Feb 17

Johan Santana Has A Good Throw Day

The highlight of the day in Mets’ camp was Johan Santana’s first mound session of the spring; 20 pain-free pitches in chilly Port St. Lucie.

“This is my first time in a while, but it was fine,” Santana told reporters in Florida, where the weather has been brisk and rainy. “I don’t think it was my best or anything, but it’s Day 1. You’ve got to start at some point.

“Today was a beginning for me. … You always worry about how you feel and everything, but at the same time I was just trying to get my job done and not trying to overdo things out there.’’

Not surprisingly, the Mets’ plan is to treat Santana with kid gloves. He needs to throw again and pitch batting practice before getting into an exhibition game. Usually the first exhibition is 30 pitches or two innings, and there’s no reason to think the Mets would deviate. Normally, pitchers make six starts and up to 30 innings during spring training.

The Mets are scheduled to pay Santana $31 million this year, including a $5.5 million option. A $25 million option for 2014 kicks in if he throws 215 innings this summer, and there’s no way the Mets will let him approach that figure.

The Mets are in a difficult position because they need to move on from Santana’s contract, yet at the same time if he were healthy and productive it gives them a chance to have a competitive season. Ideally, the Mets would like to deal him, but the innings clause applies to any team that trades for him and that would make him more than just a rental.

Santana didn’t pitch in 2011 as he was rehabbing from shoulder surgery. His first season with the Mets in 2008 was his only one with the team where he made all 34 starts. He ended last season on the disabled list with lower back inflammation.

In looking at the Santana trade, it is clear the Mets overpaid, both in terms of prospects – although none panned out to have successful major league careers – and obviously in terms of salary. In looking at a trade, one must also consider the circumstances at the time.

In 2008, the Mets were coming off a historic season in which their bullpen collapsed and they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. The previous season they lost the NLCS in seven games to St. Louis. In both seasons their pitching was suspect and a workhorse was needed.

Both the Yankees and Boston were after him, but pulled out when Minnesota’s asking price was deemed to high. Then GM Omar Minaya said Santana fell back to them and he did because there was no other competition.

Feb 16

I Don’t Get Jordany Valdespin

Maybe it is me, but I don’t think I will ever understand Jordany Valdespin. At one time I wanted him to get a chance and wonder why he wasn’t. Now, it is clear. The guy’s elevator doesn’t go to the top and he ranks low on the charm and responsibility meters.

When asked by reporters today in Port St. Lucie to explain why his Twitter account had a photo of himself wearing a Marlins cap, he lamely said it was taken by his cousin who put up the picture.

“Things happen,” Valdespin said. “My cousin put that picture over here. I don’t have any information about that. When I see that picture, everything happened, and I said, ‘What the —-?’ But I had a big problem with my family about that. So that’s not my fault.’’

Yes, it is his fault. On two counts. One, for wearing the Marlins’ cap in the first place in public, and two, for giving a relative access to your social media account. Evidently, the photo was online long enough for people to notice.

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Feb 14

Spring Wright Of Passage: Oh, Say Can You “C”

john franco captain

It’s been eight years since the last time a Met donned a “C” on his uniform. Met Hall of Famer John Franco was the last player to serve as a Mets captain; his reign lasting from 2001-2004.

In what seems to have become an annual ritual for the last 3-4 years, like placing a bet on Kentucky Derby, the subject of naming David Wright the team captain came up once again. This time it reared it’s head during manager Terry Collin’s state of the Mets address held on Tuesday at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie.

Interestingly enough, Collins sounded like the whole matter was overblown and tried to make light of it. “He knows he’s the guy,” Collins said. “He knows he’s the man here. This is his team. He’s the face of it. He’s the captain.”

And then, with a twinkle in his eye, Collins said, “Does he need a ‘C’ on his jersey? Well No. 2 doesn’t have a ‘C’ on his jersey.”

I love this guy… Of course he was referring to Derek Jeter, but more importantly Collins seems to share the same disdain for that damned “C” as I do. I thought it looked ridiculous on Franco, and I thought it looked even worse on Gary carter and Keith Hernandez.

You want to ceremoniously name David Wright captain? Go ahead and do it, it makes no difference to me. But please, for God’s sake, no “C” on the uniform. I think it’s so cheesy ( I hate using that word) and it ruins the look of what I think are the best uniforms in baseball.

“Are we going to have a press conference to make David Wright the captain?, said Collins. “I don’t see one coming, but that’s not saying it’s not going to happen.”

O Captain. My Captain

O Captain. My Captain

Feb 11

Mets Pitchers And Catchers Report Today With Several Questions

Pitchers and catchers report today in Port St. Lucie, although dozens of Mets are already in camp, which is the first encouraging sign of spring training.

As with most teams, the Mets have an array of issues and questions they must address over the next six weeks if they have hope of being competitive this season.

Gee: How healthy is he?

Gee: How healthy is he?

It begins with health and pitching, which for the Mets seem intertwined every spring. A competitive season needs a sound Johan Santana and Dillon Gee, with the Mets ideally getting 200 innings from each.

Gee is coming off surgery to remove a blood clot in his arm. He’s shown flashes, but hasn’t been projected any higher than a fourth starter. Then again, Gee has never pitched a complete season where he’s gotten over 30 starts. Obviously, if he can do that and approach 200 innings it would take strain from a makeshift bullpen.

As for Santana, this is his walk year. If he remains healthy and productive, the Mets have a chance to approach .500. However, regardless of how well he pitches the Mets will not pick up his option for 2014. Trading Santana is wishful thinking, but should they get lucky the Mets would have to assume a portion of Santana’s contract.

Complete and healthy seasons from Santana and Gee, plus the continued development of Matt Harvey will only begin to make up for the loss of R.A. Dickey, assuming, of course, he doesn’t fall back to his pre-Cy Young performance. Dickey is not the second coming of Tom Seaver, and last year was his first as a dominant pitcher. Still, it’s 20 fewer wins from the rotation.

Figuring the Mets break camp with their rotation intact, the next issue is their makeshift bullpen.

GM Sandy Alderson backtracked and Frank Francisco is the closer going in, but that’s written in pencil as he’s coming off elbow surgery. This means spring training is for the Mets to determine Francisco’s health or come up with another closer, probably Bobby Parnell or recently-signed Brandon Lyon.

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Feb 08

Something To Look Forward To From The Mets

As I watch the snow pile up outside my window, I am thinking of three of the best words in sports, “pitchers and catchers.’’

NIESE: Needs to take the next step.

                       NIESE: Needs to take the next step.

The official deadline for the Mets is Monday, but the lockers are already being filled in Port St. Lucie. I am hoping to get down there this spring and have already started looking at flights.

Most of the prognosticators have the Mets fighting the Marlins to stay out of the NL East. Many of them have them losing close to 100 games. I think they’ll finish ahead of Miami and I don’t see them losing that many games. I’d like to see .500, but I’m not ready to go there, yet.

For those thinking the worst, and as Mets fans I know you’ve all done it one time or another, I’d like to give you several things to watch for that could make this an interesting, if not exciting summer.

If you’re already writing off this season, here’s a few things to talk you down off the ledge.

The soundest road to contention is with young pitching. For those lamenting the lack of power and a weak outfield, just remember what the San Francisco Giants did in two of the past three years. Speaking of sparse outfields, was the Mets’ 2000 outfield all that good?

Hardly. It’s all starts with pitching and the Mets have three bright spots they are developing.

Jon Niese won a career-high 13 games last season and has the potential, if he stays healthy, to possibly win 17 or more. To reach that level he needs to win four more games in six months. That’s roughly one more every five weeks. That’s not that big a stretch with his stuff.

Niese had a nearly 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and 1.17 WHIP in 2012 while working 190 innings in 30 starts. If he makes four more starts over 200 innings and maybe 17 wins are possible.

The Mets jumped from habit and signed Niese to a long-term contract way before they needed to because he throws hard, is lefthanded, pitches with guile and has experienced major league success. For those reasons, any team would want him but the Mets continually say no.

Two other rising pitching stars are Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. The Mets have brought along Harvey at a good pace and he started ten games last year, showing overpowering stuff and more importantly, composure beyond his years. His is the type of arm franchises are built around.

While Harvey is in the Opening Day rotation, the timetable for Wheeler is later in the summer after more time in Triple A. There’s no rush to promote Wheeler early, but we’ll see him soon enough.

We should also see catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud before the year is out, and I like the idea he’ll get a lot of time with Wheeler. The key to the R.A. Dickey trade from the Mets’ perspective, d’Arnaud has power potential, but he’s also coming off knee and back injuries.

Should he pan out then the Mets can argue success in the trade of their Cy Young Award winner.

Also something to look forward to is Ike Davis’ power. Davis, skillful around the first base bag, clubbed 32 homers last year after a bad start. He’s healthy now and two good halves could make 40 homers a realistic possibility. That’s a little over one a month. He could get that, along with more walks and fewer strikeouts, with an improved plate presence.

Then there is David Wright, who played at a MVP clip in the first half before the pressures of carrying the Mets on his back became too great a burden.

I’m looking at .300, 30 and 100 from Wright, nothing less. He rarely talks about numbers, but he’d probably say the same if pressed.

No, I don’t know how the Mets will do this year. However, if these six players can play to what is expected of them, this has a chance to be an interesting summer.