Mar 17

Things To Like About Mets So Far

With a little over two weeks remaining in spring training, there’s a lot to like about how the Mets are playing, with several bright spots surfacing in today’s rout of the Cardinals.

CESPEDES: Has MVP aspirations. (AP)

CESPEDES: Has MVP aspirations. (AP)

STARTING PITCHING: If numbers were to determine the Opening Day starter, you would have to go with Jacob deGrom, who has a 0.90 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in three starts, with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Noah Syndergaard, however, has a 3.52 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. And, four walks in 7.2 won’t get it done most games. Syndergaard bulked up in the offseason with the intent of getting stronger as to work deeper into games. It’s not that he’s not strong enough, but his command is off. What haunted him last year is resurfacing this spring with higher pitch counts.

Steven Matz threw 3.2 innings today, and if you add an inning in his likely two remaining starts, that won’t get him out of the fifth in his first regular season start. He’s throwing well, by so far isn’t stretched out like the Mets want him to be.

Sure, these are exhibition numbers, but also an early measure of performance. So far, none of their starters are stretched out for them to go longer than six. That becomes an issue if the bullpen is shaky, which so far is far from fine-tuned.

In the competition for the fifth starter, Zack Wheeler – who will likely stay back – his throwing hard and pain-free. The projection is roughly 110 innings, which makes him better suited to coming up in late May or June. I don’t like the idea of using him in relief now.

As for Seth Lugo, he’s pitching in the World Baseball Classic and has done well. It will be either him or Robert Gsellman who goes north in the rotation. However, with numerous off days in April, the fifth starter won’t often be used, so one could go in the bullpen.

HOT BATS: Yoenis Cespedes said he wants to be MVP and if that happens a lot of good things will happen this summer. He’s hitting .419 with five homers, but the key numbers are only two strikeouts in 31 at-bats. That kind of ratio would go a long way towards making an MVP possible.

Also hitting well are Michael Conforto (.359), Neil Walker (.313), Curtis Granderson (.323), but most importantly Travis d’Arnaud (.333) and Lucas Duda (.292 with five doubles). The pressure is on d’Arnaud to have a make-or-break season and Duda, who missed much of last year with a stress fracture in his lower back and recently received a couple on injections.

Jay Bruce and Wilmer Flores finally pushed their averages over .200, and the latter drove in six runs Friday with a grand slam and double. Flores is not going away and the Mets need to find a way of getting him regular playing time to stay ready.

Feb 28

Wright Shut Down; Future In Doubt

The return of David Wright was always more about hope than reality, and unfortunately the truth nobody wants to concede reared its ugly head today with the news the often-injured third baseman has been shut down indefinitely because of his inability to throw the ball across the infield.

WRIGHT: Staring into dark future. (AP)

WRIGHT: Staring into dark future. (AP)

The specter of Wright not playing this year, or perhaps ever again, can’t be ignored. Manager Terry Collins said Wright’s absence doesn’t greatly impact the Mets’ playoff aspirations. Considering Wright has played less than a combined 100 games the past two season, that’s a logical conclusion.

GM Sandy Alderson, in announcing Wright’s shutdown, said the question of his retirement or the Mets buying him out, hasn’t yet been reached: “I don’t think we’re at the point where that concern is at a more heightened level. This is all part of the process of rehabilitating, and it’s taking longer than I am sure David would have hoped, and we would hope, but that is part of the process.”

For Wright, the process includes him staying in Florida working to strengthen his shoulder. He’ll also work at first base, perhaps not so much for this year, but 2018 when presumably Lucas Duda won’t be brought back. However, the truth remains we don’t know if Wright will be able to play in any role.

Financially, the Mets owe Wright $67 million on the balance of his contract, but insurance will cover $50.25 million. But, insurance can’t hit or field, or offer an element of stability and leadership in the clubhouse.

Although it has been years since Wright produced like an All-Star, but make no mistake he brought in significant stability when he came off the disabled list to join the 2015 pennant race.

Initially, Wright will be replaced by Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores in the short term, but if they are struggling and the Mets are in contention at the trade deadline, could they make a run at Todd Frazier. Would they make a play for Frazier even if Reyes is playing well?

 

 

 

Feb 26

Mets’ Shouldn’t Be Eager To Deal Bruce

It’s one thing for the Mets to force-feed first base to Jay Bruce. It’s another when the players wants to play the position. Bruce is a smart guy. He knows when Lucas Duda back barks that is an opportunity for him to get in the lineup.

BRUCE: Has value. (AP)

BRUCE: Has value. (AP)

Both Bruce and Neil Walker took grounders at first base prior to today’s 5-2 victory over Detroit, but there are no immediate plans to get him in a game. There should be because the Mets shouldn’t want to be forced to play Bruce at first with him not getting time there.

“I am going to work at it,” Bruce told reporters. “I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t to do it, so I am going to work at it.”

The Mets have a fluid situation in their outfield and at first base. Yoenis Cespedes ($27.5 million), Curtis Granderson ($15.1 million) and Bruce ($13 million). Their salaries will give them most of the playing time, but Michael Conforto is also pushing for playing time.

But, if Conforto plays, that would leave Bruce needing to play first when Duda’s back acts up. A stress fracture kept him out for most of last season and his health will always be an issue. And, for all that has been reported of GM Sandy Alderson’s intent to deal Bruce, he shouldn’t act too hastily because of Duda’s fragility.

Trading Bruce and then losing Duda to injury could be disastrous, especially with the health issues with David Wright and Walker. Duda’s back places a premium on Bruce’s value. The Mets are fortunate to have the resources if Duda misses significant time.

Manager Terry Collins liked Bruce’s workout: “It looks like he’s got the athleticism. He’s got the hands. He’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce appears up for the move and he’s hopeful of redeeming himself for last season. The Mets shouldn’t be too eager to let him get away.

Feb 12

Four Spring Training Questions Facing Mets

Despite the snow, winter ends officially today as the Mets’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Port St. Lucie. Once they break out the balls and bats, winter ends, but not necessarily the questions for the Mets.

There are four pertinent questions and issues the Mets must answer in spring training.

HARVEY: One of many health issues. (AP)

HARVEY: One of many health issues. (AP)

Who in the starting rotation is healthy, and will there be innings limits?

A: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all coming off arm surgery. For all the potential of their young arms, the Mets aren’t likely to go four-for-four on the recovery front. Somebody will have a setback. We just don’t know who. But, that’s more for the regular season, but for the next six weeks manager Terry Collins must determine a rotation order following Opening Day starter Noah Syndergaard. Collins must also decide Wheeler’s role; fifth starter or reliever? Collins and GM Sandy Alderson must pick a role and stay with it for at least this season. Jumping from one role to another can’t be good for Wheeler’s arm. It didn’t work out that way for Jenrry Mejia, did it? Unlike in 2015 with Harvey, there must be a definitive innings limits for these guys. They won’t like it, but it is in the best interest in keeping them healthy.

What are the bullpen roles?

A: Pencil in Addison Reed to replace closer Jeurys Familia while he serves a suspension. But after him? Is the set-up man Hansel Robles or Jerry Blevins or Seth Lugo/Robert Gsellman? If either Lugo or Gsellman is the set-up man, will the other be the long man? Or will one be the fifth starter? If Wheeler is in the pen, he needs a set role as to reduce the strain on his arm? How many relievers, six or seven? Will they keep three lefties, with Sean Gilmartin and Josh Edgin joining Blevins?

What is the back situation?

A: Lucas Duda, Neil Walker and David Wright are recovering from back surgery. Wright hasn’t played a combined 100 games in the last two years. Walker took a qualifying offer because he didn’t have any other options and the Mets didn’t like the other first base options if they lost Duda. Wright? Michael Conforto? How about Wilmer Flores full time? None of those options were appealing. The path of least resistance was bringing back Duda and hoping for the best with his back. By the end of spring training, we should have a better idea as to the health of these three. Collins must also create a plan of giving them rest in the hope of keeping them healthy? Collins has a bench for a reason and has more than just keeping Wright fresh to consider. It is Wright plus two.

How does he juggle the outfield?

A: First of all, will Yoenis Cespedes ever move back to center? The Mets brought back Cespedes the first time under the contingent he plays center. They brought him back the second time under the condition he plays in left. The current plan is, from left to right, Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce. Alderson’s plan to deal Bruce hit a snag when brought back Cespedes because teams deemed him desperate and offered little in return. Bruce needs to play to show production and up his trade value. Granderson, at 35, can’t play center full time, so Juan Lagares will be the fourth outfielder because he’s the only true center fielder. That leaves Conforto scrapping for at-bats.

Feb 11

Reviewing Mets’ Status Quo Offseason

With the Mets’ pitchers and catchers reporting tomorrow, let’s take a quick look at what they did this offseason.

When you look at the Mets’ 40-man roster – Note: trading Gabriel Ynoa to the Orioles basically cleared a spot on the 40-man for Fernando Salas – it is the same as the team that finished 87-75, eight games behind the Nationals in the NL East and lost to the Giants in the wild-card game.

CESPEDES: Doesn't fill all Mets' holes. (AP)

CESPEDES: Doesn’t fill all Mets’ holes. (AP)

That the Nationals added Adam Eaton, yet lost closer Mark Melancon, so it is questionable as to how much they improved. However, they didn’t maintain the status quo as did the Mets.

We must also note the Braves, Phillies and Marlins also made moves to improve, so the NL East isn’t just a two-horse race anymore.

The Mets’ offseason plan first included picking up Jay Bruce’s $13-million option as a hedge for Yoenis Cespedes not coming back.

The Mets then resigned Cespedes and picked up Neil Walker’s one-year $17.2 qualifying offer. They also extended Lucas Duda and brought back Jose Reyes.

Pitching wise, the Mets also brought back Jerry Blevins and Salas.

However, they were unable to trade either Bruce or Curtis Granderson, and consequently, may not have a spot for Michael Conforto, the player that manager Terry Collins proclaimed to be the team’s future No. 3 hitter.

Regarding their pitching, they had three starters – Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom – undergo surgery. Throw in Zack Wheeler and that’s four recovering from the knife. That’s four injury-related questions, and you know as well as me not all questions are answered in the positive.

Complicating matters is the Mets let Bartolo Colon get away. That’s roughly 30 starts and 200 innings, not to mention 15 victories. There’s no guarantee either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman can fill that void.

They also have a gap in the bullpen with the expected suspension of at least 30 games of closer Jeurys Familia. They will sub Addison Reed for Familia, but that still leaves a hole in the set-up role.

Yes, they got Cespedes and Walker – who is coming off back surgery – but GM Sandy Alderson has a $13-million outfielder he can’t trade and a myriad of pitching questions, so they didn’t get better. Once the games begin we will see they didn’t get worse.