Feb 15

Feb. 15.10: Who’s primed for a breakout year?

When you look at all the Mets’ issues, it must be remembered the flip side is also true and that the positive could happen. No, today I’m not looking at who I consider the most important Met to be – for me it is Jose Reyes in the field and Mike Pelfrey on the mound – but the guy poised for a breakout season. By that, I mean his best year and finally showing signs of potential.

MAINE: Could this be a breakout year?

MAINE: Could this be a breakout year?

What’s your gut telling you?

Will one of the catchers step up and shed the platoon label?
Will Daniel Murphy show some power?
Will Pelfrey, John Maine or Oliver Perez shake the inconsistency label and win north of 15 games?
Will Jeff Francoeur become the power the Braves once projected of him?

Scanning the Mets’ roster, two names immediately grab my attention as possibilities for breakout seasons: Murphy and Maine.

I like Murphy to have a big year because of last year was a learn-on-the-job experience which he picked up fairly well. I also believe with a full year of learning the pitchers and getting stronger, that his power numbers should increase. He won’t hit 40, but 20 would be a significant improvement.

I’m also liking Maine because all indications are he’s healthy. Sometimes, it is the second year after the surgery when a pitcher feels comfortable again. I believe Pelfrey will improve; have no clue about Perez, but I’m trying to think positive; but I think Maine is poised to have a year better than 2007 when he won 15 games.

Feb 09

Feb. 9.10: Mets need a full Reyes.

I’ve been looking at the Mets position players with this thought: Whose season might be the most important for them to reach contending status. That is, of course, under the assumption the rotation pitches well.

REYES: Mets need his spark.

REYES: Mets need his spark.

My first thought was David Wright, but I’m inclined to give the benefit of doubt and believe last season was an aberration, that he’ll be closer to normal this year. Then I thought Daniel Murphy, as with Carlos Beltran out at the start that the Mets would need an infusion of power someplace. But, Murphy is what he is, and he’s not – at least in this stage of his career – a power hitter.

Then it became obvious: The keys to the Mets offense has always been Jose Reyes. When he’s running, stealing bases, legging out triples and beating out bunts, and going into the hole for the ball, that’s when the Mets are at their best.

Of all the position players, he’s the one who needs to be at his best if the Mets are to prove last year was an injury-riddled fluke. If Reyes is on his game, the Mets go from being a listless team to a dangerous one.

The reports so far have been positive on his rebab, but he’s not tested them under baseball conditions. When he does, we might gain a greater insight as to where this season will go.

Pitchers and catchers less than two weeks.

Feb 03

Feb. 3.10: Reyes talkin’ it up.

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who appeared in only 36 games last season, has been running sprints at a Long Island training facility and said he’s ready for spring training. And, SNY was there to record the moment for posterity.

“I’ll be ready in 2010,” Reyes said. “I can do everything I did before on the field … I can’t wait to hit a triple.”

Reyes, however, still needs to test his right calf and torn torn right hamstring tendon with baseball drills on both sides of the ball.

“Last year I came back too quickly,” Reyes said. “Everything is in the past. I don’t want to think about it. Now there is no pain. That’s the key. There is nothing to worry about. Everything’s perfect.”

Jan 24

Jan. 24.10: Let’s big-picture this.

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

In 2006, the Mets finished 97-65, winning the National League East by 12 games. It would be fair to say that is when the window was open at its widest for this core of Mets. And, we’re talking David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. While that core has remained largely productive, the rest of the team, in particular it’s pitching, has not.

The strength of the 2006 team was arguably its bullpen, which picked up the slack for a consistent, but hardly spectacular rotation.

Despite signing Billy Wagner, at the time an All-Star caliber closer, Omar Minaya let two significant keys to that pen, Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford, get away. The Mets have been struggling to get a bullpen chemistry since. An argument can be made the chemistry started to fizzle with the decline of Aaron Heilman, who was so good in 2006 save that pitch to Yadier Molina.

Even so, the team started strong in 2007, taking a 34-18 record into June. Would we all agree that 2006 and the first two months of 2007 was when the Mets’ star burned its brightest?

They finished 54-56 the rest of the way in 2007, including a collapse in which they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. Much of the downward spiral was traced to a bullpen bridge that could not get to Wagner.

Since June 1, 2007, the Mets are 20 games below .500 – including another collapse in 2008 – and the refrain was the same after each season: The pitching is the problem. The 2008 team, by the way, blew 29 save opportunities.

It’s a double-edged sword: The bullpen is overworked and ineffective. But, the reason it is overworked is because the Mets aren’t getting quality innings from their starters.

For those who think I’m being too negative, those are the numbers.

I realize 2009 was a unique season because of injuries, but even under the assumption the core offensive players return to form this season, there remains largely the same pitching staff. Never mind the team’s hot start one-third into the last season, more representative of their performance was the remaining two-thirds.

Getting Johan Santana was a significant gesture of improvement, but he makes 34 starts a year. The pennant is won or lost in the remaining 128 games, and this is where the Mets are weak and have not improved.

Even Santana is a partial question as he’s coming off surgery. The team says he’ll be ready, but said the same thing about John Maine. Maine’s durability, along with his presence, are questions. We don’t know what we’ll get from Oliver Perez inning to inning, much less game to game. And, Mike Pelfrey has regressed. And, well, there is no fifth starter, yet.

Yes, Jason Bay will improve the offense, but in reality aren’t we subbing his numbers for that of a healthy Delgado? And, there’s another hole with the loss of Beltran. So, just how much better is the offense, really? And, what if Wright doesn’t regain his power stroke? Can we say for sure Reyes is back?

Bottom line: We can’t say the core is back to normal or will get that way.

In that case, it falls again on the pitching, which is the same pitching that failed miserably the last two-and-a-half seasons.

Jan 18

Jan. 18.10: Spring training questions.

Questions, questions ....

Questions, questions ....

With a month before the start of spring training, let’s take a look at the ten top issues surrounding the Mets when the arrive at Port St. Lucie:

1) Who are the fifth starter candidates?
A: Jon Niese is from the organization. It could also be Oliver Perez or John Maine if the Mets should add another arm. Joel Pineiro and Jon Garland are still out there, but they are also linked to other teams. There’s no guarantee the Mets will bring in somebody else.

2) Where is Johan Santana?
A: Santana is coming off surgery. The Mets are saying he’ll be ready, but they said the same thing about John Maine last spring.

3) What is Jose Reyes status?
A: Reyes says he feels good, but he hasn’t tested that hamstring in game-type conditions. And, how much speed has he lost?

4) Did David Wright find his home run stroke over the winter?
A: Maybe it was Citi Field, maybe not. But, Wright did not hit with power last season. That has to change if the Mets are to do anything.

5) Carlos Beltran is how many weeks away?
A: Originally, they said 12 weeks. He won’t be ready by spring training to do baseball activities, but maybe they’ll have a better timetable by then.

6) What’s the catching situation look like?
A: The Mets have plenty of reserve catchers, but not a No. 1. They hope it will be Bengie Molina. They really don’t want to rush Josh Thole to the majors.

7) Who is the real Mike Pelfrey?
A: Pelfrey appeared on the verge of breaking out in 2008, but regressed last season. It’s about time he gets to the next level.

8) Where does the coin land?
A: Will Coinflip Perez show consistency beyond being inconsistent? He’s also coming off surgery. The reports are he’s working hard, but he’s worked hard before with no results.

9) What are the bullpen roles?
A: They could change if they sign John Smoltz. I’d rather have him in a set-up role than Kelvim Escobar. That way I could also drop Bobby Parnell down to a lower pressure slot.

10) What kind of camp will Jerry Manuel run?
A: Lax or clamp down? There were injuries last season, but the team also played fundamentally poor baseball and that’s his responsibility.