Feb 20

Welcome back

I always loved this day, when pitchers and catchers report. Actually, the first day of spring training has become blurred with players reporting earlier each spring. It seems the week after the Super Bowl is when  players begin to trickle in. David Wright has been working out in PSL for over a week now.

This is the day when enthusiasm and optimism run high for the summer ahead. This spring that has been tempered for the Mets with the Wilpon’s financial crisis and the passing of Gary Carter. Incidentally, of all the tributes to Carter, the one by the Montreal Canadiens was my favorite. Their players wearing No. 8 and Carter’s image on the ice were truly memorable.

I digress for a moment, but it reminds me how much I miss Montreal as a stop on the tour. I always used to like visiting that city. Historical town, great places to eat and the obvious European flavor.

I always thought Montreal got a raw deal from MLB. Yes, attendance was dwindling, but how could that have been avoided with MLB threatening to leave for years until the city built a new stadium. Just shabby.

The Mets, you’ll recall ponied up most of the money for Citi Field, and despite getting $20 million a year in naming rights, the new stadium hasn’t provided either the payday or the home field advantage the team sought.

Attendance was just over 2 million last season, and that is the first of my top issues facing the Mets as their 50th year in existence begins:

Q1. Will the Mets draw over 2 million?

A. The debate isn’t whether the Mets have enough to contend with the Phillies and Braves, but if they have the talent to keep pace with the Nationals and Marlins? They don’t on paper or the field and are projected to finish fifth in the NL East. With a brutal April schedule, they could be trailing by double digits before the weather warms. If the Mets aren’t competitive, there’s no reason to head out to Citi Field and the attendance will drop, and with it will come a further drain on their finances. Never mind winning, but the Mets need a competitive, exciting team for the turnstiles to keep clicking.

Q2. Will the Mets win their court case?

A. Seventeen days prior to Opening Day we should get an idea how much the Mets could be on the hook for because of the Ponzi scandal. Win or lose, there will be an appeal, but should they win there’s a sliver of hope the Mets might be able to add talent at the trade deadline if they are competitive.

Q3. Will David Wright be traded?

A. I don’t believe GM Sandy Alderson for a second when he says how good the team the Mets are will have no bearing on whether Wright is dealt. If they are playing beyond expectations and people are coming out, the Mets can’t afford to trade Wright and expect fans to keep showing up. If they are stinking, who can’t envision Wright not being traded?

Q4. What’s to become of Johan Santana?

A. He’s throwing in PSL, but there’s still no timetable for his return. If he comes back or not, he’ll still cost the Mets close to $25 million. It’s a pipe dream to hope for Santana being able to pitch and be healthy enough for the Mets to trade him. The odds don’t favor a complete recovery from his type of shoulder surgery. It’s a long shot, but the Mets are hoping he’s good enough physically to give them enough starts to create interest.

Q5. Will they get anything out of Jason Bay?

A. With the fences moved in 15 feet, perhaps Bay can’t help but hit for some more power. Bay has done nothing to warrant his contract and outside the fences, there’s no reason to believe anything has changed this season.

 

On the first day of spring training, you’d like to see the team’s primary questions divorced from the Mets’ financial problems, but that’s being naive. What happens on the field is directly linked to the Wilpon’s bank accounts. That’s just the way it is.

I’ll be back later with more baseball specific questions surrounding the team.

 

Feb 16

Duda Hoping To Get It Right

Andrew Keh of the NY Times says the Mets have replicated the new dimensions at Citi Field at the team’s spring training complex in Florida. Field 6, which was initially constructed with fences that mimicked the original shape of Citi Field, was altered this winter to match the stadium’s new design.

So far, it has been left unused by the players who came here this week for voluntary workouts, and no one is expected to practice there before the team officially opens spring training next week. But when they do, the first fly balls there will carry with them a significant dose of intrigue.

Good call by the Mets in my opinion and it will be interesting to hear what kind of feedback we get from the players once they start playing some games there.

In addition to getting a feel for what it will be like to hit at Citi Field, it will also be useful Lucas Duda who really needs to elevate his play in right field.

Mark Simon of ESPN shared some insight on Duda’s defensive problems last season:

Duda had trouble coming in on balls and he had trouble going back on balls too. Duda had four Defensive Misplays for failing to anticipate the fence, which rated his biggest defensive issue. Pro-rated over a full season, Duda’s misplay rate would come equate to nearly 60 Defensive Misplays & Errors for an everyday player over a full season. That would be about as bad as could be. Last year’s major league leaders, Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks and Mike Stanton of the Marlins, had 49.

Yes, Duda emerged as a viable hitter with power for the Mets after he replaced Carlos Beltran in right field last season. But he looked like a train wreck defensively. Now with the new dimensions, he can gain some valuable reps out there that could make his job easier. Duda told Keh that he is eager to start the process.

“I can’t wait to get out there,” Duda said of Field 6. “My routes have to get a lot more precise, so it’ll be a good thing to go out there and start to get used to the dimensions.”

By the way, Mets outfielder instructor Tom Goodwin is already in camp and working with Duda on getting a better jump on balls.

Duda is going to be an important piece of the puzzle in 2012, and this focus on fielding his position well, should pay some nice dividends for Terry Collins and the Mets this season.

Collins, incidentally, sees the situation with Duda like this:  “This guy is going to be a monster.”

Written by Craig Lerner of Mets Merized Online.

Feb 13

Had a rough weekend.

Good afternoon folks. I was away for the weekend, but not by design as I was hospitalized.

I was in Westchester for an appointment when I fainted and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I was crouching at the time on my cell phone, and when I stood up I got lightheaded and collapsed. When I came to, somebody had stolen my phone. There’s got to be a special section in hell for that guy.

Tests came back negative and I was released after staying overnight, but it was a wake-up call nonetheless. They couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Maybe just a freak thing, but it scared the hell out of me. When you wake up in a hallway and not know where you are, it is scary. I’m lucky they didn’t find anything serious, or it happened when I was driving.

I think about all the traveling I’ve done and how may nights I’ve been in a strange hotel. Lucky I wasn’t in some city halfway across the country.

When you’re in a hospital bed, you have time for a lot of thinking. You can’t sleep because they wake you up every two hours to take blood or test your blood pressure. And, the lights are always on and the nurses’ station is always noisy.

I thought about a lot of things, with the upcoming baseball season among them. I am working on a book I hope will be completed by the end of the season. I plan to be out at Citi Field a lot this summer working on several writing projects.  I also hope to do a lot of game stories for an Internet outlet. Looking forward to it.

Would rather be traveling full time, but I’m happy covering baseball nonetheless. It has been in my blood for a long time.

I’m also looking forward to the season with curiosity and interest. I’m trying to look past the dismal won-loss forecast and into the future. This is a tenuous period in Mets’ history with all the swirling economic and legal issues laying the groundwork for the next decade or so.

If the Wilpons fare poorly in court they could be forced to sell. Maybe they won’t be worth the $2 billion the Dodgers are reportedly valued, but the team, coupled with SNY and Citi Field will come at a high price.

If the Wilpons keep the franchise, it will be interesting to see how they dig themselves out of this hole and when will see them be viable again.

In this, the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ birth, some are writing this team could be a hapless as the 1962 team. It won’t happen.

As an expansion team, Casey Stengel’s group was a collection of veteran castoffs and lowly ranked prospects. There wasn’t a player on that team with the talent of David Wright, or the potential of Ike Davis and Jon Niese.

Today’s Mets aren’t deep in talent at the major league level and throughout the farm system, but there is talent and potential. There’s also an expanded playoff system not around in 1962, so if they catch fire, well, who knows?

People have said and written to me saying the 1969 team had low expectations and look what happened to them. True enough, and while the offensive potential of this team is greater than the 1969 team, that unit had potential based on its superior pitching. Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman gave Gil Hodges reason to believe the 1969 team would be competitive and exceed expectations.

We’re a week away from the start of spring training and over the coming days I’ll look at some of the questions and issues surrounding the Mets.

I’m anxious for another season to begin, as I am every spring and I hope you’ll share it with me.

Thanks. JD

 

Feb 09

I wish the Mets would do that.

Maybe the Mets are thinking along these lines, and if so, it slipped by me. In doing some research on the Mets’ 50th anniversary, I came across all the non-baseball events at Shea Stadium, including the Rolling Stones, Beatles, boxing and the Pope.

Yankee Stadium is hosting Madonna and Pink Floyd this summer while the Yankees are on the road. Why don’t the Mets, who are hurting for money, open the doors of Citi Field this summer when the boys are on the road?

I’m not suggesting a monster truck rally that would tear up the field, but how about rock concerts, boxing and wrestling? If nothing else, how about the world’s largest flea market?

I’m hoping Citi Field will apply to host the NHL January 1 outdoors game. Maybe not the Rangers this time, but there’s the Devils and Islanders.

It really doesn’t matter what the event, but as long as people are coming to Citi Field, the Mets will get something and that’s what is important.

Feb 01

What would success be to the 2012 Mets?

On this, the 50th anniversary of the Mets, I am sure they’ll have a better record than their founding fathers, but not have much better odds of success.

The ultimate success is defined by winning the World Series, followed by reaching the playoffs, winning your division, then finishing over .500. Realistically, a lot of things have to break right for the Mets to have a winning season.

But, with all that seemingly out of their reach, what would define a successful season?

I’m narrowing it down to a handful of things:

1) Some resolution, either way, to the Mets’ financial struggles. There’s such a negative feeling permeating this franchise because of the unknown ramifications of the Ponzi scandal. Even a court decision will go through the appeals process, so it won’t happen this summer. But, a little movement one way or another could tell us what direction the franchise is heading. Even if the news is bad, that’s better than not knowing and speculating.

2) A healthy and productive David Wright is important because he’s the face of the franchise and has been a shell of his All-Star self. If the Mets are to rebuild, they’ll need plenty of young pieces and Wright is the only player capable of bringing in that kind of talent.

3) A strain on the Mets are the contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay. If they can be healthy and perform even remotely to their potential, perhaps Sandy Alderson can find a taker. He did so with Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez and their impossible contracts. Maybe he can do it again. Yes, I know we’re talking a long shot here.

4) The Mets have some young talent that offers hope of better days. Jon Niese, Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Josh Thole and Daniel Murphy aren’t without ability. You can throw Bobby Parnell in with that group, too. Maybe these guys can show us a glimpse of something promising in the future.

5) The Mets desperately need a fast start against the brutal schedule in April and early May to avoid a double-digit deficit before the weather gets warm. If the Mets can play alert, aggressive baseball out of the gate they might draw some people to Citi Field and perhaps curb some of the flood of red ink.

If all of these things happen it won’t guarantee a winning season, much less the playoffs. But, should they happen it might ease the negativity swarming around this franchise and that would be a start.