Nov 26

Potential Mets’ 2015 Batting Order

Let’s assume the Mets won’t make any significant additions at the Winter Meetings, and what we have now is what we’ll get Opening Day. Given that, here’s what I see as a potential batting order:

Juan Lagares, CF: In the absence of a legit leadoff hitter, the Mets would be making a gamble. Lagares has the speed and showed he can steal a base. He must improve his on-base percentage and cut his strikeouts.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Let’s begin with this notion: He won ‘t be traded. Murphy is patient at the plate and can hit to the opposite field. Those are important qualities for a No. 2 hitter.

David Wright, 3B: In theory, a team’s best hitter – the combination of average and power – bats third. The Mets are hoping for Wright to hit for more power after an injury-shortened 2014 season.

Lucas Duda, 1B: He has the potential to be the power bat the Mets have long needed. Last year, he hit 30 homers with 92 RBI. Of his 130 hits, 57 went for extra bases. He still strikes out too much, evidenced by his 135-69 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Michael Cuddyer, LF: Injuries limited him to only 49 games and 190 at-bats last season. However, he won the NL batting title in 2013 and hit 20 homers with a .389 on-base percentage. That player could give the Mets a potent middle-of-the-order.

Curtis Granderson, RF: He could hit fifth, but I’ll slot him sixth to separate the left-handed hitters between Cuddyer. It might be too much for him to hit 40 homers as he did with the Yankees, but 30 shouldn’t be out of the question. Isn’t that why they moved in the fences?

Travis d’Arnaud, C: He hit 13 homers in only 385 at-bats leading to expectations of possibly 20 over a full season (just 108 games in 2014). He’s still a work in progress, but the Mets are hopeful.

Wilmer Flores, SS: We won’t know of the optimum spot to hit Flores until he plays a full season – he only has 354 career at-bats. The Mets like his offensive potential, but it is premature to make projections. One thing for certain, his 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio must improve.

Pitcher’s spot.

Nov 25

Wright’s Comeback Is Mets’ Most Critical Question

Among the myriad of questions facing the New York Mets this question, I believe the most important is the status of David Wright.

A recent ESPN poll listed baseball’s top ten third basemen and Wright, based on his recent injury history and performance, wasn’t on the list and shouldn’t have been. Therein, is why he’s my most critical Mets’ question heading into the 2015.

WRIGHT: He needs to smile again. (AP)

WRIGHT: He needs to smile again. (AP)

The key focus on Wright is health. Only once on the past four years did he play in as many as 150 games. Last year, a bum left shoulder limited him to 134 games and hurt his performance in the field and at the plate.

As the face of the franchise, Wright was rewarded with an eight-year, $138-million contract that has the Mets committed to him through the 2020 season. He was signed with the hope he’d regain his All-Star form.

This isn’t about whether the Mets should have signed Wright, or whether they should have taken Jose Reyes instead. It is about the immediate situation, which is Wright’s status. He’s here and not going anywhere.

It must be understood Wright has been a star, but his most productive seasons when he was younger and healthier, but also when he was surrounded by supporting talent, notably Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. Wright has always been an important element to the Mets’ success, but never the centerpiece bat.

This year will be more of the same. The main source of power will come from Lucas Duda followed by Curtis Granderson. If they meet expectations, a lot of pressure could come off Wright.

A seven-time All-Star, Wright figures to bat third and could be prevented with solid RBI opportunities if there’s a productive leadoff hitter and strong season from Daniel Murphy.

It can’t be underestimated how the upheaval at the top of the order, plus the lack of support behind him, coupled with his injuries and propensity for carrying the weight of the team on his shoulders contributed to him not driving in over 100 runs since 2010 or scoring over 100 runs since 2008.

Then again, every time Wright struggles resurfaces the questions stemming from the 2009 beaning by Matt Cain.

This is a critical year for Wright, who at 31, is at the crossroads of his career. Does his slide continue or can he recapture the stroke that made him an elite talent?

Wright as Wright can carry the Mets to the next level to potential playoff contending status. If not, and he struggles again, there will be the lingering questions about his contract, especially if he’s healthy and doesn’t produce.

There are six more years on that contract and could become an albatross.

Nov 17

Mets’ Collins Optimistic About 2015

As far as guarantees go, it was rather weak, but considering the boast came from Terry Collins it was bold enough. Not only will the Mets’ string of six losing seasons come to an end, but they should make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Pointing to a young core and return of David Wright and Curtis Granderson that should be enough to get them over the hump.

“We should be playing in October,’’ Collins told reporters this week. “Our young guys are starting to grow, with the addition of some offense, and … we’re not done. … I think 2015 is going to be a good year for us.’’

The key, or course, is Matt Harvey’s recovery from elbow surgery; development of Zack Wheeler; and a encore season from Jacob deGrom that comprise the core of a young pitching staff.

If the pitching holds up and Wright and Granderson have bounce back seasons, that should put them into contention for a wild-card berth. The NL East title? Not so much.

 

Nov 12

Dissecting The Cuddyer Signing

Michael Cuddyer said all the right things about coming to the New York Mets. He spoke of how the Mets were a team on the cusp; about playing with longtime friend David Wright; and the excitement of playing in New York.

For good measure, he mentioned how he imagined how a packed Citi Field could be when he referenced the 2013 All-Star Game.

Got you going, didn’t it?

Then he ruined the illusion by saying “it always isn’t about the money.’’

But, I’ve been covering this sport a long time, and you’ve been following the Mets a long time. What we both know, is that when it comes to the Mets, money is right there at the top. Money is always the key factor.

The Cuddyer signing tells us a lot about the Mets and their financial situation. It also raises a lot of questions, which I’ll attempt to answer:

Q: Why wouldn’t Cuddyer accept the Rockies’ $15.3 million qualifying offer and go the free-agent route again?

A: That’s his risk. He wanted two and the Rockies were offering one. There was no guarantee Cuddyer would get a second year from anyone. When he gave the Mets a deadline to give him two years or he’d take the qualifying offer, “it gave us pause,’’ said GM Sandy Alderson.

The Mets had things to consider, such as other free-agent outfield options, which would have cost more. Or, trade options, but they had few chips to play and are unwilling to include their young pitching. Or, going from within, which they didn’t have the confidence in doing. And, there was the matter of losing the draft pick, which they didn’t want to do.

The most palatable option was giving Cuddyer two years.

Q: The breakdown is the first year for $8.5 million and the second year for $12.5 million. What does that mean?

A: In giving up their first-round pick – the 15th overall selection – the Mets also save themselves $2.5 million. Given that, the Mets will have filled their outfield hole for $6 million this year, which is $1.25 less than they blew on Chris Young last year. They don’t get their pick, but that player is at least three years down the road anyway. A lot can change in that time. With the $2.5 million they save by not having the draft pick gives them a little more flexibility.

Q: Won’t the Mets feel a pinch in 2016 for the $12.5 million they’d pay Cuddyer?

A: They could, but not if they make the strides they expect. Their gamble is they’ll improve enough in 2015 and experience an attendance spike. That will pay in part for Cuddyer. Of course, that means they’ll have to win this year, or at least “play meaningful games in September.’’ But, if none of this happens by July 2016 and Cuddyer is productive, he shouldn’t be hard to trade.

Q: Was this done to appease Wright?

A: That probably factored into it, but I wouldn’t say that was their first priority.

Q: What does signing Cuddyer say about their bench and minor league system?

A: For one, is tells me they likely won’t bring back Eric Young. It also speaks to their diminishing confidence in Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis as a fulltime player. The Mets stunted their development last year and that figures to be the same this year.

Q: The Mets kept saying they wanted power, but Cuddyer has hit only 80 homers over the past five years (16 average) and only ten in an injury shortened 2014. Does this fill that need?

A: No. Cuddyer isn’t strictly a pull hitter, which is just as well because the fences aren’t coming in next year. Presumably, he uses the whole field, which is the best way. Cuddyer has only one 30-homer season despite playing his career in the Coors Field and the Metrodome. He’s only had one 100-RBI season as well.

Q: Were there other options?

A: Sure, but nobody screamed out as a “must have’’ talent. Michael Morse, Ryan Ludwick, Nate Schierholtz, Nick Markakis and Josh Willingham were all available this fall, but would have either been too expensive; would stay with their original teams; or not graded as high as Cuddyer.

Q: Where will Cuddyer play?

A: Probably right field, with Curtis Granderson moving over to left field.

Q: Bottom line this for me: Does Cuddyer put the Mets over the top?

A: By no stretch of the imagination. The Mets have questions concerning shortstop; the offensive returns of Wright and Granderson; whether Lucas Duda can do it again; the development of Zack Wheeler and return from surgery by Matt Harvey. If all that happens and Cuddyer can return to his 2013 form when he won the NL batting title.

 

Nov 11

Boyhood Friends Wright And Cuddyer Now Teammates

As boyhood friends, it isn’t unusual for New York Mets third baseman David Wright to send a text or phone Michael Cuddyer this time of year.

“We’d mostly talk about our fantasy football teams,’’ Wright said by phone this afternoon.

CUDDYER: Fills outfield need.

CUDDYER: Fills outfield need.

However, one thing they’ve talked about since their teens growing up in Chesapeake, Virginia – playing together as major league teammates – is now no fantasy.

That became reality when the Mets signed the 35-year-old outfielder to a two-year, $21-million contract, thereby meeting their primary postseason objective to bring in a corner outfielder.

Also reality are the economics of the deal. The Colorado Rockies offered Cuddyer a $15.3 million qualifying offer, which he said he would have accepted had the Mets not agreed to give him two years by a 5 p.m., Monday deadline he gave them.

Cuddyer said this wasn’t about money, but it was about the years. The contract is backloaded with Cuddyer getting $8.5 million this season and $12.5 million for 2016. In signing Cuddyer, the Mets forfeit their first-round draft pick – the 15th overall selection – but that means they get to keep what they would have paid that pick, which is $2.5 million.

So, before we get all warm and fuzzy about the Wright-Cuddyer friendship, always remember this was a business deal. Their relationship was only part of the deal, not the entire driving force. Shortly after the season ended Wright reached out to Cuddyer and he kept phoning.

“I am pretty sure I annoyed him,’’ said Wright, an eighth grader when Cuddyer was a high school senior. “At first, it was a couple of times a week. Then, it was every day. Then, it was a couple of times a day.’’

His message was simple: The Mets are a team on the rise and New York was a great place to play.

Cuddyer, who played in the postseason seven times with Minnesota, said the Mets offered more than October potential.

“As hard as it is for some to believe, it’s not always about the money,’’ said Cuddyer. “And, this was one of those cases. I think just the excitement of being able to come to the East, come play for the Mets – that was the biggest attraction. You get to the point that I’m at in my career, that’s the thing that’s important: One, to win and wanting to be closer to home. Both of those issues were nailed in this signing, for me at least.’’

And, Cuddyer also nailed it for the Mets. He can play both corner outfield and infield positions. He’s more adept in right, but is willing to try left. Meanwhile, right fielder Curtis Granderson offered to move to left field.

Cuddyer hasn’t yet had that conversation with manager Terry Collins.

“I’ve played everywhere,” Cuddyer said. “The main goal for me is to win ballgames. So wherever Terry feels that I’ll be more beneficial to the club, whether it’s right field or left field, that’s fine with me.’’

A career .279 hitter who averages 21 homers a year, Cuddyer adds length to the Mets’ batting order. The 2013 NL batting leader figures to bat fifth, following Wright and Lucas Duda.

One word that describes Cuddyer is “solid.’’ He doesn’t give away many at-bats; he catches most balls he gets to; and knows what he’s doing on the bases.

Plus, said general manager Sandy Alderson, he’s a clubhouse presence, somebody who’ll make a positive impression with the younger players.

“He’s just an outstanding player, a terrific right-handed hitter,’’ Alderson said. “He’s going to give us a lot more balance in our lineup, a length in our lineup. He’s versatile defensively. He’s been in the postseason. He’s a former All-Star. There’s not a lot more I can say about Michael as a player.’’