Football season is officially over, even if the Giants might like to keep their celebration running a few days longer here in New York. But as they bask in their glory this week, we at Mets.com are already looking forward a couple of weeks, as Mets pitchers and catchers officially report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Feb. 20. From there, it's just six short weeks until Opening Day and a new season.
Of course, a few questions still remain between now and then. So without further ado:
Why do you think there isn't more excitement about Lucas Duda? Maybe it's just my personal preference, but he is one of my favorite up-and-coming players.
-- Neil J., Bronx, N.Y.
Blame one of the great inequities of baseball: the prospect tag. When players come up through the Minors, they either have that tag attached to them (like pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, for example) or they don't. If they do, they make Top 100 Prospect lists by the bushel, while their general managers spend countless hours swatting away trade inquiries.
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But if those players, for whatever reason, are not considered legitimate prospects from the start, they face uphill climbs throughout their Minor League careers. Like Duda, they must produce strong numbers every step of the way or risk fading into Minor League oblivion. And once they do make the Majors, they must succeed without delay.
How does a player earn that tag in the first place? Usually, it's nothing more than a matter of pedigree, calculating a player's potential career ceiling, his floor and the likelihood that he will reach either one.
In this example, the Mets selected Duda in the seventh round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, after 242 other players had already flown off the board (including notable Mets flops Eddie Kunz, Nathan Vineyard and Brant Rustich). Though he produced strong numbers throughout his Minor League career, Duda always did so as an older player for his level. Teams typically push their top-flight prospects more quickly through the system, allowing them to play against older competition. So when someone such as Duda thrives as a 23-year-old in Double-A, scouts often dismiss it as the advantage of facing younger competition. Thus, no prospect love from the mainstream media.
Also hurting Duda was the fact that he never possessed strong defensive skills -- especially not in the outfield, where the Mets began slotting him as far back as 2007. That gave Duda the label of a bat-only prospect -- not necessarily a death sentence, but still another obstacle to overcome while trying to gain the attention of scouts and front-office types.
The final strike against Duda was that for all his size, his power developed relatively late. It was not until 2010 that Duda began mashing home runs out of Minor League parks with any sort of regularity, producing the slugging and isolated power numbers that transformed him into a legitimate Major League talent.
Now, the secret is out on Duda. He may not have star potential, but he clearly possesses as much raw power as anyone on the team (just ask former manager Jerry Manuel, who once compared the sound Duda's bat makes to that of Hank Aaron), with the potential for 20-plus homers annually in the big leagues. The upcoming season is going to be critical for Duda, who should receive in excess of 500 Major League at-bats for the first time in his career. First, Duda must prove that his performance down the stretch was no fluke. Then he must make the necessary adjustments when the league inevitably adjusts to his tendencies.
If Duda can do that, there's a very real chance he could hold down a corner outfield spot in Flushing for at least the next few years, and perhaps even longer than that.
What was the original reason for eliminating Banner Day in the 1990s?
-- Ken S., Avon, Conn.
Nothing more than a simple lack of interest, probably borne of the fact that the underachieving Mets teams of the mid-90s produced some of the worst attendance figures in franchise history. Yet absence makes the heart grow fonder. So, stemming from what Mets vice president of business operations Dave Howard called a "groundswell of interest," Banner Day will return on May 27.
Why don't the Mets pursue Roy Oswalt? Having another starter as insurance, or at least to push the other incumbent starters, would be smart. Even with his gimpy back, he would be a low-risk, high-reward pitcher that the club could sign to an incentive-laden deal similar to Chris Capuano's deal last year and still stay under the $100-million cap.
-- Andrew M., New York
I received quite a few questions regarding Oswalt, so I felt compelled to address him. First of all, Oswalt may not be the healthiest of pitchers, but he also boasts a strong big league resume -- among the best of any free-agent pitcher this offseason. Given the open market's supply-versus-demand dynamic, that makes him valuable.
Secondly, Oswalt is said to be seeking $10 million in a one-year deal. That's nearly seven times what the Mets offered Capuano as a base salary last season, and more than 2 1/2 times what they wound up paying him by season's end after he hit most of his incentives. It's a completely different class of signing.
Inking Oswalt would push the Mets' payroll well over $100 million without even factoring in incentives, split contracts and the other miscellaneous costs that crop up throughout the course of a season. Oswalt is, plain and simple, outside their budget. Not to mention that at this point, a one-year contract for a 34-year-old injury-prone pitcher would not do a rebuilding team much good.
Any chance the Mets re-sign Chris Young? I know he got injured last year, but when he was healthy, he was good.
-- Eric E., Bayonne, N.J.
This one is much, much more likely -- general manager Sandy Alderson has not been shy in discussing his casual courtship of Young this winter. The issue is that Young may not be ready to pitch until late summer, if at all, making it foolish for the Mets to guarantee him any sort of money on a one-year deal. But if the two sides could work out an extreme incentive-laden scenario, there's still a chance that Young might return to the Mets.
Is Daniel Murphy not the perfect second hitter for the Mets right now? His high-average, line-drive hitting would benefit the Mets most in the two-hole. Look at the Yankees from 1996-2000, who used their high-average hitter (Derek Jeter) with not a lot of home run ability in the two-spot. This is a relatively recent and best example I could find, and the results speak for themselves.
-- William G., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Well, Jeter likely would have succeeded anywhere in those Yankees lineups given his own skill set and the talent around him, but I understand the comparison. I've actually long been a proponent of batting David Wright second, guaranteeing the team's best hitter some extra at-bats over the course of a long season. But baseball convention being what it is, that is clearly not going to happen anytime soon.
Given the team's options, Murphy would seem to make the most sense in the No. 2 hole, and I would be surprised if he does not end up there. The real issue is not so much Murphy's ability to bat second, but the fact that he may be the club's best leadoff option, as well. Unless Andres Torres can significantly improve his on-base percentage, he is not an ideal leadoff solution, and the Mets do not want to burden Ruben Tejada with that sort of responsibility so early in his career. But given how much sense Murphy makes in the two-hole, Torres will almost certainly become the leadoff man by default, with Murphy batting second and Wright third.
Why doesn't anyone mention Darin Gorski as a top pitching prospect? His stats last year were exceptional.
-- Mark T., Nutley, N.J.
Two reasons. Firstly, Gorski produced those statistics (a 2.08 ERA, 140 strikeouts and 29 walks in 138 2/3 innings) as a 23-year-old in Class A ball. As mentioned above in the discussion of Duda, such success against mostly younger players carries relatively little weight with Major League talent evaluators.
Also working against Gorski is the fact that his pure stuff does not impress scouts. His fastball often sits in the high 80s and he does not possess any standout secondary offerings. Of course, many pitchers have enjoyed fine big league careers with similar arsenals, and just as many have succeeded despite their lack of pedigree (Gorski, like Duda, was drafted in the seventh round). But Gorski must prove himself at the upper levels of the Minors before he can inspire any type of similar confidence. This year should be telling for him.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.