Mar 23

Mets Outfield Still A Mess; No Help Coming

For those hoping for a last minute trade or free-agent signing to give the Mets a representative outfield, there will be no meteor like event to change the obvious impression it will be a long season.

Sandy Alderson did not make a significant move over the winter to build the outfield. Instead he tinkered and went into spring training with a “hope for the best” mentality. Now, he’s telling reporters what nobody – outside the players involved – wants to hear which is the Mets are keeping a pat hand.

COWGILL: Could be in center on Opening Day

COWGILL: Could be in center on Opening Day

And, it’s not a full house.

“I think we’ve got a sense of who the five or six are who might be on the team,’’ Alderson said. “How exactly they’re used is something that we’ll talk about over the next week or so. What we have is what we’re going to have, and we’re not entirely displeased with that.’’

Doesn’t that also mean, they are not entirely pleased?

Also unsettling is outside of Lucas Duda in left field, the Mets don’t have a concrete idea of how they’ll use Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin.

That could be because they have no idea of what they are getting. Byrd is at the end of his career; Cowgill and Baxter have never been fulltime starters; and Duda is trying to learn a new position while at the same time attempting to figure out major league pitching.

Valdespin is now projected to open the season at second base because Daniel Murphy will not be ready. Murphy, down with a strained intercostal muscle, will not play in a minor league game today as hoped. Manager Terry Collins said if Murphy did not play this weekend he would open the season on the disabled list. The announcement is a formality now.

Collins has used Cowgill all over the outfield, while Byrd – perhaps having the greatest offensive upside – has played center and right. Baxter has been mostly used in right field.

The Mets’ best defensive outfielder is Matt den Dekker, but there is no indication they are considering him, citing his offense. Den Dekker has hit well recently, but not enough for the Mets’ liking. It should be noted, that neither has anybody else.

Of the group, only Duda and Baxter were on the roster last season, and Duda could very well be the only one in spring training next season if there’s development in the minor leagues or the Mets spend in the off-season as they promised.

Entering spring training, the penciled-in outfield – from left to right – was Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Baxter, with Cowgill rated No. 4. Byrd wasn’t even in camp and Valdespin was a long shot to make the team.

The acquisition of Byrd put him ahead of Baxter in right because of his offensive potential, and Valdespin hit his way onto the Mets’ radar.

There is no track record to indicate Valdespin will continue to hit and when Murphy returns he will find himself back on the bench.

What the Mets have is a handful of role players who have never performed in the role of a fulltime, productive starter.

What the Mets have is a problem.

Mar 21

Mets Have Habit Of Placating Pitchers For The Worst

What is it with the Mets and their starting pitchers? Giving them near total control hasn’t worked. It didn’t for Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel, and it isn’t for Terry Collins.

The impression is the tail is wagging the dog when it comes to Mets’ starters, and this isn’t new. Pitchers tend to be divas by nature, but it has gone to another level with the Mets.

MARCUM: What's going on here?

MARCUM: What’s going on here?

Clearly, free-agent Shaun Marcum did not report to spring training ready to go by telling Collins and GM Sandy Alderson he only needed four starts to get ready. He was allowed to set his own pace, but obviously didn’t have the track record to deserve it.

Marcum received cortisone injections in each of the last three years, and last spring was down for nearly three weeks. Without question, this is a guy who should not be setting his own program.

Marcum vows 200 innings, a level he’s only reached once since 2005. His lifetime 57-36 record was why Alderson gave him the benefit of doubt, but his 124 innings last year should have accounted for something.

Wasn’t Marcum’s history and workout program discussed? If it was, then why agree to this?

Santana does have the resume to set his own program, but abused it when he threw off the mound without Collins’ knowledge the first week of March.

SANTANA: Won't make Opening Day.

SANTANA: Won’t make Opening Day.

The Mets said they monitored Santana in the off-season, and told him to go easy since he rehabbed the previous two winters. Something was lost in the communication as Santana wasn’t ready when spring training began and will open the season on the disabled list.

Collins said Santana knows his own body, but here’s a guy who hasn’t worked an inning all spring and at the beginning wanted to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. Had he done so, the results could have been career threatening.

Early in camp, after Alderson questioned Santana’s conditioning, the lefthander, angry with the Mets and media, threw off the mound without his manager’s knowledge. Collins wasn’t happy then and now must be fuming because Santana has done little since and has no set timetable. One must wonder how much that stunt set him back.

There are other examples of how the Mets let their starting pitches get away with setting their own routine that ended badly.

In 2009, Mike Pelfrey refused to go on the disabled list and miss a start and insisted on the start being pushed back. To placate him, the Mets brought up a starter from the minors, but to make room released reliever Darren O’Day, who only proved to be a key in the Rangers getting to the World Series twice.

O’Day has worked 247.2 innings in his five-year career with 217 strikeouts, 63 walks, a 2.73 ERA and 1.058 WHIP. The Mets don’t have anybody with that production in their current bullpen.

The Mets also let Pedro Martinez march to his own tune with mixed results for several years. Is Pedro pitching today? What’s going on with Pedro? It was like that every spring.

MARTINEZ: Where's Pedro?

MARTINEZ: Where’s Pedro?

The Mets did everything they could, including alienating a future Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine, to placate Martinez and his whims.

Of course, don’t forget Oliver Perez, whom former GM Omar Minaya signed to a disastrous three-year contract. The height of the absurdity is when Perez refused a minor league assignment – as was his contractual right – to work on his mechanics.

Consequently, the Mets carried him the rest of the season rather than release him and eat his contract, which they eventually did the following spring.

Funny, the Mets once had the stones – but no brains – and traded Tom Seaver, who wasn’t happy with his contract. Now it seems they don’t have either, as the trend is obvious, from Alderson to Minaya, and with each of the managers, to let some starters dictate to them how things would be and it turned out for the worse.

Will it be that way in 2013 with Marcum and Santana?

Mar 21

Mets’ Batting Order Analysis

Without David Wright and Daniel Murphy available because of strained intercostal muscles, manager Terry Collins doesn’t have much to work with regarding his everyday line-up, which seems to change every day.

Here’s today’s Mets-Cardinals lineup and how it might translate to the regular season:

Marlon Byrd, rf: If Jordany Valdespin makes the team as it appears, he’ll lead off. So, what’s Byrd doing here? I don’t know. He’s also hit cleanup this spring. Actually, if he has the skills to hit cleanup and leadoff, then why not give him a shot batting third? I’d much rather have Ike Davis hitting fourth, which is where he’ll be when Wright returns.

Ruben Tejada, ss: Tejada’s miserable spring has the Mets wondering whether last year was a fluke offensively. Second would seem like a reasonable slot since he’s had success there in the past. Also, having Davis behind him could enable Tejada to see more fastballs in the zone which could snap him out of his slide.

Ike Davis, 1b: Your No. 3 hitter should be your best hitter in terms of contact and power. That’s Wright when he’s healthy. It looks as if Davis will hit third at the start. Only question is will there be runners on base ahead of him.

Zach Lutz, 3b: Lutz is expected to open the season in the minors. His presence today at clean-up only indicates Collins will separate strikeout machines Davis and Lucas Duda, who conceivably in a full season could strike out a combined 300 times.

Lucas Duda, lf: With Wright out, Duda is the only other power to complement Davis, and the leftfielder has not had a good spring. He’s fifth today, but expect him lower in the order when the season comes, and definitely when Wright returns.

John Buck, c: Buck is a decent hitter, but nothing that makes you roll your eyes. He’s made for lower in the order. However, there are times I can see him moving up and slotted between Davis and Duda.

Matt den Dekker, cf: This is a major league glove headed to the minor leagues. Den Dekker drove in the game winning run last night and has been hitting better lately. If he’s consistent offensively he should be at Citi Field. Valdespin has had a good spring with the bat, but he’s never put it together for a full season. And, that includes his attitude and hustle.

Omar Quintanilla, 2b: With all the injuries in the infield and the expectation of Tejada being pulled for a pinch-hitter at times, Quintanilla should make the roster and have a defined role off the bench. He’s not much with the bat, so eighth is perfect for him.

Jeremy Hefner, rhp: Hefner is the fifth starter in place of Johan Santana, and if he’s effective could remain there for a month or more.

 

Mar 20

Not Optimistic About Wright And Murphy Being Ready By Opening Day

Opening Day is rapidly approaching, and it doesn’t look as if either David Wright and Daniel Murphy will make it to Flushing on time.

Wright told reporters he was in the World Baseball Classic where he played at an intense level, which shouldn’t put him at a disadvantage.

“I’m in a better position than Murphy, obviously, because I’ve been playing in games and taking plenty of swings,’’ Wright told reporters this morning.

Even so, if Wright doesn’t come back before the start of the season, and there aren’t any indications he is going to, it will be two weeks of being idle. Initially, at the time of the injury GM Sandy Alderson said Wright would rest from three to five days. Today is the sixth day.

There will be rust, count on it for Wright. Even more for Murphy, who hasn’t seen a pitch this spring. Murphy had a setback when he was shut down after playing five innings on defense last Friday. Terry Collins said if Murphy isn’t playing by the weekend he will open on the disabled list.

Both players claimed Opening Day was their goal, but made no promises and said they’ll be cautious as to not be re-injured and miss even more time.

Bet on the disabled list to start the season.

Injuries have also derailed Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who bruised his left knee in early March sliding into a base. Nieuwenhuis was scheduled to play three innings in the field and bat today in a minor league game.

In looking at tonight’s line-up against Houston in Kissimmee, it is possible it could be close to the Opening Day line-up, minus Brian Bixler and probably Mike Baxter.

For Opening Day, I’m going with Marlon Byrd in right instead of center.

Jordany Valdespin, 2b: He’s gone from being an outsider to likely starting at second base with Murphy out.

Collin Cowgill, cf: Looking at him as the starter in center. Could bat second as he is tonight.

Ike Davis, 1b: He isn’t a No. 3 hitter, but the best the Mets have with Wright gone.

Marlon Byrd, cf: He will be in right for the start of the season. He has been getting a lot of reps at clean up as Terry Collins wants to separate high strikeout batters Davis and Lucas Duda.

Lucas Duda, dh: Seriously, designated hitter is a natural for him. He moved from right to left because the latter is supposed to be easier. He still needs time in left, so why isn’t he there tonight?

John Buck, c: He’s the catcher until Travis d’Arnaud is ready. Should be June.

Mike Baxter, rf: Seems to have been pushed out of starter role by Byrd, who offers greater offensive upside.

Ruben Tejada, ss: It was thought he could contend for leadoff spot or No. 2, but not with the way he’s hitting now. He’ll be buried at No. 8, which gives Mets two back-to-back outs most times.

Dillon Gee, rhp: Says he needs work on his change-up.

Mar 17

Kirk Nieuwenhuis Having Miserable Spring; Vegas Bound

With two weeks to go before Opening Day, Kirk Nieuwenhuis should be thinking about where he would live in New York rather than Las Vegas.

Nieuwenhuis, who made a strong first impression with the Mets last year, came to camp penciled in as the center fielder and first in line to win the leadoff spot. However, a hitless streak at the start of the exhibition schedule punctuated with a rash of strikeouts followed by deep bone bruise on his left knee made this a washout spring.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

It should be fun for a young player competing for a starting job.

“Fun?’’ Nieuwenhuis asked. “It should have been fun, but it’s no fun spending time in the trainer’s room. It’s no fun when you can’t get onto the field. This has been a very frustrating time.’’

Nieuwenhuis was injured two weeks ago, and yesterday participated in batting practice and outfield drills. Once he runs the bases, he’ll be cleared to play, but it will be a minor league game.

Perhaps early this week Nieuwenhuis will get in a game, but Collin Cowgill has already leaped past him as well as Jordany Valdespin. Matt den Dekker also made a strong impression defensively, and still has a chance to make the team if he finishes with a hot two weeks with the bat.

Nieuwenhuis doesn’t say it, but despite his youth and inexperience, he’s smart enough to know the score. All he has to do is look at the stat sheet and compare his at-bats to Cowgill’s.

“I haven’t seen a lot of pitches,’’ Nieuwenhuis said in about as direct an admission that he’ll open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas. “You need at-bats in spring training. You need repetition, and I haven’t gotten them.’’

Nieuwenhuis was brought up early last season after Andres Torres was injured and got two hits in his first game. Then he rattled off a seven-game hitting streak. Three times he had three hits in a game and at the end of April was hitting .325 with a .386 on-base percentage.

Nieuwenhuis remained productive in May – hitting .294 at the end of the month – and carried it into June and was emerging as an early Rookie of the Year candidate hitting .297 while playing a near flawless center field.

However, by the middle of the month, pitchers started figuring him out and his average plummeted. Anybody can hit fastballs, but Nieuwenhuis was having trouble with breaking balls and off-speed stuff and his strike zone widened for pitchers, who didn’t have to be so fine.

Nieuwenhuis sustained a hand injury in July and at the end of the month was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo, where he injured his foot and was lost for the remainder of the season.

At the time of his demotion, Nieuwenhuis was down to .252 with a .315 on-base percentage, and in 282 at-bats had more strikeouts (98) than hits (71).

Although general manager Sandy Alderson had his apprehensions with Nieuwenhuis, his early success last year coupled with the Mets’ wide-open outfield situation, enabled him to come to camp with a fresh start and high expectations.

“Strikeouts are acceptable to a point,’’ Alderson said. “If a player has a high on-base percentage and produces a lot of runs, you can take the strikeouts.’’

Nieuwenhuis got off to a slow start this spring with only one hit and seven strikeouts in 20 at-bats. He was quickly removed from the leadoff spot as manager Terry Collins searched for other options, including Valdespin and Cowgill.

“I know the strikeouts have been a problem,’’ Nieuwenhuis said. “I don’t want to strike out. I need to put the ball in play. Seeing pitches is very important, and you get that through repetition.’’

And, you don’t see pitches when you’re not on the field.