Feb 27

The Mets’ Ambivalence Towards Ruben Tejada Opens Door For Flores

Of all the young New York Mets, the one I am most interested in seeing is Wilmer Flores, especially at shortstop. While Ruben Tejada is the starter by default, Flores has a legitimate shot with a strong spring to grab a job.

FLORES: Has opportunity to earn job (Getty)

FLORES: Has opportunity to earn job (Getty)

As the Mets monitor Stephen Drew’s interest and Seattle for Nick Franklin’s availability, it is clear they aren’t sold on Tejada. That makes it no better time than now for Flores to surface.

As team officials continue to portray Tejada as the most likely starter on Opening Day, they acknowledge those two other possibilities and are showing a declining enthusiasm for the incumbent.

A hot spring from Flores could make things interesting if the Mets don’t make an acquisition, especially if he shows something defensively.

The rap on Flores is he doesn’t have the first-step quickness in moving laterally. He also doesn’t have a lot of speed, but shortstops don’t have to be fast. Flores attended the same Michigan fitness camp as Tejada and reports are he improved his straight-ahead speed and lateral quickness.

However, for the offensively-challenged Mets, Flores’ upside is greater than Tejada’s. Flores drove in 13 runs in 27 games last season, which projected over a 162-game schedule is 78 RBI. In contrast, Tejada’s 162-game average is a mere 40.

In addition, as a spray hitter, Tejada’s career on-base percentage is only .323 and his 162-game average is 87 strikeouts.

Flores played shortstop in the minors until 2011, but because of the range issue, the Mets started playing him at third, second and first. All this begs the question: With all the ways prospects are measured, couldn’t they have figured out his range limitations?

Flores’ value to the Mets would be to show something at shortstop, because he is a man without a position and despite his supposed offensive abilities, never hit more than 18 homers (2012) in the minors.

His best season was at Triple-A Las Vegas in 2013 when he hit .321 with a .357 on-base percentage, 15 homers and 86 RBI.

As the Mets consider Drew and Franklin – neither is imminent – this is the perfect time for Flores to make a statement.

Although Flores has experienced every position in the infield, shortstop is the one with the most potential for a breakthrough. Barring injuries, he won’t supplant David Wright at third or Daniel Murphy at second this year.

Who knows what could happen at first base? I floated the idea last year they might cut loose both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda and go with Flores at first base.

That’s not imminent, either.

 

Feb 25

Wrapping The Day: Ike Davis’ Motivation; Tejada Not Answer

Some people don’t get. It was reported by one Internet writer he was happy with the verbal sparring by Ike Davis with a reporter, saying it might “fire up,’’ the non-slugging first baseman.

The point is as a professional athlete Davis needs more than an argument with a writer for motivation. If Davis needs it and must use an external force for inspiration he’s in the wrong profession and the Mets have more trouble than they think.

Reportedly, the Pirates are monitoring the Mets’ camp about Davis, but are also looking at other possibilities.

In addition:

* The Mets haven’t closed the door on signing free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew or trading for Seattle’s Nick Franklin.

* Rafael Montero, Friday’s starter in the exhibition opener against Washington, threw live batting practice.

* Reserve catcher Anthony Recker told ESPN he’s in favor of the rules prohibiting catchers from blocking the plate.

* It is expected Josh Satin will play against left-handers regardless of whether Davis or Lucas Duda play first. Of course, Satin needs his at-bats, but if there’s a strict platoon at first base neither Davis nor Duda will develop into a real hitter.

 

Feb 21

Terry Collins Alludes To Outfield Roster Cuts

The New York Mets haven’t played an exhibition game yet and already manager Terry Collins is hinting at several roster cuts.

With a congested outfield, Collins suggested Matt den Dekker – arguably the best defensive outfielder in the organization – Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Andrew Brown and Cesar Puello beginning the year at Triple-A Las Vegas.

It is also conceivable Juan Lagares will open the season in the minor leagues. Collins is very high on den Dekker.

“One of the things we’re very lucky with, when you come into camp and you have the likes of the outfield we have right now, they’re so athletic. They can all run,’’ Collins told reporters today in Port St. Lucie. “Matt is in that [group]. He is still very, very highly thought of – a tremendous defender, as we know.

“One of the things you’ve seen in his career, he gets to a level and he may have a rough time in the beginning. And the next time he goes to that same level he advances. And we’re hoping the same thing occurs now, that he now knows what’s expected at the major-league level, what kind of pitching he’s going to see, what adjustments he has to make.

“I think Matt den Dekker is still a huge prospect here. It gives us an ample amount of insurance.’’

While Collins said den Dekker will need at-bats, the same applies for Lagares. Should Eric Young start over him, where will Lagares get his at-bats?

The Mets currently have three players competing for on outfield position. Curtis Granderson and Chris Young are givens, leaving Eric Young, Lagares and Lucas Duda for the other spot.

Should Lagares be optioned, Duda is not a viable outfield reserve and definitely can’t play center. That might force Collins to re-think Nieuwenhuis or Brown.

Feb 20

Strikeouts Do Matter For Mets

After writing about the high strikeout rates of Ike Davis, Chris Young and Lucas Duda, I received a question asking why my concern over strikeouts, with the reader saying, “there’s no difference between a strikeout and a soft grounder to second.’’

He couldn’t be more wrong.

First, a strikeout is a non-productive out, but much more can happen on a grounder to second, especially with less than two outs.

A grounder to second, or anywhere in the infield, or a fly ball, has the potential to create something positive while nothing can be generated from a strikeout unless the ball gets by the catcher. And, unless R.A. Dickey is pitching, how often does that happen?

A runner can score on a grounder to second. He can’t on a strikeout.

Also, with a soft grounder to second, there’s a chance the ball could get through for a hit or the fielder could muff it for an error. Either way, it leads to a base runner and potential run, or if there’s a runner on second or third, it could generate a run.

See the difference?

In addition, a grounder can advance a runner into scoring position.

When I once asked Davis about his propensity for striking out, he said, “I am a home run hitter. I like to hit home runs. Strikeouts are part of it.’’

Until he changes that attitude, he’ll never be a viable hitter.

I realize times have changed, but to me one of the most incredible statistics in history is that during his 13-year career, Joe DiMaggio hit 361 home runs, but only struck out 369 times.

Arguably, that might be more impressive than his 56-game hitting streak.

Carrying it a step further, last year the Mets struck out 1,384 times, or 8.5 times a game. Translated, they went a third of the game without making contact.

Still wonder why I think it’s a big deal?

Feb 19

Trade Market Still Open For Ike Davis

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson could be getting a second chance to trade first baseman Ike Davis.

The Mets didn’t want to go into spring training with the Davis-Lucas Duda logjam at first. However, their steep asking price coupled with their openness, if not eagerness, to trade Davis worked against them.

DAVIS: Still on the block.

DAVIS: Still on the block.

They appeared to favor Duda because of his better on-base percentage matched against horrific first-halves by Davis in 2012 and 2013. Davis’ 32 homers in 2012 seemed more and more fluke-like to Alderson.

Consequently, he tap-danced around their failure to trade Davis by saying he didn’t mind the open competition. Davis, from his perspective, said he was “in a bit of shock,’’ to still be with the Mets.

As spring training progresses teams with unsettled situations at first base will likely call the Mets about Davis, who’ll make a reasonable $3.5 million this year.

Reportedly, two of the original teams interested in Davis – Pittsburgh and Baltimore – are monitoring the Mets about Davis.

After losing lefty-hitting Justin Morneau in the off-season, the Pirates are considering a platoon of Davis with right-handed hitter Gaby Sanchez.

The Orioles meanwhile, are considering Nelson Cruz and Kendry Morales; both were made qualifying offers from Texas and Seattle, respectively, and would cost a compensatory draft pick.

The Orioles, who just lost the 17th overall pick in June’s draft for signing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez from Cleveland, would not have to surrender a pick to the Mets if they signed Davis.

Alderson misjudged the market over the winter. With a second opportunity, he can’t afford a repeat, especially after making it known he wanted to trade Davis.

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