Nov 15

Updating Mets’ Top Ten Offseason Issues

Maybe the Mets made Bartolo Colon an offer. I haven’t heard. So far this winter their heavy lifting has included picking up the options of Jay Bruce and Jose Reyes, and extending qualifying offers to Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker.

ALDERSON: A lot of his plate. (AP)

ALDERSON: A lot of his plate. (AP)

Other than that, it has been a relatively quiet offseason for GM Sandy Alderson. With the Winter Meetings less than a month away, here is what I see as Alderson’s Top Ten priorities:

1. Keep Bruce for now: There is an Internet report stating the Mets are talking with Toronto about Jay Bruce. It makes sense from the perspective of the Blue Jays, who could lose both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to free agency.

Reportedly, the Mets have feelers out on Bautista, although I prefer Encarnacion, who could enter into a first base platoon with Lucas Duda.

However, trading Bruce with the Cespedes situation unresolved makes no sense. They picked up Bruce’s option as a safety net for losing Cespedes, so what’s the point of dealing him without know what happens with Cespedes?

2. Decide on Cespedes: For a myriad of reasons, I believe the Mets should let Cespedes play through to the next hole. You guys know that by now. However, the Mets insist they want him back.

Fine. If that’s their position, get Cespedes’ contractual demands as soon as possible and go from there. He already rejected the Mets’ qualifying offer, so they would be in their right to ask what the player wants and go from there.

With a new CBA on the table, this could extend into January, which wouldn’t be prudent.

3. Bring back Reed: Yes, I know Addison Reed isn’t a free agent unless the Mets pass on him. Sign Reed and establish him now as the closer because they have to know Jeurys Familia will be suspended for at least 30 games.

If not Reed, the Mets have to go in on a closer. They won’t pay the big bucks for Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, but what about Mark Melancon? He won’t be cheap, either.

4. Bolster the bullpen: Without Familia and the change of roles with Reed, there are other bullpen holes. Will they bring back Jerry Blevins? Will Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have starting or bullpen roles? With Colon gone, the Mets could go for a middle reliever capable of multiple innings. Is that guy Hansel Robles or somebody in the market?

5. Define the back-up infielders: For somebody coming off back surgery, a $17.2 million qualifying offer to Neil Walker was fairly generous. It was a no-brainer to bring back Walker to team with Asdrubal Cabrera would solidify the double-play combination for another year. The offer will undoubtedly frustrate Wilmer Flores, but there has to be some area of consistency. It’s unlikely they can trade Flores, but if he’s on the 25-man roster what will that mean for T.J. Rivera?

6. Figure out what to do with Conforto: First base seems a reach for Michael Conforto. If they try that, the platoon with Duda should be with a right-handed hitter. They would be better off earmarking him for center field, because we know Cespedes doesn’t want to play there.

Defining Conforto’s role should also help dictate how they’ll use Curtis Granderson.

7. Figure out Wright’s role: I’d like to know now, but realize that’s not practical. But, assuming for the moment he’s healthy, is there a rough projection of how he’ll be used and how much? Seriously, is first base a realistic option?

8. Determine the health of the rotation: Four pitchers from this vaunted future All-Star staff are coming off surgery. The early reports are positive, and that includes no surgery to remove Noah Syndergaard’s bone spurs. But, we really won’t know until March.

If everything works out for the best, Alderson and manager Terry Collins must figure out where Lugo and Gsellman fit and resist the temptation of dealing either because they think they are in a position of strength because they are not.

I wouldn’t be opposed to picking up a veteran as insurance.

9. Improve the catching: If they enter the season with Travis d’Arnaud as the starter, it has to be with a short leash. He’s been frequently injured and unproductive, and frankly the rotation performs better with Rene Rivera.

10. Determine Duda’s leash: Duda is another prone to injuries and slow starts. They had to sign James Loney last summer and he performed well. However, it is unlikely they’ll bring him back.

Duda has monster power, but the past few years it has taken him into the second half before he warms up.

Other than Cespedes – pro or con – I don’t see the Mets making a major personnel decision this winter. But, whatever they decide, it will have far-reaching ramifications.

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Oct 22

Mets Should Pick Up Smaller Pieces First

Like most teams, the Mets usually focus on big-ticket items at the start of their offseason shopping. For the Mets, that’s Yoenis Cespedes, but even if they do bring him back, he shouldn’t be their first order of business.

The Mets should start with the smaller pieces and that’s what they appeared to do with the decision of exercising their option on Jose Reyes.

REYES: Bringing him back. (Getty)

REYES: Bringing him back. (Getty)

With the uncertainty of David Wright, plus Colorado responsible for paying Reyes $41 million over the next three years – including $22 million for 2017 – it was a no-brainer. The 33-year-old Reyes hit .267 with eight homers, 24 RBI and nine stolen bases in 60 games. That production is definitely worth the major league minimum $507,500 the Mets will pay him.

It was an obvious decision, as was the one not to pick up Jon Niese’s $10-million option. While it would have been good to have Niese as a fallback considering the health issues of their starting rotation, there’s no way they would have gambled being stuck carrying his $10-million contract.

They haven’t done it yet, but bringing back Bartolo Colon – who made $7.25 million last year – is another no-brainer. Colon, at 43, lead the Mets in games started (33), innings pitched (191.2) and victories (15).

There’s no guarantee how the four Mets starters coming off surgery – Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler – will respond from surgery, so Colon is essential. They should have given him a contract as he was cleaning out his locker.

Another imperative decision is bringing back Addison Reed, who had 40 holds to set up closer Jeurys Familia.

Other lower-profile decisions should be made on utility infielder Kelly Johnson and catcher Rene Rivera.

Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Neil Walker represent more costly choices, but they are just three of 25 players on the team. The Mets will need these other less expensive pieces, so they might as well take care of them now.

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Oct 01

This Year Could Be Even More Special For Mets

FINALLY

                                                      FINALLY

The Mets are finally in, and it is fitting they were carried in today’s clincher by Bartolo Colon and James Loney. In many ways, how the clincher unfolded typified this season.

Fitting, because they weren’t counted on to be key players when this season began. It was anticipated by many the Mets’ highly touted young pitching would return them to the World Series.

The Mets could eventually reach their fifth World Series, but it won’t be with the five starters who were to define them for the next decade. Of the five, only Noah Syndergaard – who’ll either pitch one inning Sunday or have a bullpen session – will see the playoffs.

Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom had season-ending surgery; Zack Wheeler never made it back; and Steven Matz will have surgery on his elbow Tuesday, the day before the Mets play the Giants Wednesday, with Syndergaard against Madison Bumgarner. If it is the Cardinals, he’ll face Carlos Martinez.

Colon?

Well, he was penciled in to move to the bullpen in early July when Wheeler was to come off the disabled list. While Wheeler had several setbacks, Colon kept trotting out there – he didn’t miss a start – and eventually finished with a team-high 15 victories.

Colon gave up two runs, but only threw 61 pitches in five innings in today’s 5-3 victory over the Phillies, presumably to keep him fresh should they need him in the wild-card game.

Pitching was always going to carry the Mets, but who would have figured it would be Colon, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman? There’s Syndergaard, but he’s been gutting it out with a bone spur in his elbow. That’s also emblematic of the Mets’ season as a whole, because injuries have been a key storyline.

Injuries were a big part of the 2015 Mets, but they have been hit harder this season. Yet, somehow, GM Sandy Alderson – who took a lot of heat – acquired the necessary pieces to patch this team together.

“We have some pieces here,” manager Terry Collins said. “But, it takes the whole line. You have to ride a lot of guys.”

One of those guys is Loney, who started Saturday because Lucas Duda’s back remains sore and responded with a game-winning, two-run homer in the sixth. Overall, Loney played 99 games and produced nine homers and 34 RBI.

Loney is just one example. Rene Rivera filled in for Travis d’Arnaud and is now a mainstay. Wilmer Flores first replaced David Wright, then Asdrubal Cabrera and finally Neil Walker. Eventually, Flores was injured and replaced by T.J. Rivera.

Jose Reyes eventually took over for Wright at third and supplied the speed and spark that had long been missing. Signing Reyes also enabled Collins to move Curtis Granderson down in the order to protect Yoenis Cespedes.

Granderson took off in the second half and salvaged things with a 30-homer season. Granderson played a lot of centerfield when Cespedes went on the disabled list.

Cabrera was on the DL with Cespedes, and the Mets’ offense took off when they were activated in late August when they were in San Francisco. After losing the first two games of that series, the Mets were a dismal 60-62 on August 19.

They have been the hottest team in the majors since.

When Cespedes went down, the offensive-starved Mets traded for Jay Bruce. That deal was going down as a bust until Bruce went on a tear with a seven-game hitting streak, which included homers in three games.

From Lugo and Gsellman in the rotation, to Loney, Bruce, Reyes and the two Riveras, to the resurgence of Granderson, and, of course, the consistent production of Cabrera and Cespedes, whenever the Mets needed somebody to step up, they got it.

Through it all, Collins kept his team together, kept them hustling, and more often than not pushed the right buttons. There were times when you wondered if Collins would fired or named the Manager of the Year.

Yes, last year was thrilling, but with what the Mets had to overcome, this year might have the potential to be even more special.

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Sep 23

Mets Magic? To Be Determined

Greetings on the day after the latest Mets’ miracle. There have been times in my coverage of the Mets – which began in 2006 (and since 1998 overall of New York baseball) – where I have been called a curmudgeon, which is not entirely untrue.

I try to take more of a down-the-middle approach in my emotional perspective of the team. I don’t get too high or too low, and believe I’ve fulfilled my responsibility if there’s a balance between those who like my stuff and those who hate me.

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

COLLINS: Will he be smiling in a week? (AP)

There are times, I admit, when I take the hatred as a compliment.

Either way, after the Asdrubal Cabrera’s game-winner last night, the bottom line is the Mets remain tied with San Francisco and hold a slim lead over the Cardinals for the wild-card. Cabrera’s moment in Mets’ history is contingent on how this all plays out.

Will it be a Super Nova or a star that forever burns bright, like the ball that got by Bill Buckner?

It’s just stardust if the Mets fade and don’t make it; it’s special if they go on to win the World Series. The moment loses luster if they don’t run the table.

Can we agree this business of the Mets’ schedule giving them an advantage is nonsense if they don’t capitalize? Let’s face it, without Cabrera last night, and what Jose Reyes did shortly before, they would have lost four straight home games to sub-.500 teams.

The remaining schedule is largely irrelevant because: 1) those teams would love nothing more than to put it to these uppity New Yorkers; 2) those players are competing for 2017 jobs; 3) September call-ups add an unknown element to the stew; and, 4) after this weekend the last six games are on the road.

For those who insist the schedule means something, if the beginning of this week didn’t convince you, try this, if the Mets don’t make the playoffs, the biggest statistic working against them is that 26 of their 72 losses (36 percent) have been against sub-.500 Atlanta (10), Colorado (6), Philadelphia (5) and Arizona (5).

They lost another six to Miami, whom they play three games next week on the road.

Perhaps the Mets were due to win last night. Sometimes the odds work in their favor. But, was it magic? I wouldn’t go that far.

After all, there have been several times this season when it would have been easy to conclude they turned it around.

After a sluggish start, they closed April by winning 11 of 12 games, but limped through May with seven losses against cupcakes Atlanta, San Diego and Colorado.

They lost five games in June to the Braves and were swept in a three-game series in Washington to finish that month only four games over .500. The Mets appeared to turn it around with a four-game sweep of the Cubs in July, but gave up that momentum by losing three of four at home to the Nationals heading into the break.

You’ll recall manager Terry Collins saying it was “essential we play well,” in the stretch entering the break and coming out for the second half. They entered the break six games over .500 but ended July only four games over.

The Mets nose-dived to two games under in mid-August before Bartolo Colon stopped the hemorrhaging by beating the Giants in San Francisco. They went 9-2 to close August to give their season alive.

Unquestionably, the Mets have been snakebit with injuries to their young, vaunted rotation. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler are all gone. But, for all their bad luck, they’ve been kept afloat by Colon, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and tonight’s spot starter Gabriel Ynoa, and the bullpen duo of Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia. Today we learned Saturday’s starter, Noah Syndergaard, will be scratched in favor of Sean Gilmartin because of a strep throat.

No doubt, the baseball Gods are toying with Collins.

Bad luck offset by good? Perhaps. But, Lugo has been brought down a peg and Reed and Familia have taken their lumps.

Wilmer Flores helped carry the team for a while, but hasn’t played in over a week because of a bad wrist (Collins took the hit for that by saying he should have used a pinch-runner). The Jay Bruce trade did not work out, but was offset by the resurgence of power from Curtis Granderson.

Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes spent time on the disabled list, but came off smoking. Cespedes is now mired in a slump, although he came through with a big hit last night.

Matt Reynolds, James Loney, Brandon Nimmo, Rene Rivera, Reyes and T.J. Rivera have either come up from the minors or were rescued off the scrap team to produce big moments. However, Michael Conforto was sent down and this season has been a bust for him.

A lot has gone wrong for the Mets – I didn’t even get to the injuries of David Wright, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda – but the flip side is a lot went right to put them where they are today.

Was last night magic? I don’t think so. It was a magical moment but means nothing if not sustainable.

For every reason why I could write them off, there are reasons I can give why they are still alive. Through it all, like they were last season, resiliency is their greatest attribute.

They are alive with nine games remaining, and considering all that has gone, maybe that’s their magic for this year.

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Sep 21

Three Mets’ Storylines: Bad Night For Collins

If you thought last night was bad for Mets manager Terry Collins, it wasn’t anything compared to Wednesday night.

For me, it began with his starting lineup and decision to not start Jay Bruce, but spiraled out of control with the handling of his late-inning bullpen, which had been a strength, but unraveled in the Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Braves.

FAMILIA: Fifth blown save. (AP)

FAMILIA: Fifth blown save. (AP)

Bartolo Colon pitched another gem, but was pulled in the seventh shortly after giving up a two-run homer to Anthony Recker to slice the Mets’ lead to 3-2. Colon was yanked for Addison Reed.

All season, the primary formula for the Mets’ success was their eighth-ninth inning duo of Reed and Jeurys Familia, but Collins – like a man poking the coals at a BBQ – couldn’t resist toying with success.

I would have stuck with Colon for another hitter because he’s gotten out of so many jams. Yes, Reed got out of the seventh. But, after Ender Inciarte reached on James Loney‘s error to open the eighth, Collins pulled Reed in favor of Josh Smoker to face Freddie Freeman. The Reed vs. Freeman history is small. Maybe no Met has been better at his job this year than Reed, but Collins was seduced by the lefty-lefty matchup.

“Freddie is 2-for-4 [against Reed lifetime and I just said this guy is too hot,” was how Collins began his Magical Mystery Tour of an explanation. “I thought [have him] face a power lefty. Got jammed, poke it in, you know. Again, we get the ground ball to start the inning (Loney’s error). … if we get that ground ball, we’re not in that situation.”

If. If we had ham, we’d have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.

Freeman singled to chase Smoker in favor of Familia for the five-out save attempt.

After a double-steal, Matt Kemp tied the game on a sacrifice fly for Familia’s fifth blown save.

The Mets had their chances in the eighth, but Yoenis Cespedes dogged it on a fly to left and barely made it to second  when Kemp couldn’t track down his fly ball. Cespedes mighty have made it to third – which he eventually stole – but died there to end the inning.

With two outs Collins pinch-hit Eric Campbell for Kelly Johnson. Then he hit Kevin Plawecki for James Loney – who entered the game hitting .357 in the previous nine games – to once again over-manage the lefty-righty nonsense.

The Braves scored the winning run against Familia in the ninth on Inciarte’s RBI grounder. Even so, the Mets had a chance in the bottom of the inning, but Inciarte robbed Cespedes of a three-run homer to end the game.

“A tremendous catch,” Collins said. “You won’t see a better catch.”

The catch was the play of the game, but the storyline was Collins’ use of his bullpen. The others were that the Mets might have already made a decision on Bruce and wasting Colon.

DECISION ON BRUCE: By pinch-hitting for Bruce Tuesday and not starting him Wednesday, one might surmise the Mets already made the decision to give him a $1-million buyout opposed to picking up his $13 million option.

It was an “uncomfortable” decision Collins made last night in sending Campbell to bat for Bruce. Campbell produced a RBI single, but the Mets still lost and there’s this fallout, so one can’t really say everything worked out for him.

Especially considering, with how the game was on the line tonight in the ninth inning, he sent Bruce up as a pinch-hitter. Tonight’s situation was even more dire. This is what aggravates me about Collins: Bruce isn’t good enough one night, but is the next.

There’s no disputing Bruce has not produced, but this has nothing to do with “playing in New York,” as the media likes to suggest, but simply a player trying too hard to produce for his new team. Collins wanted to give Bruce a mental health day, but used him as a pinch-hitter, so how can he say the player had time to collect his thoughts and let the rest work for him as it did Neil Walker, earlier?

That’s typical of Collins; he says one thing but does another.

The Mets traded for Bruce to jumpstart a dismal offense the same way Cespedes did last season. It’s clear Collins lost confidence – even though the Mets are 21-8 and back in the race without Bruce hitting – and obvious the Mets are writing him off for the rest of the way.

COLON SUPERB: Another game, another wasted start by Colon, who gave up two runs in 6.2 innings. The way it is stacked up now, Noah Syndergaard would start the wild-card game with Colon probably getting Game 1 of the Division Series against the Cubs.

That is if the Mets get that far.

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