NEW YORK -- For the Mets, 2011 was at times encouraging, discouraging, entertaining and exasperating. The club rode the vibes of a surprising first half until it could no longer endure injuries and a pair of midseason trades, ultimately falling below .500 for the third consecutive season.
Now, health and financial questions loom over this bunch, which hardly resembles the core that grew accustomed to winning toward the end of the last decade. Jose Reyes is gone, but David Wright remains. The bullpen should be better, but the rotation hasn't changed. Beyond that, the Mets are still working out the details.
If nothing else, 2012 should provide answers to a number of questions that will affect the franchise not only this season, but for years to come. Below are the 10 most pressing inquiries:
10. Can Daniel Murphy play adequately at second base?
For the better part of four seasons, Murphy has tantalized the Mets with his ability to hit the baseball while exasperating them with his shortcomings in the field. Though Murphy did play a passable second base in 2011, he suffered a season-ending MCL tear in his left knee, in part because he was out of position around the bag -- the second time that has happened to him since converting to the position. The Mets are thrilled with Murphy's offense and are eager to slot him high up in their lineup, but that won't work if he cannot stay healthy in the field.
9. Will the new fences make a difference?
To what extent Citi Field's reconstructed dimensions will alter game play may not be clear for months, if not years. But no doubt, right-handed sluggers Wright and Jason Bay are already salivating at the prospect of a shorter left-center-field fence, not to mention a much more attainable gap in right-center. In terms of net gain, it may not make a difference -- opposing teams will be aiming for those same shortened fences. But the psychological effects for Wright and Bay in particular could prove significant.
8. Can Ruben Tejada effectively replace Reyes?
To be clear: no one -- not general manager Sandy Alderson, nor manager Terry Collins, nor even the shortstop himself -- expects Tejada to be Reyes. They are not the same type of player and never will be. But it's not a stretch to think that Tejada could match or even slightly exceed his predecessor's defensive production while holding his own with modest gap power at the plate. If he can, the Mets should weather Reyes' departure as well as one might hope. If not, the search for a long-term replacement will continue.
7. How will Ike Davis bounce back from injury?
On the night he injured his left ankle in May, Davis expressed optimism that he would be able to play the next day. Months later, with his resulting bone bruise still not healed, Davis acknowledged the frightening notion that his ankle may never be 100 percent again. And so the uncertainty continues. Assuming he suffers no setbacks when he begins ramping up his baseball activities again this spring, Davis will enter Spring Training as a critical component of this team -- young, talented and on pace for a career year prior to his injury. The Mets need him to thrive.
6. Are Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jeurys Familia on the fast track?
With trade rumors swirling incessantly around the Mets, Alderson made it clear during the Winter Meetings in Dallas that the organization's top five or six prospects are all off limits. That's a group that begins with a dynamic trio of right-handed starters in Harvey, Wheeler and Familia, all of whom could sniff the big leagues by season's end. If even two of those three continue developing on an elite curve at more advanced Minor League levels in 2012, it would greatly accelerate the Mets' drive back to contention.
5. Will the Mets remain intact as currently constructed?
Top prospects aside, everyone else on the roster is fair game for trades. Should the Mets stumble out to a poor start in what's shaping up to be an ultra-competitive division, it will only be a matter of time before rumors begin swirling around those players with expiring contracts. Though the Mets may not be as aggressive in the trade market as they were last summer, dealing away star players Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez, there's a good chance they could look to parlay their older talent into additional prospects. Speaking of which ...
4. Could the Mets really trade away Wright?
This is the big one. Though Alderson has made it clear that Wright is off limits this winter, he offers no such guarantees going forward. If Wright lays waste to Citi Field's shortened fences as the Mets believe he can, it's certainly possible the team could look to trade high on him sometime in July. Doing so might represent marketing suicide for the Mets, but Alderson has already proven his willingness to take risks in that area, letting the hugely popular Reyes walk to a division rival.
3. Will Johan Santana be an effective pitcher again?
The brief history of pitchers with torn anterior shoulder capsules is not promising. Mark Prior never returned to the big leagues following surgery. Chien-Ming Wang's progress last season was encouraging, but the sample was small and Wang was two full years removed from surgery. Now a year and a half removed from his own operation, Santana will look to make the Mets' Opening Day roster. But no one knows for sure if he will be able to do it or if he will be the same pitcher upon his return. All the Mets know is that he is absolutely critical to their success.
2. How will the Bernard Madoff situation affect the Mets?
How the next four months unfold should go a long way toward determining the financial future of the franchise, including whether or not the Wilpon family and Saul Katz will be able to retain majority ownership. A trial by jury is set for March 19 against Irving Picard, the trustee seeking to recover funds from Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Meanwhile, the Mets expect to close on the first of many deals to sell $20 million minority stakes in the team by January. One way or the other, the net result should be a clearer financial picture by year's end.
1. Are the Mets truly in rebuilding mode?
Despite everything that has transpired over the past few years, the Mets insist that they are not giving up on the immediate future -- "not punting 2012," as Alderson put it. But they are also realists, playing in a division alongside the perennially contending Phillies and Braves, the free-spending Marlins and improving Nationals. Certainly, the Mets surprised people with their strong first half in 2011. They will surprise a few more along the way if they are able to repeat that trick in '12.