COMMENTARY | Not much is expected of the New York Mets this season.
The team's fans have gotten used to fourth-place finishes in the division, and with a weak outfield and injuries up and down the roster, they're not feeling too optimistic heading into this year. As for the front office, they seem to clearly have their eyes on a future that begins a year from now.
That being said, on a team full of question marks, here are the Mets' top three for 2013:
How will David Wright take to being "The Franchise"?
Ever since he signed his mega-contract this offseason, the one that will pay him $138 million over the next eight years, David Wright went from being the face of the franchise to becoming "The Franchise."
There have been reports that Wright will soon be named captain. More important, however, is that he gets healthy, and does so quickly. Wright exited the World Baseball Classic last week and was diagnosed with a strained intercostal muscle on his left side. He'll be re-evaluated in the days ahead, but his status for the April 1 opener is in doubt.
The Mets desperately need Wright in the lineup. They need him to hit like he did from 2005 through 2008 when he averaged 29 home runs a year and hit over .300 each year. If he doesn't, at the very least, give the Mets what he did last year (.306, 21 home runs, 93 runs batted in), they will struggle. If he's not able to play due to injury, the Mets are in serious trouble.
And then there's this: When you're being paid like a superstar, when you've set -- or eventually will set -- nearly all of the franchise's offensive records, and when you're the veteran who's been here the longest, there's going to be tremendous pressure on you to perform.
There's never been this much pressure on Wright -- not even in the playoffs in 2006 or the September collapses in 2007 and 2008. He is the franchise, after all.
It's become a broken record, but you call that an outfield?
The Mets have had some bad teams throughout their history, but in all the years I've been watching I can't remember an outfield that's been this bad.
I've said before that a lot can change, and maybe the Mets are able to piece an outfield together that surprises people. But, right now, it's safe to say that they have one of the worst outfields in baseball. Nothing, so far, can give you much confidence that things will change by opening day.
Lucas Duda, who it appears will be the everyday left fielder, is a defensive liability, and he's hitting .222 this spring after struggling at the plate and in the field last year. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is 1-for-18 this spring, and he's been out for the past two weeks with a bone bruise on his knee. He was expected to be in center field. The Mets have been taking a close look at Collin Cowgill, whose average has been dropping; Matt den Dekker, who isn't known for his offense; Marlon Byrd, whose numbers have been in decline; and Jordany Valdespin, a natural infielder who could see significant time in the outfield.
Right now, Cowgill, Byrd, and Valdespin have shown something, but I'd have to think that if Mets brass had its druthers, they'd prefer to see Duda and Nieuwenhuis prove that they can be everyday players. That has yet to happen.
Which young player will generate the most buzz at Citi Field? Yes, that's what it might come to.
If the Mets expect fans to come out to Citi Field this season, they're going to need one of their young players to make it a worthwhile day at the ballpark.
Yes, the two games against the Yankees will be big draws, and opening day still has that special appeal. But what about the other 78 home games? It's a legitimate question considering the Mets have not been competitive for the last four years, and though they've gotten off to good first-half starts in 2011 and 2012, they've struggled in the second half of each year.
Mets fans are fed up. If the team isn't competitive, it won't take long for them to stay home.
Enter Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Travis d'Arnaud. Let's refer to them as the potential turnstile saviors. Harvey, who went 3-5 in his rookie season last year, will start the year in the majors. Wheeler will follow the Harvey plan from 2012 and start at Triple-A Las Vegas, but it's only a matter of time before he's called up to the big club. His starts could -- notice the could -- become huge draws, giving Mets fans something to look forward to every fifth or sixth day. D'Arnaud, one of the top prospects in baseball, will also start in the minors but should be called up shortly. When he is, the Mets plan to play him every day.
If the Mets are bad, people aren't going to come to the ballpark. But some will show up to see Harvey and Wheeler pitch, and you'd have to think that if d'Arnaud is brought up and given the chance to play, fans will at least pay attention.
Hey, you don't have to believe, but you'll have to at least check in every once in a while.
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.
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