Sep 29

How Mets Answered 15 Key Questions In 2014

The Mets entered the season with 15 key questions facing GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins. Let’s examine how they were answered, and if they still need attention before spring training, 2015:

Q: CAN TRAVIS d’ARNAUD LIVE UP TO THE BILLING?

A: It took awhile, but d’Arnaud is coming and perhaps will be good for 20 homers over a full season. However, d’Arnaud’s future is far from settled with Kevin Plawecki emerging. Are the Mets better off trading d’Arnaud, who isn’t rated as highly by scouts? Can d’Arnaud play another position such as left field? If d’Arnaud can be moved to another position it could address both the outfield and catching questions. Status: Still undecided.

DUDA: A lot to cheer about.

DUDA: A lot to cheer about.

Q: WHO’S ON FIRST?

A: The decision between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda was answered quickly compared to 2013. The thinking in 2013 was to give Davis time to work on his myriad of flaws. When Alderson finally relented and sent Davis to Triple-A it was way too late. When Davis stumbled out of the gate this season, Alderson acted quickly – for him – and traded the non-slugger to Pittsburgh. Without the distraction of Davis, Duda emerged as a 30-homer slugger. With the fences to be shortened in right and right center, Duda might be even better in 2015. Status: Looks answered to me.

Q: WILMER FLORES OR RUBEN TEJADA AT SHORTSTOP?

A: To some, this is still an issue, but not for me. Unless the Mets obtain a top shortstop from the trade or free-agent markets, I believe Flores should get the job. He’s not great defensively, but showed promise. His lack of range can be made up with better positioning. Flores’ bat is better than Tejada’s and over a full season he could have double-digit power. Meanwhile, Tejada’s defense isn’t so superior that he must play. Status: Looks answered to me.

Q: WILL DAVID WRIGHT HAVE A BOUNCE BACK SEASON?

A: That question must be asked again next spring. Wright’s lackluster season was cut short by a shoulder injury. He subsequently said he’s learning how to better manage pain and injuries. We shall see. Wright hasn’t hit 30 homers since 2008, and only twice since then has hit 20. Wright played in just 134 games this year after playing in 112 in 2013. He’s a long way from his All-Star form. Status: To be determined.

Q: WHO WILL PLAY LEFT FIELD?

A: That’s still an unanswered question. Nine players were trotted out to left field: Eric Young, Chris Young, Matt den Dekker, Eric Campbell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Andrew Brown, Curtis Granderson, Bobby Abreu and Lucas Duda. That screams of being unsettled. The Mets want power from the position, but nobody currently on the roster is capable of delivering. A trade will cost a top pitching prospect and the Mets don’t want to spend big. Eric Young has the potential to provide the most because of his speed, but the Mets won’t play him full time because he has too many holes in his game. The best defensive option is den Dekker, but the belief is he won’t hit. How will we know if he doesn’t get a long look? Of course, they could always bring back Chris Young for another $7.25 million. Status: To be determined.

Q: IS JUAN LAGARES THE REAL THING?

 A: Definitely with his glove, but his bat is suspect. He needs to cut his strikeouts and improve his on-base percentage. Lagares showed the instincts to be a good base stealer, but he must get on base more to win the leadoff job. Status: To be determined based on offense.

Q: WHO WILL BAT LEADOFF?

A: Mets’ leadoff hitters finished dead last in the majors with a .235 average and .308 on-base percentage. They added just eight homers and 40 RBI from the top of the order. Their leadoff hitters had only 63 walks and stuck out 147 times. Eleven players tried, and failed, leading off: Eric Young, Chris Young, den Dekker, Lagares, Tejada, Granderson, Daniel Murphy, Nieuwenhuis, Abreu, Brown and Campbell. From a power perspective, Granderson hit seven of his 20 homers leading off. However, he strikes out too much to be considered for the position fulltime. Eric Young is the best base stealer, but 46 strikeouts in 210 at-bats and a .302 on-base percentage say he’s not the answer, either. If Eric Young isn’t brought back, Lagares might get it by default. Status: Not answered.

Q; CAN BARTOLO COLON REPLACE MATT HARVEY?

A: Not in the long term, but Colon logged 200 innings while winning 15 games at age 41. There’s still something in his tank. Harvey is penciled in at No. 1 if healthy. Colon should start the season in the rotation ahead of Dillon Gee, but might be traded at the deadline. If the Mets are as close as they say, they shouldn’t be so eager to trade Colon. Currently, assuming all are healthy, Collins must select five from the following: Harvey, Colon, Zack Wheeler, Gee, Jacob de Grom and Jon Niese. The Mets wouldn’t mind trading Colon, Gee, Rafael Montero and Niese – in that order. Status: Answered in the positive.

Q: WILL MATT HARVEY HAVE A SETBACK IN HIS REHAB?

A: Repeatedly saying he wanted to pitch this year was a minor annoyance. Giving in to him and sustaining another injury would have been disastrous. Alderson said Harvey is on track to start spring training on time and with no restrictions, and nobody could have asked for more. Harvey is 12-10 in parts of two seasons. Anything less than 15 next year will be a disappointment. Status: Answered in the positive.

Q: HOW MUCH BETTER WILL ZACK WHEELER BE?

A: Wheeler finished at 11-11 in 15 more starts than in 2013 when he was 7-5. Wheeler struck out 187, but walked 79. His pitch count was way too high as he exceeded 90 pitches in all but four of 32 starts. Wheeler continually works too deep in the count, which is taxing for him, and subsequently, the bullpen. To reach the next level, Wheeler must pitch more to contact and trust his defense. The shorter Wheeler goes in games means the bullpen must go longer. Status: To be determined.

Q: WHAT’S GOING ON WITH JON NIESE?

A: We still don’t know. Young, left-handed and signed to a reasonable contract, Niese has been attractive to the Mets and opponents seeking to trade. However, he’s won as many as 13 games once in seven years (13-9 in 2012 in his only winning season). He was 9-11 this year and left his final start with a rapid heartbeat, something he’s had in the past. Niese is signed through 2018 (club option). He could be valuable to teams believing he needs a change of scenery, but they don’t figure to offer a lot. His real value to the Mets is in the hope he’ll live up to expectations, but hoping isn’t much of a plan. Status: Anybody’s guess.

Q: WILL THEY FINALLY FIX THE BULLPEN?

A: That’s an annual question, but there were positives this season, such as finally settling on a role for Jenrry Mejia and emergence of Jeurys Familia. There’s also a lot to like about Carlos Torres, Vic Black and Josh Edgin. Daisuke Matsuzaka could finish his career in Japan and Montero could also be slotted in. The Mets love Gonzalez German’s stuff, but his command is suspect. He’s raw, but worth the wait. Status: Looks good so far.

Q: CAN THE METS IMPROVE THEIR RECORD IN ONE-RUN GAMES AND IN THE DIVISION?

A: The Mets were 26-29 in one-run games and 38-38 in the NL East. They were 34-42 vs. the East in 2013, but 29-28 in one-run games. The Mets were 7-12 against Washington in 2013, but regressed to 4-15 this year. That last record needs to change drastically. Status: Still needs work.

Q: CAN THE METS WIN AT HOME?

A: The Mets were better at 40-41, but still haven’t found a way to make Citi Field to their advantage. The belief is moving the fences in again will be the answer, but that’s folly as the opponents will also gain an edge. If the Mets learned anything in their best record in six years (tied at 79-83 with the 2010) is they can compete with pitching and defense. Assuming the healthy returns of Harvey and Wright, and progressions of Wheeler and de Grom, they should have a reasonable expectation of further improvement without tinkering with the dimensions of Citi Field. Status: Still needs work.

Q: ARE THE METS READY TO TAKE THE TOWN FROM THE YANKEES?

A: These things go in cycles. The Mets won’t ever equal the Yankees in career victories and championships, as the Pinstripes have been around for more than five decades as the Mets. That’s a quite a head start. But, the Mets wrestled the town away in 1969 and in the mid- to late-1980s. Although neither made the playoffs this season, the eyes in the Apple would be focused on the Bronx because: 1) the Mets didn’t have Harvey; 2) the Yankees are always more willing to spend, and, above all, 3) this was Derek Jeter’s last season. Next season could be different, as the Yankees are no lock to reach October with a multitude of pitching issues. Status: Time to seize the moment.

Mar 11

Revisiting Mets’ Primary Spring Training Issues

On the first day of spring training, I posed five Mets manager Terry Collins needed to answer by Opening Day. Now, halfway through – 20 days remaining to be exact – it is time to revisit those questions, which haven’t been done in the positive:

Q: WHO WILL BE THE FIFTH STARTER?
A: Ideally, they wanted Jenrry Mejia but his elbow remains an issue, and there’s a chance he could open the season in the bullpen or the minor leagues. Either way, the fifth starter role isn’t imminent. Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan are candidates. Without Mejia, Matsuzaka appeared to have the inside track, and that’s likely to remain. With lefty reliever Josh Edgin sent to the minor league camp, Lannan will get time working in relief (there will be a separate post on that later today).

PARNELL: Said he'll be ready (AP)

PARNELL: Said he’ll be ready (AP)

Q: WILL BOBBY PARNELL BE READY BY OPENING DAY?
A: Parnell, recovering from neck surgery, insists he’ll be ready, but he’s only made one appearance. Collins would like to give him at least seven or eight. Assuming Parnell is ready, Vic Black will get the set-up role, but his control hasn’t been good. Veterans Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde are competing for jobs in the bullpen and both have closer experience.

Q: WILL THE IKE DAVIS SAGA EVER END?
A: Not any time soon. The Mets tried to trade Davis since October, but their asking price was too high. Davis kept tabs on the rumors and acknowledged he is surprised to be in Port St. Lucie. He began camp the projected starter, but it hasn’t been a good spring. First, he acknowledged he hid an oblique strain last year to avoid the appearance of making an excuse. The following day he ripped into the reporter who had the audacity to write what Davis said. Next was tightness in both calves, caused by too much work in the weight room. He’s currently in a walking boot. About those 90-plus at-bats Collins wanted? Not happening. He’ll likely start the season on the disabled list.

Q: CAN RUBEN TEJADA BECOME THE PLAYER EXPECTED OF HIM?
A: That doesn’t look promising, either. Tejada has a strained hamstring and his defense has not been good. He’s also not hitting. The Mets aren’t close to signing free-agent Stephen Drew or trading for Seattle’s Nick Franklin. Wilmer Flores started today at shortstop and could get more time.

Q: WHO WILL BE THE LEADOFF HITTER?
A: Collins prefers Eric Young, who missed several games with tightness in his side. Collins prefers Daniel Murphy second and Tejada – if he plays – down in the order. Currently, it appears it will come down between Eric or Chris Young. The latter, however, strikes out too much to be a successful leadoff hitter. If Eric Young gets the job, we should see Juan Lagares in the minor leagues instead of languishing on the bench.

ON DECK: Lannan in the bullpen.

Jan 15

Mets’ Top Ten Questions With Spring Training A Month Away

With the New York Mets a month away from spring training in Port St. Lucie, now is a good time to look at the most pressing issues manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson must address before Opening Day.

WHO WILL BE THE FIFTH STARTER?

As of now it is Jenrry Mejia, who is coming off surgery. The Mets are looking, but their first hope is Mejia is healthy enough to open the season.

As teams select their rosters there will undoubtedly be veteran arms that are waived and become available.

Of course, there are several free agents on the market, but Alderson is looking for somebody to sign to a minor league contract, which would preclude Bronson Arroyo. Alderson expressed interest in Daisuke Matsuzaka after the season, but he wants two years.

Freddy Garcia, 37, has been discussed.

WHO IS ON FIRST?

This is a difficult time of year to make a trade as most teams are gearing up for spring training. There are some, like Milwaukee, that need a first baseman, but Alderson said there’s been no movement.

So, it looks as if Ike Davis and Lucas Duda will compete for the first base job. As they are essentially the same type of player, don’t expect them to keep both. If Davis has a hot spring more teams will show interest. Then again, if that happens the Mets might be prone to keeping him.

Should that happen, Duda could be optioned to Triple A if the Mets can’t trade him. Whatever happens, the Mets must be quick to pull the trigger on Davis if he’s not hitting. They can’t afford another year of distractions.

WHO LEADS OFF?

Their best leadoff hitter is Eric Young, but the trouble is if they keep outfielder Juan Lagares, that puts the speedy Young on the bench.

The answer to this question will also determine the composition of the outfield. If it is Lagares, he could play center with Chris Young and Curtis Granderson on the corners.

It would be counterproductive to have Lagares on the bench – he needs at-bats – so if he doesn’t start he season I think he should be sent to the minors. In that case, Eric Young would play left, Granderson center and Chris Young in right.

Young would lead off whenever he plays. If Lagares sticks, don’t expect him to lead off as he strikes out too much.

Collins left open the possibilities of Daniel Murphy or Ruben Tejada leading off.

IS BOBBY PARNELL HEALTHY?

After undergoing neck surgery, Parnell has been given clearance to resume baseball activities. However, this does not mean he will be ready to start the season. If that’s the case, Vic Black would close, but that would mean the Mets must add at least one more reliever. Signing Garcia could give them both starting and bullpen depth.

The Mets currently have four relievers outside of Black and Parnell they are counting on: Scott Rice, Gonzalez Germen, Josh Edgin and Jeurys Familia. Recently signed Ryan Reid could stick and Carlos Torres is also in the mix.

WILL ANY OF THE YOUNG ARMS STICK?

The Mets anticipate seeing Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard this summer, but not before June. That is why Alderson is looking to sign veteran to a minor league contract, which would make that pitcher easily disposable.

DOES WILMER FLORES HAVE A POSITION?

It would be waste of everybody’s time if the Mets concentrate Flores’ time at a position they have no intention of him playing at, such as third base.

Collins said Flores have improved his speed working out at the fitness camp and suggested during the Winter Meetings he might play some shortstop. That would be terrific as his bat is potentially far superior to Tejada’s. Should Flores show promise at shortstop, but doesn’t stick, he should be sent to the minors to concentrate at that position.

HOW GOOD IS TRAVIS d’ARNAUD?

He showed little in his limited window of opportunity last summer, especially at the plate. It is imperative d’Arnaud show something offensively this spring, even though results aren’t often emphasized.

His improvement must also include gaining a familiarity with the staff, although some pitchers, such as Dillon Gee, said they are comfortable working with d’Arnaud.

Collins said he has confidence in Anthony Recker as a back-up, but the Mets signed veteran Taylor Teagarden. The former Oriole, 30, has an out clause in his contract he can exercise if he’s not promoted by June 15.

HAS RUBEN TEJADA LEARNED ANYTHING?

The Mets began the offseason with shortstop a priority, but with the thinness of the market, and cost of the few – see Stephen Drew – they plan to stick with Tejada as they are encouraged by the effort he put in attending a voluntary fitness camp in Michigan.

Last year, Tejada first went on the DL, then options to Triple A Las Vegas, because the Mets weren’t happy with his production and attitude.

Collins said this winter Tejada has to learn a major league job is rare and fleeting. The manager said he’s happy with what he’s heard so far.

WHO IS ON THE BENCH?

I’ve already sent down Flores and Lagares for more work, but that probably won’t happen as the Mets’ bench is very thin. Flores could play some first base, but there is also Josh Satin who would be available.

If the Mets opt to send down Lagares, they would likely keep Matt den Dekker.

The back-up catcher will be either Recker or Teagarden, as I don’t see them keeping both.

While I am hopeful Flores can learn to play shortstop, I’m not overly optimistic and see Wilfredo Tovar sticking as Tejada’s back-up.

CAN COLLINS FIND A SET LINE-UP?

Last season the Mets had almost as many line-ups as they played games. A lot of that was because of injuries and/or a lack of production.

As of now, Collins doesn’t know his order because a decision hasn’t been made on Lagares and it is uncertain Davis will be on the team.

The leadoff position is wide open if Eric Young isn’t a starter. The job could go to Murphy or Tejada. Should Murphy lead off, I’d go with Tejada hitting second because Lagares doesn’t handle the bat will and has a propensity for striking out.

There are several assumptions, such as Murphy, David Wright and Granderson hitting 2-3-4.

Likely Davis or Duda would hit fifth. Collins could go with Chris Young to separate the lefty hitters, thereby dropping Davis or Duda to sixth.

Batting 7-8-9 would be d’Arnaud, Tejada and the pitcher.