Oct 08

Mets’ Top Ten Internal Decisions

GM Sandy Alderson was brought here clean out deadwood (Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, etc.) and trim payroll while the Wilpons tried to withstand the howling financial winds of the Ponzi Scandal.

BRUCE: First domino. (AP)

BRUCE: First domino. (AP)

It took several years, but the Mets are heading in the right direction – their Opening Day payroll was $135 million – but they can’t be accused of being spenders.

I see Alderson having to deal with ten players this winter:

OUTFIELD

Jay Bruce: Contractual control in 2017 was a key factor in making the trade in the first place. The want Bruce as a hedge for losing Cespedes, which means they must sign him first. The worst-case scenario is to screw around with Cespedes and delay with Bruce – which could cost them both. They must pick up Bruce’s $13 million option, and if Cespedes leaves, fine, so be it. Bruce is the lead domino.

Yoenis Cespedes: The ball is totally in the player’s court, which is not a good position for the Mets. Last year Cespedes dragged this out and there are no indications that won’t change this year. Early reports are Cespedes will want at least $100 million. Secretly, I’ll bet Alderson wants Cespedes to opt out and sign elsewhere.

INFIELD

Lucas Duda: He is arbitration eligible, but injury prone and coming off a back problem that is always scary. How much Duda will make is uncertain (he made $6.7 million this year and I’ve heard numbers as high $9 million). If not Duda, the Mets could go with a Loney-Flores platoon.

James Loney: I’m probably in the minority of those who wouldn’t mind seeing Loney return. However, they have other options, including seeing what Wright and Michael Conforto could do at first.

Neil Walker: Back surgery will reduce Walker’s bargaining power, so I don’t see people lining up to give him a two- or three-year deal. If they are set on Cespedes, they won’t go long term with both. With Wilmer Flores – assuming his wrist heals – and T.J. Rivera, it isn’t as if second base is a must. As they did with Daniel Murphy, they’ll probably extend a qualifying offer.

Jose Reyes: The Mets hold a team option on Reyes for 2017. The Mets got more than they expected from Reyes, and with David Wright’s return a question, there’s little doubt they won’t bring him back.

Kelly Johnson: They’ve already traded for him twice, and each time he produced. He’s versatile and produced as a pinch-hitter. This should be a no-brainer.

PITCHERS

Bartolo Colon: The biggest mistake Alderson could make is to assume all their surgically-repaired pitchers – there are four of them so far – will return healthy. The $7.25 million they paid for 15 victories was well spent. They need to bring him back.

Jerry Blevins: Stayed healthy, pitched well and wants to return. This shouldn’t be a problem. Not knowing what the Mets could get from Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin should help Blevins.

Jon Niese: Not happening.

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Oct 06

Mets’ Playoff Ouster Has Us Thinking About April

After last year, there was one goal for the Mets and it was winning the World Series. Since it won’t happen, by definition, 2016 was a failure. However, the image of the Big Picture depends on angle in which it was viewed. Straight on it was a bust, but “Mets 2016” was a puzzle with many missing pieces.

If we take away one thing from this season is we discovered the Mets’ farm system isn’t as barren as once perceived and they have more depth than we thought.

COLLINS: Reason to be hopeful. (AP)

COLLINS: Reason to be hopeful. (AP)

All teams sustain injuries and the Mets were no exception. The Mets had more than most, beginning with losing Matt Harvey to surgery, then Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, and we never saw Zack Wheeler.

“The job our guys did to get to this point to be in this game is unbelievable,” manager Terry Collins said. “When you lose three-fifths, obviously, of one of the best rotations in the game – you lose two guys or three guys out of the middle of your lineup for a long period of time – to sit here where we are today, I’m tremendously proud.”

Under the rubble of their rotation were found some gems. Noah Syndergaard, even before seven magnificent innings Wednesday, continues to emerge as an ace. Syndergaard pitched hurt, and still throws too many innings, but he’s already one of the best.

Without those injuries Bartolo Colon wouldn’t have stayed in the rotation and led the staff with 15 victories. Also, we wouldn’t have found out about Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

The Mets have questions about the health of their starting pitchers, but unlike most teams they have the depth to get to sustain.

The bullpen was a significant issue entering the season, but Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia gave them perhaps the game’s best eighth-ninth inning combination, which could be even stronger if they retain Fernando Salas and Hansel Robles harnesses his emotions, the back end could be even better.

Injuries also ravaged the infield, where the Mets lost David Wright and Neil Walker for the season. They also were without Wilmer Flores and Lucas Duda for extended periods. The reports are encouraging about Wright’s return, but they must be cognizant about replacing him. In that regard, Flores will have surgery on his right wrist. Walker can be a free agent, but his back surgery will lower his asking price. That will be a tough decision.

The Mets will now be forced to make choices on bringing back Kelly Johnson, James Loney and catcher Rene Rivera. They also let us find out T.J. Rivera can play. Perhaps most importantly, they found out Jose Reyes still has the spark, if not the talent.

Injuries also factored in the outfield as they played lengthy segments without Juan Lagares and Yoenis Cespedes. They also survived long production droughts from Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, Alejandro De Aza and Curtis Granderson.

However, Granderson and Bruce came on strong at the end and have reputations of production. They have another year with Granderson under contract and an option on Bruce, so there’s flexibility. If Cespedes opts out as he’s expected to do, the Mets have options with Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.

Collins said of his team: “They’re hurting, but there’s no reason to be. They were written off so many times this summer and they kept fighting back.”

The Mets didn’t win, but I can’t say it was a lost season. The Mets found out a lot about many players who weren’t on their radar in April.

In many ways, if their rotation recovers from the knife, the Mets could be in better position to win next year than they were this April. Many Octobers have left the Mets with the feeling of relief the season was finally over.

This year, October has us thinking about April.

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Oct 01

This Year Could Be Even More Special For Mets

FINALLY

                                                      FINALLY

The Mets are finally in, and it is fitting they were carried in today’s clincher by Bartolo Colon and James Loney. In many ways, how the clincher unfolded typified this season.

Fitting, because they weren’t counted on to be key players when this season began. It was anticipated by many the Mets’ highly touted young pitching would return them to the World Series.

The Mets could eventually reach their fifth World Series, but it won’t be with the five starters who were to define them for the next decade. Of the five, only Noah Syndergaard – who’ll either pitch one inning Sunday or have a bullpen session – will see the playoffs.

Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom had season-ending surgery; Zack Wheeler never made it back; and Steven Matz will have surgery on his elbow Tuesday, the day before the Mets play the Giants Wednesday, with Syndergaard against Madison Bumgarner. If it is the Cardinals, he’ll face Carlos Martinez.

Colon?

Well, he was penciled in to move to the bullpen in early July when Wheeler was to come off the disabled list. While Wheeler had several setbacks, Colon kept trotting out there – he didn’t miss a start – and eventually finished with a team-high 15 victories.

Colon gave up two runs, but only threw 61 pitches in five innings in today’s 5-3 victory over the Phillies, presumably to keep him fresh should they need him in the wild-card game.

Pitching was always going to carry the Mets, but who would have figured it would be Colon, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman? There’s Syndergaard, but he’s been gutting it out with a bone spur in his elbow. That’s also emblematic of the Mets’ season as a whole, because injuries have been a key storyline.

Injuries were a big part of the 2015 Mets, but they have been hit harder this season. Yet, somehow, GM Sandy Alderson – who took a lot of heat – acquired the necessary pieces to patch this team together.

“We have some pieces here,” manager Terry Collins said. “But, it takes the whole line. You have to ride a lot of guys.”

One of those guys is Loney, who started Saturday because Lucas Duda’s back remains sore and responded with a game-winning, two-run homer in the sixth. Overall, Loney played 99 games and produced nine homers and 34 RBI.

Loney is just one example. Rene Rivera filled in for Travis d’Arnaud and is now a mainstay. Wilmer Flores first replaced David Wright, then Asdrubal Cabrera and finally Neil Walker. Eventually, Flores was injured and replaced by T.J. Rivera.

Jose Reyes eventually took over for Wright at third and supplied the speed and spark that had long been missing. Signing Reyes also enabled Collins to move Curtis Granderson down in the order to protect Yoenis Cespedes.

Granderson took off in the second half and salvaged things with a 30-homer season. Granderson played a lot of centerfield when Cespedes went on the disabled list.

Cabrera was on the DL with Cespedes, and the Mets’ offense took off when they were activated in late August when they were in San Francisco. After losing the first two games of that series, the Mets were a dismal 60-62 on August 19.

They have been the hottest team in the majors since.

When Cespedes went down, the offensive-starved Mets traded for Jay Bruce. That deal was going down as a bust until Bruce went on a tear with a seven-game hitting streak, which included homers in three games.

From Lugo and Gsellman in the rotation, to Loney, Bruce, Reyes and the two Riveras, to the resurgence of Granderson, and, of course, the consistent production of Cabrera and Cespedes, whenever the Mets needed somebody to step up, they got it.

Through it all, Collins kept his team together, kept them hustling, and more often than not pushed the right buttons. There were times when you wondered if Collins would fired or named the Manager of the Year.

Yes, last year was thrilling, but with what the Mets had to overcome, this year might have the potential to be even more special.

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Sep 29

Phillies Want To Make Things Hard For Mets

For over a decade now, we’ve heard about the Mets’ rivalry with the Phillies. When Jimmy Rollins said his Phillies “were the team to beat,’’ and for a few years the Mets couldn’t.

The Mets won three of four last against Philly last weekend at Citi Field and were lucky to do so. Take away late home runs by Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera and last weekend would have been a split.

The Phillies have already beaten the Mets a half-dozen times this season, and twice lost to them by two runs or less. Obviously, the Phillies have played them tough and it will make their season to make things as difficult as possible for the Mets, if not keep them out of the playoffs entirely.

When you have an arch enemy, if you can’t win then you want anybody but your foe to win. The Phillies got off to a decent start this season – as high as six games over .500 on May 22 – but fell below .500 on June 1 and have remained under since.

It’s going to be awhile before the Phillies are considered good again, but when it comes to the Mets they can be regarded as competitive.

It has been thought by many 87 victories would be enough to get in as a wild-card, and as it turns out that could happen but the Mets must win twice.

If they don’t, it could get tight Sunday afternoon, and if the Phillies hate the Mets as we think they do, they want that more than anything.

Sep 23

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Conforto In Mix Again?

Not only was there a Michael Conforto sighting tonight, but he carried the Mets with a three-run homer and double. He did what the Mets have hoped since May. With how they are ignoring Jay Bruce, you have to wonder if Terry Collins plans to use Conforto for the remainder of the season to groom him for the postseason.

A double and homer is a great way to stay in the lineup.

CONFORTO: He does exist. (AP)

CONFORTO: He does exist. (AP)

“It changes it a lot,” Collins said about his plans for Conforto. “What we saw tonight is what we’ve used to seeing. We’ll give him another shot and see how he responds [Saturday].”

Should Conforto hit again tomorrow, it’s pretty hard to imagine Bruce getting another start soon, and a likely bit-player for the postseason.

Conforto had a hot April – Collins projected him as the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future – but after going into a slump in mid-May, spent a lot of time on the Vegas shuttle, but despite playing well in the minors, he’s played sparingly since coming back.

“I’ve been sticking with my drills and staying locked in mentally,” said Conforto on how he’s tried to stay sharp despite seemingly needing a GPS to find the plate.

Conforto laid off a couple of tempting pitches, then went the other way to break open the game with a three-run homer in the fifth to power the Mets to a 10-5 victory over Philadelphia.

So, in answer to the question whether Thursday’s dramatic victory had a magical carry-over effect, let’s say, tonight was a decent encore.

Conforto was the easy main storyline, with the others being the patchwork pitching and Asdrubal Cabrera’s leg injury.

BULLPEN CARRIES BIG LOAD: Spot starter Gabriel Ynoa gave the Mets two innings (43 pitches), which could make him available for Saturday with Noah Syndergaard not available because of a strep throat.

With Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia not available, Collins got significant contributions from Logan Verrett (two innings), Josh Smoker (one), Erik Goeddel (1.1), Josh Edgin (two pitches) and Hansel Robles (2.2 innings for the save).

The game’s turning point came with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and the Mets up by two, but Robles got pinch-hitter Tommy Joseph to ground into an inning-ending double play, with Jose Reyes making a nifty pick-up and throw.

The patchwork bullpen enabled the Mets to also rest Fernando Salas.

“It was a good night,’’ Collins said of his bullpen. “Hansel stepped up and got us through it.’’

For the most part, Robles has had a rough second half, but if tonight was any indication, this is a good sign for the playoffs.

CABRERA BRUISES KNEE: Not so fast, was how Cabrera responded to Collins’ post-game thoughts of resting the shortstop tomorrow because of bruise to his right knee.

Cabrera, who is playing with a sore left knee, fouled a ball off his leg in the fifth.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,’’ Cabrera said. “I will be there tomorrow.”

Collins said his initial plans for to play Reyes at shortstop and play Kelly Johnson (who drove in the tying run in the fifth) at third.

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