Feb 21

Three Mets Players to Watch This Spring Training

COLLINS: Issues to address.

The Mets begin their first full squad workout in St. Lucie on Saturday, February 22 and for us fans there’s nothing better than watching the news filter out of the camp, knowing the first day of the season is getting ever so closer.

Spring training usually sets the benchmark for how a team will perform in the regular season. New additions show off their talent, last year’s rookies return with confidence, old-timers find ways to hang on and those recovering from injury face the uncertainty of testing out their bodies once more.

It’s a fascinating time for baseball fans, but also for those who set the MLB odds for each team and try to predict who will be the division and wild card winners. As rosters begin to take shape in the next six weeks, every team goes into Opening Day in a tie for first place. The tough part will be staying there.

For the Mets, their 2014 journey begins tomorrow. The Mets have many issues ranging from the muddled situation at first base and the yet to be contested battles for the fifth spot in the rotation and who will be the leadoff hitter. But there are three more things to watch for in spring training:

1. Bartolo Colon needs to deliver

Ever since our ace underwent Tommy John surgery late last year – ruling him out for the entirety of 2014 – many are betting and wondering who will replace the majestic Matt Harvey. All eyes will be on Bartolo Colon who was signed to a two year deal worth $20 million and has been the front office’s solution to replacing Harvey’s loss in the rotation. While we all keep our fingers crossed and hope for improved command from Zack Wheeler and the mid-season debut of the promising Noah Syndergaard, the Mets need to hit big it with Colon – Alderson’s highest paid pitcher in four years. They’ll also need to see Dillon Gee and Jon Niese look like the pitchers we saw in the second half of last season.

2. Travis d’Arnaud must step up

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of articles and features on framing pitches, and I’m looking forward to articles on D’Arnaud mashing pitches. TDA didn’t get his billing at top catching prospect for getting one or two extra strike call per nine innings. The rookie catcher played 31 games in the close of last season, but often showed how pressure can get to him. Yet despite his poor form that saw him finish 2013 batting .202, d’Arnaud has the capabilities to be a solid performer in the Mets roster and must prove himself in spring training. At 25-years old it’s time to show-off the offensive package we’ve been hearing about for the last four years.

3. Chris Young against RHP

I’m not worried about Curtis Granderson, we all know what he can do. But as long as Chris Young is being handed an everyday job after a season that saw him bat .200 with a .280 OBP – both lower than Juan Lagares – he’s the man under the microscope.  What scares me more about him – aside from Billy Beane casting him away and proclaiming him a platoon player – is his horrendous .225 career batting average against right handed pitching in 2,825 plate appearances. Is that sample size big enough for you? He has declined every year since 2010 except for his strikeout rate, that continues to climb. He’s pushing a promising prospect to the bench, he better pay us back in spades.

Feb 19

Judging Sandy Alderson’s Tenure With Mets

Sandy Alderson said he’d like to stay on as general manager of the New York Mets for another two or three years.

In judging Alderson’s first three years, we must first understand why he was hired, and it wasn’t to build a winning team – at least not initially.

Alderson might have had the Mets in the playoffs had he thrown good money after bad, as the franchise was doing since the end of the 2007 season when they bid against themselves to sign Johan Santana.

ALDERSON: How would you judge Alderson?

ALDERSON: How would you judge Alderson?

Alderson’s objective was to put the Mets in position to win by changing their economic structure, which meant first stripping the team of its cumbersome, unproductive contracts.

It began by getting out from under the contracts of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, which meant eating salary, but counteracting that by not bringing in more payroll.

Next Francisco Rodriguez had to go, which happened in a trade to Milwaukee. Then Alderson had to buy out Jason Bay and wait for Santana’s contract to expire.

With over $75 million off the books and the Wilpons getting a favorable ruling in the Madoff scandal, Alderson could slowly rebuild the Mets.

There are three ways to build a team: trades, free agency and the draft. Let’s look at how Alderson has fared in these categories.

TRADES:  Alderson has completed four significant trades with the Mets, beginning with sending Francisco Rodriguez to Milwaukee in 2011 for pitching prospects Adrian Rosario and Danny Herrera. Neither prospect has amounted to much, but the key was getting out from under Rodriguez’s contract, which would have been $17.5 million in 2012 or a $3.5 million buyout.

The Mets tired of Rodriguez’s high-wire act on the mound and explosive personality off the field, which included assaulting his fiancé and her father, the latter inside Citi Field.

Alderson’s second big trade was to obtain pitching prospect Zack Wheeler from San Francisco for Carlos Beltran, which saved the Mets an $18.5 million option on the outfielder.

Beltran remains a productive player, but Wheeler is a key to the Mets’ pitching foundation.

Next, Alderson sent 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, whom the Mets wouldn’t be able to afford to re-sign, and catcher Josh Thole to Toronto for catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard and catcher John Buck.

Finally, after a productive first half of the 2013 season, Buck was traded to Pittsburgh for reliever Vic Black and second base prospect Dilson Herrera.

So, at the cost of three players whom the Mets would not, or did not, want to keep, they obtained Wheeler, d’Arnaud, Syndergaard, Black and Herrera, all of whom represent inexpensive building blocks.

On the negative side, Alderson has not been able to resolve the first base logjam by trading Ike Davis. There could still be time as reportedly Baltimore and Pittsburgh are still monitoring the Mets in the possibility of making a trade.

It also must be remembered it has been difficult for the Mets to trade because they want to keep their young pitching and have few other chips to deal.

FREE-AGENCY: Unquestionably, Alderson’s biggest decision was to bring back captain and centerpiece, All-Star third baseman David Wright to an eight-year, $138-million extension last winter.

His other key decision was to not bring back Jose Reyes, which was a good move in that it gave them the latitude to keep Wright. Also, Reyes is a speed player with a history of leg injuries making the likelihood of him breaking down very real.

Alderson also signed Byrd, which he parlayed into prospects, and outfielder Chris Young, which is not a popular decision.

He also spent this offseason on Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon. The outcome of those two remain to be seen.

Alderson receives criticism for the signings he did not make, such as Bronson Arroyo. Some of it is fair if one is looking at the short term. When looking at the long term it isn’t because it doesn’t take into account his initial plan, which was to restructure the Mets economically and then build them up.

However, signing reliever Frank Francisco to a two-year contract was a bust.

It can also be argued by offering Davis arbitration when they really don’t want him was a mistake. However, that can be erased if Davis is eventually traded.

DRAFTING: Matt Harvey, by the way, was drafted by Omar Minaya’s regime. It is too soon to make a call on prospects pitcher Rafael Montero, who could come up this season, outfielder Brandon Nimmo and catcher Kevin Plawkecki.

Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon said the organization’s biggest weakness is a lack of position-player prospects in the minor leagues.

Conclusion: Alderson was hired not to make the Mets immediately competitive, but to put them in position to compete within four years. That timetable was pushed back because of Harvey’s injury.

His first priority was to strip the Mets of non-productive payroll, which he accomplished. Ownership likes him, so if he wants to stay he will stay.

ON DECK: The market remains open for Ike Davis.

Feb 15

Mets Week In Review: Davis Surprised; Drew Not Coming

Although Saturday was the official reporting day for the New York Mets pitchers and catchers, most of them – including many position players – have already been in Port St. Lucie much of the week.

And, it has been a pretty eventual five days:

* In arguably the quote of the week, Ike Davis said he was “a little bit shocked,’’ he wasn’t traded. Davis goes into spring training as the starter ahead of Lucas Duda.

* General manager Sandy Alderson said it remains unlikely the Mets would sign shortstop Stephen Drew despite persistent reports to the contrary.

* Bobby Parnell threw ten pitches off the mound on Valentine’s Day, roughly two weeks ahead of schedule.

* Manager Terry Collins said he is leaning toward Jon Niese as the Opening Day starter and stated a preference for Eric Young as the leadoff hitter.

* Collins said Wilmer Flores would get some time at shortstop. He also said the shortstop starter has not been determined.

* Matt Harvey said he hopes to pitch this season, but Collins said he would not rush him.

* Alderson left the door open lefty for Jack Leathersich or Rafael Montero making the Opening Day roster in the bullpen.

* Reliever Kyle Farnsworth, now with his eighth team, said he has no illusions and will accept whatever role the Mets have in mind for him.

* Credit Bartolo Colon for telling the truth, saying he signed with the Mets because no other team would offer a second year. If his body holds up, Colon said he would pitch after his contract expires.

Note: It my intent to post a Mets Week in Review every Saturday.

Feb 15

Bartolo Colon Arrives In Camp

Bartolo Colon signed with the New York Mets for the same reason most free agents go to a new team – they offered the most. At 40, Colon didn’t have many teams banging on his door. Nobody was offering $20 million over two years like the Mets.

COLON: Hired gun.

COLON: Hired gun.

“Other teams had one-year offers,’’ Colon told reporters Saturday in Port St. Lucie. “The second year really sealed the deal for me with the Mets.’’

Colon said he left it to his agent to find him a team that would be the best fit, but the fit was in the number of years and dollar amount. Yes, Colon is a mercenary, but that’s the nature of the sport.

The Mets could have had younger, more durable and potentially more productive pitchers, but they didn’t want to spend the money. This was the ultimate business relationship.

Colon, once nabbed for PED use, was 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA last year over 30 starts with Oakland, numbers he said even surprised himself. The Mets are gambling Colon has at least one more year in him to fill the void left by Matt Harvey’s injury.

The Mets don’t expect Colon to lose it overnight. As far as the second year, that’s for insurance for 2015 if the Mets’ young pitching is slow in developing.

The 265-pound Colon said he’s always pitched heavy and plans to pitch, “until my body can’t take it any more.’’

ON DECK: Wrapping up the week.

Feb 15

Terry Collins Leaning To Jon Niese As Opening Day Starter

New York Mets manager Terry Collins reiterated his thoughts Jonathon Niese would be his Opening Day starter, as well he should according to conventional baseball wisdom.

Despite Zack Wheeler’s desire for the ball, the honor should go to Niese, last year’s starter and whom Collins called “the ace of the staff,’’ in wake of Matt Harvey’s injury. If not Niese, then it should be Dillon Gee, the Mets’ most consistent starter last year and author of 199 innings.

NIESE: Opening Day starter?

NIESE: Opening Day starter?

Barring injury, accepted baseball thinking is why Niese should start. Niese is the most experienced of the Mets’ starters – of those growing up in the organization – and having been signed to a long-term contract, the most is expected of him.

Niese’s 8-8 2013 record is mediocre, but attributable in large part because of a shoulder injury. Veterans usually get preference if for no other reason as a reward.

Bartolo Colon is obviously the staff’s most experienced starter, but has no cache within the organization to warrant the start.

As for Wheeler, he might represent the Mets’ future, but with 17 career starts and seven wins, he has a while to go.

You have to admire Wheeler’s desire to want to have that role. It shows where he wants to be in his career.

“Last year I was coming in trying to win a spot,’’ Wheeler said earlier this week. “This year I’m trying to get the Opening Day spot. … It’s nothing on those guys, on the other starters, because anybody in the starting rotation could be the Opening Day starter. But that’s just my mindset coming in – to push myself to try to get the Opening Day spot.’’

Niese probably thinks the same. At least, let’s hope he does.

ON DECK: Bartolo Colon greets media.