(SportsNetwork.com) - After a fifth straight losing season, the New York Mets enter the 2014 campaign with something to believe in. The organization has a young crop of pitchers on the verge of the big league roster and management opened its wallet to spend a bit this winter in free agency.
General manager Sandy Alderson got all of this started three years ago when he traded Carlos Beltran for pitcher Zack Wheeler. He then continued his youth movement last winter when he sent then-reigning NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball to Canada for two more youngsters, pitcher Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d'Arnaud.
Alderson's plan continued to unfold this past winter when, after getting out of the Bernie Madoff ponzie scheme dilemma, the team committed $15 million a year for four years to outfielder Curtis Granderson and $20 million over two years to pitcher Bartolo Colon.
Granderson, who had consecutive 40-plus home run seasons before an injury plagued 2013, gives the Mets' outfield some legit power numbers and he joins the captain and the face of the franchise David Wright as the leaders of the clubhouse. Wright and Granderson are expected to lead this young core into the future.
The Colon deal was needed when the team lost superstar Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery at the end of last season. The Mets will need an immediate impact pitcher to replace Harvey who went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA, while striking out 191 in 178 1/3 innings in 26 starts last season. Colon, who posted an 18-6 mark with a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts last season with Oakland, should provide that.
While Alderson's free agent signings have given the Mets some immediate relief, his commitment to the farm system is now starting to pay dividends and will continue to do so in the coming years.
Following their big league debuts in 2013, Wheeler has now cemented a spot in the starting rotation this season and d'Arnaud is the everyday catcher. Syndergaard, on the other hand, will begin the year in Triple-A Las Vegas and barring any major setback will likely make his major league debut in June.
Meanwhile, other young arms such as Rafael Montero, Jenrry Mejia and Jacob deGrom are also on the verge of big league stardom. Montero and deGrom will both start the season in the Triple-A, while Mejia could earn a spot in the Mets bullpen or starting rotation depending on how much time staff ace Jon Niese will miss because of yet another arm injury.
Mejia took Flushing by storm in 2010 in former GM Omar Minaya's final season. Minaya, trying to save his job, called on the youngster to try and give the fan-base energy and he was overused in relief by then-manager Jerry Manuel, leading to Tommy John surgery for the right-hander. Well, Mejia is back and looking good. Last season, in five late-season starts for the Mets, he struck out 27 in 27 1/3 innings, posting a 1-2 record with a 2.30 ERA.
2013 FINISH (74-88) - 3rd place (NL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: OF Curtis Granderson; RHP Bartolo Colon; LHP John Lannan; OF Chris Young
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: IF Justin Turner, OF Mike Baxter, LHP Johan Santana
PROJECTED LINEUP: LF Eric Young JR., 2B Daniel Murphy, 3B David Wright, RF Curtis Granderson, 1B Ike Davis, CF Chris Young, C Travis d'Arnaud, SS Reuben Tejada
PROJECTED ROTATION: LHP Jon Niese, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Zack Wheeler, RHP Dillan Gee, RHP Diasuke Matsuzaka
PROJECTED CLOSER: RHP Bobby Parnell
MANAGER: Terry Collins
WHO WILL BE THE FIRST BASEMAN?
There's a saying in the NFL that when you have two quarterbacks, you really don't have any. Well, the Mets have a similar situation with first base.
Ike Davis and Lucas Duda were supposed to spend a bulk of spring training battling for this spot. Alderson and Collins hoped that the competition would spark Davis to find the power he had during his 2012 season when he belted 32 homers and drove in 90 runs before falling into an abyss last season (9 HR, 33 RBI) and force Duda to become more than a 6-foot-4, 255-pounder who was content with drawing a walk (.352 on-base percentage, .223 average and 15 HR last season) rather than a line-drive, power hitter.
Instead, both spent a bulk of spring training on the shelf battling injuries and now the team has three first basemen with Josh Satin emerging as the right- handed hitter who will platoon with either Davis or Duda when there is a lefty on the hill and no trade bait. Additionally, Davis and Duda have no track record of being productive as late-inning pinch-hitters, making it hard to carry both as role players. Duda, at least, can play the outfield.
WHO WILL BE THE SHORTSTOP?
Unlike first base where the Mets have too many options, at shortstop the team only has one option -- Ruben Tejada.
Alderson really made no secret coming into the spring that the team wasn't excited about Tejada, who has failed to impress Collins this spring. Last season Tejada hit just .202 after a 2013 season that saw him hit .289, sparking a demotion to the minors. The belief was his glove was good enough to keep him in the majors, but the pressure of the situation this spring even has him committing numerous errors to go along with a poor bat.
Not willing to depart with the first-round pick to sign free agent Stephen Drew and unable to pull off a trade, the Mets spent the last part of spring training trying to develop Wilmer Flores into a shortstop while also scouting other major league camps for an alternative. Flores projects as a much better hitter than Tejada, but in spring games struggled with his footwork at the position, especially while turning the double play. Flores hit only .211 with the Mets last season in 95 at-bats, but did produce at the minor league level, hitting .321 with 15 homers with Triple-A prior to his call up.
So, the team might not have any other choice but to play Tejada, until they can find a better option either through free agency or a trade.
IS ALDERSON'S PREDICTION OF 90 WINS ATTAINABLE?
Early in spring training it was leaked that Alderson said this team is expected to win 90 games during an organizational meeting.
The only conceivable reason why Alderson would make this statement could be a message to the players and management that another sub-.500 season won't be tolerated.
There are just too many holes on this roster. The first base and shortstop situations are a mess and both problems create issues within the lineup, which lacks a legit RBI and power threat in the four spot. Granderson is expected to hit fourth, but he's not a traditional four-hitter and could struggle to produce the expected numbers from that spot. During his 40-homer seasons, Granderson had the likes of Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez hitting behind him. Now he has Duda, Davis and d'Arnaud. That makes it a little easier to pitch around him.
X-FACTOR: JON NIESE
Coming into training camp, the Mets thought they were only looking for a fifth starter with veteran right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka and left-hander John Lannan fighting for that spot. However, another question emerged: Is Niese healthy enough to lead this rotation?
First, Niese was sent back to New York for his pitching shoulder and then later was sent for an issue with his pitching elbow. The left-hander escaped both tests without disappointing news, as neither body part has structural damage. However, the durability of Niese has come into question. If the Mets can't count on him to be the veteran leader of this staff, they might have to look elsewhere.
Niese, who likely will miss Opening Day and might start the season on the disabled list until the team needs a fifth starter, went 8-8 with a 3.71 ERA in just 24 starts last season as he missed time with a shoulder injury. While he continues to come back each time, New York needs its defacto No. 1 starter (remember Harvey will miss this season) to be healthy all season if it expects to end its slide of consecutive losing seasons.
Alderson's strategic moves over his tenure with the club have the Mets pointing in the right direction, but there are still a number of holes this team needs to fill if it expects to make a playoff push or even play meaningful games in September. At best the Mets should expect a .500 season, but a sixth straight losing campaign is a more reasonable expectation.