This is the first installment of a four-part Around the Horn series, taking a segment-by-segment look at the Mets' roster heading into Spring Training. Up first: Infield.
NEW YORK -- The 2012 Mets were flawed in many ways. Almost wire to wire, their bullpen ranked last in the big leagues, and their outfield could not even approach league-average production. That the team won 74 games despite those flaws was largely a credit to the rotation, which shined for most of the summer.
But the Mets were also formidable in the infield, which will need to remain a strength for them to compete in the National League East in 2013.
As second baseman Daniel Murphy put it earlier this month, "David Wright was probably the best third baseman in the big leagues. Ike Davis played four months of the season and still hit 32 bombs and almost drove in 100.
"I really like the core we have in the infield."
That core starts with Wright, still one of the brightest third basemen in baseball at age 30. Though he is nearing the end of his physical prime, there is no evidence that he is due for a dropoff any time soon. So the Mets will be looking for Wright to produce something similar to the .306/.391/.492 slash line he had at the end of last season, with 21 homers and 93 RBIs.
They will also be looking for more consistency out of Wright, who signed an eight-year, $138 million contract earlier this offseason. Though he finished with strong statistics across the board, he was an NL MVP Award candidate in the first half of the season before going .247/.320/.368 from July 24 through the end of the season. Wright's .688 OPS over that span was the worst of any NL third baseman with at least 200 plate appearances.
"Personally, it's the law of averages," Wright said in September. "It's extremely difficult to hit .300, and it's near impossible to hit .350. At some point, you know that some of those line drives aren't going to find holes and you're going to go into some little slumps, and I did that."
At least this season, the Mets will not be asking Wright to provide all the power. Heavier expectations will fall upon Davis, whose massive first-half slump turned into one of the best second halves in baseball.
It was an odd scene to watch down the stretch, Davis constantly berating himself for his low batting average despite his strong overall production. His average actually masked a sensational close to the season, which saw him record an OPS of .913 with 27 home runs from June 9 through October. The only big leaguers to top Davis in both categories were Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera, two of the finest overall hitters of their generation.
So the Mets will be counting on Davis once again to provide 30-homer pop, along with a higher average than the .227 he posted in 2012. Considering that the fourth-year player will be entering Spring Training fully healthy for the first time since 2011, he believes he can do it.
"[I'm] not wondering about whether my ankle will hold up or being exhausted and just trying to get back," Davis said recently. "I lost the rhythm of the game because I was out for so long, and this year's going to be different just because I'm healthy, and I'm going to come in with more energy and probably stronger than last."
If he does, and if Wright remains an elite slugger, the rest of the infield needs only to hold its own. Murphy did that last season, showcasing improved defensive skills alongside the same contact bat that originally endeared him to the organization. Like Davis, Murphy is entering a relatively relaxing spring, knowing for the first time that he will not need to fight for a job.
"That's nice," Murphy said. "I think Spring Training, it won't necessarily be laid back, but hopefully it will be a little bit more of a mature approach, trying to make sure I'm ready for September."
Rounding out the infield is shortstop Ruben Tejada, who has vowed to report to Florida early after disappointing manager Terry Collins by not doing so last year. It is easy to forget that Tejada, who provided average defense last season but a lack of offensive power, is still only 23.
There is room for growth; the Mets would love to see Tejada blossom into an above-average defender capable of hitting a few more home runs. At the very least, they would like to see him boost his on-base percentage above last year's .333, a modest mark considering his relatively high .289 batting average.