Dec 04

Despite R.A. Dickey And Jon Niese, Mets Still Have Pitching Concerns

Undoubtedly, the outfield is a huge void GM Sandy Alderson will try to fill with scraps. So too, is the bullpen. But, don’t forget the rotation despite the presence of Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey, assuming, of course, there will be a Dickey.

I keep hearing how the Mets’ young pitching is a position of strength, but in reality it is a position of potential, and there is a difference. And, I would be hesitant to say vast potential.

There were many mistakes in the Omar Minaya regime, but one of the biggest – and most understated – was the decision to overestimate the team following the 2006 season. “We just missed the World Series by a strike,’’ was the thinking.

How wrong they were. Even had Carlos Beltran done something with that pitch, there were concerns with the Mets’ pitching and bullpen which came to fruition during the collapses of 2007 and 2008.

Despite the flashes and strong showing in 2012, that’s the story today when you big-picture their staff. If all breaks well, then there is a lot to like about the Mets’ pitching. But, if it doesn’t – and we know it all won’t be good – then we are back again faced looking at a team with huge holes.

JOHAN SANTANA: He is once again coming off an injury, which he has done almost annually since signing with the Mets. Santana had a good start in 2012, but hit a wall and was eventually injured. Nobody can say with authority what the Mets can expect from him other than he’ll cost $25 million. Santana will be gone after this year, so even if he has a good season that’s a hole that must be filled in 2014. That hole would be even bigger if Dickey is traded or leaves as a free agent.

R.A. DICKEY: How can the Mets reasonably anticipate anything from Dickey when they are listening to trade offers? Even should the Mets re-sign Dickey to an extension, there’s still the question if 2012 was a one-shot deal. I like Dickey, but it is undeniable he has a short track record.

JON NIESE: If Dickey leaves, then Niese becomes the de facto ace of the staff. Niese has an upside, but how big we do not know. Last year was his best at 13-9, and it was his only winning season. How can you place all your chips on him when the most he’s ever won was 13 games?

DILLON GEE: Gee is coming off an injury, and like Niese has a small track record. Gee hasn’t been projected higher than a No. 4 or No. 5 starter in the first place, so to consider him a stalwart would be a misnomer. Gee is still missing from his resume a full season. Give him that and we’ll have a guess at his ceiling.

MATT HARVEY:  While good things are projected of Harvey, not a career do ten games make. The projections for Harvey are higher than they ever were with Mike Pelfrey and Niese. Harvey made an undeniably strong first impression last year. Now he must build on it. There are a lot of teams that haven’t seen Harvey yet, and those that had will have a book on him.

THE BULLPEN:  As the saying goes, a chain is as strong as its weakest link, then a pitching staff is as strong as its bullpen and we know the Mets’ pen is weak. It was a hole Alderson couldn’t patch together with nickel pieces last winter. Wonder if he’ll do better with dime pieces.

 

Nov 07

So Much More To Do Now Than Two Years Ago

What frightens me most about this coming offseason as compared to the last 3-4 is the enormity of moves that will be required to fill the vastness of areas that need correcting if we are to make a dent in the standings in 2013 to 2015.

Whereas in off-seasons past where each year had 2-3 items on our list of immediate priorities, we now find perplexing questions, major problems, and deep concerns at almost every position on the team. In a baseball sense, the Mets organization now resembles a scene from a post apocalyptic movie.

So let me start dealing out the cards, at least the way I see it, and don’t worry, I won’t be dealing from under the deck.

Catcher: Would Josh Thole be a starting catcher for any other team in the major leagues save the Mets? Thole will be arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and while your first impulse is to non-tender him, the Mets catching situation is so bad that they will be forced to tender him and keep him. He has zero value to any other team but the Mets and that’s because the rest of the catching corps is even worse. Catching is certainly an area that needs immediate attention, even at backup, but will it get any help?

First base: Will the real Ike Davis stand up. Truth be told I believe we saw the real Ike Davis in the second half and for now he is the Mets’ best power hitter, bar none. But will he remain a Met? Or will he be the one that goes as part of the new and bold changes Alderson warned would be coming? Davis will get an easy $3 million in arbitration this Winter, which will be nice for him and not so nice for the budget conscious Alderson. Follow the money.

Second base: Daniel Murphy may be a liability defensively, but he’s gotten better. He’s become a doubles machine at the plate, and who doesn’t love his intensity?  Ironically, Murphy has more job security with the Mets than either David Wright and Ike Davis right now. Cheap is good in Flushing. I find it all amusing. Justin Turner and Jordany Valdespin might get some airtime if they’re still here when the clock strikes twelve.

Third base: Until David Wright’s contract situation is resolved, we don’t even know if he’ll be here in 2013. Sad, isn’t it? He holds about a dozen different franchise records and at 29 he may already have one foot out the door. If that happens, I’m not even sure the Mets will reinvest his $16 million – they haven’t reinvested a dime from Castillo, Perez, K-Rod, Beltran and Reyes, why would that change now? Top prospect Wilmer Flores is close, but still not ready.

Shortstop: Who would’ve thought that losing Jose Reyes would make the shortstop position the least of our concerns? Ruben Tejada will never be the catalyst that No. 7 was, but he sure can pick’em at short. He is definitely not a leadoff hitter, or a number two hitter for that matter, but he provides steady offense and the occasional timely hit. His backup is a toss-up and with Ronny Cedeno gone they’ll have to do some dumpster-diving to find a replacement.

Outfield: Wow, what a mess. The outfield and the bullpen is what defined Sandy Alderson in 2012. They were both his creations, and that’s indisputable. The plan according to Sandy is a Bay/Duda platoon in LF, Kirk Nieuwenhuis takes over in CF, and I have no idea who’s in RF. If Jordany Valdespin is still here, I’m sure we’ll see him, and the same goes for Mike Baxter. Scott Hairston is long gone. If Hell freezes over and they do add a significant player via trade or free agency, you can bet he’ll be an outfielder. That’s the plan. Hey, I didn’t say it was a good plan, but give the man credit, he has a plan.

Rotation: Pitching was a strength for the Mets last season. Minaya holdovers Santana, Dickey, Niese, Harvey and Gee all combined to give the Mets a solid rotation that included a Cy Young caliber season, a couple of breakthrough players, and even the franchise’s first no-hitter. Now as we enter the offseason, rumors abound that Dickey could be traded and even Niese. Santana and Gee will both be coming back from season ending injuries, and Harvey will be shouldering a bigger load. This might be the one area that Alderson should leave untouched, but nobody believes that will happen. It will be revamped and the Mets could lose an ace and their only southpaw. If that happens the Mets could be in store for a historic 100 loss season.

Bullpen: Whose up for another bullpen revamping? Do I have any takers? Like it or not, here it comes and I can’t wait to see what underachievers will be joining the pen for Season 3 of Bullpen Wars. For now, the only holdovers are the atrocious Frank Francisco who will get $6.5 million for his services, and fireballer Bobby Parnell who will get a huge raise in arbitration. They’ll be the highest paid and neither is a safe bet to close out games. Josh Edgin should easily beat out Robert Carson for the LOOGY role. Then it’s take your pick between Mejia, Familia, Hefner, Schwinden, and McHugh. That’s quite the assortment of question marks and not a sure thing among them. Buy hey, at least Carrasco is gone.

Can you believe that we have only one safe zone – shortstop? Everything else is up in the air right now…

Progress?

Oct 17

2012 Mets Player Review: Jonathan Niese, LHP

JONATHAN NIESE, LHP

PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: Jonathan Niese was another Mets pitcher who went into spring training coming off an injury. He pulled a right rib cage muscle in Sept. 2011, while pitching against the Phillies and was shut down. Two years earlier, Niese’s season ended with a severely pulled hamstring. While the Mets weren’t worried about his arm, two muscle pulls had them wonder if he was susceptible to such injuries. Foolishly, Niese felt discomfort in his previous start, but continued to pitch against the Phillies. In 2010 and 2011, Niese won nine and 11 games, respectively, and displayed composure and an ability to work out of trouble. Niese doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but throws a plus cutter and fall-off-the-table curveball. When he’s able to command those pitches, it increases the effectiveness of his fastball. Assuming his health, the Mets expected him to continue to develop and hopefully win as many as 15 games as a No. 3 starter.

2012 SEASON REVIEW: Although Niese fell short of 15 victories, he continued to make strides to become one of the Mets’ most reliable pitchers. Satisfied he was healthy, the Mets signed Niese to a $25.5 million contract extension with team options for 2017 and 2018. Largely unproven, the Mets were banking on Niese’s potential and at the time GM Sandy Alderson said he was the type of player the club could build around. The contract enables the Mets to avoid arbitration and Niese’s first shot at free agency, which is paramount in cost control. Niese tied his career high of 30 starts and logged 190.1 innings. Niese, like most Mets’ starters save R.A. Dickey, suffered from a lack of run support and bullpen collapses. Niese responded from a combined 4-5 in July and August to win this final three starts to finish at 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Niese had an impressive 155-49 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and worked into the seventh inning or longer in 17 appearances. He only had two starts in which he did not work at least five innings. Niese did miss a start after he was pulled for a June 3 game with a rapid heartbeat.

LOOKING AT 2013: Although Niese did not have a reoccurrence of the rapid heartbeat in the second half, he will undergo surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to alleviate the problem. It is considered minor surgery, but anything involving the heart can’t be thought of as minor. Figuring he will make a full recovery, the Mets expect him to build on 2013. Considering his age and salary, he would be in high demand on the trade market, but a pitcher of Niese’s potential is exactly what the franchise needs. Niese’s overall numbers were good and assuming he receives run support – the Mets failed to score more than three runs in 17 starts – 15 victories and 200-plus innings should be reachable. Niese would enter next year as the No. 3 starter assuming everything works in the positive with Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey.

TOMORROW: Dillon Gee, RHP

Sep 29

Mets Matters: Braves Prez John Schuerholz Tells It Like It Is

You have to love Braves president John Schuerholz, the architect as general manager of Atlanta’s spectacular playoff run.

He’s always been a straight shooter and last night during the Chipper Jones’ ceremony said something you don’t hear from Major League Baseball executives when he called Hank Aaron, “the true Major League Baseball home run champion.’’

Finally, an executive with the guts to put the steroid mess in its proper light. Baseball cherishes its records and the home run records – career and single season – are the most revered.

We all know Barry Bonds used steroids, and like Mark McGwire, will be shunned by the Hall of Fame voters. He won’t get mine unless there’s a drastic revision in the process.

The Hall of Fame is a baseball museum honoring its history, and history is sometimes messy. If there was a provision where on the player’s plaque there was a notation he used PEDs, I’d be more inclined to vote for him.

Until then: No.

Bravo to Schuerholz for telling it like it is.

Niese to have heart procedure: Jon Niese, who pitched brilliantly last night to earn his career high 13th victory, said he’ll have a heart procedure at the Cleveland Clinic to correct a rapid heartbeat that resurfaced in June.

Niese said after the game he wants to build off this season.

“I’m never satisfied with the number I put up,’’ Niese said. “With what R.A. (Dickey) has been doing this year, having a season like that is something to look forward to.’’

Niese said the next step is to reach 200 innings, 15 victories and increase his starts total (he had 30).

Parnell will close out season: Frank Francisco is finished for the year with elbow tendinitis and Bobby Parnell will be the closer for the remaining five games.

Parnell has the stuff to be a closer, but has spit the bit in every opportunity he’s been given. There’s nothing wrong with his velocity, but there are times when his fastball flattens out and becomes easier to hit.

Duda flashes power: Coming out of spring training there was a lot of optimism surrounding Lucas Duda’s power potential.

He has the strength to reach 30, but will finish with at least half that number. He hit his 15th last night, a three-run blast to beat Tim Hudson.

Even more impressive than the distance was that Duda was behind 1-2 in the count, but worked it full.

“Obviously I can improve in every aspect,’’ Duda told reporters last night. “There’s not really like a number I can put on it. Obviously it wasn’t the season I wanted to have — getting sent down and things like that.’’

Sep 28

Mets Matters: Last Time Facing Chipper Jones

The Mets are in Atlanta tonight to start a three-game series against the Braves and long-time nemesis Chipper Jones.

Jones has taken his farewell tour among National League parks and has been given numerous gifts ranging from a pop-art painting of Shea Stadium from the Mets, a surfboard from the Padres, and maybe the best of all, an autographed Stan Musial jersey from the Cardinals.

The Braves will honor him prior to tonight’s game and he’ll have three more shots at tormenting the Mets.

Jones will go down as one of the top four switch hitters in history, along with Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray (both over 500 homers) and Pete Rose (the career hits leader).

He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Niese starts for Mets: Jonathan Niese will make his final start of the season. The pre-season goal was 15 victories, but Niese stands at 12-9 with a very respectable 3.49 ERA, and an improved 1.18 WHIP (from his career of 1.36).

He has a very good 152-46 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, but needs to cut down on homers allowed (21).

Perhaps most importantly, Niese will end the season injury free with 30 starts.

Gee goes home: Dillon Gee is at his off-season Fort Worth, Texas, home today, having been sent home by the club after the Citi Field 2012 finale.

Gee threw a bullpen session Monday, his first time on the mound since July 13, when he had surgery to repair an artery in his pitching shoulder that caused numbness in his arm.

Gee said he had never thrown off a mound this soon after an extended down period and came away pleased.

“All I wanted to do was see how much I could build up before the end of the season,” Gee said. “And, to be honest with you, normally I’m not on the mound this early. So to be up on the mound this early and feel pretty good is encouraging. That was a goal.’’

It was important for the Mets to see Gee throw before winter, even if it was only 25 pitches so they could get a feel of his physical status.

Gee said he’ll start working out immediately after the season and begin throwing in December, as he does every year. That there are no restrictions on him is very encouraging.

Citi Field, 2012, numbers: The Mets finished 36-45 at home, a number that must at least be reversed if they are to become regarded as a contender. They scored 287 runs, their fewest at home since 1994, when they scored 235 runs. They did homer 67 times, their most at home since opening the park, but were outhomered by five.