Feb 02

It’s the not knowing that’s hard

Usually teams have a rough idea heading into spring training of what to expect for the season. Not so for the 2011 edition of the New York Mets. They could move dramatically in either direction.

Sandy Alderson said he’s hoping for a competitive season, which means building up from .500 and laying the groundwork for 2012 and beyond. However, in the back of his mind, he knows it is possible he might have to blow up the team by the All-Star break.

With the Wilpons facing legal problems in the wake of their involvement with Bernie Madoff, we won’t know the full impact of their financial situation until after the lawsuits are settled and that could take a long time. While it seems doubtful they will be forced to sell controlling interest of the Mets, we can’t say that with full certainty.

And, with buying limited interest in the franchise not including a part of Citi Field or SNY, where’s the incentive for attracting new investors? That might be harder to pull off than imagined.

But, if things continue to spiral downward, it’s almost a guarantee Alderson might have to sell off some of the pieces on the field to cut costs to attract a new buyer. Carlos Beltran, gone after this season, would be the first to go. Next, I can see them dealing Jose Reyes for chips rather then spring for a long term deal. If the team tanks in the first half and he’s having a good year, Angel Pagan would draw interest.

They will attempt to trade Francisco Rodriguez, but with that $17.5 million option, that would be tough to do. About as hard as trading Oliver Perez. I’ve been hearing about wanting to get out of Johan Santana’s contract, but with him not available until at least the All-Star break, what team is going to want to take that gamble? Jason Bay’s contract makes him untradeable and David Wright, who might command the most, is the face of the franchise. You have to have some assets.

If everybody remains healthy and have good years, winning 85 to 90 games isn’t completely unrealistic. It is what the team is hoping for. You really can’t say building for because they did little this winter

However, if there’s financial pressure on the Wilpons, there’s no telling what this team could look like come July.

Jan 26

Santana not throwing

Despite being cleared to begin his post-op throwing program, Johan Santana hasn’t begun, yet. It is premature to say this is a setback.

General manager Sandy Alderson said last month he expects Santana to be throwing before the start of spring training, but wouldn’t specify a date. He did say Opening Day was out and the expectation was for the second half.

When we see Santana could very well depend on how well the Mets are playing by the All-Star break. If the team is playing poorly and opts to rebuild by dealing Carlos Beltran, then there’s no sense in rushing Santana.

If the Mets are competing and have realistic wild-card aspirations, then it isn’t hard to envision there might be some pressure – probably self-imposed by Santana – to come back.

Either way, the clock on Santana’s return won’t start until he starts throwing and he hasn’t yet started long-tossing.

Jan 04

Mets’ individual goals for 2011

The beginning of the new year is always fresh with optimism and goal setting. Yesterdays don’t matter anymore and the focus is on today and tomorrow.

As an organization the Mets’ 2011 goals are to get through the season as competitively as possible, shed itself of its suffocating contracts and lay a foundation for 2012. The free-agent signings of Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz are low-risk, with the potential for high-rewards moves. The possibility of improving the bullpen and possibly the rotation at minimal cost are the type of decisions we’ve come to expect from Sandy Alderson. If they acquire Jeff Francis or Chris Young, it would be more of the same. These moves won’t push the Mets over the top, but they can make for an interesting summer — if the following goals are also reached.

The following Mets should have these resolutions and goals.

JOHAN SANTANA: Don’t push your return from shoulder surgery and accept the marquee days of your career could be over. Santana’s injury is serious and there’s no reasonable expectation he’ll return prior to the All-Star break. The competitor in him wants to pitch and there’s the danger of him pushing it. Santana has pitched with injury before, but he must be especially careful now, even if it means setting out the entire season. To re-injure his shoulder could mean the end of his career. And, with 2011 all but a write-off season, there should be no urgency on the part of the Mets, either.

MIKE PELFREY: Pelfrey made tremendous strides last year, but regressed in June. Hopefully, he has learned from it. During that swoon Pelfrey reverted to bad habits and lost his focus on the mound. Pelfrey went away from trusting his stuff and started aiming the ball. When all else fails, Pelfrey must realize if he keeps it low he has the stuff to overpower hitters. Above all, without Santana, I don’t want Pelfrey to put too much of a burden on himself with the expectations. Pelfrey is what he is, which is a good, developing pitcher. He’s not a No. 1 yet, so his goal should be not to put that pressure on himself.

RA DICKEY: Dickey’s goal should to duplicate 2010 as much as possible. It was a career year for him so a regression shouldn’t be a surprise. Dickey can no longer sneak up on teams, so how he responds with expectations will be interesting to see.

JON NIESE: Niese had a good start but growing pains eventually caught up with him and he slid from 6-2 to 9-10. Niese, obviously, isn’t a given and his goal needs to trust his stuff and try to make gradual improvement. There are expectations on Niese he’s never had before, made even heavier by the questions swirling around the rotation. Niese must learn to keep things simple and not over extend himself.

BOBBY PARNELL: Quite simply, his goal must be to harness his near 100 mph. fastball to where he can capture the set-up role, which is his for the taking. How well Parnell does in this role will go a long way toward moving him into the closer’s role for 2012 should Francisco Rodriguez fail to finish 55 games.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: K-Rod has to keep his temper and get off to a fast start. If he’s hot early and the Mets are in contention, he’ll get more save opportunities to increase his chances of that $17.5 million option kicking in. The Mets would prefer he fail short and instead go with the buyout. One of the most interesting storylines of the summer will be Rodriguez. If he’s good, so will be the Mets. If he’s not, the team will likely be sluggish, but facing a financial windfall for next winter.

JOSH THOLE: Thole will enter spring training as the No. 1 catcher, but can’t assume he’s got it made. He has good bat control, but needs to pick up that part of his game. His offensive goal should be to continue to be patient at the plate and take the ball where it is pitched. Thole will get stronger as he gets older, but shouldn’t be thinking about changing his offensive approach.

IKE DAVIS: Already strong, the home runs will continue to come for Davis, but he needs to be more disciplined at the plate for that to happen. Davis was frequently beaten on breaking ball low off the plate. That was his offensive Achilles Heel that threatens to curb his progress. Davis knows he’s good and has the potential, but he can’t take it for granted that it will automatically come for him.

JOSE REYES: Reyes lets things get to him and that presents the danger of pressing in his walk year. With the Mets acutely aware of their budget, a decision on Reyes could come as soon as the All-Star break. Reyes hasn’t been himself in two years because of injury and the fear is he’ll try to force things. With Reyes, that includes losing focus at the plate and giving away too many at-bats. Reyes’ best production came in the years immediately following his contract when he’s healthy. Considering the past two years there’s a concern about his health. Reyes’ primary goal outside of staying healthy is playing within himself.

DAVID WRIGHT: With the clubhouse chemistry in a state of flux in a transition year, Wright’s goal should be to assert himself more as a leader. This is his team and he needs to act like it. With a lot of young kids, and what could be going on in Reyes’ head, Wright needs to be more of a vocal, kick-butt presence. With a new management and manager, now is the time. A leader, however, needs to follow by example and there were way too many instances where Wright gave away too many at-bats and also lost focus in the field. Wright struck out 161 times last year, a number that should be reduced by at least 25 percent. Too often Wright was a rally killer and that has to stop, especially with the need for more offense considering the pitching questions.

CARLOS BELTRAN: So far, Beltran has said all the right things to impress the new regime. His goal should be to mean them. If Beltran stays healthy and produces he knows that could parlay into another rich contract. Only Beltran knows it won’t happen with the Mets. The Mets could have an interesting dilemma at the All-Star break. If Beltran is having a good year and has the Mets within wild-card contention, they might try to ride him during the second half. But, if he’s playing well and what’s offered is potentially better than compensatory draft picks, they’ll pull the trigger on a deal. Either way, it is safe to assume this is Beltran’s last year with the Mets. It’s up to him to make the most of it.

JASON BAY: Rarely are there do-overs, but this is as close as it comes. Bay hit only six homers and missed most of the second half with a concussion in what was a lost season. The Mets are stuck with his contract and Bay’s objective is to prove his worth.

Dec 13

Are you ready to sacrifice 2011?

Sandy Alderson insists the Mets will compete in 2011, but at the same time acknowledges limited resources and holes in the rotation and bullpen. The plan is for those injured to bounce back healthy and the others to play at the top of their game.

Don’t expect Johan Santana before the All-Star break at the earliest. We’ve known since he joined the organization this would be the case, but it is sinking in after coming home with scraps from the winter meetings. Yes, the Mets needed a back-up catcher and another bullpen arm, but that’s not enough to get it done.

Alderson said today he’d like seven or eight arms to compete for starter roles but came up with only Mike Pelfrey, RA Dickey, John Niese, Dillon Gee and Pat Misch. Jenrry Mejia, he said, isn’t ready. Alderson didn’t say where the other arms would come from. Chris Young is somebody they are looking at, but he’s a project and wants more than what the Mets want to give.

Everything has to break right for the Mets to have a competitive season. That much Alderson has told us. He just hasn’t said how this is to happen.

Nov 12

Bringing back Feliciano not a given

One of the Mets’ most interesting off-season decisions will be what to do with Pedro Feliciano. The departure of Hisanori Takahashi doesn’t necessarily mean bringing back Feliciano is a formality.

FELICIANO: Not a given he'll be back.

Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel wore down Feliciano, pushing the envelope with him against right-handed hitters over the past three years. Feliciano led the league in appearances for three straight seasons with 86, 88 and 92 in 2008, 2009 and last year, respectively.

“The Mets over used him because they didn’t really have any other better options against right-handed hitters,” one scout said. “There were signs he was wearing down. He’d be better off strictly against lefties.”

He’ll be 35 in 2011 and if he doesn’t have more of a refined role, there are concerns he could wear down. In three more innings pitched last season than in 2009, Feliciano’s ERA rose by a third of a run, and he gave up 15 more hits and 12 more walks.

Feliciano, as much as he wanted an expanded role, proved vulnerable against right-handed hitters with a .336 average against compared to .264 from the previous year.

Feliciano’s pre-All-Star ERA was 2.34, but his post-All-Star ERA was 4.50, including 5.23 in July and 6.75 in August when the season slipped away from the Mets.

The shelf life of a reliever is short to begin with, and considering his age and that there are breakdown signs already, don’t be surprised if the Mets cut him loose and looked for a younger, cheaper arm elsewhere.