Mar 21

Defense up the middle weak

Traditionally, winning teams are built for strength up the middle: catcher, pitching, second base and shortstop, and center field.

That’s not looking good so far for the Mets, especially with center fielder Andres Torres sidelined with a strained calf muscle.

With minor league prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis suffering with a strained oblique, manager Terry Collins will experiment with infielder Jordany Valdespin and Jason Bay in center. I can see Bay, but Valdespin is total desperation and an indictment on the Mets’ lack of depth and foresight to bolster the position.

Second base is a concern because of Daniel Murphy’s lack of experience at the position. He’s awkward around the bag and doesn’t have consistent footwork. Meanwhile, there’s no doubt about Ruben Tejada’s defensive prowess at shortstop, but there is the matter of playing a full season.

As for the pitching, both the rotation and bullpen are deep with questions and concerns. This isn’t a strikeout staff and still walks more hitters than it should. As for the bullpen, it is patchwork with no proven lefty.

Josh Thole came up with a lot of potential, especially at the plate. He’s still relatively new at the plate and it shows with his ability to call a game and block pitches. He is still far away from being proven.

 

Mar 20

Alderson: Immediate impact on payroll negligible.

GM Sandy Alderson said yesterday’s positive financial developments will release some of the pressure on the team, but as expected, basically said “don’t expect too much,’’ in the near future.

“So having moved beyond that now, I think we as a franchise have a chance to go through sort of an evolutionary process to get us back to where we want to be,’’ Alderson said. “The immediate impact on our payroll is going to be negligible.’’

Currently, the biggest drain on the Mets’ payroll is Johan Santana, who earned $22.5 million last year while on the disabled list, and is scheduled to make $24 million this year and $25.5 million in 2013 and has a $25 million option for 2014.

That salary makes it impossible to deal Santana, so the Mets’ best hope is for continued progress in his rehab from shoulder surgery.

So far, so good.

Santana is ready to start tomorrow against St. Louis in Jupiter, Fla. The target is 80 pitches.

Santana is coming off a 65-pitch outing against the Tigers in which he gave up four earned runs. The start was encouraging because Santana’s velocity increased to a consistent 89 mph. and topped out at 91 mph.

Barring complications, Santana is on track to make the Opening Day roster.

Here’s tonight’s roster against the Washington Nationals:

Andres Torres, CF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

Jason Bay, LF

Ike Davis, 1B

Lucas Duda, RF

Justin Turner, 3B

Josh Thole, C

Ruben Tejada, SS

Dillon Gee, RP

Note: Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco are also expected to pitch.

 

Mar 20

Wilpon needs to take Wright stance

Yesterday was a good day for the Mets. Not only did they receive a favorable settlement in the Madoff case, but completed the sale of 12 minority ownership shares at $20 million a shot for a total of $240 million.

WRIGHT: This has been a frustrating time for Wright.

The Mets claim to have lost $70 million last season, and the new money will pay off loans to Major League Baseball ($25 million) and Bank of American ($40 million). They should be able to sustain their operating expenses for this season.

The Mets have a three-year break before they required to pay any of the $162 million from the settlement, so there is some sense of relief in clarity as they attempt to budget until that time.

What then?

Continue reading

Mar 19

Settlement favors Mets. Will it change things?

Whenever a mediator – in this case New York Gov. Mario Cuomo – brokers a settlement between two warring parties, despite the agreement and presumption of peace, there is a winner.

Cuomo said, “nobody gets everything they want in a settlement,’’ but the Wilpons got what they needed in Irving Picard’s “Battle for the Mets.’’

Sure, Fred Wilpon wanted to come away unscathed, but in the end the settlement was kind to him and the Mets. Wilpon gets to keep his team and could be on the hook for just $162 million, far more palatable than the initial $1 billion lawsuit, and later the $380 million ceiling ruled by Judge Jed S. Rakoff.

Picard saw earlier decisions going toward Wilpon; the Mets saw a long and costly trial.

“The closer you get to trial the closer you get to the reality of trial,’’ Cuomo said.

The reality of it is Wilpon could owe less than $162 because the settlement allows him to go after the $178 million they claim to have lost in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scandal.

Of the $178 million, Picard has already recovered $10 million. So, in essence Wilpon and Picard have formed an odd partnership.

On top of a shrinking settlement, the Mets don’t have to pay anything for three years. While this settlement eases the financial burden on the Mets and possibly offers more a sense of economic clarity, it doesn’t assure the Mets a climate of  “normalcy,’’ as suggested by Cuomo.

Since Carlos Beltran took that curveball from Adam Wainwright to end the 2006 NLCS, normalcy for the Mets has been blown division leads in 2007 and 2008, a shoddy bullpen, a string of injuries, a line of incomprehensible and suffocating contracts, two managerial changes, a front office overhaul and a slashed payroll of $50 million.

The Mets’ austerity forced the trading of Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez, and free-agent departure of Jose Reyes. It could also lead to trading David Wright.

What happened Monday was a victory for Wilpon, but it doesn’t immediately change the state of his team of the field. The Mets are projected to finish last in the National League East in their fourth straight losing season.

That is what normalcy has been recently for the Mets and that isn’t about to change. The three-year relief from making payments is likely to be the same window before the team becomes baseball relevant again.

This was a stressful and expensive ordeal for Wilpon, who saw the very real possibility of losing his team. This settlement gives him a second chance. Hopefully, he’ll make the most of it.

 

Mar 18

Some things to mull over

The Mets are off tomorrow, which is a good thing, and gives us some time to look at what is going on for the Mets so far this spring.

Most encouraging has been Johan Santana’s progress through three starts. He’s been healthy and his velocity is gradually increasing.

Jon Niese has been solid and showing all signs he’s on the mend. If Santana isn’t ready for spring training, then Niese is the No. 1 as Mike Pelfrey hasn’t shown he’s capable in that role.

Pelfrey is still an enigma and has shown nothing to prove he’ll go into the season on a role. There’s still something missing in the Mets’ biggest question.

Health questions Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy seem as if they sound, but the latter still has his shaky moments at second base.

Andres Torres had a fast start in center field, but there’s not a reliable backup.

David Wright remains a health question, as does lefty reliever Tim Byrdak. With a hole in the bullpen, the Mets have four candidates vying for the role, with Garrett Olson seemingly having the inside track.

Ruben Tejada has a hamstring problem which was a temporary setback, but those types of injuries have a long recovery period.