Jul 26

Alderson’s Trade Stance Raises Questions

Here’s hoping GM Sandy Alderson is blowing smoke when he says don’t expect the Mets to add a starting pitcher or substantial hitter at the trade deadline. Maybe he’s trying to bluff teams. Maybe he’s trying to screw with reporters. Maybe he’s trying to drive manager Terry Collins crazy.

ALDERSON: Smoke or fire? (AP)

ALDERSON: Smoke or fire? (AP)

Probably all good reasons to Alderson, but you always have to read between the lines with him.

“We’re simply not going to move players we think are going to have a significant role for us in the somewhat near future for the possibility of getting the kind of unique return that we got last year,” Alderson told reporters.

Unique? Does that mean Alderson thinks last year was a fluke?

It sure sounds that way. There was a lot of gloom-and-doom around the Mets last July, before Alderson traded for Yoenis Cespedes and brought up Michael Conforto from the minors. This July, the Mets are the defending National League champions in need of help, and the void they claim they must fill – the bullpen – isn’t what they really need.

With how things played out Tuesday, could Alderson change his mind?

The pen has been solid the past six weeks. But after watching them slog through Tuesday’s doubleheader split with the Cardinals, losing, 3-2 in the opener and winning the second game 3-1, you know they must add a hitter and with the health issues of their starters, they need another arm.

Why the pen?

“Realistically, the bullpen is the area where we can probably get someone who can make a difference at a relatively low cost in terms of prospects,” Alderson said.

Alderson is really saying the Mets don’t want to give up anything significant, which has always been his M.O. Hitters and starting pitchers cost more than relievers, and Alderson doesn’t want to part with their minor league depth. Teams want shortstop prospect Amed Rosario, which is understandable. However, of the Mets’ top ten prospects listed by MLB.com, five are shortstops.

Damn, I hate that. In order to get something of quality you have to give up something.

“Realistically, it’s unlikely we’ll end up with another starting pitcher,” Alderson said. “It’s unrealistic that we’ll end up with a significant position player. And, with respect to the bullpen, we’re very happy with our bullpen. But at the same time we’re looking to upgrade the bottom half of the bullpen so we have a little more depth.”

Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have been superb – Familia has converted 52 consecutive save opportunities after locking down last night’s second game – but Alderson says the issue is depth. Frankly, for a team trying to get to the World Series, a reliever for the sixth inning is not what they need most.

Alderson fears the law firm of Robles, Reed and Familia, is being worn down, but doesn’t giving them the proper rest fall on pitching coach Dan Warthen and Collins?

Here’s a thought, perhaps if the starting pitchers worked longer and didn’t run up such high pitch counts that would save the bullpen. That’s what Bartolo Colon did in the second game when he gave up one run in seven innings.

However, knowing Noah Syndergaard is pitching with a bone spur – pain tolerance is what the manager said is the key – and considering two starts ago he left with arm fatigue, why would Collins let him throw 114 pitches?

That many pitches warrants a complete game, but Syndergaard gave the Mets only six innings. Collins said he doesn’t know why Syndergaard’s pitch counts have been high, but it’s simple really, despite his 100 mph., heater, he’s not putting away hitters.

Syndergaard isn’t pitch efficient. He throws too many pitches for the innings he provides. That must change, and it has to change for Steven Matz, who is also trying to grind through a bone spur.

The Mets are pushing the envelope with Syndergaard and Matz and they know it. Matt Harvey is gone for the year. They have no idea what they’ll get from Zack Wheeler, or when they’ll even see him. Their preseason expectations had Wheeler replacing Colon in the rotation in early July,

Colon, after three poor starts, for one night at least put to rest his 43-year-old arm hit the wall. Because Colon threw only 87 pitches, he’ll come back on three days rest to start Saturday against Colorado.

“He’s been as good, if not better than anybody,” Collins said of Colon and his rotation. “He’s a special guy and we’re very lucky to have him.”

Doesn’t this gamble tell you the need for another starter?

Surely, Collins has been thinking about who would pitch Saturday, especially with Sean Gilmartin, who is with Triple-A Las Vegas, going on the disabled list earlier in the day. Collins wouldn’t think of going to Syndergaard on short rest and isn’t enamored with the idea of using Seth Lugo or bringing up Gabriel Ynoa from Triple-A Las Vegas.

Collins got testy when pressed for his reasoning on using Colon with short rest, and finally finished with a curt, “if he gets his brains beat out in three days, it will obviously be a bad decision.”

You can forgive Collins for getting upset because he was probably thinking of how the Mets would score runs with Jose Reyes to be lost for several games with a Grade 1 intercostal strain in his left rib cage. Collins is being optimistic because those things usually take a long time, and Reyes has a history of lengthy DL stints with strained muscles.

It means they’ll go back to Wilmer Flores, who had four hits in the second game. It also means they better hope last night meant the return of Asdrubal Cabrera, who finally had a hit with a runner in scoring position.

There’s a lot going on with the Mets, but despite being only within 4.5 games of the Nationals, Alderson isn’t giving many signs of being optimistic.

Maybe it’s a smokescreen.

Jul 25

Mets Talking Trade With Brewers

Apparently, the Mets will be buyers at the trade deadline, but will they shop at Nordstrom’s or K-Mart? The rap on Mets GM Sandy Alderson is he wants to pay K-Mart prices for Nordstrom quality.

LUCROY: What will he cost? (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

LUCROY: What will he cost? (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Mets reportedly interested in Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy and relievers Jeremy Jeffress and lefty Will Smith. Lucroy was on the Mets’ radar over a month ago, but the relievers are new on their list.

Any one of them could help the Mets; all three could put them over the top. Perhaps.

The Brewers already rejected catcher Travis d’Arnaud for Lucroy straight up, so the Mets would have to sweeten the pot with a high-level prospect. No, Wilmer Flores doesn’t count and considering his setbacks, neither would Zack Wheeler.

It’s that mystery prospect that’s intriguing.

The Mets say they don’t want to part with shortstop Amed Rosario, but what about Gavin Cecchini, also a shortstop? Luis Carpio is also a shortstop prospect. They certainly can’t keep all three.

First baseman Dominic Smith and outfielder Brandon Nimmo could be on the table.

But, whose table?

The Mets said adding to their bullpen is a priority, but Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have been a solid 7-8-9 trio over the past six weeks.

A name to keep your eye on is former Nationals reliever Drew Storen, who was designated for assignment by Toronto, where he was having a miserable season, going 1-3 with a 6.21 ERA in 38 appearances. In 33.1 innings he had 32 strikeouts, which was excellent, but gave up 23 runs on 43 hits and 10 walks (1.590 WHIP), which clearly is not.

Jul 24

Three Mets’ Storylines: There’s A Good Feeling Again

 

CONFORTO: WOW! (Getty)

                                   CONFORTO: WOW! (Getty)

As erratic as the Mets have been since the end of April, after winning two of three in Miami the feeling again is the playoffs are possible.

And, it’s not a wistful feeling. Down by 1.5 games after the Chicago series, had they lost or been swept by the Marlins there would have been a doom-and-gloom aura surrounding the team.

“I said coming out of the break this was crunch time for us,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “This was a good series for us to win.”

Today’s 3-0 victory over the Marlins was the combination of Steven Matz pitching tough for six innings; the bullpen following the script; Michael Conforto doing it at the plate and in the field; and, believe it or not, they scored tack-on runs without going deep.

If there was a formula to winning, strong pitching, situational hitting and defense, is the one to pick, and for the most part the Mets got it this weekend.

That this came on the road against a team ahead of them in the standings, making it that much sweeter.

Today’s other storylines today were:

PITCHING PLUS: Matz, bothered with a bone spur in his elbow, pitched six strong innings to win his first game since May 25.

Perhaps most encouraging was how he pitched to Giancarlo with runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth.

“I just didn’t want to give in and give him that ball he could crush,” Matz told reporters. “I didn’t want to miss fat and make a mistake with runners on.”

Matz threw 99 pitches, which is too much for six innings.

Following Matz was the 7-8-9 script of Hansel Robles, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia, with the closer converting his 51st consecutive save opportunity.

For all the talk of the Mets needing a reliever, what Robles and Reed have given them can’t be overlooked.

CONFORTO SHINES: Conforto laid out making a spectacular catch robbing the first batter of the game, Miguel Rojas, of extra bases. Considering Martin Prado singled and Stanton walked later in the inning, the Mets avoided a big hole.

Conforto also had two hits and scored the Mets’ first run.

“He’s too good a hitter,” Collins said. “He worked hard and flattened his swing out. I know he’s going to hit.”

Jul 23

What I Will Always Remember About Piazza

PIAZZA AND SEAVER

                                         PIAZZA AND SEAVER

In thinking of my favorite Mike Piazza memory, I always go back that one swing against the Braves, Sept. 21, 2001, in the first professional sports event in New York City following the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center.

I was in Baltimore at the time, covering the Yankees and Orioles, and in the back of the press box was a television tuned to the Mets and Braves. The pregame ceremonies were moving, and like most of the Yankees writers, my eyes kept darting back to the game at Shea Stadium.

After all, this was our city, and history was being made at the stadium whose parking lot a few days before was used as a staging ground to shuttle food and other supplies to the hundreds in need in lower Manhattan.

During such times it is cliché to say sports are insignificant, but they also have a way of diverting our attention and making us feel good when things are black. Piazza’s dramatic home run off the Braves’ Steve Karsay didn’t heal New York’s pain, but for one moment it made things seem normal.

It wasn’t the greatest moment in franchise history, but it definitely was one of the most significant. For that reason, it is my favorite Piazza memory.

The following are my other most memorable Piazza moments:

Piazza vs. Clemens: This was more a soap opera than a singular event and the first domino was a grand slam the one-time 62nd-round draft pick Piazza clubbed off Roger Clemens in June of 2000.

A month later, in one of the classic punk moves of all time, Clemens hit Piazza in the head with a fastball in a night game at Yankee Stadium.

Then, in Game 2 of that year’s World Series, Clemens’ broke off Piazza’s bat, and grabbed the barrel end and disgustedly threw it at the Mets’ catcher.

A few days ago, former Yankees manager Joe Torre said he doesn’t believe Clemens threw the bat at Piazza intentionally.

I covered that game and couldn’t believe not only what I saw, but that Clemens wasn’t ejected. Knowing what I know now, a case can be made for steroid rage.

Of course, Torre wouldn’t throw a former player of his under the bus. However, as somebody who oversees disciplinary cases for Major League Baseball, what Torre would do if faced with a similar incident?

In the end, Piazza’s career numbers off Clemens were 8-for-22 (.364) with four homers.

A footnote to all this was Shawn Estes’ lame attempt at payback when he lobbed a ball behind Clemens’ back. To this day when I think of that pitch, I just shake my head.

Mauling Mendoza: The year before Clemens, on July 10, 1999, Piazza hit a three-run homer off Yankees’ reliever Ramiro Mendoza that measured 482 feet and hit a party tent behind the visitor’s bullpen at Shea Stadium.

Piazza’s swing uncoiled into a ferocious crack when bat met ball. This might have been one of the hardest hit, if not longest, of the 427 homers Piazza hit during his career.

Letting go – twice: Funny, considering the debate as to which cap Piazza would have on his plaque – Dodgers or Mets – is both teams let him go.

Piazza was in the prime of his career, and there was already talk of him being the best hitting catcher of all-time, when the Dodgers foolishly traded him to the Marlins in May of 1998.

The Dodgers and Piazza were in negotiations to keep him from leaving after the season as a free agent. That a contender such as the Dodgers would trade a marquee player like Piazza was beyond stupid. However, in hindsight, it must be remembered Piazza was traded not by the O’Malley family, but News Corp., which helped run the team into the ground.

A week later, the Marlins, in a salary dump, traded Piazza to the Mets for Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall.

Piazza’s good-bye at Shea: On Oct. 2, 2005, it was clear Piazza’s eight-year run with the Mets would not be extended. As it usually is with the Mets, it was about money.

He went 0-for-3 in his final game with the Mets, but we all knew he wasn’t going to return and finish his career in New York. The crowd would not let him go and gave him standing ovations throughout the game.

Really saying good-bye at Shea: On Aug. 9, 2006, the Mets were on their way to the playoffs, but the sellout crowd couldn’t resist showing its love for Piazza one more time.

In a 4-3 victory over San Diego, the crowd roared the way it used to for Piazza when he hit a pair of solo home runs off Pedro Martinez. It was fun to see Piazza unload off Martinez in the fourth, but to see him do it again in the sixth was surreal.

Setting the HR record for catchers: Piazza set the record for most home runs by a catcher with 396. The former record was 351 by Carlton Fisk, which Piazza passed on May 5, with a blast by San Francisco’s Jerome Williams, at Shea.

Saying good-bye with Seaver: The Mets know how to throw a party. There was that sensational night against the Braves, and there was also the final Sunday afternoon of the 2008 season when they closed the doors at Shea forever.

All the greats were trotted out, but watching Piazza walk through the center field gate with his arm wrapped around Tom Seaver is something I will never forget.

Treated unfairly by the press: I covered Major League Baseball for over 20 years, and usually support that profession.

However, two things made me ashamed.

The first was the crass and obnoxious articles questioning Piazza’s sexuality, which is nobody’s business.

The second were the persistent, unfair attacks and insinuations of PED’s.

My basis in voting for the Hall of Fame is: 1) Has he ever failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball? 2) Was he ever named in an official document such as the Mitchell Report? 3) Did a player, manager or coach ever accuse him on the record?

The answer to those questions have always been NO.

Piazza was again asked that question by long-time New York baseball writer who has an unreasonable vendetta against Piazza based on a few pimples. It was embarrassing to hear the issue raised again, but Piazza answered with class, as he usually did.

That he would be treated so shabbily by the New York press, and yet still want to be inducted representing the Mets is a testament to how you treated him for eight wonderful years.

I only wish it could have been longer.

I hope you’ll share your favorite memories and thoughts about Piazza.

Jul 22

Three Mets’ Storylines: This Is Why They Got Reyes

The Mets gambled bringing back Jose Reyes because they needed a leadoff hitter to spark their listless offense. What they envisioned came to fruition Friday night in Miami in what truly can be described as a must-win game.

Reyes ripped three hits, scored two runs, drove in another, stole a base and had several sparkling defensive plays in a 5-3 victory to pull them within a half-game of the Marlins for the final wild-card spot.

REYES: Huge spark tonight. (Getty)

REYES: Huge spark tonight. (Getty)

“I needed to step up my game a little bit and set the tone,” Reyes told SNY. “We know we had to win the first game of the series because they have [Jose] Fernandez going tomorrow and he’s one of the best pitchers in the league.”

The Mets’ offense still has holes, but if Reyes keeps having games like Friday’s, leadoff won’t be one of them.

“This guy produces runs,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “We have a lot of games left to play and hopefully he’ll be a big part of our line-up. … Hopefully, he’ll have a lot more like this.”

In addition to Reyes, the Mets got two sacrifice flies from Yoenis Cespedes and a two-run homer by James Loney.

Reyes did commit a throwing error, but overall his defense at third has exceeded expectations. More games like Friday’s will greatly increase Reyes’ chances of coming back next year.

The following are the other two storylines in the game the Mets needed:

BULLPEN SCRIPT: In their perfect world, the Mets want a bullpen script of Hansel Robles in the seventh (he also got the last two outs in the sixth), Addison Reed in the eighth and Jeurys Familia in the ninth.

Of course, with Familia it isn’t always easy. Cespedes misplayed Christian Yelich’s line drive into a double and Familia walked Marcell Ozuna to bring the tying run to the plate.

However, as he did in Chicago, Familia regrouped and struck out Derek Dietrich, and after Martin Prado’s RBI single, Adeiny Hechavarria grounded out to lock down his 50th straight save.

The bullpen picked up Logan Verrett, who gave up two runs in 5.1 innings, which should merit another start in the rotation. However, I’m not sure if he’s shown enough to prevent the Mets

WALKER STRUGGLES: Second baseman Neil Walker, who captivated Mets’ fans with nine homers and 19 RBI in April, continued to flounder as he went 0-for-5 to see his average drop to .242 and on-base percentage slide to .311.

Walker has only two hits in his last 32 at-bats in the last nine games he’s played.

With Fernandez being a tough nut to crack, it might not be a bad idea of resting him Saturday and letting Wilmer Flores play second.