To preview the upcoming season in the NL East, I asked some of the best bloggers in the division to chat with me about what to expect from the opposition. Today, we start with my Q&A on the New York Mets with Eric Simon, one of the authors of the Mets blog Amazin' Avenue. You can also check out my chat with Eric about the Nationals here.
Finish the following statement: The Mets will be better than expected if...
The Mets get anywhere near 180 innings apiece from John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey. Johan Santana is a given, but Maine is coming off an injury-plagued season, Pelfrey threw more pitches in 2008 than he ever had before, and Perez is now both married and rich but remains as unpredictable as ever. The Mets have made a number of clear upgrades to the bullpen and their offense should still be one of the best in the league, but as spring training begins their starting rotation could be anywhere from meh to terrific. I'm pulling for 'terrific' but wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it turns out to be 'meh'.
And, the Mets will be worse than expected if...
They lose any (or many) of Santana, David Wright, Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes for a significant length of time. That's about it, really. The Mets have enough talent to be a very good team even if their production falls short in certain areas. The only thing that could reasonably derail them entirely would be the loss of irreplaceable parts. They're no lock to make the playoffs (see: 2007, 2008), but if they aren't beset by injuries they'd have a tough time not being pretty darned good.
I'm surprised the Mets are going into Spring Training with Luis Castillo still on top of your depth chart. Will that be the case on Opening Day? At the end of the 2009 season?
Probably. Like seemingly everyone else in baseball, Castillo is apparently in the best shape of his life. He's nothing special, but his biggest problem last year was health, specifically the health of his knees. He'll never hit for much power, but given a season free from injury he can be a very useful player for the Mets. He can hit for average, draws plenty of walks, and can swipe 15-20 bags at a high success rate. He also won't embarrass them in the field. Giving him a four-year deal before the 2008 season was a mistake, but if he can stay on the field for 140+ games he can definitely be worth the $6 million the Mets are paying him.
If Castillo isn't healthy then we'll probably see more of Alex Cora than is reasonable.
Will Tim Redding make the rotation? Could Freddy Garcia or Jon Niese or someone else bump him from the fifth spot?
The numbers certainly aren't in Redding's favor, especially after the Mets signed Livan Hernandez to a minor league deal. None of the guys competing with him are particularly good (right now), but statistically he probably has an uphill battle, and I think if Freddy Garcia throws well this spring that he might have the inside track. The good news for Redding is that even if he doesn't make the starting rotation right out of camp, very few teams make it through a whole season with just one number-five starter. Others' injuries and ineffectiveness could get Redding plenty of action this year.
How are you feeling about the Lastings Milledge deal these days? Most people seemed to consider it a "win" for the Nationals at the time, but a year removed I'm not so sure.
At the time, I thought the Mets had probably improved themselves marginally in the short term but had given up a lot of value in the long term. I don't know that we can yet argue definitively one way or the other. Ryan Church had a great start last year but then was inactive and ineffective for the last four months following his second concussion. Brian Schneider was an adequate backstop but nothing to make the Mets forget about Mike Piazza any time soon (though most fans were just happy not to have Paul Lo Duca around any longer). On the flip side, Milledge wasn't anything spectacular for the Nats. He showed flashes, but overall he failed to distinguish himself from the rest of the Washington outfielderse (Elijah Dukes was much, much better than Milledge, for instance).
Overall, Church and Schneider were worth around three wins for the Mets while Milledge was worth around a half-win for the Nationals. That's a landslide victory for the Mets, but there's still a ways to go in this one.
What else should we watch for when the Mets come to town this year?
The bullpen was a real sore spot for the Mets last year. If things go according to plan, you better score your runs early because Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz are going to shut things down in the eighth and ninth.