Commentary

Getting healthy isn't cure-all for Mets

Wingmen for Johan, swingmen with pop could set up better outlook for '10

Updated: April 1, 2010, 11:47 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The signs posted throughout the Mets' spring training clubhouse read "Prevention & Recovery."

And while that rallying cry led to some raised eyebrows among players who would prefer something more inspirational -- say, "Play Like a Champion" -- a slogan based on staying healthy is appropriate for the Amazin's. After all, Mets players spent 1,331 days on the disabled list in 2009, trailing only the Padres' 1,353 days for the major league lead, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Already, the Mets will be without center fielder Carlos Beltran until May following offseason surgery on his right knee. But the need to keep players on the field is only one issue facing the team in 2010. If the Mets are to challenge the Phillies for the National League East title, these areas also must break right:

Power point: To mark the opening of Citi Field last season, team officials commissioned a new, fiberglass "Home Run Apple" to rise beyond the center-field wall and celebrate each Mets long ball. It mostly went unused during the stadium's inaugural season.

The Mets had only 95 homers in '09; that was 27 fewer than San Francisco, which had the second-lowest total in the majors. Yet spacious Citi Field cannot be used as the scapegoat. At least not entirely. After all, the Mets also finished last in the majors with 46 road homers. That paltry total was the lowest by a major league team since Tampa Bay had 44 away from Tropicana Field during its inaugural season in 1998.

Importing Jason Bay, who had 36 homers with the Red Sox last season, should provide a power jolt, even if the $66 million left fielder's totals should decrease without the benefit of Fenway Park's Green Monster. Yet Bay might actually be more of a substitute than a boon, since departed slugger Carlos Delgado has been replaced at first base by Daniel Murphy (12 homers in '09) -- and he's starting the season on the DL. Beltran is expected to be sidelined for at least the season's first month.

The player most likely to rebound and provide a power jolt: third baseman David Wright. Conceding to Citi Field's reputation even before playing a game in the ballpark, Wright became content slapping the ball to the opposite field last season. His average remained a solid .307, but his homer total dropped from a career-high 33 in '08 to a career-low 10 in '09. Wright promises to return to an attacking style at the plate, which should translate into a long-ball rebound -- even if the stadium's deep right-center gap means he might never fully return to the 29 homers per season he averaged from 2005 through '08.

Johan's supporting cast: Ace Johan Santana cut short his '09 season to undergo Sept. 1 arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow to remove bone chips. The procedure has given Santana the freedom to extend his arm during his delivery, adding bite to his slider and allowing him to control his signature changeup.

Santana is the least of the question marks. The season will hinge on what the Mets get from the rest of the rotation.

[+] EnlargeJohn Maine
Scott Rovak/US PresswireA 15-game winner in 2007, John Maine made only 15 starts in '09.

John Maine and Oliver Perez won 15 games apiece in 2007, but that seems like a distant memory now.

Perez re-signed for three years at $36 million before last season, then went 3-4 with a 6.82 ERA in 14 starts. He underwent right knee surgery on the same day as Santana's elbow procedure. Perez is now healthy, which is a plus. Whether he can solve his erratic control is a separate issue. The Mets invited the legendary Sandy Koufax, a high school teammate of principal owner Fred Wilpon, to work with the left-hander during spring training on repeating his delivery and throwing strikes.

Maine had a bony growth removed from his right shoulder socket at the end of the 2008 season, but scar tissue irritated a nerve in the area and continued to torment the right-hander last season. Maine insists the trouble is now in the past and the life on his fastball has returned. He was limited to 15 starts in '09, during which he went 7-6 with a 4.43 ERA.

Meanwhile, Mets officials tell Mike Pelfrey that he's in the same elite class as San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain. At 26 years old, Pelfrey needs to realize that potential. He stayed healthy last season, making 31 starts, but went 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA.

Bridge to K-Rod: Closer Francisco Rodriguez had a subpar second half in 2009, posting a 6.75 ERA. Manager Jerry Manuel suggested the Mets' nose dive and a resulting lack of save opportunities and usage contributed to K-Rod's ineffectiveness. Whatever the culprit, Manuel isn't concerned about K-Rod. It's how Manuel is going to navigate the innings between the starting pitcher and his closer that troubles the manager.

The Mets signed right-hander Kelvim Escobar to a guaranteed $1.25 million contract on Dec. 28. The hope was Japanese right-hander Ryota Igarashi or Escobar could emerge as the primary setup man, even though Escobar had appeared in only one major league game over the past two seasons because of shoulder woes. Sure enough, Escobar arrived in camp with shoulder "weakness" and will open the season on the disabled list.

Left-hander Pedro Feliciano has volunteered to fill the eighth-inning void, but he already has a lot on his plate as the team's primary lefty-on-lefty specialist in a division that includes left-handed hitters Ryan Howard and Chase Utley of the Phillies. The Mets already are wary of burning out Feliciano, who has set consecutive franchise records for relief appearances with 86 and 88, respectively, the past two seasons.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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