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Playing Pepper 2013: New York Mets

Posted on March 13, 2013 at 2:30 PM
Filed Under: New York Mets | Playing Pepper
For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat.  If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers.  We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper. 

New York Mets 
74-88, fourth in the NL West 

It has to be tough to be a Mets fan. Ever since Yadier Molina poked that home run in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, it seems like if it's not one thing, it's another for the club.  September fades.  Slow starts.  Even their renting practices have come under scrutiny, as the team continues to deal with the fallout from the Bernie Madoff scandal.

Then again, has it ever been easy to be a Mets fan?  Maybe the mid-80s, but even then it wasn't perfect.  So you know that it's a hardy bunch of guys that will follow this team day in and day out without flinching.  And do I have a great representation of them for you to read!

First up is Jon Presser of The Shea Faithful followed by Matt Musico from Rising Apple from the FanSided network.  You can find Jon on Twitter @metsjetsnets88 and Matt @mmusico8.

The heart of the order finds us reading Paul Hadsall from Paul's Random Baseball Stuff (@PaulsRandomStuf), Steve Keane from The Eddie Kranepool Society (@kranepool) and Episode 4 of Conversations With C70, and Dave Doyle of The Mets Report (@dave_doyle).

Rounding out our conversation is Matthew Lug from Collect The Mets and AC Wayne from Mets Public Record.  Matthew can be found on Twitter @CollectTheMets and has posted his answers on his blog if you want to see them in their natural environment (and with the baseball cards illustrating).  AC has his own Blog Talk Radio show that I'll be on soon (details announced later).

With all of this talent, there's going to be plenty to discuss about the Mets.  So I'd suggest getting cozy, because there's a lot of baseball talk after the jump!

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C70: How would you grade the offseason?

SF: I would give this offseason grade a solid B, overall. Acquiring two prospects with sky-high potential in Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard in the R.A. Dickey trade was a coup for the Mets. As great as Dickey was, the Mets did a great job selling high on him and getting back two pieces who should help them for a long time. I also liked the shrewd signings of Shaun Marcum, Brandon Lyon and old friend Pedro Feliciano to low-risk deals. Sandy Alderson was able to do a fair amount of improving the team with little resources to spend.

RA: Unlike most, I feel this offseason was a success for the Mets, and I would give Sandy Alderson a B-. It was tough to watch R.A. Dickey get traded away, but the haul he got back in return was an offer he couldn't refuse, and being able to lure Shaun Marcum in to take his spot in the rotation made the trade worth the risk. Not only did he get a catcher for the future in Travis d'Arnaud, but John Buck is a solid option right now behind the plate to give a young pitching staff a veteran guidance, and pop at the plate. He's also helping d'Arnaud get ready for the Show, as they've spent a lot of time together at camp already. 

The bullpen needed to be overhauled, and Alderson did a great job at completing changing the look, and hopefully the performance. New York already has encouraging young arms internally, but Sandy's ability to bring in veterans on low-risk deals was fantastic. I think the signing of Greg Burke, which was overlooked at the time, could end up being the best sign of all. 

Obviously, it would have been nice to see the Mets either sign or trade for a proven MLB outfielder, but I applaud Alderson for not overpaying to get a player that in his opinion was not worth what the market says he was. Would I have graded the offseason higher if they acquired a Michael Bourn, Justin Upton, or Wil Myers? Absolutely. However, I want this team to be competitive for years to come, and I feel that Alderson has that in his best interest.

PRBS: Incomplete. Sandy Alderson did little this winter to improve the Mets for 2013 - he actually made it worse in the short term by trading away R.A. Dickey. But in two or three years, if Travis d'Arnaud is a star and Noah Syndergaard is breaking into a dominant young starting rotation, no one will care about how the Mets finished in 2013.

EKS: I'd have to give Sandy Alderson and his staff a B, if he was able to secure a legitimate big league outfielder the grade would have been an A. The trade with the Blue Jays was a great move. Even though I will miss R.A. Dickey, who is an extraordinary person and player, the deal that sent R.A. to Toronto for C Travis d'Arnaud and RHP Noah Syndergaard has the potential to pay dividends for years to come. Alderson also gets a high mark for working out a buyout deal with Jason Bay as well.

MR: I would grade the Mets offseason as a "C". The big trade was R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays for Travis d'Arnaud. We won't know how that trade worked out for a few years until we see what kind of player d'Arnaud turns out to be. But I like the trade and would've done the same thing myself. But the Mets dreadful outfield needed improvement and that didn't happen. If they had improved the outfield, I would've graded the offseason higher.

CTM: Based on expectations and the meager offerings on the market, a B- sounds fair, if a bit on the high side. It's tempting to grade them lower for not making any flashy moves, but it's not like the flashy moves they've made in the past have worked out all that well. They kept Wright, grabbed one of the top catching prospects in baseball, and picked up plenty of cheap options for the outfield and the bullpen. Losing R.A. Dickey is tough, but the package the Blue Jays were offering was too good to pass up. Not only did the Mets hang on to all of their hot young pitchers, but they picked up another one to add to the crowded single A ranks. Most importantly, they didn't throw big contracts at bit parts, going with plenty of non-roster invites (NRIs) over multi-year deals. It's not ideal, but it leaves the team in a good position to add pieces when better options become available. It's worth noting that this is the first offseason in which Sandy Alderson has not signed a reliever to a multi-year deal. This is a huge improvement considering that the last two were D.J. Carrasco and Frank Francisco. Travis d'Arnaud looks to be the catcher of the future while John Buck provides a legitimate veteran presence behind the plate. The outfield still looks terrible, but did you see the amount of money that was getting thrown around for even moderately decent outfielders? Now is not the time to be signing the next Jason Bay, the last one is still on the books.

MPR: It's easy to say that the Mets had an underwhelming offseason if you consider not signing a big-name free agent like Michael Bourn to legitimize your outfield and opting instead to go with a mixture of unproven players such as, Lucas Duda, Collin Cowgill, and Mike Baxter. However, when you parlay an aging knuckleballer in R.A. Dickey, who may or may not have much left in the tank after winning the CY Young last season, and acquire two top prospects in catcher Travis d'Arnaud and right-hander Noah Syndergaard, the offseason seems a tad brighter. Add in the signing of righty Shaun Marcum to an already strong starting rotation and a bevy of veteran arms, LaTroy Hawkins, Pedro Feliciano, Scott Atchinson, and Brandon Lyon, to your bullpen and the offseason grade goes from a 'D' to a solid 'C'. Letting Scott Hairston and his 20 home runs go may not help in the power department but the Mets did receive veteran catcher John Buck in the Dickey trade, who does have some pop. Releasing Jason Bay, whose contract unfortunately is still on the books for 2013, could also make Mets fans feel confident that this offseason wasn't a total waste of time. If Marlon Byrd is able to win a starting outfield spot and come close to his All-Star numbers of a few seasons ago, that 'C' could very well become a 'B'. Overall, I'm pleased with the Mets offseason. GM Sandy Alderson continues to stick to his long-term plan which is to get younger and more flexible in terms of payroll.

C70: Will Johan Santana be back to his old form this season?

SF: Well, I think it would be unwise to expect vintage, Cy Young-caliber Santana. However, it's very possible that he will enter this season as healthy as he's been in years, and that bodes well for a guy who's an intelligent pitcher who's been able to adjust his approach as his velocity's declined over the last few years. The best case scenario is Santana getting off to a good start in the first half of the season, enabling the Mets to make him available in the trade market and get something back for him, ala the Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler swap in 2011.

RA: I don't think Johan Santana will ever be back to his old form. I'd love to see him lead the league in innings pitched and ERA again, like he did in 2008 during his first year with New York, but those days are long gone. However, that doesn't mean he can't be a solid and consistent contributor to the starting rotation. The most important thing for Santana heading into 2013 will be to stay healthy throughout. Another year removed from shoulder surgery with a year of pitching under his belt, coupled with a winter of rest will help him stay on the mound all year for the first time since 2008. 

For a young rotation that doesn't have a true ace yet, Santana needs to lead the way and set the tone for the rest of the staff. He may not have Cy Young-caliber stuff any longer, but he knows how to pitch in tight situations and has that competitive fire needed to be successful. I think it's fair to anticipate Santana winning 10-15 games this season, while putting together an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00. That production isn't worth $25 million, but that's the best the Mets could hope after everything he's gone through physically.

PRBS: No, I think the former Cy Young Award winner is gone for good. As I write this, there's uncertainty in the team's front office that he'll even be ready to start on Opening Day. Santana will be 34 years old and he's pitched in just 21 major league games since the end of the 2010 season. I'll be happy if he gives the Mets 150 innings and shows flashes of his former glory.

EKS: Odds are we will never see the Johan Santana of old. It's a shame that Santana has suffered so many injuries but he did have some great performances for the Mets. If the Mets are lucky, Santana can be ready by May and stays healthy and pitches well enough that a contending team would pick up the money owed and give up a decent prospect as well in trade.

MR: I don't think Johan Santana will be back to his old form as a two-time Cy Young Award winner with the Twins. That ship has sailed. He's an older guy now who's gone through some major surgeries and had lengthy stays on the disabled list. His fastball isn't what it used to be. But he can still be an effective pitcher. Sadly, his $25 million salary this year is really a payment for what he did with the Twins years ago.

CTM: It doesn't really matter. The Mets aren't expected to contend this year and this is the last year of his contract, plus he already gave us a no-hitter last year. It's been a good but not great run from Santana thus far, so it would be nice to see him finish strong. Best case scenario, he comes back in top form and gets dealt in July for an outfield prospect, with the Mets eating most of his remaining salary and Zack Wheeler taking his spot in the rotation. Worst case scenario, he has a setback early in the season and Jenrry Mejia/Collin McHugh/Jeremy Hefner fills in for him until Wheeler is ready. Most likely, he'll be good for 100 or so innings as long as he stays away from Reed Johnson

MPR: This past Sunday, the NY Times ran a headline that went sort of like this, "Santana Skips a Workout to Stretch His Pitching Arm, but the Mets Play It Down." That pretty much sums up where the organization's at in terms of having their $25-milion-dollar-pitcher show signs that he'll be back to his old form. The more apropos question Mets fans should be asking themselves regarding Santana is whether he will be able to start the season in time for Opening Day. The more disconcerting aspect of these latest setbacks for the veteran left-hander is that Santana was expected to pick up the slack from the loss of RA Dickey.

C70: What did it mean to you that the team signed David Wright to an extension?

SF: It was big, without a doubt. Wright is the epitome of a cornerstone franchise player. He's everything a team could want in a face of the franchise, on and off the field. He had a big bounce-back season in 2012, and if there was ever a player worthy of signing a lifetime deal to retire a Met, it's Wright. Now, it's up to the Mets to get back into contention in the coming years and make Wright's commitment to the team worthwhile.

RA: It meant everything. Not only did it show that ownership was committed toward retaining the face of the franchise, agreeing to pay him $138 million over the next eight years showed there are funds to spend to put superior talent on the field to win a championship. However, this contract will mean nothing if the front office and ownership don't put the pieces around Wright to bring them back to the postseason. Fred Wilpon said money will not be an issue moving forward, and I want to see it. I like how money will be spent wisely (unlike the Omar Minaya years) on the pieces they feel will bring them to the next level, and although I want to believe it, I'd like to see it next winter before making a judgment. 

However, knowing that David Wright will be a Met for the duration of his career is incredibly satisfying. It's obvious he's the captain and team leader, and it's nice knowing the heart of this team will be staying in Flushing for the rest of the decade.

PRBS: If David Wright didn't get a contract extension this winter, I was prepared to start rooting for the Washington Nationals. It was time for the Mets to make a commitment to one of their stars, and I'm glad that Wright will probably finish his career in Flushing. The Mets never really had a star that stayed with them for his whole career before.

EKS: Other than my favorite all time Mets player Ed Kranepool, Wright will finish his career as a Met. Wright is the face of the franchise and he has represented the Mets on and off the field better than anyone who ever played for the club. One of the funniest lines I heard come out of the Mets front office about signing Wright was "Tom Seaver won't live forever, someone has to become the team's top ambassador". 

MR: I'm thrilled that the team signed David Wright to a long-term extension. He's a great player and from all accounts a great guy. He never says or does the wrong thing on the field or off. If the Mets are going to hitch their wagon to a player for the long haul, I couldn't think of a better player to do it with. 

CTM: More than it should. This team has a terrible history when it comes to keeping star talent. Even the Astros have had decent luck holding on to their stars for the duration. You have to remember that the Mets lost The Franchise not once but twice and just last year let Jose Reyes (briefly) go to the Marlins without so much as making him an offer. The only Mets star to spend an entire career with the team is Ed Kranepool; Wright is second on the list by games played, with current Mets Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis also in the top ten. I love Kranepool, but that is just sad. With almost no payroll committed past this season, there was simply no excuse for not locking Wright up for the rest of his quality years. 

MPR: The extension, $138M for 8 years, amounts to around $17.25M per season. At 30-years-old that guarantees the Mets at least three or four more productive years out of him. In terms of the dollars, Wright has earned it due to the fact that his career numbers as a Met place him at the top of several of the organization's offensive categories such as, hits, runs, doubles, total bases, runs batted in, and walks. The other positive regarding his extension is that it will run out when Wright turns thirty-eight which means the Mets could still see considerable contributions from him even at the tail end of the deal. For now, Wright needs to replicate his first half performance from last year and not taper off in the second half of the season. Lastly, the extension proves to Mets fans that the team is not broke!

C70: What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?

SF: The Mets expect to have their battery of the future make their MLB debuts at some point in 2013 in Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud, and I think Wheeler will be the rookie who makes the most immediate impact in his rookie season. Similarly to fellow righthander Matt Harvey, Wheeler's stuff can translate to big league success right out of the gate, and it's going to be very exciting to see what he can do in Queens.

RA: There are plenty of young players that could have a significant impact for the Mets this season, but I'm going to go with Josh Edgin. He got a taste of what being in the Big League bullpen was like last season, and I expect him to continue building upon the 10.5 K/9 he put together in Flushing during 2012. The bullpen was a weakness last year (to put it nicely) and having a hard-throwing lefty that has the ability to strike hitters out will go a long way when it comes to late-game situations and bridging the gap to the set-up man and closer. 

PRBS: Since Matt Harvey isn't considered a rookie any more, I think it will be someone who isn't on the Opening Day roster. Take your pick of catcher Travis d'Arnaud or pitcher Zack Wheeler. 

EKS: Well, many Mets fans figure that d'Arnaud and RHP Zack Wheeler will be up by June and both should be a real shot in the arm to the Mets. A player I am very excited about this season is not really a rookie is Collin Cowgill I predict he will be a Citi Field favorite. Also RHP Matt Harvey. 

MR: The rookie that will have the biggest impact in 2013 will be Zack Wheeler. He'll start the season pitching in Las Vegas but he'll be with the Mets at some point during the season. He's got some electric stuff and I can't wait to see how he does against Major League hitters. 

CTM: There are really only two options here, Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud. d'Arnaud has the potential to be a star at a position that has been a problem area for the Mets since Mike Piazza's departure, while Wheeler has the potential to be the ace in a rotation with some very underrated young pitchers. The need is greater for d'Arnaud, but I see Wheeler having more impact on a team that is likely to be in pretty bad shape late in the season. 

MPR: Right-handed pitcher Matt Harvey, who has already earned a spot in the starting rotation, and Zack Wheeler, another impressive right-hander who is slated to start the 2013 season at AAA. Wheeler could make his way to the big leagues mid-season along with recently acquired catcher, Travis d'Arnaud, another rookie to watch out for.

C70: What will the final record of the team be and where will they finish in the division?

SF: I think the Mets will finish in fourth place in the NL East, winning somewhere between 75-80 games. 2013 is not going to be a year for going all-in to win immediately, but rather a developmental year for the young talent coming through the pipeline. If everything breaks right, the Mets could conceivably leapfrog the Phillies to finish in third, but that would probably be an absolute best case scenario, and would probably have equally to do with the Phillies underachieving as much as the Mets overachieving.

RA: A lot of things have to go right for the Mets to compete for a playoff spot this season. The Nationals and Braves look to be the top contenders for the division crown, while the Phillies are lurking following a strong finish to 2012. In my eyes, it's a matter of staying on the field and being consistent. If the players set to make the roster remain healthy and meet expectations, they should be competitive. If they got hot at the right time, they could possibly challenge for the second Wild Card spot in the NL. 

I'm awful at predicting records, but I'm going to go with a final record of 83-79 for the Mets, and placing 3rd in the division. If New York finishes the year at .500 or above, it is a great success.

PRBS: 70-92, in last place.

EKS: I'm going to go out on an optimistic limb and say the Mets break even this season 81-81. 

MR: The Mets won 74 games last year and they should finish pretty close to that again. I'll predict they'll win 72 games and finish in fourth place in the NL East. The only thing that'll keep them from the division basement is the Marlins offseason fire sale. The Marlins actions are pathetic and they deserve to be in the basement this season. 

CTM: 76-86, 4th in the NL East ahead of the Marlins. 3rd would be nice, but the Phillies don't have enough experience with late-season collapses to out-collapse the Mets. Last year they got it completely backwards, almost finishing with a winning record. They've made some great moves this offseason to improve their ability to disappoint, but they're still at least two or three years away from contending for last place. 

Seriously though, the real test for this team isn't going to be about their record or where they place in the division, it will be whether they can keep from dropping off like a rock after the All-Star game. They were still in contention last year at the break, then they forgot how to win games and were a lost cause by the trade deadline. This has been the trend for several years now and needs to stop before the Mets can ever be considered a contender, regardless of how many Wild Card teams are added.

MPR: Due to the fact that the NL East is ultra-competitive, the Mets will most likely finish fourth and not last thanks to the Marlins inability to put an inconsistent product on the field. Even though it pains me to say it but they will probably finish below five-hundred at 76-84.

C70: What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?

SF: I'm looking forward to Travis d'Arnaud and the rest of the young talent developing at the big league level. The 24-year-old d'Arnaud grew up idolizing Mike Piazza, and it would definitely be exciting to see him remind Mets fans of the future Hall of Fame catcher who the Mets really have not been able to replace since he left the Mets after the 2005 season. Nobody expects d'Arnaud to come out of the gate like Buster Posey, but I have a feeling he will be a fan favorite for years to come.

RA: I'm most looking forward to seeing what Ike Davis can do in a full season while being healthy. His second half last season was very impressive, but we were left wondering what could have happened if he didn't struggle before the All-Star break after contracting Valley Fever and his injured ankle not being 100%. He's coming off the most powerful season in his MLB career despite a putrid start to the year, and I'm excited to see what numbers he can put together in the clean-up spot now that he's fully healthy. 

PRBS: Watching guys like Jon Niese, Ike Davis, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud develop into players who will be part of the next Mets contender. EKS: Matt Harvey breaking out as one of the top starting pitchers in the NL. Don't be shocked if Harvey wins 17 games this season. 

MR: Most Mets fans don't have playoff aspirations this season. So we really have the future to look forward to most. That means young pitchers like Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. And young position players developing like Ruben Tejada and Travis d'Arnaud. I wish I could say I was looking forward to the playoffs but that's not the case for most Mets fans right now. 

CTM: In abstract terms, the unexpected. Last season brought us a no-hitter from Johan Santana and a 20-win season and Cy Young award from R.A. Dickey, not to mention the debut of Matt Harvey and David Wright getting back to being David Wright. Even with so much going wrong, there were plenty of bright spots. If you were at Citi Field for the final home game of the season when R.A. Dickey struck out 13 on the way to his 20th win, you wouldn't have thought that this was a team wrapping up another lost season. 

In more specific terms, I'm really looking forward to seeing a (hopefully) full healthy season from Ike Davis. Looking at his final line from last year (.227/.308/.462, 32 HR), you don't get a full appreciation for just how terrible he was from the start of the season until I posted this in June (.167/.248/.285, 5 HR in 206 PA). His performance from that point on (.261/.341/.562, 27 HR in 378 PA) was enough to bring him up to mediocre on the year, but a full season at that level would be a real treat. A hot start to the 2013 season could give David Wright some company at the All-Star Game at Citi Field this year. 

And then there are the unanswered questions. Can Jordany Valdespin make it as a big leaguer? Is there a position for Wilmer Flores? Will Jeurys Familia live up to his high expectations? And will we ever settle on a pronunciation of "Jeurys?" Who will settle into the closer role? How quickly will the hot arms at single A make it up through the system? Will playing in Las Vegas (AAA) cause any problems? Will a major league outfield appear in Citi Field by the end of the season? There's a lot to look forward to, even if this season turns out like the last few. It's baseball, isn't that enough?

MPR: If the Mets falter for the third straight year under Terry Collins' tutelage, will he survive the season?

My thanks to everyone involved in this project.  There does seem to be some hope for the Mets, even if it may not come this season.  And since it's New York, it's always going to be interesting!

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Thanks again Daniel for posting my responses to some tough questions about the Mets, it's sure going to be a long season for the Metsies, as for the other Mets bloggers who contributed to this post, great job!

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