Jan 18

Could Conforto Open Season In Minors?

It was last April when manager Terry Collins said Michael Conforto was the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the future. A year later, don’t be surprised if he opened the season with the Mets’ Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate.

I don’t like the idea, but considering the Mets’ muddled outfield situation, it isn’t farfetched, especially if they can’t trade Jay Bruce. If Bruce stays, he’ll play right with Curtis Granderson in center and Yoenis Cespedes in left.

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

Juan Lagares must stay to give Granderson rest in center field. Either Lagares or Granderson could give Cespedes rest if he needs a day off. Currently, the Mets aren’t ready to say they trust Conforto in center field.

If the Mets can’t trade Bruce, he must stay and play or totally lose his trade value. The Mets wouldn’t want to pay him $13 million to sit.

The Mets’ potential trade market for Bruce was dramatically sliced within the past week when Baltimore traded for Seth Smith; Toronto re-signed Jose Bautista and Philadelphia signed Michael Saunders.

Personally, I’ve always been in Conforto’s camp and opposed the Cespedes signing in part because I felt it would stunt Conforto’s growth. If the Mets kept Conforto as one of their five outfielders, he’d struggle for at-bats and playing time, notably from Lagares and Bruce.

One possibility is to keep Brandon Nimmo over Conforto, but again they’ll face the issue of one of their prime outfield prospects struggling for at-bats.

Jan 04

Wondering How Mets Will Use Flores

One Met I am curious to see how manager Terry Collins uses this year is Wilmer Flores. Collins has always run hot-and-cold with his usage of Flores, which probably stems from GM Sandy Alderson’s public knocks of the player he unsuccessfully tried to trade in 2015.

FLORES: Needs to play. (AP)

FLORES: Needs to play. (AP)

Frankly, Flores has never gotten an opportunity to play full time, and it won’t come this year. However, there is a way to get at least 500 at-bats and not greatly infringe on the playing time of Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera and David Wright/Jose Reyes.

The solution is simple and stems from Flores’ best attribute – other than hitting against left-handed pitching – and that’s his versatility.

He would play first one day, second the next, shortstop the third game and third base the fourth.

Doing this requires discipline on Collins’ part, a trait he has not exhibited. If Collins were to pull this off it will accomplish the following: 1) give Flores more and consistent at-bats, and 2) provide rest for the Mets’ older and injury-prone infield.

It will be well worth it to give Walker and Wright regimented rest, and it wouldn’t hurt for Cabrera and Duda, either.

The bottom line is the projected 2017 Mets’ infield could be gone after this season and they must find out what Flores can do.

Dec 13

Wright Deserves Opportunity To Call Future

Last year at this time, Mets GM Sandy Alderson projected 130 games for third baseman David Wright. Prior to the Winter Meetings, Alderson again said Wright was his third baseman, but failed to put a number on the games he thought he might play.

WRIGHT: What's he thinking? (AP)

WRIGHT: What’s he thinking? (AP)

That’s just as well considering Wright played 37 games last year and 38 in 2015. Wright has been seeing his doctor in California and receiving treatment. The Mets are saying he should be ready by Opening Day. Let’s hope so, but there are no guarantees. None. There never is when it comes to health.

Of course, I want him to return full strength, but we must realistically accept that might not happen and simply hope for the best. He deserves the opportunity of testing his back and drawing his own conclusions.

I don’t know what will happen, but believe Wright has been too good a player, and too good an ambassador to the Mets and the sport not to get the chance to call the shots on his future. Of course, he’ll get plenty of advice from his doctors; his wife, Molly; and the Mets from the Wilpons to Alderson and maybe manager Terry Collins. He might even call some of this former and current teammates to find out what they are thinking.

He’ll get plenty of advice from the press but none from me because I’m in the camp believing he accomplished enough to be given the chance to plot out his departure from the game on his own terms.

Wright, who’ll be 34 one week from today, has already earned $125 million in his 12-year career, and since he’s not reckless with his behavior, the presumption is he has enough to live on comfortably if not lavishly for the rest of his life. He’s signed through 2020 and will make $67 million through then.

The only thing Wright wants from the game is the game itself. It’s not about money, but determining his future and continuing to compete. I believe when Wright gets to spring training he’ll know enough about how he feels and what he can do. I can’t imagine he’ll force the Mets to put him on the Opening Day roster if he’s not physically able.

Unlike last season, the Mets are hedging their bets by holding onto Wilmer Flores and extending Jose Reyes. It would be terrific to trade for Todd Frazier. No trades are imminent on anything involving the Mets, but maybe something could happen in July. Hopefully, the season progresses to where they are in it by then and the trade deadline is meaningful.

Wright pressed the envelope with his health in the past, but the thinking is he learned and if he can’t play he’ll come to that conclusion gracefully. Numbers never meant anything to him, so I can’t imagine he’ll hang on to pad his stats.

Behind the scenes, I’m sure the Mets are talking to Wright about what he’s thinking and how he’s feeling, but so far there hasn’t been any pushing and that’s a good thing. He deserves to do this without any pressure from them.

The only pressure he’s getting is coming from within and that’s more than enough.

Dec 07

Wheeler To The Pen Has To Be For Right Reasons

The first thing I thought of after hearing the Mets were considering using Zack Wheeler out of the bullpen was “don’t let this turn out to be another Jenrry Mejia.”

You’ll recall the Mets bounced Mejia from the rotation to the bullpen, without leaving him long enough to grasp either role. Consequently, Mejia’s trade value deteriorated and he eventually injured his arm. He appeared to get it together as a closer until he screwed up his career by violating MLB’s PED policy.

WHEELER: A new role? (Getty)

WHEELER: A new role? (Getty)

Wheeler in the pen is an intriguing idea, but it has to be done for the right reasons. If it is because they are apparently deep with young starters and woefully thin in the pen, made more so with the anticipated suspension of closer Jeurys Familia, then I can see that logic. If it is because Wheeler only has two really good pitches, then that’s a justifiable reason, also.

However, if the reasoning is what manager Terry Collins said at the Winter Meetings, which is to shave innings off Wheeler’s total before he moves into the rotation later in the year, then that’s not good enough. It’s not good at all.

Wheeler said all the right things today at Citi Field during a coat drive.

“I’ve started my whole life, and obviously, I’d like to do that,” Wheeler told reporters. “But they’re looking out for me, innings-wise and stuff like that. I’ve been out for two years, so … whatever’s best for my health is what’s fine with me and the plan going forward.”

The Mets wouldn’t be looking after Wheeler if they bounced him around. If they are serious about the bullpen, they have to go all in. That means use him there in spring training and stay with it the entire season.

GM Sandy Alderson said this is currently in the bounce-it-off-the-wall phase.

“There’s no reason for us to say, `Well, he’s got to be a starter,’ ” Alderson told reporters. “Now, he may feel that way himself. But, it may be that coming back after two years you have to be careful. You might not be able to pitch him back-to-back [days]. It might have to be two innings at a time. But, I don’t see any reason to just eliminate that possibility.”

Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two seasons, so the Mets don’t know what to make of him physically. As a starter, he’ll have a more consistent schedule and workload, so that’s a plus.

There are too many variables that tax a pitcher’s arm coming out of the pen, especially if that’s a new role for him. That makes it risky.

Pitchers have made the transition from starter to reliever and been successful. I’m not saying the Mets would be making a mistake. The mistake would come if they waffled and changed course, especially without knowing his condition.

Nov 15

Updating Mets’ Top Ten Offseason Issues

Maybe the Mets made Bartolo Colon an offer. I haven’t heard. So far this winter their heavy lifting has included picking up the options of Jay Bruce and Jose Reyes, and extending qualifying offers to Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker.

ALDERSON: A lot of his plate. (AP)

ALDERSON: A lot of his plate. (AP)

Other than that, it has been a relatively quiet offseason for GM Sandy Alderson. With the Winter Meetings less than a month away, here is what I see as Alderson’s Top Ten priorities:

1. Keep Bruce for now: There is an Internet report stating the Mets are talking with Toronto about Jay Bruce. It makes sense from the perspective of the Blue Jays, who could lose both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to free agency.

Reportedly, the Mets have feelers out on Bautista, although I prefer Encarnacion, who could enter into a first base platoon with Lucas Duda.

However, trading Bruce with the Cespedes situation unresolved makes no sense. They picked up Bruce’s option as a safety net for losing Cespedes, so what’s the point of dealing him without know what happens with Cespedes?

2. Decide on Cespedes: For a myriad of reasons, I believe the Mets should let Cespedes play through to the next hole. You guys know that by now. However, the Mets insist they want him back.

Fine. If that’s their position, get Cespedes’ contractual demands as soon as possible and go from there. He already rejected the Mets’ qualifying offer, so they would be in their right to ask what the player wants and go from there.

With a new CBA on the table, this could extend into January, which wouldn’t be prudent.

3. Bring back Reed: Yes, I know Addison Reed isn’t a free agent unless the Mets pass on him. Sign Reed and establish him now as the closer because they have to know Jeurys Familia will be suspended for at least 30 games.

If not Reed, the Mets have to go in on a closer. They won’t pay the big bucks for Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, but what about Mark Melancon? He won’t be cheap, either.

4. Bolster the bullpen: Without Familia and the change of roles with Reed, there are other bullpen holes. Will they bring back Jerry Blevins? Will Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have starting or bullpen roles? With Colon gone, the Mets could go for a middle reliever capable of multiple innings. Is that guy Hansel Robles or somebody in the market?

5. Define the back-up infielders: For somebody coming off back surgery, a $17.2 million qualifying offer to Neil Walker was fairly generous. It was a no-brainer to bring back Walker to team with Asdrubal Cabrera would solidify the double-play combination for another year. The offer will undoubtedly frustrate Wilmer Flores, but there has to be some area of consistency. It’s unlikely they can trade Flores, but if he’s on the 25-man roster what will that mean for T.J. Rivera?

6. Figure out what to do with Conforto: First base seems a reach for Michael Conforto. If they try that, the platoon with Duda should be with a right-handed hitter. They would be better off earmarking him for center field, because we know Cespedes doesn’t want to play there.

Defining Conforto’s role should also help dictate how they’ll use Curtis Granderson.

7. Figure out Wright’s role: I’d like to know now, but realize that’s not practical. But, assuming for the moment he’s healthy, is there a rough projection of how he’ll be used and how much? Seriously, is first base a realistic option?

8. Determine the health of the rotation: Four pitchers from this vaunted future All-Star staff are coming off surgery. The early reports are positive, and that includes no surgery to remove Noah Syndergaard’s bone spurs. But, we really won’t know until March.

If everything works out for the best, Alderson and manager Terry Collins must figure out where Lugo and Gsellman fit and resist the temptation of dealing either because they think they are in a position of strength because they are not.

I wouldn’t be opposed to picking up a veteran as insurance.

9. Improve the catching: If they enter the season with Travis d’Arnaud as the starter, it has to be with a short leash. He’s been frequently injured and unproductive, and frankly the rotation performs better with Rene Rivera.

10. Determine Duda’s leash: Duda is another prone to injuries and slow starts. They had to sign James Loney last summer and he performed well. However, it is unlikely they’ll bring him back.

Duda has monster power, but the past few years it has taken him into the second half before he warms up.

Other than Cespedes – pro or con – I don’t see the Mets making a major personnel decision this winter. But, whatever they decide, it will have far-reaching ramifications.

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