With Johan Santana out for the remainder of the season and not knowing how he'll perform next season, what are the Mets going to do about starting pitching? Are the guys in Triple-A ready to come up by 2012?
-- Kei O., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Given the organization's limited financial flexibility this winter, there's not a whole lot the Mets can do to revamp their rotation. They expect Santana to be healthy and hope he can again be an ace -- short of that, they are rooting for him at least to give them some consistent innings. Though rumors of the Mets non-tendering Mike Pelfrey may swirl this winter, I suspect the team will offer Pelfrey a contract simply because he is their best bet to deliver 200 innings. Jon Niese will be back, and I'd expect more of the same from him. Dillon Gee will also be back, and the team hopes he can be more consistent. And I expect the Mets to sign a relatively cheap starter to fill out their rotation, a la Chris Capuano and Chris Young. Perhaps even Capuano himself will return on a less incentive-laden deal, if the money is right.
As for the farm system, expect Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia to arrive at some point in the middle of the season, though not soon enough for the team to rely on them. Jenrry Mejia could also join those two if his recovery from Tommy John surgery progresses well -- though he, like Familia, may ultimately be destined for the bullpen.
Why are the Mets giving playing time to guys like Miguel Batista and Valentino Pascucci when they represent no future value to the club? Shouldn't we be giving experience to Triple-A guys who may down the road play a substantial role for the team?
-- Dan D., Eastchester, N.Y.
Like who? Most of the organization's top prospects are still at the lower levels of the Minors and are not yet ready for the Major Leagues -- you'll have to wait until next year for Harvey and friends. Meanwhile, Triple-A Buffalo was decimated by injuries this summer, limiting the organization's options. In a perfect world, Fernando Martinez, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mejia would all be in New York, but injuries undermined their seasons.
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The Mets have already shown a commitment to one callup, replacing Batista in the rotation with Chris Schwinden despite Schwinden's heavy innings load this season. But given the lack of Minor League options at other positions of need (namely, everywhere but the infield), there's not a whole lot more they can do. Though Jordany Valdespin would have been an interesting callup following his fine season in the Minors, the Mets are already splitting at-bats at second base between Ruben Tejada and Justin Turner.
Why don't the Mets put Jason Bay in right field and Lucas Duda in left field? Bay is obviously the better fielder.
-- John J., Queens, N.Y.
And move Bay from the position he's played 97 percent of the time throughout his nine-year career? The Mets are already prepared to enter next season with Duda, a natural infielder, playing out of position in right. Why make somebody else play out of position as well?
Bay possesses an average throwing arm, which is an important factor for a right fielder. He has above-average (but not elite) speed, a critical attribute for a center fielder. In that sense, Bay seems best-suited for left, and the Mets would do well to keep him there.
The blue Los Mets uniforms are very nice. Do you think there's a chance they could become regular uniforms?
-- Andres A., Queens, N.Y.
Due to popular demand, the team is pursuing that possibility. Though Major League rules will prevent the Mets from making those uniforms an official alternate next season, they may do so beginning in 2013.
What current pitcher will Zack Wheeler be like in the future? How successful do you think he will be as a Mets pitcher?
-- Greg G., New Jersey
Because I'm certainly no scout, I asked around. What I found was a lot of varied opinion, with only one name surfacing more than once: A.J. Burnett. On the surface, it makes sense -- similar frames, similar repertoires, similar numbers at the low levels of the Minors.
I understand that Burnett's name conjures up a slew of four-letter words in New York these days, but one comparison means little for a 21-year-old pitcher. At this stage of the game, it's actually quite a compliment -- Burnett has always possessed some of the best pure stuff in baseball, especially at a young age. If Wheeler can harness his pitches better than Burnett and cut down on his walk rate at the higher levels of the Minors, he could fulfill his ace potential.
With everyone talking about Harvey and Wheeler, I'm wondering why everyone is overlooking Familia. The guy is only 21 years old, and he is a strikeout machine, but everyone seems to think Harvey and Wheeler have a bigger upside. I was just curious as to why?
-- Evan G., Buffalo, N.Y.
The simplest explanation is that Familia struggled to retire left-handed hitters at the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. But by refining his changeup this season at Double-A, Familia managed to get lefties out with much more consistency, closing the gap on Harvey and Wheeler.
Most starters need at least three average-or-better pitches to stick in the big leagues, so there is still a chance Familia will wind up in the bullpen if he does not continue his improvement. But this season went a long way toward ensuring he'll at least get a long look as a starting pitcher (which, for the record, is his stated preference).
Why is Matt Den Dekker not considered a top-10 prospect in the Mets organization? He has been phenomenal in his first full year in the system.
-- Tom K., Lock Haven, Pa.
He's certainly moved to the cusp of that list, proving he has more than mere gap power by hitting 17 homers over two levels this season. To succeed at the higher levels of the Minors, however, Den Dekker will need to cut down on his strikeouts (91 over his first 272 at-bats at Double-A is far too many), improve his plate discipline and keep hitting the gaps. A full season at Double-A will go a long way toward determining if Den Dekker can be a legitimate big league player, or just another college prospect capable of teeing off on low-level pitching.
Are you going to see the "Moneyball" movie?
-- John S., Queens, N.Y.
I'm planning on it, yes. Pass the popcorn.