Jan 20

Collins seems refreshing

The impression in talking with Terry Collins yesterday is that he’s decisive, something we haven’t always had with Mets managers.

It’s January and Collins already named his Opening Day starter and the top five of his batting order, after which you can figure the rest out. Ask most managers simple questions this time of year about the rotation and batting order and they waffle, saying it is too early, even though the answers seem obvious.

Of course, injuries, performance and match-ups can change things, but the impression is Collins wants to use a set batting order as much as possible, something Jerry Manuel didn’t always do, even when health wasn’t an issue. And, there will be no fooling around with Jose Reyes. Collins recognizes him as a premier leadoff hitter and will ride that horse.

Collins will bunch his speed in Reyes and Angel Pagan at the top of the order, go the traditional route and use his best hitter in David Wright third, utilize his power in Carlos Beltran clean-up and protect him with a right-handed bat in Jason Bay fifth. From there he’ll go with left-handed power in Ike Davis sixth, followed by Josh Thole, the second baseman and finally the pitcher.

Collins knows the landscape about the fans’ expectations and interest this time of year and fueled it with something to talk about. I hope he maintains this approach during the season when things get rough. Who wants the Mets to have eight different batting orders in ten games?

Incidentally, Chris Young passed his physical and the team will make an announcement today or tomorrow. If healthy, he should be among the top four, with Chris Capuano and Dillon Gee competing for the fifth spot. Pat Misch is on the peripheral, but he’s out of options and his best chance of making the team is as a long reliever.

The Mets are counting on Francisco Rodriguez to be healthy and stay the closer with Bobby Parnell seemingly having the inside track as the set-up reliever.

Dec 04

Making a go with little

Sandy Alderson said it again, that the Mets have little payroll flexibility and aren’t expected to make a splash in the free-agent market.

Again, even if the Mets cut Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, they are still on the hook for $18 million between them. It’s not as if the money could be spent elsewhere.

The Mets need to find two starters, bullpen depth, a second baseman (if it is not Castillo), a back-up catcher and bench depth. Try doing that with about $10 million to spend.

There’s not much in the minor league system to help immediately. And, Ruben Tejada and Jenrry Mejia are best served in the minor leagues for this year, Alderson said. There aren’t the prospects available to make a trade similar to the one Boston did for Adrian Gonzalez. And, if there was, the Mets are committed to not spending.

Again, we can re-examine trading Jose Reyes and David Wright, but you’d be dealing your two best players. And, with Reyes, his value because of injury and lack of production the past two years, and that he’ll be a free agent after 2011, make him difficult to deal.

And, while a solid player, Wright isn’t one that would bring a boatload of talent in return. Plus, he’d leave a gaping hole at third base.

Alderson said this would be a process and he’s not lying. This is becoming more apparent as the winter meetings approach. They might be able to add a band-aid or two, but other than that, hope for 2011 is for Reyes, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran to get healthy and continued development from players such as Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese and Ike Davis.

As of now, hope is the plan.

Nov 03

What will be the “Mets Way?”

Sandy Alderson’s first hire is former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi as his special assistant, with presumably one of his responsibilities to help implement a “Mets Way,” throughout the organization, beginning with the lower levels of the minor league system.

Considering the dimensions of Citi Field, presumably an organizational philosophy will place an emphasis on pitching and defense first, followed by situational hitting, and down on the list power.

As the Giants proved, power is not essential to win, and the Mets have enough to get by with David Wright, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran (presuming all are healthy, each has 30 homer potential) followed by Ike Davis.

It must begin with pitching, with the first step pounding the strikezone and getting ahead of the hitters. Hopefully, it will include instilling the mindset of working deep into games. When Mike Pelfrey was winning in June he worked fast, efficiently and kept the ball down. When he struggled in July he was the opposite and lost confidence.

The Mets have some talented arms below and I’d like the organization to keep them and not rush their progression. Let them develop a variety of pitches and not be reliant on just one pitch. The prime example is Mike Pelfrey, who gradually developed his secondary pitches, and Jenrry Mejia, who still has a way to go.

If the Mets are able to harness arms and pitch to contact, they should then let the defense take care of them. The Mets still gave away far too many outs, and this must be addressed in spring training. There were still instances of overthrowing the cutoff man and not knowing ahead of time of what to do with the ball.

Defensively, there must be more of a concentration on fundamentals, and this also pertains to the offense, where at times it was glaring as emphasized with the amount of strikeouts.

Offensively, way too many at-bats were given away because the hitter lacked patience and didn’t have a mastery of the strikezone. On-base percentage is a statistic that could be improved by nearly every hitter on the team, including Jose Reyes and Wright.

When the team was winning in June Reyes and Wright were on their games, which meant forcing the play and using the whole field. When they hit the skids in July, their situational hitting as a team was non existent.

Wright, Davis and Bay must reduce their strikeouts, which would automatically increase the on-base percentage and lead to more productive outs.

Power is baseball’s great eraser and always has been. The three-run homer can overcome a lot of things. However, being consistent fundamentally applies continuous pressure on the opposition and that’s the way to go.

I want players who’ll force the action, who know how to take the extra base, who’ll make the correct decisions and not take plays off. I want to see a hustle that was absent at times. We saw Angel Pagan have a horrific season fundamentally in 2009, but he greatly improved last year so it can be done.

I want pitchers who’ll throw strikes and not beat themselves with walks. I want pitchers who’ll go after hitters, and not lose concentration after an error, bad umpire’s call or poor pitch.

This must be emphasized on the major league level, with consequences when it is not. It must also be taught and drilled in the minor leagues.

It’s not an overnight process, but if strongly implemented we should see results the first year.

The Mets’ Way should be to play smart, aggressive, fundamental and relentless ball. It shouldn’t be a novelty when a player advances a runner, hits the cutoff man or doesn’t get lazy in the strikezone with a pitch when he falls behind in the count.

It should be an all time thing.

Let’s face it, the Mets don’t have a rotation like that in San Francisco. They don’t have the power or the ability to buy their way out of trouble like the Yankees.

The Mets have talent, but to win they must out hustle and out work their opposition.

Nov 01

What exactly is Sandy Alderson’s definition of competitive?

Sandy Alderson expects the Mets to be competitive next season, but did not define that to mean they’ll be in the playoff hunt. He also said he doesn’t foresee the Mets being big players in the free-agent market.

There’s nothing down below that is major league ready to drastically improve the team, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll deal any of their three biggest major league commodities – David Wright, Jose Reyes or Mike Pelfrey.

Translated: Alderson believes the Mets can be competitive with pretty much the same team they had this season if their injured players can return productive and sound, which is what Omar Minaya said last winter. The Mets won 79 games this year, two below .500, which is merely average. They would figure to improve with full and healthy seasons from Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran and Reyes, but there are no guarantees.

But, how much better? Ten games? That would be 89, but the NL wild card team, Atlanta, won 91 games. So, winning ten more falls short, and that’s even before considering their other issues.

The first, and most important, is the expected absence of Johan Santana. Some projections have him missing most, if not all of the season. Assuming no Santana, the Mets will need two other starters to fill out their rotation.

If the Mets go the same route as they did last winter and not add an arm in the free agent market, we’ll be looking at a front end of the the rotation with Pelfrey, Jon Niese and RA Dickey, with Dillon Gee and Pat Misch among those competing in the back end.

Other issues will be hoping for the continued development of Ike Davis, Josh Thole and Angel Pagan.

Alderson has already told us he won’t have a lot of payroll flexibility this winter, but even if he were to shed the Mets of Oliver Perez or Luis Castillo, that doesn’t mean he’ll find an extra $18 million to play with for 2011.

So far, the first impression has been a good one of Alderson, and part of that has been him being forthcoming about the obstacles.

We’re all assuming the Mets will make major moves for the 2012 season. That doesn’t mean they can’t take a step up next season. How big remains to be seen.

Oct 15

Upgrading the minor league system

Whomever is the next Mets’ general manager, I hope he puts a premium on upgrading the minor league system. Although not as bare as in previous seasons, the minor league talent is a concern, especially when placed in comparison to the final four teams in the League Championship Series.

While each had added talent through trades and free agency, a thread of the four finalists is having a strong core in the minor leagues. They wouldn’t be here without the talent that rose through the system. Here’s hoping the new GM wants to upgrade the scouting and development, as those or the keys for long term success.

The Mets benefitted from their minor league system this year with Jon Niese, Ike Davis and Josh Thole, and have young talent looming below like Jenrry Mejia.

In the case with the Mets, with so much payroll earmarked to veterans tied to bulky and expensive payroll, its a sense of relief to have guys like Davis and Thole, productive players on the cheap.

The game today is still heavy with free agency, but the long term successful franchises build with a homegrown core, and the Mets should be no exception. With 2011 perhaps a write-off season as they clear money off the books, it should provide an opportunity for future growth from the minor league system.