Jul 03

A Master Plan For Flores

FLORES: A plan for him. (AP)

FLORES: A plan for him. (AP)

As they were with Daniel Murphy, the Mets never seem pleased with Wilmer Flores, who carved a place in club lore last July when he was brought to tears on the field after thinking he had been traded to Milwaukee.

A couple of days later, he hit a walk-off homer to beat the Nationals to jumpstart the Mets’ pennant push. Perhaps the Mets’ 2016 pennant push began with this weekend’s four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field, capped off by today’s 14-3 rout in which Flores tied a franchise record – Edgardo Alfonzo – with six hits, including two homers.

Yeah, six-for-six. Riding a 0-for-14 slide entering the game, there was a school of thought Flores might get sent down when Jose Reyes is brought up.

“Players aren’t naive,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “They read the papers. They know what’s going on. I don’t think there’s any question he hasn’t heard Reyes is coming.”

What’s going on is Flores is on the cusp of losing his job as the Mets, in search of an offensive spark, reached into their past. And, outside of a wild few days last summer, the Mets’ past didn’t include Flores.

A starter for much of last season in the second half at shortstop, Flores started this year on the bench following the winter acquisitions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Theoretically, Flores was to serve as the back-up at third for David Wright and first for Lucas Duda.

Flores assumed the starter’s role at third when Wright went down, but now the Mets seemed poised to replace him with a player who has never played third. Reyes is coming, make no mistake, but what should be done with Flores?

Under no circumstances should they option him to Triple-A to make room for Reyes, an idea Keith Hernandez floated on SNY. First of all, there are no assurances Reyes will take to third. They should also not relegate him full time to the bench.

“It’s experience and reps. you have to get him out there,” Collins said to give the impression Flores’ best position is batter. “You have to get him 500 at-bats. In order to have an idea of what a player is capable of doing you have to play him.”

There’s the rub. One of the things I find annoying about Collins is how he uses his bench. All too often he’ll ride his starters while the role players collect rust, which seemed to be the case with Flores before Wright was hurt. There never seemed to be a regular resting format for Wright. There was no third-to-first rotation with Flores to start the season as he sat in ten games and only had 28 at-bats in April.

Flores was on a 0-for-14 skid before Sunday’s once-in-a-lifetime game.

“I thought I was swinging the bat well, I just wasn’t lucky,” was how Flores described his mini-slump, and of his turnaround, added, “I was looking to be aggressive.”

Whatever the Mets had in mind for Flores, he’s always been the good soldier. Genuinely hurt last year when he thought he had been traded, he seemed annoyed when the Reyes issue was raised Sunday.

“It’s not my choice,” Flores curtly said. “I’m here to play.”

But where?

Like a six-year-old child who ignores his favorite toy when presented with a new one, I fear Collins might bury Flores on the bench.

Collins has proven he doesn’t always follow through with a plan. From batting Juan Lagares leadoff last season to starting the year with Curtis Granderson hitting first; to an innings limit for Matt Harvey; to juggling his lineup; to how to handle Michael Conforto, Collins is quick to abandon a plan.

I get it, Reyes will play third base, but Flores must be used. He should start at least four games a week to keep his bat sharp. One game at third, one at shortstop, one at second and one at first. Have him be a super sub on a regular rotation. If the Mets make a run, Collins can’t afford to drive Cabrera and Walker into the ground, and James Loney needs a breather at first.

Flores is hitting and the Mets must keep it that way.

May 25

Mets Opt To Keep Harvey In Rotation

As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, the same can be said of a Matt Harvey start.

Harvey has been awful most of this season, so I would have sent him to the minor leagues for a couple of starts. However, Mets manager Terry Collins – after conferring with GM Sandy Alderson and pitching coach Dan Warthen – said enough was seen to let Harvey make his next start, Monday, against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field.

HARVEY: Gets another chance.  (AP)

HARVEY: Gets another chance. (AP)

It isn’t the first time I disagree with a Collins decision and won’t be the last.

Harvey opened the game with three scoreless innings, but as has been the case with him this year, he lost it in the middle innings giving up five runs on three homers in the Mets’ 7-4 loss to the Nationals.

It could have been worse, but a diving play by Neil Walker in the second thwarted a potential big inning.

“You saw the game,” catcher Kevin Plawecki told reporters wanting to know what is wrong with Harvey.

“`Even though his command wasn’t good, we saw great movement on his fastball,” began Collins’ explanation of why Harvey is getting another chance. “His velocity was up. There was tightness in his slider. These are all things we haven’t seen in his last couple of starts.

“We have to quit looking at the negatives and start looking at some positives. We’re going to try to build on it and see what he’s like next Monday. … This guy is too big a piece to write-off.”

Although I would have done it differently, I do applaud Collins’ loyalty toward his player, even when it backfired on him before.

Collins wouldn’t speculate as to what might happen with Harvey if he bombs again; most likely more drama. Collins certainly won’t say this is his last chance before Vegas because that put added stress on him.

Collins ruled out the disabled list because there apparently is nothing wrong with him, although players have been stashed there before. Reportedly, the minor leagues and bullpen weren’t options, but pushing him back was discussed.

Former Mets pitcher turned SNY analyst Ron Darling disagreed, saying he didn’t see much to build on, saying his slider looked good only 30% on the time and it is no big deal for a pitcher to amp it up occasionally.

Darling also criticized Harvey for not speaking after the game, saying “he lost some street cred’’ in the clubhouse, because it forced his teammates – in particular, Plawecki – to clean up his mess.

“His teammates are thinking, `we’re not here to clean up your mess, you clean up your own mess.’

“Part of being a professional athlete is you have to answer the questions,’’ Darling said.

Collins didn’t comment on Harvey’s unprofessional silent act, but Nationals manager Dusty Baker noticed.

“`It’s his prerogative to do what he wants to do,” said Baker, probably recalling his time when Barry Bonds was on his team. “`If he [doesn’t want to talk], he doesn’t have to talk. But he’s making it harder on himself. New York will eat you up.”

The nibbling has begun.

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May 09

Going After Utley A Bad Idea

The dumbest thing the Mets can do during their four-game series against the Dodgers – starting tonight in LA – is to go after Chase Utley with a beanball. Whether it be at his head, ribs, butt or knee, there’s no reason to start something that has already been finished.

It wouldn’t be smart even if Ruben Tejada was still on the Mets. He’s not, so what’s the purpose.

UTLEY-TEJADA: Let's move on. (AP)

UTLEY-TEJADA: Let’s move on. (AP)

MLB overreacted last October during the playoffs, which was substantiated when the suspension was dropped on appeal.

We can debate all we want on whether it was a dirty play. I’m saying it wasn’t, because: 1) Daniel Murphy did not make a good throw; 2) Tejada turned into the path of the runner, and 3) Utley was within close proximity of the bag, at least according to the rules in place. (See photo).

Also, it has always been an umpire’s discretion to eject a player if he deemed the play dirty. This did not happen and MLB behavior czar Joe Torre came down with the suspension to avoid Mets fans going ballistic when the NLDS moved to New York.

Was it aggressive? Yes. Was it dirty? Debateable. Is it worth it for the Mets to retaliate and possibly get a player injured or suspended? No.

The issue will be brought up tonight and I’m betting the over/under on the times SNY shows the play to be at least 12. That would be three times per game.

Suppose Steven Matz, or Matt Harvey, or Noah Syndergaard hit Utley and a brawl ensued. Why risk one of them being injured to prove a questionable point in protecting a player no longer on the team?

And, pitchers aren’t the only ones you could be injured. Cal Ripken nearly had his consecutive games streak snapped when the Orioles were involved in a brawl with Seattle. As it was, Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina took a few bruises.

Of course, it would be fascinating to see Yoenis Cespedes against Yassiel Puig in a WWE cage death match event. But, I digress.

The Dodgers aren’t playing good right now, so why wake them up? It could only hurt the Mets in the long run. Plus, the Mets and Dodgers could meet again in the playoffs. Why give the Dodgers ammunition to use in the future?

I felt bad Tejada didn’t get to play in the World Series. and that was his last play as a Met. However, the Mets didn’t think highly enough about him to keep him on the roster. Tejada is gone, demoted to a trivia question in Mets lore.

It’s over and time to move on.

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Jan 14

Mets Matters: Hernandez Returns To SNY

Sometimes the status quo is a good thing, such as the news Keith Hernandez will return to the SNY broadcast booth with Gary Cohen and Ron Darling. There are a lot of outstanding broadcasting teams, and SNY’s is one of the best.

The trio are insightful, humorous and above all, are objective. They are different in that although they have deep ties to the Mets, they aren’t afraid to call them out when they deserve it.

You can’t ask for more.

ARBITRATION METS: The Mets traditionally sign their arbitration-eligible players to bypass the hearings, which will be in early February in Florida. The eligible Mets are: Neil Walker, Matt Harvey, Lucas Duda, Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, Jenrry Famila, Ruben Tejada, Carlos Torres and Josh Edgin.

METS LOOK AT CRICKET PLAYER: Both the Mets and Yankees are looking at West Indies cricket player Kieran Powell, who is not lacking of confidence. He said: “My goal is to get signed. Any team that gives me an opportunity will be rewarded 100 times over.”

TICKETS GO ON SALE: Spring training tickets go on sale Saturday.

 

Oct 11

Despite Utley’s Suspension, Keeping Mets Composed Could Be Collins’ Toughest Job

There are many, myself included, who believe Terry Collins should be National League manager of the year for all his team had to overcome this summer. Despite numerous injuries and controversies, and low expectations, the Mets won 90 games to win the NL East.

For that he would have earned my vote.

COLLINS: Needs to keep Mets composed. (Getty)

COLLINS: Needs to keep Mets composed. (Getty)

However, for as good a job as Collins did, his most important work will come now as he attempts to temper his team’s raw emotions in the wake of Chase Utley’s hard take-out slide that broke Ruben Tejada’s right leg.

After the game, Collins said the umpires handled the play properly. Since the umpires have the discretion to eject Utley if they deemed it a dirty play. They saw enough replays before the reversal and their no-call has to be interpreted as it being a legal play.

However, Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre, after reviewing more replays decided to suspend Utley for Games 3 and 4 in New York. Torre’s statement did not include an indictment of the umpires’ actions. After the game, Torre said it was a judgment call by the umpires.

“After thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley’s action warrants discipline,” Torre said in a statement released by MLB Sunday evening.

It can’t be discounted that Torre, who has managed both New York teams, understands the fans’ passion and anger, and hearing what came out of the Mets’ clubhouse, made his decision to defuse a potential ugly situation. On Saturday, Torre called it a late slide by Utley. However, on Sunday his statement did not call Utley’s slide illegal. Shouldn’t the label of being illegal been a part of Torre’s statement?

The Mets’ clubhouse was visibly angry, with David Wright and Kelly Johnson the more vocal players who questioned Utley’s intent.

“He’s a second baseman. If he wants guys sliding like that into him, then it’s perfectly fine,’’ Wright said. “He knows how to play the game. If he doesn’t mind guys coming in like that when he’s turning a double play, then we don’t have any problem with it. It’s a legal slide. It’s within the rules. But somebody is going to get hurt.’’

Whether Utley’s take-out slide was clean or dirty depends on whom you ask. Utley was clearly the villain according to Mets players and the talking heads on SNY.

“Yeah, they’re angry,’’ Collins said. “You lose in a playoff series to that serious of an injury, yeah, they’re not very happy about it.’’

Will there be retribution, and if so, in what form? I’m figuring a warning will be given prior to the game, which should diffuse headhunting. If nothing else, the Mets won’t have Utley to throw at unless there’s a fifth game.

Mets Game 3 starter Matt Harvey said “the most important thing for me is to do me job,’’ and he’s right.

Harvey plunked Utley in April, but these are the playoffs and he can’t afford to be ejected. Another factor to consider is if they take a shot and the Dodgers retaliate, who is to say another key Met is injured that could prevent them from advancing.

What Collins must do is tell his team, “we received a bad break, but the best way to respond is to win.’’

If the Mets play dirty and out for blood, it would be a sign Collins lost control of his team. Especially considering Utley’s suspension.

As for Utley, he defended his actions.

“The tying run’s on third base, I’m going hard to try to break up the double play. I’ve always played that way,’’ Utley said. “I feel terrible that he was injured. I had no intent of hurting him whatsoever.’’

Utley also texted an apology to Tejada through Wright. Utley texted the contents of his apology to FOX Sports: “In no way shape or form was I trying to hurt Ruben… I slid in hard like I have for 12 years. I feel terrible about the outcome. I’ve reached out to Ruben via David Wright.’’

Whether Utley’s apology gesture is accepted remains to be seen, but it is up to Collins temper his player’s emotions.

The season could depend on it.