
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.
Dec 22, 2014, 6:40 PM EST
Dan Haren was traded from the Dodgers to the Marlins in the Dee Gordon deal during this month’s Winter Meetings despite his previous comments that he would rather retire than pitch for a team away from his family in Southern California.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:07 PM EST
“It’s too soon to know if Scutaro will ever take the field again.”
Dec 22, 2014, 4:49 PM EST
I got, like, 17 guys I’d put in. But I’ll pretend I can only pick ten.
Dec 22, 2014, 2:49 PM EST
Another comeback attempt in San Diego.
Dec 22, 2014, 2:37 PM EST
And it looks weird. But then again, everything looks weird there, doesn’t it?
Dec 22, 2014, 2:08 PM EST
We could probably all write one of these. But ours would be a lot less useful to our younger selves than Doc Gooden’s is to his younger self.
Dec 22, 2014, 12:44 PM EST
The Pirates have 30 days to reach an agreement with Kang or else he goes back to his KBO team.
Dec 22, 2014, 12:16 PM EST
Bell was an All-Star as recently as 2011.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:54 AM EST
The ultimate minor league “where are they now?”
Dec 22, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
“You see what’s going on, but …”
Dec 22, 2014, 10:34 AM EST
Who will tell us that they’re “takin’ it one game at a time” now?!
Dec 22, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Dec 22, 2014, 9:04 AM EST
He’ll be under team control through 2019.
Dec 22, 2014, 8:41 AM EST
Taped baseballs and Yankees fans.
Dec 22, 2014, 7:49 AM EST
Understated, it is not.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:10 PM EST
Wil Myers was rumored to be a potential target for the Phillies in a trade involving Cole Hamels, but it turns out the Padres plan to hang on to him.
Dec 21, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
Wil Ledezma will attempt to return to the major leagues with the Twins after signing a minor league deal.
Dec 21, 2014, 9:55 PM EST
Marco Scutaro’s 2014 season was tarnished by a chronic back ailment. The Giants’ training staff is preparing an update on the 39-year-old and it may not be good news.
Dec 21, 2014, 8:50 PM EST
If spring training were to start today, Yankees GM Brian Cashman would have Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela compete for the starting job at second base.
In which someone describes A-Rod, B.J. Upton and Ryan Howard as potential offensive options for a team
Dec 21, 2014, 7:45 PM EST
This needs to happen, people.
- My Imaginary Hall of Fame Ballot 40
- Phil Hughes signs a three-year extension with the Twins 21
- The Padres have talked to the Phillies about Cole Hamels 23
- Why is John Smoltz a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame? 62
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” 85
- Trea Turner’s agent is unhappy his client is in limbo after trade to Nationals 48
- Nexen Heroes accept Jung-Ho Kang posting fee from unidentified MLB team 37
- Giants acquire Casey McGehee from the Marlins 16
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. (145)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (144)
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade (97)
- St. Petersburg City Council votes down deal to allow Rays to look for new stadium site (90)
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” (85)