Dec 08

Cubs Beat Out Mets For Zobrist

The Mets are back to Plan B, which is another way of saying Square One, as the MLB Network reported tonight with second baseman Ben Zobrist, this winter’s object of their affections agreed to a four-year, $56-million contract with the Chicago Cubs.

Mets manager Terry Collins texted Zobrist today, a clipped “We want you,” but like a teenage girl being asked to the prom, such flirting doesn’t always work.

ZOBRIST: Going to Cubs. (AP)

ZOBRIST: Going to Cubs. (AP)

Zobrist met with the Washington Nationals today and Mets on Monday, but the Cubs emerged as a late player. In the Cubs, the 34-year-old Zobrist finds a comfort level in Chicago, which is close to his offseason Nashville home. The Cubs, who won 97 games last season, offer a better line-up to protect Zobrist, a better hitter’s park, and reunites him with his former manager Joe Maddon.

Zobrist is a switch-hitter whose 162-game average is .265 with a .355 on-base percentage, 17 homers and 77 RBI. Frankly, $56 million is too much for that production. But, for a team like the Cubs that has deeper pockets.

The Cubs are also going after outfielder Jason Heyward and Miami ace Jose Fernandez, whom the Marlins say they won’t trade. The Giants and Dodgers are also reportedly interested in Fernandez. If the Cubs make those two moves they should be favored to get to the World Series. Even if they don’t, the Cubs are better situated to getting to the Series than the Mets.

To make room for Zobrist, the Cubs are discussing a trade of second baseman Starlin Castro to the Yankees. Ironically, the Mets’ loss at second base is the Yankees’ gain.

Despite being swept out of the NLCS by the Mets, the Cubs are in better position of getting into the playoffs next year, despite the Mets’ cache of young arms. In addition to second base, the Mets have holes in centerfield (they have to replace Yoenis Cespedes) and bolster the middle of their bullpen.

The Mets are also banking on a bounce-back year from David Wright and the continued development of outfielder Michael Conforto and their young pitching.

As they are presently constructed, and with the Nationals expected to be aggressive, the Mets aren’t a slam dunk to get back to the playoffs.

Clearly, they have work to do.

Dec 07

Niese Mets’ Best Trade Chip

While the Mets insist they aren’t actively shopping left hander Jon Niese, you can be certain they make it known to every team they speak with that he’s available.

The Mets made it clear they aren’t going to trade Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. That leaves Niese as their lone pitching trade chip. And, with them high on Rafael Montero, that leaves Niese as the bait to obtain an outfield bat.

NIESE: Could he soon wave good bye. (AP)

NIESE: Could he soon wave good bye. (AP)

“We haven’t been actively shopping him, but other than the four guys [Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz], we’re going to be looking for ways to improve the team,” assistant general manager John Ricco told reporters at the Winter Meetings. “If there’s a deal that involves him and makes us better, I think we would definitely consider it.”

Niese is attactive to other teams because he’s a left, throws hard, isn’t phased about pitching in big games and has a manageable contract. He’s also healthy, having made 29 starts last season. On the downside, he’s been mostly mediocre (9-10 with a 4.13 ERA last year).

He also has an unnerving knack of not being able to slam the door and minimize trouble.

Even so, when teams talk to the Mets about pitching, he’s the first name they bring up.

ON DECK: Wrapping up Mets’ first day at Winter Meetings.

Dec 04

Alderson Diagnosed With Cancer; Will Not Attend Winter Meetings

The Mets announced Friday GM Sandy Alderson has been diagnosed a treatable form of and will undergo chemotherapy for the next eight to 12 weeks.

The cancer was detected when Alderson underwent a medical procedure three weeks ago.

“Surgery was performed at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York and as a result of that procedure, the doctors confirmed that Sandy has cancer,’’ Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. “The doctors believe and have told Sandy that the cancer is very treatable and are optimistic about a full recovery.’’

Wilpon said Alderson will not attend next week’s Winter Meetings and will receive treatment at Sloan Kettering.

Assistant general manager John Ricco, and J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta will go to the meetings with the following priorities: sign infielder Ben Zobrist; obtain a center fielder; and restock the bullpen.

Nov 10

Cashman Playing The Game; Murphy To Yanks Makes Sense

Despite a $15.8-million security blanked in the form of a qualifying offer, second baseman Daniel Murphy is not expected to re-sign with the Mets. He has until Friday to make his decision.

Speaking to reporters at the GM meetings in Florida, Mets assistant John Ricco said.: “In making the qualifying offer, you always have to anticipate he’s going to accept. Otherwise, I don’t think we would have done it. It’s very early in the signing season. I’m sure what he and his representatives are trying to do right now is trying to get a gauge.

MURPHY: More bad luck

MURPHY: Pinstripes make sense. (AP)

“It’s hard for me to speculate whether the market is going to be there. We made the offer with the idea that we’d like to have him back. We’ll see how it plays out.”

The reported current market for Murphy includes both Los Angeles teams, Houston, and of course the Yankees.

As Ricco said it is early in the process and nobody wants to tip their hand. That explains why Yankees GM Brian Cashman downplays interest in Murphy.

“We have to offensive-profile players already at that position,” Cashman said. “So, I think if we did any changing there it would be seeing more balance on both sides of the ball.”

The Yankees’ current second base candidates are Rob refsnyder and Dustin Ackley. They are projected to be offensive-oriented players, although neither is in Murphy’s class.

Murphy-to-the-Yankees makes sense, because in that bandbox of a stadium he could hit at least 25 homers. He could also get some designated-hitter at-bats, but most of them would go to Alex Rodriguez. And, as he would with the Mets, Murphy could also back up at first and third base.

Cashman has to feign interest because he knows every agent will parade his client through the Bronx to prime the bidding pump.

Oct 28

Mets’ Alderson has a long list ahead of him.

It won’t be an easy task for Sandy Alderson to turn around the Mets. Naming a manager is on everybody’s mind now, but that’s just one of the issues on a lengthy things-to-do list.

ALDERSON: A long list of things to do.

No doubt all these things were discussed during the interview process:

1) ORGANIZING HIS STAFF: John Ricco is already on board as assistant general manager, but Alderson has thoughts of his own for the remainder of his staff. Alderson’s reputation is having his hands in everything, and that means surrounding himself with people he trusts.

From scouting to minor league operations to the medical staff, Alderson has his own ideas and won’t blindly inherit Omar Minaya’s staff and the remainder of the Mets’ organization. You might see in the upcoming weeks, perhaps even ahead of naming the manager, announcements on Alderson’s staff.

There’s little doubt Alderson hasn’t already begun the evaluation process, and there should be a minimum of time before naming any new pieces.

Is it possible for some of the Mets’ organization to stay in place? Absolutely. He’s been around; he knows who’s good or not from the existing staff. Part of the process will depend on his conclusions as to how much Minaya was responsible to the existing mess.

2) NAMING A MANAGER: I appreciate the sentiment naming Wally Backman might cause the perception the Wilpons are still calling all the shots, but the former Mets’ second baseman is reportedly on his list.

Alderson already has his short list, which he’s keeping close to the vest. Jerry Manuel was too passive in many areas, and the choice should be someone with a firmer hand. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a dictator.

A candidate without a Mets’ background will also be one of the things he’ll consider. Alderson, by himself, represents change, so I don’t think they’ll name a manager just to sell tickets. That is part of the rationale in Backman.

BACKMAN: Don't count on him.

Whomever is chosen, he should be a teacher with an ability to work with young talent as the Mets have a core in Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Mike Pelfrey, Ruben Tejada and Jon Niese. The right balance between motivation and patience must be made.

3) DECIDING ON WHERE ARE THE METS TODAY: Are the Mets a .500 team that needs a minimum of rebuilding to be competitive next year or are they a team that needs an overhaul?

Alderson must decide on what being competitive means in 2011. Is .500 good enough or should they wait until 2012 when he has more salary to work with?

The decision on where the Mets will largely be dependent in part on Alderson’s budget. With $130 million earmarked for 2011, just how much flexibility will he be given?

They have the pieces in place to improve if Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran are healthy and productive, but those are just two of several things that must break right. The Mets learned since the end of the 2006 season that hoping isn’t a sound strategy.

There are holes in the rotation, and bolstering the bullpen and bench is a must. They are closer to last place than first place.

The answer to this issue will determine just how much work needs to be done.

4) ASCERTAINING JOSE REYES: He’ll probably stay, but if Alderson decides the team is far away he’ll have to consider whether Reyes is more valuable on the field or with what he might bring in a trade.

You just don’t deal a player like Reyes without considerable thought, and Alderson has to look at the injury history the past two years and whether there’s still a ceiling for him.

REYES: What's his real value?

If Alderson believes dealing Reyes could fill two or three holes, then that has to be on the table. The flip side is having somebody to replace him, and right now they don’t.

Reyes can be, and has been, a dynamic talent for the Mets, but it also must be remembered the Mets haven’t won with him. Ditto David Wright.

5) DECIDING ON A PITCHING COACH: Mike Pelfrey and RA Dickey endorsed Dan Warthen, but that’s not enough. The manager should have the right to name his pitching coach and the rest of his staff.

Assuming Alderson is already reaching out to potential managers, it is a safe assumption the new pitching coach is already on the radar.

The Mets pitching staff statistically improved last summer under Warthen, but how much of that was not having Oliver Perez and John Maine? I would say plenty.

6) WHAT TO DO WITH THE DEADWOOD: I think the sooner they are rid of Perez and Luis Castillo, the better. However, just ditching them as suggested the other day might not be a prudent move.

Alderson needs to change the culture and not having Perez would do that. However, Perez rarely pitched last summer and was coming off an injury. The rational thing to do would be to add to the pitching staff thinking Perez won’t be there, but allow him to work on his mechanics and strength in the winter leagues.

There are no games being played now, and either way Perez will get $12 million in 2011 from the Mets. If they have one more opportunity to see if Perez can turn it around they should take it.

Castillo, at least, wanted to play. The Mets don’t like eating salary, but $6 million is more palatable than $12 million.

7) BUILDING THE ROTATON: The assumption must be made Johan Santana will be out for much of the season if not all.

Nobody thinks they’ll sign Cliff Lee, but there’s no harm in contacting his agent.

The current rotation consists of Pelfrey, Dickey and Jon Niese. Is Dillon Gee a real option? We don’t know, but he’ll get a shot. The prudent thing to do with Jenrry Mejia, since they misused him last year, would have him start in the minor leagues.

The Mets need to add two starters, which is why giving Perez a chance in winter ball is a prudent thing. Then they can attempt to add some middle-tier arms in the offseason so the team would at least be competitive.

8) DECIDE ON CARLOS BELTRAN: It’s highly doubtful Alderson will find a taker for the injured and highly-priced – $18.5 million for 2011 – Beltran.

Any deal they might make would necessitate them picking up a considerable piece of the remaining salary, and with that being the case they are better off hoping he has something left in his walk year.

However, it is clear Beltran, as he is now, can’t play center field on a regular basis. Alderson, with the new manager, must meet with Beltran to discuss a move to right field.

This can’t be a thing to be debated during spring training. The decision must be made before.

9) THE BULLPEN: The Mets’ reaching a settlement with Francisco Rodriguez only tentatively answers the closer question. Assuming things work out for Rodriguez in court then the Mets can address the rest of their bullpen.

The Mets need to make a decision on Hisanori Takahashi by Oct. 31, and it is believed they will offer him two years. An ironclad promise to start can’t be made because they won’t have a manager by then, but bringing him back is important.

Bringing back Pedro Feliciano is also necessary, as is finding a role for Bobby Parnell.

The bullpen has been mix-and-match the past few seasons and this winter will be more of the same.

10) EVALUATING THE MINORS: By most accounts, the Mets are stronger in the lower levels of the minors than they are in the higher classes.

A lot was made after the season about developing a “Mets Way,’’ in the farm system where a certain philosophy and style of play is adapted and taught at all levels.

I would like to see that with the Mets, where it is ingrained in the young players that they play an aggressive, fundamental style of ball. The transition from level to level must be as seamless as possible.

The Mets are starting over with Alderson, and that includes on all levels.