New York Mets 2011 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2011 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the New York Mets. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers previews every team division by division until the start of the regular season.

I have a good friend who is a lifelong New York Mets fan. When I talk to him about the Mets he usually has nothing to express or communicate to me about his team except pure and utter misery.

I would often wonder why this is. The Mets have had a nice roster on paper that you would think would generate a lot of hope. As the seasons have played out, nothing too good has came to the Mets. What I’ve realized is that the Mets were showering aging veterans with big long-term contracts in hopes of short term gain. Virtually none of this has worked out in their favor.

The failure in this strategy has led to them getting a new and respectable GM in Sandy Alderson; but I finally am starting to understand my friend’s pure misery. The Mets are in over their heads. In a loaded division, they are a candidate for being the bottom-feeder. Everyone pays the piper sometime, and the Mets are in a generation of ineptitude, all taking place in their new ‘blah’ ballpark.

The Cornerstones

The cabinet isn’t completely bare. Look on the corners of the Mets infield. At third base, they’ve got a guy that any team in baseball would give a significant amount to own. David Wright is a guy who not only gets it done on the field but has unlimited marketing capabilities as a player. He’s a poor man’s Derek Jeter–which we’ve spoken to in the past on this blog.

You look at Wright’s numbers, and you see that the guy is clearly a generational talent. He rebounded last year to have a really nice year while playing half of his games in a ballpark that isn’t conducive to yielding big offensive numbers. He’s carving out a Hall of Fame caliber career, or very close to it. He’s only going to be 28, so he’s got four to five years left as a great player with a peak possibly mixed in and maybe ten very good years left overall.

On the other side of the diamond, you’ve got 24 year old Ike Davis. Ike burst on the scene last spring and temporarily brought a lot of hype and hope to Mets fans. I wanted to get a look at him because the buzz was that he had the best power in the Mets organization since Darryl Strawberry. That is the kind of statement that gets people to watch and learn about a kid. He ended up playing in 147 games, hitting .264 with 19 home runs and 71 RBI. This is the year he’ll prove he is superior to the Rico Brogna’s before him and he should catapult into 30 home run territory. We think he’s ready.

After these two, the Mets have some nice young players and some veterans who have been considered stars. But for one reason or another, these are the only two true guys on the entire roster who you can say will be part of a Mets restoration in a few years. That alone, is depressing.

Questions on the pitching

People fell in love with the Mets when they went out and acquired Johan Santana. The Twins took their lumps in the media; but who has been the better organization since that day? Johan has been solid, not spectacular in New York; but maybe the Twins weren’t that crazy. Look at Santana’s strike out totals the past two seasons. He totaled 146 in 2009 and 144 in 2010. He’s slowing down. The dominance is no longer there. He’s still an ace in terms of what the Mets have to trot out there; but he’s not the guy the Mets planned on getting when you look at his numbers from 2004 to 2008 and the Mets should have probably known that. Santana is going to be coming off major shoulder surgery and the Mets owe Santana a staggering $72 million over the next three seasons. He won’t be back until July at best and he likely won’t be a big contributor

This all vaults 15-game winner Mike Pelfrey to the top of the rotation. I like Pelfrey. I think he’s going to have a season where he wins 18 or 19 games sometime soon. When you look at the rest of the Mets rotation you realize why it’s probably going to be a long year. R.A. Dickey is back as a near top of the rotation starter. Better hope his knuckler has that same bite to it this year Mets fans.

The rest of the rotation is made up of Johnathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano and Chris Young. That’s a recipe for trouble unless one of the last two mentioned can rebound from injuries and use some smoke and mirrors to get hitters out at a much higher rate than anyone could see coming.

Francisco Rodriguez is still a very good closer. Not the dominant guy he was, but still a guy who will close out 40 with only a few blown opportunities if he’s given the chance. We don’t think he’ll get anywhere near 40 saves this year because the Mets are going to be trailing in too many games. Around him they’ll have Manny Acosta, D.J. Carrasco, and Bobby Parnell to eat up innings. Don’t forget the name Jenrry Mejia either. He’s got a lightning arm and if the Mets are smart he’ll be groomed for the closer’s role of the future.

New skipper Terry Collins

The managerial history of Terry Collins reads like this: he’s never won a division title, he’s finished above .500 three times and hasn’t managed in the big leagues in 11 years. They’re hoping he brings energy and discipline to the Mets. Do you think that Carlos Beltran is going to sell out harder for Terry Collins?

They should have never canned Willie Randolph. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Collins is one of those guys who was working towards getting fired since the day he was brought on the scene. He won’t win a division title here and I don’t really see what credibility that he brings to the table either. He probably wasn’t asking for top dollar, so the Mets figured why not save a few bucks and hire the 61-year old to hold the post for a few seasons until we’re truly ready to contend.

Unless he goes all Jack Mckeon on them–and he likely won’t–they’ll have a new manager when we’re writing this post in 2013 or 2014.

Jose Reyes is still a top-tier player, no?

This is the year we find out if Jose Reyes can still be the Mets superstar. He’s only 27 and was one of the biggest stars in baseball back in 2006 through 2008. He had a solid season last year, but he didn’t look like himself. He didn’t look like a guy who was doing things with ease. He stole just 30 bases which is about half of his top rates of the mid-decade. For the Mets to be anything above bad to mediocre, Reyes has to have a big season at the top of the lineup.

Rumor has it Danny Murphy will be his middle infield mate rather than Luis Castillo. Mets fans love Murphy’s willingness to play anywhere to get a shot in the lineup and he’s a blue collar type of player.

The rest of the up the middle will be occupied by the aging Beltran who we think has pretty much packed it in, and a Ronny Paulino/Josh Thole sandwich. That isn’t a combo that is going to make many envious.

Reyes is more evidence to the principle we subscribe to; once a guy is about 27-28 years old, he’s really not in his prime anymore. He’s sometimes past it. With guys entering the big leagues more and more at 21 and 22 years of age, by five seasons in they have a TON of mileage on them and the best years have actually passed them by. Mix in a few injuries and that is really true. (See Sizemore, Grady).

The Final Verdict

The Mets will be the last place team this season in the NL East. Last year they won 79 games under Jerry Manuel. Not bad at all really. It’s going to be a tougher year in 2011. We look for them to finish around 73 wins and never really mount much of a threat to give their fans any excitement. They’re running out of time to put David Wright on a winner. The year 2006 seems like forever ago.