COMMENTARY | This offseason, the New York Mets signed David Wright to a long-term contract, traded R.A. Dickey for prospects, and watched their division rivals stock up on talent.
Through it all, not a day went by without speculation about the Mets' plans for the new season. With players just days away from reporting to spring training, here are five questions for the Mets in 2013:
What's the plan for the bullpen? Frank Francisco is the closer. For now. The Mets have a capable Bobby Parnell who could fill in if need be, and they've shown interest in Brian Wilson and Jose Valverde. Right now, Francisco is the Mets' best option, though there are serious questions about him after he finished 2012 with a career high 5.53 earned run average. His health is also a concern. Francisco had surgery in December to remove a bone spur in his right elbow. On the bright side, he did have 23 saves in 26 opportunities last year and he's in the final year of his contract so there's plenty for him to prove.
The Mets' bullpen issues don't end there, however. General manager Sandy Alderson has been very honest about needing to make improvements in the bullpen. Scott Atchison, Pedro Feliciano, and LaTroy Hawkins have been signed to minor league contracts, and they just inked Brandon Lyon to a one-year deal. Everyone's talking about who will close, but finding guys to fill the setup role will be crucial as well.
In 2012, the Mets' bullpen finished with a 4.65 ERA, second-worst in all of baseball. Since he took over as GM, piecing together a bullpen has been one of Alderson's greatest challenges.
Do the Mets add an outfielder before the start of the season? This has been the most interesting part of the team to watch this offseason. Just a few days away from the start of spring training, the Mets are in desperate need of outfield help. If the season started today, Lucas Duda would be in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis would be in center field, and Mike Baxter would be in right field, with Collin Cowgill, Marlon Byrd, and Andrew Brown part of an outfield platoon. Corey Patterson and Mike Wilson recently signed minor league deals. Justin Turner will get a look in the outfield as well.
The one move that could transform the Mets' outfield, and the team in general, would be the signing of free agent Michael Bourn. Bourn's initial demands, reportedly in the $100 million neighborhood, were not met, so now he becomes a possibility for a team that's not looking to break the bank on a player, especially a 30-year-old center fielder whose game is predicated on speed. At three years and $45 million, Bourn would be a good investment. The Mets would have an everyday center fielder who would bat leadoff and provide excellent defense.
With spring training fast approaching, and as each day passes by, you'd have to think that it becomes more and more possible that a deal could be made. But here's the holdup: The Mets don't want to part with the first-round pick they'd lose if they sign Bourn. If for some reason Major League Baseball rules that they can keep this pick, the likelihood of signing Bourn increases. The makeup of this team would be dramatically different with Bourn in the mix.
Which pitcher will emerge as the ace of the staff? There are three scenarios here, and all are very favorable in terms of the future of this team.
First, let's say Johan Santana pitches close to the way he did last June when he tossed the first no-hitter in franchise history. The Mets would most certainly look to deal him. Santana's in the last year of his contract, and with the Mets unlikely to contend in a very competitive National League East, they should look to get something for him if they can. The better he pitches, the more the Mets will get back. Should we expect Santana to be the same pitcher he was in 2008? Of course not. But if he can stay healthy, you would think a number of teams with playoff aspirations would have interest in adding a left-handed starting pitcher to their staff.
Scenario No. 2 involves Matt Harvey, and this is the one that might get Mets fans the most excited. He pitched to a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts in his rookie season last year, and this year he will be in the rotation from day one. If he gets off to a good start and pitches well throughout the year, he'd create some much-needed buzz at Citi Field. He'll certainly get the opportunity to do so.
Finally, there's Jonathon Niese. In 2010, he won nine games. In 2011, he won 11 games. Last year, he won 13 games. He also got his ERA down to 3.40. At 26, he's already very appealing to teams around the league. Unlike Santana, the Mets would be wise to hold onto him.
Will Ike Davis be Major League Baseball's best bargain? There will be players who put up better numbers, but will anyone be as good of a value as Davis, who enters this season making $3.125 million? Here's a guy who has proven, when healthy, to be one of the better left-handed hitters in baseball.
Last year, he had a miserable first few months of the season. There was even talk that he might be sent down to the minors. He had five home runs and was hitting under .200 heading into June. Davis responded by hitting a team-high 32 home runs and driving in 90 runs. In his rookie campaign of 2010, he hit 19 home runs, then got hurt the next year.
Here's the point: If he produces like he did after a really bad April and May last year, Davis will be considered among the top first basemen in baseball, all for a little over $3 million per season. The bargain won't last long if Davis proves that he's the player we saw the last four months of the season. Then, not only would the Mets have themselves an All-Star first baseman, they'd have to pay him big bucks. Enjoy the sale before it ends.
What will Terry Collins manage to get out of this team? Collins has been a good manager for the Mets, but the fact remains that in his two years at the helm, New York has won 151 games, good for two fourth-place finishes in the NL East. With a limited roster, Collins has kept the Mets in contention through the first half of both seasons. However, the second half of each season has not been kind to the Mets. And that's why it's difficult to evaluate his tenure. On the one hand, you have to give him credit for getting the Mets to play hard and keeping them relevant for at least half a season. On the other hand, you can't ignore the team's struggles in the second half of both seasons.
Through it all, it's important to remember what Collins is working with. With a bad outfield and question marks in the bullpen heading into this season, and playing in a division that's home to three of the better teams in the league, he has his work cut out for him.
Collins is in the last year of his contract, which means his future with the Mets will be a story throughout the season.
Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.