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 24, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT
“No restrictions.” You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:07 AM EDT
The next time someone tells you how bad and wrong cheating in baseball is, remember how inconsistently baseball treats cheaters of various stripes.
Apr 24, 2014, 7:14 AM EDT
Michael. Hey, Michael. You got a little, um . . . no, the other side. Yeah, good. You got it.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright was pulled at 79 pitches on Tuesday at Citi Field after taking an off step while trying to track down a high-chopper on the infield. He was then diagnosed with a hyperextended right knee, but it sounds like a rather minor injury.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT
As first reported by Los Angeles Times beat writer Dylan Hernandez, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has been cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday night with the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the California League.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
Yankees starter Michael Pineda was very clearly using pine tar to get a better grip on his pitches during an April 10 start against the rival Red Sox. He tried it again in his start Wednesday night at a blistery Fenway Park and got caught red-handed.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
On May 21, the Angels will give away a bobblehead commemorating Albert Pujols’ 500th career home run, which he hit Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT
Tracy McGrady is going to try pitching in an independent baseball league after wrapping up his 15-year NBA career last August.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
According to beat writer Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Diamondbacks left fielder Mark Trumbo has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Trumbo is headed back to Phoenix, Arizona to have the foot examined by a specialist so that the D’Backs can get a better idea of the injury’s severity.
Apr 23, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
Another sad chapter in Josh Johnson’s injury wrecked career, as the right-hander will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery without ever throwing a regular season pitch for the Padres.
Apr 23, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT
Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels is off the disabled list and will make his season debut tonight against the Dodgers after sitting out the first three weeks with biceps tendinitis.
Apr 23, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Albert Pujols entered baseball’s history books after belting his 500th home run, but with seven years remaining on his deal in Los Angeles, HBT’s Craig Calcaterra wonders how high of a level Pujols must continue to play at in order to call his deal a success.
Apr 23, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
Sammy Sosa hit 293 homers at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs are trying to make people forget that happened.
Apr 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Matt Harrison will come off the disabled list and start Sunday for the Rangers, seeing his first big-league game action in more than a year following multiple back surgeries and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Apr 23, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT
Daniel Nava is headed to the minors one season after hitting .303.
Apr 23, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
Nick Franklin is trying to find a way into the Mariners’ lineup.
Apr 23, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
Jesse Crain hasn’t thrown a pitch in a game since June 29 and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon.
Apr 23, 2014, 11:36 AM EDT
It’s been an awful start for the Snakes. Awful enough to get someone fired?
Apr 23, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Brewers pitching prospect Johnny Hellweg, who was acquired from the Angels as part of the Zack Greinke swap in July of 2012, has been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is expected to undergo Tommy John elbow surgery.
Apr 23, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT
Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment this week as he comes back from a spring training finger injury, but instead the team had him throw a 58-pitch simulated game yesterday.
- Pineda and pine tar: baseball is, once again, sending mixed signals about cheating 22
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 24
- Clayton Kershaw cleared to begin rehab assignment on Friday at High-A Rancho Cucamonga 2
- Michael Pineda ejected in second inning for pine tar on neck, facing a 10-game suspension 131
- Mark Trumbo diagnosed with stress fracture in foot 10
- Josh Lueke is a rapist. How often does that bear repeating? (200)
- Benches clear in Pittsburgh after the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez bat flips a third-inning triple (183)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (169)
- Michael Pineda ejected in second inning for pine tar on neck, facing a 10-game suspension (132)
- Chipper Jones chimed in on the Carlos Gomez incident (111)