The Mets aren't likely to contend for the postseason in 2014. Matt Harvey missing the entire season will play a major factor in that. But the Mets probably have their eye on making a push for the playoffs in 2015 with Harvey back in the rotation, along with Zack Wheeler, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard. The team has to build to that point, however. That makes 2014 rather important as the Mets try to develop into a contender. For them to do so, these three key questions will almost certainly have to be answered in the affirmative this season.
What sort of production will Ike Davis provide?
One of last season's frequent storylines was how long the Mets would stick with their struggling first baseman. Davis was eventually sent to the minors in June. While he showed improvement after being recalled a month later, Davis could never hit consistently. And because of that, he also couldn't provide the power that the Mets were expecting from him.
Davis finished with a .205 batting average and .334 slugging percentage. His ISO (Isolated Power) was only .129. Those numbers were just shockingly low from a player looked upon as one of the team's core elements, coming off a 2012 season in which he hit 32 home runs with 90 RBI.
The Mets would've loved to trade Davis during the offseason, but couldn't make a deal happen. The Brewers were mentioned as a frequent trade partner and Davis appeared to be a good fit there, but Milwaukee eventually opted to sign Mark Reynolds to a minor league deal instead. That complicated matters for the Mets. Getting rid of an underperforming player was one concern, but trading Davis also would've cleared up a logjam at first base.
But perhaps competition will benefit the position. Lucas Duda will challenge Davis for the starting job and has shown up to spring training in better shape. However, he's a similar player who can hit for power but not for a high average. Yet Davis has that 30-homer season on his résumé, a number Duda hasn't approached in his four major league seasons. Whoever loses the position battle will likely be sent to the minors (though Duda can play some outfield) or be trade bait. Josh Satin will likely stick as a right-handed compliment to Davis or Duda.
Is Zack Wheeler ready to be a top-of-the-rotation starter?
Two years ago, Wheeler was viewed as a better prospect than Matt Harvey by minor league analysts. As we know, Harvey took a huge step forward last year, his first season as a major league regular. Unfortunately, it wasn't Harvey's first full season in the majors as he eventually suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.
Prior to that, however, Harvey looked like a leading contender for the NL Cy Young Award and got the starting nod in the All-Star Game, played at his home ballpark of Citi Field. The right-hander went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 178.1 innings. Harvey pitched 169 innings between the minors and majors the previous year, taking on a natural increase in workload.
Can Wheeler be expected to make a similar jump to a possible ace-level starter in 2014? The 23-year-old pitched more in the majors than Harvey did in 2012, making 17 starts and throwing 100 innings, nearly twice the workload. But add that to the 68.2 innings Wheeler pitched in Triple-A and the two pitched almost exactly the same amount in their rookie seasons. Throwing 200 innings this year would be a natural progression.
Wheeler has also made it known that he wants to be the Mets' opening day starter, along with whatever prestige might come with that. Manager Terry Collins says Jonathon Niese will likely get the call, but Wheeler's ambition speaks to how he views himself now in the Mets' starting rotation. He wants to be a top three starter, maybe even the eventual No. 1. Wheeler hasn't shown he can strike out major league batters with the frequency Harvey has, but his minor league numbers show that he may indeed be capable of dominating in the same fashion. Refining his mechanics and control may help with that.
How will Curtis Granderson hit at Citi Field?
Adding a power-hitting outfielder to the lineup was an offseason priority for the Mets. Granderson appears to fit that bill, twice hitting 40 homers in his four seasons with the Yankees. He also hit 30 home runs in 2009, his final season with the Tigers. That may be the more encouraging season to highlight, as far as the Mets are concerned.
Yankee Stadium's short right field porch — measuring 314 feet down the line and 385 feet in the deep power alley — was presumably very, very good to Granderson. In 2012, he hit 26 home runs at home, compared to 17 on the road. Yet in 2011, Granderson's splits were nearly even with 21 homers at Yankee Stadium and 20 on the road. So just how much did home cooking benefit those power numbers?
Citi Field is certainly a bigger park and figures to affect Granderson's home run output. The Mets' home ballpark measures 330 feet down the right field line and 375 feet at the wall. But the distance of 398 feet to the deep right-center gap might erase some fly balls that would've landed in the seats at Yankee Stadium. Granderson's home run numbers will likely dip, but that might necessitate a change in his game, taking him back to the type of player he was early in his career with Detroit.
The larger outfield dimensions at Citi Field will require Granderson to become more of a gap hitter, much like he was in Comerica Park. In 2007, he hit 38 doubles and 23 triples. The following year, Granderson notched 26 doubles and 13 triples. Of course, he's not likely to be as fast at 32 years old as when he was 26 or 27. Perhaps that speed is gone, especially after Granderson became more of a slugger with the Yankees.
But for him to succeed and live up to the four-year deal the Mets signed him to, Granderson will almost certainly have to become that type of hitter again. That approach might still result in 30 or more home runs if he doesn't try to pull everything to right field. The Mets are certainly hoping he can still provide that sort of pop in a much bigger park.