Three starting position players will open the season on the disabled list. The five pitchers named to the rotation combined for a 7.48 Grapefruit League ERA. And, let’s face it, the Mets weren’t exactly a juggernaut even when healthy.
Brace yourself, Mets fans. It could be a long season.
The good news: There should be plenty of seats available at Citi Field. And, we hear, the new menu selections are excellent.
Here’s a look at how the Mets shake out by position:
Catcher. The Mets overhauled their backstop tandem, trading Ramon Castro to the Chicago White Sox midway through last season and letting Brian Schneider sign with the Philadelphia Phillies during the winter as a free agent. The newcomers: Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco, who promise to be more fundamentally sound behind the plate, even if their offensive contributions may be limited. Promising Josh Thole as well as Omir Santos, who shared the duty down the stretch in 2009, will get more seasoning at Triple-A Buffalo.
First base. Daniel Murphy opens the season on the disabled list after suffering a Grade 1 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in Tuesday’s Grapefruit League game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The injury, which may only sideline Murphy two weeks, ensures a prominent early role for Mike Jacobs, who came up through the Mets’ system before getting dealt to the Florida Marlins for Carlos Delgado on Nov. 24, 2005. Righty-hitting Fernando Tatis should also see some action at the position, although the Mets won’t face a southpaw until Game 5, April 10 against the Washington Nationals’ John Lannan.
Second base. Luis Castillo batted .302 last season. However, outfielders could pinch in against the Mets with Castillo at the plate, since he displayed little power. The result: It was difficult for Castillo to drive in runners from second base. That said, despite an onerous four-year, $25 million contract that’s only halfway completed, Castillo is the least of the Mets’ problems these days.
Third base. David Wright looks poised for a return of his home run power. He has five spring homers -- half the total he produced in 535 at-bats last season. Wright is back to an attacking style at the plate, rather than being content slapping the ball to the opposite field for base hits.
Shortstop. Jose Reyes has demonstrated the right leg woes that limited him to 36 games last season are behind him, but the sparkplug will open the season on the DL, leaving Alex Cora as the Opening Day shortstop. A hyperactive thyroid idled Reyes for three weeks during spring training. The gland since has resumed functioning normally, but Mets officials want Reyes to have time to get sharp and regain his stamina. He will be eligible to be activated as soon as April 10, the sixth day of the Mets’ season.
Outfield. Left fielder Jason Bay, lured with a four-year, $66 million deal, should provide a desperately needed power jolt to the lineup, although he may have a difficult time reaching the 36-homer level he achieved last year with the Boston Red Sox because of the difference in dimensions between Fenway Park and Citi Field. Carlos Beltran, who will open the season on the DL along with Murphy and Reyes, is expected to return in mid-May. He underwent Jan. 13 surgery to clean out an arthritic right knee. Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. will try to fill the void until Beltran returns. Jeff Francoeur mans right field. He hit .311 with 10 homers and 41 RBI in 75 games with the Mets last season after arriving in a July 10 trade with the Atlanta Braves for Ryan Church.
Rotation. There are no concerns about Johan Santana, who is effortlessly throwing after undergoing Sept. 1 surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow. The rest of the rotation is a major question mark, however. Mike Pelfrey (7.97 Grapefruit League ERA) and Oliver Perez (8.66 ERA) struggled so much during spring training, manager Jerry Manuel shuffled his original rotation, pushing them to Game Nos. 4 and 5, respectively. They originally had been slated for Game Nos. 2 and 3. Instead, John Maine starts the season’s second game, followed by rookie Jon Niese.
Bullpen. Francisco Rodriguez’s numbers plummeted during the second half of last season (1-4, 6.75 ERA). Still, like Santana with the rotation, the closer is the least of Manuel’s concerns. Team officials had hoped for a set-up man to emerge from between Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarashi. Instead, Escobar experienced shoulder weakness, just resumed throwing on flat ground and will open the season on the disabled list. Igarashi, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract, has yet to demonstrate he’ll be a standout late-inning pitcher. Pedro Feliciano is a solid lefty specialist, who hopes to be used regularly in the eighth inning. Still, Feliciano has set consecutive franchise records for relief appearances with 86 in 2008 and 88 in 2009 and risks being burned out. K-Rod, by the way, will be away from the team this weekend while dealing with a family issue in Venezuela. His brother crashed a car badly in their native country, but is expected to be fine. K-Rod should be in New York on Sunday.
Season Prediction. Several years ago, before the Mets peaked with an appearance in the 2006 National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, principal owner Fred Wilpon suggested the goal was “meaningful games in September.” That could be a best-case scenario for the Amazin’s in 2010.
Fourth place, 78-84.