Mets believe they have pieces to compete
Returning nucleus joined by interesting mix of veterans, rookies
NEW YORK -- The memories of 2011 remain fresh for Terry Collins, who tackled a difficult situation with optimism last summer and who, for much of the season, guided the Mets to some surprising successes. One year later, that blueprint may come in handy. The 2012 outlook appears even less promising in Flushing, with the Mets losing Jose Reyes to free agency and the rest of the division improving around them.
So at the dawn of another Spring Training, with players already trickling into Port St. Lucie, Fla., Collins must revisit those lessons of 2011.
"I walked into that camp last year and had a lot of people tell me, 'You guys aren't going to win any games,'" the Mets manager said. "What you've got to do is just go prove people wrong."
That begins with the nucleus of star players who still call Queens home, from Johan Santana and David Wright to Jason Bay and Ike Davis. And it continues with all the smaller pieces who must produce for the Mets to compete: Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada, for example, or Dillon Gee -- players who are not necessarily used to such key roles.
Now more than ever, the Mets are going to need contributions from every nook and cranny of their roster. And they believe that's possible. For most of this offseason, the team has pointed to its mix of former All-Stars and young talents as evidence that it can compete, even in an overstocked National League East.
Many Mets believe that with their top players producing, they have the ability to rediscover their mojo from a half-decade ago -- fun, persistent and successful.
"If we play the way we're capable of playing, and how I felt we were going to play last year, fans are going to want to come and see us play," Collins said. "If you win, people come out -- especially in New York. If we go perform, people are going to come, and that ultimately is our job."
That job begins now, at Spring Training, with pitchers and catchers set to report by early next week. And it will continue for at least the next seven months -- come good, bad or anything in between.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Home vs. Nationals, March 5 at 6:10 p.m. ET
Home vs. Braves, April 5 at 1:10 p.m. ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Will Santana be healthy?
One year ago, the Mets set their sights on a June return for Santana, or midseason at the latest. That never happened, increasing the anxiety for a team that relies so heavily on its best starting pitcher. The Mets need Santana not only to return to the big leagues, but to prove he can still produce at an elite level. Neither is a guarantee.
2. How do the Mets move on from Jose Reyes?
The Mets have made it clear that they do not expect Tejada to match his predecessor's production at shortstop, or to come particularly close. But they do need to replace Reyes' offensive contributions somehow, be it increased output from Wright and Bay, a healthy year from Davis or continued improvement from Duda. At the very least, they have options.
3. Can the Mets overcome their financial issues?
How the Wilpons fare in their trial against the trustee seeking to recover funds from Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme could go a long way toward determining the future of this franchise. But it's not necessarily the final act in this story. Even if the Wilpons win their trial and ultimately retain majority ownership of the team, it could be years before the club is financially stable again, potentially impacting baseball operations going forward.
77-85, fourth in the NL East
1. CF Andres Torres:
.221 BA, .312 OBP, .330 SLG, 4 HR, 19 RBIs in 2011
2. 2B Daniel Murphy:
.320 BA, .362 OBP, .448 SLG, 6 HR, 49 RBIs in 2011
3. 3B David Wright:
.254 BA, .345 OBP, .427 SLG, 14 HR, 61 RBIs in 2011
4. 1B Ike Davis:
.302 BA, .383 OBP, .543 SLG, 7 HR, 25 RBIs in 2011
5. LF Jason Bay:
.245 BA, .329 OBP, .374 SLG, 12 HR, 57 RBIs in 2011
6. RF Lucas Duda:
.292 BA, .370 OBP, .482 SLG, 10 HR, 50 RBIs in 2011
7. C Josh Thole:
.268 BA, .345 OBP, .344 SLG, 3 HR, 40 RBIs in 2011
8. SS Ruben Tejada:
.284 BA, .360 OBP, .335 SLG, 0 HR, 36 RBIs in 2011
1. Johan Santana, did not pitch in 2011 (left shoulder surgery)
2. R.A. Dickey, 8-13, 3.28 ERA in 2011
3. Jon Niese, 11-11, 4.40 ERA in 2011
4. Mike Pelfrey, 7-13, 4.74 ERA in 2011
5. Dillon Gee, 13-6, 4.43 ERA in 2011
Closer: Frank Francisco, 17/21 saves, 3.55 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: Jon Rauch, 4.85 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: Tim Byrdak, 3.82 ERA in 2011 The new guys
OF Torres: Coming off an injury-riddled season in San Francisco, Torres will replace Angel Pagan in center field. He's a speedy leadoff type with a reputation for excellent defense, but the Mets need him to reach base more often than he did last year to be an asset for the offense.
RHP Francisco: In a winter of frugal spending, the Mets' largest financial commitment went to Francisco, whom they locked up for two years and $12 million as a closer. There's plenty to like here, not least of which is Francisco's consistency. But relievers can be fickle from year to year, so the Mets will watch their new investment closely.
RHP Rauch: Francisco's sidekick at the back of Toronto's bullpen last year, Rauch comes to the Mets with plenty of closing experience, as well. The tallest active pitcher in the Majors at 6-foot-10, he should set up Francisco in Flushing, giving the Mets some much-needed eighth-inning stability.
RHP Ramon Ramirez: The final piece of New York's bullpen makeover is Ramirez, who came to Queens in the Torres trade. One of the game's best relievers over the past year and a half, Ramirez will look to prove that his poor first half in 2010 was the fluke -- not the run of successes that have come since.
SS Ronny Cedeno: Being realistic about Tejada's physical limits, the Mets inked Cedeno as shortstop insurance. The seven-year veteran should sub for Tejada with regularity, and he is capable of filling in at second base, as well.
Prospects to watch
RHP Matt Harvey: The hope around Flushing is that Harvey will force the team's hand, pitching well enough to earn a quick promotion to the big club. But the Mets have more cautious plans; most likely, Harvey will start out in Double-A and work his way to New York by season's end.
RHP Jeurys Familia: More questions surround Familia than Harvey, mostly because some scouts see the hard-throwing right-hander as a reliever. But as long as Familia continues thriving as a starting pitcher, he will remain in that role -- perhaps even down the stretch this season in New York.
RHP Zack Wheeler: Don't expect a big league appearance this year from Wheeler, who is a season behind Harvey and Familia in his development. Still, this will be a key year for Wheeler to position himself for an early impact in 2013.
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis: If a major shoulder injury had not wrecked his 2011 season, Nieuwenhuis might have been a legitimate competitor for the starting center-field job. As it is, he will need to prove his health and ability in Triple-A before making an impact for the Mets. That may not take long.
2B Reese Havens: Similar to Nieuwenhuis, Havens might have been in the Majors already if not for a seemingly endless string of injuries stalling him in the Minors. The ability is clearly there, but Havens must stay on the field in order to take the next step.
INF Jordany Valdespin: If either Tejada or Murphy falters at the middle-infield positions, Valdespin could have the next crack at a big league job. Despite some shortcomings in his plate approach, Valdespin has little more to prove in the Minors after a standout 2011 season.
On the rebound
LHP Santana: Though the Mets spent most of last season expecting -- or at least hoping -- that Santana would return to the big leagues, the left-hander suffered multiple setbacks in his shoulder rehabilitation and never quite did. How the Mets fare in 2012 will depend in large part upon whether their ace can still be an ace.
1B Davis: In what has become a familiar story for the Mets, a day-to-day injury transformed into a season-ending ordeal when Davis was unable to recover from what turned out to be a stress fracture in his left ankle. Losing a key year of development time in the process, Davis will need to prove he can still thrive as the team's best left-handed power threat.
2B Murphy: One of the team's most pressing questions this summer will be whether Murphy can learn to play an adequate second base. In part due to poor positioning around the second base bag, Murphy has suffered season-ending knee injuries in each of the last two years. The Mets need his bat to stay in the lineup.
3B Wright: A stress fracture in his lower back cost Wright two months last season, and he never really returned to his expected levels of production. An offseason of rest should help, but it's now been two years since Wright has produced an All-Star type season, and four since he has been a consistently elite offensive player.
OF Bay: Although he was healthier last year than in his Mets debut in 2010, Bay still battled injuries and spent much of the season tinkering with his swing. The result was another forgettable season for Bay, who has two years remaining to make good on his $66 million free-agent contract.
SS Reyes: By now, the saga of Reyes' departure to Miami is well-known. Of more concern to the Mets is how they will be able to replace Reyes, a dynamic talent who made his mark as one of the best overall players in franchise history.
OF Pagan: One of the club's most talented -- and at times, most maddening -- players seemed out of place by season's end, with the Mets mulling the possibility of non-tendering the oft-injured outfielder. Instead, they dealt him to the Giants for Torres and Ramirez, two key pieces to their 2012 roster.
LHP Chris Capuano: For the Mets, the curse of Capuano's strong summer was that he pitched well enough to command a multiyear contract as a free agent. The Dodgers obliged with a two-year, $10 million deal, pricing Capuano out of Flushing.
RHP Jason Isringhausen: One of last summer's feel-good stories simply did not fit back into the team's plans in 2012. Though Isringhausen enjoyed a renaissance summer until injuries cut short his season, the Mets decided to fill out their bullpen with younger, more durable options.
RHP Ryota Igarashi: The Igarashi Experiment came to a close after the Mets' $3 million investment spent two forgettable years shuttling between New York and Triple-A Buffalo, mostly succeeding in the Minors but struggling in the Majors. Igarashi will continue his stateside journey with the Pirates, who signed him to a Minor League deal.
OF Willie Harris: The lefty-hitting outfielder produced in line with his career norms in 2011, but when it came time to fill out their 2012 bench, the Mets leaned toward cheaper options. Harris took the opportunity to head to Cincinnati, where he will reprise his backup outfielder's role.
OF Nick Evans: After several years of stunted opportunities, the fan favorite Evans finally elected free agency when the Mets outrighted him to the Minors in November. Evans found a new gig shortly thereafter in Pittsburgh, where he will battle for a big league roster spot.