Jan 18

What can $90 million get you?

First of all, I’d like to apologize for my spotty attendance lately. I’ve had several personal issues I’ve needed to attend to, and lately my health hasn’t been good. I was in the hospital yesterday and just haven’t felt up to it.

I have tried to maintain a consistent presence over the years, but have not been good so far in 2012. I apologize to you and promise to do better. I also appreciate your continued support.

Thank you.

This past few days have given me time to think, and, or course, attention drifts to the upcoming baseball season. Usually, this time of year has the optimism of spring training. With the Yankees making moves to improve their pitching, the Mets have done little.

The Mets’ projected payroll for 2012 is $90 million, which is a long separation to that of the Yankees, Phillies and most any other team expected to contend for the playoffs.

There have been examples of teams with small payrolls contending and even reaching the playoffs as Tampa Bay, Milwaukee and Minnesota proving over the years.

Winning can be done with limited financial resources, but a common denominator has been building with homegrown talent, having it develop and locking in the key pieces. Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun and Joe Mauer are prime examples. At one time, that’s what I thought the Mets were doing with David Wright and Jose Reyes.

Wright is entering the prime years of his career, but he is doing so with a string of nagging injuries the past few seasons and a lack of complementary support. The Mets aren’t in a hurry to trade him, but the fact they are contemplating it is all the proof you need to know where this franchise is headed.

Teams can compete – to a point – with a $90 million payroll, but doing so requires a strong foundation, and that’s also lacking. Ike Davis, Jon Niese, Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy are young pieces, but I would be hesitant to label them a core for the future. We’ve only seen a smattering of promise from them, but also flaws and in some cases an injury history.

None possess the potential Wright and Reyes had when the Mets signed them to long-term contracts early in their career when the winning window was wide open.

Yes, 2006 seems like a long time ago.

If Niese and Davis, Duda and Tejada can play well, others stay healthy, and veterans such as Wright, Jason Bay and Mike Pelfrey play to their potential, the Mets could make some noise.

But, that’s a lot of things that have to break right for a franchise that’s been on a negative slide, and not going away is the potential $400 million hit from the Ponzi scandal.

I can’t say things won’t break for the Mets, but it is January, time for positive hoping if you’re a baseball fan.

Jan 02

The Dirty Dozen: Twelve questions for 2012.

We are seven weeks from the start of spring training, and that time will fly. The NFL playoffs start this weekend, and when they conclude pitchers and catchers aren’t far behind.

The Mets will face a myriad of questions and issues this spring, with the following dozen the most prevalent:

1) QUESTION: To what degree will the Wilpon’s financial problems impact the Mets?

SPECULATION: To think fallout from the Ponzi scandal won’t influence things is naïve. Jose Reyes is gone because the Mets didn’t have the resources to compete. GM Sandy Alderson anticipates a payroll of close to $100 million, which would be $40 million less than in 2011. Maybe the Mets should consider a bake sale outside Citi Field this summer.

2) QUESTION: Will the roster significantly change between now and spring training?

SPECULATION: I doubt it. There’s been no indication of them pursuing any name talent, and who expects that to change? Any additions the Mets do will be strictly tweaking, which doesn’t help when there are positions needing an overhaul.

3) QUESTION: What will we get from Johan Santana?

SPECULATION: I’m not counting on it. Santana’s shoulder injury is similar to that which effectively ended Mark Prior’s career. Santana  has already had several setbacks and regardless of Alderson’s spin, nobody can say definitively when Santana can, or if, he can pitch again.

4) QUESTION: How long will David Wright remain a Met?

SPECULATION: I can’t see him being traded prior to spring training, and believe he’ll be here for the entire season because there’s an option for 2013, which means they don’t have to do anything this year. The Mets want to be sure of Wright’s health and his production (with the fences brought in) before doing anything. If Wright is sound and hitting, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dealt. At this point, expect anything to happen.

5) QUESTION: Which Mike Pelfrey will we see?

SPECULATION: Your guess is as good as mine. After a seemingly breakthrough 2010 season, Pelfrey regressed dramatically last year. I don’t have that much more confidence in Pelfrey than I had in Oliver Perez, which pretty much says it all. The Mets must do some serious soul searching on all levels concerning Pelfrey, including whether pitching coach Dan Warthen is the answer to if they should cut ties with him. Clearly, he has not lived up to expectations.

6) QUESTION: What is the configuration of the bullpen?

SPECULATION: The depth chart on the Mets’ official web site lists 10 relievers, which is about right. The Mets have long hoped Bobby Parnell would seize the closer role, but that hasn’t come close to happening. Former Blue Jays Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco are expected to compete for the closer role, but one can’t forget why Toronto didn’t want to keep them in the first place.

7) QUESTION: Is Ruben Tejada the answer as Jose Reyes’ replacement?

SPECULATON: Absolutely not. Trying to fill the hole left by Reyes’ departure probably puts as much pressure on Tejada as any other Met. Reyes is a unique player not easily replaced. The Mets probably won’t see a fall off defensively, but Reyes has a dynamic offensive presence. Losing Reyes will gnaw at the Mets all summer and there’s nothing Tejada will be able to do.

8) QUESTION: Can Daniel Murphy make it at second base?

SPECULATION: Murphy was having an outstanding season at the plate before he injured his knee covering the bag. There were times it appeared Murphy was making defensive strides, but he had enough head-scratching moments, also. Murphy didn’t take to the outfield, his natural position is third, but that won’t happen because of Wright and he played well at first, but Ike Davis precludes that from occurring.

9) QUESTION: How healthy is Ike Davis?

SPECULATION: A freak ankle injury cost the Mets Davis for most of the season and any off-season prognosis is simply a guess. If Davis can’t play for some reason, Lucas Duda will play first which will create a hole in right field. Davis has loads of potential and doesn’t cost much, which is the kind of player the Mets need.

10) QUESTION: What’s the make up of the rotation?

SPECULATION: There were stretches last season when the rotation pitched well, but not enough of them and there are significant issues with every arm. Santana and Jon Niese are coming off injuries; Pelfrey is an enigma; RA Dickey was 8-13 last year and 41-50 in his career; and Dillon Gee has only 32 lifetime starts.

11) QUESTION: Will it ever happen for Jason Bay with the Mets?

SPECULATION: This is an annual question, and there’s nothing to suggest he’ll ever become the player the Mets have hoped. So far, this looks like $66 million flushed down the toilet.

12) QUESTION: Will moving in the fences matter?

SPECULATION: No. The theory is to add power, but the Mets actually showed they could score last year. Then again, they had Reyes and Carlos Beltran. Perhaps the new dimensions will help Wright and Bay, and maybe provide them a jolt of confidence. Could happen. Then again, bet on the opposition hitting more homers, too. Count on that.

 

Dec 23

Nationals making more noise … Mets remain quiet.

I don’t know much about the prospects the Nationals are sending to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez. What I do know is adding Gonzalez makes them considerably more improved, and that includes better than the Mets.

If what is reported is true, that the Mets wouldn’t part with Jon Niese and Ike Davis then that makes a degree of sense because with what is left it isn’t good enough for Gonzalez to carry. Then again, if I were Oakland I wouldn’t deal Gonzalez for a package that includes two players on the mend.

The essence of this trade reveals a key Mets’ weakness, and that’s a lack of depth in the minor leagues that could be used in trades. For the past few years, one of their biggest chips was Fernando Martinez, but injuries have slowed his career to little more than a crawl.

Do you remember when the Mets were telling us about their wealth of outfield prospects in Martinez, Lastings Milledge and Carlos Gomez? Kind of makes you think when they tout what’s down below now that we really don’t know.

It has been an interesting winter so far for other teams, including St. Louis, which will add Carlos Beltran for two years at $26 million. Beltran won’t make them forget Albert Pujols, but at least the Cardinals are attempting to move forward.

The Mets will add a few minor pieces between now and spring training, but nothing that will prompt anybody to pick up phone and order tickets.

Here we are, a couple of days before Christmas and the weather is warm enough for Opening Day. When I think about the promise and excitement Opening Day is supposed to have, I realize we won’t feel that way at Citi Field for several more years.

Sad really.

Nov 17

2011 Player Review: Ike Davis, 1B

We began our review of the 2011 Mets by examining their free agents and players the team will consider tending contracts to. We started evaluating the rest of the roster, beginning with infielder Ruben Tejada and continue today with first baseman Ike Davis. Tomorrow: Daniel Murphy.

IKE DAVIS, 1B

THE SKINNY: Davis became a Mets cult hero in 2010 with his eye-opening power and propensity for climbing the dugout rail to make circus catches. Davis missed most of last season with an ankle injury, but remains one of the franchise’s key prospects.

PRE-SEASON EXPECTATIONS: After hitting 19 homers with 71 RBI in 2010, big things were expected last season. Perhaps 30 homers, which would have been a good complement to David Wright. There were little issues about his defense, so the Mets had themselves a star in the making.

HOW THE SEASON PLAYED OUT: Murphy’s Law: If it can go wrong for the Mets it will.  Davis got off to a good start with seven homers, 25 RBI and a .302 average before an infield collision with Wright  on a pop-up.  Davis said Wright and he couldn’t hear each other, and nobody heard Mike Pelfrey call for it as a pitcher should. Maybe he had his fingers in his mouth. Anyway, a couple of days became a couple of weeks became a couple of months.

JOHN’S TAKE: Ankle injuries are tough to come back from because so much of hitting is done with the legs. That’s what generates the power. Davis said he’s sprinting and will be ready for the spring training. We shall see. There’s a lot to like about a healthy Davis. Let’s hope he’s that.

JOE’S TAKE: Davis has quickly become one of my favorite Mets. He has an intensity and drive you don’t see in some of the other players and he absolutely hates to lose. I see him quickly becoming on of the leaders of this team in the mold of Keith Hernandez. His quick bat and the power he generates from from his lower body tells me we could see many 30+ home run seasons in his future. His defense is close to elite and it won’t be long until he starts racking up a few Gold Gloves. Get back on the diamond Ike, it’s what you were born to do.

Nov 16

2011 Player Review: Josh Thole, C

We began our review of the 2011 Mets by examining their free agents and players the team will consider tending contracts to. We started evaluating the rest of the roster, beginning with infielder Ruben Tejada and continue today with catcher Josh Thole. Tomorrow: Ike Davis.

JOSH THOLE – C

THE SKINNY: Thole turned heads in 2010 with his bat control and ability to work the count. The Mets had a young hitter who could draw a walk and take an outside pitch to left field. Who knew? Defensively, he was new at the position, but the pitchers liked how he handled a game and gave them a consistent low target.

PRE-SEASON EXPECTATIONS: If Thole could make a good impression over 227 at-bats, imagine what he could do over a full season. And, as he developed physically and filled out he might be able to hit for more power. Also, his continued work with the pitching staff should make him even more comfortable behind the plate.

HOW THE SEASON PLAYED OUT: Not according to plan. Thole had 386 at-bats in 114 games, but a fulltime catcher should get more work than that. Ronny Paulino played more as a back-up than expected and that was a reflection on Thole. His defense regressed as he led the National League with 16 passed balls and he threw out just 17 attempted base stealers (21 percent). Offensively, his batting average (.268) and on-base percentages (.345 from .357) dropped. He hit three homers in both years despite having 160 more at-bats. In a word: disappointing.

JOHN’S TAKE: Thole might have benefited by more time in the minor leagues, but that wasn’t the hand he was dealt. He took a step back after a good first impression, but that was to be expected as the league found him out. Since his learning environment has been the major leagues it doesn’t make much sense to change that now. He would benefit from having a veteran back-up, and I don’t know if Paulino is that guy. The Mets will stick with Thole for the simple facts they have confidence he’ll develop and they want to spend their limited resources elsewhere. A tip: Have somebody else catch R.A. Dickey.

JOE’S TAKE: Call it a hunch, but I don’t think Thole is long for this team. The only reason he is still hanging onto his job is because quite simply the Mets positional depth at catcher is in complete shambles, and it has been that way for most of the team’s 50 year history.

On most teams, Thole is a backup catcher – maybe. On the Mets he’s the best they got, which says more about the state of the Mets than it does about Thole who was a good soldier when he was asked to ditch his first base glove and put on what Tim McCarver refers to as the “tools of ignorance.”

Thole has already had a few pitchers jaw about his pitch calling and you don’t need binoculars to see how miscast he looks behind the plate. His instincts are lacking and his offensive game leaves much to be desired. On a team that will have too many dead outs in their lineup in 2012, Thole is the worst one because he can’t field his position at a satisfactory level. When an opposing batter makes it to first base, they start drooling when Thole is behind the plate – even those who run as slow as John Olerud. Thole is a huge problem for the rotation, and for a team that is going to find themselves struggling to score runs and protect leads next season.