2012 MLB Season Preview: New York Mets

WrightShould the Mets trade David Wright?

It’s sad to come into a season with the possible trade of your franchise players as the biggest question mark. But the Mets own the dreaded double curse: They’re bad now, and they’re likely to remain bad for the next couple years. The major league roster lacks premium talent, a few oppressive contracts remain (Johan Santana, Jason Bay), and the farm system, while showing some improvement at the low levels, remains years away from yielding top big league talent. Wright has one year left on his contract at $15 million, plus a $16 million club option in 2013. As I wrote in the Yankees preview:

Here’s one wacky idea: See what the Mets would want for David Wright. He’s owed $15 million this year and a $16 million club option in 2013, but won’t affect the 2014 luxury tax target. Mets GM Sandy Alderson may have tipped his hand on PR matters when he let Jose Reyes walk for the sake of rebuilding (and saving his cash-strapped bosses some money). A blockbuster trade of a Mets star to the Bronx would get crucified by the media … but for the right price, it could make lots of sense for the Mets. Given the massive boost the Yankees would get by sending Ibanez to Irkutsk and nudging A-Rod to DH, it certainly would make sense on their end.

That’s one possible destination. But there are multiple other teams that might have the means and the will to make a Wright deal at the deadline (Angels? Dodgers under new ownership, if they can sign Wright to an extension?). Alderson has a chance to goose the rebuilding process by cashing in his most marketable assets for promising prospects. If he can handle the inevitable New York tabloid backlash, it could be an endeavor worth pursuing, starting with Wright.

LINEUP (Bill James projections: AVG/OBP/SLG, wOBA)
CF Andres Torres (.255/.332/.405, .327)
2B Daniel Murphy (.302/.355/.456, .350)
3B David Wright (.286/.375/.487, .373)
1B Ike Davis (.288/.377/.504, .376)
LF Jason Bay (.257/.355/.436, .346)
RF Lucas Duda (.279/.364/.488, .365)
C Josh Thole (.278/.353/.369, .316)
SS Ruben Tejada (.256/.333/.323, .285)

If the Mets get that kind of production from Davis and Duda over a whole season, this becomes a more interesting team. Davis appears over his case of Valley Fever, so there’s at least some hope of translating something close to last year’s big numbers (.391 wOBA) over 150-plus games. There’s a hint of power upside here for Davis and the rest of the team, after the Mets finally caved and moved in the fences at Citi Field.

The bigger problem is the Mets’ horrendous defense: They finished last in baseball last year in UZR. Ruben Tejada has the monumental task of replacing Jose Reyes at short; there’s at least a germ of hope that he can provide some decent on-base skills and defense as he takes over the starting job at age 22. The Mets will eventually try to work other young players into the lineup, with left and center field as two of the positions most in need of long-term solutions.

ROTATION (Bill James projections: IP, FIP)
Johan Santana (189, 3.44)
R.A. Dickey (206, 4.03)
Jon Niese (166, 3.60)
Mike Pelfrey (188, 4.12)
Dillon Gee (160, 4.36)

Speaking of optimistic projections … holy Johan Santana! Yes, Santana posted a 3.54 FIP two years ago while tossing 199 innings. But his strikeout rate continued its nosedive that year, followed by Santana suffering a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder that September, knocking him out for most of the 2011 season. If by some miracle Santana were to come back and pitch an entire season at near All-Star level, you’d think Alderson would shop the hell out of him, what with $55 million owed to him over the next two-plus years (including his 2014 option). Niese is the breakout waiting to happen here, after posting a strikeout-to-walk rate above 3-to-1 last year over 26 starts, with a 3.36 FIP more than a run lower than his ERA. R.A. Dickey is wildly underrated on the field, even more so off it. The Mets got some grief for giving Frank Francisco a two-year deal, but his peripherals (better than a strikeout per inning) and a move to the National League bode well for solid results. This team might give up too many runs this season anyway, but that would likely be the defense’s fault more than that of the pitchers.

Duda. First full season as a starter plus closer fences plus solid power (27 homers across three levels in 2010) plus solid minor league walk rates bode well for a strong age-26 season.

Merely avoiding last place would be a coup, given the Mets’ lack of talent and the possibility of four over-.500 (or better) teams duking it out for playoff spots. Ultimately, finding suitable trade partners for the team’s high-priced talent would be a bigger coup than eking out a few more wins this season.

Santana gets hurt again, Davis and Duda don’t develop, Bay doesn’t do enough to draw trade interest, and the Wilpons invest whatever money they have left in the only venture riskier than Bernie Madoff.

Filed Under: 2012 MLB Season, MLB, New York Mets

Jonah Keri is a staff writer for Grantland. His book The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First is a New York Times best seller. The paperback edition of his new book, Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available.

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