Mets could use a surprise or two this season
By Marty Noble | MLB.com Columnist | Archive 02/21/12 6:36 PM EST
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Already on newsstands -- if you can find newsstands -- are those annual baseball publications that purport to provide exclusive reports about everything from the Marlins to the Mariners, everyone from Robin Ventura to Bobby Valentine and every personality from Tony La Russa's successor to Tony Plush.
The mags do provide those wonderfully superficial team-by-team analyses that were written two weeks before the Winter Meetings and updated during Madonna's Super Bowl halftime show to reflect Albert Pujols' change of address, Victor Martinez's change of plans and Tim Wakefield's change of job status.
And in one of assessment of the division races will be a cryptic sentence about a lesser team that warrants only the slightest mention: "And the Cubs may surprise."
'Tis the season for surprises, of course, for hoping for something positive that cannot specifically be anticipated.
In the third week of February 2012, surprise cannot be discussed even superficially without mention of Jeremy Lin. Reference to the Knicks' wunderkind is a constant exercise, even here, where assists take a different form and all throws are free. It waited until Terry Collins had reached the latter stages of his state of the Mets give-and-take Tuesday morning before it interjected itself.
Collins acknowledged Lin's remarkable run and spoke the words that afforded every have-not team a degree of hope at this prenatal stage of the baseball calender: "Every good team has a surprise."
Not that an order for a surprise can be placed, just that successful teams are almost always fortified at some point in their seasons by a player who no one had seen coming -- Andruw Jones in the 1996 World Series, Willie McGee in '82, Hurricane Hazel in '57, Marty Bystrom in '80, El Duque in '98. Who saw Pujols coming in 2001?
"Every good team has a surprise," Collins said.
The best kind of surprise for the Mets would be if they were a good team. But that wasn't what he meant. If the Mets are to exceed the modest expectations for their season, they will need so much to go their way and so much more, as in a surprise or two.
A return to pre-2009 form by David Wright wouldn't qualify as a surprise. As Collins said Tuesday, "David's too good a player" to endure a repeat of his 2011. Nor would it be a surprise for the Mets to receive 25 home runs and 80 RBIs from Jason Bay. Bay drove in 57 runs in merely 444 at-bats last season while he still was in "disappointment" mode. The change in the outfield dimensions at Citi Field ought to un-spook him.
And who would be startled if Ike Davis were to hit 25 home runs and drive in 90? He hit 19 and drove in 71 two years ago. If his ankle is sound, his left-handed bat may be the pivotal aspect of the Mets' batting order. He could make life better for Wright and Bay if he hits as he did before his injury last season for most of 2012. The surprise will be if Davis doesn't improve.
The positive surprise(s) must come from elsewhere.
• Were Mike Pelfrey to win 15 games and lose fewer than 10, as he did in 2010, he would constitute a surprise to most Mets followers who have learned to distrust his potential. Pelfrey was a first-class disappointment last season. He has yet to be anything akin to what the Mets hoped they signed when they made him the ninth selection on the 2005 Draft.
• Were Daniel Murphy to play second base adequately, it would a startling development. He played second in the Arizona Fall League following his introduction to the big leagues in 2008. His performance there and then is what prompted the club to assign him to left field in 2009. And there, he showed himself to be daily misadventure. Murphy works diligently at his craft, but second base demands much more than he has shown at first or third or in left.
Collins repeated Tuesday what so many baseball folks say: "If you can hit, they'll find a position for you."
Yes, for the most part. But did Ron Blomberg have a position before the designated hitter rule? What about Daryle Ward? He could hit and never had 500 at-bats in a season. Dick Stuart hit 66 home runs in a Minor League season and was Dr. Strangeglove in the big leagues.
Double plays are essential when they are in the offing. The second baseman is almost always involved. Murphy has the backbone for the assignment, but his hands and grasp of the game could create an opportunity for Reese Havens to be a surprise -- or at least a rookie.
If Murphy's bat offsets his defense, the club will be delighted. Folks in other organizations say Jeff Kent's offense might not have been enough to offset Murphy's glove. And Murph's no Jeff Kent.
• If the bullpen becomes reliable, a surprise will have happened. Collins said he likes the way Sandy Alderson rebuilt the 'pen. But this 'pen is stocked with more no-names than names.
• If Josh Thole is the regular catcher, that would constitute something of a surprise. The club likes his bat -- though more extra-base hits would a nice addition -- appreciates his work ethic and questions his catching. It's looking elsewhere for help.
• Shortstop will bring no surprises unless Ruben Tejada fails. Collins is confident he won't and expects Jose Reyes' successor to be a special player sooner than later.
• And center field ... well, Andres Torres batted .221 with minimal damage with the Giants last season and .268 with 16 home runs and 43 doubles the previous year. Which should we consider his norm? Which was a surprise? Maybe it's his age. He turned 34 last month. And he's the leadoff man.
That is quite surprising and nothing for the club to use to hang its hope.
But the Mets may surprise.