Jan 16

Soriano Has Nationals Thinking Title In NL East

Not that the bullpen-needy Mets would have made a play for Rafael Soriano anyway, but the Washington Nationals’ acquisition of the Yankees’ 2012 insurance policy has them as the sexy pick to win the NL East.

It isn’t as if they needed much make-up after winning 98 games last season, but Soriano strengthens an already strong bullpen stronger. For his $28-million, two-year deal, Soriano will close, but the Nationals also have Drew Storen – their once closer-in-waiting – and Tyler Clippard, who saved 32 games last year, for late in the game.

The Mets, the only team not to sign a free-agent this winter, kicked the tires on Brian Wilson, who after Tommy John surgery, would be a gamble. Their closer is Frank Francisco, who ended last season with arm problems.

The Nationals’ manager, Davey Johnson, is adept at juggling a bullpen, although he was helpless as his pen blew a six-run lead to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. That might have been the gnawing feeling that prompted them to sign Soriano.

The Nationals already upgraded with the acquisitions of starter Dan Haren and outfielder Denard Span. Washington also expects Stephen Strasburg to work at least 200 innings. Perhaps they learned from last summer’s mistake and will pace him out better.

Washington alienated a lot of people last year when they shut-down Strasburg, giving the impression they’ll make the playoffs every season. It’s not that easy, and the Nationals are showing that with what they’ve done this winter. One thing for sure, they won’t be a surprise this year.

The Braves won’t have Chipper Jones, but added outfielder B.J. Upton to their offense. They won 94 games last summer.

Philadelphia added outfielder Ben Revere and expect to have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the entire season. They should better last year’s 81 wins.

It appears the Mets will be competing with Miami to stay out of the cellar, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

That Nationals are building the right way, with a mix of drafting, trades and free-agent signings. With today’s economics, a team must be strong at all three phases, which the top three teams in the NL East have shown.

The Mets are putting their eggs in the farm-system basket, which is traditionally the way to go, and still is the foundation. However, they don’t have all the farm pieces to go the whole route, as they can’t fill out their roster with them or use them to trade.

The Mets also don’t have major league pieces they can trade without opening up additional holes.

As far as free-agency is concerned, they are balking on giving Scott Hairston – who hit 20 homers for them last year – a two-year deal.

The last time they had a good mix was 2007, the summer they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. They also blew a late lead in 2008, the last time they had a winning season.

That seemed like such a long time ago.

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 14

What Would A Successful 2013 Look Like For Mets?

Here we are, a month away from spring training, and really last summer’s collapse doesn’t seem that far away.

The winter is for expectations, grandiose in some cities that fell short last year and tepid in others. In Flushing, what would a successful season look like?

On paper, it’s not even close, the Mets aren’t as good as they were when the season ended with them 14 games under .500. And, they were struggling to get that kind of record.

Let’s look at the progress they’ve made:

* Their Cy Young Award winning 20-game winner, R.A. Dickey was traded for prospects – one of which is coming off back and knee injuries, which aren’t good for a catcher – at least two years away.

* Another starter, Dillon Gee, is a health issue, as is their $25 million investment in Johan Santana. That makes Jon Niese, with a career-high 13 victories, their de facto ace.

* There have been no significant additions to a “Let’s-see-what-they-can-do’’ outfield. I guess it is better by the subtraction of Jason Bay, who’ll hit at least 20 homers for Seattle (Who can’t feel that?).

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Jan 13

Mets Matters: Team Considering Brian Wilson And Honoring Piazza

ESPN reported former Giants closer Brian Wilson worked out for Mets GM Sandy Alderson in California.

The 30-year-old Wilson underwent Tommy John surgery last season and could be a decent risk on two fronts: 1) he’s young enough to where he could replace Frank Francisco after 2013, and 2) if he rebounds the Mets could get something for him at the July 31 trade deadline.

Wilson is far from ready, so if the Mets bite it would be a gamble. Wilson says he’ll be ready by Opening Day. Wilson made $8.5 million last year from the Giants.

Whether Wilson replaced Francisco this year or next is irrelevant. If he’s healthy he could aid a currently weak bullpen.

METS COULD HONOR PIAZZA: I voted for Mike Piazza for Cooperstown, so I have no problem with him going into the Mets’ Hall of Fame.

Reportedly, the team is also considering retiring Piazza’s No. 31. I don’t have a problem with that, either, but there are other worthy candidates the club should think about first, notably Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter and Dwight Gooden.

All were significant members of the team’s most dominant era.

Jan 07

Mets Should Say NO To Pavano

I keep hearing rumblings the Mets are interested in Carl Pavano, who made $8.5 million last year with Minnesota at age 36.

Why?

While the pressures pitching for the Yankees are different than they are the Mets – the expectations in the Bronx are always greater – this is not a move they should be making.

I wouldn’t want Pavano in the Mets’ rotation if he were willing to pitch for the major league minimum.

Pavano’s New York track record was mostly a long line of injuries – including not reporting being in an auto accident – and coming up small in big moments. At the time, his nickname was “The American Idle,’’ for all the time spent on the disabled list.

As much as I want the Mets to make a move to show they have a pulse, let alone the desire to prove they want to be competitive, Pavano is notoriously thin skinned and not a good fit for New York. It was tough enough for him with the Marlins and Twins, so I wouldn’t expect much in Flushing.

After all, after 14 major league seasons, he is 108-107 with a 4.39 ERA, so why should this year be different? How much of a pay cut he would be willing to take, I don’t know, but can’t they get a win-one, lose-one pitcher for half the price? I would think so.

Covering Pavano in the Yankees clubhouse was frustrating. He was short-fused, testy and without humor, and this was with a winning franchise. I can’t imagine him being a day at the beach in Queens with a losing franchise.

I listed several pitchers still on the market yesterday, with several being a better fit than Pavano.

I also keep hearing the Mets have money to spend, but there aren’t many signs showing that inclination. If it is the same media sources doing the shouting, one has to wonder the motivation. Is it real news or somebody doing a PR favor for ownership? It wouldn’t be a stretch for it to be the latter.

That being said, if the Mets genuinely have dollars, they would be better spent on the mound on a fifth starter than in the outfield. Should the Mets land a legitimate starter, it could help in two categories in that he could take some of the load off the bullpen.

Conversely, unless they acquire a stud bat – and they don’t have the money for that – a middle-tier outfielder won’t improve the Mets significantly.