Already, players have begun to trickle into Mets camp, with many more to follow in the weeks to come. There may be snow on the ground in New York City, but baseball season is deceptively close.
Until then, here are some more questions and answers about the upcoming season:
Why waste a roster spot for Scott Hairston and let go of Fernando Martinez? Give F-Mart all those at-bats and actually see what he has to offer the team. He still is very young.
-- Lou G., Kenosha, Wis.
Effectively cutting Martinez was an extremely difficult decision for the Mets, who do not like giving up on premier prospects any more than fans do. Had the Mets believed at all that Martinez might still blossom into a productive Major Leaguer, they would have kept him. Certainly, they do not want to see him finally fulfill his potential with the Astros.
That said, the Mets have been scouting Martinez more closely than anyone for nearly a decade. They have watched him struggle through an endless string of injuries and determined that, like a startling number of "can't miss" prospects, Martinez has missed. At some point, the Mets became unwilling to sacrifice other players for the benefit of lost potential.
Why waive D.J. Carrasco, for example, paying his full salary in exchange for roster space, if they believe Carrasco may have something of value to offer the 2012 Mets? Why waive Armando Rodriguez if he might help the bullpen at some point in the future? Why give Martinez the benefit over any such player?
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It was a bold move. From a public perspective, it was a risky move. But the Mets did not consider it particularly risky, because they did their due diligence on the situation. They examined Martinez backward and forward and backward again, and they do not envision him developing into the player he was supposed to become.
I know the Mets made a move for Andres Torres this offseason, and they expect him to play center field this upcoming season. But looking long term, who do the Mets envision patrolling center field at Citi Field for years to come?
-- Evan G., Lakeland, Fla.
You are right that Torres is probably not the long-term solution in Queens, given his age (31) and the fact that he is eligible for arbitration for a third and final time after this season. The Mets are happy enough proceeding with Torres in center for now, and they could be convinced to do so again next year. Beyond that, it seems unlikely.
The fact that Torres is here at all is partially a product of Kirk Nieuwenhuis' shoulder injury last summer, which limited his development time. Had Nieuwenhuis been healthy all season, his across-the-board skills -- some say his biggest strength is a lack of weaknesses -- probably would have bought him a late-season ticket to Flushing. Had that been the case, the Mets might have entered this offseason anticipating that Nieuwenhuis would be their starting center fielder. Torres might still be in San Francisco.
As it was, Nieuwenhuis sustained a significant injury, the Mets traded Angel Pagan for Torres and Ramon Ramirez, and here we stand. Still just 24 years old, Nieuwenhuis could certainly place himself at the center of the team's plans with a strong summer at Triple-A. But many scouts see him more as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, hardly making him the long-term solution.
But if not Nieuwenhuis, then who? Juan Lagares and Cesar Puello are two prospects capable of playing center field, but they are more naturally suited to the corners and both are in need of more seasoning. Cory Vaughn remains just as raw as those two. Then there is Brandon Nimmo, the team's extremely young and talented 2011 first-round Draft pick. If Nimmo develops as the Mets hope, he could end up patrolling center field at Citi for years to come. But Nimmo is at least two full years away from even sniffing the Major Leagues.
All of which is to say that, unlike in other areas, the Mets have options. An ideal scenario would be for Nieuwenhuis to take over for Torres in 2013, giving the Mets some cheap production until Nimmo is ready to stake his claim to the position. But Torres could certainly stick around for more than one season, Nieuwenhuis could wind up being better than advertised, Nimmo could be a bust or someone else could nudge his way into the conversation. With so many unknown quantities, this year should go a long way toward determining the future of the position in New York.
Under what circumstances would it be smart -- and possible -- to trade Johan Santana?
-- Brad W., Oswego, N.Y.
First, Santana would have to prove his health. No team will take on his salary ($49.5 million guaranteed over the next two seasons) if they feel they are receiving a broken pitcher. Next, the Mets would have to be completely out of contention, or at least trending in that direction. Finally, the Mets would probably still have to eat a decent chunk of his salary, given that the back end of Santana's contract is above market value even for a healthy ace.
In other words, although it makes sense from a baseball perspective, trading Santana for fair value would not be an easy feat to achieve -- at least not now. It's probably a better conversation for this time next year.
What do you think about the Mets signing Rick Ankiel as their fourth outfielder and lefty hitter off the bench? He could also be their defensive replacement for Lucas Duda in the late innings.
-- Larry H., Brooklyn, N.Y.
This would have made a lot of sense at the beginning of the offseason, but it has become increasingly clear that the Mets are content to let Mike Baxter and Adam Loewen compete for the fifth outfielder's job in Spring Training. They are pleased with what they saw from Baxter last year both on and off the field. And in Loewen, they hope they have unearthed a younger, cheaper version of Ankiel, capable of providing left-handed power and defensive depth.
Though only one of those two will make the Opening Day roster, expect both to see significant time in Flushing this summer.
Do you think that Jordany Valdespin will be given the chance to be the Mets' starting shortstop this season? He also could be their leadoff hitter.
-- Bill A., Aquebogue, N.Y.
This season? No. Valdespin struggled after his promotion to Triple-A Buffalo last summer, which is no knock against a 23-year-old infielder in his debut at the level. He simply needs more time in the Minors.
That said, there's no doubt that Valdespin is close, and he could crack the Major League roster even by midsummer. If he hits well enough, and if Daniel Murphy struggles, Valdespin (like fellow prospect Reese Havens) could enter into the second-base conversation in 2013.
I've seen the struggles Jeff Bagwell has had in his attempts to get into the Hall of Fame. Will this skepticism about allowing players who may or may not have used steroids have an effect on Mike Piazza and his quest to Cooperstown?
-- Mike J., East Islip, N.Y.
There is no doubt that Bagwell has suffered in Hall voting due to steroid suspicions, despite no hard (or even anecdotal) evidence that he used. There is also little doubt that Piazza will suffer from similar suspicion when he is eligible for the first time next year, given his status as a premier power hitter during the height of the steroid era. Whether or not that is fair is an argument for another day.
Suspicions aside, it is worth noting that Piazza boasts better overall credentials than Bagwell, given that the vast majority of his production over 16 seasons came as a catcher. It is likewise notable that there exists a large sect of voters willing to look past performance-enhancing suspicions altogether. Considering that Bagwell received a 15-percent jump in voting support in his second year on the ballot, I don't believe such suspicions alone will be strong enough to keep Piazza out of the Hall.