by Jason Martinez
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NEW YORK METS OFFSEASON PREVIEW
The first line of business this offseason will be to pick up the club options for third baseman David Wright ($16M) and 20-game winner R.A. Dickey. The next priority could be to try and extend both players beyond 2013. With a large sum of money coming off the books after next season, the Mets are not expected to spend big until then. Contract extensions for their star players, however, wouldn't technically count until the huge contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana are officially off the books. Therefore, General Manager Sandy Alderson will focus on cost-efficient ways to upgrade his outfield and catching positions, as well as the bullpen, this offseason.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
The infield is set with Wright, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, and Ruben Tejada. The other four spots in the lineup are not, although a platoon of Bay and either Lucas Duda or Mike Baxter seems likely in left field. Scott Hairston, who may be the most valuable fourth outfielder in the game, is a free agent and could be looking to get paid like a full-time player after posting an .803 OPS with 20 HR in only 377 at-bats. His production dropped when he played regularly for the Padres a few years back so it's not a given that any team is willing to give him that shot.
Last offseason's trade that sent Angel Pagan to the Giants for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez didn't work out very well for the Mets. While Pagan bounced back from a subpar 2011 (.778 OPS in 2012 vs .694 OPS in 2011) to help lead the Giants to a division title, Torres did not bounce back and Ramirez was just OK after four consecutive seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA. Torres, who will be 35 years old in January, is eligible for arbitration and expected to command over $3 million. While the switch-hitter had solid numbers against lefties, he struggled mightily against right-handers. The Mets could pursue an upgrade this offseason or hand the job over to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had an up-and-down rookie year before missing the last couple months of the season with a foot injury. A platoon could be an option, but a Nieuwenhuis/Hairston combo would likely be much more productive than Nieuwenhuis/Torres. Non-tendering Torres and using the savings towards re-signing Hairston and have him share time with Nieuwenhuis in center field could be the best option.
How bad do the Mets want to upgrade their catching position? Sitting at 16.5 games out in the NL East, they acquired free agent-to-be veteran Kelly Shoppach in mid-August to split time with Josh Thole, who gave the Mets almost nothing offensively in 2012. Re-signing Shoppach is an option, while Russell Martin and A.J. Pierzynski are expected to be the best available options via free agency. Expect them to kick the tires on Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, or possibly Nick Hundley, who Alderson is familiar with from his years with Padres.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
A healthy Santana with Dickey, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee give the Mets a solid chance to compete on a daily basis. If Matt Harvey, who showed flashes of dominance during his 10-start big league stint, can take another step forward, and top prospect Zack Wheeler can contribute later in the season, the Mets could hang around at the top of the NL East much longer than anyone expects.
Rotation depth doesn't appear to be a problem with Jeremy Hefner and Collin McHugh capable fill-ins and 2011 2nd Round pick Cory Mazzoni moving quickly through the minors. Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia are highly-touted prospects with big-time arms but aren't reliable enough at this point. They could eventually be late-inning bullpen arms, although the Mets haven't given up on them as starters just yet.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
Instead of spending on a reliable closer last offseason, Alderson allocated the money among three relievers when he traded for Ramirez and signed Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. The results were mixed as Rauch pitched well, while Francisco and Ramirez struggled. Ramirez and Rauch are free agents, leaving Francisco and hard-throwing Bobby Parnell as the two in-house candidates to close out games in 2013.
Although the 28 year-old Parnell might have been the team's best reliever in 2012, he's struggled so much in the past that the Mets might not ever trust him in the closer role long-term. Francisco will likely be the closer to start the season -- he did save 23 of 26 games, after all -- but he could have a short leash after posting a 5.53 ERA during an injury-plauged season where he missed time with a strained oblique and elbow tendinitis.
After lefty Josh Edgin and likely Manny Acosta, who finished strong after a rough first half, the other spots in the bullpen are very much open for grabs. Like last offseason, Alderson will need to acquire some relief help via free agency or trade but will hope for better results this time around.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
4 Setup Man
5 Middle Reliever
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS