Commentary

Five questions facing Mets

With Opening Day on the horizon, concerns about the Amazin's abound

Updated: April 5, 2012, 8:03 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

Here are five key questions for the Mets as they head into Opening Day on Thursday:

No. 1: WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM JOHAN?

Johan Santana's spring training has been a positive development, with the southpaw able to work every five days nearly throughout the Grapefruit League schedule. Team doctor David Altchek believes Santana is out of the danger zone in his recovery from Sept. 14, 2010 surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. Still, returnees from shoulder surgery tend to see fluctuations in velocity early on, so Santana at points may lack life on his fastball.

Santana will be on strict pitch counts early in the season. He threw no more than 88 pitches in any Grapefruit League appearance. Manager Terry Collins does not plan for the southpaw to exceed 90 to 95 pitches in any April outing. At least six of Santana's first seven starts will come on an extra day of rest without Collins even needing to juggle the rotation. That's because of team days off early in the season.

No. 2: WILL CITI FIELD'S REVISED DIMENSIONS HELP WRIGHT, BAY?

Citi Field surrendered 1.33 homers per game last season, which ranked 14th of 16 National League ballparks, ahead of only San Francisco (1.00) and San Diego (1.23). With the dimension changes, the stadium still may be slightly pitcher friendly, but should be close to neutral. The 16-foot wall in left field is now half the size.

The new dimensions from left to right are: 335-358-385-408-398-375-330.

The old measurements, although not precisely in the same spots: 335-371-384-408-415-378-330.

If the new dimensions had been in place from the opening of the ballpark in 2009, Wright would have hit 13 extra homers over three seasons, according to Greg Rybarczyk, who operates hittrackeronline.com in partnership with ESPN. Bay would have hit nine additional homers at Citi Field over his two seasons as a Met.

Add the psychological benefit of not seeing the imposing dimensions and the boost may be bigger than just plotting balls in play from the past few seasons.

Dimensions aside, though, there's apprehension about Bay, who has no RBIs entering the final day of Grapefruit League play. And the walls moved in for the opposition, too.

No. 3: WHAT WILL LIFE BE LIKE AFTER JOSE?

From the time of Jose Reyes' June 10, 2003 debut through the end of last season, the Mets had a 538-496 record (.520) when he started and 155-207 record (.428) when he did not.

With Reyes defecting to the Miami Marlins on a six-year, $106 million contract, the Mets will not be able to duplicate his production.

Ruben Tejada will handle shortstop. He actually has a few attributes that are better than Reyes -- including positioning himself better at shortstop, and more aptitude going to his right on grounders.

Andres Torres, who has 60 steals in 415 career major league games, will take over the leadoff spot and cannot replicate that speed dynamic. The dropoff from Reyes to Torres as leadoff hitter should be significant, although less so if Torres has production closer to 2010 (.343 on-base percentage) than 2010 (.312).

No. 4: IS A REVAMPED BULLPEN A BETTER BULLPEN?

While slashing the payroll $52 million, the Mets spent much of their available dollars on the bullpen. General manger Sandy Alderson signed closer Frank Francisco for two years, $12 million and Jon Rauch for one year at $3.5 million. Alderson also acquired right-hander Ramon Ramirez from the San Francisco Giants, along with center fielder Andres Torres, for Angel Pagan.

It's worth noting, though, that the Toronto Blue Jays -- which employed Francisco and Rauch last season -- tied for the American League in blown saves.

No. 5: WILL ANYONE WATCH?

Since the Mets drew 4.04 million in 2008, in the final year at Shea Stadium, attendance has slipped each year. The inaugural season at smaller-capacity Citi Field resulted in 3.15 million in attendance. In 2010, the figure was 2.56 million. Last year: 2.35 million.

How low will it go? Even the absolute bottom has to be a reasonable number, given New York's population and the appetite for taking in a ballgame in the summer. But the Mets may test what the trough is if they struggle.

A team official acknowledged Opening Day is thousands of tickets from a sellout.

Despite a favorable settlement for Mets owners in the lawsuit brought by the trustee trying to recover funds for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme -- and an equity infusion of $240 million from minority investors that paid off team debt -- Fred Wilpon and family desperately need fan support in order to improve their cash flow.

PREDICTION: Blame it partly on the strength of the division. 71-91. Fifth place.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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