2014 Team Preview: Can the New York Mets win without Matt Harvey?

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets will be without their young ace for the 2014 season, but the foundation is in place for a coming-out party in 2015.

It's hard to say that a team's season is over before it has officially begun -- unless that team is the Houston Astros, that is -- but some would say that the New York Mets' 2014 season ended on October 22nd, 2013. Matt Harvey's Tommy John surgery has thrown a monkey wrench into an otherwise well-orchestrated plan by Mets GM Sandy Alderson. With Harvey, Zack Wheeler and top prospect Noah Syndergaard blowing away hitters left and right, 2014 could have been the year that the Mets made the NL East a three-team race. Instead, Harvey's injury leaves the Mets in limbo, making them very hard to pinpoint for the upcoming season.

Manager: Terry Collins (4th year)

2013 record: 74-88, 3rd in NL East

SB Nation blog: Amazin' Avenue

Other Mets coverage: New York Post, Newsday, Mets Merized

Lineup

Terry Collins' lineup card might as well have been a revolving door in 2013. Of the 25 position players that stepped to the plate for the Mets last season, only one -- second baseman Daniel Murphy -- played in more than 121 games. Despite below average defense, Murphy was the rock of the infield, posting 3.0 WAR behind his 108 OPS+ and 23 stolen bases. Third baseman and franchise cornerstone David Wright missed most of the second half with a hamstring injury, but hit a sparkling .307/.390/.514 with 18 home runs when healthy.

The 2013 iterations of first base and shortstop were so bad that even Mets fans are avoiding the topic, and 2014 does not seem to be much more promising. Omar Quintanilla and Ruben Tejada spent the most time at short in '13, but their abysmal offensive numbers and "hey, where's that throw going?" defense have led the club to give bat-first prospect Wilmer Flores a shot at the position during Spring Training. At first base, Ike Davis is still riding the coattails of his 2012 season while the organization ignores an opportunity to platoon Lucas Duda and Josh Satin. Fans prefer the latter option, but that could be to avoid the comedy of errors -- both literally and figuratively -- that is those two at other positions. The idea has some merit, however, as Duda and Satin posted OPS's of .831 and .880 against right- and left-handed pitching, respectively.

The media's expectations for this team would be a lot rosier if Harvey were pitching this season, but I still see them as a year or two away from contending.

The outfield, by comparison, looks much better. Well, until Terry Collins has his way. Free agent signings Curtis Granderson and Chris Young could flank center fielder Juan Lagares to form one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. Lagares broke out in 2013, posting a spectacular 22.9 UZR in just over 100 games in center. Eye reports agreed with the numbers, which makes you wonder what eyes the Mets had on Lagares when he spent all of 56 games in center field in his first six seasons in the minors. Instead, Collins has labeled* Eric Young Jr. as his leadoff hitter (and probable left fielder) despite some less-than-impressive numbers outside a BABIP-fueled 2012 season. This would likely force Chris Young to center, severely weakening the defense in left while providing marginal offensive upside. Duda, when not playing first base, will also see time in a more-crowded-than-it-should-be outfield rotation.

Former top prospect Travis d'Arnaud is expected to take the reins behind the plate after finally making his big league debut in 2013. His numbers were not impressive in 31 games at the MLB level, but his .990 OPS in 381 plate appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas signal why he was so highly regarded by prospect evaluators. Backup catcher Anthony Recker is a stud in a different sense, and won't do much more than spell d'Arnaud for the occasional day off.

*Collins has a history of making proclamations like this and then forgetting about them 10 minutes later. Kind of like your grandpa, except with less turkey and mashed potatoes shoved into his mouth at the time.

Rotation

Oh, what a rotation this could be. Harvey will not be around in 2014, but there is still potential for the Mets to field one of the better starting staffs in the entire league. Zack Wheeler, who some project as the 1b to Harvey's 1a, will be the de facto ace of the staff. After getting his feet under him, he posted a 3.11 ERA in 84 innings from July through September in his rookie season. Bartolo Colon will receive plenty of fanfare as the "veteran presence" on the staff, but his 2013 peripherals should translate well to another pitcher-friendly environment at Citi Field.

Coming off the best season of his career, right-hander Dillon Gee should find himself at home in the middle of the rotation. He posted a 2.71 ERA from May 30th to the end of the season and struck out 105 batters to just 30 walks in 149 1/3 innings during this stretch. Lefty Jon Niese is Collins' early favorite to start on Opening Day (see above) after a 2013 season that saw his strikeout rate dip but his ground ball rate increase. He missed two months with a shoulder injury, but struck out 56 batters in 66 innings after coming off the disabled list.

There will be a free-for-all for the fifth starter spot out of camp, with John Lannan, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Jenrry Mejia considered to be the frontrunners. The aforementioned Noah Syndergaard drew rave reviews from Collins and others earlier this week, displaying a high-90s fastball and a "hook from hell." Despite the hype, Syndergaard is a pipe dream to make the big league roster on Opening Day considering he only has 54 Double-A innings under his belt. Mejia put up some eye-popping numbers in 27 1/3 innings last summer, but is probably a leg behind the two veterans despite having higher upside.

Meanwhile, chaos reigns in the bullpen. Would-be closer Bobby Parnell probably will not be ready for Opening Day after he had neck surgery last September. This opens the door for a number of other options, including a pair of former Tigers. Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde both signed minor league deals with an invite to Spring Training, and appear to have decent odds of heading north with the team. Fireballer Vic Black has also garnered some attention, but will need to improve his control if he wants to see high leverage innings. Lefties Scott Rice and Josh Edgin are part of a big group of relievers battling for the last few bullpen spots.

Mo' money, mo' problems

Since the Wilpon family took full control of the Mets franchise in 2002, their payroll has escalated to massive heights despite middling results. From 2003 to 2011, the team's Opening Day payroll has been over $96 million every year. However, the team has only one playoff appearance and four winning seasons during this stretch. The Wilpons reportedly lost a considerable amount of their fortune in the Madoff Ponzi scheme in 2008, and have since slashed payroll to around the $90 million mark. The franchise turned to J.P. Morgan Chase for financial assistance in 2011, leading many to question who is really pulling the strings in the front office.

Despite the Mets' mini-spending spree this offseason, their Opening Day payroll is expected to be their lowest since 2000. If and when the Mets get back on their feet, it will be interesting to see if they are able to yield the results that a large payroll should warrant. Based on how GM Sandy Alderson has done so far with a limited budget, the system seems to be in good hands.

Player to watch: Curtis Granderson

One of the biggest questions about Granderson's new four year, $60 million is whether the offensive production he showed in the lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium will translated to Citi Field's larger dimensions. Granderson got a little pull-happy in the Bronx compared to his final two seasons in Detroit, but the overall shift wasn't as large as you would expect.

Amazin' Avenue detailed that the Mets' home park dimensions might not make much of a difference, but it is worth questioning whether Granderson will look to drive the ball to all fields more often. There are concerns about his age, but he is good enough in all facets to avoid a sudden drop in production.

Plus, Granderson isn't a Yankee anymore so it's OK to like him again.

Outlook

The media's expectations for this Mets team would be a lot rosier if Matt Harvey were pitching this season, but I would still see them as a year or two away from contending. Grant Brisbee, on the other hand, is willing to bet his kidney on them. It makes sense, though. The Mets found a decent stopgap for the absent Harvey in Bartolo Colon and have a bevy of young talent waiting in the minor leagues on both sides of the ball. If some of the position players on the current roster improve -- namely, Davis and/or Duda -- they could surprise some people this season. Without Harvey, however, 2014 may be viewed as the dress rehearsal for the club's opening act in 2015.

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