Jul 03

A Master Plan For Flores

FLORES: A plan for him. (AP)

FLORES: A plan for him. (AP)

As they were with Daniel Murphy, the Mets never seem pleased with Wilmer Flores, who carved a place in club lore last July when he was brought to tears on the field after thinking he had been traded to Milwaukee.

A couple of days later, he hit a walk-off homer to beat the Nationals to jumpstart the Mets’ pennant push. Perhaps the Mets’ 2016 pennant push began with this weekend’s four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field, capped off by today’s 14-3 rout in which Flores tied a franchise record – Edgardo Alfonzo – with six hits, including two homers.

Yeah, six-for-six. Riding a 0-for-14 slide entering the game, there was a school of thought Flores might get sent down when Jose Reyes is brought up.

“Players aren’t naive,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “They read the papers. They know what’s going on. I don’t think there’s any question he hasn’t heard Reyes is coming.”

What’s going on is Flores is on the cusp of losing his job as the Mets, in search of an offensive spark, reached into their past. And, outside of a wild few days last summer, the Mets’ past didn’t include Flores.

A starter for much of last season in the second half at shortstop, Flores started this year on the bench following the winter acquisitions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Theoretically, Flores was to serve as the back-up at third for David Wright and first for Lucas Duda.

Flores assumed the starter’s role at third when Wright went down, but now the Mets seemed poised to replace him with a player who has never played third. Reyes is coming, make no mistake, but what should be done with Flores?

Under no circumstances should they option him to Triple-A to make room for Reyes, an idea Keith Hernandez floated on SNY. First of all, there are no assurances Reyes will take to third. They should also not relegate him full time to the bench.

“It’s experience and reps. you have to get him out there,” Collins said to give the impression Flores’ best position is batter. “You have to get him 500 at-bats. In order to have an idea of what a player is capable of doing you have to play him.”

There’s the rub. One of the things I find annoying about Collins is how he uses his bench. All too often he’ll ride his starters while the role players collect rust, which seemed to be the case with Flores before Wright was hurt. There never seemed to be a regular resting format for Wright. There was no third-to-first rotation with Flores to start the season as he sat in ten games and only had 28 at-bats in April.

Flores was on a 0-for-14 skid before Sunday’s once-in-a-lifetime game.

“I thought I was swinging the bat well, I just wasn’t lucky,” was how Flores described his mini-slump, and of his turnaround, added, “I was looking to be aggressive.”

Whatever the Mets had in mind for Flores, he’s always been the good soldier. Genuinely hurt last year when he thought he had been traded, he seemed annoyed when the Reyes issue was raised Sunday.

“It’s not my choice,” Flores curtly said. “I’m here to play.”

But where?

Like a six-year-old child who ignores his favorite toy when presented with a new one, I fear Collins might bury Flores on the bench.

Collins has proven he doesn’t always follow through with a plan. From batting Juan Lagares leadoff last season to starting the year with Curtis Granderson hitting first; to an innings limit for Matt Harvey; to juggling his lineup; to how to handle Michael Conforto, Collins is quick to abandon a plan.

I get it, Reyes will play third base, but Flores must be used. He should start at least four games a week to keep his bat sharp. One game at third, one at shortstop, one at second and one at first. Have him be a super sub on a regular rotation. If the Mets make a run, Collins can’t afford to drive Cabrera and Walker into the ground, and James Loney needs a breather at first.

Flores is hitting and the Mets must keep it that way.

Jul 01

What’s Mets’ Thinking About Wright?

David Wright is back at Citi Field after undergoing neck surgery and said he doesn’t expect to play again this season, but expects to return next year … and be again a viable player.

WRIGHT: What's next? (AP)

WRIGHT: What’s next? (AP)

“I’m going to be out for an extended period of time,” Wright told reporters Friday in his first public comments since undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured disk in his neck. “But I plan on coming back and being the player that I feel like I’m capable of being.”

Dr. Robert Watkins removed the damaged disk and fragments putting pressure on Wright’s spinal cord. Wright said Watkins was adamant about surgery because of fear of permanent damage.

When Wright is able to return next season is unknown. The way he spoke Friday of his concerns of losing his balance or being bumped underscores how this year is out.

Despite his optimism, and considering his recent injury history, nothing can be assumed with Wright. James Loney, who drove in three runs with a homer and double Friday, threw the Mets a lifeline in replacing Lucas Duda. The Mets haven’t been as fortunate with a replacement for Wright.

Wilmer Flores has been serviceable so far, and there is always the hope Jose Reyes will give the Mets an offensive spark, but can he play the position?

It would have been advantageous to see Wright this year as to get a feel for what he can do and what their offseason needs might be. This season will end for the Mets not knowing about Wright’s ability to play third base, or anywhere else, for that matter.

They might be forced to consider signing, or trading for, a third baseman this winter.

Of course, the hope is Wright will return in 2017 and be a productive player.

Jun 18

Mets Need Granderson To Go On A Tear

Mets manager Terry Collins spoke with tempered confidence Saturday afternoon regarding his team’s slide in the NL East over the past three weeks, going from tied to six games behind the Washington Nationals.

GRANDERSON: Need him to take control. (Getty)

GRANDERSON: Need him to take control. (Getty)

The Mets face the Nationals seven times over the next three weeks.

“We’ll be ready for it,” Collins told reporters about the two series that could determine the rest of the season for the Mets.

They might be ready, but also short-handed with David Wright likely gone for the season and Lucas Duda out indefinitely. There are performance leaders and clubhouse leaders. If you believe in the latter, who will replace Wright?

“We’re going to miss David’s presence,” Collins said. “We’ve got to pick up the slack, not just on the field but in the clubhouse.”

When a manager speaks of the need for players to step up, both on the field and in the emotional sense, it means he really doesn’t have anybody obvious he can lean on.

Yoenis Cespedes can carry a team on his back as he proved last summer. His homer Saturday night put a charge into the Mets. However, there are times he loses focus and becomes lackadaisical. Neil Walker is also capable, who carried the Mets in April? However, and this is important, just how much weight will their words and gestures carry considering both could be gone after the season?

It won’t be Lucas Duda, who is on the disabled list with no timetable for his return. And, when he does play, he’s extremely quiet.

It is essential a team leader is productive. Who listens to your words if you can’t back it up? Right now that rules out Michael Conforto, who is starting to hit some balls hard, but has been in a dreadful slump since the end of April.

It won’t be a pitcher as they play once every five games, and in the Mets’ case, are generally quiet.

The obvious candidate to me is Curtis Granderson, who is warming up after a slow start and has an outgoing personality. If the Mets are to turn it around, they need Granderson to grab this team by the scruff of the neck and shake it awake.

 

Jun 12

Things Better Change Quickly For Mets

Last week I asked if there was a reason to be concerned with the Mets, but stopped short of saying they were in trouble. I’m not stopping short any longer. If the season ended today the Mets would make the playoffs as the second wild card, but there are more than a few reasons to believe they aren’t heading in the right direction.

MATZ: Roughed up Sunday. (Getty)

MATZ: Roughed up Sunday. (Getty)

There’s plenty of season left to turn things around, but also enough time has gone by to conclude despite their young pitching – and Bartolo Colon – that if there’s not a reversal soon the playoffs many of us took for granted on Opening Day might not happen.

Following their 15-7 April, including Sunday’s 5-3 loss in Milwaukee the Mets have gone 19-21. They are 4.5 games behind Washington, and one of seven teams lumped under the 4.5-game umbrella of wild-contenders.

Teams will lose, but the Mets didn’t play well during their 5-5 road trip. They weren’t just beaten, they beat themselves. On Sunday, they had breakdowns in all phases: 1) Steven Matz was roughed up in his second straight start; 2) the defense committed three errors and could have had a fourth; and 3) and their hitters struck out ten times and went 2-for-9 with RISP.

April’s storyline was the Mets’ propensity for hitting homers, but more importantly in their 62 games they have scored three or fewer runs in half (31) of them. That’s an alarming number. Overall, they are hitting .214 with RISP; and average around nine strikeouts and close to the same in runners left on base in a game.

Nine strikeouts mean in three innings they did not put the ball in play. For all those who don’t give credence to strikeouts as an important statistic, it is time to get a clue. Not putting the ball in play means no chance for hits; no chance to reach on an error; no sacrifice flies; and no productive outs to put runners in scoring position.

A positive note is Matt Harvey seems to have turned it around, but could that be offset by Matz’s two straight stinkers? And, Jacob deGrom hasn’t won in his last seven starts. The bullpen, so positive in April, is showing cracks. Closer Jeurys Familia is far from a sure thing. Their most reliable reliever is Addison Reed; with everybody else you hold your breath.

Injuries are a concern with David Wright, Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud on the disabled list. They could get d’Arnaud back in a week or so, but he wasn’t hitting or throwing runners out on the bases before he got hurt. Michael Conforto has a sore wrist and is in a dreadful slump; Neil Walker has a tight lower back; and Juan Lagares has an injured left thumb.

The upcoming schedule is brutal as from now until the All-Star break they have three more games with Pittsburgh; two against Kanas City; three with the Marlins; four against the Cubs and seven with the Nationals. Beginning Tuesday, the Mets start a stretch of 26 games in 27 days.

Seriously, there’s a chance the trade deadline could be moot.

The Mets can get on a hot streak, turn things around and maybe add a couple of pieces just as they did last season. However, since the end of April we’ve seen precious few signs of that happening.

There’s reason for concern, and yes, they are in trouble.

May 29

Loney Was Best Possible Available Option For Mets

James Loney might not have been the best player the Mets could have gotten to replace Lucas Duda at first base for the next two months, but considering how they do things he was the best possible option.

The Mets considered several internal options – including Wilmer Flores – but acted with unusual swiftness for them by getting Loney, 32, from San Diego for cash.

LONEY: Best available choice. (AP)

LONEY: Best available choice. (AP)

I would have preferred Adam LaRoche, but the speculated cost in coaxing him out of retirement from the White Sox would probably have been too high. However, I definitely prefer Loney over a mix-and-match platoon of Eric Campbell and Flores. He’s also a better option than moving Michael Conforto or David Wright to new positions.

“Loney was an immediate, obvious possibility in terms of ease of acquisition and a variety of things,” GM Sandy Alderson told reporters. “We had someone go and look at James a couple of games last week and earlier in the month. We felt this was the right move for us at the moment.

“We felt we needed another left-handed bat. James doesn’t have a lot of power. He hasn’t demonstrated that, but we’ve got that elsewhere in the lineup. He’s someone who hits from the left side, a contact hitter, doesn’t strike out a lot. He could be a nice fit for us.”

Manager Terry Collins, whose roots are in the Dodger system as are Loney’s, has known him for 15 years.

“He’ll add a nice dimension to us,” Collins said. “He’s a very good first baseman. He’s a good offensive player. He’s not necessarily a big power guy. He’s a tremendous guy in the clubhouse.”

Loney was released by the Rays this spring and had been with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in El Paso, Texas, where he was hitting .342 with two homers and 28 RBI in 158 at-bats.

Loney was to make $9.6 million this year, but because he was released by the Rays, the Mets are responsible for the pro-rated major league minimum for him.

All in all, it was the best possible deal the Mets could have made.