Mar 26

March 26.10: Figueroa’s story won’t change.

As compelling as the underdog story is, there’s a reason for why he is. Just as Cornell lost last night to Kentucky because of depth of talent, that is also the limitation of Nelson Figueroa’s feel-good story.

There’s a reason why Figueroa has bounced around all these years: His talent it that of the sixth man in a five-man rotation. Every once in awhile he shows a glimmer, but overall the more he pitches the more his flaws are exposed.

Figueroa pitches today not so much as an effort to get Jerry Manuel to change his mind about the fifth spot in the rotation but as he does to audition for somebody else.

Figueroa, 35, who refers as himself as an “insurance policy,’’ has been around long enough to know the score.

“I’m in a position where I’m going out there and throwing for 29 other teams right now,’’ Figueroa said. “Being the insurance policy has its benefits. But at the same time, it’s a frustrating situation. I feel like if I’m given the opportunity to be more than that, I can be.’’

But, it won’t happen with the Mets because there’s always a faster gun, somebody who is younger, who throws harder, who is more a natural.

Actually, Figueroa got an extended look last year because of the Mets’ decimated rotation and went 3-8 with a 4.09 ERA. That included losing five consecutive decisions in September,

Figueroa’s heart, grit and determination is the essence of what sport should be, but it isn’t the reality in today’s game, which is driven by the need to win immediately. Maybe in a town with less pressure, Figueroa might get a chance.

But it would be the same story with the Mets, him passing through waivers, going back to Triple-A Buffalo, and waiting for the call generated by the inevitable injury or calamity in the rotation.

Still, pitching minor league baseball for what Figueroa would make is a better job than most of us will have, earning him $119,500 if he spends the full season in the minors.

It just isn’t the job he wants.

Mar 18

March 18.10: What’s Jerry’s thinking about the fifth starter?

With most managers, at least those with security, their objectives are a balance between winning today and building for the future. That can’t be said for the Mets’ Jerry Manuel, who has joked about the importance of a fast start for the preservation of his job.

There’s truth in humor.

Manuel presided over the late season collapse of 2008 and full season free fall of 2009, and knows the Mets must contend, if not get to the playoffs and win a round, if he’s to return next year. Manuel’s job is on the line, and with it there’s a sense of urgency of being competitive immediately.

Given that, it stands to reason Manuel’s decisions, like that of choosing his fifth starter, will be to give him the best chance of winning now as opposing for building for the future, because quite simply, he has no guarantee of a future.

Manuel’s comments the other day that he’d like to see Hisanori Takahashi start a game this spring suggests strongly he’s being seriously considered for the fifth starter role. Takahashi has been superb in six scoreless innings, giving up two hits and striking out nine.

“What we have seen so far is he really has the ability to pitch and pitch with all his pitches,” Manuel said. “He probably is our sharpest pitcher right now, as far as everything hitting where he wants it to hit.”

If not Takahashi, then perhaps Fernando Nieve. Nelson Figueroa will be sent out to clear waivers, and Jon Niese, who went into spring training the favorite, will be sent out because he has options remaining.

Niese might be the fifth starter down the road, but Manuel doesn’t have the luxury of letting him learn on the job. As long as Takahashi is getting batters out, the Mets have a chance to win, and that means Manuel has a better chance to stick around.

Feb 23

Feb. 23.10: Escobar taking it slowly.

The Mets’ first immediate injury concern is reliever Kelvim Escobar, who is projected as a possible eighth-inning set-up reliever to Francisco Rodriguez. If Escobar gets the eighth inning it stands to reason Bobby Parnell would get the seventh, where theoretically, there is less pressure.

Escobar is bothered with weakness – not pain – in his shoulder. There won’t be timetable for his return until he starts long tossing.

Feb 12

Feb. 12.10: Trying to be positive.

I know, I know, some of you will think that’s impossible, or that you’ve stumbled on to a different blog. But, today, on the heels of Bill James’ prediction of the Mets’ rotation, I’ll be trying to come up with some reasons to think positive about Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and yes, even Oliver Perez.

PELFREY: A 2010 key.

PELFREY: A 2010 key.


The inspiration comes after reading where James predicted the following seasons for Pelfrey (9-12, 4.45 ERA), Perez (8-11, 4.73) and Maine (9-9, 3.86 ERA). If James is close on the three, I don’t have to tell you what kind of season the Mets will have.

PELFREY: Pelfrey, despite taking a step back, went 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA in 31 starts. Pelfrey is only 26, young enough to believe there’s room for growth. Pelfrey made strides in 2008 and showed several glimpses of that form last year. With 31 starts, he’s proven to be durable. There’s reason to be hopeful about him. It would be premature to bail on him now.

PEREZ: Perez was hurt last season and went 3-4 with a 6.82 ERA in 14 starts. Perez has always run hot-and-cold, but his inconsistency last season was created in large part to the World Baseball Classic in spring training. There’s none of that this year. Perez worked out this winter at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona, and all the reports have been positive. Perez did win 15 games in 2007, so it’s not like we haven’t seen an upside from him.

MAINE: Like Perez, Maine won 15 games in 2007, his last full healthy season. Coming off surgery, Maine was 7-6 with a 4.43 ERA in 15 starts. The health reports have been good so far on Maine, and if he duplicates last season, projected over a full season he’d win 14 or 15 games. Who wouldn’t take that now?

Yes, I know James’ predictions are possible, but for now try to envision all the issues coming up positive for the Mets. If it all breaks right, you never know.

Jan 22

Jan. 22.10: Matthews to Mets.

MATTHEWS: Brings baggage to Mets.

MATTHEWS: Brings baggage to Mets.

Gary Matthews Jr., to the Mets from the Los Angeles Angels looks like a done deal. Several media outlets have made the report, but the Mets have not confirmed the deal.

Uncertain, is who the Angels would get in return or if there is a third team involved.

I’m not a Matthews fan, and if the Angels are willing to spend $20 million of the remaining $24 million of his contract to get rid of him, what does that say about their regard for the player? Matthews hit .250 with four homers and 50 RBI, with an on-base percentage of .336 last season.

Since 1999, Matthews has played for seven teams, including two games with the Mets in 2002. There has to be a reason why he’s always been on the move.

His numbers averaged out over a 162-game schedule is a .258 average with 14 homers and 63 RBI. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff.

Matthews’ best season was 2006 when he hit .313 (his only .300 season) with 19 homers and 79 RBI (both career highs), for which he was rewarded with that ridiculous contract by the Angels.

Matthews’ name also surfaced in the Mitchell Report, which begs the question of what he might have hit if he were clean.

I know they need a center fielder, but I don’t like this deal.

I replaced the pitching poll with one on Matthews.