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.

Mar 29

Days Dwindling For Mets; Questions Aren’t

The Mets have two games remaining in spring training, and if they don’t know what they have by now they never will.

They break camp today after playing St. Louis, then bus over to the bay side of the state to play the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. Next will be Opening Day Monday afternoon against San Diego, while at the same time, in a display of scheduling genius by Major League Baseball, across town the Yankees will play the Red Sox.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

The Mets have a myriad of remaining questions that won’t be answered in the next 18 innings. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things manager Terry Collins would like to see, most of them health related.

Daniel Murphy and David Wright have missed time with strained intercostal muscles. Murphy played yesterday against Washington in a major league game and Wright hopes to play today and tomorrow in major league games.

Both players say they are ready, but also said the gamble of playing in a major league game instead of a minor league game was worth taking because the speed and pace is closer to that of the regular season. If they are injured and have to go on the disabled list instead of being backdated deeper into spring training, then so be it.

Murphy goes into the season with a handful of at-bats, while Wright had the World Baseball Classic. Even so, neither will face the Padres in a groove.

Assuming Wright and Murphy are sound, the lone position to be determined is center field, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin the two contenders.

Nieuwenhuis entered spring training penciled in to start in center along side Lucas Duda in left and Mike Baxter in right, and was given first chance at the leadoff spot.

After a miserable start, Nieuwenhuis bruised his left knee and Valdespin emerged as a starting candidate in center – competing with Collin Cowgill – or at second with Murphy hurt.

As of yesterday, Collins said center field was up in the air, but wanted Nieuwenhuis to get at-bats, which presumably means the Mets want him to win the job.

Figuring seven or eight at-bats in the next games, that’s not enough for Nieuwenhuis to get in a groove, but it will have to do. Presumably, if Nieuwenhuis starts over Valdespin he would hit leadoff.

Pitching wise, Johan Santana wasn’t going to be an issue, but now the Mets can place him on the 60-day disabled list that would open up a spot on the 40-man roster. Call it Santana’s last contribution to the Mets, because with a re-tear of his anterior shoulder capsule, his career is likely over.

Jeremy Hefner will take his spot in the rotation, but took a ball off his right elbow Tuesday and Collins wants to give him a couple of innings to see how he feels. Hefner is scheduled the fourth game of the season, Friday against Miami at Citi Field.

The Mets still don’t know when Shaun Marcum can pitch, and could go with Aaron Laffey instead.

Even with Santana’s career-threatening injury, the Mets are adamant about not bringing up Zack Wheeler.

 

Mar 28

Santana Hurts Shoulder; Career Could Be Over

The bleak news concerning Johan Santana turned black this afternoon when the Mets announced the veteran left-hander would likely miss the season and could see the end of his career after a probable re-tear of the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder.

Santana was attempting a comeback following surgery, Sept. 2, 2010, but hasn’t responded following nearly two years of rehabilitation. After throwing off the mound without the Mets’ knowledge, March 3, the 34-year-old was shut down with weakness in his shoulder.

SANTANA: Will we see this pose again?

SANTANA: Will we see this pose again?

Santana returned to New York where he was given a MRI, and team physician Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital of Special Surgery determined the diagnosis.

“A second surgery is a strong possibility,’’ general manager Sandy Alderson said in a conference call.

If so, it might mean close to another two years of rehabilitation, which would undoubtedly end his career.

Santana is in the final guaranteed season of a six-year, $137.5 million contract . He will make $25.5 million in salary with a $5.5 million buyout.

Alderson said the Mets prepared their rotation with the idea the two-time Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star would go on the disabled list. Jeremy Hefner will take his spot in the rotation. Alderson said the Mets don’t have plans to promote highly-touted prospect Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler, who is slated to begin the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, expressed his sympathy on his Twitter account: “Sad to hear about Johan. Got to know him this spring. Awesome awesome guy. Stinks to see it happen to him. Nothing but the best on recovery.”

There is no timetable for Wheeler’s promotion, but the Mets don’t figure to bring him up until mid-June, thereby extending his free-agent and Super Two status.

Santana signed with the Mets during the winter of 2007, which followed a season in which the team blew a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining, citing a lack of strong starting pitching.

The Yankees and Red Sox were after him, but both deemed Minnesota’s asking price too high, so the Twins turned to the Mets. At the time, former Mets general manager Omar Minaya said “Santana fell back to us,’’ in explaining the acquisition of a franchise pitcher for prospects Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.

Santana started 34 games for the Mets in 2008, his only full season with the franchise. Every other year was cut short by injury or ended with surgery.

After rehabbing during the winters of 2010 and 2011, Santana returned to the majors last year with initial success, including a 134-pitch no-hitter. There was speculation that high pitch count contributed to his shoulder weakness and later that summer he lost a career-high six games before going on the disabled list in August.

The Mets never conceded the high pitch count was a contributing factor, but instead attributed it to his rigorous rehab work, and a sprained ankle and lower-back injury that ended his season.

The Mets knew Santana was to lighten his off-season routine last winter, but Alderson said the pitcher wasn’t in top shape when he reported to spring training. That prompted an angry Santana to throw off the mound despite Alderson saying he was at least ten days away.

“Johan has had an exceptional career,’’ Alderson said of the pitcher with a career 139-78 record and 3.20 ERA. “We all hope that career will continue.’’

That’s unlikely now.