Oct 19

Alderson’s Top Ten Mets’ Questions

Unquestionably, the most important issue confronting the Mets is the health of their young, but battered, rotation. However, since injuries are beyond their control, the following are the top ten questions GM Sandy Alderson must answer this winter:

Should they add a starting pitcher? The Mets can’t control the recovery of their four surgically-repaired pitchers. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t add. Should the Mets rely on Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman continuing their development – and bring back Bartolo Colon – or add a starter from the outside? I’d explore a veteran stop-gap and definitely bring back Colon.

ALDERSON: Faces a lot of questions. (AP)

ALDERSON: Faces a lot of questions. (AP)

Should they bring back Cespedes? This isn’t entirely within the Mets’ control. If Cespedes opts out, which he is certain to do, the bidding reportedly will begin at $100 million over five years. Should they bite the bullet and give Cespedes what he wants in terms of money, years, position preference, and option to hustle, or should they spend the money on the myriad of other issues? I realize how important Cespedes’ bat is, but $100 million can fill a lot of holes, including adding a power bat. I wouldn’t be adverse to pursuing Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion.

Should they bring back Bruce? This might not be first on the Mets’ wish list, but it is essential to guard against Cespedes leaving. He’s a proven hitter, but not as dynamic as Cespedes. Bruce will be cheaper than Cespedes, and they could add an option for 2018, when Curtis Granderson will be gone. They could spend the money earmarked for Cespedes on Bruce with plenty left over to fill holes.

Should they add a first baseman? Moving Michael Conforto from the outfield could be a reach. Should they gamble on Conforto or add from the outside – Encarnacion can play first – extend Lucas Duda or bring back James Loney? Duda and Loney maintains the status quo, which wasn’t productive. I like the idea of Encarnacion, which would fill the first base hole, replace Cespedes’ power, and allow Conforto to play full time in left.

Should they add a catcher? Clearly, Travis d’Arnaud hasn’t lived up to expectations. However, whether by free agency of trade, they can’t afford to go into 2017 with d’Arnaud and Rene Rivera. They must improve here this winter.

Should they examine another closer? After back-to-back flat Octobers by Jeurys Familia, the question has been posed by several. I think bringing back Addison Reed is their top bullpen priority, then building up the middle-innings bridge. I’m not worried about Familia.

Should they extend Collins? Manager Terry Collins isn’t sure if he wants to manage past 2017. I hate the idea of a lame duck manager, so I would make him an offer.

Are they good enough at second base? This begins with bringing back Neil Walker, who is recovering from back surgery. They also have Wilmer Flores, who is recovering from wrist surgery. They also have T.J. Rivera, who could be the future. Going outside for a second baseman isn’t necessary.

What should they do at third?  Their preparation in the event of David Wright being injured again was poor. If Wright is healthy, he has a spot on the roster, but where will he play? He’ll get first crack at third, but could also be tried at first base. However, the problem with trying Wright and/or Conforto at first base is we won’t know until spring training. That means they have to bring back Duda/Loney as a hedge. Either way, they need to bring back Jose Reyes, who also gives them a back-up at shortstop.

How good is the bench? Both Riveras, Juan Lagares and Kelly Johnson made positive impacts. Previously, Alderson built the bench last, but if you have proven performers, then why not address that right away? If nothing else, it will prevent them from trading for Johnson a third time.

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Oct 03

Leaving Loney Off Wild-Card Roster Would Be Mistake

There’s no doubt Mets GM Sandy Alderson is a smart guy, but there are times he thinks too damn much. Reportedly he’s doing that now by considering leaving James Loney off the wild-card playoff roster in favor of Lucas Duda.

Never mind the fairness element, that without Loney replacing Duda for 99 games, the Mets are already scattering for their off-season homes.

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off roster. (SNY)

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off. (SNY)

Clearly, Alderson, who is Sabremetrics junkie infatuated with the home run, is hoping Duda might run into a pitch against the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner Wednesday night. It could happen, but I’m betting after not playing most of the season with a back injury he will be handcuffed by Bumgarner’s nasty slider.

As lefty hitters, neither Loney (2-for-13, .154 BA/.214 OB) nor Duda (0-for-1) have a distinguished history against Bumgarner. For that matter, neither does Eric Campbell (1-for-5).

When you look at the splits, look at their career numbers against all left-handed pitchers. In 572 career at-bats against lefties, Duda is hitting .224 with 17 homers, a .659 OPS and a 200-50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Conversely, in 1,264 at-bats, Loney is hitting .251 with 20 homers, a .646 OPS and a 222-83 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Actually, if it came down to career numbers against Bumgarner, what about Kelly Johnson (7-for-20 lifetime)?

I’m not blaming manager Terry Collins should the Mets go with Duda because he’s not pulling the strings. This is Alderson’s baby. Both pay lip service to a give-and-take working relationship, but Alderson runs the show.

The Bumgarner-Noah Syndergaard match-up suggests the possibility of a low-scoring game. Alderson is gambling Duda will connect for a bomb, but the odds suggest Loney is more apt to continue an inning.

And, with runs figuring to be at a premium, Loney is the superior defensive player. He has a better glove, more range, and a better arm. Should I remind you of his throw to the plate in Game 5 of last year’s World Series? Didn’t think so.

One of the main storylines in this game will be Syndergaard’s ability to hold potential base stealers, who ran on him at will this year.

As a right-handed first baseman, it is harder for Duda to hold runners as his tag will be at the runner’s calf instead of his arm. Meanwhile, with a good move, Loney’s tag will be on the runner’s hand. If nothing else it could shorten a lead by a step.

Look, Duda might hit three homers. He could also make two errors and strike out three times. Who knows? But, for one game, with this pitching match-up, the right way to go is Loney over Duda.

If they want to take Duda over Campbell for a pinch-hit swing late in the game, fine. But, seriously, if Campbell pinch-hits, the Mets would likely be behind, and who would he bat for?

Alderson is smart, but he’s thinking too much on this one and it could bite him in the butt.

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Oct 02

Mets’ Questions In Deciding Wild-Card Roster

There are a lot of things Mets GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins will consider over the next few days as they construct their postseason roster in preparation for the wild-card game against San Francisco, Wednesday, at Citi Field.

Collins has been spoiled with access up to 40 players since September 1. Now, they’ll face Madison Bumgarner with 25.

ALDERSON: A lot on his mind. (AP)

ALDERSON: A lot on his mind. (AP)

Here are the questions Alderson must answer:

CATCHER: Could they consider carrying a third catcher in Kevin Plawecki? They could go this way because in the one game format Collins shouldn’t hesitate to use a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner. Plus, in the back of his mind should be the prospect of extra innings.

FIRST BASE: Who starts? The early word is Lucas Duda could get the start over James Loney with the thinking he might have one good swing in him. We’ve heard a lot about the possibility of Eric Campbell. Even if he doesn’t start, he should be there because he represents a right-handed pinch-hit option.

OUTFIELD: Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes will be the starters. However, the recent play of Juan Lagares introduced an element nobody considered two weeks ago. Lagares has shown he can swing the bat, so if he’s carried, who will the Mets choose between Michael Conforto and Alejandro De Aza? There’s no way Collins would favor De Aza’s defense over Bruce’s bat, but he could choose him over Conforto.

STARTERS: They will carry three, Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon and Seth Lugo over Robert Gsellman. Why three? Because what happens if Syndergaard were to get injured or shelled early in the game?

BULLPEN: Since the opponent is the Giants, who are heavy with left-handed hitters, will the Mets go with one less position player and add lefty Josh Edgin? The rest of the pen would include Jerry Blevins, Hansel Robles, Fernando Salas, Josh Smoker, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia.

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Sep 17

DeGrom Surgery Raises Old Injury Questions About Mets

Today’s news about Jacob deGrom needing season-ending elbow surgery was disappointing, but hardly surprising considering the Mets’ history with injuries. Sometimes, they mishandle things and other times they are struck down by bad luck.

This is a combination of both.

DE GROM: Out for year. (AP)

DE GROM: Out for year. (AP)

DeGrom has been out since Sept. 1 after experiencing elbow pain in a game against Miami, his third in a string of three poor starts in which he gave up a combined 16 runs on 31 hits in 14.2 innings. You’ll recall that was the game deGrom called for the trainer as he left the dugout for the clubhouse.

After that game, manager Terry Collins said he wasn’t aware of deGrom’s gesture. The pitcher said he felt fine, that he just wanted to talk with trainer Ray Ramirez and the problem was mechanical.

The injury was described the next day as inflammation in his right forearm and he was put on the disabled list.

The Mets seemed to push deGrom’s return in a way they might not have in May or June. He threw ten pitches off the mound last Saturday when the Mets were in Atlanta. DeGrom then had a 35-pitch bullpen Friday, after which Collins cleared him to start Sunday. That start will now be made by Gabriel Ynoa.

Normally, when a pitcher is on the disabled list with an elbow problem, it takes more than one bullpen session before he’s activated. There was immediate speculation the Mets were pushing deGrom. However, from the time of that session to GM Sandy Alderson’s announcement today deGrom would need surgery to repair the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow, a lot of questions were raised.

In Collins’ pre-game press briefing prior to Friday’s game – probably an hour after deGrom threw – he said: “We think he’s ready. He looked great.”

Collins also said deGrom would have a pitch count of 75, and “our intentions are to build him back up a little bit.” Building deGrom back up indicates he wasn’t ready, which Alderson acknowledged this afternoon when he said: “[deGrom] threw a bullpen yesterday, felt great, went out to shag in the outfield, threw the ball and had some pain as a result. It is unlikely he will pitch the rest of the season.”

However, Collins said today: “I watched Jake’s bullpen yesterday and it was outstanding and 15 minutes after batting practice is over he walked and said, ‘I can’t pitch.’ We certainly have no plans to have him pitch in the near future.”

Collins’ comments indicate he knew deGrom felt pain before Friday’s game. Why then, did Collins make the announcement deGrom would start? If not before the game, then why not update deGrom’s injury status after the game? If nothing else, Collins could have said they were waiting until deGrom was re-examined Saturday. Doing so eliminates the bungling angle, which is frequently an issue with the Mets on an injury.

DeGrom told reporters today there is no ligament damage, but probably scar tissue build-up from his 2010 Tommy John surgery that was rubbing against the nerve.

“I just tried to lob it into the bucket, and I guess throwing that bullpen messed with that nerve,” deGrom said. “After I threw it I said, `OK, I’ve got to say something.’ One throw, that I felt it on, and it was definitely disappointing.”

If you give the Mets benefit of doubt on this, had deGrom not felt pain on the innocent toss from the outfield, perhaps he would have Sunday, or maybe in the playoffs. It’s even possible he might not have felt anything until spring training.

That this happened now could put a crimp in the Mets’ playoff push, could be looked at in a positive light because if deGrom immediately has surgery, he should be ready for spring training.

DeGrom said he’s had numbness in his ring and pinkie fingers for several weeks, but didn’t feel pain until the Sept. 1 start. DeGrom said the span of numbness ran five or six starts, but he decided to pitch through it. At the time, Collins attributed deGrom’s performance to being fatigued. Collins said nothing about numbness.

DeGrom was obviously not “fine” as he said after the Sept. 1 game. Was deGrom – who finishes the year 7-8 with a 3.04 ERA – totally upfront with Collins or Alderson about the numbness? I don’t know. If so, were the Mets assuming the DL stint was enough time for him to overcome it?

You also have to wonder if deGrom was not totally forthcoming, why didn’t he learn from watching what the Mets went through with Matt Harvey? Another idle thought is if what happened with deGrom will give the Mets pause in trying to rush back Steven Matz?

Enough things were done and said, and enough questions raised, to indicate this wasn’t handled well by a lot of parties.

Resiliency has been a Mets’ buzzword the past two years, and now they need to show that quality more than ever.

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Sep 13

Backman Tells His Side; Could Have Helped Collins This Week

Speaking on WFAN this afternoon, deposed Las Vegas manager Wally Backman insisted the decision to leave was his, and he vehemently refuted published reports citing unnamed Mets’ sources claiming he was insubordinate.

Backman said he would have accepted a coaching position on Terry Collins‘ staff or stayed with Vegas if asked. Whether he would have fired if he didn’t leave hasn’t been reported, but based on what Backman told WFAN one can presume he would have been canned by GM Sandy Alderson.

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking.  (AP)

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking. (AP)

Backman, who managed in the Mets’ farm system for seven years, including the last five on the Triple-A level with Buffalo and Las Vegas, said he wants to pursue options to manage in the major leagues but didn’t say he had anything immediately on his radar.

“I left on my own,” Backman said. “It didn’t look like there was any future for me in New York. When you work for an organization and do everything, you want to be respected for what you do. I just felt for my time being there the respect wasn’t there. I could be wrong. They could say different.”

Backman defined respect as more than simply guiding Las Vegas to three consecutive winning seasons prior to this year. He said it should include being acknowledged by Alderson in directing the Mets to James Loney, Rene Rivera and Jose Reyes; the last coming after a two-hour conversation that acted as a screening process.

All three paid dividends this summer.

In addition, many current Mets – from Noah Syndergaard to Michael Conforto to Jacob deGrom – played under Backman. He also was instrumental in turning around Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud when they were on rehab assignments last year.

Backman was livid at reports citing unnamed sources he went rogue and disobeyed instructions on playing Conforto against left-handed pitching and batting Brandon Nimmo in the leadoff spot.

“Whoever put that out there, the source within the system, they lied,” a clearly agitated Backman said. “And that’s the part that pisses me off because I did nothing but try to help these guys.”

As for not playing Conforto against left-handers, Backman said he played in 31 of 33 games, hitting .488 (20-for-41) with three home runs against lefties. One game that Conforto didn’t play in was a day he was sent down and didn’t arrive until the fourth inning. The other came on a day prior to an off-day as to give Conforto two straight days off, which is commonplace.

Backman also said Nimmo hit first or second in 84 out of 97 games.

Backman said he got along with Collins and spoke to him frequently. Regarding his relationship Alderson, Backman took a diplomatic approach.

“I’m not going to say we never got along,” Backman said. “I thought he respected me as a baseball person. I guess I wasn’t the prototypical guy he liked.”

That became clear when the Mets bypassed Backman in favor of Dick Scott last December to be Collins’ bench coach.

We haven’t heard much about Scott this year until this past week, which hasn’t been a great one for Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about setting up his pitching.

Finally, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it Monday, Collins kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of a bench coach, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

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