This is often considered a depressing time of year even for those who aren’t Mets fans, but it’s especially bad right now for the Shea Faithful, what with… well, pretty much everything except reports of R.A. Dickey doing stuff.
So I’m squinting at Patrick Flood’s pre-preseason-preview and trying to think of if there’s any way the Mets could have one of those magical seasons where everything falls right, as unlikely as that now seems. So this’ll be a four-part series, I guess, in which I look at the position players and then pitchers likely to be on the roster and take a stab at making the most optimistic predictions for what they might produce for the club in 2012 to figure out if even then the Mets would turn out good.
And I’ll try to keep it at least vaguely reasonable. Technically the most optimistic prediction would be that every hitter on the team suddenly busts out a la Jose Bautista 2010, and the Mets become a ridiculous juggernaut that steamrolls the National League. But since Bautista’s case is exceptional, I’m not about to predict a 1.000 OPS for Ruben Tejada in 2012.
Catcher: Josh Thole has been about average offensively for a catcher in his career, and his ability to get on base and youth seem to bode pretty well for his future at the plate. He struggled defensively in 2011 after appearing to improve that part of his game in 2010. So if all goes well in 2012, he keeps getting on base, turns on a few more pitches for extra-base hits, and puts the defensive growing pains behind him. The most optimistic of the three projections on Fangraphs gives Thole an on-base heavy .736 OPS, but let’s go crazy and raise that to .750 and hope he can play average defense.
It’s hard to realistically hope for much from Mike Nickeas offensively, given his career Minor League numbers. But if we’re half-fulling here, maybe Thole stays healthy enough to play the bulk of the Mets’ games behind the plate, Nickeas’ defense lives up to its billing and he hits well enough to prove an above replacement-level backup catcher. That doesn’t take much: Even a .600 OPS with good enough defense would do the trick.
First base: Ike Davis spent the first month of 2011 hitting about as well as we could reasonably hope he could, but given the long injury layoff I’d say it’s unfair to project a .925 OPS even in this useless exercise. But they are moving the fences in and we are trying to be as optimistic as possible, so let’s say Ike is healthy and stays that way and can maintain an OPS around .880 while playing his typically excellent defense.
Second base: The most optimistic thing you can hope for at the keystone is that Daniel Murphy can hack it there well enough to avoid injury and embarrassment and keep his bat in the lineup. If Murph can maintain something around his .809 OPS from 2011 and just be better than Dan Uggla defensively, he’s a pretty valuable guy to have in the middle infield.
Third base: It was all the fences. David Wright again performs like his 2005-2008 vintage, when he was one of the very best players in baseball. He’s still probably a step slower defensively, but that part of his game improves a bit too as he grows more confident that he can again be awesome.
Shortstop: As with Davis and Murphy, with Ruben Tejada the most reasonable optimistic expectation would have to be that he’s capable of repeating something close to his offensive performance from 2011 over a full season. And there’s not much in Tejada’s Minor League past to suggest he should do that, but he’s so young and has always been so young for every level that we can still cross our fingers and hope he’s coming of age before our eyes, and that he can play capable defense at a premium position.
Backups: Ronny Cedeno sees some time as a defensive replacement and makes a bunch of fancy plays. Justin Turner forever wins the hearts of Mets fans everywhere with clutchness and grit in a right-handed pinch-hitting role. Neither needs to start that often, obviously, because all of the regular infielders are staying healthy and having career years.
How many wins is that infield worth? The way I see it — and again, I know this is all very unlikely — it’d have two legit stars in Davis and Wright, a solidly above-average player in Murphy and at least average guys in Tejada and Thole.