In three weeks, the Mets will be at Citi Field preparing for the first game of the regular season. That can’t be debated. What has been debated the last five plus months, often ridiculously, is the state of the team and what the expectations should be heading into the 2013 campaign. Before we delve into that, let’s pause to allow George Harrison to give us a warm and fuzzy feeling about the coming season:
Now, there are those reading who are old enough to remember watching the Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin point/counterpoint skits on Saturday Night Live in the mid to late 1970′s. I’m not one of them, but I became familiar with the skits growing up in a household that held SNL in high regard. Basically, the two would go back and forth on a host of different topics, often saying ridiculous things to get their point across. In some instances, they would resort to name calling.
As I’ve watched Mets fans debate the potential of the 2013 team, I often find myself shaking my head at the absurdity of the arguments. A sliver of people are blindly optimistic, some are hoping for the best, and others wouldn’t predict more than 70 wins if Marty McFly crashed into their living room in a DeLorean with concrete proof that the Mets were about to shock the world. Unlike how Aykroyd and Curtin spoke to each-other during their SNL skits, I’ll be writing this point/counterpoint piece in a logical, thoughtful way.
The Mets’ fan base is incredibly passionate, which is fantastic. However, when it comes to debating one another about the team, hyperbole often takes the place of logic (just a few minutes ago, I saw someone on Twitter predict 106 losses).
When you peel away the nonsense, the Mets appear to be a team that will be around average, likely slightly below. If a few things break right, they could surprise. That doesn’t fit the “LOLMets” narrative, though, so people tend to predict absurd misfortune.
Below, I’ll attempt to rationally examine some of the questions surrounding the team. The “point” portion is the prevailing wisdom from the majority of fans and media types, while the “counterpoint” portion is my response.
Point: The outfield is an atrocity. Sandy Alderson said as much when he made his infamous “what outfield” quip a few months back. It’s clear that the Mets can’t contend, and the outfield is the main reason why. The Mets didn’t attempt to improve the outfield during the offseason, so why should I even consider coming out to watch this team? It’s a joke, really. Not only will the Mets’ outfield be the worst in the division, it’ll likely be one of the worst groups ever assembled. Thinking about it makes me want to vomit.
Counterpoint: The outfield is in flux. If Alderson hadn’t made his “what outfield” quip, the light wouldn’t be shining so brightly on the outfield situation. Yes, the outfield is an issue. There are several reasons, though, why it’s not the unbelievable mess it’s being made out to be. For one, take a look at the 2012 outfield: The four Mets who saw the most time out there last season were Andres Torres, Jason Bay, Scott Hairston, and Lucas Duda. Not exactly a group to fear. Want to know who made up the opening day outfield in 2010? It was Jason Bay, Gary Matthews, Jr., and Jeff Francoeur. This year’s outfield situation is still being settled, but I’d expect the opening day outfield to consist of Lucas Duda, Collin Cowgill, and Marlon Byrd. Coming off the bench will likely be Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin. Does that group strike fear into anyone? Nope. Did Jason Bay strike fear into anyone at the beginning of the 2010 season? Yes.
Forget those who are claiming the Mets’ outfield will be the worst in the majors. They may not even be the worst group in the division. The Phillies’ group is likely to consist of Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Delmon Young, Darin Ruf, and John Mayberry, Jr. They have Delmon Young, you say? Go look at his WAR from last year. Would it have been nice for the Mets to have added an established outfield regular? Absolutely. They tried, but it didn’t happen. Would it have guaranteed that the outfield would be better? No. Moreover, with 2013 likely a transition year, it made very little sense to hand out a contract to any of the underwhelming free agents who were on the market just for the sake of it. With less than $35 million committed to player salaries for 2014, the Mets will most likely turn to free agency in an effort to improve the outfield after this season.
Point: Trading R.A. Dickey was akin to punting the 2013 season. How can the Mets possibly expect to fill that void in the rotation? It’s unreal that a team based in New York dealt the reigning Cy Young award winner because they refused to pay him a few million dollars more per year. What a joke.
Counterpoint: R.A. Dickey was dealt because the Mets decided it was in their best long-term interest to maximize the return on their investment. The reason the Mets didn’t meet Dickey’s asking price is because they determined that obtaining Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Wuilmer Becerra, and John Buck was a smarter move than retaining R.A. The Mets dealt from a position of strength in order to land a potential franchise catcher and other important pieces. It had nothing to with any financial issue or refusal to pay Dickey what he deserved. To those who are claiming that dealing Dickey meant “punting” 2013: How many of you saw the Mets as contenders this season with R.A. Dickey? Zero? OK.
Moving on…the Mets aren’t asking one pitcher to fill the void left by Dickey. They’re relying on the rotation as a whole to pick up the slack. If you look at last season’s rotation, you may even come to the realization that this year’s group should be just as successful, if not better than last year’s. In 2012, the Mets lost three fifths of their starting rotation to injury: Mike Pelfrey was lost for the year after a few starts, Dillon Gee missed the entire second half after a blood clot was discovered in his shoulder, and Johan Santana was shut down in August after being ineffective since mid-July. Even with Santana struggling to break camp, the 2013 rotation should include Matt Harvey for a full season, Jonathon Niese, Shaun Marcum, and Dillon Gee. On the horizon is Zack Wheeler. Behind him in the minors is one of the best crops of starting pitching talent in all of baseball.
Point: This is so depressing. The Mets can’t possibly expect to compete with the Nationals, Braves, or Phillies this year or in the years to come. The Nationals are a juggernaut and will remain one until at least 2015. The Braves have an outfield to envy, while the top three pitchers in the Phillies’ rotation are among the best in the majors.
Counterpoint: First of all, let’s separate the Phillies from the Nationals and Braves. Simply put, the Phillies aren’t in the same stratosphere as Atlanta and Washington. Yes, Halladay, Lee, and Hamels are quite the formidable bunch. Aside from those three, their club is lacking significantly. Their outfield has already been discussed, and is likely to be a major weakness. Two of their three offensive cornerstones (Ryan Howard and Chase Utley), are shells of themselves. Howard’s name carries cache because of what he’s done in the past, but he’s an albatross in waiting who struck out 34 percent of the time last season while compiling a WAR of -1.0. Utley is dealing with chronic knee issues, and is unlikely to ever again be a true difference maker.
Now, the Nationals may very well be a juggernaut for years to come. They’re damn good. The Braves have the potential to be very good, but there’s also a chance their heralded outfield will massively under-achieve. Everyone loves bringing up the Upton brothers, and how their arrival in Atlanta means the Braves are set for years to come. Those people, though, are ignoring a few key factors. For one, the Braves lost both Martin Prado (trade) and Chipper Jones (retirement) from their 2012 squad. The Braves didn’t add the Upton brothers to an already powerful offense, they acquired them to replace two important offensive pieces who are gone. Secondly, the Upton’s are no sure thing. B.J. Upton had an on base percentage last season of .298 and is a career .255 hitter. Justin Upton is the better get, and someone I wanted the Mets to acquire. Still, he’s had only one season where his hype matched his performance. He was also dealt from Arizona because their management didn’t view him as someone who “fit” with what they were trying to do.
Even if the Nationals and Braves both have incredible staying power, the Mets would still have a chance to make the Playoffs without ever finishing ahead of either of them in the standings. Should that be what the Mets are striving for? Absolutely not. Still, it’s an interesting thing to note.
Are the 2013 Mets likely to contend for the postseason? No. That doesn’t mean that they can’t. It also doesn’t mean that every other team besides them is in tremendous shape. It’s the “grass is always greener” mentality that seems to afflict the Mets’ fanbase more than any other. Instead of looking at what other teams have and wallowing in self pity, Mets fans should take some time to examine their own club and realize that it’s on the way up due to the following:
- A starting rotation that has the potential to be quite good for years to come - In Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Shaun Marcum, and Johan Santana, the starting five is formidable. In the event that Santana isn’t ready to start the year, his short-term fill in would likely be Jeremy Hefner. Beyond those six starters is Zack Wheeler, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.
- A very solid infield - David Wright and Ruben Tejada are heading into this season exactly like they were heading into last. However, Ike Davis is no longer dealing with the illness that made him a shell of himself for most of the first half of 2012, and Daniel Murphy isn’t half focused on learning a new position and half focused on his responsibilities at the plate.
- A bullpen that should be better in 2013, and that could become a plus very soon – As of now, it appears that Bobby Parnell, Brandon Lyon, Scott Atchison, Josh Edgin, and Greg Burke are locks to make the team. The other two spots are still being vied for. Aside from Frank Francisco, who is in the last year of his deal that will pay him $6 million this season, none of the likely bullpen arms are guaranteed much in terms of dollars. Due to that fact, they’ll be easy to replace if they falter. If Jeurys Familia doesn’t make the roster out of camp, he’ll likely be the first pitcher called on if a need were to arise. Aside from Familia, there are relievers such as Adam Kolarek and Jack Leathersich who may have a chance to make an impact as the 2013 season rolls on.
- A minor league system that’s vastly improved – The Mets’ system is now viewed as middle of the pack overall. Their pitching (both depth wise and talent wise) in the minors, though, is seen as one of the best in baseball, with Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Michael Fulmer, Noah Syndergaard, Domingo Tapia, and a host of others. Potential impact offensive talent is a bit further away, but the Mets have three very intriguing position players in Wilmer Flores, Brandon Nimmo, and Gavin Cecchini.
- Payroll flexibility after 2013 – Presently, the Mets have less than $35 million committed to player salaries for 2014. If you factor in raises that will likely be given to arbitration eligible players, that total shoots up to about $45 million. What that means, is that the Mets should have a significant chunk of money to spend in order to fortify the roster for 2014 and beyond. The team will have the ability to take on salary via trade, sign high end free agents, become aggressive in the international market, or utilize each one of those options.
…This piece wasn’t written through orange and blue colored glasses. It was my intent to take a rational look at many of the questions surrounding the Mets in both 2013 and going forward. Due to the fact that rational pieces seem to be few and far between these days, this one may appear to be overly optimistic. It’s my belief that it isn’t.