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.

Mar 29

Did Mets Win Santana Deal And Contract?

With Johan Santana’s season and possibly career over, it might be time to wonder if the Mets won the trade and subsequent contract signing.

Was he worth it, or does he fall into the Jason Bay-Oliver Perez category?

SANTANA: Bargain or bust?

SANTANA: Bargain or bust?

For the cost of $137.5 million, Santana never pitched in a playoff game for the Mets and each winter his health was in issue. However, it is unfair to label him a bust, because unlike Bay, he produced when healthy. And, unlike Perez, there was never an issue of his effort or competitive nature.

Never was that in doubt. Not after pitching Game 161 in 2008 on an injured knee. There can be no question of his dedication in spending nearly two years rehabilitating his shoulder. There can be no question of his grit as he showed the night he threw 134 pitches in the only no-hitter in franchise history.

Getting a pitcher of Santana’s caliber was a no-brainer because with how the 2007 season ended for the Mets, blowing a seven-game lead with 17 remaining, pitching was a necessity.

However, a case can be made they overpaid, perhaps in prospects and definitely in terms of money.

At the time, the Yankees and Red Sox were engaged in a game of chicken with Minnesota for Santana’s services. Both deemed the Twins’ asking price too high and backed off to let the Mets swoop in.

However, the Mets didn’t read the market correctly. Although there was no competition for Santana, they still surrendered prospects Deolis GuerraCarlos Gomez, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.

Humber pitched a perfect game and Gomez – once one of the Mets’ three prized outfield prospects – is still in the major leagues.

Whether the Mets gave up too much in talent is up for debate, but the money was clearly too much. It wasn’t as if they were in a bidding war with anybody, so that makes $137.5 million exorbitant, especially since Santana had a history of arm injuries with the Twins.

On those nights when Santana was at the top of his game, he was a joy to watch. The initial shoulder injury was just the nature of the sport. However, this last spring was a study in frustration. There was the snit over Sandy Alderson’s comments that prompted Santana to throw off the mound when he wasn’t ready.

Did Santana re-tear his shoulder that day? Nobody knows for sure, but it didn’t help.

With hindsight being 20/20, maybe the Mets should have let Santana pitch in the World Baseball Classic. At least, that way his contract would have been insured.

In the end, Santana pitched only one complete season with the Mets, and they only had one winning year with him.

All for the paltry sum of $137.5 million. Not exactly hitting the jackpot.

Mar 29

Why The Mets Opted Not To Insure Santana’s Contract

Johan santana Subway

Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, does a fine job of explaining why the Mets chose not to insure Johan Santana’s contract.

The Mets will be on the hook for the remaining $31 million owed to Johan Santana because they did not insure the contract.  Why?

As premiums have skyrocketed because of escalating salaries and past payouts — such as the bailout when Mo Vaughn was owed $17 million and could not play for the Mets in 2004 — the organization began more often “self-insuring” its larger contracts than seeking outside coverage. In essence, the Mets chose to create a rainy-day fund available so that the organization would not be crippled financially by the loss of a key player due to injury.

It saves potentially a $2 million insurance premium per year to protect a contract, although the amount annually paid to an insurance company naturally decreases as the years on the contract elapse — like you’d pay less to an insurance company on a car as the years go by and the vehicle is worth less.

Across baseball, outside insurance has “declined tremendously,” according to one baseball official.

Santana was self-insured by the Mets, whereas the Mets contracts for Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Tom Glavine and Mike Piazza’s were insured externally during their Mets days as well. David Wright’s last contract also was insured externally.

You can read the rest of the article including all the details here.