Feb 15

Monitoring Santana And Keeping Him Away From The WBC

I realize the matter of national pride and his desire to represent Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but Johan Santana is set to get $31 million from the Mets this year (including a $5.5 million buyout) and that’s where his responsibility lies and the team has told him so.

Once ardent supporters of the WBC, the team has told Santana it doesn’t want him to pitch in the international event.

There’s no disputing Santana pitches hard and has been a workhorse when healthy, but the problem is staying healthy. Only in 2008, his first year with the Mets, did Santana make his entire allotment of 34 starts.

Santana10The Mets have paid Santana a considerable amount of money, including a full season (2011) when he gave them nothing. This is his last year with the Mets and the club is within their rights to insist he not risk injury in the World Baseball Classic.

The magic number for Santana this year is 215, as in the number of innings he must pitch for his $25 million option to kick in. Considering his recent history, that likely won’t be a problem, but if he’s healthy it will be an interesting scenario.

You can bet the Players Association would get involved if Santana was close and had to skip a start or two. If it involves a player getting less money, they will be all over it.

Actually, if the Mets can’t, or won’t trade him, they would be wise to periodically skip him to keep him strong.

Teams have monitored pitcher’s pitch counts for years, but only recently has the trend turned to limiting pitcher’s innings in a season. Innings clauses in contracts are designed for teams to get the most for their money, but that backfires in the case of injury or if a player reached the level to have his option kick in and pitch poorly the next year.

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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 23

Thoughts On 2013 Projected Roster

Will Ruben Tejada leadoff for the Mets in 2013?

Mets beat writer Anthony DiComo, posted what he believes the Mets roster will look like come Opening Day.

C : John Buck
1B: Ike Davis
2B: Daniel Murphy
SS: Ruben Tejada
3B: David Wright
OF: Lucas Duda
OF: Kirk Nieuwenhuis
OF: Mike Baxter
Bench: Collin Cowgill
Bench: Andrew Brown
Bench: Justin Turner
Bench: Brandon Hicks
Bench: Anthony Recker

SP: Johan Santana
SP: Jon Niese
SP: Matt Harvey
SP: Dillon Gee
SP: Jenrry Mejia
RP: Frank Francisco
RP: Bobby Parnell
RP: Josh Edgin
RP: Greg Burke
RP: Robert Carson
RP: Jeurys Familia
RP: Jeremy Hefner

I have it almost exactly the same way. I also feel confident that Hefner, Familia and Mejia all make the team as I asserted yesterday in another post. The real battle will be Feliciano versus Burke for one bullpen spot.

The starting lineup and bench is about the same as last year from a production standpoint, but still considerably worse than 2011. That outfield is really tough on the eyes.

I think Valdespin edges out Brown or will make the team for his ability to play second base and for the fact he may have the best speed on the team. The only way ‘Spin doesn’t make the team is if Hairston comes back.

By the way, for three weeks in a row there was a report that Hairston was about to announce who he was signing with that week. It hasn’t happened yet. Are the Mets waiting him out or is he waiting the Mets out?

I agree that Recker will edge out Powell who I never took as a serious catching option anyway. Not that Recker is all that better, it’s just a hunch.

I have no idea what the top of the order will look like this season, but I can assure you it will have a resounding effect on RBI opportunities for both Wright and Davis.

Will it be Tejada and Murphy?

Both of them are slow of foot, and if it’s Baxter, his boneheaded plays on the bases last season made Angel Pagan look like a Mensa.

This team might be one of the slowest Mets teams I’ve ever seen and I wonder if they will crack the 50 stolen base mark in a park that was apparently built for pitching, defense and SPEED.

Whenever d’Arnaud does come up, I hope they don’t do something crazy and bat him in the middle of the order out of desperation. I wouldn’t put that past Terry Collins. Even David Wright was batting seventh and eighth after he was promoted from Triple-A and stood there for almost two months until he slowly inched his way up.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on DiComo’s projected roster…

 

Jan 15

Jon Niese Could Be Most Indispensable Met

Normally, I might say David Wright when it comes down to who might be the most indispensable Met this season. Wright is, after all, the center of the Mets’ offensive universe and when he’s hitting it elevates the entire team.

However, I’m a pitching guy first and when I posed the question to myself this morning Jon Niese popped up as the answer.

NIESE: Needs breakout year.

With the trade of R.A. Dickey to Toronto and Johan Santana entering his walk year coming off another injury, Niese, despite a career-high 13 wins last year, is the No. 1 starter.

Dillon Gee is a health question and the No. 5 starter is anybody’s guess, so it comes down to the necessity of Niese having to pitch well every fifth day to minimize the losing streaks, which will happen as they do every year. It was Dickey who kept the Mets on an even keel last summer; Niese must now do the same.

The Mets always liked Niese, as evidenced by the long-term contract they gave him and refusal to discuss him in trade talks. When teams call the Mets, they ask for Niese, a hard-throwing lefthander, with major league success and a manageable contract.

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Jan 03

Wilpons To Refinance; They Aren’t Going Anywhere

As you greet the third day of the new year, Mets fans can digest the reported news (ESPN and The Post for starters) that ownership has refinanced $450 million in loans borrowed from SNY.

How this is structured, I don’t know, but it protects the Wilpons from having to make an overwhelming payment that would prevent them from retaining the team.

Presumably, the money will be used to pay off existing debt – including the structured court-ordered payments from the Ponzi scandal – with little going in the direction of player additions. (Save $25 million owed Johan Santana in his final season with the Mets).

It basically means what you think it means, that things are likely to remain the same in the foreseeable future. Look for nothing substantial in the rest of the free-agent market, and as in previous years for management to sit on their hands at the trade deadline.

GM Sandy Alderson has successfully slashed $50 million from the budget of the team he inherited, which was what he was hired to do.

The Mets were willing to commit up to $20 million to R.A. Dickey before they traded him for prospects, but now without that obligation there’s no word what they will spend that money on. Alderson said the team will have greater flexibility after the 2013 season when Santana is off the books, but he also said not to look for a big splash in the free-agent market.

With FA spending not an option for at least two years, and the Mets refusing to part with their young pitching in trades, and having little else to deal on the major league level, the team’s direction is to wait … and wait … and wait, until their prospects develop. And, of that there are no guarantees.

When you look at the Mets in comparison to the rest of the NL East, Washington has shown a willingness to spend, and Atlanta and Philadelphia proactive adding to a superior core. The Marlins seem in comparably bad shape – if not worse – than the Mets, but at least they are warm down there.

When you look at the rest of the National League, the Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Cardinals are all immediately better, financially more solvent and better run than the Mets. Even Pittsburgh, which hasn’t had a winning season in two decades, is more aggressive.

So, when people ask how long it will be until the Mets are competitive or relevant again, it is difficult to forecast. It might be two, three years before Matt Harvey blossoms and Jon Niese reaches his potential. There’s room for growth with Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell.

But, even if those things happen, we still don’t know who’ll be in the outfield or bullpen. We don’t know who’ll be in the rotation. We don’t know about catcher. We don’t know where David Wright will be in his career.

What we do know is the Mets have a myriad of questions, aggressive teams in their division and no definitive spending timetable.

We do know we have a long wait.