Our four-part series sizing up the Phillies’ NL East foes continues with the New York Mets.
Fortunately for the Phillies, the Marlins aren’t the only NL East team in the midst of a rebuild.
The Mets are too, but they’re in better shape. They have a more talented farm system. They have their superstar third baseman locked up long-term. They have a young rotation that has a chance to be very good in a few years. They have pieces in place at shortstop and at first base.
The problem is that New York doesn’t have productive starters behind the plate or in any outfield spot. The bullpen is an area of concern and could struggle mightily for a third straight season.
Let’s take a closer look:
SP Shaun Marcum, RP LaTroy Hawkins, top prospect catcher Travis D’Arnaud
SP R.A. Dickey, SP Mike Pelfrey, OF Scott Hairston, OF Andres Torres, C Kelly Shoppach, SS Ronny Cedeno, SP Chris Young, RP Jon Rauch, RP Ramon Ramirez, RP Manny Acosta
The biggest move of the Mets’ offseason was re-signing David Wright to an eight-year, $138 million contract. It was New York’s equivalent to the Phillies’ re-signing of Cole Hamels. It prevented the Mets from doing much more this offseason, but it was necessary because Wright, like Hamels, was the face and future of the franchise.
The only notable free agent the Mets have signed through the first week of February is oft-injured starting pitcher Shaun Marcum. When he is healthy, Marcum is a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter. He’s 42-26 with a 3.57 ERA in his last four seasons, with a 1.18 WHIP and nearly three times as many strikeouts as walks.
The problem is that Marcum missed a full season in there and has made more than 25 starts just twice in his seven-year career.
The first four hitters in the Mets’ order can be dangerous. Shortstop and leadoff batter Ruben Tejada has quietly hit .287 with a .345 OBP the last two seasons.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy isn’t much in the field, but he’s hit .302 with a .365 OBP the last two years and is coming off a 40-double season.
Wright is one of the game’s best hitters and has readjusted nicely to the shifted dimensions of Citi Field. Last season he hit .306 with 21 homers, 41 doubles and 81 walks. His on-base percentage last year was over .380 for the sixth time in his nine seasons with the Mets.
Ike Davis hit just .227 last season, but he’s a rebound candidate with plenty of power and patience at the plate. Despite the low average Davis hit 32 homers and 61 walks in 2012.
Manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson (who has done a very nice job since taking over after the 2010 season) preach plate discipline, and the first four hitters in New York’s order get on base a ton. It’s a team characteristic many fans wish the Phillies had.
After those four, though, the Mets’ lineup is ugly. Lucas Duda and Mike Baxter are both platoon players with no business starting against left-handed pitching, but they’re set to man the outfield corners on a regular basis. Centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis is a high-energy guy, but he too can’t hit lefties. Colin Cowgill and Andrew Brown are two young righties in the Mets’ outfield picture, but neither has done anything yet at the major-league level.
If the Mets sign Michael Bourn, this entire picture changes. New York has been linked to Bourn – a man without a team who is seemingly losing leverage by the day – but the Mets appear unwilling to part with their first-round pick to sign Bourn. The Mets were reportedly seeking a loophole that would allow them to sign Bourn without forfeiting the pick, but it is highly unlikely Major League Baseball allows it.
With Bourn in the picture, Tejada would move to second in the order and Murphy would move down to either fifth or sixth, making New York’s lineup deeper but still not one of the better offenses in the league.
According to Alderson, catching prospect Travis D’Arnaud – the former Phillies prospect who was traded for Roy Halladay and is among the top-15 in the game – could make the Mets’ Opening Day roster. D’Arnaud was obtained in the trade that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto. His minor-league numbers indicate he will be a difference-maker, but it’s hard to envision him making that difference in his rookie season.
Johan Santana is expected back from shoulder surgery that ended his season shortly after he tossed the first no-hitter in Mets history.
Santana was terrific last year in his first 11 starts, pitching to a 2.38 ERA with a .200 opponents’ batting average, but after the no-hitter in his 11th start he went 3-7 with a 8.27 ERA. Opponents hit .327 with 13 homers in those final 10 starts. It was ugly. How he fares in 2013 is anyone’s guess.
Lefty Jon Niese had a much more consistent season, going 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts. Niese allowed career-lows in walks (2.3 per nine) and hits (8.2 per nine) for a 1.17 WHIP. At 26 he is entering his prime and should have similar success this season. He’s an underrated NL starter and a guy you should be targeting in fantasy baseball.
Marcum is the Mets’ projected No. 3.
Matt Harvey will be in the rotation, too, after a 10-start rookie season in which he had a 2.73 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings. It could be a long 6-10 years against Harvey for the Phillies, who hit just .163 off him last season in two meetings.
Rounding it out is righty Dillon Gee, who was 6-7 with a 4.10 ERA and 8.0 K/9 last season before shoulder surgery cut it short. He’s a solid No. 5 starter.
The bullpen is rather weak. Frank Francisco is back as closer after a 23-save, 5.53 ERA season. He hasn’t had an ERA lower than 3.55 since 2008.
Bobby Parnell is a hard-throwing righty setup man coming off his best season (2.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP).
Aside from those two, the Mets don’t have much. Josh Edgin and Pedro Feliciano are the lefties, and mediocre righties LaTroy Hawkins, Jeremy Hefner and Scott Atchison should lock up the other spots.
Keep an eye on...
RHP Zack Wheeler, the Mets’ top prospect acquired in 2011 from the Giants for Carlos Beltran, could make his way to the majors early in the season and have the type of success Harvey had last year.
If the Mets can sign a few free agents in upcoming seasons, they could compete for a playoff spot in 2014 or 2015. But doing so in 2013 isn’t all too realistic, even if they do sign Bourn. The bullpen simply isn’t good enough to protect leads from the ninth or 10th best rotation in the NL, and the Mets’ 5-6-7-8 hitters probably won’t be productive enough to help out the top of the order.