Pressing Questions: The New York Mets

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  • Sandy Alderson
    Major League Baseball general manager
  • Johan Santana
    Johan Santana
    Venezuelan baseball player

Last season was an all too familiar outcome for the blue-bonneted stepchildren of the Big Apple. For the 10th time since 2000, the Miracles failed to reach the postseason. As a result, Jon Stewart, quite possibly the organization's loyalest fan, added another gray hair to his increasingly silver dome.

Unfortunately for Stew Beef, and the entire Mets fan-base, additional pain and suffering is sure to follow.

The Mets, still financially unstable stemming from the Wilpons' ties to the Bernie Madoff scandal, are seemingly satisfied playing the undercard in the country's biggest market. This offseason, GM Sandy Alderson was unable to retain prized free agent Jose Reyes who bolted for big bucks on South Beach. Additionally, 2010 breakout Angel Pagan was shipped to the West Coast for Andres Torres. With Carlos Beltran also out of the picture, the club is clearly in rebuilding mode, an undesirable state that will likely force the franchise to log extensive time near the NL East basement this season.

Still, for fantasy purposes, the Mets, unlike fellow dungeon dweller Houston, aren't completely devoid of talent. To help decipher the meaningful form the meaningless, here are the most pressing questions about New York heading into spring training:

Citi Field, a pitcher's haven in its short existence, is getting a Comerica-like facelift with fences coming in upwards of 17 feet. Will the shortened dimensions boost an offense that finished 26th in home runs in 2011? What impact will the move have on the pitching staff?

The cavernous specs and "Great Wall of Flushing" in left greatly hindered the Mets' power stroke, and its visitors'. In its stats-deflating three-year history the ballpark has yielded a mere 1.43 home runs per game, the lowest number among big league venues. In the less spacious confines, Alderson believes his team will club roughly 27 more home runs per season, enhancing the value of its sluggers. David Wright is the only Met to surpass 20 homers in a season since Citi Field's opening (2010 when he hit 29 HRs overall, 12 at home). This year, it's likely the now healthy third baseman along with rebound candidate Ike Davis and sleeper Lucas Duda will each surpass that mark. Jason Bay, meanwhile, will continue to suck.

Of course, there's give and take with any fence-line alteration. ERAs could definitely be on the rise, especially for fly-ball heavy pitchers. Jonathan Niese, a strong breakout candidate (3.14 K/BB, 3.77 tERA in '11), Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey and Dillon Gee shouldn't be too negatively impacted by the change. Each did a commendable job keeping balls in the park posting groundball rates well above 45.0 percent last year. However, Johan Santana, assuming he's healthy, could come down with a nasty case of gopheritis. During his last healthy season, 2010, the two-time Cy Young winner allowed 1.12 HR/9 at Citi Field. He also notched a skyward 0.75 GB/FB ratio with the Mets from '09-'10. If Johan doesn't regain his mystifying form, he could become a punching bag, even at home.

What's less risky: Swigging untreated water from the East River or rostering Johan in a standard mixer?

Believe it or not, the waterway's diseased swill might possess fewer toxins than the former fantasy ace. The multi-time All-Star is coming off a season lost, recovering from major shoulder surgery. Still, contrary to December reports that painted a grim picture about the pitcher's early season availability, Alderson revealed recently an April appearance isn't out of the question. From the New York Times:

As for Santana, who did not pitch for the Mets last season as he recovered from shoulder surgery, Alderson said he was throwing on consecutive days from a distance of roughly 75 feet. He said he expected Santana to be ready for the start of the season but could not be sure.

"The answers are going to come in spring training, not beforehand," Alderson said. "We have no reason to believe it won't be the case. Right now, he's progressing and should be ready to go at the start of spring training."

Santana threw 25 times from 90 feet Thursday and plans to ramp up the long-toss distance in his next session. His goal is to be ready for bullpen sessions when the Mets officially open spring training Feb. 22. The lefty, though, contends he has no idea where he'll be physically in two months.

Despite the optimistic reports, Santana remains a very risky commodity. Pre-procedure, his velocity and, subsequently, his K/9 were already in decline. His change-up, once one of the most-devastating pitches in the game, lost its ability to baffle. Fangrahs' pitch value chart is clear-cut proof. Simply put, he was an avoidable commodity pre-injury. Citi Field's hitter-friendly makeover does him no favors. Yes, he's worth a speculative pick in the wee hours of standard drafts, but, unless he twirls a positive outing or three during spring training, nothing more. Auctioneers, let someone else overpay.

Prediction: "The Dude," Lucas Duda, delivers a Michael Morse-like breakout season. White russians also become all the rage in watering holes throughout Queens.

For deep leaguers, Duda was a godsend after the All-Star break last year. He cracked a homer once ever 20.5 at-bats and finished with a .322/.411/.957 line over 205 box steps. His fantasy contribution during that stretch ranked No. 26 among outfielders, equivalent to a Round 7 value in 12-team mixers according to Baseball Monster. Extrapolate his second-half production over a full season (550 at-bats, 26 HR, 103 RBI, 81 R), and he would've posted numbers in-step with mass-owned outfielder Hunter Pence.

Though his contact numbers (81.3 CT%) and K:BB splits (0.58 BB/K) were laudable, it's unlikely he'll sustain a BA above .300 over a full slate. Still, a .286 career hitter in the minors, he isn't a categorical harm. Combine that with a likely everyday gig in right, fifth-spot in a decent batting order and Citi's remodeling, and Duda should turn a massive profit. Struggles against southpaws will be common (22.5 K% vs. LHP in '11), but he is certainly capable of a .280-25-90-80 output. Considering his current 218.7 ADP at Mock Draft Central and projected $1-$2 winning bid, he's one of those bargain basement buys that propel owners to the winner's circle. Don't overlook him.

Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch must really enjoy one another's company. During their stint in Toronto last year, many owners were forced to roster both. Should owners break out the 'cuffs yet again?

Owners who drafted Francisco as one of their primary closers (Guilty as charged) endured a rollercoaster of emotion last year. The rocky stopper, limited by pectoral/shoulder problems early in the season, overtook the job in May, only to cede occasional opportunities to Rauch as the season wore on. However, he finished strong, posting sensational numbers in August/September (18 IP, 3 ER, 16 K, 7 S).

Francisco's shrinking K/9 and home run vulnerability definitely raise an eyebrow, particularly in a park that should be more hitter friendly. But he still possesses a terrific mid-90s fastball. And if he relies more on his splitter, his past long-ball indiscretions likely won't resurface.

As we've constantly preached, owners should never overpay for saves. Francisco, who clearly has the inside track on the end-game gig heading into spring training, is exactly why you can avoid chasing the category early in drafts. The 32-year-0ld is a great late-round (220.2 ADP), low-dollar ($2 mixed league AAV) grab. Though keep in mind, if Franky bombs, Rauch, who saved 11 games last year, is next in line.

Historically, the Mets' farm system has produced a number of memorable homegrown arms (e.g. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden). Is there another rifleman waiting in the wings?

Every year, a power-armed prospect mows down minor league hitters, invigorating the fantasy masses. It's been ages since a Mets farmhand primed the pump, but righty Matt Harvey certainly has the disposition and stuff to develop into a top-of-the-rotation ace. Propaganda from the New York Post:

What makes Harvey special is not just the right arm that throws a four-seam fastball in the mid to upper 90s, a late-breaking curveball, sinker, slider and a developing changeup, but also that his makeup is off the charts.

Watch him pitch and you see the kind of focus the Mets run up against when they face the likes of Phillies ace Roy Halladay.

Easy gas. Hard determination.

Over 132.2 innings between High-A and Double-A, Harvey proved nasty, whiffing 156. His 1.32 GB/FB ratio was equally impressive. The 22-year-old still needs some seasoning, but his big arm is worth keeping tabs on. If injuries arise or Dillion Gee bombs as the fifth starter, Harvey could earn a promotion as early as June. Highlight his name on your cheat sheet, keeper leaguers.

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