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.

Oct 01

Mets’ Quest For Power Might Be Misguided

We saw baseball in all its beauty last night, Dramatic and building tension; rallies; questionable decisions; and mistakes made by the athletes. And, pure athleticism.

We also saw the continuation of the long debate of power vs. speed, with speed winning. Six stolen bases trumping two home runs.

We all saw why baseball is still the greatest game, and for those in authority clamoring about the length of the games, could you please just shut up, go away and appreciate what you have and understand most of that tinkering is a waste. Tell me every minute wasn’t compelling.

And, for those saying all the Mets need is more power, I hope you were taking notes. The Mets hit 30 more homers than Kansas City, which hit a major league low 95 – the only team with fewer than 100. However, even with that deficit, the Royals generated 22 more runs, or roughly three more a month.

And, the Royals played in the league with the designated hitter.

Where Kansas City had it way over the Mets offensively was in a higher slugging percentage – which incorporates doubles – a higher batting average, a slightly higher on-base percentage, and struck out a whopping 279 fewer times.

That’s roughly six fewer a game, or two more innings on not touching the ball and subsequently making a productive out by moving a runner into scoring position. The Mets also left more runners on base.

This isn’t to say power isn’t important, just that it isn’t as vital of playing small ball, of using speed to manufacture runs. Hustling for runs usually puts more pressure on the defense than mashing.

The Royals rallied twice Tuesday night in the late innings to advance in the playoffs while playing in a smaller park. Meanwhile, the Mets are sitting home again figuring how much closer they should bring in the fences.

Citi Field was built with the idea of having a team concentrate on pitching, speed and defense. Actually, speed and defense win in all sports.

The Mets would be wise to get back to that line of thinking.

 

Sep 29

How Mets Answered 15 Key Questions In 2014

The Mets entered the season with 15 key questions facing GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins. Let’s examine how they were answered, and if they still need attention before spring training, 2015:

Q: CAN TRAVIS d’ARNAUD LIVE UP TO THE BILLING?

A: It took awhile, but d’Arnaud is coming and perhaps will be good for 20 homers over a full season. However, d’Arnaud’s future is far from settled with Kevin Plawecki emerging. Are the Mets better off trading d’Arnaud, who isn’t rated as highly by scouts? Can d’Arnaud play another position such as left field? If d’Arnaud can be moved to another position it could address both the outfield and catching questions. Status: Still undecided.

DUDA: A lot to cheer about.

DUDA: A lot to cheer about.

Q: WHO’S ON FIRST?

A: The decision between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda was answered quickly compared to 2013. The thinking in 2013 was to give Davis time to work on his myriad of flaws. When Alderson finally relented and sent Davis to Triple-A it was way too late. When Davis stumbled out of the gate this season, Alderson acted quickly – for him – and traded the non-slugger to Pittsburgh. Without the distraction of Davis, Duda emerged as a 30-homer slugger. With the fences to be shortened in right and right center, Duda might be even better in 2015. Status: Looks answered to me.

Q: WILMER FLORES OR RUBEN TEJADA AT SHORTSTOP?

A: To some, this is still an issue, but not for me. Unless the Mets obtain a top shortstop from the trade or free-agent markets, I believe Flores should get the job. He’s not great defensively, but showed promise. His lack of range can be made up with better positioning. Flores’ bat is better than Tejada’s and over a full season he could have double-digit power. Meanwhile, Tejada’s defense isn’t so superior that he must play. Status: Looks answered to me.

Q: WILL DAVID WRIGHT HAVE A BOUNCE BACK SEASON?

A: That question must be asked again next spring. Wright’s lackluster season was cut short by a shoulder injury. He subsequently said he’s learning how to better manage pain and injuries. We shall see. Wright hasn’t hit 30 homers since 2008, and only twice since then has hit 20. Wright played in just 134 games this year after playing in 112 in 2013. He’s a long way from his All-Star form. Status: To be determined.

Q: WHO WILL PLAY LEFT FIELD?

A: That’s still an unanswered question. Nine players were trotted out to left field: Eric Young, Chris Young, Matt den Dekker, Eric Campbell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Andrew Brown, Curtis Granderson, Bobby Abreu and Lucas Duda. That screams of being unsettled. The Mets want power from the position, but nobody currently on the roster is capable of delivering. A trade will cost a top pitching prospect and the Mets don’t want to spend big. Eric Young has the potential to provide the most because of his speed, but the Mets won’t play him full time because he has too many holes in his game. The best defensive option is den Dekker, but the belief is he won’t hit. How will we know if he doesn’t get a long look? Of course, they could always bring back Chris Young for another $7.25 million. Status: To be determined.

Q: IS JUAN LAGARES THE REAL THING?

 A: Definitely with his glove, but his bat is suspect. He needs to cut his strikeouts and improve his on-base percentage. Lagares showed the instincts to be a good base stealer, but he must get on base more to win the leadoff job. Status: To be determined based on offense.

Q: WHO WILL BAT LEADOFF?

A: Mets’ leadoff hitters finished dead last in the majors with a .235 average and .308 on-base percentage. They added just eight homers and 40 RBI from the top of the order. Their leadoff hitters had only 63 walks and stuck out 147 times. Eleven players tried, and failed, leading off: Eric Young, Chris Young, den Dekker, Lagares, Tejada, Granderson, Daniel Murphy, Nieuwenhuis, Abreu, Brown and Campbell. From a power perspective, Granderson hit seven of his 20 homers leading off. However, he strikes out too much to be considered for the position fulltime. Eric Young is the best base stealer, but 46 strikeouts in 210 at-bats and a .302 on-base percentage say he’s not the answer, either. If Eric Young isn’t brought back, Lagares might get it by default. Status: Not answered.

Q; CAN BARTOLO COLON REPLACE MATT HARVEY?

A: Not in the long term, but Colon logged 200 innings while winning 15 games at age 41. There’s still something in his tank. Harvey is penciled in at No. 1 if healthy. Colon should start the season in the rotation ahead of Dillon Gee, but might be traded at the deadline. If the Mets are as close as they say, they shouldn’t be so eager to trade Colon. Currently, assuming all are healthy, Collins must select five from the following: Harvey, Colon, Zack Wheeler, Gee, Jacob de Grom and Jon Niese. The Mets wouldn’t mind trading Colon, Gee, Rafael Montero and Niese – in that order. Status: Answered in the positive.

Q: WILL MATT HARVEY HAVE A SETBACK IN HIS REHAB?

A: Repeatedly saying he wanted to pitch this year was a minor annoyance. Giving in to him and sustaining another injury would have been disastrous. Alderson said Harvey is on track to start spring training on time and with no restrictions, and nobody could have asked for more. Harvey is 12-10 in parts of two seasons. Anything less than 15 next year will be a disappointment. Status: Answered in the positive.

Q: HOW MUCH BETTER WILL ZACK WHEELER BE?

A: Wheeler finished at 11-11 in 15 more starts than in 2013 when he was 7-5. Wheeler struck out 187, but walked 79. His pitch count was way too high as he exceeded 90 pitches in all but four of 32 starts. Wheeler continually works too deep in the count, which is taxing for him, and subsequently, the bullpen. To reach the next level, Wheeler must pitch more to contact and trust his defense. The shorter Wheeler goes in games means the bullpen must go longer. Status: To be determined.

Q: WHAT’S GOING ON WITH JON NIESE?

A: We still don’t know. Young, left-handed and signed to a reasonable contract, Niese has been attractive to the Mets and opponents seeking to trade. However, he’s won as many as 13 games once in seven years (13-9 in 2012 in his only winning season). He was 9-11 this year and left his final start with a rapid heartbeat, something he’s had in the past. Niese is signed through 2018 (club option). He could be valuable to teams believing he needs a change of scenery, but they don’t figure to offer a lot. His real value to the Mets is in the hope he’ll live up to expectations, but hoping isn’t much of a plan. Status: Anybody’s guess.

Q: WILL THEY FINALLY FIX THE BULLPEN?

A: That’s an annual question, but there were positives this season, such as finally settling on a role for Jenrry Mejia and emergence of Jeurys Familia. There’s also a lot to like about Carlos Torres, Vic Black and Josh Edgin. Daisuke Matsuzaka could finish his career in Japan and Montero could also be slotted in. The Mets love Gonzalez German’s stuff, but his command is suspect. He’s raw, but worth the wait. Status: Looks good so far.

Q: CAN THE METS IMPROVE THEIR RECORD IN ONE-RUN GAMES AND IN THE DIVISION?

A: The Mets were 26-29 in one-run games and 38-38 in the NL East. They were 34-42 vs. the East in 2013, but 29-28 in one-run games. The Mets were 7-12 against Washington in 2013, but regressed to 4-15 this year. That last record needs to change drastically. Status: Still needs work.

Q: CAN THE METS WIN AT HOME?

A: The Mets were better at 40-41, but still haven’t found a way to make Citi Field to their advantage. The belief is moving the fences in again will be the answer, but that’s folly as the opponents will also gain an edge. If the Mets learned anything in their best record in six years (tied at 79-83 with the 2010) is they can compete with pitching and defense. Assuming the healthy returns of Harvey and Wright, and progressions of Wheeler and de Grom, they should have a reasonable expectation of further improvement without tinkering with the dimensions of Citi Field. Status: Still needs work.

Q: ARE THE METS READY TO TAKE THE TOWN FROM THE YANKEES?

A: These things go in cycles. The Mets won’t ever equal the Yankees in career victories and championships, as the Pinstripes have been around for more than five decades as the Mets. That’s a quite a head start. But, the Mets wrestled the town away in 1969 and in the mid- to late-1980s. Although neither made the playoffs this season, the eyes in the Apple would be focused on the Bronx because: 1) the Mets didn’t have Harvey; 2) the Yankees are always more willing to spend, and, above all, 3) this was Derek Jeter’s last season. Next season could be different, as the Yankees are no lock to reach October with a multitude of pitching issues. Status: Time to seize the moment.

Sep 28

Mets Finish 2014 With Next Year Looking Bright

A sign spotted in the bleachers pretty much said it all about the day and the season: “We Believe in 2015.’’ For the first time in six years, there’s a legitimate reason to believe the interlocking NY on the Mets’ cap does mean next year.

Seriously, without Matt Harvey, David Wright ailing and missing and questions in their rotation and bullpen, the Mets finished in second place (tied with Atlanta) and two games under .500. Nobody realistically could have anticipated such an improvement considering their issues at first base, catcher, shortstop, the bullpen and outfield.

I certainly didn’t.

There was so much to like about today. The sendoff to Bobby Abreu was special, but not like the one Derek Jeter received in Boston. Bartolo Colon threw over 200 innings and won 15 games, something I didn’t bet on either.

The Mets were 14-10 in September for their third winning month of the year. That hasn’t happened often.

Who didn’t enjoy watching Daniel Murphy smoke a double in his last at-bat? Would have liked to have seen him finish at .300. But Lucas Duda crushed another two run homer to give him 30 with 92 RBI. Ike Davis hit 11 homers with 51 RBI playing for the Mets and Pittsburgh. That was a decision that turned out right.

Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia showed us the bullpen is heading in the right direction.

The Mets are 79-83 and GM Sandy Alderson said they need to improve by another 10 or 12 victories. That’s possible.

However, what I’ll remember the most of this season was getting hurt just as I was getting ready for spring training, and how you welcomed me back from my absence.

That meant the world to me. Thank you again. I’ll be posting regularly in the offseason, which, for the first time in six years won’t be hollow.

Thanks.