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2011 Mets Preview: Another Year As New York's "Other" Team?

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.

On June 30, the Mets were 44-34 and surprisingly sat in first place of the National League East, nursing a two-game lead over the Phillies. Based on that good start, there were calls to give GM Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel contract extensions. Fast forward a bit more than three months and the Mets completed their second-half collapse, Manuel was not re-signed, Minaya was re-assigned and a new set of management was brought in led by GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins. If only this was the least of the Mets' concerns as the latter part of 2010 and first few months of 2011 has brought the name Irving Picard and term “clawback” into every Mets' fans vernacular. If everything goes right, this team could win 85 games, but that is a bit of a stretch, so look for somewhere around 78 wins in 2011.

Offseason Moves:

Exercised $11 million 2011 team option on Jose Reyes.

This was somewhat of a no-brainer, but speculation began on the day this was announced as to whether Reyes would even make it through all of 2011 as a Met, let alone be re-signed. With the Mets under major financial constraints, Reyes possibly in line for a Carl Crawford-like contract if he plays well and Alderson is not a proponent of expensive long-term deals, all the signs are there for Reyes to be elsewhere in 2012, if not earlier.

Released Hisanori Takahashi.

Takahashi signed a unique deal with the Mets that afforded him free agency just one year into his career, if he so desired. He elected to pursue that option and signed a multi-year deal with the Angels where he likely will pitch out of the bullpen.

Did not offer a contract to or allowed the following to become free agents: Fernando Tatis, Elmer Dessens, Kelvim Escobar, Henry Blanco, Pedro Feliciano, Omir Santos, Raul Valdes, Mike Hessman, Sean Green, Chris Carter and John Maine.

The only one of those players that the Mets wanted to bring back was Feliciano, who was a workhorse during his stint with New York, exceeding 85 appearances the past three seasons. Feliciano turned down the Mets' offer of arbitration, where he would have earned $4 million in 2011 to sign a two-year deal worth $8 million with an option for a third year with the cross-town rival Yankees.

Signed Mike O'Connor, Dusty Ryan, Russ Adams, Boof Bonser, Raul Chavez, Willie Harris, Taylor Tankersley, Tim Byrdak, Blaine Boyer, Dale Thayer, Chris Shelton, Casey Fossum and Jason Isringhausen to minor-league deals.

O'Connor, Tankersley, Byrdak and Fossum will all be in the running to fill the open lefty slot in the Mets' bullpen, with Byrdak the favorite to get the role. Isringhausen, the last remaining active member of Generation K, will get a chance to earn a bullpen role in spring training. If he is able to keep his velocity on back-to-back days and remain healthy, he should be a favorite for the role. Ryan and Chavez will likely play catcher at Triple-A Buffalo and be joined by Adams (shortstop), Bonser (rotation or relief), Boyer and Thayer (bullpen) and Shelton (first base). Harris has a good chance to stick as depth in the outfield and see late-inning defensive action.

Acquired Ching-lung Hu from LA for Mike Antonelli.

Hu is solid defensively but can't hit a lick. Look for him to open 2011 at Triple-A Buffalo.

Selected Brad Emaus (Toronto) and Pedro Beato (Baltimore) in the Rule 5 draft.

After a big 2008, Emaus took a step back in 2009 before exploding last season at both Double- and Triple-A. He has excellent strike-zone judgment and at least gap power, but lacks speed and range on defense. Beato was drafted by the Mets in 2005 but was unable to come to terms with the team and then was drafted and signed by Baltimore in 2006. After appearing to stagnate and level off as a prospect, Beato had a rebound campaign in 2008 at Double-A Bowie. He has a plus-fastball and could break camp with the team.

Signed the following, save for Carrasco, to one-year, major-league deals: Ronny Paulino ($1.3 million), D.J. Carrasco (two years, $ not disclosed), Chris Capuano ($1.5 million), Taylor Buchholz (non-guaranteed $600K), Chris Young ($1.15 million with incentives that could push it to $4.5 million) and Scott Hairston ($1.1 million, which includes $400k in incentives)

The Mets went shopping at the dollar-mart to sign several players, each of whom have some upside and fill key roles on the 2011 squad. Paulino, once he finished the final eight games of his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug and gets his visa issues resolved, will play against left-handed pitchers. Carrasco was rumored to possibly be in the mix to start, but is likely to be used out of the bullpen anywhere from the sixth-to-eighth inning. Capuano and Young are slated to fill the fourth and fifth rotation slots. Buchholz was once a hot relief prospect but missed all of 2009 and part of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He but came back to pitch for the Rockies then was claimed by Toronto and Boston. As a flyball pitcher, he may fare well at Citi Field and should pitch pitch between the sixth and eighth inning if he makes the squad. Capuano was offered an incentive-laden deal by Milwaukee shortly after the season then became expendable after they acquired Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke. Capuano, who came back from a second Tommy John surgery last season, pitched well late last year and could fare well in vast Citi Field. The Padres declined the $8.5 million option on Young, making him a free agent. Young, who had shoulder surgery in August 2009, made only three starts for the Padres last season because of a strain of that shoulder. So far in camp, he has been healthy and all signs point him to sliding into the fourth rotation spot. He pitched well at Petco Park and should benefit from pitching at Citi Field, a pitchers park like Petco. Hairston, like Willie Harris, is in the mix to be a fourth/fifth outfielder and pinch-hitter with some pop off the bench.

Avoided arbitration with: Mike Pelfrey (one-year. $3.925 million with an additional $50k in performance bonuses), R.A. Dickey (two-years, $7.8 million with an option for a third season, avoiding arbitration. $1 million signing bonus, $2.25 million for 2011 and $4.25 for 2012 with a $5 million team option for 2013 and $300k buyout) and Angel Pagan (one-year, $3.5 million).

Pelfrey made $3.3 million in 2009 as part of his original deal after signing as a first-round pick in 2005. But he did not yet have enough service time last offseason to be arbitration-eligible, so his salary dipped to $500,000 this past year. He got to a 9-1 start in 2010 then went through a summer swoon before ending the year 15-9. Pelfrey projects to open 2011 as the Mets' first starter with Johan Santana sidelined and will go as far as his split-fingered fastball and ability to shake off adversity take him. Dickey was a revelation last year in New York, finishing the year with a 2.84 ERA, 1.187 WHIP and 104:42 K:BB ratio in 174.1 innings with the Mets, finishing seventh in the league in ERA. Dickey might have been the best of former GM Omar Minaya's bargain basement signings. He was a groundball machine, generating twice as many groundouts than flyouts while holding batters to a .281 BABIP, which may be sustainable due to the difficulty in hitting a knuckleball. It's also possible the bottom falls out as quickly as it rose, but Dickey is locked in as the Mets' second starter while Santana is sidelined. Even though he failed to open 2010 as the starting center fielder in Carlos Beltran's absence, Pagan quickly earned the role and never gave it back. Pagan built off the breakout year he had in 2009, showing better recognition of game situations with a decent power-speed combination, delivering 37 stolen bases in the process. After the return of Beltran, Pagan saw time at all three outfield positions, but is slated to open 2011 in center with Beltran moving to right.

Projected Lineup/Rotation

Lineup (RH/LH)

1. Jose Reyes SS
2. Angel Pagan CF
3. David Wright 3B
4. Carlos Beltran RF
5. Jason Bay LF
6. Ike Davis 1B
7. Josh Thole/Ronny Paulino C
8. Luis Castillo/Brad Emaus/Justin Turner 2B

On paper, this looks to be a solid lineup, but the same thing was said heading into last year and it was the pitching – not hitting – that carried the Mets. In 2010, the Mets finished 10th in the NL in batting average, 13th in runs with 656 and 12th in HR with 128 while the pitching was sixth with a 3.70 ERA.

At a first glance, the Mets have a pair of speedy switch-hitters at the top of the order in Reyes and Pagan, a power-hitting third baseman next followed by a switch-hitting outfielder with power and speed. In the middle are two power hitters, followed by a developing contact hitting catcher and solid second sacker. Of course, reality is not on paper, and there are a number of ifs that exist both in the lineup and pitching staff. If the team stays healthy and remains together throughout the year, the offense should be better than 2010, though that is not saying much.


1. Mike Pelfrey RHP
2. R.A. Dickey RHP
3. Jon Niese LHP
4. Chris Young RHP
5. Chris Capuano LHP

CL: Francisco Rodriguez

On paper, it's a less than imposing group, but under pitching coach Dan Warthen, the staff was able to post a solid ERA, keeping the Mets in most games with little help from the offense. With Johan Santana out, Pelfrey, Dickey and Niese move up a step supported by Young and Capuano, who should beat out Dillon Gee, Misch and Jenrry Mejia for the last two stops. We covered all but Niese earlier, and as long as Niese doesn't wear down late like he did last season, he should post better numbers. Overall, Niese saw an uptick in K/9IP rate while his other numbers were fairly static and his FIP was nearly equal to his actual ERA. When he is on, Niese mixes a low-90s fastball with a 12-to-6 curveball, changeup and cutter.

In the pen, most of the focus will be on the returning K-Rod and if he can put last season's incident with his ex-girlfriend's father, which resulted in a torn thumb ligament that needed surgery, assault changes and requirement to attend anger management classes, behind him. Prior to the altercation, K-Rod was having an excellent season, going 25-for-30 in save opportunities with a solid ERA and WHIP, uptick in K/IP and K/BB ratios, so he should be fine between the white lines for as long as he remains a Met. Besides K-Rod, possibly the only returning member of the bullpen will be Parnell as Takahashi, Feliciano, Dessens, Valdes and Fernando Nieve are gone while Manny Acosta and Ryota Igarashi may not earn spots. Parnell showed he can be a solid setup man, but needs to work on his off-speed pitches, while the others are in the mix with Acosta, Igarashi and Oliver Perez to fill the other spots.

Fantasy Notes/Strengths/Weaknesses; On the Rise/Decline/Sleeper/Supersleeper

1. Madoff and the team's financials

When the Bernie Madoff scandal first broke, the Wilpons insisted that there would be no impact on the Mets. For a period of time, that view looked as it might be correct, though the specter of a lawsuit hung over the team like Damocles sword. The Mets seemed to be moving on from this case with the hiring of Alderson and Collins followed by those of J.P Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta as assistants to Alderson. However, that period of tranquility was quickly shattered.

In December, the name Irving Picard and term clawback became firmly implanted in every Mets fan's lexicon. The lawsuit brought by Picard, the trustee responsible for liquidating Madoff's firm to pursue all claims, against the Wilpons and co-owner is asking for approximately $1 billion. That amount represents $300 million in fictitious gains plus $700 million in gains from their various Madoff investments with Picard asserting that the Wilpons should have known that the $700 million was tainted as they looked past all the red flags, including those raised by Merrill Lynch. The Wilpons are asserting that they didn't know anything, and how were they supposed to if the SEC missed this as well.

The impact, which is also covered in No. 2 below, is that this pending lawsuit impacts everything the Mets do. Alderson didn't spend money, but that may have been due to the so-so list of free agents beyond the big money players like Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth that New York were not going to players for. However, with the news that the Wilpons are looking to sell 25 percent of the team to cover some of the liabilities plus other outstanding debt, there is a doubt as to whether they can hold on to the team.

The below summary, from several NY papers, if accurate, spells out why 25 percent sale won't be enough and the Wilpons may either be forced to sell or drop payroll substantially:

Wilpon's Mets empire has three components: the team, Citi Field and SportsNet NY, the broadcasting arm. Here's a glance at his debts:
The Mets Owe: $430M in debt Pays: $30M a year in interest
Citi Field Owes: $700M for construction Pays: $50M a year to city
SportsNet NY Owes: $450M in loans
 Pays: $20M in interest
Profits: $100M a year; Wilpon gets $65M
Total debt $1.58B

2. Will Reyes, Beltran, Rodriguez, Perez and Castillo finish 2011 and/or be back in 2012 with the Mets?

The simple answer would be no and no, but that would be too easy, so I will tackle player by player will some rationale. On Reyes, if the Mets are struggling as expected, and especially if Reyes is playing well, the Mets will likely look to deal him. GM Sandy Alderson, by his comments, was less than kind to the Nationals for the Jayson Werth signing and he has never been big on given out big dollars over many years. Reyes could be in line for Carl Crawford-like money, and with Alderson's focus on OBA, which is not a strength of Reyes, the odds are clearly on him being elsewhere in 2012 and possibly by midseason.

On Beltran, his injury woes and $18.5 million salary, though $8.5 million deferred, make him nearly impossible to move this year. The injuries, more so than the dollars, make it very unlikely that a team would want to take him on during the year. He may be best suited to DH, meaning he should be in the AL in 2012.

On K-Rod, dollars more so than performance make him difficult to move. If he finishes 55 games, Rodriguez vests the 2012, $17.5 million option, which would make him the highest played closer in baseball. With the players association closely watching how Rodriguez is used, it may be difficult for the Mets to not have Rodriguez finish games. That would mean if they did deal him, it would have to be to a team looking for a setup man, not closer, so that K-Rod doesn't hit the vesting target.

On Perez, who first refused a minor-league assignment then missed two months with knee tendinitis before returning to get strafed last year, and Castillo, most Mets fans would pay their ticket out of town right now. Perez's velocity is down, and now, he will be tried as a lefty setup man not starter. Castillo was limited to 86 games due to a calf injury, a bone bruise in his left heel and then problems with his right heel after he overcompensated for the injury. Even when he was healthy, Castillo, who lost time to Alex Cora and Ruben Tejada as he struggled both in the field and at the plate in 2010, is the incumbent at second base and has a better chance of hanging around in 2011. That said, it would not be shocking for both players to be gone at some time in 2011 and you and I each have better chances at being Mets in 2012 than Perez and Castillo.

Strengths: Two switch-hitters with speed at top of the order. A potentially solid 3-6 in the order. Contact hitter at catcher with upside. Mix of lefties and righties in pitching staff.

Weaknesses: Several players coming off injuries or down seasons, including their ace starter. Lots of ifs up and down lineup and rotation, if all breaks right, surprising season could result, but likelihood of that happening is remote. Revamped bullpen may struggle.

Rising: Ike Davis - Davis had major hot streaks followed by cold ones as he adjusted to playing in the majors, yet still finished the year with 19 HR, 71 RBI and a solid .264/.351/.440 line. What bodes well for future success is that he hit .295 against lefties, but just .254 against righties, a number that should improve dramatically his sophomore campaign. Davis needs to cut down on his strikeouts (138), but he also walked 72 times, and his eye at the plate helped him get better counts, leading to his ability to drive the ball. He also did a better job going the other way late in the year, boding well for a solid 2011.

Declining: Carlos Beltran – Beltran's 2010 began with him having another knee surgery in January, which he rehabbed during the first half of the year, returning to action just after the All-Star break, albeit with a fairly large knee brace on his right knee. The brace caused Beltran to have an altered stride and less range of motion and speed he had in the past. Beltran has already agreed to move to right field and after his first game, during which he was the DH; he now has tendinitis in his left (good) knee. Expecting him to remain healthy may be a fallacy.

Sleeper: Josh Thole - Thole continued his rapid rise through the Mets' system, building off his solid 2009 season to have another fine year at Triple-A Buffalo. Thole was promoted in late June, and after sharing time with Rod Barajas, he took over as the starter behind the plate in August. Manager Terry Collins indicated that Thole will get a shot to be the everyday catcher, highlighting Thole's defensive improvement in terms of calling pitches and throwing from behind the plate. Thole won't hit for power but should provide solid batting and on-base averages, though he could lose some time against left-handed starters to Ronny Paulino.

Supersleeper: Brad Emaus - Emaus' minor league numbers fit in with the desire of manager Terry Collins to have an offensive force at second base. He is a more natural second baseman than Daniel Murphy and projects as a better power option than Luis Castillo. Collins believes that Ike Davis' range at first base will allow him to have a more offensive player at second base, which could open the door for Emaus, who the Mets selected in the Rule 5 draft from Toronto. If Emaus doesn't make it, feel free to substitute Murphy or Justin Turner here, as either one of them could see time at the position.

Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above:

Manny Acosta - Acosta, who the Mets picked up on waivers from the Braves during spring training, spent much of the season with the parent club. He averaged more than a K per inning while posting a solid ERA, though some of that might have been due to a ridiculously low .271 BABIP. Acosta has a good chance to break camp with the Mets and would be used anywhere from the fifth to eighth inning.

Jason Bay - Bay signed a four-year, $63 million contract with a vesting option for a fifth year for $17 million last offseason then suffered through a nightmarish first year in New York. Bay struggled mightily as a Met before suffering a whiplash-induced concussion at Dodger Stadium on July 23 that essentially ended his season. After averaging 31 HR and 107 RBI the previous five seasons, Bay had just six and 47 in 348 at-bats over 95 games and never seemed comfortable at the plate. Bay is expected to be 100 percent healthy for the start of the season and should have a rebound season in year 2 in New York.

Lucas Duda - Duda, a seventh-round pick out of USC in 2007, had a breakout season, hitting a career-high 23 home runs between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo, with a .999 OPS in 264 at-bats for the latter affiliate. He struggled mightily his first few weeks in the majors before having a big last two weeks. Duda also has a good eye at the plate, walking in more than 10 percent of his plate appearances at every minor league stop. His best position may be first base, but with Ike Davis entrenched there, Duda heads to spring training with a shot at earning the fourth outfielder spot in New York.

Nick Evans - Evans hit .294 (102-for-347) with 17 homers and 55 RBI in 88 games with Double-A Binghamton. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo on July 30, where he proceeded to hit .314 with six homers and 25 RBI in 140 at-bats. Evans, who was recovering this offseason from a posterior labral tear of his left non-throwing shoulder sustained Sept. 29, heads to spring training with a shot at earning a fourth outfield/backup first baseman slot, but he does not project to be more than that and may open 2011 back at Triple-A Buffalo.

Dillon Gee - Gee was named Triple-A Buffalo's Comeback Player of the Year after missing half of 2009 with a torn labrum in his shoulder. He went 13-8 with a 4.96 ERA and led the International League with 165 strikeouts at the time of his callup to the Mets. All five of Gee's starts for the Mets were "quality," but he benefited from an abnormally low .232 BABIP and high .848 strand rate, giving him a 4.37 FIP, double his 2.18 ERA. Gee mixes a low-90s fastball with a solid changeup and curve. He will likely open 2011 in Buffalo and be the first call-up if the Mets need a starter.

Pat Misch - Misch pitched well at Triple-A Buffalo, going 11-4 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.158 WHIP to earn an August promotion to the Mets. Like 2009, he pitched fairly well, seeing time as a starter and a reliever, but is viewed as organizational depth. Misch will get a chance to earn a role as a lefty reliever in spring training, failing that he'll start 2011 in Triple-A as a starter.

Bobby Parnell - Because of Parnell's high-90s fastball and inability to consistently throw his secondary pitches for strikes, the Mets decided that Parnell is better suited to a relief role. Parnell failed to make the parent club out of spring training last season, but pitched well enough at Triple-A to earn a mid-June promotion, posting a 42:17 K:BB ratio in 41.1 innings. For the most part, Parnell was dominant with the Mets, as seven of the 11 earned runs he allowed in 41 games and 35 innings came in two appearances. Parnell showed much better control with a 33:8 K:BB ratio and had a major uptick in his G/F ratio, before being shut down with 12 games to go due to inflammation of the plica in his right elbow. He is expected to be 100 percent healthy by spring training and should fill a prominent role in the Mets' bullpen.

Ruben Tejada - With Jose Reyes out due to hyperthyroidism, Tejada opened the year as the Mets' starting shortstop but was sent down to the minors after a week. Tejada played well enough in the minors to get another promotion, seeing time at second base, but again struggled in the majors. He has decent plate discipline and a good glove but doesn't have much raw power. GM Sandy Alderson has indicated that Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus and Luis Castillo may battle for the Mets' second base job this spring, leaving Tejada as the odd man out. In addition, Mets management believes that Tejada needs a full year at Triple-A, so barring injury it would be surprising to see him up with the big league club in 2011.

David Wright - Wright's 2010 season was a mixed bag. After plummeting to 10 HR and 72 RBI in 2009, he rebounded to post 29 HR and 103 RBI, the fifth time in the last six seasons he had 25-plus HR and 100-plus RBI. However, that power resurgence came at a cost to his BA and OBP, as Wright became even more of a swing-and-miss player, striking out a career-high 161 times - his third straight season where his strikeouts have increased. Part of the reason for the increase might have been the decrepit lineup around him, as Jason Bay struggled, then was injured, and Carlos Beltran was a shell of himself after returning in July. Wright still is the face of the franchise and should be good for another 25-plus HR, 100-plus RBI season, the question is will it once again come at the cost of his BA and OBP?

Top Prospects

Wilmer Flores - After spending all of 2009 at Low-A Savannah, Flores opened 2010 there again. Despite an up-and-down campaign. Flores showed enough to earn a promotion to High-A St. Lucie, where he hit .300 despite a lack of plate discipline. Flores posted just a 9:40 BB:K ratio at St. Lucie, which is not surprising as he was just 19 and the Florida State League is notorious for being tough on hitters. Flores had 11 HR, 84 RBI an 50 XBH between the two levels, showing why he is the Mets' top hitting prospect. He projects to fill-out as he matures, which along with his lack of a quick first step and range likely will move him away from shortstop, possibly to third or an outfield corner. Flores could challenge for a major-league job in 2012, but 2013 seems a more realistic timeframe.

Jenrry Mejia - Mejia, the Mets' top pitching and possibly best overall prospect, had a brilliant spring training to earn a spot in the team's bullpen to open the year. He was used intermittently the first two-plus months of the year before the organization finally made the right move, sending him to Double-A Binghamton to be stretched out as a starter. Mejia then missed six weeks with a posterior cuff strain, but progressed quickly upon his return, before getting shut down in mid-September with the same injury while pitching in New York. Mejia throws a low-to-mid 90s cutting/sinking fastball, a plus-changeup and a major work-in-progress curveball. He needs to work on finding a consistent release point and improve his command. The Mets' new management has intimated that Mejia will spend all of 2011 at Triple-A before being considered for a spot in the team's rotation in 2012.

Cesar Puello - Puello played in Low-A Savannah last season as a 19-year-old. He went on a tear in the second half of the year, batting .346/.424/.430 before seeing his season end in mid-August with a strained lower back. That tear coincided with a change in his batting stance, which allowed Puello to be more upright at the plate and have a shorter distance for his hands to go to drive the ball. Puello is a five-tool player, with speed being his greatest asset right now and power expected to come as he matures. He is slated to start to 2011 at High-A St. Lucie and his strike-zone judgment as well as his bat will determine how quickly he rises in the Mets' system.

Matt Harvey – Harvey, selected seventh overall last year out of UNC, signed too late to pitch for the Mets in 2010. Harvey's fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s, topping out around 97 mph, along with a slider and curveball, though he is likely to develop and use that curveball as a professional as it looks to be a more dominant pitch. Harvey needs to work on adding a third pitch, likely a changeup, as well as improve his command and find a consistent release point. Harvey figures to start 2011 at High-A St. Lucie and if he masters the areas that he needs to work on, he could move quickly through the system.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis - Nieuwenhuis, selected in the third round in 2008 out of Azusa Pacific, opened 2010 at Double-A Binghamton and continued his rapid rise, earning Eastern League All-Star honors while hitting .289 with 35 doubles, two triples, 16 home runs and 60 RBI to advance up to Triple-A Buffalo. His mediocre plate discipline caught up with him against advanced pitching as he struck out 39 times in 120 at-bats as a Bison after a 30:93 BB:K ratio for the B-Mets. Given his past performance, his power/speed potential as a left-handed batter, plus his ability to play all three outfield positions, he'll get more chances. However, he profiles more as a fourth outfielder than a strong regular.