Feb 16

Five Mets On The Hot Seat

We’re still a long way from Jonathon Niese’s first pitch of the 2014 season against Washington, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t already some New York Mets on the hot seat, broiling under the glare of expectations.

Every spring in every camp there are several players on a short-patience rope and the Mets are no exception. In my mind, there are five facing a make-or-break season, beginning with Niese:

GRANDERSON: Has pressure.

GRANDERSON: Has pressure.

Jonathon Niese: Will it ever happen for him? He was signed to a multi-year extension because he was young, left-handed and could throw hard. However, he’s never won more than 13 games in a season and has sustained a myriad of injuries, including shoulder problems last season. At 29, there’s still time, but could one of the young prospects prompt the Mets to shop him?

Ike Davis: No Mets “question list,’’ doesn’t have his name. It is last-chance time for the former hot prospect. After 32 homers in 2012, that’s the plateau the club is seeking. The Mets would take less, say 25, if his RBI production and on-base percentage were high and his strikeouts substantially cut. He either hits this year or he’s gone.

Ruben Tejada: The Mets toyed with signing Stephen Drew, but were sold on the potential of the younger and cheaper Tejada after his commitment at a Michigan fitness camp. The Mets are pointing to 2015 and Matt Harvey’s return to when they can realistically contend, and they won’t be able to do that with a hole at shortstop.

Curtis Granderson: Signed a four-year deal for big money in the hope of providing power in the outfield. I have two words: Jason Bay. Fans are smart enough to realize he won’t hit for the power he did at Yankee Stadium, but they won’t accept Bay-like numbers. Granderson represents the Mets’ promise  to improve and needs to live up to those expectations.

Chris Young: He’s probably gone after this season, but he’ll start the year with a bulls-eye on his back. With his recent numbers it is incomprehensible for him to get a $7.25 million contract. He must produce for his own peace of mind in shutting up the boos.

Feb 15

Mets Week In Review: Davis Surprised; Drew Not Coming

Although Saturday was the official reporting day for the New York Mets pitchers and catchers, most of them – including many position players – have already been in Port St. Lucie much of the week.

And, it has been a pretty eventual five days:

* In arguably the quote of the week, Ike Davis said he was “a little bit shocked,’’ he wasn’t traded. Davis goes into spring training as the starter ahead of Lucas Duda.

* General manager Sandy Alderson said it remains unlikely the Mets would sign shortstop Stephen Drew despite persistent reports to the contrary.

* Bobby Parnell threw ten pitches off the mound on Valentine’s Day, roughly two weeks ahead of schedule.

* Manager Terry Collins said he is leaning toward Jon Niese as the Opening Day starter and stated a preference for Eric Young as the leadoff hitter.

* Collins said Wilmer Flores would get some time at shortstop. He also said the shortstop starter has not been determined.

* Matt Harvey said he hopes to pitch this season, but Collins said he would not rush him.

* Alderson left the door open lefty for Jack Leathersich or Rafael Montero making the Opening Day roster in the bullpen.

* Reliever Kyle Farnsworth, now with his eighth team, said he has no illusions and will accept whatever role the Mets have in mind for him.

* Credit Bartolo Colon for telling the truth, saying he signed with the Mets because no other team would offer a second year. If his body holds up, Colon said he would pitch after his contract expires.

Note: It my intent to post a Mets Week in Review every Saturday.

Feb 15

Bartolo Colon Arrives In Camp

Bartolo Colon signed with the New York Mets for the same reason most free agents go to a new team – they offered the most. At 40, Colon didn’t have many teams banging on his door. Nobody was offering $20 million over two years like the Mets.

COLON: Hired gun.

COLON: Hired gun.

“Other teams had one-year offers,’’ Colon told reporters Saturday in Port St. Lucie. “The second year really sealed the deal for me with the Mets.’’

Colon said he left it to his agent to find him a team that would be the best fit, but the fit was in the number of years and dollar amount. Yes, Colon is a mercenary, but that’s the nature of the sport.

The Mets could have had younger, more durable and potentially more productive pitchers, but they didn’t want to spend the money. This was the ultimate business relationship.

Colon, once nabbed for PED use, was 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA last year over 30 starts with Oakland, numbers he said even surprised himself. The Mets are gambling Colon has at least one more year in him to fill the void left by Matt Harvey’s injury.

The Mets don’t expect Colon to lose it overnight. As far as the second year, that’s for insurance for 2015 if the Mets’ young pitching is slow in developing.

The 265-pound Colon said he’s always pitched heavy and plans to pitch, “until my body can’t take it any more.’’

ON DECK: Wrapping up the week.

Feb 14

Jim Fregosi Dies; Always Part Of Mets’ Lore

It was sad to hear the passing of Jim Fregosi, 71, Friday in a Miami hospital. Fregosi, a long-time All-Star shortstop with the Angels and 1,000-game winner as a manager, will always be a part of New York Mets lore.

When the Mets’ worst trades are revisited, the trade to acquire Fregosi for Nolan Ryan goes down as one of the two worst, with the dealing of Tom Seaver to the Reds as the other.

Fregosi (c) with Ken Boswell (l) and Wayne Garrett (r).

Fregosi (c) with Ken Boswell (l) and Wayne Garrett (r).

When Fregosi’s 146 games played with the Mets in 1972-73 are compared to Ryan’s combined 324 victories and 5,714 strikeouts, it understandably goes down as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, but in fairness, a trade must be examined with the circumstances of the time.

It is never black and white.

After the 1971 season, they were two years removed from their Miracle Mets season and trying to regain their spot among baseball’s elite. They already had the foundation with a solid rotation of Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Jon Matlack and Jim McAndrew.

What the Mets didn’t have was right-handed power and a third baseman, of which they used six different from 1969. Fregosi, 30 at the time, was supposed to fill those voids, and all it would cost the Mets was Ryan, who owned a combined 19-24 record and was coming off 10-14 season in 1971.

Off the field, Ryan also had a dislike of New York City, and on the mound a propensity for wildness and a lingering blister problem. With their rotation, Fregosi’s background and Ryan’s baggage and disappointing numbers, it was easy to see why the Mets made the deal.

The Mets reached the World Series in 1973, but by that time Fregosi’s skills had deteriorated and he had become a role player. He played in 31 games that year before his contract was purchased by Texas in July.

Nobody could foresee the career paths of Fregosi and Ryan, but at the time, it was good and necessary gamble for the Mets to take. Who would have thought Ryan would go on to win 305 games?

After leaving the Mets, Fregosi played five more seasons with Texas and Pittsburgh but never approached his All-Star status, and then embarked on an 18-year managerial career with the Angels, White Sox, Philadelphia and Blue Jays, compiling a 1,028-1,094 record that included taking the 1993 Phillies to the World Series.

“Everyone in the Phillies organization is deeply saddened about the news of Jim’s passing. We, and so many others in the game, have lost a dear friend,’’ club president David Montgomery said in a statement. “He’ll be remembered for his vibrant personality, wisdom and love of the game.’’

That personality and wisdom was evident during spring training, as he became a fixture in ballparks throughout Florida as a scout. Fregosi, who suffered a stroke during a Major League Baseball alumni cruise Thursday, was preparing for another spring training as an assistant with the Braves.

Spring training, which begins this week, was Fregosi’s time as he entertained fellow scouts and club executives with his stories, and informed writers from his 50-year career.

Whether it was in the stadium lunchroom, press box or on the field, if you wanted to laugh or know something, you sought out Fregosi.

 

Feb 13

Mets Have Numbers, But Also Questions In Rotation

New York Mets pitchers and catchers will report to Port St. Lucie on Feb. 15 with the first workout the following day. Manager Terry Collins knows his first four starters, but the fifth is up in the air. However, regardless of how the rotation shakes out, there’s not a pitcher among them without a significant question attached to his name:

Jonathon Niese: The speculated Opening Day starter is coming off a shoulder injury and 8-8 record in 2013.

Signed through 2017 primarily because he’s left-handed, young at 27 and throws hard. Those types are always in demand, but with a lifetime 43-40 record and 3.99 ERA, he’s not exactly a budding Andy Pettitte.

Niese has never won more than 13 games or made more than 30 starts in a season, bringing into question his durability.

The significant question: Will he ever have a breakout season?

Bartolo Colon: Once nabbed for PEDs, Colon is coming off a strong 18-6 season with a 2.65 ERA last year with Oakland and signed a two-year, $20-million contract with the Mets on the last day of the Winter Meetings.

He was brought in to fill the void caused by Matt Harvey’s elbow injury and provide veteran support.

Colon, 40, has won a career 189 games with a 1.314 WHIP. The Mets will be his eighth team.

The significant question: How much does he have left?

Zack Wheeler: Some scouts say he has more potential than Harvey. We shall see.

The Mets took their time in bringing up Wheeler, 23, and he flashed promise expected. The Mets tinkered with his mechanics after reports he tipped his pitches, then told him to throw more breaking balls, but Wheeler didn’t show anything until they told him to just work off his fastball.

Wheeler was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts before he was shut down in September after complaining of stiffness in his shoulder.

The significant question: How much will he progress in his second year?

Dillon Gee: A 12-strikeout, 7.1-inning outing at Yankee Stadium, May 30, kept Gee in the rotation and he went on to go 12-11, but more importantly work 199 innings.

Gee doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but when his command is on he usually gives the Mets five or more innings as a reliable back-end starter.

Gee’s reliability and reasonable contract could make him attractive to other teams in July. Should Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero be promoted in June, it could give the Mets a valuable trade chip.

The significant question: Will Gee have another 199-inning season?

Jenrry Mejia: Up and down has been the story of Mejia’s short career. Mejia’s role bounced from being a starter to an ill-fated trip to the bullpen under Jerry Manuel that eventually ended in a demotion and elbow injury.

Mejia still throws hard and is back competing as a starter. He’s coming off surgery, but has the inside track for the fifth starter role if he’s sound.

The significant question: How healthy is he?

John Lannan: He’s 29, left-handed and comes with a reasonable contract.

The Mets signed him as Mejia insurance, but he has shown signs of becoming a solid starter. From 2008-2011, he started 31, 33, 25 and 33 games respectively for some pretty bad Washington teams, and three times worked at least 180 innings.

There’s promise here, and because of his age, he’s worth keeping.

The significant question: Will he get a chance to show his durability?

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Brought in as a stop-gap following the injury to Harvey and innings ceiling on Wheeler, Matsuzaka won his last three starts and went at least six innings each time.

That was good enough for Alderson to say last October he could come back. However, nothing was done until after January.

Matsuzaka, 33, turned his season around when he accelerated his delivery.

The significant question: Were those last three starts a fluke?

Summation: Barring injury, Niese, Wheeler, Colon and Gee are givens in the rotation. If Mejia falters and Lannan pitches well, expect Mejia to start the season in the minor leagues.

So, the Mets have a balanced rotation with at least one question for each starter.

(Note: Montero, Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom were omitted because they aren’t expected to be promoted before June. I will discuss them later this spring in a prospects segment).