With Opening Day just hours away, the giddiness that comes with the start of the baseball season has already set in.
With that said, despite my eternal optimism regarding the New York Mets, this is the least confident I've ever felt with an Opening Day roster. The last 5 years, the team struggled after injuries took their toll. But this year, there are holes already built into the roster.
Here are my predictions, concerns and potential bright spots heading into the year:
Top 5 Concerns
1. Who Will Fill Santana's Void?
With Johan Santana's career possibly reaching its tragic conclusion, a gaping hole remains in the rotation. Jeremy Hefner will fill it to begin the year. He is capable of eating up some innings, but will give up hits. I worry about how he will hold up later in the year when teams start to figure out what he is.
Zack Wheeler is the obvious answer to this question, but when will he come up and how effective will he be when he does?
If Shaun Marcum doesn't prove to be healthy or if Gee, Niese or Harvey get hurt, the starting rotation went from a major strength to a major weakness in just a year's time.
2. Can the Mets find steady and productive outfield?
Take 1 will include Lucas Duda in left, Collin Cowgill in center and Marlon Byrd in right.
I hope they outperform expectations, but that doesn't tend to happen with the Mets. There's plenty of options in AAA or even the bench, but it's doubtful that any of them will perform much higher than replacement level.
3. Who can be a reliable reliever?
There's many unknowns in the Mets bullpen, the greatest of which is Frank Francisco, who remains hurt after an ineffective year last year. Other than Bobby Parnell, LaTroy Hawkins and Brandon Lyon, there is almost zero MLB experience in the Mets bullpen, and that causes me concern.
4. Will Terry Collins keep his job?
Terry is a great manager. I want him here for the long term. But with his contract being up after this year, if the Mets get off to a rough start, the questions will undoubtedly swirl about his job security. That type of distraction is the last thing the team needs.
5. Will the team stay healthy?
This is the kind of team that will not be able to withstand any injuries, especially to their everyday lineup. If Davis, Wright or Murphy go down, the lineup will look incredibly bleak.
Injuries have been a major problem for New York over the past five years and it's just one of those things you cannot control.
Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin
I think both of these guys can have big breakout seasons in 2013. They're both knocking on the door of being Big League starters, and I think by year's end they will be a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the batting order. They represent all the speed on the Mets roster and combine that with legitimate power and an entertaining flair.
The young righty will start the year in the Mets' bullpen. With his mid-to-high 90s heat, I could see him being a dominant back-end pitcher right now.
Guys to Keep an Eye on:
Obviously, top prospects Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud will be promoted by the All-Star break and have a chance to make a big impact in the second half.
However, keep an eye on these names to come up and potentially help the team sooner than later:
Wilmer Flores - if one of the infielders goes down, Flores can step in and start right away. He's a natural hitter with some power
Rafael Montero - Montero dazzled Major League hitters in Spring Training and is good enough to be in the bullpen now. However, we may see him in the rotation come September
Matt den Dekker - I don't see den Dekker making a big impact this season, but the chances he gets called up at some point are rather high. He won't recover from his wrist injury until May, but he seems like a likely candidate to be promoted if and when an injury occurs to any Mets outfielder. He can make some noise with his glove alone.
Overall Prediction: 79-83
This is the first time I've ever picked the Mets to finish below .500, but looking at the roster honestly, I just see too many names that won't be impactful.
And without a legitimate ace like R.A. Dickey, it'll be hard for the team to even sniff the postseason.