Oct 24

Should Injuries Shelve Long-Term Talks With Mets Pitchers?

For the past two years, signing the Mets’ young pitchers to long-term contracts seemed a paramount issue. Whom should they sign first, and for how much? Could they afford to sign two? In their wildest dreams, could they keep them all?

HARVEY: What's his market value now? (Getty)

HARVEY: What’s his market value now? (Getty)

With four pitchers coming off surgery, such talk now is but a whisper. We’re not hearing too much these days about Matt Harvey – who had shoulder surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome – leaving after the 2018 season for the Yankees or anybody else for that matter.

Steven Matz had surgery to repair bone spurs in his left elbow and Jacob deGrom, who had Tommy John surgery, is recovering from a second surgery to treat a nerve issue in his elbow. Then there is Zack Wheeler, who had Tommy John surgery and was supposed to ready by July but we didn’t see him all summer and nobody can say for sure when we will.

We won’t know for sure how they are until the spring, but the recovery forecast is looking good for the Mets’ surgically-repaired pitchers as doctors are telling the team they should be ready for the season. Even so, the Mets are likely to handle them all with kid gloves which is why they are interested in bringing back Bartolo Colon and draw relief with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

The Mets have seven young arms – plus Colon – but we’re no longer hearing talk about contract extensions. Whom should they sign first? Can they afford to sign two or three at a time? Who should they trade to plug holes elsewhere?

However, with Harvey, Matz, deGrom and Wheeler, what’s their trade value? Will teams risk dealing high-level prospects for damaged goods? Certainly, the Mets can’t command as much should they explore trading.

Conventional wisdom has the Mets backing off long-term contract talks as to avoid signing somebody who might not win, or even pitch for them. While their potential might be high, their proven production is not.

Then again, it wouldn’t hurt for the Mets to explore extensions now when their market value might not be as high as it could be in two or three years. It’s a gamble worth considering.

Please follow me on Twitter

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.

Please follow me on Twitter

Oct 08

Mets’ Top Ten Internal Decisions

GM Sandy Alderson was brought here clean out deadwood (Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, etc.) and trim payroll while the Wilpons tried to withstand the howling financial winds of the Ponzi Scandal.

BRUCE: First domino. (AP)

BRUCE: First domino. (AP)

It took several years, but the Mets are heading in the right direction – their Opening Day payroll was $135 million – but they can’t be accused of being spenders.

I see Alderson having to deal with ten players this winter:

OUTFIELD

Jay Bruce: Contractual control in 2017 was a key factor in making the trade in the first place. The want Bruce as a hedge for losing Cespedes, which means they must sign him first. The worst-case scenario is to screw around with Cespedes and delay with Bruce – which could cost them both. They must pick up Bruce’s $13 million option, and if Cespedes leaves, fine, so be it. Bruce is the lead domino.

Yoenis Cespedes: The ball is totally in the player’s court, which is not a good position for the Mets. Last year Cespedes dragged this out and there are no indications that won’t change this year. Early reports are Cespedes will want at least $100 million. Secretly, I’ll bet Alderson wants Cespedes to opt out and sign elsewhere.

INFIELD

Lucas Duda: He is arbitration eligible, but injury prone and coming off a back problem that is always scary. How much Duda will make is uncertain (he made $6.7 million this year and I’ve heard numbers as high $9 million). If not Duda, the Mets could go with a Loney-Flores platoon.

James Loney: I’m probably in the minority of those who wouldn’t mind seeing Loney return. However, they have other options, including seeing what Wright and Michael Conforto could do at first.

Neil Walker: Back surgery will reduce Walker’s bargaining power, so I don’t see people lining up to give him a two- or three-year deal. If they are set on Cespedes, they won’t go long term with both. With Wilmer Flores – assuming his wrist heals – and T.J. Rivera, it isn’t as if second base is a must. As they did with Daniel Murphy, they’ll probably extend a qualifying offer.

Jose Reyes: The Mets hold a team option on Reyes for 2017. The Mets got more than they expected from Reyes, and with David Wright’s return a question, there’s little doubt they won’t bring him back.

Kelly Johnson: They’ve already traded for him twice, and each time he produced. He’s versatile and produced as a pinch-hitter. This should be a no-brainer.

PITCHERS

Bartolo Colon: The biggest mistake Alderson could make is to assume all their surgically-repaired pitchers – there are four of them so far – will return healthy. The $7.25 million they paid for 15 victories was well spent. They need to bring him back.

Jerry Blevins: Stayed healthy, pitched well and wants to return. This shouldn’t be a problem. Not knowing what the Mets could get from Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin should help Blevins.

Jon Niese: Not happening.

Please follow me on Twitter

Oct 04

Mets-Giants: Five Key Battles

There are games within the game – the key match-ups – that could determine the winner of Wednesday’s Mets-Giants, wild-card game. The winner goes on to play the Cubs in the NL Division Series. There were alternating times this season that both teams thought that might not be possible.

Because of its Game 7 winner-take-all format, there’s a fragile balance to the individual match-ups, with the slightest play or decision determining whether a team’s season ends or winter begins.

SYNDERGAARD: Mets' biggest key. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Mets’ biggest key. (FOX)

Here are my five most intriguing match-ups:

BATTLE OF THE MANAGERS: While there have been reports the Mets’ Terry Collins could have been fired in August, the Giants’ Bruce Bochy could be a Hall of Famer. Based on winning three World Series titles, I would vote for him. Collins deserves kudos for keeping his team together during a string of adversities and controversies. Doing that should merit serious Manager of the Year consideration. It should be noted some of those controversies were self-induced.

In the end: When faced with a decision Bochy won’t waffle as Collins did in Game 5 of the World Series when he stuck with Matt Harvey.

BATTLE OF THE ACES: Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard is as intriguing as it gets. It is a dream for those loving a pitcher’s duel. While Syndergaard is in his first full season – really hard to believe – Bumgarner is an established postseason presence with the lowest road ERA 0.60 ERA (minimum of 25 innings) in playoff history. Bumgarner’s performance two years ago against Kansas City, when he won Games 1 and 5, then came back on two days to throw five innings in relief for the save in Game 7, is arguably one of the most impressive performances in postseason history.

The Mets like to boast of their young arms – and rightfully so – but Harvey, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz had a long way to match Bumgarner.

In the end: Syndergaard has the stuff for greatness and he’s pitched hurt. It wouldn’t be surprising if he spins a shutout, as he’s that dominant. But, if you get on you can steal on him, rattle him and drive him from the game. In a big game, there are a handful of names you want: Sandy Koufax (4-3, 0-95 ERA), Cliff Lee (7-0, 1.27 ERA), Andy Pettitte (19-10, 3.83 ERA), Orel Hershiser (8-3, 2.59 ERA), John Smoltz (15-4, 2.67 ERA), Curt Schilling (11-2, 2.23 ERA) and Bumgarner (7-3, 2.14 ERA).

BATTLE OF OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHIES: All season, Collins sang the refrain the Mets were a team built on the home run. The Giants, meanwhile, are a better at stringing together innings and putting pressure on the pitcher. Statistics is baseball’s yardstick. We can get caught up in the new-age numbers, but there are only a few that give a clearer picture.

It’s all about runs.

Mets: 671 runs scored; 218 homers; 649 RBI. Giants: 715 runs scored; 130 homers; 675 RBI.

Batting averages count, too.

Mets: Hit .225 with RISP and .187 with two outs and RISP. Giants: Hit .250 with RISP and .220 with two outs and RISP.

Other important numbers.

Mets: On-base percentage of .316, with 517 walks and 1,302 strikeouts. Giants: On-base percentage of .329 with 572 walks and 1,107 strikeouts.

Summary: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a storyline all season, and they can’t afford to squander whatever opportunities they’ll get against Bumgarner. While the Mets do live on the homer and clearly have more power with three hitters – Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson hitting over 30 – the Giants outscored them by 44 runs. The Mets don’t prolong innings with walks let too many chances get away by striking out.

BATTLE OF THE STARS

When it comes to the stars, it’s Cespedes against Buster Posey and their contrasting styles of power vs. patience.

Cespedes hit .280 with 31 homers, but only 86 RBI. For all his homers there should be more run production, especially since he hit .278 with RISP. However, his production is offset by 108 strikeouts compared to only 51 walks. In the clutch, pitchers are able to get Cespedes to chase.

Cespedes is an imposing figure at the plate, but his MVP candidacy faded with mediocre numbers after the All-Star break of .246, ten homers and 34 RBI. One red flag entering the postseason was Cespedes’ numbers since Sept. 15, when every one of the Mets’ 15 games was crucial. In his span, Cespedes hit .220 (13-for-59) with one homer and seven RBI, with ten strikeouts and seven RBI.

Another was his non-presence in the Mets’ clubhouse celebration. I appreciate his disappointment in how he ended the season, but this was a team moment and reminiscent of a NFL wide receiver. Yoenis, meet Odell Beckham Jr.

When it comes to needing a homer, you want Cespedes, but what about Posey?

Posey’s.288 average only a handful of points higher than Cespedes, but with only 14 homers. However, he drove in 80 runs creating speculation how many RBI he could have had if matched Cespedes’ power?

He’s a gap hitter with 33 doubles (Cespedes had 25) and better in the clutch with a .311 average with runners on base and .287 with RISP. Posey hit only .221 after the seventh inning, but that’s when he hit five of his homers with 21 RBI.

After the All-Star break, Posey hit .282 with three homers and 38 to pump the brakes on the Giants’ second-half skid. Since Sept. 15, Posey hit .306 (19-for-62) with two homers and 16 RBI (averaged one a game for 16 games) with nine strikeouts and seven walks.

Summary: It depends on what you want. If it’s a homer, go with Cespedes, but Posey is more apt to drive in a run in other ways and keep an inning alive with 68 strikeouts and 64 walks. It comes to this: Who do you want at the plate in the ninth inning, with the game tied with a runner on third with less than two outs?

BATTLE OF THE BULLPENS

Of all the stats, perhaps the most important could leave the others useless, and that’s the Giants’ 29 blown saves, including nine in September. Santiago Casilla (31 saves) lost his closer role to Sergio Romo (four saves), but the Mets’ eighth-inning duo of Addison Reed (40 holds) and Jeurys Familia (51 saves) is the most reliable in the majors.

Summary: Both teams need to get through seven, but with different reasons.

The Giants need to string together enough runs and work Syndergaard’s pitch count to get into the middle of the Mets’ bullpen. If they do that, and Bumgarner gets through the seventh and into the eighth, they can win.

The Mets need to get to Bumgarner enough to a lead entering the eighth. If they do that, and Syndergaard takes the Mets to the Reed-Familia finish line – something he’s done 12 times in 30 starts and only twice in his last five, we could see Bartolo Colon Friday in Chicago.

Please follow me on Twitter

Sep 27

Matz Done For Year; What Took So Long?

It wasn’t too long ago the Mets boasted having the best young staff in the sport, one that would return them to the World Series. With the postseason a week away – with no assurances of them getting there – four of the five are done for the season because of surgery.

MATZ:  To have surgery. (AP)

   MATZ: To have surgery. (AP)

ESPN’s Adam Rubin reported today – later confirmed by several media outlets – Steven Matz will be shut down for the remainder of the season to undergo surgery almost immediately on a bone spur in his left elbow. Matz is also down with an impingement in his shoulder, but surgery is not planned for that injury.

What took Matz so long to elect to have surgery? The 25-year-old Matz has had the spur for much of the season, with GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins insisting it was a “pain tolerance issue” and he couldn’t risk further injury.

However, it hasn’t been addressed whether the shoulder impingement irritating the rotator cuff was caused by an altering of Matz’s mechanics caused by the pain in his elbow. It’s worth exploring, especially considering the Mets’ history of handling injuries.

Matz hasn’t pitched since mid-August. Surgery should have been performed then, and possibly on his shoulder, also, to give him the maximum time for recovery and rehab. The current timetable is a three-month recovery period, which means he won’t pick up a ball until January.

Will he really have enough time? Had this been done a month or two ago, there wouldn’t be any doubt.

I would have thought with Matt Harvey out for the year (to remove a rib and alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome) and Zack Wheeler (ulnar nerve in elbow) that to hedge their bets they would have encouraged Matz to have the surgery weeks ago – at least when the shoulder issue surfaced. Instead, the last six weeks have been squandered.

Making this even more disturbing is Jacob deGrom had surgery last week to repair the ulnar nerve in his elbow. Also, Noah Syndergaard has been bothered by an elbow bone spur issue for several months. The Mets are saying surgery isn’t planned for him, but wouldn’t they want to get it addressed sooner than later?

With the others easing their way back next spring, the last thing the Mets would want is surgery for Syndergaard.

Fortunately for the Mets, they remain in the race because of Bartolo Colon, who has been pitching with a foot injury (he left Monday’s game after 2.1 innings), and the Band-Aid of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

Please follow me on Twitter