Feb 12

Four Spring Training Questions Facing Mets

Despite the snow, winter ends officially today as the Mets’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Port St. Lucie. Once they break out the balls and bats, winter ends, but not necessarily the questions for the Mets.

There are four pertinent questions and issues the Mets must answer in spring training.

HARVEY: One of many health issues. (AP)

HARVEY: One of many health issues. (AP)

Who in the starting rotation is healthy, and will there be innings limits?

A: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all coming off arm surgery. For all the potential of their young arms, the Mets aren’t likely to go four-for-four on the recovery front. Somebody will have a setback. We just don’t know who. But, that’s more for the regular season, but for the next six weeks manager Terry Collins must determine a rotation order following Opening Day starter Noah Syndergaard. Collins must also decide Wheeler’s role; fifth starter or reliever? Collins and GM Sandy Alderson must pick a role and stay with it for at least this season. Jumping from one role to another can’t be good for Wheeler’s arm. It didn’t work out that way for Jenrry Mejia, did it? Unlike in 2015 with Harvey, there must be a definitive innings limits for these guys. They won’t like it, but it is in the best interest in keeping them healthy.

What are the bullpen roles?

A: Pencil in Addison Reed to replace closer Jeurys Familia while he serves a suspension. But after him? Is the set-up man Hansel Robles or Jerry Blevins or Seth Lugo/Robert Gsellman? If either Lugo or Gsellman is the set-up man, will the other be the long man? Or will one be the fifth starter? If Wheeler is in the pen, he needs a set role as to reduce the strain on his arm? How many relievers, six or seven? Will they keep three lefties, with Sean Gilmartin and Josh Edgin joining Blevins?

What is the back situation?

A: Lucas Duda, Neil Walker and David Wright are recovering from back surgery. Wright hasn’t played a combined 100 games in the last two years. Walker took a qualifying offer because he didn’t have any other options and the Mets didn’t like the other first base options if they lost Duda. Wright? Michael Conforto? How about Wilmer Flores full time? None of those options were appealing. The path of least resistance was bringing back Duda and hoping for the best with his back. By the end of spring training, we should have a better idea as to the health of these three. Collins must also create a plan of giving them rest in the hope of keeping them healthy? Collins has a bench for a reason and has more than just keeping Wright fresh to consider. It is Wright plus two.

How does he juggle the outfield?

A: First of all, will Yoenis Cespedes ever move back to center? The Mets brought back Cespedes the first time under the contingent he plays center. They brought him back the second time under the condition he plays in left. The current plan is, from left to right, Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce. Alderson’s plan to deal Bruce hit a snag when brought back Cespedes because teams deemed him desperate and offered little in return. Bruce needs to play to show production and up his trade value. Granderson, at 35, can’t play center full time, so Juan Lagares will be the fourth outfielder because he’s the only true center fielder. That leaves Conforto scrapping for at-bats.

Feb 11

Reviewing Mets’ Status Quo Offseason

With the Mets’ pitchers and catchers reporting tomorrow, let’s take a quick look at what they did this offseason.

When you look at the Mets’ 40-man roster – Note: trading Gabriel Ynoa to the Orioles basically cleared a spot on the 40-man for Fernando Salas – it is the same as the team that finished 87-75, eight games behind the Nationals in the NL East and lost to the Giants in the wild-card game.

CESPEDES: Doesn't fill all Mets' holes. (AP)

CESPEDES: Doesn’t fill all Mets’ holes. (AP)

That the Nationals added Adam Eaton, yet lost closer Mark Melancon, so it is questionable as to how much they improved. However, they didn’t maintain the status quo as did the Mets.

We must also note the Braves, Phillies and Marlins also made moves to improve, so the NL East isn’t just a two-horse race anymore.

The Mets’ offseason plan first included picking up Jay Bruce’s $13-million option as a hedge for Yoenis Cespedes not coming back.

The Mets then resigned Cespedes and picked up Neil Walker’s one-year $17.2 qualifying offer. They also extended Lucas Duda and brought back Jose Reyes.

Pitching wise, the Mets also brought back Jerry Blevins and Salas.

However, they were unable to trade either Bruce or Curtis Granderson, and consequently, may not have a spot for Michael Conforto, the player that manager Terry Collins proclaimed to be the team’s future No. 3 hitter.

Regarding their pitching, they had three starters – Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom – undergo surgery. Throw in Zack Wheeler and that’s four recovering from the knife. That’s four injury-related questions, and you know as well as me not all questions are answered in the positive.

Complicating matters is the Mets let Bartolo Colon get away. That’s roughly 30 starts and 200 innings, not to mention 15 victories. There’s no guarantee either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman can fill that void.

They also have a gap in the bullpen with the expected suspension of at least 30 games of closer Jeurys Familia. They will sub Addison Reed for Familia, but that still leaves a hole in the set-up role.

Yes, they got Cespedes and Walker – who is coming off back surgery – but GM Sandy Alderson has a $13-million outfielder he can’t trade and a myriad of pitching questions, so they didn’t get better. Once the games begin we will see they didn’t get worse.

Jan 30

Very Curious About Matz

Of all the Mets’ young pitchers, the one I’m most curious in seeing this spring is Steven Matz. The seemingly perpetual injured left-hander made only 22 starts last season before going on the disabled list to undergo elbow surgery.

Drafted in 2009, Matz has only thrown 168 career innings, but he needs to throw at least 200 be considered an ace. He has a biting slider, but it puts excessive stress on his arm, and before he was lost he started throwing his curveball and change-up more.

He’s left-handed, which enhances his value, but he’s of little use if he can’t stay in the rotation. Matt Harvey has been lost twice to off-season surgery since 2013, but he’s as strong as a bull. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have also shown signs of being able to go long into games. But, Matz, much like Zack Wheeler, remains an unknown.

He’s the guy I expect to see manager Terry Collins attach an innings limit on before the others.

 

 

 

Jan 16

Let’s Hedge Raves About Mets’ Rotation

Many of the baseball preview magazines are already on the newsstands, with more than a few suggesting the Mets have one of the sports’ top rotations. However, they omit one word in the description, that being “potentially.”

The Cubs, Giants, Boston, Cleveland are all right there. So are the Nationals. The Mets? Well, if healthy, their group can throw as hard as anybody, but throwing hard isn’t the issue. Four potential starters will be coming off surgery, with a fifth, Noah Syndergaard, gutting through the second half of the season with bone spurs in his elbow.

Matt Harvey (shoulder) had seasons cut short by the knife in 2013 and 2016 and missed all of 2014; Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz each had elbow surgery; Zack Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two years; and, they did not bring back Bartolo Colon. The Mets clearly have health issues, which is why they aren’t listening to calls for Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, knowing they might need them this summer, either as a starter or in a relief role.

Harvey, deGrom and Matz each have had surgery twice, and Wheeler’s surgery hasn’t worked out. We can’t assume the four recovering from surgery will pitch without incident in 2017, nor are there any guarantees all four will bounce back. That’s banking on a lot of things working out positively, including nothing happening with Syndergaard.

Even if they did, you can’t forget none of the Mets’ young studs have won more that 15 games, much less 20, or pitched more than 200 regular-season innings. The Mets’ young arms are immensely talented with loads of potential, but championships are won on proven production and not potential.

If everything breaks to the positive, it could be a sweet season reminiscent of 2015, but there are no guarantees.

 

Jan 13

Mets Cruise Through Arbitration; No Drama For Harvey, Familia

Too bad the Mets don’t cruise through the regular season the way they do their arbitration schedule. The Mets traditionally blitz through the arbitration process and this winter seems no different as they came to terms with nine of their ten arbitration-eligible players, with only Wilmer Flores heading to a hearing.

HARVEY: Signs right away. (AP)

HARVEY: Signs right away. (AP)

However, there’s plenty time for a resolution before a hearing this spring. Count on that getting done, because after all, what the gap between Flores and the Mets has to be slim considering he made only $526,000 last summer. What I gather from this is Flores is tired of being pushed around by Alderson, who frequently made him the versatile infielder a butt of his jokes after the proposed deal to Milwaukee fell through two years ago.

If only for the hope of getting a few extra bucks out of Alderson, it’s probably worth it for Flores to make the GM’s life difficult for only a few minutes.

I was happy to see Matt Harvey ($5.125 million), Jacob deGrom ($4.05 million) and Jeurys Familia ($7.425 million) come to terms quickly considering their baggage.

Harvey is 29-28 lifetime and has yet to give the Mets a full season; deGrom, like Harvey, is coming off surgery; and Familia is facing at least a 30-game suspension to start the season. For Harvey and Familia, especially, they rightly figured nobody wanted to hear their drama.

The Mets came to terms with Lucas Duda ($7.25 million) and Zack Wheeler ($800,000) earlier in the week and with Travis d’Arnaud ($1.875 million), Addison Reed ($7.75 million) and reliever Josh Edgin.