Oct 06

Leadoff Hitter Remains A Nagging Question

Of all the Mets’ off-season questions, the matter of their leadoff hitter is one of the most intriguing. That is especially if their intent is to fill it from within.

With no budding Lou Brock or Rickey Henderson in their farm system, their best hope is on their current 40-man roster. I say that because there’s no real answer in the free-agent market and they are reluctant to trade their young pitching.

The primary in-house candidates are Eric Young, Juan Lagares, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. All have something they could bring to the table, but all have issues to the negative.

Young, Lagares and Nieuwenhuis have speed, but also rather low on-base percentages and a penchant for striking out too much.

Of the group, Murphy is the best hitter, but for a relatively weak lineup he’s better suited for a run-producing slot in the middle of the order. Also, Murphy’s on-base percentage, at .332, isn’t as lofty as one might think.

If Murphy is still here – a substantial question – he should be hitting between second and sixth.

As for Young, there’s an excellent chance it will be a moot point and not be brought back.

Last winter, manager Terry Collins toyed with the idea of experimenting with Tejada. The catch here is Tejada needs a position to play and that means starting ahead of Wilmer Flores, which isn’t a given.

Mets’ 11 different leadoff hitters ranked last in the majors with a .235 average and paltry a .308 on-base percentage. If they want to change that, they’ll have to hope for a breakout season from the names suggested or be willing to spend.

Oct 05

Will Backman Get A Chance – Anywhere?

One thing the Mets’ coaching decisions this week means is Wally Backman will likely stay at Triple-A, which is fine.

Bench coach Bob Geren didn’t do anything to warrant being replaced by Backman, or anybody else for that matter. Backman, the 2014 Pacific Coast League Manger of the Year, is not being considered for the Mets’ vacant hitting coach position, but was offered the chance to stay at Triple-A Las Vegas.

BACKMAN: Waiting (AP)

BACKMAN: Waiting (AP)

This isn’t to say Backman won’t someday deserve of an opportunity, just that currently the timing isn’t right. Terry Collins elicits a lukewarm response from most Mets’ fans, but in fairness the team is improving despite missing several key pieces.

Backman wants to manage on the major league level, and the best way to get there is to keep working at Las Vegas or get a bench job in the majors. It has been ten years since he was hired – then fired several days later – by Arizona because of his off-the-field behavior. Ten years is long enough.

In the interim, Backman is gaining valuable experience at Las Vegas and should be the primary candidate to replace Collins when the time comes.

I do have a question when it pertains to Backman: When other managerial positions open, how come nobody asks about Backman? Yes, he’s had some off-the-field issues, but is he that toxic?

Former Met Joe McEwing, currently the White Sox’s third base coach, is being considered for the openings in Texas and Arizona.

Why not Backman?

Oct 04

Analyzing Mets’ Coaching Moves

The Mets are nearly done with their major league coaching staff, bringing back pitching coach Dan Warthen, bench coach Bob Geren, third base coach Tim Teufel, first base coach Tom Goodwin and bullpen coach Ricky Bones are staying.

Reassigned elsewhere in the organization are hitting coaches Lamar Johnson and Luis Natera, as somebody had to fall on the sword for the offense’s woeful performance at times.

None of these could be considered surprises, although there’s always static when it comes to Warthen. Jacob deGrom’s rise and Zack Wheeler’s good second half went a long toward keeping him around. Also, he should get points for the development of the bullpen.

We’ll know more about Warthen next season – and manager Terry Collins for that matter – when they’ll have Matt Harvey, Wheeler and deGrom.

Just wondering, but why isn’t anybody else asking questions about why Jon Niese is still mired in mediocrity. It’s not a far out question.

I’m not saying Johnson and Natera are good hitting coaches, or bad, either. What’s really wrong with the Mets’ hitting are the players and the overall team approach.

Oct 03

Top 20 Questions For 2015

I recently reviewed how the Mets answered their most pressing questions entering the last season. Many were addressed in the positive, but that’s not to say they won’t have any heading into next year.

Here are the 20 most pressing:

Q: What can be expected from Matt Harvey?

A: It’s anybody’s guess, really. Tommy John surgery has proven to be successful, but everybody’s body is different and there are no guarantees. As of now, GM Sandy Alderson said there are no restrictions. That’s as good as news as possible for now.

WRIGHT: Must bounce back. (AP)

WRIGHT: Must bounce back. (AP)

Q: Will David Wright bounce back?

A: Seems like we’ve been asking that question for a while now. Wright sustained a left shoulder injury and is currently on an extensive rehab program. However, at the end of the six-week program, if he’s not able to swing the bat without pain, there could be surgery, and with it a longer rehab period. The bottom line is Wright, who will be 32 next season, is no longer a given to hit .300 with 25-30 homers and 100 RBI. He needs help. They can move the fences in all they want, but if Wright is injured it won’t do any good.

Q: Will they trade Daniel Murphy?

A: That question has been asked a lot recently. Murphy is their most reliable hitter, but they seem hot on wanting to deal him. Could it be the $8 million they will pay him in 2015? I can’t say this enough, but Murphy by himself won’t bring the power bat they want. They’ll have to include pitching.

Q: Will the bullpen continue to progress?

A: It was much improved in 2014, but bullpens usually have a lot of moving parts. If they lose somebody, say Carlos Torres, or if Jeurys Familia regresses, or Jenrry Mejia has any injury, it’s not as if they can plug somebody right in.

Q: Does Jacob deGrom progress or takes a step back?

A: DeGrom caught a lot of people by surprise this year, but hitters have a way of catching up to a hot pitcher.  He had a solid season and is the leading contender for the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award. That ensures nothing for 2015.

Q: Speaking about pitchers who must progress, what about Zack Wheeler?

A: Wheeler has a good second half, but 11-11 is nothing to get excited about. Wheeler still lacks command and throws way too many pitches, which prevented him from being a 200-inning pitcher and adds to the bullpen’s workload.

Q: Who plays shortstop?

A:  Manager Terry Collins said the job is open and Ruben Tejada is still a candidate. Even so, the offensive upside is greater with Wilmer Flores, who improved defensively.

Q: Who plays left field?

A: Since Alderson said they won’t be big spenders, the assumption is he’ll come from within. Will the Mets give Matt den Dekker or Kirk Nieuwenhuis a real chance, and by this I mean more than 100 at-bats? Odds are they won’t, but will the Mets keep Eric Young?

Q: Can Juan Lagares play a full season – and hit?

A: Lagares ended the year early with a right elbow injury, and has the best arm in the outfield. At the plate, he hit .281 with an on-base percentage of .321, of which the latter needs to get better. His 87-20 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is terrible for a leadoff hitter.

Q: What about the injured guys?

A: In addition to Wright, Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud, Vic Black and Mejia are all coming off seasons in which they are injured. Injuries derailed the Mets before, and they are not any deeper now. Then, there’s the matter of Bobby Parnell, who missed the entire season.

Q: Another 200 innings from Bartolo Colon?

A: That would be sweet. The popular belief is he’ll be traded at the deadline, which would mean the Mets wouldn’t be a contender. Better off to pay him the $11 million for a full season if they are in the race.

Q: Will Jon Niese finally cash his potential check?

A: Only once in his seven-year career has Niese had a winning season. He’s been either injured or ineffective, and 2014 was more of the same as he was 9-11 to raise his career record to an unimpressive 52-51. The Mets have long resisted trading Niese because of his age (27) and reasonable contract ($25 million over five years), but might be inclined to pull the trigger this time.

Q: Another 30 homers from Lucas Duda?

A: With the job his to keep, Duda responded with a 30-homer, 92-RBI season. That might go up if the fences are brought in. He also had an outstanding .349 on-base percentage and showed he can flash the glove. There is nothing but higher expectations for 2015.

Q: Who will be gone next year?

A: Niese is the top trade chip, unless they are willing to gamble on dealing Wheeler. Of course, we’ve talked about Murphy and Young not coming back. Another possibility with Harvey returning and should Noah Syndergaard be ready by June, is dealing Dillon Gee.

Q: Will Curtis Granderson play up to his contract?

A: Twenty homers won’t cut it, especially with a puny .227 average and .326 on-base percentage. He’s a strikeout machine with 141 compared to only 128 hits. That must change. The Mets would love to trade him, but who’ll take such poor production for so much money ($60 million over four years)? You already know the answer to that one.

Q: When will the new guys come up from Triple-A?

A: Don’t bet on before June for Syndergaard. Catcher Kevin Plawecki and lefty reliever Jack Leathersich are also intriguing and could come sooner. Also interesting is lefty starter Steven Matz, who might make it more palatable to trade Niese.

Q: Can the Mets improve within the NL East?

A: They were 38-38 in the division, but a miserable 4-15 against the Washington Nationals. Enough said.

Q: Can the Mets finally have a home field advantage at Citi Field?

A: They were 40-41 in 2014, which was better, but not nearly good enough. Contenders traditionally have a strong winning record at home and play around .500 on the road. The problem is the Mets have never gotten the players they need to compete in their spacious park. They said they would build around pitching and defense, yet their first big signing was Jason Bay, who set them back for years.

Q: Who will lead off?

A: Another annual question. Young is the best base stealer, but neither him nor Lagares have stellar on-base percentages, walk enough and strikeout too much. No question this is a black hole in their lineup.

Q: Can they survive a slow start?

A: Much depends on how they get out of the gate. Will they fold up and start dealing, even before the deadline? A bad start will also hurt at the gate, and lead to questions about when Syndergaard is coming up and Collins’ job security. They finished this season on a high note and can’t afford to regress.

Oct 02

Will Harvey Have Same Post-Surgery Results As Strasburg?

Really late today. Physical therapy and doctor’s appointments all day. Sorry folks.

t’s only been two games, but I am getting excited about the playoffs. I can see the Angels cutting the Royals’ excitement, but I can also see the Giants advancing.

STRASBURG: Can Harvey duplicate him after surgery?

STRASBURG: Can Harvey duplicate him after surgery?

San Francisco has good pitching and finds a way to win. Not sold on the Nationals at all. Something about that team that says: “Stay away from these guys.’’

When it comes to the Nationals, the Mets would do themselves good if they take a good, long look at Stephen Strasburg, today’s starter against the Giants.

In 2010, Strasburg hurt his shoulder and then his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2011, but only pitched 24 innings.

The following season, he tore up the major leagues, going 15-6 before his innings were cut at 159.1.

Washington made an early exit that season and in the subsequent, but the Nationals were criticized for shutting down Strasburg as they projected the aura the playoffs were a given. It alienated a lot of people in the sport.

Strasburg’s strong season in 2012 could have been the result of being shut down, but that’s speculation and the Mets can’t assume Matt Harvey will come back just as strong because everyone’s arm is different.

Sometimes, the arm responds after the first year following surgery. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Strasburg was 8-9 while working 183 innings. This year, he was 14-11 in 215 innings over 34 starts.

The 34 starts, 242 strikeouts, and 1.25 WHIP are positive stats and appear to have vindicated the Nationals.

The Mets would take those numbers and his 2012 record for Harvey. They can only hope.