JONATHAN NIESE, LHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: Jonathan Niese was another Mets pitcher who went into spring training coming off an injury. He pulled a right rib cage muscle in Sept. 2011, while pitching against the Phillies and was shut down. Two years earlier, Niese’s season ended with a severely pulled hamstring. While the Mets weren’t worried about his arm, two muscle pulls had them wonder if he was susceptible to such injuries. Foolishly, Niese felt discomfort in his previous start, but continued to pitch against the Phillies. In 2010 and 2011, Niese won nine and 11 games, respectively, and displayed composure and an ability to work out of trouble. Niese doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but throws a plus cutter and fall-off-the-table curveball. When he’s able to command those pitches, it increases the effectiveness of his fastball. Assuming his health, the Mets expected him to continue to develop and hopefully win as many as 15 games as a No. 3 starter.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Although Niese fell short of 15 victories, he continued to make strides to become one of the Mets’ most reliable pitchers. Satisfied he was healthy, the Mets signed Niese to a $25.5 million contract extension with team options for 2017 and 2018. Largely unproven, the Mets were banking on Niese’s potential and at the time GM Sandy Alderson said he was the type of player the club could build around. The contract enables the Mets to avoid arbitration and Niese’s first shot at free agency, which is paramount in cost control. Niese tied his career high of 30 starts and logged 190.1 innings. Niese, like most Mets’ starters save R.A. Dickey, suffered from a lack of run support and bullpen collapses. Niese responded from a combined 4-5 in July and August to win this final three starts to finish at 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Niese had an impressive 155-49 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and worked into the seventh inning or longer in 17 appearances. He only had two starts in which he did not work at least five innings. Niese did miss a start after he was pulled for a June 3 game with a rapid heartbeat.
LOOKING AT 2013: Although Niese did not have a reoccurrence of the rapid heartbeat in the second half, he will undergo surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to alleviate the problem. It is considered minor surgery, but anything involving the heart can’t be thought of as minor. Figuring he will make a full recovery, the Mets expect him to build on 2013. Considering his age and salary, he would be in high demand on the trade market, but a pitcher of Niese’s potential is exactly what the franchise needs. Niese’s overall numbers were good and assuming he receives run support – the Mets failed to score more than three runs in 17 starts – 15 victories and 200-plus innings should be reachable. Niese would enter next year as the No. 3 starter assuming everything works in the positive with Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey.
TOMORROW: Dillon Gee, RHP
Mets lefty reliever Justin Hampson has been removed from the team’s 40-man roster and has opted for free agency.
Hampson, 32, appeared in 13 games with the Mets in 2012, his first major league action since his time with the Padres in 2008.
The Mets southpaw had a seriously good season in Triple-A Buffalo where he appeared in 51 games and pitched to a 2.33 ERA while striking out 59 batters and walking just 22.
Hampson would be a solid option for many a major league bullpen, and wherever he lands in 2013, we wish him the best. He’s a class act.
The Mets are counting heavily on Josh Edgin and Robert Carson to fill the left-handed void in the bullpen next season, and with so many other bigger problems on their plate, don’t expect that to change..
As Mets’ fans, I suspect many of you are taking great delight into what is going on with the Yankees. Down 2-0 in games to the Tigers, the Yankees resume the ALCS today in Detroit against Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in the sport.
As players, I know the Yankees expect to win as every quote attributed to them is the season isn’t a success unless they win the World Series. That’s the only attitude to have, and you can’t begrudge them for thinking that way. Wish the Mets’ front office felt the same.
There is no sense of entitlement with the players as they admit there are no guarantees. What is annoying is the sense of entitlement among Yankees fans, who consider it their birthright to see their team play deep into October. There’s a whole generation of Yankees fans who know nothing but their team in the playoffs.
Talk radio can be such a wasteland, and much of the gibberish is benching Alex Rodriguez and I heard the idea of sitting Robinson Cano floated this morning because of their lack of hitting. The Yankees are going through a similar slump the Mets endured in the second half with their offense, especially at home. In June, you can point to July and think you’ll pick it up. In October, there’s a sense of urgency because there is no next month. There’s not a player on that team who isn’t feeling pressure, regardless of what they might say.
Not recognizing the pressure is denial, but you must know no player would ever make that admission because it admits defeat and the opposition can feed off that mood.
Joe Girardi already tinkered with Rodriguez’s fragile ego and you have to wonder if it will hinder him for the remaining five years of his contract, for which he will make $114 million, or more precisely, $14 million more than the entire Mets’ 2012 payroll.
Girardi’s gamble pinch-hitting Raul Ibanez for Rodriguez paid off against the Orioles, but he has to let things slide for the remainder of the playoffs. Rodriguez, Cano and Nick Swisher got the Yankees to this spot and Girardi has to ride them the rest of the way.
It is highly likely Yankee Stadium won’t see another game until next April, so it was amusing the final 2012 image of it was huge blocks of empty seats. Fans were able to snatch up tickets on-line for a fraction of the absurd face value of the tickets. But, many chose to stay away.
The Yankees misjudged the economy when they opened the new Stadium with absurd ticket prices. The Yankees, like the Mets, went on the high side and the public balked. Postseason tickets are always more expensive and who could blame the fans for staying away? It never happened in the old place.
There other factors to consider beside the price of tickets to explain the poor attendance showing at Yankee Stadium, such as parking. It is higher for the playoffs, and paying close to $50 to park is obscene. With the price of concessions factored in, you could easily go into your pockets for another $100 on top of the tickets.
Fighting the traffic becomes less an option when you can enjoy the game in the comfort of your own home. And Sunday, you could have watched both the Yankees and Giants on the tube. Why put up with the hassle when you can put your feet up and relax with a beer that doesn’t cost $10?
R.A. DICKEY, RHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: R.A. Dickey had been a journeyman with a trick pitch his entire career, winning a career-high 11 games in 2010. Realistically, they had no right to expect more than that from him at age 37 and figured to be third or fourth in the rotation at best. Only injuries or poor performance from others could elevate his status, and was why he was in the Mets’ rotation in the first place. However, he pitched well in stretches the last two years and was a workhorse in 2011 with 208.2 innings. If he could log a comparable number in 2012, the pitching depleted Mets would be happy. Dickey had a solid ERA in 2010 and 2011 with hitters batting .251 and .256, respectively, against him. Since joining the Mets, for the most part Dickey pitched with composure and minimized damage. The Mets hoped he’d be a positive influence.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Not only was Dickey a positive influence on the younger pitchers, he was arguably the team’s most important player. At 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, he was 14 games above .500. Overall, the Mets finished 14 games below, so I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where the team would have been without him. Dickey threw 233.2 innings in 33 starts – he made one relief appearance – and limited hitters to an anemic .226 average, a career best by 30 points. Hitters had a .278 on-base and .640 OPS against him and he registered a 1.05 WHIP, easily his career best. Dickey’s All-Star season – it’s a shame Tony La Russa didn’t see fit to start him – included five complete games and three shutouts with back-to-back one-hitters. Clearly, in a game dominated by hard throwers, splitters and cutters, Dickey prevailed with the toughest pitch of all to control, walking only 54. He did this playing for a team in a free-fall for the second half and deserves the Cy Young Award.
LOOKING AT 2013: For all his numbers, it was only his third since 2001 with a winning record, which could make the Mets wondering if it was all done with smoke and mirrors. Dickey is on the books for $5 million next year, but it isn’t a given he’ll return, and if he does, stay for long. Dickey said his re-signing with the Mets is largely contingent on whether they also bring back David Wright. The two, on and off the field, represent the Mets and they would be taking a dramatic public relations hit if they traded or let them walk after 2013. An argument can be made if the Mets don’t see themselves as contenders next summer they could continue their rebuilding by dealing them for prospects. Any such deal, however, would be contingent on the other team being allowed to negotiate with them before making a trade. It would also be an admission they are a long way from being competitive.
TOMORROW: Jon Niese.