No. Wait. It– shit, no. It can’t be. That’s not…. optimism? No, no way. Who could be optimistic about this team? Who would be optimistic about a team that just traded away the reigning Cy Young Award winner, a team that hasn’t had a winning record or finished above fourth place in five years or a team whose two highest-paid outfielders now play for the Seattle Mariners and no one?
Why would any fan with his frontal lobe intact be the least bit happy about the impending train of mediocrity that will be the 2013 New York Mets?
Well, even if the next six months will be some mild drudgery — and they will be — there is, at long last, some light at the end of what has been frustratingly long tunnel. No, the Mets won’t be great this year. They won’t be particularly good either. In fact, they’re almost certainly not going to have the horses to get so much as a winning record for the first time in the Obama administration, not when Lucas Duda, Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are some of the fine men certain to get starting outfield time. Do not let the cautious optimism in Port St. Lucie or Queens fool you. This is probably a bad baseball team, even if Pecota somehow has the Mets projected to go 82-80 at the moment.
But that’s ok.
We haven’t accepted our mediocrity and perpetual second-fiddle identity in our home city. No, it’s actually the complete opposite. The Amazins took their lumps over the last few seasons, not simply because of perpetual financial problems, but because the new front office of Sandy Alderson and company realized that the Omar Minaya-era tactic of simply paying for a new rich contract as a band-aid wasn’t going to save this franchise nor make it regularly competitive for a title. The clutter had to be swept away and viable, young Major League prospects had to take their place. From the looks of these the team has started to do that, and while the Mets are likely still two years away at best from real contention, the franchise that once appeared utterly lost seems to be headed in the right direction. And that’s quite the statement from someone who has lacked, um, any faith whatsoever, in recent seasons.
So, given that lack of faith, why on Earth am I actually kind of excited about this slow train running? Well, let’s start with the pitching. This is an odd choice considering R.A. Dickey is now pitching north of the border, but Matt Harvey, who is by most accounts considered a potential No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher and a fairly safe bet at that, will get the opportunity to show his stuff for a full season. Harvey got his first taste of the show last season making 10 starts, and while his final record of 3-5 leaves something to be desired, given the fact that he’d never pitched in the bigs and his offense was terrible, it ain’t half bad either. Then you notice that he actually had a 2.73 ERA, 70 Ks to just 26 BBs and a .200 BAA and you think, “Oh, ok, this guy can pitch in the Majors.” Not only can he pitch, but with numbers like that in just 10 starts, he could develop into a potentially dominant force on the mound. Then there’s Zack Wheeler, the Mets’ take in the 2011 deal that sent Carlos Beltran to San Francisco. Wheeler will start the season in the minors, but this is likely just to delay him from accruing a season of Major League service time so that his free agency doesn’t start until 2019 as opposed to 2018. While Wheeler is untested in the Majors he is the Mets’ top prospect and is considered by many around baseball to be a potential ace. If Harvey and Wheeler develop as expected, Mets fans will get to see the start of what could be a very strong rotation in a few years along with John Niese and Noah Syndergaard, a minor-league pitcher from the Dickey deal who is generally considered among the top 25 prospects in baseball.
The Mets, of course, also have David Wright locked up for the next eight years, Ike Davis, who clocked a very quiet 32 home runs last season and Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy up the middle, who are solid if unspectacular. Then there’s Travis d’Arnaud, the real prize of the Dickey trade, the top catching prospect in baseball and a likely bet to reach the Majors some time this season.
Then there’s the outfield. Let’s not talk about the outfield. Or the bullpen.
So perhaps you’re starting to see why there’s some optimism if you’re a Mets fan. Not because they’ll challenge for a World Series this year, but because this is the season where we’ll see just what the Mets have. By all accounts and expectations this is a roster that with a season or two of development and maybe one or two nice free agent signings, could be challenging for the postseason in 2014 and maybe challenging for a World Series in 2015. The footing really does seem to be far more solid than it was a year ago, and this season may not end with champagne, but it just might end with confidence that in not too long, things will be better.
But, hey, we’re not talking about 2014 and 2015. We’re talking about 2013. So let’s see how that optimism just might play out, shall we?
Postseason appearance hinges on: No one! Why? Because they’re not going there! That’s fine, but it’s hard to imagine there could actually be one single individual on whom the Mets could stake their postseason chances. For the sake of argument, though, we’re going to go with Davis. For a few years now, Mets fans have touted Davis as the next great slugging first baseman, and while he’s never going to be Albert Pujols, he’s still going to be quite good. Davis finished last season with 32 home runs and 90 RBI, kind of a remarkable total for a team that scored 650 runs which was good enough for 12th out of 16 teams in the National League.
This happened despite the fact that Davis was hampered for the first month of the season by things like not eating chametz during Passover (which conveniently ends on Opening Day this season) and perhaps more importantly, Valley Fever, which led to a disastrous first half for Davis, the results of which were evident in his season ending .227 average and .308 OBP. This happened to coincide with a strange start to the season in which the Mets were actually pretty good. New York was a respectable 31-23 in early June before the house of cards came crashing down.
Had Davis been able to play baseball like a normal person while the rest of the team was playing abnormally well, perhaps the inevitable collapse might have been staved off for at least a little while. This spring Davis says he’s feeling positively fine and dandy and his .357 average in the Grapefruit League seems to agree, which means if the rest of the team plays like it did a season ago and Davis plays his part, well, hey, they just might stay in the Wild Card race beyond the All-Star Break.
Best they can be: Well, theoretically anyone can win a World Series when its Opening Day, right?
Eh, probably not.
We’re still going to dream a little bit here and say that’s the best the Mets can do in 2013, but if we go back to their current PECOTA projection of 82-80, that is probably New York’s ceiling, and a relatively optimistic one at that. Essentially, Harvey would have to be a dominant starter from the outset, Wheeler would have to have no learning curve, Shaun Marcum would have to avoid the injury bug, which he’s already failed at, and Dillon Gee would need to be superb at the back end of the rotation. The bullpen, which I’m sure none of the readers could actually name three people in if they tried, would need to be surprisingly good at holding down leads and at least one of the Mets’ starting outfielders would need to be… less terrible. All of those stars aligning is probably pretty damn unlikely, but if they do, New York could have an 82-85 win team that probably falls short of one of the two Wild Card spots, but at least stays in the hunt for them until the middle of September.
Worst they can do: Well, it might be the optimist in me, but I have a tough time seeing the Mets falling as far as fifth place when the Marlins have Giancarlo Stanton and a bunch of Jeffrey Loria’s paintings filling out the rest of the roster, but if New York gets truly injury-ravaged and the roster gets tired of manager Terry Collins’ hard edge, the team could bottom out with 72 wins and a fourth-place finish.
Probably outcome: What’s something that’s more unlikely than a pipe dream? Whatever that is, it’s how I would define the chances of the Mets winning the National League East this year, not with a deep Nats team that might be the class of Major League Baseball 220 miles south of them. The Braves, too, will be good, though, in this humble writer’s opinion, not as good as some people seem to think, and then there’s the rest of this division. Yeah, that’s right, @TheRawLibrarian, the Phillies aren’t really that good. Philadelphia is an aging crop with an offense that’s fallen off the map (Philadelphia finished eighth in the NL in OPS in 2012) and a pitching rotation that would be stellar if it was healthy, but it isn’t. Remember, the Phillies finished just 81-81 last season and it’s not as if they’ve gotten considerably better, which means Philadelphia and New York are likely to be jockeying for third place for most of the season. The Phils will probably win that battle and edge New York for the title of best non-playoff contender in the East, leaving the Mets in fourth place, but don’t be surprised if they somehow leapfrog the rivals down I-95.
Final prediction: 79-83. This is a rebuilding year, but unlike the last two seasons the Mets truly are rebuilding. It won’t be enough to make them contenders in 2013, but if everything breaks right for them, they’ll give their fan base reason to believe the postseason in 2014 is a real possibility.
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