Sandy Alderson has joked about needing to raise money for gas to drive to Florida. The reality, though, is that the Mets have slashed their payroll from $143 million to $91 million or so. And that led to a quiet offseason.
A look at where things stand:
New York Mets
CATCHER: Dissatisfied with Ronny Paulino’s adherence to game plans and work ethic, the Mets cut him loose at the December non-tender deadline and will go with Mike Nickeas as the righty-hitting complement to Josh Thole. Nickeas, who turned 29 today, is a career .190 hitter in 63 major league at-bats. The safety net includes newcomers Rob Johnson (backup catcher with San Diego last season), Lucas May and Vinny Rottino.
FIRST BASE: Ike Davis did not appear after May 10 last season, when he suffered cartilage damage in his left ankle in that collision in Denver with David Wright. Davis indicated his offseason workouts have been more strenuous than baseball games and that his ankle is passable, although he acknowledges the ankle likely will always have some residual discomfort.
New York Mets
SECOND BASE: Daniel Murphy’s last two seasons have ended because of knee injuries suffered while manning second base. Now, he’s back there again, and likely will serve as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup. Before Murphy’s 2011 season ended with a medial collateral ligament injury in his left knee on a slide by Atlanta’s Jose Constanza on Aug. 7, he was hitting .320, fifth best in the National League.
THIRD BASE: Wright, now the longest-tenured Met, figures to benefit from the new wall dimensions at Citi Field. An ESPNNewYork.com analysis shows 13 shots Wright hit from 2009 through 2011 that either stayed in the ballpark or hit the wall would have been homers had the new dimensions been in place from the debut of Citi Field.
New York Mets
SHORTSTOP: Ruben Tejada takes over for Jose Reyes. Former Mets infield coach Chip Hale, now the bench coach for Bob Melvin with Oakland, believes Tejada will hit .270 or .280 in good years and .250 other years. Hale also believes Tejada will be an average defender. Tejada does have a better baseball aptitude than Reyes in terms of playing hitters properly, shading based on hitters’ swings, etc.
OUTFIELD: Halfway through a four-year, $66 million deal, Jason Bay has produced a total of 18 homers in two seasons as a Met. He should, like Wright, benefit from the dimension changes. Center fielder Andres Torres arrives from the San Francisco Giants, in a trade that shipped Angel Pagan to the Bay. Torres, slated to be the Mets’ leadoff hitter, had a breakout 2010 season with San Francisco, hitting .268 with 16 homers. But Torres had a .221 average and .312 on-base percentage last season with the Giants. Meanwhile, Lucas Duda continues his acclimation to right field and tries to demonstrate he can duplicate last season’s production (.292, 10 HRs, 50 RBIs in 301 at-bats) over the course of a full season.
New York Mets
BENCH: The Mets re-signed Scott Hairston as the righty-hitting backup outfielder. He finished last season on the DL with a left oblique strain. The Mets let lefty-hitting Willie Harris walk. (Harris signed a minor league deal with Cincinnati). For now, Mike Baxter and former pitcher Adam Loewen are in camp as the lefty-hitting backup outfield candidates, but the Mets can always upgrade during spring training by monitoring the waiver wire or pursuing a trade. Ronny Cedeno signed as the backup middle infielder after hitting .249 in 413 at-bats with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. Justin Turner also remains with the Mets.
STARTING PITCHING: Johan Santana missed the 2011 season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. Despite optimism, it remains an open question whether he can pitch every fifth (or sixth) day for a full season. Terry Collins said he hopes to get 25 starts from Santana, but the history of returning from this injury isn’t great. Chien-Ming Wang took exactly two years from the surgery to reappear in the majors. Mark Prior never found himself again. Other than Chris Capuano's defection to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a two-year, $10 million deal, the rest of the Mets’ rotation remains intact: R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee. The depth is thin. If Santana cannot pitch, or a starter needs to go on the disabled list, other starting pitchers in camp include Miguel Batista, Garrett Olson, Jeremy Hefner and Chris Schwinden. 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey will be in major league camp, but may not appear in the majors until September. Zack Wheeler, the team’s top prospect, who was acquired last July in the Carlos Beltran trade, is not in big league camp and should see the bulk of his action at Double-A Binghamton this season.
New York Mets
BULLPEN: The Mets revamped the back end of their relief corps, signing Frank Francisco as closer for two years, $12 million and bringing in Jon Rauch on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to serve as the primary set-up man. Ramon Ramirez, who came with Torres from San Francisco, should handle the seventh inning when the Mets have a lead. Tim Byrdak, who signed a one year, $1 million extension late last season, may be the lone lefty in the bullpen. Manny Acosta did a competent job in 2011 and is back. Bobby Parnell may have flunked a closer audition, but likely will find himself on the Opening Day roster as well. That leaves one slot for a host of competitors. D.J. Carrasco is making $1.2 million in Year 2 of a guaranteed contract, but has no assurance of making the team. Other candidates for that slot: Josh Stinson, Pedro Beato, Daniel Herrera, Olson, Robert Carson, Batista and Chuck James. Beato had to remain at the major league level all of last year because he was a Rule 5 pick, but he is now Mets property and can freely be sent to the minors.