Feb 21

Mets Matters: Kirk Nieuwenhuis Gets Leadoff Opportunity

Several days ago I gave you my idea for the Mets’ batting order and it included Kirk Nieuwenhuis as the leadoff hitter, so I was happy to read Adam Rubin’s story he will be given first chance to win that job.

Nieuwenhuis will be the leadoff hitter for Saturday’s exhibition game against Washington.

kirkThe Mets like Nieuwenhuis’ patience – he sees over four pitches an at-bat – and he had moderate success in the role last year hitting .264 with an on-base percentage of .303.

Both numbers need to be improved, but it must be remembered he did this in his first look at major league pitching.

Before their slide Nieuwenhuis played center and hit leadoff and Terry Collins remembered: “ … when we were playing really, really well, that guy was in center field. So he deserves the right to get the first shot.’’

Nieuwenhuis can steal the occasional base, but he’s not known as a steal threat. Steals can sometimes be overrated, but fundamental base running is always in vogue. Going first-to-third, realizing when a ball will go through, and running to avoid a double play are all critical components of good base running.

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Feb 18

Mets Matters: Daniel Murphy To Be Examined; Pitching Probables

The Mets’ first injury of spring training is Daniel Murphy, who is back in New York to have an intercostal muscle in his ribs examined and receive a possible cortisone injection.

Murphy complained of feeling a tugging feeling in his ribs and will be examined at the Hospital of Special Surgery.

This is not a new injury for the Mets, as David Wright and Scott Hairston had the same last spring, but both were on the Opening Day roster.

Murphy is thinking he’ll be down from a week to ten days. Murphy said he experienced similar pain last year and attributed it to a minor change in his stance.

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Feb 15

Monitoring Santana And Keeping Him Away From The WBC

I realize the matter of national pride and his desire to represent Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but Johan Santana is set to get $31 million from the Mets this year (including a $5.5 million buyout) and that’s where his responsibility lies and the team has told him so.

Once ardent supporters of the WBC, the team has told Santana it doesn’t want him to pitch in the international event.

There’s no disputing Santana pitches hard and has been a workhorse when healthy, but the problem is staying healthy. Only in 2008, his first year with the Mets, did Santana make his entire allotment of 34 starts.

Santana10The Mets have paid Santana a considerable amount of money, including a full season (2011) when he gave them nothing. This is his last year with the Mets and the club is within their rights to insist he not risk injury in the World Baseball Classic.

The magic number for Santana this year is 215, as in the number of innings he must pitch for his $25 million option to kick in. Considering his recent history, that likely won’t be a problem, but if he’s healthy it will be an interesting scenario.

You can bet the Players Association would get involved if Santana was close and had to skip a start or two. If it involves a player getting less money, they will be all over it.

Actually, if the Mets can’t, or won’t trade him, they would be wise to periodically skip him to keep him strong.

Teams have monitored pitcher’s pitch counts for years, but only recently has the trend turned to limiting pitcher’s innings in a season. Innings clauses in contracts are designed for teams to get the most for their money, but that backfires in the case of injury or if a player reached the level to have his option kick in and pitch poorly the next year.

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Feb 15

Mets Need Frank Francisco Healthy To Trade

The Mets should simply resign themselves to opening the season with Frank Francisco on the DL with the idea of using his roster spot for somebody else. The Mets’ thinking should be not to have Francisco healthy enough to be their closer, but healthy enough to trade.

That would enable Bobby Parnell to have the entire spring training to close. Having this time is better than training him as a closer only to have it pulled from him at the last minute.

FRANCISCO: Others could have interest.

FRANCISCO: Others could have interest.

And, if Parnell doesn’t cut it, then there’s time to work in Brandon Lyon and have Terry Collins configure his bullpen.

Reportedly, Francisco will be shut down for two weeks. What comes next is a period of long toss, followed by throwing on flat ground, then off the mound. Then there’s batting practice and perhaps a split-squad or minor league game before getting into a spring training game. That could be another two weeks, leaving Francisco just two weeks of games to get sharp, which is only asking for trouble.

There’s always the chance of a setback, so it makes sense to avoid rushing him and bring him along cautiously so he could be healthy to trade at the

July 31 deadline. If the Mets have a bad first half, teams will inquire about Francisco. They won’t call if his elbow is ailing.

As they rebuild, the Mets must keep thinking of pieces they can deal to stockpile prospects and draft choices.

Several other Mets fit that description:

Fifth starter Shaun Marcum: If Zack Wheeler is ready and nobody injured that makes Marcum expendable because he doesn’t fit into their long-term plans.

Most anybody in their outfield and bullpen: They don’t want to dangle Parnell and Lucas Duda, but if they could get something, what’s the harm?

John Buck: If Travis d’Arnaud is playing on the major league roster, then Buck could be attractive to a contender with a catching void.

Johan Santana: This is a long shot, but something the club would love to do, even if means picking up much of his remaining contract. If Santana is healthy and pitching well, somebody will be interested and the Mets will listen.

Daniel Murphy: If prospect Wilmer Flores has an impressive spring, he will fit into the Mets’ long-term plans which could make Murphy available to an AL team as a designated hitter.

Jenrry Mejia: Sooner or later he needs to prove he can pitch. The Mets have to be thinking it might not be with them. If that’s their eventual conclusion it is better to make a trade too early rather than too late.

There’s no telling how the season will play out, but expectations are low so looking to divest players not in their 2014 plans must be considered.

NOTE: I’ll have another post around noon.

Feb 07

Mets Must Resist Temptation With Zack Wheeler

It’s no secret the Mets have concerns in their rotation, but that doesn’t mean they should rush Zack Wheeler, regardless of how good a spring training he has.

The Mets tooker a somewhat patient approach with Matt Harvey, waited to bring him up last summer and gave him ten starts in which he showed his potential. The Mets need to do the same with Wheeler.

I still maintain the Mets rushed former first-round pick Mike Pelfrey out of necessity when he clearly wasn’t emotionally or mentally ready. Pelfrey had the physical tools, but had trouble keeping his poise and concentration, struggled with pitch selection, and couldn’t put away hitters or innings.

Harvey doesn’t have those problems and is ahead of where Pelfrey was at a similar stage of his career. Pelfrey is trying to hook on with Minnesota, while Harvey has a place in the Mets’ rotation.

Wheeler is expected to open the season in the minor leagues and pitch with the Mets later in the season. How late, depends on the health of the rotation, but remember, the Mets had injury issues last year and utilized several options before turning to Harvey.

The Mets say they are building for the future with their young pitching, but when you look at the composition of the roster – notably the outfield and bullpen – it is obvious they won’t contend this season. So, the wise thing is to go slow with Wheeler until he’s ready.

The young arm I am most interested in seeing his Jenrry Mejia, but I probably said that last spring, too. Mejia is a prime example of force-feeding a prospect to the major leagues before he was ready. Blame Jerry Manuel for that one.

Entering his last year as Mets’ manager, Manuel knew his job was hanging thin, and with a weak bullpen lobbied hard with then GM Omar Minaya to put Mejia in the bullpen when he should have been in the minors as a starter.

Even worse than taking him out of his projected role, was the Mets didn’t know how to use him in the pen. After awhile, they used him in no-pressure situations. Then it was back to the minor leagues and in the rotation, where he subsequently injured his arm.

Previously, Manuel screwed up Bobby Parnell. He was supposed to get a string of starts at the end of the 2009 season. He was rocked in September, but with the Mets going nowhere, Manuel – presumably more concerned about getting a handful of wins then protecting Parnell emotionally – yanked him from the rotation.

Parnell hasn’t started a game for the Mets since, and it hasn’t been a smooth transition for him to the bullpen.

Pelfrey is gone, Parnell is still trying to make it in the pen, and Mejia’s role is still in question. The future is bright for Harvey. Hopefully, it will be for Wheeler, too. If he’s brought along the right way.