This will be another building year for the Mets

Rich Mancuso

With five consecutive losing seasons, and the 2006 postseason their last one, will the New York Mets become legitimate as the 2014 season first pitch is set to be thrown at Citi Field Monday afternoon? The Washington Nationals, a team picked by many to possibly take it all become the first test for starter Dillon Gee before a standing room only crowd.

Mets fans hope for the best. However, the results could be the same. The 2014 New York Mets are a team still in the rebuilding stages and mediocrity, with 2015 more likely to be a year of hope with promising young pitching on the horizon.

And with a dismal record the past two years, at fan friendly Citi Field, the team looks to improve in that category. Building a fan base in New York means winning as many games at home than on the road.

It also means, having more than an $85 million dollar payroll, as it appears more and more that General Manager Sandy Alderson is using a system of building from within, something that has become successful with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, and Kansas City Royals.

One would hope that the additions of outfielders Curtis Granderson, Chris Young and, pitcher Bartolo Colon, the off-season free agent acquisitions, will make a difference. Though, the spending granted by the Wilpon owned Mets to Alderson was a quiet message to the Mets’ fan base.

Fans say it was not enough, and certainly what was out there on the market was not on the expense sheet for Alderson.

In essence, Colon could help mentor a young and promising pitching staff, possibly compile a 14 win season. He was also a compliment to make up for the void of no Matt Harvey “Day” at Citi Field as the so-called franchise player continues his recovery from Tommy John Surgery.

Colon will throw strikes, his fastball the arsenal in his command. However, if there is any promise for these Mets, it is the young and promising pitching that many baseball scouts say, could be one of the best the game offers. In other words, Mets pitching is sacred, with Harvey a part of that mix.

And, if Noah Syndergaard is not up by June, September will be his call. He has become the key component in the trade with R.A. Dickey from Toronto in 2012. The kid, according to manager Terry Collins has a curveball described as “The hook from Hell” and those in the know, also say, Syndergaard could be as good, if not better than Harvey.

The other part of that trade will get his first full year in New York. Travis d’Arnaud is a good defensive catcher, and comes with credentials as a good hitter, though this spring the average hovered around .189 and he looks confused at the plate. His limited time, granted late last season, showed continued struggling at the plate and adjusting to major league pitching.

The Mets need to do without Harvey, depend on Colon, Gee, Jonathon Niese, assuming his shoulder is okay, the right hander, Zack Wheeler another youngster who will only get stronger and better. And Jennry Mejia will be the fifth starter. The veteran, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who can still dazzle the opposing lineup with an assortment of pitchers, will not have a long stay at Triple-A Las Vegas. 

So, there are few questions about the starting five, assuming everyone stays healthy. And during the course of a long season, anything is possible. The Mets are prepared. They have an all-star team of young and good pitching out In Vegas. They can get a start or serve a role in the pen, with Syndergaard or Rafael Montero the first to get a call, to fill or void or get a regular role at Citi Field.

Overall, last season, Mets starters did their job. It was the bullpen, and a constant mix-and max situation for Collins that gave away more than one game. So the prevailing offseason plan was rebuilding the pen, besides other areas, that Alderson had a plan for.

Collins also hopes the starters can go deeper into games and at the same time be conscious of that pitch count, and compiling of innings pitched during the allotment of starts.

Priority number one was making sure Bobby Parnell, the closer, was healthy to close the deal. And assuming the fastball and command are there, Parnell coming off neck surgery is the one Collins will call. If not, 36-year old veteran Joe Valverde will close, though his major role will be the setup guy for Parnell.

And, one can only hope that Valverde will rebound. He was a successful closer with the Arizona Diamondbacks, had some success in Detroit before being released. He can have control issues, give up the home run ball and is very reminiscent of previous closers on the hill in Flushing. Remember Armando Benitez and Guillermo Mota, with a good fastball and limited command?

A good asset coming out of the pen is Carlos Torres. The 30-year old right hander was a good find last season by Alderson. Out of options, Torres came to the big club in June and filled a void as a spot starter, middle relief and sometimes setup Parnell, as Collins continued to mix and match.

Collins said, after the Mets final spring game Saturday, “We think we’re going to be better. We think we’re going to do some positive things. We’ve added some athleticism, some power. Now we’ve just got to play.”

In his fourth year at the helm, Collins knows how to get his team to play. He has become a popular leader, the players respect his knowledge and there should be no talk of a Collins dismissal if the Mets get off to a bad start.

Yes, the Mets have improved, assuming again they stay healthy and the potential bats in the lineup live up to expectations. A 90-win season, one that Alderson proclaimed at the beginning of spring training is not realistic. Improving on 73 wins is definitely possible.

Begin with the addition of Granderson. He does have power, assuming he has recovered from an injury ridden 2013 across town in Yankee pinstripes and Citi Field could provide him room for a 25 or 30 home runs season. Though, it has been seen, Granderson goes after a bad pitch and tends to strike out much. If anything, the Mets want to lessen the strikeout ratio, as they finished next to last in the league last season in that department.

Granderson will compliment David Wright in the lineup. Protection in the order as Wright can drive in runs and the captain is proclaimed to be healthy. Wright is a run producer with power. One thing the Mets need to do, score runs, another area that lacked last season.

Collins broke camp with a few decisions that need to be addressed. One is shortstop, who leads off, and first base. Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, subject of trade talk are still in New York. Davis, it is hoped will find his swing and hit the long ball again out to the Pepsi Porch in right.

Duda, will be regulated to the bench, and with Josh Satin as part of the first base platoon, Duda may have to play himself in the lineup. It is a question that prevails and will be monitored the first few weeks of the season.

As for Ruben Tejada, he got his starting job back at shortstop by default. He had a better last two weeks of spring camp, though he may still may not be in the plan as Wilmer Flores was sent back to Las Vegas to be groomed at short. And there has been no more discussion about the Mets looking elsewhere for help at the position.

 Daniel Murphy, second in the National league in hits last season, has overcome obstacles at second base and will bat behind the leadoff position.

The Mets do hope that, Tejada can return to form and become the shortstop and hitter he was two years ago before injuries took over. He has that potential, and once was the viable replacement for Miami bound shortstop Jose Reyes.  

Then, there is the leadoff dilemma. Who will get that role? Will it be Juan Lagares, who becomes a fourth outfielder with the acquisition of Chris Young, or Eric Young Jr. another midseason acquisition last year who led the league in stolen bases?  

Lagares has that gold glove but is still learning to hit a variety of pitches. Young Jr. can also handle second to get Lagares playing time, assuming Murphy needs a day on the bench.  

Collins may bat the pitcher eighth every so often, that could mean some more run production. Regardless, there will be many aspects of this Mets team that will determine what is ahead for 2015.  Yes, looking at next year because this will be another year of building in a National League east division that will be dominated by the Nationals and Braves.


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