Feb 08

Something To Look Forward To From The Mets

As I watch the snow pile up outside my window, I am thinking of three of the best words in sports, “pitchers and catchers.’’

NIESE: Needs to take the next step.

                       NIESE: Needs to take the next step.

The official deadline for the Mets is Monday, but the lockers are already being filled in Port St. Lucie. I am hoping to get down there this spring and have already started looking at flights.

Most of the prognosticators have the Mets fighting the Marlins to stay out of the NL East. Many of them have them losing close to 100 games. I think they’ll finish ahead of Miami and I don’t see them losing that many games. I’d like to see .500, but I’m not ready to go there, yet.

For those thinking the worst, and as Mets fans I know you’ve all done it one time or another, I’d like to give you several things to watch for that could make this an interesting, if not exciting summer.

If you’re already writing off this season, here’s a few things to talk you down off the ledge.

The soundest road to contention is with young pitching. For those lamenting the lack of power and a weak outfield, just remember what the San Francisco Giants did in two of the past three years. Speaking of sparse outfields, was the Mets’ 2000 outfield all that good?

Hardly. It’s all starts with pitching and the Mets have three bright spots they are developing.

Jon Niese won a career-high 13 games last season and has the potential, if he stays healthy, to possibly win 17 or more. To reach that level he needs to win four more games in six months. That’s roughly one more every five weeks. That’s not that big a stretch with his stuff.

Niese had a nearly 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and 1.17 WHIP in 2012 while working 190 innings in 30 starts. If he makes four more starts over 200 innings and maybe 17 wins are possible.

The Mets jumped from habit and signed Niese to a long-term contract way before they needed to because he throws hard, is lefthanded, pitches with guile and has experienced major league success. For those reasons, any team would want him but the Mets continually say no.

Two other rising pitching stars are Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. The Mets have brought along Harvey at a good pace and he started ten games last year, showing overpowering stuff and more importantly, composure beyond his years. His is the type of arm franchises are built around.

While Harvey is in the Opening Day rotation, the timetable for Wheeler is later in the summer after more time in Triple A. There’s no rush to promote Wheeler early, but we’ll see him soon enough.

We should also see catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud before the year is out, and I like the idea he’ll get a lot of time with Wheeler. The key to the R.A. Dickey trade from the Mets’ perspective, d’Arnaud has power potential, but he’s also coming off knee and back injuries.

Should he pan out then the Mets can argue success in the trade of their Cy Young Award winner.

Also something to look forward to is Ike Davis’ power. Davis, skillful around the first base bag, clubbed 32 homers last year after a bad start. He’s healthy now and two good halves could make 40 homers a realistic possibility. That’s a little over one a month. He could get that, along with more walks and fewer strikeouts, with an improved plate presence.

Then there is David Wright, who played at a MVP clip in the first half before the pressures of carrying the Mets on his back became too great a burden.

I’m looking at .300, 30 and 100 from Wright, nothing less. He rarely talks about numbers, but he’d probably say the same if pressed.

No, I don’t know how the Mets will do this year. However, if these six players can play to what is expected of them, this has a chance to be an interesting summer.

Jan 07

Mets Should Say NO To Pavano

I keep hearing rumblings the Mets are interested in Carl Pavano, who made $8.5 million last year with Minnesota at age 36.

Why?

While the pressures pitching for the Yankees are different than they are the Mets – the expectations in the Bronx are always greater – this is not a move they should be making.

I wouldn’t want Pavano in the Mets’ rotation if he were willing to pitch for the major league minimum.

Pavano’s New York track record was mostly a long line of injuries – including not reporting being in an auto accident – and coming up small in big moments. At the time, his nickname was “The American Idle,’’ for all the time spent on the disabled list.

As much as I want the Mets to make a move to show they have a pulse, let alone the desire to prove they want to be competitive, Pavano is notoriously thin skinned and not a good fit for New York. It was tough enough for him with the Marlins and Twins, so I wouldn’t expect much in Flushing.

After all, after 14 major league seasons, he is 108-107 with a 4.39 ERA, so why should this year be different? How much of a pay cut he would be willing to take, I don’t know, but can’t they get a win-one, lose-one pitcher for half the price? I would think so.

Covering Pavano in the Yankees clubhouse was frustrating. He was short-fused, testy and without humor, and this was with a winning franchise. I can’t imagine him being a day at the beach in Queens with a losing franchise.

I listed several pitchers still on the market yesterday, with several being a better fit than Pavano.

I also keep hearing the Mets have money to spend, but there aren’t many signs showing that inclination. If it is the same media sources doing the shouting, one has to wonder the motivation. Is it real news or somebody doing a PR favor for ownership? It wouldn’t be a stretch for it to be the latter.

That being said, if the Mets genuinely have dollars, they would be better spent on the mound on a fifth starter than in the outfield. Should the Mets land a legitimate starter, it could help in two categories in that he could take some of the load off the bullpen.

Conversely, unless they acquire a stud bat – and they don’t have the money for that – a middle-tier outfielder won’t improve the Mets significantly.

Dec 31

Saying Good-bye To 2012; Saluting The Giants And Dickey And Farewell To Carter

With 2012 in the ninth inning, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting and important baseball stories of the year.

There were many to choose from, ranging from the feel-good, to the sad, to the historic, to the inane. There are dozens that will fall into the category of being a trivia question answer, but let’s settle on ten:

1) GIANTS WIN THE SERIES:  This might be my favorite because I like the way they play the game. Their blueprint is pitching and defense, which is always the best way to build a winner. The Giants simply play the game the right way. And, when they lost their best hitter, Melky Cabrera, to a suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, they declined to bring him back for the playoffs when it would be tempting to do so. And, when ace Tim Lincecum struggled and was taken out of the rotation, instead of crying he shut his mouth and went to the bullpen.

2) SELIG STRONGARMS DODGER SALE: There’s no denying Frank McCourt wasn’t a terrible owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was still his team and he was on the verge of negotiating a contract with FOX that would ease the team of its financial problems. For some reason, this wasn’t good enough for Commissioner Bud Selig, and certainly not an exercise in fair play when other ownership groups have been as miserable, or worse. The sale was to a group headed by Magic Johnson, and one of their first moves was the horrible acquisition of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. Meanwhile, the baseball team in Flushing …

3) THE YEAR OF THE PITCHER: There were three perfect games thrown in 2012, by former Mets prospect Phil Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez. There were four other no-hitters last summer, including the first by a Met in Johan Santana. It took a blown call to change a hit into a foul ball. Perhaps the best performance by a pitcher was the yearlong mastery of Mets knuckleballer R. A. Dickey who won 20 games and the Cy Young Award and for his efforts was traded to Toronto.

4) THE BIRDS FLY AGAIN: After 14 straight losing seasons, including the previous four in last place in the AL East, the Orioles flipped their record from 69-93 to 93-69, with 29 of those victories coming by one run. The Orioles also won 16 straight extra-inning games, and took the Yankees to the limit in the AL Division Series. They did all this with a patchwork rotation and losing their best player, Nick Markakis, for most of the last month of the season.

5) COMEBACKS IN ALL FORMS:  The Oakland Athletics came from 13 games behind to overtake Texas to win the AL West. They closed the season with a six-game winning streak, including a three-game sweep of the Rangers to win the division. St. Louis also rallied to beat Washington in the playoffs, and San Francisco came from behind to beat Cincinnati and the Cardinals.

6) MIGUEL CABRERA WINS THE TRIPLE CROWN: For the first time since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did it for Boston, there was a Triple Crown winner in Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBI.

7) WASHINGTON SPITS ON BASEBALL:  For the first time in over six decades, there was a playoff team in Washington. The Nationals played inspired, team baseball for much of the season and were led by young ace Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals,  trying to protect their investment, opted to shut him down after 159.1 innings, which gave the arrogant impression they believed they’d be back again. More than a few baseball executives were pleased when the Nationals’ pitching collapsed in the playoffs against the Cardinals.

8) THE MARLINS BLOW IT UP: Speaking of bad ownership groups, the Dodgers had nothing on the Marlins, another example that pennants aren’t won in the winter. The Marlins moved into a monstrosity of a new stadium with Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and new manager Ozzie Guillen. It all fell apart in June and the Marlins finished in last place. Guillen was fired and Reyes, Buehrle and Josh Johnson were traded to Toronto. The Blue Jays also added Dickey and Melky Cabrera to raise the question: Are they the 2013 version of the Marlins.

9) THE LOCALS FALL:  The Mets collapsed in the second half to finish with their fourth straight losing season. The Mets have done nothing this offseason – save signing David Wright – to indicate things will change. Meanwhile, the Yankees got a brilliant season from Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle in the playoffs. Also, while their season was sliding away, Alex Rodriguez was trying to pick up women from the dugout.

10) SAD LOSSES:  I Googled the list of baseball deaths in 2012 and was staggered by the names I recognized from my youth. The most important name was Marvin Miller, the former head of the Players Association who, more than anybody, was largely responsible for today’s economic structure in the game. Then, there was Gary Carter, whom Mets fans will always remember.

Nov 16

Bud Selig Should Void Marlins Trade

The biggest problem I’ve had with Commissioner Bud Selig is he was an owner, but even after divesting of the Milwaukee Brewers, he remained an owner at heart.

He’s a former owner paid by the owners, so, where do his loyalties lie?

WHAT ARE MARLINS FANS TELLING YOU, BUD?

It will never happen without government intervention, but the best way for baseball to be run is have the commissioner paid equally by the owners and players association, with another percentage from the umpire’s union. That formula should eliminate the perception of partiality.

As commissioner, Bud Selig has the authority to exercise his “best interest in baseball,’’ clause, which permits him to act in the best interest of the sport regardless of whom it impacts.

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Nov 14

Marlins Scuttle Ship: Deal Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson And Mark Buehrle

If you think being a Mets’ fan is tough – and it is hard work – imagine waking up this morning a Miami Marlins fan and learning your team was gutted. The franchise that held firesales after winning the World Series in 1997 and 2003 reached a new low last night with the news of its pending trade of stars to the Toronto Blue Jays.

REYES: Will he stay in Toronto? (AP)

What was supposed to be a dream season for the Marlins continued its nightmare way with the news the team was sending ace Josh Johnson, shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle, catcher John Buck and infielder Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto.

In return, the Blue Jays sent to the Marlins: shortstop Yunel Escobar, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, catcher Jeff Mathis, and prospect outfielder Jake Marisnick, shortsop Adeiny Hechavarria, lefthander Justin Nicolino and pitcher Anthony DeSclafani.

Because of the size of the contracts, MLB must first sign off on the deal.

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