Due to their past financial decisions, plus a much-improved NL East division, the New York Mets will not be expected to contend for the postseason in 2012.
This does not mean that all of the Mets' players won't play well and that the Mets will definitely lose over 100 games. This Mets team will still play hard and do everything they can to win as much as possible.
Furthermore, at least three players on the Mets will have breakout seasons in 2012.
Two of these three Mets should be quite obvious at this point.
First baseman Ike Davis, if healthy, should be able to hit at least .270 with 30-35 home runs and 110+ RBI, while right fielder Lucas Duda will show off his own monster power and should bat in the .270s as well with 25-30 home runs and 90-100+ RBI.
Assuming these two left-handed-hitting sluggers live up to their expectations, it will definitely bolster the Mets offense into one of the better lineups in the National League, if not all of baseball.
The third breakout candidate, though, may surprise some people.
With Johan Santana's injury history, the aging of R.A. Dickey and the inconsistency of Mike Pelfrey, the Mets will need another pitcher to really step up in big games.
In 2012 that player is going to be Jonathon Niese, who just signed a five-year contract extension to remain a Met potentially through 2018.
Niese has always had a lot of potential ever since the Mets drafted him in 2005.
After making his first few career starts as a September call-up in 2008, Niese made a spot starts for the Mets in 2009 before injuring his hamstring and requiring season-ending surgery. He was healthy again in 2010, but only finished with a 9-10 record and a 4.20 ERA.
At times, Niese pitched brilliantly, including a complete-game, one-hit shutout against the San Diego Padres on June 10, 2010.
In other starts, though, Niese would give up a good number of runs, thus leading to an inconsistent season. His 2011 season was rather similar, as he finished with an 11-11 record and a 4.40 ERA. He missed the last month of the season with a rib cage injury.
Some of Niese's numbers from 2010 and 2011 could be attributed to the Mets' poor offense in those years and the general lack of run support it provided for not just Niese, but the Mets' other pitchers as well.
Then again, Niese had some great moments in 2010, but was not as good in other starts.
The goal this year is for Niese to pitch more consistently throughout the entire season, and for the Mets offense to provide him and the other pitchers more run support. If all this happens, Niese can definitely have a breakout season and become one of the better southpaw starters in the league.
The Mets already extended Niese's contract because he is young and has a lot of potential to be a great No. 2 or No. 3 starter for years to come. In other words, Niese should have a great season this year, but he will keep getting better and better with time and improved health.
With this being said, 12-16 wins, an ERA under 4.00, 180-200 innings pitched and even an All-Star appearance is what should be expected for Niese in 2012.
As long as he stays healthy for the entire season, pitches consistently well and gets good enough run support from an improved offense, there's no reason why Niese cannot reach those numbers this year.
He will not become a future ace by any means, but he will be the Mets' top pitcher for 2012 and a very solid contributor for the Mets in future seasons.