Mar 30, 2012, 9:30 PM EDT
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.
Apr 19, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Nationals manager Matt Williams decided to pull Bryce Harper from today’s game after he didn’t hustle on a comebacker to the pitcher.
Apr 19, 2014, 4:28 PM EDT
Ike Davis will bat sixth in his Pirates debut this evening against the Brewers.
Apr 19, 2014, 3:31 PM EDT
Yankees closer David Robertson is on track to be activated Tuesday.
Apr 19, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
Cole Hamels is on track to face the Dodgers next Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Apr 19, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
The Reds are hoping that Sean Marshall’s shoulder issues are behind him.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
I’m warning you, this is pretty scary stuff.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
Denard Span had no issues during a brief minor league rehab assignment.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
Cesar Cabral was ejected after hitting three batters Friday against the Rays. And then his night got worse.
Apr 19, 2014, 10:10 AM EDT
Adjustments to each rule could be made soon.
Apr 19, 2014, 9:21 AM EDT
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is closing in on a milestone.
Apr 19, 2014, 8:58 AM EDT
They needed extra innings to do it, but the Diamondbacks snapped a six-game losing streak last night and finally got a win against the Dodgers.
Apr 19, 2014, 3:24 AM EDT
Can’t someone please write these things down so we can all keep track?
Apr 19, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
One of baseball’s older cliches came true on Friday night thanks to Martin Maldonado.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
The Blue Jays get a shortstop back, but lose their designated hitter.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Jeff Samardzija unselfishly wants to get paid. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Giancarlo Stanton does Giancarlo Stanton things.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
After consistent battles with his control, Donnie Veal ran out of chances with the White Sox.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Jason Bartlett will call it quits after playing shortstop in the big leagues over ten seasons.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:19 PM EDT
One of the most unlikely pitchers to throw a no-hitter is working on a no-hitter.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
The Brewers got their first round pick from the 2006 draft back.
- Bryce Harper pulled from Saturday’s game for not hustling 0
- Report: MLB likely to adjust rules for plays at home and transfer catches 13
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 17
- Giancarlo Stanton sends the Marlins to victory with a walk-off grand slam 22
- Jason Bartlett will retire after 10 years in the big leagues 11
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (248)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (167)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (125)
- There is still a racial divide in baseball (112)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (96)