Feb 16

Five Mets On The Hot Seat

We’re still a long way from Jonathon Niese’s first pitch of the 2014 season against Washington, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t already some New York Mets on the hot seat, broiling under the glare of expectations.

Every spring in every camp there are several players on a short-patience rope and the Mets are no exception. In my mind, there are five facing a make-or-break season, beginning with Niese:

GRANDERSON: Has pressure.

GRANDERSON: Has pressure.

Jonathon Niese: Will it ever happen for him? He was signed to a multi-year extension because he was young, left-handed and could throw hard. However, he’s never won more than 13 games in a season and has sustained a myriad of injuries, including shoulder problems last season. At 29, there’s still time, but could one of the young prospects prompt the Mets to shop him?

Ike Davis: No Mets “question list,’’ doesn’t have his name. It is last-chance time for the former hot prospect. After 32 homers in 2012, that’s the plateau the club is seeking. The Mets would take less, say 25, if his RBI production and on-base percentage were high and his strikeouts substantially cut. He either hits this year or he’s gone.

Ruben Tejada: The Mets toyed with signing Stephen Drew, but were sold on the potential of the younger and cheaper Tejada after his commitment at a Michigan fitness camp. The Mets are pointing to 2015 and Matt Harvey’s return to when they can realistically contend, and they won’t be able to do that with a hole at shortstop.

Curtis Granderson: Signed a four-year deal for big money in the hope of providing power in the outfield. I have two words: Jason Bay. Fans are smart enough to realize he won’t hit for the power he did at Yankee Stadium, but they won’t accept Bay-like numbers. Granderson represents the Mets’ promise  to improve and needs to live up to those expectations.

Chris Young: He’s probably gone after this season, but he’ll start the year with a bulls-eye on his back. With his recent numbers it is incomprehensible for him to get a $7.25 million contract. He must produce for his own peace of mind in shutting up the boos.

Feb 15

Terry Collins Leaning To Jon Niese As Opening Day Starter

New York Mets manager Terry Collins reiterated his thoughts Jonathon Niese would be his Opening Day starter, as well he should according to conventional baseball wisdom.

Despite Zack Wheeler’s desire for the ball, the honor should go to Niese, last year’s starter and whom Collins called “the ace of the staff,’’ in wake of Matt Harvey’s injury. If not Niese, then it should be Dillon Gee, the Mets’ most consistent starter last year and author of 199 innings.

NIESE: Opening Day starter?

NIESE: Opening Day starter?

Barring injury, accepted baseball thinking is why Niese should start. Niese is the most experienced of the Mets’ starters – of those growing up in the organization – and having been signed to a long-term contract, the most is expected of him.

Niese’s 8-8 2013 record is mediocre, but attributable in large part because of a shoulder injury. Veterans usually get preference if for no other reason as a reward.

Bartolo Colon is obviously the staff’s most experienced starter, but has no cache within the organization to warrant the start.

As for Wheeler, he might represent the Mets’ future, but with 17 career starts and seven wins, he has a while to go.

You have to admire Wheeler’s desire to want to have that role. It shows where he wants to be in his career.

“Last year I was coming in trying to win a spot,’’ Wheeler said earlier this week. “This year I’m trying to get the Opening Day spot. … It’s nothing on those guys, on the other starters, because anybody in the starting rotation could be the Opening Day starter. But that’s just my mindset coming in – to push myself to try to get the Opening Day spot.’’

Niese probably thinks the same. At least, let’s hope he does.

ON DECK: Bartolo Colon greets media.

Feb 13

Mets Have Numbers, But Also Questions In Rotation

New York Mets pitchers and catchers will report to Port St. Lucie on Feb. 15 with the first workout the following day. Manager Terry Collins knows his first four starters, but the fifth is up in the air. However, regardless of how the rotation shakes out, there’s not a pitcher among them without a significant question attached to his name:

Jonathon Niese: The speculated Opening Day starter is coming off a shoulder injury and 8-8 record in 2013.

Signed through 2017 primarily because he’s left-handed, young at 27 and throws hard. Those types are always in demand, but with a lifetime 43-40 record and 3.99 ERA, he’s not exactly a budding Andy Pettitte.

Niese has never won more than 13 games or made more than 30 starts in a season, bringing into question his durability.

The significant question: Will he ever have a breakout season?

Bartolo Colon: Once nabbed for PEDs, Colon is coming off a strong 18-6 season with a 2.65 ERA last year with Oakland and signed a two-year, $20-million contract with the Mets on the last day of the Winter Meetings.

He was brought in to fill the void caused by Matt Harvey’s elbow injury and provide veteran support.

Colon, 40, has won a career 189 games with a 1.314 WHIP. The Mets will be his eighth team.

The significant question: How much does he have left?

Zack Wheeler: Some scouts say he has more potential than Harvey. We shall see.

The Mets took their time in bringing up Wheeler, 23, and he flashed promise expected. The Mets tinkered with his mechanics after reports he tipped his pitches, then told him to throw more breaking balls, but Wheeler didn’t show anything until they told him to just work off his fastball.

Wheeler was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts before he was shut down in September after complaining of stiffness in his shoulder.

The significant question: How much will he progress in his second year?

Dillon Gee: A 12-strikeout, 7.1-inning outing at Yankee Stadium, May 30, kept Gee in the rotation and he went on to go 12-11, but more importantly work 199 innings.

Gee doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but when his command is on he usually gives the Mets five or more innings as a reliable back-end starter.

Gee’s reliability and reasonable contract could make him attractive to other teams in July. Should Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero be promoted in June, it could give the Mets a valuable trade chip.

The significant question: Will Gee have another 199-inning season?

Jenrry Mejia: Up and down has been the story of Mejia’s short career. Mejia’s role bounced from being a starter to an ill-fated trip to the bullpen under Jerry Manuel that eventually ended in a demotion and elbow injury.

Mejia still throws hard and is back competing as a starter. He’s coming off surgery, but has the inside track for the fifth starter role if he’s sound.

The significant question: How healthy is he?

John Lannan: He’s 29, left-handed and comes with a reasonable contract.

The Mets signed him as Mejia insurance, but he has shown signs of becoming a solid starter. From 2008-2011, he started 31, 33, 25 and 33 games respectively for some pretty bad Washington teams, and three times worked at least 180 innings.

There’s promise here, and because of his age, he’s worth keeping.

The significant question: Will he get a chance to show his durability?

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Brought in as a stop-gap following the injury to Harvey and innings ceiling on Wheeler, Matsuzaka won his last three starts and went at least six innings each time.

That was good enough for Alderson to say last October he could come back. However, nothing was done until after January.

Matsuzaka, 33, turned his season around when he accelerated his delivery.

The significant question: Were those last three starts a fluke?

Summation: Barring injury, Niese, Wheeler, Colon and Gee are givens in the rotation. If Mejia falters and Lannan pitches well, expect Mejia to start the season in the minor leagues.

So, the Mets have a balanced rotation with at least one question for each starter.

(Note: Montero, Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom were omitted because they aren’t expected to be promoted before June. I will discuss them later this spring in a prospects segment).

Feb 04

Mets’ Projected Opening Day Roster

With football season out of the way. Actually, it was over a little after 7 Sunday night, it is time to project the Mets’ Opening Day roster. I am going against conventional wisdom in I am leaving Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares off the team.

ROTATION

Jon Niese: Manager Terry Collins already designated Niese the Opening Day starter. He’s the de facto No. 1 with Matt Harvey out, which means the Mets need more from him than 8-8.

Bartolo Colon: Veteran innings-eater signed to fill void left by Harvey’s injury.

Zack Wheeler: Big things are expected in his second year.

Dillon Gee: Threw 199 innings last year, making 200-plus the goal.

Jenrry Mejia or Daisuke Matsuzaka: Mets say Mejia progressing well from elbow surgery. If he’s not ready it will be Matsuzaka.

BULLPEN

Vic Black: Assuming Bobby Parnell is not ready, Black enters the season as the closer.

Scott Rice: After knocking on the door for 14 years he was a feel-good story last year. No doubts about him making roster this spring.

Kyle Farnsworth: Recent addition to provide veteran depth.

Carlos Torres: Can work in long relief, situational or as spot starter.

Gonzalez Germen: Very impressive last season. Throws hard.

Josh Edgin: The lefty presence.

Jeurys Familia: Has high ceiling.

CATCHER

Travis d’Arnaud: Had health issues last year, but healthy now. Goes in as the starter.

Anthony Recker: Provided power off the bench. Free-agent signing Taylor Teagarden is the veteran presence who’ll likely open the season in the minors.

INFIELD

Ike Davis: Here because the Mets couldn’t trade him. They have to keep him now to see if anything is left.

Daniel Murphy: Solid hitter but with limited power.

Ruben Tejada: Getting a second chance.

David Wright: Will he reach the .300-30-100 levels again?

Josh Satin: The right-handed platoon with Davis.

Wilmer Flores: Mets need to find him a position. I’m taking him over Lucas Duda because Duda and Davis are essentially the same player. Flores can also play first, third, second and could get a shortstop look.

Omar Quintanilla: Can play second and short.

OUTFIELD

Curtis Granderson: Mets’ biggest free-agent expenditure since Jason Bay. Hopefully, with better results.

Chris Young: Still wonder about this signing.

Eric Young: Team’s fastest player and best base stealer.

Matt den Dekker: Taking him over Juan Lagares because if the latter isn’t starting he should be in the minors getting consistent at-bats. Lagares stays if he starts.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Feb 01

Projecting Mets’ Rotation

New York Mets manager Terry Collins has already come out and said Jon Niese would be his Opening Day starter. No surprise there, as he was in that role last year.

Given that, here’s how I’d piece together the rest of the rotation and my reasoning.

NIESE: Opening Day starter.

NIESE: Opening Day starter.

Collins said Dillon Gee would be the alternative Opening Day starter, so logically he would go second in the rotation. However, I’d go with Bartolo Colon because of his experience and propensity for eating innings and save Gee’s innings for the back end.

Third, I’m thinking they’ll go with Zack Wheeler, but if he cracks the rotation, I’m wondering if they’ll instead slot in John Lannan to go with a left-right-left format.

Fourth would be innings eater Gee. This way I’m thinking there will be an even distribution of innings with the rotation.

Finally, the fifth starter will probably be Lannan because I don’t know how much stock Collins puts in my lefty-righty-lefty theory. If he does buy into it, then that could push Wheeler back to the fourth or fifth starter.

Probably not, but there are advantages to starting Wheeler fifth: 1) if there is an innings limit on him, fifth is where starts most get pushed back because of early-season off-days, which cuts the innings, and 2) theoretically there’s less pressure as the fifth starter.

So, if the Mets want to treat Wheeler with kid gloves, then fifth is where they have the best opportunity to do so.