Feb 09

Three Compelling Mets This Summer

We’re four days from Mets pitchers and catchers reporting in Port St. Lucie. Considering there’s a foot of snow on the ground, the wind is howling and temps are in the 20s, that’s a comforting thought. What’s not so comforting, however, is the potential future of these three Mets after this season.

WRIGHT: Facing pivotal year. (ABC)

WRIGHT: Facing pivotal year. (ABC)

David Wright: Reports are positive, but we’ll never know until the season begins. And, we don’t even have to get deep into the season before knowing some answers. Wright hasn’t played in a combined 100 games over the past two years because of back issues. Hopefully, Wright will bounce back. If he does, what’s to become of Jose Reyes. And, if Wright does play and Reyes’ time is reduced, what becomes of the leadoff hitter? However, if injuries sideline Wright again, there will be whispers – likely loud ones – of whether he should retire.

Matt Harvey: Twice since 2013 Harvey had a season cut short with an arm injury that required surgery. He’s been throwing and said he’s ready. That doesn’t mean he’s ready for 30 starts and 200-plus innings, which is the benchmark for a healthy starter. Harvey has a lifetime 29-28 record and will be a free-agent after the 2018 season. If he wants the big money as he suggested late in the 2015 season, he’d better start living up to his potential. If Harvey is healthy and has a strong year, his market value will undoubtedly increase, and with it possible trade rumors. With the Mets having a myriad of issues and assuming the rest of their rotation is healthy, it would be easier to trade Harvey,

Michael Conforto: Manager Terry Collins projected him to be the Mets’ No.3 hitter for the next ten years, but sputtered after a hot start and rode the Vegas shuttle. When Jay Bruce‘s option was picked up and Yoenis Cespedes re-signed, Conforto is without a spot. Bruce, Conforto and Curtis Granderson gives the Mets three left-handed hitters. Maybe that might work one night against Max Scherzer, but let’s face it, Cespedes will play most every night. And, with Juan Lagares the only true center fielder, Conforto is fifth on the outfield depth chart. With at-bats figuring to be scarce, could Conforto be ticketed for the minor leagues, or even possibly dangled as trade bait?

 

 

 

 

 

Feb 08

Mets Send Huge Contingent To WBC

As they always do, the Mets will send a large group to the World Baseball Classic. The marquee names going will be Jose Reyes and Jeurys Familia, both of whom nraised interesting questions. I understand the pull for representing one’s country or heritage, but what about the significance of getting ready to play for the team that pays you?

First, look at Reyes. The Mets are talking about him being a super sub, capable of playing every infield position save first base and even seeing time in center field. Reyes will play for the Dominican Republic, traditionally a very strong team, and if they reach the finals the Mets might not have him back until March 22. That’s not giving Terry Collins a lot of time to see Reyes at second or center. Doesn’t Reyes owe some loyalty to the Mets who signed him – after a suspension for domestic abuse – when nobody else would?

As for Familia, his likely suspension will come down during spring training. How he’ll be used by the Dominican Republic remains to be seen, but I would think the Mets would like to see Familia pitch in save situations before possibly losing him for up to 30 games if not more.

Personally, I think he owes it to the Mets,

Also participating in the World Baseball Classic are Seth Lugo, Gavin Cecchini, Brandon Nimmo, Hansel Robles, Ty Kelly, Rene Rivera and T.J. Rivera, all of whom have compelling reasons to be in camp instead of getting perhaps sparse playing time in the WBC.

Lugo, who distinguished himself last year in a starting role, could be used as a fifth starter or out of the bullpen. If it’s the latter, pitching coach Dan Warthen would like to see it. With Familia expected to be suspended, it could mean an expanded role for Robles. Warthen would probably like to see that, too. Warthen would also probably like to see Rene Rivera work with the rotation.

Cecchini, Nimmo, Kelly and T.J. Rivera are all competing for spots on the bench. They arguably could get more playing time in spring training for the Mets than for Teams Italy, Puerto Rico and Isreal in the WBC.

The World Baseball Classic isn’t going anywhere, and the Mets have always been big supporters, but eventually they have to stress to their players they have obligations to them, also.

Neither Collins nor GM Sandy Alderson would say this, but I wonder what they are truly thinking.

Feb 04

Mets Agree To Terms With Blevins; Finish Offseason Shopping

Apparently, the Mets got tired of stringing along Jerry Blevins and according to several reports agreed to terms with the situational left-hander and Fernando Salas Friday evening before GM Sandy Alderson headed out for his Super Bowl parties.

Blevins will get $6 million for one year, plus an option. Salas will get a year. With the two agreements, the Mets finished work on their bullpen and concluded their offseason shopping.

Before kudos are sent out to Alderson for his patience, remember Blevins, 33, made $4 million last season while going 4-2 with a 2.79 ERA. So, realistically, how much money did he really save the Mets? A million? Not much more than that, really.

Considering Toronto was also after Blevins, and the Mets are still awaiting word on a suspension of Jeurys Familia, what’s the purpose of Alderson dragging his feet? It tells me the Mets are seriously aware of their spending, which can’t be encouraging if they must make a move at the break.

So, in a thumbnail wrap of the Mets’ offseason moves:

* They picked up the $13-million option on outfielder Jay Bruce as a hedge to possibly losing Yoenis Cespedes.

* They signed Cespedes to a four-year, $110-milliion contract.

* They signed Neil Walker to a $17.2-million qualifying offer.

Everything the Mets did was expected, although the dual signings of Bruce and Cespedes – they might have overpaid for the latter – created a logjam in their outfield.

Feb 03

How Will Collins Work In Reyes?

Among Mets manager Terry Collins‘ more interesting decisions this season will be where he’ll play Jose Reyes. Shortstop? Third base? Second base? The outfield?

REYES: Needs to get regular time. (Getty)

REYES: Needs to get regular time. (Getty)

It has been a long time since Reyes played second – remember the Kaz Matsui fiasco? – and the outfield would be forcing the issue considering the Mets have a glut of outfielders.

Satisfied with Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop, the Mets brought back Reyes to play third when David Wright injured his back. Well, Wright is healthy now – knock on wood and fingers crossed – so where does that leave Reyes?

Because the Mets don’t have a bonafide leadoff hitter outside of Reyes, it’s important Collins devises a rotation with his infielders to keep him fresh and sharp at the plate. But, how many games is enough?

But, how many games is enough?

We can assume Collins will rest Wright at least twice a week, and if he subs him for Walker and Cabrera at least once, that’s four games, which should be enough. However, that’s not written in stone and leads to the question of much time will Wilmer Flores get.

It won’t be easy for Collins, but a rotation has to be made to juggle the priorities of giving Wright, Neil Walker and Cabrera regular rest and keep Reyes sharp at the top of the order.

Because the Mets have older and fragile players in their infield – of which Reyes is one – Collins should have enough opportunities to juggle this properly.

 

 

Feb 01

Collins Facing Toughest Year

New York Mets’ manager Terry Collins is facing his toughest season. At 67 he’s entering the final year of his contract and there’s no murmur of an extension prior to Opening Day, although, after two playoff seasons, it would be appropriate.

COLLINS: Needs answers entering toughest season. (Getty)

COLLINS: Needs answers entering toughest season. (Getty)

With expectations of a third straight playoff appearance, getting slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes signed to four more years, plus an anticipated payroll of $150 million, there aren’t many built-in safety net excuses for Collins not getting the job done.

Of course, you could give him the Sandy Alderson-insulation factor. As long as Alderson has Collins as a shield for deflection of criticism of the Mets, he should survive this season.

At least, until November, when Alderson will need to name another manager if the Mets flame out. Of course, this stinks on a number of levels. I don’t like the concept of a lame-duck manager, so, if Alderson believes in Collins and there are good vibes heading into Opening Day, there should be an extension.

I’ve had several issues with Collins’ style, but will give him the nod that his players, for the most part, bust their ass for him. The most notable exceptions over the past two years where his players threw him under the bus came in Game 5 of the World Series when Matt Harvey pitched a fit to insist on pitching the ninth inning – which went against Collins’ plan – and to this day has not admitted any wrong-doing for coughing up the lead.

The second, of course, came last July when Cespedes misplayed a ball in center field and strained his quad, and despite being injured, wouldn’t trade the golf course for treatment. With Cespedes, entrenched in left, the rest of the outfield, especially center field is a quagmire.

The preseason expectations are mixed on a national level. Many have the Mets reaching the playoffs but as a wild-card. Others have them looking in from the outside come October. I don’t think they’ll win 90 as they did in 2015, but if all breaks to the positive, they can grab a wild card.

Here’s why this will be Collins’ most challenging year:

STARTING PITCHING: Four of Collins’ young stud starters are coming off surgery, and a fifth, Noah Syndergaard, could have also gone under the knife. Despite the crying and resistance of their starters – particularly Harvey – for an innings limit, the issue will be raised again. It is possible, but can you really expect the Mets to hit the jackpot on all of their surgically-repaired arms? I don’t, and neither should you.

Winning is Collins’ first priority, and that includes protecting those arms for as long as possible. If that means an innings limit, then so be it. This should be easier to implement now than in 2015 because of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Set the limits and design a program, and unlike 2015 when he wavered with Harvey, Collins must keep the course. Easier said than done, but paramount.

Roles must be defined for Lugo and Gsellman to spell spot starts for Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and yes, even Syndergaard, who is bothered by bone spurs. Collins needs to stress and enforce a “No Heroes” approach.

Coming off surgery, if somebody is hurting give him a rest. There are no guarantees, but Lugo and Gsellman enhance the chances of getting the rotation through the season.

BULLPEN ROLES: Other than plugging Jeurys Familia into the closer role, I’ve never been enamored with how Collins used his bullpen. The Mets should be agitated at Major League Baseball for dragging its feet on a Familia suspension. Even so, the Mets haven’t been proactive in structuring bullpen roles.

Addison Reed will be closer, and when Familia gets back, let him earn the closer role again. I’d like Collins to give roles for his pen, which includes naming a set-up man to replace Jerry Blevins. The Mets seem content to let Blevins sweat this out. Even so, with their bullpen in a state of flux, let’s define roles, which should include Lugo, Gsellman and Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two years and the Mets are making noises of using him out of the bullpen. This isn’t a terrible idea, but what is was reading what Collins told The New York Post. Collins said he’d like to work Wheeler out of the bullpen, then stretch him out to where he could rejoin the rotation. This is beyond a bad idea for Wheeler, who has his own designated parking spot outside the Hospital of Special Surgery.

Ease him in as a reliever with a definitive role (coming in only at the start of an inning) and forget about the rotation for now. If they want to start him, then start him and don’t screw about with the bullpen. Collins must be disciplined in his construction of the bullpen.

REST FOR THE INFIELD: Third baseman David Wright and first baseman Lucas Duda are coming off back injuries, likewise second baseman Neil Walker. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is entering his option year, finished last season with knee and leg injuries.

Too often in the last three years, Collins had a tendency to push his tired and injured players too much. This year, he has Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes as capable reserves. Collins must formulate schedules of rest for his infield and sprinkle in Reyes and Flores. Doing the match, everybody could get at least one day off a week.

Collins has toyed with the idea of giving Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce time at first. Well, if this is so, then let’s have exhibition-game schedules for them. I don’t want Duda to go on the DL in June with Conforto and Bruce not having any time at first.

The Cubs were successful last year using a platoon system – do you remember Ben Zobrist? – and it worked because their players got the necessary prep work. Collins eschewed the chance to work in Flores last year until it was too late.

OUTFIELD PLAN: We all know Alderson hamstrung Collins when it came to finding playing time for the outfielders when he brought back Cespedes. Gold Glover Juan Lagares was signed to a four-year deal but with no place to play. Because Cespedes won’t play center, center field is a soup mix of Lagares, Conforto and Curtis Granderson.

Because Alderson miscalculated the outfield market, he was unable to trade Bruce. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but for this year, Collins needs to find appropriate playing time for him, Granderson and Conforto.

The Granderson and Bruce contracts will be off the books after this season, although my biggest hope if for the latter to have a monster year and force Alderson into re-signing him. From left to right – Cespedes, Conforto and Bruce – works for me.

Collins has done a decent job keeping his clubhouse together despite considerable adversity. However, this year, more than most, he must devise a plan with his coaches and Alderson and stay the course.

It’s the only way to see October.