Feb 01

Collins Facing Toughest Year

New York Mets’ manager Terry Collins is facing his toughest season. At 67 he’s entering the final year of his contract and there’s no murmur of an extension prior to Opening Day, although, after two playoff seasons, it would be appropriate.

COLLINS: Needs answers entering toughest season. (Getty)

COLLINS: Needs answers entering toughest season. (Getty)

With expectations of a third straight playoff appearance, getting slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes signed to four more years, plus an anticipated payroll of $150 million, there aren’t many built-in safety net excuses for Collins not getting the job done.

Of course, you could give him the Sandy Alderson-insulation factor. As long as Alderson has Collins as a shield for deflection of criticism of the Mets, he should survive this season.

At least, until November, when Alderson will need to name another manager if the Mets flame out. Of course, this stinks on a number of levels. I don’t like the concept of a lame-duck manager, so, if Alderson believes in Collins and there are good vibes heading into Opening Day, there should be an extension.

I’ve had several issues with Collins’ style, but will give him the nod that his players, for the most part, bust their ass for him. The most notable exceptions over the past two years where his players threw him under the bus came in Game 5 of the World Series when Matt Harvey pitched a fit to insist on pitching the ninth inning – which went against Collins’ plan – and to this day has not admitted any wrong-doing for coughing up the lead.

The second, of course, came last July when Cespedes misplayed a ball in center field and strained his quad, and despite being injured, wouldn’t trade the golf course for treatment. With Cespedes, entrenched in left, the rest of the outfield, especially center field is a quagmire.

The preseason expectations are mixed on a national level. Many have the Mets reaching the playoffs but as a wild-card. Others have them looking in from the outside come October. I don’t think they’ll win 90 as they did in 2015, but if all breaks to the positive, they can grab a wild card.

Here’s why this will be Collins’ most challenging year:

STARTING PITCHING: Four of Collins’ young stud starters are coming off surgery, and a fifth, Noah Syndergaard, could have also gone under the knife. Despite the crying and resistance of their starters – particularly Harvey – for an innings limit, the issue will be raised again. It is possible, but can you really expect the Mets to hit the jackpot on all of their surgically-repaired arms? I don’t, and neither should you.

Winning is Collins’ first priority, and that includes protecting those arms for as long as possible. If that means an innings limit, then so be it. This should be easier to implement now than in 2015 because of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Set the limits and design a program, and unlike 2015 when he wavered with Harvey, Collins must keep the course. Easier said than done, but paramount.

Roles must be defined for Lugo and Gsellman to spell spot starts for Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and yes, even Syndergaard, who is bothered by bone spurs. Collins needs to stress and enforce a “No Heroes” approach.

Coming off surgery, if somebody is hurting give him a rest. There are no guarantees, but Lugo and Gsellman enhance the chances of getting the rotation through the season.

BULLPEN ROLES: Other than plugging Jeurys Familia into the closer role, I’ve never been enamored with how Collins used his bullpen. The Mets should be agitated at Major League Baseball for dragging its feet on a Familia suspension. Even so, the Mets haven’t been proactive in structuring bullpen roles.

Addison Reed will be closer, and when Familia gets back, let him earn the closer role again. I’d like Collins to give roles for his pen, which includes naming a set-up man to replace Jerry Blevins. The Mets seem content to let Blevins sweat this out. Even so, with their bullpen in a state of flux, let’s define roles, which should include Lugo, Gsellman and Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two years and the Mets are making noises of using him out of the bullpen. This isn’t a terrible idea, but what is was reading what Collins told The New York Post. Collins said he’d like to work Wheeler out of the bullpen, then stretch him out to where he could rejoin the rotation. This is beyond a bad idea for Wheeler, who has his own designated parking spot outside the Hospital of Special Surgery.

Ease him in as a reliever with a definitive role (coming in only at the start of an inning) and forget about the rotation for now. If they want to start him, then start him and don’t screw about with the bullpen. Collins must be disciplined in his construction of the bullpen.

REST FOR THE INFIELD: Third baseman David Wright and first baseman Lucas Duda are coming off back injuries, likewise second baseman Neil Walker. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is entering his option year, finished last season with knee and leg injuries.

Too often in the last three years, Collins had a tendency to push his tired and injured players too much. This year, he has Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes as capable reserves. Collins must formulate schedules of rest for his infield and sprinkle in Reyes and Flores. Doing the match, everybody could get at least one day off a week.

Collins has toyed with the idea of giving Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce time at first. Well, if this is so, then let’s have exhibition-game schedules for them. I don’t want Duda to go on the DL in June with Conforto and Bruce not having any time at first.

The Cubs were successful last year using a platoon system – do you remember Ben Zobrist? – and it worked because their players got the necessary prep work. Collins eschewed the chance to work in Flores last year until it was too late.

OUTFIELD PLAN: We all know Alderson hamstrung Collins when it came to finding playing time for the outfielders when he brought back Cespedes. Gold Glover Juan Lagares was signed to a four-year deal but with no place to play. Because Cespedes won’t play center, center field is a soup mix of Lagares, Conforto and Curtis Granderson.

Because Alderson miscalculated the outfield market, he was unable to trade Bruce. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but for this year, Collins needs to find appropriate playing time for him, Granderson and Conforto.

The Granderson and Bruce contracts will be off the books after this season, although my biggest hope if for the latter to have a monster year and force Alderson into re-signing him. From left to right – Cespedes, Conforto and Bruce – works for me.

Collins has done a decent job keeping his clubhouse together despite considerable adversity. However, this year, more than most, he must devise a plan with his coaches and Alderson and stay the course.

It’s the only way to see October.

 

Jan 31

No Surprises, Noah To Get Opening Day Nod

Spring training will bring about a myriad of questions the Mets must answer prior to the start of the season. Who their Opening Day starter will be is not one of them. Normally, manager Terry Collins dances around the issue like it is a State Secret although there’s little doubt.

SYNDERGAARD: Will get OD nod. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Will get OD nod. (FOX)

Not this year, as Collins told The New York Post, Noah Syndergaard will get the ball against the Braves, April 3, at Citi Field.

Syndergaard was 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA over 30 starts last season with a fastball averaging 98 mph. and a slider at 90.9 mph. And, he did it while pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow.

“He is one of our big character guys,” Collins told The Post. “He says, ‘Give me the ball,’ and he goes out and does the best he can. … He’s been fun to watch his development in such a short time.”

Syndergaard still needs to throw a complete season for the Mets, but came close last year with those 30 starts. Syndergaard also threw seven scoreless innings in the Mets’ wild-card loss to the Giants, but looked every bit the ace they believe he can be.

And, aces get the ball on Opening Day.

Jan 25

Mets Name Bruce Starter In Right; What Becomes Of Conforto?

It became clear nearly a month ago Jay Bruce would not be traded and would make the Opening Day roster. The no-brainer now has been realized with The New York Post and several other media outlets reported Bruce would be the starter in right field. What else did you expect? The Mets weren’t going to pay him $13 million to sit on the bench.

“Obviously, the market for certain players, certain free agents and therefore trade has been slow at best, nonexistent at worst,” GM Sandy Alderson told reporters about the lukewarm-to-cold market for Bruce. What Alderson neglected to say, however, is a major reason for the sluggish market for Bruce was when the general manager announced his intention to deal him if Yoenis Cespedes returned.

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

There have been several reports stating manager Terry Collins will try to fit four outfielders – Bruce, Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto – into three slots. That’s not accurate. The fourth outfielder is Juan Lagares being the fourth outfield and not Conforto.

With Granderson to move to center, the Mets need an accomplished player to play center, and that’s Lagares, who won a Gold Glove at the position. It’s inconceivable, if not flat out irresponsible, to go into the season without an accomplished center fielder.

So, where does that leave Conforto?

I’m thinking there are four options regarding Conforto:

FIFTH OUTFIELDER: They could carry him as the fifth outfielder, a role that would give Conforto limited at-bats. Conforto, whom Collins anointed the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future, needs regular at-bats.

TRADE HIM: I’m sure you could get something substantial for him, including a reliever, but this is the worst option to me. Long after Bruce and Cespedes are gone, Conforto could be whistling line drives all over Citi Field.

DEFINITIVE PLAYING FORMAT: Rotating Conforto to spell Cespedes, Granderson and Bruce at least once a week could give Conforto up to three games a week, which is doable. Collins could have done the same last year with Wilmer Flores in the infield, but couldn’t manage the juggling. I can’t see Collins doing this successfully with Conforto in the outfield.

MINOR LEAGUES: I hate to say it, but I’m thinking it is more likely Conforto will wind up in Las Vegas. It’s the option that will give Conforto the most at-bats and playing time.

 

 

Jan 23

Looking At Muddled Mets’ Outfield

First, let me apologize for the no-show the past few days. I’ve been recovering from an eye procedure and things are rather blurry.

However, what remains clear to me are what are the Mets’ needs with spring training less than a month away. ESPN recently wrote the Mets are looking for a center fielder, but with possibly six outfielders on the roster, that can’t possibly be their top priority.

Could it?

If it is, then that has to be an indictment of how poorly this roster has been constructed. They already have a Gold Glove Award winner in Juan Lagares, to whom they signed to a four-year contract. The Mets aren’t happy with Lagares’ ability to hit right-handed pitchers. If that’s the case, then why give him a long-term deal?

They are toying with the idea of moving Curtis Granderson from right to center. Because they signed Yoenis Cespedes, who refuses to play center – when they brought him back after the 2015 season it was under the belief from him he would play center – it means finding a place for Michael Conforto.

Last spring, when Cespedes was healthy and in center, and Conforto was on a tear, manager Terry Collins said he was the Mets’ future No. 3 hitter.

Now, they don’t know where Conforto will play, other than it won’t be in left. That’s because they promised the position – and $110 million over the next four years – to Cespedes.

With the logjam in center, that means there’s not an immediate place for Brandon Nimmo. As of now, he could probably be ticketed to Vegas.

If they move Granderson to center, that leaves Jay Bruce in right. They traded for Bruce after Cespedes was injured and the Mets’ offense sputtered. Bruce’s option was picked up despite a poor few months with the Mets.

Why?

GM Sandy Alderson was clear in saying it was to guard against Cespedes opting out of his contract and signing elsewhere. Alderson also wasn’t shy in saying if Cespedes returned he would trade Bruce.

You don’t sign a player as a hedge. You sign a player only if you value and want to keep him. How Alderson handled Bruce greatly reduced his trade value and now the Mets are expecting him for spring training and possibly Opening Day.

So, as of now the Mets have $110 million earmarked in left field; a Gold Glove Award winner in center they don’t trust with a bat; a center fielder moving over from right; a right fielder they don’t want; and two highly-touted prospects they don’t have immediate plans where to play.

 

 

Dec 26

Don’t Count On Bruce Trade Before Spring Training

Since the Mets aren’t likely to trade either Jay Bruce and/or Curtis Granderson before they reduce payroll, the wait could drag into spring training.

Perhaps, they won’t be dealt at all unless they can swing a one-for-one trade for a reliever or somehow include one in a package deal. Either one would somehow entail convincing a team to take on at least Bruce’s $13-million contract (Granderson’s pact is for $15 million).

The odds on that are small, so bet on spring training.

A more likely scenario has both Bruce and Granderson on the Opening Day roster with a clogged drain of a situation in the outfield. In that case, I don’t see much chance of Bruce getting many quality at-bats, and with that, his trade value would be plummeting.

With payroll is a criterion for a deal, that’s a disturbing thought if you’re thinking the Mets might have to make a trade in July.

But, everything is good for the Mets because they have Yoenis Cespedes back and all it cost them was $110 million.