Apr 27

Syndergaard, Cespedes Lost … Is Season Far Behind?

Welcome, my friends, to Panic City, where your mayor, GM Sandy Alderson and his deputy, Terry Collins, have some serious scrambling to do before they take their last place Mets into Washington for a three-game series with the Nationals.

While Alderson was in his office after today’s 7-5 loss to the Braves – the Mets’ sixth straight – weighing his limited options, Collins was delivering his annual, closed doors, “nobody is going to feel sorry for you … it’s time to grind it out, starting now,” address to his shell-shocked team, losers of ten of their last 11 games.

CESPEDES: Yes, things can get worse. (AP)

CESPEDES: Yes, things can get worse. (AP)

Collins was in a testy mood following a day when starter Noah Syndergaard and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes were lost.

Syndergaard has biceps tendinitis and the Mets hope he’ll be ready for Sunday, but they are accomplished at wishful thinking. Cespedes, whom the Mets gambled was back from a tight hamstring, significantly pulled it legging out a double in the fourth inning and will be lost for an extended period.

Cespedes will get another MRI Friday and likely will be placed on the disabled list before facing Max Scherzer in Washington. There, he will join Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, David Wright, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and Brandon Nimmo.

Collins, his voice getting louder with each name, ticked them off one at a time, Duda, Wright, Matt Harvey, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Cespedes, Matz, Jacob deGrom and Travis d’Arnaud, and said the Mets eventually pulled it together to reach the playoffs.

“I told them, ‘We can do it again, but it’s got to start now,’ ” Collins said. “OK, so the weather is gonna start changing. That can no longer be the excuse. It’s now time to go out and grind it out as we did last year.

“It’s still April, I understand that, but, we can no longer sit back and say, ‘It’s ugly weather, we’ve got some guys hurt.’ No one cares. [The Braves] don’t care, the Nationals don’t care. The only thing that matters are the guys in [the clubhouse], because that’s the product. They’ve got to care. They’ve got to come out, play with some energy and get this going and I truly believe they can do it.”

When asked the timing for this message, Collins played the perception-reality card, Collins said he’s aware of the talk energy is down, but that’s to be expected when your team batting average is .184 and on-base percentage is .268 during this slide.

“Look, it’s just April, I get it, but it’s time,” Collins said. “We’ve got a tough road trip ahead. … We’ve got to grind it out. We can do it, but we’ve got to start now.”

Now, is best defined as Friday in Washington, where the Mets, currently 7.5 games behind the Nationals, will try to stop their free-fall. As of now, deGrom, Zack Wheeler and to-be-announced will start, but Collins can’t say whether the offense will show, especially with Cespedes out.

“We’ve got to go out there and have energy,” said third baseman Jose Reyes. “We know we are going to better than this. … We’re going to see what we’re made of. It’s only April, we have five more months. We don’t want to go too deep in the standings. We have a good ballclub and we’re going to turn it around.”

It’s going to be difficult without Cespedes and Syndergaard. Collins said losing Cespedes “is a big hole.”

Losing Cespedes could have been prevented had the Mets acted proactively, which they did not. Instead, they kept hoping he’d get better. By putting Cespedes immediately on the disabled list, he might have missed both Washington series. Instead, foolishly gambling on a player with a history of muscle pulls, they not only miss Cespedes for both Nationals series, and for possibly up to a month.

“No,” a defiant Collins said when asked if he had any regrets by not putting Cespedes on the disabled list a week ago.

“He did all the things that were required to get in the lineup,” Collins said. “It just happens. It’s easy to say you should have put him on the DL. Well, you know what? Every time you turn around for every little thing, if you keep putting guys on the DL, we can’t run anybody out there.

“The guy pulled a hamstring. He’s wound tight. I am going to go with that. Now he’s going to be out for awhile.”

In saying Cespedes is wound tight, and especially after last season, are specifically the reasons why he should have been put on the disabled list. But, Collins doesn’t make those decisions; he’s there to shield GM Sandy Alderson from the flack he deserves.

As for Syndergaard goes, the Mets can afford a few extra days in making a decision because as a pitcher he works every five days. Syndergaard was supposed to start Wednesday, but was scratched because “I wanted to,” said Collins, not because he felt something in his arm while shagging fly balls before the game.

Syndergaard said the discomfort is in his shoulder and biceps area and isn’t a reoccurrence of the bone spur that bothered him last season.

“It’s quite obvious we can’t take a chance on him,” Collins said. “He’s a big piece of the puzzle.”

Prior to the game, Syndergaard said, “it’s a little thing right now, but we definitely don’t want to become a big thing,” but after the game got testy with a team official for not preventing reporters from questioning him.

Harvey started in place of Syndergaard and was lit up by the Braves. He got a phone call early today saying he would start.

“I really physically prepared for starting today,” said Harvey, who lifted weights Wednesday. “Having those workouts that I did yesterday and the throwing that I did yesterday, I just definitely wasn’t prepared.”

That’s odd because had he paid attention Wednesday when Syndergaard’s arm was barking and he was scratched, should have realized something was going on. Of course, that wouldn’t have taken away the workout, but Harvey could have been more mentally prepared.

Should have, could have, would have can’t turn this thing around for the Mets, who are in desperate need of something to go right.

“We need to be cognizant, when things aren’t going your way, not to go through the motions,” said Jay Bruce, one of the few bright spots for the Mets. “We’re up to the challenge.”

They better be, because 21 games into a season they all believed a World Series was possible, they are looking at that opportunity slipping away.

Jan 23

Looking At Muddled Mets’ Outfield

First, let me apologize for the no-show the past few days. I’ve been recovering from an eye procedure and things are rather blurry.

However, what remains clear to me are what are the Mets’ needs with spring training less than a month away. ESPN recently wrote the Mets are looking for a center fielder, but with possibly six outfielders on the roster, that can’t possibly be their top priority.

Could it?

If it is, then that has to be an indictment of how poorly this roster has been constructed. They already have a Gold Glove Award winner in Juan Lagares, to whom they signed to a four-year contract. The Mets aren’t happy with Lagares’ ability to hit right-handed pitchers. If that’s the case, then why give him a long-term deal?

They are toying with the idea of moving Curtis Granderson from right to center. Because they signed Yoenis Cespedes, who refuses to play center – when they brought him back after the 2015 season it was under the belief from him he would play center – it means finding a place for Michael Conforto.

Last spring, when Cespedes was healthy and in center, and Conforto was on a tear, manager Terry Collins said he was the Mets’ future No. 3 hitter.

Now, they don’t know where Conforto will play, other than it won’t be in left. That’s because they promised the position – and $110 million over the next four years – to Cespedes.

With the logjam in center, that means there’s not an immediate place for Brandon Nimmo. As of now, he could probably be ticketed to Vegas.

If they move Granderson to center, that leaves Jay Bruce in right. They traded for Bruce after Cespedes was injured and the Mets’ offense sputtered. Bruce’s option was picked up despite a poor few months with the Mets.

Why?

GM Sandy Alderson was clear in saying it was to guard against Cespedes opting out of his contract and signing elsewhere. Alderson also wasn’t shy in saying if Cespedes returned he would trade Bruce.

You don’t sign a player as a hedge. You sign a player only if you value and want to keep him. How Alderson handled Bruce greatly reduced his trade value and now the Mets are expecting him for spring training and possibly Opening Day.

So, as of now the Mets have $110 million earmarked in left field; a Gold Glove Award winner in center they don’t trust with a bat; a center fielder moving over from right; a right fielder they don’t want; and two highly-touted prospects they don’t have immediate plans where to play.

 

 

Jan 18

Could Conforto Open Season In Minors?

It was last April when manager Terry Collins said Michael Conforto was the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the future. A year later, don’t be surprised if he opened the season with the Mets’ Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate.

I don’t like the idea, but considering the Mets’ muddled outfield situation, it isn’t farfetched, especially if they can’t trade Jay Bruce. If Bruce stays, he’ll play right with Curtis Granderson in center and Yoenis Cespedes in left.

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

Juan Lagares must stay to give Granderson rest in center field. Either Lagares or Granderson could give Cespedes rest if he needs a day off. Currently, the Mets aren’t ready to say they trust Conforto in center field.

If the Mets can’t trade Bruce, he must stay and play or totally lose his trade value. The Mets wouldn’t want to pay him $13 million to sit.

The Mets’ potential trade market for Bruce was dramatically sliced within the past week when Baltimore traded for Seth Smith; Toronto re-signed Jose Bautista and Philadelphia signed Michael Saunders.

Personally, I’ve always been in Conforto’s camp and opposed the Cespedes signing in part because I felt it would stunt Conforto’s growth. If the Mets kept Conforto as one of their five outfielders, he’d struggle for at-bats and playing time, notably from Lagares and Bruce.

One possibility is to keep Brandon Nimmo over Conforto, but again they’ll face the issue of one of their prime outfield prospects struggling for at-bats.

Jan 07

Forget About Reyes In Center

There’s been some talk about playing Jose Reyes in center field at times this summer to take advantage of his speed. It’s a thought best left for a 17-degree night in January with a foot of snow on the ground. Seriously, what’s the purpose?

With the guy they re-signed last winter to play center not wanting to – that being, of course, Yoenis Cespedes – the Mets have a muddled outfield and tinkering with Reyes in center just complicates things further.

As it is, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Gold Glover Juan Lagares will share time in center. Then, there’s Brandon Nimmo if he’s on the 25-man roster. Why fool around with an unproven Reyes in center?

Makes no sense.

Reyes needs to stay on the left side of the infield, backing up David Wright and Asdrubal Cabrera, where he’ll do the most good. Center field is something to talk about when it’s too cold outside to do anything but think about baseball in an effort to keep yourself warm.

Oct 07

Revisiting Mets’ Top 20 Questions

Every spring I pose 20 questions the Mets must answer to have a successful year and after the season I raise them again.

Here goes:

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: There were several times this season when the Mets were sluggish and flat. There were numerous injuries that set them back, but didn’t derail them. If they crippled by injuries, they wouldn’t have won 87 games and reached the wild-card game had they been totally derailed. There are several reasons why the Mets aren’t still alive, but an emotional hangover isn’t one of them.

DE GROM: One of many injuries. (AP)

     DE GROM: One of many injuries. (AP)

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: Let’s face it, there several things I don’t like about how Collins handles things, beginning with the injuries. A player will be down for a few days, then a week, then on to the disabled list. I didn’t like how he placated Yoenis Cespedes, and it went beyond the golf issue. There were more than a few in-game decisions that could have turned out better, but that’s with every manager. In the end, for the most part his players hustled for him and he kept the clubhouse.

Q: What’s going on with Harvey?

A: Not much. For the second time in three years, his season was cut short by surgery. And, as in 2013, Matt Harvey wasn’t totally forthcoming about his injury and the situation worsened. Harvey got off to a miserable start. He seemed to briefly stabilize, but then had another slide – this time leading him to the disabled list. It has reached the point where Harvey can’t be counted on. If the Mets decide to trade him, that’s fine by me, because I still think he’ll walk in a couple of years.

Q: Will DeGrom and Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Jacob deGrom looked great at times, but there was a long stretch of no support. Three rough starts in a row led to the disabled list. As for Noah Syndergaard, he pitched for much of the season with a bone spur in his elbow. He was superb in the wild-card game with seven scoreless innings. Will he require surgery? That’s to be determined, but if healthy will enter 2017 as the No. 1 starter.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: A great start fizzled into a trip to the disabled list and eventually surgery. Matz’s short career has already been riddled with injuries. Surgery was on the elbow, but there is still the issue of the impingement of his shoulder. He’ll be a question until he proves otherwise in spring training.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Colon was the staff leader with 15 victories and the rotation’s anchor when everybody but Syndergaard went down. Colon was worth every penny of the $7 million he earned, and should be brought back.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: Thick enough to lead the league with 51 saves. Familia gave up the game-winning homer in the wild-card game. He was totally stand-up after the game, which is the trait of all the great ones. The Mets have more pressing concerns than Familia’s psyche.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: Addison Reed led the league in holds and the bridge became stronger with the acquisition of Fernando Salas. A lot was expected of Hansel Robles, but his development stuttered at times. The Mets also expected much from Jim Henderson, but his season was sidetracked because he was misused early in the season. Jerry Blevins had a good season, but Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin remain questions as does Gabriel Ynoa. The Mets have plenty of names, but few givens.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud?

A: The Mets are still looking for him. Between his injuries and lack of production, the Mets enter the offseason with a huge concern at catcher. Rene Rivera was a positive addition, but the Mets can’t rely on him offensively.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: Well, he was injured again. Isn’t that consistency? Duda spent much of the season on the disabled list with a back injury. Duda was activated in September. It was good to see him, but not all his health concerns were answered. James Loney was a solid replacement, but I’m doubtful the Mets will bring him back. If not Duda, don’t be surprised to see Michael Conforto get reps in spring training.

Q: Will Walker make people forget Murphy?

A: Not a chance, especially how Daniel Murphy torched them all season. Neil Walker carried the Mets early before he was lost with a back injury. Walker has an option for 2017. Back surgery doesn’t help his bargaining position, but don’t be surprised if the Mets extend a qualifying offer.

Q: Is Cabrera an upgrade over Flores?

A: I’ve always been a Wilmer Flores supporter and don’t believe he’s gotten a fair shake. Even so, Asdrubal Cabrera exceeded all expectations and you can make an argument he’s the Mets’ MVP, and that includes over Cespedes.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: For those who expected another injury it happened. This time, it was spinal stenosis that necessitated season-ending surgery. Wright wasn’t hitting when he went on the disabled list. Losing Wright enabled the Mets to bring back Jose Reyes. Wright should be ready by spring training, but there are no assurances as to how he’ll be. The Mets must protect themselves in case Wright can’t play, which means they’ll probably bring back Reyes.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: Only the most naïve don’t think Cespedes will opt out. I have no problems with that, but the Mets must be wary of bringing him back. For all the lip service Cespedes gives about wanting him to return to the Mets, his priority is getting the big bucks, which is more than the $50 million remaining on his deal over the next two seasons. Early reports have Cespedes seeking $100 million over five years. There’s no denying Cespedes can hit, but he’s high maintenance, injury prone and hustles when the mood strikes. Oh yeah. One more thing … if you play in New York and want over $100 million, then you talk after a playoff loss. I think the Mets baby this guy too much and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: Nope. He sizzled in April, hurt his wrist and eventually rode the Vegas-New York shuttle. In April, Collins moved Conforto to third in the order, but then yanked him around. When he finally came back from Triple-A in September we barely saw him. With the Mets expected to pick up the option on Jay Bruce and another year with Curtis Granderson, there’s little room for Conforto if Cespedes comes back.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Granderson?

A: Nope. Granderson’s patience at the leadoff spot last year was key to the Mets getting to the World Series in 2015. However, Granderson’s 30-59 homer-RBI ratio was almost historically poor. The acquisition of Reyes enabled Collins to move Granderson behind Cespedes in the order. Granderson had a strong September and will be on the last season of his contract next year.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: One thing we learned about the season is the Mets had better depth than we expected. There was Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and T.J. Rivera from the system, plus Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for the rotation. GM Sandy Alderson did a good job this year plugging holes with Reyes, Loney, Bruce and Rivera.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: Just about everybody. When a team loses three-fifths of its rotation, plus Wright, Walker, Duda, d’Arnaud and Flores from its offense, it will be in trouble. Considering all that happened, the Mets were fortunate to win 87 games and reach the playoffs. It was a rough year and the prognosis for the pitchers is uncertainty. Part of the Mets’ offseason analysis must be of its medical staff.

Q: What’s going on with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals, especially Murphy, owned the Mets this year and won the NL East going away. And, they did so with their own list of injuries, including Stephen Strasburg going on the DL twice. They’re playing Los Angeles in the NLDS and lost Game 1 at home.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: They did, but it didn’t matter. The Mets were hot in April and hot in September. Between them, the Mets were a sub .500 team.

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