Oct 24

Should Injuries Shelve Long-Term Talks With Mets Pitchers?

For the past two years, signing the Mets’ young pitchers to long-term contracts seemed a paramount issue. Whom should they sign first, and for how much? Could they afford to sign two? In their wildest dreams, could they keep them all?

HARVEY: What's his market value now? (Getty)

HARVEY: What’s his market value now? (Getty)

With four pitchers coming off surgery, such talk now is but a whisper. We’re not hearing too much these days about Matt Harvey – who had shoulder surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome – leaving after the 2018 season for the Yankees or anybody else for that matter.

Steven Matz had surgery to repair bone spurs in his left elbow and Jacob deGrom, who had Tommy John surgery, is recovering from a second surgery to treat a nerve issue in his elbow. Then there is Zack Wheeler, who had Tommy John surgery and was supposed to ready by July but we didn’t see him all summer and nobody can say for sure when we will.

We won’t know for sure how they are until the spring, but the recovery forecast is looking good for the Mets’ surgically-repaired pitchers as doctors are telling the team they should be ready for the season. Even so, the Mets are likely to handle them all with kid gloves which is why they are interested in bringing back Bartolo Colon and draw relief with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

The Mets have seven young arms – plus Colon – but we’re no longer hearing talk about contract extensions. Whom should they sign first? Can they afford to sign two or three at a time? Who should they trade to plug holes elsewhere?

However, with Harvey, Matz, deGrom and Wheeler, what’s their trade value? Will teams risk dealing high-level prospects for damaged goods? Certainly, the Mets can’t command as much should they explore trading.

Conventional wisdom has the Mets backing off long-term contract talks as to avoid signing somebody who might not win, or even pitch for them. While their potential might be high, their proven production is not.

Then again, it wouldn’t hurt for the Mets to explore extensions now when their market value might not be as high as it could be in two or three years. It’s a gamble worth considering.

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Oct 19

Mets’ First Priority Should Be Reed

Of all their possible free agents, the most important one for the Mets to bring back is set-up reliever Addison Reed.

But wait, what about Yoenis Cespedes you say? Or scream?

REED:  Should be first. (AP)

REED: Should be first. (AP)

Cespedes hit 31 homers and drove in 86 runs, which, of course, is important. But, it can be replaced as the Mets have Jay Bruce – a combined 33 homers and 99 RBI with Cincinnati and New York – plus the untapped potential of Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo to compensate for that loss.

If they don’t bring back Cespedes, they can use the projected $100 million earmarked for him to keep Reed, bring back Bruce and plug elsewhere.

However, there’s no telling where the Mets would have been had they not had Reed’s 40 holds. The eighth-inning set-up role is one of the most difficult to do and Reed was exceptional.

The Mets weren’t in the playoffs without him.

While the Mets have options without Cespedes, they don’t have that luxury should they lose Reed. Who do you want to give his near 80 innings to? Hansel Robles? Jim Henderson? Fernando Salas?

Without Reed, there’s stress throughout the bullpen. Bullpen stress is a season killer. I’ve seen too many Mets’ summers disintegrate because of a lousy bullpen. Anybody remember the great collapse of 2007? Or, how about the one in 2008?

The bullpen is critical to the Mets’ success in 2017 as there are health concerns with all their starters, four of whom are coming off surgery. Realistically, one can’t expect to get seven innings – at least early in the season – from the rotation, which puts pressure on the bullpen. You’ll be surprised with how the innings accumulate.

Then, after two rough Octobers, many have questions about Jeurys Familia. I’m not in that camp, but just suppose those questions are valid. If nothing else, the Mets have the flexibility of using Reed in that role. Reed has also shown the ability to get more than three outs.

As these playoffs have shown, pitching always trumps hitting. A strong staff needs a steady bullpen, and Reed is a critical asset for the Mets. Many of you didn’t like how manager Terry Collins juggled his pen. Imagine how you’d feel if they didn’t have Reed.

I don’t have much faith the Mets will dive deeply into the free-agent pool. I don’t know how much money GM Sandy Alderson will spend, but his first check should go to Reed.

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Sep 26

Mets Face Emotional Night As Marlins Honor Forever Young Fernandez

Given the volatile nature of emotions, it is hard to project how the Mets – and especially the Marlins – will react tonight in the first game following the death of Miami ace Jose Fernandez.

Will the Marlins be so drained and subdued they wilt under the pressure? Or, will they respond the way the Mets did on Sept. 21, 2001, in the first game in New York following the terrorist attacks? Who will be their Mike Piazza?

FERNANDEZ: A smile nobody will see again. (WPTV)

FERNANDEZ: A smile nobody will see again. (WPTV)

Will they respond the way the Yankees did, Aug. 10, 1979, when they flew to Canton for Thurman Munson’s funeral, then back to beat the Orioles on national television?

Bobby Murcer, Munson’s longtime friend, drove in the winning run in the ninth inning. Will the Marlins have their own Murcer?

Fernandez’s death was tragic, yet ironic, and as reports gradually come in, it was avoidable. Fernandez was supposed to pitch Sunday but was pushed back to Monday to face the Mets. Had his start not been changed, it is hard to imagine he would have been out in the black night, after reportedly partying, speeding into the jetty at three in the morning when he would have taken the mound in ten hours.

Then again, it is also to comprehend why the 24-year-old father-to-be, could have been so reckless at a time when he meant so much to his future child, girlfriend, teammates, and Miami’s Cuban community.

Why would he be on a speeding boat in the middle of the night, knowing there were dangerous jetties off Miami Beach?

It’s easy to call Fernandez irresponsible, and 20/20 hindsight says he was. However, when you’re a professional athlete, strong and young, there’s a sense of invincibility. However, nobody is invincible. Nobody is immune to death.

Death has its own timetable, and it doesn’t matter how young, rich or talented you might be, when it knocks on your door, you answer. Death took some athletes because of failing health. Others were taken by violence. It took others because of their own actions, such as drugs and foolish decisions.

Whatever was on Fernandez’s mind when he got onto that boat, we will never know. Certainly playing it safe wasn’t present.

What we know is Marlins Park will be overcome by emotions tonight it never experienced before and hopefully never will again. There will be a video tribute, choked up eulogies from teammates, a moment of silence. There will countless tears and invasive camera shots of Marlins’ players overcome with emotion.

Every Marlin will wear Fernandez’s No. 16 jersey, and the club said it will retire the number.

The Mets will again display a Mets jersey with Fernandez’ No. 16, a gesture Collins applauds and credits Jeff Wilpon for initiating.

“I thought it was it great,” Collins said. “I thought it was a true, genuine, heartfelt respect for what Jose meant to the game.”

By all accounts, Fernandez was a gritty competitor and a giving, humble teammate. I never knew him other than in a pack interview, but he was always gracious and humble. He came across likeable.

Mets’ hitters say Fernandez gave no quarter on the mound, that he played the game the right way. His numbers projected forward – and barring injury – had him on a path towards greatness, perhaps Cooperstown worthy.

That’s what Collins reminded his players of this afternoon.

“He epitomized what the game is about,” Collins said. “He played the game correctly. Our game is bigger than a lot of things, but it will always go on. We will play the game and play it the right way.

“We are all devastated by what happened. It tells you how short life really is. You have to press forward and get through some troubled times.”

The Mets have gone through troubled times this season, but nothing like the Marlins are going through now. It also must be remembered the Marlins are still mathematically eligible for the wild-card. If they run the table, it could be done. It would be a story for the ages.

Maybe the Marlins will be emotionally spent and fade away. Regardless of how this season plays out for them, the words of their club president, David Samson, will ironically ring true that Fernandez will remain a Marlin forever.

The enduring image of Fernandez will be of him whipping a fastball with that special arm; it will be his enduring smile we’ll never see again.

In the words of Bob Dylan, he’ll stay, “Forever Young.”

“May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young.”

Staying forever young sounds appealing until you realize what is lost.

He’ll never experience a Hall of Fame career, but that’s not tragic. The tragedy is he’ll never look into the eyes of his girlfriend and unborn child and tell them he loves them more than anything, including baseball.

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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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Sep 21

Mets Must Play Bruce Tonight

There’s little doubt Mets manager Terry Collins made an “uncomfortable” decision last night in sending Eric Campbell to bat for Jay Bruce. Campbell produced a RBI single, but the Mets still lost and Collins has to deal with the fallout, so one can’t really say everything worked out for him, because it didn’t.

BRUCE: He must play. (AP)

BRUCE: He must play. (AP)

In making the call, Collins was saying he had more faith in Campbell, who didn’t have a hit in the major leagues since May, than he did the slumping Bruce.

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 who is 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.

Let’s forget for a moment the dismal numbers, and how Yoenis Cespedes isn’t hitting, either. The bottom line is the Mets traded for Bruce to jumpstart their dismal offense the same way Cespedes did last season. Confidence is a fragile thing and I have no doubt Bruce won’t let this beat him.

It’s clear Collins has lost confidence – even though the Mets are 20-8 and back in the race without Bruce hitting – and if he doesn’t start him tonight, then it is obvious the Mets are writing him off for the next week-and-a-half.

Bruce said all the right things last night, but he made his frustration known. If the Mets have any hope of getting anything from Bruce, he must start and be left alone. You know, give him the same leeway they do Cespedes.

If they don’t they are saying they don’t want them and there’s no return.

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