Feb 07

Mets Matters: Johan Santana, Michael Bourn And Notebook

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JOHAN SANTANA PENCILED IN FOR OPENING DAY

Manager Terry Collins told reporters today in Port St. Lucie he expects Johan Santana to be ready for the start of the season and penciled him in to be the Opening Day starter, April 1, against San Diego at Citi Field. A healthy Santana is a no-brainer.

The Mets deny overworking Santana in his 134-pitch no-hitter, June 1, but there can be no denying his 8.27 ERA in his following ten starts, which included a career-high six-game losing streak.

He was shut down with lower-back inflammation in August. Collins attributed that to fatigue. Whether it was or not, it was another physical ailment for Santana, who is in his walk year. Santana will make $25 million this year and not expected to be brought back in 2014.

There’s little doubt if Santana is able he would be the ball. If not, look for Jon Niese, a 13-game winner last  year, to get the honor. Incidentally, Toronto already named R.A. Dickey as its Opening Day starter.

Nothing new with Bourn: MLB is not yielding on its position the CBA is clear the first 10 picks are protected and not the 10 worst records. The Mets were leapfrogged by Pittsburgh because the Pirates were unable to sign their 2012 pick.

The dispute is expected to go to arbitration to be resolved before the Mets make an offer to Bourn. The Mets’ stance is they shouldn’t be penalized because the Pirates failed in signing their pick, which is a plausible argument.

As of now, the Mets seem poised to using a largely inexperienced outfield, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center, flanked by Lucas Duda and Mike Baxter.

Mets Notes: The Mets are close to completing a deal for reliever Brandon Lyon, pending a physical. … The Mets’ spring training home is back to being called Tradition Field after being referred to as the non-catchy Digital Domain Park the last three years. That company is having financial troubles and is no longer able to sponsor the stadium. … Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Monday, but ESPN reports there’s already a full house. Early arrivals include: David Wright – who always shows ahead of schedule – Duda, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck, Baxter, Bobby Parnell and Nieuwenhuis. Ruben Tejada, who drew Collins’ wrath last spring when he didn’t show early is due in Saturday. That, of course, depends on the storm expected to slam the East Coast starting tomorrow morning and continuing until Saturday.

Feb 07

Mets Must Resist Temptation With Zack Wheeler

It’s no secret the Mets have concerns in their rotation, but that doesn’t mean they should rush Zack Wheeler, regardless of how good a spring training he has.

The Mets tooker a somewhat patient approach with Matt Harvey, waited to bring him up last summer and gave him ten starts in which he showed his potential. The Mets need to do the same with Wheeler.

I still maintain the Mets rushed former first-round pick Mike Pelfrey out of necessity when he clearly wasn’t emotionally or mentally ready. Pelfrey had the physical tools, but had trouble keeping his poise and concentration, struggled with pitch selection, and couldn’t put away hitters or innings.

Harvey doesn’t have those problems and is ahead of where Pelfrey was at a similar stage of his career. Pelfrey is trying to hook on with Minnesota, while Harvey has a place in the Mets’ rotation.

Wheeler is expected to open the season in the minor leagues and pitch with the Mets later in the season. How late, depends on the health of the rotation, but remember, the Mets had injury issues last year and utilized several options before turning to Harvey.

The Mets say they are building for the future with their young pitching, but when you look at the composition of the roster – notably the outfield and bullpen – it is obvious they won’t contend this season. So, the wise thing is to go slow with Wheeler until he’s ready.

The young arm I am most interested in seeing his Jenrry Mejia, but I probably said that last spring, too. Mejia is a prime example of force-feeding a prospect to the major leagues before he was ready. Blame Jerry Manuel for that one.

Entering his last year as Mets’ manager, Manuel knew his job was hanging thin, and with a weak bullpen lobbied hard with then GM Omar Minaya to put Mejia in the bullpen when he should have been in the minors as a starter.

Even worse than taking him out of his projected role, was the Mets didn’t know how to use him in the pen. After awhile, they used him in no-pressure situations. Then it was back to the minor leagues and in the rotation, where he subsequently injured his arm.

Previously, Manuel screwed up Bobby Parnell. He was supposed to get a string of starts at the end of the 2009 season. He was rocked in September, but with the Mets going nowhere, Manuel – presumably more concerned about getting a handful of wins then protecting Parnell emotionally – yanked him from the rotation.

Parnell hasn’t started a game for the Mets since, and it hasn’t been a smooth transition for him to the bullpen.

Pelfrey is gone, Parnell is still trying to make it in the pen, and Mejia’s role is still in question. The future is bright for Harvey. Hopefully, it will be for Wheeler, too. If he’s brought along the right way.

Feb 06

Mets Players Campaigning For Bourn

David Wright reached out to Michael Bourn and plugged the Mets. Last night, Ike Davis said he’d also like the Mets to bring Bourn to Flushing.

The Mets have done nothing this winter to improve their outfield, and while Bourn would not make them an elite team, he could make them competitive. At least moreso than an inexperienced Kirk Nieuwenhuis  and a possible platoon in center.

DAVIS: Wants Bourn

                          DAVIS: Wants Bourn

Bourn is a good defensive center fielder and a contact hitter. He won’t hit for power, but he will get on base for Wright and Davis. The latter said as much last night when speaking at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner in Manhattan.

“As a guy that likes to drive in runners, I would love Bourn to be on the bases when I’m hitting just because how he changes the game,” Davis said. “We’re going to see more fastballs if he’s on the team, he’s definitely going to help out the second hole hitter, Davis and me, in every aspect of the game. Yeah, it would be great. He’s also an amazingly good defender out in center field.”

The biggest splash the Mets have made this winter was extending Wright’s contract and trading R.A. Dickey. GM Sandy Alderson has tweaked the bullpen, but the outfield lays barren. Bourn could at least give the impression the organization is interested in more than just a casino around Citi Field. Their current plan seems to be hoping for everybody to getting better.

Hoping is not a good strategy.

The Mets do not want to part with the 11th overall draft pick as compensation and that’s understandable.  The players don’t care about the pick because by the time that player reaches Citi Field they might be gone from the Mets.

By record, the Mets would have a higher pick, but Pittsburgh leapfrogged them because the Pirates were unable to sign their pick. It hardly seems fair the Mets should be penalized because the Pirates failed. That’s a decision that should be overturned.

If the draft pick weren’t such an issue, Bourn would be an improvement, but he’s certainly not worth a $100-million package as has been suggested. Two, three years at the most plus an option. Anything longer is just putting the Mets in the position of taking on another bad contract. Long-term burdensome contracts have held back the Mets and the last thing they need is another.

Davis believes the Mets are heading in the right direction, but you didn’t expect him to say anything else, did you?

“I think the signing of David means the Mets are getting more aggressive. Just shows that we’re not too far away and we are in the year, or the next year or two, are trying to put winning baseball on the field,” Davis said. “I’m excited David’s going to be here for a long time, hopefully I can join him, and hopefully we can change the culture around here a little bit.”

Davis is thinking two years down the road and that’s about right, that is if the Mets are willing to spend. They have no significant trade pieces and are trying to hold onto their prospects. That leaves the free-agent market as the immediate source for building.

So far, the Mets have gone on the cheap in free-agency in recent years. That must change.

 

Feb 05

Mets’ Pitching Questions Heading Into Spring Training

With spring training less than two weeks away, the Mets have a myriad of questions they’ll hope to resolve before Opening Day. That’s six weeks to get done what hasn’t been completed all winter.

With a late push, GM Sandy Alderson added a fifth starter and has tinkered with his bullpen. The operative word there is “tinkered,’’ because there’s more hope than actual production in what he’s done.

Many of the questions, not surprisingly, are concerned with pitching. Here’s the pitching questions I’m asking:

Q: How healthy is Johan Santana, and what is his mindset in his walk year?

A: Once again, Santana didn’t complete a whole season with the Mets. This time, it wasn’t his shoulder, although he did experience some tiredness after his 134-pitch no-hitter. Santana has to know the Mets have no intention of extending his contract beyond this year, so he’s pitching to impress new suitors. In that case, he might give a little extra in his walk year. Then again, he might just coast to show he’s healthy. There’s a gradual build-up in spring training to 100 pitches so we should get an idea of how sound he is. If he’s not, the Mets might have to scramble for another starter.

Q: What is Dillon Gee’s status?

A: Gee’s 2012 was cut short because of a blood clot in his shoulder. The projection for him is as a fourth or fifth starter. Surgery removed the clot and he has been cleared. I’m curious as to his strength and stamina. Clots are serious things and Gee has probably been prescribed blood thinners to prevent them. Still, until he gets out there we won’t know for sure.

Q: Does Zack Wheeler make a statement?

A: Wheeler isn’t expected to make the rotation, but will be a call-up during the season. With concerns about Santana and Gee – and you know something else will pop up – Wheeler might be counted on sooner than expected. The Mets don’t expect Wheeler to be a full-time contributor until 2014, but that’s only a rough timetable.

Q: What is the composition of the bullpen?

A: The Mets added Pedro Feliciano, LaTroy Hawkins and Scott Atchison, and are talking to Brandon Lyon. Jose Valverde won’t happen and Frank Francisco is a $6.5 million health issue. Kind of gives you a warm, optimistic feeling doesn’t it? The bullpen is essential to any progressive step the Mets might take and currently it doesn’t seem better than last year. On a positive note, Josh Edgin and Robert Carson showed potential worth grooming and Bobby Parnell was a positive when Francisco went down at the end of the season.

Feb 05

Some Reflections On 49ers And Ravens, Before The Mets

One of the true beauties of sport is the ability to generate conversation and debate. Before we dive head first into baseball let’s take one more swipe at the Super Bowl, which will go down in history as one of the most compelling in history.

What I root most for in watching games – regardless of sport – are interesting story lines and close games. Yesterday’s game hit on both counts.

As I wrote yesterday, I didn’t have a dog in the fight, but leaned toward San Francisco because of my Cleveland roots. I didn’t waiver, but found myself happy for Joe Flacco because of the heat he’s taken, some of it from his own team.

Timing is everything, and Flacco couldn’t have picked a better time to become an unrestricted free agent. What are the odds? Check them out at  CasinoDino.com.

While Flacco is easy to root for, Jim Harbaugh is the opposite.

Harbaugh went from hard to root for to almost impossible to root for because of his whining. After saying he wanted to handle things with class, he proceeded to rip the officiating. Although he was right on that last non-call – it was holding – be gracious and congratulate your brother. Not a lot of warmth in that post-game handshake.

Brother John said he thought his brother is the best coach in the NFL and would be honored to work for him. He also said he loved him. Jim said no such thing. I wonder if Jim will truly be happy for John?

That was a horrible non-call, and I can’t stand that term. “That was a good non-call,’’ said Phil Simms, who praised the officials for “not making a call late in the game.’’ I normally like Simms, but he’s as off-target on this one like a Mark Sanchez pass. Huh? If it is holding, it is holding whether on the first play of the game or the last. What is it? Then call it. I bet he wouldn’t have been that forgiving had he been throwing the ball.

That wasn’t the only bad call in the game. As a matter of fact, two Ravens were caught holding on that play. They were also holding on the kickoff return. And, how does Cary Williams not get thrown out of the game for shoving a ref? He later went on to make several key plays, including tipping a pass in the end zone.

There were numerous other blown calls that cost both teams. It isn’t like the 49ers got screwed; both teams were affected. Like, how about a late hit on Flacco wasn’t called?

I heard a lot about the officials “letting them play,’’ which is garbage. Your job as an official is to call the game, not arbitrarily decide how the game should be played. It is like an umpire’s “personal’’ strike zone. Rules are rules, so enforce them.

That being said, I don’t want to hear how the officials cost the 49ers the game. They had a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher, yet still lost the game. I wonder how many times that has happened. The bottom line is when you score 31 points, you should win the game. The 49ers defense and special teams were horrid, and Jim Harbaugh was outcoached by his brother, John Harbaugh.

Outclassed, too?

Jim Harbaugh inexplicably abandoned the running game at the end, despite Frank Gore’s success in the game and on that drive. Harbaugh, as a former quarterback, should know timeouts are more precious than five yards.

Colin Kaepernick burned a timeout earlier rather than take a penalty, and as the clock ticked down on that final drive, Harbaugh screamed for a timeout rather than take the penalty, despite the five yards possibly helping the receivers maneuver easier around the end zone.

As far as Kaepernick is concerned, he came alive in the second half, but clearly was unnerved early in the game. As Kaepernick struggled, I was somewhat surprised – considering the score – not much was made by Simms on going to Alex Smith. Bill Cowher mentioned it at halftime, but Simms threw an incompletion there.

And, about that safety at the end of the game, there was blatant holding there, but I’m not totally buying it meant nothing because a penalty in the end zone still results in a safety. However, had the penalty been called it there might have been more time on the clock for maybe one more play.

And, who wouldn’t have wanted one more play from a game like last night’s?