Mar 17

Kirk Nieuwenhuis Having Miserable Spring; Vegas Bound

With two weeks to go before Opening Day, Kirk Nieuwenhuis should be thinking about where he would live in New York rather than Las Vegas.

Nieuwenhuis, who made a strong first impression with the Mets last year, came to camp penciled in as the center fielder and first in line to win the leadoff spot. However, a hitless streak at the start of the exhibition schedule punctuated with a rash of strikeouts followed by deep bone bruise on his left knee made this a washout spring.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

It should be fun for a young player competing for a starting job.

“Fun?’’ Nieuwenhuis asked. “It should have been fun, but it’s no fun spending time in the trainer’s room. It’s no fun when you can’t get onto the field. This has been a very frustrating time.’’

Nieuwenhuis was injured two weeks ago, and yesterday participated in batting practice and outfield drills. Once he runs the bases, he’ll be cleared to play, but it will be a minor league game.

Perhaps early this week Nieuwenhuis will get in a game, but Collin Cowgill has already leaped past him as well as Jordany Valdespin. Matt den Dekker also made a strong impression defensively, and still has a chance to make the team if he finishes with a hot two weeks with the bat.

Nieuwenhuis doesn’t say it, but despite his youth and inexperience, he’s smart enough to know the score. All he has to do is look at the stat sheet and compare his at-bats to Cowgill’s.

“I haven’t seen a lot of pitches,’’ Nieuwenhuis said in about as direct an admission that he’ll open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas. “You need at-bats in spring training. You need repetition, and I haven’t gotten them.’’

Nieuwenhuis was brought up early last season after Andres Torres was injured and got two hits in his first game. Then he rattled off a seven-game hitting streak. Three times he had three hits in a game and at the end of April was hitting .325 with a .386 on-base percentage.

Nieuwenhuis remained productive in May – hitting .294 at the end of the month – and carried it into June and was emerging as an early Rookie of the Year candidate hitting .297 while playing a near flawless center field.

However, by the middle of the month, pitchers started figuring him out and his average plummeted. Anybody can hit fastballs, but Nieuwenhuis was having trouble with breaking balls and off-speed stuff and his strike zone widened for pitchers, who didn’t have to be so fine.

Nieuwenhuis sustained a hand injury in July and at the end of the month was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo, where he injured his foot and was lost for the remainder of the season.

At the time of his demotion, Nieuwenhuis was down to .252 with a .315 on-base percentage, and in 282 at-bats had more strikeouts (98) than hits (71).

Although general manager Sandy Alderson had his apprehensions with Nieuwenhuis, his early success last year coupled with the Mets’ wide-open outfield situation, enabled him to come to camp with a fresh start and high expectations.

“Strikeouts are acceptable to a point,’’ Alderson said. “If a player has a high on-base percentage and produces a lot of runs, you can take the strikeouts.’’

Nieuwenhuis got off to a slow start this spring with only one hit and seven strikeouts in 20 at-bats. He was quickly removed from the leadoff spot as manager Terry Collins searched for other options, including Valdespin and Cowgill.

“I know the strikeouts have been a problem,’’ Nieuwenhuis said. “I don’t want to strike out. I need to put the ball in play. Seeing pitches is very important, and you get that through repetition.’’

And, you don’t see pitches when you’re not on the field.

Dec 06

Mets Still Have Work To Do, Beginning With Outfield

Speaking at the Winter Meetings, Mets’ CEO Jeff Wilpon said GM Sandy Alderson would have an increased budget for 2013 and the team “will be competitive.’’

What exactly he meant by that, he wouldn’t specify. Does it mean the Mets will be a playoff contender or at least a .500-caliber team? Just exactly how much will the budget be increased? When Wilpon spoke of payroll flexibility, in the wake of the commitment to David Wright, he didn’t do so in terms of actual dollars.

PAGAN: Rarely ran like that with the Mets.

Alderson said the outfield pool is currently at the deep end with Shane Victorino signing a three-year, $39 million deal with Boston. I thought if the Mets splurged they might have a shot at Victorino, but I wasn’t thinking $39 million. Victorino actually turned down $44 million from Cleveland for a chance to play for a contender, and the Indians aren’t exactly a free-spending team.

Alderson said “we’ll get outfielders,’’ but what he didn’t add on was, “… we have to because the rules say we need to play with three.’’

Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter – left to right – is what the Mets currently have if the season started today.

Duda made a splash two years ago, but struggled badly last season; Nieuwenhuis made a good first impression in 2012 after Andres Torres was injured, but major league pitching caught up with him (those curveballs can be nasty); and Baxter is a role player who gets exposed after long bouts of playing time.

Hopefully, Duda learned something from being shipped off to the minors and he’ll have a breakout year. But, he’s never done it over a full season, so the hopes are mostly wishful thinking.

As far as Nieuwenhuis goes, he made a splash with his ability to work the count, put the ball in play and hustle. It would be asking a lot from him to develop into a fulltime leadoff hitter, assuming manager Terry Collins will place him at the top of the order.

I heard interest in Ryan Ludwick, but he’s not coming here.  Ludwick made $2 million last year while hitting 26 homers and driving in 80 runs for Cincinnati. He’ll command a hefty raise, and I’m betting the Reds will give it to him.

Speaking of hefty raises, Scott Hairston, easily the most productive outfielder the Mets had last season, should get at least two years, or one and an option, for hitting 20 homers last season. Great off the bench, his playing time gradually increased.

The Mets will need a guy like him. Hey, here’s an idea … sign him.

Now that the Mets have committed $140 million to Wright, what about the rest of the roster? Dickey is still out there, and there have been no significant additions to even suggest the Mets’ offices have been open since the end of the season.

 

Nov 28

Updated Offer To Wright; Dickey Talks Slow

The updated numbers for David Wright appear right, perhaps close enough for an agreement.

It was first reported yesterday the Mets made a $100-million offer for six years, but then a second report was for $125-million over seven years. Both are suitable proposals, but Wright seems determined for a seven-year deal that would run through at least 2020.

WRIGHT (R): Who will greet him at the plate in 2013? (AP)

At this stage of the game it is splitting hairs between six years and an option or seven years. In all probability, the seven-year offer would also contain an option, perhaps multiple options that kick in based on games played and plate appearances.

Major League sources said it was unlikely a deal would be reached before the Winter Meetings next week, which isn’t surprising as there are always loose ends in such a contract.

Meanwhile, the R.A. Dickey talks are slow, despite the organization penciling him into their 2013 rotation. Both Wright and Dickey maintain their decision could be impacted on the other. The Mets obviously deem their All-Star third baseman the top priority, as they should.

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Nov 24

Making Cases For Pelfrey And Torres To Return

After writing about Jon Niese and untouchable Mets yesterday, I thought I’d take a different approach and consider those Mets believed to be out the door.

Say hello to Mike Pelfrey and Andres Torres. Both long thought to be gone, but upon further review cases can be made for their return.

PELFREY: Making a case for his return. (Daily News)

The 28-year-old Pelfrey made $5.68 million in an injury shortened 2012 and is expected to hit the market with a career 50-54 record. He is arbitration eligible with Scott Boras as his agent, all which should make the Mets deathly afraid.

Quite bluntly: Even at 20 percent off his 2012 salary, the Mets think that is too high, which is why they won’t tender him and say good-bye after a disappointedly short-lived career in Flushing. He had a couple of solid seasons, even All-Star worthy in 2010, but regressed in 2011 and was hurt last year.

He never reached the level expected of a first-round pick while others, such as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain sprinted past him into elite status. Unquestionably, Pelfrey has the physical tools to excel, but dramatically underachieved. A combination of a lack of poise – who can forget the three-balk game? – poor pitch selection, mechanics, and although he’ll deny it – spotty confidence – lead to mediocrity.

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Nov 09

2012 Mets Player Review: The Bench

KIRK NIEUWENHUIS, OF

PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: Our player review series concludes today with a look at the bench, which wasn’t without questions. With Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda starting, that thinned the bench. Mike Nickeas was behind the plate; Justin Turner a capable reserve in the infield; and Scott Hairston and Mike Baxter were in the outfield. Kirk Nieuwenhuis opened the season in the minor leagues. The Mets liked Jordany Valdespin’s speed and ability to make things happen on the bases. In Nickeas, the Mets had a capable receiver, but not much offense; Turner had success as a pinch-hitter;  and Hairston and Baxter showed occasional power. Of the two, Baxter is the better defensive player.

2012 SEASON REVIEW: Hairston proved capable – perhaps too capable – in the outfield as he ended up starting when Duda was optioned and Jason Bay alternatively struggled and was hurt and hit 20 homers. Baxter saved Johan Santana’s no-hitter with a spectacular catch in left field and also provided some pop. Nieuwenhuis got an early opportunity when Andres Torres pulled up lame (calf) the first week of the season and played very well for about two months before major league pitching caught up with him (you’ll keep getting breaking balls off the plate until you prove you can hit them). Kelly Shoppach was brought in late in the season to back-up Josh Thole and hit for sporadic power. Speaking of power, Valdespin provided a long-ball spark as a pinch-hitter.

LOOKING AT 2013:  Hairston was so good he’ll command a multi-year deal in the free-agent market, something the Mets don’t want to do. Say good-bye, although with what they have returning in the outfield they should think twice. With Bay gone and Torres not expected to be tendered, Nieuwenhuis will get a chance to earn a spot during spring training. He can handle the job defensively, but needs to cut down on his strikeouts and increase his on-base percentage considering he’s not expected to hit for power. Valdespin played some second base in the fall league, which should enhance his value. Valdespin could also benefit by Bay’s departure. Turner could be brought back, and if not, there will be plenty of alternatives on the market. Shoppach had his moments, but the Mets won’t pay over $1 million for a back-up when the starter makes half that amount. GM Sandy Alderson said there won’t be any big-ticket free agents, but inexpensive reserve outfielders and a catcher could be found.