Yes, Sandy Alderson said, he thinks the Mets can contend in the 2012 National League East against strengthened Miami and Washington clubs, an Atlanta team that just missed last year's playoffs and the five-time division title-defending Phillies.
"I think our greatest avenue of improvement is internal," the Mets' general manager told reporters in a conference call Thursday.
No one on the Mets' roster can improve more than lefthander Johan Santana, who missed all of 2011 while rehabilitating from left shoulder surgery. Although Alderson professed optimism about his titular ace, he conceded that it's simply too early to know what Santana can provide.
"We expect to see him at spring training, and ready to go at that point," Alderson said. "But we are talking about somebody coming off a long rehab.
"The questions are going to be answered in spring training, not beforehand, in terms of his ability to come back and pitch consistently on normal days' rest."
Santana had surgery on Sept. 14, 2010, to repair the tear of the anterior capsule of his left shoulder, an extremely serious procedure. In spring training last year, the Mets and Santana spoke of a return sometime in June or July; instead, Santana spent all year in Florida on a rehab schedule.
Alderson said Santana is three weeks into a throwing program and is throwing from about "75 feet or so" and on consecutive days. Mets head trainer Ray Ramirez recently spent 10 days with Santana in Venezuela, Alderson added.
In discussing how the Mets, having lost Jose Reyes to division rival Miami, could possibly improve on last year's 77-85 showing, Alderson mentioned David Wright, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese as candidates for upgrades. He also discussed the team's renovated bullpen; new arrivals Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch both spoke on the conference call.
The only tasks remaining, Alderson said, are to finish putting together the team's bench and bullpen. Righty-hitting outfielder Scott Hairston will return, leaving a backup shortstop as a primary need.
Alderson said he met recently with pitcher Chris Young, who pitched well last April for the Mets before going down with season-ending right shoulder surgery. Young could come back on a minor-league contract.
Notes & quotes:Alderson said "nothing . . . has changed from my standpoint" since he said at the team's holiday party that the Mets would have minority investors lined up as soon as January. The team is in need of a cash influx. However, Alderson stressed that he hopes to limit his comments to Mets baseball operations matters in 2012 . . . The team is making its free-agent acquisitions undergo more thorough physical examinations, including blood and urine work, because new arrival Ronny Paulino reported to spring training last year with an anemic condition -- one that could have been addressed earlier had this testing been conducted, Alderson said.