Oct 23

Callaway Era Begins

Sure, it was a gamble, and nobody knows how Mickey Callaway will pan out as the 21st manager in Mets’ history, but after listening to him this afternoon GM Sandy Alderson deserves credit for thinking outside the box.

I wondered yesterday whether Callaway represents a risk as to whether Alderson reached out and got the Mets a nugget or whether he was seduced by a hot “flavor of the month.”

NEW METS ERA

           NEW METS ERA

Alderson said the Mets had on their board a list of roughly 35 names and after their research, they whittled it down to six. Originally, Alderson planned a second round of interviews, but Callaway blew him away with his session.

“All of us came out of [Callaway’s interview] excited for the possibility that Mickey would be our manager,’’ Alderson said. “That’s a visceral reaction, not one that you can put down on a checklist, but to me that said everything. I think it was consistent throughout.’’

Callaway said the feeling was mutual.

“When I sat in the room and listened to the words that Sandy, [assistant general managers J.P. Ricciardi and John Ricco] and [Chief Operating Officer] Jeff [Wilpon] were saying to me and the questions they were asking me, I knew right then we were going to be in alignment in what we wanted,’’ Callaway said. “That’s why I was so excited when I called my family after. The team itself, the pitching is something that can be some of the greatest guys on the planet. So that obviously is very exciting to me.’’

Callaway impressed today at Citi Field with his enthusiasm and charisma.

“First, we’re in the greatest city in the world,’’ Callaway said. “This is one of the greatest franchises in the world. … When I look at the New York Mets, I see a team that can contend and compete with anybody and that’s what we’ll work hard to do.’’

Secondly, and this might be most important, is his pitching background. If the Mets are to get back to the postseason, they must pitch. The 42-year-old Callaway built a staff in Cleveland that included Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Andrew Miller that led the majors in ERA (3.30), strikeouts (1,614) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.1).

Callaway favors fastballs and curveballs opposed to the sliders under former pitching coach Dan Warthen. It will be interesting to see if there is a reduction in the number of sliders thrown and how it might cause a decrease in the injuries that crippled the staff for the past two years.

Callaway has already spoken with several players – but only singled out David Wright – and said he was eager to start making calls. But, one of his first orders of business is working with Alderson and his staff on finding a pitching coach.

“We already have a partial list, we want to make sure it’s as inclusive as possible,’’ Alderson said. “I think Mickey and the front office will work collaboratively to find someone that he’s comfortable with. One of the things that we’re going to do over the next few days is put together a list of potential pitching coaches.

“I think that it’s important to recognize that yes, Mickey is a former pitching coach and it’s important for us because that’s our strength. But at the same time, Mickey will be focused entirely on the 25-man roster and the pitching coach will be very important.’’

While Terry Collins’ name wasn’t mentioned today, there was a disconnect between several of the younger players and the former manager. Callaway vows that won’t happen with him.

“We’re going to care more about the players than anyone has before. We’re going to value their work. Value their dedication,’’ Callaway promised. “I’m going to reach out to the players. I know they got the news obviously from some other source than myself, but I’m going to reach out to them, let them know how excited I am, and we’re going to start this very, very important 2018 offseason. These next three months are going to be critical to what we try to do in the season and we’re going to get to work right away.’’

And, there’s so much work to be done.

Oct 12

ALDS Highlight Many Differences Between Mets And Yankees

With Cleveland – and with it, Jay Bruce – eliminated from the playoffs, I’m guessing the worst possible World Series scenario for Mets fans would be the Yankees against the Nationals.

Mets fans clearly hate the Yankees for reasons we can all understand and embrace, and which was reinforced by their ALDS win over the Indians and define the differences of the franchises:

NO QUIT MENTALITY: After losing the first two games to Cleveland, the Yankees rallied to win the next three. Yes, 2015 was a magical year, but outside of that season that’s a characteristic we haven’t often seen from the Mets. We certainly didn’t see it in 2017.

FRONT OFFICE AGGRESSIVENESS: Despite already exceeding expectations at the deadline, Yankees GM Brian Cashman didn’t rest on the presumption it was already a successful season. The Yankees might have gotten by not doing anything at the deadline, but Cashman brought in third baseman Todd Frazier, and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. Cashman also added Sonny Gray, although the early returns haven’t been good. You don’t need to be reminded what Mets GM Sandy Alderson did.

SUPPORTING THE MANAGER: Yankees manager Joe Girardi had an awful time in Game 2, but his team rallied behind him and he said “they had my back.’’ Nobody can say the Mets had Terry Collins’ back, especially Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey and all those unnamed sources in the Newsday article.

THE BULLPEN: The difference in the Yankees’ bullpen compared to that of the Mets is roughly the same separation of that between Ohio State and Rutgers. The Yankees might have the best pen remaining in the playoffs and could translate into another title.

YOUNG STUDS: Michael Conforto is the best the Mets have to offer, while Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith are unproven. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ farm system has produced Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks. Judge struck out 16 times in 24 plate appearances against the Indians, but I’m willing to bet he’ll be much better against the Astros.

STARTING PITCHING: Can we officially dismiss the notion the Mets have the best rotation – young or otherwise – in baseball? The Mets don’t even have the best rotation in New York, although I’m taking Jacob deGrom before any Big Apple pitcher.

REPLACING ICONS: Not long after Derek Jeter retired the Yankees made the aggressive trade for Didi Gregorius, who homered twice against Corey Kluber in Game 5. Meanwhile, David Wright has played in only 75 games over the past three years. The Mets’ contingency plan is Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera.

VETERAN PRESENCE: They are called the Baby Bombers, but the Yankees might not be here without Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and C.C. Sabathia. The Mets’ veterans? Well, Wright is recovering from surgery and the other vets were dealt at the deadline for a handful of non-descript pitching prospects.

OWNERSHIP: George is gone, but the Steinbrenner family is far more aggressive than Fred and Jeff Wilpon. Not even close.

If they were in the same division, the Mets would be 20 games behind the Yankees. That means Alderson has a lot of work ahead of him.

Oct 01

Collins’ Era Over, But Not Career With Mets

A season that began with high expectations, mercifully ended today for the Mets with an 11-0 rout by the Phillies, and with it the anticipated announcement of manager Terry Collins future.

With both Collins and GM Sandy Alderson saying the time was right for a change, the longest-tenured manager in franchise history at seven years announced he was “stepping down’’ to take an undefined role in the organization concentrating on player development and working with the managers in the minor league system.

COLLINS: Still with Mets (AP)

COLLINS: Still with Mets (AP)

As the Mets played out the string to finish a dismal 70-92, speculation of Collins’ future raged and boiled over in a vicious Newsday article that featured numerous anonymous quotes ripping the manager.

Through it all, Collins insisted he wouldn’t resign and wanted to stay in baseball. There was a tremendous negative backlash against Alderson and Mets’ ownership that makes me wonder what the Mets’ true motivation is in this decision.

Collins spoke with owner Fred Wilpon and COO Jeff Wilpon prior to the game and it is then that it is believed the advisory role in the front office was offered.

“I don’t know if I had it in me right now,’’ Collins said, fighting back tears when asked if he would have accepted an offer to continue managing the Mets.

“But right now, I am going to get some rest and figure out how to help out down the road. … It’s been a blast, but it’s time. This is one of those years you want to forget. There’s a sour taste, but it’s in the best interest of the organization and I’ve always been a team player.’’

In this case, being a team player prevented the ugly scenario of Alderson having to fire Collins. You could tell what happened today was orchestrated, and if not offered a position Collins would have forced ownership to fire him.

So instead of falling on the sword to protect the emperor, Collins looked after himself. He wants to stay in baseball and he’s going to do that with the Mets in a teaching capacity. It’s not managing, but he’s still in the game.

It’s not what he wants, but it’s what he needs.

Speaking in his finest legalese, Alderson said: “From our standpoint, I think we are at the end of a seven-year run and we need to make a change in direction. That’s often a code phrase for changing positions and jobs and that I think is what we foresee here.”

Alderson said he’ll begin the interview process immediately from the pool of Robin Ventura, Kevin Long, Joe McEwing, Alex Cora, Bob Geren and Chip Hale.

But first, he’ll purge Collins’ staff, beginning with pitching coach Dan Warthen.

“That’s the unavoidable fallout from a change in manager is that coaching positions become question marks,’’ Alderson said. “Then we will start in earnest over the next few days [interviewing managerial candidates]. We certainly don’t want to waste any time.’’

That’s because Alderson has a lot of work to do beginning with the pitching staff decimated by injuries. Without those injuries, and those to David Wright, Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, there could have been the playoffs for the third straight season and Collins might have been given an extension and a chance to improve on his 551-583 record with the Mets.

“It’s baseball,’’ Collins said. “I have spent my whole life in it, and there’s good days, bad days, good weeks, bad weeks, good years and bad years. You have got to be able to deal with them all. You can’t just ride the wave all the time, so we’ll move on.”

Sep 25

Apple Doesn’t Rise On Record-Setting Homer

The Mets established a franchise record when Travis d’Arnaud hit the team’s 219th homer in the eighth inning. So, what accompanied the record-setting moment could best be described as “typical Mets’’ when the Home Run Apple failed to rise.

That prompted the scarce crowd to chant for the Apple, which resulted in a Bronx cheer when it finally was raised.

Just curious, but could the Apple have been damaged when Daniel Murphys homer struck the casing? It would have been apropos.

The homer gave the Mets a three-run lead, which turned out to be very important as the Braves scored twice in the ninth against Jeurys Familia.

Mets starters sharp: Chris Flexen’s line of four runs in five innings, looked worse than it really was. Three of those runs came in the sixth when Josh Smoker gave up those inherited runners, which was the decisive point in the 9-2 loss in Game 1 of the doubleheader.

What I don’t understand is why manager Terry Collins waited so long to replace Flexen. Why would Collins keep Flexen in the game to load the bases, with two of the runners coming on walks?

One criticism of Collins is that he has stuck with his starters too long, forcing the bullpen to enter with little-to-no wiggle room. Collins has to have a better understanding of how long his starters would pitch. He had to know Flexen wasn’t going to make it through the sixth after the leadoff hitter reached on a single.

In the second game, Seth Lugo struck out seven and gave up two hits in six scoreless innings.

Collins said Lugo will get another appearance to make another impression before the offseason, but wouldn’t say how.

If Collins sticks to the rotation order, it would be Saturday in Philadelphia, but he hasn’t defined how he’ll use Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey.

Sep 21

There’s No Use Pushing Syndergaard

Sure, it would be good to see Noah Syndergaard pitch again this season for the Mets, even if it is an inning of relief. However, that one inning won’t answer any important questions. It might even raise a couple if Syndergaard were to reinjure himself.

Ideally, the Mets wanted Syndergaard to start several times and build up to perhaps a dozen to 15 innings. That might have given the Mets an idea where Syndergaard stood in his rehab, and if nothing else, alleviate his anxiety.

That’s not happening now, but it doesn’t matter because those 15 innings would have only given the Mets an idea about Syndergaard’s partially torn lat muscle, but not answered fully all his questions.

After throwing 39 pitches in a simulated game Monday, Syndergaard could be given clearance to pitch. It’s really important to Syndergaard to get out there before the season ends a week from Sunday.

“It’s a personal thing for me,” Syndergaard told reporters. “I am getting really anxious. I spent three or four months rehabbing, and if at this point they are going to shut me down, what really was the whole point of all that? I feel I worked really hard in the rehab process and I just really want to get out there and prove I can come back from that kind of injury healthy.”

What was the whole point? It’s hard to believe he really said that, but then again, he’s said a lot of crazy things lately. When Syndergaard hurt himself, by his own stubbornness in first by bulking up without consulting the Mets, and secondly, with his refusal to undergo an MRI. His injury and lost season are totally on him.

If Syndergaard doesn’t pitch again this season, he’ll go into the winter with questions, and subsequently, spring training. That makes three significant questions including Zack Wheeler (stress reaction in his arm) and Steven Matz (elbow surgery).

“There is a process to get a player ready to play the game,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “The only way we know what we are looking at all winter long is to see where we are at the end of the year, such as with two guys who can’t pitch right now, we don’t know where we are with them down the road.’’

The Mets are trying to learn what they can with Matt Harvey, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero.

That’s seven potential starters, each with a significant question. That’s what the Mets are all about these days, and pitching is supposed to be their strong suit. So, while it would be good to see Syndergaard pitch  again this year, it isn’t imperative.