Nov 05

Lagares Wins Gold Glove Award

If Juan Lagares were as good with his bat as his glove, he would be a star. No, make that a superstar.

LAGARES: Gold Glove winner. (AP)

LAGARES: Gold Glove winner. (AP)

Seriously, he’s that good, and it became official around baseball last night when he won the Gold Glove Award, presumably the first of many.

“I’m very happy and excited,’’ Lagares told ESPN. “It’s a very special honor to win a Gold Glove for the Mets. I’m proud to win one this early in my career.’’

He’s the Mets’ third Gold Glove center fielder, joining Carlos Beltran and Tommie Agee, and the first to win the award since Beltran and third baseman David Wright in 2008.

He’s got a way to go to break the franchise record of six by Keith Hernandez. Other Mets to win are Ron Darling, Rey Ordonez, Bud Harrelson, Doug Flynn and Robin Ventura.

Among the “new’’ statistics, runs-saved is one of the most important for a defender, perhaps the most important. In that category, Lagares was second among outfielders with 28, impressive considering the leader, Atlanta’s Jason Heyward, played in 372 more innings and saved only four more.

Although he improved at the plate, the Mets still want him to improve his on-base percentage and cut down on strikeouts, and if he does so he could be a proficient leadoff hitter.

He’s got the defense down, said manager Terry Collins in a statement released by the team: “It’s to the point that I’m shocked when Juan doesn’t catch every ball hit to the outfield. He makes everything look so easy. After some of his catches, I would turn to my coaching staff and say ‘How did he do that?’ ’’

The answer is talent.

Championship caliber teams are built up the middle, and the Mets are on their way with Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate, their young pitching staff and Lagares. The double-play combination is a work in progress.

Lagares is one of two Mets finalists for regular season awards. The other is pitcher Jacob deGrom for Rookie of the Year.

Those awards will be announced next week.

 ON DECK: Mets’ 2015 uniforms.

Nov 03

Will This Be Nieuwenhuis’ Last Chance?

Will it ever happen for Kirk Nieuwenhuis?

He’s had several chances in each of the last three years, but nothing more than 91 games or 314 plate appearances, which both came in 2012. Last year it was 61 and 130.

NIEUWENHUIS: Last chance?

NIEUWENHUIS: Last chance?

He’s never gone into the season as “the guy.’’ At 27, will he get the opportunity this year? As of now, the outfield consists of Curtis Granderson, Gold Glove candidate Juan Lagares and a left fielder to be named later.

The left fielder could be Nieuwenhuis, or Matt den Dekker or could come in a trade. He likely won’t be a free agent. Many consider den Dekker having the inside track.

Nieuwenhuis has speed and a good glove. He’s shown glimpses of what could be, but too often he fizzles and the window closes.

What he needs is the chance to stay in the line-up after the fizzle. That’s the only way the Mets will learn if they have something.

Sandy Alderson once told me the two things working against Nieuwenhuis is his on-base percentage (.315 for his career) and high propensity for striking out (169 in a career 552 plate appearances). He runs well enough to be a leadoff hitter, but doesn’t reach base enough.

Nieuwenhuis has a career 169-to-53 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, which won’t cut it as a full time player on the major league level.

He’s at the age where he won’t get many more chances. For him to start he’ll have to beat out den Dekker in spring training.

If not, it will be another year as a role player and possibly his last chance.

 

Oct 25

Mets’ Core Up The Middle Has Potential

Championship caliber teams traditionally are built strong up the middle: catcher, pitching, shortstop and second base and centerfield.

The Mets have a decent start in that area with Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate; their young pitching staff and Gold Glove finalist Juan Lagares in centerfield.

What we don’t know about is shortstop and second base, where Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy, respectively, are expected to open the season.

The Mets are saying shortstop is open between Flores and Ruben Tejada, but Flores has the definite edge. Tejada has not won the job despite several opportunities. He’s supposed to be a glove man, but hasn’t come close to living up to expectations. Offensively, he’s been below average and teams can no longer carry a weak-hitting shortstop.

Flores has the greater offensive potential, and was surprisingly effective in the field. The rap on him is he lacks range, but he can make up for that with better positioning.

Whether the Mets can live with Flores long term is unknown, but for now he’ll have to do.

Second base has potential with Dilson Herrera, who is fast and quick to give him range, but nobody knows about his long-term offensive potential because he’s had a limited window.

There have long been complaints about Murphy’s defense and range, but he’s getting better all the time. Will he be another Joe Panik? Who knows?

All the talk about trading Murphy for a power hitter is ridiculous unless he’s packaged along with a pitcher. By himself, Murphy won’t get it done.

The catching, rotation and Lagares are all promising, but nothing you can consider as givens. You have to like the potential, but we’ll know more about the future after this season.

Oct 24

New Hitting Coach Long Can Help This Suggested Outfield

Let’s operate under the assumption, which isn’t hard to do, the New York Mets won’t acquire the long-ball hitting left fielder they covet. Given that, the Mets’ outfield – from left to right – should be Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker.

Lagares is a finalist for the NL Gold Glove in center field, along with Billy Hamilton and Denard Span. The award is determined by 75 percent input from managers and coaches and 25 percent by statistics.

LAGARES: Needs to hit.

LAGARES: Needs to hit.

Lagares proved this season he can field the position and steal a base, but he’s far from polished offensively, evidenced by a low on-base percentage and propensity for striking out. If he’s going to compete for the leadoff spot those two areas must be improved.

I would move Granderson from right to left – there’s your homer hitting left fielder – because it’s easier to play than right. You want a polished defender in right, which is den Dekker.

This should the full time opportunity he didn’t get last season because the Mets wasted their time with Chris Young. Yeah, I know it’s piling on.

All three could benefit from new hitting coach Kevin Long’s tutelage.

Granderson thrived under Long with the Yankees, hitting over 40 homers and driving in over 100 runs in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately, he also struck out 169 and 195 times in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Maybe Granderson will benefit with the closer fences in Citi Field, but if Long can get him to cut his strikeouts and use the whole field, he could live up to that contract. Granderson’s on-base percentages and strikeout rates were much better playing in spacious Comerica Park, giving the impression he was seduced by the Yankee Stadium bandbox.

As for Lagares, his 87-to-20 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is something he must improve because in this era teams can’t afford to carry an offensive liability no matter how good he is in the field.

Den Dekker showed he’s worthy of the opportunity based on his production over a limited 152 at-bats with a .250 average and .345 on-base percentage.

This is potentially a good outfield defensively, but if they prove they can hit, the Mets will be greatly improved.

Apr 17

Ruben Tejada Not Proving To Be Answer At Shortstop

Replacing Jose Reyes was never going to be easy, but with Ruben Tejada’s fielding prowess if he could hit just a little that would be acceptable to the Mets. Perhaps that should read, “former fielding prowess.’’

TEJADA: What's the problem?

TEJADA: What’s the problem?

Trouble is, he’s not hitting or fielding. He’s not even just holding his own; he’s been poor at both, actually terrible. Tejada has committed six errors in 13 games – a pace for just under 80 – and the Mets have already lost a couple of games directly attributed to his defense. It matters little if David Wright believes he’s a Gold Glove caliber shortstop. What matters is if Tejada can catch the ball, and if he does, keep it out of the stands.

Both Tejada’s glove and arm have been erratic. It was a throwing error Tuesday night that opened the door for a late-inning collapse. His throwing has been especially poor. Is Tejada going Steve Sax or Chuck Knoblauch on us?

Yes, it was cold and miserable, and yes, the pitchers needed to regroup to get the following hitters, but that doesn’t change the fact Tejada’s defense is hurting the Mets and they have little answers.

They would like to bring up Omar Quintanilla, but would need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Wilmer Flores is on the 40-man roster, but the Mets don’t think he’s ready, otherwise a Flores-for-Tejada swap would be considered. The Mets certainly don’t want to bring up Flores to have him languish on the bench.

Neither Collins nor Tejada blamed the error totally on the weather, but both said it was a contributing factor because the cold made gripping the ball difficult. News Flash: It’s not going to get better tonight or tomorrow.

Blaming the weather might be easier to accept if Tejada hasn’t been so awful this season. What’s wrong with him? Was last year a fluke? Is there an injury we don’t know about?

Whatever the reason, his current play is unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated if the Mets had a ready backup. If Tejada continues at this rate and the Mets tank in the second half, perhaps they should consider force-feeding the position to Flores or go shortstop shopping in the offseason.

After all, according to the Mets they will be ready to spend and contend next season. They can’t be competitive with a hole on the left side of the infield. Will they need to add a shortstop to their list?

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