Nov 15

Updating Mets’ Top Ten Offseason Issues

Maybe the Mets made Bartolo Colon an offer. I haven’t heard. So far this winter their heavy lifting has included picking up the options of Jay Bruce and Jose Reyes, and extending qualifying offers to Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker.

ALDERSON: A lot of his plate. (AP)

ALDERSON: A lot of his plate. (AP)

Other than that, it has been a relatively quiet offseason for GM Sandy Alderson. With the Winter Meetings less than a month away, here is what I see as Alderson’s Top Ten priorities:

1. Keep Bruce for now: There is an Internet report stating the Mets are talking with Toronto about Jay Bruce. It makes sense from the perspective of the Blue Jays, who could lose both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to free agency.

Reportedly, the Mets have feelers out on Bautista, although I prefer Encarnacion, who could enter into a first base platoon with Lucas Duda.

However, trading Bruce with the Cespedes situation unresolved makes no sense. They picked up Bruce’s option as a safety net for losing Cespedes, so what’s the point of dealing him without know what happens with Cespedes?

2. Decide on Cespedes: For a myriad of reasons, I believe the Mets should let Cespedes play through to the next hole. You guys know that by now. However, the Mets insist they want him back.

Fine. If that’s their position, get Cespedes’ contractual demands as soon as possible and go from there. He already rejected the Mets’ qualifying offer, so they would be in their right to ask what the player wants and go from there.

With a new CBA on the table, this could extend into January, which wouldn’t be prudent.

3. Bring back Reed: Yes, I know Addison Reed isn’t a free agent unless the Mets pass on him. Sign Reed and establish him now as the closer because they have to know Jeurys Familia will be suspended for at least 30 games.

If not Reed, the Mets have to go in on a closer. They won’t pay the big bucks for Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, but what about Mark Melancon? He won’t be cheap, either.

4. Bolster the bullpen: Without Familia and the change of roles with Reed, there are other bullpen holes. Will they bring back Jerry Blevins? Will Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have starting or bullpen roles? With Colon gone, the Mets could go for a middle reliever capable of multiple innings. Is that guy Hansel Robles or somebody in the market?

5. Define the back-up infielders: For somebody coming off back surgery, a $17.2 million qualifying offer to Neil Walker was fairly generous. It was a no-brainer to bring back Walker to team with Asdrubal Cabrera would solidify the double-play combination for another year. The offer will undoubtedly frustrate Wilmer Flores, but there has to be some area of consistency. It’s unlikely they can trade Flores, but if he’s on the 25-man roster what will that mean for T.J. Rivera?

6. Figure out what to do with Conforto: First base seems a reach for Michael Conforto. If they try that, the platoon with Duda should be with a right-handed hitter. They would be better off earmarking him for center field, because we know Cespedes doesn’t want to play there.

Defining Conforto’s role should also help dictate how they’ll use Curtis Granderson.

7. Figure out Wright’s role: I’d like to know now, but realize that’s not practical. But, assuming for the moment he’s healthy, is there a rough projection of how he’ll be used and how much? Seriously, is first base a realistic option?

8. Determine the health of the rotation: Four pitchers from this vaunted future All-Star staff are coming off surgery. The early reports are positive, and that includes no surgery to remove Noah Syndergaard’s bone spurs. But, we really won’t know until March.

If everything works out for the best, Alderson and manager Terry Collins must figure out where Lugo and Gsellman fit and resist the temptation of dealing either because they think they are in a position of strength because they are not.

I wouldn’t be opposed to picking up a veteran as insurance.

9. Improve the catching: If they enter the season with Travis d’Arnaud as the starter, it has to be with a short leash. He’s been frequently injured and unproductive, and frankly the rotation performs better with Rene Rivera.

10. Determine Duda’s leash: Duda is another prone to injuries and slow starts. They had to sign James Loney last summer and he performed well. However, it is unlikely they’ll bring him back.

Duda has monster power, but the past few years it has taken him into the second half before he warms up.

Other than Cespedes – pro or con – I don’t see the Mets making a major personnel decision this winter. But, whatever they decide, it will have far-reaching ramifications.

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Oct 13

Others Counting On Cespedes

There are a multitude of pros and cons on whether the Mets should extend outfielder Yoenis Cespedes should he opt out of his contract, which he is expected to do.

CESPEDES: Others waiting on him. (AP)

CESPEDES: Others waiting on him. (AP)

In weighing their options, the Mets must remember Cespedes is the lead domino in determining decisions on four positions, which is half their lineup.

LEFT FIELD

Cespedes insisted on playing left field after he strained his right quad after misplaying a ball in center. If Cespedes has to play left again, that leaves Michael Conforto on the outs.

CENTER FIELD

The Mets banked on Cespedes to play center, but he balked after the injury. They wanted Cespedes in center so Conforto could play in left. With Cespedes in left, Curtis Granderson (who has one more year left on his contract) would share center with Juan Lagares, whom the Mets really want at the position because of his defense. At one time, the Mets toyed with Conforto in center, but that never materialized. They also need to find a way to work Brandon Nimmo in the mix.

RIGHT FIELD

The Mets have to pick up Jay Bruce’s option as a hedge on Cespedes leaving. Signing Bruce necessitated moving Granderson. If they keep Bruce, he could be traded should Cespedes choose to stay. If last winter was any indication, Cespedes will drag this out.

FIRST BASE

In an effort to play Conforto, they’ll try him at first base. If that works out, that means there’s so place for Lucas Duda or James Loney.

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Oct 06

Mets’ Playoff Ouster Has Us Thinking About April

After last year, there was one goal for the Mets and it was winning the World Series. Since it won’t happen, by definition, 2016 was a failure. However, the image of the Big Picture depends on angle in which it was viewed. Straight on it was a bust, but “Mets 2016” was a puzzle with many missing pieces.

If we take away one thing from this season is we discovered the Mets’ farm system isn’t as barren as once perceived and they have more depth than we thought.

COLLINS: Reason to be hopeful. (AP)

COLLINS: Reason to be hopeful. (AP)

All teams sustain injuries and the Mets were no exception. The Mets had more than most, beginning with losing Matt Harvey to surgery, then Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, and we never saw Zack Wheeler.

“The job our guys did to get to this point to be in this game is unbelievable,” manager Terry Collins said. “When you lose three-fifths, obviously, of one of the best rotations in the game – you lose two guys or three guys out of the middle of your lineup for a long period of time – to sit here where we are today, I’m tremendously proud.”

Under the rubble of their rotation were found some gems. Noah Syndergaard, even before seven magnificent innings Wednesday, continues to emerge as an ace. Syndergaard pitched hurt, and still throws too many innings, but he’s already one of the best.

Without those injuries Bartolo Colon wouldn’t have stayed in the rotation and led the staff with 15 victories. Also, we wouldn’t have found out about Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

The Mets have questions about the health of their starting pitchers, but unlike most teams they have the depth to get to sustain.

The bullpen was a significant issue entering the season, but Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia gave them perhaps the game’s best eighth-ninth inning combination, which could be even stronger if they retain Fernando Salas and Hansel Robles harnesses his emotions, the back end could be even better.

Injuries also ravaged the infield, where the Mets lost David Wright and Neil Walker for the season. They also were without Wilmer Flores and Lucas Duda for extended periods. The reports are encouraging about Wright’s return, but they must be cognizant about replacing him. In that regard, Flores will have surgery on his right wrist. Walker can be a free agent, but his back surgery will lower his asking price. That will be a tough decision.

The Mets will now be forced to make choices on bringing back Kelly Johnson, James Loney and catcher Rene Rivera. They also let us find out T.J. Rivera can play. Perhaps most importantly, they found out Jose Reyes still has the spark, if not the talent.

Injuries also factored in the outfield as they played lengthy segments without Juan Lagares and Yoenis Cespedes. They also survived long production droughts from Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, Alejandro De Aza and Curtis Granderson.

However, Granderson and Bruce came on strong at the end and have reputations of production. They have another year with Granderson under contract and an option on Bruce, so there’s flexibility. If Cespedes opts out as he’s expected to do, the Mets have options with Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.

Collins said of his team: “They’re hurting, but there’s no reason to be. They were written off so many times this summer and they kept fighting back.”

The Mets didn’t win, but I can’t say it was a lost season. The Mets found out a lot about many players who weren’t on their radar in April.

In many ways, if their rotation recovers from the knife, the Mets could be in better position to win next year than they were this April. Many Octobers have left the Mets with the feeling of relief the season was finally over.

This year, October has us thinking about April.

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Oct 03

Leaving Loney Off Wild-Card Roster Would Be Mistake

There’s no doubt Mets GM Sandy Alderson is a smart guy, but there are times he thinks too damn much. Reportedly he’s doing that now by considering leaving James Loney off the wild-card playoff roster in favor of Lucas Duda.

Never mind the fairness element, that without Loney replacing Duda for 99 games, the Mets are already scattering for their off-season homes.

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off roster. (SNY)

LONEY: Would be mistake leaving him off. (SNY)

Clearly, Alderson, who is Sabremetrics junkie infatuated with the home run, is hoping Duda might run into a pitch against the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner Wednesday night. It could happen, but I’m betting after not playing most of the season with a back injury he will be handcuffed by Bumgarner’s nasty slider.

As lefty hitters, neither Loney (2-for-13, .154 BA/.214 OB) nor Duda (0-for-1) have a distinguished history against Bumgarner. For that matter, neither does Eric Campbell (1-for-5).

When you look at the splits, look at their career numbers against all left-handed pitchers. In 572 career at-bats against lefties, Duda is hitting .224 with 17 homers, a .659 OPS and a 200-50 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Conversely, in 1,264 at-bats, Loney is hitting .251 with 20 homers, a .646 OPS and a 222-83 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Actually, if it came down to career numbers against Bumgarner, what about Kelly Johnson (7-for-20 lifetime)?

I’m not blaming manager Terry Collins should the Mets go with Duda because he’s not pulling the strings. This is Alderson’s baby. Both pay lip service to a give-and-take working relationship, but Alderson runs the show.

The Bumgarner-Noah Syndergaard match-up suggests the possibility of a low-scoring game. Alderson is gambling Duda will connect for a bomb, but the odds suggest Loney is more apt to continue an inning.

And, with runs figuring to be at a premium, Loney is the superior defensive player. He has a better glove, more range, and a better arm. Should I remind you of his throw to the plate in Game 5 of last year’s World Series? Didn’t think so.

One of the main storylines in this game will be Syndergaard’s ability to hold potential base stealers, who ran on him at will this year.

As a right-handed first baseman, it is harder for Duda to hold runners as his tag will be at the runner’s calf instead of his arm. Meanwhile, with a good move, Loney’s tag will be on the runner’s hand. If nothing else it could shorten a lead by a step.

Look, Duda might hit three homers. He could also make two errors and strike out three times. Who knows? But, for one game, with this pitching match-up, the right way to go is Loney over Duda.

If they want to take Duda over Campbell for a pinch-hit swing late in the game, fine. But, seriously, if Campbell pinch-hits, the Mets would likely be behind, and who would he bat for?

Alderson is smart, but he’s thinking too much on this one and it could bite him in the butt.

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Sep 27

Good Postseason Signs For Mets In Rout

The Marlins would have been hard-pressed to continue to ride the emotional wave from Monday’s ceremonies and victory over the Mets following the tragic death of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

That would be hard to do when you run into the kind of pitching they faced against Noah Syndergaard. It also didn’t hurt their offense resurfaced with a pair of two-run homers from Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes in Tuesday’s 19-hit, 12-1 mauling of the Marlins.

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Good sign. (AP)

It was the first time since Bruce was acquired that he and Cespedes homered in the same game.

As the Mets look ahead to a possible postseason appearance, they took numerous positives from the game.

The most important, of course, was Syndergaard, whose last start was scratched because of a strep throat. Syndergaard last pitched, Aug. 19 in a loss to Atlanta, gave up a run on five hits with eight strikeouts.

“It was huge,” Syndergaard said about getting back into a groove. “I tried to keep each pitch simple. I felt I could locate my sinker on both sides of the plate.”

It was a smart move by manager Terry Collins to pull him when he did after 93 pitches. Syndergaard is next in line to pitch Sunday in Philadelphia. If the Mets don’t need that game, Collins will undoubtedly hold him back to start the wild-card play-in game, Wednesday, perhaps against San Francisco.

Maybe in a match-up against Madison Bumgarner at Citi Field? Or, perhaps in St. Louis against Adam Wainwright?

If there’s a three-way tie, it is presumed Syndergaard would start Sunday, which would probably leave the start to Seth Lugo.

There aren’t any questions about Syndergaard’s health or endurance, which considering the announcement earlier in the day that Steven Matz will have elbow surgery and be lost for the year.

If the Mets are to go anywhere in the playoffs, a lot will fall on Syndergaard.

After Syndergaard, the other key storylines were Bruce and Lucas Duda and the lengthening of the Mets’ batting order.

Bruce, who has started three straight games, has five hits in that span, including two homers. His two-run homer in the second put the Mets ahead for good.

After a dreadful slump sent him to the bench and raised questions about his spot on the playoff roster and even if the Mets would bring him back for 2017.

“It’s been very encouraging,” Collins said of Bruce’s resurgence. “If he’s back, we’re going to have a different line-up.”

Bruce said the slump was a difficult stretch, but he never lost faith of his talent.

“I feel comfortable at the plate,” Bruce said. “I just kept preparing and kept working. I just focus on preparing and always think today is the day I’ll come out of it.”

Curtis Granderson, who drove in three runs on two hits, is now entrenched in the clean-up spot with Bruce hitting fifth.

Duda drove in three runs on two hits and again played the field. At first, the Mets thought Duda would only be used as a pinch-hitter. That notion could be gone now, which could make it a Duda (two hits and two walks) vs. James Loney battle for a playoff roster spot.

“It’s definitely tough,” Duda said of his return from back surgery. “The more I play the more comfortable I get. It’s a work in progress. From rehabbing to here is a pretty big jump. The speed of the game, both offensively and defensively, is faster.”

While these were positive signs as the Mets gear for the playoffs, one negative is Wilmer Flores’ wrist, which could sideline him for the rest of the regular season and put his spot on a playoff roster in jeopardy.

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