All right, ready? Rally caps on!
Last year, Mike and I did a season preview while wearing rose-colored glasses. Frankly, it was the only way we could come up with a positive narrative for the upcoming season, which filled us with dread. As I recall, some of our hopes were pinned on Johan Santana bouncing back. And so on.
This season, it’s not nearly so hard to come up with an optimistic take on the 2014 season. Not that things won’t go wrong. They surely will, they always do, for every team.
For example: I have serious concerns about the bullpen, about Ike Davis, about Ruben Tejada, about Chris Young, and about the durability of Bartolo Colon. That’s a lot of failure from Sandy Anderson on that list, who did not have a great winter.
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE, SOME GOOD STRUGGLES . . .
ZACK WHEELER is going to endure growing pains, for stretches he’s going to remind of us of Mike Pelfrey with his wildness and inability to put away batters. But it will be okay.
TRAVIS D’ARNAUD is not going to arrive fully-formed, like Venus riding in on the half-shell.
CURTIS GRANDERSON may not replicate Marlon Byrd’s 2013 season, but will still be worth every penny.
There may even be times when we look over at banged-up, 31-year-old DAVID WRIGHT and wonder about the efficacy of that 8-year-deal. But that’s okay. He’s David Wright and we’re lucky to have him on our team.
That said, I am optimistic.
Even without drinking the Kool-Aid.
Not even a sip.
The biggest reason is that for the first time in years, there’s actually room for failure. Terrible things can happen, guys can unexpectedly get hurt or falter badly, and the New York Mets have enough resources to fill in and recover. That’s something new. There’s actually real depth, not just warm bodies, on the Triple-A roster. Flores and deGrom, den Dekker and Montero, Puello and Black, etc.
The 2014 Mets don’t need everything to go right. Just for, you know, some things to go right. That’s something new right there.
HERE’S 14 THINGS THAT REALISTICALLY COULD GO WELL IN 2014 (And I think we’ll all happy if only 9.5 of them come true):
1) DAVID WRIGHT stays healthy and puts together a full season as arguably the top third-basemen in baseball. David benefits all season long by having Curtis Granderson hitting behind him in the lineup. The load is visibly lightened from his shoulders and Wright produces in the way in which we know he’s capable.
2) ZACK WHEELER gives the Mets a full season, building upon a successful rookie year.
3) BARTOLO COLON stays (relatively) healthy and shows that the big man really does know how to pitch. He throws strikes, gets guys out, and best of all — he’s fun to watch. There’s something joyful to the guy, and he becomes a fan favorite. He makes us smile.
4) JEURYS FAMILIA emerges as a bona-fide force in the bullpen, a guy who can be called on to shut the door. At times he’s dominant, something the Mets have not had in the 7th-8th inning for years.
5) BOBBY PARNELL continues on his path as a quality closer, a more confident pitcher who knows his job, knows his role, and performs it capably. He’s the rock.
6) CURTIS GRANDERSON hits the ground running, plays inspired baseball, and provides the leadership this team so desperately needs.
7) DILLON GEE displays craft, poise, moxie, and determination all season long. That is, all the maturity and drive we wish we saw in Jonathan Niese. Gee serves as an easy guy to respect and admire on a staff loaded with more talented arms.
8) CHRIS YOUNG reestablishes himself as a good baseball player. Fully healthy, newly motivated, he once again puts his multiple tools on display — plays great defense, hits for power, runs the bases. The best left fielder the Mets have had since BB (Before Bay).
9) TRAVIS D’ARAUD struggles, flounders, slumps and fights through it, emerging as one of the top ten catchers in major league baseball. The defense is solid all season long.
10) JUAN LAGARES hits just enough to stay on the field and on a near-daily basis earns his keep by centering the best outfield defense in baseball: a key to a winning team at Citi Field. Looking for a .700 OPS. A pinch more plate discipline, a touch more gap power.
11) JENRRY MEJIA proves to be a revelation, the most talented, electric arm in the rotation. Best of all, he stays healthy.
12) NOAH SYNDERGAARD steps in this July, as Mejia’s IP count reaches its limit. The hype is real, the kid can throw, giving the team a jolt of lightning and hope as they enter the second half of the season.
13) RAFAEL MONTERO, almost an afterthought, is called on when a starter goes down and provides solid support. He establishes himself as a quality ML pitcher — and finds a role in the bullpen. Most importantly: He makes the team, graduates from the minor leagues. One more asset to the 25-man roster.
14) DAISUKE MATSUZAKA, the healthiest he’s been in years, pitches capably for the Mets until July.
AND NOW, A FEW CAUTIONARY NOTES FROM THE LAND OF LOW EXPECTATIONS . . .
IKE DAVIS remains Ike Davis, an erratic mess with eye-popping power. He’s awful and finally gets sent away.
LUCAS DUDA plays and is only himself; he does not transcend his track record, is not the answer moving forward, but isn’t a disaster as the LH-half of a platoon.
RUBEN TEJADA stabilizes his play and yet still proves to be one of the worst overall shortstops in baseball. Just. Not. Very. Good. It is a weakness all season long.
JONATHAN NIESE’S arm falls off. So does SCOTT RICE’S. Sandy scribbles a note to himself: “Maybe left-handers are a good idea after all?”
THE BULLPEN overall represents yet another failure for Sandy Alderson, who did not do enough to address it. There will be some bright spots, future building blocks, but also some heartbreaking loses during the season, preventing the team to ever get on a really good roll. Reminder: Hope isn’t a plan!
OVERALL . . .
I’m looking forward to it!
Look, a thought for another day will be my nagging concern that this management team is not good at getting the little things right. For four years, Sandy Alderson has operated a team where the little things haven’t mattered. “We suck, who gives a shit about the back-up shortstop!” But soon, this year maybe, the little things will begin to take on new significance. Not addressing 1B, SS, and the Bullpen — the failures to make a trade, a transaction, anything — are likely going to become features in the narrative of a season that provides hope, but falls short. We’re going to look at a lost opportunity and wonder why. Fortunately, the NL East is a mess right now. The Marlins not only haven’t turned the corner, they haven’t found the corner. Hell, they aren’t even looking for it. The Phillies are lousy, for now. The Braves might have serious problems with injuries to their starting pitching and everyone named Upton; there are dents to that well-oiled machine. That’s 54 games in the Mets schedule right there . . . and an outside chance at second place.
If I had to name a single key to the season, it would be Chris Young, largely because of the extremes of his past performance. He’s less predictable than, say, Murphy or Granderson or Wright. If Chris Young plays well, it could be a huge boost to the team. A second key would be Travis d’Arnaud. Both guys could be very good, or almost complete busts. I have ideas on that. Concepts, thoughts, guesses. But I don’t know. That’s the beauty of the regular season. We get to find out.
(Okay, I did drink a little of Kool-Aid after all. Hiccup!)