Oct 22

Mets Should Pick Up Smaller Pieces First

Like most teams, the Mets usually focus on big-ticket items at the start of their offseason shopping. For the Mets, that’s Yoenis Cespedes, but even if they do bring him back, he shouldn’t be their first order of business.

The Mets should start with the smaller pieces and that’s what they appeared to do with the decision of exercising their option on Jose Reyes.

REYES: Bringing him back. (Getty)

REYES: Bringing him back. (Getty)

With the uncertainty of David Wright, plus Colorado responsible for paying Reyes $41 million over the next three years – including $22 million for 2017 – it was a no-brainer. The 33-year-old Reyes hit .267 with eight homers, 24 RBI and nine stolen bases in 60 games. That production is definitely worth the major league minimum $507,500 the Mets will pay him.

It was an obvious decision, as was the one not to pick up Jon Niese’s $10-million option. While it would have been good to have Niese as a fallback considering the health issues of their starting rotation, there’s no way they would have gambled being stuck carrying his $10-million contract.

They haven’t done it yet, but bringing back Bartolo Colon – who made $7.25 million last year – is another no-brainer. Colon, at 43, lead the Mets in games started (33), innings pitched (191.2) and victories (15).

There’s no guarantee how the four Mets starters coming off surgery – Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler – will respond from surgery, so Colon is essential. They should have given him a contract as he was cleaning out his locker.

Another imperative decision is bringing back Addison Reed, who had 40 holds to set up closer Jeurys Familia.

Other lower-profile decisions should be made on utility infielder Kelly Johnson and catcher Rene Rivera.

Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Neil Walker represent more costly choices, but they are just three of 25 players on the team. The Mets will need these other less expensive pieces, so they might as well take care of them now.

Please follow me on Twitter

Oct 19

Mets’ First Priority Should Be Reed

Of all their possible free agents, the most important one for the Mets to bring back is set-up reliever Addison Reed.

But wait, what about Yoenis Cespedes you say? Or scream?

REED:  Should be first. (AP)

REED: Should be first. (AP)

Cespedes hit 31 homers and drove in 86 runs, which, of course, is important. But, it can be replaced as the Mets have Jay Bruce – a combined 33 homers and 99 RBI with Cincinnati and New York – plus the untapped potential of Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo to compensate for that loss.

If they don’t bring back Cespedes, they can use the projected $100 million earmarked for him to keep Reed, bring back Bruce and plug elsewhere.

However, there’s no telling where the Mets would have been had they not had Reed’s 40 holds. The eighth-inning set-up role is one of the most difficult to do and Reed was exceptional.

The Mets weren’t in the playoffs without him.

While the Mets have options without Cespedes, they don’t have that luxury should they lose Reed. Who do you want to give his near 80 innings to? Hansel Robles? Jim Henderson? Fernando Salas?

Without Reed, there’s stress throughout the bullpen. Bullpen stress is a season killer. I’ve seen too many Mets’ summers disintegrate because of a lousy bullpen. Anybody remember the great collapse of 2007? Or, how about the one in 2008?

The bullpen is critical to the Mets’ success in 2017 as there are health concerns with all their starters, four of whom are coming off surgery. Realistically, one can’t expect to get seven innings – at least early in the season – from the rotation, which puts pressure on the bullpen. You’ll be surprised with how the innings accumulate.

Then, after two rough Octobers, many have questions about Jeurys Familia. I’m not in that camp, but just suppose those questions are valid. If nothing else, the Mets have the flexibility of using Reed in that role. Reed has also shown the ability to get more than three outs.

As these playoffs have shown, pitching always trumps hitting. A strong staff needs a steady bullpen, and Reed is a critical asset for the Mets. Many of you didn’t like how manager Terry Collins juggled his pen. Imagine how you’d feel if they didn’t have Reed.

I don’t have much faith the Mets will dive deeply into the free-agent pool. I don’t know how much money GM Sandy Alderson will spend, but his first check should go to Reed.

Please follow me on Twitter

Oct 05

Mets-Giants Matchups; Loney Gets Start

Regardless of how Terry Collins explains it, the Mets’ manager made the right decision to start James Loney at first base in tonight’s wild-card game.

Collins said Loney is better defensively, but we already knew that to be a no-brainer. It is also a slam dunk that in what could be a classic pitcher’s duel – Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard – runs figure to come at a premium placing an emphasis on defense.

LONEY: Gets call. (AP)

LONEY: Gets call. (AP)

Collins also said Lucas Duda might not be physically ready, but why did the Mets go through the motions without knowing for sure?

Duda is a strikeout machine when he’s not on his game, and after missing most of the season, it was a reach hoping he’d catch lightning in a bottle. Loney doesn’t have great numbers against Bumgarner – 2-for-13 – but did play 100 games for the Mets and hit .265 with nine homers and 34 RBI. One of those homers was a deciding two-run blast Saturday to clinch home field for the wild-card.

Even so, Loney said he’s anxious to face Bumgarner.

“He’s been a great pitcher for many years now,” Loney told reporters. “[He] throws strikes and competes out there. A fierce competitor.”

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight and the likely Giant opposite number:

Jose Reyes, 3B: Returned to his roots and supplied the spark the Mets needed. … It could be a game-time decision for the Giants to start Eduardo Nunez (hamstring issues) or Conor Gillaspie.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: Depending on your perspective, he could be their MVP with solid defense and clutch hitting despite two bad knees. … Brandon Crawford should have been on the All-Star team. He hit .275 with 12 homers and 84 RBI, but has been prone to the strikeout (115) this year.

Yoenis Cespedes, LF: Is the center piece of the Mets’ offense despite finishing the season on a 3-for-24 slide. … The Giants go with a familiar face – former Met Angel Pagan – who has been a solid switch-hitter in his five years on the West Coast. Is a stolen base threat with 15.

Curtis Granderson, CF: Had a strong second half to finish with 30 homers, but his RBI total was shockingly low. Has played a solid center. … Former Washington National Denard Span is back to torment the Mets. Hit 11 homers and still plays a decent center.

Jay Bruce, RF: Did not provide the pop the Mets wanted, but might have salvaged his tenure here to the point of returning next year with homers in three of his last five games. … Hunter Pence is a guy the Mets should have gone after when he was in Philadelphia. Has played hurt most of the year, but hit .289 with 13 homers and 57 RBI.

T.J. Rivera, 2B: Minor league batting champion is still hitting as Wilmer Flores’ replacement. Hasn’t been rattled yet. … Joe Panik has also played hurt most of the year, but still drove in 62 runs. Is beyond solid defensively.

Loney, 1B: Good glove and a steady bat. One of GM Sandy Alderson’s midseason replacements that helped put the Mets here. … Brandon Belt led the Giants with 17 homers. Is patient at the plate and solid defensively.

Rene Rivera, C: Wasn’t on the Opening Day roster, but his calming presence helped Matt Harvey early and later Syndergaard, especially against the running game. … Buster Posey could be the game’s premier catcher. Calls a great game and is a clutch hitter.

Syndergaard, RHP: Has overpowering stuff and with injuries to Harvey and Jacob deGrom emerged as the ace. Can support himself at the plate, but a weakness is an inability to slow down the running game (48 stolen bases in 57 attempts). … If you believe in the law of averages, the Mets could be in good shape against Bumgarner, who is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA lifetime at Citi Field, and a 0.91 ERA in his last eight postseason appearances.

Please follow me on Twitter

Oct 04

Mets-Giants: Five Key Battles

There are games within the game – the key match-ups – that could determine the winner of Wednesday’s Mets-Giants, wild-card game. The winner goes on to play the Cubs in the NL Division Series. There were alternating times this season that both teams thought that might not be possible.

Because of its Game 7 winner-take-all format, there’s a fragile balance to the individual match-ups, with the slightest play or decision determining whether a team’s season ends or winter begins.

SYNDERGAARD: Mets' biggest key. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Mets’ biggest key. (FOX)

Here are my five most intriguing match-ups:

BATTLE OF THE MANAGERS: While there have been reports the Mets’ Terry Collins could have been fired in August, the Giants’ Bruce Bochy could be a Hall of Famer. Based on winning three World Series titles, I would vote for him. Collins deserves kudos for keeping his team together during a string of adversities and controversies. Doing that should merit serious Manager of the Year consideration. It should be noted some of those controversies were self-induced.

In the end: When faced with a decision Bochy won’t waffle as Collins did in Game 5 of the World Series when he stuck with Matt Harvey.

BATTLE OF THE ACES: Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard is as intriguing as it gets. It is a dream for those loving a pitcher’s duel. While Syndergaard is in his first full season – really hard to believe – Bumgarner is an established postseason presence with the lowest road ERA 0.60 ERA (minimum of 25 innings) in playoff history. Bumgarner’s performance two years ago against Kansas City, when he won Games 1 and 5, then came back on two days to throw five innings in relief for the save in Game 7, is arguably one of the most impressive performances in postseason history.

The Mets like to boast of their young arms – and rightfully so – but Harvey, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz had a long way to match Bumgarner.

In the end: Syndergaard has the stuff for greatness and he’s pitched hurt. It wouldn’t be surprising if he spins a shutout, as he’s that dominant. But, if you get on you can steal on him, rattle him and drive him from the game. In a big game, there are a handful of names you want: Sandy Koufax (4-3, 0-95 ERA), Cliff Lee (7-0, 1.27 ERA), Andy Pettitte (19-10, 3.83 ERA), Orel Hershiser (8-3, 2.59 ERA), John Smoltz (15-4, 2.67 ERA), Curt Schilling (11-2, 2.23 ERA) and Bumgarner (7-3, 2.14 ERA).

BATTLE OF OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHIES: All season, Collins sang the refrain the Mets were a team built on the home run. The Giants, meanwhile, are a better at stringing together innings and putting pressure on the pitcher. Statistics is baseball’s yardstick. We can get caught up in the new-age numbers, but there are only a few that give a clearer picture.

It’s all about runs.

Mets: 671 runs scored; 218 homers; 649 RBI. Giants: 715 runs scored; 130 homers; 675 RBI.

Batting averages count, too.

Mets: Hit .225 with RISP and .187 with two outs and RISP. Giants: Hit .250 with RISP and .220 with two outs and RISP.

Other important numbers.

Mets: On-base percentage of .316, with 517 walks and 1,302 strikeouts. Giants: On-base percentage of .329 with 572 walks and 1,107 strikeouts.

Summary: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a storyline all season, and they can’t afford to squander whatever opportunities they’ll get against Bumgarner. While the Mets do live on the homer and clearly have more power with three hitters – Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson hitting over 30 – the Giants outscored them by 44 runs. The Mets don’t prolong innings with walks let too many chances get away by striking out.

BATTLE OF THE STARS

When it comes to the stars, it’s Cespedes against Buster Posey and their contrasting styles of power vs. patience.

Cespedes hit .280 with 31 homers, but only 86 RBI. For all his homers there should be more run production, especially since he hit .278 with RISP. However, his production is offset by 108 strikeouts compared to only 51 walks. In the clutch, pitchers are able to get Cespedes to chase.

Cespedes is an imposing figure at the plate, but his MVP candidacy faded with mediocre numbers after the All-Star break of .246, ten homers and 34 RBI. One red flag entering the postseason was Cespedes’ numbers since Sept. 15, when every one of the Mets’ 15 games was crucial. In his span, Cespedes hit .220 (13-for-59) with one homer and seven RBI, with ten strikeouts and seven RBI.

Another was his non-presence in the Mets’ clubhouse celebration. I appreciate his disappointment in how he ended the season, but this was a team moment and reminiscent of a NFL wide receiver. Yoenis, meet Odell Beckham Jr.

When it comes to needing a homer, you want Cespedes, but what about Posey?

Posey’s.288 average only a handful of points higher than Cespedes, but with only 14 homers. However, he drove in 80 runs creating speculation how many RBI he could have had if matched Cespedes’ power?

He’s a gap hitter with 33 doubles (Cespedes had 25) and better in the clutch with a .311 average with runners on base and .287 with RISP. Posey hit only .221 after the seventh inning, but that’s when he hit five of his homers with 21 RBI.

After the All-Star break, Posey hit .282 with three homers and 38 to pump the brakes on the Giants’ second-half skid. Since Sept. 15, Posey hit .306 (19-for-62) with two homers and 16 RBI (averaged one a game for 16 games) with nine strikeouts and seven walks.

Summary: It depends on what you want. If it’s a homer, go with Cespedes, but Posey is more apt to drive in a run in other ways and keep an inning alive with 68 strikeouts and 64 walks. It comes to this: Who do you want at the plate in the ninth inning, with the game tied with a runner on third with less than two outs?

BATTLE OF THE BULLPENS

Of all the stats, perhaps the most important could leave the others useless, and that’s the Giants’ 29 blown saves, including nine in September. Santiago Casilla (31 saves) lost his closer role to Sergio Romo (four saves), but the Mets’ eighth-inning duo of Addison Reed (40 holds) and Jeurys Familia (51 saves) is the most reliable in the majors.

Summary: Both teams need to get through seven, but with different reasons.

The Giants need to string together enough runs and work Syndergaard’s pitch count to get into the middle of the Mets’ bullpen. If they do that, and Bumgarner gets through the seventh and into the eighth, they can win.

The Mets need to get to Bumgarner enough to a lead entering the eighth. If they do that, and Syndergaard takes the Mets to the Reed-Familia finish line – something he’s done 12 times in 30 starts and only twice in his last five, we could see Bartolo Colon Friday in Chicago.

Please follow me on Twitter

Sep 30

Gsellman, Bruce Carry Mets One Step Closer

Usually, a playoff team has a player or two not on their radar coming out of spring, that end up carrying them down the stretch. The Mets have had more than a handful this year, but clinched a tie for the wild-card spot because of the hefty contributions of Robert Gsellman and Jay Bruce.

Gsellman, along with Seth Lugo, carried the Mets’ rotation following injuries to Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom; Bruce, whom they coveted last year but wound up with Yoenis Cespedes, instead, is finally hitting to expectations.

GSELLMAN: Superb again. (AP)

GSELLMAN: Superb again. (AP)

Gsellman gave up one run in six innings and Bruce drove in three runs with his fourth homer in six games to give the Mets a 5-1 victory in chilly Philly Friday night.

However, it has been more than one game – for both.

Gsellman is 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA in his last four starts with a 25-6 strikeouts-walks ratio. He is 4-2 overall, and combined with Lugo, have won nine games.

“We’ve asked a lot of out young pitchers,” Collins said. “But, nobody was thrust in a pennant race like these guys have. They’ve done a great job of controlling their emotions. They’ve been very impressive.”

The Mets wanted Bruce last summer, but the Reds were seeking too much. After the Carlos GomezWilmer Flores/Zack Wheeler fell through, the Mets had Cespedes fall into their laps.

With Cespedes hurting for almost all of July, the Mets again needed to import a bat.

“We knew when we got him if he could start swinging the bat he would change our lineup,” Collins said. “Hopefully, he can stay hot.”

Bruce fell into deep slump shortly after the trade and was benched for several games. A pinch-hit homer got him back into the lineup, and he’s scorched ever since. Bruce is riding a six-game hitting streak, going 10-for-20 with four homers and eight RBI in that span.

“It wasn’t at a great time,” Bruce said of his slump. “But, I’m on the upswing now. I’m swinging at pitches I can hit and not missing them. … I’ve always had confidence in myself and I have confidence in this team. I want to help this team get to a World Series and win it.”

They can take another step in that direction with a victory Saturday behind Bartolo Colon.