May 22

Mets’ First Base Options Without Duda

UPDATED TO INCLUDE CONFORTO CORRECTION

Didn’t the Mets learn anything dealing with David Wright‘s back issue? Apparently not, as there still hasn’t been a decision how to deal with Lucas Duda‘s back problems that might be a disk. Despite sweeping the Brewers, the Mets’ offense continues to sputter and I’m guessing they’ll make a DL move before the Washington series.

It is a huge mistake if they don’t.

DUDA: What will they do if they don't have him? (AP)

DUDA: What will they do if they don’t have him? (AP)

Duda did not play the last two games and has been abysmal in May, going 7-for-41 with only one RBI and 11 strikeouts in his last 13 games. With three games against the Nationals, they’ll need every bit of offense they can get.

“It’s pretty concerning,” manager Terry Collins told reporters Sunday. “He tried to go out the last two games and play and it was still bothering him.”

Back problems which Wright can attest to linger and Duda won’t get much better, if at all, before Monday’s game. That’s why I’m thinking they’ll DL him. Assuming that’s the case and this drags on, what are the Mets’ possible first-base options?

STATUS QUO: In the short term they can continue to use Eric Campbell until Wilmer Flores comes off the DL at the end of the week. Campbell has played well in spots replacing Duda and before that, Wright. However, as was the case last year when Wright went down, Campbell’s flaws get exposed over time. The same could apply to Flores, whose playing time is greatly reduced this year and how he’ll take to first base is unknown.

Considering their history this is the path of least resistance and the course I imagine the Mets first taking.

Another bench option could be Alejandro De Aza, but there’s the issue of his experience at the position.

CONFORTO: It is totally outside the box thinking to tinker with Michael Conforto. It’s a risk to take a player unproven at a position and move him during the season. First base is not as easy as people think as Conforto will have to learn to hold runners, field bunts and become proficient with cutoffs and relays. Plus grounders will come at him a lot faster than they do in the outfield.

Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski moved at the end of their careers, but with the advantage of knowing they’d switch and had a spring training to learn the position. A plus is it could improve the outfield defense by moving Yoenis Cespedes to left – where he won a Gold Glove – and playing Juan Lagares in center, where he also won a Gold Glove.

WRIGHT: Just because he plays one corner infield position doesn’t mean he can play the other. It should be easier for Wright because it is an infield position and he’s used to fielding hard grounders. Even so, he’d still have to learn the same nuances as Conforto.

However, if this turns into a long-term thing with Duda it would be worth exploring because Wright’s back has hindered his defense, in particular when it comes to throwing. There might come a time, and it could occur sooner than later, this move might merit serious consideration.

If Duda’s injury sidelines him the way Wright’s benched him for four months, it would be prudent for the Mets to test Wright at first as to get a handle on their options. And, as is usually the case, economics will factor into the equation.

Duda will make $6.7 million this year and is arbitration eligible after next season and be a free-agent after 2018. The Mets don’t have the financial commitment to Duda that they do with Wright to whom they owe $67 million – not including this year – through 2020.

Wright’s health will always be a question and since his retirement isn’t an imminent issue the more they know about his ability to play – or not play – first base is important.

SMITH: The Mets are counting on Dominic Smith as their long-term answer with the assumption Wright doesn’t emerge as an option. Smith, the Mets’ 2013 first-round pick, is currently at Double-A, where he’s hitting less than .280.

Yes, I know they pushed the envelope with Conforto, who brought up from Double-A, but two months later in the season. Could Smith make the jump? It’s possible, but it’s no slam dunk.

I wouldn’t be adverse to bringing up Smith for a look-see. I’m not worried about his confidence being impacted if he struggles, because if he’s as good as the Mets hope he’ll become, then he should be strong enough mentally to overcome a rough stretch.

THE TRADE MARKET: There are numerous options in the free-agent market this winter who might be available in a trade at the deadline should their teams want to make a deal for a prospect.

An intriguing possibility is to coax Adam LaRoche out of retirement – it would be a package deal with his son – but could necessitate sending something to the White Sox. That’s way outside the box, but it wouldn’t hurt to explore.

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May 19

Collins Must Share Blame For Wright; DL Should Be Considered

In the 20-plus-years I have written about major league baseball, there are a handful of players I admire and respect as much as David Wright.

Even so, I am still objective as to what I see and it currently isn’t good. Wright was scratched Tuesday because of a sore back, and then returned to go 0-for-4 with three more strikeouts Wednesday.

WRIGHT: DL bound? (AP)

WRIGHT: DL bound? (AP)

Wright is in persistent discomfort and needs up to two hours to get ready to play. He is not suited to pinch-hit, especially in cold weather, as he did Sunday in Colorado. Wright knows not to push it, but when asked he will play. That’s in his DNA.

Translated: Manager Terry Collins did Wright a disservice when he asked him to pinch-hit. Winning one game in mid-May isn’t as important as risking losing him for the long haul.

I know Collins wants to win, but he was wrong, selfish and shortsighted for asking Wright to pinch-hit. It isn’t the first time Collins pushed the envelope with Wright or other players. Don’t forget his panic move of labeling the eighth game of the season “must win,’’ and pushing Wright, Jim Henderson and Jeurys Familia, none of whom should have played that day.

Wright would never finger-point at his manager. The bottom line is Collins should have been smart enough to not put Wright in that position.

“I don’t know,” Wright told Newsday on whether pinch-hitting took him out of Tuesday’s lineup. “Again, it’s probably not the ideal circumstances. But this is the National League, you really don’t have that much leeway especially when you’re playing with a short bench.”

That puts the onus on the manager to pay attention to what he has available.

Wright is batting .221, which is a career-low for this point in the season. He already has 47 strikeouts in 113 at-bats, with four homers and eight RBI. He’s on pace to strike out 195 times, hit 17 homers and drive in 33 runs. His on-base percentage of .362 gives us glimpses of him still being a productive player.

“The back thing is just something that I’m going to have to get used to because it’s not changing,” Wright told reporters. “But I feel like I can play at a much higher level than I’m playing at right now.

“I think that there are certainly some things I’m having to make adjustments with as far as preparation, as far as playing schedule, that I’m going to have to get used to. But when I go take the field I expect to play much better than I am right now.”

Is Wright done?

I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. It’s worth sticking with him to find out, but that means staying with the plan and not deviating. That’s all on the manager.

Can Wright play Thursday night? That’s up in the air. If his availability is day-to-day and Collins doesn’t know what he has on any given night, he should go on the disabled list.

Go back to the beginning. Get re-examined and concentrate on nothing but getting stronger for the next couple of weeks. And, during this time, management should have a sit-down with Collins and tell him to get with the program and stick with it.

A lot of things must happen for this to work, including the manager being smarter than he has been.

 

May 10

Collins Gives No Confidence Vote To Conforto

Looking at the Mets’ lineup for Tuesday’s game in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring mistake. Perhaps it was just an oversight on manager Terry Collins’ part, but I’m not thrilled with Michael Conforto batting sixth, protected between the red hot Wilmer Flores (.170, one homer and two RBI) and the sizzling Kevin Plawecki (.229, one homer and three RBI).

CONFORTO: Bad move dropping him. (AP)

CONFORTO: Bad move dropping him. (AP)

The Mets touted Conforto as the team’s No. 3 hitter of the future when Collins moved him there in mid-April. The move, where he hit ahead of Yoenis Cespedes, jumpstarted the Mets’ offense and sparked their surge in the standings.

The Mets are 16-5 isince moving Conforto to third, which includes losing the first two games on this trip. Unquestionably, Conforto is on a significant slide, going 3-for-29 (.103) over his last eight games. Basically, that’s a bad week.

Although the Mets are facing a left-hander in Alex Wood, it should be noted he’s 1-3 with a 5.18 ERA. The message indicated a lack of confidence by Collins in Conforto, but the manager’s words flat out shout it loud.

Lefties are batting .367 this year against Wood, but the manager doesn’t think that’s relevant. Collins said batting Conforto sixth wouldn’t create pressure to perform, but he’s mistaken. There’s more pressure now.

Collins made a big deal saying Cespedes’ presence helped Conforto, but if you buy that logic, you must also accept he’s getting next to no protection between Flores and Plawecki. In addition, what must Conforto be thinking about this demotion?

As far as his reasoning for moving Conforto, Collins told reporters today: “I’d like to leave him in the three-hole if I thought he could do some damage.”

That’s another way of saying he doesn’t think he can do any damage against a pitcher with an ERA just under six. How’s that for a pat on the back?

No, I don’t like this decision. Confidence is essential in the development of a hitter, and this move screams Collins has doubts. When Collins moved Conforto, I wrote how important it was for him to stay with him during slumps. At least the first one.

If Conforto is to become the No. 3 hitter the Mets expect of him, he’ll have to endure dry stretches. So, what does Collins do? He bails at the first sign of a problem. Collins said Conforto will bat third against right-handers, but said nothing about lefties. You have to assume he won’t hit third against Clayton Kershaw.

It has only been eight games. Let Conforto work his way out of this, the same way he’s given a long leash to Matt Harvey.

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May 01

Mets Wrap: Is Running On Syndergaard A Big Deal?

Like a shark senses blood in the water, a team will jump all over a pitcher when it detects a weakness, especially when it’s somebody such as the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, who doesn’t have many.

The book on Syndergaard is you can run on him. No, make that you can run all over him – that is, if you can get on base.

SYNDERGAAARD: You can run on him. (AP)

SYNDERGAAARD: You can run on him. (AP)

Runners have been successful in all ten of their stolen base attempts against Syndergaard, but what the Mets have to figure out is if it is a big deal or something they can live with.

The Giants’ running game resulted in four runs in San Francisco’s 6-1 victory Sunday over the Mets.

“We have to do a better job of holding runners,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters. “He can’t be that slow to the plate. He can’t be that deliberate. What I don’t want is to get him out of sync.’’

Scoreless going into the fourth, the Giants had runners on the corners with one our following singles by Matt Duffy and Buster Posey. With the count full, Giants manager Bruce Bochy sent Posey to stay out of the double play, which undoubtedly would have been the case on Brandon Belt’s hard-hit ball to second.

So, instead of being out of the inning with no runs, the Giants scratched out a manufactured run, and Hunter Pence followed with a two-run homer.

The Giants eked out another run off Syndergaard in the sixth when Duffy singled and stole second. After a walk to Belt chased Syndergaard in favor of Hansel Robles. Pence followed with a RBI single to pad Madison Bumgarner’s lead.

Syndergaard allowed three steals Sunday – the Giants stole four overall – and five in his previous start against Cincinnati. In his short 15-start career, runners have stolen 27 bases in 29 attempts.

Collins said Syndergaard could incorporate a slide-step to the plate, which is harder for runners to time. The downside is a possible loss in velocity, or worse.

“You don’t want him to lose command,’’ Collins said.

Another downside of a slide step is it could force Syndergaard to tip his pitches, telling the hitter a fastball is coming.

As it is, if a runner gets on against Syndergaard, especially a speed guy leading off an inning, it’s almost a sure double.

Syndergaard is a rising star, but his Achilles Heel is not being able to hold runners. It hurt him Sunday, and will continue to do so in games in which he doesn’t have his best stuff or when the Mets don’t hit.

It’s a flaw that can be corrected, but pitching coach Dan Warthen isn’t likely to make any major mechanical adjustments during the season. This is something the Mets will work on with Syndergaard during spring training.

Or, they could decide Syndergaard is pretty good now the way he is and don’t want to mess with him.

METS GAME WRAP

Game: #23 Record: 15-8  Streak: L 1

SUMMARY: Bumgarner outpitched Syndergaard in a dynamic pitching matchup and was backed by Pence’s three RBI.

KEY MOMENT: By sending the runner to stay out of what would have been an inning-ending double play, the Giants scored a scratch run and set up Pence’s homer.

THUMBS UP: Two hits from Juan Lagares, David Wright and Neil Walker. … It was Curtis Granderson Socks Day, so we don’t have to see any more of those commercials.

THUMBS DOWN: Two runs against the bullpen, including Posey’s homer off Logan Verrett. … Syndergaard threw 98 pitches in 5.2 innings. … The Mets left 12 runners.

EXTRA INNINGS: The Mets’ winning streak was snapped at eight, but they have won five straight series. … Granderson and Lucas Duda sat against Bumgarner. Duda appeared in the eighth as a pinch-hitter for Eric Campbell and grounded into a force out. Granderson also appeared in the game and struck out. … Michael Conforto’s streak of reaching base ended as 17 straight games, also ending a stretch of hitting a double in six consecutive games.

QUOTEBOOK: “He’ll be all right. There will be days like this.’’ – Collins on Conforto going 0-for-5.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0.62: Bumgarner’s career ERA at Citi Field.

PUT A CLOCK ON IT: A pitching coach or manager has 30 seconds from the time he steps out of the dugout to deliver his message and leave the field. Yet, instant replays drag on. There were two replays Sunday, both over a minute.

TOMORROW’S STARTER: Bartolo Colon (1-1, 3.42) goes against the Braves, who have not named their starter. Colon is 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts against the Braves.

NEXT FOR METS: The Mets close the homestand with three games against the Braves, whom they swept last weekend in Atlanta. After Colon, Matt Harvey (2-3, 4.76 ERA) and Steven Matz (3-1, 3.86) will go for the Mets.

Apr 30

Revisiting Top 20 Mets’ Questions

Entering the season I suggested  20 questions the Mets would need to answer in the positive for them to return to the World Series. From performance to health to various intangibles, every team faces important questions and they don’t disappear just because it played in the World Series the year before.

At the time, I wrote I would periodically revisit those questions to measure how the Mets are progressing.

Here’s how they are doing:

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

A: There were a few red flags and a 2-5 start, but they closed the month with a power surge, clubbing 31 homers in their last 14 games. Last April they won 11 straight. They closed the month winning eight straight and 13 of 15. There’s no appearance of any hangover and it looks as if we’ll have our Mets-Nationals pennant race.

WALKER: Mets' player for April. (AP)

WALKER: Mets’ player for April. (AP)

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

A: So far, so good. I wasn’t crazy about him calling the eighth game of the season “must win.” And, I didn’t like him playing David Wright for the whole game Friday with the explanation he wanted him to face the Giants’ lefty relievers in preparation for facing Madison Bumgarner Sunday. What, Wright has never faced a lefty before? But, I do like him moving Michael Conforto to the No. 3 hole, which was the catalyst for the offensive surge. I also liked how he let Hansel Robles face Freddie Freeman when he could have played the lefty-righty percentages. Best of all, I liked how he admitted the Mets might have made a mistake in not giving his starters enough work during spring training. Overall, he’s done a solid job worthy of his extension.

Q: What’s going on with Matt Harvey?

A: After a 7.50 spring training ERA and 0-3 start, there were understandably questions about Harvey. A lot is always demanded from Harvey, and after making it through last season without any problems following Tommy John surgery, the expectations are even higher. He’s pitched better in his last two starts, both wins. No reason for concern right now.

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

A: Syndergaard has been incredible consistently throwing in the high 90s. His secondary pitches have also been dominant. DeGrom missed time with a strained lat muscle and tending to his family because of complications following the birth of his son. Both child and lat are doing fine. He didn’t have a smooth start Saturday against the Giants, but as usually the case with him, he finds a way to pitch through trouble.

Q: What can we expect from Steven Matz?

A: I would say an awful lot. He was hammered in his first start, but won his last three. Matz has been terrific, but like deGrom and Harvey, he’s throwing too many pitches for the innings he works. That eventually could catch up to the bullpen.

Q: How long can the Mets ride Bartolo Colon?

A: Nothing has changed, the plan remains for him to be in the rotation until Zack Wheeler is brought up, which should be around July 1. He would then move to the bullpen.

Q: How thick is Jeurys Familia’s skin?

A: So far, it has been like leather. Familia recently has worked his way out of a tough stretch. He’s converted all seven of his save opportunities with a 2.45 ERA.

Q: How sturdy is the bridge to Familia?

A: This might have been the Mets’ most important pre-season issue, but the bullpen has been solid in all phases. Addison Reed has been a very capable set-up reliever and Antonio Bastardo has pitched well despite a poor spring training. Jim Henderson and Logan Verrett have been more than pleasant surprises. Robles is getting more chances to shine and he’s delivering.

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

A: Nope. Once again, he’s on the disabled list, this time with a strained rotator cuff. The Mets still don’t know what he can produce over 500 at-bats and might not find out this year, either. He wasn’t hitting or throwing well at the time of the injury.

Q: Will Lucas Duda be more consistent?

A: When Conforto was moved to the No. 3 hole, Yoenis Cespedes went to clean-up and Duda was dropped to fifth. He’s hitting .240 with four homers and 14 RBI, and again has proven streaky. Four homers a month will give him 24 for the year, which is short of his expectations. Also short of what the Mets want from him.

Q: Will Neil Walker make people forget Daniel Murphy?

A: Walker has been the Mets’ Player of the Month for April with nine homers, tying him with Dave Kingman (1976), Carlos Delgado (2006) and John Buck (2013) for the club record. Sure, Murphy was a terrific month, but Walker has been better than advertised. The question now is: How hard will the Mets try to bring him back?

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

A: Cabrera has done it both in the field and at the plate. There’s no uneasiness when a grounder is hit to him.

Q: What can we expect from Wright?

A: Still nobody knows. It takes him two hours to get ready for a game and his back is always a question. Which is why it was foolish to let him play nine innings in a blowout game Friday night. Why push the envelope? Wright has two homers and only five RBI hitting mostly in the second spot in the order. He’s only hitting .143 (3-for-21) with RISP. It’s not about hitting for power, it is about hitting a single when you need it.

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. If it does happen that way, it has been a fun ride. Cespedes still has his lapses in the field, but he’s locked in at the plate with seven homers and 23 RBI for the month. However, he is on pace to strike out over 200 times.

Q: A breakout year for Conforto?

A: it is sure looking that way. Conforto lit the offense on fire since moving to the No. 3 hole. He closed the month reaching base in 17 straight games and tying a club record with doubles in six straight. He has four homers in his last 14 games. Everything he hits seems to be hard and on a line. Plus, he’s making the plays in the field. He’s not a star in the making. He already is a star.

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

A: After a slow start Granderson is on a roll. He’s scored 15 runs in his last 13 games and has a .350 on-base percentage. He also has four homers. Granderson still strikes out a lot and isn’t trying to steal anymore.

Q: How deep is the bench?

A: Kevin Plawecki is now a starter with d’Arnaud’s injury. Collins needs to find a way to get Alejandro De Aza and Flores more at-bats. Eventually, the Mets will need them. Rene Rivera is now the backup catcher.

Q: Who gets injured?

A: That’s always the wild card. Right now it is d’Arnaud. Cespedes missed several games with a bruised right leg, then hit a pinch-hit three-run homer to tie a game this week against Cincinnati. Harvey entered the season a question because of a bladder infection. He’s fine now. DeGrom’s lat was a scare, but he’s also fine. Wright, of course, is always a concern.

Q: What’s going with the Nationals?

A: The Nationals sprinted out of the gate and opened up a five-game lead on April 16 that is now down to a half-game. MVP Bryce Harper is playing as if he wants to win it again. Their pitching has also been strong and Murphy is playing well.

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 had another strong April this year at 15-7, which they needed to keep pace with Washington. The Nationals come to town for a three-game series, May 17-19, and the Mets are in Washington, May 23-25.

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