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.

 

May 05

No Empathy For Harvey

Mickey Callaway was generous when he said, “we failed Matt Harvey.’’ In actuality, Harvey failed himself, with help from the Mets. Sometimes, when a pitcher loses his fastball, or a slugger’s bat slows down, the end can be delayed by his track record, or his popularity in the clubhouse, or the goodwill garnered within the organization.

It’s why the Mets were patient with Johan Santana and David Wright. Harvey accrued none of that goodwill. None.

Because of their histories, you root for some players. You have empathy and compassion for them.

Maybe only Harvey’s family and agent have empathy for him. I can’t imagine anybody pleased Harvey’s career was derailed by injuries, including two season-ending surgeries.

However, it is the way Harvey carried himself and alienated his teammates, how he made himself bigger than the team, how he made everything about him, that has him alone and without any emotional support in his darkest professional hour.

Perhaps that, more than his injuries, is what makes this a modern-day Greek Tragedy. It’s difficult to show compassion for somebody who showed little for anybody else.

Harvey’s selfishness was never more transparent than it was when he bullied former manager Terry Collins into giving him the ninth inning in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. I don’t know how any of Harvey’s teammates that night can condone Harvey’s actions that night.

What happened the night he traveled two hours from San Diego to Los Angeles for a restaurant opening the night before a game, was not advisable although not technically wrong. However, Harvey’s penchant for enjoying the nightlife has already run him afoul with the Mets’ front office and teammates.

Why – other than selfishness – would Harvey chase fates? That GM Sandy Alderson sounded resigned Harvey would do such a thing spoke volumes. Alderson didn’t have to say he was fed up with Harvey. It was implied.

Harvey wasn’t worth the energy to get angry about any longer.

In previous years the Mets bent over backward to placate Harvey, and a case could be made they enabled his boorish behavior by not standing up to him.

It took a while, but it is about time.

Feb 21

Mets To Resist Temptation With Conforto

Don’t do it Mets. You’ve been down this road before with Matt Harvey, David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and numerous others. Now you’re facing the dilemma with Michael Conforto.

The initial prognosis was for Conforto to return by early May from surgery off his left shoulder. However, he’s ahead of schedule and been hitting balls off a tee.

CONFORTO: A lot to smile about. (AP)

CONFORTO: Need for caution.  (AP)

“I have been waiting forever to be able to do that and it feels great,’’ Conforto told reporters in Port S. Lucie. “It really makes you understand how much you love it.’’

It’s encouraging news, no doubt, but is it enough for the Mets to tempt fate?

Conforto, who had surgery in September to repair a dislocated shoulder, said he’s content with the timetable initially set by doctors and the Mets. However, there are temptations.

“There’s the May 1 date and that kind of gives me an idea,’’ Conforto said. “As a competitor, it’s tough to look at that date and not want to get out there before that, but that is why we have the great medical staff we have.’’

Conforto wants to break camp with the team, but rushing back – especially in the chilly April evenings when it is hard to get loose – would be the worst thing for him to do.

Manager Mickey Callaway insists he won’t be seduced by positive reports about Conforto’s shoulder, even if it means a slow start.

“Players always tell you they are better than they probably are [physically], so we are going to be aware of that,’’ Callaway said. “We want [Conforto] back, and when he’s there, he is ready for the rest of the season.’’

That’s what he says now. Will he say the same thing in a month?

Feb 06

Frazier Helps Mets Four Ways

Unquestionably, the Mets are better today after reportedly agreeing to terms with third baseman Todd Frazier on a two-year, $17-million deal.

Frazier improves the Mets four ways:

  • He gives them a proven, veteran third baseman for the next two seasons.
  • He alleviates the David Wright issue. There’s no reason to think about him returning now.
  • He allows Asdrubal Cabrera to play second base, which he prefers.
  • He strengthens the bench because it enables them to concentrate on Jose Reyes in a platoon at second and third.

Frazier hit 67 homers in the last two years, but Mets manager Mickey Callaway told The Post there’s more to him than just power.

“He’s a baseball player,’’ Callaway said. “And you know what he did at the end of the season when we were preparing to play the Yankees, he made some adjustments at the plate. He stopped chasing balls.

“He stopped trying to go down there and flick that ball to left, he was laying off balls that he was going after in the past. You look at his average (.213), but that’s going to change if he continues to do what he did the last month of the season.’’

“He’s a great defender. He’s a great baserunner, too. He can really, really run the bases. Every time we’d go into town and played him, our bench coach, who controlled the running game, would come up to me and say, ‘We’ve got to make sure to keep Frazier close at first, he gets that running lead.’ He puts pressure on the other team.’’

Frazier improves the Mets, but does he make them overcome the 22 games needed to reach .500?

Hardly.

Feb 03

Weighing In On Collusion Issue

Baseball’s owners were found guilty of collusion once, so is it unreasonable to think they won’t try it again? After all, they’ve slowly implemented a salary cap with a luxury tax and restricted free agency with compensatory draft picks.

Also, not beneficial to the integrity of the game – at least in my opinion – are such things as scheduling, interleague play, screwing around with the All-Star Game, playing in ridiculously cold and wet weather, not having any day games during the World Series, not resolving the designated hitter issue, and an almost neurotic obsession about the length of games [see pitch clock].

These things are made possible because the agenda of the owners and commissioner’s office is almost rubber-stamped by the Players Association because its interests lay with salaries and not the issues surrounding the game. This is, in part, because in exchange for not giving the owners a hard time on drug testing the salaries keep spiraling upwards.

So, it’s reasonable to assume something could be going on behind the scenes. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen of Creative Artists Agency said the behavior of the owners “feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly,’’ but didn’t use the word collusion.

Let’s give the owners some benefit of doubt and think there are other reasons why players such as Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Cobb, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez, Carlos Gomez, Logan Morrison, Neil Walker, Lance Lynn, Jonathan Lucroy, Greg Holland and Jon Jay remain unsigned.

What could those reasons be?

• Next year’s market: It’s loaded with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Carrasco, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, David Price, Daniel Murphy, Joe Mauer, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller. It’s far deeper than this year’s market and we’ll be talking about landmark salaries next winter. There’s also Matt Harvey, but I digress.

• Owners getting smarter: Seriously, some of them are learning most long-term contracts don’t pay off because they get little return at the end as the Mets have with David Wright, Jason Bay, Johan Santana and are on their way again with Yoenis Cespedes, and the Yankees have with Alex Rodriguez.

• Trading expensive contracts: To get out of paying long-term contracts, Marlins part-owner Derek Jeter helped sabotage the market when he traded Dee Gordon to Seattle; Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees; Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis; Christian Yelich to Milwaukee; and Pittsburgh dealt Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco.

• Salary arbitration: Although arbitration has been in play for a long time, it’s origin stems from the owners’ refusal to grant unrestricted free-agency. As a compromise, the owners adopted arbitration where the two sides each submit a salary figure that an arbitrator must pick without establishing something in the middle ground. This process caused salaries to spike more than if there was conventional free-agency. To bypass the arbitration and free-agent players, the owners outsmarted themselves by offering longer and longer contracts. That obviously hasn’t worked so the owners are trying to again manipulate the system. The economic system the owners don’t like is netting them billions, but it’s not enough.

Not all of these reasons explain the slowness in the market, just as collusion isn’t the sole explanation. But, combined they explain why the market has changed and won’t be normal for a long time.