Hello, ladies and gentlemen, do I have a deal for you today! Your eyes do not deceive you, yes, that's right, what we have right here is one of a kind, the genuine article, the New York Metro-politan Baseball team. This is a limited time offer, so call in the next 5 minutes to get in on this once in a lifetime opportunity! This unique offer includes an NL East 4th place team, all-star 3rd baseman, a "gently-used" two time Cy Young winning pitcher, and a "Top 15" farm system. Call now , and we'll throw in a brand new stadium, absolutely free! BUT WAIT. THERE'S MORE.
In all seriousness, folks, the Mets are perhaps a little screwed. I don't know much about the current legal situation (but here is a guide to reading the complaint). Although they're not just pathetically bad, by any means, they've really been weighed down by big free agent contracts and injuries. Changing leadership was a good move, I think, but that was sort of hurt by the uncertainty of the ownership of the team. Overall, I think that a lot of things can improve over last year for the Mets, but they're going to need a lot of things to go right for them to have playoff chances. Some of those things may include Chutley and Brown being out for the Phillies, but I think that their work is cut out for them against Philadelphia and Atlanta.
In 2010, the Mets placed fourth in the NL East, with an overall record of 79-83 (just under their pythag: 81-81). While their offense was abysmal, Mets pitchers allowed only 652 runs, good for 6th in the NL. Another bright spot was that this was a significantly better performance than their 2009 70-92 finish.
The big story, before the financial-scandal-big-story at least, was the firing of GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel, who were replaced with Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins respectively. Alderson was discussed briefly in Moneyball, as Beane's predecessor as A's GM from 1983-1997, and Collins has previously managed the Angels, Astros, Orix Buffaloes, and the Chinese National Team.
Johan Santana: The former AL triple crown winner was injured in 2009, and injured again in 2010, this time undergoing rotator cuff surgery in September, which will take him out of the picture for the first half this season, most likely. Obviously, even when he returns, Santana is a bit of a question mark - his career speaks for itself, but shoulder surgeries do too.
Mike Pelfrey: Last year, in his age 26 season, Pelfrey (who was born on Wright- Patterson Air Force Base) put up a pretty outstanding season, pitching 234 innings, with an ERA of 3.66. This improvement may be attributable to working with pitching coach Dan Warthen, and working a curve and a splitter into his repertoire. Pelfrey is sometimes considered a groundball pitcher, but his actual GB rates aren't that dramatic. His success last year may have something to do with his extremely low HR/FB rate, but it's hard to say if that's actually repeatable. Pelfrey's record against the Reds has not been great, but is only 6 starts, so who knows.
R.A. Dickey: Dickey may be one of the most exciting players in this rotation, from my perspective, but perhaps that's only because I adore knuckleball pitchers. A pitcher spontaneously getting his shit together at age 35 is not necessarily one of the things you count on in baseball, but knuckleballers have always been a special case, and I really hope last year's performance means that he's figured it out for good, as we need to have at least one knuckleball pitcher in the league, and Tim Wakefield is struggling to make the Red Sox roster this spring. It's certainly possible - Dickey dropped his BB/9 and HR/9 by nearly 50% last year, which could mean real improvement - apparently he throws a two-seam fastball, as well as both a faster and a slower knuckleball. (There's a great analysis here). Also, Dickey was a 1996 first-round draft pick, but the Rangers dropped his signing bonus from $810,000 to $75,000 after finding out that his UCL - yeah, that's the Tommy John ligament - just isn't there. Dickey seems like an interesting character, too - he majored in english lit, says if not for baseball, he would've wanted to be an english professor, and helps run a Christian charity that helps provide "medical supplies, powdered milk, and baseball equipment" to Latin America. It seems that he's rather well-beloved in Mets fandom, if my survey of mets blogs is any indication ("The Ten Commandments of The Dickey"; "REASONS WE LOVE R.A").
Jonathon Niese: (I think we should call him 'tHon) Although Niese's 2010 ERA of 4.20 may not immediately catch your eye, this season Niese will still be just 24 years old, and his 2010 K/9 of 7.7 was not too shabs. Plus, he's left handed. Niese is a real Ohio native, born in Lima, Ohio (on the night that the Mets won the 1986 World Series, no less) and went to high school in Defiance.
Chris Capuano: The former Brewers starter is one of the few additions the Mets made in the offseason. Given the shortage of other possibilities, he's probably a lock to start, especially with Santana out. If Capuano catches on even after Santana's return, that would give the Mets 3 starting lefties.
Chris Young: Chris Young is another addition who signed for a one year deal, laden with incentives. Both Young and Capuano are gambles, but considering A: the other internal options and B: last year's free agent market, they probably aren't the worst idea. Two younger pitchers - Jenrry Mejia, Dillon Gee - also got a couple starts last year. Mejia is the real prospect, who could probably use a little more time in the minors, but Gee could probably see a call-up in case of emergency, as his development is a little less of a priority.
Catcher: Rod Barajas occupied this position for about 74 games in 2010, and he was pretty bad, but he's gone now. 23-year old Josh Thole got most of the remainder of the catching starts, and was better, OPSing .723 in 255 PA, and figures to be the new starting catcher. Thole is an interesting story - at the plate, he figures a little like Hanigan - decent OBP, but no power. However, he entered the Mets system as a first baseman, and has only been catching regularly since 2008. I think the general consensus is that he has room to improve as a defensive catcher, but has made real strides - and has really impressed with his ability to catch the knuckler. Also, in meaningless trivia - was born the day after Jonathan Niese.
First Base: Ike Davis made a quick transition last year from top prospect to everyday first baseman. (In last year's preview, Daniel Murphy was listed for 1B). His minor league numbers indicate that he should hit better than last year's .791, which was still a pretty good rookie season.
Second Base: This position still may be up in the air a tad bit. Luis Castillo got the majority of the games here last year, but he was remarkably bad. This year, he's going to be paid 6 million dollars, which may be what keeps him on the roster, but there have been some rumors of him being released before opening day. Castillo might well be considered a Bill Hall All-Star, as his career record against the Reds (OPS of .840) is wildly better than his career average. The other current candidates seem to be Daniel Murphy (who is still learning 2B, it seems), Brad Emaus (a Rule 5 pick who must stay on the roster or be offered back to Toronto) and Justin Turner, a former Reds draftee who can also play shortstop a bit.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes. Reyes no longer seems to be talked about like he used to be - but he still has great speed and power, even if his defense seems to have been trending downwards since 07. Reyes was out almost all of 2009, after tearing his hamstring in May, but had a solid 2010 season, although his walks were way down. Reyes going back to being a 5 WAR type player would be huge for the Mets.
Third Base: David Wright has been David Wright for a number of years now, and I estimate that he will continue being David Wright.
Left Field: Former NL Centraller Jason Bay will be back in leftfield. Although a concussion (not kicking induced) ended his season last July, he should be back in fine form, earning that 16 million the Mets are paying him this year. On the other hand, Jason Raymond Bay (or 'jayraybay' as I like to call him) could always just add that missing y, balancing his full name, and allowing him to audition for a spot in the Nix Brothers' Family Band. Jason Bay is, of course, pretty good, but generally, he's even better against the Reds.
Center Field: Just in the last month, Beltran announced that he would be moving to Right Field, allowing Angel "that's not how you say it" Pagan to take over in center. Although much mocked for his silly name, and not being great at baseball, Pagan had a pretty great season in 2010, hitting .290/.340/.425 with 37 SB and great defense. Although an age 29 "breakout" season is pretty dubious, his performance wasn't really outside his career norms, and his offense was actually a bit of a regression from his 88 games in 2009. 4.5 WAR may be his peak value, but even so, that's pretty good.
Right Field: With apologies to all those Jeff Francoeur fans in the Red Reporter audience, I think the Mets will probably benefit from replacing Francouer (who I mercilessly and lamely mocked in last year's Mets preview thread) with Beltran. There's a lot yet to see though, given that Beltran has been sidelined this spring with LEFT knee tendinitis - evidently from favoring it over his right, which was surgically repaired last year. Still, Frenchheart's overall WAR last year was only 0.5, and even a reasonably healthy Beltran would have no trouble providing that at the plate, although his defense could be an issue as well, based on injury. If Beltran is out for long stretches, I'm not sure who we'll see in right for the Mets - possibly Lucas Duda or Fernando Martinez. Duda may be a better bet as he is older and a little more polished, although Martinez is probably the better overall prospect. With Beltran, the Mets could have a very balanced-handed lineup, as Beltran, Pagan, Castillo, and Reyes are all switch-hitters. (The rest of the lineup would be two lefties - Thole and Davis, and two righties - Wright and Bay).
The Mets signed Ronny Paulino to a one year deal ($1.35 million) as a backup catcher. Paulino, like Volquez, was suspended last year for steroid use, and is now having visa problems, but he should be ready to go in spring training soon - although he's still got a few games left on his suspension. I'd also suspect that Paulino will see a lot of playing time if Thole falters.Chin Lung Hu is a likely candidate for backup shortstop, and Daniel Murphy, assuming he's not playing full time at second, can sub in for the rest of the infield spots, and in LF.
Francisco Rodriguez, obviously, fills the roll of highly-paid closer, and there aren't really any other well-known pitchers headed for the bullpen, other than Jason Isringhausen, who signed a minor league deal to return to the Mets, and may make the bullpen this spring. Other righties out of the pen include Taylor Buchholz and D.J. Carrasco, who both signed major league deals this winter, and are at least reliably passable. Oliver Perez will likely be here, if he isn't released. Taylor Tankersley and Tim Byrdak seem to be competing for a LOOGY spot this spring, and Manny Acosta (out of options) and Pedro Beato (Rule V) are also decent bets for the pen.
The End: Not much more to say about the Mets - not much recent Reds/Mets history, no notable "Jim Edmonds All Stars" that I can recall. Barring disaster, the Mets will be better this year than last, but I wouldn't pick them for the playoffs just yet. I don't think we play the Mets until late July, but I hope we get a chance to see R.A. Dickey. I apologize for the lack of pictures, but go look up Dickey's pitchface, for it is a thing of hilarity and wonder. Also, I take no responsibility for all instances of total wrongness in this Mets preview - I blame someone or something else. (Probably sexism).