Oct 16

Mets’ GM Search Hitting On No Cyclinders

Fred and Jeff Wilpon have promised autonomy in the past to GM candidates in the past, but it never materialized. They are saying they are offering it this time, but aren’t close to making a decision on a new hire and their dismal season ended just under three weeks ago.

Several reported candidates have even refused interviews because they don’t believe the hype coming out of Queens.

The whole process is dysfunctional. How so? The trio who shared the GM position last year after Sandy Alderson left – John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi – aren’t candidates, but are in the interview process.

I still haven’t figured out how that works.

Jeff Wilpon gummed up the process even further by saying he wants to retain manager Mickey Callaway. Would any candidate who really wants the job be willing to go against his new boss?

Not likely.

Ricciardi and Minaya are suggesting candidates to the Wilpons, but would they really endorse somebody who will want to get rid of them?

Not likely, on that one, too.

The gap between two candidates, 35-year-old Tampa Bay senior VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom and Milwaukee’s 66-year-old advisor Doug Melvin, is wider than the 31 years that separate them.

What candidates are going to be attracted by the Mets saying they don’t want to spend in the free-agent market, have no pieces to trade, and are seemingly ambivalent in analytics?

Not many, to be sure.

It was a long summer and figures to be a long winter.

Oct 01

Missing David Wright

WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

                                     WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

It was a special night for a special player and an even better person.

David Wright’s eyes welled up and his voice cracked as he tried to fight back tears as he addressed the Citi Field crowd there to honor him. It was a very human thing to do, which is why they filled the park one last time Saturday night to thank the man who was a better person then ballplayer, and was one of them.

”You had my back from day one,” Wright told the crowd who was there for the fireworks and cheer him because the Mets stopped playing meaningful baseball in May.

”You guys welcomed me, a 21-year-old kid from Virginia. You welcomed me as a New Yorker.”

Mets fans loved him and Wright loved them in return, and he did so by staying when others would have left, by always playing hard, by representing himself and his team with class and dignity, and by treating people with respect.

All the things fans want from their heroes Wright gave them, whether it was signing autographs, visiting children in hospitals, or posing for pictures. And, above all else, wanting to be a Met.

”I’ve always tried to picture myself in the stands or picture a kid watching me play for the first time in the stands, and tried to play the game the right way,” Wright said. ”I think that I’ve always treated the game that way. If there’s a kid in the stands that is looking for a player to try to emulate like I used to as a young kid, I wanted to be that player.”

Wright was never a ”look at me” player on the field, or a ”don’t bother me” personality off it. I spent a lot of time with Wright when I covered the Mets, and my best conversations with him weren’t always about baseball.

It was late in the summer of 2006 and the Mets had just clinched the NL East. His face was wet from sweat and champagne and he puffed on a cigar as he leaned against the rail in front of the Mets dugout. I remember asking him about the upcoming playoffs, and he said, ”I don’t know. I just want to enjoy this for now.”

We talked for a few more minutes before one of his teammates walked up and sprayed more champagne. The next year, the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining. Wright hit over .340 during that stretch, but was the go-to guy for the media covering the team. He was asked about manager Willie Randolph’s future and he was clear who was to blame: ”This was on the players.”

It didn’t matter the issue, Wright was always there for a quote, and he didn’t hold back. He had no sympathy for players who cheated with performance-enhancing drugs. Whether the Mets won or lost, and they did a lot of losing, Wright was always accessible.

When the Mets swept Chicago in the 2015 playoffs and the Cubs gave him the third base bag, I needed a quote and he answered my text. He was always good that way. When Mets public relations Shannon Forde passed away, I went to the memorial service at Citi Field and was surprised that Wright had flown up from spring training to give a eulogy.

On second thought, no, I wasn’t.

Wright never did anything to embarrass himself or the Mets, and was deeply hurt in 2011 when owner Fred Wilpon told a national magazine Wright was ”not a superstar.”

He felt slighted, again a very human emotion.

Even so, because Wright wanted to retire a Met, he re-signed with them in 2012 for an eight-year, $138-million extension and will be paid through 2020.

There are some cynics who foolishly said Wright hung on for the money and the Mets’ Citi Field party last night was a sham, for them to sell a few more tickets before getting on to the business of hiring a new general manager and starting over once again, this time without the face of their franchise.

They’ll do so because Wright’s body betrayed him.

In late-April, 2011, Wright was injured attempting to make a diving tag at third base. He remained in the game and as was his nature, he kept playing through the pain. He played for nearly a month before finally getting an MRI that revealed a stress fracture in his lower back.

He returned from the disabled list in late-July, 2011, played that year’s final 63 games. Over the next two seasons, he ended up on the disabled list multiple times with shoulder and hamstring issues.

In early-2015, Wright reinjured his hamstring sliding into second base, and during that time was diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, which causes intense muscle and nerve pain in the lower back and legs due to a narrowing of the spinal column.

He returned to return in time to give the Mets two moments to remember on the field and a demonstration of his value in the clubhouse. In his first game back off the disabled list, Wright hit a monstrous homer in Philadelphia. He also homered in the World Series.

However, there might not have been a World Series had Wright not lectured Matt Harvey on focusing on what was important. Harvey, who was coming off surgery, suggested through his agent, Scott Boras, that he should shut it down for the season to protect his arm.

Wright told Harvey the pitcher’s indecision had become a distraction and October opportunities are rare; he was the Mets’ captain and was demonstrating the leadership the team wasn’t getting from general manager Sandy Alderson or manager Terry Collins.

Wright demonstrated more leadership during a spring training game that spring in Port St. Lucie. Wright entered the clubhouse to get something from his locker when he spotted Noah Syndergaard sitting alone at a table with a plate of food.

Incensed, Wright told the rookie he should be in the dugout with his teammates watching the game, asking questions, learning things. While Wright was talking, Bobby Parnell picked up Syndergaard’s plate and dumped it in the trash.

”The winning attitude,” Syndergaard said of what he learned about the incident. ”That is something David talked to me about when the whole situation went down. It taught me how to be a student of the game a little bit more. You go out [to the bench] to try to learn something new. You don’t need to be inside eating lunch. Something could be happening that you could potentially learn from.”

In both cases, Wright didn’t bring up either incident and downplayed his role.

Jacob deGrom said it isn’t even close, but Wright, ”is the best teammate I’ve ever been around.”

The only problem is Wright hasn’t been around.

In early-2016, after only 134 at-bats, Wright sustained a herniated disc in his neck that required season-ending surgery. While rehabbing, Wright was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement. Later that summer, Wright underwent rotator cuff surgery and all of 2017 was lost.

There were whispers Wright would never play again, but he wasn’t ready to call it a career. He was determined to play again, to have his daughters, two-year-old Olivia Shea and four-month-old Madison see him play, even if they didn’t know what they were seeing.

Wright could explain it to them later.

Before the weekend, Wright said: ”As a young player … you think you can play forever. For me, unfortunately, my body is not allowing it to happen.”

However, the Mets wanted to give Wright one more moment in the sun. Overanxious, Wright swung at the first pitch and grounded out to third in a pinch-hitting appearance Friday night.

Last night was choreographed.

When the Mets took the field, Wright ran out to third base, but his teammates stayed behind. Next, Jose Reyes ran out to shortstop and the two embraced. Suddenly, it was 2006 again, and the two teammates who were supposed to play together for decades were back in their twenties.

Wright, who needs two hours of stretching and exercises just to get ready to play, reached his goal of starting one more game. Few players leave the game on their own terms, and Wright didn’t, either.

”I am at peace with the work I’ve put in,” Wright said. ”I’m not at peace with the results. I want to keep playing.”

Wright finished with a .296 average, 242 homers, 970 RBI, .376 on-base percentage and .867 OPS. He is unquestionably the greatest player to begin and end his career with the Mets. His career was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before the injuries, but Wright never lamented his misfortune. He never made excuses. He just kept working harder.

He didn’t want to go out that way, but he didn’t beg for this weekend. He earned this weekend.

“If you’re not a person like David Wright is, you don’t get to get honored like this,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “These guys are going to play baseball for a small part of their lives, and then they have to be human beings the rest of it. They should all look up to David in that regard.”

And, Wright knew what he meant to the Mets.

“It’s been a long road to get to that goal, but the love and the support I’ve received from inside the organization, outside the organization has been first class, and words can’t express the gratitude I have for everybody,” Wright said. “I said it when I was a younger player and I’ll say it again: I truly bleed orange and blue, and throughout this process, the love and the support and the respect from inside and outside the organization have meant the world to me. Thank you to everybody involved, and you’ll never have any idea how much it means to me.”

If you have any sense of compassion, all you had to do is look into Wright’s red eyes as he held the microphone and addressed the crowd, even the cynics.

His words choking back the tears, Wright said: ”To the fans, words can’t express my gratitude and appreciation for always having my back. You’ve accepted me as one of your own, and that right there is a tremendous honor.

“This is love. I can’t say anything else. This is love.”

Sep 26

DeGrom Makes His Final Cy Young Case

As he has been all summer, Jacob deGrom was simply brilliant tonight in his final start of what could be a Cy Young Award-winning season. Despite an alarming lack of run support, deGrom overcame frequent criticism for a lack of wins and said he coveted winning the annual pitching award.

“I don’t think it has set in yet,’’ deGrom said of his season which included beating the Braves tonight, 3-0, giving up only two hits and struck out ten to give him 1,000 so far in his young career.

In 32 starts, deGrom, 10-9, with a 1.70 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 269 strikeouts. Perhaps, most impressive was that hitters batted .142 with RISP and he finished the season with 29 straight starts of giving up three runs or fewer. He gave up one or no runs in 18 starts.

“I try not to look at the numbers,’’ deGrom said. “I try to put this team in position to win. I am very happy with how the night went.’’

One pitch at a time is a standard cliché for pitchers, but deGrom said was his secret.

“In the past where I got in trouble it was because I thought too much,’’ deGrom said. “I’m not letting things get to me. I learned to not worry about things I can’t control. I wish I had more wins, but it is what it is.’’

HARVEY SHOWS TRUE COLORS … AGAIN: The Mets have moved on from Matt Harvey, but the team remains in the mind of the temperamental former starter.

Traded to Cincinnati earlier this season, Harvey will be a free agent after this season, and without mentioning “Mets,’’ when asked about this winter, said: “There’s only one team out there I would not sign with, that’s about it.”

He didn’t have to say what team.

Injuries and his late-night partying sabotaged Harvey’s tenure with the Mets. He didn’t help himself any when he feuded with management about injury rehab and was suspended last year for blowing off a game without permission.

Harvey further alienated himself with the Mets when he refused a minor league rehab assignment to work on his mechanics.

Harvey could draw some interest this winter, but he needn’t worry, the Mets have no thought of bringing him back.

WRIGHT WON’T PLAY AGAINST BRAVES: Third baseman David Wright has been activated but assistant general manager John Ricco said it is unlikely he will play against the Braves because they are trying to earn home-field advantage in the Division Series.

However, Ricco left open the possibility he could pinch-hit in a blowout game. He is expected in pinch-hit Friday against the Marlins.

“I hope to go out there and do something that doesn’t embarrass me, but it’s going to be difficult, not having an at-bat for a while,” Wright said.

Manager Mickey Callaway said Jose Reyes will start alongside Wright at shortstop Saturday.

“When I’m hurt, I never put my uniform on. I wear a hoodie or something like that,” he said. “So, to put that thing on again means the world to me, and is something that you tend to take for granted.

“I’m really nervous, I’ll tell you that. I’m really excited. Got the butterflies going. It’s going to be a weird, yet fulfilling feeling,” he said. “I want to put on as good a show as I possibly can — and at the same time soak it all in.”

Wright hasn’t played in the majors since May 27, 2016, due to the neck, back and shoulder injuries that required surgery. Last month, Wright batted .171 (7 for 41) with a double and two RBIs in 10 rehab games for Class A St. Lucie and two with Triple-A Las Vegas.

CALLAWAY COMING BACK: Ricco said he won’t be a candidate for the GM position next year, but indicated Callaway was likely to return next season as manager.

“I think what’s impressed me the most is for a rookie manager in New York, he’s got the team playing hard all the way down to the end,” Ricco said. “He’s really got a lot of guys trending in the right direction. The young guys are playing hard and winning games, and our pitching, we’ve seen guys take big steps forward.”

 

Sep 19

Mets Offense As Bad As The Numbers Say

The Mets were shut out for the 12th time this season tonight in Philadelphia, which along with injuries and their bullpen, accurately defines the Mets’ most serious deficiency this summer.

The offensive breakdowns can be attributed to injuries primarily to Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto.

The rankings, for lack of a better word, are just ugly. With ten games remaining, they rank:

26th in runs scored with 646, with only the Padres, Giants and Marlins in the National League behind them.

27th in hits with 1,212, ahead of the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Padres.

18th in doubles with 246, 52 behind league leader Atlanta.

19th in homers with 164.

21st in RBI with 619.

12th highest with 1,301 strikeouts, which has long been a franchise problem.

22nd with 64 stolen bases.

28th in batting average at .236.

21st in on-base percentage at .312.

24th with a .704 OPS.

24th in total bases with 2,014.

19th in extra-base hits with 442.

It has been said you can make statistics say anything you want, but there’s no way you can make them say the Mets have had a good year at the plate.

WHEELER SHUTDOWN: As suggested here a few days ago, the Mets have shut down Zack Wheeler for the remainder of the season. Manager Mickey Callaway said Wheeler has nothing left to prove.

“We’re really excited about the year he had, and we feel like we’d probably be taking the best care of him we can if we shut him down at this point,” Callaway said.

Corey Oswalt will take Wheeler’s spot in the rotation, beginning Saturday in Washington.

Wheeler didn’t pitch in 2015-16 following Tommy John surgery and had last year cut short with stress on his arm. After a rocky start this year, he has a 9-1 record and 1.68 ERA in 11 starts in the second half.

“[My] body after this long is starting to wear down a little bit,” Wheeler said. “But if I really needed to for the playoff push or something, I could definitely go out there and finish it up. That’s not why I’m stopping. It’s just being smart, really.

“I’ve done some thinking, and I wish the first part of the season was more like the second part. Obviously, I think overall it was a good season for me. A bit of a learning experience at the beginning. I made some adjustments, and I was able to take off the second half.”

TEBOW TO RETURN: Tim Tebow is expected to return to the Mets organization in 2019.

Tebow underwent season-ending surgery on his right hand in July to repair a fractured hamate bone. In 84 games at Class AA Binghamton, Tebow hit .273 with six homers and 36 RBI and started as the DH in the Eastern League All-Star Game.

 

Sep 17

As Season Winds Down, Mets Should Consider Cutting Back On Pitchers

Jacob deGrom is competing for the Cy Young Award, so the Mets won’t limit him during his final two starts. However, they might ease up on the gas when it comes to the rest of their rotation.

However, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz – all of whom have been injured – could benefit if their innings are reduced.

“We have to do everything can to make sure a June doesn’t happen again,” manager Mickey Callaway said of the Mets winning only five games in June. “Because it derails your whole season.”

Syndergaard has thrown 135.1 innings; Matz has thrown a career-high 140 innings; and with seven innings tonight in Philadelphia, Wheeler has logged 182.1 innings this season.

Wheeler, 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, leads the majors with eight victories in the second half.

“He’s obviously had a great season, is in a very good spot health-wise right now, and we’re going to pay attention to him probably the most,” Callaway said.

That’s because Wheeler has had an extensive injury history, with Tommy John surgery keeping him out of the majors in 2015-16, and a stress reaction ending his 2017 season in July.

Wheeler needed to prove two things this season, 1) that he could stay healthy, and 2) that he could pitch up to his expectations. He’s done both, and with nothing else left to prove, it wouldn’t hurt for him to be shut down, or at least throw a minimum of five innings.