Sep 08

Questions The Mets Might Have Already Answered

Let’s begin the Mets’ salvage operation for September by seeing how they answered the most significant questions facing them as they entered spring training.

Q: Can the Mets finish with a winning record?

A: Mathematically, it’s possible as Sunday’s victory in Cincinnati has them seven games under with 19 to play. They are six games behind in the wild-card standings, but need to leapfrog five teams. They have head-to-head match-ups with Washington, Atlanta and Miami, but even so, the odds are against them. They were 14 games under last year and won’t be the 90-win team GM Sandy Alderson thought possible this spring. Bet, he regrets that comment. Even so, improvement is possible. Hey, you take what you can get.

Q: Who’s on first?

A:  Probably more than anything, Alderson’s high point this season is how quickly he disposed of Ike Davis. Honestly, I thought this might get played out as it was the past two years, but Alderson pulled the trigger quickly on a trade. Davis struggled both with injuries and at the plate out of the gate, and Lucas Duda has done more than just out-play him. Duda has developed into a legitimate slugger who could merit a better contract. As the Mets brace for legitimacy in 2015, they’ll have one less question because of Duda’s development.

Q: Who’ll play shortstop?

A: The Mets teased us with talks of signing Stephen Drew or trading for Nick Franklin. April began with shortstop as a black hole with Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores competing for the job, and the Mets having little confidence in either.

I envisioned Tejada winning the job by default because I didn’t think Alderson would gamble on Drew or Franklin, or ever have the stones to go with Flores.

Surprise: Flores has been getting the lion’s share of the playing time and September is for him to put a stranglehold on the job. Flores always had the better bat and he’s not embarrassed himself in the field.

This could be one less question for the winter.

Q: Who’ll be the leadoff hitter?

A: There was no clear-cut favorite, although manager Terry Collins had lukewarm preference for Eric Young. However, this has been a miserable season for Young, who doesn’t have a good on-base percentage. Several players were used to lead off, including the departed Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. The job now appears to be sliding to Juan Lagares, who stole two bases Sunday. Lagares can steal a base, but there’s more to leading off than stealing bases. Working the count and a high on-base percentage are paramount, and those are two categories are something he’ll need to work on this month. Lagares’ development also assures Eric Young won’t be back.

Q: How will the rotation shake out with Matt Harvey gone?

A: The biggest issues were whether Zack Wheeler would progress and if Jon Niese would take it to the next level. Wheeler has pitched well following a slow start. He won his tenth game Sunday, but was hampered by the persistent problem of running up his pitch count, throwing 99 in six innings. He’s worked into the sixth or longer in all but one start – have to like that – but his 99 Sunday was the fewest he’s thrown. As for Niese, the Mets expected far better than 8-10. The Mets could very well be tiring of Niese’s inconsistency and this could finally be the time when they opt to trade him. Could happen.

Q: Who replaces Bobby Parnell in the closer role?

A: The Mets finally decided on a role for Jenrry Mejia, and it is closer. Mejia still has those moments when he tends to overthrow and lose command. He labored Sunday with 25 pitches, but came away with his 24th save compared to three blown saves.

Let’s face it, 2014 was supposed to be a transition season for the Mets, who made no secret they were waiting for Harvey’s return and a step toward competitiveness.

For the most part, the Mets addressed their issues in the positive. Even so, in the cases of Lagares, Flores, Mejia and Wheeler, there’s a difference between optimism and definitive answers. Looking ahead to 2015, they need to see more of those four in September before deciding their offseason plans.

There’s not enough time remaining for some guys – such as David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Travis d’Arnaud – to finish with statistically impressive numbers. Even so, there’s time enough to enter the offseason with positive vibes.

The flip side are the nagging questions:

Where is Wright in his career? Has his career peaked and is he on the downhill slide? Did his shoulder injury hurt him more than the Mets let on?

As for Granderson, we knew there would be a power slide leaving the Bronx, but will he ever be a significant power threat again?

The Mets haven’t gotten the production they hoped from d’Arnaud, but the defensive part of his game is getting better and the pitchers are comfortable with him.

As for pitching, nobody can say for certain how Harvey and Wheeler will develop. Niese remains an enigma. The bullpen has been good in spots, but is always a work in progress. Is this as good as it will get for Mejia? What can we expect from Parnell next season?

There will be no playoffs this season, but .500 can be had with a 13-6 finish. With 13 of their remaining games at home, and nine against teams with losing records, stranger things have happened for a franchise that likes to call itself, “Amazin.’’

Let’s not think about 2015 just yet.

COMING UP THIS WEEK:  Mets we might not see in 2015 … Numbers and milestones that could happen … Looking at second base … Are the Mets in better shape than the Yankees?

Mar 12

Mets Wrap: Alderson On Shortstop Situation; Lannan Sharp In Loss; Davis Still Out

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said shortstop Ruben Tejada is not operating under “a microscope,’’ but it sure seems that way.

Alderson said there’s enough time remaining in spring training for Tejada to make his mark, but at the same time hasn’t ruled out signing Stephen Drew and rumors continue to percolate on a trade with Seattle for Nick Franklin.

Alderson did not discount Wilmer Flores, either. All this adds up to: Shortstop remains unsettled.

In addition:

* John Lannan retired the final eight hitters he faced in a 6-4 loss to St. Louis. The Mets are considering him for a bullpen job.

* First basemen Ike Davis (both calves) and Lucas Duda (left hamstring) remain sidelined. It is possible Duda could play as a DH tomorrow. Davis took grounders today, but still has to prove he can run before he plays.

* Reliever Kyle Farnsworth was hit hard again and his chances of making the Opening Day roster are dwindling. Farnsworth has a March 23 out in his contract.

* Daniel Murphy started for the first time since last Friday and went 0-for-3.

* Closer Bobby Parnell is being clocked at 89 mph., but said he’s not concerned.

* Manager Terry Collins said reliever Carlos Torres would make the Opening Day roster.

 

Mar 12

Mets Today: John Lannan Starts; Returns Of Duda And Murphy Possible

Fifth-starter candidate John Lannan will start today against St. Louis in Port St. Lucie.

Lannan, signed to compete for the fifth-starter role, is also being considered for a spot in the bullpen in the wake of lefty Josh Edgin being sent to the minor league camp.

Whatever happens this spring, Lannan said he’s not ready to give up starting, and at 29, has plenty of time remaining.

“I don’t think anything right now. I’m just going to take it as it is,’’ Lannan said of his role. “I think that I’m not done as a starter. I think the last few years I’ve kind of run into, I don’t want to say back luck, but some unfortunate circumstances – in 2012 getting sent to Triple-A and last year with the injury [surgery on left leg] I had.

“I don’t think I’m done [starting], but I’m looking forward to the possibility of pitching in the big leagues. Whatever capacity that is, I’m just looking forward to it.’’

In addition today:

* Daniel Murphy practiced outside Tuesday, so he might be able to play.

* Lucas Duda could return to the lineup today or tomorrow. He’s been bothered by a tight left hamstring, but has been hitting in the cage.

* Bartolo Colon and Jenrry Mejia are scheduled to start the two games in Las Vegas, Saturday and Sunday, respectively against the Chicago Cubs. Also expected on the travel squad are David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud and Bobby Parnell.

ON DECK:  The need for a second lefty in the bullpen.

Mar 11

Mets Wrap: Looking At Spring Training Issues; Niese Struggles; Murphy Update

Today, I revisited the top five issues facing the New York Mets heading into spring training.

They are: the fifth starter competition; whether Bobby Parnell will be ready for the season; the Ike Davis saga; Ruben Tejada’s status; and who might be the Opening Day starter.

To date, Daisuke Matsuzaka has the inside track; Parnell said he’s ready; both Davis and Tejada remain a mess; and manager Terry Collins prefers Eric Young, although that might keep Juan Lagares off the Opening Day roster.

In addition:

* Jon Niese struggled in his exhibition debut against St. Louis, giving up four runs on six hits and two walks in two innings in his exhibition debut, won by the Mets, 9-8, on Zach Lutz’s tie-breaking homer in the ninth. Josh Satin and Kirk Nieuwenhuis also homered. If Niese isn’t ready, manager Terry Collins said he would go with either Dillon Gee or Bartolo Colon.

* John Lannan, Wednesday’s starter, will be looked at out of the bullpen. That’s necessary with Josh Edgin being sent to the minor league camp.

* Wilmer Flores started at shortstop and contributed with Omar Quintanilla to botch a potential double-play grounder. However, Flores reached base three times and scored twice.

* Daniel Murphy, out with a bruised right shin, practiced outside, which could indicate he’ll play soon.

* The Mets announced they would host an international soccer match at Citi Field, July 24, between AC Milan and Olympiakos. Tickets go on sale Thursday at Mets.com/Soccer, Tickets.com or by calling (718) 507-TIXX.

Mar 11

Revisiting Mets’ Primary Spring Training Issues

On the first day of spring training, I posed five Mets manager Terry Collins needed to answer by Opening Day. Now, halfway through – 20 days remaining to be exact – it is time to revisit those questions, which haven’t been done in the positive:

Q: WHO WILL BE THE FIFTH STARTER?
A: Ideally, they wanted Jenrry Mejia but his elbow remains an issue, and there’s a chance he could open the season in the bullpen or the minor leagues. Either way, the fifth starter role isn’t imminent. Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan are candidates. Without Mejia, Matsuzaka appeared to have the inside track, and that’s likely to remain. With lefty reliever Josh Edgin sent to the minor league camp, Lannan will get time working in relief (there will be a separate post on that later today).

PARNELL: Said he'll be ready (AP)

PARNELL: Said he’ll be ready (AP)

Q: WILL BOBBY PARNELL BE READY BY OPENING DAY?
A: Parnell, recovering from neck surgery, insists he’ll be ready, but he’s only made one appearance. Collins would like to give him at least seven or eight. Assuming Parnell is ready, Vic Black will get the set-up role, but his control hasn’t been good. Veterans Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde are competing for jobs in the bullpen and both have closer experience.

Q: WILL THE IKE DAVIS SAGA EVER END?
A: Not any time soon. The Mets tried to trade Davis since October, but their asking price was too high. Davis kept tabs on the rumors and acknowledged he is surprised to be in Port St. Lucie. He began camp the projected starter, but it hasn’t been a good spring. First, he acknowledged he hid an oblique strain last year to avoid the appearance of making an excuse. The following day he ripped into the reporter who had the audacity to write what Davis said. Next was tightness in both calves, caused by too much work in the weight room. He’s currently in a walking boot. About those 90-plus at-bats Collins wanted? Not happening. He’ll likely start the season on the disabled list.

Q: CAN RUBEN TEJADA BECOME THE PLAYER EXPECTED OF HIM?
A: That doesn’t look promising, either. Tejada has a strained hamstring and his defense has not been good. He’s also not hitting. The Mets aren’t close to signing free-agent Stephen Drew or trading for Seattle’s Nick Franklin. Wilmer Flores started today at shortstop and could get more time.

Q: WHO WILL BE THE LEADOFF HITTER?
A: Collins prefers Eric Young, who missed several games with tightness in his side. Collins prefers Daniel Murphy second and Tejada – if he plays – down in the order. Currently, it appears it will come down between Eric or Chris Young. The latter, however, strikes out too much to be a successful leadoff hitter. If Eric Young gets the job, we should see Juan Lagares in the minor leagues instead of languishing on the bench.

ON DECK: Lannan in the bullpen.