Mar 25

March 25.10: Niese fifth starter favorite.

It is by no means a given, but Jon Niese has emerged as the frontrunner to be the team’s fifth starter. Jerry Manuel said yesterday Niese has the inside track over Fernando Nieve, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi.

At one point this spring, I thought Takahashi was the favorite, but moved off that because he didn’t have enough innings to be sufficiently stretched out. The path of least resistance would have been to option Niese because he has options remaining, but he has pitched well enough to warrant a chance and there are other variables.

Most specifically, the sad state of the Mets’ bullpen. Niese couldn’t help out in the pen, but both Nieve as a long man and Takahashi as a left-hander fill two roles. Odd man out, as expected, is Figueroa.

Figueroa will pass through waivers then re-sign with the Mets and be pitching around June. Personally, I hope somebody claims him and he gets a chance to pitch.

Mar 24

March 24.10: It’s Murphy’s time.

You can read a couple of things into the Ike Davis demotion relating to Daniel Murphy.

One, there’s talk-show speculation Murphy was pressured by Davis’ presence and the possibility of him losing the position. Second, that the Mets still have faith in Murphy.

It’s the latter.

Jerry Manuel said Murphy is his first baseman, and it actually looks like that’s going to happen. For how long is another question.

With Murphy hitting below the Mendoza line this spring, and him not having much power to begin with, first base could be a black hole offensively for the team.
Murphy, at this stage of his career, is not a power hitter, but that’s not to say he can’t develop more power.

All along we’ve heard how the Mets rush some players and don’t have patience with others. Murphy has gone through a lot, enough to earn the Mets’ patience for now.

With David Wright ahead of him, Murphy, a natural third baseman was moved to another black hole, left field, at the end of the 2008 season.
He showed enough to where he was the starting left fielder last season, but it didn’t take. The Mets once considered him as a possible second baseman, but saddled with Luis Castillo’s contract, that didn’t work either.

So, it was on to first base a couple of months into last year, where Murphy played surprisingly well considering. The only problem is he doesn’t hit for the prototypical power of a first baseman.

But, he’s only 24 with one full season on his resume. But, after he settled in at first, he become more comfortable at the plate, made some adjustments, and hit .282. He also hit 38 doubles, which is an indication of some pop, and led the team with 12 homers.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll develop into a .300 hitter and hit 20 to 25 homers. It could happen.

But, if the season hinges on Murphy hitting for power, then the Mets are in big trouble anyway. Theoretically, they’ll get power from Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur. All should hit close to 30 homers.

If Murphy doesn’t, then so what?

Let’s take a look at this team. There are questions in the bullpen and the rotation has been horrid this spring. The Mets need a bounce-back year from Wright, and Beltran, and possibly Jose Reyes will open the season on the disabled list.

So, Murphy not hitting more than 20 homers seems to be low on the priority list.

Mar 23

March 23.10: Is it so bad to go with the kids?

Fernando Martinez (shown here), Jenrry Mejia, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Jon Niese. That is the future core of the Mets, along with David Wright, Jose Reyes and Jason Bay. That’s your team over the next few years.

But, should the future be now?

All spring I’ve been saying these guys aren’t ready and should open the season in the minor leagues where they’ll fine tune their games. That they for the most part have played well this spring makes me wonder if I should reconsider.

There have been players who played a minimum in the minor leagues and became stars in the major leagues. Maybe, if these guys are as special as the Mets are saying, they’ll adapt right away and become productive.

Afterall, it’s not written in stone anywhere that if they start out in the majors they’ll fizzle out. It’s also not written anywhere that going to the minor leagues now guarantees future success.

I just look at the team now, and despite all the bluster early, they are playing near a listless .500.

Why is that?

Ok, it’s spring, and results aren’t supposed to matter, but the following ERAs make me wonder about this year, and that if it’s a lost year, why not give the kids a chance?

* Johan Santana has a 9.00 ERA in three starts, but I’m not worried so much about him. However, he is coming off a surgery, and you just can’t throw out 20 wins for him.

* Mike Pelfrey has a 7.36 ERA in four starts, including four homers yesterday. Pelfrey said he wanted to start being a pitcher. Now is as good a time as any to start.

* Oliver Perez has a 5.73 ERA in three starts. He’s had good and bad moments, which is the way it always has been for him. The only thing given about him is the roller coaster.

* John Maine has an 11.37 ERA in three starts. He had a good first start, but three bad appearances (don’t forget that relief effort when he said he wasn’t in it). I just wonder about Maine, and it isn’t a good wonder.

So, if the starting pitching holds true to form from last year and this spring, and with Reyes and Beltran out for at least the first month, the Mets aren’t exactly poised to sprint out of the gate.

If another listless season is in the making, then seeing the young players should come sooner than later.

Mar 22

March 22.10: Questions down the stretch.

When pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 18, I posted five key questions the Mets faced heading into spring training. With two weeks remaining, there are issues with four of those five concerns.

Question: What is this team’s attitude?
Assessment: By all accounts, it is good and positive. The Mets aren’t rolling through their spring schedule, but there have been no issues of lack of hustle and laziness. David Wright said the Mets need to use last year’s embarrassment as a motivator. Jason Bay is fitting in and Jeff Francoeur has been a positive influence. So far, so good, but they haven’t played any games that count yet.

Question: How healthy is this team?
Assessment: Injuries sabotaged the 2009 season, and already two of the team’s core will open the season on the disabled list and likely won’t be ready until May. Carlos Beltran’s knee is responding well to rehab and Jose Reyes’ hamstring feels good. However, Reyes’ issue is his thyroid and one wonders how that will be with the riggers of the season. Reliever Kelvim Escobar, penciled in as a set-up man, has missed the entire spring with shoulder pain. There have been no problems physically with Francoeur, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana and John Maine, all with recent surgery on their resume.

Question: What is the status of the three pitching questions, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine?
Assessment: These three guys represent the season’s key. If they do well, then the Mets can contend. The Mets didn’t make any rotation additions this winter because they believe in the upside of these three. It has been an up-and-down spring for all three, but Perez has been refreshingly positive. However, none have performed to where the Mets can say they are in the clear. The concerns remain.

Question: Who is fifth starter?
Assessment: Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi are in the mix. Takahashi has looked the best, but he hasn’t pitched enough to be stretched out. Niese has options remaining, so they could do the safe thing and send him out and protect someone else. Jerry Manuel said he’ll use a fifth starter from the start, so there will be no hiding him with the off-days in April. This is the biggest decision remaining in camp.

Question: What is the make-up of the bullpen?
Assessment: The biggest sub-question is whether Jenrry Mejia goes north in the pen and what role he would have. With his stuff, he’s a closer in waiting, which makes me think eighth-inning set-up. But, will the Mets expose him to that or put him in a low-pressure role. To me, that’s defeatist thinking. If you’re afraid to use him, then why carry him? Losing Escobar went a large part in opening the door for Mejia. So has, the general ineffectiveness of the relievers. If Takahashi doesn’t make it in the rotation, it could be him. Any of the losers for the fifth-starter could also fit as the long man. Bobby Parnell is still around, but he might be a casualty if they keep Takahashi in the pen. Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi will make the roster. Pedro Feliciano is still the only lefty of substance.

Mar 20

March 20.10: Grooming Mejia?

It would be nice if the Mets would just come out and say it with Jenrry Mejia, but things don’t work that way. However, Jerry Manuel has given a good indication the Mets are considering him for this year out of the bullpen right out of the gate.

Mejia pitched yesterday, and is also scheduled to work today against the Cardinals out of the pen. It will be the first time he’s worked this season on consecutive days – always a test for a reliever – and it is coming off a bad outing, which is another test.

John Maine gets the start today, and it will be interesting to see how he does. Maine was hammered in his last appearance, which was out of the pen, and later he said he “wasn’t into it.” Here’s hoping he’s into it today.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Gary Matthews, CF
Luis Castillo, 2B
Fernando Tatis, 3B
Mike Jacobs, 1B
Fernando Martinez, RF
Alex Cora, SS
Jason Pridle, LF
Chris Coste, C
John Maine, RP