Feb 24

Plenty Of Good Things Today For Mets

Sure, it would be great for the Mets to win them all in spring training. Of course, it won’t happen, but what is the importance of winning in the spring? For the Mets, who reached the playoffs the last two seasons, they’ve already established a winning mentality.

So, what then are the early objectives, and did they accomplish any of them in this afternoon’s 3-2 victory over Boston at Fort Myers?

Spring victories matter in the sense if it gets the Mets acclimated to what it takes to develop a winning attitude, and that means doing the things necessary to win, such as playing the game the right way. For hitters, that’s being selective and getting in a groove. Stats aren’t important, but feeling comfortable at the plate and getting off to a good start are something to strive for.

For hitters, that’s being selective and getting in a groove. Stats aren’t important, but feeling comfortable at the plate and getting off to a good start are something to strive for. As for pitchers, it is refining command, sharpening breaking balls and building up strength.

A lof of good things happened today, many of them on the pitching end. Mets’ pitchers took a combined no-hitter into the seventh inning. Seth Lugo, Marcus Molina and Rafael Montero each threw two scoreless innings, and Hansel Robles worked a perfect ninth.

Offensively, Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud each had two hits, with the former hitting a home run.

 

Feb 12

Four Spring Training Questions Facing Mets

Despite the snow, winter ends officially today as the Mets’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Port St. Lucie. Once they break out the balls and bats, winter ends, but not necessarily the questions for the Mets.

There are four pertinent questions and issues the Mets must answer in spring training.

HARVEY: One of many health issues. (AP)

HARVEY: One of many health issues. (AP)

Who in the starting rotation is healthy, and will there be innings limits?

A: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all coming off arm surgery. For all the potential of their young arms, the Mets aren’t likely to go four-for-four on the recovery front. Somebody will have a setback. We just don’t know who. But, that’s more for the regular season, but for the next six weeks manager Terry Collins must determine a rotation order following Opening Day starter Noah Syndergaard. Collins must also decide Wheeler’s role; fifth starter or reliever? Collins and GM Sandy Alderson must pick a role and stay with it for at least this season. Jumping from one role to another can’t be good for Wheeler’s arm. It didn’t work out that way for Jenrry Mejia, did it? Unlike in 2015 with Harvey, there must be a definitive innings limits for these guys. They won’t like it, but it is in the best interest in keeping them healthy.

What are the bullpen roles?

A: Pencil in Addison Reed to replace closer Jeurys Familia while he serves a suspension. But after him? Is the set-up man Hansel Robles or Jerry Blevins or Seth Lugo/Robert Gsellman? If either Lugo or Gsellman is the set-up man, will the other be the long man? Or will one be the fifth starter? If Wheeler is in the pen, he needs a set role as to reduce the strain on his arm? How many relievers, six or seven? Will they keep three lefties, with Sean Gilmartin and Josh Edgin joining Blevins?

What is the back situation?

A: Lucas Duda, Neil Walker and David Wright are recovering from back surgery. Wright hasn’t played a combined 100 games in the last two years. Walker took a qualifying offer because he didn’t have any other options and the Mets didn’t like the other first base options if they lost Duda. Wright? Michael Conforto? How about Wilmer Flores full time? None of those options were appealing. The path of least resistance was bringing back Duda and hoping for the best with his back. By the end of spring training, we should have a better idea as to the health of these three. Collins must also create a plan of giving them rest in the hope of keeping them healthy? Collins has a bench for a reason and has more than just keeping Wright fresh to consider. It is Wright plus two.

How does he juggle the outfield?

A: First of all, will Yoenis Cespedes ever move back to center? The Mets brought back Cespedes the first time under the contingent he plays center. They brought him back the second time under the condition he plays in left. The current plan is, from left to right, Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce. Alderson’s plan to deal Bruce hit a snag when brought back Cespedes because teams deemed him desperate and offered little in return. Bruce needs to play to show production and up his trade value. Granderson, at 35, can’t play center full time, so Juan Lagares will be the fourth outfielder because he’s the only true center fielder. That leaves Conforto scrapping for at-bats.

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.

 

Jan 25

Mets Name Bruce Starter In Right; What Becomes Of Conforto?

It became clear nearly a month ago Jay Bruce would not be traded and would make the Opening Day roster. The no-brainer now has been realized with The New York Post and several other media outlets reported Bruce would be the starter in right field. What else did you expect? The Mets weren’t going to pay him $13 million to sit on the bench.

“Obviously, the market for certain players, certain free agents and therefore trade has been slow at best, nonexistent at worst,” GM Sandy Alderson told reporters about the lukewarm-to-cold market for Bruce. What Alderson neglected to say, however, is a major reason for the sluggish market for Bruce was when the general manager announced his intention to deal him if Yoenis Cespedes returned.

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

There have been several reports stating manager Terry Collins will try to fit four outfielders – Bruce, Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto – into three slots. That’s not accurate. The fourth outfielder is Juan Lagares being the fourth outfield and not Conforto.

With Granderson to move to center, the Mets need an accomplished player to play center, and that’s Lagares, who won a Gold Glove at the position. It’s inconceivable, if not flat out irresponsible, to go into the season without an accomplished center fielder.

So, where does that leave Conforto?

I’m thinking there are four options regarding Conforto:

FIFTH OUTFIELDER: They could carry him as the fifth outfielder, a role that would give Conforto limited at-bats. Conforto, whom Collins anointed the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future, needs regular at-bats.

TRADE HIM: I’m sure you could get something substantial for him, including a reliever, but this is the worst option to me. Long after Bruce and Cespedes are gone, Conforto could be whistling line drives all over Citi Field.

DEFINITIVE PLAYING FORMAT: Rotating Conforto to spell Cespedes, Granderson and Bruce at least once a week could give Conforto up to three games a week, which is doable. Collins could have done the same last year with Wilmer Flores in the infield, but couldn’t manage the juggling. I can’t see Collins doing this successfully with Conforto in the outfield.

MINOR LEAGUES: I hate to say it, but I’m thinking it is more likely Conforto will wind up in Las Vegas. It’s the option that will give Conforto the most at-bats and playing time.

 

 

Jan 07

Forget About Reyes In Center

There’s been some talk about playing Jose Reyes in center field at times this summer to take advantage of his speed. It’s a thought best left for a 17-degree night in January with a foot of snow on the ground. Seriously, what’s the purpose?

With the guy they re-signed last winter to play center not wanting to – that being, of course, Yoenis Cespedes – the Mets have a muddled outfield and tinkering with Reyes in center just complicates things further.

As it is, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Gold Glover Juan Lagares will share time in center. Then, there’s Brandon Nimmo if he’s on the 25-man roster. Why fool around with an unproven Reyes in center?

Makes no sense.

Reyes needs to stay on the left side of the infield, backing up David Wright and Asdrubal Cabrera, where he’ll do the most good. Center field is something to talk about when it’s too cold outside to do anything but think about baseball in an effort to keep yourself warm.