Apr 12

Mets Must Be Careful If They Trade Wheeler And D’Arnaud

 

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at New York MetsIt is fun to speculate Andre Ethier and Carlos Gonzalez in the Mets’ outfield. I would also take Josh Willingham, but pass on Carl Crawford and Alfonso Soriano. It would take a lot in terms of prospects and cash down the line to make a run at Giancarlo Stanton.

These names have been suggested as outfield possibilities for the Mets, but of all of them, only Willingham in terms of salary and talent they would surrender, makes the most immediate sense.

The Mets claim to have the resources, but we’ve heard that refrain before. Don’t tell us who is out there; tell us when you sign somebody. Until then, it is all just running in place. I want the bird in hand.

Either and Gonzalez represent an exorbitant cost in terms of salary and prospects if they trade, or just salary if they wait for the free-agent market.

They would have to wait several years for Stanton to become available on the free-agent market, and quite frankly they would be diving into the deep end of the pool if they went after him now. But, that might be their only chance because in an open market, the Mets won’t be able to compete.

However, I don’t think the Mets would be willing – or daring enough – to go in that direction.

Crawford and Soriano would just cost too much money for little production. If they went in that direction, they might as well have kept Jason Bay.

Every time I read these names, also mentioned are Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud. But, the Mets aren’t dealing them, although there is no guarantee of their stardom.

For the past few years the Mets sold us on the belief of the future with those prospects and Matt Harvey. They preached the future to the point where they let Jose Reyes walk and traded R.A. Dickey.

I might be willing to deal d’Arnaud because they have Kevin Plawecki, who is 22, in the minors. He’s in Single-A and still a few years away, but having John Buck means they could take the risk with d’Arnaud if it’s the right deal.

As far as Wheeler goes, he’s wild in Triple-A and not close to being ready. The Mets have seen wildness in Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez, so they don’t need another scatter arm. Wheeler also has blister issues, so it would be premature to give up on him now, because that might be the cause of his problems.

It would likely take both Wheeler and d’Arnaud for Stanton. The Marlins might be willing to trade in the division, but are the Mets willing to face Wheeler and d’Arnaud 18 times a year?

I’m inclined to guess not, so the path with them would be to see what develops.

The Mets are making an investment in the future, so it’s ridiculous to change course and go back to the days when they chased the big names.

They chased Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar when they were in the twilight of their careers. They chased Carlos Beltran, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado, but didn’t have the complimentary pieces. They were unlucky with Bay and Johan Santana. They were lucky not to get Alex Rodriguez.

In all cases, the timing wasn’t there. I don’t think it is there with Stanton. The Mets have hit the bottom and are now showing signs of growth. There’s still a lot of work to do, but there will be even more if they reverse course now and guess wrong.

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Apr 08

Mets Should Consider Mike Baxter At Leadoff

Six games into the season and the Mets have used three different leadoff hitters. Evidently, there are answers to be found.

One who should get a longer look is Mike Baxter, who started Saturday and reached base three times on two hits and a walk.

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

A lead off hitter needs to get on base, and if not then take the count as deep as possible to give the following hitters a chance to learn what they can of the pitcher. Baxter usually runs up the pitch count, and if he plays a full game can see as many as a dozen pitches. That’s an in-game scouting report to those following him in the order.

Little League coaches like to say, “a walk is as good as a hit,’’ and there are times it is the same in the major leagues.

“He takes a base on balls,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “If he was a genuine base-stealer, he’d be dangerous. You look up, and he’s got a .375 on-base. It seems like he’s on first base all of the time.’’

Actually, Baxter’s career on-base percentage is .360, but Collins’ point is well taken. It is an on-base percentage representative of a productive leadoff hitter, as good as they received from Jose Reyes.

The stereotypical leadoff hitter is a base stealer, the kind the Mets enjoyed with Reyes early in his career. However, Wade Boggs didn’t steal many bases and hit .321 batting leadoff in over 900 games in his career.

They all can’t be Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock or Maury Wills.

Although the game has changed and there isn’t an emphasis on base stealing as there once was, the basic fundamental of a lead off hitter has always been the same, which is get on base to set the table for the run-producers.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis was penciled in as the leadoff hitter going into spring training, but has a propensity for striking out. He is still very much a work in progress. Other candidates Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin never had full seasons as a starters.

Cowgill has homered twice and if he continues to flash power he might be needed lower in the order. Valdespin is fast, but can be an out-of-control free swinger. He doesn’t figure to last long at that position, and as a defensive liability, probably won’t get many starting opportunities.

Baxter has a decent glove – Johan Santana wouldn’t have his no-hitter without him – but has never had a full time chance.

So, as long as Collins is searching for answers, Baxter is worthy of an opportunity.

ON DECK: Contrasting pitchers Matt Harvey and Roy Halladay.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 05

Zack Wheeler Roughed Up In Vegas Debut

For those thinking Zack Wheeler will be the answer to the gaping hole in the Mets’ rotation, think again. He’s at Triple-A Las Vegas for a reason, and that being he’s not ready. Injuries to Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum will be handled without compromising Wheeler’s development.

WHEELER: Rocked last night.

WHEELER: Rocked last night.

Jeremy Hefner tonight against Miami and Aaron Laffey Sunday is what it is going to be. If they get through those starts intact, then they’ll get another.

“I don’t know what they have planned for me,’’ Wheeler told me in spring training when asked if there was a timetable for his promotion. “All I know is I have to keep working and improving.’’

Wheeler identified his growth obstacles as control and command of his secondary pitches, notably his change-up. He’s not able to consistently throw it for strikes, especially when behind in the count and hitters are sitting on a fastball.

“It’s a feel pitch,’’ Wheeler said. “It’s the toughest pitch for me to command. It takes a lot of work.’’

Wheeler, who missed time this spring with a strained oblique muscle, has reported no discomfort since he was cleared to pitch, but nonetheless hasn’t been sharp He said there’s nothing wrong physically, but remains in a mechanical funk.

In his debut last night for Las Vegas, Wheeler didn’t get a decision, but there was no hiding the difficulty in his start, as he labored through 86 pitches in 3.1 innings, giving up a run on three hits, but with three walks and a wild pitch. For the 86 pitches Wheeler threw, he should have worked into the sixth or seventh innings at least. A no-decision with 86 pitches is a wasted start.

General manager Sandy Alderson repeatedly said this spring the Mets won’t rush Wheeler. Part of sending him down for the first six weeks of the season is to give the Mets another year of control to keep him off the free-agent market for another year and delay arbitration.

“He’s not ready,’’ Alderson said. “We’re not going to bring somebody up where he would be in position to fail.’’

Wheeler had spectacular moments this spring when he overpowered hitters and impressed with his composure, but it was early so not much can be drawn from that other than optimism.

Last night is no indication of what kind of year, let alone career, is in store for Wheeler. But, the lack of command underscored he isn’t ready to dominate major league hitters. For all the talk Wheeler might have better stuff than Matt Harvey, that’s not the issue. That’s only speculation that doesn’t help either pitcher.

So, those dreaming of a Harvey, Wheeler and Jon Niese trio, keep dreaming. It’s not coming any time soon.

NOTE: I’ll be back later this afternoon with posts on Hefner/Buck working together tonight; the continuation of the 73 series; an analysis of the lineup; and a game wrap. Please drop in throughout the day. Thanks.

Apr 02

More Bad Pitching News For Mets; Shaun Marcum Scratched

Another day and with more Mets’ pitching news and naturally some of it being bad.

The club said Johan Santana underwent successful surgery on his left shoulder today, but failed to define “successful.’’ It is being able throw, much less pitch again, or the ability to raise his arm over his shoulder?

In addition, free-agent Shaun Marcum – who didn’t endear himself to the Mets for not being in shape during spring training – was scratched from today’s simulation game after expressing neck pain as he warmed up and won’t pitch this weekend against Miami.

Obviously, he is the Mets’ most immediate concern because Santana’s career is over, while the club hopes Marcum will pitch for them.

The Mets placed Marcum on the disabled list retroactive to March 22. Marcum had been sidelined with shoulder and neck pain and took a cortisone injection that obviously hasn’t helped.

Marcum was signed to a one-year, $4-million deal – with up to another $4 million in incentives – but didn’t report in shape and tried to convince manager Terry Collins he only needed three starts in spring training to get ready for the season.

This was notably concerning because Marcum has an injury history, which makes one wonder why the Mets pursued him in the first place.

Normally, a starter gets six starts and up to 30 innings, but Marcum made only three for 9.2 innings. So, one game into the season and the Mets are already scrambling for another starter. The primary candidates are Aaron Laffey and Collin McHugh of Triple-A Las Vegas.

There is also the possibility of signing a free-agent such as former Met Chris Young.

Whatever the Mets choose, they’ll need to do something quickly because there is no timetable for Marcum’s return.

Ironically, Young is also coming back from the same surgery as Santana’s, to repair a tear in the anterior capsule.

For Santana, it will be his second such surgery in 31 months. His first surgery came in September of 2010, and it took him 19 months to get onto the mound for the start of last season.

The abuse of Santana’s shoulder includes not only his 134-pitch no-hitter last June and anger-fueled mound session March 3, but also several arm injuries plus all those innings with Minnesota.

While Santana will not throw a pitch in his last year with the franchise, the Mets will still be on the hook for $31 million, including a $5.5 million buyout. The contract is not covered by insurance.

Apr 02

Mets Still Loaded With Questions

David Wright was all smiles yesterday.

“If you like grand slams and scoring lots of runs, what’s not to like?’’ Wright said. “Of course, we’re not going to score 11 runs every game.’’

COLLINS: Over/under date when he stops smiling.

COLLINS: Over/under date when he stops smiling.

His qualifier continued: “It’s only the first game.’’

That it was, and as good as they looked in mauling the Padres, the Mets remain loaded with questions.

When the Mets introduced their team, only nine players were the same time last Opening Day.

One question is not Johan Santana, and in several respects that’s a good thing because the Mets won’t have to deal with the lingering questions of about when, or if, we’ll see him. Or, was he worth the money.

All three can be answered in the negative.

Actually, there was a Santana sighting. He’s on the cover of the media guide. So is Terry Collins with a broad smile. Wonder how long that will last?

It depends on the answers to the following questions, five each on the mound and at the plate:

PITCHING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will Jon Niese assume the role of No. 1 with Santana done with the Mets?

A: Niese downplays the ace title, but that doesn’t alter the fact he is No. 1. He showed what he is capable of yesterday. The Mets need 200-plus innings and for him to exceed his career high of 13 victories.

Q: Matt Harvey: Boom or bust?

A: The anticipation for Harvey is intense after just ten starts last year. Fans want him to be another Dwight Gooden or Stephen Strasburg. His teammates expect it of him, too. Not fair, but that’s the way it is.

Q: What will they get from Shaun Marcum?

A: He’s on the DL, but expected to come off and pitch Sunday. He needs to win at least 12 games as the No. 4 starter in the rotation and be an innings eater. The Mets got him on the cheap, but he must outpitch his contract.

Q: Will Bobby Parnell seize the closer opportunity?

A: He’s had chances before and did not. Frank Francisco figures to be out at least a month and Parnell can take this job for good. If he does, and Francisco is healthy and pitches well in whatever role he is in when he returns, he gives the Mets a trade chip.

Q: How good is the bullpen?

A: Parnell is the only one from last year’s Opening Day pen. GM Sandy Alderson has built a pen with the combination of unproven and veteran arms. Basically, it is Parnell and six questions. Come to think of it, Parnell is also a question.

HITTING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will David Wright respond to his contract?

A: Wright is not one who will coast. Looking for .300, 25-30 homers and over 100 RBI.  That’s the minimum requirements for your best hitter. Wright said he didn’t feel any differently being named captain. That’s because he’s had the role long before it became official.

Q: Can Ike Davis put together two strong halves?

A: Mets got little from him at the start last year, but he rebounded to finish with 32 homers. With his power 40 is reasonable. Unfortunately, so are 160 strikeouts. He had four yesterday.

Q: How will the outfield shake out?

A: Collin Cowgill beat out Kirk Nieuwenhuis, but nothing is etched in stone. Yesterday’s grand slam is a good start, but the key is sustaining. Marlon Byrd and Lucas Duda are in the corners. The Mets desperately need Duda’s power. If he hits 20, he could out-homer the rest of the outfield.

Q: When will we see Travis d’Arnaud?

A: For future free-agent considerations, he shouldn’t be here before June. However, Alderson said if he’s needed that wouldn’t be a barrier. We’ll see.

Q: What will the Mets get from Ruben Tejada?

A: He was solid last season, but hit less than .100 in spring training. He’s good with the glove, but Mets need something from him and his double yesterday was a good sign. He’ll never replace Jose Reyes’ numbers, but if he fields the position and hits around .275 the Mets will be happy.