It could be just typical beginning-of-the-season optimism, or it could be just because I think the Mets are due. But I am going out on the limb and saying that I truly believe the New York Mets will make the playoffs in 2010. It was certainly an eventful offseason for the New York Mets organization, but despite the fact that there are still several questions about the current state of the team, here are four reasons why I think the Mets have the potential to be a contender in the National League East this season.
1. The Outfield. This off-season, the Mets significantly improved their outfield by signing outfielder Jason Bay to a four-year contract. As a power-hitting three-time All-Star, Bay has proven himself to be one of the best hitters in the Major Leagues. Considering the Mets had an extreme lack of power in 2009, Bay's signing should significantly bring up the team's home run total in 2010, as well as provide some extra protection to third baseman David Wright -- who will also hopefully be able to find his source of power (clearly missing all throughout 2009). In addition to Bay, Jeff Francoeur will also now be with the Mets for a full season. When the Mets originally traded Ryan Church for Francoeur last July, I thought the Mets had essentially traded one average right-fielder for another average right-fielder. However, Francoeur proved to be one of the Mets' few bright spots in 2009, hitting .311 and driving in 41 runs in 75 games, giving Met fans hope that he can continue to provide those types of numbers for the 2010 season. When Carlos Beltran (hopefully) returns in May, no one should be able to dispute that the Mets will have one of the best outfields in baseball.
2. The Bullpen. In a year filled with injuries, the Mets bullpen hurt them mightily in 2009. While we do not know yet who will be in the bullpen in 2010, I give Omar Minaya credit (which is not something I do very often nowadays) for bringing in an influx of solid relievers this past off-season. Coming over from Japan, Hisanori Takahashi and Ryota Igarashi have both been impressive this spring and are looking to bring over the success they had in Japan for many years to the Mets. It also looks like Jerry Manuel will be able to take advantage of carrying a long reliever like Fernando Nieve or Nelson Figueroa, a job that was not filled at any point in the 2009 season. This addition should save pitchers like Pedro Feliciano from throwing so many innings, as well as taking a little pressure off the starting pitchers. Lastly, one of the Mets top prospects, Jenrry Mejia, is starting to take form and was probably the most impressive pitcher over the past month. Because he is only twenty years old, it is not clear whether the Mets will put him on the Opening Day roster or not, but Met fans nevertheless should be very excited about this young player's future.
3. The Catcher. When both Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro suffered long-lasting injuries last season, Omir Santos was called up and sufficiently performed for the Mets. Despite his success, the Mets made the right moves this offseason in acquiring catchers Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco. While neither catcher has great offensive numbers by any means, both will provide a great deal of defense that the Mets lacked in 2009. In addition, they will provide some extra veteran leadership for some of the younger players on the roster like Daniel Murphy and Jon Niese. Johan Santana, who used to be caught by Henry Blanco back in Minnesota, has publicly stated this spring that he thinks Blanco does a great job of calling a ballgame and calming down a pitcher when a game starts to get out of control. And if there is one thing I have learned about this Met rotation over the past few years, it's that when one or two runner get on base, the inning will more often than not spiral out of control and allow the opposing team to really take advantage. Hopefully, this new catching tandem of Barajas and Blanco will help propel the Mets into a successful season.
4. Jose Reyes. By far the most important reason why the Mets will be playing next October is the return of Jose Reyes. At this point, Opening Day is still up in the air, as he is just recently coming back from an overactive thyroid condition that seemed to have Mets doctors scratching their heads for weeks. But the reality is that even if Reyes doesn't come into a game until the end of the first week of the season, his presence in the dugout alone has proved to be the biggest factor to their success. And when he is actually in the lineup, there is no question that he is the ultimate trigger to this team. Even last season, the Mets were 21-15 in their first 36 games. Then, when Reyes landed on the disabled list, the Mets proceeded to go 49-85. While the Mets had several problems other than Reyes not playing last season, many people would argue that not having Reyes was the most pivotal. Reyes is a special player, as he has all five tools that a player needs to be successful in the big leagues: he hits for average, hits for power, has superb speed, and fields and throws the ball better than most players in all of baseball. On behalf of all Met fans, welcome back, Jose.
Do I think the Mets will win the division? No, most likely not, unless the Philadelphia Philies perform far worse than is expected of them. The reality is that the Mets are putting out more or less the same team on the field that they have for the past few years, and since 2006, they have not been able to close on the division. Having said that, I do firmly believe the Mets have the second best team in the National League East, and I believe that given many of the other off-seasons in the National League, the Mets have a strong chance to win the wildcard and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Opening Day is only one week away, so here's to the Mets on a successful 2010 season.