Sep 13

Lagares Auditioning For Playoff Roster Spot

While it is clear Juan Lagares lost his center field job to Yoenis Cespedes, what is in question is a possible postseason roster spot, and he’s yelling: “Don’t forget about me.’’

Lagares, buried on the bench behind Cespedes and later Kirk Nieuwenhuis, personified what has been going on with the Mets lately.

LAGARES: Auditioning for playoff spot. (AP)

LAGARES: Auditioning for playoff spot. (AP)

These Mets refused to give the Braves that third strike or third out. Sunday’s game was lost – that is L O S T – when Lagares came to bat in the ninth.

He fell behind 1-and-2, fouled off a couple of pitches before lining a ball into the right-center gap Cameron Maybin couldn’t hold after a diving attempt.

Curtis Granderson, who has excelled leading off, drew his second walk of the game, 12th of the month and 83rd of the season. Then Daniel Murphy, who isn’t a power hitter, crushed a game-tying three-run homer.

The three runs the Mets scored in the tenth inning was a formality, and with it, the Mets had their 82nd victory for their first winning season in seven years.

The Mets are on an unconscious roll the past six weeks, or since the deal for Cespedes, and it would be easy for a young player such as Lagares to get down on himself.

Lagares is 5-for-9 this month, with three of those hits coming off the bench. He’s started only one game in September. Those are numbers manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson will need to evaluate when deciding the postseason roster.

We know the outfielders will include Cespedes, Granderson, Michael Conforto – there’s no way they can even think about not keeping him now – and Michael Cuddyer. If they want a fifth outfielder the candidates are Nieuwenhuis, Lagares and Eric Young.

Nieuwenhuis offers a left-handed bat off the bench and Young gives them speed and a stolen base threat. Lagares offers a right-handed bat – as does Cuddyer – and defense. But, they won’t take out Cespedes for defense in the playoffs.

Where does that leave Lagares? Today he demonstrated his head is still in the game. If not for the playoffs, then for next season.

Feb 24

Mets Matters: Alderson Jabs Flores; Parnell To Throw; Duda Ailing

If I were Wilmer Flores, I’d be hacked off at GM Sandy Alderson. I wouldn’t be happy being Ruben Tejada, either.

Several times Alderson has cracked wise about the Mets’ shortstop situation. The Wall Street Journal reported when Alderson showed up for jury duty he was asked what he did in his free time.

Reportedly, Alderson said: “Well, now I’m looking for a shortstop.’’

I still don’t understand why a general manager would continually undercut his players in public.

mets-matters logo* Today, manager Terry Collins said the Mets would miss Eric Young’s speed. Young’s absence underscores the Mets’ need for a leadoff hitter. Currently, it’s between Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson.

Earlier today, I endorsed Lagares because I believe Granderson’s greater value is as a run producer in the middle of the order.

* Hindered by his wild throwing to bases, the Mets will work hard with reliever Jeurys Familia this spring. The Mets also want Familia to throw more four-seam fastballs, which gives hitters something else to consider.

* Reliever Bobby Parnell is scheduled to throw in the bullpen and pitch to hitters this weekend. As with Matt Harvey, Parnell is coming back from Tommy John surgery. Parnell could throw to hitters on Thursday.

* Lucas Duda sustained a strained left oblique muscle and might not hit for another three days, but will participate in fielding drills.

Dec 02

Tejada In, Young Out

Not surprisingly, the Mets non-tendered outfielder Eric Young and offered a contract to infielder Ruben Tejada projected to be $1.7 million.

Young, who was arbitration eligible, was projected to make $2.25 million in 2015, too rich for the Mets’ blood for a bench player.

Young was expendable because for all his speed – 30 stolen bases last season – he failed to develop into the prototypical leadoff hitter. One number said it all about Young and that was his .299 on-base percentage.

Consequently, left field remained a black hole the Mets chose to fill with Michael Cuddyer.

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.


Oct 06

Leadoff Hitter Remains A Nagging Question

Of all the Mets’ off-season questions, the matter of their leadoff hitter is one of the most intriguing. That is especially if their intent is to fill it from within.

With no budding Lou Brock or Rickey Henderson in their farm system, their best hope is on their current 40-man roster. I say that because there’s no real answer in the free-agent market and they are reluctant to trade their young pitching.

The primary in-house candidates are Eric Young, Juan Lagares, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. All have something they could bring to the table, but all have issues to the negative.

Young, Lagares and Nieuwenhuis have speed, but also rather low on-base percentages and a penchant for striking out too much.

Of the group, Murphy is the best hitter, but for a relatively weak lineup he’s better suited for a run-producing slot in the middle of the order. Also, Murphy’s on-base percentage, at .332, isn’t as lofty as one might think.

If Murphy is still here – a substantial question – he should be hitting between second and sixth.

As for Young, there’s an excellent chance it will be a moot point and not be brought back.

Last winter, manager Terry Collins toyed with the idea of experimenting with Tejada. The catch here is Tejada needs a position to play and that means starting ahead of Wilmer Flores, which isn’t a given.

Mets’ 11 different leadoff hitters ranked last in the majors with a .235 average and paltry a .308 on-base percentage. If they want to change that, they’ll have to hope for a breakout season from the names suggested or be willing to spend.