Jan 04

Mets’ individual goals for 2011

The beginning of the new year is always fresh with optimism and goal setting. Yesterdays don’t matter anymore and the focus is on today and tomorrow.

As an organization the Mets’ 2011 goals are to get through the season as competitively as possible, shed itself of its suffocating contracts and lay a foundation for 2012. The free-agent signings of Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz are low-risk, with the potential for high-rewards moves. The possibility of improving the bullpen and possibly the rotation at minimal cost are the type of decisions we’ve come to expect from Sandy Alderson. If they acquire Jeff Francis or Chris Young, it would be more of the same. These moves won’t push the Mets over the top, but they can make for an interesting summer — if the following goals are also reached.

The following Mets should have these resolutions and goals.

JOHAN SANTANA: Don’t push your return from shoulder surgery and accept the marquee days of your career could be over. Santana’s injury is serious and there’s no reasonable expectation he’ll return prior to the All-Star break. The competitor in him wants to pitch and there’s the danger of him pushing it. Santana has pitched with injury before, but he must be especially careful now, even if it means setting out the entire season. To re-injure his shoulder could mean the end of his career. And, with 2011 all but a write-off season, there should be no urgency on the part of the Mets, either.

MIKE PELFREY: Pelfrey made tremendous strides last year, but regressed in June. Hopefully, he has learned from it. During that swoon Pelfrey reverted to bad habits and lost his focus on the mound. Pelfrey went away from trusting his stuff and started aiming the ball. When all else fails, Pelfrey must realize if he keeps it low he has the stuff to overpower hitters. Above all, without Santana, I don’t want Pelfrey to put too much of a burden on himself with the expectations. Pelfrey is what he is, which is a good, developing pitcher. He’s not a No. 1 yet, so his goal should be not to put that pressure on himself.

RA DICKEY: Dickey’s goal should to duplicate 2010 as much as possible. It was a career year for him so a regression shouldn’t be a surprise. Dickey can no longer sneak up on teams, so how he responds with expectations will be interesting to see.

JON NIESE: Niese had a good start but growing pains eventually caught up with him and he slid from 6-2 to 9-10. Niese, obviously, isn’t a given and his goal needs to trust his stuff and try to make gradual improvement. There are expectations on Niese he’s never had before, made even heavier by the questions swirling around the rotation. Niese must learn to keep things simple and not over extend himself.

BOBBY PARNELL: Quite simply, his goal must be to harness his near 100 mph. fastball to where he can capture the set-up role, which is his for the taking. How well Parnell does in this role will go a long way toward moving him into the closer’s role for 2012 should Francisco Rodriguez fail to finish 55 games.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: K-Rod has to keep his temper and get off to a fast start. If he’s hot early and the Mets are in contention, he’ll get more save opportunities to increase his chances of that $17.5 million option kicking in. The Mets would prefer he fail short and instead go with the buyout. One of the most interesting storylines of the summer will be Rodriguez. If he’s good, so will be the Mets. If he’s not, the team will likely be sluggish, but facing a financial windfall for next winter.

JOSH THOLE: Thole will enter spring training as the No. 1 catcher, but can’t assume he’s got it made. He has good bat control, but needs to pick up that part of his game. His offensive goal should be to continue to be patient at the plate and take the ball where it is pitched. Thole will get stronger as he gets older, but shouldn’t be thinking about changing his offensive approach.

IKE DAVIS: Already strong, the home runs will continue to come for Davis, but he needs to be more disciplined at the plate for that to happen. Davis was frequently beaten on breaking ball low off the plate. That was his offensive Achilles Heel that threatens to curb his progress. Davis knows he’s good and has the potential, but he can’t take it for granted that it will automatically come for him.

JOSE REYES: Reyes lets things get to him and that presents the danger of pressing in his walk year. With the Mets acutely aware of their budget, a decision on Reyes could come as soon as the All-Star break. Reyes hasn’t been himself in two years because of injury and the fear is he’ll try to force things. With Reyes, that includes losing focus at the plate and giving away too many at-bats. Reyes’ best production came in the years immediately following his contract when he’s healthy. Considering the past two years there’s a concern about his health. Reyes’ primary goal outside of staying healthy is playing within himself.

DAVID WRIGHT: With the clubhouse chemistry in a state of flux in a transition year, Wright’s goal should be to assert himself more as a leader. This is his team and he needs to act like it. With a lot of young kids, and what could be going on in Reyes’ head, Wright needs to be more of a vocal, kick-butt presence. With a new management and manager, now is the time. A leader, however, needs to follow by example and there were way too many instances where Wright gave away too many at-bats and also lost focus in the field. Wright struck out 161 times last year, a number that should be reduced by at least 25 percent. Too often Wright was a rally killer and that has to stop, especially with the need for more offense considering the pitching questions.

CARLOS BELTRAN: So far, Beltran has said all the right things to impress the new regime. His goal should be to mean them. If Beltran stays healthy and produces he knows that could parlay into another rich contract. Only Beltran knows it won’t happen with the Mets. The Mets could have an interesting dilemma at the All-Star break. If Beltran is having a good year and has the Mets within wild-card contention, they might try to ride him during the second half. But, if he’s playing well and what’s offered is potentially better than compensatory draft picks, they’ll pull the trigger on a deal. Either way, it is safe to assume this is Beltran’s last year with the Mets. It’s up to him to make the most of it.

JASON BAY: Rarely are there do-overs, but this is as close as it comes. Bay hit only six homers and missed most of the second half with a concussion in what was a lost season. The Mets are stuck with his contract and Bay’s objective is to prove his worth.

Sep 12

New Chat Room; time for second guessing.

What was written then is coming to pass, the back end of Johan Santana’s contract appears to be choking the Mets. It was widely written, by me and others, that six years is too long a deal for a pitcher who had already accumulated a lot of innings.

Santana’s velocity has been in decline, and now he faces shoulder surgery that ESPN is reporting could keep him out for up to two years. This is a tough surgery with a long and arduous rehab program. It won’t be easy for Santana and there are no guarantees on the back end.

That said, the Mets will likely come to regret the $77 million balance on the contract, but they knew going in that was a strong possibility for the final two years, OK, now it could be three.

The Mets overpaid because both the Red Sox and Yankees backed out, but the circumstances of the times must be realized. The Mets, having lost in 2006 and collapsed in 2007, were in dire need of starting pitching.

The Mets needed an ace and Santana came back to them, and Santana has pitched like the ace he was portrayed to be.

Where the Mets failed or miscalculated is not in signing Santana, but not giving him the adequate run support. Had Santana pitched for the Yankees instead of the Mets, with their superior run support and Mariano Rivera, he might have won a Cy Young or won 20 games.

Santana has more than carried his share of the load since coming here. Injuries are always a risk, but he has more than lived up to his end of the bargain.

To access the New Chat Room, click on to the Chat Room icon to the left. Enjoy Jon Niese as you channel surf to the NFL games.

Apr 07

April 7.10: Maine says he’s fine; gets start tonight.

There was a time when John Maine was considered a throw-in from Baltimore in the Kris/Anna Benson trade, but his strong showing at the end of the 2006 season and 15 wins in 2007 gave hope he could evolve into a dependable No. 2 starter.

“No. 2, that’s just a number,’’ Maine said. “I just need to get out there, stay healthy and I believe I’ll be fine.’’

Maine had shoulder surgery at the end of the 2008 season and admitted this spring that he rushed himself back last year contributing to his arm problems.

“I learned a lesson,’’ he said.

At 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in spring training, it’s hard to defend Maine’s performance other than saying the numbers don’t count and he was working on things. Pitching with a migraine and stomach virus, Maine gave up four runs on six hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings in his exhibition finale against Washington.

(NOTE: Part of juggling the rotation was to avoid the Nationals getting another look at Maine so quickly).

Maine brushed off his performance, saying: “My arm feels fine. Shoulder feels good. That’s the top priority.’’

The numbers haven’t been there, but Maine insists he’s not worried and he’s throwing the ball better than anytime after the 2007 season. He said the ball is just flowing out of his hand.

“I think the last time it came out easy without trying to really force anything was spring training 2008,” Maine said. “I might have been throwing a little harder then, but it’s coming out good.’’