New York Mets 2012 Season Preview

Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis (29) at the plate in the spring training game against the St Louis Cardinals at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

It should be a tough National League East this year, with four teams that are looking to contend for a division title. And another team. This is the other team.

I'm not sure if it was a tweet or a message board comment, but I recently read something like "It just cracks me up that Bobby Bonilla is the highest-paid Mets outfielder." Time slowed down. Could that possibly be true? If so, it would be one of the greatest factoids in modern baseball, a perfect crossroads of the Mets' past decadence and present frugality. Oh, man, how I wished the Mets' outfield were filled with minimum salaries so that Bobby Bonilla, who will receive $1.19 million every year from the Mets until 2036, would be their highest-paid outfielder.

Turns out, no. No, that's not true. Jason Bay, as it turns out, makes just a smidgen over $1.19 million. He will be the Mets' highest-paid outfielder. I believe that I fell into the hyperbole pit.

But if we're searching for symbols and metaphors, Bay is an okay stand-in for Bonilla. The Mets bought Bay when they were at the top of the success cycle, not realizing that the edge of the cliff was 40 yards behind them, and they were going to fall on a heap of Acme products as soon as they looked down. Bay is the symbol of the 2012 Mets, who are caught between past excess and future uncertainty like few other teams. Or maybe that's Johan Santana. Heck, it's probably still Bonilla. Pick a player: the Mets are probably hosed.

The easiest way to explain how weird things have gotten for the Mets, though, is by simply repeating a single sentence: The Mets couldn't afford to keep Jose Reyes because the Marlins offered him too much money. Here are some ways that sentence fits into conversation:

"The Mets couldn't afford to keep Jose Reyes because the Marlins offered him too much money."

"Go. The light's red."

"The Mets couldn't afford to keep Jose Reyes because the Marlins offered him too much money."

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you. I was busy putting peanut butter on the outside of my bread so I could put the sandwich in the set of teeth under my left armpit, which is how we all eat in this strange alternate universe."

"The Mets couldn't afford to keep Jose Reyes because the Marlins offered him too much money."

"That is interesting, but I have bigger problems right now because I am Jerry O'Connell. You might remember me from Stand By Me. I am in a predicament that will take 47 minutes (with commercial breaks) to resolve."

The Mets lost a fan-favorite franchise player to the Marlins over money. It's … too much to think about. Hurts the ol' cerebellum.

Not that the Mets should have signed Reyes, mind you. If we're in a world where the Mets will have a finite budget that's well below their previous budget, Reyes probably didn't fit with the current roster. The Mets probably aren't going to contend for a couple of years, which is when Reyes should be earning the bulk of his new contract. It wasn't a good fit.

The Mets are caught in the middle of their past and present like no other non-contending team in baseball. Where teams like the Royals and Pirates have very clear ideas of where they are, what they hope to expect from the minor-league system, and when they should contend, and where teams like the Astros are just throwing things to the wall and seeing what sticks because they don't have a choice, the Mets are still dealing with their expensive players at the same time their farm system is just okay (15th according to John Sickels; 17th according to Kevin Goldstein). They almost certainly have a plan, but it's too early to see exactly how it's going to work.

The first step is probably to find which players are going to be around for the next good Mets team. Josh Thole seems like a rare commodity -- a lefty-hitting catcher who can keep his on-base percentage above the league average. Ruben Tejada is still just a zygote in the baseball timeline, and he did well last year for a 21-year-old, with an OBP that hints at him becoming the leadoff man of the future. Lucas Duda could hit enough to be a starting corner outfielder for years, and Mets fans are optimistic. Daniel Murphy can hit a little bit, and if he has the defensive acumen to stay at second, he can be a really nice player.

Those are four players with a varying ceilings, but all of them have a chance to be pretty valuable. And they all play positions where it's hardest to find good players. Maybe the Mets aren't exactly hosed for the next 20 years.

The rotation is filled with a mix of competent pitchers and pitchers who could be something more. Mike Pelfrey is one of the competent ones, though he's also a maddening pitcher to watch, and Dillon Gee should be just as useful and unexciting, assuming his command is somewhere between his minor-league numbers and the 4.0 walks-per-nine-innings rate he put up in the majors last year. Jon Niese is probably the only pitcher on the staff whom you'd want to count on for 2015, as his K/BB ratio hints at a pitcher who can get a lot better.

R.A. Dickey is just 36 years young, and he was one of the better starters in the National League last year. He doesn't have all of his ligaments in his right arm, so that's one less injury you have to worry about. He'll pitch until he's 46, at which point we'll get to use all of the Jamie Moyer jokes that we recycled when Jamie Moyer came back. It's not a bad group of pitchers, and all of them will enjoy the defense of Andres Torres when he's playing.

There are useful players on the Mets. It's not a wasteland, far from it. But there are three players I haven't mentioned yet who will have a lot to do with the future of the Mets.

Ike Davis should be on that list up there of the players who should be around for the next good Mets team. But he's suffering from a rare disease known as "onthemetsosis", which can lead to strange injuries and other rare diseases. His ankle injury last year turned from something that was going to keep him out for a month to something that kept him out for the year. And when it finally healed, he came down with Valley Fever, a scary affliction that may or may not be the reason that Conor Jackson is nothing more than a bench player right now.

Rumors of David Wright's demise have been greatly exaggerated, but he has suffered through a spate of curious injuries, and his defense is in decline. He's hurt again, and Opening Day is in doubt. The Mets will have a huge decision to make on him after the 2013 season. But this is a 2012 preview, and for the next six months, he should still be a valuable player when he's on the field. I'd buy into his 2010 more than his 2011, depending on the state of his rectus abdominus.

And Johan Santana used to be great. Not good. Great. Shoulders are the hydrodynamics of the baseball world, where even the learned people look at them and shrug their shoulders, making a "jeez i dunno" face while slowly backing away. His velocity is good enough to succeed, especially with his changeup. He still has $54.5 million due to him over the next two seasons, so there probably isn't a way for the Mets to eat enough of his contract this year to make him palatable to other teams. If he's going to be great again, he'll do it with the Mets.

Jason Bay sure seems like a nice guy.

For the most part, it's hard to point and laugh at anyone the Mets are planning on playing. There are competent players all around the field, and more than that, there are players who might have something of a future with their current team. But the organization can't do much to help them out until some of the gigantic contract situations are resolved. It's a team caught between two eras, but they aren't doing all that bad, considering.

Coulda Shoulda Woulda:
Not a single thing, really. Maybe there was a way to turn something into another young pitcher, which would have allowed the team to ship away Pelfrey, but other than that, they didn't have a glaring need that they're now filling with Orlando Cabrera or something. They wanted more bullpen arms, and they got them.

Wild Card
We kid about Jason Bay, but what in the absolute heck happened to him? He's only 33, which is a little young to completely disintegrate. He's had down seasons before -- 2007, with the Pirates -- and bounced back, so maybe the moved-in fences at Citi Field will flip some breakers in his brain.

Vague Predictions:
Fifth place. Not exactly vague, but fifth place. I think there's a chance that everything can coalesce and they can have a nice run at .500 or better, but it's more likely that a handful of things workout at the same time a handful of things don't. That is, Lucas Duda is either a breakout player or Ruben Tejada is, but not both at the same time.

Previous team previews
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Phillies
Oakland A's
Pittsburgh Pirates
Seattle Mariners
San Diego Padres
Tampa Bay Rays
San Francisco Giants
Texas Rangers
St. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue Jays
Washington Nationals

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