Nov 04

Barry Zito Could Plug A Hole In Mets’ Rotation

There are already over 150 players who filed for free agency, but one who could be an interesting fit for the New York Mets might be Barry Zito.

If given the choice of trying to fill a back-of-the-rotation hole between Johan Santana and Zito, I would make a run at Zito, even though he had a miserable 5-11 record and 5.74 ERA in 2013 for the simple reason he is healty.

ZITO: Worth thinking about.

ZITO: Worth thinking about.

Zito, at 35, obviously has seen better days, but he is one year removed from going 15-8 with a 4.15 ERA while making 32 starts in 2012. He made 25 starts last season.

Instead of picking up an $18 million option for 2014, the San Francisco Giants will give him a $7.7 million buyout. To get Zito, the Mets wouldn’t have to spend close to either figure.

Zito didn’t live up to the expectations of his seven-year, $126-million contract with the Giants, but he did do this: for the most part remained healthy; made at least 25 starts in all but one season; and worked at least 180 innings in all but two.

He only went 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA, but was always a team player who willingly worked out of the bullpen when the Giants opted to go with their younger options. He always took the ball, which is what the Mets need with the holes left by the Matt Harvey and Jenrry Mejia injuries.

General manager Sandy Alderson has a familiarity with Zito from his time in Oakland, and the veteran left-hander fills a definite need for the Mets, who lack two starters in the back end of their rotation until Rafael Montero or Jacob deGrom are ready to be promoted.

Citi Field’s vast outfield would accommodate the fly ball pitcher, and more importantly, he will be able to eat innings and be a positive influence to the Mets’ younger pitchers.

No, the Mets wouldn’t have to go overboard on a contract, instead, give him one loaded with incentives such as games started and innings pitched. In 14 seasons, he has averaged 34 starts and 206 innings pitched, while going 13-11 with a 4.02 ERA. His career WHIP is 1.334. The Mets would have killed for that stat line last season.

Alderson stated the Mets will prepare to not have Harvey, and doing so requires they plug the back end of their rotation with an innings eater. Is Zito somebody the Mets can build around? No. But, he is a pitcher who can fill an obvious void and likely won’t be a liability in doing so.

Plus, his unselfishness can enable the Mets to use him in long relief or a spot starter until their minor league options are ready.

The Mets say they won’t spend lavishly in the market and aren’t interested in an injury reclamation project. Zito can fill their void with a one-year deal plus an option. It’s a no-lose situation for the Mets, who weren’t going to go after a big name. Remember, in filling this hole, don’t look at the attractive names the Mets wouldn’t get anyway, but who is available they can sign to immediately help them.

LATER TODAY:  Free agent options within the NL East the Mets might consider.

Nov 03

Wilpon’s Comments About Core Reveals Mets Have Little To Trade

New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon has subsequently modified his statement about his team having only four core players, later adding Daniel Murphy, Travis d’Arnaud and Bobby Parnell.

It’s not a substantial increase, but highly revealing in two main aspects.

First, it highlights the areas where the Mets are weak and need building. That would be two starters, bullpen depth, first base, shortstop and the outfield. By my count, that’s 18 players.

WILPON: Revealing comments.

WILPON: Revealing comments.

Of course, the Mets won’t be able to turn over their roster by that much, but there will undoubtedly be significant changes.

Realistically, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang will be gone, and with a reluctance to tap into their minor league system for starters until at least June and Jenrry Mejia not certain to be ready, that’s a high priority for Sandy Alderson.

Parnell isn’t a given for spring training, leaving the entire bullpen to reconstruct. Vic Black could move into the closer role, but most everything else is to be defined. Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, Carlos Torres and Scott Rice should be a part of things, but there are injury and experience considerations. If all are counted, that still leaves at least two spots.

Eric Young and Juan Lagares could be two of the three outfielders, but that leaves right field open and numerous questions are circulating about the production the Mets could get from them.

Thoughts of moving Young to second base and possibly Murphy to first are premature, because the Mets envision more power at first than Murphy could provide. Young definitely won’t supplant Murphy and send the latter to the bench as it would delete the Mets’ overall most productive hitter from the line-up.

And, please, Murphy is not a centerpiece to a trade, he is a complementary part.

That gives us the second revealing aspect of Wilpon’s comments about the Mets’ core. If there’s little there, and whether you’re talking the original four players or the updated seven, it’s not significant. That means there’s also little to trade, so if you’re thinking the Mets will go into the general manager meetings and later the winter meetings with a lot of chips, you’re sadly mistaken.

What the Mets have, they want to keep. Outside their core, all they have are pieces of a package. With the injuries to Matt Harvey and Mejia, the Mets want to hold onto their young pitching prospects – defined as Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom – because they’ll likely need them later.

So, whatever improvements the Mets make this winter will be cash deals.

 

Oct 23

Did Mets Fix Daisuke Matsuzaka Only To Lose Him?

Even knowing that the New York Mets would not have Matt Harvey next season, there was a slight glimmer of optimism they might have enough to piece together a rotation and spend elsewhere.

That glimmer is fading.

MATSUZAKA: Will he walk away?

MATSUZAKA: Will he walk away?

Pitching coach Dan Warthen fixed Daisuke Matsuzaka’s long and cumbersome delivery, complete with a hitch. With a faster delivery, Matsuzaka showed he could be the real deal. After a rocky first two starts, Matsuzaka settled in to become one of the Mets’ most reliable starters in September. Matsuzaka finished at 3-3 with a 4.42 ERA in seven starts with the Mets. His fastball returned with bite as evidenced by his 33-16 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He averaged just under eight strikeouts per nine innings.

The Mets were interested when Matsuzaka came out of Japan, but didn’t come close to matching Boston with the qualifying negotiating offer to his Japanese team.

Matsuzaka earned $1.5 million this season from the Mets, who picked him up after Cleveland released him at the end of spring training.

The Mets also signed innings-eater Aaron Harang, Sept. 1, after his release from Seattle. Harang, who has also pitched for Cincinnati, San Diego and the Dodgers, is a reliable workhorse. From 2004 through this season, Harang has pitched less than 150 innings only twice, including this year when he worked a combined 143.1 innings with the Mariners and Mets.

Harang gave the Mets six innings in three of his four starts, and five in the other. He was 0-1 with a representative 3.52 ERA, but struck out 26 in 23 innings. However, he did give up five homers.

What Harang and Matsuzaka did was log enough innings to conserve the bullpen and prevent the Mets from unraveling the last month of the season.

What Harang and Matsuzaka also did was impressive to enough scouts to where somebody will make them an offer to pry them away if the Mets go low-ball. The last thing a journeyman pitcher wants to do is not leave an impression in September.

This would not be something new to the Mets, as both Chris Capuano and Chris Young proved enough in their Flushing auditions for another team to take them away.

They aren’t the only ones.

Carlos Torres, who previously pitched in Japan, Colorado and with the Chicago White Sox, was an asset as a spot starter, long reliever and situational reliever this season. In 33 games with the Mets, nine of which were starts, Torres was 4-6 with a 3.44 ERA.

He pitched 86.1 innings, which isn’t bad considering he wasn’t on their radar in spring training. He struck out 75 and walked just 17 with a career-best 1.112 WHIP.

Torres, who made $415,000 this season, will leave if the Mets don’t tender him a contract.

So, that feeling of holding the fort until Rafael Montero is ready, and to a larger extent, until 2015, is giving way to a sense the Mets might have done it again and fixed several pitchers to where somebody else will take them away from them.

 

Oct 22

Mets’ All-Star Matt Harvey Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

The New York Mets announced this afternoon All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery, with Dr. James Andrews performing in Gulf Breeze, Fla.

Harvey will miss the entire season.

HARVEY: Has the knife today.

HARVEY: Has the knife today.

Initially, Harvey wanted to attempt rest and rehab as treatment for the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Harvey was even given Andrews’ blessing to try that first, but couldn’t build up the strength to resume throwing, let alone compete in the Arizona Fall League.

Harvey waffled on surgery for over a month, but in the end did what general manager Sandy Alderson thought he would. Alderson said he was careful not to influence Harvey’s decision, but once the All-Star starter opted for surgery he said it was the right choice.

Alderson admitted Harvey was taking a gamble that he would be healthy for spring training, then re-injure his elbow and miss the remainder of the 2014 season and all of 2015. Alderson described that as the worst possible scenario for the Mets.

All along, Alderson said Harvey’s condition wouldn’t impact the Mets’ offseason approach to their rotation. Alderson said not to expect the Mets to sign a marquee free agent pitcher despite him saying he had the resources. Instead, Alderson said the team would target two innings eaters for the back end of the rotation until Rafael Montero’s Super Two deadline is reached and he would be available by June.

The Mets’ current rotation is Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee, all with questions of their own. Niese is coming off a slightly torn rotator cuff; Wheeler was scratched from his last start with a sore shoulder and will be entering his first full season; and Gee, based on victories, is now the de facto No. 1.

The Mets also do not know whether Jenrry Mejia, who underwent elbow surgery to remove bone spurs will be available for the start of the season.

The innings-eaters Alderson is searching for could be Aaron Harang and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Both showed enough – especially Matsuzaka – to warrant being brought to spring training.

Trouble is, they also showed enough to other teams who might pry them away if the Mets lowballed them.

It sure is strange how things tend to turn around. Prior to Harvey’s injury the Mets were thinking about going to a six-man rotation to conserve innings for Harvey and Wheeler.

They are now looking for help.

Oct 22

Would Boston’s Free-Agent Building Approach Benefit Mets?

Yesterday, I suggested what the New York Mets could learn from the St. Louis Cardinals in building their team. Today, let’s examine how the Red Sox were built and what the Mets can take from their approach.

The Cardinals’ philosophy of first building from within followed by judicious trades and free-agent signings has always been the traditional and preferred method.

Throwing millions and millions into the free-agent market is costly and risky. The Mets don’t have the resources of the Yankees or Dodgers to throw good money after bad.

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

There’s pressure to win in both markets, but there’s a greater intensity in Boston – and New York – while there’s a degree of patience in the Midwest. That explains in part why St. Louis has 17 homegrown players on its roster, while the Red Sox have ten.

There was a venomous culture in Boston last season as the Red Sox, burdened by several cumbersome contracts – similar to what the Mets faced when Sandy Alderson took over – and a few cancerous personalities in the clubhouse.

“Say, could you pass some fried chicken this way?’’

The Red Sox cleared nearly $200 million in salaries when they unloaded Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers midway through last year’s disastrous 69-93 summer under Bobby Valentine. They did so because even in a lost season the Red Sox were thinking about this summer. That’s something the Mets never fully explored when they had Jose Reyes and others to dangle.

The Red Sox were far quicker and more decisive than the Mets have been in ridding themselves of too costly and ineffective players, such as Oliver Perez, Ike Davis, Francisco Rodriguez and Luis Castillo to name a few of close to numerous bad deals since 2006, the last time the Mets saw October.

Rather than sink their savings into different long-term, costly signings, the Red Sox signed a handful of productive, yet cost-effective, players in: Shane Victorino (three years, $39 million); catcher David Ross (two years, $6.2 million); first baseman Mike Napoli (one year, $5 million); shortstop Stephen Drew (one year, $9.5 million); outfielder Jonny Gomes (two years, $10 million); and dynamite closer Koji Uehara (one year, $4.25 million plus option).

None bowl you over; collectively, they helped the Red Sox win 97 games.

Boston also extended by two years and $26 million the contract of its own free agent, designated hitter David Ortiz. They also avoided arbitration by offering Jacoby Ellsbury a one-year, $9-million deal. Some signings, such as pitcher Ryan Dempster’s two-year, $26.5 million deal, didn’t pan out. He’s now in middle relief and would be a starter for the Mets.

The Red Sox also hit it with trades, including pitcher Jake Peavy, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and and former Mets first-base prospect, Mike Carp.

Boston’s success in the free-agent and trade markets was overwhelmingly successful. Although Alderson said he could have the leeway to offer a $100-million contract to one player, he would be better off in taking Boston’s approach and attempt to patch several of the Mets’ many holes.

Alderson knows the success the Red Sox enjoyed is rare and shouldn’t be expected, especially since the Mets won’t offer similar deals. However, the idea of pursuing players with playoff success – Napoli and Victorino – is a sound way to augment their present composition of youth and few proven major leaguers.

The Mets are unsettled at first base, but are kidding themselves if they think they could get Napoli by offering a slight raise. Napoli was to get a three-year, $39-million deal, but that fell through when a degenerative hip condition was discovered. He’ll likely get his three years this winter.

As for Victorino, the Mets had their chance to sign him, but now it is too late. They must consider between Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, what they might each cost, and their various baggage.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox attempt to retain Ellsbury, but there are already reports the Tigers are interested in either him or Choo, the latter who is reportedly seeking four years.

The Red Sox took a shotgun approach last winter, and still wound up with a $155-million payroll while hitting most of their targets. It worked because their scouts did their homework; they got lucky; and they already had a core to build around. The Red Sox were also forced to be aggressive last winter because of their restless and demanding fan base. Every year it is the same motivation for them and the Yankees.

The Mets’ fan base is already looking at 2015 when Matt Harvey returns. Few are expecting a contender next summer without him. The Mets also don’t have as good a core as Boston had and won’t come anywhere close to what the Red Sox spent, but could go as high as $100 million, maybe a little more.

Everybody in the division save the Miami Marlins will spend more. If the Mets are to emulate the Red Sox, they’ll have to dig deeper and that’s not something they’ll be inclined to do.