Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 3/2/12

The Mets are coming off of a 77-85 record and 4th place finish in the NL East during manager Terry Collins’ first season with the team. After just an 11-16 start to the season, New York was actually three games over .500 as late as July 8th.

David Wright (middle) looks to bounce back from the worst season of his MLB career.

The Mets actually had a decent enough year at the dish, scoring the 6th most runs in the NL, and having the 2nd highest batting average behind only the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Unfortunately though, the main reason for their success at the plate was the play of shortstop Jose Reyes who won the batting title with a .337 average in 2011. Reyes left the Mets this offseason, choosing to sign with the division rival Miami Marlins for a lucrative 6-years and $106 million. Taking over for Reyes as the Mets new full-time shortstop will be 22-year-old Ruben Tejada, who has played in 174 games the last two seasons.

The main problem with the Mets last season was their pitching staff. The Mets finished the season 13th in the NL in team ERA at 4.19. The only teams behind them in that regard were the Cubs, Rockies, and Astros.

[2012 MLB Preview Central]

GM Sandy Alderson actually did bring in a few guys in the offseason to help out the bullpen, but the starting rotation is still a huge question mark especially with the continued health concerns of former ace Johan Santana.

After trading K-Rod to Milwaukee before the deadline last season, look for Frank Francisco to get the early nod as the team’s closer in 2012. Francisco had 17 saves with a 3.55 ERA last season for Toronto.

If the Mets have any chance of avoiding the cellar in 2012, they’ll need someone to step up into the leadoff spot in the lineup to fill in for the production lost when Jose Reyes took his talents to South Beach. They will also need their pitching staff to be much improved in 2012, and that starts with Johan Santana being able to stay healthy.

Overall this team looks in worse shape in 2012 than they were a year ago when they finished 8-games under .500.

3 Up

Best Case Scenario for 2011

It would be a minor miracle for the Mets to avoid last place in the NL East this season. They finished 4th a year ago, five games ahead of a Marlins club that looks seriously improved as they gear up for the 2012 season. The Braves and Phillies seem to be the class of the division, but the Marlins should make a surge upward this year, and the Nationals are coming off of finishing just one game below .500 last season. Best case for New York would be avoiding last place in the NL East. For that to happen they need big-contract guys like Jason Bay and Johan Santana to stay healthy and have good seasons. They will also need the face of the franchise, David Wright, to bounce back from his worst year of his 8-season major league career. The NL East looks to be a pretty competitive division in 2012, with the Mets as the only team that aren’t likely to seriously push for the top of the division. Avoiding the cellar would be a pretty big accomplishment for the Mets.

Most Valuable Mets

David Wright had a rough 2011, but there is no denying his immense ability, and the fact that he is without question the face of the Mets franchise. His .254 average, .427 slugging percentage, and .771 OPS last season were all career worsts. Wright is still a young guy (he turned 29 in December) and smart money is on him bouncing back and having a really productive season in 2012. A stress fracture in his back forced him to miss some games this past year, and he only played in 102 games all year. If Wright can stay healthy, look for him to return to being the same player that made five consecutive All Star games.

Johan Santana is supposedly on the path to playing this season after missing all of 2011 with a shoulder injury. Santana signed a 137.5 million dollar deal with the Mets in 2008, and hasn’t pitched as well as he did in Minnesota. The two-time AL Cy-Young award winner has pitched well when he has been healthy for the Mets, with a 2.85 ERA in three seasons in New York. Santana will hopefully be able to provide 20-25 starts this season, and if he can do so and avoid injuries, he will drastically improve the Mets rotation.

Potential Breakout Players

After trading Carlos Beltran, 26-year-old Lucas Duda did an admirable job taking over in right field for the remainder of the season. For the season he hit .292 with 10 homers and 50 RBI, but he really turned it over the final two months of the season. He hit .314 with 10 homeruns and 31 runs batted in over the final two months of the regular season. If Duda can string together a full season for the Mets like he played August and September last season, he could become a major cog in New York’s lineup.

In his first full season as a starter, Dillon Gee started off fantastically. He was 10-3 with a 3.69 ERA through July. Unfortunately, he fell off over the last two months of the regular season. He posted a 6.49 ERA in August and a 5.33 ERA in September. Gee is not an ace, but if he can build off of his first five months a year ago, he could become a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Mets moving forward.

3 Down

Worst Case Scenario for 2012

Manager Terry Collins did a decent enough job in his first season with the Mets in 2011, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Mets don’t regress from their 77-win campaign after losing Reyes. With the Phillies and Braves looking like serious contenders and the Nationals and Marlins on the upswing, the Mets seem destined for last place in the NL East. The worst case scenario for New York would obviously be finishing last, and that seems like the most likely scenario. If the Mets aren’t able to keep their top players healthy, and guys like David Wright and Jason Bay aren’t able to bounce back to their former selves, the Mets don’t even have a fighting chance. If they are able to stay healthy though, they should at least remain competitive. Still though, it is hard to envision a scenario that doesn’t have the Mets as dwelling in the cellar in 2012.

A healthy Johan Santana should drastically improve the Mets starting rotation in 2012.

Biggest Areas of Concern

Johan Santana’s shoulder has Mets fans holding their breath, and if he’s unable to stay healthy in 2012, the Mets pitching staff won’t be any better than they were a year ago. It’ll also be interesting to see how Ruben Tejada does taking over at short for the departed Jose Reyes. There is absolutely no way he can match Reyes’ production from a year ago, but the hope is that he can at least be a serviceable player. Tejada is still very young at just 22-years-old, and was rushed through the Mets farm system. Tejada was thought to have the potential to be a superstar prospect, but he hasn’t quite lived up to that yet. After hitting just .213 in 2010, Tejada did make a significant leap at the dish, hitting .284 in 2011. 2012 will be the real test for the young Tejada as he gets his first opportunity to be a full-time starter in the major leagues.

Players Who Must Rebound

David Wright had been able to stay relatively healthy for the Mets throughout his career until a stress fracture in his back last May. From 2005-10, Wright played in at least 144 games each year. Last season, he was held to just 102 with his least amount of at-bats since his rookie season. Wright suffered through the worst season of his career a year ago, and the Mets need their star to bounce back in 2012. Even after last season’s struggles, Wright is still a career .300 hitter with an .888 career OPS. At just 29-years-old, there is no reason to believe Wright can’t bounce back from a tough 2011.

Mike Pelfrey had a strong season on the hill in 2010 for the Mets with a 15-9 mark and a 3.66 ERA and 107 ERA+. He regressed in 2011 with a 7-13 record, 4.74 ERA, and career worst 78 ERA+. If Pelfrey can pitch like he did in 2010 along with Johan Santana staying healthy, Dillon Gee building on his tremendous start to last season, and R.A. Dickey can continue pitching like he has the past two seasons in New York, the Mets rotation could actually take a substantial leap forward in 2012. All of that happening is unlikely, but it will take all of that for the Mets to finish better than last in the NL East.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

PLAYERS: David Wright
TEAMS: New York Mets

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