Jan 26

Santana not throwing

Despite being cleared to begin his post-op throwing program, Johan Santana hasn’t begun, yet. It is premature to say this is a setback.

General manager Sandy Alderson said last month he expects Santana to be throwing before the start of spring training, but wouldn’t specify a date. He did say Opening Day was out and the expectation was for the second half.

When we see Santana could very well depend on how well the Mets are playing by the All-Star break. If the team is playing poorly and opts to rebuild by dealing Carlos Beltran, then there’s no sense in rushing Santana.

If the Mets are competing and have realistic wild-card aspirations, then it isn’t hard to envision there might be some pressure – probably self-imposed by Santana – to come back.

Either way, the clock on Santana’s return won’t start until he starts throwing and he hasn’t yet started long-tossing.

Jan 19

Pelfrey embraces ace role

PELFREY: Likes ace role.

Freshly armed with a $4 million contract to avoid arbitration, Mike Pelfrey said this morning he welcomes the ace role created by the absence of Johan Santana.

“I embrace it,” Pelfrey said this morning on WFAN. “I want to go out there and lead by example. I’ll be out there every fifth day.”

Pelfrey won 15 games last season after a sluggish spring training. However, with the expectations high, Pelfrey didn’t panic in the spring, the first sign last year of his growing maturity on the mound. He said he wasn’t worried about the spring becoming a prelude to the season.

“I felt like I was working on things,” Pelfrey said. “I was working on the split. I was getting better every time out there.”

A knock on Pelfrey in previous years was his inability to finish off hitters and innings by losing focus. Save a horrid July, he had tunnel vision in 2010. With Santana out and questions throughout the rotation, Pelfrey should be able to take another step this summer. The Mets sure think so, which is why they rewarded him with the contract.

Should Pelfrey continue to improve it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Mets try to get an extension done next winter. Pelfrey is arbitration eligible next year.

NOTE: I will be at Citi Field today for a Mets function and will post again this afternoon.

Jan 04

Mets’ individual goals for 2011

The beginning of the new year is always fresh with optimism and goal setting. Yesterdays don’t matter anymore and the focus is on today and tomorrow.

As an organization the Mets’ 2011 goals are to get through the season as competitively as possible, shed itself of its suffocating contracts and lay a foundation for 2012. The free-agent signings of Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz are low-risk, with the potential for high-rewards moves. The possibility of improving the bullpen and possibly the rotation at minimal cost are the type of decisions we’ve come to expect from Sandy Alderson. If they acquire Jeff Francis or Chris Young, it would be more of the same. These moves won’t push the Mets over the top, but they can make for an interesting summer — if the following goals are also reached.

The following Mets should have these resolutions and goals.

JOHAN SANTANA: Don’t push your return from shoulder surgery and accept the marquee days of your career could be over. Santana’s injury is serious and there’s no reasonable expectation he’ll return prior to the All-Star break. The competitor in him wants to pitch and there’s the danger of him pushing it. Santana has pitched with injury before, but he must be especially careful now, even if it means setting out the entire season. To re-injure his shoulder could mean the end of his career. And, with 2011 all but a write-off season, there should be no urgency on the part of the Mets, either.

MIKE PELFREY: Pelfrey made tremendous strides last year, but regressed in June. Hopefully, he has learned from it. During that swoon Pelfrey reverted to bad habits and lost his focus on the mound. Pelfrey went away from trusting his stuff and started aiming the ball. When all else fails, Pelfrey must realize if he keeps it low he has the stuff to overpower hitters. Above all, without Santana, I don’t want Pelfrey to put too much of a burden on himself with the expectations. Pelfrey is what he is, which is a good, developing pitcher. He’s not a No. 1 yet, so his goal should be not to put that pressure on himself.

RA DICKEY: Dickey’s goal should to duplicate 2010 as much as possible. It was a career year for him so a regression shouldn’t be a surprise. Dickey can no longer sneak up on teams, so how he responds with expectations will be interesting to see.

JON NIESE: Niese had a good start but growing pains eventually caught up with him and he slid from 6-2 to 9-10. Niese, obviously, isn’t a given and his goal needs to trust his stuff and try to make gradual improvement. There are expectations on Niese he’s never had before, made even heavier by the questions swirling around the rotation. Niese must learn to keep things simple and not over extend himself.

BOBBY PARNELL: Quite simply, his goal must be to harness his near 100 mph. fastball to where he can capture the set-up role, which is his for the taking. How well Parnell does in this role will go a long way toward moving him into the closer’s role for 2012 should Francisco Rodriguez fail to finish 55 games.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: K-Rod has to keep his temper and get off to a fast start. If he’s hot early and the Mets are in contention, he’ll get more save opportunities to increase his chances of that $17.5 million option kicking in. The Mets would prefer he fail short and instead go with the buyout. One of the most interesting storylines of the summer will be Rodriguez. If he’s good, so will be the Mets. If he’s not, the team will likely be sluggish, but facing a financial windfall for next winter.

JOSH THOLE: Thole will enter spring training as the No. 1 catcher, but can’t assume he’s got it made. He has good bat control, but needs to pick up that part of his game. His offensive goal should be to continue to be patient at the plate and take the ball where it is pitched. Thole will get stronger as he gets older, but shouldn’t be thinking about changing his offensive approach.

IKE DAVIS: Already strong, the home runs will continue to come for Davis, but he needs to be more disciplined at the plate for that to happen. Davis was frequently beaten on breaking ball low off the plate. That was his offensive Achilles Heel that threatens to curb his progress. Davis knows he’s good and has the potential, but he can’t take it for granted that it will automatically come for him.

JOSE REYES: Reyes lets things get to him and that presents the danger of pressing in his walk year. With the Mets acutely aware of their budget, a decision on Reyes could come as soon as the All-Star break. Reyes hasn’t been himself in two years because of injury and the fear is he’ll try to force things. With Reyes, that includes losing focus at the plate and giving away too many at-bats. Reyes’ best production came in the years immediately following his contract when he’s healthy. Considering the past two years there’s a concern about his health. Reyes’ primary goal outside of staying healthy is playing within himself.

DAVID WRIGHT: With the clubhouse chemistry in a state of flux in a transition year, Wright’s goal should be to assert himself more as a leader. This is his team and he needs to act like it. With a lot of young kids, and what could be going on in Reyes’ head, Wright needs to be more of a vocal, kick-butt presence. With a new management and manager, now is the time. A leader, however, needs to follow by example and there were way too many instances where Wright gave away too many at-bats and also lost focus in the field. Wright struck out 161 times last year, a number that should be reduced by at least 25 percent. Too often Wright was a rally killer and that has to stop, especially with the need for more offense considering the pitching questions.

CARLOS BELTRAN: So far, Beltran has said all the right things to impress the new regime. His goal should be to mean them. If Beltran stays healthy and produces he knows that could parlay into another rich contract. Only Beltran knows it won’t happen with the Mets. The Mets could have an interesting dilemma at the All-Star break. If Beltran is having a good year and has the Mets within wild-card contention, they might try to ride him during the second half. But, if he’s playing well and what’s offered is potentially better than compensatory draft picks, they’ll pull the trigger on a deal. Either way, it is safe to assume this is Beltran’s last year with the Mets. It’s up to him to make the most of it.

JASON BAY: Rarely are there do-overs, but this is as close as it comes. Bay hit only six homers and missed most of the second half with a concussion in what was a lost season. The Mets are stuck with his contract and Bay’s objective is to prove his worth.

Dec 14

Phillies land Lee in stunning turnaround

On a day Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Johan Santana won’t  be available until July at the earliest and Oliver Perez had a chance of going to spring training with a chance to compete for a job, the Philadelphia

LEE: Back in Philly

Phillies stunned the sport by bringing back Cliff Lee.

Ouch.

Lee left money and years on the table to return to Philadelphia, the place where he was most comfortable, now even more cozy because he’s joining  a rotation that includes Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. The Phillies’ team he left is better now than when he was there, and now arguably is the best in baseball.

Never mind that the Yankees were spurned. No tears for them as they’ll sign Andy Pettitte as a stop gap and add somebody at the All-Star break. I feel a little for the Texas Rangers, but they probably made off better in the long run by not being saddled with a huge contract. With Lee, they might have become the Mets in four years.

The Mets and Phillies are close in payroll, but there’s such a disparity in talent. So much so, that adding Lee wouldn’t have put them over the top. Adding Santana didn’t put them over the top, either.

You can try to convince yourself  Halladay and Lee are 32, that Oswalt is showing breakdown signs, that Lee had a bad back, and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, that Jayson Werth is gone so there is a closing window in Philadelphia. Maybe so, but before it slams shut the Phillies will have played a lot of October baseball games. Maybe even spilled some champagne.

For the past four years the Phillies have been more aggressive and smarter than the Mets, and eclipsed them in the standings despite similar resources. The Mets have spent money since 2006, but not wisely. The Mets, in essence are starting over with a plan to make up for the poor choices of the past. The Phillies’ choices in that span have worked and they continue to feed the monster.

Maybe, when it is done eating, the Mets will be in position to do something. But, it won’t be anytime soon.

Dec 13

Are you ready to sacrifice 2011?

Sandy Alderson insists the Mets will compete in 2011, but at the same time acknowledges limited resources and holes in the rotation and bullpen. The plan is for those injured to bounce back healthy and the others to play at the top of their game.

Don’t expect Johan Santana before the All-Star break at the earliest. We’ve known since he joined the organization this would be the case, but it is sinking in after coming home with scraps from the winter meetings. Yes, the Mets needed a back-up catcher and another bullpen arm, but that’s not enough to get it done.

Alderson said today he’d like seven or eight arms to compete for starter roles but came up with only Mike Pelfrey, RA Dickey, John Niese, Dillon Gee and Pat Misch. Jenrry Mejia, he said, isn’t ready. Alderson didn’t say where the other arms would come from. Chris Young is somebody they are looking at, but he’s a project and wants more than what the Mets want to give.

Everything has to break right for the Mets to have a competitive season. That much Alderson has told us. He just hasn’t said how this is to happen.