When you boil down the 2012 season, the New York Mets fulfilled expectations. Granted, they weren't all that big to begin with.
For the first half of the season, the Mets, in some regards, were one of the feel-good stories in the league: at the All-Star break, they were 46-40, were being carried at the plate by David Wright and on the mound by some excellent starting pitching. This was a spunky team, one that had a lot of fight for the most part. But as the second half wore on, their true colors showed. New York finished with a 74-88 record, fourth in the National League East, 10th-worst in the major leagues. To break it down even more, the Mets went 28-48 after the break. For the most part, the starting pitching stayed stable, the bullpen continued to struggle and the bats dried up with Wright fading.
The losing season was the Mets' fourth in a row ... but just because it wasn't the best year doesn't mean there weren't some good things to come from it. As we put a bow on the 2012 season, let's take a look at the good and the bad (along with my grade) and what the future could have in store. Let me also make this clear: It's very hard for me to analyze every player and every aspect of every player in a season-review post, so I chose many of the "bigger" names.
Starting Pitching - B+
It's a shame we're starting here, because the starting pitching on a whole was one of the rare bright spots on this team and the rest of the other areas will be riddled with depressing realities. Their starters' ERA was 3.83, 11th in the majors (the Rays had the best, a 3.34 mark), headlined by R.A. Dickey's Cy Young-caliber season (2.73 ERA, 8.86 K/9 in 233 2/3 innings). All the superlatives you want to use about a starter -- ace, stopper, unhittable, someone worth paying to see -- can be applied to Dickey, who also won 20 games, though I'm not factoring that in here. Dickey's 4.6 Wins Above Replacement (per Fangraphs) ranked 13th in the majors, sixth in the NL. After Dickey, the Mets' most valuable starter based on WAR was Jon Niese, who was worth 2.4. Niese's BABIP regressed this season, he continued to generate a lot of ground balls and cut down his walks, helping him work to a career-best 3.40 ERA and establish himself as a solid mid-rotation starter. Johan Santana pitched the franchise's first no-hitter, then saw his season detonate, giving up six earned runs or more in six of his final 10 starts. He was shut down in mid-August and finished with a 4.85 ERA. Dillon Gee had a 4.10 ERA in 109 2/3 innings before his year ended with a blood clot. Even so, he was the team's third-highest-valued starter, as he saw his K rate increase to near-8, his walks dip and generated 50 percent groundballs. Chris Young made 20 starts, tossing 115 innings, and pitched to the tune of a 4.15 ERA. With injuries in the rotation, Jeremy Heffner also got a chance, seeing mixed results with a 5.32 ERA; he's likely no more than a long-man in the bullpen or a spot starter. Through a season that spiraled downward, Matt Harvey gave the franchise a breath of fresh air, throwing 59 1/3 innings, striking out 10.62 per nine innings and giving up 42 hits to finish with a 2.73 ERA. There's a lot to like about his power arm: he allowed more than two runs twice in 10 starts, finished with a 1.1 WAR and showed the makings of a staff ace with a mid-90s fastball, power slider and plus change up.
Future: Promising. The bedrock on which every succesful team is built on is starting pitching. Even with Dickey probably due for some regression and Santana an unknown, the rotation has enough pieces to be very good. Plus, top prospect Zach Wheeler is also waiting in the wings, meaning the Mets have two "homegrown" young starters with the frontline ability.
Bullpen - F
This was a total disaster, pretty much from top to bottom. The group finished with a 4.65 ERA, 0.01 shy of the Brewers' league-worst mark. Altogether, the Mets blew 24 saves and many more games were sent out of reach because of shoddy bullpen work. What makes this even more noteworthy is that Alderson allocated most of his limited budget last offseason to this area. And the results were terrible. "Closer" Frank Francisco finished with a 5.53 ERA, battling injuries and ineffectiveness. Ramon Ramirez, who was supposed to be used in a set-up role, also wasn't all the great, ending the year with a 4.24 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. Jon Rauch was up and down, ending the year with a 3.59 ERA, but was Alderson's best offseason bullpen addition. Manny Acosta had a bullpen-worst (those with substantial innings) 6.46 ERA, while youngster Elvin Ramirez had a 5.48 mark. Tim Byrdak's season ended after an injury and a 4.40 ERA in 30 2/3 inning, so even he was disappointing. Robert Carson and Josh Edgin showed flashes of dominance, but also reminded us of their youth. In the end, the team's bullpen "MVP" was Bobby Parnell. The flamethrower finished the year with a 2.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and an 8.00 K/9 mark, also picking up a handful of stress-free saves as the season wound down.
Future: Can't be much worse. The bullpen is likely to be re-worked, again, this winter. Young players like Carson and Edgin could get their chances. Does Jenrry Mejia stick in the pen? Will Jeurys Familia be in the rotation or bullpen? It's really tough to pin down what the 'pen will look like in 2013, but it clearly needs to be revamped.
Infield - C+
All you have to do to understand the position players' seasons is see the drop off in WAR. David Wright finished with a 7.8 mark ... and second-place Ruben Tejada came in at 2.0 (Scott Hairston finished with 2.0). To put it simply, Wright had an MVP-caliber season. Even though he tailed off in the second half, he was worth the fifth-most wins in the major leagues, smacking 21 home runs, driving in 93, scoring 91 times and stealing 15 bases. His splits -- ..306 average, .391 on-base percentage and .492 slugging percentage -- tell only half the story as he also had his best season with the glove, per Fangraphs' fielding metrics. Tejada played a decent shortstop and showed he can hold his own with the bat -- .289/.333/.351 -- but also not hit for any power (one home run in 464 at-bats). In fact, this team finished 22nd in home runs with 139. Davis had one of the ugliest first-halfs I could ever remember -- .201/.271/.388 -- but he still ended the year with great power numbers (32 HR, 90 RBI), albeit an abysmal .227 average (that should normalize next year as his .246 BABIP ticks up). Daniel Murphy did his thing at the plate (.291/.332/.403) and in the field, which wasn't a whole lot. And catcher (Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas Kelly Shoppach) remained a black hole.
Future: Mixed. The biggest question is whether Wright gets locked up long-term. Without him, an OK unit grows much weaker. There aren't a lot of secure spots on this team. Tejada is assured a spot, but Davis and Murphy could be elsewhere at the start of the season. Understand, though, that Alderson realizes this team needs power, meaning Davis likely doesn't go unless power is brought in somewhere else. It's clear this team needs a better solution at catcher, too.
Outfield - D
This was probably one of the worst groups in the major leagues. Hairston's surface stats in just 377 at-bats are nice. Yeah, he hit 20 home runs, drove in 57 and had a .504 SLG. But he also finished the year with a .299 OBP and remained nothing more than a platoon player against lefties. Andres Torres manned centerfield for most of the year, and did it adequately, but it certainly didn't make up for his .230/.327/.337 showing at the plate. Jason Bay got 194 chances at the plate and his numbers were so terrible they might make you stop reading: .165/.237/237 with eight home runs and 20 RBI. Lucas Duda was mired in such a deep slump, he spent time in Triple-A to get him back on track. He ended the year with 401 at-bats and a .239/.329/.389 line. Sure, he finished with 15 home runs, but he hasn't shown the consistency over a full year to be relied upon. And he's also a statue in the outfield. Kirk Nieuwenhuis amassed 282 at-bats and had some beginner's luck, then was exposed, ultimately getting sent down. His season concluded with seven home runs, and a .252/.315/.376 line. While Jordany Valdespin showed some power, with eight home runs in 191 at-bats, he also had a .241 average. He's also very unproven and is a man without a position. Mike Baxter had a nice season, but is also no more than a depth outfielder.
Future: A mess. Way too many "buts" and not enough everyday-caliber players to make me a believer. Duda will have the best chance to stake a starting job, but after that, this outfield could also be very new next season. I think a center fielder addition is Priority No. 1. Could someone like Denard Span or Peter Bourjos work? It's hard to believe the outfield could be any worse next year, but that doesn't mean it'll be all that good, either.
Front Office/Coaching - B-
I'm not here to dissect manager Terry Collins' every move. The fact is this is a team without a lot of talent. There were a lot of moments to be proud off -- this team showed heart, but that doesn't overcome the lack of quality ballplayers. Collins worked with what he had, gave some young players chances, as he tried to stay competitive while also evaluating. Alderson's moves of improving the bullpen didn't pan out. It's hard to judge him on a whole because he hasn't done all that much nor been here all that long but this offseason should present a clearer picture. The farm system is a work in progress, but it's improving.
Future: Trades/growing the minor league system. The Mets aren't the free-spending franchise of yesteryear. Until the books are cleared of Santana's and Bay's contracts, we won't really get a chance to see how the general manager will target free agents and what kind of contracts he doles out. That leaves him with really one option this offseason (one he's acknowledged he'll be active in) and that's the trade market. I'm skeptical as to the value he'll receive but there's always the chance other general managers will value someone high enough to net a beneficial return. It's clear, especially on the position-player front, that there needs to be some shuffling. For now, though, the best way to build this team is through the draft/farm system ... and that means patience will be needed.