Oct 31

Four Items On Van Wagenen’s Plate

New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said there are 11 parts to his plans to remaking the Mets. He wouldn’t elaborate what they were, but it is believed he touched on one when he said he wanted Mickey Callaway to return as manager.

I’m speculating the following four are on his list:

Increase the Payroll: They should come in no higher than $160 million. Given the money they’ll save with David Wright’s retirement ($15 million for this summer) and what insurance will pick up with Yoenis Cespedes not likely to return before July, offset by raises earmarked for Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo and what the Mets might do in upgrading their bullpen, don’t expect them to splurge on free agents Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.

The Mets are expected to bring back second baseman Jeff McNeil to a raise and need to bring in a center fielder, a catcher and perhaps a first baseman, not to mention a significant reliever. Whether that reliever is top shelf or middle tier, it will cost.

Keep the Rotation Intact: The Mets entertained trading all of their starters last season, and are expected to keep them all this winter. DeGrom and Syndergaard will get hefty raises. Since they aren’t anticipated to do a bullpen game for the fifth slot, they’ll need a fifth starter. Is it Seth Lugo, Jason Vargas or Robert Gsellman, or somebody from the minors?

Van Wagenen will confer with Callaway, John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi this week to get a handle on the rotation. The rotation is potentially the team’s strength and the first four must be kept, but it will increase payroll.

Improving the Lineup: Don’t expect the Mets to dive deep into the free-agent or trade markets despite the optimism Van Wagenen and COO Jeff Wilpon portrayed. The Mets must upgrade at catcher and I don’t see them tendering a contract to Travis d’Arnaud. First base is a concern and decisions must be made on Peter Alonso or Dominic Smith, or will Van Wagenen fool around with Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores or Todd Frazier? If the Mets are serious about winning now they must improve catcher and first base. They could have traded for Paul Goldschmidt from Arizona, but that boat sailed when they picked up his option yesterday. The radio call-in shows in New York were filled with callers chiming for Machado, but that would be a horrible mistake.

I was against signing Cespedes because the money would have been better spent on filling the numerous holes the Mets have and still do. Considering Machado is reportedly due twice as much as Cespedes, think of all the improvements the Mets could make.

Upgrade the Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Joe Kelly are the most enticing names in the market. Of course, all will want long-term, expensive contracts. Former GM Sandy Alderson failed to build a bullpen and consistently used the scrap-heap approach. Van Wagenen has to sign a name reliever, and that discounts the possibility of a reunion with Jeurys Familia. Rookies Tyler Bashlor and Drew Smith, and Lugo or Gsellman all pitched well last season at times.

They need to sign one of the four because they desperately need a closer. Bringing back Familia would be a step back. The Mets have plenty of inexperienced hard-throwing relievers, who didn’t distinguish themselves last summer. They have a half-dozen hard-throwers but need at least two or three to show something during spring training.

These four items say the Mets aren’t ready to win now. And, there are at least seven more issues to go.

 

Oct 01

Missing David Wright

WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

                                     WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

It was a special night for a special player and an even better person.

David Wright’s eyes welled up and his voice cracked as he tried to fight back tears as he addressed the Citi Field crowd there to honor him. It was a very human thing to do, which is why they filled the park one last time Saturday night to thank the man who was a better person then ballplayer, and was one of them.

”You had my back from day one,” Wright told the crowd who was there for the fireworks and cheer him because the Mets stopped playing meaningful baseball in May.

”You guys welcomed me, a 21-year-old kid from Virginia. You welcomed me as a New Yorker.”

Mets fans loved him and Wright loved them in return, and he did so by staying when others would have left, by always playing hard, by representing himself and his team with class and dignity, and by treating people with respect.

All the things fans want from their heroes Wright gave them, whether it was signing autographs, visiting children in hospitals, or posing for pictures. And, above all else, wanting to be a Met.

”I’ve always tried to picture myself in the stands or picture a kid watching me play for the first time in the stands, and tried to play the game the right way,” Wright said. ”I think that I’ve always treated the game that way. If there’s a kid in the stands that is looking for a player to try to emulate like I used to as a young kid, I wanted to be that player.”

Wright was never a ”look at me” player on the field, or a ”don’t bother me” personality off it. I spent a lot of time with Wright when I covered the Mets, and my best conversations with him weren’t always about baseball.

It was late in the summer of 2006 and the Mets had just clinched the NL East. His face was wet from sweat and champagne and he puffed on a cigar as he leaned against the rail in front of the Mets dugout. I remember asking him about the upcoming playoffs, and he said, ”I don’t know. I just want to enjoy this for now.”

We talked for a few more minutes before one of his teammates walked up and sprayed more champagne. The next year, the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining. Wright hit over .340 during that stretch, but was the go-to guy for the media covering the team. He was asked about manager Willie Randolph’s future and he was clear who was to blame: ”This was on the players.”

It didn’t matter the issue, Wright was always there for a quote, and he didn’t hold back. He had no sympathy for players who cheated with performance-enhancing drugs. Whether the Mets won or lost, and they did a lot of losing, Wright was always accessible.

When the Mets swept Chicago in the 2015 playoffs and the Cubs gave him the third base bag, I needed a quote and he answered my text. He was always good that way. When Mets public relations Shannon Forde passed away, I went to the memorial service at Citi Field and was surprised that Wright had flown up from spring training to give a eulogy.

On second thought, no, I wasn’t.

Wright never did anything to embarrass himself or the Mets, and was deeply hurt in 2011 when owner Fred Wilpon told a national magazine Wright was ”not a superstar.”

He felt slighted, again a very human emotion.

Even so, because Wright wanted to retire a Met, he re-signed with them in 2012 for an eight-year, $138-million extension and will be paid through 2020.

There are some cynics who foolishly said Wright hung on for the money and the Mets’ Citi Field party last night was a sham, for them to sell a few more tickets before getting on to the business of hiring a new general manager and starting over once again, this time without the face of their franchise.

They’ll do so because Wright’s body betrayed him.

In late-April, 2011, Wright was injured attempting to make a diving tag at third base. He remained in the game and as was his nature, he kept playing through the pain. He played for nearly a month before finally getting an MRI that revealed a stress fracture in his lower back.

He returned from the disabled list in late-July, 2011, played that year’s final 63 games. Over the next two seasons, he ended up on the disabled list multiple times with shoulder and hamstring issues.

In early-2015, Wright reinjured his hamstring sliding into second base, and during that time was diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, which causes intense muscle and nerve pain in the lower back and legs due to a narrowing of the spinal column.

He returned to return in time to give the Mets two moments to remember on the field and a demonstration of his value in the clubhouse. In his first game back off the disabled list, Wright hit a monstrous homer in Philadelphia. He also homered in the World Series.

However, there might not have been a World Series had Wright not lectured Matt Harvey on focusing on what was important. Harvey, who was coming off surgery, suggested through his agent, Scott Boras, that he should shut it down for the season to protect his arm.

Wright told Harvey the pitcher’s indecision had become a distraction and October opportunities are rare; he was the Mets’ captain and was demonstrating the leadership the team wasn’t getting from general manager Sandy Alderson or manager Terry Collins.

Wright demonstrated more leadership during a spring training game that spring in Port St. Lucie. Wright entered the clubhouse to get something from his locker when he spotted Noah Syndergaard sitting alone at a table with a plate of food.

Incensed, Wright told the rookie he should be in the dugout with his teammates watching the game, asking questions, learning things. While Wright was talking, Bobby Parnell picked up Syndergaard’s plate and dumped it in the trash.

”The winning attitude,” Syndergaard said of what he learned about the incident. ”That is something David talked to me about when the whole situation went down. It taught me how to be a student of the game a little bit more. You go out [to the bench] to try to learn something new. You don’t need to be inside eating lunch. Something could be happening that you could potentially learn from.”

In both cases, Wright didn’t bring up either incident and downplayed his role.

Jacob deGrom said it isn’t even close, but Wright, ”is the best teammate I’ve ever been around.”

The only problem is Wright hasn’t been around.

In early-2016, after only 134 at-bats, Wright sustained a herniated disc in his neck that required season-ending surgery. While rehabbing, Wright was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement. Later that summer, Wright underwent rotator cuff surgery and all of 2017 was lost.

There were whispers Wright would never play again, but he wasn’t ready to call it a career. He was determined to play again, to have his daughters, two-year-old Olivia Shea and four-month-old Madison see him play, even if they didn’t know what they were seeing.

Wright could explain it to them later.

Before the weekend, Wright said: ”As a young player … you think you can play forever. For me, unfortunately, my body is not allowing it to happen.”

However, the Mets wanted to give Wright one more moment in the sun. Overanxious, Wright swung at the first pitch and grounded out to third in a pinch-hitting appearance Friday night.

Last night was choreographed.

When the Mets took the field, Wright ran out to third base, but his teammates stayed behind. Next, Jose Reyes ran out to shortstop and the two embraced. Suddenly, it was 2006 again, and the two teammates who were supposed to play together for decades were back in their twenties.

Wright, who needs two hours of stretching and exercises just to get ready to play, reached his goal of starting one more game. Few players leave the game on their own terms, and Wright didn’t, either.

”I am at peace with the work I’ve put in,” Wright said. ”I’m not at peace with the results. I want to keep playing.”

Wright finished with a .296 average, 242 homers, 970 RBI, .376 on-base percentage and .867 OPS. He is unquestionably the greatest player to begin and end his career with the Mets. His career was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before the injuries, but Wright never lamented his misfortune. He never made excuses. He just kept working harder.

He didn’t want to go out that way, but he didn’t beg for this weekend. He earned this weekend.

“If you’re not a person like David Wright is, you don’t get to get honored like this,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “These guys are going to play baseball for a small part of their lives, and then they have to be human beings the rest of it. They should all look up to David in that regard.”

And, Wright knew what he meant to the Mets.

“It’s been a long road to get to that goal, but the love and the support I’ve received from inside the organization, outside the organization has been first class, and words can’t express the gratitude I have for everybody,” Wright said. “I said it when I was a younger player and I’ll say it again: I truly bleed orange and blue, and throughout this process, the love and the support and the respect from inside and outside the organization have meant the world to me. Thank you to everybody involved, and you’ll never have any idea how much it means to me.”

If you have any sense of compassion, all you had to do is look into Wright’s red eyes as he held the microphone and addressed the crowd, even the cynics.

His words choking back the tears, Wright said: ”To the fans, words can’t express my gratitude and appreciation for always having my back. You’ve accepted me as one of your own, and that right there is a tremendous honor.

“This is love. I can’t say anything else. This is love.”

Jul 26

Mets Have To Believe Cespedes’ Days Are Over

Sure, the Mets caught a bad break in losing Yoenis Cespedes for the rest of this season and probably up to August of next year. However, the one thing the Mets must resist is the notation to think ”he’ll come back to superstar form in 2020.”

CESPEDES: His days with Mets are over. (AP)

CESPEDES: His days with Mets are over. (AP)

They have to avoid that line of thought because, after all, these are the Mets we’re talking about, so everything breaking right usually doesn’t happen. The best position for the Mets is to learn from their David Wright experience and just move on.

They have to believe they got the best of Cespedes, but with that means they have to accept the worse. They have to believe Cespedes is gone forever, and everything they might get from him in the future is a bonus.

But, they can’t believe they never collect on that bonus.

Assistant general manager John Ricco said the Mets won’t alter their short-term plans to accommodate losing Cespedes, and they shouldn’t change their long-term plans, either.

”Certainly, when you don’t have one of your best players on the field, you have to look at your team differently,” Ricco said, when asked if Cespedes’ surgery changes the Mets’ long-term strategy. ”At this point, we just found this information out in the last day or so. I think it’s a little bit too quick to speculate as to how we’re going to change our plan moving forward.”

He’s right on that. Trading somebody like Jacob deGrom for a power bat in the outfield isn’t the prudent move now, because where the Mets are situated today, losing a solid arm in exchange for a handful of home runs won’t make them any better. And certainly, it won’t elevate them to contender status.

Even with a healthy and productive Cespedes, the Mets aren’t a contender. The Mets shouldn’t concentrate on acquiring a Cespedes-type bat until they do reach contending status.

And, it isn’t imminent.

Currently, the Mets’ outfield consists of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Jose Bautista. When he returns, throw Jay Bruce into that mix. This isn’t to say the Mets don’t need a healthy and productive Cespedes, but they can’t count on that now.

Or ever again.

Jul 25

Cespedes Done Until Next June At Earliest

The Mets, who have spent the better part of this lost season hoping Yoenis Cespedes would return from the disabled list, don’t have that problem any longer.

Cespedes returned from the disabled list Friday to homer against the Yankees, then dropped an even bigger bombshell after the game when he said he would need surgery on both heels and could miss up to ten months.

That would put his return at early June, but after assistant general manager John Ricco said today the Mets agreed he’ll have two surgeries three months apart that could put his return next year to sometime in August.

The official diagnosis was calcifications around both Achilles tendons and bone spurs on each heel.

But, you’re the Mets you might not even expect to see Cespedes at all next year.

After the 2016 season, Cespedes signed a four-year, $110 million contract, but by the time this year is over he will have played in just 119 of a potential 324 games. What’s even more aggravating is Ricco knew of Cespedes’ heel problems when they signed him in November of 2016, a test run season for him in which he was injured and played in only 132 games.

Cespedes, at his press conference today at Citi Field, said through an interpreter: ‘’Nobody would like to go through surgery at any time. I try to do my best to stay on the field and play a lot, but we exhausted all of the conservative treatment options. … I was not able to be on the field and play the same way I used to.”

The 32-year-old Cespedes missed 81 games last season, and went on the disabled list, May 14, with a hip flexor strain and missed nine weeks. The Mets believe the calcification in Cespedes’ heels forced him to change is running style resulting in the hip flexor strain.

“The general consensus is the pain he is feeling in his heels has definitely contributed to a change in his running style, because he is trying to avoid what is causing the pain,” Ricco said. “And that can certainly lead to other lower-extremity issues, whether they be the quad, hamstring or the hip. You get to the point where that doesn’t make any sense, because you’re just going to stay in that cycle.

“We had him checked out by the doctors, and they’ve agreed that we’ve exhausted the conservative options. Now, surgery is really the only way to resolve this issue.”

Ricco did say the Mets had an insurance on Cespedes similar to the one they took out on David Wright. That policy enables the Mets to recoup up to 75 percent of the $20 million Wright makes annually. Ricco wouldn’t say how the Mets would spend the money recovered through insurance.

“We haven’t gone down the road to what this means toward our plan moving forward,” Ricco said. “Generally, we don’t get into details of the insurance policy.”

 

Jul 19

Mets Top Five Second Half Questions

We know this is a lost season for the Mets, but that doesn’t mean they don’t face four significant questions in the second half. How they answer them could determine whether they will be competitive next year or five seasons from now:

SYNDERGAARD: Not going anywhere.  (SNY)

SYNDERGAARD: Not going anywhere. (SNY)

1. QUESTION: Who will run the show?

ANSWER: In the wake of GM Sandy Alderson’s absence, the trio of assistants John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi will do the daily lifting, but the major decisions will be made by COO Jeff Wilpon. It’s up to you to determine if that’s good or bad. If the Mets are to make an exhaustive GM search in the offseason, it would likely preclude any major trades between now and July 31. One assumption we can make is if the Mets go outside for a general manager it would stand to reason the new hire will want to name his own manager and Mickey Callaway will be let go.

2. QUESTION: What becomes of the Mets aces?

ANSWER: It’s not likely neither Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard will be traded by the current GM trio. Those decisions aren’t made by out-going general managers. There’s been some talk of Zack Wheeler and/or Steven Matz being traded, but I don’t think that will happen, either. The Mets take their time building up to making major decisions, and if I’m Wilpon and know I’m going to name a new GM, then I want that hire to assess where the club is positioned in the short term. Personally, if the Mets get, and stay, healthy, I can see them improving in 2019, but I can’t see them competing. That’s just too big of a leap to make.

3. QUESTION: Who will be gone by the end of the month?

ANSWER: The two biggest reported names on the block are Jeurys Familia and Asdrubal Cabrera. Closers are especially at a premium, so Familia might be the best move to make. Cabrera is having a solid season, and there are several teams needing a second/third baseman. With Dustin Pedroia injured, the Red Sox can use a second baseman. Wilmer Flores is being showcased, but tears alone won’t keep him in Queens this time. They could always trade Jay Bruce again, but he’s injured. I can also see they taking calls about Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. If they aren’t going to play him, then Dominic Smith has to either be traded or sent to the minors. Yoenis Cespedes has a no-trade clause, so he’s not going anywhere. Lefty reliever Jerry Blevins could also be dealt.

4. QUESTION: What’s going on with Cespedes?

ANSWER: He played nine innings at first base in a rehab game yesterday. First base is an intriguing because of his legs. Cespedes, 32, has been on the DL with a strained right hip flexor since May 16. He’s expected to be activated from the DL on Friday, but with Cespedes, you never know. With this being a lost season, the Mets might as well see what he can do at first base. Cespedes has been a dismal signing, and this is his chance to salvage his career in New York. The Mets are an organization void of young talent, but if Cespedes plays first for the rest of this season and next year, it could stunt the development of the franchise’s second-ranked prospect, Peter Alonso. Chances are we’ll see Alonso as a late-season call-up. Either way, it seems like the end of the line for Smith.

5. QUESTION: Will we see The Captain this year?

ANSWER: For a while, there was thought we might see David Wright before Cespedes. Wright has been throwing and taking batting practice, and there’s speculation he might return this season. Still, there’s no timetable for his return. If not, there’s always next spring training.