Dec 14

How Big A Step Back Did Mets Take Last Summer?

In many circles, the Mets were favorites to reach the World Series in 2017, and by most accounts, injuries derailed those aspirations. They finished manager Terry Collins’ last season as manager 22 games below .500 after scuttling their roster at the deadline.

That seems to be a lot of ground to make up even after adding depth to their bullpen with the free-agent signing of Anthony Swarzak to a two-year deal.

Several reviews of the Mets’ Winter Meetings’ needs mention a set-up reliever, and outfielder/first baseman and second baseman as to what is on GM Sandy Alderson’s shopping list, and cite Addison Reed, Jay Bruce and Neil Walker by name.

The Mets traded all three last summer for a group of relievers that might not make the Opening Day roster.

Surely, if the Mets kept all three, and still added Swarzak, they might still be regarded as a serious contender, even with the health questions surrounding Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes.

The best chance to re-sign a free agent is to make sure he doesn’t leave in the first place, but that requires an ability to spend. Whether they bring back Bruce, all three, or stun us and sign a name player, it will cost money. The bottom line is the Mets have to spend it if they are going to win. That is the idea, isn’t it?

Nov 17

Is It A Coincidence Mets Tix Go On Sale After A Week Of Positive Storylines?

There were at least a half-a-dozen storylines that came out of the General Managers Meetings this week that if played out in the positive would change the perception of the Mets heading into the player acquisition phase of the offseason.

Among the storylines GM Sandy Alderson admitted:

ALDERSON: How positive is he really?  (AP)

ALDERSON: How positive is he really? (AP)

* Interest in relievers Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw, which would substantially increase the depth and quality of the bullpen. Alderson, however, wouldn’t disclose his budget.

* A willingness to discuss an extension for Jacob deGrom, which would fall under the classification of progressive thinking. Also falling in that category were promises to overhaul the medical staff.

* Not discounting partial interest in Japanese slugger Shohei Ohtnai. In fairness, Alderson said the Mets were open but did not say they were hot of the outfielder who also wants to pitch. Nobody expects the Mets will jump into the deep end of the Asian pool, but at least Alderson didn’t shoot it down entirely.

* Being open to trading some of their pitching depth, mentioning Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero. In the small print under the headlines is the limited trade value of the above starters, who will be needed if injury problems with Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler continue.

* Positive news in Michael Conforto’s recovery from shoulder surgery to repair a torn posterior capsule. Also found in the small print was that possibly being able to swing the bat in late January doesn’t guarantee to be ready by Opening Day.

If all these storylines played out in the positive for the Mets, there would be a lot more to look forward to in 2018. It was a busy week in Orlando, and I mention these potentially positive storylines because today the Mets put single-game tickets on sale. Coincidence? You decide.

 

Nov 09

Is There A Fit Between Bruce And Mets?

Published reports say the Mets are encouraged because they hear free-agent Jay Bruce is willing to play first base. However, they can’t be thrilled Bruce is seeking an extension of at least $90 million over four years.

Perhaps that’s like screening your calls. Throw out a figure that you know GM Sandy Alderson won’t meet.

BRUCE: Where's the fit? (AP)

BRUCE: Where’s the fit? (AP)

If the Mets are sincerely interested in Bruce it says several things: 1) they aren’t enamored with prospect Dominic Smith, and/or, 2) they aren’t encouraged about the physical health of Michael Conforto (left shoulder) or Yoenis Cespedes (hamstring).

Assuming neither Conforto nor Cespedes are ready by Opening Day, the Mets will have an outfield of Brandon Nimmo, Juan Lagares and Nori Aoki. Ooops, I forgot, they let Aoki go.

I advocated bringing back Bruce last summer while he was still a Met. Who knows? Doing so might have cost less. Generally, if you show some love to your own players they might return the favor with a home-team discount.

However, after trying him at first base on the fly last summer because they were reluctant to bring up Smith, then trading him, Bruce has no loyalties to the Mets.

This could be Bruce’s last contract, so he’ll want to go where: 1) he’ll be paid, 2) he’ll be appreciated, and 3) he has a chance to win.

Do you see any of that happening with the Mets?

 

Oct 24

Callaway’s Things To Do List

Mickey Callaway was probably working on “Things To Do’’ list the moment he talked to Sandy Alderson on the phone asking his interest in managing the Mets. Odds are, he went over the list during the interview.

Here’s what I’m guessing is on that list:

Meet with Alderson: Callaway and Alderson will meet to discuss among other things: what went wrong in 2017 for the Mets; issues Alderson must be consulted on; the coaching staff; injuries; pitching issues; preliminary roster evaluation; and spring training.

Coaching staff: Everybody wants to know who Callaway will choose to be pitching coach. Much was made about collaboration at yesterday’s introductory press conference. Will Callaway have free reign? Not on all matters, but it’s doubtful Alderson will bully him on that choice. If Callaway has a name in mind, I’m guessing Alderson won’t stand in his way.

Callaway hopes to develop his coaching staff the same way Terry Francona did in Cleveland.

“[Francona] empowered me to do everything I could to make us the most successful staff we could be,’’ Callaway said. “I realized very quickly that I’m not just a pitching coach, I have to manage all these people and their personalities. I know there’s a process for that.’’

Odds are hitting coach Kevin Long won’t be back. He’ll interview to replace Dusty Baker in Washington, where he’ll undoubtedly get a hearty endorsement from Daniel Murphy.

Since this is Callaway’s first managerial assignment – and let’s hope it lasts for a decade or more – he’ll need a strong bench coach, one not to be afraid to voice his opinion and be a yes man.

Talk with the players: Callaway said at least a half-dozen times he plans to tell the players he cares about them. Presumably, that will include talking with Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes about their off-season workout programs that resulted in season-ending injuries.

Callaway and his pitching coach will undoubtedly spend a lot of time talking with the staff. He’ll ask pointed questions trying to ascertain the cause of the injuries. For Syndergaard that would mean his off-season weight training and for Matt Harvey that would mean being rushed back.

Evaluate the roster: He and Alderson will evaluate the current roster as to ascertain holes and needs. Considering the pitching injuries, that would likely include adding a starter and another reliever.

Among the first things they’ll have to determine is the likelihood of Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Cespedes and Michael Conforto will be ready for spring training.

Preliminary decisions could also be made on Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Find another Miller: Unfortunately, they won’t get the real Andrew Miller, but Callaway will look at his relievers in the hope finding the Mets’ best facsimile. That might also include considering starters Harvey, Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman for that role.

Baseball has changed and that includes bullpen roles. Francona and Callaway were on the cutting edge with how they used Miller so you’ll have to presume he’ll bring that role to New York.

Defining an offensive philosophy: Alderson loves Sabermetrics, which emphasize home runs at the cost of strikeouts.

Cleveland’s offense incorporated power with situational hitting, a high on-base percentage and speed. I hope Callaway brings some of that to the Mets.

Living solely on power hasn’t gotten it done for the Mets.

 

Oct 12

ALDS Highlight Many Differences Between Mets And Yankees

With Cleveland – and with it, Jay Bruce – eliminated from the playoffs, I’m guessing the worst possible World Series scenario for Mets fans would be the Yankees against the Nationals.

Mets fans clearly hate the Yankees for reasons we can all understand and embrace, and which was reinforced by their ALDS win over the Indians and define the differences of the franchises:

NO QUIT MENTALITY: After losing the first two games to Cleveland, the Yankees rallied to win the next three. Yes, 2015 was a magical year, but outside of that season that’s a characteristic we haven’t often seen from the Mets. We certainly didn’t see it in 2017.

FRONT OFFICE AGGRESSIVENESS: Despite already exceeding expectations at the deadline, Yankees GM Brian Cashman didn’t rest on the presumption it was already a successful season. The Yankees might have gotten by not doing anything at the deadline, but Cashman brought in third baseman Todd Frazier, and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. Cashman also added Sonny Gray, although the early returns haven’t been good. You don’t need to be reminded what Mets GM Sandy Alderson did.

SUPPORTING THE MANAGER: Yankees manager Joe Girardi had an awful time in Game 2, but his team rallied behind him and he said “they had my back.’’ Nobody can say the Mets had Terry Collins’ back, especially Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey and all those unnamed sources in the Newsday article.

THE BULLPEN: The difference in the Yankees’ bullpen compared to that of the Mets is roughly the same separation of that between Ohio State and Rutgers. The Yankees might have the best pen remaining in the playoffs and could translate into another title.

YOUNG STUDS: Michael Conforto is the best the Mets have to offer, while Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith are unproven. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ farm system has produced Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks. Judge struck out 16 times in 24 plate appearances against the Indians, but I’m willing to bet he’ll be much better against the Astros.

STARTING PITCHING: Can we officially dismiss the notion the Mets have the best rotation – young or otherwise – in baseball? The Mets don’t even have the best rotation in New York, although I’m taking Jacob deGrom before any Big Apple pitcher.

REPLACING ICONS: Not long after Derek Jeter retired the Yankees made the aggressive trade for Didi Gregorius, who homered twice against Corey Kluber in Game 5. Meanwhile, David Wright has played in only 75 games over the past three years. The Mets’ contingency plan is Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera.

VETERAN PRESENCE: They are called the Baby Bombers, but the Yankees might not be here without Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and C.C. Sabathia. The Mets’ veterans? Well, Wright is recovering from surgery and the other vets were dealt at the deadline for a handful of non-descript pitching prospects.

OWNERSHIP: George is gone, but the Steinbrenner family is far more aggressive than Fred and Jeff Wilpon. Not even close.

If they were in the same division, the Mets would be 20 games behind the Yankees. That means Alderson has a lot of work ahead of him.