We are at the end of one of those brief two-week periods each year when there is actually very little to talk and write about when it comes to MLB and the New York Mets. The news of the day is generally not compelling and what little news there is (i.e. the injury to Daniel Murphy, the visa issue with Jenrry Meija and the daily d’Arnaud/Wheeler watch) is constantly analyzed and regurgitated. Needless to say, the reports out of Miami surrounding the Bosch diaries, and the few remaining free agents (in particular—Lohse, Valverde, Sizemore and even Chris Young), are among the most interesting topics in the blogosphere.
There is also no shortage of doomsayers when it comes to predicting the plight of the 2013 Mets. But a closer look reveals several things to be optimistic about.
As of this week, we have reached the point of full squads reporting for spring training and, believe it or not, Saturday is the first preseason contest due to all the World Baseball Classic happenstances. So, this is probably an auspicious moment to analyze the assembled talent in Port St. Lucie…
Lets start with a bold statement—Johan Santana will be healthier on opening day than he was in April 2012! And if that turns out to be fact, they also have Shaun Marcum (one of the best pitching pickups of the off-season), a healthy Dillon Gee and a full season of Matt Harvey to look forward to. If each of those four pitchers wins 13-15 games, the Mets will have more than mitigated the loss of R.A. Dickey. And of course, Jon Niese, who many claim is now the ace of the staff, should exceed his 13-9 record and 3.40 ERA over 190 innings. Providing more anticipation and excitement will be the talent down on the Vegas farm with Wheeler, Meija, Gorski, McHugh and likely Mazzoni starting games every five days or so. Jeremy Hefner should be the Citi Field spot starter (and long man from the pen) from Day One.
While it is way too early to get a handle on the relief staff, saying the current assemblage of arms will outperform the group from 2012 is a relatively conservative prognostication. Alderson & Company have given Collins and Warthan a host of options in terms of righties and lefties, experience and youth, and most importantly—arm angles and look. One of the best moves may have been bringing in the submarining Greg Burke, who may be able to replicate what Chad Bradford and Terry Leach were able to do in successful Mets campaigns of yesteryear. Experience is on display with Brandon Lyon, Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Rice, Aaron Laffey and Pedro Feliciano. At the same time, young studs like Bobby Parnell and Scott Edgin are joined by three talented arms who will open up the season with Wally—Jeurys Familia, Robert Carson and Elvin Ramirez. Only time will tell, but this assortment of talent may be more than meets the eye.
This may be one of the most under-appreciated improvements in terms of baseball chemistry. From all knowledgeable sources, John Buck is a very good receiver and excellent handler of pitchers. In that regard, his presence alone is a huge improvement from the past couple few seasons. A typical Buck season delivers .235 BA with about 20 HR and 70 RBI playing full-time. If he just hits 12 HRs and 50 RBI, the Mets will improve. Buck will also be a stabilizing influence and a first-rate mentor to d’Arnaud during the second half. And of course, having a legitimate backstop prospect like d’Arnaud to look forward to is something virtually unexperienced by this 52-season Mets watcher.
The Mets strength this year should be their infield. At three positions (1B, 2B and SS), they should improve more than a modicum. Valley Fever is now a thing of the past to Ike Davis, which should improve his early season performance and lend defensive stability to the entire infield. If Ike improves to a .265 BA with 35 HR and 100 RBI, it will be tremendous improvement in and of itself. Daniel Murphy made significant defensive strides last season and, if he is slotted properly in the lineup, he too can deliver improvement offensively, as well as with the glove. Ruben Tejada has been a revelation. While everyone expected the consistent glove work, few expected offensive prowess in terms of patience, balls in play and working pitchers deep into counts. Look for Tejada to improve all aspects of his game in 2013. David Wright just has to be David Wright (with an assist from a healthy Davis providing lineup protection). A typical Wright season has him batting .300 with 25 HR, 40 doubles, 100 RBI and 15 SB. Anything close, with his usual plus defense, is all that is necessary to push the Mets far ahead of 2012. This infield (including catchers and backups) can belt 90+ HRs and deliver 400 RBI.
Here’s the rub, or the Achilles Heel, or the Big Question. In a sense, it is really about the maturation of Lucas Duda, who is not an outfielder and certainly will be better off in LF than RF. If Duda can hit 25 HR and drive in 75, the Mets will be radically improved. And while Collins has been dealt a soft hand, there are two platoons possible in CF and RF that could be very productive. RF will be manned by a platoon of Baxter with Byrd or Brown. CF will be manned by Nieuwenhuis with Cowgill or Byrd. Jamie Hoffman is another right-handed longshot . The right-handed hitting options Collins decides to go with will get a lot of playing time. An examination of the splits of all the outfielders mentioned here show that they have been effective hitters against pitchers of the opposite ilk. Having a platoon of Baxter/Cowgill at the leadoff slot in the order may also bode well for the Mets. Both can get on base and have above average speed. And if all four of the platoon outfielders are plus defenders (some of whom will spell Duda late in games), there is every reason to believe the 2013 outfield will be a decided improvement over the 2012 .
Virtually nothing is settled in the “bench” department. All indications are that Justin Turner and Brandon Hicks will battle it out for the right-handed hitting infield specialist. Turner should be the favorite due to his ability to play all four spots (and perhaps some OF) and drive in runs. The battle for the other infield spot will be from two left-handed batters—Omar Quintanilla and Jordany Valdespin. Quintanilla is the plus infield glove man with bat control, but Valdespin provides power, speed and bit more versatility due to his ability to cover the prodigious expanses of the Citi Field outfield. If Turner shows some OF acumen, chances are that the Mets will go with Turner and Quintanilla to start the season. Others who are longshots for the infield/utility spots are Brian Bixler, Josh Satin and Zach Lutz. Anthony Recker or Landon Powell will backup Buck until the arrival of d’Arnaud. Since the Mets outfield will be comprised of five players getting lots of playing time, the three bench men must be able to play more than adequate defense and put the ball in play when called upon. Without Valdespin, there will not be much power or speed, but remember, there will usually be some OF talent on the bench with a variety of skill sets. The bench will not be a strong point of the team, but it should be at least as good as what was in place in 2012 sans the power of Scott Hairston, who was a slight minus defensively.
INTRIGUING 2013 LINEUP
S Baxter (RF)/Cowgill (CF)
R Tejada (SS)
L Murphy (2B)
R Wright (3B)
L Davis (1B)
R Buck/d’Arnaud (C)
L Duda (LF)
S Nieuwenhuis (CF)/Byrd or Brown (RF)
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