Mar 19

Mets Playing Unreasonable Hardball With Harvey

The New York Mets have long been accused of mishandling injuries, from Carlos Beltran to Ryan Church to David Wright to Oliver Perez to Ike Davis.

That’s only a few.

HARVEY: Irritated by Mets' position. (AP)

HARVEY: Irritated by Mets’ position. (AP)

Mishandling ranges across a broad spectrum and you can see storm clouds forming with Matt Harvey.

A few weeks ago, I took Harvey to task for his adamant stance of wanting to rehab in New York instead of Port St. Lucie. I’ve softened on that approach following the incident stemming from a one-on-one interview the disabled pitcher had with Andy Martino of The New York Daily News.

Harvey has the union-negotiated right not to rehab the entire time in Florida, which is the Mets’ preference. Harvey prefers New York, and insists it’s not because of the Rangers and the nightlife the City offers.

By contrast, Port St. Lucie offers Chili’s and an Outback. You can’t even get a good pizza slice down there.

Harvey fully argued his position, and I better understand his desire and frustration, a product of his treatment by management.

“The biggest part is wanting to stay with the team,’’ Harvey said. “To learn the league. To learn Travis (d’Arnaud).  To learn how to bond with the other starting pitchers, and the guys in the clubhouse, and the David Wrights who I plan on playing with.

“I expressed that seven months in Port St. Lucie is a long time. For me, I strongly felt that my best opportunity, and my motivation to come back quicker, stronger, work harder would be to be with the teammates. That’s kind of what I have always said.  I have worked so hard to get to the big leagues and be with this team, it just felt like all of a sudden I was shooed to the back.’’

Unfortunately, it’s usually that way with injured players; they become invisible.

But, Harvey makes sense. In contrast, the Mets have not responded with a passionate defense of their position, other than to say most players have always rehabbed at the spring training site.

That’s like a kid questioning his mother and hearing,  “because I said so.’’ That answer doesn’t fly when one is eight, let alone 24.

General manager Sandy Alderson said the team would discuss a full rehab plan. Huh? He says that in March? This should have been decided in late October following Harvey’s Tommy John surgery.

Why did this issue have to be in the air for the better part of five months? Ridiculous.

Funny, but when Harvey was introduced as the GM, COO Jeff Wilpon said better handling of injuries was a priority.

Why can’t there be a compromise? Say, one month in New York and one month in Florida? Or, rehab when the team is home and return to Port St. Lucie when it is on the road?

Think of the frequent flier miles. This shouldn’t be all that hard.

Harvey also complained his locker was moved – along with Jeremy Hefner – to the corner of the room, which he said isolates him from the team. He is the Mets, or at least will be next season, so why agitate him?

Alderson claimed he didn’t order the move; instead saying it was the decision of the clubhouse manager. Since when does a clubhouse manager run things?

Harvey should have said something a month ago if he was unhappy. If he did, there’s no excuse why this has lingered when he should have been relocated to his original locker location. The same goes for Hefner. There’s not a good reason to do this and alienate Harvey.

Harvey was also peeved, and rightfully so, when his interview with Martino was intruded on by a Mets’ official. Not being allowed to talk with the press is unreasonable. Just as bad is having his discussion monitored.

That the official also lingered after Harvey said everything was cool, and had a testy exchange with the reporter, not surprisingly reached print to further make the Mets look bad.

On interviews, Alderson said: “My recommendation is to manage doing interviews in a way that doesn’t interfere with his day-to-day-activities.’’

That’s absurd. Players always do that. In over 20 years in major league clubhouses, I never experienced a player who didn’t leave when he was scheduled to be somewhere else. “I gotta go. Let’s finish this later,’’ is the stock statement.

Besides, Harvey’s work ethic would never prevent him from doing his rehab. He probably has his day structured tighter than the Mets’ format.

So, the player who wasn’t supposed to be a story became one because of three decisions, or indecisions, by Mets’ management.

The first thing I thought of is why would the Mets push Harvey when all of this could have been alleviated with a little common sense? Why irritate your best pitcher, the guy you’ve been touting as the key to your rebuilding process?

Just plain dumb.

This is so petty. Don’t think for a moment that if the Mets continue to play hardball with Harvey, that he won’t do the same with them in 2019, when he becomes a free agent.

Mar 16

What Is The Plan For Jenrry Mejia?

The New York Mets have never settled on a role for Jenrry Mejia, which could be the case again this spring.

At 24, Mejia is one of those promising young arms the Mets are boasting. Coming off elbow surgery, they are treating him with kid gloves, but there have been no signs of a setback.

Most starters want to pitch 30 innings in spring training, but with only two weeks left has only worked two. He could get four today against the Cubs in Las Vegas, but won’t get close to 20, much less 30.

Originally, Mejia was to compete with Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan for the fifth-starter role. But, if building for the future is the objective for 2014, it should be Mejia because he has the greatest upside.

Without Matt Harvey, this would have been the perfect chance to develop Mejia. Instead, it is turning out to be a lost opportunity, either to use him for their rotation or showcase him for a trade.

With Mejia in the rotation, they’ll have a better idea of where they stand heading into 2015. If Matsuzaka gets those starts, they still won’t know about Mejia as a starter.

But, how about as a reliever?

The Mets tried that route without success in 2010. Then-manager Jerry Manuel, knowing his job was in severe jeopardy, wanted Mejia on the major league roster to work out of the bullpen to start that season. That was for Manuel’s interests, not Mejia’s.

However, Manuel wouldn’t use him in pressure situations, so Mejia languished without work when he could have been getting starts in the minor leagues.

Understandably, Mejia struggled and was eventually optioned to Triple-A to go back in the rotation. His arm didn’t adjust to the back-and-forth and he was eventually injured and required elbow surgery.

Entering that season, Mejia was a highly sought prospect, but his value was greatly reduced because of how he was used. The Mets couldn’t promote him as a reliever if they were afraid to use him in pressure situations. They also couldn’t promote him as a starter because they wouldn’t use him in that role, either.

After he was hurt, he missed all of 2011.

The Mets are again considering Mejia for their bullpen, but already have seven candidates without him. Just how much work would he get?

If not up here, they should use him as a starter in the minors, which is probably in their best long-term interest because that would hasten his development and possibly build his trade value.

I see him starting the season in Triple-A, but where ever he ends up, just pick a role and stick with it. In the end, I also see it never happening for Mejia with the Mets. They blew this one.

 

Mar 15

Bartolo Colon Gets Vegas Start

The New York Mets signed Bartolo Colon as a two-year, $20-million stopgap to fill the monstrous void created by Matt Harvey’s injury.

An 18-game winner who threw 190.1 innings last season, it is hoped he will better the nine victories Harvey had last year.

COLON: Today's starter (AP).

COLON: Today’s starter (AP).

The second season was the carrot to get Colon to sign – the money didn’t hurt, either – and act as a buffer in case Harvey isn’t ready for 2015, or there is a setback with Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero.

Colon is coming off a rocky start in last Monday’s loss to Miami; he gave up three runs in the fourth inning. He called it a “meaningful’’ game and said he was pleased with his control in his first start.

Colon gets by on location and mixing speeds with his fastball and will work on that against Chicago.

“I don’t shy away from throwing what I’m going to throw normally,’’ Colon said earlier this week. “That’s my pitch. I’m a fastball pitcher. That’s what I’m going to use. I’m going to use my best pitch.’’

The current plan is for Colon to enter the season second in the rotation, but he could get the Opening Day start if Jonathon Niese isn’t ready.

Mar 14

Niese Mishandles Twitter Issue

There are many conflicts Jon Niese will face in his Mets’ career, ranging from hitters, to injuries, to the weather and considerably more. Trying to take on reporters doing their jobs using Twitter is one he’ll have difficulty winning.

That is, if he even has a chance.

In the wake of pitching coach Dan Warthen’s apology for a supposed racial slur, an angry Niese told reporters to stop Tweeting from the clubhouse. I understand his angst, but as in most issues steeped in emotion, it is an uphill climb and one handled poorly by all sides.

Reporters are allowed by Major League Baseball to tweet and post blogs from the clubhouse, and in fact, I was one of the first Mets’ reporters to post blogs from the clubhouse when I started the beat in 2006.

Major League Baseball wants the information out there. That creates interest, which leads to ticket sales and television-radio ratings. It’s about money, so as much as Niese wants it, he’s fighting the bottom line.

That’s also why many of Niese’s teammates, including Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, have Twitter handles.

So, who is at fault for this flap?

It starts with Warthen, who apologized to Daisuke Matsuzaka’s interpreter, Jeff Cutler, for his comment, but unfortunately did so in front of a reporter he might not have known well, if at all.

Apologies, warranted or not, should be done in private, especially if there’s not a working knowledge of the reporter, who reportedly is from San Francisco and not on the Mets’ beat.

Also at blame is the reporter, who, according to reports either overheard the apology and/or wasn’t part of the conversation.  I don’t know the reporter, who is Chinese and offended by the comment. That’s his issue, but his sensitivities sparked this fire and now it’s a political correctness issue.

One person is upset and now the world revolves around those feelings.

Seemingly, the apology was an off-the-record comment, and therefore the reporter violated a basic tenet of the reporter-athlete relationship, which made it harder for all reporters to do their jobs.

Finally, Niese must take responsibility for how this unravels. When you’re in a crowded clubhouse, you don’t tell a group of reporters: “Stop Tweeting about our clubhouse. That —-’s got to stop.’’

How could he not think it wasn’t going to escalate from there? There are ways to deal with the press, either by talking to reporters privately or through the media relations department.

This could have been handled better by everyone.

 

Mar 08

Harvey Pushes Envelope Again On Twitter; Wants To Pitch This Year

Who wouldn’t like to see Matt Harvey return to the New York Mets this season? Despite words of caution from his doctors, Mets management and even opponents such as Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, Harvey seems bent on wanting to pitch this season.

This morning, Harvey used Twitter and wrote: Harvey day will happen.

HARVEY: Wants to pitch. (Getty)

HARVEY: Wants to pitch. (Getty)

Every time I hear from Harvey about wanting to pitch this year I’m not overwhelmed by excitement as much as I am apprehension as it is never good to force an injury.

Strasburg warned Harvey through the media to take his time in his rehab, and to not look too far into the future. Strasburg said to treat his rehabilitation in chunks, and measure progress not in daily increments because there will be setbacks.

Right now we’re in March and Harvey is throwing four times a week, and off flat ground – currently 20 throws at 60 feet.

The Mets have a rough timetable at best for Harvey, because they’ve accepted the possibility of setbacks. Above all, the next step is contingent on how he responds to the last one.

Meanwhile, Harvey is forecasting what he wants to happen in September, giving the impression he’s oblivious to the rigors and grind of the rehabilitation process.

There are times he appears to pay lip service to this, for example, when he threw for the first time on Feb. 22, he said: “I’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s going to be a tough process [even] with how things felt today. But I’ve got to stick with it and move forward.’’

At the time, Harvey acknowledged his competitive nature and conceded, “I always wanted to push more.’’

When he does that, he fast-forwards months, making him vulnerable to pride and ego.

Don’t think it can’t happen?

Earlier this week, former Met Johan Santana, signed a minor league contract with Baltimore. It was only last spring when Santana disregarded a throwing program the Mets formatted and in a fit, responding to comments made by GM Sandy Alderson, threw off the mound and aggravated his shoulder injury.

He never threw another pitch for the Mets, but did collect all of the $137.5 million owed him.

Santana wasn’t cautious, and let his pride get the better of him. Will the same happen with Harvey? Nobody knows, including Harvey.

If the Mets lay down the law and say Harvey won’t pitch this year regardless, then that might be the thing to do. It would eliminate the risk.

Because, the way it sounds, if left unchecked Harvey might just push the envelope too far and never have the opportunity to sign a $137.5 million contract.

That would be a shame, because it would mean the career we all hope to enjoy will not have come to pass.