Feb 25

Too Early To Name Opening Day Starter

Mike Puma of The New York Post recently wrote the Mets are strongly considering going with Zack Wheeler as their Opening Day starter. While I like Puma and don’t dispute his sources, naming Wheeler, or anybody else for that matter, as the Opening Day starter now is premature and a bad idea.

Of course the media wants to know. I want to know, but considering the make-up of the Mets’ rotation it serves no purpose announcing a starter this early.

WHEELER: No reason to name his Opening Day starter now. (Getty)

WHEELER: No reason to name him Opening Day starter now. (Getty)

The Mets already said it will not be Matt Harvey, but what if that changes? It already changed from him being the home opener starter to working in of the first five games.

With six weeks remaining until Opening Day and the Mets lacking a legitimate ace such as Johan Santana or even a healthy Harvey, simply too much can happen that could change Terry Collins’ mind:

* What if Harvey has a great spring training? Surely he then would get the nod.

* What if Wheeler has a lousy spring training, or worse, is injured?

* What if one of the other starters emerges strong this spring. What then?

The Opening Day starter should be based on two things: 1) experience, and 2) merit. Wheeler, despite showing promise last year and is a cornerstone of the future, doesn’t meet either.

If he’s healthy, it should be Harvey because of his brief window of success and what he means to the franchise. If not, the best choice should be Bartolo Colon.

It is highly improbable he won’t be traded this spring, so it has to be him. He’s best equipped to handle the distractions and pressure, and last year was the Mets’ most accomplished starter winning 15 games and working over 200 innings.

Wheeler is the sexy pick, but for the best results, it should go with Colon.

But, even so, the same rules apply. It is too early and every manager should know not to make a decision until absolutely has to … and Collins has not need to make an announcement now.

ON DECK TODAY: Mets’ Matters: Today’s notebook.

Feb 24

Collins Has Reason For Saying Tejada In The Mix

After hearing most of the offseason how Wilmer Flores would be the Opening Day shortstop, even before the first full squad workout, manager Terry Collins said Ruben Tejada would compete for the job.

This isn’t about waffling, because what else could Collins say? He certainly can’t slam the door on Tejada this early.

TEJADA: Still under fire.

TEJADA: Still under fire.

Collins told reporters in Port St. Lucie: “I’m not going to say that Wilmer Flores won’t be the shortstop. I’m not saying that. … All I’m saying is I’m giving this other guy a chance because I know two years ago I had some coaches on this staff, who are still here, that thought this guy was going to be an All-Star, especially offensively.’’

True enough.

In 2012, the year after Jose Reyes left, Tejada hit .289 in 114 games. The following season, Tejada didn’t report in good shape and labored at the plate and in the field hitting .202 with a .250 on-base percentage and committed eight errors in 55 games.

The Mets committed to the unproven Flores in large part to deflect from their failure to land a shortstop in the free agent or trade markets. Based on how Tejada played the last two years, they couldn’t give him the job.

Even so, the Mets could need Tejada this year, especially if Flores doesn’t pan out. And, if Flores does prove to be a keeper and the Mets want to move Tejada, they can’t have him as a disgruntled trade chip.

Collins said Tejada is in the mix because as a manager he must keep his players enthused and feeling part of the team.

Feb 23

Here’s A Thought Why Mets Won’t Announce Set Plan For Harvey

Unquestionably, the primary focus for the Mets this spring training will be on Matt Harvey. GM Sandy Alderson said there would not be severe restrictions on Harvey, who remains on schedule and is to throw to hitters by the end of the week.

That’s encouraging, but what is puzzling is wondering if the Mets even have a concrete plan for Harvey’s first year following Tommy John surgery. There’s supposed to be an innings cap, but so far there’s no announced number, with Alderson saying he didn’t want this to become an issue over the next eight months.

HARVEY: Why won't they announce plan? (Getty)

HARVEY: Why won’t they announce plan? (Getty)

Memo to Alderson: Announced number or not, Harvey’s workload will always be an issue. Not knowing drives the media crazy and encourages it to bombard Alderson, Harvey and Terry Collins with the same questions before and after every start.

How can Alderson be that naïve about the New York press to think the issue will go away, especially as the season wears down and there is a prospect of a postseason?

First, it was thought Harvey would not pitch in the six games the Mets have on the road to open the season, but start the home opener. Now, Collins says he’ll start in the season’s first five games. How much do you want to bet he starts Opening Day and the home opener?

Alderson says the Mets have “an idea,’’ of Harvey’s limit, but not a definitive number. Harvey threw out 200, but not 215 or 220.

Alderson said Harvey will start in the postseason, but what does that mean toward the innings total?

Let’s assume the Mets get in as a wild card and run the table. That’s a potential six or seven starts; that’s at least another 40 innings. And, if they are in a race there’s no way they’ll cut him short in a game.

How does that compute? Do the Mets think 170 innings and keep adding on until their season is done? Don’t think for a second if the Mets reach the playoffs they would consider limiting him.

But, all innings count.

The ideal way is to map out a schedule that utilizes skipping one start a month, which is a possible savings of 42 innings, figuring seven innings is the magic number for a start. This can easily be done when scheduled off days are considered. And, it would not impact the rest of the rotation.

Then, Collins can pull Harvey depending on how he’s pitching that day and the tenor of the game. Those are bonus saved innings. I would hope on days Harvey doesn’t have it he’ll have a short leash.

That seems the easiest way, but the Mets won’t commit to this format. Instead, they floated the idea of sometimes earmarking a start for five innings. That’s a terrible idea because what if Harvey is throwing a gem? What if they pull him and the bullpen gives it up? That’s a backlash Collins doesn’t want to face.

This way also puts undue pressure on the team if they think they’ll have Harvey for five innings. A team must go into a game believing the starter will be with them. Plus, you would be putting the bullpen in the situation of working four innings that night. But, what if they were overused in an extra-innings game the night before? What if the next game’s starter is shelled? All of a sudden the bullpen is taxed.

The Mets’ reluctance to carve out a concrete plan for Harvey this year has nothing to do with trying to alleviate a distraction. At least not the one they think.

I believe their caution is they don’t want to risk of aggravating or annoying their temperamental pitcher, who has already in his young career has shown a willingness, if not eagerness, to spar with management.

They don’t want Harvey to become angry and create a different distraction. What they don’t understand it is better to face this now rather than have this become a lingering issue.

And, you know it will.

Feb 10

Mets Have No Significant Position Battles

For a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008, the New York Mets are in a unique situation of not having any position battles. There will be roster decisions, but every position has a body that barring injury, won’t change from now and Opening Day.

Currently the rotation is six deep, with the lone questions being whether Matt Harvey will be ready for the start of the season, and all indications are he will.

That leaves Dillon Gee. The Mets have been trying to trade him all winter, and most recently said they would take a minor leaguer. Gee could be in the rotation if Harvey isn’t ready, and barring a trade could possibly be optioned or used in long relief. Whatever happens, there is value to Gee.

For the first time in GM Sandy Alderson’s tenure, the bullpen isn’t a mess. Manager Terry Collins said Bobby Parnell is the closer, but he’s coming off elbow surgery and could miss the first month of the season. That means last year’s closer, Jenrry Mejia, will have the job again to start the season.

However, don’t expect anybody that wasn’t in the pen last year top to bully his way into the pen.

There is no position battle behind the plate with Travis d’Arnaud starting. The infield, from third to first, is set with David Wright, Wilmer Flores, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda. So is the outfield, from left to right, of Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares and Michael Cuddyer.

Sure, there will be decisions regarding the bench, although the likely candidates are already on the 40-man roster. There will also decisions regarding the batting order, notably the leadoff slot.

Sure, the Mets have questions as spring training approaches, but for the first time in a long time the eight position players have already been determined, as is the rotation and bullpen.

That gives them a sense of stability they haven’t always had and that’s a positive.

Feb 09

Harvey Arrives In Camp; Says All The Right Things

Matt Harvey didn’t want to see Port St. Lucie last summer during his rehab program, but now he couldn’t be happier to see the place … and answer all those questions.

Harvey reported to spring training ten days ahead of the Mets’ reporting date and was clearly anxious to put last year behind him, telling reporters today he’s excited and on schedule.

HARVEY: See you in the spring. (MLB)

HARVEY: See you in the spring. (MLB)

“I’m healthy. I’m right where I need to be, and I’m excited about getting started,’’ Harvey said this afternoon. “The big test will be once hitters get in there and facing them. I’ve been throwing [bullpen sessions], and everything is right where I want it to be. It’s an exciting spring training for me.’’

Last year, Harvey wanted to rehab in New York and not Florida, and also pushed the Mets at every turn about wanting to pitch at the end of the 2014 season.

He expressed no regrets today about how he was handled.

“Looking back on it, I think everybody made the right decision,’’ Harvey said. “I’m in a good place right now.’’

Call it an olive branch. It’s the first day and everybody is optimistic and in a good mood. No need for him to dredge up bad feelings. However, there are details to be ironed out and we’ll eventually see how harmonious things are between Harvey and the Mets.

GM Sandy Alderson is on record as saying Harvey will work with a to-be-determined innings ceiling. As of now, it appears he won’t be the Opening Day starter, but could start the home opener. That’s one missed start, but only a beginning. Will the Mets place him on the disabled list at midseason? Will they limit him to seven innings each start? Will they skip him once a month? Will he even be ready to start the season?

It would be great to have all these answers now, and hopefully this will be determined – and Harvey on board with everything – before the Mets break camp.

As for now, Harvey is saying all the right things.

“My goal is to be ready for Opening Day, regardless of what is decided,’’ Harvey said. “We haven’t really discussed anything. I don’t think anything’s set in stone.’’

The concept of an innings limit became popular in 2012 when Washington shut down Stephen Strasburg in September in his first season following Tommy John surgery and subsequently missed the playoffs. Now, it is in vogue.

Of course, right now it is premature to suggest the playoffs are even in the cards for the Mets, but this much is for certain, there will be no October for them if Harvey is re-injured.