March 05, 2014

Mets Playoff Dreamin'

When reports surfaced last week that Sandy Alderson had reportedly told Mets management that the team is capable of winning 90 games, my first thought was, "Is Sandy including Grapefruit League and intrasquad wins with this?" The over/under in Las Vegas for Mets wins is 73.5.

Their unbiased prediction gives you a much better idea of where this team is projected to finish this season. For my money, I do like the over on Vegas' number. But, Sandy Alderson and Mets ownership will be waiting until the 2015 season to reach 90 regular season wins.

Mets fans have been sold "2014" for over two years. The contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay were coming off the books, and they expected a lot of the young pitching to be major-league ready.

Unfortunately, once Matt Harvey went down with Tommy John surgery, the organization began building for 2015. That philosophy explains the limited offseason spending and the short term deals (see: Chris Young, Bartolo Colon).

The four year contract for Curtis Granderson was a good investment that provided a much needed power bat, and veteran presence. But, the deal was also just as much about saving-face with the fan base, to portray a willingness to spend.

According to fangraphs.com, the Mets, at $82 million, will have the seventh-lowest payroll in the majors, and third-lowest in the National League. That is embarrassing for a team in the number one market in the country, and trying to compete for eyeballs, airtime and advertising with the crosstown Yankees. Most notably, management misread the market for Nelson Cruz, who signed for one year with the Orioles, they didn't want to ante up for Johnny Peralta at shortstop (Cardinals for 4 years/$52 million), and haven't been willing to pay Stephen Drew.

In fairness to Alderson's front office, Colon's two-year deal was an ideal stop-gap in the rotation, offering low risk for a potential high reward. The Mets are deep with strong, young arms, there was no reason to spend big bucks in the mediocre free agent pool of starting pitching.

But, when dissecting the Mets for the upcoming season, there's little reason to believe the outlook is any brighter than the 74 wins of a season ago. In a best case scenario, Colon can come close to duplicating Harvey's production, and Granderson can match Marlon Byrd's career year. For the Mets to come close to the predicted 90 wins, the stars must align.

That means Zack Wheeler making the improvement Harvey made last season, Travis d'Arnaud stays healthy and becomes a legitimate middle of the order bat, either Ike Davis or Lucas Duda holds down first base while hitting 20 to 25 home runs, and the mix of young and veteran arms cobble together a formidable bullpen. Sure, that is a lot to ask for. But isn't dreaming what spring training is all about?

Yankees' play-by-play man John Sterling has often said to counterpart Suzyn Waldman, "Well, Suzyn, you just can't predict baseball." That appears to be truer than ever before. Last year's Red Sox team was expected to be rebuilding, after trading away several key pieces, yet they won the World Series. Two years ago, Buck Showalter shocked the baseball world leading the Orioles to a 93-69 record. As more teams stockpile prospects and build from within, the "element of the unknown" keeps growing. The Mets are hoping, praying, and begging to be that team this season. But, it's still a long shot.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 and WFAN radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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