Mar 17

Things To Like About Mets So Far

With a little over two weeks remaining in spring training, there’s a lot to like about how the Mets are playing, with several bright spots surfacing in today’s rout of the Cardinals.

CESPEDES: Has MVP aspirations. (AP)

CESPEDES: Has MVP aspirations. (AP)

STARTING PITCHING: If numbers were to determine the Opening Day starter, you would have to go with Jacob deGrom, who has a 0.90 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in three starts, with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Noah Syndergaard, however, has a 3.52 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. And, four walks in 7.2 won’t get it done most games. Syndergaard bulked up in the offseason with the intent of getting stronger as to work deeper into games. It’s not that he’s not strong enough, but his command is off. What haunted him last year is resurfacing this spring with higher pitch counts.

Steven Matz threw 3.2 innings today, and if you add an inning in his likely two remaining starts, that won’t get him out of the fifth in his first regular season start. He’s throwing well, by so far isn’t stretched out like the Mets want him to be.

Sure, these are exhibition numbers, but also an early measure of performance. So far, none of their starters are stretched out for them to go longer than six. That becomes an issue if the bullpen is shaky, which so far is far from fine-tuned.

In the competition for the fifth starter, Zack Wheeler – who will likely stay back – his throwing hard and pain-free. The projection is roughly 110 innings, which makes him better suited to coming up in late May or June. I don’t like the idea of using him in relief now.

As for Seth Lugo, he’s pitching in the World Baseball Classic and has done well. It will be either him or Robert Gsellman who goes north in the rotation. However, with numerous off days in April, the fifth starter won’t often be used, so one could go in the bullpen.

HOT BATS: Yoenis Cespedes said he wants to be MVP and if that happens a lot of good things will happen this summer. He’s hitting .419 with five homers, but the key numbers are only two strikeouts in 31 at-bats. That kind of ratio would go a long way towards making an MVP possible.

Also hitting well are Michael Conforto (.359), Neil Walker (.313), Curtis Granderson (.323), but most importantly Travis d’Arnaud (.333) and Lucas Duda (.292 with five doubles). The pressure is on d’Arnaud to have a make-or-break season and Duda, who missed much of last year with a stress fracture in his lower back and recently received a couple on injections.

Jay Bruce and Wilmer Flores finally pushed their averages over .200, and the latter drove in six runs Friday with a grand slam and double. Flores is not going away and the Mets need to find a way of getting him regular playing time to stay ready.

Feb 27

A Plan For Using Reyes

On days Jose Reyes doesn’t play, who will hit leadoff for the Mets?

Asdrubal Cabrera was there today and homered in today’s 5-2 loss to Houston. Other reported candidates are Curtis Granderson, because he’s had success there before, and Neil Walker, because he has a decent on-base percentage.

REYES: A plan for him. (AP)

REYES: A plan for him. (AP)

Another option is Juan Lagares on days he plays center.

My first inclination is Granderson because of his success, but I’m also thinking of ways of getting Reyes more playing time. A healthy, productive Reyes still has the potential to be an impact player.

I’m projecting Reyes will play a lot of third base in April because David Wright is likely to stay back at the start of the season for an extended spring training, but what about when Wright is on the major league roster?

If manager Terry Collins does this the right way, he could conceivably give Reyes three starts a week, not including as the designated hitter or in the outfield.

Collins has three fragile infielders, four if you include first baseman Lucas Duda. I would think giving Wright, Cabrera and Walker rest at least once a week would be a paramount concern.

Start Reyes at least three starts a week, or rotate him with Wilmer Flores (who also homered today). That way, you’re giving Reyes and Flores enough starts to stay sharp at the plate, and you’re also giving everybody else at least one day off a week to keep them fresh.

However, Reyes will miss time this spring playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. In this case, if you’re the Mets and want to see Reyes at multiple positions, he’s not doing himself any favors by missing a lot of time in camp.

While the Mets made a deal out of emulating the versatility of the champion Chicago Cubs, it must be remembered they don’t have somebody like Ben Zobrist. Nor do they have a MVP caliber bat like Kris Bryant they can move around.

Dec 31

Wrapping Up Mets’ Season That Wasn’t

Time to take a moment to look back on “The Season That Didn’t Happen,’’ before moving on to panning the Mets of 2017 and wishing you all a Happy New Year.

After being ousted in the World Series in five games, with Game 5 decided by Terry Collins’ decision to let Matt Harvey go out for the ninth, it was easy to project the summer of 2016 for the Mets.

SYNDERGAARD: Sums up disappointing season. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Sums up disappointing season. (FOX)

Harvey, who gave it up and Jeurys Familia, who blew the save, would come back with fiery determination. Hell, I even wrote Harvey would win 20 games.

They brought back Yoenis Cespedes and added Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. The future was bright for Michael Conforto.

Yes, there was a lot of optimism entering the season as there should have been. But, the World Series was never meant to be.

Writing on Twitter, Noah Syndergaard summed up 2016 in 140 characters:

2016 Mets Recap:

Wright hurt
Duda hurt
Walker hurt
Harvey hurt
DeGrom hurt
Matz hurt
Wheeler delayed
lost Wild Card
Bart leaves

It really wasn’t much more than that.

KEY STORYLINE: Harvey didn’t win 20 and didn’t come close. For the second time in three years, Harvey’s season was cut short by arm surgery. He wasn’t the only one. The knife also fell on Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler never recovered from his surgery.

KEY ADDITION: The Mets got off to a fast start in large part by Walker’s power surge, predominantly from the right side. Alderson plugged holes, adding James Loney when Lucas Duda went down and Jose Reyes to replace David Wright. The high-profile addition was Jay Bruce at the deadline, but the most important pick-us were Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman when Harvey and deGrom went down. Without them, the Mets don’t see the Wild Card game against the Giants.

MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENTS: The injuries to the pitchers and Wright were the biggest. … It can’t be underestimated how vital Conforto’s inability to build on 2015’s first impression. … Once again, the Mets’ inability to hit with runners in scoring

HIGH DRAMA: The puzzlement of what was bothering Harvey hung in the forefront until his shoulder injury was diagnosed. However, most of July was overshadowed by the high maintenance Cespedes, who couldn’t play because of a strained quad, but was able to golf instead of taking treatment. Neither Alderson nor Collins had the backbone to call out the outfielder, but Cespedes’ availability prompted the trade for Bruce. That could have been avoided had Alderson sent Cespedes to the disabled list three weeks before they finally pulled the trigger.

CONTINUING ISSUES: It shouldn’t have been all that hard to project Wright going down again. It shouldn’t be difficult for it happening again in 2017. … Also lingering is not hitting with runners in scoring position. They’ve done nothing to address that situation. … The middle innings in the bullpen also remained a problem, and that’s still in question with the pending suspension of Jeurys Familia.

MOMENT OF THE YEAR: There were a lot of electric moments, many of them of the walk-off variety, but is there any doubt about it being Bartolo Colon’s homer?

GAME OF THE YEAR: The Mets were reeling on Aug. 20, in third place, 12.5 games behind Washington when Colon went to the mound in San Francisco. Colon gave up two runs in 6.1 innings and was picked up by the Mets’ suddenly revived offense, which knocked out 13 hits, including two homers from Cespedes and one from Alejandro De Aza, to beat the Giants, 9-5. That was the first victory in a stretch where the Mets won nine of 11 games to go back over .500 and generate the push into the Wild Card.

 MVP: Cespedes was brought back to provide the spark he did in 2015. Despite playing in 132 games, Cespedes hit 31 homers, but was limited to 86 RBI. There really wasn’t a serious challenger to him.

PITCHER OF YEAR: Working most of the year with a bone spur, Syndergaard started 30 games and compiled 183.2 innings, going 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA. Does Syndergaard have Cy Young potential? You bet.

 

Oct 16

Mets’ Top Three Surprises And Disappointments

Over the course of 162 games, there will be surprises and disappointments and the 2016 edition of the Mets was no exception.

CONFORTO: Big disappointment. (Getty)

CONFORTO: Big disappointment. (Getty)

I’ve narrowed it down to three of each:

SURPRISES

Bringing back Jose: When the Mets broke camp, Jose Reyes as starting his suspension and nobody expected him to end up playing third base by season’s end. With the uncertainty of David Wright’s health, it’s a no-brainer to bring him back.

Keystone Karma: When the Mets traded for Neil Walker and signed Asdrubal Cabrera it was assumed they upgraded up-the-middle. Both exceeded their offensive expectations. Cabrera is arguably the team’s MVP. Walker was an unexpected power source until he was injured and needed back surgery. It is uncertain whether the Mets bring him back.

Rotation relief: When their highly touted rotation was torn down by injuries, the Mets’ season was literally saved by Bartolo Colon – who continued to amaze – and the additions from the minor leagues of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Without them, there would have been no wild-card game.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Injuries: It’s a long season and players get hurt. Wright being injured could have been anticipated, but for three of their young pitchers to have surgery – Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz – and a fourth in Zack Wheeler to have complications couldn’t have been projected.

Performance setbacks: Michael Conforto was supposed to continue his development into a star, but regressed and spent a lot of time on the Vegas Shuttle. Center field or first base and some of his speculated landing places for 2017 if the Mets keep Yoenis Cespedes. Curtis Granderson didn’t turn it on until late in the season and trade-deadline acquisition didn’t start hitting until the final week.

Catching vacuum: For the second straight season Travis d’Arnaud was injured and didn’t hit when he did play. The Mets have to be seriously thinking what their catching options will be in 2017.

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Sep 02

Murphy Decision Will Haunt Mets For Years

It’s ironic even beyond Metsian standards to have Neil Walker announce his decision to have season-ending back surgery the day before Daniel Murphy comes to town with his first-place Washington Nationals.

I like Walker. A lot of us do. However, he’s a hired gun who could be on the road again after he heals. But, who doesn’t love Murphy – and cringes whenever he comes to the plate against his former team?

MURPHY: Got last laugh. (AP)

              MURPHY: Got last laugh. (AP)

Regardless of what GM Sandy Alderson said last winter, the Mets could have afforded both Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes, but for whatever reason didn’t want to come up with the coin to pay the homegrown player. Surely, the Mets could have matched the $37.5-million over three years the Nationals gave Murphy.

Whether it was his comments about having a homosexual teammate – Murphy said he could embrace him as a teammate but not the lifestyle – or that he wasn’t a great defensive player, or whatever other reason, he didn’t fit into Alderson’s “mold.”

Yes, Murphy had flaws defensively. Yes, he had mental cramps on the bases and in the field. But, then again, isn’t that a big part of Cespedes’ resume?

One thing you can say about Murphy over Cespedes is the former always hustles and plays hard. Murphy’s attention was never split between baseball and the golf course.

Of course, Cespedes has the greater athletic skills, but if he doesn’t always use them, what’s the use? Cespedes has the physical make-up of being a superstar, and as he proved last year the potential to carry a team.

Then again, something clicked between Murphy and hitting coach Kevin Long, and didn’t he carry them in the playoffs? And, it isn’t a fluke because hasn’t Murphy carried the Nationals this year to the point where he’s a serious MVP candidate.

The Mets searched for years to find a position for Murphy, who is a natural third baseman. They tried left field. They tried first base before settling on second base. Murphy has his head scratching moments at second, but worked to harness his talent. He made his fair share of head turning plays as well.

Conversely, Cespedes said he’d play center field – it was reportedly a key in signing him – but now it is left field or bust. Murphy did whatever he could to fit in and do whatever the Mets needed. It seems Cespedes can’t be bothered at times.

Infatuated with what Cespedes might become, Alderson opted to let Murphy go – they made a token qualifying offer they knew he couldn’t accept – and offered the mercurial outfielder $75 million over three years. That’s double what Murphy will get from the Nationals.

Because Alderson deals with Sabremetrics and prototypes he doesn’t see or acknowledge the rawness of what Murphy provides. Had Sabremetrics and Alderson been around in another era, would he have overlooked Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Brooks Robinson, Jerry Koosman and Mike Piazza?

Hell, he may have even bypassed Babe Ruth.

Now, with one month left in this season, it is clear Alderson made the wrong decision on Murphy, and not solely because Walker will have season-ending back surgery and may never play for the Mets again.

The Mets got a good year from Cespedes, but not exceptional because of his quad injury, made worse by them delaying a month to put him on the disabled list. By the way, he’s still not 100 percent.

Alderson doesn’t get a pass because of David Wright. After last season there should have been some reasonable expectation Wright could be injured again. So, with the Nationals set with Murphy for the next two years, the Mets will be searching for a second baseman and possibly a third baseman.

What about Wilmer Flores, you ask?

Flores is the Plain Jane you don’t want to take to the prom; he’s not the flashy platinum blonde homecoming queen Alderson lusts after for a player. I feel the Mets will underappreciate and eventually ditch Flores the way they did Murphy.

And, Cespedes?

Well, they gave him the option to opt out after this year. Instead of spending to plug the holes in their rotation, the bullpen, first, second and third, and in the outfield, the Mets will instead throw even more money to keep Cespedes.

In doing so, they will be stunting the development of Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo. They also have the decision on what to do with Jay Bruce and possibly Curtis Granderson.

And, no matter how much money they are willing to give Cespedes, there’s a good chance he’ll leave anyway and they’ll lose out on making deals to improve, elsewhere.

But, Murphy will be settled in with Washington.

Letting Murphy go was the lead domino in a series of moves that could haunt the Mets to the point where even all that great young pitching – with has three studs lost for the year – can’t carry the load.

Nice job.

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