Mar 29

A Sad Day As Rusty Staub Passes

I woke up this morning with snow on the ground and immediately thought it’s way too early for Opening Day. I turned on the TV and was hit with the news of the passing of Rusty Staub and thought it’s too sad a day for Opening Day.

How can a day meant for new beginnings be overshadowed by such a sad event?

DZdPUxGXUAEX_kII wrote about Staub several weeks ago and recalled how gracious he was to me when I introduced myself to him at an airport, and it was heartwarming to hear of the remembrances of him from Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling today.

Hernandez spoke of Staub’s influence wihen he joined the Mets and helping him get acclimated to New York. Darling said Staub taught him how to be a better person.

Fighting back tears, Hernandez said: “He was a great, great  friend, and he’s in a better place.”

It is almost cliché to say he was a better person than player, but in his case, it could be true when you hear of his philanthropic gestures, most notably the New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund.

“Rusty started more than just a charity – he started a family,’’ wrote chairman Stephen Dannhauser. “While many admire Rusty for his impressive record as a baseball player, it is his work off the field that truly made him one of the greats.  We will miss his laughter, friendship, and leadership, but we will work to carry on his mission through our continued stewardship of the charity he founded.’’

I urge you to log onto to the charity’s website, answerthecall.org for information on how to donate. Increments of $4 or $10, Staub’s numbers, would be a nice touch.

I know you all have your favorite Staub memories and ask you share them.

 

Mar 27

Seven Things For The Mets To Make The Playoffs

Can the Mets reach the playoffs? It would take at least 86 victories, which is 16 more than last season, and that’s a reach. I don’t think it will happen, but stranger things have happened with the Mets. If it does happen, the  Mets need the following seven things fall into place:

DE GROM: One of the few answers. (AP)

           DE GROM: One of the few answers. (AP)

No injuries: They are due for a healthy season, beginning with their rotation. They already had a few this spring, and Steven Matz and Matt Harvey are coming off surgery. They have to be incredibly lucky from here on out.

As far as their position players are concerned, they need Michael Conforto (shoulder) and Yoenis Cespedes (shoulder and hamstrings) to return and have monster seasons. Conforto will miss the first month, so that’s at least 100 at-bats they’ll miss.

Who will fill that void?

Rotation lives up to the hype: Zack Wheeler will open the season in the minors and Jason Vargas on the disabled list. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will have to win at least 17 games each, and Harvey has to win at least 15.

Relievers must fill their roles: Manager Mickey Callaway hinted at a closer-by-committee format, but Jeurys Familia will get the first chance to close.

Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo will combine for the Andrew Miller role (once the latter is replaced in the rotation by either Vargas or Wheeler). That’s something new with Callaway and it is a gamble that must work.

The older guys’ encore: Specifically, that would be Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Reyes and Jay Bruce. Frazier and Bruce must have big seasons, defined as at least 20 homers and 80 RBI.

The young guys can’t be intimidated: Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares will get at-bats in April with Conforto injured. Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith – when he comes up – are offensive liabilities. That has to change.

Win the East: When the Mets reached the World Series in 2015, they did so in large part by Washington getting off to a miserable start and the Mets beating up on the Nationals and Braves. That has to happen again.

Sandy Alderson must not blink at the deadline: In 2015, when the Carlos Gomez trade fell through he immediately went after Cespedes. If the Mets are close at the end of July, Alderson can’t be afraid to pull the trigger.

Mar 25

High Marks For Callaway In First Spring

There’s nothing Mickey Callaway will learn by Thursday he already doesn’t know by now about his Mets. He had to know when he took the job that the Mets were lacking, and with his first spring training nearly under his belt, that’s still the case.

We won’t know about Callaway’s managerial acumen until the games count, and, of course, this spring training doesn’t mean anything. It was a learning experience for Callaway, his team, and for all followers of the Mets.

I don’t what kind of manager Callaway will become, but the first impression has been a good one. Callaway has only one real decision, and that’s a short-term one in how to divide the time in center between Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares until Michael Conforto returns.

Other than that, Callaway doesn’t have many critical decisions to make before the Cardinals come to town. What I like so far is how he’s handled what decisions he’s made so far:

Opening Day starter: When Jacob deGrom came down with a sore back and making as the Opening Day starter would be a stretch, Callaway named Noah Syndergaard and it took the pressure off everybody. Callaway let deGrom get ready at his own pace and didn’t rush him to get ready, which was contrary to what Sandy Alderson did last spring.

Harvey: Callaway has refrained from making any bold projections on any expectations, something that hasn’t always been the case. All Callaway has said about Harvey is that he just wants him to be as good as he can be. It’s pretty vague, but is better than saying he can win 17 games. Just let him pitch then watch him hit the free agent market.

First base: This figures to be a mess with Dominic Smith hurting and Adrian Gonzalez not hitting. Callaway has said Wilmer Flores will get more at-bats – but we’ve heard that before – and made no predictions about Smith.

Injuries: It hasn’t been an injury-free spring for the Mets, but he’s made no promises about Yoenis Cespedes or Jeurys Familia and Conforto other than to say he’ll miss the first month of the season. When it would have been tempting to push Conforto the first-year manager – and yes, Alderson, also – opted for patience.

A lot of managers coming into a high-profile job such as the Mets might be inclined to make promises and bold predictions. We’ve heard them from Jerry Manuel and Terry Collins but so far we haven’t heard any from Callaway.

So far, so good, regardless of what their spring training record was.

Mar 23

Wheeler Doesn’t Deserve Rotation Spot

It appears the Mets will have to wait a little longer before their “vaunted’’ rotation completes a one-through-five cycle. That’s because, based on performance Zack Wheeler should open the season in Las Vegas.

The Nationals torched Wheeler for five runs in two innings – throwing 58 pitches – on Thursday, this coming after Washington bullied him for five runs in three innings in his previous start. Ten runs in five innings isn’t just a bad two starts, it’s pretty much what he’s done all spring.

Wheeler hasn’t lasted longer than three innings in any of his five starts this spring. Last I checked, an 8.10 ERA this spring training is awful, and not worthy of a spot on the Opening Day roster. And, if not for Jason Vargas injury he wouldn’t be.

“I am highly disappointed,’’ Wheeler told reporters. “I have got to keep my head up, though. I am feeling healthy, feeling good, but maybe just off a little mechanically, and hopefully I can get that figured out quick.’’

Manager Mickey Callaway believes Wheeler is putting too much pressure on himself by being too fine. Consequently, Wheeler is forced to come in with the fastball when he falls behind in the count.

That’s trouble for any pitcher at any level, whether he’s healthy or not.

“I still think we have a decision to make and we’re not quite ready to make it yet,’’ Callaway said. “We have to continue to evaluate all the pieces we have.’’

If Vargas is ready, he’ll go. If not, it could be Seth Lugo. It just shouldn’t be Wheeler right now.

Mar 22

Lugo And Gsellman Likely To Make OD Roster

With the Mets having only two reliable starters in their rotation, that leaves three questions, which would stand to reason they would want to take at least two long relievers for their bullpen. Rather than string out the bullpen – Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak – the prudent option is to take both Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman to round out the pen.

That would make for an 11-man bullpen, with Paul Sewald being the 12th reliever.

Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom are the only two starters capable of working at least seven innings, with Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz, based on their health history and spring training performances, pegged to last five innings, perhaps six at most.

Rather than leave Lugo and/or Gsellman in Triple-A in preparation for the worst-case scenario, manager Mickey Callaway’s thinking is to save innings on the back end of the rotation, which makes total sense.

“We want to take the best guys, the best pitchers we have, that give us the best chance to get as many outs in any game as possible,’’ Callaway told reporters.

Rafael Montero doesn’t factor into the equation because he will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a complete tear of the collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Since he was out of options and would be either traded, lost on waivers or cut, this buys the Mets at least a year to move him.