Feb 27

Wheeler Scratched From Start With Oblique Strain

It will not be the dream spring training for Zach Wheeler that he might have hoped. After all the Stephen Strasburg comparisons, Wheeler was scratched from today’s start against St. Louis with a mild strain of the oblique muscle.

Wheeler sustained the injury swinging a bat in pregame warm-ups. He said the injury was nothing serious and it felt a little stiff, but that is something we’ve heard numerous times from various Mets – notably Jose Reyes – over the years about this type of injury.

“I’d rather be out one start than two months and be behind the eight-ball when I do come back,’’ Wheeler told reporters. “Early in the spring you don’t want to risk anything. We have a month, or a month and a half, left.’’

Veteran Mets watchers will quickly say it will be more than one start, but he’s right, caution is the way to go on this injury. Muscle strains and muscle pulls always last longer than originally speculated; it’s a baseball variation of Murphy’s Law.

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Feb 25

Until The Product On The Field Improves, Mets Attendance Will Continue To Decline

mets fans

Josh Kosman of the NY Post is reporting that the Mets won’t have much money to play with this season and are expecting to lose more than $10 million this year as well as suffering a fifth straight year of declining attendance.

“There is little room this year to raise salaries,” said a source familiar with the team’s finances told the Post.

Last week, principal owner Fred Wilpon told reporters that the Mets’ money woes were over and suggested that he had the resources to boost payroll and sign some major free agents if that’s what Sandy Alderson chose to do.

“While attendance is expected to be down,” Kosman writes. “The team is banking on a small uptick in gate proceeds in its second season of so-called dynamic pricing, which allows ticket prices to be adjusted on the fly based on supply and demand.”

As I’ve said repeatedly and will say again, unless the product on the field improves, fans will continue to stay away. People don’t flock to ballparks and lay out a hundred bucks a game just because a team’s farm system ranks in the top ten. What matters most is wins and the players they pay to see.

As I’ve preached for the last two years, it looks like payroll will in fact be around $80 million in 2013 counting dollars that are actually being paid out. In July of 2011, many of my readers were aghast at that projection and yet here we are.

Next season, the Mets will have about $30 million in payroll commitments, give or take a few. Does anyone really expect Sandy Alderson to go out on a $70 million dollar spending spree? I don’t.

Read Kosman’s full article in the New York Post here.

Feb 18

Mets’ Full-Squad Workouts Start Today; Collins’ Lame-Duck Status

The Mets will have their first full squad workout this morning, prior to which Terry Collins will address his teams. Like I posted last night, don’t expect rah-rah. And, don’t expect the manager to use his lame-duck status as a motivator. He doesn’t work that way.

It must be an odd feeling for Collins to enter the season as a lame duck manager. Ownership and upper management are looking ahead to 2014, when Johan Santana’s contract will be off the books.

Trouble for Collins is he’s thinking about this year because there’s no guarantee of anything beyond while everybody else is thinking of the future.

Collins knows the score, but to his credit he’s not saying anything about it. Fred Wilpon and Sandy Alderson said they are pleased with the job Collins is doing and I’m wondering when that will translate into an extension.

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Feb 14

Wilpon Said Mets Will Spend, But Doubts Are Raised

Fred Wilpon’s proclamation in Port St. Lucie yesterday the Mets are now out of debt and ready to jump into the free-agent market brought a skeptical response.

The feeling wasn’t  “oh boy, let’s go get Jacoby Ellsbury next year,’’ but rather “I’ll believe it when it see it.’’

Remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and not re-signing R.A. Dickey spoke volumes about immediately competing.

I never thought the Wilpons were cheap. I thought they didn’t always spend wisely and gave Omar Minaya almost carte blanche to bring in whoever he wanted.

The Wilpons once were spending over $140 million in payroll and meted out generous contracts to guys like Oliver Perez, Johan Santana, Luis Castillo, Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez, Billy Wagner, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez.

That’s not being cheap.

They also gave long-term contracts early in their careers to Jose Reyes and David Wright when they could have had them for much cheaper. That was good business.

Also, don’t forget lesser tier contracts to guys like Scott Schoeneweis, Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, Guillermo Mota and Julio Franco. That’s more misguided than cheap.

Wilpon’s name was on all those checks, so let’s dispense of the notion they aren’t willing to spend. Isn’t going after Michael Bourn some indication?

The Mets are committed to stocking their farm system, which is the right way to go. The minor leagues represent a two-pronged approach to building a franchise: 1) to develop the talent to play on the major league level, and 2) to have the trade chips to deal for proven talent.

The Mets have some good, young pitching with potential, but are thin on position player prospects. They don’t want to deal their pitching and have few major players of value to trade – they don’t want to part with Jon Niese or Ike Davis and can’t trade Wright now – so their primary route for immediate improvement is by the free-agent market.

Sandy Alderson was an austerity-driven general manager while with Oakland and San Diego, and his first two years with the Mets. If Wilpon is willing to spend, it will be interesting to see how Alderson will react.

I don’t expect him to abandon his method of evaluating players, but hope he’ll show some daring if there is a big-ticket player available. Curtis Granderson could be had next winter, but are all his homers – figure a decline moving out of Yankee Stadium – worth all his strikeouts? I don’t think Alderson would agree.

Ellsbury would be ideal for Citi Field, but won’t come cheaply.

But, that’s next year.

The first test to the believability of that statement will come at the end of spring training when players are released to create a new free-agent market. That’s a wave of available talent, and I would guess, there could be an outfielder or two that could start for the Mets. Nothing great, but better than what is there now.

There could also be a reliever or two.

The second test will be at the trade deadline if the Mets are competitive. Alderson waited too long yesterday in the hope the Mets’ bullpen would right itself. It didn’t happen and soon after the All-Star break the season began to spiral out of control. By the deadline it was clear the season was lost.

The first two tests are important because they will show the Mets’ true intentions as to fielding a competitive team.

Wilpon also said yesterday spending would in part be contingent on attendance. Attendance has steadily declined and the way the roster is presently constructed doesn’t inspire confidence.

Signing Wright was the first step, but there are so many more to take.

Feb 13

Mets Shouldn’t Be Surprised At Francisco Injury And Losing Bourn

Two days into camp and the Mets have already taken two shots.

The first was inevitable, that Michael Bourn signed elsewhere. Come to think of it, so was the second when Frank Francisco was shut down with elbow inflammation. The proviso was Francisco would be the closer if healthy and he is clearly not.

How long he’ll be shut down is anybody’s guess, and opening the season on the disabled list is a fair place to start. In the interim Bobby Parnell will close. Again.

I like Parnell over Brandon Lyon or Josh Edgin because he has the greatest upside. Parnell has pitched in several capacities for the Mets, ranging as a starter to a set-up role to closer, and hasn’t excelled in any of them for a variety of reasons.

First, he has been overly reliant on is fastball, which, if it isn’t darting is hittable, regardless of how fast he throws. As a starter, he didn’t develop his secondary pitches. Also, it isn’t unrealistic to think how the Mets bounced him around from role to role didn’t have an accumulating impact on his confidence.

Remember, over the past few years the Mets have not been contenders so there wasn’t really any harm in letting Parnell learn on the job, even if it meant taking his lumps.

The Mets initially wanted Parnell as a starter, but then-manager Jerry Manuel – managing only to save his job – yanked Parnell from the rotation in September.

Parnell never had clear stake to the closer role. Yes, there were times he pitched terrible, but for a team going nowhere it was a chance to learn and turn it around. Don’t think that couldn’t have happened. Parnell closed at the end of last season when Francisco was injured and pitched well holding opponents to a .196 batting average over 17 appearances.

There’s no reason to rush Francisco back other than to attempt to salvage something for his $6.5 million contract (count that as a Sandy Alderson mistake).

So, the Mets will move on for now without Francisco, and also without Bourn, who was a long shot in the first place.

Assuming the Mets could have worked out a deal with agent Scott Boras – the Indians got him for $48 million – there was the matter of Bourn waiting for an arbitration hearing to determine whether they would surrender their draft pick.

If they had to, there would have been no deal. There is no way Bourn would have waited for that outcome and miss another offer. Bourn was never going to happen, and if I were a cynic I’d be thinking going after him was a smokescreen to suggest action.

That would have been a pipe dream, as is thinking Francisco wouldn’t go down again.