Oct 10

Neither Niese Nor Gee Will Bring A Bat; Not Even Together

I read several articles, both on blogs and in the mainstream media, debating whether the Mets should trade either Jon Niese or Dillon Gee in an attempt to add a power bat, preferably to play left field.

There’s a flaw here, namely in the belief either pitcher could bring a bat in return. That won’t happen as neither has a track record that would have another team salivating. Even if you packaged them both it wouldn’t be enough to get them a masher.

To get a slugger, the Mets would have to add considerably to the package and include one of their young arms. Niese’s trade value is limited and Gee’s isn’t any better. Getting a slugger would entail giving up much more, and even then there’s the matter of extending the contract of the hitter.

The Mets currently aren’t inclined to give up their young pitching and not willing to sign a hitter, whether it be a free agent or one included in a trade, to a long-term, contract in the $100 million range. That’s not their mindset, so subsequently don’t be surprised if next year’s team resembles the 2014 model.

The Mets’ current thinking is hoping for Matt Harvey’s return, Zack Wheeler’s development and a bounce-back year from David Wright.

Oct 03

Top 20 Questions For 2015

I recently reviewed how the Mets answered their most pressing questions entering the last season. Many were addressed in the positive, but that’s not to say they won’t have any heading into next year.

Here are the 20 most pressing:

Q: What can be expected from Matt Harvey?

A: It’s anybody’s guess, really. Tommy John surgery has proven to be successful, but everybody’s body is different and there are no guarantees. As of now, GM Sandy Alderson said there are no restrictions. That’s as good as news as possible for now.

WRIGHT: Must bounce back. (AP)

WRIGHT: Must bounce back. (AP)

Q: Will David Wright bounce back?

A: Seems like we’ve been asking that question for a while now. Wright sustained a left shoulder injury and is currently on an extensive rehab program. However, at the end of the six-week program, if he’s not able to swing the bat without pain, there could be surgery, and with it a longer rehab period. The bottom line is Wright, who will be 32 next season, is no longer a given to hit .300 with 25-30 homers and 100 RBI. He needs help. They can move the fences in all they want, but if Wright is injured it won’t do any good.

Q: Will they trade Daniel Murphy?

A: That question has been asked a lot recently. Murphy is their most reliable hitter, but they seem hot on wanting to deal him. Could it be the $8 million they will pay him in 2015? I can’t say this enough, but Murphy by himself won’t bring the power bat they want. They’ll have to include pitching.

Q: Will the bullpen continue to progress?

A: It was much improved in 2014, but bullpens usually have a lot of moving parts. If they lose somebody, say Carlos Torres, or if Jeurys Familia regresses, or Jenrry Mejia has any injury, it’s not as if they can plug somebody right in.

Q: Does Jacob deGrom progress or takes a step back?

A: DeGrom caught a lot of people by surprise this year, but hitters have a way of catching up to a hot pitcher.  He had a solid season and is the leading contender for the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award. That ensures nothing for 2015.

Q: Speaking about pitchers who must progress, what about Zack Wheeler?

A: Wheeler has a good second half, but 11-11 is nothing to get excited about. Wheeler still lacks command and throws way too many pitches, which prevented him from being a 200-inning pitcher and adds to the bullpen’s workload.

Q: Who plays shortstop?

A:  Manager Terry Collins said the job is open and Ruben Tejada is still a candidate. Even so, the offensive upside is greater with Wilmer Flores, who improved defensively.

Q: Who plays left field?

A: Since Alderson said they won’t be big spenders, the assumption is he’ll come from within. Will the Mets give Matt den Dekker or Kirk Nieuwenhuis a real chance, and by this I mean more than 100 at-bats? Odds are they won’t, but will the Mets keep Eric Young?

Q: Can Juan Lagares play a full season – and hit?

A: Lagares ended the year early with a right elbow injury, and has the best arm in the outfield. At the plate, he hit .281 with an on-base percentage of .321, of which the latter needs to get better. His 87-20 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is terrible for a leadoff hitter.

Q: What about the injured guys?

A: In addition to Wright, Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud, Vic Black and Mejia are all coming off seasons in which they are injured. Injuries derailed the Mets before, and they are not any deeper now. Then, there’s the matter of Bobby Parnell, who missed the entire season.

Q: Another 200 innings from Bartolo Colon?

A: That would be sweet. The popular belief is he’ll be traded at the deadline, which would mean the Mets wouldn’t be a contender. Better off to pay him the $11 million for a full season if they are in the race.

Q: Will Jon Niese finally cash his potential check?

A: Only once in his seven-year career has Niese had a winning season. He’s been either injured or ineffective, and 2014 was more of the same as he was 9-11 to raise his career record to an unimpressive 52-51. The Mets have long resisted trading Niese because of his age (27) and reasonable contract ($25 million over five years), but might be inclined to pull the trigger this time.

Q: Another 30 homers from Lucas Duda?

A: With the job his to keep, Duda responded with a 30-homer, 92-RBI season. That might go up if the fences are brought in. He also had an outstanding .349 on-base percentage and showed he can flash the glove. There is nothing but higher expectations for 2015.

Q: Who will be gone next year?

A: Niese is the top trade chip, unless they are willing to gamble on dealing Wheeler. Of course, we’ve talked about Murphy and Young not coming back. Another possibility with Harvey returning and should Noah Syndergaard be ready by June, is dealing Dillon Gee.

Q: Will Curtis Granderson play up to his contract?

A: Twenty homers won’t cut it, especially with a puny .227 average and .326 on-base percentage. He’s a strikeout machine with 141 compared to only 128 hits. That must change. The Mets would love to trade him, but who’ll take such poor production for so much money ($60 million over four years)? You already know the answer to that one.

Q: When will the new guys come up from Triple-A?

A: Don’t bet on before June for Syndergaard. Catcher Kevin Plawecki and lefty reliever Jack Leathersich are also intriguing and could come sooner. Also interesting is lefty starter Steven Matz, who might make it more palatable to trade Niese.

Q: Can the Mets improve within the NL East?

A: They were 38-38 in the division, but a miserable 4-15 against the Washington Nationals. Enough said.

Q: Can the Mets finally have a home field advantage at Citi Field?

A: They were 40-41 in 2014, which was better, but not nearly good enough. Contenders traditionally have a strong winning record at home and play around .500 on the road. The problem is the Mets have never gotten the players they need to compete in their spacious park. They said they would build around pitching and defense, yet their first big signing was Jason Bay, who set them back for years.

Q: Who will lead off?

A: Another annual question. Young is the best base stealer, but neither him nor Lagares have stellar on-base percentages, walk enough and strikeout too much. No question this is a black hole in their lineup.

Q: Can they survive a slow start?

A: Much depends on how they get out of the gate. Will they fold up and start dealing, even before the deadline? A bad start will also hurt at the gate, and lead to questions about when Syndergaard is coming up and Collins’ job security. They finished this season on a high note and can’t afford to regress.

Mar 14

Niese Mishandles Twitter Issue

There are many conflicts Jon Niese will face in his Mets’ career, ranging from hitters, to injuries, to the weather and considerably more. Trying to take on reporters doing their jobs using Twitter is one he’ll have difficulty winning.

That is, if he even has a chance.

In the wake of pitching coach Dan Warthen’s apology for a supposed racial slur, an angry Niese told reporters to stop Tweeting from the clubhouse. I understand his angst, but as in most issues steeped in emotion, it is an uphill climb and one handled poorly by all sides.

Reporters are allowed by Major League Baseball to tweet and post blogs from the clubhouse, and in fact, I was one of the first Mets’ reporters to post blogs from the clubhouse when I started the beat in 2006.

Major League Baseball wants the information out there. That creates interest, which leads to ticket sales and television-radio ratings. It’s about money, so as much as Niese wants it, he’s fighting the bottom line.

That’s also why many of Niese’s teammates, including Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, have Twitter handles.

So, who is at fault for this flap?

It starts with Warthen, who apologized to Daisuke Matsuzaka’s interpreter, Jeff Cutler, for his comment, but unfortunately did so in front of a reporter he might not have known well, if at all.

Apologies, warranted or not, should be done in private, especially if there’s not a working knowledge of the reporter, who reportedly is from San Francisco and not on the Mets’ beat.

Also at blame is the reporter, who, according to reports either overheard the apology and/or wasn’t part of the conversation.  I don’t know the reporter, who is Chinese and offended by the comment. That’s his issue, but his sensitivities sparked this fire and now it’s a political correctness issue.

One person is upset and now the world revolves around those feelings.

Seemingly, the apology was an off-the-record comment, and therefore the reporter violated a basic tenet of the reporter-athlete relationship, which made it harder for all reporters to do their jobs.

Finally, Niese must take responsibility for how this unravels. When you’re in a crowded clubhouse, you don’t tell a group of reporters: “Stop Tweeting about our clubhouse. That —-’s got to stop.’’

How could he not think it wasn’t going to escalate from there? There are ways to deal with the press, either by talking to reporters privately or through the media relations department.

This could have been handled better by everyone.

 

Mar 11

Mets Today: Jon Niese Gets The Ball

Left-hander Jonathon Niese, the Mets’ projected Opening Day starter, will make his spring debut against St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright.

NIESE: Makes spring debut (AP)

NIESE: Makes spring debut (AP)

Niese complained of a dead arm early in camp and the weakness was revealed in a MRI taking in New York, Feb. 26.

Niese threw two innings in an intrasquad game last Thursday and reported no pain or discomfort.

“It’s a great feeling to go out there and not feel any pain in your shoulder,’’ Niese said that day. “It was a great step forward to go out on the mound and feel very close to 100 percent.’’

In addition:

* Ike Davis, as you know, is hobbling in a walking boot on his right foot and isn’t ready to do anything.

* Will today be the day Wilmer Flores starts at shortstop?

* Daniel Murphy (bruised right shin) remains day-to-day.

* Lucas Duda hit in the cage Monday. Perhaps he could graduate to batting practice today?

* Here’s the rest of the week: Wednesday, St. Louis; Thursday, at Washington Nationals; Friday, at Miami Marlins; Saturday, Minnesota (SS) and Chicago Cubs at Las Vegas; Sunday, at St. Louis Cardinals and Cubs at Las Vegas.

ON DECK:   What to make of Mets’ spring training so far.

Feb 28

Jon Niese Injury Raises Questions

It was interesting to hear Jonathon Niese take responsibility for his setback, but his comments raised questions as to how the New York Mets handled his injury.

NIESE: Injury raises questions. (AP)

NIESE: Injury raises questions. (AP)

Niese’s MRI revealed scapula-muscle weakness in the back of his left shoulder.

How did this happen?

Niese missed two months last season with a rotator-cuff strain, but returned to pitch late in the year.

Before the offseason, I asked Niese his off-season plans and he said he would get a workout routine from the trainers and concentrate on strengthening his shoulder. Sounded reasonable.

Today, Niese told ESPN in Port St. Lucie he worked on the rotator cuff area, but neglected the area in the back part of the shoulder leading to an imbalance of strength and caused his shoulder blade to be tugged at an awkward angle.

Often with an arm injury a pitcher overcompensates, which leads to another problem.

“The MRI revealed that my shoulder this year is actually better than it was last year,’’ Niese said. “[Mets physician Dr. David Altchek] said everything was healed and everything was clean.

“It’s just the fact that there are little weak spots. I kind of blame that on myself. Last year, with it being the rotator cuff, this off-season that’s pretty much all I was working on. I neglected the other things. So everything was at an imbalance. That’s when I started having the shoulder-pinching issues and discomfort.’’

This leads to several questions:

* Was Niese instructed to work on that area of the shoulder and just didn’t? If so, why? Surely, he has to be smart enough not to ignore rehab instructions.

* Did the doctors not tell and show Niese how to work those muscles? One would think they would have.

* Was Niese rushed back too soon last season and developed bad habits that carried over to his off-season throwing? If so, it wouldn’t have been the first time a Met was rushed back.

* Are Niese’s mechanics the same as they were prior to the injury, and if so, why wasn’t this caught by pitching coach Dan Warthen? Everything is on tape, so it’s a wonder why it was missed if that’s the case.

* Niese said he would get a workout routine from a physical therapist, leading to speculation he wasn’t given that series of exercises. If so, why not?

The Mets have been frequently criticized for their handling of injuries. While it might be premature to make that accusation in this case, there is cause to wonder.