As fans it's common to look at players that had a bad year for our team and wish for someone else, anyone else, to fill that spot. Sandy Alderson is taxed with looking at things a little more analytically before banishing players into the cornfield. There are a couple of players that had disappointing years but will be under the Mets control that fall into this category and while some of them present the Mets with easy decisions, some of the others fall into a murkier area.
Jason Bay's contract, ineptitude, and inclusion on the 2013 roster has been dissected more often than he grounded out softly this year. Barring a rash of offseason injuries to other Mets outfielders, or him showing up to St. Lucie looking and swinging like he discovered time travel, parting ways with Bay is a no-brainer. The chances that Bay has a bounce-back year seem lower than those of someone like Mike Baxter, Matt den Dekker, Lucas Duda, or another player Alderson signs this offseason having a respectable season in his spot.
Josh Thole had such a bad year that we forget he actually had a very good start to the season. Then he suffered a concussion in a collision at home plate and missed most of May. When he returned he wasn't the same, and by the time the season started winding down he was making outs at a Jason Bay rate. More specifically, he just wasn't exercising the same patient approach at the plate he'd been known for earlier in the season and in past seasons. His walk rate plummeted and his strikeout rate soared. There was talk about him altering his approach and looking to hit for more power and his line drive rate does seem to reflect his hitting the ball more squarely, but it ultimately didn't do him much good. Apart from his six doubles in July, even his limited power disappeared. He had an extra-base hit in 5.4% of his pre-concussion plate appearances and only 4.2% of them afterwards.
So is the concussion the cause of Thole's struggles, and if so, is it something that he'll recover from this offseason? Is there some other apparent fault that he can correct? A catcher that has shown the ability to get on base can be pretty valuable, especially one that's going to be relatively cheap and is only 26 years old. That Thole hits lefty is a bonus because it affords the Mets the flexibility to pick from a bigger pool of backup catchers that would give them the platoon advantage most days. It's hard to find decent catchers, though, so keeping the young Thole seems like a better gamble than signing one of the few older catchers hitting the market that might be a surer bet, especially if the Mets are operating on a limited budget to add players. His experience with catching R.A. Dickey and the knuckleball are a point in his favor as well.
Lucas Duda was one of 2012's biggest disappointments. He did such a great job replacing Carlos Beltran in 2011 over the last two months that I may have gotten a little greedy in my hopes for him. Ralph Kiner and Keith Hernandez both loved his swing and he seemed like a really good candidate to pepper the Pepsi Porch with long home runs. Instead, he actually had fewer extra-base hits in 2012 than in 2011 despite 112 more plate appearances, and played a very poor right field to boot. With the Mets' 2013 outfield picture incredibly murky, bringing back Duda making the league minimum salary is a pretty easy decision, but the question of how big a part he'll play in the Mets' offense next year remains. He still has the chance to develop into a typical corner outfielder with power, and because that's so precisely what the Mets need, and because his trade value is clearly at a low point, the probability of him being on the 2013 team is a near certainty.
Andres Torres had a bad year for the Mets after having a bad year for the Giants. He had two good years before that, one as a part-time player and one as a starter, but those are his only good major league seasons and he'll be 35 next year, which is rather old for a center fielder. He will probably be looking at a $3 million salary in arbitration or pre-arbitration negotiations. Torres is a switch-hitter but his splits favor him as a right-handed batter. The Mets need outfielders, but Torres seems to be best as a fourth outfielder and I'd rather invest in Scott Hairston, who had a good year as a right-handed reserve, than hope for a bounce-back year from Andres Torres.
Mike Pelfrey barely pitched this season, although his three starts were very good. Pelfrey stands to make $5-6 million in arbitration, which is probably too much for the Mets since he won't be ready for Opening Day. Pelfrey is an innings eater and just a tick below a league-average starter. If the Mets can work out a deal for a one-year, or even a two-year, contract for less than he'd get in arbitration, it'd be a wise move. There will always be roles for players like Pelfrey, except in rare cases where no pitchers get hurt. You can never have too much pitching, and if Mike Pelfrey has finished his rehab and is ready to return but finds no openings in the Mets' rotation, then that's a good problem to have.
That's five Mets under team control that are candidates for a bounce-back season in 2013. I'd give Josh Thole, Lucas Duda, and Mike Pelfrey a chance, but Andres Torres and Jason Bay should probably start looking for opportunities elsewhere. Either way, Sandy Alderson is likely to spend a lot of time in the outfielders aisle while constructing next year's roster.