2013 Preview: New York Mets

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The New York Mets.

The Big Question: Can David Wright carry the Mets to .500?

The Mets are in a transition period. The outfield is thin, the bullpen is thin, the starting rotation is a combination of young arms and injury-prone veterans, and the infield aside from David Wright is lacking. Here’s how good Wright was compared to the rest of his teammates last year: according to FanGraphs, he was worth a team-best 7.8 Wins Above Replacement. The next-best on offense? Ruben Tejada at 2.1. Among pitchers, only the now-departed R.A. Dickey challenged at 4.6.

Having added very little via free agency during the off-season, the Mets are hoping a young core can make steady progress while the veterans stay healthy and avoid pitfalls. They have already dealt with their first bit of adversity when closer Frank Francisco’s elbow started bothering him. Though he may be ready by Opening Day, 28-year-old Bobby Parnell with 17 career saves will take over the ninth inning in his stead.

25-year-old first baseman Ike Davis disappointed last season, finishing with a .227 average and .308 on-base percentage despite 32 home runs. Soon-to-be 24-year-old Matt Harvey is expected to improve on ten impressive starts in his first taste of MLB action last year, when he posted a 2.73 ERA and averaged nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis will need to recapture his April magic from last year, when he hit .325.

On the flip side, they will need veterans Johan Santana (back), Shaun Marcum (elbow), and Francisco to stay healthy. But even if everything goes right, it’s hard to see them finishing above .500, though stranger things have happened.

What else is going on? 

  • Johan Santana had some issues with the Mets not too long ago, but those have apparently been settled. GM Sandy Alderson criticized the lefty for not arriving to camp “in pitching shape”. That upset Santana, who threw unscheduled from a mound a day later. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News described Santana’s anger as “palpable”. While one would hope these issues are put to bed forever, you never know what may rise to the surface should the Mets or Santana specifically get off to a slow start.
  • David Wright has been on fire during the World Baseball Classic for Team USA. In 17 at-bats, the third baseman has seven hits including one home run (a grand slam) and ten RBI, a good harbinger for the upcoming regular season. Despite having his best season since 2008, Wright finished sixth in NL MVP voting but it would surprise no one if he went home with some hardware after the 2013 season.
  • You might see prospect Zack Wheeler at some point during the season, most likely as a September call-up when rosters expand. Acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade, Wheeler posted a 3.26 ERA in 149 innings spent between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo, mostly in Double-A. Baseball America rated him the #11 overall prospect heading into this season, so you can imagine the excitement Mets have with a future rotation that may include  him and Matt Harvey.
  • The Mets moved in the fences after the 2011 season, hoping to inspire more offense, but it didn’t seem to work. Their collective .726 home OPS in 2011 dropped to .679 last year. It could have been a fluke, but I don’t think Citi Field’s dimensions are at the root of their offensive issues.

Prediction: Fourth place, National League East.

Yoenis Cespedes blames a lack of golf for his early season slump

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Back during the 2015 playoffs the sorts of New York media types who love to find reasons to criticize players for petty reasons decided to criticize Yoenis Cespedes for playing golf the day of a playoff game. The Mets won the series with the Cubs during which the controversy, such as it was, occurred and it was soon dropped.

It was picked back up again in 2016 when Cespedes, while on the disabled list with a strained quad, was seen playing golf. Despite the fact that everyone involved said that golf did not contribute to his injury and that golf would have no impact on his injured quad, it was deemed “a bad look” by a columnist looking to get some mileage out of bashing Cespedes for having a hobby that probably half of all ballplayers share. They did it when he showed off his fancy cars too, by the way, even though just about every ballplayer has a fancy car or three. When you’re a superstar in New York — especially when you’re one with whom the media is not particularly close for various reasons — you’re going to catch hell for seemingly nothing.

Now there’s a new twist to the Cespedes golf saga. Yoenis himself says that his poor start — he’s hitting .195/.258/.354 and leads the league in strikeouts — is due to . . . not enough golf! From the New York Times:

He gave a possible reason for the poor start this weekend: not playing enough golf, a hobby beloved by many baseball players. And, yes, he is serious.

“In previous seasons, one of the things I did when I wasn’t going well was to play golf,” he said after a game on Friday in which he struck out four times but still drove in the go-ahead run in the 12th inning. “This year, I’m not playing golf.”

The story says Cespedes quit golf last summer because he worried that it was contributing to hamstring problems. He’s thinking about going back to it soon, as he thinks it’ll help his swing. Given that he’ll catch hell either way, he may as well do what he wants.