Revamping a flagging team doesn’t happen in one offseason, especially an offseason spent discovering new and unhappy things about the owners’ finances. The ‘Sandyball’ era in New York has started, as Sandy Alderson got the old gang together and made wholesale changes in how the Mets are run. The new question is, ‘how long will it take for the new organizational philosophy to take hold?’ And can a team that made no obvious fundamental changes to the roster will their way to a different fortune in a new season?
* denotes left-handed hitter; ^ denotes switch-hitter
A healthy year from Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay would transform this frog into a prince. But is that kiss from a princess likely? Reyes and Pagan, at least, recently showed the ability to fight off the ‘injury-prone’ label, and are in the right age range to show off their abilities without being ravaged by father time. Jason Bays’ major malfunction last year seemed to be a combination of pressing and a poorly-timed concussion. He’s pressed before, and he’s come back before.
But oh, Carlos Beltran. Already moved off of center to preserve his aching knees, can he re-find that winning combination of discerning eye and powerful swing that made him the premier slugging center fielder of the last decade? Even an 80% Voltron year, even at an inferior position, that might do the trick. If he’s above-average, then there’s a chance that eight of the nine positions produce above-average wOBAs and this offense goes from liability to strength.
As bad as this lineup has been at times, it still boasts a strong 1-3, plenty of switch-hitting, and a rookie first baseman on the rise. Josh Thole can be the Jason Kendall of New York – in that his defense is just enough and he can make contact, though he does walk a little more. Hopefully the team doesn’t offer the same post-arbitration contract offers that Kendall has enjoyed. The aforementioned veterans have a chance, at least, of recapturing some former glory.
Second base, though- that should be a hole no matter how they fill it and no matter how optimistic you’d like to be about the candidates. Daniel Murphy should make the team, but the move on the defensive spectrum makes it more likely that he’s labeled the backup corner infielder. Luis Castillo’s lone remaining skill is “not swinging,” and is equal parts buyout contender, possible starter, and defensive second base platoon-member. Brad Emaus (rhymes with Amadeus) has some pop (which was inflated by his home park), can take a base (but hasn’t yet at the major league level), and has questions about his defense (hence the Castillo possibility). Willie Harris may push Castillo off the roster with his ability to play the outfield, but it’s still a motley crew.
* on DL to start the season
It might be painful to see eight starting pitchers listed for your five-man rotation, but it’s a fact that at least six starters will take the mound for the Mets in 2011. Johan Santana’s shoulder is on the mend, and he may make it back around mid-season, but his statistics were in an obvious decline before the injury and he’s no longer the ace that he once was.
In his stead, the Mets have three starters with modest upside at the top of their rotation. The relatively healthy pasts of youngsters Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese should mean that they can manage double-digit wins even without the benefit of a step forward. Both pitchers own a workhorse pitch – Pelfrey’s sinker and Niese’s cutter – and both could possibly benefit from refinement of a secondary offering – Pelfrey’s splitfinger and Niese’s curveball. Past performance seems to suggest that both will have good stretches and bad, and both will end up as above-average starters.
R.A. Dickey deserves his own paragraph, his own essay, his own book even. Two speeds on a knuckleball, no UCL ligament in his throwing elbow and one great attitude about baseball equals an immediate fan favorite. We know knuckleballers can outperform peripherals and avoid injury, so even his age (36) and FIP (3.65 last year, 4.75 career) are but speedbumps in his way. The Mets have a strong #3 starter here.
It’s the rest of the rotation that will be a mess. Using Jeff Zimmerman’s DL-projection work, Young and Capuano are both 62+% likely to hit the DL this year, and the likelihood that two or more starters (not named Santana) get injured this year is over 88%. Hence the listing of Gee and Misch.
The bullpen promises to be its own adventure with K-Rod and his looming (and ridiculous) $17.5M option threatening to vest with 55 games finished this year. Though there is a way to treat him as a bullpen ace, call him the closer, and avoid the wrath of the union, such true freelancing with bullpen roles is rare. Better for Mets fans to assume the option will vest unless the team can trade him as a setup man mid-season.
In stark contrast to the Yankees, who have more than $8M locked up in Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, the Mets will pay their LOOGY $400K and hope to get 80% of the production. Judging from the arms in camp so far, that same sort of cobbling-together will probably go for the rest of their bullpen, too. It’s hard to argue against the idea, as their bullpens have average about 2-3 WAR a year no matter what cache the old regime pumped into the thing.
While the team has some youth in Reyes, Wright and Pagan, their number of potential stars with many years of cost control remaining hovers around one. That one player is Ike Davis, and he’s the key to their fortunes beyond this year – and also the subject of much debate and consternation.
At issue is his power. Qualified first basemen averaged a .203 ISO last year, so Davis’ .176 was below-average. He did show a better ISO at Binghamton, but that park augments offense, and there was the fact of his first 239 plate appearances in professional ball without a home run. The fans and Bill James predictions both have Davis augmenting the power but landing at about average. With his strong defense and ability to take walks at an above average rate (12.6% last year), he’ll obviously be worth keeping around while he’s cheap, but will the Queens faithful be satisfied with home run totals in the mid-20s?
Here’s betting yes, because they are pretty proud of a certain mustachioed one that used to be a vacuum with a glove, earn walks by the bushel, and never once hit as many as 20 home runs. More chants of “We like Ike” are certainly on the way, even if the power doesn’t quite make it past average.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.