Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 3/29/12

Dave Cameron laid out the methodology behind the rankings last Friday. Remember that the grading scale for each category is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago White Sox
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland

New York Mets’ 2011 Ranking: #21

2012 Outlook: 36 (26th)

There will be pain. In the short term at least, there will be pain for Mets fans. The pain will look a little like not signing a fan-favorite shortstop to a reasonable deal because it had too many years and zeroes on it. The pain will look like an offseason boasting Scott Hairston, Ronny Cedeno, Frank Francisco and Vinny Rottino as your biggest free agency acquisitions. The pain will contain constant updates about your owner’s involvement in a major Ponzi scheme. The pain will come, most of all, from going into the season knowing that — even with a second wild card — it would take major twists of fortune for your beloved team to sniff the postseason.

Is this current squad the 26th-worst in baseball? Probably not. Even with four first basemen in the field — David Wright‘s defense has begun to fail him, Lucas Duda always owned a first baseman’s glove, and it’s unclear if Daniel Murphy can learn to protect his knee on the turn at second, and Ike Davis has the best glove at his position of the bunch — the Mets should boast nine players that can manage an on-base percentage above the league average of .319. If Andres Torres can play to his upside and Ruben Tejada can continue to walk at a league-average rate, they should have a player at each position that can take the base-on-balls. With the fences coming in, they may even have decent power up and down the lineup.

It’s the whole pitching thing that may ultimately bring the most pain this year. Their rotation ended up 27th on the power rankings, and with only Jonathan Niese and R.A. Dickey likely to pitch close to 200 innings at a league-average rate, it makes sense. Johan Santana has been playing well this spring, but his peripherals — once the home run rate is adjusted, which seems important especially now with the fences coming in — were already those of a league-average pitcher before he went down with a shoulder capsule problem in 2010. Now, after having the same surgery that felled Chien-Ming Wang (who has not yet returned to anything like his old form) and missing a full year, Santana is showing velocity that is just a tick below his 2010 average. Even if he’s a better pitcher than Wang, the most ardent Mets fan has to admit that a full season seems like a long-shot. With pitchers like Dillon Gee and Chris Schwinden providing the depth this year, and Mike Pelfrey doing little other than eat innings, there’s not much depth behind their erstwhile ace, either.

They won’t be legendarily bad, since they still have some pieces in the lineup, but there isn’t really a great reason to pencil them in among the revamped Marlins, the building Nationals and Braves, or the veteran Phillies.

2013+ Outlook: 42 (26th)

The whole reason the pain might be worth it is that it seems the current regime has a plan. Trading Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler was a window into that plan. Taking toolsy but possibly raw high school outfielder Brandon Nimmo with their first pick in the draft was another. Challenging current Minor Leaguers — up and down the system — to become more patient at the plate was yet another sign that this team is working hard to change.

The plan wasn’t based on paying over-slot on all picks in the draft, which is good because there is now a draft bonus cap. It wasn’t based on making a big splash with international signings, either. That was the previous regime.

Instead it was about hording years of cost-control (see the Andres Torres trade), and focusing on developing a bevy of patient young position players to pair with their emerging arms. With Wheeler and Matt Harvey at the forefront, there are signs it’s going the right way. On the other hand, a 16th-place ranking in Marc Hulet’s MiLB org rankings, a general lack of high-impact position players in the system, and few cost-controlled pre-peak options at the Major League level, there’s still more pain on the way for the blue and orange.

Financial Resources: 54 (11th)

Some of the pain might be (mostly) over. Judge Rakoff made a landmark ruling in the Bernie Madoff clawback case and awarded trustee Irving Picard $160 million. Compared to the numbers that were floated at the peak of the hysteria, this was a win for the Mets’ ownership.

But there are still some discomfort on the way. According to research by Howard Megdal, author of Wilpon’s Folly, that was vetted by Adam Rubin at ESPN, the Mets have some serious debt coming to term in the next few years. Even after minority investors helped the Wilpons pay off a short-term loan from Major League Baseball, as well as some recurring debt payments that the team fell behind on when they lost $40 million in operating revenue this season, there are some whoppers on the way.

There are the yearly $100 million combined in debt payments on the Citi Field and SNY bonds that they’ll have to come up with while putting up an inferior product on the field, which will lead to less gate receipts and more losses like last year’s $40 million. Then there’s a $430 million loan against the team that comes to term in June 2014. And a $450 million loan against Citi Field that comes to term in June 2015. And let’s not forget the $160 million the owners owe Picard, even if there’s a chance they get back more than 50% of that once the dust settles.

So the owners are heavily leveraged. Doesn’t the Dodgers sale have implications for the value of the Mets franchise?

Yes and no. If you count up all the assets that were sold in the Dodgers transaction — the team, the stadium, the land, and the media rights — then the Mets are indeed worth a similar figure. But as you can see from above, each of those entities is heavily leveraged in New York. The Wilpons have close to $900 million in debt, and there’s no major television deal riding in to save them. They own most of SNY as well, and while they’re shifting around the money as much as they can — SNY was counted at least twice in the minority investors that rode to the rescue this year — there still isn’t an SNY-led white horse rescue on the way. Yesterday, sports business consultant Marc Ganis pegged the Mets’ total value at $1.5 billion. That’s not a great debt-to-value ratio.

There’s still a chance that the Wilpons’ personal debts, paired with the servicing on the team, network, and field debts, necessitates a sale in New York. And if Frank McCourt is any guide, the Wilpons would do well in that transaction.

But what about the fans? Will all this debt, both personal and professional, keep the Wilpons from being able to invest in the product on the field? And if so, what’s the use of all the fancy baubles of a big-market team? It’s clear that, in terms of financial resources, the Mets have massive upside and some considerable — if possibly temporary — downside.

Baseball Operations: 54 (16th)

Bringing in the godfather of Moneyball should have been a sign that this pain was on the way, perhaps. It seemed strange to put Sandy Alderson at the helm of a $145 million payroll, but now that the team is paying Major League players less than $90 million (and dropping), it all makes a little more sense.

The new front office, including Paul “3DPO” DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, has to get an incomplete for now. They have the reputation, but the results are still forthcoming. They may have a good eye for bench pieces (and enough restraint to avoid Alex Cora situations), and they seem to understand that they need to give every young player a long chance to show their true talent — Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda come to mind. As hard as letting Jose Reyes go might have been, and as much of a possible bargain as he could have been at his price, it wasn’t the type of risk that a rebuilding team needed to make.

There’s a strong, steady hand at the helm. This former Marine Core sergeant understands the pain/gain connection, and is practicing it with his own patented brand of humor. That’s worth an above-average grade as we wait for results.

Overall: 45 (20th)

So there will be pain. But there might be pleasure after the pain, and Sandy Alderson is the gruff-yet-smiling general to lead the team to the promised land. At some point the finances will be settled and this will be a big market team that’s learned from the small market geniuses along the way — that could be a powerful combination.

And it’s not like this current team doesn’t provide reasons to watch. There’s Dickey and his three knuckleballs, Davis looking to prove his value, and crowd-favorite (and Big Lebowski quote mill) Duda to watch. Listen to the general praise his troops, and you can tell this is ranking is more “#20 with a bullet” than a stamp of doom:

“I think there is an opportunity to develop a core of players who will be here for the next several years. given the talent we have here. In the short term, if these guys develop to their capacity, this is not a long-term proposition. This can be a lot of fun this year.”


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