The lure of the Big Apple draws millions of tourists each and every year, but New York City's charm drew a near blank this offseason for the Mets.
Though the The Amazins were able to land one of the bigger free agents this winter, outfielder Jason Bay, the club struck out on numerous other fronts while attempting to bounce back from what can only be deemed a disastrous 2009.
Apparently a 70-92 record and fourth-place finish, New York's worst since 2004, wasn't what free agents Bengie Molina, John Lackey or Joel Pineiro were looking for so the Mets had to get creative. They traded reliable reliever Brian Stokes to the Angels for outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. and went overseas to sign Japanese import Ryota Igarashi to help the bullpen. They also took a chance on former starter Kelvim Escobar.
But the biggest catch was Bay, who signed a four-year, $66 million deal with a 2014 option to replace left fielder Gary Sheffield, who along with Carlos Delgado and J.J. Putz, marks New York's biggest offseason losses.
Of course, the thing the Mets most need to go right for them this year is staying healthy. New York suffered more causalities than a Quentin Tarantino movie last year, as Johan Santana, Jose Reyes, Putz, Delgado, Oliver Perez, Fernando Nieve and Jonathon Niese all ended the season on the disabled list, while the likes of Carlos Beltran, David Wright and John Maine were also hurt during the season.
All except Beltran, Reyes and the aforementioned free agent departures should be ready to begin 2010, however.
Beltran's case is proof that the weird events and vibes of 2009 haven't disappeared completely. The All-Star center fielder underwent knee surgery on January 13 that is expected to sideline him until early April, though there were reports that Beltran had the surgery without the Mets' knowledge and against their wishes.
Bottom line though is that Beltran will not be ready for the start of the regular season, while Reyes's start could also be delayed after it was discovered during camp that he had an elevated thyroid hormone blood level that forced him to shut things down physically for a while.
Those are just a few things that manager Jerry Manuel will have to deal with this season after the mess he was dealt in '09. He hopes there won't be much more drama after that.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2010 edition of the New York Mets, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
(70-92) - Fourth Place (NL East)
Key Offseason additions
LF Jason Bay, CF Gary Matthews Jr., RP Ryota Igarashi, C Rod Barajas, RP Kelvim Escobar, INF Alex Cora, C Henry Blanco
Key Offseason subtractions
1B Carlos Delgado, RP J.J. Putz, LF Gary Sheffield, C Brian Schneider, RP Brian Stokes, SP Tim Redding, OF Cory Sullivan, OF Jeremy Reed, RP Lance Broadway
The Mets might want to check and see if Shea Stadium is still standing. Their first season in the brand-new Citi Field yielded the club a MLB-low 49 homers at home and nobody suffered from more of a power outage than Wright. The good news for the third baseman was he finished just two homers shy of the team lead. The bad news is that Daniel Murphy was tops on the team with just 12.
New York will need Wright to adjust to Citi Field, where he homered just five times and hit .298. However, the two-time Gold Glove winner at third went deep just five times on the road as well and will need to bounce back from a concussion sustained last season when he was beaned in the head.
Of course, the rest of New York's lineup might be in better shape if Reyes can stay healthy. The Mets' sparkplug at the top of the order, Reyes played in just 36 games last year because of an injury that started as a calf ailment but was later diagnosed as a torn right hamstring tendon. That kept the shortstop, owner of 301 career stolen bases, on the shelf for the rest of the season.
Reyes is hoping to be ready for Opening Day following his latest setback and may even bat third in the order when he does return because of Beltran's injury.
Regardless, Reyes' eventual presence at the top of the order should have a trickle down effect on the lineup and allow Manuel to set his lineup the way he wants instead of scrambling each and every game.
Second baseman Luis Castillo, one of just three players to appear in over 140 games for the Mets last year, should bat second and actually put together a solid season minus the drop of a routine fly ball that cost New York a game versus the Yankees during the regular season. Castillo batted .302 and stole 20 bases while also striking out just 58 times. However, the majority of his hits were singles, as he posted just 16 extra-base hits.
Unable to handle the outfield, Murphy found a home at first base last year due to Delgado's injury and should occupy that position again this year. New York is high on the 24-year-old, but its lineup could suffer if Murphy can't increase his power totals.
Murphy will need to keep an eye over his shoulder after 2008 first-round pick Ike Davis hit .480 (12-for-25) with three homers and 10 RBI in 12 spring games before getting assigned to minor league camp.
After failing to land Molina, the Mets instead inked Rod Barajas to a one-year contract in late February and he figures to start after signing a major league deal. Barajas spent the last two seasons with the Blue Jays and hit just.226 in 2009, but he did post his second-highest home run total (19) while driving in a career-best 71 runs.
Dispute or not, the Mets hope that Beltran's knee surgery will allow him to play in more than the 81 he was limited to a season ago. Beltran was productive when healthy, batting .325 while matching Wright's home run total in 63 fewer games.
Angel Pagan and Matthews will likely fill Beltran's void until he is able to return.
That is when the Mets will get a look at the pairing of Beltran and Bay, who returns to the National League after playing the last season and a half in Boston.
Bay will try to help boost New York's power shortage, as he has averaged 30 homers over his last six seasons. He hit just .267 last year but posted 36 homers and 119 runs batted in and will have to figure out Citi Field, having never before played there.
Jeff Francoeur rounds out the outfield and he became New York's right fielder last season after being acquired in July from Atlanta for Ryan Church. The 26- year-old batted .311 with 10 homers and 41 RBI in 75 games with the Mets after his career hit a road block with the Braves, and should give New York a very tough, productive outfield.
Much like the Mets' offense needs a healthy Reyes, New York's pitching staff doesn't stand a chance if Santana can't bounce back from left elbow surgery.
One of the top pitchers in baseball, Santana was 13-9 with a 3.13 earned run average in 25 starts, but he didn't pitch after Aug. 20 and was 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA over his final six outings. New York does expect the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner to be at full strength this season.
Santana wasn't the only Mets starter to suffer injury last year. Maine was limited to 15 starts because of a right shoulder injury and Perez, a lefty, was 3-4 with a horrid 6.82 earned run average in 14 starts while battling a right knee ailment.
In fact, Mile Pelfrey was the only Mets pitcher other than Santana to make more than 20 starts, appearing in 31 games but going just 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA. New York will slot Pelfrey behind Santana in the rotation hoping he can pitcher closer to his 2008 form that saw the righty go 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA in 32 starts.
Perez could also be one to make-or-break New York's rotation, even as the fourth starter. The Mets questionably gave the wild southpaw a three-year, $36 million deal before the start of last season but he was unable to command his pitches in limited time last year, walking five or more in seven of his 14 starts.
Injuries caused the Mets to use a host of arms at the fifth spot, including the likes of Tim Redding, Livan Hernandez, Nelson Figueroa and Pat Misch. New York would have liked to get better looks at youngsters Nieve and Niese, but they both suffered injuries last year as well. The right-handed Nieve was lost after seven starts and the left-handed Niese made just five. They should battle for the fifth spot this season.
Outside of losing Putz in early June due to injury, the Mets' bullpen was one of their better areas and healthiest.
In his first season with the Mets after a single-season record 62 saves with the Angels in 2008, Francisco Rodriguez went 3-6 with a 3.71 ERA, saving 35 saves in 66 total appearances. However, he did struggle to a 6.75 ERA in the second half after a 1.90 ERA in his first 41 appearances.
While Pedro Feliciano (6-4, 3.03 ERA last season) returns as the primary left- handed setup man, the Mets expect Igarashi to handle the late-inning righties. Igarashi, 30, has never pitched in the majors but went 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 56 appearances in Japan last season.
The Mets will miss Stokes (2-4, 3.97 ERA) in the bullpen, but they hope the right-handed combinations of Bobby Parnell, Sean Green and Escobar can fill the void.
Escobar, who may begin the season on the DL because of his shoulder, will try to get his career on track in New York's pen after having made just one start in the last two seasons because of shoulder issues. The former Angel and Blue Jay hasn't been used as a full-time reliever since 2002, when he made a career-high 76 appearances with Toronto, and is three seasons removed from winning 18 games with Los Angeles in 2007.
Outside of Feliciano, the Mets don't have any other left-handed arms in the pen with both Green (1-4, 4.52 ERA) and Parnell right-handed. Parnell is much better suited in the bullpen, as he went 1-5 with a 7.93 ERA in eight starts last season while notching a 3.46 ERA in 60 relief outings.
Green, meanwhile, had a 3.38 ERA versus right-handed hitters but a 6.33 ERA versus lefties. Right-hander Jenrry Mejia has also emerged as a bullpen candidate after a strong spring.
New York hopes that a healthy season will allow its bench players to settle into reserve roles after often getting forced into everyday play a season ago.
Matthews comes over from the Angels after seeing his playing time decrease over the past couple of seasons. In played in just 103 games last year and failed to hit over .252 in this three seasons out west after batting .313 with Texas in 2006.
Matthews, along with Pagan (.306, 6 HR, 32 RBI) will get a chance to play early with Beltran sidelined.
Cora will spell the middle infielders, while Fernando Tatis can play the corners in both the infield and outfield.
The addition of Barajas will likely push Omir Santos, who was the leading candidate to start before the Barajas signing, and catcher of the future Josh Thole back to the minors, while offseason addition to Henry Blanco will serve as the Mets' reserve catcher.
The Mets blew September leads to the Phillies in both 2007 and '08 to miss out on the postseason both times, but they never came close to playoff contention last year. New York hopes a healthy 2010 can change that and put the club back into the postseason. Though they failed to attract all of the free agents they coveted, the Mets still have a very strong core in Santana, Rodriguez, Wright, Reyes and, eventually, Beltran. Full seasons by that group should have New York competing for the wild card spot, though a lack of power potential and left-handed relief could hinder the club from challenging for the NL East title.