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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.

Jake Arrieta almost quit baseball

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 29: Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs scratches his beard as he walks back to the dugout at the end of sixth inning after giving up a three run home run to Gregory Polanco #25 of the Pittsburgh Pirates (not pictured) at Wrigley Field on August 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, the defending National League Cy Young Award winner and author of two no-hitters, considered quitting baseball a few years ago when he was bounced up and down between the major leagues and the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia.

At the time, Arrieta was having trouble living up to his potential as one of the Orioles’ top pitching prospects. He started on Opening Day in 2012, but finished the season with a 6.20 ERA and was very quickly moved back to Norfolk after four mediocre starts to begin the 2013 season.

As CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports, Arrieta was considering quitting baseball so that his family could have a regular life.

We were at a point where I had other things that I could segue into and establish a career elsewhere. Not that I wanted that to happen, but I didn’t want to continue to go through the things we were going through and moving from place to place in the minor leagues at 25, 26 years old.

Baseball is something that I’ve loved to do since I was a little kid, but it’s not everything. I had to reevaluate some things. I knew I could always pitch this way, but there were times where it seemed like maybe I wasn’t going to get to that point.

It’s just part of life that we had to deal with.

Mooney also points out that Arrieta had a business background having gone to Texas Christian University and would have done something in that field if he had hung up the spikes.

This has been brought up because Arrieta’s teammate Tommy La Stella considered quitting baseball as well recently, as the Cubs demoted him to Triple-A. Though La Stella received a lot of criticism, Arrieta can relate to La Stella. The right-hander said, “I know that there were things that he was going through and dealing with (that) we may not agree with and understand.”

The National Anthem: an unwavering sports tradition . . . since the 1940s

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There’s an interesting article over that the New York Times in the wake of the Colin Kaepernick stuff. This one is about the history of the National Anthem at sporting events.

The anthem is a fixture for as long as those of us reading this blog have been attending games and it’d be weird if it wasn’t there. But it hasn’t always been there, the Times notes. Indeed, it was not a regular fixture until 1942 when it was added for the obvious reason that we were at war. The other major sports leagues all adopted the anthem soon after. The NBA at the inception of the league in 1946 and the NHL in the same year. The NFL’s spokesman doesn’t mention a year, but notes that it’s a non-negotiable part of the game experience. The non-negotiability of it is underscored by the comment from the MLS spokesman who notes that they felt that they had no choice but to play the anthem when that league began play in the 1990s.

I like the anthem at ballgames. It just seems like part of the experience. I like it for its own sake, at least if the performance isn’t too over the top, and I like it because it serves as a nice demarcation between all of the pregame b.s. and the actual game starting.

But this article reminds us that there is no immutable structural reason for the anthem at games. Other countries don’t play their own anthems at their sporting events. We don’t play it before movies or plays or other non-sports performances. It’s a thing that we do which, however much of a tradition it has become, is somewhat odd when you think about it for a moment. And which has to seem pretty rote to the actual ballplayers who hear it maybe 180 times a year.