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Mets' Team Preview: Fools Gold

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.


For the second straight season, the Mets got off to a strong start in the first half of the year. And, for the second straight year, they made that first half look like Fools' Gold, collapsing after the All-Star break. Bullpen blowups, injuries and the magic that led to all those first half, two-out RBIs dried up and regressed back to the norm, contributing to the collapse. GM Sandy Alderson continued to revamp the farm system this offseason with the focus on 2014 and beyond. Look for several young faces to be up after the May with the goal to begin the turnaround for the future in the second half of the year. The All-Star Game is the shining event scheduled for Citi Field this year, but if some of the young players start to deliver, it may not be the only game that draws some fans to the park. As of now, with Washington and Atlanta the class of the division and the Phillies a few levels above the Mets, the gutted Marlins will be the only team that allows the Mets to avoid the basement with 75 wins being the expected total this year.

Offseason Moves:

Did not offer a contract to or allowed the following to become free agents: Fred Lewis, Jack Egbert, Rob Johnson, Justin Hampson, Ronny Cedeno, Chris Young, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Mike Pelfrey, Scott Hairston, Jason Bay, Manny Acosta and Andres Torres.

That is not a world-beaters list but several of those players might have been useful for the Mets. Young was a possible candidate to battle for a fifth starter's spot but the signing of Shawn Marcum ended that possibility. Rauch signed a one-year deal with the Marlins and had pitched well at times in NY, but GM Sandy Alderson rightfully decided to rebuild much of the bullpen. Pelfrey is coming off Tommy John surgery and never lived up to his status as a former first-round pick. Hairston was rumored to be very interested in returning to Queens, where he would have seen lots of PT, but opted for the security of a two-year, $5 million deal with $1 million in incentives with the Cubs. Bay may go down as the worst signing ever made by the Mets, who opted to buy him out and he signed with the Mariners. Ramirez and Torres were the “prizes” for Angel Pagan; another deal gone bad for the Mets.

Signed Tim Byrdak, Greg Burke, Mike Nickeas, Brian Bixler, Jamie Hoffmann, Carlos Torres, Aaron Laffey, Andrew Brown, Omar Quintanilla, Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins, Pedro Feliciano, Landon Powell, Marlon Byrd, Corey Patterson and Mike Wilson to minor-league deals and acquired Anthony Recker off waivers.

Most of those players will play at Triple-A, but a few could earn roles with the parent club. Byrdak was a workhorse in the Mets' pen the past three seasons before undergoing September surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder. He may not be back until the latter part of 2013. Burke posted excellent numbers at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this year, prompting the Mets to sign him. He will get a real look this spring to make the team's revamped bullpen. Atchison posted a 1.58 ERA in 42 appearances out of the Red Sox bullpen last season, but interest in him was minimal due to an elbow injury that cost him two months last season and was never repaired via surgery. Atchison will compete for a roster spot during spring training and pitch in middle relief for the Mets if he makes the cut. Hawkins, who posted a 3.64 ERA in 48 appearances with the Angels last season, also has a good shot at breaking camp with the Mets. Byrd's 50-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drug is viewed as being served. Given the team's need for right-handed outfielders, as other than Collin Cowgill, the Mets are lefty-dominant, he is expected to compete with Brown for a reserve outfield job. Recker is the favorite to back up John Buck if Travis d'Arnaud starts the year in the minors.

Re-signed David Wright to a seven-year, $122 million extension

The Face of the Franchise remains in New York. His agreeing to the long-term deal enabled Mets' fans and likely members of the organization to believe that this troubled franchise may finally be heading in the right direction. Wright rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 campaign to hit .306/.391/.492 and last season and solidify his place among the league's elite third basemen. If he sustains the improvement in his contact rate (83 percent), he should be able to keep his average near the .300 range going forward. Perhaps the only concern in the short term is that he struggled on the basepaths, going 15-for-25 when given the green light, likely eliminating the hope of a rebound back toward the 20-plus steals marks we saw from him earlier in his career.

Acquired Brandon Hicks for cash and Collin Cowgill for Jefry Marte from the A's

With Ronny Cedeno now in St. Louis, Hicks is the favorite to fill Cedeno's old role as the backup infielder. He has some pop in his bat and on-base skills, but struggles to make contact. Cowgill has a decent eye at the plate and some speed but little in the way of power. He has a clearer path to playing time in NY, and as of press time, could platoon with Mike Baxter in right field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and/or spot Lucas Duda in left.

Acquired Josh Buck, Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wullmer Becerra from the Blue Jays for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas.

The Mets had held off signing Dickey to an extension during the season and talks were dragging up until the Winter Meetings. Alderson decided to cash-in on his asset, adding an interim catcher and two solid prospects, one a top-tier catcher and the other a pitcher with major upside and a high-90s fastball. Buck should open the season as the Mets' starting catcher and has a bit of power, albeit with a low batting average. D'Arnaud, who is fully healthy after tearing a knee ligament last June, is expected to begin the season at Triple-A, because if he spends the first three weeks in the minors, he will have less than the 172 days required for the year to count in full towards MLB service. The end result would be that d'Arnaud remains under the Mets control until 2019. When he is promoted to take over for Buck, he should quickly emerge as the Mets' primary catcher and he has the tools to be a very good all-around player at his position while filling a major area of need for New York. Syndergaard is still a couple of years away from the big leagues, but has a ceiling of a No. 2 starter at the present time and has drawn comps that suggest even more room for growth depending on the development of his secondary pitches as he continues to advance. Becerra is a flier of a young player, who if he develops just adds to the haul the Mets got in the deal.

Signed the following to one-year, major-league contracts: Shaun Marcum ($4 million plus up to $2 million in incentives) and Brandon Lyon ($750-900k plus up to $1.5 million in incentives).

Marcum got off to a good start last season with a 3.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP through his first 13 starts, but an elbow injury knocked him out for over two months, and he struggled to find his control the rest of the way. Marcum has finished with an ERA of 3.70 or less in each of the last four seasons he has finished, but he has also topped 200 innings just once and 30 starts twice. If healthy, he should be solid pitching at Citi Field and a nice back-of-the-rotation starter for the Mets. Marcum's signing gives Zack Wheeler more time to develop in the minors. Lyon completes the Mets' bullpen, as he is slated to open the year in a set up role but could get a shot at closing if Bobby Parnell falters while standing in for Frank Francisco.

Avoided arbitration with: Bobby Parnell (one-year, $1.7 million), Ike Davis (one-year. $3.125 million) and Daniel Murphy (one-year, $2.925 million).

With impressive numbers in each of the last three seasons (xFIP: 2.54, 3.46, 3.15), Parnell has also stabilized his control (2.6 BB/9) after bouts of wildness in 2011 (4.1 BB/9). Further, he's become a groundball machine, topping out with a 61.5 percent groundball rate last season and making it very difficult for opposing hitters to beat him with the long ball. Manager Terry Collins announced on Feb. 12 that Parnell will open he year as closer as Frank Francisco still has elbow stiffness. Davis admitted Friday that the Valley Fever did fatigue him last spring. That, combined with his ankle injury that ended 2011 early not being fully healed, it explains his slow start. Davis hit 27 of his 32 HR after June and should have a big year in Queens as one would expect his .246 BAIP, second worst in baseball, to rise. Murphy has become a passable second baseman, showing improved movement within the field and around the bag while playing a career-high 156 games. His slugging percent dropped while his K ratio spiked a bit even though his contact rate remained relatively similar. He is slated to open 2013 as the team's starting second baseman and possibly two-hole hitter.

Projected Lineup (RH/LH)

1. Ruben Tejada SS
2. Daniel Murphy 2B
3. David Wright 3B
4. Ike Davis 1B
5. Lucas Duda LF
6. John Buck C
7. Mike Baxter/Marlon Byrd RF
8. Kirk Nieuwenhuis/Collin Cowgill CF

With the outfield not set, what's listed here could change dramatically. All this would have been altered if Michael Bourn was added, but that is no longer an option. Tejada assumed the leadoff role last season, and while he lacks power, he may be the best suited to hit there, based on the team's current construction. Murphy, Wright and Davis were touched on earlier and Davis could bat before Wright so the Mets go lefty-righty-lefty at 3-5. Duda is coming off a major disappointing season, where his second half struggles landed him in the minors. His wrist, fractured moving furniture this off-season is fully healthy, and he is slated to be the nearly every day left fielder with Justin Turner or maybe Zack Lutz seeing some time against southpaws. Buck is holding the job warm for d'Arnaud, while right and center field are expected to see a platoon. Baxter is most known for his catch to save Johan Santana's no-hitter; the result of which was a dislocated joint between his right collarbone and sternum, and torn rib cartilage on his right side. The injury sidelined Baxter for nearly two months and he wasn't the same when he returned. He could see at-bats against righties, as well as lead off at times, with Byrd probably beating out Andrew Brown to play against lefties. Cowgill will get a chance to play versus lefties while Nieuwenhuis, who missed the final two months of the 2012 season due to tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot, has to prove he can catch up to mid-90s fastball, as seen by his 98K in 282 AB, but is slated to open the year starting against righties.

Projected Rotation

1. Johan Santana LHP
2. Matt Harvey RHP
3. Jon Niese LHP
4. Shaun Marcum RHP
5. Dillon Gee RHP

I will touch more on the Mets' rotation below, as that, along with the bullpen, has to be considered two of the team's major questions. That said, on paper, the rotation has the potential to be solid and get better later in the year. They have a good balance of righties and lefties, but I will save much of my comments for the questions sections

Closer: Bobby Parnell

Frank Francisco was originally supposed to close but he is still bothered by elbow soreness, prompting Collins to inset Parnell into that role. Parnell has shown he can close and appears to be over the mental hurdle he has when closing in the past.

Key bullpen members (projected): Frank Franicsco (injured), Brandon Lyon, Josh Edgin, Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and Greg Burke. Jeremy Hefner, Pedro Feliciano, Robert Carson, Darin Gorski, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia will also battle for a spot.

Francisco parlayed a strong second half in 2011 into a two-year, $12 million contract with the Mets. He was unable to carry that finish into 2012, as in almost every metric; he regressed from the year before. Francisco's poor control, seen in his 21 walks in 42.1 innings, led to too many hitters' counts, which they took advantage of batting .269 against him. The only two positives are his abnormally high .367 BABIP and 4.00 FIP could portend slightly better success. Francisco missed a month in the middle of the season with a strained oblique, then had elbow tendinitis and knee woes at the end of the year, and is still having elbow stiffness. Lyon brings another veteran presence to pen and give the Mets another closing option behind Parnell and Francisco. With Byrdak sidelined, Edgin took over as the main lefty in the pen, but he too was overused. That overuse along with spotty control of his fastball coupled with his struggles against righties, helped contribute to a poor stretch drive. Edgin, who uses a low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider to retire hitters, should have a better sophomore campaign. Alderson added two veterans in Atchison and Hawkins; each could be the team's long reliever. Burke will get a long look to see if he can carry over his minor-league success of a year ago. Hefner could be squeezed out but will get a look as a swingman. Carson's and Gorski's only shots may be if Edgin falters or the team carries a second lefty not named Feliciano. Feliciano, who did yeoman's work for several years in the Mets' pen, which resulted in him undergoing Tommy John surgery, may be the favorite to earn that role in the bullpen in spring training, health permitting. The team is still deciding if Familia and Mejia should remain as starters or move permanently to the pen, but Familai has a better chance to earn a spot in spring training while Mejia is slated to start in the minors.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise

1. Is the team on solid footing for the future?

Most of the past several seasons have seen any conversation about the Mets start with Bernie Madoff. This year, it's somewhat different, as owner Fred Wilpon reached a $162 million settlement last May with the trustee for the fraud victims. In addition, the team took on 12 minority ownerships at $20 million per, infusing some need capital into the organization.

While that did not have a direct immediately impact on the team's payroll, what it did allow ownership to do was sign David Wright to a long-term extension and also buy out Jason Bay this off-season. In addition, GM Sandy Alderson has been somewhat able to make moves that are mainly based in baseball sense rather than solely driven by finances; an example of this is the Dickey trade. The Mets would have easily been able to pay Dickey but opted to maximize his worth and build for the future. In addition, the mere fact they thought of signing Bourn and offered him four-years, $48 million is a decent indication that baseball decisions may finally be outweighing financial concerns. However, the team is not throwing out money willy nilly as they did earlier last decade, seen by allowing Scott Hairston to go and being the last team to sign a major-league free agent, and there are still many question as to the Wilpon's being viable owners, but the improvement in the farm system and ability to sign quality free agents, within reason, is a major step forward.

2. Is the rotation a strength or weakness?

There are questions marks about nearly each starter in the Mets' rotation, but on paper they should be a solid staff. Obviously, the biggest question has to be Johan Santana. Santana had the highlight of the Mets' season, throwing the franchise's first ever no-hitter on June 1. Prior to his no-hitter, Santana had a 60:16 K:BB and 2.75 ERA over his first 10 starts. After the 134-pitch outing, he finished the season with a 43:18 K:BB with an 8.27 ERA in 49 innings over his final 10 starts and opposing hitters delivered a .327/.377/.587 line against him. An ankle injury in July preceded lower back inflammation that eventually ended his season for good, but Santana is reportedly fully healthy and penciled in as the Opening Day starter. The big question is how long will he last given he has missed parts of the last four seasons as a Met. In addition, if he proves to be healthy, New York could look to deal him as they are building for the future.

Two through four are somewhat interchangeable but by year-end, Harvey should be the two with Niese and Marcum three and four, assuming no trades/injuries occur. The only reason why Niese may not be the two is if the Mets opt to split up the two lefties at the top of the rotation. Perhaps lost in the shadow of R.A. Dickey's Cy Young season was the growth Niese showed in his third full campaign in New York. In addition to lowering his walk rate (2.3 BB/9), Niese shaved 64 points from his BABIP (.285) and matched his previous best with a career-high 30 starts. The biggest difference appears to be the success of his cutter, which opposing hitters teed off on in 2011 (.364 BAA, .586 SLG), but found much less success against last season (.238 BAA, .376 SLG). A closer look at the data also shows that hitters made contact more frequently on pitches outside of the strike zone (75.2%), perhaps an indication that the BABIP improvement is sustainable with the presumably weaker contact Niese induced.

Harvey was having a solid year at Triple-A Buffalo but really exploded when he hit the majors. He has recently said part of the reason for that was he was bored in the minors and his main focus and desire was to pitch in the majors. Harvey lived up to his status as either the team's No. 1 or No. 1A prospect following his late-July call up, posting a 2.73 ERA with a 70:26 K:BB and 42 hits allowed in 59.1 innings. Harvey made significant strides with his fastball command in his final month in the minors to go with his major-league-ready curveball, which led to his promotion. That fastball command was a big reason for the strikeouts and his .275 BABIP. Harvey will open 2013 in the Mets' rotation and is expected to toss 200+ innings with the only question on if that command he showed was an aberration or true growth.

Marcum was profiled above and should be a solid middle tier starter for New York. Gee improved each month before getting shut down for the season during the All-Star break due to an arterial blood clot in his pitching shoulder. Surgery was successful and he is not expected to have any restrictions, even early in the season when the team plays in cold weather. Gee's big improvements came in his K:BB, K/9 and GB/FB ratios, which despite a jump in his BABIP, resulted in improved numbers overall. If Gee can continue the strides he made in those numbers, he should be one of the better back-end starters in the league. The addition of Marcum moves him down a notch and he will need to pitch well to hold off Zack Wheeler when he is ready.

3. Should the Mets have signed Michael Bourn?

The Mets will in all likelihood not break 75 wins this year, so Bourn's impact for 2013 would have been somewhat minimal. That said, just like when the Mets signed Wright, adding Bourn would have sent a message to the fan base that they are headed in the right direction. Of course, adding a player just to satisfy and mollify the fan base is not the main reason for doing it. New York had and still has question marks in center field and at the top of the lineup, two areas that signing Bourn would have immediately fixed. But adding him created two questions, the draft pick compensation and long-term impact.

The Mets finished with the 10th worst record and depending on your interpretation of the CBA, they would appear to have been entitled to sign Bourn without losing a first round pick because of that. However, that said, because Pittsburgh was unable to sign Mark Appel, they received a compensation pick, pushing NY down to 11, which would then have meant that the Mets would lose their first round pick if they signed Bourn. The problem is that the Mets pursuit now feels somewhat hollow, as signing in NY was Bourn's first choice, but they were so worried about Scott Boras upping the dollar quotient, they waited too long before petitioning MLB for a ruling. By the time they did so, Bourn had an offer from Cleveland and he didn't want to wait two weeks for a ruling. So that leaves the Mets with possibly the worst outfield in baseball. Signing Bourn for four years at around $12 million per without losing a first round pick would have been a good move. Longer than that it loses its luster, because as Bourn ages he will lose some speed, which also hurts his defense. In addition, since the Mets are building for the future, with 2013 a transition year, the first round pick is even more valuable, so I understand not wanting to part with it. But it looks like the Mets only went half-way and were willing to finish second in the chase rather than making a true bold effort to sign Bourn.

Strengths:

A potentially solid 2-4 in the order. A solid 1-5 in the rotation and revamped bullpen. Two top prospects expected on club by May.

Weaknesses:

No real team speed. A punch-and-judy hitter at leadoff. A mess of an outfield. Can the ace stay healthy? Bench could be a strength or pose more of the same questions that existed in 2012.

On the rise: Matt Harvey – I was tempted to go with Ike Davis for a third straight year but what's the fun in that. Harvey made the latter-third of the season palatable for Mets fans and the only real downer was his loss of rookie eligibility. If he continues to display the improved command he had post-promotion along with his nasty curveball, Harvey could win 15 games this season.

Decline: John Buck – It's somewhat odd to put Buck in this spot, and I could have gone with Johan Santana, given his injury history, but Buck gets the nod due to his situation. The Mets added Buck in the Dickey deal as a stopgap until Travis d'Arnaud is ready. That could come in spring training, but is more likely for May 1. When that happens, Buck transitions from starter to mentor and ends up on the bench more than in the lineup.

Sleeper: Bobby Parnell – I had written this before the news of the switch came out and it still applies. Francisco is no lock to get back his job even when healthy and while Brandon Lyon is nice, he lacks the upside of Parnell. Last year, Parnell reintroduced the knuckle-curve he learned from Jason Isringhausen and showed down the stretch, he is up to handling the job as closer after faltering previously. Now that he has the opportunity, he should have a real chance to keep the job.

Super-sleeper: Kirk Nieuwenhuis – Nieuwenhuis gave the Mets a jolt when he was first promoted but the league caught up to him. If Nieuwenhuis shows he can catch up to good fastballs and improves his contact rate a touch, he could see most of the action in center field over Collin Cowgill, especially with Michael Bourn no longer an option.

Top Prospects:

Zack Wheeler- Wheeler handled his promotion to Double-A well enough to get a taste of Buffalo at the end of the season, although his walk rate (4.4 BB/9) increased during his six-start run after the bump. The Mets have indicated plans to send him back to Triple-A for the start of 2013, following a similar development plan as Matt Harvey and making him a part of their rotation during the middle of the season. When opposing hitters make contact, they rarely hit Wheeler hard, as evidenced by an .078 ISO against last season. If he can take the necessary steps to improve his control, there is reason to believe that he can still develop into a frontline starter.

Travis d'Arnaud/Noah Syndergaard – Covered above

Gavin Cecchini – Cecchini was drafted 12th overall by the Mets in the 2012 draft. Some scouts felt that the team should have gone for Courtney Hawkins due to lack of true upside in Cecchini and questions as to how his bat will play down the road. However, Cecchini was viewed as a "safe" pick, and does have decent speed and is solid defensively, which should aid him as he moves up the ladder. For those considering options in dynasty leagues, the moderate ceiling makes stashing him less appealing

Brandon Nimmo- Nimmo showed a good eye at the plate while making his debut in the New York-Penn League in 2012, drawing a walk in 15 percent of his plate appearances while carrying a .372 OBP. However, he did not make contact very often (71 percent) and it may take him significantly longer to develop moving through the Mets' system after being drafted out of high school in Wyoming in 2011, which limited his experience to Legion Ball. Given the longer development path, and that his ceiling may not be overwhelmingly high anyway, rostering Nimmo may require a league format with very deep minor league reserves.

Rafael Montero- Montero went a combined 11-5 with a 2.36 ERA and 110:19 K:BB ratio in 122 innings between Low-A Savannah and High-A St. Lucie. At St. Lucie, Montero, who has low-to-mid 90s fastball, hard-breaking mid-80s slider and changeup, posted a 2.13 ERA and a 9.9 K/9 in eight appearances. The 22-year-old right-hander was named the Sterling Award winner in 2012, an award given to the team's minor league pitcher of the year.

Wilmer Flores - Flores is on the Mets' 40-man roster, but despite a solid 2012 campaign, the team opted not to call him up from Double-A Binghamton. He hit .317/.368/.594 with eight home runs and 33 RBI in 65 games for the B-Mets after posting a .289/.336/.459 line with 10 homers and 42 RBI in 64 games for High-A St. Lucie. The St. Lucie campaign was little surprise, as it was his third year at that level but his success at Double-A helped land him a prominent role back towards the top of the Mets' prospect lists. With David Wright locked in at third, look for Flores to be tried at second and left field. If his power continues to develop and he repeats the plate discipline strides he made last year, Flores should end up at Triple-A Las Vegas this season.

Michael Fulmer- Fulmer, drafted 44th overall in 2011 from an Oklahoma high school, had an excellent first full professional season, posting a 2.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 101:38 K:BB 138 innings for Low-A Savannah. He mixes a late-moving, mid-90s fastball with mid-80s hard slider and is working on a changeup. Fulmer should open 2012 at High-A St. Lucie and projects to be a No. 2 starter in the majors.

Others include Domingo Tapia, Cory Mazzoni, Matt den Dekker and Luis Mateo.