Rebuilding Mets Thinking Ahead after Dealing Dickey

The New York Mets begin their season in four days, but the organization’s sights are set years ahead.

Long regarded as New York’s second-best MLB franchise, the Mets are in the midst of a transition period. As the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, National League East competitors, look to return to the playoffs after boosting their squads during the offseason, the Mets made a move for the future by trading reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.

The 38-year-old baffled hitters with his knuckleball all season long, posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while striking out 230 batters along with 54 walks through 233.2 innings pitched. General manager Sandy Alderson capitalized on the opportunity to sell high, pawning the veteran off to the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher Travis D’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, two of the Toronto’s premier prospects.

D’Arnaud and Syndergaard will join forces with Zach Wheeler, who Baseball America rates as the game’s 11th best minor leaguer, to fuel the team’s future success, but none of the three will start this season on the Opening Day roster. So how will the Mets fare this year?

Pitchers in Pain

If crossing Dickey off the starting rotation was not enough, the Mets may start the season without two of their starters.

Johan Santana, who pitched the team’s first no-hitter last season but allowed 33 earned runs in his final five starts, will start the season on the disabled list to recover his sore shoulder.

The team signed Shaun Marcum to a one-year deal, hoping to get a healthy year from the injury-prone starter at a discounted price. It’s not looking good. He also could start the year on the disabled list with a neck ailment.

The Mets still boast three young starters in Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese and Matt Harvey. While Gee’s numbers (4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) don’t jump off the page, he increased his strikeout rate while cutting down his walks. Niese posted career bests last season with a 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 155 strikeouts.

The most excitement, however, stems from Harvey, a former first-round pick who burst on the scene last year with a 2.73 ERA and 10.62 K/9 ratio during his first 10 major league starts.

Albatross in the Outfield

If the Ike Davis who hit .255 with 20 homers after the All-Star break shows up for a full season, the Mets could tout a stable infield along with star third baseman David Wright and contact hitters Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada occupying the middle infield slots.

The outfielder, however, is a different story.

Even Alderson made light of the team’s bleak outfield outlook. After the fake girlfriend hoax surrounding Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’oAlderson joked about his quest to meet a new outfielder at the Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner in January.

“There’s been a lot of talk about our outfield, and I want you to know that I’m in serious discussions with several outfielders I met on the Internet,” Alderson said. “There’s one I really like. He says he played at Stanford.”

Alderson never signed him. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Instead, the Mets will bank on a bounce-back season from Lucas Duda, who followed a promising 2011 campaign (he earned a .482 slugging percentage in 100 games) with an ugly .239/.329/.389 triple-slash line. A first baseman tasked with manning the outfield due to Davis’ presence, Duda faltered in Citi Field’s spacious confines, posting a minus-21.1 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), according to FanGraphs also marked Duda’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at minus-1.1, which means he performed worse than the league-average outfielder.

The other spots are in limbo. After hitting 20 home runs in 377 at-bats, Scott Hairston signed with the Chicago Cubs during the offseason. New York has nobody to replace his power, but they will look at Collin Cowgill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis to grab some plate appearances.

At center field, Jordany Valdespin looks to take over the spot after opening some eyes during spring training. The 25-year-old showed flashes of brilliance last year, hitting eight homers and stealing 10 bases in 94 games, but he finished with a .241 average and .286 on-base percentage

Little Relief in Sight

Last season, the Mets bullpen posted a 4.65 ERA, the second-worst mark in baseball. Frank Francisco, the team’s closer from last year who imploded with a 5.53 ERA, is still recovering from an elbow injury.

New York signed veteran Brandon Lyon, who registered a 3.10 ERA and 1.25 WHIP last year to set up their new closer, Bobby Parnell.

As of now, Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, Scott Atchinson and LaTroy Hawkins also figure to play a role in the team’s relief corps.