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September 14, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

New York Mets

by Ben Lindbergh, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today we look at the New York Mets. It's time to kiss 'em goodbye.

Signs of hope: The dimensions of Citi Field have disguised the team's offensive talent, but the Mets have featured a potent lineup despite the extended absences of some of their best bats. They've posted the NL's second-best True Average (.266) thanks to a contact-oriented approach built on the league's second-highest batting average, third-highest walk rate, and third-lowest strikeout rate. General manager Sandy Alderson managed to extract a top prospect from the Giants in return for fragile veteran Carlos Beltran. Lucky for Alderson, Beltran somehow stayed healthy just long enough to restore his trade value before breaking down again. Alderson also held on to Jose Reyes, giving the Mets the inside edge on retaining a fan favorite and one of the winter's most coveted free agents. Although a number of their high-profile players have lost time to injury, the Mets only ranked 11th-most in the majors in days surrendered to the disabled list (871). While hardly something to brag about it constitutes a significant improvement over the Mets' showings in the 2008-10 seasons (second-most, most, and fifth-most, respectively).

Signs of disaster: The Mets began the season with the second-highest payroll in the National League but played their way to the middle of the pack. Their highest-paid player, Johan Santana, failed to make a single appearance in the majors this season as he recovered from 2010 surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder. He did make it back to the mound in time for a few rehab starts in high Single A, but his absence was conspicuous, given the $49.5 million still owed to him over the next two seasons (plus a $5.5 million buyout in the increasingly likely event that his 2014 option is declined). The Mets' prospects for offseason spending were dealt a blow when their deal to sell a minority share of the team to David Einhorn fell through, prolonging the Wilpons' attempts to bail themselves out of the legal and financial predicament they face as a result of their investments in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Signs you can ignore: First baseman Ike Davis was lost for the season May 10, but he made the most of his time on the active roster, exploding for a .302/.383/.543 line and seven home runs in 149 plate appearances. An ankle injury robbed him of the chance to sustain the outburst, but it also spared him the risk of regression, which would have been the more likely outcome had his season continued. Little in his unremarkable minor-league and rookie records suggests that Davis is capable of performing at that elite level over the course of a full campaign, so Mets fans would be wise to treat his 2011 showing as the small-sample fluke that it was and temper their expectations accordingly. Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
The New York Mets have a lot of work to do in the offseason if they want to be contenders for the divisional title or wild card in the next couple of years. First and foremost, they need to re-sign their best player—shortstop Jose Reyes. His recent hamstring injuries will be helpful in lowering his market value, but there will be many teams pursuing him. And unfortunately for the Mets, this will end up being a very difficult and expensive signing. The Mets' competition for Reyes' services could come from the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, and maybe even the Los Angeles Angels. Regardless, this is a must-sign for the Mets, as Reyes is clearly one of the best players in the game when he's healthy.

The Mets also need to solidify the catcher's position, and the bold move they should make this offseason besides re-signing Reyes is to deal minor-league infielder Wilmer Flores to the Reds for catcher Yasmani Grandal, who was drafted out by the Cincinnati Reds out of the University of Miami in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Grandal would be the perfect fit for the Mets. Grandal, 22, should be major-league ready by the end of 2012 but will be blocked by another top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco, who has already made his major-league debut.

Grandal hit .305/.401/.510 with 31 doubles, 14 home runs, and 68 RBI, moving quickly from Single A to Triple A this year. The Mets have had a revolving door behind the plate ever since Paul LoDuca left, and although Josh Thole is a nice player, he's not a future All -Star like Grandal.

The Mets like most teams need to add top-of-the-rotation pitching and depth in the bullpen to be more competitive. However, with a slim free-agent starting pitching market it doesn't seem likely that the Mets will be able to play on an expensive starter like lefties C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle, especially if they re-sign Reyes. Therefore, building up veteran bullpen arms will have to be a top priority for them this offseason in order to make them more competitive as they wait for their younger pitching prospects to develop.

Sandy Alderson, the team's vice president and general manager, did a tremendous job in dealing Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline to San Franciso in exchange for the Giants' top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler. It is this type of trade, as well as perhaps acquiring Grandal, that would make a successful offseason for the Mets and vault them back into contention rather than spending lavishly on free agents as they've done in the recent past. Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 86-76

Even with the definite loss of Carlos Beltran and the probable one of Jose Reyes, the Mets still do enough talent to surprise and be relevant with a little bit of fortune. The rotation after R.A. Dickey was a problem this year, but Mike Pelfrey should have a better season, Jonathon Niese, and Dillon Gee are both young enough to take steps forward in 2012. Dickey turns 37 in a month, but that's about 27 in knuckleballer years. ZiPS is conservative with Johan Santana, expecting 20 league-average starts, but some good news on that end for a change of pace would do a lot to shoring up the staff. Bobby Parnell, like Heath Bell as Met, has a FIP significantly better than his ERA, so is sorely underrated. Lucas Duda will start 2012 as more than an afterthought, and even Jason Bay could theoretically still contribute.

Worst-case scenario: 67-95
While there are lots of reasons to expect the Mets to improve a bit, the Mets without Reyes and Beltran are a couple of stars short. Wright's still contributing offensively, but his power's gone missing again, and without a solid comeback from Wright or Bay, the only real serious power upside left on the team is in the form of Ike Davis, who's missed most of the year due to an ankle injury and eventual surgery. If Santana's not ready, there's not a lot of depth in the Mets rotation that's ready for 2012—Zack Wheeler was a great pickup and Jennry Mejia will eventually be back in the mix, but they're not going to push the Mets towards a pennant. Yet. —Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
Has it been a fun September, Mets fans? With the team out of contention, it's time for fans to get a look at the young players who are part of the team's future, but instead you've been treated to a festival of mediocrity and no-future veterans with the likes of Chris Schwinden, Josh Stinson, and Val Pascucci filling up your box scores. That's because there is not exciting future for the Mets in anything but the rotation.

Right-hander Matt Harvey, the team's first-round pick in 2010, could be ready at some point in 2012, with Wheeler showing up shortly after. But that's all the Mets have to hang their hopes on right now, as nothing is coming to help the offense now that Lucas Duda is an established solid-but-unspectacular corner outfielder. When your best hitting prospect is 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo, who is still eons away from the big leagues, you know it's going to be awhile. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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