Mar 16

Mets’ roster has remaining issues

HARRIS: Will play is Beltran opens on DL

With spring training down to a couple of weeks after today’s loss to Minnesota, the Mets are still trying to final situations in right field, second baseball, the bullpen and in the rotation.

 

All of these will be filled with those players already in camp.

RIGHT FIELD

Carlos Beltran has been cleared to resume baseball activities, but probably won’t play until next week, which would leave a week of games until Opening Day. However, with the Mets wanting to ease him back, it’s realistic to figure he might not be ready.

Currently, he’s limited to batting practice and doesn’t know when he’ll test his knees by playing the field or running the bases.

Should Beltran open the season on the disabled list, Willie Harris would probably get the start, but manager Terry Collins could go to a platoon system with Scott Hairston.

That would make Lucas Duda the odd-man out because the Mets want him to get consistent at-bats. The way he could stick would be if Beltran were to open on the disabled list. Beltran says he’ll be ready, but the time frame suggests otherwise.

SECOND BASE

Nobody wants Luis Castillo, but he’s playing the best offensively and is not ahead of the others defensively. Castillo can turn the double play better than the others but has limited range. It’s not totally out of the question Castillo would stick if the Mets find it distasteful to eat his $6 million contract.

Luis Hernandez has emerged, perhaps as the front-runner as has been reported, primarily because nobody has stepped to the forefront. Hernandez can play the position and isn’t a liability with the bat, but it’s not as if he’s blowing away the field.

Ideally, they would have liked for Daniel Murphy to grasp the position defensively, but that hasn’t happened, especially when it comes to the double play. Murphy should still make the team as a left-handed bat off the bench.

The Mets like the potential of Brad Emaus, but he’s not hitting and hasn’t made up for it with his glove. An Emaus-Murphy platoon isn’t out of the question should the Mets not want to return the Rule 5 Emaus to Toronto.

The only sure thing at second base is the return of Justin Turner to the minor leagues because he has remaining options.

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Feb 15

Top Ten Mets issues as camp opens

Good afternoon. Players are trickling into camp today in Port St. Lucie. A few pitchers are throwing, but they don’t have to officially check in until to tomorrow.

No team reports to spring training without questions, and the Mets are no exception. They will enter the season this spring loaded with questions, but without any substantive answers.

Here’s the top ten issues surrounding your New York Mets:

Q: WHAT WILL BE THE OWNERSHIP FALLOUT?

A: Speculation has the Mets attempting to reach a settlement in the Ponzi mess instead of taking their chances in court where reportedly the losses could reach as high as a billion dollars and undoubtedly force the Wilpons to sell the franchise. Who knows? Even a settlement could be that costly. One thing where there is no doubt is the team won’t be adding salary at the trade deadline, but will be trying to shed it, notably with Carlos Beltran being shopped.

COLLINS: Will run a tight camp.

Q: HOW WILL TERRY COLLINS IMPLEMENT THE NEW CULTURE?

A:  The Mets are supposed to be a no-nonsense bunch concentrating on fundamentals. Such things like hustling, working the count, throwing to the right base and running the bases begin in spring training. Collins is expected to run a tight camp and is to be decisive about two issues, whether Beltran plays center or right and where, or if, Oliver Perez fits in the roster.

Q: HOW HEALTHY IS CARLOS BELTRAN?

A: Let’s face it, this is Beltran’s last year. The Mets would like to move him and save on his $18.5 million salary, but to maximize the return he has to be healthy, productive and playing center. Beltran playing a sound center will make him easier to move.

REYES: Could be moved.

Q: WHAT WILL BECOME OF JOSE REYES?

A: Again, this is predicated on the ownership situation. Ideally, the Mets would like to sign Reyes – the 2006-2007 model – to an extension, but what will their economic situation be like? If Reyes gets off to a great start the meter will start running high, and at the same time so would the price tag in prospects that it would take to procure him. There is a prevailing sentiment the Mets’ ownership situation might force the team to deal Reyes to ease the financial strain. Such a decision would impact the franchise for years.

Q: WILL MIKE PELFREY TAKE THE NEXT STEP?

A: Many scouting reports have Pelfrey ranked as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, but Johan Santana’s injury makes him the ace. Pelfrey said his goal is consistency, but he has to be more than that – he has to be dominant. The rest of the rotation is loaded with concerns, but even should Pelfrey develop into a 20-game winner, probably won’t be enough to lift the Mets into competitive status.

Q: WILL THE REAL JASON BAY STAND UP?

A.: The Mets expect 25 to 30 homers a year for the $66 million package they will spend on Jason Bay, not the six they received last season before he sustained a concussion. Bay gave the Mets hustle and defense, but was clearly an offensive liability. The Mets must hit this summer to make up for the multitude of pitching problems. David Wright, Beltran and Bay are the projected 3-4-5 hitters.

Q: WAS R.A. DICKEY A FLUKE?

A: The Mets are banking no with a two-year deal, but the fact remains he’s coming off the best season of his career. Dickey never pitched better than he did last year, and he’s only done it once. Dickey’s numbers dictate a No. 5 starter, but he’s second behind Pelfrey.

NIESE: Not proven.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE BACK END OF THE ROTATION?

A: Jon Niese, the No. 3 starter, ran out of gas after a 6-2 start and finished 9-10. Clearly, he’s not a given. Neither are the No. 4 and No. 5 starters, which should come from a pool of Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Dillon Gee, and yes, Perez. Young and Capuano are coming off injuries, Gee is unproven and Perez is on his last chance. Management will not endure another summer of a Perez saga. He’ll earn it in spring training or they’ll cut ties and be quick about it.

Q: WHO’S IN THE BULLPEN?

A: Speculation is the Mets will monitor Francisco Rodriguez’s appearances as to avoid his $17.5 million option from kicking in. Of course, part of that is predicated on Rodriguez’s health.  But, what of the rest of the pen? Bobby Parnell figures to be the set-up man.  D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Buchholz and Taylor Tankersley will be in the mix there somewhere, but hardly come across as clamp-down relievers.  Pat Misch could be the long man, and there’s always the chance Perez could stick in the pen.

Q: WHO PLAYS SECOND?

A: The Mets have already said Ruben Tejada isn’t in the plans to start. The cast includes Daniel Murphy, who hasn’t shown he can play the position, or for that matter, stay healthy. Justin Turner, Chin-lung Hu, Brad Emaus and don’t forget, Luis Castillo, are also in the mix. The best combination would be Tejada’s glove and Murphy’s bat, but that’s not an option. The uncertainty of it all could bring us another year of Castillo, who, if nothing else, is fairly predictable in what he can provide.

Jan 20

Collins seems refreshing

The impression in talking with Terry Collins yesterday is that he’s decisive, something we haven’t always had with Mets managers.

It’s January and Collins already named his Opening Day starter and the top five of his batting order, after which you can figure the rest out. Ask most managers simple questions this time of year about the rotation and batting order and they waffle, saying it is too early, even though the answers seem obvious.

Of course, injuries, performance and match-ups can change things, but the impression is Collins wants to use a set batting order as much as possible, something Jerry Manuel didn’t always do, even when health wasn’t an issue. And, there will be no fooling around with Jose Reyes. Collins recognizes him as a premier leadoff hitter and will ride that horse.

Collins will bunch his speed in Reyes and Angel Pagan at the top of the order, go the traditional route and use his best hitter in David Wright third, utilize his power in Carlos Beltran clean-up and protect him with a right-handed bat in Jason Bay fifth. From there he’ll go with left-handed power in Ike Davis sixth, followed by Josh Thole, the second baseman and finally the pitcher.

Collins knows the landscape about the fans’ expectations and interest this time of year and fueled it with something to talk about. I hope he maintains this approach during the season when things get rough. Who wants the Mets to have eight different batting orders in ten games?

Incidentally, Chris Young passed his physical and the team will make an announcement today or tomorrow. If healthy, he should be among the top four, with Chris Capuano and Dillon Gee competing for the fifth spot. Pat Misch is on the peripheral, but he’s out of options and his best chance of making the team is as a long reliever.

The Mets are counting on Francisco Rodriguez to be healthy and stay the closer with Bobby Parnell seemingly having the inside track as the set-up reliever.

Jan 18

Mets add Young

The Mets have their man in Chris Young and with him their five-man rotation is apparently set.  That would be Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, RA Dickey, Young and either Chris Capuano or Dillon Gee.

Remember, just keep repeating to yourself it’s not about this year, it is about treading water until 2012.

The deal is for $1 million plus incentives. Coming off shoulder problems, the deal is also a gamble.

With spring training just inside 30 days away, I’m usually looking forward to the upcoming season and this year is no different. I just don’t have the same level of optimism I usually do. The Mets have given me no reason.

The Mets were a sub-.500 team that lost its ace and might not see him this season. It could also lose potentially its best bat in Carlos Beltran by midseason in a trade.

Remember, it isn’t about this year.

Jan 04

Mets’ individual goals for 2011

The beginning of the new year is always fresh with optimism and goal setting. Yesterdays don’t matter anymore and the focus is on today and tomorrow.

As an organization the Mets’ 2011 goals are to get through the season as competitively as possible, shed itself of its suffocating contracts and lay a foundation for 2012. The free-agent signings of Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz are low-risk, with the potential for high-rewards moves. The possibility of improving the bullpen and possibly the rotation at minimal cost are the type of decisions we’ve come to expect from Sandy Alderson. If they acquire Jeff Francis or Chris Young, it would be more of the same. These moves won’t push the Mets over the top, but they can make for an interesting summer — if the following goals are also reached.

The following Mets should have these resolutions and goals.

JOHAN SANTANA: Don’t push your return from shoulder surgery and accept the marquee days of your career could be over. Santana’s injury is serious and there’s no reasonable expectation he’ll return prior to the All-Star break. The competitor in him wants to pitch and there’s the danger of him pushing it. Santana has pitched with injury before, but he must be especially careful now, even if it means setting out the entire season. To re-injure his shoulder could mean the end of his career. And, with 2011 all but a write-off season, there should be no urgency on the part of the Mets, either.

MIKE PELFREY: Pelfrey made tremendous strides last year, but regressed in June. Hopefully, he has learned from it. During that swoon Pelfrey reverted to bad habits and lost his focus on the mound. Pelfrey went away from trusting his stuff and started aiming the ball. When all else fails, Pelfrey must realize if he keeps it low he has the stuff to overpower hitters. Above all, without Santana, I don’t want Pelfrey to put too much of a burden on himself with the expectations. Pelfrey is what he is, which is a good, developing pitcher. He’s not a No. 1 yet, so his goal should be not to put that pressure on himself.

RA DICKEY: Dickey’s goal should to duplicate 2010 as much as possible. It was a career year for him so a regression shouldn’t be a surprise. Dickey can no longer sneak up on teams, so how he responds with expectations will be interesting to see.

JON NIESE: Niese had a good start but growing pains eventually caught up with him and he slid from 6-2 to 9-10. Niese, obviously, isn’t a given and his goal needs to trust his stuff and try to make gradual improvement. There are expectations on Niese he’s never had before, made even heavier by the questions swirling around the rotation. Niese must learn to keep things simple and not over extend himself.

BOBBY PARNELL: Quite simply, his goal must be to harness his near 100 mph. fastball to where he can capture the set-up role, which is his for the taking. How well Parnell does in this role will go a long way toward moving him into the closer’s role for 2012 should Francisco Rodriguez fail to finish 55 games.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: K-Rod has to keep his temper and get off to a fast start. If he’s hot early and the Mets are in contention, he’ll get more save opportunities to increase his chances of that $17.5 million option kicking in. The Mets would prefer he fail short and instead go with the buyout. One of the most interesting storylines of the summer will be Rodriguez. If he’s good, so will be the Mets. If he’s not, the team will likely be sluggish, but facing a financial windfall for next winter.

JOSH THOLE: Thole will enter spring training as the No. 1 catcher, but can’t assume he’s got it made. He has good bat control, but needs to pick up that part of his game. His offensive goal should be to continue to be patient at the plate and take the ball where it is pitched. Thole will get stronger as he gets older, but shouldn’t be thinking about changing his offensive approach.

IKE DAVIS: Already strong, the home runs will continue to come for Davis, but he needs to be more disciplined at the plate for that to happen. Davis was frequently beaten on breaking ball low off the plate. That was his offensive Achilles Heel that threatens to curb his progress. Davis knows he’s good and has the potential, but he can’t take it for granted that it will automatically come for him.

JOSE REYES: Reyes lets things get to him and that presents the danger of pressing in his walk year. With the Mets acutely aware of their budget, a decision on Reyes could come as soon as the All-Star break. Reyes hasn’t been himself in two years because of injury and the fear is he’ll try to force things. With Reyes, that includes losing focus at the plate and giving away too many at-bats. Reyes’ best production came in the years immediately following his contract when he’s healthy. Considering the past two years there’s a concern about his health. Reyes’ primary goal outside of staying healthy is playing within himself.

DAVID WRIGHT: With the clubhouse chemistry in a state of flux in a transition year, Wright’s goal should be to assert himself more as a leader. This is his team and he needs to act like it. With a lot of young kids, and what could be going on in Reyes’ head, Wright needs to be more of a vocal, kick-butt presence. With a new management and manager, now is the time. A leader, however, needs to follow by example and there were way too many instances where Wright gave away too many at-bats and also lost focus in the field. Wright struck out 161 times last year, a number that should be reduced by at least 25 percent. Too often Wright was a rally killer and that has to stop, especially with the need for more offense considering the pitching questions.

CARLOS BELTRAN: So far, Beltran has said all the right things to impress the new regime. His goal should be to mean them. If Beltran stays healthy and produces he knows that could parlay into another rich contract. Only Beltran knows it won’t happen with the Mets. The Mets could have an interesting dilemma at the All-Star break. If Beltran is having a good year and has the Mets within wild-card contention, they might try to ride him during the second half. But, if he’s playing well and what’s offered is potentially better than compensatory draft picks, they’ll pull the trigger on a deal. Either way, it is safe to assume this is Beltran’s last year with the Mets. It’s up to him to make the most of it.

JASON BAY: Rarely are there do-overs, but this is as close as it comes. Bay hit only six homers and missed most of the second half with a concussion in what was a lost season. The Mets are stuck with his contract and Bay’s objective is to prove his worth.