Dec 07

Wheeler To The Pen Has To Be For Right Reasons

The first thing I thought of after hearing the Mets were considering using Zack Wheeler out of the bullpen was “don’t let this turn out to be another Jenrry Mejia.”

You’ll recall the Mets bounced Mejia from the rotation to the bullpen, without leaving him long enough to grasp either role. Consequently, Mejia’s trade value deteriorated and he eventually injured his arm. He appeared to get it together as a closer until he screwed up his career by violating MLB’s PED policy.

WHEELER: A new role? (Getty)

WHEELER: A new role? (Getty)

Wheeler in the pen is an intriguing idea, but it has to be done for the right reasons. If it is because they are apparently deep with young starters and woefully thin in the pen, made more so with the anticipated suspension of closer Jeurys Familia, then I can see that logic. If it is because Wheeler only has two really good pitches, then that’s a justifiable reason, also.

However, if the reasoning is what manager Terry Collins said at the Winter Meetings, which is to shave innings off Wheeler’s total before he moves into the rotation later in the year, then that’s not good enough. It’s not good at all.

Wheeler said all the right things today at Citi Field during a coat drive.

“I’ve started my whole life, and obviously, I’d like to do that,” Wheeler told reporters. “But they’re looking out for me, innings-wise and stuff like that. I’ve been out for two years, so … whatever’s best for my health is what’s fine with me and the plan going forward.”

The Mets wouldn’t be looking after Wheeler if they bounced him around. If they are serious about the bullpen, they have to go all in. That means use him there in spring training and stay with it the entire season.

GM Sandy Alderson said this is currently in the bounce-it-off-the-wall phase.

“There’s no reason for us to say, `Well, he’s got to be a starter,’ ” Alderson told reporters. “Now, he may feel that way himself. But, it may be that coming back after two years you have to be careful. You might not be able to pitch him back-to-back [days]. It might have to be two innings at a time. But, I don’t see any reason to just eliminate that possibility.”

Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two seasons, so the Mets don’t know what to make of him physically. As a starter, he’ll have a more consistent schedule and workload, so that’s a plus.

There are too many variables that tax a pitcher’s arm coming out of the pen, especially if that’s a new role for him. That makes it risky.

Pitchers have made the transition from starter to reliever and been successful. I’m not saying the Mets would be making a mistake. The mistake would come if they waffled and changed course, especially without knowing his condition.

Nov 22

Melancon My First Choice For Mets

With Edwin Encarnacion reportedly already rejecting an $80 million offer from Toronto and seeking five years, my first FA choice for the Mets is off the boards. And, with reports Yoenis Cespedes wants nearly $120 million over five years, he’ll be too expensive.

MELANCON: Go get him. (AP)

MELANCON: Go get him. (AP)

We know they aren’t going to get Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, so my next choice for the Mets to go after is closer Mark Melancon. At 31 and coming off a 47-save season (after saving 51 in 2015), he offers consistency, durability (at least 70 appearances in five of the last six seasons), and figures to be young enough to keep on going for several more years.

Plus, he’s done most of his heavy lifting in the National League, so you know he understands the lay of the land. Speaking of which, you’d be taking him away from the Nationals.

Melancon made $9.6 million last year with Washington and Pittsburgh and is due for a big pay bump, but if what I’ve been hearing is true, he won’t come close to what Chapman and Jansen are seeking. Both are also hallucinating at five years (only an idiot would give a closer that long a deal) and might be had for three plus an option.

The production is there, the age is right, he’s been healthy and the finances seem to be in order.

What about Jeurys Familia, you ask. Figuring a suspension of at least 30 games, we don’t know what he’ll be like when he returns. And, when he does, he can either go back to the end of the line (middle innings) or possibly be traded.

Of all their questions, pitching is paramount for the Mets. We don’t know how their four surgically-repaired starters will be and can assume they’ll be on a short leash. That means more innings for the bullpen, which increases Melancon’s value.

Hitting is always easier to obtain than quality pitching. They can let Cespedes go and use the money elsewhere and hope for a good year from Jay Bruce.

That’s why Melancon is now my first choice.

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Nov 10

Familia Pleads Not Guilty; MLB Treading Water On Punishment

Mets closer Jeurys Familia pleaded not guilty this morning on the charge of simple assault in Fort Lee, New Jersey, this morning, but by no means is this case over and the team would be foolish if it proceeded with that belief.

FAMILIA: Pleads not guilty. (AP)

FAMILIA: Pleads not guilty. (AP)

The judge agreed to the couple’s request to have a “no contact” ruling, which means they’ll stay together and the odds of the victim cooperating with police will be small. Although the case can proceed without cooperation from the victim, it makes it all the more difficult to prove.

The next hearing is Dec. 15, which is after the Winter Meetings in Washington, DC.

By that time the Mets could and should have, contacted other relievers in the market.

One of them is their own Fernando Salas and another is Washington’s Mark Melancon, formerly of the Pirates. High-profile Aroldis Chapman (Cubs) and Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) are also on the market, but expected to be out of the Mets’ price range.

There is also the option of making set-up reliever Addison Reed the closer.

The Winter Meetings are a month away, so there’s a sense of urgency for the Mets to develop a plan in the expectations Familia is suspended. However, MLB isn’t expected to make a ruling until the justice system has its say.

“I think it is usually difficult for us to complete our investigation before the criminal process has run its course,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “We have the luxury of not being on the field right now, and we’re going to take advantage of that.”

Even so, the Mets must proceed in anticipation of the worst, meaning a lengthy suspension. That means planning without Familia.

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Oct 19

Mets’ First Priority Should Be Reed

Of all their possible free agents, the most important one for the Mets to bring back is set-up reliever Addison Reed.

But wait, what about Yoenis Cespedes you say? Or scream?

REED:  Should be first. (AP)

REED: Should be first. (AP)

Cespedes hit 31 homers and drove in 86 runs, which, of course, is important. But, it can be replaced as the Mets have Jay Bruce – a combined 33 homers and 99 RBI with Cincinnati and New York – plus the untapped potential of Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo to compensate for that loss.

If they don’t bring back Cespedes, they can use the projected $100 million earmarked for him to keep Reed, bring back Bruce and plug elsewhere.

However, there’s no telling where the Mets would have been had they not had Reed’s 40 holds. The eighth-inning set-up role is one of the most difficult to do and Reed was exceptional.

The Mets weren’t in the playoffs without him.

While the Mets have options without Cespedes, they don’t have that luxury should they lose Reed. Who do you want to give his near 80 innings to? Hansel Robles? Jim Henderson? Fernando Salas?

Without Reed, there’s stress throughout the bullpen. Bullpen stress is a season killer. I’ve seen too many Mets’ summers disintegrate because of a lousy bullpen. Anybody remember the great collapse of 2007? Or, how about the one in 2008?

The bullpen is critical to the Mets’ success in 2017 as there are health concerns with all their starters, four of whom are coming off surgery. Realistically, one can’t expect to get seven innings – at least early in the season – from the rotation, which puts pressure on the bullpen. You’ll be surprised with how the innings accumulate.

Then, after two rough Octobers, many have questions about Jeurys Familia. I’m not in that camp, but just suppose those questions are valid. If nothing else, the Mets have the flexibility of using Reed in that role. Reed has also shown the ability to get more than three outs.

As these playoffs have shown, pitching always trumps hitting. A strong staff needs a steady bullpen, and Reed is a critical asset for the Mets. Many of you didn’t like how manager Terry Collins juggled his pen. Imagine how you’d feel if they didn’t have Reed.

I don’t have much faith the Mets will dive deeply into the free-agent pool. I don’t know how much money GM Sandy Alderson will spend, but his first check should go to Reed.

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Oct 15

Bullpen Bridge Key For Mets

The Mets will have no shortage of offseason issues, and we’ll discuss them all. Let’s put Yoenis Cespedes on the back burner for now in terms of importance and go directly to the bullpen. Conor Gillespie’s fly ball hadn’t even cleared the wall and there was the question as to whether Jeurys Familia was a problem. Could this guy pitch in October?

MLB: New York Mets at Milwaukee BrewersI’m not worried about Familia. I think he’ll be fine. He saved 51 games this year with that nasty pitch of his that moves into lefty hitters and away from right-handers. His slider/cutter/sinker is one of the game’s hardest pitches to hit. About his psyche? Well, he was stand-up after the wild-card game, admitted he threw a bad pitch location-wise and said it was time to learn and move on.

As many of you know, I covered the Yankees for eight years before moving to the Mets and had many conversations with Mariano Rivera. He said giving up the game-winning homer to Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar was one of the best things that happened to him ibecause it taught him how to forget and move on; to develop a thick skin.

I’m positive the same will happen with Familia.

My bullpen concern is the bridge leading up to Familia. The Mets have four pitchers coming off surgery and we don’t know yet about Noah Syndergaard‘s bone spur, although indications are he’ll be fine. Ideally, the Mets want seven innings from their starters, but realistically can’t expect that on a nightly basis. Early on, at least, they’ll be happy to get six.

That leaves at least three innings to cover.

Bringing back Addison Reed is essential, and I might argue, on a par with Cespedes. They’ll need to make sure they are covered in the sixth and seventh innings. They liked Fernando Salas, and he pitched well. Hansel Robles was good until he was not. He’s still a question, but one with great stuff.

The Mets have three situational lefties to choose between Josh Smoker, Jerry Blevins and Josh Edgin.

We don’t know what we’ll get from the injured starters, which makes building the pen a paramount issue.

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