Feb 23

Terry Collins Announces Exhibition Starting Pitchers

New York Mets manager Terry Collins announced his rotation for the first five exhibition games Sunday morning.

Rafael Montero will get the ball for the exhibition opener this Friday against Washington at Tradition Field.

He will be followed by fifth-starter candidate John Lannan, March 1 against Miami; fifth-starter possibility Daisuke Matsuzaka, March 2 against St. Louis, at Jupiter; Noah Syndergaard, March 3 against Atlanta, at Orlando; Jonathon Niese, March 4 against Houston in Port St. Lucie.

Presumably, Zack Wheeler, who’ll throw batting practice today, Dillon Gee and Bartolo Colon will be next in line, but the order hasn’t been determined.

Relievers were not announced.

For the first game, the starters normally get two innings or roughly 30 pitches. The objective is to build them up to seven innings and 100 pitches.

Collins already said he is leaning towards Niese as his Opening Day starter against the Nationals.

It is unlikely Montero, who went 12-7 with a 2.78 ERA last year in 27 starts at Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas, will make the 25-man roster coming out of spring training.

ON DECK:  Could Matt Harvey Be A High Maintenance Super Nova?


Feb 18

Mets Putting Themselves In Good Financial Shape For Future

Over the past five seasons – all below .500 – the New York Mets were bogged down by cumbersome contracts to unproductive players. It was economic certainty, but in a bad way.

This should be the third consecutive year the Mets will have a payroll of less than $100 million. They have long pointed to 2015 as when they will put themselves in a competitive position, and are currently set up to do so with payroll flexibility through 2019.

Heading into 2015, the Mets have $54.05 million earmarked to four players: David Wright ($20 million), Curtis Granderson ($16 million), Bartolo Colon ($11 million) and Jonathon Niese ($7.05 million).

Where teams usually get bit in their payroll is during the arbitration process and the Mets will have eight players eligible: Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Dillon Gee, Ike Davis, Eric Young, Lucas Duda, Jenrry Mejia and Ruben Tejada.

Of the eight, it is possible four – Davis, Young, Duda and Tejada – could be gone, with some before the end of this season.

Only one player is scheduled to be a free agent after this year and that’s Chris Young, who nobody expects to be back.

In 2016, the Mets have $45.05 million designated for three players: Wright ($20 million), Granderson ($16 million) and Niese $9.050 million).

Their arbitration eligible list that off-season expands to 14 to leave open the possibility for a significant payroll spike. The list includes: Gee, Davis, Eric Young, Duda, Tejada, Scott Rice, Matt Harvey, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mejia, Josh Edgin, Jeurys Familia, Anthony Recker, Andrew Brown and Carlos Torres.

By this time, there’s no telling who will still be in the organization. Harvey and possibly Gee could be given multi-year deals by then. Everybody else is up the air. It’s also questionable if Nieuwenhuis and Brown will still be around, as neither one has made serious strides in sticking around.

Their 2016 free agents will be Colon, Murphy and Parnell.

In 2017, the Mets have $35.5 million earmarked for Wright ($20 million), Granderson ($15 million) and a half-million buyout for Niese.

Their arbitration eligible players will be Duda, Tejada, Rice, Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Nieuwenhuis, Mejia, Edgin, Torres. Familia, Recker and Brown, with their free agents Gee, Davis and Eric Young.

Wright ($20 million) is the only player under contract for 2018. The arbitration eligible Mets will be Rice, Harvey, Nieuwenhuis, Torres. Mejia, Edgin, Familia, Recker, Wheeler and Brown. That year Granderson, Duda and Tejada will be free agents.

In 2019 they’ll owe Wright $15 million, with Torres and Wheeler the only Mets who are arbitration eligible. Potential free agents will be Rice, Harvey, Nieuwenhuis, Mejia, Edgin, Familia, Recker and Brown.

The Mets have long talked about cutting payroll costs to put themselves in position to seriously enter the free-agent market. It now appears they might actually be able to do it.

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).