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2012 Mets Preview: Mets 2012: Shackled By Ownership Situation

Jan Levine

Jan Levine

Levine covers baseball, basketball and hockey for RotoWire. In addition to his column writing, he's the master of the MLB and NHL cheatsheets. In his spare time, he roots for the Mets.

After a poor start left the Mets with a 5-13 record on April 20, New York went 50-38 and was 55-51 on July 29. However, that's when the bottom dropped out - trades, injuries and some apathy set in as the Mets won just 22 of their final 56 games to wind up 77-85 and finish with a losing record for the third year in a row. Heading into 2012, finances are the main focus with the Mets. The team's payroll, set to drop from $145 million to possibly below $100 million, is on the docket and drives most of the moves made by GM Sandy Alderson and his staff. Given how the strong the rest of NL East is, look for the Mets to finish last in the division and be lucky to win 70 games.

Offseason Moves

Did not offer a contract to or allowed the following to become free agents: Jose Reyes, Willie Harris, Chris Capuano, Luis Hernandez, Ryota Igarashi, Dale Thayer, Jason Pridie, Nick Evans, Taylor Buchholz, Ronny Paulino, Pat Misch, Jason Isringhausen and Fernando Martinez.

The Mets wanted to bring back Reyes, but financial constraints and concerns over his injury history prevent the team from competing with the six-year, $106 million deal he signed with the Marlins. Capuano had a solid season in New York but priced himself out of the Mets' budget and signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dodgers. Isringhausen held his own out of the bullpen, but the revamping of the team's relief corps left no room for him. Martinez was expected to be a big-time prospect for the Mets, but his inability to stay healthy landed him on the waiver wire and eventually in Houston.

Signed Vinny Rotino, Adam Loewen, Lucas May, Garrett Olson, Chuck James, Mike Baxter, Rob Johnson, Omar Quintanilla, Jeff Stevens, Fernando Cabrera, Sean Kazmar, Matt Tuiasosopo and Miguel Batista to minor-league deals.

May and Johnson will battle Mike Nickeas for the backup job behind Josh Thole. James and Olson will compete with Daniel Herrera to possibly fill the role of second lefty out of the 'pen. Stevens and Cabrera likely will pitch in Triple-A but could earn a spot in the bullpen. Loewen is a former pitcher who had a monster season last year in the minors, but he has to show his numbers were not solely PCL-inflated. Baxter should end up at Triple-A Buffalo. Rotino (corner infield), Kazmar, Quintanilla and Tuiasosopo (middle infield) will all have a chance at a reserve infield role. Batista has filled the role of swingman and should do the same in New York.

Acquired Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez from the Giants for Angel Pagan.

Pagan posted a poor .262/.322/.372 line in 478 at-bats last season, partially explained by injury issues that limited him to 123 games, and also by a 44-point drop in BABIP. With only one year of team control remaining and amid questions about his attitude, the Mets traded him to San Francisco in December. In return, the team acquired Torres, another center fielder that had one good year but regressed last season. Torres is better defensively than Pagan, but his production fell off last year and he is susceptible to striking out. However, he does offer a good power/speed combination when he is right. The key in the deal for the Mets was Ramirez, who should pitch in the seventh inning.

Signed the following, save for Francisco, to one-year, major-league deals: Rauch ($3.5 million), Francisco (two years, $12 million), Scott Hairston ($1.1 million) and Ronny Cedeno ($1.1 million).

Rauch underwent offseason knee surgery but is reportedly 100 percent now. He should open 2012 setting up Francisco, but he also gives the Mets another option to close games. Francisco's overall numbers were so-so a year ago, but he finished with 17 saves and was very effective in the second half (1.37 ERA, 0.835 WHIP, 24 Ks in 26.1 innings). That effectiveness may have played a big role in the Mets giving him two years, and he is the favorite to fill the gaping hole at the back end of the Mets' bullpen. Hairston played a reserve role for the Mets last season and hit .235 with seven home runs and 24 RBI in 132 at-bats. He'll fill a similar role this season and should see some action against lefties, both in right and center field. Cedeno is nothing special and fits the bill of backup infielder to a T. He could take the starting shortstop job if Ruben Tejada falters, but he'll likely begin in a reserve role and isn't guaranteed to ascend beyond that.

Avoided arbitration with Manny Acosta (one year, $875K), Mike Pelfrey (one year. $5.675 million).

Acosta opened last year in the minors, but he might have been the Mets' most consistent reliever following his June promotion. He averaged close to a strikeout per inning while reducing his walk rate and posting a solid 3.45 ERA despite a 66-point rise in BABIP. The Mets added three late-inning relievers in the offseason, so Acosta might have to fight for a middle relief job in spring despite last season's success. Somehow, Pelfrey, who was horrific last year, got a $1.75 million salary increase. He opened the year as the team's number one starter and finished it as a major question mark. With the arms the Mets have in the minors, he will need to show something this season or be in danger of getting released.

Projected Lineup (RH/LH)

1. Andres Torres CF
2. Daniel Murphy 2B
3. David Wright 3B
4. Ike Davis 1B
5. Lucas Duda RF
6. Jason Bay LF
7. Josh Thole/Mike Nickeas C
8. Ruben Tejada SS

In 2011, the Mets had Jose Reyes leading off and Carlos Beltran in the clean-up spot, with Davis in the five-hole and Pagan hitting second. Even with much adversity, the Mets finished second in the NL in batting average and on-base percentage. However, the lack of clutch hitting resulted in the team leading the league in men left on base (1,257) while also finishing sixth in runs and fourth in strikeouts.

This year, the Mets' lineup is littered with question marks, but it does have a few players with upside. If Murphy can somehow stay healthy, which is big IF, he could hit over .300 with a modicum of power. However, if he proves unable to handle second base, Justin Turner, who had several hot streaks last year, could fill the spot with Murphy playing a Tony Phillips-type role. The Mets scored 718 runs last season; this year, it will be considered a success if they approach that number, even though the fences were moved in and lowered in some spots. To exceed that, too many things will have to go right, which hasn't happened in several years for the Metropolitans.

Projected Rotation

1. Johan Santana
2. R.A. Dickey
3. Jon Niese
4. Dillon Gee
5. Mike Pelfrey

Closer: Frank Francisco

Key Relivers: Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Acosta, Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen has done a decent job with a hodge-podge staff, especially given the absence of Santana. Last season, Chris Young pitched well before being sidelined in May for the rest of the season, Pelfrey regressed, Jenrry Mejia was lighting up the minors before he was shut down with an injury and Chris Capuano might have the best pitching acquisition they made.

Dickey dealt with a variety of ailments during the campaign, yet he may have pitched his best during the last two months of the season. He once again held batters to a low BABIP (.288) proving that the previous year's mark was no fluke. Dickey's GB/FB ratio dropped slightly last year, which may be concerning given that the Mets have moved the fences in at Citi Field.

When Niese was on, he was really on, mixing a low-90s fastball with a 12-to-6 curveball, change-up and cutter. However, for all the strides he made last season, Niese saw his ERA rise each of the last three months of the year, topping out at 7.15 in August before he was sidelined for the balance of the year with an intercostal strain. The key for him, like most pitchers, is establishing his secondary pitches for strikes, as his fastball is not overpowering. Niese must be more effective with his change-up to righties, as they blasted him for a .291 BAA. That said, Niese was hurt by a low 69.7 percent strand rate and .349 BABIP, which is evident in his 3.54 FIP compared to his 4.40 ERA.

Gee overall had a solid first full season with the Mets, earning a call-up in mid-April before moving into the rotation full-time in early May. He led the team in wins with 13, but after peaking at 7-0 with a 2.86 ERA, he stumbled, allowing 52 runs in 90.1 innings while posting a 6-6 record. Two danger signs are his below-average .280 BABIP and 4.82 FIP, which may be partially offset by his lower-than-usual 70 percent strand rate. Despite the late-season slump and warning signs, Gee, who mixes a low-90s fastball with a solid changeup and curve, should enter spring training penciled in as the Mets' third starter behind Dickey and Niese.

Santana, who underwent surgery in September 2010 to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder, missed nearly the entire season. His return to action was pushed back several times due to shoulder soreness and fatigue. Santana may be ready for Opening Day, but his history makes that somewhat doubtful, and it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy throughout the campaign. If Santana is not ready to start the season, Miguel Batista or Chris Schwinden could open the year in the rotation.

In the bullpen, Francisco and Rauch, who are flyball pitchers, should benefit from a move to Citi Field, even though the fences have been brought in. Byrdak, who faced 110 lefties and held them to a .222 average, should be the main lefty in the bullpen. Acosta, based on how well he pitched, deserves a middle relief spot. After that, it's up in the air. Parnell closed at the end of last year but blew 6-of-12 save chances. He may end up fighting with Beato for one spot. Beato wore down late in the year from overuse, but his ability to pitch multiple innings may give him and edge over Parnell. The rest of the group, along with the minor-league invitees, may fight for one or two spots.

Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise

1. Madoff and the team's financials

Yes, it is the same as last year because this topic drives every decision for the Mets. The team's owners, the Wilpons, said in December 2008 that the financial issues on the side would not affect the team; those statements have been proven to be grossly inaccurate.

Adam Rubin of ESPN New York had a phenomenal two-part series on Wilpon's financial woes and their impact on the Mets. In it, he spells out the major issues surrounding the lawsuit, what could happen in the courtroom and how that may determine if the Wilpons can hold on to the team.

What all these financial difficulties mean is that the end product on the field has been affected. GM Sandy Alderson and his staff have been forced to shop at the dollar store and allow Reyes to walk away without a formal offer, knowing they couldn't meet his price. The Mets are slashing payroll in a never seen before drop, and the rumor is they will go from $148.8 million last year to $92.7 million this season; a record $52.1 million drop. The team reportedly lost $70 million last season and has seen attendance drop three years in a row. With the weakened product on the field, another drop in attendance and further loss of revenue can be expected.

2. With Reyes, Beltran and Rodriguez having been dealt or not brought back, how long will David Wright be a Met?

The Mets, largely due to #1 above, have been forced to clean house and get rid of large contracts. If someone would be willing to take the remaining $34.5 million from the remaining two years, plus buyout, left on Jason Bay's contract I am sure the team would be happy to fly him first class there and make that deal happen. However, the likelihood of such a deal happening is remote. In addition, due to Johan Santana's injury and uncertain future, the remaining three years and almost $69 million left on his deal make him almost untradeable. Wright owns the next biggest contract, but trading him would be a tough pill for the Mets to swallow.

Several factors complicate the issue with Wright. First, with Reyes gone, Wright is now the unquestioned face of the franchise. Considering the decision to not move Reyes at the trade deadline last season, it seems likely that the team will hold onto him simply to avoid the potential PR nightmare. Second, Wright's production has waned. Whether it's due to him being psyched out from the vast expanse of Citi Field or due to regression, he does not look like the All-Star player he was from 2005-2008. Last is the contract status. The widely-held perception was that Wright could fetch a pile of prospects in a trade based on the idea that he would be under control by his new team for two seasons after 2011. However, that is not the case, as the $16 million club option for 2013 belongs only to the Mets. If the Mets trade Wright during 2012, the acquiring club would control him for just this year with no contract option for 2013. That distinction in the 2013 option makes Wright a one-year rental and likely reduces the package he would bring in return. If Wright does get dealt, the question of his value still has to be determined, as he is making $15 million this year. If he has another year like 2009 or 2011, he probably won't get a long-term deal at that rate. However, if he posts numbers like he did in 2010 or before 2009, both his trade value - and expected contract number - will grow.

Strengths

A switch-hitter with some speed at the top of the order, a contact hitter in the two-hole, and a potentially solid 3-5 in the order with major upside. Additionally, the revamped back end of the bullpen should help the team avoid the 24 blown saves they racked up a year ago.

Weaknesses

Several players are coming off injuries or down seasons, including the ace starter, first and third basemen and left fielder. There are lots of question marks up and down the lineup and rotation, with more questions than answers at this point. Most of the bench and bottom of bullpen are castoffs.

Rising: Ike Davis - I ran with Davis last year, and due to his injury-abbreviated year, I am listing him again. Davis got off to a tremendous start, hitting .302 with seven home runs and 25 RBI in 36 games before injuring his left ankle in a collision with David Wright on May 10. In addition, he made slightly better contact and cut down his strikeouts mildly. Davis is reportedly fully healthy and looking to add 10 pounds of muscle to his frame. He should benefit from the team's decision to move in the fences in right and right-center as well as in left-center, given his willingness to go the other way.

Falling: Daniel Murphy - Murphy has multi-position eligibility, which helps his value. However, part of his solid batting average was fueled by a 50+-point rise in his BABIP. In addition, due to his injuries the past two years while trying to turn a double play, there are strong questions about his ability to field the position. That latter part could cost him at-bats late in games and also end up making him a utility player.

Sleeper: Lucas Duda - Duda, Duda day was one of the few bright spots at Citi Field last year. The last three months of the year Duda made the most of the opportunity opened up by the injury to Ike Davis and the trade of Carlos Beltran. Duda hit all 10 of his home runs and drove in 41 of his 50 runs in that stretch, showing power to center and right field. However, all of his long balls came against righties. The only negative was that Duda suffered a concussion running into the fence in St. Louis on September 21 that cost him the last week of the season. Fortunately his headaches cleared up in late October and he is feeling healthy. Duda, penciled in as the starting right fielder, should bat fifth for the Mets.

Super-sleeper: Ruben Tejada - Tejada has the unenviable task of trying to replace Jose Reyes at shortstop. That basically is an impossible job, but Tejada at least has the experience of playing there, filling in while Reyes was hurt last year. Tejada won't provide much power, but he showed improvement at the plate as 2011 wore on, batting .319 after August 1. He could provide a decent batting average and help in the runs scored category.

Top Prospects

Zach Wheeler - Wheeler immediately became the Mets' top prospect after he was acquired from San Francisco for Carlos Beltran in July. The sixth overall pick in 2009, Wheeler spent all of 2011 in High-A, tearing through San Jose and St. Lucie. He mixes a mid-90s fastball that tops out at 97 mph with a mid-70s nasty curveball and work-in-progress change-up that made some strides last year. Wheeler is also working on a cut-fastball, and if he can refine either the change or cutter, it would push him to possible ace status. Wheeler will likely spend all of 2012 between Double- and Triple-A before making his arrival at Citi Field in 2013.

Matt Harvey - Harvey, selected seventh overall in 2010 out of North Carolina, blazed through High-A St. Lucie, posting a 92:24 K:BB in 76 innings with a 2.37 ERA. He didn't experience the same success at Double-A Binghamton, but got better as he went along, excelling over his last nine starts. Harvey's fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s, topping out about 97 mph, along with a slider, occasional curveball and change-up he added at Double-A. The development of that curveball may ultimately decide Harvey's ceiling, though, for now, he is projected to be a No. 2 starter in the majors. If he is unable to find consistency with that pitch, look for him to end up as a closer.

Brandon Nimmo - The Mets drafted Nimmo 13th overall in 2011 despite that the fact that he did not play high school ball while growing up in Wyoming. He signed for $2.1 million just before the signing deadline, enabling him to play 10 games in rookie ball. Nimmo has been projected to possibly be a Von Hayes-like player, but don't expect him to be ready until 2014 at the earliest, as he'll make his full-season debut in April.

Jeurys Familia - Familia had a strong season as a starter (split between Single-A and Double-A) in 2011, but projects as a reliever according to Baseball America's 2011 Prospect Handbook. He posted dominant numbers at High-A St. Lucie - 36:8 K:BB ratio, 1.49 ERA, 0.803 WHIP and .171 BAA in 36.1 innings - to earn a promotion to Double-A Binghamton. Familia struggled at that level and missed a month with a shoulder impingement. He still is working on his polish, but has excellent command and life on his low-to-mid-90s fastball, which rates as plus-plus. His changeup is his second-best pitch and he is working on refining his breaking pitch to progress at the higher levels. Familia is only 22 but could get a shot in the big leagues as soon as late 2012 or early 2013

Cesar Puello - Puello spent all of 2011 at High-A St. Lucie where he hit .259/.313/.397. He has shown to be a second half player and projects to fill out as he matures. Puello's ability to drive the ball to all fields and bat speed, which came after a change in his batting stance that allowed him to be more upright at the plate and have a shorter distance for his hands to go to drive the ball, lends hope to the view that he will be a 20-home run hitter and possibly 20-steal player down the road. The 20-year-old outfielder is at least two years away from the big leagues, and probably more than that

Jenrry Mejia - Mejia, who at the time was viewed as the Mets' best starting pitching prospect, bounced between starting and relieving in 2010. He opened 2011 at Triple-A as starter, despite the view that his best path to the majors and ultimate position would be in the bullpen. Mejia used his low-to-mid 90s cutting/sinking fastball, plus-changeup and work-in-progress curveball to blaze through his first five starts, putting visions of an early-season call up in Mets' fans eyes. Those hopes were dashed as Mejia completely tore the MCL in his right elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery in May. He could return to action in mid-2012 and contend for a rotation spot in 2013.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis - Before suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder on a swing in early June that ultimately sidelined him for the year, Nieuwenhuis was having a strong 2011 at Triple-A Buffalo, batting .298/.403/.505 in 221 plate appearances. Nieuwenhuis has the ability to spray line drives to all fields, but struggles against lefties and still has issues with plate discipline, seen in 59 strikeouts over 188 at-bats last season. His mid-level power/speed potential as a left-handed batter, plus his ability to play all three outfield positions means that he likely profiles as a fourth outfielder rather than a starting center fielder in the majors.

Reese Havens - Injuries, as has been the story throughout his career, wreaked havoc with Havens' 2011 campaign. Oblique issues led to surgery to remove an inch of a rib in the 2010 offseason, and he returned to action in May only to be sidelined with a back injury. Havens was limited to just 61 games, posting a .289/.372/.455 line with six home runs and 26 RBI in 211 at-bats at Double-A Binghamton. He could open 2012 at Triple-A Buffalo, and if Havens could find a way to stay healthy, he may become the starting second baseman in New York with a possible .280, 15-homer line at some point

Others include Michael Fulmer, who the Mets drafted in the supplemental first round the past year, Wilmer Flores and Jordany Valdespin.