Apr 02

Mets Still Loaded With Questions

David Wright was all smiles yesterday.

“If you like grand slams and scoring lots of runs, what’s not to like?’’ Wright said. “Of course, we’re not going to score 11 runs every game.’’

COLLINS: Over/under date when he stops smiling.

COLLINS: Over/under date when he stops smiling.

His qualifier continued: “It’s only the first game.’’

That it was, and as good as they looked in mauling the Padres, the Mets remain loaded with questions.

When the Mets introduced their team, only nine players were the same time last Opening Day.

One question is not Johan Santana, and in several respects that’s a good thing because the Mets won’t have to deal with the lingering questions of about when, or if, we’ll see him. Or, was he worth the money.

All three can be answered in the negative.

Actually, there was a Santana sighting. He’s on the cover of the media guide. So is Terry Collins with a broad smile. Wonder how long that will last?

It depends on the answers to the following questions, five each on the mound and at the plate:


 Q: Will Jon Niese assume the role of No. 1 with Santana done with the Mets?

A: Niese downplays the ace title, but that doesn’t alter the fact he is No. 1. He showed what he is capable of yesterday. The Mets need 200-plus innings and for him to exceed his career high of 13 victories.

Q: Matt Harvey: Boom or bust?

A: The anticipation for Harvey is intense after just ten starts last year. Fans want him to be another Dwight Gooden or Stephen Strasburg. His teammates expect it of him, too. Not fair, but that’s the way it is.

Q: What will they get from Shaun Marcum?

A: He’s on the DL, but expected to come off and pitch Sunday. He needs to win at least 12 games as the No. 4 starter in the rotation and be an innings eater. The Mets got him on the cheap, but he must outpitch his contract.

Q: Will Bobby Parnell seize the closer opportunity?

A: He’s had chances before and did not. Frank Francisco figures to be out at least a month and Parnell can take this job for good. If he does, and Francisco is healthy and pitches well in whatever role he is in when he returns, he gives the Mets a trade chip.

Q: How good is the bullpen?

A: Parnell is the only one from last year’s Opening Day pen. GM Sandy Alderson has built a pen with the combination of unproven and veteran arms. Basically, it is Parnell and six questions. Come to think of it, Parnell is also a question.


 Q: Will David Wright respond to his contract?

A: Wright is not one who will coast. Looking for .300, 25-30 homers and over 100 RBI.  That’s the minimum requirements for your best hitter. Wright said he didn’t feel any differently being named captain. That’s because he’s had the role long before it became official.

Q: Can Ike Davis put together two strong halves?

A: Mets got little from him at the start last year, but he rebounded to finish with 32 homers. With his power 40 is reasonable. Unfortunately, so are 160 strikeouts. He had four yesterday.

Q: How will the outfield shake out?

A: Collin Cowgill beat out Kirk Nieuwenhuis, but nothing is etched in stone. Yesterday’s grand slam is a good start, but the key is sustaining. Marlon Byrd and Lucas Duda are in the corners. The Mets desperately need Duda’s power. If he hits 20, he could out-homer the rest of the outfield.

Q: When will we see Travis d’Arnaud?

A: For future free-agent considerations, he shouldn’t be here before June. However, Alderson said if he’s needed that wouldn’t be a barrier. We’ll see.

Q: What will the Mets get from Ruben Tejada?

A: He was solid last season, but hit less than .100 in spring training. He’s good with the glove, but Mets need something from him and his double yesterday was a good sign. He’ll never replace Jose Reyes’ numbers, but if he fields the position and hits around .275 the Mets will be happy.

Apr 01

Like It Or Not, Terry Collins Has His Team

COLLINS: Over/under when he stops smiling.

COLLINS: Over/under when he stops smiling.

The sun broke through the blinds this morning as it always does, but there was a different feel to the day. There was a chill in the air and patches of plowed snow remain, but one sensed summer.

It is Opening Day, and as I wrote yesterday, Major League Baseball doesn’t know what it has with this day. Fortunately, every one of us does.

We all know why the first game of the season is special to us. To many, Opening Day is the real New Year’s Day.

My favorite Opening Day was when my father took my brother and I out of school to watch the Indians. The teachers didn’t like the idea, but my father said we’d get more out of the game than that day at school.

He was right. He’s gone now, but that day was one of my favorite memories of him. I can’t say I remember in detail any particular day in grade school. The Indians won that afternoon, but went on to have a long and disappointing summer.

See, I grew up on bad baseball.

We don’t know what will happen with the Mets, but the conventional thinking is it will be a long year, but there are reasons to watch. By far, the most important being the Mets are your team and you always follow your team.

I never bought the term “die hard fan’’ because it insinuates an ending and giving up. You never give up on your team. They’ll always be your team for a reason, and if you’d like to comment on why the Mets are your team it would be great to read.

Like it or not, Terry Collins has his team, and here’s the batting order against San Diego:

Collin Cowgill, CF: Beat out Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin for the job because he’s the best combination of offense and defense.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Dodged the disabled list to start. His patience and bat control are suited for the No. 2 spot in the order.

David Wright, 3B: Your best hitter in terms of average and power hits third. There’s no debate here.

Ike Davis, 1B: If he can put two halves together he might approach 40 homers and 120 RBI. He has that kind of power.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Spring training pick-up makes the team and beat out Mike Baxter for the starting job. Slotted fifth to keep Davis and Lucas Duda separated in the order.

Lucas Duda, LF: Moves over from right field. Spotty defender, but the Mets are waiting for a breakout year with his power.

John Buck, C: Holding the fort until Travis d’Arnaud gets here. Hate to say this on Opening Day, but if d’Arnaud comes up early and plays well, Buck could be desired at the trade deadline.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Coming off miserable spring training at the plate. Needs to show last year’s offense wasn’t a fluke.

Jon Niese, LHP: There’s no more debate, with Johan Santana gone he’s No. 1. Mets are counting on more than his career-high 13 wins.


When the Mets are introduced this afternoon, there will be only nine players who were on last year’s Opening Day roster: Murphy, Wright, Davis, Duda and Ruben Tejada were in the lineup; Baxter was on the bench; Niese and Dillon Gee were in the rotation; and Bobby Parnell was the only reliever.

Come to think of it, for a team that seemingly didn’t do anything in the off-season, the Mets were busy.

Here’s this year’s roster:

Catchers (2): Buck, Anthony Recker.

Infielders (5): Murphy, Wright, Davis, Tejada, Justin Turner.

Outfielders (6): Valdespin, Cowgill, Byrd, Duda, Nieuwenhuis, Baxter.

Pitchers (12):  Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, LaTroy Hawkins, Parnell, Niese, Gee, Jeremy Hefner, Scott Rice, Greg Burke, Josh Edgin, Scott Atchison, Brandon Lyon.


This title will be a weekly feature throughout the year.

The Mets host the Padres for three games starting with Opening Day and Niese going against Edinson Volquez. Harvey moves up to the second spot in the rotation and faces Clayton Richard on Wednesday, and it will be Gee against Eric Stults Thursday afternoon.

The Miami Marlins are in over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Santana will have surgery on his left shoulder in a last ditch effort to salvage his career. You’ve seen the last of Santana as a Met, but he will be rehabbing in Port St. Lucie. That’s a lonely and hot place to spend the summer.

ON DECK: Mets over/under for the 2013 season.

Mar 29

Days Dwindling For Mets; Questions Aren’t

The Mets have two games remaining in spring training, and if they don’t know what they have by now they never will.

They break camp today after playing St. Louis, then bus over to the bay side of the state to play the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. Next will be Opening Day Monday afternoon against San Diego, while at the same time, in a display of scheduling genius by Major League Baseball, across town the Yankees will play the Red Sox.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

The Mets have a myriad of remaining questions that won’t be answered in the next 18 innings. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things manager Terry Collins would like to see, most of them health related.

Daniel Murphy and David Wright have missed time with strained intercostal muscles. Murphy played yesterday against Washington in a major league game and Wright hopes to play today and tomorrow in major league games.

Both players say they are ready, but also said the gamble of playing in a major league game instead of a minor league game was worth taking because the speed and pace is closer to that of the regular season. If they are injured and have to go on the disabled list instead of being backdated deeper into spring training, then so be it.

Murphy goes into the season with a handful of at-bats, while Wright had the World Baseball Classic. Even so, neither will face the Padres in a groove.

Assuming Wright and Murphy are sound, the lone position to be determined is center field, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin the two contenders.

Nieuwenhuis entered spring training penciled in to start in center along side Lucas Duda in left and Mike Baxter in right, and was given first chance at the leadoff spot.

After a miserable start, Nieuwenhuis bruised his left knee and Valdespin emerged as a starting candidate in center – competing with Collin Cowgill – or at second with Murphy hurt.

As of yesterday, Collins said center field was up in the air, but wanted Nieuwenhuis to get at-bats, which presumably means the Mets want him to win the job.

Figuring seven or eight at-bats in the next games, that’s not enough for Nieuwenhuis to get in a groove, but it will have to do. Presumably, if Nieuwenhuis starts over Valdespin he would hit leadoff.

Pitching wise, Johan Santana wasn’t going to be an issue, but now the Mets can place him on the 60-day disabled list that would open up a spot on the 40-man roster. Call it Santana’s last contribution to the Mets, because with a re-tear of his anterior shoulder capsule, his career is likely over.

Jeremy Hefner will take his spot in the rotation, but took a ball off his right elbow Tuesday and Collins wants to give him a couple of innings to see how he feels. Hefner is scheduled the fourth game of the season, Friday against Miami at Citi Field.

The Mets still don’t know when Shaun Marcum can pitch, and could go with Aaron Laffey instead.

Even with Santana’s career-threatening injury, the Mets are adamant about not bringing up Zack Wheeler.


Mar 28

Daniel Murphy Passes Audition

Daniel Murphy passed the audition and said it was worth the risk.

Murphy, playing for the first time in a major league game this spring because of a strained right intercostal muscle, singled in three at-bats against Washington’s Gio Gonzalez, played five innings and declared himself ready for Opening Day.

MURPHY: Five innings at second; one hit.

MURPHY: Five innings at second; one hit.

Had he kept playing minor league games until Monday and was re-injured, his DL stint would be backdated deep into spring training. Should he get hurt now the clock would be running and he could miss the first two weeks of the season at least.

Considering how thin the Mets are, it didn’t seem worth the gamble, but it looks as if they dodged it, especially since he tagged up and advanced to second on a fly ball. Most guys don’t even think of such a play in the regular season, let alone the exhibition schedule.

“It was nice to slide,’’ Murphy told reporters. “It was nice to get the headfirst one out of the way.’’

Murphy understood the risks of playing in the major league game, but said he needed the speed of it to get ready for the season. Similarly, David Wright wants a major league game tomorrow or Saturday for the same reason.

“The speed of the game is obviously going to be a little quicker here,’’ Murphy said. “I actually was pleasantly surprised at how far along I was, and not even on the base hit. That was trash. … It was good to face (Gonzalez). It was really good to face a lefty with some velocity like that.’’

Pain wise, Murphy didn’t feel anything, so it was a positive day all along.

Figuring Murphy wakes up tomorrow without any discomfort, he’ll play second against St. Louis and Saturday against Baltimore at Sarasota, Fla.

With Murphy back at second the dilemma is what to do with Jordany Valdespin, who has had a good enough spring to make the 25-man roster.

When Murphy was down and Kirk Nieuwenhuis out with a bruised left knee, Valdespin seemed a lock to make the team. But, with Murphy back, reserve infielder Omar Quintanilla better defensively, and Nieuwenhuis again in contention in center field and needing at-bats, Valdespin could be back to the bench, if not the minors.

“We’ve got to decide who’s going to play center,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “Therefore, we’ve got to get Kirk some at-bats.’’

Nieuwenhuis is batting only .094. Unbelievably, if he and shortstop Ruben Tejada are Opening Day starters, the Mets could have two hitters with averages below .100 (Tejada is at .080).

Mar 27

Don’t Force Wheeler Because Of Marcum

There are two no-brainers in place for the Mets with their latest injury news.

The first was the slam-dunk Shaun Marcum would be injured. The surprise was it happened before the team broke camp, but considering the shape he reported in, well, maybe not so much.

WHEELER: Not ready.

WHEELER: Not ready.

The second is the inevitable early clamor for the Mets to promote prospect Zack Wheeler, which should be an emphatic NO WAY.

Manager Terry Collins told reporters today in Port St. Lucie, but he has a few more days to mull it over in his mind, especially throwing Johan Santana’s name on the soon-to-be-DL list.

“There’s a reason why we sent him out,’’ Collins said. “He needs to face hitters in Triple-A.’’

Although Wheeler was impressive in his first appearance since straining his oblique muscle, too much can’t be read into that because he wasn’t facing major league hitters.

The send-off the Mets gave Wheeler was to work on his command, especially lower in the strike zone and on the corners. That includes both his fastball and breaking pitches.

GM Sandy Alderson was adamant at the start of spring training of putting Wheeler, “in a chance where he has a chance to be successful,’’ but said he’s not there, yet.

Alderson wouldn’t identify a concrete timetable, and some of it pertains to the free agent and Super Two issues. Based on service time within the first 20 days of the regular season, Wheeler would become a free agent after the 2018 season instead to 2019, and be eligible for an extra year (four instead of three) in salary arbitration.

An example of a Super Two player is the Phillies Cole Hamels, but it should be remembered he was first played in that status in 2009, the year Philadelphia went to the World Series. At last check, the Mets haven’t been over .500 since that year.

People accuse the Mets of being cheap off the time, but this is more a prudent option and an accountant’s decision. However, Alderson said if there’s a need for a player such as Wheeler or catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud they would be promoted regardless.

If Marcum isn’t ready for the season – it seems doubtful he will make Thursday’s start – the Mets will likely place him on the disabled list. It would be foolish to wait to see if he’ll be ready for the season’s second start, or even worse to push him back in the rotation.

Under those scenarios, if Marcum pitched and was re-injured, he would go on the disabled list backdated to the time of that injury and be out two-weeks. If not, he would be backdated into spring training and miss time.

Marcum sustained a pinched nerve in his neck sustained throwing in the bullpen Monday. Marcum has only broken 200 innings once during his career, and only had 124 last year.