The Mets Are Not That Far Away

This morning, the Mets re-signed David Wright to a seven year, $122 million contract extension that seems to be a good price for the team, and right about what we expected he would get if the two sides wanted to reach an agreement. Wright is probably going to be worth the contract on his own; the real argument has been about whether or not the Mets should be the one giving it to him.

I touched on this briefly last week in my article about the perils of losing on purpose, but I don’t think the Mets are the kind of team that need to be tearing down the talent in place and going for a youth movement. While the Mets have had four straight losing seasons, I just don’t see a lot of evidence that the team can’t win in the near future. When I look at this team and what they have in place, I just don’t see a roster that is really all that far away from being a viable contender.

To start, they haven’t exactly been awful as of late. They’ve won 230 games over the last three years, finishing in the 74-79 win range each year. Last year, they were outscored by 59 runs. The year before, they were outscored by 24 runs. The year before that, they outscored their opponents by four runs. This is just not a team that has been miserably bad. They’ve wasted a lot of money, certainly, but they’ve been a slightly below average team, not a doormat.

Even last year, they were just a little worse than average, and that was true pretty much across the board. Their non-pitchers posted a wRC+ of 98, ranking #16th in baseball in park adjusted offense. Their 107 ERA- shows that the run prevention was a little worse than average, but the pitching was actually okay (104 FIP-), and they were just let down by a poor defensive unit. Upgrading a team’s defense is one of the cheaper and easier things to do in a given winter. For the Mets, it simply starts by not using Lucas Duda in the outfield anymore.

Simply reallocating the playing time that went to Duda and Jason Bay to one competent Major League outfielder could be a +3 or +4 win swing. That’s not asking for the Mets to find a star – that’s just replacing a black hole with a guy who can run around the outfield and not embarrass himself at the plate too badly. That’s finding next year’s Gregor Blanco. This doesn’t require a huge investment or some long term prospect development. It just requires finding a slightly below average player who wants a shot at playing everyday.

That’s one of the encouraging things about this Mets roster. The problem isn’t a lack of a championship core, but instead, the lack of reasonably acceptable role players and roster filler. Most teams don’t have two guys as good as David Wright and R.A. Dickey, even with their expected regression in 2013. Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, and Johan Santana make for a pretty nifty #2-#4 in the rotation, and if Dillon Gee is healthy, he showed enough to be a pretty interesting #5 guy as well. Toss in the potential addition of Zack Wheeler, and the Mets have the makings of a well above average rotation.

With three average-ish infielders around Wright, it’s not like the position players are a total disaster either. The Mets have a pretty substantial holes at catcher and in the outfield, but again, upgrading on holes is a lot easier than trying to add wins over decent-but-unspectacular performers. Just getting a couple of extra league average performers in the outfield would go a long way towards making the Mets respectable once again.

In looking at their overall roster, the Mets are probably still a 75 to 80 win team in terms of true talent level, but they’re a 75 to 80 win team with some obvious places to make improvements. With a couple of solid outfielders and a warm body at catcher, they’re an 80 to 85 win team. Maybe grabbing all three of those guys this winter is impractical, especially while they work to improve their bullpen at the same time. But, over the next 12 months, do we really think that the Mets can’t grab a couple of decent role players?

David Wright is going to be 30, not 40, next year. R.A Dickey is a knuckleballer, so his age is about as irrelevant as any pitcher in the game. These guys are not on the precipice of losing all of their value. They can regress and still be good enough to be the two best players on a winning team. The Mets just need to flank them with fewer embarrassments. And, thankfully, those are the easiest upgrades to make.

Trade Duda to an AL team with a real outfielder to spare. Grab a couple of interesting guys who have been productive in limited roles and could use a full time job to show what they can do. Snag a couple of low cost relievers with some upside. There are five or six fairly easy wins to be added here, simply in replacing the dregs around the roster. And the Mets are five or six wins away from being on the fringes of the playoff race. Add in the huge swings in outcomes that can’t really be predicted based on things like hitting with runners in scoring position or winning one run games, and the idea that the Mets are years away from even dreaming about a 90 win season just doesn’t add up.

They’re not the best team in the NL East, certainly. They’re probably not going to make the playoffs in 2013. But, given the wide variance around both player and team performance and the pieces they have in place after re-signing Wright, this team could easily be a player in 2014. And, by re-signing Wright, they’ve given themselves a chance to pull an Orioles/A’s upset and move the timetable forward if things break right.

So, I say good for the Mets on not giving up on their short term future. They just aren’t anywhere close to being bad enough to justify punting the next few years while they wait for the farm system to develop new stars to build around. They already have stars to build around. They can win with the ones they have now.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


57 Responses to “The Mets Are Not That Far Away”

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  1. TheWacoKidd says:

    Wright is not 31. he turns 30 on December 20th. jeez

    also the deal is for 122 million in new money, but 2013 has been replaced and it’s an 8 year, 138 million deal.

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    • Marc says:

      Luv ya dude but you’re a wee bit optimistic. Wright was pretty bad the last three months of last year, awful the year before. He is hardly a leader. 8 years will probably start strangling us around year 3 which is right around the time we can be competitive with our young staff. Dickey won the Cy Young with a season for the ages. Zero reason to believe he can come close to anything like that again.

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      • Evan_S says:

        He had a 131 wRC+ in July, a 94 wRC+ in Auguest, and a 101 wRC+ in September. BY my count, that’s one excellent month, one below average month and one slightly above average month.

        2011 he played the entire year with a stress fracture in his back.

        Dickey was amazing this year, but he was still a really good pitcher in 2010 and 2011, 3.65 and 3.77 FIP respectively (and we know FIP underrates knucklers). Zero reason to expect him not to be a really good pitcher next year.

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  2. TheWacoKidd says:

    looks like you may have fixed the error before I could finish reading and comment.

    love the site, keep up the good work.

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  3. Keith says:

    Ah-Choo.

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  4. attgig says:

    finding a trade partner willing to give up young countrollable outfielders that have decent upside for a 1b/dh is an issue though…. you make it sound pretty easy… “Trade Duda to an AL team with a real outfielder to spare”… only if… what team has AFFORDABLE outfielders to spare and a need at DH?

    The mets have shown that they’re not going to invest any sort of decent money this offseason. they’re going to fill holes with whatever leftovers they can get in late jan/early feb. if that’s the case…. warm bodies all around.

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    • TheHoustonian says:

      Off the top of my head? Houston may be a good fit here. Unless I’m mistaken, Duda isn’t arb-eligible until 2015, and his .303 career ISO would play well in MMP. We need a DH, and we have a couple of guys laying around who could provide *at least* average defense. Maybe a reunion with Fernando Martinez?

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      • attgig says:

        so, waive FMart, only to re-acquire him a year later by losing one of your more tradable assets? Sandy would get laughed out of the business if he came close to doing anything of the sort….

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      • TheHoustonian says:

        Well, it obviously wouldn’t be a straight up FMart-for-Duda deal. The Astros would have to throw in other pieces.

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      • DavidJ says:

        “Duda isn’t arb-eligible until 2015, and his .303 career ISO would play well in MMP.”

        .303 is Duda’s career BABIP, not his ISO. His career ISO is .172.

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      • TheHoustonian says:

        The problem with writing too hastily and trying to multi-task at work. Though you have to admit, a career .303 ISO *would* play pretty darn well at MMP… or anywhere.

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      • JK says:

        The Jays could give up Gose + a reliever (the article mentioned the Mets needing bullpen help). They could use a DH, especially one who is still cheap like Duda. Maybe the Mets agree to take Lind’s 2013 salary and that could be a decent deal, no?

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    • Tomcat says:

      The Rockies have Cargo, Fowler, Cuddyer, Colvin EYjr Charlie Blackmon, Tim Wheeler to cover a 5 spots in their OF.

      EY2 is interesting in that he hit .297/.388/.423 in the minors and .316/.377/.448 last year and has 41SB/6CS over the last two years.

      Blackmon has a MiLB line of .312/.376/.473 and hit .283/.325/.407 coming off an injury he struggled out of the gate but hit .361/.418/.514 in September both can play some CF. With Helton about to retire Duda might make some sense in COL.

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  5. Todd says:

    Brett Gardner?

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    • Jon L. says:

      Do the Yankees really want to trade one of the best defensive outfielders in the game to acquire a guy who’ll compete with all their aging regulars for DH time? Methinks not.

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    • Jon L. says:

      Fangraphs has Gardner at about 5 WAR per healthy season, and Duda at negative WAR for his entire career.

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  6. Will H. says:

    I agree that they shouldn’t be in a panic sell-off mode since they’ve actually already done most of the painful shedding of their irresponsible past… 2014 will only have 8.5m going for nothing (for Bay and also assuming they don’t pick up Santana’s option). And also that this means they were write to keep Wright (even though I seem to be in the minority that he could very well not pay for his contract outright) since he will be useful for a good while and be something to add pieces to. I also like their rotation, though I’d be very surprised if Santana offers much anymore… just look at his peripherals and velocity since he became a Met.

    But while I agree that teams find underutilized gems for the outfield and bullpen, finding enough in one year – even with natural variance – seems impossible, and so the one move I would make is to trade Dickey if they can get what will help them have a much greater chance of being within a roll of the dice next year and beyond. So Dickey’s cheapness this year and that his knuckleball makes it harder to predict regression doesn’t mean anything if we go with the vastly great probability that while they could improve so much that they compete just one year from now, it won’t be this one.

    Keeping Wright shows you realize things really could be better soon. Trading Dickey shows that you also know that “soon” isn’t 2013.

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  7. Jabronies says:

    Johan Santana, a nifty number 4. Thats sad.

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  8. acerimusdux says:

    Agree, but they should be a little more aggressive than that right now. After Wright, the next highest paid player they are committed to for 2014 is Jonathan Niese at $5M. They should have a ton of flexibility to spend right now if the right guy is available. No reason to arbitrarily limit the spending in 2013.

    If it’s obvious that the outfield is the major need, why limit that to “a slightly below average player who wants a shot at playing everyday”, which is basically what they got last year with Hairston. Why aren’t they in on a guy like Shane Victorino, 2 years older than Wright, and still worth 3 WAR in 2012 in a down year? Or why weren’t they in the trade market for a guy like Denard Span (is maybe Dexter Fowler available?)

    Maybe the front office is just playing it close to the vest and really will make a more meaningful move like this, when the right one is available. There’s still plenty of time in this offseason for that to happen.

    But I don’t think they should be satisfied at this point with adding below average regulars. David Wright is worth every penny. But most of the value will still come in the first few years of that contract. It only really makes sense strategically for the Mets if they are going to make a real effort to compete in those years while Wright is still in (or at least near) his prime.

    This is a NY team, with some pretty good pitching ready to come off the farm, a decent infield (and you may even be under-rating Ike Davis, if his first half slump was due to recovery from Valley Fever), and very little salary commitments for next year. They should be aiming a little higher in shoring up that outfield. A premium outfielder might even make sense (young guys like Baxter, Niewenhuis, Valdespin, and Den Dekker could possibly step up and be the role players).

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  9. BrunoB says:

    Great commentary by Cameron.

    I think the Mets really need to improve their bullpen next season. Their bullpen lost 29 games in 2012, 4th worst in the majors. The average for teams last season was 22 bullpen losses. If the Mets bullpen had just been average, you’re looking at a .500 record. Now improve the OF — just a little — and maybe add on a few more wins. If their rotation stays healthy I expect it to be slightly better than 2012 when they lost Santana and Gee early due to fatigue and health issues. So maybe add in another 2-3 extra wins. So all of a sudden you’re looking at perhaps 86-87 wins without any new major additions to the club. It’s not that hard to see where the Mets can be competitive, especially if the other teams in the division don’t make major improvements (and so far they haven’t).

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    • 3D says:

      Part of the reason their bullpen was so bad was because of the atrocious defense. It’s very difficult to walk that tightrope in late innings when so many balls that would be fielded for outs by a competent major league defense fall in for hits or get booted. I don’t think the actual pitchers on the Mets were really that bad at all.

      If they address the horrible D (they already have started by dumping Jason Bay) they bullpen likely will have a miraculous bounce-back season even if they don’t do much to change the personnel there.

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      • BrunoB says:

        I strongly disagree with your assessment of why the bullpen was so bad. Are you a Mets fan? Did you watch any Mets games last year? I watched the majority of them, and the reason the bullpen was so bad wasn’t because of the defense but because of the inability of the relievers to make good pitches.

        If it were the defense, then that would have impacted the starters too. But the starters for the most part were fine until Gee got hurt and Santana simply ran out of gas.

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      • wobatus says:

        25th in fewest Ks/9. 26th in most BBs/9. 18th in gb %. Leads to 29th in xFIP. Only the Cubs were worse.

        The bullpen was bad regardless of the D. Parnell is pretty good.

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  10. nightfly says:

    I’ll go ahead and sound dumb here – Cameron’s scenario is pretty much what I used to win the Series with the Mets in 2013 in OOTP ’12. I actually managed to flip Bay to Texas for Mitch Moreland, who was less terrible in the outfield than Duda; I swung some deal for the Reds’ Ryan Hanigan to serve as the primary catcher (don’t remember who went the other way); I rode pitching (primarily Santana, Wheeler, Dickey, and Neise) and put up with Murphy’s glove at second. We were super-lefty-heavy in the lineup and suffered against lefty starters, of course, but we managed… from the play-in game against Cincinnati, through Atlanta and Los Angeles, and finally beating Texas in seven.

    I will concede it’s unlikely that the real Daniel Murphy will hit sixty doubles in a season, but nobody else’s stats really looked out-of-line.

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  11. jpg says:

    Sorry Dave, as Mets fan I’m just not buying this. For every Josh Reddick there are a hundred Wily Mo Pena types. Your plan is way harder than you’re letting on. The idea that its an easy task to finding guys with no track record who could suddenly be productive full time players seems foolish to me. Teams like Pittsburgh have been doing this for decades with little to no luck. Also the Mets have no money so buying 2 Win players for $8-$10MM each isn’t an options meaning we have to trade for these guys. We’re already loaded with fringy MLB type guys (Duda,Capt Kirk, Turner, Baxter, Lutz, den Dekker) so the plan is to trade for more and hope they work out? Where are we getting a catcher? Russell Martin just got $9MM AAV coming off a season when hit .211 and the Yankees or all teams were outbid for him. If it were only as easy as Dave makes it sound.

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    • Heather says:

      Agreed. There are teams that seem to excel at squeezing every last ounce of value around the margins (the Rays, the As) but it seems like an entire organizational philosophy from top to bottom and not necessarily something one can just snap one’s fingers and execute.

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    • Petruchio says:

      On the flip side, the Giants’ Brian Sabean seems to find players like that consistently. He’s done it three years in a row (Andres Torres, Ryan Vogelsong, Gregor Blanco) and all three moves have lead to World Championships.

      If the Mets don’t have that kind of raw talent evaluation, they should realize that they are more likely to find a +1 or +2 player in a system like San Francisco, and try to obtain players from them through trade, Rule 5 or waiver. The Yankees have done as much in acquiring BOTH of the Giants’ backup catchers.

      The Mets have already benefited from such a bias sample, as it were. Zack Wheeler might end up having a better career than Matt Harvey, as he was selected by San Francisco and underwent the mechanical changes that lead to an immediate breakout once he left the Giants’ system. He wouldn’t have broken out if he wasn’t on the cusp of one already.

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      • jpg says:

        Right but the part you need to factor in is the fact that the Mets need like five of those guys. The Giants were and still are a good team without those guys. Did they need Blanco or Pagan to win the WS? Maybe. Would they be a 75ish win team like the Mets without those guys. No obviously not and that’s the point.

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  12. Acoustic567 says:

    Schoenfeld at ESPN makes the good point that the Mets have to assess their situation and plot their short- and medium-term strategies in light of where the Braves and Nats are likely to be over that stretch. Both the Braves and Nats have put themselves in the enviable position of having rosters that are not only strong but young. It’s not going to be enough simply to add 6-8 “wins” in the manner Cameron proposes; the Mets need to be using assets now to obtain young players who can be expected to real strengths over a period of years. That’s why Schoenfeld says that Dickey should be traded now; another 20-win season from Dickey in 2013 isn’t likely to push the Mets past the Braves and Nats, since those teams are so clearly stronger than the Mets. But what the Mets might be able to get for Dickey could mean a lot in 2014 and beyond.

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    • Heather says:

      And in the near term, the Phillies aren’t a team I’d sneeze at. Their long term prognosis isn’t great, but Rollins, Utley, and Howard aren’t in their graves yet, and Lee, Hamels and Halladay still make a fearsome top of the rotation.

      I agree, it’s not so much whether the Mets can improve, it’s whether the Mets can improve ENOUGH.

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    • Preston says:

      Two things

      I wouldn’t ever predict an MLB teams talent level to far into the future. The Nationals and Braves have a lot of really, really good players right now. They will probably be two of the best teams in the NL this year and probably the year after that. But I’m not ready to start talking about their 2015 roster. There are far to many variables, both Wright and Dickey could still be productive in 2015, so if you can afford to keep them, go ahead and do it.

      Second, the new WC format allows for three teams from one division potentially play in extra games. If the Mets can make the play in game anything can happen.

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  13. Heather says:

    The Phil’s just non tendered Schierlholtz. There’s your cheap, slightly below average outfielder who can play every day.

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  14. doug says:

    I don’t have the same optimism as most people, even with Wright the Mets are a 4th place team that has no chance of beating the top 3 teams. The Nats continue to get better, the Phils have better pitching and will spend to right their team, and the Braves also seem to be way ahead of the Mets. You didn’t convince me that they can be players in the East.

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    • kiss my GO NATS says:

      The Mets will win more than the Phillies next season. The core in philly is just to old to be effective all season, and I am counting the pitchers.

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  15. MBD says:

    I know Lucas D. hears the song all the time, but it seems to apply to some other members of the team as well:

    Can the Mets get some real defense?
    Duda! Duda!
    Counting on unlikely events?
    Trade Duda and R.A.

    Going to ride David Wright,
    And wish they were back at Shea.
    Just need a catcher and someone in left
    Who isn’t Jason Bay.

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  16. Kieran says:

    I think they should focus on moving Duda for a reliever from a pitching heavy team. Then package Familia and McHugh for a solid outfield prospect that is ready or nearly ready. That makes more sense to me than moving Duda for an outfielder, I don’t know why a team with a capable outfielder that could also DH would move him for someone who is just a DH.

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  17. Samuel says:

    I see what you’re saying, but, yes they are. Apart from R.A. Dickey and Matt Harvey, the end of the season was a death-spiral painful to watch. There’s still plenty wrong with the team, and the ownership is terrible. They’re not the Marlins, but no one is.

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  18. Matt Mosher says:

    I think we’ll see guys like Brennan Boesch and/or Rajai Davis in Queens. They’ll add another catcher too, maybe a trade for Saltalamacchia. I’d like to see them trade Niese or Dickey, but it sounds like that market hasn’t developed. Naturally, teams are waiting for Greinke to sign first.

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  19. Jack Strawb says:

    “In looking at their overall roster, the Mets are probably still a 75 to 80 win team in terms of true talent level, but they’re a 75 to 80 win team with some obvious places to make improvements. With a couple of solid outfielders and a warm body at catcher, they’re an 80 to 85 win team.”

    Which would cost the tean around $30m. They don’t have the resources for anything but a time-share catcher. I like how the author refutes his own thesis, but buries the lead several paragraphs in.

    Very weak sauce, Mr. Cameron.

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    • BrunoB says:

      The great thing about baseball is that predictions based on what’s on paper are often wildly wrong. The so-called experts predicted Oakland to have a worse W-L record than the Mets in 2012 and look what happened. The Orioles were also predicted not to do much better than the Mets.

      What you can’t predict when assessing a team’s chances are which veteran players are going to have good/bad years, which prospects or younger players are going to fulfill their promise, and which of the bullpen arms are going to fail/succeed. Most important, you can rarely predict with a high degree of accuracy what the competition in the division or rest of the league is going to do. Heck, many predicted the Marlins would win the NL East division in 2012 … a true LMFAO prediction if there ever was one!

      So, the point is, if you take a team’s strength, make it even better, and tweak a team’s weaknesses, then almost anything is possible …. especially in baseball. One of the Mets’ strengths is starting pitching. If they maintain that strength, and shore up the bullpen and OF, then I don’t see why they can’t be at least very competitive which is what Cameron is predicting.

      There are no surefire teams in the NL East. There are two strong teams — the Nats and Braves — and then everyone else. The Nats seem to have a small edge over the Braves. But even those two teams have some question marks. The Braves have their stellar bullpen but how are they going to do post-Chipper?

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  20. RichL says:

    It’s hard for me to get excited about the Mets’ rotation. Although it has the potential to be “pretty nifty,” it also has the potential to be horrendous.

    R.A. Dickey almost certainly will regress somewhat.

    Niese is nice.

    Johan Santana probably will continue to follow the Pedro Martinez post-injury model and have another season like 2012.

    Dillon Gee’s ERA+ has been below average for two straight years.

    Matt Harvey could be a star. Then again, he could be Mike Pelfrey. I don’t think that will happen, but he pitched better in the majors than he ever did in the minors. Let’s see what happens once the NL gets a good look at him. He’s talented, but so is Phil Hughes, and, despite some success, he’s still trying to put it together.

    Zach Wheeler showed improvement in the minors, but his walk rate shot up at Triple-A, albeit in only 33 innings, so we’ll just have to see.

    Add it up, and it’s a rotation largely filled with question marks.

    And, then we must consider the offense. Davis should get better. Wright should maintain his recent rate of production. Perhaps Tejeda can replicate last season’s numbers over a full year. And then there’s…there’s…there’s…there’s…

    Hey, I still like Thole’s line drive swing but, even if he blossoms, that’s four hitters. There’s a lot of work to do.

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    • BrunoB says:

      You can do that same exact exercise for EVERY single rotation in baseball. Do you want to look at the glass as half-full or half-empty?

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