Jul 14

Top Ten Mets’ Questions In Second Half

The Mets are home tonight for the start of a ten-game homestand that will determine the course of what is becoming a lost season.

While there’s little hope other than mathematics that they will be able to make a playoff push, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t significant questions that must be answered that could determine the direction of this franchise for years:

ALDERSON: Facing a lot of questions. (AP)

ALDERSON: Facing a lot of questions. (AP)

  1. Will they be buyers or sellers at the deadline?

A: The Mets can’t advertise that they are giving up on the year before their longest homestand of the season. Their two most valuable commodities are closer Addison Reed and outfielder Jay Bruce, both of whom will be free agents this winter. This would make them rentals to any team dealing with the Mets.

Other assets who would command less are Curtis Granderson, Jerry Blevins, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

2. Will we see Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith?

A: That was one of the prevailing first-half questions. GM Sandy Alderson insists they aren’t ready, when in reality he was just waiting out the market. Rosario would mean the end of Reyes and Cabrera – assuming they aren’t dealt – and Smith would likely determine Duda’s future.

3. Will Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey pitch again this season?

A: Harvey has already begun throwing and Syndergaard is two weeks from starting, but neither have a definitive timetable to return. Syndergaard has a partially torn lat muscle and the Mets want to know what they have moving forward. Syndergaard likewise wants to know where he is physically, which would dictate his offseason conditioning and throwing program. Hopefully, this winter he won’t hit the weights too much.

As for Harvey, it could very well be his real value to the Mets is as trade bait. I have written numerous times Harvey is just biding his time before he’s a free agent after the 2018 season. He hinted as much in 2015 when his agent Scott Boras brought up Harvey’s innings ceiling. The Mets can explore trading Harvey now or they can hope he comes back strong in the second half and the first half in 2018 before shopping him next year. Either way, his time with the Mets is numbered.

4. Will Yoenis Cespedes stay healthy and become the hitter the Mets are paying all that money to?

A: He’s strong, but muscle bound, which makes him susceptible to muscle pulls. Watching Cespedes run, whether on the bases or in the outfield, and you have to think it is a matter of time before he’s hobbling again.

5. Will manager Terry Collins finally give the Mets’ All-Star, Michael Conforto enough playing time?

A: Assuming Bruce and Granderson aren’t traded, then Collins must either bench the latter or devise a playing rotation for the four.

6. Will Collins do the same for Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera?

A: Neither Flores nor Rivera are the physical prototypes Alderson craves, but they produce despite not having a designated position. Both can play anywhere in the infield save shortstop.

7. Speaking of infielders, what will happen with Neil Walker?

A: It wasn’t a bad gamble to give Walker a $17.2 million qualifying offer. After all, it was for only one year and the Mets believed they were competitors. Walker wants a multi-year deal, which the Mets would be foolish to give him, especially with the money owed Cespedes and David Wright.

8. Will we see Wright?

A: The Mets don’t have a timetable for Wright’s return following his back surgery. Thinking positively, if Wright could come back and play well, it could make the Mets’ offseason plans a bit smoother. If he doesn’t come back, will he retire?

9. What is Collins’ future with the Mets?

A: The major league’s oldest manager is in his last year with the Mets. He could retire, but after this season, the Mets could decide not to bring him back. There remains the question of whether he would want to return.

10. What is Alderson’s future with the Mets?

A:  He’ll be 70 this winter and you have to wonder how much longer he wants to do this, especially if the Mets opt to rebuild. The young, vaunted pitching staff has not made one uninterrupted cycle through the rotation together and there’s no guarantee it ever will. There is a multitude of other issues with the Mets and maybe Alderson doesn’t want to go the building process again.

May 29

Harvey Not Vintage, But Good Enough

We’ve seen Matt Harvey better, but we’ll take the version we saw last night in Pittsburgh. Last night Harvey pitched with more poise than we’ve seen in a long time; he pitched out of trouble and survived through a season-high six innings in carrying the Mets over the Pirates.

Harvey threw in the mid-90s last night, not the 98 he carried as a punch-them-out weapon in 2013 when he terrorized National League batting orders. His command last night was better as he issued only two walks, and most importantly gave up a season-low one run.

HARVEY: Good enough. (AP)

HARVEY: Good enough. (AP)

The Mets will win most games if he gives up one run, and if that’s the Harvey we’ve been waiting for, it will be worth the wait.

“We’ve been talking about it: He doesn’t have to throw 97 [mph] to get people out,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters. “Tonight he showed that.”

Harvey has endured two season-ending surgeries since he became a cartoon superhero in 2013. Once defiant, Harvey was acceptant of what has happened.

“Obviously, it’s just taken a little bit of time,” said Harvey. “It’s been frustrating for me. But a lot of the work has been paying off, and really, it’s a huge, huge positive for me being able to execute those pitches tonight.”

At the end of the 2015 season, when Harvey’s innings became an issue when he spoke of his agent Scott Boras, he said he hired him to secure his future, which we all know is his 2018 walk year for a crosstown trip to the Bronx.

The Mets would take that right now because it would mean a Harvey that could be good enough to pitch them into an October or two.

Mar 30

Are Mets Rushing Wheeler?

Evidently, Mets GM Sandy Alderson didn’t learn much from Matt Harvey’s innings limit fiasco in 2015. That’s what I took from his comments Thursday with the news Zack Wheeler made the Opening Day roster and rotation.

WHEELER: Why the rush? (AP)

WHEELER: Why the rush? (AP)

I’m happy for Wheeler because it has been a long, two-year road following Tommy John surgery. However, I’m not sure he’s physically ready and it appears the Mets might be pushing him, and possibly for the wrong reasons.

Alderson suggested the decision to take Wheeler north was made in part as a psychological boost to him, but is that a good enough reason?

“From our standpoint, it’s been a long trek for Zack, and we felt if it was kind of an uptick physically, then emotionally and mentally it would be a real positive for him to begin the season and not just be relegated to Port St. Lucie again,” Alderson told reporters. “He’s feeling good and we feel real good about it.”

I’m glad Wheeler feels better – who wouldn’t be? – but is he strong enough? And, do the Mets have a definitive plan to keep him strong and healthy?

Maybe I missed it, but I couldn’t find anything after translating Alderson.

“Assuming things go well, [Wheeler] will pitch until he reaches a limit,” Alderson said. “We have a target, but targets move, so I think it will depend a lot on how he’s performing and how he’s feeling, try to build in a little bit of flexibility. I don’t think he’s going to pitch 200 innings.”

Of course not, but that’s Alderson being sarcastic.

The target initially was 110 innings. Then up to 120 to 125. But, if targets “move,” as Alderson said, then it isn’t really a limit, is it?

Weeding through Alderson’s words, one can’t find when he would be shut down, or if he will even sit at all. That is reminiscent of what happened with Harvey when his agent, Scott Boras, came forward with an innings limit to catch Alderson off guard.

Because they are blessed with depth in Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero, they have the luxury of being able to shut him down.

Wheeler’s in the rotation and will make his first start, April 7, against Miami. Figuring six innings a start, Wheeler would reach his limit after 20 starts, which puts him around mid-to-late July.

What could be a driving force to go with Wheeler is because Steven Matz has been shut down for at least three weeks with a sore left elbow. But, they are trying to fill the void of one injured pitcher with another questionable pitcher.

Where’s the logic in that, especially when they have the Lugo and Montero options?

“It’s been a long road,” Wheeler told reporters. “I know I’m starting probably because Steve got hurt, and that is unfortunate and I wish him a fast recovery. But I’m here and healthy and want to pitch, and that is what I’m about to be able to do.”

I hope this all works out for Wheeler and this doesn’t come back to bite him in the elbow, or Alderson in the butt.

Oct 24

Should Injuries Shelve Long-Term Talks With Mets Pitchers?

For the past two years, signing the Mets’ young pitchers to long-term contracts seemed a paramount issue. Whom should they sign first, and for how much? Could they afford to sign two? In their wildest dreams, could they keep them all?

HARVEY: What's his market value now? (Getty)

HARVEY: What’s his market value now? (Getty)

With four pitchers coming off surgery, such talk now is but a whisper. We’re not hearing too much these days about Matt Harvey – who had shoulder surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome – leaving after the 2018 season for the Yankees or anybody else for that matter.

Steven Matz had surgery to repair bone spurs in his left elbow and Jacob deGrom, who had Tommy John surgery, is recovering from a second surgery to treat a nerve issue in his elbow. Then there is Zack Wheeler, who had Tommy John surgery and was supposed to ready by July but we didn’t see him all summer and nobody can say for sure when we will.

We won’t know for sure how they are until the spring, but the recovery forecast is looking good for the Mets’ surgically-repaired pitchers as doctors are telling the team they should be ready for the season. Even so, the Mets are likely to handle them all with kid gloves which is why they are interested in bringing back Bartolo Colon and draw relief with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

The Mets have seven young arms – plus Colon – but we’re no longer hearing talk about contract extensions. Whom should they sign first? Can they afford to sign two or three at a time? Who should they trade to plug holes elsewhere?

However, with Harvey, Matz, deGrom and Wheeler, what’s their trade value? Will teams risk dealing high-level prospects for damaged goods? Certainly, the Mets can’t command as much should they explore trading.

Conventional wisdom has the Mets backing off long-term contract talks as to avoid signing somebody who might not win, or even pitch for them. While their potential might be high, their proven production is not.

Then again, it wouldn’t hurt for the Mets to explore extensions now when their market value might not be as high as it could be in two or three years. It’s a gamble worth considering.

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Jul 08

Harvey Made Right Call On Surgery

Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey unquestionably made the right decision to undergo surgery for treatment of the thorasic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder. It was the best option for his pitching and financial future, and to the Mets for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Dr. Robert Thompson is expected to perform the procedure next week in St. Louis. The surgery, which would entail removing one of his ribs, is designed to relieve pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the space between the neck and shoulder. The increased pressure caused numbness in his arm and fingers.

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

Harvey’s options were surgery or a nerve-blocking injection, the latter being a temporary solution with surgery eventually required.

Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, whose comments last year on the pitcher’s innings limit created a stir, strongly advocated the surgery to ESPN: “The doctors clearly recommended that he have this done, mainly so that he can be ready for ’17.’

“The rehab on this is six months. Now, if there was a small window of a season, you might be able to take a shot. It’s actually Botox, which relaxes the muscles. That’s not a long-term solution. `The only way this is going to be treated appropriately –  and obviously, we don’t want to do anything to affect next year – is to get this surgically taken care of.”

That’s the understandable driving force behind the decision. This was chosen to set up Harvey for his turn at free agency. Had he chosen the injection and gotten through the season, that would be great. But, if it only lasted a few months and he had the surgery later this year, or in the offseason, or next year, all or most of 2017, could be lost. That would leave Harvey with one year to make an impression on his future suitors when he hits the free agent market after the 2018 season.

And, nobody knows how he’ll pitch coming off surgery. If you’re Harvey – not to mention the Mets or any team that would go after him – you want two years to make an impression. That’s why Harvey’s decision is a no-brainer. But, how does losing Harvey help the Mets the rest of this year?

Knowing the Mets won’t have him in the second half enables GM Sandy Alderson to freely pursue another arm before the July 31 trade deadline, even if it jacks up the asking price. That’s preferable to waiting through at least two Harvey starts before hitting the market late, which would increase the price even more.

This also allows manager Terry Collins to determine his rotation now and eliminates the inevitable questioning and excuse making after each of his starts. And, who would want to see Harvey go down for surgery in a September pennant-race game or the playoffs?

Harvey hasn’t pitched well, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts, and this ailment is an obvious explanation. Harvey frequently complained about not having his mechanics, but not having feelings in his arm and fingers could explain a change in mechanics.

However, left unanswered is why Harvey hadn’t complained about a lack of feeling before his disastrous start on Monday. Boras’ answer to that question explains both the good, and bad, about Harvey.

His bulldog approach on the mound, for example, his eight innings in Game 5 of the World Series, is to be applauded. It’s the spirit that defines an ace. That’s the good.

But, here’s the bad, as delivered by Boras.

“He’s felt this way since spring training, but he wanted to gut it out, try to do it, until finally, he’s going, ‘Look, I’m just feeling like I don’t feel the baseball the same.’ Once we heard that, I was like, ‘Maybe we have a TOS situation,’ and got him over to Dr. Thompson.”

Sounds plausible, but it underscores the increasingly, maddening, “I’ll do what I feel like” aspect that has defined Harvey’s short career. It also raises the inevitable question of what could have happened had this been discovered a month or two earlier.

If he had surgery in May or June perhaps he could have come back in late August, or September, or even the playoffs.

We’ll never know.