Jan 17

Mets’ Issues To Be Resolved This Spring

One month from today, Mets position players will report to spring training. They’ll take ground balls and batting practice for a couple of weeks. There will be daily reports on what pitchers are throwing and with the Mets there will be the daily, “how’s the arm feeling?’’ questions.

The Mets have numerous questions they must have answered in spring training:

BRUCE: Desperately want to trade him. (AP)

BRUCE: Desperately want to trade him. (AP)

ROTATION: With four pitchers coming off surgery, they’ll undoubtedly ease them into form. Probably one of the first five questions asked will be on innings limits.

Hopefully, manager Terry Collins will have a definable plan as to not duplicate what happened with Matt Harvey in 2015. More to the point, hopefully, he won’t deviate as he did with Harvey.

Coming off surgery, it’s not a bad idea to have limits on Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. At one time the Mets didn’t discount the idea of using Wheeler out of the pen. If that’s the conclusion, then stick with it. They can always announce an innings format and if there aren’t any setbacks, discard it have May or June. But don’t announce something then deviate on a whim.

Collins will also need to define roles for Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

BULLPEN: They have to be expecting at least a 30-day suspension for Jeurys Familia, so they’ll need to define the bullpen roles with the assumption Addison Reed will be the closer to start.

This is an area where I can see the Mets signing relievers off the scrap heap at the end.

FIRST BASE: Lucas Duda had back issues last year so they’ll need to find a replacement. Wilmer Flores seems the logical choice, so Collins needs to give him innings.

Will Dominic Smith get enough at-bats this spring to leave the impression he could get the call-up chance should something happen to Duda?

As for Michael Conforto, if they are going to do it, then do it right. If so, it is important for Conforto to get substantial innings at first base, meaning that’s more important than playing in the World Baseball Classic.

SECOND BASE: They’ll need to keep a close eye on Neil Walker, who is coming off back surgery. Walker can’t be pushed, so Collins has to give out playing time to Flores and Ty Kelly.

It will be interesting to see how much time Jose Reyes will get at second. If he’s going to be the super sub, then he should get time at second.

SHORTSTOP: Amed Rosario is the future, but is he ready now? The Mets have Asdrubal Cabrera for this year (they have an option for 2018), but their thinking is Rosario should be ready for 2018.

Rosario needs to play, so if the Mets don’t have a way to get him in the lineup regularly, he’ll open the season at Triple-A.

THIRD BASE: The hope is David Wright will be ready for Opening Day, but nobody really knows. Reyes is Plan B.

Wright hasn’t played 100 games in the last two years combined, so there should be no bold projections for 2017.

Things change over the course of a season, but Collins needs to format a strict play-rest plan for Wright.

OUTFIELD: This is GM Sandy Alderson’s biggest mess. He basically announced to the world the Mets’ plan was to pick up Jay Bruce’s option as a hedge to not getting Yoenis Cespedes back. Of course, that automatically reduced Bruce’s trade value.

Sure, the Mets will keep making calls to dump Bruce, but at the same time they need to get him ready for the season. They also need to get Curtis Granderson ready to play center and right field.

There’s also the matter of getting Juan Lagares and Conforto ready. That leads to an interesting question: If the Mets are unable to trade Bruce and he’s on the Opening Day roster, then would they possibly start the season with Conforto in the minor leagues?

Dec 30

Projecting Mets’ Shopping For Next Winter

Other than extending Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets have been relatively inactive this winter. Could it be they are preparing for next offseason? That’s not a stretch when you consider the potential holes in next winter’s roster. General manager Sandy Alderson should be busy – or he’d better be.

Let’s assume for a moment their young pitching staff gets through the 2017 season healthy and productive. That should alleviate that issue, but here are the others:

CONFORTO: Where will he play?  (Getty)

CONFORTO: Where will he play? (Getty)

CATCHER: If Travis d’Arnaud doesn’t take the next step, it’s hard to imagine they’ll bring back Rene Rivera for another year. The Mets are saying they’ll give d’Arnaud another chance to prove his worth. If not, they’ll have to look for help behind the plate. Their top catching prospect, Tomas Nido, is still at least two years away.

FIRST BASE: They have Lucas Duda for another year, but they are still making noise of experimenting with David Wright and Michael Conforto. Either would be a gamble. If Wright is healthy, the outfield glut might make Conforto the pick. However, what they are really hoping for is Duda to hold the spot until Dominic Smith is ready.

SECOND BASE: Neil Walker signed for one year, so he’ll be another issue. If they re-sign him again, it will be costly, perhaps at least $50 million over three years. Of course, there’s Wilmer Flores, but why are they so reluctant to give him a real chance?

SHORTSTOP: Asdrubal Cabrera‘s contract will be over after this season, but the Mets have two prospects in Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini. How much time will they see in 2017 and will it be enough to get them ready for 2018?

THIRD BASE: Wright, of course, will be a question every season. The Mets’ top-rated third base prospect, Jhoan Urena, will still be a year or two away. Will Jose Reyes show enough this summer to warrant an extension?

OUTFIELD: It’s complicated now after extending Cespedes. Presumably, he’ll play left, which means Conforto needs to find a place to play. Center field would seem to be the place, but the Mets want him to share the spot with Curtis Granderson. If they can’t trade him, Jay Bruce could share right field with him. Whatever happens, we have to figure both Bruce and Granderson will be gone after this season, so that should ease the logjam. However, the way things project, playing time could be sparse for both Conforto and Juan Lagares, which might wave a red flag.

BULLPEN: There hasn’t been an offseason in recent memory where the bullpen wasn’t an issue. Figuring Addison Reed pitches lights out in the closer role while Jeurys Familia presumably serves a suspension, he’ll be worthy of a raise. Should Familia pitch well again, he’ll get more money. As usual, the Mets will have to look for role pitchers.

Nov 04

How Mets Compare To Cubs

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won their World Series. The curses are over, so perhaps they can do the right thing and invite Steve Bartman to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2017.

It would be a classy gesture, akin to the Red Sox making up with Bill Buckner – who, by the way – felt the curses of both the Red Sox and Cubs.

REED: A priority. (AP)

                    REED: A priority. (AP)

I doubt it would happen, but I always root for the good story. Meanwhile, our Mets have a title drought of our own – 30 long years.

The Cubs won 103 games this summer and the Mets won 87, but is 16 games the real separation between the two teams? The Mets can’t go back to their four-game sweep of the Cubs in last year’s NLCS or a sweep of them this summer at Citi Field.

The Cubs roared past the Mets, and here’s a position-by-position comparison between the franchises:

FRONT OFFICE: Theo Epstein had a plan when he took over in 2012, and it was only four years before he lead a parade in Chicago. Like was said of the Yankees’ Brian Cashman over the years, he better win that payroll. ($171 million and license to spend).

Meanwhile, Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s mission statement when he was hired in 2010 was to get rid of burdensome contracts – Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez to name a few – and cut payroll, which he did.

The Mets’ payroll was $126 million in Alderson’s first year and jumped to $142 million in 2011 because of existing obligations, but from 2012- 2014 had sub-$100 million payrolls.

It subsequently jumped to $135 million this year for Opening Day.

Unlike Epstein, Alderson does not have free reign to spend because the Mets are still recovering from the Ponzi scandal.

EDGE: Chicago.

MANAGER: Joe Maddon is regarded as one of the game’s best minds, but in all fairness with his moves in Games 6 and 7, it would be accurate to say the Cubs won in spite of him and not because of him.

He abused reliever Aroldis Chapman in the last three games. It was absurd he sent Chapman out for the ninth with a huge lead in Game 6. I was stunned he sent him out for the ninth, but it also showed extreme confidence in Chapman but also underscored an overall lack of faith he had in the rest of the bullpen. That’s something Terry Collins would never have done.

I thought he pulled Kyle Hendricks way too soon, something we’ve seen of Collins frequently.

The bunt call with Javier Baez was foolish. There were other moments, but those stood out the most.

But Maddon caught some breaks. The last two games in Cleveland allowed him to use Kyle Schwarber as the DH. Think about that Cubs fans when you rail against American League baseball.

The Cubs also caught a huge break with the rain delay that gave them a much-needed timeout. It also took steam from the Indians.

Since Collins replaced Jerry Manuel, he was initially hamstrung with a limited payroll and Alderson’s domineering hand of calling the shots.

Collins’ in-game managing can be head scratching, especially the use of his bullpen and bench. He has shown questionable loyalties to his players, notably Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes.

He has been let down numerous times, but his players hustle for him.

EDGE: Chicago.

ROTATION: Jake Arrieta won 22 games in 2015 to win the NL Cy Young Award. Either Jon Lester or Hendricks could win it this year. They have one more season with John Lackey and Jason Hammel is the fifth starter.

Most of the pre-season pitching accolades went to the Mets’ young core of Harvey, Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz. Throw in Zack Wheeler and four of the five are coming off surgery. Bartolo Colon is a free agent, but the Mets want him back.

However, that’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Nothing is assured, including Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman picking up where they left off. They gave the Mets a brief, but an impressive window.

The bottom line is the Mets’ rotation can be terrific, but with the surgeries and relative inexperience, they enter spring training with a myriad of questions.

EDGE: Chicago.

BULLPEN

With Chapman on the free-agent market and Maddon’s obvious lack of faith in his bullpen, the Cubs have serious questions.

Mike Montgomery is 27 and worked a lot in the postseason. They also had Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards and Justin Grimm on the postseason roster. They are under 30, had decent seasons, but Maddon had little faith in them in Games 6 of 7. We’ll never know what Maddon would have done if Game 7 went longer.

The Mets have serious bullpen issues with Jeurys Familia facing at least a 30-game suspension and Addison Reed entering free agency. Honestly, they are in a world of hurt in their bullpen.

If you assume Chapman is gone, the same assumption can be made of Reed, left-hander Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas. They already decided against Jim Henderson. Josh Edgin had a short rebound season from surgery. Hansel Robles is coming off a hot-and-cold season, as did Logan Verrett.

Erik Goeddel and Sean Gilmartin also made appearances, as did Rafael Montero.

EDGE: Even.

CATCHING: Ironically, Maddon’s lack of faith in his bullpen prompted going to Jon Lester, and with him, his personal catcher David Ross. Ross homered to help win Game 7 and retire in style.

The Cubs still list Schwarber as a catcher, but after knee surgery, that won’t happen. Willson Contreras had a good year and enters spring training No. 1.

Travis d’Arnaud was hurt each of the last two seasons and still needs to prove he can hit. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera are back-ups. The Mets need a serious upgrade here.

EDGE: Chicago.

FIRST BASE: It’s Anthony Rizzo (.292/32 HR/109 RBI) for the Cubs against the Mets’ perpetually injured Lucas Duda, and possibly James Loney.

The Mets are also toying with the idea of experimenting with Conforto and David Wright at first. It is a reach.

EDGE: Chicago.

SECOND BASE: When Schwarber was injured, Ben Zobrist played more in left field, and that gave Javier Baez more time at second base.

The versatility of MVP candidate Kris Bryant, who can play the infield and outfield corners, enabled Maddon to keep Zobrist fresh at second.

The Mets were surprised by Neil Walker’s power, but he’s a free-agent coming off back surgery. The most they’ll extend is probably a one-year qualifying. They still have Flores, who they repeatedly showed a lack of faith, and the up-and-coming T.J. Rivera. Kelly Johnson, who filed for free agency. Will they trade for him for a third straight season?

EDGE: Chicago.

SHORTSTOP

The Cubs’ Addison Russell is one of the game’s rising stars, while Asdrubal Cabrera was arguably the Mets’ MVP.

However, Cabrera showed breakdown signs several times last summer. They have him for another year and Collins needs to do a better job of resting him.

EDGE: Chicago.

THIRD BASE

If not Rizzo, Bryant (.292/39/102) could be the NL MVP. He’s 24, terrific in the clutch and can play four positions.

The Mets don’t know if Wright will be back, and if he does, where he’ll play and how much are issues. If he doesn’t, they’ll go with Jose Reyes and Flores.

EDGE: Chicago.

LEFT FIELD

The Cubs have the combination of Zobrist – whom the Mets’ coveted after the 2015 season – and Schwarber. The World Series MVP, Zobrist is also one of baseball’s good guys as he signed autographs outside his Chicago home.

How many remember that Albert Belle chased down trick-or-treaters in his truck?

Zobrist is versatile, has power and hits in the clutch. Small wonder the Mets and Nationals both wanted him. Schwarber, meanwhile, thanks to the DH rule was a factor with awesome power.

The assumption is Cespedes will be gone, leaving left field to Conforto. Curtis Granderson could also get time in left with Jay Bruce brought back to play right field.

EDGE: Chicago.

CENTER FIELD: Dexter Fowler had a terrific season, but is a free agent. He said the Cubs are on his list, but as I did in left field with the Mets and Cespedes, I will assume he’ll be gone.

If the Cubs don’t bring back Fowler, and since there’s no way of knowing who’ll the Cubs will fish for, their internal option is 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr.

Ideally, the Mets wanted Cespedes in center, but he balked. Juan Lagares was injured for a good part of the season, but returned to play well.

Granderson will also get center field time in his last season with the Mets because of Bruce’s presence in right field.

EDGE: Mets.

RIGHT FIELD: The Cubs didn’t get $180 million worth from Jason Heyward. He has a tremendous glove, but his bat went into hibernation this summer.

Bruce struggled after coming over from Cincinnati, but picked it up at the end. Even so, it was a good pick-up, and he’s more economically feasible than either Cespedes or Heyward.

When Bruce isn’t playing, they can turn to Granderson.

EDGE: Mets.

 

Oct 02

Mets’ Questions In Deciding Wild-Card Roster

There are a lot of things Mets GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins will consider over the next few days as they construct their postseason roster in preparation for the wild-card game against San Francisco, Wednesday, at Citi Field.

Collins has been spoiled with access up to 40 players since September 1. Now, they’ll face Madison Bumgarner with 25.

ALDERSON: A lot on his mind. (AP)

ALDERSON: A lot on his mind. (AP)

Here are the questions Alderson must answer:

CATCHER: Could they consider carrying a third catcher in Kevin Plawecki? They could go this way because in the one game format Collins shouldn’t hesitate to use a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner. Plus, in the back of his mind should be the prospect of extra innings.

FIRST BASE: Who starts? The early word is Lucas Duda could get the start over James Loney with the thinking he might have one good swing in him. We’ve heard a lot about the possibility of Eric Campbell. Even if he doesn’t start, he should be there because he represents a right-handed pinch-hit option.

OUTFIELD: Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes will be the starters. However, the recent play of Juan Lagares introduced an element nobody considered two weeks ago. Lagares has shown he can swing the bat, so if he’s carried, who will the Mets choose between Michael Conforto and Alejandro De Aza? There’s no way Collins would favor De Aza’s defense over Bruce’s bat, but he could choose him over Conforto.

STARTERS: They will carry three, Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon and Seth Lugo over Robert Gsellman. Why three? Because what happens if Syndergaard were to get injured or shelled early in the game?

BULLPEN: Since the opponent is the Giants, who are heavy with left-handed hitters, will the Mets go with one less position player and add lefty Josh Edgin? The rest of the pen would include Jerry Blevins, Hansel Robles, Fernando Salas, Josh Smoker, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia.

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Aug 15

Ten Things To Happen For Mets To Turn It Around

It’s a logical question: Have the Mets survived the undertow that was dragging their season out to sea After consecutive well-pitched games – and they were sterling efforts – from Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, the temptation is to say yes.

However, you know what they say about temptation.

CESPEDES: Must hit when he returns. (AP)

CESPEDES: Must hit when he returns. (AP)

It’s an oversimplification to say after winning won two straight over the weekend against San Diego – a team they should beat at home – all is right with the Mets.

Frankly, that’s not enough to be writing a check for playoff tickets. The Mets will have turned things around when the following happens:

Yoenis Cespedes returns healthy and in center field: Cespedes begins a rehab assignment today as a DH in Port St. Lucie. He’s expected back when the Mets are in San Francisco. When Cespedes comes back I don’t want to hear anything about him not playing centerfield. The Mets signed him to play center. From left to right, the outfield should be Curtis Granderson, Cespedes and Jay Bruce.

Granderson and Bruce need to hit: The Mets haven’t gotten much from Granderson all season (see 18-31 HR to RBI ratio) and Bruce hasn’t hit since coming over from the Reds. Both hitting will take pressure off Cespedes and return Alejandro De Aza to the bench.

Paging Syndergaard: Noah Syndergaard has lost four of his last five decisions, increasing speculation the bone spur is taking a toll. His pitch count limits him to around six innings, and they haven’t been effective.

Leave Flores alone: Just let Wilmer Flores play and be done with it. Give him a chance against right handed pitching because the platoon isn’t working.

RISP must improve:  Yes, we know the Mets can hit home runs, and the expectations of more will rise with Cespedes. However, they are dead last in the majors hitting with runners in scoring position. It might be too much to expect that will turn around with six weeks remaining to the season, but that’s a priority.

Cabrera’s return important: His contributions can’t be understated, and they include more than taking off the helmet of the home run hitter. Yes, there was that long stretch when he didn’t hit with RISP. However, he gave the Mets a lot of clutch hits and played solid defense in the first half.

Need Niese: Jon Niese is now the No. 5 starter. The Mets aren’t in the position where they can afford to lose every fifth game.

Run Reyes Run: The Mets signed Jose Reyes for what he can do with his speed. Yesterday it paid off when he singled, went to second on a short wild pitch and continued to third on a throw into center. He then scored on a wild pitch. Reyes isn’t going to steal 60 bases anymore, but his speed is a threat and we haven’t seen it much since he came back.

Bullpen stability: Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have been lockdown in the eighth and ninth. Hansel Robles was going well for awhile, but lost his composure in Yankees game and really hasn’t been the same. They should get more help when the rosters expand, but for now they need Jerry Blevins and Erik Goeddel to pitch well as a bridge to Reed.

Somebody has to step up: Somebody other than Neil Walker has to step up. James Loney has done it; so has Kelly Johnson. But, there will be games down the stretch when Walker and Cespedes and Bruce don’t hit. In those games, they’ll need Flores, or T.J. Rivera, or how about one of the catchers? They’ve gotten little from Travis d’Arnaud all year.

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