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.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:34 PM EDT
Garcia, 38, last pitched in the majors in 2013 as a member of the Orioles and Braves.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT
Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon figure to handle catching duties for the Red Sox in the early part of the season.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT
This day has mostly been about who will not be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, but it was announced this evening that reliever Phil Coke has earned a spot on the team.
Mar 30, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
In a decision that was all but inevitable after news of Jaime Garcia’s renewed shoulder issues, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny confirmed today that right-hander Carlos Martinez has won the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
Mar 30, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
The Diamondbacks will go into the season with a starting rotation of Josh Collmenter, Jeremy Hellickson, Rubby De La Rosa, Trevor Cahill, and Chase Anderson.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:09 PM EDT
The two sides first discussed the possibility prior to Polanco’s promotion to the majors last year.
Mar 30, 2015, 6:19 PM EDT
Rendon suffered what was termed as a minor MCL sprain in his left knee on March 9 and continues to feel discomfort.
Mar 30, 2015, 6:02 PM EDT
That Nationals don’t need another injury. But they may have one.
Mar 30, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
I’d still be surprised if they went down that road — and I think it’s a bad road to go down — but Tony Clark is leaving the option on the table.
Mar 30, 2015, 5:10 PM EDT
Everth Cabrera, who was the Padres’ starting shortstop for most of the past three seasons, looks likely to fill in for Hardy.
Mar 30, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
Downs signed a minor-league deal in mid-December.
Mar 30, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT
The Cubs are playing ersatz baseball, you see. And this is the, um, apogee of something.
Mar 30, 2015, 3:50 PM EDT
In exchange for Matt den Dekker.
Mar 30, 2015, 3:36 PM EDT
Rodon ranked as a consensus top-20 prospect and has top-of-the-rotation upside, so expect to see him in Chicago by the All-Star break.
Mar 30, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
He just signed on March 9, but after three awful appearances, the M’s have cut bait.
Mar 30, 2015, 1:49 PM EDT
Carlos Martinez time in the Cardinals’ rotation?
Mar 30, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
He posted a 3.33 ERA in 70 appearances for the Padres in a limited role, logging a total of just 54 innings with a 51/33 K/BB ratio.
Mar 30, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT
Service time manipulation, the depth chart and hacktastic tendencies mean that the future is not quite here for three of the Cubs’ top prospects.
Mar 30, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
Maholm has indicated that he wants to continue starting, which likely sealed his fate in Cincinnati and limits his options going forward.
Mar 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Baseball technically has a rule against “fraternization.” It’s a dumb rule.
- The Cubs assign Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to the minors, option Javier Baez as well 60
- 2015 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks 6
- 2015 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays 67
- Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez has died 24
- 2015 Preview: Chicago White Sox 15
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? 88
- 2015 Preview: Atlanta Braves 15
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” 118
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (122)
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” (118)
- Rob Manfred says it would be hard to reinstate Pete Rose in a limited way (89)
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? (88)
- The MLBPA releases a statement on Kris Bryant, mentions possible litigation (85)