New York Mets: Five Players to Watch

From Queens to Port St. Lucie, it appears that the memo – the one about hope and optimism published at the start of a new baseball season – never made its way off the Citi Field presses.

After 77 wins and a fourth-place finish in the NL East last year, the Mets begin the 2012 season with a lot of questions. Here are five players to watch as the season gets underway:

1. Johan Santana:
At his best, Santana’s an ace. At his worst, he’s a colossal waste of money. In 2008, his first with the Mets, Santana won 16 games and finished with a 2.53 ERA. He won 13 in 2009 and 11 in 2010 before he got hurt. Santana returns this year after missing all of 2011 recovering from surgery on his left shoulder. He’ll turn 33 in March. At one point, there were questions about whether or not he’d ever return. Now, there are questions about how much he has left. Is it unrealistic to expect Santana to reclaim his spot as the team’s No. 1 starter? Perhaps. But for a club that doesn’t have an ace pitcher, that’s exactly what they need him to be. If he pitches well, the Mets can remain competitive. If he doesn’t, it could be a long summer in Flushing.

2. David Wright: The longest-tenured Met, Wright is entering the final year of his contract. Over the past three years, he’s hit 53 home runs. He hit 89 home runs the previous three years. Wright’s every swing will be analyzed, since so much is riding on his bat. Add to that the trade rumors, the ones that surely will not go away, and the pressure will be on. There is no doubt that plenty of teams would love to have a guy like Wright in their lineup. A good year at the plate will increase his value, and if the Mets are out of the race in the ultra-competitive NL East, a team may present a deal that’s too good to pass up.

3. Ike Davis: This is the Mets’ version of Tim Tebow, Victor Cruz, and Jeremy Lin. Davis burst onto the scene in 2010, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 71 runs. He injured his ankle last May and did not return, playing in only 36 games as a result. Davis has a good glove and he can hit. He showed a lot of promise before he got hurt. Just as important, fans really took to him. For a team desperately in need of some good PR, Davis is a very important guy for this organization, on and off the field.

4. Jason Bay:
Bay hit 36 home runs for Boston in 2009, but has hit just 18 over the past two years with the Mets. New York is paying him big-time money ($66 million over four years), and they need him to rediscover the longball. Mets fans and the New York media won’t have much patience with Bay, so getting off to a good start is essential. If Bay’s consistently hitting home runs, which he hasn’t done since coming here, it’s a whole different lineup. He did real well in Boston so it doesn’t appear that the bright lights of New York are what’s done him in. It may just be a matter of Bay rediscovering his stroke. That has to happen.

5. Ruben Tejada: No one is going to get too excited about a shortstop with a decent glove and an OK bat, but Tejada is an important player to this franchise. He won’t win games, but he won’t lose them either. Tejada hit .284 last year in 328 at bats subbing for Jose Reyes. Now that Reyes is gone, the job is his. Tejada needs to play solid defense and continue the progress he made at the plate last year. He doesn’t need to be Reyes, but he does need to prove he’s an everyday shortstop.

Charles Costello covered the Mets in 1997 and 1998 as a beat reporter for WFUV Radio in New York. Follow him on Twitter @CFCostello .

Yahoo! Sports Johan Santana Stats
Yahoo! Sports David Wright Stats
Yahoo! Sports Ike Davis Stats
Yahoo! Sports Jason Bay Stats
Yahoo! Sports Ruben Tejada Stats
Yahoo! Sports 2011 MLB Standings

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