Take a step back from all the hype. Forget about the rumors and possibilities. Looking at the team, right now, are the 2009 New York Mets just going to be an average team?
Let's go through the team, position by position, and figure out if the Mets can compete in the NL East.
Johan Santana is the anchor. He's one of the top 3 pitchers in the game, and will go out and perform every time he is called upon. He's pretty darn good, and we all know it. He'll be just fine, even if he is coming off meniscus surgery.
Mike Pelfrey had a great season, finally blooming into the pitcher Mets fans hoped he would be. He topped 200 innings pitched in '08, which was a jump of almost 130 innings. As I've brought up time and time again, Tom Verducci of SI.com has shown that young pitchers who make such a large jump from season to season, generally struggle the next year. Knowing that past history doesn't always show future performance, this still leaves me with a lot of doubt for Pelfrey's 2009 campaign.
John Maine, coming off an injury-shortened season and still recovering from surgery, is another question mark in the Mets rotation. If he can come out and pitch like 2007, everything will be fine, but that's a big "if." Mets fans should expect a season like last years, with Maine struggling with high pitch counts and decreased velocity. Maybe Dan Warthen can get Maine to go for the throat when he's ahead on batters, instead of dancing around the plate and running up to a full count pretty much every time. Maine could have a bounce back year, but I highly doubt it.
Next, I guess I'll talk about Tim Redding. The Mets, hopefully, are not done constructing their roster, but as of now Redding likely projects as the #4 starter. That's just not a good sign to begin with. A 34-51 pitcher, with a 4.92 ERA and 1.501 WHIP in his career, Redding should be a 5th starter.
Behind him, the Mets have rookie Jon Niese. He started three games in 2008, going 1-1 with a 7.07 ERA. His lone win was in an absolute masterpiece, allowing six hits over eight innings against the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 13. But with only 14 innings under his belt, he is unproven at the major league level.
Hate to say it, but the Mets have one solid starter and four giant question marks. Even if the Mets manage to sign Oliver Perez or Ben Sheets, neither of them are spectacular signings, with Perez struggling with inconsistency and Sheets battling the injury bug. The Mets rotation is very weak.
Can't get much better than Francisco Rodriguez. He was an excellent signing -- due to his talent and the money the Mets will be paying him. Unfortunately, the only way he's worthwhile is if the team hands him a lead. He could have an excellent season, especially in the "weaker" NL. Great player who should shine if given the chance.
J.J. Putz is a proven major league closer. With over 100 saves under his belt, he should make a great closer. I say "should" because we've all seen how most closers do in a non-save situation. The same mentality just isn't there and the closers often fail to shut the door. Hopefully (there's that word again), Putz can just pretend he's saving games and bridge the gap to Rodriguez in the 9th.
Rest of the Bullpen
Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Feliciano, Sean Green, Brian Stokes and Carlos Muniz make up the bullpen. In order: not confident, specialist, OK, could be good, stinks. That's how I see them. Not very confident in this bullpen at all.
I have no problem with Brian Schneider. Some pitchers may prefer Ramon Castro, and I'd like to see him get more time if healthy. Between the two, I think the Mets have some very well called games and decent production at the plate.
The second-half of 2008 for Carlos Delgado was in a word: Magical. It made most fans forget about his horrendous end of 2007 and beginning of '08. Will he be able to recreate June of '08 on? Probably not. Will he stink it up like the first half of the year? More likely. I expect something in between. Nothing earth-shattering, but nothing miserable. I'd like to see Daniel Murphy get groomed for this position, if he has the glove to stick there.
Luis Castillo is pretty bad. With the slap hitting, the gimpy running and the injuries (not to mention the $18 million he's owed), he's a major hindrance to the team. I predict Alex Cora will start 40 games at second this season. Hopefully Murphy has improved his fielding and can play there.
Jose Reyes is the most exciting player in the game. Expect that to continue for years to come. Not worried about this position at all.
David Wright will be fine. MVP in 2009?
Platooning worries me. With Fernando Tatis and Murphy slated to split time in left, I'm not too confident in LF. Tatis is not going to have the same season again. That was a fluke. He'll be OK, but nothing like '08. Murphy might be on the brink of becoming the Mets young spark. The team needs to find a place for him, but wherever he plays, I hope he hits.
Carlos Beltran is one of the most underrated players in the game. No, he won't hit for average, but he's one of the top 5 center fielders in the game. Mets fans should feel lucky to have him.
Oh, concussions. Ryan Church, when healthy (beginning of the year) was excellent. Running down balls I didn't think he'd get to, hitting much better than expected and all around looking like a steal. Then the concussion in Atlanta happened and he wasn't the same player again. If he can play like he did pre-concussion, the Mets will be set in right. If not, there will be trouble.
Jeremy Reed, Marlon Anderson, Cora and Tatis or Murphy (depending on who is in LF) make up the Mets bench. I don't see Angel Pagan or Nick Evans making the team, but those two guys will be perfect to have waiting in the wings. Reed is the new Endy Chavez, as he is capable of playing any OF position. Anderson will likely see time at first base and will resume his pinch hitting duties. Cora will serve as the backup middle infielder. Tatis will likely play some first base and third base, along with his LF duties. Murphy might see time at second, depending on his spring training, but will likely see the majority of games in LF.
The Mets weakness is their pitching. The rotation simply is not that strong and the Mets are going to suffer. They focused on the end of games, but that will be a moot point if the team isn't getting a lead to the set-up man and closer.
I'm not overly impressed by the Mets right now. I think they're over-projecting Maine and Pelfrey in 2009. Redding and Niese at the back-end of the rotation is sickening. The offense shouldn't be a problem, with the core players carrying most of the weight. The rest should do their part, but not blow down the doors.
In conclusion, the Mets could finish anywhere from fourth to first (the Nationals are very bad) in the NL East. A run at first place would take a few mini-miracles and going relatively injury free through the season. It will be an uphill climb, no doubt.