Jan 02

Mets’ Top Questions Heading Into Spring Training

With the forecast for up to ten inches tonight and temperatures possibly getting down to five degrees, what better time to think about the New York Mets, if for no other reason, to wonder about spring training?

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

Let’s face it, neither one of New York’s basketball teams is worth thinking or talking about. Those seasons are all but over.

But, spring training? The thought of Florida, and the drive from the airport in West Palm to Port St. Lucie gets the juices flowing.

The Mets say they aren’t finished this winter, but it appears they’ve completed their heavy lifting. Here’s what I consider the top half-dozen issues facing the Mets:

1) Who will be the fifth starter?

A: As of now Jenrry Mejia seems to have the inside track after undergoing elbow surgery. Mejia pitched well at times last season, but the organization suggested his ultimate role is to be determined. Despite the presence of Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard in the minor leagues, neither promotion is imminent and the Mets will need a fifth to round out the rotation. If he’s physically ready, Mejia needs the ball. Who knows, he could even prove be a valuable trade chip.

2) Who plays first base?

A: At this rate, Ike Davis will be on the spring training roster. Milwaukee is supposedly their best trading partner, but the Brewers don’t appear in any rush to deal. Perhaps, they are waiting for the Mets’ asking price to fall. Perhaps, they are waiting for the Mets to release him outright. That might not happen as the Mets could be thinking of the July 31 trade deadline. The Mets appear to favor Lucas Duda at first base, and keeping Davis around could prove a distraction. If Davis isn’t going to play, do everybody a favor and let him go.

3) Will Bobby Parnell be the closer?

A: The Mets say they don’t know if Parnell, who is recovering neck surgery, will be ready. If not, Vic Black will get the ball in the ninth inning. Slowly, the Mets have added pieces to their bullpen. There’s always an arm or two that will emerge in spring training. The Mets recently added Ryan Reid, 28, from Pittsburgh. Reid throws in the low 90s and last year was 7-2 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.197 WHIP with Triple A Indianapolis. There could be room for him.

4) What is to become of Travis d’Arnaud?

A: He goes in as the starter, but he didn’t hit enough in his opportunity to warrant the job. Manager Terry Collins said he has faith in Anthony Recker as a reserve, but held back on expressing confidence as a starter. The Mets are more likely to grab a veteran catcher off the waiver wire in spring training rather than make a deal.

5) Who is the leadoff hitter?

A: That remains open, but Eric Young could retain his role if he starts in left field. It is apparent the Mets won’t trade Daniel Murphy and move Young to second base. This could change if Juan Lagares has a strong spring training at leadoff. The Mets have made no promises regarding Lagares, but this much should be obvious: Lagares is better off getting at-bats and playing time in the minor leagues rather than sitting the bench in the majors. To say Lagares has proven all he can in the minors is erroneous thinking. Lagares is far from a being a proven major league hitter, especially considering his propensity for striking out.

6) How much patience will the Mets give Ruben Tejada?

A: There’s nothing imminent in the trade market for shortstop and signing Stephen Drew wouldn’t be a good move. Let’s face it, the Mets aren’t close enough to contender status to warrant signing the veteran the Red Sox didn’t bring back.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Dec 16

Issues Terry Collins Will Address In Spring Training

New York Mets manager Terry Collins has a lot on his plate these days in preparation for spring training. There are still pieces to add, but that’s GM Sandy Alderson’s job, not Collins.

COLLINS: Issues to address.

COLLINS: Issues to address.

Collins doesn’t appear to be a manager who flies by the seat of his pants. He’s likely to have a plan of players and issues he will need to address, assuming the roster doesn’t change between now and the middle of February.

Ike Davis: With Davis’ name in the news constantly regarding a possible trade, what if it doesn’t happen? If Davis is still on the roster, Collins will have to work out a plan on how to use him and how to keep him in the clubhouse circles. It will be difficult for Collins to juggle the responsibilities of managing a team and handling personalities.

Daniel Murphy: Like Davis, Murphy’s name has also been mentioned in trade talks. Usually managers won’t discuss an impending trade, but if the trade doesn’t materialize he has to keep motivating that player. Also, he needs to know how to answer the inevitable question: Will I be traded?

Ruben Tejada: Collins said at the Winter Meetings he still has faith in Tejada as his shortstop. How will he convey that, especially after the Mets made a run at Jhonny Peralta and reportedly are still in the market?

Eric Young: After going through nine leadoff hitters last season, Young won the job. Now, it appears he has lost it. Collins must formulate a plan on how he will deal with Young and keep him motivated and interested.

Wilmer Flores: This is a man without a position. If Flores makes the team, Collins must define to him a role and where he fits in.

Juan Lagares: This is a guy who needs to hit if he’s to play, and he’ll have to play to stay. Lagares strikes out way to much for his limited playing time, and Collins must impress on him the importance of pitch selection and plate patience for his development. This means potentially sacrificing results in spring training in favor of improving his plate approach.

Chris Young: Collins said he’s the Met he believes the most poised to be a surprise. What is expected of him? There can be no guessing of roles.

Travis d’Arnaud: Collins said d’Arnaud’s plate approach must improve. He’s simply not a major league hitter. If there’s a chance d’Arnaud will be sent down, it must be impressed on him it isn’t permanent and he still fits into the Mets’ plans. The last thing Collins wants to do is destroy his confidence.

Zack Wheeler: Collins said if there’s to be an innings limit on Wheeler, it will be something that would happen during the season and he won’t go into the year on the limit. Collins also knows everybody is different and the leap Matt Harvey made last year might not happen for Wheeler. Everybody’s definition of progress is also different and Collins will need to tell Wheeler what is expected.

Accountability: Last year left the impression there wasn’t accountability among some players, notably Jordany Valdespin and the length of time to send Davis to the majors. If the Mets are to make the next step the players must know they are accountable.

Plate approach: Collectively, the Mets struck out too many times and didn’t walk enough. The Mets’ offensive “gameplan’’ has to be addressed of what is acceptable and what is not. Lucas Duda took way too much heat for working the count and not driving in runs. The run production will eventually come. For any player who waits out the pitcher, he must be told it isn’t a crime.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Dec 11

Mets Not Sure Bobby Parnell Will Be Ready For Spring Training

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The New York Mets don’t know whether closer Bobby Parnell will be ready for spring training as he continues his rehab following neck surgery on a bulging disc.

Parnell is to be re-examined next week.

PARNELL: Will he be ready?

PARNELL: Will he be ready?

“Hopefully he will be able to start resuming some baseball activities,’’ manager Terry Collins said.  “But I don’t know where he is at the moment.  He’s feeling better.’’

Parnell lost 30 pounds since surgery, which sapped his strength. He has to regain the weight and stamina. Collins said he hasn’t spoken with Parnell, which, honestly, comes as a surprise. You’d think he’d check in.

“We’ve got to wait to see how he shows up, where he’s at in a month,’’ Collins said.  “He hasn’t done much yet, so he’s got to get himself in shape.  I think get his legs underneath him and start throwing.  We’ll just have to wait to see.  Bobby has always been a guy that’s down there in January anyways.’’

Maybe so, but Parnell hasn’t reported before following neck surgery.

After several so-so seasons bouncing around the bullpen, Parnell seized the closer role last year when Frank Francisco went down with an elbow injury.

Parnell saved 22 games in 49 appearances, and produced a 2.16 ERA over 50 innings. Always a power pitcher with a high strikeout ratio, Parnell learned to pitch last season, and drastically improved his control evidenced by a 44-12 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Parnell gave up only one homer and had a 1.00 WHIP.

If Parnell isn’t ready for spring training, and at this time no assumptions should be made that he will be, Vic Black, whom the Mets acquired from Pittsburgh in the Marlon ByrdJohn Buck trade, is presumably first in line to replace Parnell.

Black throws a wicked fastball, and like Parnell is a strikeout pitcher.

The Mets are looking for bullpen help and might consider released Indians closer Chris Perez, who will come with baggage.

Last year, Perez and his wife were busted for marijuana possession after he was mailed the dope to his house … addressed to the dog. Reminds me of the episode of “Married With Children” when Al Bundy applies for and gets a credit card in his dog Buck’s name.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 20

Appearances Are Piling Up For Reliever Scott Rice

scott riceLefty reliever Scott Rice tossed two scoreless innings to pick up the win against the Cubs on Sunday. It was his major league-leading 25th appearance of the season.

Rice lowered his ERA to 3.05, and is now on pace for 99 appearances. That would surpass Pedro Feliciano‘s franchise mark of 92 games in 2010 and rank second all-time to Mike Marshall‘s 106 appearances for the Dodgers in 1974.

That is one heck of a workload to say the least, and to think that it’s coming from a pitcher who has toiled for 14 years in the minors before finally getting his shot in the majors makes this all the more amazing.

Rice, the 31 year old rookie, is proving to be the second best weapon in the Mets bullpen after closer Bobby Parnell. However, how long can he continue on this torrid pace before it all catches up to him and he begins to breakdown?

“Right now it’s early enough in the year”, manager Terry Collins said. “We’ve tried to get him some days off. But he keeps pitching four out of five, it’s got to be a concern. We’ve got to certainly pick up some of the workload with somebody else.”

Rice has no complaints and is enjoying every minute of his new-found life in the majors, but he also understands the risks.

“If my arm is feeling fine, I’m going to go out there and throw,” Rice said. “I’m going to be smart, and I know my body. I know how to take care of myself and prepare myself to throw every day.”

I’ve been pulling for Rice since back in Spring Training and was so glad for him when he made the team, but I never expected he would play such a significant role this season. Here’s to more great outings for this veteran rook, who definitely knows his place. He earned it the hard way.

Jan 10

Do you still have faith in the Mets?

There have been countless lost seasons in this franchise’s history, many of them gone before pitchers and catchers report in February. This is looking like another one of those years.

The Mets only did minor tweaking this winter and are no better now than they were when the season ended. They are putting their stock in the season in the hopes of Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran staying healthy, the continued development of Mike Pelfrey and some of their younger players, and encore seasons from RA Dickey and Angel Pagan.

In short, they are hoping everything breaks right, and even if it does, there are two holes in the rotation and a weak bullpen.

Still, the Mets are asking you to believe, with perhaps our biggest wish is for them to get rid of Oliver Perez before Opening Day.

As I look at the drifting snow and feel the cold, the warmth I usually feel this time of year because of spring training has slipped away like me on the ice this morning. Spring training is a time for optimism and hope, but this year realistic hope is around .500 at best. But, we knew this with the hiring of Sandy Alderson, who told us there would be no big spending this winter and he hoped the team would be competitive. That probably means a lot of close games before losing in the late innings.

Still, we follow the Mets because they are our team and are woven deep into our lives. We still love them like the gangly younger brother that embarrasses us. We are loyal to them because we know loyalty is about acceptance and we believe things will improve next year.

As we are distracted by football, we try to envision the snow gone, the grass green and lush and baseball occupying our spring nights. And, somewhere there is the hope this could be a fun summer regardless how it looks on paper now.