Ever since the Mets have fallen out of playoff contention, they have been able to take long looks at prospects Matt Harvey and Collin McHugh, among others, allowing their 2013 roster to take on a more defined shape. That's hardly a consolation for losing baseball, but at least it's something.
So it's not surprising that most of the recent questions filtering into the Mets Inbox deal exclusively with how the roster will look in 2013. Harvey will be on it -- that's almost a given at this point. But there are plenty of other holes and question marks as the Mets look toward next season and beyond.
What are the chances the Mets sign R.A. Dickey to a longer deal in the offseason, despite the young arms coming up through the system?
-- Sixto A., Oviedo, Fla.
The chances are quite high, with both sides expressing a willingness to talk. Just last month, general manager Sandy Alderson said he fully expects that Dickey, along with third baseman David Wright, "will be here not only next year, but long term."
Alderson also said that he does not intend to rely on Dickey's no-brainer $5 million team option, intimating that he will gladly rip that up in favor of a bigger deal.
The more significant obstacle, then, could be Dickey's own willingness to return. Though the knuckleballer has been adamant in stating his loyalty to the Mets, the team that gave him his biggest break, he is also going to be 38 next season. Few would blame him if he opted to forgo a contract extension and test free agency, risking some security in the hopes of hooking on with a more perennial postseason contender.
All we have to go on right now are Dickey's words from last month, which left the door open for either a return or a departure:
"I love it here," Dickey said. "I've always voiced that, and a part of me enjoys being loyal to an organization that's given me a shot. I connect well with the fan base, [and the media] has always been good. I'm comfortable here, and that says a lot for me where I am in my career. I do want to win, too, because I am at that place I am in my career and I want to be a part of that solution here, whatever that's going to be.
"I'd like to know what direction we are going. I think that's fair, and [I'll] make decisions accordingly. I'm open to talking about whatever they would like."
Are the Mets serious about re-signing Kelly Shoppach this winter? He seems like he could be a good fit.
-- George M., Weehawken, N.J.
The Mets made it clear from the moment they acquired Shoppach that they are interested in bringing him back next season. It makes sense, to an extent. Shoppach mashes lefties and is an ideal platoon partner for Josh Thole, who seemed overexposed during recent stretches when he played every day.
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But that scenario assumes two things: that Shoppach wants to come back next season, and that the Mets will ask Thole to return as well. Thole projects to be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, meaning the Mets must decide if his stagnant production is worth an escalating salary. If not, they will have to find a replacement. And that may dictate how they pursue Shoppach, whose career numbers suggest he is a better platoon-mate than an everyday catcher.
Where does Jordany Valdespin fit into the Mets' roster once he seasons a little bit more? With Jason Bay on the final year of his contract next year, do the Mets see Valdespin as a possible left-field candidate, or more as a utility player off the bench? He seems too young and full of talent to be a bench player.
-- Jeremy C., Scotia, N.Y.
Valdespin will almost certainly get a long look in the outfield next spring, with the Mets unlikely to splurge on any free-agent outfielder who would profile as a shoo-in starter. But many scouts see his ultimate ceiling as a utility player, and they have believed that for some time. After a hot start, Valdespin has done little to dispel that reputation, hitting .181 with a .585 OPS since July 23.
Valdespin would really need to shine in Spring Training for the Mets to hand him a starting job anywhere on the diamond. If he makes the Opening Day roster at all, it will be more due to his versatility -- Valdespin can play both middle-infield positions, in addition to all three outfield spots -- than to anything he accomplished in 2012.
I've heard a lot about the Mets going to the Pacific Coast League with their Triple-A affiliate next season. In what universe does that make sense?
-- Jim J., Oswego, N.Y.
In the universe that they don't have a choice. Unhappy with their struggles during a four-year relationship with the Mets, the Buffalo Bisons are reportedly planning to dump them in favor of the more geographically-desirable Blue Jays.
But the Mets cannot simply find a new affiliate of their choice. It's more akin to a game of musical chairs, in which the Mets must choose from available Triple-A franchises. And it is entirely possible that the only available franchise will be in Las Vegas, which the Blue Jays will leave to sign a deal with Buffalo.
It's a bad situation for the Mets, and not simply due to logistical reasons. The Las Vegas 51s play in one of the most hitter-friendly environments in all of professional baseball, making it difficult to evaluate the pitchers and batters who play their home games there. Then there are the obvious travel ramifications -- don't expect many Mets players, for example, to volunteer for rehab assignments all the way across the country.
What's the status of Steven Matz? Do you have an injury update?
-- Ben M., Belgrade Lakes, Maine
As the Mets' top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Matz finally made his professional debut in June following Tommy John surgery and a long, drawn-out recovery. Still just 21 years old, Matz thrived for Class A Kingsport, going 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in six starts. But he began experiencing tightness in his shoulder that ultimately ended his season, keeping his long-term future in doubt.