Feb 01

Collins Facing Toughest Year

New York Mets’ manager Terry Collins is facing his toughest season. At 67 he’s entering the final year of his contract and there’s no murmur of an extension prior to Opening Day, although, after two playoff seasons, it would be appropriate.

COLLINS: Needs answers entering toughest season. (Getty)

COLLINS: Needs answers entering toughest season. (Getty)

With expectations of a third straight playoff appearance, getting slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes signed to four more years, plus an anticipated payroll of $150 million, there aren’t many built-in safety net excuses for Collins not getting the job done.

Of course, you could give him the Sandy Alderson-insulation factor. As long as Alderson has Collins as a shield for deflection of criticism of the Mets, he should survive this season.

At least, until November, when Alderson will need to name another manager if the Mets flame out. Of course, this stinks on a number of levels. I don’t like the concept of a lame-duck manager, so, if Alderson believes in Collins and there are good vibes heading into Opening Day, there should be an extension.

I’ve had several issues with Collins’ style, but will give him the nod that his players, for the most part, bust their ass for him. The most notable exceptions over the past two years where his players threw him under the bus came in Game 5 of the World Series when Matt Harvey pitched a fit to insist on pitching the ninth inning – which went against Collins’ plan – and to this day has not admitted any wrong-doing for coughing up the lead.

The second, of course, came last July when Cespedes misplayed a ball in center field and strained his quad, and despite being injured, wouldn’t trade the golf course for treatment. With Cespedes, entrenched in left, the rest of the outfield, especially center field is a quagmire.

The preseason expectations are mixed on a national level. Many have the Mets reaching the playoffs but as a wild-card. Others have them looking in from the outside come October. I don’t think they’ll win 90 as they did in 2015, but if all breaks to the positive, they can grab a wild card.

Here’s why this will be Collins’ most challenging year:

STARTING PITCHING: Four of Collins’ young stud starters are coming off surgery, and a fifth, Noah Syndergaard, could have also gone under the knife. Despite the crying and resistance of their starters – particularly Harvey – for an innings limit, the issue will be raised again. It is possible, but can you really expect the Mets to hit the jackpot on all of their surgically-repaired arms? I don’t, and neither should you.

Winning is Collins’ first priority, and that includes protecting those arms for as long as possible. If that means an innings limit, then so be it. This should be easier to implement now than in 2015 because of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Set the limits and design a program, and unlike 2015 when he wavered with Harvey, Collins must keep the course. Easier said than done, but paramount.

Roles must be defined for Lugo and Gsellman to spell spot starts for Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and yes, even Syndergaard, who is bothered by bone spurs. Collins needs to stress and enforce a “No Heroes” approach.

Coming off surgery, if somebody is hurting give him a rest. There are no guarantees, but Lugo and Gsellman enhance the chances of getting the rotation through the season.

BULLPEN ROLES: Other than plugging Jeurys Familia into the closer role, I’ve never been enamored with how Collins used his bullpen. The Mets should be agitated at Major League Baseball for dragging its feet on a Familia suspension. Even so, the Mets haven’t been proactive in structuring bullpen roles.

Addison Reed will be closer, and when Familia gets back, let him earn the closer role again. I’d like Collins to give roles for his pen, which includes naming a set-up man to replace Jerry Blevins. The Mets seem content to let Blevins sweat this out. Even so, with their bullpen in a state of flux, let’s define roles, which should include Lugo, Gsellman and Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two years and the Mets are making noises of using him out of the bullpen. This isn’t a terrible idea, but what is was reading what Collins told The New York Post. Collins said he’d like to work Wheeler out of the bullpen, then stretch him out to where he could rejoin the rotation. This is beyond a bad idea for Wheeler, who has his own designated parking spot outside the Hospital of Special Surgery.

Ease him in as a reliever with a definitive role (coming in only at the start of an inning) and forget about the rotation for now. If they want to start him, then start him and don’t screw about with the bullpen. Collins must be disciplined in his construction of the bullpen.

REST FOR THE INFIELD: Third baseman David Wright and first baseman Lucas Duda are coming off back injuries, likewise second baseman Neil Walker. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is entering his option year, finished last season with knee and leg injuries.

Too often in the last three years, Collins had a tendency to push his tired and injured players too much. This year, he has Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes as capable reserves. Collins must formulate schedules of rest for his infield and sprinkle in Reyes and Flores. Doing the match, everybody could get at least one day off a week.

Collins has toyed with the idea of giving Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce time at first. Well, if this is so, then let’s have exhibition-game schedules for them. I don’t want Duda to go on the DL in June with Conforto and Bruce not having any time at first.

The Cubs were successful last year using a platoon system – do you remember Ben Zobrist? – and it worked because their players got the necessary prep work. Collins eschewed the chance to work in Flores last year until it was too late.

OUTFIELD PLAN: We all know Alderson hamstrung Collins when it came to finding playing time for the outfielders when he brought back Cespedes. Gold Glover Juan Lagares was signed to a four-year deal but with no place to play. Because Cespedes won’t play center, center field is a soup mix of Lagares, Conforto and Curtis Granderson.

Because Alderson miscalculated the outfield market, he was unable to trade Bruce. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but for this year, Collins needs to find appropriate playing time for him, Granderson and Conforto.

The Granderson and Bruce contracts will be off the books after this season, although my biggest hope if for the latter to have a monster year and force Alderson into re-signing him. From left to right – Cespedes, Conforto and Bruce – works for me.

Collins has done a decent job keeping his clubhouse together despite considerable adversity. However, this year, more than most, he must devise a plan with his coaches and Alderson and stay the course.

It’s the only way to see October.

 

Jan 07

Forget About Reyes In Center

There’s been some talk about playing Jose Reyes in center field at times this summer to take advantage of his speed. It’s a thought best left for a 17-degree night in January with a foot of snow on the ground. Seriously, what’s the purpose?

With the guy they re-signed last winter to play center not wanting to – that being, of course, Yoenis Cespedes – the Mets have a muddled outfield and tinkering with Reyes in center just complicates things further.

As it is, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Gold Glover Juan Lagares will share time in center. Then, there’s Brandon Nimmo if he’s on the 25-man roster. Why fool around with an unproven Reyes in center?

Makes no sense.

Reyes needs to stay on the left side of the infield, backing up David Wright and Asdrubal Cabrera, where he’ll do the most good. Center field is something to talk about when it’s too cold outside to do anything but think about baseball in an effort to keep yourself warm.

Jan 04

Wondering How Mets Will Use Flores

One Met I am curious to see how manager Terry Collins uses this year is Wilmer Flores. Collins has always run hot-and-cold with his usage of Flores, which probably stems from GM Sandy Alderson’s public knocks of the player he unsuccessfully tried to trade in 2015.

FLORES: Needs to play. (AP)

FLORES: Needs to play. (AP)

Frankly, Flores has never gotten an opportunity to play full time, and it won’t come this year. However, there is a way to get at least 500 at-bats and not greatly infringe on the playing time of Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera and David Wright/Jose Reyes.

The solution is simple and stems from Flores’ best attribute – other than hitting against left-handed pitching – and that’s his versatility.

He would play first one day, second the next, shortstop the third game and third base the fourth.

Doing this requires discipline on Collins’ part, a trait he has not exhibited. If Collins were to pull this off it will accomplish the following: 1) give Flores more and consistent at-bats, and 2) provide rest for the Mets’ older and injury-prone infield.

It will be well worth it to give Walker and Wright regimented rest, and it wouldn’t hurt for Cabrera and Duda, either.

The bottom line is the projected 2017 Mets’ infield could be gone after this season and they must find out what Flores can do.

Dec 30

Projecting Mets’ Shopping For Next Winter

Other than extending Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets have been relatively inactive this winter. Could it be they are preparing for next offseason? That’s not a stretch when you consider the potential holes in next winter’s roster. General manager Sandy Alderson should be busy – or he’d better be.

Let’s assume for a moment their young pitching staff gets through the 2017 season healthy and productive. That should alleviate that issue, but here are the others:

CONFORTO: Where will he play?  (Getty)

CONFORTO: Where will he play? (Getty)

CATCHER: If Travis d’Arnaud doesn’t take the next step, it’s hard to imagine they’ll bring back Rene Rivera for another year. The Mets are saying they’ll give d’Arnaud another chance to prove his worth. If not, they’ll have to look for help behind the plate. Their top catching prospect, Tomas Nido, is still at least two years away.

FIRST BASE: They have Lucas Duda for another year, but they are still making noise of experimenting with David Wright and Michael Conforto. Either would be a gamble. If Wright is healthy, the outfield glut might make Conforto the pick. However, what they are really hoping for is Duda to hold the spot until Dominic Smith is ready.

SECOND BASE: Neil Walker signed for one year, so he’ll be another issue. If they re-sign him again, it will be costly, perhaps at least $50 million over three years. Of course, there’s Wilmer Flores, but why are they so reluctant to give him a real chance?

SHORTSTOP: Asdrubal Cabrera‘s contract will be over after this season, but the Mets have two prospects in Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini. How much time will they see in 2017 and will it be enough to get them ready for 2018?

THIRD BASE: Wright, of course, will be a question every season. The Mets’ top-rated third base prospect, Jhoan Urena, will still be a year or two away. Will Jose Reyes show enough this summer to warrant an extension?

OUTFIELD: It’s complicated now after extending Cespedes. Presumably, he’ll play left, which means Conforto needs to find a place to play. Center field would seem to be the place, but the Mets want him to share the spot with Curtis Granderson. If they can’t trade him, Jay Bruce could share right field with him. Whatever happens, we have to figure both Bruce and Granderson will be gone after this season, so that should ease the logjam. However, the way things project, playing time could be sparse for both Conforto and Juan Lagares, which might wave a red flag.

BULLPEN: There hasn’t been an offseason in recent memory where the bullpen wasn’t an issue. Figuring Addison Reed pitches lights out in the closer role while Jeurys Familia presumably serves a suspension, he’ll be worthy of a raise. Should Familia pitch well again, he’ll get more money. As usual, the Mets will have to look for role pitchers.

Dec 27

Familia Awaits Suspension Verdict

Since his assault charge was dropped, Jeurys Familia has been working out and throwing live batting practice in the Dominican Republic.

FAMILIA: Waiting on suspension verdict. (AP)

FAMILIA: Waiting on suspension verdict. (AP)

However, Familia awaits word from MLB on a possible suspension. I can’t help but think if Familia were not facing a suspension, he wouldn’t be playing in a winter league and instead be easing his way into spring training.

Being realistic, Familia can’t help thinking he’ll skate on this, even though his fiancé opted not to press charges. The scratches and bruises on her body just didn’t get there.

Based on previous cases – Aroldis Chapman sat for 30 games and shots were fired then and Jose Reyes sat for 52 games and his wife also declined to press charges, so that’s a moot point – MLB will certainly impose some sanctions.

Clearly, spousal complaints matter little in these cases.

The Mets and Familia can’t be thinking he’ll get less than 30 games. So, Familia is doing the smart thing and getting work in now before the hammer comes down. But, what are the Mets doing?

They’ve already said set-up reliever Addison Reed will step in as the closer and the Mets signed several non-descript middle relievers.

Considering what Chapman and Andrew Miller did in the World Series – when they were required to work multiple innings, unless they sign or trade for an established (read: expensive) middle reliever, their best bet will be to go with Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman in the set-up role.

It’s the path of least resistance – and least investment – so figure that’s how the Mets will proceed.