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2014 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 2014 season. Next up: The New York Mets.

The Big Question: Can the Mets finish with 80 or more wins for the first time since 2008? 

After abstaining from the free agent market last off-season, the Mets jumped in and signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million deal to patrol the outfield at Citi Field. The Mets had some newfound financial flexibility with Johan Santana and Jason Bay’s contracts off the books. They also added starter Bartolo Colon with a two-year, $20 million deal – their answer to losing Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery.

However, the Mets didn’t do a whole lot aside from signing Granderson and Colon. They signed Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. He’ll play opposite Granderson in right field.

The Mets will be relying on a lot of young players, including top prospect Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate. In his first taste of the big leagues last season, d’Arnaud struggled, posting a .548 OPS in 112 plate appearances.

The bullpen is another area of youth. Bobby Parnell is expected to be the closer after recovering from a neck injury during the second half of the 2013 season. Parnell has been quite reliable, averaging at least three strikeouts for every one walk and posting a sub-3.00 ERA in three out of the last four seasons. Behind Parnell, Scott Rice and Kyle Farnsworth may be the only members born prior to 1986.

What else is going on?  

  • The Mets are reluctantly going with Ruben Tejada at shortstop to start the season.  Many expected them to wind up with Stephen Drew, who is still a free agent. Tejada posted a .519 OPS last season and the team wasn’t thrilled with his conditioning. Something will give between now and the trade deadline; it’s unlikely the Mets stick with him at shortstop, especially if they are competitive in the first half.
  • Lucas Duda and Ike Davis are battling it out for the job at first base. The loser will wind up on the bench and likely traded. Duda posted a .767 OPS in 384 plate appearances last season, spending a majority of his playing time in left field. Davis had a nightmare season, posting an even .500 OPS before a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas in mid-June. When he returned to the Mets on July 5, he was much improved. He didn’t rediscover his power stroke, but he cut down on the strikeouts and drew more walks. From July 5 through the end of the season, Davis drew 38 walks and struck out 35 times in 170 plate appearances.
  • The Mets have another positional battle in center field. Juan Lagares was great there defensively last season, but left a lot to be desired with the bat. The Mets lack a lead-off hitter as well, and that could spur them to give Eric Young, Jr. a shot. In the event Young beats out Lagares, Lagares could start at Triple-A. Young would start in left, Granderson would move to right, and Young would move to center.
  • The Mets are hoping Zack Wheeler can be to them in 2014 as Harvey was last season. Wheeler made 17 starts in 2013, finishing with a 3.42 ERA in an even 100 innings. He walked a few too many – 44 unintentionally – so he would have to improve his control. But he’s 23 years old and the sky is the limit for the right-hander 

Prediction: The Mets are better than they were last season, even without Matt Harvey. They could go back and forth with the Phillies between third and fourth place throughout the season, but I have them ultimately finishing ahead of the Phillies in third place in the NL East.

The stats show the Pirates as an outlier in throwing “headhunter” pitches

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 5: Reliever Arquimedes Caminero #37 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on September 5, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Last week at ESPN Sweetspot’s Inside the Zona, Ryan Morrison looked into the data and found that the Pirates stand out among the rest when it comes to throwing “headhunter” pitches. Those are defined as fastballs 3.2 feet or higher and 1.2 feet towards the batter from the center of the plate.

The research was prompted because Diamondbacks second baseman Jean Segura was hit in the helmet by Pirates reliever Arquimedes Caminero last Tuesday in the seventh inning. The next inning, Caminero hit shortstop Nick Ahmed in the jaw with a pitch and was instantly ejected.

Morrison illustrated the data in a nice chart, which you should check out. The Pirates have thrown 93 of those pitches, which is way more than any other team. The next closest team is the Reds at 68 pitches. The major league average is approximately 48 pitches.

The Pirates have had an organizational philosophy of pitching inside since at least 2013, as MLB.com’s Tom Singer quoted manager Clint Hurdle as saying, “We’re not trying to hurt people, just staying in with conviction.”

Morrison goes on to suggest that the Diamondbacks should have forfeited last Wednesday and Thursday’s games against the Pirates in protest, out of concern for their players’ safety. As it happened, the D-Backs lost both games anyway, suffering a series sweep. The two clubs don’t meet again this season.

D-Backs manager Chip Hale said after last Tuesday’s game that Caminero “shouldn’t be at this level”. Caminero responded to those comments today, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. “I’m actually glad you asked me about that,” Caminero said. “The only thing I’ve got to say about (Hale) is that he is a perfect manager. And he was a perfect player, too. That’s it. I know what I did wasn’t good, but it happens in baseball. I wasn’t trying to hit anyone.”

I realize I’m late on pointing out Morrison’s terrific article and the whole debacle between the two teams, but I felt it was worth highlighting.

Jose Bautista: “I’d be stupid to leave” Toronto

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 29: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jayshits a two-run home run in the fifth inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on May 29, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Also included in a recent report on Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated — along with his belief that Rougned Odor was the only bad guy in the May 15 debacle — was the slugger’s desire to remain a Blue Jay. Per Verducci, Bautista said, “I love the city. I’d be stupid to leave” Toronto.

Bautista, 35, is in the final year of a five-year, $65 million extension signed in February 2011. Back in November, the Jays exercised their 2016 club option for $14 million. Bautista isn’t willing to discuss contract details during the season, so the two sides will have to wait until at least October to come to an agreement.

Entering Tuesday’s game against the Yankees, Bautista is hitting .237/.371/.489 with 11 home runs, 37 RBI, and 40 walks, the latter of which leads the American League.

Jose Reyes to begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 18:  Jose Reyes #7 of the Colorado Rockies advances to second base on a wild throw from Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals during the first inning at Coors Field on August 18, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Rockies shortstop will join Triple-A Albuquerque to begin a rehab assignment, manager Walt Weiss said on Tuesday, per MLB.com’s Thomas Harding. Reyes was suspended through May 31 for an offseason domestic violence incident, effectively a 51-game suspension.

During the offseason, Reyes allegedly grabbed his wife by the neck and shoved her into a sliding glass door in the midst of an argument. Reyes pled not gulity and the charges against him were eventually dropped because his wife was uncooperative with authorities. It is not uncommon for an abuser’s significant other to be uncooperative with authorities due to the fear of further retaliation if the abuser suffers any consequences, such as losing his job.

Reyes has spent the last two weeks getting into baseball shape at the Rockies’ spring training complex in Arizona and he’ll likely need another couple of weeks in the minors. Rookie shortstop Trevor Story has cooled off significantly since a blistering hot start to the season, but has still played well enough to warrant the Rockies not forcing him to concede his starting role to Reyes.

The Rockies acquired Reyes from the Blue Jays on July 28 last year along with Miguel Castro and two minor leaguers in exchange for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins.

Padres catcher Christian Bethancourt just pitched, and he reached 96 MPH

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 26:  Catcher Christian Bethancourt #12 of the San Diego Padres poses for a portrait during spring training photo day at Peoria Sports Complex on February 26, 2016 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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The Mariners’ offense ran roughshod over Padres starter James Shields on Tuesday afternoon, knocking him out after 2 2/3 innings. The right-hander surrendered 10 runs.

It didn’t get much better for the Padres from there. The Mariners would score twice more in the fourth and four times in the fifth to take a commanding 16-0 lead. The Padres clawed back for a trio of runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh, but the lead was essentially insurmountable.

Unsurprisingly, the Padres opted to use a position player to soak up at least one inning, so catcher Christian Bethancourt took the mound to begin the eighth. Bethancourt had trouble finding the strike zone, but he was consistently hitting the mid-90’s with his fastball, which was impressive. He sandwiched a pair of fly outs with a walk, but then he lost all semblance of control. He walked Norichika Aoki, then hit Seth Smith with a 59 MPH knuckleball. Yes, you read that right: a knuckleball.

Manager Andy Green relieved Bethancourt with infielder Alexi Amarista, and Bethancourt moved to second base. Amarista got Shawn O’Malley to ground out with the bases loaded to end the inning.

Though Bethancourt’s results weren’t the greatest, it was still fun to watch him pitch.