Feb 12

Three Givens In Mets Rotation

The Mets will take five starters north, but only three are givens: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey. Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are coming off injuries and we won’t know about them until late in spring training.

DeGrom and Syndergaard – assuming healthy – are two of the best in the sport. Syndergaard missed most of last year with a torn lat muscle and early reports are he’s in great shape and not bulked up like last year.

Harvey has never lived up to his potential because of injuries, and here’s hoping in his walk year he can come close to his 2013 form.

It is entirely possible Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo could fill out the end of the rotation. Chris Flexen and Rafael Montero will also compete but could wind up in the bullpen in long relief as he’s out of minor league options.

If Matz or Wheeler is ready, it is possible Lugo could pitch out of the pen.

Feb 08

Mets Get Encouraging News On Smith

Of all I’ve heard about the Mets this winter the most encouraging is the positive news about Dominic Smith’s conditioning. Whether it be Adrian Gonzalez’s presence, GM Sandy Alderson’s comments or whether last season’s window was a wake-up call is irrelevant.

All three conspired to grab Smith by the scruff of his neck and shake some sense into him.

SMITH: Has lost his gut. (AP)

SMITH: Has lost his gut. (AP)

Smith, who hit for more power than anybody anticipated, is in the best shape of his career after dropping 30 pounds this winter.

“I feel more athletic than I’ve ever been,’’ Smith told The Post. “In spring training, I’ve always looked the part, but as far as my mobility and loosening up some hips and being more flexible, more agile as an athlete, I feel like this is the most advanced I’ve been for sure in my career.

“I feel the difference. I feel like my whole posture is better. The way I walk around is better. My body doesn’t hurt. I just feel more like an athlete. And that’s something that I didn’t have in the past.’’

Of course, there are stories every spring about players reporting to camp in the best shape of their careers, but just being in shape isn’t enough. Let’s hope Smith’s good feeling about his conditioning will filter down to his plate discipline and patience.

If Smith can couple his conditioning and improve his walks-to-strikeouts ratio (14-to-49 for a .262 on-base percentage and .198 batting average) it would go a long way in him becoming the player the Mets envisioned.

As far as Gonzalez goes, he would have been a great pick-up five years ago but the Mets couldn’t have afforded him. I’d rather Smith plays full time and reaches his potential and Gonzalez come off the bench.

Feb 06

Frazier Helps Mets Four Ways

Unquestionably, the Mets are better today after reportedly agreeing to terms with third baseman Todd Frazier on a two-year, $17-million deal.

Frazier improves the Mets four ways:

  • He gives them a proven, veteran third baseman for the next two seasons.
  • He alleviates the David Wright issue. There’s no reason to think about him returning now.
  • He allows Asdrubal Cabrera to play second base, which he prefers.
  • He strengthens the bench because it enables them to concentrate on Jose Reyes in a platoon at second and third.

Frazier hit 67 homers in the last two years, but Mets manager Mickey Callaway told The Post there’s more to him than just power.

“He’s a baseball player,’’ Callaway said. “And you know what he did at the end of the season when we were preparing to play the Yankees, he made some adjustments at the plate. He stopped chasing balls.

“He stopped trying to go down there and flick that ball to left, he was laying off balls that he was going after in the past. You look at his average (.213), but that’s going to change if he continues to do what he did the last month of the season.’’

“He’s a great defender. He’s a great baserunner, too. He can really, really run the bases. Every time we’d go into town and played him, our bench coach, who controlled the running game, would come up to me and say, ‘We’ve got to make sure to keep Frazier close at first, he gets that running lead.’ He puts pressure on the other team.’’

Frazier improves the Mets, but does he make them overcome the 22 games needed to reach .500?

Hardly.

Feb 03

Weighing In On Collusion Issue

Baseball’s owners were found guilty of collusion once, so is it unreasonable to think they won’t try it again? After all, they’ve slowly implemented a salary cap with a luxury tax and restricted free agency with compensatory draft picks.

Also, not beneficial to the integrity of the game – at least in my opinion – are such things as scheduling, interleague play, screwing around with the All-Star Game, playing in ridiculously cold and wet weather, not having any day games during the World Series, not resolving the designated hitter issue, and an almost neurotic obsession about the length of games [see pitch clock].

These things are made possible because the agenda of the owners and commissioner’s office is almost rubber-stamped by the Players Association because its interests lay with salaries and not the issues surrounding the game. This is, in part, because in exchange for not giving the owners a hard time on drug testing the salaries keep spiraling upwards.

So, it’s reasonable to assume something could be going on behind the scenes. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen of Creative Artists Agency said the behavior of the owners “feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly,’’ but didn’t use the word collusion.

Let’s give the owners some benefit of doubt and think there are other reasons why players such as Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Cobb, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez, Carlos Gomez, Logan Morrison, Neil Walker, Lance Lynn, Jonathan Lucroy, Greg Holland and Jon Jay remain unsigned.

What could those reasons be?

• Next year’s market: It’s loaded with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Carrasco, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, David Price, Daniel Murphy, Joe Mauer, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller. It’s far deeper than this year’s market and we’ll be talking about landmark salaries next winter. There’s also Matt Harvey, but I digress.

• Owners getting smarter: Seriously, some of them are learning most long-term contracts don’t pay off because they get little return at the end as the Mets have with David Wright, Jason Bay, Johan Santana and are on their way again with Yoenis Cespedes, and the Yankees have with Alex Rodriguez.

• Trading expensive contracts: To get out of paying long-term contracts, Marlins part-owner Derek Jeter helped sabotage the market when he traded Dee Gordon to Seattle; Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees; Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis; Christian Yelich to Milwaukee; and Pittsburgh dealt Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco.

• Salary arbitration: Although arbitration has been in play for a long time, it’s origin stems from the owners’ refusal to grant unrestricted free-agency. As a compromise, the owners adopted arbitration where the two sides each submit a salary figure that an arbitrator must pick without establishing something in the middle ground. This process caused salaries to spike more than if there was conventional free-agency. To bypass the arbitration and free-agent players, the owners outsmarted themselves by offering longer and longer contracts. That obviously hasn’t worked so the owners are trying to again manipulate the system. The economic system the owners don’t like is netting them billions, but it’s not enough.

Not all of these reasons explain the slowness in the market, just as collusion isn’t the sole explanation. But, combined they explain why the market has changed and won’t be normal for a long time.

Feb 02

Who Are The Mets’ Tradeable Assets?

There are three ways to build a team: drafting, free-agency, and trading. GM Sandy Alderson admitted the other day the Mets won’t meaningfully participate in two of them.

Alderson said the Mets might add a free-agent, but it won’t be a significant one. After all, would you call either Todd Frazier or Eduardo Nunez as significant? We can discount Jay Bruce and Jose Reyes because that’s breaking even.

SYNDERGAARD: Most valuable trade asset.  (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Most valuable trade asset. (AP)

The Mets don’t want to sign a big-ticket free agent because they don’t want to give up a compensatory draft pick as to build up their thin minor league system.

So, if they won’t significantly spend and have a weak farm system that leaves the trade market. But, who exactly do they have to trade?

PITCHERS: Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are the most valuable in terms of what they can bring back. Of the two, I would sign deGrom long-term contract and see what Syndergaard might return. Syndergaard has a higher upside in the trade market because he’s younger, throws harder and has a team-friendly contract. He’s almost like Matt Harvey was five years ago.

So, the faster way to accumulate young talent would be trading Syndergaard. I know the Mets don’t want to but it might be something to consider.

The Mets won’t do it, of course, and one justifiable reason is to hedge against the unraveling of their vaunted rotation that hasn’t made a complete turn one-through-five, ever. Twice Harvey had season-ending surgery, but the Mets won’t deal him because they are holding onto the hope he’ll realize his potential. Let’s face it, the Mets aren’t going to bring him back, so their hope of getting something for him is for him to get off to a good start and deal him at the deadline.

Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler also have injury histories that hurt their trade value, and Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo won’t bring much in return.

As far as their relievers go, that Mickey Callaway is considering a closer-by-committee downgrade the value of the back-end relievers, and that includes Jeurys Familia, who is recovering from surgery.

Frankly, the only reliever who might have some value is AJ Ramos, but then again what did the Mets have to give up to get him?

Outside of deGrom and Syndergaard, the best chance for the Mets to improve themselves with their pitching is to hope they stay healthy and live up to their potential.

But, hoping is not a sound strategy.

CATCHERS: Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki can be had, but what does it say about their value when the Mets have been trying to upgrade here?

FIRST BASE: If there was genuine interest in Adrian Gonzalez they had their chance to sign him. Dominic Smith didn’t impress during his window so his value is down. If the Mets are serious about rebuilding they’ll hold onto Smith because he is young with potential.

SECOND/THIRD BASE: Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes won’t draw any interest until the trade deadline, and even then it will be questionable. Wilmer Flores drew interest in 2015 and could again, but it would have to be at the deadline and as part of a package.

As for there’s David Wright, whose contract, no-trade clause and injury history make him untradeable.

SHORTSTOP: Amed Rosario is young, fast, has a team-friendly contract and a huge upside. He’s somebody you don’t trade unless you get exceptionable young talent in return.

LEFT FIELD: A healthy, productive Yoenis Cespedes should interest most teams. It did for three teams before he came to the Mets. As with Wright, Cespedes’ contract that includes a no-trade clause make him untradeable.

CENTER FIELD: Michael Conforto is coming off shoulder surgery and will miss the first month of the season. The Mets could get something of value for him because he’s good, young, has a huge upside and manageable contact. But, those are the reasons why they shouldn’t even consider it.

Juan Lagares has an injury history and manageable contract, but he doesn’t have a resume of production.

RIGHT FIELD: Any team that wanted Bruce had their opportunity to sign him as a free agent and not give up any talent.

Maybe the Mets could trade him at the July deadline in 2020.

So, just who do the Mets have to trade that would greatly improve them?