The New York Mets haven't enjoyed a winning season in four years, and that is not likely to change in 2012. Even though they haven't finished better than fourth in that timeframe, the expectations for this season could possibly be the lowest. In a deep National League East, with teams that have continued to add pieces and continue to grow into their talent, the Mets are unanimously pegged to finish fifth.
The reality is the Mets were a a 77-85 team last season, and they lost their most valuable player, Jose Reyes. Last year, the team was a number of players away from contending. Yet, in the offseason it infused pretty much nothing significant into the roster, as the Bernie Madoff scandal forced the team to cut payroll and general manager Sandy Alderson took more steps to a rebuild.
The good news for New York is that reporters and analysts don't make the season. Nobody expected the Arizona Diamondbacks to be a winning team and make the leap they did last year -- from 65-97 to losing in the Division Series with a 94-68 record. There are several questions that need answering from the Mets this season, and in order for them to shock the world, almost every one of them needs to go their way.
Continuing with that theme, let's look at the Amazin's this season by discussing questions surrounding their make up.
1 - Which David Wright will the appear in 2012? The past three seasons (10 home runs/72 RBI, 29 HR/103 RBI, 14 HR/61 RBI) have been up and down for the third basemen, correlating with some injuries and the move to Citi Field. He's already dealt with an abdominal muscle injury this spring, so the concern is real that he's injury prone. At 29, Wright is still in his prime, and the Mets sorely need his presence in the middle of the lineup, but they need him to bounce back from last year's .254AVG/.345OBP/.427SLG campaign. With first baseman Ike Davis healed from a broken foot (though questions remain as he also has Valley Fever), Daniel Murphy, a gifted average/doubles hitter who just cannot stay on the field (or field, for that matter) and Lucas Duda coming on as a solid major-league bat, this team has the potential to score runs. Of course, Ruben Tejada is a downgrade from Reyes and Andres Torres is a downgrade at the leadoff spot than Reyes is. Plus, Jason Bay has 18 home runs in his two season with the Mets. The Mets scored the 12th-most runs in the league last year with Reyes. They might not have added a significant piece, but Citi Field's reduced dimensions are on their side. A healthy, contributing Wright will also be key.
2 - How will Johan Santana fare and will he stay healthy? The Mets' ace has opened eyes this spring because he's been healthy and he hasn't missed a beat, and his stuff has looked pretty good. He's going to be a shell of his former Cy Young self, but how good will this version of Santana be? That, along with his health, will be the vital to lengthening this staff and possibly giving the Mets a chance to contend down the road. One thing is clear: New York has no No. 1 without Santana, has little pitching depth and a bunch of back-end rotation guys, so Santana's success will be crucial to the team's. The rotation is littered with question marks -- how long will Mike Pelfrey last before he's removed? Can Dillon Gee replicate his early-rookie season numbers? Can Jonathan Niese make more strides to being a front-end type? And can R.A. Dickey continue to be a steal and eat-up quality innings?
3 - Will the bullpen be able to mask rotation deficiencies? It's never a promising sign when your team's biggest additions come in the bullpen, unless, of course, you're already a championship-caliber team making tweaks. The Mets added Frank Francisco (closer), Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez in the offseason. They already have arms like Bobby Parnell and Manny Acosta, plus lefty Tim Byrdak (who is replaced in the short-term by Daniel Herrera because of an injury). The bullpen wore down last year, and this year, it has a chance of being a true asset. Of course, it will need to be because the rotation has so many question marks and pitchers who may not go deep into games.
4 - Will the bench be able to carry the load when the inevitable injuries strike? The Mets have been the most injury-prone team in the league over the past several season, and that's not likely to stop this year. Any team needs an adequate bench to be successful, but the Mets will probably need to rely on it more than most teams. As of now, the bench looks to be comprised of Mike Baxter (outfield/first base), Mike Nickeas (catcher), Ronny Cedeno (infield), Justin Turner (infield) and Scott Hairston (outfield). Are you comfortable with some of those guys towing a heavy load if need-be? Yeah, me neither ...
5 - Will the Mets actually groom their own homegrown players? The Mets are in rebuild mode, but their farm system -- despite steps in the right direction -- is still on the barren side. In recent years, they have not been known for developing their own players. Alderson and his staff realize it's a necessity. New York is thin on top-end position prospects, but pitchers like Matt Harvey (Triple-A), Jeurys Familia (AAA) and Zach Wheeler (Double-A) have impact potential, and possibly front-end-of-the-rotation ability, too. There's a good chance the first two see action in the major leagues this season. Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, if he can stay healthy, figures to be a part of the outfield equation at some point this season as well, especially if Torres and/or Bay struggle. Fans want something to root for and these guys improving only creates excitement.