2012 Season Forecast: New York Mets

2011 Record: 77 – 85  (4th, NL East)
Runs Scored: 718  (6th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 742  (13th, NL)

For all the grief given to the stadium regarding how the deep fences kill home run totals, the problem wasn’t with the offense.  Rather, it was the pitching staff…

2011 Season Recap:

Mets ownership’s ties to the Madoff ponzi scheme created the backdrop for a team that started the process of unloading salaries and rebuilding the team.  The Mets weren’t an awful team, really.  They just didn’t have enough arms and the gloves in the field weren’t helping out any.

The Mets had a slow April, but actually had winning months until July and were two games over .500 at the trading deadline.  They were, too, out of it and decided to sell off players, starting with Francisco Rodriguez (who had gotten in hot water over a fight with his potential in-laws) and then moving outfielder Carlos Beltran to San Francisco for prospect Zack WheelerDavid Wright had his first truly off season, and missed two months with a stress fracture in his lower back, which didn’t help either.  Ike Davis sprained an ankle, getting a bone bruise, and missed most of the season.  Anyway – before it was over the pitching left them.  The Mets, who had only allowed ten runs or more in a game four times in the first four months, did so five times in the last two.  Mike Pelfrey looked like he was pitching through an injury,  Dillon Gee ran out of gas,  Jon Niese went on the DL, and both Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy missed three weeks with various injuries.

Starting Pitchers:

In 2011, the Mets featured Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano, and Jonathan Niese.  Once Dickey got out of April, he was the most dependable of the starters and the only one who pitched better than a league average arm (16 runs saved).  Pelfrey gave back 16 runs, Niese (who just got an extenstion) cost them 11, Capuano was -8, and Gee was -6.

Heading into 2012, the Mets have to hope Pelfrey returns to form (he has alternated between decent and poor seasons for the last four years – a poor man’s Bret Saberhagen?) and that Gee and Niese can make steps forward.  One advantage, however, may be the return of Johan Santana, who made his first start  (in nearly 600 days) on opening day.  If Santana can pitch 160 – 180 innings at about 80% of his former self, he’d improve the team by about 25 runs himself.  My fear is that Pelfrey could use a different approach and may not improve – and that leaves a big hole in the rotation.

Relief Pitchers:

Gone are the 2011 closer tandem of Francisco Rodriguez and Jason Isringhausen.  For 2012, the Mets imported the Toronto back end – Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, which should help improve the bullpen.  Another addition, Ramon Ramirez, arrives from San Francisco and will help, too.  The rest are holdovers from last season:  Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato, and Miguel Batista – and this group has room to improve.  On the whole, this unit should be 15 to 20 runs better than last year.

Catchers:

Josh Thole is young and has room to improve.  The Mets catchers were not a very good lot – poor against the run, with a losing record, poor ERA, and (in part, thanks to Dickey) a bit mistake prone.  Ronny Paulino, a decent enough catcher, is gone now leaving Mike Nickeas as the #2.  Nickeas can’t hit as well, but his defensive skills may be better.

Infield:

Most of the infield remains intact from last year, with Jose Reyes leaving for Miami for $100+ million and a multi-year contract.  In his stead, Ruben Tejada gets the nod.  Tejada isn’t too bad – a slightly above average hitter, a better glove – but even saying that, it’s a 50 run hit from what Reyes delivered last year.

Daniel Murphy hit .320 and can play everywhere.  He’s earned a shot at being the regular second baseman.  Ike Davis will be back – a full season would help make up for some of the loss of Reyes.  And, a full season of David Wright could also pick up some slack.  Backing them up, Justin Turner is a useful player and Ronny Cedeno brings a glove to the middle infield slots.

Even if Davis and Wright come all the way back, it’d be hard to make up all 50 runs lost by losing Reyes.  I see this unit being down at least 25 runs from 2011.

Outfield:

Rightfielder Lucas Duda showed he has a bat and should be more mobile in the outfield than Beltran at this point.  Angel Pagan, who wasn’t horrible but appeared to struggle down the stretch, is gone – his replacement is former Giant Andres Torres, who is about the same level player but is coming off a down season.  In left you have Jason Bay, who might have a bounce back in him – Lord knows the Mets could use it.  Scott Hairston is a competent backup and Mike Baxter will get a shot as a fifth outfielder.

Prospects:

Many of the players at AAA Buffalo wound up getting a lot of time with the Mets, including Tejada, Nick Evans, and Lucas Duda.  Outfielder Fernando Martinez was lost to Houston in a roster shuffle – he looks like he might have been able to help, the Astros will find out for sure this year.  Pitcher Jenrry Mejia quickly made it to the bigs, but spent most of his 2011 AAA season on the DL.  Kirk Nieuwenhuis was noted for his overall approach to the game and will be the first callup for New York if someone gets hurt in the outfield.

AA Binghampton featured a familiar name – Allan Dykstra, who had a line that looked like something off the back of his dad’s baseball card:  19 – 77 – .267, but is more of a free swinger and not much of a threat on the basepaths.  Josh Satin bombarded AA pitching and wound up getting a look at the majors.  Juan Lagares arrived after hitting .338 in A+ ball and continued to hit .370 after arriving.  If he continues to hit over .300 in AA or AAA, the 23-year-old will get a shot to play left field.  The top AA pitcher was Collin McHugh, who went 8 – 2, fanned 100 in 93.1 innings, and allowed just two homers.  Reliever Joshua Stinson moved through AA and got a shot at the big club in 2011 – he will start 2012 in AAA.

A+ Port St. Lucie featured Matt Den Dekker, who hit a well rounded .296 and flashed baserunning prowess and moved up to AA by mid-season.  Wilmer Flores and Pedro Zapata will move up – let’s see if they continue to progress as hitters.  The best arm is 2010 first round pick Matt Harvey, who fanned 92 in 76 innings and finished in AA.  Zack Wheeler, who came over for Beltran, has a live arm and will start 2012 in AA.

2012 Forecast:

Somebody has to finish last in what will certainly be the toughest division in baseball.  With the change in the fences, the team’s offense will LOOK better, but without Reyes and Beltran, the likelihood is that the offense will be a touch worse than last year – maybe 25 – 30 runs worse.  The pitching staff will be better, though, probably 40 runs better (even allowing that they will have a tougher time with the shorter fences at home).

The statistical profile suggests 80 wins – 690 runs scored and about 700 runs allowed.  I’m not sure I buy the system on this one.  You have four really good teams in the division and the Mets will likely be sellers at the trade deadline – even considering that they shed more than $50 million in salary from last year already.  The Mets could certainly win 80 games, but my hunch is that will be closer to 75.

Mauer Wins AL MVP; Other News

Getting all but one first place vote, Joe Mauer became the fifth Minnesota Twin to win the AL MVP.  Hitting .365, playing gold glove worthy defense behind the plate.  It’s hard to argue with the selection – I can’t, he was my pick, too – because there just aren’t that many players like this guy.  Mauer decided to take advantage of the count when he it was in his favor and added power, enough to lead the AL in batting, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Amazing, really…  [ESPN and others…]

Tom Verducci had a vote and explains it for Sports Illustrated

Ken Rosenthal discusses his vote for Fox Sports

The real challenge will be this offseason or next when the Twins have to try and keep Mauer around, especially since Mauer has to be worth about $20 million per season on the open market.

And in Other News…

Omar Vizquel signed a one -year deal with the Chicago White Sox.  Vizquel expects to be a mentor to infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham.  [ESPN]

The Nationals say that Stephen Strasburg, who missed his last start in the Arizona Fall League, won’t need surgery on his twisted knee.  Dcctors say it’s a dislocation of the joint and he just needs some rest.  [SI]

The Associated Press released notes suggesting that Ken Griffey Jr. could earn as much as $3.9 million after incentives for the 2010 season.  [ESPN]

The Cubs signed lefty reliever John Grabow to a $7.5 million, two-year deal.  Grabow is a solid eighth-inning guy (though he can pitch in any inning from 5 through 9) who earned the contract after a year with 70 appearances for both Pittsburgh and Chicago.  However, personally I’d be leery of anyone coming off a career high in appearances and a career ERA over 4.00…  [SI]

Cuban Aroldis Chapman has fired his agent, signing with the Hendricks Brothers, agents who represent players such as Andy Pettitte.  Edwin Mejia, of Athletes Premier International, had helped Chapman escape from Cuba, setting up residency in Andorra so that Chapman couldn’t be drafted and would be signed as a free agent.  One expects a lawsuit for tampering in the very near future.  [ESPN]

Look for Roy Halliday to play out the string for Toronto, knowing that he will either be traded or become a free agent after the 2010 season.  Toronto brass fully expect Halliday to hit the road.  [ESPN]

The Marlins and pitcher Josh Johnson couldn’t iron out a deal, and per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, it’s because Johnson wants a fourth year if he signs a long-term contract.  The Marlins are prepared to deal with arbitration, but tried to get Johnson to sign a three-year deal.  Johnson was trying to get a deal similar to the four-year, $38 million deal the Royals gave Zack Greinke.  [ESPN]

Speaking of Marlins named Johnson, the ESPN rumor mill has Nick Johnson getting plenty of interest in the free agency market.  Johnson had a .477 OBA after arriving in Florida in a late season trade with Washington.  Among the suitors?  Boston, Washington, the Mets, Giants and Orioles.  [ESPN]

Let’s stick with stories about my fish…  Former Angels prospect and Marlins minor leaguer, Dallas McPherson, signed a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s.  At 29, McPherson is past his prospect days and has missed two of three seasons with back problems.  [ESPN]

Finally, Peter Gammons compliments the management of the Marlins for winning with a payroll that, over four years, has spent less money – nearly a third less – than the Mets spent in 2009.  [ESPN]

Quick Hits…

Jermaine Dye says he is open to playing first base.  I’d be more worried about how his production fell apart after the all-star break, so this is just something to make him seem more valuable on the free agent market. [MLB]

After signing Chris Capuano and John Halama, two pitchers who have missed time due to injury and really haven’t been on the MLB radar in two or three years, the Milwaukee Brewers are showing interest in Carl Pavano.  There just aren’t enough 4.50 ERA guys with bad backs and shoulders to go around, I guess…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

Hall of Famer Joe Medwick was born on this day in 1911.  Joe never liked his nickname “Ducky”, which was shorted from “Ducky Wucky”, which might help explain his surliness…

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or rememberances include:  George Burns (1889) – a fine lead off hitter with the Tigers back in the day…, Billy Rogell (1904), Danny Ozark (1923), Jim Northrup (1939), Fred Beene (1942), Steve Yeager (1948), Randy Velarde (1962), Cal Eldred (1967), Ben McDonald (1967), Al Martin (1967), Dave Hansen (1968) – who could probably STILL lace a single pinch hitting for the Dodgers right now…, and Joel Guzman (1984).