Understanding and analyzing what the competition is up to is often just as important to knowing what the Nationals are up to. With Opening Day coming up in just about two weeks, it’s time we start taking a look at the rosters heading into the season for each of Washington’s division rivals. Once we run through each of the four divisional opponents, we’ll sum everything up and make some predictions.
Our Season Preview series lead off with a brief look at the pitching staff for the New York Mets. Next, we’ll continue by examining the rest of the team’s projected 25-man roster.
Easily the biggest story of the winter for the Mets was the loss of longtime shortstop Jose Reyes. Coming off a career season, capped off by his first batting title, Reyes reached the free agent market as one of the premiere pieces available. Speculation began nearly a year ago that he wouldn’t re-sign with the Mets because someone would end up offering him a substantial contract. That offer eventually came from the Miami Marlins, to the tune of six years and $106 Million, and Reyes’ career with the Mets was over.
There are some, however, who have long been stating that Ruben Tejada, might actually be ready to step into the vacancy and be a suitable replacement. Tejada has seen a fair share of playing time off the bench over the past two seasons, appearing in 174 games and making 631 plate appearances. He batted .256/.338/.314 with a home run and 51 RBI in that span. He’s shown some decent discipline at the plate (57 walks, 88 strikeouts) but he’s never possessed much power potential (only 14 career minor league home runs).
He doesn’t compare to Reyes from an offensive standpoint. Tejada lags in power and speed. But he doesn’t need to replicate Reyes’ production at the plate to help ease the loss. Tejada is a respectable fielder, and while he’s spent more time at second base in his MLB career should have no trouble maintaining the shortstop position for the Mets in 2012. If he can consistently get on base from the bottom of the order he’ll prove to be a valuable piece for what stands to be an uncertain Mets season. If Tejada struggles, there’s no way of knowing what direction the Mets will take. He’s out of options and there are few alternatives within the organization who will be MLB-ready (Reese Havens would possibly be first to get a chance and he has yet to appear in any games above Double-A.).
Beyond the loss of Reyes, the Mets also will have a new face in center field after a winter trade with the San Francisco Giants brought in Andres Torres (and reliever Ramon Ramirez). Torres is a career .244/.318/.403 hitter in 1,423 plate appearances over his career. 2010 was a career year for him, as he hit .268/.343/.479 with 16 HR and 63 RBI while helping the Giants win the World Series. Last year, however, was a big dropoff. His production declined to a .221/.312/.330 line with just 4 HR and at 34, it remains to be seen what kind of production he’ll be able to provide atop the lineup this season.
Torres will be flanked in New York’s outfield by Jason Bay in left field and Lucas Duda in right. Both are due for better seasons than they had in 2011. Bay, in particular, is under pressure to prove that he’s worth the contract he was given.
Tejada will be joined in the infield by David Wright at third, Ike Davis at first, and likely Daniel Murphy at second. Wright and Davis are big question marks heading into the season, solely for health concerns. Wright is coming off an underwhelming 2011 season that saw his numbers slip to .254/.345/.427 as he appeared in just 102 games. Already this Spring he’s suffering from what appears to be a torn abdominal muscle. He says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, but that does not seem to be a certainty at this point. Josh Satin (who’s a long shot at winning a bench job) has been making a good share of the starts at third base in Spring Training, so we’ll see what kind of indicator that proves to be.
Meanwhile, Davis is fighting off what has been reported as valley fever symptoms after missing nearly all of 2011 after breaking his ankle early in the season. Utility guys Justin Turner and Vinny Rottino will presumably be the rest of the bench guys (pending if/how Satin makes the roster) and ultimately the team’s first line of depth in the infield. Ronny Cedeno, who’s a decent defensive replacement but offers nothing at the plate, is also an option.
Behind the plate Josh Thole has proven capable of handling the position well and has long been expected to be the organization’s solution for years to come. He’s hit .276/.350/.356 in 204 games for this career, with last year being his first season of full-time duty. He’s also not a big power threat (6 career HR) but is strong defensively, has a solid arm behind the plate, and has good discipline at it (66 walks, 77 strikeouts). There is not much depth at catcher in the entire Mets organization, so it’s going to be important for Thole to remain healthy.