Feb 17

Mets’ Top Ten Spring Training Questions

Mets pitchers and catchers officially report today, something we’ve waited for since the final out of the World Series. Of course, most Mets – including position players – have already been in Port St. Lucie for several days, if not weeks, now.

Numerous questions will surface between now and Opening Day, but until then I’ve come up with a list of what I consider the ten most pertinent questions heading into spring training:

Q: What did the Mets learn from the playoffs?

A: There’s some validity to having been there. The Royals benefitted from playing the Giants in the 2014 World Series. Much of it is a team learning how to pace itself down the stretch and dealing with pressure in the postseason. Both players and managers learn about themselves, and the acquired knowledge can only help.

WRIGHT: How healthy is he? (AP)

WRIGHT: How healthy is he? (AP)

Q: Who is healthy and who isn’t?

A: David Wright’s back, of course, is the most important health question. Will Terry Collins have a concrete plan for Wright regarding playing time and rest? Lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Josh Edgin are on the mend. The target date for Zack Wheeler to come off the disabled list is late June.

Q: Will the starters have innings limitations?

A: Matt Harvey doesn’t want to hear anything about restrictions, which comes as no surprise. Harvey threw 216 innings last season – including the playoffs – and around the same number is what the Mets are hoping. There shouldn’t be any limits on Jacob deGrom, either, but the same probably won’t apply to Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Presumably, Bartolo Colon will be the fifth starter until Wheeler is ready.

Q: What is the composition of the bullpen?

A: This is the position area of most concern. Jeurys Familia is the closer and Addison Reed gets the set-up role. If Blevins and Edgin are healthy, and Antonio Bastardo pitches to expectations, the lefty question that hindered them most of last season should be alleviated. Hansel Robles must mature as does Rafael Montero. Everybody else is a question mark. Getting back to the World Series is far from a given, but it will be more likely will a productive bullpen.

Q: Will the big bat feel any contract-related pressure?A: Hopefully, Yoenis Cespedes won’t be thinking about his opt-out clause after one year and instead will play free and easy as he did last August. Wouldn’t that be something?

Q: Will the double-play combination mesh?

A: Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera are considered to be an upgrade over Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores/Ruben Tejada. Pennant winners must be strong up the middle. The Mets were lucky regarding this last year. It will take some time.

Q: Who is trying to steal center field?

A: That’s the way it appeared when Travis d’Arnaud came off the disabled list last summer. Defense up the middle includes behind the plate and d’Arnaud’s ability to combat the running game. When a runner knows he can take liberties on a catcher, it goes beyond stealing bases, which puts him into scoring position. Those are potential runs.

Q: Will the lefty power show some consistency?

A: Lucas Duda can hit eight homers in two weeks, then not go deep for a month. Curtis Granderson excelled in the leadoff slot last year and with the absence of a prototypical No. 1 hitter, he’ll need to duplicate that performance. There’s also the matter of Michael Conforto not having a falloff from last year’s strong first impression.

Q: How strong is the bench?

A: GM Sandy Alderson finally promoted Conforto and traded for Cespedes after his limited bench showed the overall weakness of the Mets’ offense. The Mets’ bench enters spring training substantially better than the 2015 version. Juan Lagares provides Gold Glove caliber late inning defense coming off the bench. Flores will sub for Wright so he should get a lot of reps at third base. He’ll also need time at first base. Alejandro De Aza gives them a left-handed bat and the ability to play all three outfield positions.

Q: Will the Mets make a deal during spring training?

A: There’s always the possibility of adding a reliever. Most likely, it would be a free-agent signing of another team’s castoff at the end as the start of the season draws closer. Barring an injury, I don’t anticipate them making any significant moves as there are no position battles.

Jan 21

Wright Remains Mets’ Most Overriding Issue

Yesterday I examined the top ten issues facing the Mets with spring training five weeks away. It isn’t hard for me to pick out the player shouldering the most pressure.

The bullpen is the positional area of most concern, but individually the player remains David Wright. Somehow, last year the Mets withstood playing without him for over four months, but several things combined to make that possible, notably the ineffective Washington Nationals and acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes.

WRIGHT: We want to see that smile again. (AP)

WRIGHT: We want to see that smile again. (AP)

Will the Mets be as fortunate if Wright goes down this year?

Baseball-reference.com projects Wright to hit .275 in 2016 with nine homers and 37 RBI, which would be terrible news for the Mets. The scary part is based on Wright’s recent injury history I can envision that before I can him returning to 30-homer form.

Wright hasn’t hit 30 homers since 2008 and has only hit at least 20 twice since then. He has a combined 31 in his last three years, and only once since 2013 has he played in as many at 130 games. Including the 2009 season, he’s had as many as 500 at-bats only four times.

You can talk about OPS and WAR all you want, but all statistics are predicated on at-bats and Wright hasn’t had many in recent years. Look, readers of this blog know I am one of Wright’s biggest supporters, but I can’t ignore the facts he hasn’t been healthy lately.

He missed over four months last year with spinal stenosis, and that he even returned late in the season was remarkable. Considering the good feelings about his return, recovery and playing in the playoffs, it would be another devastating blow is he were to go down again.

The Mets did not add a right-handed hitting power bat during the winter, perhaps with the outside hope Wright would come back close to form. As of now, they won’t have Cespedes back and it could be a dangerous gamble if they are thinking they can make another at-the-wire trade.

Let’s face it, as long as Wright is here he’s the face of this franchise, but if he’s hurt again and doesn’t produce, that contract with five years and $87 million remaining will be an albatross.

Imagine how much better things will be if Wright plays in 130 games, hits at least 20 homers and drives in 80 runs. Could make for another fun year, and for me that’s why Wright is the Mets’ most overriding issue.

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Dec 14

Wright’s Visit To Doc Reminder Of Key Mets’ Issue

When third baseman David Wright checked in with Dr. Robert Watkins about his back today in Los Angeles – where he spent much of his summer – to come up with a plan on treating his spinal stenosis, it served as a reminder of an underlying issue that will stay with the Mets until he retires.

It should also serve as an emphasis of what they must continue to do this winter.

The acquisition of Neil Walker was a positive because he can back-up Wright if needed and it also allows Wilmer Flores to play some third, but that’s not enough. Consideration should be given to re-signing Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, as both proved valuable this summer.

The bottom line is Wright’s health will always be an issue for the remainder of his career. They aren’t going to get Todd Frazier, but they need to pay attention to this issue.

 

Dec 10

Mets A Winter Meetings Winner

The Mets left Nashville this afternoon a better team that showed up Sunday night, even if they come home with a contract having Ben Zobrist‘s autograph.

CABRERA: Makes Mets better. (Getty)

CABRERA: Makes Mets better. (Getty)

The Mets not only upgraded up the middle defensively with second baseman Neil Walker (trade from Pittsburgh for Jon Niese) and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (free agent signing from Tampa Bay), and in the process improved their bench and came away with a back-up for David Wright.

And, they did it at a minimal cost, $18.5 million in a two-year contract for Cabrera instead of the estimated $50 million they were going to pay Zobrist. The price of what Walker could make in arbitration and what Niese is to make ($9 million) is a wash.

The Mets were poor defensively with Daniel Murphy and Flores (a combined 26 errors) opposed to a combined 16 from Walker and Cabrera. However, defense is more than just errors, it is also positioning and range. For a team built on pitching, they improved in the field with no loss of production at the plate..

Flores will now fall into the role of right-handed hitting platoon with Walker; back-up shortstop; and fill-in for Wright at third.

The decision to sign Cabrera after tendering Ruben Tejada is not overkill because Flores fractured his ankle in winter ball and Tejada is still recovering from breaking his leg in the playoffs. We don’t know if they’ll be ready when spring training opens Feb. 17 (pitchers and catchers) and Feb. 24 (position players).

Assuming both are ready, they can spell Wright at third. Cabrera can do the same.

So, when you add it up, the Mets improved their up-the-middle defense, bench and found a contingency plan for Wright and will save an estimated $30 million.

I’d call it a win-win, leaving them to find a left-handed hitting platoon with Juan Lagares in center and bolstering the bullpen.

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Nov 30

Signing Zobrist Not A Given

The Mets want free-agent infielder Ben Zobrist, that much we know. However, wanting him doesn’t make signing him a given. Not by a long shot.

At 34, Zobrist wants a four-year deal at a reported $14-million a season. It isn’t so much the dollars, but the years, that have the Mets hitting the pause button. The Mets would figure to use Zobrist at second – with Wilmer Flores at shortstop, presumably – but can also play him at the corner outfield positions and as a back-up to David Wright at third.

Although the Mets say re-signing Daniel Murphy is a possibility, the odds on that are long. There are also reports the Mets don’t figure on trading for a shortstop, but could make a run at Asdrubal Cabrera. If they were to land Cabrera, Flores would play second base, which is where the Mets say he is at his best defensively.

The Mets also have designs on Dilson Herrera as their 2016 second baseman with Flores at shortstop.

With the Mets having several options other than Zobrist at second, and with numerous other needs, the likely course would be to use their resources on them and pass on Zobrist.