Feb 14

Wilpon Said Mets Will Spend, But Doubts Are Raised

Fred Wilpon’s proclamation in Port St. Lucie yesterday the Mets are now out of debt and ready to jump into the free-agent market brought a skeptical response.

The feeling wasn’t  “oh boy, let’s go get Jacoby Ellsbury next year,’’ but rather “I’ll believe it when it see it.’’

Remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and not re-signing R.A. Dickey spoke volumes about immediately competing.

I never thought the Wilpons were cheap. I thought they didn’t always spend wisely and gave Omar Minaya almost carte blanche to bring in whoever he wanted.

The Wilpons once were spending over $140 million in payroll and meted out generous contracts to guys like Oliver Perez, Johan Santana, Luis Castillo, Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez, Billy Wagner, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez.

That’s not being cheap.

They also gave long-term contracts early in their careers to Jose Reyes and David Wright when they could have had them for much cheaper. That was good business.

Also, don’t forget lesser tier contracts to guys like Scott Schoeneweis, Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, Guillermo Mota and Julio Franco. That’s more misguided than cheap.

Wilpon’s name was on all those checks, so let’s dispense of the notion they aren’t willing to spend. Isn’t going after Michael Bourn some indication?

The Mets are committed to stocking their farm system, which is the right way to go. The minor leagues represent a two-pronged approach to building a franchise: 1) to develop the talent to play on the major league level, and 2) to have the trade chips to deal for proven talent.

The Mets have some good, young pitching with potential, but are thin on position player prospects. They don’t want to deal their pitching and have few major players of value to trade – they don’t want to part with Jon Niese or Ike Davis and can’t trade Wright now – so their primary route for immediate improvement is by the free-agent market.

Sandy Alderson was an austerity-driven general manager while with Oakland and San Diego, and his first two years with the Mets. If Wilpon is willing to spend, it will be interesting to see how Alderson will react.

I don’t expect him to abandon his method of evaluating players, but hope he’ll show some daring if there is a big-ticket player available. Curtis Granderson could be had next winter, but are all his homers – figure a decline moving out of Yankee Stadium – worth all his strikeouts? I don’t think Alderson would agree.

Ellsbury would be ideal for Citi Field, but won’t come cheaply.

But, that’s next year.

The first test to the believability of that statement will come at the end of spring training when players are released to create a new free-agent market. That’s a wave of available talent, and I would guess, there could be an outfielder or two that could start for the Mets. Nothing great, but better than what is there now.

There could also be a reliever or two.

The second test will be at the trade deadline if the Mets are competitive. Alderson waited too long yesterday in the hope the Mets’ bullpen would right itself. It didn’t happen and soon after the All-Star break the season began to spiral out of control. By the deadline it was clear the season was lost.

The first two tests are important because they will show the Mets’ true intentions as to fielding a competitive team.

Wilpon also said yesterday spending would in part be contingent on attendance. Attendance has steadily declined and the way the roster is presently constructed doesn’t inspire confidence.

Signing Wright was the first step, but there are so many more to take.

Feb 09

Ike Davis And Jon Niese Are My Indispensable Mets For 2013

Good afternoon folks. I hope you made it through the blizzard and safe today. I’m looking at almost two feet of snow. There’ve been power outages in the area and some places have nearly three feet.

I’m back on-line and looking at the Mets’ roster trying to think who might be the most important, or indispensable, players on the team.

DAVIS: Key figure in 2013

DAVIS: Key figure in 2013

When considering this, I do with the idea the Mets will not be a contender, but with a look into the future. I am looking at a starting pitcher and offensive player.

By process of elimination, I can’t choose anybody in the outfield because it is speculation as to who will be there. The names Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter are unproven so they can’t realistically be thought of as indispensible. My guess is we’ll see a lot of guys out there.

Although he’s considered the face of the Mets and by the time spring training is over could be named captain, I am also excluding David Wright. I believe Wright has already hit his ceiling, meaning he won’t eclipse his career highs in average (.325 in 2007), homers (33 in 2008), RBI (124 in 2008), on-base percentage (.416 in 2008) and OPS (.963 in 2007).

Wright will remain an important player for the duration of his contract, so I am looking for another bat and going with Ike Davis.

Continue reading

Feb 06

Mets Players Campaigning For Bourn

David Wright reached out to Michael Bourn and plugged the Mets. Last night, Ike Davis said he’d also like the Mets to bring Bourn to Flushing.

The Mets have done nothing this winter to improve their outfield, and while Bourn would not make them an elite team, he could make them competitive. At least moreso than an inexperienced Kirk Nieuwenhuis  and a possible platoon in center.

DAVIS: Wants Bourn

                          DAVIS: Wants Bourn

Bourn is a good defensive center fielder and a contact hitter. He won’t hit for power, but he will get on base for Wright and Davis. The latter said as much last night when speaking at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner in Manhattan.

“As a guy that likes to drive in runners, I would love Bourn to be on the bases when I’m hitting just because how he changes the game,” Davis said. “We’re going to see more fastballs if he’s on the team, he’s definitely going to help out the second hole hitter, Davis and me, in every aspect of the game. Yeah, it would be great. He’s also an amazingly good defender out in center field.”

The biggest splash the Mets have made this winter was extending Wright’s contract and trading R.A. Dickey. GM Sandy Alderson has tweaked the bullpen, but the outfield lays barren. Bourn could at least give the impression the organization is interested in more than just a casino around Citi Field. Their current plan seems to be hoping for everybody to getting better.

Hoping is not a good strategy.

The Mets do not want to part with the 11th overall draft pick as compensation and that’s understandable.  The players don’t care about the pick because by the time that player reaches Citi Field they might be gone from the Mets.

By record, the Mets would have a higher pick, but Pittsburgh leapfrogged them because the Pirates were unable to sign their pick. It hardly seems fair the Mets should be penalized because the Pirates failed. That’s a decision that should be overturned.

If the draft pick weren’t such an issue, Bourn would be an improvement, but he’s certainly not worth a $100-million package as has been suggested. Two, three years at the most plus an option. Anything longer is just putting the Mets in the position of taking on another bad contract. Long-term burdensome contracts have held back the Mets and the last thing they need is another.

Davis believes the Mets are heading in the right direction, but you didn’t expect him to say anything else, did you?

“I think the signing of David means the Mets are getting more aggressive. Just shows that we’re not too far away and we are in the year, or the next year or two, are trying to put winning baseball on the field,” Davis said. “I’m excited David’s going to be here for a long time, hopefully I can join him, and hopefully we can change the culture around here a little bit.”

Davis is thinking two years down the road and that’s about right, that is if the Mets are willing to spend. They have no significant trade pieces and are trying to hold onto their prospects. That leaves the free-agent market as the immediate source for building.

So far, the Mets have gone on the cheap in free-agency in recent years. That must change.

 

Jan 24

Who Will Wright’s Teammates Be In 2015?

WRIGHT: Who will play alongside him in 2015?

WRIGHT: Who will play alongside him in 2015?

 

Let’s take a look at a bulk of the Mets’ 40-man roster and make some projections on what things might look at in 2015, the year cited by many as when the team will be ready for primetime.

Of course, there’s no accounting for injuries, trades or players leaving as free agents.

Johan Santana: Will be gone after this season as there’s no way the Mets can afford keeping him – even if he’s healthy this year – and think they can be a contender. The Mets will attempt to trade him, but even if they absorb much of his contract there will be few takers.

Jon Niese:  He’ll still be under contract and hopefully will have developed into a topflight pitcher. He’s lefthanded, throws hard and under cost control. All reasons teams covet him and why the Mets should keep him.

Matt Harvey: If he lives up to expectations, he’ll be a star. Should he have a big year in 2013, the Mets might consider wrapping him up as they did Niese. That’s the best way to have cost certainty.

Dillon Gee: Unless he steps up his game, he’ll be gone. There’s potential there, but unless he harnesses it, Zack Wheeler could push him out of the rotation.

Jenrry Mejia: Your guess is as good as mine. Starter or reliever? It can’t be both. Mejia has had limited opportunities because of how the Mets waffled with him. His stock has fallen and he could be gone in three years.

Zack Wheeler: He’s highly rated and barring setbacks should be in the rotation by then. How good he’ll be is anybody’s guess.

Bobby Parnell: Closer or bust. Parnell showed something at the end of last season. If he doesn’t win the closer job by 2014, he’ll likely be gone.

The bullpen: Never mind 2015, how about 2013? There’s such a turnover in bullpens in today’s game that it is hard to project. Do the Mets have a bullpen prospect that can be pegged as a potential closer? Nobody outside of Parnell will be ready by then, and even he is iffy.

John Buck:  Assuming he’s healthy, the job belongs to Travis d’Arnaud. Buck is a stopgap already making too much money by Mets’ standards. It is conceivable Buck could be supplanted by d’Arnaud by the second half.

Ike Davis: The Mets already avoided arbitration with him and if Davis hits another 30 homers, they should consider going long term with him. You build teams around 30-homer sluggers.

Daniel Murphy: Somehow, I can’t see Murphy still here. I see him being dealt to the American League where he can play as a DH. By 2015, the Mets will have added a second baseman, perhaps Wilmer Flores.

Ruben Tejada: The Mets have several shortstop prospects, but will they be ready by 2015?  They like Gavin Cecchini, but wonder if he’ll hit enough. Tejada is establishing himself offensively and if he keeps it up, he’ll stay around.

David Wright: His contract ensures he’ll be around, but like Santana will it be one they regret? Wright hasn’t taken advantage of the shortened fences at Citi Field and the Mets wonder if he’ll hit with consistent 30-homer power.

Lucas Duda: He’s a work in progress with time to develop. Perhaps it will happen for him as a left fielder. Duda is better as a first baseman, but what will they do with Davis? Duda is a guy I can see them dealing in the future.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis: He made a good first impression, but struggled with the breaking ball and ended the season injured in the minor leagues. If he becomes the fulltime center fielder, he could still be here. Working in his favor is he comes cheaply. But, if the Mets start spending in a few years they will go for more power in the outfield.

Mike Baxter:  He’s a role player now, and a projected starter because the Mets aren’t spending any money. No way he’ll keep that job in three years.

Of the 16 names (including the position of bullpen) there are only seven I can say with confidence will be around in 2015. So, assuming if the projections of 2015 are true, that makes 19 spots to be filled.

That’s a lot of work to do.

Jan 03

Wilpons To Refinance; They Aren’t Going Anywhere

As you greet the third day of the new year, Mets fans can digest the reported news (ESPN and The Post for starters) that ownership has refinanced $450 million in loans borrowed from SNY.

How this is structured, I don’t know, but it protects the Wilpons from having to make an overwhelming payment that would prevent them from retaining the team.

Presumably, the money will be used to pay off existing debt – including the structured court-ordered payments from the Ponzi scandal – with little going in the direction of player additions. (Save $25 million owed Johan Santana in his final season with the Mets).

It basically means what you think it means, that things are likely to remain the same in the foreseeable future. Look for nothing substantial in the rest of the free-agent market, and as in previous years for management to sit on their hands at the trade deadline.

GM Sandy Alderson has successfully slashed $50 million from the budget of the team he inherited, which was what he was hired to do.

The Mets were willing to commit up to $20 million to R.A. Dickey before they traded him for prospects, but now without that obligation there’s no word what they will spend that money on. Alderson said the team will have greater flexibility after the 2013 season when Santana is off the books, but he also said not to look for a big splash in the free-agent market.

With FA spending not an option for at least two years, and the Mets refusing to part with their young pitching in trades, and having little else to deal on the major league level, the team’s direction is to wait … and wait … and wait, until their prospects develop. And, of that there are no guarantees.

When you look at the Mets in comparison to the rest of the NL East, Washington has shown a willingness to spend, and Atlanta and Philadelphia proactive adding to a superior core. The Marlins seem in comparably bad shape – if not worse – than the Mets, but at least they are warm down there.

When you look at the rest of the National League, the Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Cardinals are all immediately better, financially more solvent and better run than the Mets. Even Pittsburgh, which hasn’t had a winning season in two decades, is more aggressive.

So, when people ask how long it will be until the Mets are competitive or relevant again, it is difficult to forecast. It might be two, three years before Matt Harvey blossoms and Jon Niese reaches his potential. There’s room for growth with Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell.

But, even if those things happen, we still don’t know who’ll be in the outfield or bullpen. We don’t know who’ll be in the rotation. We don’t know about catcher. We don’t know where David Wright will be in his career.

What we do know is the Mets have a myriad of questions, aggressive teams in their division and no definitive spending timetable.

We do know we have a long wait.