By Mike Steffanos
In Part One of our season preview we put forth our thoughts on the financial situation surrounding the Mets. In part 2 we'll take a look at the team that's been assembled and what can be reasonably expected from them.
Obviously the biggest story here is Johan Santana's rehabilitation. There's been plenty of speculation on when the erstwhile ace of the staff might return. I side with those who say that when you have a pitcher who is over 30 and coming off shoulder surgery you write him off for the entire season and then hope to be pleasantly surprised. I have a sense of optimism based on Johan's smarts and toughness, but it will be a tough road back.
As of now the rotation consists of Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Chris Young and Chris Capuano. Pelfrey has been more or less designated to be the ace of the staff, while Capuano is clearly the fifth starter at this point.
Mike Pelfrey is clearly a guy who sits at the crossroads of career potential. It would take the stars to align perfectly for him to be a true ace of a good staff, while a failure to ever fully hone and command his secondary pitches could limit him to being an average mid-rotation guy. I think if he can be consistent with his slider and avoid those innings where it all seems to fall apart for him Mike can be a solid number two guy for the next few years. I'm optimistic for his chances to accomplish this.
With R.A. Dickey, the obvious question is how much of last season's success he can repeat. With his makeup and that special hard knuckleball, I'd be surprised if R.A. wasn't an effective pitcher again in 2011. When you throw an extremely effective pitch that virtually no one else does, your chances for continued success are pretty good.
The one thing working against him is that he can't sneak up on the league and the division like last year. This spring he's been working on a softer knuckler to change things up, and that's a good idea, I believe. Still, there's no doubt the hard knuckleball will continue to be his bread and butter. It's not only hard to hit, but it helps him maintain the low walk rate that any knuckleballer would envy. I'm looking for an improvement on the 11 wins Dickey managed last year, and wouldn't be shocked if he turns out to be the best starter in the rotation.
Jon Niese put together a solid rookie season for the Mets last year, contributing 30 starts and 9 wins. He seemed to tire after the All Star break, which is understandable. His ERA jumped from 3.61 pre-break to 4.82 after, fueled by a 94 point jump in OPS.
With the cutter as an effective weapon, Niese actually does better against righties than lefties (.283/.341/.431 vs. RH, .266/.364/.468 vs LH last season), which isn't a bad thing for lefty starters. He's got good stuff and seems to have a solid mentality. The only thing that might work against him is that young pitchers don't always progress predictably from year to year. Still, if he stays healthy I think he can easily be the third 10+ game winner on the staff.
Chris Young is an intriguing addition to the staff. He hasn't pitched much in the past couple of years as injuries derailed a fairly solid career. He's been hard to hit, allowing a .220 BA against over his major league career. On the negative side, his walk rate has creeped up over his last few seasons and he's never been a workhorse when healthy. He maxed out at 179 innings in his first year in San Diego in 2006, and is unlikely to be go very deep into games at this stage of his career.
Still, if he can recover the stuff he had before the injuries slowed him down, he has the potential to be a very solid back end starter, perhaps even a little better than that. What I'll be watching for from him early on is fastball velocity -- if he can get back up around 90, he can be very effective. If he's down in the mid-80s his margin of error will be small, a la Steve Trachsel at the end.
Chris Capuano was a very effective starter for the Brewers in 2005 and 2006 before injuries completely derailed his career. He didn't pitch at all in 2008 and 2009, and his comeback late last year only encompassed 66 (admittedly quite effective) innings.
Rick Peterson was his pitching coach in Milwaukee, and he really likes Capuano's chances to come all of the way back. While his ceiling is lower than Chris Young he probably has a good chance of being an effective back of the rotation guy. Velocity will be something to watch with Capuano, too, although being a lefty with good off-speed stuff probably means he can get back a couple of ticks under what Young will need.
This starting five is probably as solid as any the Mets have broken camp with in the last few years. With Dillon Gee, Boof Bonser, Jenrry Mejia and maybe Pat Misch in Triple-A there is even some solid depth here, and if Johan Santana can return in the second half he can provide a boost.
This crew isn't likely to make ancient fans like myself compare them to the rotations of the mid 1980s, but to my mind it's very much improved. If Young and Capuano can stay reasonably healthy and the top 3 just perform as expected this could even prove to be an above average starting five.
If you told me when camp begun that Frankie Rodriguez would be the least of my concerns when the Mets broke camp I don't think I would have believed you. As it stands, K-Rod seems calm, healthy and poised for a good year, and the biggest question is whether the Mets allow him to finish 55 games and trigger that $17.5 million option. (I'm guessing "no".)
Bobby Parnell seems to be getting the first shot at the eighth inning job. I like him, but he needs to take the next step with command of the slider and his fastball command probably needs to be more consistent. In that regard, he reminds me a lot of Heath Bell when he was here. Ideally Parnell will put it together like Bell did, but not have to leave town to do it.
Taylor Buchholz could probably challenge Parnell for the setup role if he is fully healthy and commanding that terrific curveball. Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Buchholz could prove to be a terrific addition if he can maintain low 90s velocity on the fastball and avoid the DL. He's looked solid this spring.
Blaine Boyer came to camp without a major league contract and has won a job in the bullpen. He's got a good sinker that he throws with solid velocity, and at 29 years old has some miles left on the right arm. He's probably nothing more than a journeyman caliber middle reliever, but could prove useful.
Pedro Beato is one of two Rule 5 picks to make the Mets out of camp. He's a big kid who throws a fastball with good velocity and sink, but his secondary stuff and command look like question marks to me. I imagine he'll start out pitching fairly low leverage innings early on, and could earn some late-game work if he can find some consistency. The Mets made a good call taking a shot with the kid, but there is really no guarantee that they'll be able to keep him on the roster all season if he doesn't make some strides.
Tim Byrdak is the lone lefty out of the 'pen, at least for now. He gets lefties out with a career .202/.296/.380 line against them. Righties hit him much harder (.288/.402/.484), making him a fairly traditional one or two batter LOOGIE. Probably a step down from Pedro Feliciano at his best, but if used correctly Byrdak should prove more than serviceable.
D.J. Carrasco seems to be filling the long man role in the 'pen and possible spot starter, but will probably see work in the sixth and seventh innings, too. He could prove useful, as both Young and Capuano will be probably not go all that deep into games. His ability to pitch from multiple arm angles is useful, too, as he provides a slightly different look. Based on what I've read about him and what I've seen this spring he looks like a decent if unspectacular signing.
The Mets should have some bullpen depth in Buffalo with Bonser, Ryota Igarashi, lefties Michael O'Connor and Taylor Tankersley, and possibly Misch. If Jason Isringhausen stays on in extended spring training he's an option at least in the short term.
Even with Feliciano gone, it's hard for me not to see this bullpen as more promising than what the Mets broke camp with last spring. They have a pretty good mix of pitchers and some potential to be a really good bullpen, particularly if Buchholz can stay healthy and Parnell and Beato can show some growth. I need to see how this plays out in April, but I see this bullpen as pretty solid with a chance to be pretty good.
Next up, we'll take a look at the position players.