Jan 18

Could Conforto Open Season In Minors?

It was last April when manager Terry Collins said Michael Conforto was the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the future. A year later, don’t be surprised if he opened the season with the Mets’ Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate.

I don’t like the idea, but considering the Mets’ muddled outfield situation, it isn’t farfetched, especially if they can’t trade Jay Bruce. If Bruce stays, he’ll play right with Curtis Granderson in center and Yoenis Cespedes in left.

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

Juan Lagares must stay to give Granderson rest in center field. Either Lagares or Granderson could give Cespedes rest if he needs a day off. Currently, the Mets aren’t ready to say they trust Conforto in center field.

If the Mets can’t trade Bruce, he must stay and play or totally lose his trade value. The Mets wouldn’t want to pay him $13 million to sit.

The Mets’ potential trade market for Bruce was dramatically sliced within the past week when Baltimore traded for Seth Smith; Toronto re-signed Jose Bautista and Philadelphia signed Michael Saunders.

Personally, I’ve always been in Conforto’s camp and opposed the Cespedes signing in part because I felt it would stunt Conforto’s growth. If the Mets kept Conforto as one of their five outfielders, he’d struggle for at-bats and playing time, notably from Lagares and Bruce.

One possibility is to keep Brandon Nimmo over Conforto, but again they’ll face the issue of one of their prime outfield prospects struggling for at-bats.

Jan 02

No Reason For Syndergaard To Call Out Harper

Who is the Mets’ No. 1 obstacle in winning the NL East? Sure, it’s the Washington Nationals. And, who is the best player on the Nationals? You wouldn’t be wrong if you answered Bryce Harper.

So, I ask you, what purpose does it serve for Noah Syndergaard to call out Harper on social media by calling him a douche?

Why poke the bear?

SYNDERGAARD: Why challenge Harper? (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Why challenge Harper? (AP)

It’s like when Rex Ryan called out Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. How did that work out for the Jets? Do you remember when Carmelo Anthony challenged Kevin Garnett outside the Celtics bus after a game? How has that turned out for the Knicks?

Did Sandy Koufax ever call Willie Mays a douche? Did Tom Seaver ever call Hank Aaron a douche? Of course, plenty of Mets had something to call Pete Rose in 1973.

It’s a new world, I know, but there are plenty of time-honored theories that still apply. For example, let sleeping dogs lie, especially if they are prone to bite.

Harper is a force. Why wake him up? Look what the Mets did to Daniel Murphy. It might feel good at the time, but it’s not worth it.

I realize there’s a generational difference between Syndergaard and me. It’s not as if I’m telling Syndergaard to cut his hair. Just think before you hit “send.’’

Syndergaard should know better, and somebody in the Mets’ front office should have enough sense to tell him to tone it down.

 

Sep 23

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Conforto In Mix Again?

Not only was there a Michael Conforto sighting tonight, but he carried the Mets with a three-run homer and double. He did what the Mets have hoped since May. With how they are ignoring Jay Bruce, you have to wonder if Terry Collins plans to use Conforto for the remainder of the season to groom him for the postseason.

A double and homer is a great way to stay in the lineup.

CONFORTO: He does exist. (AP)

CONFORTO: He does exist. (AP)

“It changes it a lot,” Collins said about his plans for Conforto. “What we saw tonight is what we’ve used to seeing. We’ll give him another shot and see how he responds [Saturday].”

Should Conforto hit again tomorrow, it’s pretty hard to imagine Bruce getting another start soon, and a likely bit-player for the postseason.

Conforto had a hot April – Collins projected him as the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future – but after going into a slump in mid-May, spent a lot of time on the Vegas shuttle, but despite playing well in the minors, he’s played sparingly since coming back.

“I’ve been sticking with my drills and staying locked in mentally,” said Conforto on how he’s tried to stay sharp despite seemingly needing a GPS to find the plate.

Conforto laid off a couple of tempting pitches, then went the other way to break open the game with a three-run homer in the fifth to power the Mets to a 10-5 victory over Philadelphia.

So, in answer to the question whether Thursday’s dramatic victory had a magical carry-over effect, let’s say, tonight was a decent encore.

Conforto was the easy main storyline, with the others being the patchwork pitching and Asdrubal Cabrera’s leg injury.

BULLPEN CARRIES BIG LOAD: Spot starter Gabriel Ynoa gave the Mets two innings (43 pitches), which could make him available for Saturday with Noah Syndergaard not available because of a strep throat.

With Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia not available, Collins got significant contributions from Logan Verrett (two innings), Josh Smoker (one), Erik Goeddel (1.1), Josh Edgin (two pitches) and Hansel Robles (2.2 innings for the save).

The game’s turning point came with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and the Mets up by two, but Robles got pinch-hitter Tommy Joseph to ground into an inning-ending double play, with Jose Reyes making a nifty pick-up and throw.

The patchwork bullpen enabled the Mets to also rest Fernando Salas.

“It was a good night,’’ Collins said of his bullpen. “Hansel stepped up and got us through it.’’

For the most part, Robles has had a rough second half, but if tonight was any indication, this is a good sign for the playoffs.

CABRERA BRUISES KNEE: Not so fast, was how Cabrera responded to Collins’ post-game thoughts of resting the shortstop tomorrow because of bruise to his right knee.

Cabrera, who is playing with a sore left knee, fouled a ball off his leg in the fifth.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,’’ Cabrera said. “I will be there tomorrow.”

Collins said his initial plans for to play Reyes at shortstop and play Kelly Johnson (who drove in the tying run in the fifth) at third.

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Sep 12

Backman Out; Was Never Going To Get Chance

Mets GM Sandy Alderson said Wally Backman, the one time, popular pepper pot second baseman of the 1986 champion Mets, is out as Triple-A Las Vegas’ manager.

Just like that, he’s out.

Alderson said Backman left on his own, but does anybody really believe that?

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

“Wally has decided to move on,” Alderson told The New York Post. “He’s got other opportunities, presumably including possible major league coaching or managing.”

That’s nonsense. The minor league season just ended and the major league season is still going on. There are no current openings. If Backman had another job lined up, he would have said so.

When somebody desperately wants to manage in the major leagues, he doesn’t resign from a Triple-A job without something lined up. Instead, he just posted a mild tweet saying he resigned and thanked Mets’ fans for their support. He posted nothing about Alderson.

Reportedly, Backman was on the verge of being named bench coach for the 2012 season, but something happened at the last minute and the job went to Tim Teufel.

In 2004, Backman was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks but was fired four days later after The New York Times reported he had been arrested twice and was under financial duress.

Amazingly, the Diamondbacks failed to do a background check.

Baseball is noted for giving second chances, but Backman has never gotten another opportunity to manage on the major league level. Instead, he found sanctuary with the Mets, the team he energized in 1986.

SNY analyst Keith Hernandez called Backman, “a dear friend and a great teammate.”

Backman managed Las Vegas for five seasons and guided them to a 70-74 record this year. Although Las Vegas had three winning seasons prior to this year, Backman never was enamored by Alderson, who was very complimentary in The Post.

“I thought he did a fine job for us,” Alderson said. “We had many players come through Las Vegas and graduate to the major league level and establish themselves in New York.

“He was part of that development process. In addition, other than this year, the teams were very competitive and successful on a won-loss basis. He did a good job for us.”

So, what was the problem?

Backman has a reputation as a loose cannon that irritated the button-down Alderson. There always seemed to be friction between them, and Alderson has a reputation for holding a grudge.

There are reports of Backman defying Alderson by not batting Brandon Nimmo leadoff and – heaven forbid – or starting Michael Conforto against left-handed pitchers.

On the major league level, Terry Collins said he would, but never followed through on hitting Conforto against lefties. Backman was also critical of how Conforto was used by the Mets. Come to think of it, who hasn’t been critical of the way the Mets are using Conforto.

The Mets’ current outfield situation, in large part made by their eagerness to placate Yoenis Cespedes, is currently a mess. There are no plans for what to do with Conforto – whom Collins said in April was destined to be the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the next decade – and Nimmo.

There is actually a chance they won’t have either Cespedes or Jay Bruce in 2017.

Collins was hired to replace Jerry Manuel in 2011 and had four losing seasons. There were opportunities to hire Backman then, but Collins survived, getting the benefit of the doubt by numerous injuries and ownership’s financial problems.

The thinking was the Mets couldn’t fire Collins because he hadn’t been given a representative team. It wouldn’t be fair. However, everything fell into place and the Mets reached the World Series in 2015. And, with the Mets serious wild-card contenders this year, Collins’ job seems secure.

Part of the success of last year was because of the performances of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud, players who did well under Backman.

The Mets could have promoted Backman to bench coach after last year to replace Bob Geren, who left for the Dodgers. However, when the job went to Dick Scott, it became clear there was no place for him on the major league level despite Jeff Wilpon’s initial gesture of support when they hired him.

With the friction between Backman and the Mets this year, it was only a matter of time before today happened. Do you still don’t think there isn’t animosity between Backman and the Mets? On SNY during the game, Backman wasn’t mentioned until the seventh inning of a blowout, and ended its Baseball Tonight broadcast with basically a throw-away line. It was the last item, but should have been the first.

Don’t think the Mets didn’t have anything to do with that? It sure looks like the Mets wanted to bury this. Makes you wonder why they didn’t wait until 3 in morning Eastern time – the Mets were on the West Coast at the time – like they did when they axed Willie Randolph.

The bottom line is the Mets didn’t want Backman. That’s too bad, and I hope some team takes a chance on him.

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Aug 29

Three Mets’ Storylines: Cespedes Makes Statement

It is hard to say what was the more deafening sound, the Citi Field crowd after Yoenis Cespedes’ game-winning homer or the cash register in Jeff Wilpon’s mind ringing up what the Mets might have to pay to bring him back next summer and beyond.

Cespedes has two years remaining on his contract, but can opt out after this season. The contract calls for him to make $27.5 million this year and $25 million in each of the next two seasons.

CESPEDES: Flexes Mets to win. (AP)

CESPEDES: Flexes Mets to win. (AP)

Cespedes said he’d like to stay with the Mets, but stopped short of saying he will come back. If stands to reason that the better Cespedes performs – he had three hits, including his 27th homer in the 10th inning to beat Miami, 2-1 – the greater his leverage.

To bring Cespedes back, they’ll have to increase both dollars and years. It’s easy to say, “well, just give him the money,’’ after what he did Monday, but the Mets will then have to make a decision on Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, and what to do with Michael Conforto.

Bruce has done little since coming over from the Reds. They could buy out Granderson. And, in April, Conforto was penciled in to be the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the next decade.

However, none of them have what Cespedes does, which is the ability to jumpstart and carry a team with one swing. The Mets have had only a handful of players that no matter, they force you to watch and not look away when they come to the plate. Dave Kingman was one, then Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza. Finally, there is Cespedes, who carried the Mets last season into October, and has been doing it again since coming off the disabled list.

“He’s that kind of player,” manager Terry Collins said. “You expect to see big things from him each and every time he comes up. People pay to see him. They want to see what he can do.”

Cespedes can be infuriating, such as not running out a pop-up that fell for a hit in the first. Against Jose Fernandez, you knew runs would be at a premium and not hustling into scoring position could have bitten them in the end.

Even with his tight right quad, he should have been on second. However, that gets filed away when he takes control of a game as he did facing off against Nick Wittgren with two outs in the tenth.

“In big moments I really try to focus and deliver,” Cespedes said through an interpreter. “I know they were pitching me away, but I was looking for something in.”

Cespedes’ game-winning drive was clearly the top storyline of the night. Jose Reyes stealing a run in the eighth and the pitching from Rafael Montero and the bullpen were the other two.

A REYES RUN: When the Mets signed Reyes at the end of June, they sold the fan base on the premise he would bring energy and speed to their station-to-station offense. What they had in mind was the eighth inning.

Down by a run, Reyes lead off the eighth with a line double into the right field corner. When it appeared Alejandro De Aza failed to advance him on a fly to left, Reyes tagged and moved to third, then scored on a head-first slide following A.J. Ramos’ wild pitch.

Reyes appeared to be hurt on the play when Ramos fell on the Met infielder’s head and left shoulder. Reyes remained in the game, but we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.

MONTERO FILLS BILL: Montero made the spot start because the Mets believed normally scheduled starter Jacob deGrom – who gave up a combined 13 runs in his last two starts – was fatigued. Montero, brought up from Double-A Binghamton, gave up only two hits in five scoreless innings, but threw 100 pitches in large part because he walked six.

If Collins wanted to see if Montero could respond to a challenge, his concerns were answered in the positive. Montero was in constant trouble and left the Marlins stranded with RISP in the first, fourth and fifth.

Montero left the bases loaded in the fourth and needed a double play to get out of the fifth. With how he pitched, Montero will stay after the rosters are expanded, Sept. 1.

While Montero was the unexpected, the bullpen was something they counted on.

Addison Reed gave up a run in the eighth on doubles by Ichiro Suzuki and Xavier Scruggs. The Mets also received scoreless innings from Sean Gilmartin (6th inning), Jerry Blevins (7th), Jeurys Familia (9th) and Josh Smoker (10th).

Combined, the bullpen gave up one run on three hits, one walk and six strikeouts.

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