Apr 02

Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Fortunately, spring training results don’t count. While the Mets won’t carry their exhibition record to Kansas City, let’s hope they don’t bring with them their quality of play.

After all, there are reasons why they finished 8-17 this spring, and some of them include their regulars not playing well. (The Nationals were 19-4 this spring, and if things counted they would open the season with a 12-game lead on the Mets).

Can the Mets get back to the World Series? Well, of course, they can, but it is dependent on how they answer the following questions:

COLLINS: Doesn't have the answers, yet. (Getty_

COLLINS: Doesn’t have the answers, yet. (Getty)

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

A: Things happen during a season that have nothing to do with cockiness or an emotional let down. You certainly can’t draw a definitive conclusion based on spring training, but there were a few red flags, such as Matt Harvey letting a few back-page headlines get to him and Yoenis Cespedes’ brain cramp. Will there be a carryover? We shall see. But admit it, you weren’t pleased with how they played this spring. Nobody was.

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

A: No Collins-run team has had expectations this high. It’s not enough for him to maintain a steady hand. There will be times when he has to go to the whip. I thought he let Harvey play him last season, which only inflamed the innings issue. This year, Harvey and no other pitcher can bully him to stay in a game. This will be Collins’ most demanding season. He’ll also need to formulate a playing time plan with David Wright and not take any garbage from Cespedes when be decides to mail it in. Collins got a free pass for the most part in previous seasons because the expectations were so low. They aren’t low anymore.

Q: What’s going on with Harvey?

A: Let’s face it; a 7.50 ERA stinks, whether it is in the exhibition or regular season. A lot is always expected from Harvey, and this year is his second coming off Tommy John surgery. That makes the expectations even higher. Harvey marches to his own tune, which is fine if he can back it up. So far, he’s only shown glimpses. Time to back it up, big boy. If you want to be Batman, you’ll need to develop a thicker skin.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Many scouts think their ceilings are higher than Harvey’s. That’s one of the reasons, along with their current contractual status, why I believe they should be signed to long-term deals before Harvey. This will be our first season of watching Syndergaard full time, and frankly that’s one of the most intriguing things of the season for me. And, who can’t envision deGrom winning a Cy Young?

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: This will also be our first season watching Matz fulltime. As a lefty, his ceiling is enormous, but he must stay healthy. There were concerns, voiced by Collins several weeks ago. Most starters get up to six starts and 30 innings in spring training. The Mets’ starters got far less.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: The plan is for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He then could be sent to the bullpen. They shouldn’t be too hasty to cut ties with Colon, especially if he’s pitching well because things happen. You’re a Mets’ fan. You know things happen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: As much as a having a signature pitch, a great reliever needs the ability to bounce back and forget. Mariano Rivera said one of the best things to happen in his career was when Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar beat him in the 1997 playoffs with a home run. He said it shaped his emotional development. Familia wasn’t as effective and blew a save in the World Series. Maybe he got the job by default after Jenrry Mejia kicked away his career, but it’s Familia’s job to keep.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: As of now Addison Reed is the set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo the lefty specialist. In recent years, the composition of the Mets’ bullpen has been fluid at best. The Mets will also carry lefty Jerry Blevins. Hansel Robles will open the season serving a two-game suspension. Robles is a hot head that needs to learn composure. The Mets will also keep Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett, the latter whom can pitch in long relief or as a spot starter. Henderson, who has major league experience, should be interesting to watch. However, this isn’t a proven group collectively. Seriously, does anybody here take your breath away? Ideally, the bridge to Familia would be even stronger if the starters can go seven innings.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: The Mets need a healthy d’Arnaud to give them a full season. He’s shown occasional pop, but what can he do with 500 plate appearances. His career high is 421 plate appearances in 2014, when he had a .302 on-base percentage with 13 homers and 41 RBI. However, he hit 12 homers with 41 RBI and a solid .340 on-base percentage in 268 plate appearances last year. The pitchers like how he calls a game, but he needs work holding on runners and his throwing.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: Although his on-base percentage has been decent, .352 and .349 in 2015 and 2014, respectively, he still strikes out too damn much for my liking (138 times last year and 135 times in 2014). Maybe I’m just too picky. He’ll hit eight homers in one month and one in another. Five a month, which is roughly one a week, would be perfect. It adds up to 30. But, hell yes, I’d love to see 40. Who knows, back-to-back with Cespedes can give the Mets their best power duo since Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson. I like watching Duda and think he can develop into a real basher. I’d like to see more productive outs.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Murphy was a terrific Met, despite his occasional mental and fielding lapses. Walker is a .272 lifetime hitter with a .338 career on-base percentage. However, his 162-game average is 18 homers and 81 RBI, which surpasses Murphy. It won’t be easy forgetting Murphy, as he’ll face the Mets 19 times while with the Nationals.

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: While their 2015 power numbers are similar, sending Flores to the bench deepens the bench, which is a significant plus. Cabrera hit 15 homers with 58 RBI last season for Tampa Bay, while Flores hit 16 homers with 59 RBI. Cabrera is considered better defensively. Cabrera committed nine errors in 443 chances last year while Flores made 14 in 400 chances.

WRIGHT: Nobody knows. (AP)

WRIGHT: Nobody knows. (AP)

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: It’s only a coincidence the 13th question is about Wright, who hasn’t played in 150 games since 2012. Injuries have limited him to less than 140 games in four of the last five years. To project 140 games, much less his production is folly. Right now, I’d take 120 games and be happy. In addition to his pregame hitting and fielding, Wright puts in at least 90 minutes before games with exercises designed to loosen up his back.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. I have limited confidence he won’t be sidetracked by the money and glitz of New York. Never mind his brain cramp in spring training, but last year in September and during the playoffs he had some head-scratching moments. But, if Cespedes lets it all out, this could be another special season.

Q: A breakout year for Michael Conforto?

A: I’m not saying he’s another Tony Gwynn, but the expectations are high. Let’s just hope Collins isn’t tempted to rest him against left-handers. Let him play and give him a chance to develop into a real talent, not a part time flash.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: I confess I didn’t like Granderson leading off, but his ability to draw walks changed that thinking. If Granderson can improve his walks by cutting down his 151 strikeouts he can be a greater offensive force. If he does that he might hit 30 homers (he hit 26 last year with 70 RBI) again.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: I like Flores’ ability to play anywhere in the infield, but hope he doesn’t languish for weeks before getting a chance to play. Alejandro De Aza was to be a big piece before Cespedes was brought back. His role is undefined at best. Juan Lagares won a Gold Glove in center field two years ago but is now coming off the bench. When he does play, it has to be in center. Eric Campbell has always produced coming off the bench, but his weaknesses are exposed the longer he plays. Kevin Plawecki was kept, but I don’t want him to wither on the bench for weeks. If that happens, he’s better off in Triple-A.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. None of the starting pitchers are ailing. Cabrera missed significant time in spring training, but will play Sunday night. Conforto and Cespedes missed some time, and Wright is always a question. If they stay healthy and produce, there’s no reason they can’t make the playoffs again. Health is always the biggest variable for any team.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals were a buzz saw in Florida and appear to have a federal budget sized chip on their collective shoulders, beginning with MVP Bryce Harper. Their rotation isn’t as deep as the Mets, but their front three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg (in his walk year) and Gio Gonzalez can stack up with the front end of most staffs. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has a lot to prove, and if Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman stay healthy there’s no reason they can’t wrestle back the NL East.

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

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets lost their first-place lead on May 20 (it grew to a 4.5-game deficit in July) before they wrestled back the division for good from Washington, Aug. 2. The Mets caught a break last year when the Nationals stumbled. They can’t count on that again.

I will revisit these questions periodically throughout the summer.

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Jan 22

Mets To Lose Cespedes To Nationals

We can boil the Mets’ pursuit of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a simple conclusion: If they really wanted him they would have him. Pure and simple, he was theirs for the taking. The Mets said they wanted him, but on the cheap. They played things correctly and tried to let the market come to them, but that won’t happen.

That’s the risk one takes when you gamble.

CESPEDES:  Going to Nats. (Getty)

CESPEDES: Going to Nats. (Getty)

The Mets weren’t willing to give Cespedes more than three years, but reports are the Washington Nationals have a five-year, $100-million offer on the table. There’s no way the Mets could compete with that, nor should they for a myriad of reasons, beginning with the economics and including his mercurial personality and that he faded in the playoffs. There’s also the matter of him playing with four teams by age 30.

The Nationals will be his fifth in an 18-month span. Things could be finalized today.

I agreed with the Mets’ rope-a-dope approach simply because that was the only card they could play considering they wanted to do this cheaply. Conversely, the Nationals made runs at Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, in addition to signing Daniel Murphy.

Washington has clearly been more aggressive than the Mets this offseason, with GM Sandy Alderson going on the belief his young rotation will be enough to carry them back to the World Series.

Will that gamble pay off?

 

 

Sep 11

Don’t Figure Cespedes Returning

Count me among the group wanting the Mets to bring back Yoenis Cespedes, although I’m not confident in their ability to do so. They have the money, but I don’t see them going $150-million over seven, which would be the starting point.

The Mets won’t bring back Daniel Murphy or Bartolo Colon – which could come back to bite them – and Michael Cuddyer will be gone after next season and Curtis Granderson will be out after two more years.

CESPEDES: Want him back. (AP)

CESPEDES: Want him back. (AP)

I see the Mets making an offer, but not going all out. As good as Cespedes has been, I see the Mets falling short. Somehow, I see this going the way of Jose Reyes.

Another thing I don’t see is Cespedes winning the NL Most Valuable Player Award. As somebody who has voted for these awards, the thought process of most voters is to look at the entire body of work, and for Cespedes, that will be only two months in the National League.

Cespedes’ season has been terrific, but the award is for what he did in that league – hence, NL MVP. Bryce Harper, despite his team falling, still had the best season of anybody in the National League. Even Cespedes’ yearlong composite numbers for both leagues aren’t as good as Harper’s in the National League.

The Mets could have two postseason awards, and it’s not something anybody could have envisioned. GM Sandy Alderson for Executive of the Year and Terry Collins for Manager of the Year.

At one time I briefly thought Noah Syndergaard had a chance for Rookie of the Year, but that faded, and Michael Conforto, in case you’re wondering, hasn’t been around enough.

Of course, isn’t the important thing the World Series trophy? That’s the prize and it is within sight.

Aug 27

Matz Should Be Lefty Bullpen Solution

I’m throwing this out there, but perhaps the Mets’ lefty bullpen void could be filled by Steven Matz. I know GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins rejected that notion in spring training, but that was a long time ago and now we’re looking at the Mets as serious playoff contenders with one severe weakness – lack of a lefty reliever.

Instead of diving into the six-man rotation when Matz returns, why not give that spot start to Logan Verrett or somebody else and use Matz as a situational lefty – one batter only – coming out of the pen? I wouldn’t mind seeing him come into face Bryce Harper or Mark Teixeira or Jason Heyward or any other lefty masher.

It is outside-the-box thinking, but that’s what the Mets need right now.

MATZ: Would be interesting pen option. (Getty)

MATZ: Would be interesting pen option. (Getty)

With the way Bartolo Colon pitched last night, and Verrett in Colorado, there’s not a sense of urgency to insert Matz into the rotation. Once the rosters are expanded Sept. 1, Matz will be included, but so should another minor league pitcher in case they want to sit Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard. Who knows? Maybe they could even bring back Dillon Gee for an encore start.

Meanwhile, there’s a gaping hole in the bullpen, especially from the left side.

I get it, you don’t want to screw with Matz, but there’s nothing wrong with his arm. And, if the intent is to limit him to one key batter it shouldn’t be a problem. Say the Mets are playing the Nationals and it is the fifth inning. Collins can look up at that multi-million dollar scoreboard in Citi Field, or have one of his coaches tell him Harper is two innings away.

That’s when you get Matz to warm up so he’s not rushing. It could be like a normal between-starts bullpen session. And, if he doesn’t need to face Harper, then he sits back down. All he did was get a little exercise.

I know the Mets don’t want to do that, but it is something they should consider. Matz isn’t made of china or paper mache. This won’t kill him. A lot of major league starters have gone into the bullpen and done well. I know this is force feeding him into a new role, but damn it, the Mets are fighting for the playoffs and have a glaring need. It is a need they are unlikely to fill with a trade in the next four days.

If you look at the Mets’ rotation, should they make the playoffs they’ll carry four starters, and Matz won’t be one of them. The playoff rotation would include Harvey, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Jon Niese. Colon will undoubtedly be bumped. And, I don’t figure them using Matz out of the bullpen for the playoffs if they haven’t used him there in September.

So, what’s he going to get, one or two starts at the most in September? Maybe three? What good would that do?

He has the potential to help the Mets more out of the pen and that’s where he should go.

Aug 06

Mets In Nationals’ Heads

The Mets aren’t saying, but I would guess they were thrilled to hear of the comments made by Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth this week.

On the heels of being swept by the Mets, Nationals outfielder – and NL MVP frontrunner – Harper, when asked about the Mets, snapped: “I don’t give a crap about what the Mets are doing.’’

CLiTBzaUMAE6ODqHarper is diving into braggadocio, but with the Nationals trailing the Mets by two games, he sounds like a man trying to quell his own doubts.

Same goes for Werth, who all but discounts the Mets when he said the NL East still belongs to the Nationals, that it is their division to lose.

“I think it’s a matter of time really,’’ Werth said. “We’re a great second-half team. … Half our team has been hurt all year. That’s the reality of it. When we all get back, we’re right there, in first place.

“We’re [two games out] But I think going forward we can get all back healthy and get rolling and it’s our division to lose.’’

He might end up being right, but pennants aren’t won in the papers; they are won on the field and currently the Mets have the Nationals’ attention, regardless of what their players say.

Both Harper and Werth speak with a sense of entitlement, that all they have to do is show up. It is reminiscent of the Nationals’ front office when it shut down Stephen Strasburg at the end of the 2012 season, acting under the assumption the playoffs were a given.

They are not.

It doesn’t work that way, and the mere fact they are commenting about the Mets, seemingly by-passing them as threats is interesting. The Mets, wisely haven’t responded. Nor should they.

That the Nationals are talking tells me the Mets are in their heads. And, will stay there for a while.

The teams have six games remaining with each other, Sept. 7-9 in Washington and Oct. 2-4 at Citi Field.

Interesting doesn’t begin to describe it.