Dr. SB Nation: How to fix the New York Mets

Jimmy Stewart - Getty Images

We continue to play doctor with bad baseball teams, this week paying a house call to the New York Mets, who just have to find the faith to believe in an invisible six-foot rabbit.

Record: 74-88

This was the second straight year the Mets finished with 88 losses and the fifth straight year they finished below .500. They haven't had a winning season since leaving Shea Stadium.

Diagnosis: Mid-market-itis

The Mets play in the largest media market in MLB, with a regional sports network pulling in over $65 million per season, in a still-new ballpark, for fans that are hungry for baseball. They should be, and probably are, making money hand over fist. Unfortunately, a lot of that money seems to have gone into making Fred Wilpon solvent again after the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme took such a large bite out of his fortune. Meanwhile, the Mets suffered, shedding almost $50 million in payroll and refusing to add players to bolster a mediocre roster.

This is not a criticism, necessarily. Even teams with strong revenue streams may need to drop payroll significantly to cycle back up to being competitive. However, despite the 2013 Mets bearing almost no resemblance to the 2008 club that won 89 games, with only David Wright, Jonathon Niese (who started three games in '08), and Johan Santana (who didn't pitch at all this year) as holdovers, they have been unable to replace the production that has trickled away over the years thanks to bad decisions, their reluctance to spend, and a farm system that only recently began spitting out impact prospects like Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. All told, the Mets featured just eight players earning more than $1 million last year. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but even mediocre teams with the Mets' resources should be able to plug holes with better guys than Omar Quintanilla or Jeremy Hefner.

Key Stat: 22.3 percent

Mets hitters struck out more often than anyone else in the National League except for the Braves. The Braves walked more often, hit waaaaaaay more home runs, and also had a better BABIP than the Mets, probably, in part, because the Mets tied for the lowest line-drive rate in the NL -- even when they were able to make contact at all, the Mets couldn't make solid contact, and they finished with the second-worst slugging percentage in the league. It's a shame they couldn't generate just a little more offense, because the Mets actually sported a pretty decent pitching staff for most of the year (until Matt Harvey's elbow injury shut him down); even a passable offensive attack could have gotten them above .500. As it was, only David Wright and Marlon Byrd (who was traded in August) managed to be worth more than 10 batting runs above average.

Breakout: Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares

Wheeler is a step behind Matt Harvey in every respect. He's a year younger, debuted a year later, and isn't quite as talented as the Mets' injured ace. That still adds up to a heck of a young pitcher who more than held his own in half a season's worth of starts. For a young starter on a bad team, Wheeler was worked relatively hard, averaging over 100 pitches per start. That's not an indictment of Terry Collins and the Mets, but it is a sign that Wheeler will probably have to keep refining his approach and improve his control if he's going to keep succeeding at the major league level. His four pitches per plate appearance would have been the fourth-highest in the National League if he'd pitched enough innings to qualify and seems high for someone who only struck out 19.5 percent of the batters he faced. Becoming more efficient is going to be the key to becoming the workhorse the Mets need to get through what's looking like a lost 2014, and beyond.

Juan_lagares_medium Juan Lagares (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Let's just get this out of the way: Lagares is a terrible offensive player and seems unlikely to ever hit. The wonderful thing about Lagares is that that doesn't matter at all, given how great he is with the glove. So long as his legs don't wither and fall off anytime soon, Lagares figures to be worth 2-3 wins above replacement at a paltry salary for the foreseeable future and an underappreciated player to build around. With him, Curtis Granderson, and Chris Young catching flies, the Mets will probably have the best defensive outfield in the game in 2014.

Breakdown: Ike Davis

I was amused this offseason when the Twins were briefly mentioned as a possible landing spot for Davis, whose father Ron is still persona non grata in Minnesota more than 25 years after he bombed out of the club's closer spot. Davis is about to get similarly run out of Queens after a fast start to his career had Mets fans dreaming of a homegrown Carlos Delgado.

Ike_davis_medium Ike Davis (Rob Carr)

Alas, Davis hasn't been the same since a severe ankle injury in 2011. He's completely lost against left-handed pitchers and even saw his power production crater against righties in 2013. A trip back down to Las Vegas seemed to do wonders for him, however, and he hit .286/.449/.505 in the second half before losing all of September to an oblique injury. Davis has been rumored to be headed to Milwaukee or Pittsburgh, where his left-handed power will be a huge asset. Perhaps a healthy season will be enough to reestablish his value, but whoever gets Davis should spell him as often as possible against southpaws.

Prescription: Believe in Harvey

In 1950, Jimmy Stewart starred as Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, the story of a man who sees and talks to a giant invisible rabbit. Understandably, a lot of people think he's nuts, and try to get him committed to an institution. But (spoilers, I guess, though the movie is more than 60 years old) to the extent Harvey's is real, he's a benign spirit who tries to improve the lives of the misfits he gloms onto. Not everyone believes in Harvey, of course, and very few can see him, but he's there, shaping events and looming over everything that happens in the film.

And so it is with Matt Harvey. After all, he's going to essentially be invisible for the next year, even though we'll all feel his presence. We know he's real, though it's still a question whether he'll come back from Tommy John surgery in 2015 as the astounding pitcher who struck out 261 batters in 237 innings and has a 2.39 career ERA. Tommy John surgeries have a good track record, but they're far from sure bets. Nonetheless, the Mets have to proceed as though Harvey will be ready to head up the rotation. It's therefore essential to give extended shots to Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Wilmer Flores, and Jenrry Mejia so that the club can have established players in those positions when Harvey gets back.

Matt_harvey_mediumMatt Harvey is watching. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

That's also why signing Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon to multi-year deals that will keep them in place through Harvey's return was so important, since they can't expect to scramble to fill in all their holes in a single offseason. In the same vein, Stephen Drew would be a multi-year upgrade over what the Mets have in their system at shortstop. Ruben Tejada has shown flashes of competence in the past, but completely collapsed in 2013, and never seems to be healthy. While the Mets could wait a year and give Tejada another shot, there is no guarantee that guys like J.J. Hardy and Jed Lowrie -- who would provide similar production to Drew -- will make it to the open market next year. The Mets clinched a protected first-round pick on the second to last day of the season, so Drew would "only" cost a third-round selection (they forfeited their second-round pick when they signed Granderson). He could anchor the middle infield for the next three or four years and buy time for the club to develop a longer-term replacement.

They also need to continue to fill in their holes with stopgap solutions who won't embarrass them. If they're done pursuing the likes of Ervin Santana, a lower-level journeyman type such as Paul Maholm, Clayton Richard, or James McDonald would provide insurance in case Mejia gets hurt again or Syndergaard doesn't develop as expected. Adding a veteran backup catcher or a platoon partner for Lucas Duda wouldn't hurt either. But in the meantime, remember that Harvey is still around. He will be back. Believe in him, and the Mets' world in 2014 will be a much brighter, happier place.

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