Mar 15

Playing In Las Vegas A Good Idea

The New York Mets haven’t had the best working relationships with their minor league affiliates over the years, moving from Tidewater, to Norfolk, to Buffalo, and now Las Vegas.

Much of the problem, especially with Buffalo, was not doing much to promote those affiliates. The perception with Buffalo, and now Las Vegas, is those cities were merely pit stops until somebody offered a better arrangement.

It doesn’t take much of an effort for the major league team to play several exhibition games the final weekend of spring training, and in the case with Las Vegas – where the weather is good – in the middle.

The cost of air travel and hotels for the weekend is miniscule in comparison to the goodwill and opportunity for the minor league city to show off the big club. Of course, those costs are also offset by their cut of the gate.

This is the only chance for those fans to see David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Travis d’Arnaud, the latter who played last year in Las Vegas. They’ll also get a chance to watch Bartolo Colon and Jenrry Mejia, who could pitch part of this season in Las Vegas.

Some of the other Mets expected to make the trip are Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Omar Quintanilla, Jacob deGrom, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Kevin Plawecki, Anthony Seratelli and Eric Campbell. All but Quintanilla should see time in Las Vegas this summer.

Las Vegas was kind of a stretch for the Mets because they didn’t have much choice after Buffalo, as it is several time zones away, which makes last-minute moves difficult.

Buffalo was perfect because it is a city with professional sports and call-ups were easy. It’s too bad that didn’t work.

I don’t know how long they’ll stay with Las Vegas, but this was a good idea.

ON DECK: Bartolo Colon.

Mar 14

Niese Mishandles Twitter Issue

There are many conflicts Jon Niese will face in his Mets’ career, ranging from hitters, to injuries, to the weather and considerably more. Trying to take on reporters doing their jobs using Twitter is one he’ll have difficulty winning.

That is, if he even has a chance.

In the wake of pitching coach Dan Warthen’s apology for a supposed racial slur, an angry Niese told reporters to stop Tweeting from the clubhouse. I understand his angst, but as in most issues steeped in emotion, it is an uphill climb and one handled poorly by all sides.

Reporters are allowed by Major League Baseball to tweet and post blogs from the clubhouse, and in fact, I was one of the first Mets’ reporters to post blogs from the clubhouse when I started the beat in 2006.

Major League Baseball wants the information out there. That creates interest, which leads to ticket sales and television-radio ratings. It’s about money, so as much as Niese wants it, he’s fighting the bottom line.

That’s also why many of Niese’s teammates, including Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, have Twitter handles.

So, who is at fault for this flap?

It starts with Warthen, who apologized to Daisuke Matsuzaka’s interpreter, Jeff Cutler, for his comment, but unfortunately did so in front of a reporter he might not have known well, if at all.

Apologies, warranted or not, should be done in private, especially if there’s not a working knowledge of the reporter, who reportedly is from San Francisco and not on the Mets’ beat.

Also at blame is the reporter, who, according to reports either overheard the apology and/or wasn’t part of the conversation.  I don’t know the reporter, who is Chinese and offended by the comment. That’s his issue, but his sensitivities sparked this fire and now it’s a political correctness issue.

One person is upset and now the world revolves around those feelings.

Seemingly, the apology was an off-the-record comment, and therefore the reporter violated a basic tenet of the reporter-athlete relationship, which made it harder for all reporters to do their jobs.

Finally, Niese must take responsibility for how this unravels. When you’re in a crowded clubhouse, you don’t tell a group of reporters: “Stop Tweeting about our clubhouse. That —-’s got to stop.’’

How could he not think it wasn’t going to escalate from there? There are ways to deal with the press, either by talking to reporters privately or through the media relations department.

This could have been handled better by everyone.

 

Mar 14

Questions Remain Throughout Rotation

The New York Mets had a vision entering spring training as to the makeup of their rotation. However, that’s not to say there aren’t questions. Name a starter and I’ll give you questions and issues.

The expected rotation is comprised of Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler and Daisuke Matsuzaka; none considered an “ace’’ in the traditional sense. Realistically, none would be higher than a No. 3 when their career numbers are examined.

NIESE: It starts with him. (AP)

NIESE: It starts with him. (AP)

Not really the stuff of 90-win teams.

There was to be competition for the fifth-starter role between Matsuzaka, John Lannan and Jenrry Mejia, but based on how he closed last year, Matsuzaka has the edge.

Mejia has thrown well and seems healthy enough to warrant the opportunity. That begs the question: If not now, then when?

Let’s take a look at the rotation and potential issues with each starter:

JON NIESE: He’s never won more than 13 games, and enters No. 1. Niese has a history of injuries and only twice since 2008 started as many as 30 games. He missed time last year with a rotator cuff issue, and a MRI this spring revealed weakness in his shoulder. He didn’t pitch well in his only start, and has thrown only two innings. The goal is 30 for most starters, but with three starts remaining, he won’t come close.

BARTOLO COLON: He’s 40, so there’s always the inevitable possibility of breaking down. Colon won 18 games and pitched 190.1 innings in 2013, but what are the odds of doing it again? I would say longer than an Ike Davis slump. He’s signed to a two-year contract. Breakdowns occur with 40-year old pitchers. Who is to say it won’t be this year?

DILLON GEE: He turned last season around in a May 30 start against the Yankees and finished 12-11 with 199 innings. However, he was close to being bumped from the rotation prior to that Yankee Stadium start. Gee’s career high was 13 victories in 2011. Gee is grit and guile, but is throwing hard this spring. Even so, his career numbers indicate a No. 4 starter. Assuming all works out with Matt Harvey’s recovery and the development of Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, aren’t we talking about him being out of the rotation next year?

ZACK WHEELER: He worked 100 innings last season before he was shut down. Ideally, the Mets would like to double that number. That’s a huge increase, even considering the 68.2 innings he pitched for Triple-A Las Vegas. Wheeler won seven games in 2013 and the Mets need him to double it, which is a lot. Wheeler has loads of potential, but they need proven production.

DAISUKE MATSUZAKA:  He won 15 and 18 games, respectively, his first two seasons in the majors with Boston in 2007-8, but never more than nine in the subsequent five years (2010). Pitching coach Dan Warthen got him to speed up his delivery, which lead to him closing the year with three strong starts, working at least six innings in each. That’s a small sample. What isn’t a small sample are the last five years, in which he threw more 60 innings only once.

Factoring all that, just what was Sandy Alderson thinking saying this was a 90-win potential season? Considering the fragility of Niese and Colon, Wheeler’s inexperience and Matsuzaka’s inconsistency, it isn’t hard to imagine it won’t be long before we see Mejia, Syndergaard or Rafael Montero.

ON DECK: Niese’s war on Twitter

 

Mar 13

Mets’ Alderson Bluffing On Shortstop Situation

There are times I’m not sure the New York Mets’ Sandy Alderson understands what it means to be a general manager in this market. Other times I am positive he doesn’t.

Take for instance, his caustic remark the other day when asked about the relevance to Atlanta’s signing of Ervin Santana – even if it meant forfeiting a draft pick – in contrast to the Mets sitting on their hands about the mess that is their shortstop situation.

TEJADA: Holding on (Getty)

TEJADA: Holding on (Getty)

“I’m not interpreting it in terms of ‘our situation,’ ” Alderson told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t know that we have a situation here.’’

You don’t? What else would you call it, then?

The Mets continue to say they have confidence in Ruben Tejada, yet their actions are to the contrary.

If they were enthusiastic about Tejada, then why do they keep monitoring Stephen Drew in the long-shot hope agent Scott Boras lowers the price? Would they still consider trading for Nick Franklin if they had confidence in Tejada? Would they wonder about Wilmer Flores if Tejada was their answer?

Meanwhile, Alderson said Tejada isn’t under a microscope, but considering what is swirling around him, what else would you call it?

“We continue to look at how he’s doing, but it won’t be a judgment based on one game or two games or three games,’’ Alderson said. “We’ve got a lot of spring training left. In the meantime, we’ll continue to look at our other options.’’

In classic GM speak; Alderson is saying everything is on the table, including Tejada not being the starter. There’s no other way this can be interpreted.

Meanwhile, of the internal options, Alderson won’t weigh in on Flores, although those in the organization and scouts continue to say he doesn’t have the range or footwork to play shortstop.

Alderson and manager Terry Collins must also buy into this, otherwise wouldn’t he get more of a chance?

As for when Flores might get another chance to play shortstop, Collins said: “You guys are asking me what’s going to happen in four days, and I don’t know what’s going to happen at 9 o’clock tonight.’’

That’s hardly comforting. By the way, two weeks isn’t a lot of time remaining. My guess is Tejada will be the Opening Day shortstop because Alderson is too paralyzed to pull the trigger on any other options.

ON DECK: Gamer/fifth starter situation.

 

Mar 12

The Importance Of John Lannan As The Second Lefty In The Bullpen

John Lannan signed with the New York Mets to compete for a spot in the rotation, but circumstances dictate he might have a more valuable role out of the bullpen.

“I think that’s been the plan since Day 1,’’ Lannan said Tuesday about possibly working in relief. “They’ve been pretty transparent with that.’’

The Mets figure to keep seven relievers, but with Josh Edgin sent to the minor league camp earlier this week, it leaves Scott Rice as the only left-hander and an increased importance in Lannan.

Lannan starts today against St. Louis, but after that, figures to get substantial time out of the bullpen in a situational role. In today’s specialized game, teams can’t afford to get by with just one left-handed reliever, especially in the lefty-loaded hitting National League East, which goes beyond Chipper Jones, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Jones retired, and Howard and Utley are on the decline, but the latter two still have their moments with the Phillies, as does Domonic Brown.

Washington could start as many as four lefty hitters in Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Nate McLouth and Denard Span.

The Braves have Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward, and the Marlins have Greg Dobbs and switch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Obviously, that’s more than Rice can handle, and something we don’t know if Lannan can do. He’s made 148 major league appearances, all as a starter. He’s only started seven of 95 minor league games.

This is not something easily picked up, especially with three weeks remaining in spring training.

Lannan said he can get loose quickly, but there’s more to it than that, as he must see how his arm adjusts to: 1) warming up several times in the same game, 2) how he responds to back-to-back appearances, and 3) how he feels after pitching two or three innings one day and coming back the next.

This is a gamble, no question.