Apr 02

Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Fortunately, spring training results don’t count. While the Mets won’t carry their exhibition record to Kansas City, let’s hope they don’t bring with them their quality of play.

After all, there are reasons why they finished 8-17 this spring, and some of them include their regulars not playing well. (The Nationals were 19-4 this spring, and if things counted they would open the season with a 12-game lead on the Mets).

Can the Mets get back to the World Series? Well, of course, they can, but it is dependent on how they answer the following questions:

COLLINS: Doesn't have the answers, yet. (Getty_

COLLINS: Doesn’t have the answers, yet. (Getty)

Q: Will they have a World Series hangover or let down?

A: Things happen during a season that have nothing to do with cockiness or an emotional let down. You certainly can’t draw a definitive conclusion based on spring training, but there were a few red flags, such as Matt Harvey letting a few back-page headlines get to him and Yoenis Cespedes’ brain cramp. Will there be a carryover? We shall see. But admit it, you weren’t pleased with how they played this spring. Nobody was.

Q: How will manager Terry Collins respond to being a favorite?

A: No Collins-run team has had expectations this high. It’s not enough for him to maintain a steady hand. There will be times when he has to go to the whip. I thought he let Harvey play him last season, which only inflamed the innings issue. This year, Harvey and no other pitcher can bully him to stay in a game. This will be Collins’ most demanding season. He’ll also need to formulate a playing time plan with David Wright and not take any garbage from Cespedes when be decides to mail it in. Collins got a free pass for the most part in previous seasons because the expectations were so low. They aren’t low anymore.

Q: What’s going on with Harvey?

A: Let’s face it; a 7.50 ERA stinks, whether it is in the exhibition or regular season. A lot is always expected from Harvey, and this year is his second coming off Tommy John surgery. That makes the expectations even higher. Harvey marches to his own tune, which is fine if he can back it up. So far, he’s only shown glimpses. Time to back it up, big boy. If you want to be Batman, you’ll need to develop a thicker skin.

Q: Will Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch to ace status?

A: Many scouts think their ceilings are higher than Harvey’s. That’s one of the reasons, along with their current contractual status, why I believe they should be signed to long-term deals before Harvey. This will be our first season of watching Syndergaard full time, and frankly that’s one of the most intriguing things of the season for me. And, who can’t envision deGrom winning a Cy Young?

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: This will also be our first season watching Matz fulltime. As a lefty, his ceiling is enormous, but he must stay healthy. There were concerns, voiced by Collins several weeks ago. Most starters get up to six starts and 30 innings in spring training. The Mets’ starters got far less.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: The plan is for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He then could be sent to the bullpen. They shouldn’t be too hasty to cut ties with Colon, especially if he’s pitching well because things happen. You’re a Mets’ fan. You know things happen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: As much as a having a signature pitch, a great reliever needs the ability to bounce back and forget. Mariano Rivera said one of the best things to happen in his career was when Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar beat him in the 1997 playoffs with a home run. He said it shaped his emotional development. Familia wasn’t as effective and blew a save in the World Series. Maybe he got the job by default after Jenrry Mejia kicked away his career, but it’s Familia’s job to keep.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: As of now Addison Reed is the set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo the lefty specialist. In recent years, the composition of the Mets’ bullpen has been fluid at best. The Mets will also carry lefty Jerry Blevins. Hansel Robles will open the season serving a two-game suspension. Robles is a hot head that needs to learn composure. The Mets will also keep Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett, the latter whom can pitch in long relief or as a spot starter. Henderson, who has major league experience, should be interesting to watch. However, this isn’t a proven group collectively. Seriously, does anybody here take your breath away? Ideally, the bridge to Familia would be even stronger if the starters can go seven innings.

Q: Paging Travis d’Arnaud, are you there?

A: The Mets need a healthy d’Arnaud to give them a full season. He’s shown occasional pop, but what can he do with 500 plate appearances. His career high is 421 plate appearances in 2014, when he had a .302 on-base percentage with 13 homers and 41 RBI. However, he hit 12 homers with 41 RBI and a solid .340 on-base percentage in 268 plate appearances last year. The pitchers like how he calls a game, but he needs work holding on runners and his throwing.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: Although his on-base percentage has been decent, .352 and .349 in 2015 and 2014, respectively, he still strikes out too damn much for my liking (138 times last year and 135 times in 2014). Maybe I’m just too picky. He’ll hit eight homers in one month and one in another. Five a month, which is roughly one a week, would be perfect. It adds up to 30. But, hell yes, I’d love to see 40. Who knows, back-to-back with Cespedes can give the Mets their best power duo since Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson. I like watching Duda and think he can develop into a real basher. I’d like to see more productive outs.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Murphy was a terrific Met, despite his occasional mental and fielding lapses. Walker is a .272 lifetime hitter with a .338 career on-base percentage. However, his 162-game average is 18 homers and 81 RBI, which surpasses Murphy. It won’t be easy forgetting Murphy, as he’ll face the Mets 19 times while with the Nationals.

Q: Is Asdrubal Cabrera an upgrade over Wilmer Flores at shortstop?

A: While their 2015 power numbers are similar, sending Flores to the bench deepens the bench, which is a significant plus. Cabrera hit 15 homers with 58 RBI last season for Tampa Bay, while Flores hit 16 homers with 59 RBI. Cabrera is considered better defensively. Cabrera committed nine errors in 443 chances last year while Flores made 14 in 400 chances.

WRIGHT: Nobody knows. (AP)

WRIGHT: Nobody knows. (AP)

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: It’s only a coincidence the 13th question is about Wright, who hasn’t played in 150 games since 2012. Injuries have limited him to less than 140 games in four of the last five years. To project 140 games, much less his production is folly. Right now, I’d take 120 games and be happy. In addition to his pregame hitting and fielding, Wright puts in at least 90 minutes before games with exercises designed to loosen up his back.

Q: One and done for Cespedes?

A: That’s the chance the Mets took when they gave Cespedes an out clause after one season in his three-year deal. I have limited confidence he won’t be sidetracked by the money and glitz of New York. Never mind his brain cramp in spring training, but last year in September and during the playoffs he had some head-scratching moments. But, if Cespedes lets it all out, this could be another special season.

Q: A breakout year for Michael Conforto?

A: I’m not saying he’s another Tony Gwynn, but the expectations are high. Let’s just hope Collins isn’t tempted to rest him against left-handers. Let him play and give him a chance to develop into a real talent, not a part time flash.

Q: Will we get another 90 walks from Curtis Granderson?

A: I confess I didn’t like Granderson leading off, but his ability to draw walks changed that thinking. If Granderson can improve his walks by cutting down his 151 strikeouts he can be a greater offensive force. If he does that he might hit 30 homers (he hit 26 last year with 70 RBI) again.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: I like Flores’ ability to play anywhere in the infield, but hope he doesn’t languish for weeks before getting a chance to play. Alejandro De Aza was to be a big piece before Cespedes was brought back. His role is undefined at best. Juan Lagares won a Gold Glove in center field two years ago but is now coming off the bench. When he does play, it has to be in center. Eric Campbell has always produced coming off the bench, but his weaknesses are exposed the longer he plays. Kevin Plawecki was kept, but I don’t want him to wither on the bench for weeks. If that happens, he’s better off in Triple-A.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. None of the starting pitchers are ailing. Cabrera missed significant time in spring training, but will play Sunday night. Conforto and Cespedes missed some time, and Wright is always a question. If they stay healthy and produce, there’s no reason they can’t make the playoffs again. Health is always the biggest variable for any team.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals were a buzz saw in Florida and appear to have a federal budget sized chip on their collective shoulders, beginning with MVP Bryce Harper. Their rotation isn’t as deep as the Mets, but their front three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg (in his walk year) and Gio Gonzalez can stack up with the front end of most staffs. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has a lot to prove, and if Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman stay healthy there’s no reason they can’t wrestle back the NL East.

Q: Can the Mets get off to another fast start?

A: An 11-game winning streak keyed a 15-8 April record last year and gave them a buffer to overcome injuries and a drastic hitting slump. The Mets lost their first-place lead on May 20 (it grew to a 4.5-game deficit in July) before they wrestled back the division for good from Washington, Aug. 2. The Mets caught a break last year when the Nationals stumbled. They can’t count on that again.

I will revisit these questions periodically throughout the summer.

Please follow me on Twitter.

 

Mar 26

My Projected Mets Opening Day Batting Order

One week from tomorrow the Mets will open defense of their National League title in Kansas City. Here’s what I have as my projected Opening Day batting order:

Curtis Granderson, RF: Wouldn’t it be terrific if he walked 90 times and scored 98 runs again?

David Wright, DH: Collins said no, but it’s the best decision.

Yoenis Cespedes, CF: Thirty homers and 100 RBI are expected.

Lucas Duda, 1B: Imagine, having a two 30 HR-100 RBI hitters back-to-back.

Neil Walker, 2B: Interchangeable with Daniel Murphy.

Travis d’Arnaud, C: A right-handed hitter between lefties.

Michael Conforto, LF: Didn’t have a great spring training, but it’s back to zeroes across the board.

Wilmer Flores, SS: I’m not expecting Asdrubal Cabrera to be ready.

Eric Campbell, 3B: With Wright the DH and Flores playing shortstop, who else will play third?

Matt Harvey, RHP: Hopefully, the first of 34 starts.

So far, the reports have Wright playing third base and not as the DH and Cabrera might me ready. I’m not for pushing things, especially with Wright. Nobody knows how many games he’ll play, but the there is a plan to rest him and DH is the perfect place to start. There are five interleague games in American League parks in April.

 

 

 

Mar 18

The Concern Level On Steven Matz

OK, maybe I’m a little concerned about Steven Matz, whose had a rough spring training for the Mets. However, I’m concerned because Matz was clearly frustrated after giving up three runs on five hits in four innings Thursday.

MATZ: Not there, yet. (Getty)

MATZ: Not there, yet. (Getty)

If Matz is unhappy with his performance, maybe he hasn’t yet bought into the notion of spring training is to get ready for the season.

“At this point I’m starting to want results a little bit, and they’re not there yet,” Matz told reporters. “But out of the gates, I felt good. I felt like my curveball was working decent, and that’s usually the last thing that comes. So I’m happy with that.”

Overall, he’s not pleased with where he is at this point during spring training. You also have to understand Matz has had surgery and didn’t have an overwhelming workload in 2015. Perhaps he hasn’t built himself up yet to endure the grind of a full season. But, nothing is hurting and that’s the key.

Even Terry Collins suggested Matz isn’t there physically.

“Steven got a little tired, but he threw the ball great for a while,” Collins said. “We’ve got to get him in [pitching] shape.”

Matz has three more starts before the season begins, and currently is projected to relieve Jacob deGrom in the second game of the season. However, deGrom’s wife, Stacey, is expecting around that time and he might not pitch at all. In that case, Matz could get the start.

Could those three starts be enough to build up Matz’s stamina? Perhaps.

However, what could be an issue is Collins thinking Matz isn’t physically ready coupled with Matz’ frustration level. The last thing he needs to do is push himself.

You know, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Matz is held back for an extended spring training and be brought up at the end of April or early May. The Mets have other options in Logan Verrett or Rafael Montero, and the schedule has a lot of off days early where Collins can juggle.

The important thing is to not rush him to the point where he could be injured or lose his confidence. So what if he starts 31 games instead of 34.

Feb 21

All About Cespedes Today

There’s been nothing but good signs for the Mets in the opening days of spring training, and Sunday was no exception with the early arrival of Yoenis Cespedes three days ahead of schedule for position players. There were many who doubted Cespedes would even play for the Mets again, much less report three days early.

CESPEDES: Reporting early is great sign.  (Getty)

CESPEDES: Reporting early is great sign. (Getty)

Cespedes signed a three-year, $75-million contract with the Mets several weeks ago. The deal contains an opt-out after 2016, in which he’ll get $27.5 million. Naturally, the opt-out led to speculation Cespedes “settled” for a return to the Mets and didn’t want to really come back to Queens.

Today refuted that notion, said manager Terry Collins. And yes, that’s a good sign. How can it not be looked at any other way?

“Certainly with all of the conversations and all the contracts we saw out there, we weren’t sure he was going to return,” Collins told reporters in Port St. Lucie. “I really, really salute him. He’s one of the few guys that went to where he wanted to go to. It wasn’t just the money that lured him. He wanted to play in New York. He loves New York. He loves the fans. I salute him for coming back.

“And now he shows up early. I told him today, ‘That’s the sign of a real pro and a guy who wants to be huge in our clubhouse.’ I just think it’s a great step for him.”

The Mets wouldn’t have reached the World Series if not for Cespedes, who came over from Detroit at the end of July and hit .287 with 17 homers and 44 RBI in 230 at-bats for the Mets. That stretch earned him the big bucks. It can turn out to be even bigger bucks with the opt-out, but Cespedes insists that’s not on his radar.

“I know I can be a free agent next year, but that has never passed through my mind,” Cespedes told reporters. “I came here to play my three years with the Mets, and I hope God will give me the opportunity for them to re-sign after that.

“I had several offers, but sincerely, I just wanted to come back to the Mets. … I just want to be with this team. Hopefully, at the end of my three years I will have performed very well and they will give me an extension. I love it here.”

 

Jan 25

Mets To Retire Piazza’s No. 31

Falling under the category – “It’s About Time” – the Mets announced this afternoon they will retire Mike Piazza‘s No. 31 as part of a ceremonial weekend, July 29-31. Piazza, of course, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer.

PIAZZA: To be honored. (Mets)

PIAZZA: To be honored. (Mets)

The weekend includes:

Friday, July 29, 7:10 p.m.: All fans receive a Piazza replica jersey.

Saturday, July 30, 6:30 p.m.: On-field retirement ceremony.

Sunday, July 31,1:10 p.m.: First 15,000 fans receive Piazza bobblehead doll.

“It is such a tremendous honor to have my number retired alongside the great Tom Seaver,” Piazza said in a statement released by the team. “My time as a Met was truly special and I want to thank Fred (Wilpon), Saul (Katz)  and Jeff (Wilpon) and the entire organization for this incredible gesture.”

During his parts of eight seasons in New York, Piazza hit .296, with 220 homers and 655 RBI. He twice led them to the NLCS and to the 2000 World Series.

Piazza will become the fourth Met to have his number retired, joining Seaver (41), Gil Hodges (14) and Casey Stengel (37). Jackie Robinson‘s No. 42 is retired by every team. No has worn No. 31 since Piazza left the club in 2005.