Mets 2011 Season Preview with Joe Janish

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we will learn more about the Mets from Joe Janish.

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1. How would you rate the off-season for the Mets?

D. The team did nothing but pick from the bottom of the junk pile all winter. It was a similar strategy to what Omar Minaya did in the past: sign players who once did something well, but are now undervalued due to recent injury and/or underperformance, and hope for the best. But instead of Minaya doing it, it was Sandy Alderson, so the PR angle is that it was a collection of “smart moves”. The major difference between this and other winters was that the Mets didn’t make at least one “big” signing to make the offseason appear successful … but with the news of the Madoff case, we now know why.

I realize that Alderson was working with a tight budget and had his hands tied by bad moves made by the previous administration. However, when I rate “the Mets”, I’m rating the entire organization, and that includes ownership — who is ultimately responsible for a team’s success or failure. That said, “the Mets” went backward, did not improve the club for 2011, and are relying on their annual strategy of “hopes and wishes”. I know that the stat-focused crowd is loving seeing the Alderson / DePodesta / Ricciardi regime in place and there are fans who are happy that it appears young players will get a chance to prove themselves, but, neither of these changes is likely to improve the big-league club in 2011. If I were grading Alderson, I’d say he did a good job considering the circumstances; but I’m grading the Mets.

2. The Mets acquired Chris Young and Chris Capuano, both with significant injury histories. Do you agree with taking a chance with them, or would you have preferred the Mets look elsewhere?

I really like the Capuano signing, because he never relied on velocity yet he now may have a little more than he’s had since his mid-twenties. Further, pitchers coming off TJ surgery tend to have a better chance of full recovery compared to other procedures, and Capuano has been through this once before. Assuming he is fully recovered and regains the command of his pitches he had in 2006, I think Capuano can be a pleasant surprise and give the Mets 200+ quality innings. Citi Field is the perfect place for him.
Speaking of, the main thing Young has going for him is a return to a pitcher’s park. I’m concerned about his health and his ability to pitch in more hitter-friendly stadiums such as Citizens Bank Park and Turner Field. But considering the price tag, the signing was a no-brainer and worth rolling the dice — certainly, a better gamble than the one the Mets made on Kelvim Escobar last winter.

Would I have preferred that Mets looked elsewhere? I guess, but where? The free-agent market was pretty limited, the best that was available wasn’t worth the dollar figures and the Mets couldn’t afford them anyway. Maybe the Mets could have explored the trade market further but they didn’t have many valuable, expendable chips to offer.

3. Do you expect Carlos Beltran to be wearing a different uniform by August 1?

Yes — assuming he stays healthy. If the Mets can get him on the field 4-5 times a week, they can probably fetch something from an AL team looking for a DH. His salary could be tough to move without eating some of it, though — he’s owed $18.5M this year. My fear is they’ll get nothing of value in return because they’ll be desperate to rid themselves of the cash commitment.

4. Offensively, what are you expecting out of this team? They were 13th out of 16 NL teams, averaging 4.05 runs per game last year.

The offense could be better compared to last year, but that’s assuming a few things break right; for example, if Jason Bay comes back 100% from his concussion and hits somewhere close to what was expected when he signed that 4-year / $66M deal. He doesn’t need to be a superstar, but he has to be able to hit at least 20-25 HRs and provide an .850 OPS. The Paulino / Thole platoon behind the dish could be productive, and if one of the younger kids can displace Luis Castillo at 2B, the lineup will be deep if lacking in power.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

The second base situation is the main thing to watch. We’re hoping that Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, AAAA guy Justin Turner, or the positionless Daniel Murphy becomes Jeff Kent — and who knows, one of those guys might be able to do it. Career minor leaguer Dillon Gee makes up for his lack in talent with craftyness and a bulldog mentality; he could steal the #5 spot in the rotation. I really like the Mets’ other Rule 5 pick Pedro Beato, who has an outside shot at a bullpen role.

6. If you had to guess on the Mets’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

I’m hoping they can finish fourth, but the Nationals scare me a little with their maturing youth and suddenly deep pitching (compared to previous years). It’s not impossible for the Mets to finish as high as third, but that’s going to require a lot of “ifs” turning out the way we’d like.

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Thanks to Joe for taking the time to share some insight on the Mets. Don’t forget to add Mets Today to your bookmarks to keep tabs on them during spring training and throughout the 2011 season.