Jan 20

Top Ten Mets’ Issues Heading Into Spring Training

With spring training five weeks away, and a major storm due in two days, what better time to examine the top ten issues facing the Mets? Some projections have the Mets breezing back to the World Series, but I don’t see it. Things won’t be that easy for them. They never are. Other projections have them dropping off to 84 victories, which might not be enough for them to reach the playoffs.

I’m pegging them for at least 85, with the added expectation the Washington Nationals will be better.

1. What is the temperature of this team after its World Series run?

A. I recently wrote these guys are professional athletes and shouldn’t need a manager to motivate them. That being said, after 2006 the Mets entered spring training thinking all they needed to do was show up. Consequently, they didn’t do much to plug their holes, of which there were several, mostly pitching related. You, of course, remember the collapse of 2007? What Mets’ follower doesn’t? Actually, that bothered me more than the Carlos Beltran strikeout. The Mets don’t have to look any further than David Wright to know these opportunities are fleeting.

DeGROM: Can he get to 20? (GETTY)

DeGROM: Can he get to 20? (GETTY)

2. How strong is the bullpen?

A: This is the prevailing issue to me. It appears they are banking on the returns of Jerry Blevins and Jennry Mejia, and if Hansel Robles can develop. They’ll have Addison Reed for the full season, and hopefully Jeurys Familia learned something after taking his World Series lumps. We shall see. Bartolo Colon will go to the pen once Zack Wheeler comes off the disabled list. It doesn’t matter what power hitting outfielder they might find in the next five weeks (I’m betting none), if their bullpen is shaky then so are the Mets’ chances.

3. How healthy is Wright?

A: Wright is already in Port St. Lucie. Who wasn’t expecting that? Wright finished the season feeling strong, but that was after two months of playing time. He’s preparing himself for at least six months of playing time. He’ll have a special routine before each game. It will be interesting to see how Terry Collins carves out his playing time.

4. Who’ll be in center field?

A: My pick is Juan Lagares because I don’t see them bringing back Yoenis Cespedes. He’s still in play, but I’m not betting on it. Let Lagares run with the opportunity.

5. Will any of the starters have innings or pitch-count restrictions?

A: Obviously, Wheeler will have some. Perhaps the same goes for Steven Matz, but Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard should be fine. If there are restrictions, hopefully the Mets will have learned from last year with Harvey. They Mets are touting their young pitching, as well they should. But, either Harvey or deGrom must make a leap toward 20 wins. Here’s hoping Harvey pitches with a massive chip on his shoulder.

6. Will the double-play combination mesh?

A: Collins has a new double-play combination of Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker. This involves timing and positioning and things don’t happen over night. Collins still needs to find time for Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada and Dilson Herrera. Collins needs to give them all a chance to work together so there will be no surprises. A lot is banking on this.

7. Who’ll be the catcher?

A: The Mets like both Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, but will have to decide on one and possibly move to trade the other. Among other things, d’Arnaud has to improve his throwing. After all, the base runners are trying to steal second base and not center field. The guess here is d’Arnaud will open the season as the starter, but Collins needs to have a defined platoon in mind.

8. How strong is the bench?

A: As of now, Plawecki, Flores, Tejada and Alejandro De Aza are the main figures coming off the bench. I prefer Lagares gets a chance to win the center field job outright, but if there is a platoon I hope it is something definitive. Flores is expected to relieve Wright at third, and I wonder what Collins’ thoughts are on that?

9. Are hot starts in order for left-handed power?

A: If Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson don’t hit coming out of the gate there will be rumblings about the big-popper the Mets didn’t sign. We can probably expect that anyway, hot starts by Duda and Granderson will alleviate pressure from the rest of the offense, especially if Wright doesn’t hit for power early on.

10. Who’ll be the big surprises?

A: A lot is expected from Michael Conforto. Hopefully, he’ll live up to the billing even if he doesn’t become Ted Williams right away. But, what about Brandon Nimmo? Isn’t it time for him to make a statement, even if it is, “I’ll see you this summer.” On the mound, the Mets are high on Rafael Montero. Can he become a viable bullpen presence coming out of spring training?

 

 

Jan 15

Time To Give Lagares A Full Chance

It is clear Juan Lagares is currently out of favor with the Mets, but I don’t believe the situation is permanent. As the Mets currently express limited interest in bringing back Yoenis Cespedes on a short-term deal – some reports have it as short as one season – I keep thinking perhaps the best option is to go with the guy already on a multi-year deal.

LAGARES: Needs a chance. (AP)

LAGARES: Needs a chance. (AP)

The Mets gave Lagares a five-year deal because they liked his speed and glove, and were optimistic about his offensive potential. While Lagares regressed in 2015 in all areas, I wonder how much was his elbow; was hitting the sophomore slump; or maybe the Mets misjudged him.

Perhaps it is a combination of all three. Perhaps it was just a bad year.

Whatever the reasons, the Mets remain on the hook for the remaining four years. I’ve written several times the deal was currently a bust. I still think that way at times, but my overriding thought is what if Lagares eventually lives up to what the Mets envisioned for him?

If that is the case, it would be best if they find out about him sooner than later. I’m not holding out any hope they’ll rope in Cespedes for one or even four years. The Mets gave Wilmer Flores a chance last season, and did the same with Michael Conforto, as well as young pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz.

So, why not the same with Lagares?

If he outperforms the competition during spring training, then let him play full time. Give him up to two months, or possibly until the All-Star break. If the Mets are in the race at the trade deadline, perhaps they can swing a deal.

But, what if Lagares has a breakout year? It’s worth a chance to find out.

Dec 10

Mets A Winter Meetings Winner

The Mets left Nashville this afternoon a better team that showed up Sunday night, even if they come home with a contract having Ben Zobrist‘s autograph.

CABRERA: Makes Mets better. (Getty)

CABRERA: Makes Mets better. (Getty)

The Mets not only upgraded up the middle defensively with second baseman Neil Walker (trade from Pittsburgh for Jon Niese) and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (free agent signing from Tampa Bay), and in the process improved their bench and came away with a back-up for David Wright.

And, they did it at a minimal cost, $18.5 million in a two-year contract for Cabrera instead of the estimated $50 million they were going to pay Zobrist. The price of what Walker could make in arbitration and what Niese is to make ($9 million) is a wash.

The Mets were poor defensively with Daniel Murphy and Flores (a combined 26 errors) opposed to a combined 16 from Walker and Cabrera. However, defense is more than just errors, it is also positioning and range. For a team built on pitching, they improved in the field with no loss of production at the plate..

Flores will now fall into the role of right-handed hitting platoon with Walker; back-up shortstop; and fill-in for Wright at third.

The decision to sign Cabrera after tendering Ruben Tejada is not overkill because Flores fractured his ankle in winter ball and Tejada is still recovering from breaking his leg in the playoffs. We don’t know if they’ll be ready when spring training opens Feb. 17 (pitchers and catchers) and Feb. 24 (position players).

Assuming both are ready, they can spell Wright at third. Cabrera can do the same.

So, when you add it up, the Mets improved their up-the-middle defense, bench and found a contingency plan for Wright and will save an estimated $30 million.

I’d call it a win-win, leaving them to find a left-handed hitting platoon with Juan Lagares in center and bolstering the bullpen.

Please follow me on Twitter

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 08

Mets Today: More Zobrist

With Ben Zobrist expected in town Tuesday, the Mets will put the full-court press on their top free-agent target. Reportedly, Zobrist wants $60 million over four years. The Mets originally said they didn’t want to go more than three years, but it is looking as if they’ll bend on the years.

If it happens it won’t be the first time as they acquiesced on Curtis Granderson and gave four years and gave two years to Bartolo Colon when they only wanted to give one.

Zobrist has proven to be a solid player who stays in shape, but he’ll be 39 at the end of the contract which makes it a risk. Of course, most teams know players will break down at the end of their contracts so the Mets can expect him to fall off in the third and fourth years.

I like Zobrist, but he’s a complementary player and won’t be the player to put them over the top. The Mets’ primary objectives should the bullpen and finding an outfield bat to platoon with Juan Lagares.

For the past two years we’ve been told by the Mets that Dilson Herrera was the long-term solution for second base, but their pursuit of Zobrist makes one wonder where he really fits into their plans.

The Mets did tender Ruben Tejada, but haven’t said how he’s recovering from his broken leg sustained in the playoffs. Tejada at shortstop and moving Wilmer Flores was thought to be a possible solution, but that seems to be on the back burner.