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 23

Mets Need To Get That Winning Feeling

The question is always posed at the start of the exhibition schedule: How important is it to win during spring training?

For most teams it isn’t and history is full of examples of spring training winners who were flops during the regular season. The reverse also holds true.

But, what about the Mets, who open up today against the Washington Nationals? What are we to make if Zack Wheeler outpitches Stephen Strasburg or if the Nationals light him up?

Probably nothing, but over the next five weeks I believe it is important for the Mets to show something, if for no other reason but to get a good feeling about themselves. And, for us to get a good feeling about them.

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Feb 15

Monitoring Santana And Keeping Him Away From The WBC

I realize the matter of national pride and his desire to represent Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but Johan Santana is set to get $31 million from the Mets this year (including a $5.5 million buyout) and that’s where his responsibility lies and the team has told him so.

Once ardent supporters of the WBC, the team has told Santana it doesn’t want him to pitch in the international event.

There’s no disputing Santana pitches hard and has been a workhorse when healthy, but the problem is staying healthy. Only in 2008, his first year with the Mets, did Santana make his entire allotment of 34 starts.

Santana10The Mets have paid Santana a considerable amount of money, including a full season (2011) when he gave them nothing. This is his last year with the Mets and the club is within their rights to insist he not risk injury in the World Baseball Classic.

The magic number for Santana this year is 215, as in the number of innings he must pitch for his $25 million option to kick in. Considering his recent history, that likely won’t be a problem, but if he’s healthy it will be an interesting scenario.

You can bet the Players Association would get involved if Santana was close and had to skip a start or two. If it involves a player getting less money, they will be all over it.

Actually, if the Mets can’t, or won’t trade him, they would be wise to periodically skip him to keep him strong.

Teams have monitored pitcher’s pitch counts for years, but only recently has the trend turned to limiting pitcher’s innings in a season. Innings clauses in contracts are designed for teams to get the most for their money, but that backfires in the case of injury or if a player reached the level to have his option kick in and pitch poorly the next year.

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Jan 16

Soriano Has Nationals Thinking Title In NL East

Not that the bullpen-needy Mets would have made a play for Rafael Soriano anyway, but the Washington Nationals’ acquisition of the Yankees’ 2012 insurance policy has them as the sexy pick to win the NL East.

It isn’t as if they needed much make-up after winning 98 games last season, but Soriano strengthens an already strong bullpen stronger. For his $28-million, two-year deal, Soriano will close, but the Nationals also have Drew Storen – their once closer-in-waiting – and Tyler Clippard, who saved 32 games last year, for late in the game.

The Mets, the only team not to sign a free-agent this winter, kicked the tires on Brian Wilson, who after Tommy John surgery, would be a gamble. Their closer is Frank Francisco, who ended last season with arm problems.

The Nationals’ manager, Davey Johnson, is adept at juggling a bullpen, although he was helpless as his pen blew a six-run lead to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. That might have been the gnawing feeling that prompted them to sign Soriano.

The Nationals already upgraded with the acquisitions of starter Dan Haren and outfielder Denard Span. Washington also expects Stephen Strasburg to work at least 200 innings. Perhaps they learned from last summer’s mistake and will pace him out better.

Washington alienated a lot of people last year when they shut-down Strasburg, giving the impression they’ll make the playoffs every season. It’s not that easy, and the Nationals are showing that with what they’ve done this winter. One thing for sure, they won’t be a surprise this year.

The Braves won’t have Chipper Jones, but added outfielder B.J. Upton to their offense. They won 94 games last summer.

Philadelphia added outfielder Ben Revere and expect to have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the entire season. They should better last year’s 81 wins.

It appears the Mets will be competing with Miami to stay out of the cellar, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

That Nationals are building the right way, with a mix of drafting, trades and free-agent signings. With today’s economics, a team must be strong at all three phases, which the top three teams in the NL East have shown.

The Mets are putting their eggs in the farm-system basket, which is traditionally the way to go, and still is the foundation. However, they don’t have all the farm pieces to go the whole route, as they can’t fill out their roster with them or use them to trade.

The Mets also don’t have major league pieces they can trade without opening up additional holes.

As far as free-agency is concerned, they are balking on giving Scott Hairston – who hit 20 homers for them last year – a two-year deal.

The last time they had a good mix was 2007, the summer they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. They also blew a late lead in 2008, the last time they had a winning season.

That seemed like such a long time ago.

Nov 12

Rookie Of The Year Announced Today: Harper And Frazier Top NL; Trout In AL

Today I’ll preview the Rookie of the Year Awards, which will be announced later this afternoon. The winners are voted for by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

National League: While the AL voting will be a landslide, things are closer and more interesting in the National League, where the candidates include the popular Bryce Harper from Washington, Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier and Arizona left-hander Wade Miley.

HARPER: Played to the hype (Sports Illustrated)

Harper was one of the most hyped rookies in history (on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16), and to his credit lived up to the billing. He’s also the combination of power, speed and hustle.

Because of injuries to Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, Harper became a cog in the Nationals’ lineup ahead of schedule.

Frazier also surged in importance to the Reds because of an injury to Joey Votto.

The numerical arguments are basically even between Frazier and Harper:

* Harper: .270 average, .340 on-base percentage, .477 slugging percentage, 22 home runs, 59 RBIs, 18 stolen bases in 139 games.

* Frazier: .273 average, .331 on-base percentage, .498 slugging percentage, 19 home runs, 67 RBIs, 3 SB in 128 games.

It is extremely difficult to compare position players to pitchers, but Miley made a compelling argument with his stats:

* Miley: 16-11, 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 37 walks, 144 strikeouts in 194 2/3 innings over 32 appearances (29 starts).

It’s interesting that Miley threw close to 200 innings while Harper’s teammate, Stephen Strasburg was shut down, a decision that might have kept Washington from reaching the NLCS. You never know.

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