Let's be honest, it's going to be an uphill climb for the 2012 New York Mets and that's putting it kindly. The National League East is loaded. The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves bring back strong teams and the both the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals improved greatly via free agency. What did the Mets do in the offseason? They ... well, um (sound of crickets chirping).
There's little margin for error with this year's Mets. That's why they'll need few breaks to go their way to even be competitive in the NL East. And they absolutely need for these five things to happen.
1. Johan Santana Must be Healthy: Santana missed all of 2011 recovering from shoulder surgery. If healthy, there's no reason to believe he can't win at least 12 games. Before 2011, the two-time Cy Young award winner won at least 11 games in each of the last eight seasons. However, there are no guarantees in regards to his recovery. The latest news on Santana from Mets camp is that the lefty is building up arm strenth and should throw off the mound at some point next week. Cross your fingers, Mets fans.
2. Frank Francisco Must be Reliable: The Mets bolstered their bullpen at the Winter Meetings with the additions of three relievers, one of them being projected closer Francisco. He saved 17 games with a 3.55 earned run average last year for the Toronto Blue Jays and has 49 saves for his career. That may not be comforting, but it's an upgrade from last season. Mets relievers combined to blow 24 saves in 2011, most of them after the trade of Francisco Rodriguez. They can't afford to throw away games this season.
3. David Wright Must Bounce Back: We've been down this road before. Wright hit 10 homers and drove in 72 runs in 2009, then returned to form in 2010 with 29 homers and 103 RBI. Last year, it was back to the skids, as Wright suffered a stress fracture in his lower back and never got on track. The Mets third baseman once again needs to bounce back and be the anchor of the team's lineup. Wright is in the final year of his guaranteed contract (the Mets hold an option for 2013), so he should be plenty motivated.
4. The Mets Must find a Lead-Off Hitter: There's just no replacing offensive catalyst Jose Reyes, who in the offseason signed a much-publicized contract with the Miami Marlins. But the Mets can try. The leading candidate to lead off this season is Andres Torres, who the Mets acquired from San Francisco for Angel Pagan. Torres is a career .244 hitter with a .318 on-base percentage. However, he posted a .343 OBP in 2009 and 2010. If he's not up to the task, the Mets must find someone else who can get on base.
5. Lucas Duda and Dillon Gee Must Not have Sophomore Slumps: Both Duda and Gee made cameo appearances in 2010 and showed great promise last year in their "rookie" seasons. Dude smoked all 10 of his home runs after the All-Star break and finished the season with 50 RBI. Gee, who was the team's best pitcher in the first half, went 13-6 with a 4.43 ERA. The Mets have high hopes for both players; can each one build on last year's success? If so, the Mets may have a decent team after all.
More Mets content from this Yahoo! contributor:Five All-Time Mets Records David Wright Will Break: Fan's Take Five New York Mets We Loved to Hate: Fan's Take Five Things We Learned About the Mets in 2011: Fan's Take
Adam Martini is a freelance sportswriter who grew up in Queens, N.Y. with a view of Shea Stadium from his bedroom window. He spent many summer nights in the upper deck at Shea rooting for the Mets. Follow Adam and the Mets on Twitter: @PegCitySports.