December 28, 2013

All Is Quiet On The Mets' Front

As 2013 winds down, the roster Sandy Alderson appears to be putting together for the 2014 warrants a hard look.  Will it look little like the punchless offensive group that toiled in Flushing last year? Will it be better?  Can it be worse?  Unfortunately, comparing the rosters from 2013 and as currently constituted doesn't give one much hope of a playoff run.  Here's what we can expect from the 2014 Mets.

Last year's opening day outfield of Lucas Duda, Colin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd will be replaced by a revamped Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and Chris Young trio.  Eric Young, Jr. Is in the mix as well.  By reputation, and assuming Lagares doesn't regress the way some second year players do, this group should perform much better than the cast that began the 2013 campaign.  One can expect much improved defense and power.  They will strike out in droves, but run production should increase. Pitchers will love throwing fly balls to them, especially at Citi Field, where outfield defense is key.  Overall: an upgrade; how significantly still remains to be seen.

The infield, other than David Wright, is in disarray.  The loss of John Buck aside, it appears to be the same group as last year.  Without picking up a major league shortstop, Ruben Tejada is the default option there. Daniel Murphy had a solid 2013 season at second base, with defensive skills vastly better than what most people expected.  He has some pop in his bat and it would be great to see him hitting with protection in the lineup.  He never walks, however, and his on-base numbers are awful for a guy who finished at the top of league in hits. Trade rumors have swirled around Murphy all winter.  He would be a nice trade chip for a back of the bullpen type, if the Mets were not so desperate for his offensive production. More troubling is this: if he stays with the Mets, who leads off?  First base is the biggest question mark on the team.  The Mets have waited for Ike Davis to fulfill his potential for three years, only to be disappointed by the results.  His swing is flawed, but not to the depths of what was displayed last year. It's clear that much of his underwhelming performance is in his head.  Mets fans greatest fear is that he moves on to another team, where he blossoms into a superstar. His defense is more than adequate and if the choice is between Ike and Lucas Duda, who is the same offensive player but a liability in the field, Ike gets the nod.  Travis d'Arnaud is going to get an opportunity to demonstrate that he is an every day Major League Baseball player.  On balance, no realistic talent evaluator thinks that both Davis and Tejada improve much beyond last year and Buck provided quality innings behind the plate with surprising production with the bat that won't be replaced in 2014.  Overall: worse than last year.

The pitching is going to be a strength for the Mets for many years to come.  The addition of Bartolo Colon has two potential benefits. He may well be a solid pitcher - especially with the move to the National League and the expansive ballpark he now calls home. Teaching the younger pitchers to trust their superior stuff and throw strikes could make them an even better starting staff than last year's group that finished sixth in baseball in quality starts. Niese and Gee have to mature and demonstrate that they are veterans, rather than young arms.  Wheeler can be as special as any pitcher in the game - and he doesn't seem to be surprised by his early success.  That quality may prove his best asset.  The fifth starter, probably Jenrry Mejia, whose pitches are electric, has to be durable.  That starting five could be solid.  They might also be fairly pedestrian. That's where Noah Syndergaard and/or Raphael Montero (probably in June or July) will come up to the big club.  The loss of Harvey for the year is a kick in the stomach.  Without him, the most likely candidate to step into the role of Ace is Wheeler.  A less talked about loss is Jeremy Hefner being on the shelf. For a time last summer, he was among the teams's most reliable starters.  The addition of Colon as a fourth or fifth starter would have been fabulous.  Expecting him to be an All-Star is not realistic.  The starters performed well last year.  A repeat would be most welcome. Overall: as good as last year is about all that can be expected.

The bullpen can't be worse than last year and could be another strength.  Parnell's injury situation makes any prediction of greatness dicey.  Vic Black, who Alderson plucked from the Pirates for Marlon Byrd, looks like a winner.  From there it's a group of hard throwing youngsters, Josh Edgin, Gonzales Germen and Jeurys Familia, along side some soft-tossing lefties, Scott Rice and "Perpetual" Pedro Feliciano.  Given how well the starting pitching did last year, the bullpen was a significant reason for the team's poor record - especially at the beginning of the season.  Improvement, however slight, should translate to wins.  Overall: hope springs eternal and it should be better.

The bench is stocked with Josh Satin, Eric Young, Jr., Anthony Recker and some combination of Matt den Dekker/Kirk Nieuwenhuis.  Non-tendering Justin Turner reduces the flexibility of this group, but Satin is reportedly trying to fill that role by practicing at both infield and outfield positions.  His bat, which is fairly good, especially against lefties, and his ability to play first make him almost a lock to be with the team on opening day.  Last year's bench was actually pretty good - speaking more to the quality of the starters they replaced than their actual production. Overall: a bit of a drop off from last year, but not noticeably so.

Prediction: a game better each month for each of the six months of the season puts this team at right around .500.  Two games better per month, and 86 wins (and at least in the discussion for a Wild Card) is possible.  The bullpen will be key.  This team isn't going to score eight runs a game.  Holding onto leads and keeping the team in games that are close will be the only way to see this kind of improvement.   Much more than that isn't going to happen.  

The is a guest post by Denis Engel.

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