A shaky rotation and questionable outfield could result in a long season in Queens
After the 2011 season, the Mets lost the NL batting champion, Jose Reyes. After last season, they lost the NL Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey. Yet when Sandy Alderson announced Dickey’s trade to Toronto, he declared, “We’re certainly not punting on 2013.” He had to say it — with attendance already plummeting at Citi Field, the Mets don’t need their general manager conceding a season — but it’s clearly misleading. The Mets have no intention of contending this season, which will be the fifth losing campaign in a row for the franchise. On the positive side, they seem to be collecting a promising group of prospects who could grow together in years to come.
The Mets say they wanted Dickey to return, but their offer of a contract extension (two years, $20 million) was laughably out of line for a Cy Young Award winner in an industry with cash. They traded him to Toronto for an impressive prospect haul, but did not get a starter back in the deal. Without Dickey, Johan Santana moves back to the No. 1 spot, and while he has fought valiantly through a variety of physical problems, he’s proven to be unreliable for a full season. Shaun Marcum, twice a 13-game winner for Milwaukee, was signed and should provide quality innings if his shoulder doesn’t get too balky. The starters behind them offer long-term hope, with steady lefty Jon Niese and rising star Matt Harvey. Niese quietly had an outstanding season, going 13–9 overall and posting a 2.93 ERA in the final four months, never once walking more than three in a game over that span. Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft out of North Carolina, had an exciting debut, with a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. The rotation falls off steeply after that, with Dillon Gee, a replacement-level righty, having missed the second half of the season after having a blood clot removed from his shoulder. Until Santana is ready for a regular load, Jeremy Hefner will fill in. But the prize of the group for the future is top prospect Zack Wheeler.
Frank Francisco had a 3.55 ERA for Toronto in 2011, and he reversed those digits for the Mets in 2012 — 5.53. That’s not what the Mets had in mind when they signed him for two years and $12 million, but Francisco, in fairness, did not blow a save after June 5. He missed all of July with an oblique strain and may have had arm problems, too. He underwent surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and is questionable for Opening Day. If he pitches well, he’ll be trade bait for contenders this summer. Setup man Bobby Parnell was not the best righthander named Robert Allen on the team — that was Robert Allen Dickey — but he did enjoy a strong season, with a career-high in games (74) and a career-low 2.49 ERA. He also earned his seventh save on the final day of the season to give himself another career-best mark. He’ll close until Francisco is completely healthy. Beyond Parnell, though, the bullpen is threadbare. Veteran Brandon Lyon signed late and should be an effective innings eater from the right side. Non-roster veterans Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and lefty Pedro Feliciano will add depth and give manager Terry Collins some good matchup options. Lefty Josh Edgin can also be a decent match-up guy.
As up-the-middle combinations go, they’re not exactly Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter. The Mets’ Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada are adequate but limited at the plate, both hitting for a respectable batting average but offering little power or speed to go with it. They’re viable big leaguers, which is saying something for this team, but they’re not difference makers. Advanced defensive metrics are not always reliable, but according to Fangraphs, Murphy’s Ultimate Zone Rating ranked 20th of 22 qualifying second basemen in the majors. Tejada was better, but still not among the upper half at his position, ranking 13th of 21 qualifying shortstops. A strained intercoastal muscle may keep Murphy on the shelf to start the season.
This is by far the Mets’ offensive strength. While Ike Davis struggled at Citi Field last season, he managed to smash 32 homers and drive in 90 runs. He needed only 16.2 at-bats per home run, ranking third in the National League, and at 26 years old, he still has time to get better. Across the diamond, third baseman David Wright had his best season since 2008, the year before the Mets moved to Citi Field, where he struggled at first with the distant dimensions. Moving in the fences suited Wright, who hit more long balls at home (12) than he did on the road (nine). A two-time Gold Glove winner, he also excelled in the field, with the best Ultimate Zone Rating among NL third basemen, according to Fangraphs. The Mets locked up Wright with an eight-year, $138 million contract extension that binds him to the team through 2020.
The Mets won the wild card in 2000 with an outfield of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Derek Bell, and advanced to the World Series that year with Timo Perez replacing Bell. That’s a ragtag group, to be sure, but a juggernaut compared to the outfield in Flushing these days. The Mets have few outfielders who would start for other teams, with Collin Cowgill, veteran Marlon Byrd and Lucas Duda likely to hold down the starting spots. Cowgill — who bats right and throws left — will play for his third team in three seasons after stints with Arizona and Oakland, hoping to establish himself as an everyday player. He showed decent power and an ability to reach base in the minors, so he’s worth a look. Duda is the most established hitter, but he lumbers on defense and the bases and struggled to make up for it at the plate last season. Byrd, a non-roster player, has seen his better days, but should hit for a decent average.
The Mets believe they acquired a foundational piece in Travis d’Arnaud, who is so highly regarded that he’s been traded twice for Cy Young Award winners before his first game in the big leagues. He was hitting .333 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs at Class AAA Las Vegas last year before his season ended when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while sliding to break up a double play. He also missed half the 2010 season with two bulging disks in his back. Those are troublesome issues for a young player, but the Mets were willing to bank on d’Arnaud’s potential while also acquiring a veteran, John Buck, who could be the starter early in the season. With little hope of contending this year, the Mets have determined they are best-served by leaving d’Arnaud in Class AAA to the start the season, delaying his eventual free agency by shortening his major league service time.
For a team with so many holes in the starting lineup, the Mets actually have a decent bench, with useful players like infielder Justin Turner, outfielder Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin, an infielder/outfielder. Valdespin had five separate stints with the Mets last year and set a single-season club record for pinch-hit homers, with five.
The Mets play hard for manager Terry Collins, but a lack of talent and a rash of injuries have doomed them down the stretch in the past two seasons. Collins burns to win and has vaguely raised questions about his team’s effort at times, but that is mostly just frustration, and players appreciate his generally positive approach in an atmosphere that can be harsh. Alderson knows how to build a winner, but he has mostly been limited to low-cost, low-impact moves, essentially treading water until the team has shed its glut of bad contracts. Owner Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff, who essentially runs the team, have sold minority ownership shares but have yet to prove they have really recovered from the havoc Bernie Madoff wreaked on their finances.
This season marks the 20th anniversary of the Mets’ last 100-loss season, and they could be headed for another. These Mets could be very bad, and only the filleting of the Miami Marlins will save them from the basement of the NL East. The good thing is that the future is finally coming into focus, and fans can watch Harvey, d’Arnaud, Wheeler and others develop while knowing that Wright will be here for the long haul.
Lineup SS Ruben Tejada (R)
In 78 games as the leadoff man last year, he attempted just four stolen bases. 2B Daniel Murphy (L)
His .291 average trailed only Robinson Cano, Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill among everyday second basemen. 3B David Wright (R)
Greatest Met never to play in World Series faces a long road to get there. For now, just trying to get healthy to avoid starting the season on the DL. 1B Ike Davis (L)
Outstanding power, but must prove he can handle lefties and hit at Citi Field. RF Marlon Byrd (R)
Veteran batted .270 in 34 games with the Red Sox last season, which was 200 points higher than his first 13 games with the Cubs. LF Lucas Duda (L)
His OPS in the second half of the 2012 season was a miserable .644. CF Collin Cowgill (R)
With .291 average in five minor league seasons, he’s ready for a shot. C John Buck (R)
After making All-Star team with Jays in 2010, hit .213 in two years for Marlins.
Bench OF Mike Baxter (L)
Sacrificed chunk of his season to save Johan Santana’s no-hitter with diving catch at wall. UT Jordany Valdespin (L)
Pinch-hitter extraordinaire who started at five positions (LF, CF, RF, 2B, SS) as a rookie. Will get some regular time at second until Murphy is 100 percent. IF Brandon Hicks (R)
Has a .133 career average in parts of three seasons with Atlanta and Oakland. IF Justin Turner (R)
Proved himself to be a capable reserve (he hit .269 in 171 at-bats) after a year as a starter. C Travis d’Arnaud (R)
Vaunted prospect should make debut in ’13 and stay for years to come.
Rotation LH Jon Niese
Won 13 games with a career-low 3.40 ERA in his third season as a starter. RH Shaun Marcum
Has gone 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA over last three seasons. RH Matt Harvey
Power righty projects as long-term ace; only gave up 42 hits in 59.1 innings last season. RH Dillon Gee
Missed second half after having blood clot removed from shoulder in July. LH Johan Santana
The danger of backloaded contracts — Santana will make $25.5M in 2013. A balky shoulder may keep him on the DL to start the season. RH Jeremy Hefner
Former fifth-round pick of the Padres is leading candidate to replace Santana while the former Cy Young winner is disabled.
Bullpen RH Frank Francisco (Closer)
First pitcher since 2009 to have at least 20 saves and an ERA above 5.50. Elbow inflammation is not a good sign; likely headed to DL. RH Bobby Parnell
Especially stingy at Citi Field, with 1.54 ERA at home last season. Will close in place of the injured Francisco. RH Brandon Lyon
Averaged 61 games and 62 innings over last seven seasons. RH Scott Atchison
Was effective with Boston last season: a 1.58 ERA in 51.1 innings and a 0.994 WHIP. The 37-year-old has logged more than 1,000 innings in the minors and Japan, just over 200 in the majors. RH LaTroy Hawkins
In 2009 and 2011 he had a combined 2.26 ERA; an unimpressive 4.97 in 2010 and 2012. Maybe 2013 will follow that trend. LH Pedro Feliciano
Led the NL in appearances all three years from 2008-10 totaling 208 games, but hasn’t pitched in bigs since. LH Josh Edgin
Held lefties to .164 average (9-for-55), which was good enough to earn another look.
Some suggestions on how you should approach certain injured players on draft day
Opening Day of the 2013 MLB season is right around the corner, but there are quite a few players who won’t be available to help your fantasy team from the outset. For some, their season debuts should only be delayed while others will be on the disabled list for a little longer. Here are some of the key hitters and pitchers who are dealing with injuries headed into Opening Day and how you should handle them during your draft.
This is the 11th season that the All-Star Game has “counted.” If you recall, way back in 2001, both teams ran out of pitchers and the game ended in a tie after 11 exciting innings, leaving fans at the stadium and TV viewers disappointed, to put it mildly.
So, in all his wisdom, Commissioner Bud Selig — along with TV executives — led efforts to bring some meaning back to the All-Star Game. The result is that the All-Star Game determines home-field advantage for the World Series.
I don’t understand how players and teams accept determining home-field advantage by teams elected by the fans in a popularity vote. No disrespect to Pablo Sandoval, but the National League will play the game with one of its best players, David Wright of the Mets, starting on the bench. Dan Uggla, maybe not even the third-best second baseman in the NL, will start the game, leaving Brandon Phillips of the Reds out of the game completely.
(And before you start going all Dusty Baker on me, it’s clear to most everyone outside of Cincinnati that Jose Altuve is the most deserving second baseman in the NL, and it doesn’t make sense to take three second baseman, so Phillips must be left out.)
And even the players aren’t above the whole popularity thing. How else do you explain why A.J. Pierzynski wasn’t selected by his peers to represent his league? He’s having as good a season as any catcher in the American League, but he’ll be watching from home as the AL tries to secure home-field advantage.
With the starters voted in by the fans, some players elected by a survey of players, and other reserves selected by the manager, how can we expect the best of each team to be there?
And without the best vs. the best, how can we use this game to determine home-field advantage?
While there are so many things wrong with that, it isn’t the only problem MLB has with its midsummer showcase.
In case you missed it over the winter, there was a clear directive from MLB requiring players selected for the game to be there. No more begging off with slight or phantom injuries. So, how’s that working out?
The Nationals’ Ian Desmond, selected as a reserve for the National League, has already begged out of the game due to an injury involving his side. Okay. However, over the weekend he seemed healthy enough to get four hits in seven at-bats with two home runs and two stolen bases — and that was just Saturday and Sunday. How does that make sense? Even with the Nationals in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1981 when the franchise was in Montreal, Desmond doesn’t seem too concerned with helping his NL mates secure home-field advantage for the World Series.
The game no longer reflects the way the game is played on a daily basis. Only in the All-Star Game do we see pitchers throwing no more than two innings. Since that’s the way the game is played, if you really wanted to win, wouldn’t you stock your team with relief pitchers who have mastered the one-inning appearance?
And rarely do we see All-Star managers attempt to get favorable matchups. There’s no lefty vs. lefty strategizing like you would see during a pennant race. In case you haven’t noticed, there are no setup men on either roster. Not only are there some deserving candidates, but those pitchers are perfectly suited for this type of game.
And managers take great pains to get everyone in the game. If they were really trying to win, would you see Matt Joyce replacing Josh Hamilton or Howie Kendrick subbing for Robinson Cano? Those are just two of the moves made in last year’s game.
And I know that this year’s situation is rare, but we have a manager (Tony La Russa) selecting a good portion of the team for the National League and actually running the game, but with no stake in it whatsoever.
Here are a couple of suggestions to improve the All-Star Game for the fans.
1) Forget home-field advantage for the World Series
I know that players treating this game as meaningless is what caused MLB to overreact in the first place. But here’s a thought: Tie players’ foundations to the game. Most players have a cause they support, and if they don’t already, being selected to play in the All-Star Game would give them a reason to find a cause. Only foundations and charities of players who participate will benefit. Winning players’ foundations will benefit more than the losers. How many players will beg out of an opportunity to boost their charitable work? No more than are begging out now.
2) Keep player selection as is
Keep the fans involved in selecting players. Keep the players vote. Allow managers to select reserves. And, by all means, keep the rule that all teams must be represented. No group of fans should be left out of this classic.
3) Make it a complete All-Star week
I really like the idea of the Futures Game. It’s a terrific way to reward prospects and give the fans a glimpse into the future. The Futures Game should be played at the site of the All-Star Game on Monday night, prime time, when there’s no other baseball. After the All-Star Game on Tuesday, honor the past with an Old-timers All-Star Night. Rather than having the recently retired Randy Johnson face the aging Yogi Berra, have a three-inning game with older players from the 1950s and ’60s. Then have a seven-inning version with more recently retired players like Cal Ripken, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. You think fans wouldn’t flock to see those guys in uniform one more time? After an off-day on Thursday, it’s back to the regular season on Friday.
Oh, and the solution for home-field for four games in the World Series? How about taking the most wins in interleague play? After all, that seems to be a more fair and accurate way to judge the better league anyway.
Tom Terrific is only lock, other three spots up for debate
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
New York Mets Mt. Rushmore
A franchise seemingly known for tough times as much as good times has 23 winning seasons in its 50-year history. Of the seven times the Mets reached the postseason, two of those experiences were simply amazing. The 1969 season, in which the Mets won 100 games en route to a World Series title, came after eight seasons of futility. Prior to 1969, the Mets escaped the cellar in the 10-team National League just twice, with a high-water mark of 73 wins. Most fans remember the unbelievable fashion in which the Mets overcame desperate odds to win the 1986 World Series. A simple Mookie Wilson ground ball to first became one of the most memorable plays in baseball history. Tom Seaver is the only clear choice for the Mets’ Mt. Rushmore. The arguments — which offer the toughest decisions of any team yet — may begin right….now.
Tom Terrific was that and more for 11-plus seasons as a Met. During his first tenure, Seaver was named Rookie of the Year, won three Cy Young awards and finished second one year. He won three ERA titles, two wins titles and five strikeout titles. His 198 wins and 2.57 ERA are easily the best in Mets history.
Doc is second to Seaver is most every significant pitching category for the Mets, buoyed by his magical 1985 season in which he posted a 24-4 record, a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts. That was his lone Cy Young award, but he finished in the top five three other times. He finished with 157 wins, 23 shutouts and a 3.10 ERA with the Mets.
Currently the face of the franchise, Wright is first all-time in total bases and second in average, runs and RBIs. He currently ranks third in hits, but will likely take over the top spot after 2012, if Jose Reyes doesn’t return.
New York finished last or next-to-last 15 times in the franchise’s first 22 seasons. Then manager Davey Johnson arrived and the team finished either first or second in each of his seven years at the helm. That is the only seven-year stretch of winning seasons in team history. An extremely close call with Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza, but years down the road — if not now — fans will be more proud to call Johnson their own.
The franchise leader in home runs and RBIs, Darryl Strawberry was Rookie of the Year and finished second and third in MVP voting during his eight-season tenure in Flushing. Tough to leave him off.
One of the best catchers of all-time, Mike Piazza spent seven-plus seasons in New York and hit .296 with 220 home runs in 972 games. He hit one of the most dramatic home runs in Shea Stadium history as baseball returned after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The franchise leader in hits and games played is original Met Ed Kranepool, who played in 1962 at age 17. He became the everyday first baseman in 1965 at age 20 and made the All-Star team. The Bronx native played all of his 18 seasons for the Mets, getting a pinch-hit double off Bob Forsch in his final at-bat in 1979.
Gil Hodges was the manager who took the Amazin’ Mets to the promised land in 1969.
The architect of the great teams of the 1980s, Frank Cashen, deserves credit for making the Mets relevant again after several lackluster seasons.
John Franco is the all-time leader with 276 saves.
Re-signing with the Mets keeps Jose Reyes extremely close, but leaving takes him out of the discussion entirely.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com