Feb 18

Mets’ Zack Wheeler Likes Low Profile

One of the highlights for the New York Mets last season was a double-header sweep of Atlanta anchored by future aces Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.

If you weren’t reading about Harvey last summer you were reading about Wheeler. This spring most of the ink is going to Noah Syndergaard, whom the Mets expect will be in the major leagues in June.

WHEELER: That night in Atlanta.

WHEELER: That night in Atlanta.

“That’s fine with me,’’ Wheeler told reporters Tuesday in Port St. Lucie when asked about the spotlight being on Syndergaard. “I don’t have to have all the attention.’’

Actually, in Wheeler’s perfect world, he would rather have little, if any. Wheeler is extremely quiet and shy, and if given the choice, he’d rather not talk if he didn’t have to.

Wheeler was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA last season in 17 starts. Manager Terry Collins doesn’t presently see an innings limit on Wheeler, and believes his composure and natural stuff will enable him to progress.

Collins said at the Winter Meetings Harvey showed he could make adjustments on the run and thinks Wheeler has that same capability.

Wheeler was matter-of-fact when asked today what he needs to do to improve: “Just being more consistent, throwing more strikes and stuff.’’

Ask any veteran pitcher and he’d say the same thing. That’s one of the things the Mets like about Wheeler.


Feb 18

Wilmer Flores Could Be Viable Shortstop Option

The New York Mets have long touted Wilmer Flores as one of their future stars. To some degree, having Flores and Ruben Tejada made it easier to let Jose Reyes walk.

FLORES: Could get shortstop time.

FLORES: Could get shortstop time.

With Tejada coming off a bad year and striking out in the free-agent shortstop market, the Mets are considering giving Flores another chance at shortstop.

And, it’s a good idea.

The Mets drafted Flores as a shortstop, but moved him to other positions because he lacked the quickness in making the first step.

Even so, manager Terry Collins suggested at the Winter Meetings Flores might get a look at shortstop in spring training. Collins reiterated that intent after Flores’ success at a Michigan fitness camp, where he dramatically improved his quickness and speed.

With his quickness and speed improved, it makes sense to experiment with Flores. Shortstops don’t need speed. Cal Ripken wasn’t fast, but relied on quickness and positioning.

It could be the same for Flores, who suffered with ankle injuries last year.

“We did a lot of ankle exercises,’’ Flores told reporters about his work at the fitness camp. “We worked on things that we needed to work on, like speed, agility and getting stronger. I’d be happy to go again.’’

Flores played shortstop for four years in the minors, and is willing to try again.

“It’s not going to be a new position,’’ Flores said. “I’m sure I can play.’’

That confidence and Collins’ willingness to experiment are no guarantees Flores can play shortstop on the major league level.

Because the Mets are giving Tejada every chance to redeem himself, he’ll get most of the time at shortstop during spring training. The remaining time Flores gets won’t be nearly enough to show he can play the position.

However, Flores has greater offensive potential than Tejada, thereby giving the Mets a dilemma. Because the Mets need offense, it’s possible Flores could make the Opening Day roster as a role player off the bench.

Assuming Flores makes the team, he probably won’t play enough, certainly at shortstop, to make a substantial impact.

What then, is the best option?

The Mets’ options are to carry Flores as a bench player or to send him back to Triple-A. If it is the latter, it must be under the provision he only plays shortstop, and not second, third or first.

Collins suggested as much today.

“I think with what we have on the infield – you know what? – if he’s not going to get a lot of a playing time, he’s got to go play at his age,” Collins said. “Because the ceiling on his bat is too high. He’s got to go get at-bats.”

Flores needs to learn to play shortstop, and that takes repetitions. Lots of them.

Feb 18

Mets Wise To Pass On Nelson Cruz

The New York Mets insist they have no interest in “slugging’’ outfielder Nelson Cruz. Let’s hope they don’t waiver from that position.

Quotes belong around the word slugging because who really knows if he’s a genuine slugger or a chemistry project?

CRUZ: Just say no.

CRUZ: Just say no.

Cruz served a 50-game suspension for his connection in the Biogenesis case so the legitimacy of his numbers must be questioned. After four non-descript seasons totaling 22 homers, Cruz busted out to hit 33 in 2009.

Then 22, 29, 24 and 27. He never had more than 90 RBI in that five-year span. What can you make of those numbers, especially in a line-up as loaded as the Rangers?

Basically, that’s erratic power, but is it real or chemicals? And, when did he start? How long had he been using?

Whatever documents those answers were found in have not, and will not, be released by Major League Baseball. So, if you’re an owner and hear Cruz’s initial demands were as high as five years at $15 million each, you must take pause.

The Mets have been stung by burdensome, long-term, non-productive contracts over the past five years and the last thing they need is to add another to a 33-year-old.

If Cruz had no doubt about his legitimacy, he should ask for a one-year, incentive-laden deal to prove himself, but he didn’t. Why?

That question, plus Cruz’s age, questionable numbers, and contractual demands all combine to make him a risk the Mets should not take.

ON DECK:  What about Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

Feb 18

Mets Putting Themselves In Good Financial Shape For Future

Over the past five seasons – all below .500 – the New York Mets were bogged down by cumbersome contracts to unproductive players. It was economic certainty, but in a bad way.

This should be the third consecutive year the Mets will have a payroll of less than $100 million. They have long pointed to 2015 as when they will put themselves in a competitive position, and are currently set up to do so with payroll flexibility through 2019.

Heading into 2015, the Mets have $54.05 million earmarked to four players: David Wright ($20 million), Curtis Granderson ($16 million), Bartolo Colon ($11 million) and Jonathon Niese ($7.05 million).

Where teams usually get bit in their payroll is during the arbitration process and the Mets will have eight players eligible: Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Dillon Gee, Ike Davis, Eric Young, Lucas Duda, Jenrry Mejia and Ruben Tejada.

Of the eight, it is possible four – Davis, Young, Duda and Tejada – could be gone, with some before the end of this season.

Only one player is scheduled to be a free agent after this year and that’s Chris Young, who nobody expects to be back.

In 2016, the Mets have $45.05 million designated for three players: Wright ($20 million), Granderson ($16 million) and Niese $9.050 million).

Their arbitration eligible list that off-season expands to 14 to leave open the possibility for a significant payroll spike. The list includes: Gee, Davis, Eric Young, Duda, Tejada, Scott Rice, Matt Harvey, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mejia, Josh Edgin, Jeurys Familia, Anthony Recker, Andrew Brown and Carlos Torres.

By this time, there’s no telling who will still be in the organization. Harvey and possibly Gee could be given multi-year deals by then. Everybody else is up the air. It’s also questionable if Nieuwenhuis and Brown will still be around, as neither one has made serious strides in sticking around.

Their 2016 free agents will be Colon, Murphy and Parnell.

In 2017, the Mets have $35.5 million earmarked for Wright ($20 million), Granderson ($15 million) and a half-million buyout for Niese.

Their arbitration eligible players will be Duda, Tejada, Rice, Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Nieuwenhuis, Mejia, Edgin, Torres. Familia, Recker and Brown, with their free agents Gee, Davis and Eric Young.

Wright ($20 million) is the only player under contract for 2018. The arbitration eligible Mets will be Rice, Harvey, Nieuwenhuis, Torres. Mejia, Edgin, Familia, Recker, Wheeler and Brown. That year Granderson, Duda and Tejada will be free agents.

In 2019 they’ll owe Wright $15 million, with Torres and Wheeler the only Mets who are arbitration eligible. Potential free agents will be Rice, Harvey, Nieuwenhuis, Mejia, Edgin, Familia, Recker and Brown.

The Mets have long talked about cutting payroll costs to put themselves in position to seriously enter the free-agent market. It now appears they might actually be able to do it.

Feb 17

Memo To Mets On Mejia: Just Pick A Role

The New York Mets are doing the rotation-bullpen dance again with Jenrry Mejia and who believes things will be better this time around?

After the first day of workouts in Port St. Lucie, manager Terry Collins left open the door to the bullpen shuttle. With Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan as fifth starter candidates, and the bullpen under construction with Bobby Parnell recovering from surgery, ESPN is reporting Collins is keeping an open mind on Mejia.

MEJIA: Where to put him?

MEJIA: Where to put him?

“One thing we know about him is he can pitch out of the bullpen. We’ve seen it,’’ Collins said Monday.

This debate has been going on since 2010, when Mejia, who wasn’t ready for the major leagues in any role, was force-fed the bullpen by then-manager Jerry Manuel, who entered the season knowing his job was on the line.

Mejia prefers the rotation, which is supported by his numbers, but Collins said his 2.30 ERA last year isn’t a definitive sample size. Mejia made five starts before surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow.

“There were some people in this organization who felt maybe he couldn’t be a starter because there’s such maximum effort in his delivery,’’ Collins said. “He proved them wrong, that he can go out there and start and can get you deep into a game. Now it’s, ‘What’s our best fit?’ Is it, ‘We’ve got five good guys. He’s the sixth. Do we have a spot in the bullpen for an arm like that with that kind of stuff?’ That might be a fit for him.’’

Under Manuel, Mejia started out of the bullpen, but pitched sparingly in mostly non-pressure situations. He understandably struggled and was sent down to start, but eventually hurt his elbow, needed surgery and missed the 2011 season.

At the time Mejia was one of the Mets’ most sought-after prospects, but the calls stopped because how could they promote him when they didn’t even know what role he fit best? How could the Mets talk him up as a starter if he wasn’t good enough for their rotation? How could they talk him up as a reliever if he couldn’t stay in their bullpen?

Mejia entered this off-season as the primary fifth-starter option, but the Mets obviously weren’t sold on his health as they signed Matsuzaka and Lannan, both of whom have contract clauses where they can opt out if not on the major league roster by June.

So, which is it, starter or reliever? And, if in the bullpen, what is his role?

Whatever they do, considering Mejia’s arm troubles, the best decision is to pick one and stick with it.