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.

Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

Minnesota Twis v Kansas City Royals
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.

The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, when the club hoped it was turning the corner from also-ran to contender again. But plagued by poor pitching, struggles from young position players and failed experiments with veterans, the Royals were largely out of playoff contention by the middle of summer.

The disappointing product led owner John Sherman last month to fire longtime front office executive Dayton Moore, the architect of back-to-back American League champions and the 2015 World Series title team. Moore was replaced by one of his longtime understudies, J.J. Picollo, who made the decision to fire Matheny hours after the season ended.

Matheny became the fifth big league manager to be fired this year.

Philadelphia’s Joe Girardi was replaced on June 3 by Rob Thomson, who engineered a miraculous turnaround to get the Phillies into the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Angels replaced Joe Maddon with Phil Nevin four days later, Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo was succeeded by John Schneider on July 13 and the Rangers’ Chris Woodward by Tony Beasley on Aug. 15.

In addition, Miami’s Don Mattingly said late last month that he will not return next season.