Mar 08

Mets’ Top Five Questions As Opening Day Looms

Opening Day is three weeks from today and there’s more than a foot of snow outside my door. The Mets lost today and now are 5-9 this spring. Today the Nationals lit up Jeurys Familia for five runs.

Results and stats don’t matter in spring training. It’s about getting ready for the season and right now Mickey Callaway’s team isn’t ready. Far from it.

Callaway and GM Sandy Alderson have a boatload of questions that must be addressed before the Cardinals get to town.

The following are the top five:

  1. What is the rotation?

A: There are four givens – Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Jason Vargas – with Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo competing for the fifth spot.

  1. What is the make-up of the front end of the bullpen?

A: Familia, AJ Ramos, Anthony Swarzak and Jerry Blevins are the givens at the back end.  If Gsellman and Lugo don’t start, one of them could end up in the pen. So might Rafael Montero, who is out of options. Jamie Callahan, Paul Sewald, Jacob Rhame and Hansel Robles will compete for the final spot or two.

  1. Who is the leadoff hitter?

A: Brandon Nimmo is the best bet because of his on-base percentage. But, will the Mets commit to him in center field until Michael Conforto returns or will they go with a platoon of Nimmo and Juan Lagares until then? Amed Rosario has the speed, but a poor on-base percentage. It could end up being Asdrubal Cabrera, who has a passable on-base percentage and can add some pop.

  1. Is there a healthy first baseman?

A: Adrian Gonzalez has a bad back and Dominic Smith has a bum leg. Other than me, nobody ever mentions Wilmer Flores, who is destined never to get a fair shake with the Mets.

  1. How healthy is Yoenis Cespedes?

A: He played only 81 games last year with a quad injury and is having a slow spring. If the Mets are to be competitive, they need a big year from Cespedes.


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.

Jan 29

Mets Need To Find Out About Smith And Not Gonzalez

Do you remember last season when the talk surrounding the Mets was why weren’t they bringing up Dominic Smith?

SMITH: Give him a real chance. (AP)

SMITH: Give him a real chance. (AP)

They didn’t because the Mets already had a first baseman; because they still thought they had a chance to compete; and, most importantly, they didn’t think he was ready for prime time.

Well, they traded Lucas Duda; the injuries mounted and their season spun out of control; they finally brought up Smith and GM Sandy Alderson was correct – or partially so.

Smith, supposedly a defensive wizard, was erratic in the field. He hit with more power than expected, but his average and on-base percentage were worse than expected, and his attitude and conditioning weren’t what the Mets hoped.

Based on Smith’s limited window the Mets don’t believe he’s ready. Hopefully, Smith learned from last summer and rededicated himself and this might be the year he finds his game.

But, barring a dramatic turn, it won’t be in Flushing as the Mets for the start of this season at least are committed to Adrian Gonzalez. I would have preferred the Mets opened the season with Smith and given him a shot to live up to the expectations. With the Mets not anticipated to contend this year, this would be the perfect opportunity to see what the Mets have in the prospect.

Seriously, would Gonzalez put the Mets over the top? Of course not, and neither would Smith regardless of how well he plays this year.

But, the most important thing regarding Smith is to get an idea of what the Mets have in him. And, playing Gonzalez would only set the Mets back at least a year.

Just a ridiculous decision by Alderson.

Jan 16

Why Didn’t Alderson Make A Stronger Play For McCutchen?

A quick show of hands, please: Who has heard of Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds?

Chances are you haven’t until today when the Giants sent to the two prospects to Pittsburgh for Andrew McCuthen. The cash-strapped Pirates will also send money to the Giants to help cover McCutchen’s $14.75 million salary.

“It’s no secret that we were looking to further add run production to our lineup,’’ said Brian Sabean, Giants executive vice president of baseball operations. “Anytime you have the opportunity to bring aboard someone with such a track record, you have to jump on it.’’

Which begs another question, why, if the Mets were reportedly interested in McCutchen, couldn’t GM Sandy Alderson have matched the Giants in the talent sent to Pittsburgh? Why didn’t Alderson “jump” on it?

And, that McCutchen is a free agent after this season is irrelevant because if the Mets chose not to bring him back on a long-term deal, they could at least make get a qualifying offer. And, if McCutchen rejected it, they would receive a compensatory draft pick.

If the Mets are as close to being competitive as Alderson believes they are, then why pass on McCutchen, who is only 31?

Michael Conforto could move from center to right, and Jay Bruce could switch to first base. That would be a fairly formidable lineup if the pitching stays healthy. However, Bruce isn’t enough to make the Mets a wild-card contender. Bruce and McCutchen might be. It is certainly better than Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez.

So, why was Alderson asleep at the switch?

The only thing I can think of is because he didn’t want to spend the money.


Oct 13

Even In Defeat, Matz Showed He’s Ready For The Big Stage

Steven Matz pitched well enough to win most games, but most games he’s not facing Clayton Kershaw, the game’s best pitcher. One of the things I like most about Mets manager Terry Collins is the confidence he displays in his players. His decision to stick with Matz as his Game 4 starter – despite only six career starts – against Kershaw screamed he had the ultimate confidence.

MATZ: Good, just not Kershaw good. (Getty)

MATZ: Good, just not Kershaw good. (Getty)

The knee-jerk reaction is to say Matz spit the bit in tonight’s 3-1 loss to the Dodgers to send the NLDS back to Los Angeles for the deciding Game 5. Tell me, if I told you Matz would have given up three runs tonight, you would have grabbed it in a second.

“He pitched very good,” Collins said. “He was outstanding. If we get to the next round we have all the confidence in the world in him.”

That’s an awfully big “if.” It’s one thing to beat Kershaw at home. It’s another for them to encore that by beating Zack Greinke on the road. That will be a daunting task.

Collins could have gone with staff ace Jacob deGrom – he said that was on the table had the Mets lost Game 3 – but as it turned out, Matz was a good choice. Remember, this was his seventh Major League start and it was on a national stage. Next year, the Mets are counting on him for at least 30 starts.

Think of the pressure on Matz. He was pitching on national television with a chance to send the Mets to the next round. That’s a lot of pressure on the 24-year-old lefty, especially considering he hadn’t pitched since Sept. 24, that he was coming off an injury, and was trying to match Kershaw pitch for pitch.

It was one bad inning that did in Matz. Adrian Gonzalez drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a bloop single to center, then two more on Justin Turner’s two-run double. That’s two bad pitches he’d like to have back.

“To sum it up, a couple of mistakes hurt me,” Matz said. “I thought I threw the ball good. I just had a bad inning, but against a guy like Kershaw you have to put up zeroes.”

Sure there were nerves, regardless of his pre-game vow to “take the emotions out of it.” Collins had to sense Matz wasn’t snowing him when he looked him in the eye and was told he was ready.

And, even in defeat, Matz showed the baseball world he was ready for this moment.