The Mets waited until this off season to try to put together a competitive team. They have done a very good job building a farm system, with their pitching prospects on the verge of giving the team a young rotation that resembles the teams of 1969 and 1986. They even spent a little money with the signings of Curtis Granderson, Chris Young and Bartolo Colon. So, with that being said, the question that should be posed is why I have the Mets at 24? I started by giving a couple reasons the team should be improved from the 74-88 record from a year ago. However, the last team I previewed, the San Diego Padres, were given a record of 73-89 by yours truly.
My issue with the Mets has more to do with what seems like a lack of interest more than the unwillingness to spend money. The payroll has been an important topic since the Mets were involved with Ponzi Scheme artist Bernie Madoff. I see how it costs money to improve a team and it is obvious the Mets left some money in the bank account when filling out their roster. Sandy Alderson has been the GM of the team since the 2010 off season. As we enter year four, he has given the Mets no choice than to go with a shortstop and first baseman that were here before he came into the fray. Yet, he has no faith in Ruben Tejada and acknowledges the questions surrounding Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. If it is year 4 and you have not taken the time to put your solution into the mix by then, there is a lack of interest. Surprising for a GM that told his superiors he expects 90 wins this season. The Mets made some good moves this off season, but in my opinion, are one offensive move away from being a contender.
Colon (18-6, 2.65, 3 shutouts for Oakland last season) did remarkable things at age 40. If healthy, it is possible he can be similar this year. The holdovers include LHP Jonathon Niese (8-8, 3.71 in 24 starts) and Dillon Gee (12-11, 3.62 in 32 starts and 199 IP). Niese has to stay healthy and if so, is closer to his 2012 season (13-9, 3.40 in 30 starts). Zack Wheeler (7-5, 3.42 in 17 starts) pitched well last year after he came up from the minors. He will be expected to take similar steps that Matt Harvey took from 2012 to 2013. Of course, Harvey is out for the season after having Tommy John surgery. The Mets 5th starter spot to start the year will be from the group of Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lannan and Jenrry Mejia. Mejia (1-2, 2.30 in 5 starts last season) is likely to start the year in AAA, with Matsuzaka (3-3, 4.42 in 7 starts) the leading candidate to win the job. Lannan (3-6, 5.33 in 14 starts for Philadelphia) has a chance to win the job, but the Mets also like the thought of him pitching long relief and spot starting.
All eyes are on RHP Noah Syndergaard, the pitcher acquired in the RA Dickey trade of a year ago. He looks great and will be in the mix soon, just not to start the season. The liveliness on his fastball and his curve ball have risen the expectations above that of Harvey and Wheeler. The Mets and their fans will experience this soon.
The bullpen lacks known names, but in my opinion, can be better than anyone thinks. Bobby Parnell (5-5, 22 saves, 2.19) finished off his first big league season as a closer, though it ended when he had back surgery. RHP Vic Black (3-0, 1 saves, 3.71 in 18 games for Mets and Pirates) throws hard and if the favorite to land the 8th inning spot. Former minor league starting pitcher prospects Jeurys Familia (4.22 ERA in 9 appearances) and Gonzalez Germen (1-2, 3.93 in 29 games) expect to play major roles this season. LHPs Scott Rice (4-5, 3.71 in 73 games) and Josh Edgin (1-1, 3.77 in 34 games) are likely to be the lefties. The Mets signed veterans Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde to minor league deals and both have a shot to make the team if they have anything left. What I am excited about is the transformation the bullpen could make by mid season. LHP Jack Leathersich (a 2013 guest on the Passed Ball Show) should be up by then as well as possibly Rafael Montero, Jacob DeGrom and Cory Mazzoni. The fact that they all throw hard gives them a great chance to be back of the game relievers. Add Parnell, Black and Familia to the mix, this bullpen could be dangerous. Another guy who could have an impact is RHP Carlos Torres (4-6, 3.44 in 33 games, 9 starts) either as a spot starter or as a reliever. He seemed to do better as a starter, but there may not be enough room.
The team added some offense with the signing of Granderson, who of course only played in 61 games due to two freakish injuries with the Yankees. He probably could have commanded more money had it not been for the injuries, something that could have eliminated the Mets for contention for his services. (Imagine Seth Smith playing RF instead.) Chris Young's 2013 season (.200, 12, 40 in 107 games) for the Athletics was one of the most puzzling things I have ever seen. I think better times are ahead since he is just 30, but I thought the same about Jason Bay. Perhaps he can have a comeback season similar to that of Marlon Byrd, who they traded to get Black. Half of their infield is fine: David Wright (.307, 18, 58 in 112) at 3B and Daniel Murphy (.286, 13, 78) at 2B. The other half could be a disaster. Ike Davis (.205, 9, 22) and Lucas Duda (.223, 15, 33) battle for the 1B job. Ironically enough, Davis had exactly 317 ABs and Duda had 318 ABs. Hopefully one of them emerge, as the Mets seem to want it to be Duda. Either way, numbers like 2013 are unacceptable. Shortstop will be even more difficult as Ruben Tejada has done everything he can to run himself out of town. Since the Mets have little interest right now in either spending some money on a free agent SS (Stephen Drew) or pony up the prospects to trade for a shortstop, the Mets are likely to open the season with Tejada playing there as it looks now. Internally, Omar Quintanilla (.222, 2, 21 in 95 games) is back in camp and may be plan B. Anthony Seratelli (.273, 11, 41 in 120 games at AAA Omaha (Royals)) has an inside track on a bench job this season though he only played 3 games at SS in 2013. However, he does have the versatility to play both middle infield positions. I like the thought of Wilmer Flores getting a shot, though I think it is unlikely he is a reasonable option for opening day. Flores will be 22 this season and has hit very well at every level he has been at. The Mets do not have a position for him, so putting 2 and 2 together some see SS as a lock for him. He grew out of the position very early and has not played SS in a regular season game since 2011 when he was 19 in A St Lucie.
The Mets hopefully have their catcher for the future in Travis d'Arnaud (20-99 in 31 games last season). d'Arnaud has hit at every level as well, and the Mets have been impressed with his improvements defensively. Anthony Recker (.215, 6, 19 in 50 games) is expected to be the primary backup with Taylor Teagarden, who has MLB experience in each of the last six seasons, brought in to compete for the job. Neither pose a threat to d'Arnaud, so the pressure will be on him to produce this season. The other OF spot looks like it will be between Juan Lagares (.242, 4, 34 in 121 games) and Eric Young, Jr (.249, 2, 32 in 148 games). The Mets will make a decision on whether they prefer Young as the leadoff batter (46 SB led the NL) or Lagares for his Gold Glove defense in CF. I'd line the Mets like this: C Young LF, Murphy 2B, Wright 3B, Granderson RF, d'Arnaud C, Duda 1B, Lagares CF, Tejada SS. I think Ike is the odd man out, though I am rooting for him to win the job at 1B. It is not feasible to see both on the club opening day. The bench will be led by EY, Seratelli, Josh Satin, Recker and either Matt den Dekker or Cesar Puello.
I really feel the Mets can outperform my expectations more than in the first two seasons of my preseason predictions. Vegas has them at 73.5 and I think they can get to 80-82 wins this season. However, I think they will have problems with SS and 1B again this season and would have liked to see a more proven veteran to share time with d'Arnaud if necessary. Not having Harvey hurts and as great as the pitching looks on paper, they are going to have their ups and downs. I hate to say it, but my prediction would have been more rosy had the Mets just made that one more move. If this happens, Terry Collins will likely be out of a job, taking the fall for a team that has not tried enough to compete at the MLB level for years. Not his fault, but the easiest scapegoat.