Feb 11

Mets Pitchers And Catchers Report Today With Several Questions

Pitchers and catchers report today in Port St. Lucie, although dozens of Mets are already in camp, which is the first encouraging sign of spring training.

As with most teams, the Mets have an array of issues and questions they must address over the next six weeks if they have hope of being competitive this season.

Gee: How healthy is he?

Gee: How healthy is he?

It begins with health and pitching, which for the Mets seem intertwined every spring. A competitive season needs a sound Johan Santana and Dillon Gee, with the Mets ideally getting 200 innings from each.

Gee is coming off surgery to remove a blood clot in his arm. He’s shown flashes, but hasn’t been projected any higher than a fourth starter. Then again, Gee has never pitched a complete season where he’s gotten over 30 starts. Obviously, if he can do that and approach 200 innings it would take strain from a makeshift bullpen.

As for Santana, this is his walk year. If he remains healthy and productive, the Mets have a chance to approach .500. However, regardless of how well he pitches the Mets will not pick up his option for 2014. Trading Santana is wishful thinking, but should they get lucky the Mets would have to assume a portion of Santana’s contract.

Complete and healthy seasons from Santana and Gee, plus the continued development of Matt Harvey will only begin to make up for the loss of R.A. Dickey, assuming, of course, he doesn’t fall back to his pre-Cy Young performance. Dickey is not the second coming of Tom Seaver, and last year was his first as a dominant pitcher. Still, it’s 20 fewer wins from the rotation.

Figuring the Mets break camp with their rotation intact, the next issue is their makeshift bullpen.

GM Sandy Alderson backtracked and Frank Francisco is the closer going in, but that’s written in pencil as he’s coming off elbow surgery. This means spring training is for the Mets to determine Francisco’s health or come up with another closer, probably Bobby Parnell or recently-signed Brandon Lyon.

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Feb 05

Mets’ Pitching Questions Heading Into Spring Training

With spring training less than two weeks away, the Mets have a myriad of questions they’ll hope to resolve before Opening Day. That’s six weeks to get done what hasn’t been completed all winter.

With a late push, GM Sandy Alderson added a fifth starter and has tinkered with his bullpen. The operative word there is “tinkered,’’ because there’s more hope than actual production in what he’s done.

Many of the questions, not surprisingly, are concerned with pitching. Here’s the pitching questions I’m asking:

Q: How healthy is Johan Santana, and what is his mindset in his walk year?

A: Once again, Santana didn’t complete a whole season with the Mets. This time, it wasn’t his shoulder, although he did experience some tiredness after his 134-pitch no-hitter. Santana has to know the Mets have no intention of extending his contract beyond this year, so he’s pitching to impress new suitors. In that case, he might give a little extra in his walk year. Then again, he might just coast to show he’s healthy. There’s a gradual build-up in spring training to 100 pitches so we should get an idea of how sound he is. If he’s not, the Mets might have to scramble for another starter.

Q: What is Dillon Gee’s status?

A: Gee’s 2012 was cut short because of a blood clot in his shoulder. The projection for him is as a fourth or fifth starter. Surgery removed the clot and he has been cleared. I’m curious as to his strength and stamina. Clots are serious things and Gee has probably been prescribed blood thinners to prevent them. Still, until he gets out there we won’t know for sure.

Q: Does Zack Wheeler make a statement?

A: Wheeler isn’t expected to make the rotation, but will be a call-up during the season. With concerns about Santana and Gee – and you know something else will pop up – Wheeler might be counted on sooner than expected. The Mets don’t expect Wheeler to be a full-time contributor until 2014, but that’s only a rough timetable.

Q: What is the composition of the bullpen?

A: The Mets added Pedro Feliciano, LaTroy Hawkins and Scott Atchison, and are talking to Brandon Lyon. Jose Valverde won’t happen and Frank Francisco is a $6.5 million health issue. Kind of gives you a warm, optimistic feeling doesn’t it? The bullpen is essential to any progressive step the Mets might take and currently it doesn’t seem better than last year. On a positive note, Josh Edgin and Robert Carson showed potential worth grooming and Bobby Parnell was a positive when Francisco went down at the end of the season.

Feb 01

Report: Mets Considering Valverde As Closer

Maybe Sandy Alderson believes the Mets might be ready to compete this year.

That was my first impression – perhaps wishful thinking – after reading an ESPN report they are considering signing former Detroit closer Jose Valverde to replace Frank Francisco. No problems there. Actually, I have no problem with anybody replacing Francisco, who was a bad signing.

Valverde saved 35 games last year for the Tigers before unraveling and was replaced in the postseason by a committee pen. Valverde’s agent is Scott Boras, but the Mets say they need this on their terms, with a reported $4 million base plus incentives. Valverde earned $9 million last year, but with how he finished nobody will bite on that figure.

With spring training less than two weeks away – my, where did the winter go? – Valverde falls under the category of beggars can’t be choosers. If he’s signed and does well, he can try the market again. There are always a multitude of relievers every winter.

Reportedly, the Mets thought of asking Roy Oswalt to convert to closer like John Smoltz, but he was cool to the idea. He might have second thoughts if he doesn’t get any offers. Actually, if the Mets are in a spending mode, why not invite Oswalt and give him a minor league contract to start? They signed Shaun Marcum to a one-year deal as the fifth starter, but does anybody believe the Mets will make it through the season with only five starters? Not happening.

As Alderson attempts to build a bullpen at the last minute, he should not consider bringing back Francisco Rodriguez, who punched his girlfriend’s father at Citi Field, hurt himself and was traded to Milwaukee. The Mets don’t need that headache.

Evidently, this does not bode well for Bobby Parnell’s future with the Mets. He’s had several chances but spit the bit. It was thought he could get another chance if Francisco – who was injured at the end of last season – faltered again.

Parnell pitched well in place of Francisco, but there was admittedly no pressure on him. If Alderson thought the Mets could not be competitive this year, it would have been the perfect opportunity to force-feed the role to Parnell. If I’m Parnell, I’d be wanting to leave town.

By adding Valverde, Alderson believes the Mets could make something of the summer, but even with an improved bullpen there remains an enormous hole in the outfield, a thin bench and several questions in the rotation.

Jan 22

From Santana To Wright To Davis,Things We’d Like To See Happen For The Mets

There are a lot of things I want to see happen for the 2013 Mets, such as making the playoffs. However, in the hope of being realistic, let’s talk about some of the things that would be good to see happen.

Perhaps if several of these happen, there might be some fun at Citi Field.

TRADING JOHAN SANTANA: Don’t get me wrong, I like Santana. I really do. I’d like nothing more than for him to remain healthy and regain his status as an elite pitcher and guide the Mets into October. But, let’s face it, even if Santana were to have a strong season the Mets don’t have enough pieces and will buy him out after this season. Given that, I’d settle on him being healthy and productive in the first half and the Mets being able to deal him to a contender. They’ll have to pick up some of the contract, but if they could swing a trade getting something is better than having him walk after the year with a $5.5 million buyout.

NIESE: Pitch like a No. 1

JON NIESE TAKING THE NEXT STEP:  Niese is the Mets’ ace despite a career-high 13 victories. There’s a lot to like about his future, but even more to like if he wins north of 15 games and gets to the next level.

DILLON GEE PITCHES LIKE A NO. 3: Gee enters spring training recovering from an aneurism. The doctors say he’s ready to go, but can anybody say how he’ll do? Gee has been impressive in spots, but no more than a No. 5 starter. He needs to step up his game.

MATT HARVEY LIVES THE HYPE:  He’s had ten starts, not enough to pencil him in for the Cy Young Award. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain pitched dominating baseball early in their careers, can Harvey do the same?

BOBBY PARNELL BECOMES A PITCHER: There’s no doubting Parnell’s stuff, but he needs to improve his command, secondary pitches and learn how to challenge hitters with that fastball. The Mets can’t count on Frank Francisco to stay healthy and be a reliable closer. If not him, it has to be Parnell.

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Jan 16

Soriano Has Nationals Thinking Title In NL East

Not that the bullpen-needy Mets would have made a play for Rafael Soriano anyway, but the Washington Nationals’ acquisition of the Yankees’ 2012 insurance policy has them as the sexy pick to win the NL East.

It isn’t as if they needed much make-up after winning 98 games last season, but Soriano strengthens an already strong bullpen stronger. For his $28-million, two-year deal, Soriano will close, but the Nationals also have Drew Storen – their once closer-in-waiting – and Tyler Clippard, who saved 32 games last year, for late in the game.

The Mets, the only team not to sign a free-agent this winter, kicked the tires on Brian Wilson, who after Tommy John surgery, would be a gamble. Their closer is Frank Francisco, who ended last season with arm problems.

The Nationals’ manager, Davey Johnson, is adept at juggling a bullpen, although he was helpless as his pen blew a six-run lead to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. That might have been the gnawing feeling that prompted them to sign Soriano.

The Nationals already upgraded with the acquisitions of starter Dan Haren and outfielder Denard Span. Washington also expects Stephen Strasburg to work at least 200 innings. Perhaps they learned from last summer’s mistake and will pace him out better.

Washington alienated a lot of people last year when they shut-down Strasburg, giving the impression they’ll make the playoffs every season. It’s not that easy, and the Nationals are showing that with what they’ve done this winter. One thing for sure, they won’t be a surprise this year.

The Braves won’t have Chipper Jones, but added outfielder B.J. Upton to their offense. They won 94 games last summer.

Philadelphia added outfielder Ben Revere and expect to have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the entire season. They should better last year’s 81 wins.

It appears the Mets will be competing with Miami to stay out of the cellar, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

That Nationals are building the right way, with a mix of drafting, trades and free-agent signings. With today’s economics, a team must be strong at all three phases, which the top three teams in the NL East have shown.

The Mets are putting their eggs in the farm-system basket, which is traditionally the way to go, and still is the foundation. However, they don’t have all the farm pieces to go the whole route, as they can’t fill out their roster with them or use them to trade.

The Mets also don’t have major league pieces they can trade without opening up additional holes.

As far as free-agency is concerned, they are balking on giving Scott Hairston – who hit 20 homers for them last year – a two-year deal.

The last time they had a good mix was 2007, the summer they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. They also blew a late lead in 2008, the last time they had a winning season.

That seemed like such a long time ago.