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 30

Projecting Mets’ Shopping For Next Winter

Other than extending Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets have been relatively inactive this winter. Could it be they are preparing for next offseason? That’s not a stretch when you consider the potential holes in next winter’s roster. General manager Sandy Alderson should be busy – or he’d better be.

Let’s assume for a moment their young pitching staff gets through the 2017 season healthy and productive. That should alleviate that issue, but here are the others:

CONFORTO: Where will he play?  (Getty)

CONFORTO: Where will he play? (Getty)

CATCHER: If Travis d’Arnaud doesn’t take the next step, it’s hard to imagine they’ll bring back Rene Rivera for another year. The Mets are saying they’ll give d’Arnaud another chance to prove his worth. If not, they’ll have to look for help behind the plate. Their top catching prospect, Tomas Nido, is still at least two years away.

FIRST BASE: They have Lucas Duda for another year, but they are still making noise of experimenting with David Wright and Michael Conforto. Either would be a gamble. If Wright is healthy, the outfield glut might make Conforto the pick. However, what they are really hoping for is Duda to hold the spot until Dominic Smith is ready.

SECOND BASE: Neil Walker signed for one year, so he’ll be another issue. If they re-sign him again, it will be costly, perhaps at least $50 million over three years. Of course, there’s Wilmer Flores, but why are they so reluctant to give him a real chance?

SHORTSTOP: Asdrubal Cabrera‘s contract will be over after this season, but the Mets have two prospects in Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini. How much time will they see in 2017 and will it be enough to get them ready for 2018?

THIRD BASE: Wright, of course, will be a question every season. The Mets’ top-rated third base prospect, Jhoan Urena, will still be a year or two away. Will Jose Reyes show enough this summer to warrant an extension?

OUTFIELD: It’s complicated now after extending Cespedes. Presumably, he’ll play left, which means Conforto needs to find a place to play. Center field would seem to be the place, but the Mets want him to share the spot with Curtis Granderson. If they can’t trade him, Jay Bruce could share right field with him. Whatever happens, we have to figure both Bruce and Granderson will be gone after this season, so that should ease the logjam. However, the way things project, playing time could be sparse for both Conforto and Juan Lagares, which might wave a red flag.

BULLPEN: There hasn’t been an offseason in recent memory where the bullpen wasn’t an issue. Figuring Addison Reed pitches lights out in the closer role while Jeurys Familia presumably serves a suspension, he’ll be worthy of a raise. Should Familia pitch well again, he’ll get more money. As usual, the Mets will have to look for role pitchers.

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.

Nov 14

Walker Accepts Mets’ Qualifying Offer

Coming off back surgery, Neil Walker had little choice but to accept the Mets’ $17.2-million qualifying offer. He had to figure surgery would have limited interest, so it was best to take the guaranteed money and try the market again next offseason.

It was a no-brainer on his part, just as the qualifying offer was to the Mets.

“Happy to say I’m back in Orange and Blue in 2017! Let’s go Mets,” Walker posted on his Twitter account Monday afternoon.

Walker, who came to the Mets in a trade for Jon Niese, helped carry them for much of the season before undergoing season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disk. The 31-year-old Walker, who replaced NL MVP candidate Daniel Murphy, hit .282 with 23 homers and 55 RBI before his season ended.

ESPN reported the Mets’ 2017 payroll commitment is now roughly $124 million. That could go as high as $150 million should the Mets bring back Yoenis Cespedes.

Had the Mets not retained Walker, second base could have come down to Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera. They will now be relegated to the bench roles.

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Nov 04

How Mets Compare To Cubs

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won their World Series. The curses are over, so perhaps they can do the right thing and invite Steve Bartman to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2017.

It would be a classy gesture, akin to the Red Sox making up with Bill Buckner – who, by the way – felt the curses of both the Red Sox and Cubs.

REED: A priority. (AP)

                    REED: A priority. (AP)

I doubt it would happen, but I always root for the good story. Meanwhile, our Mets have a title drought of our own – 30 long years.

The Cubs won 103 games this summer and the Mets won 87, but is 16 games the real separation between the two teams? The Mets can’t go back to their four-game sweep of the Cubs in last year’s NLCS or a sweep of them this summer at Citi Field.

The Cubs roared past the Mets, and here’s a position-by-position comparison between the franchises:

FRONT OFFICE: Theo Epstein had a plan when he took over in 2012, and it was only four years before he lead a parade in Chicago. Like was said of the Yankees’ Brian Cashman over the years, he better win that payroll. ($171 million and license to spend).

Meanwhile, Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s mission statement when he was hired in 2010 was to get rid of burdensome contracts – Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez to name a few – and cut payroll, which he did.

The Mets’ payroll was $126 million in Alderson’s first year and jumped to $142 million in 2011 because of existing obligations, but from 2012- 2014 had sub-$100 million payrolls.

It subsequently jumped to $135 million this year for Opening Day.

Unlike Epstein, Alderson does not have free reign to spend because the Mets are still recovering from the Ponzi scandal.

EDGE: Chicago.

MANAGER: Joe Maddon is regarded as one of the game’s best minds, but in all fairness with his moves in Games 6 and 7, it would be accurate to say the Cubs won in spite of him and not because of him.

He abused reliever Aroldis Chapman in the last three games. It was absurd he sent Chapman out for the ninth with a huge lead in Game 6. I was stunned he sent him out for the ninth, but it also showed extreme confidence in Chapman but also underscored an overall lack of faith he had in the rest of the bullpen. That’s something Terry Collins would never have done.

I thought he pulled Kyle Hendricks way too soon, something we’ve seen of Collins frequently.

The bunt call with Javier Baez was foolish. There were other moments, but those stood out the most.

But Maddon caught some breaks. The last two games in Cleveland allowed him to use Kyle Schwarber as the DH. Think about that Cubs fans when you rail against American League baseball.

The Cubs also caught a huge break with the rain delay that gave them a much-needed timeout. It also took steam from the Indians.

Since Collins replaced Jerry Manuel, he was initially hamstrung with a limited payroll and Alderson’s domineering hand of calling the shots.

Collins’ in-game managing can be head scratching, especially the use of his bullpen and bench. He has shown questionable loyalties to his players, notably Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes.

He has been let down numerous times, but his players hustle for him.

EDGE: Chicago.

ROTATION: Jake Arrieta won 22 games in 2015 to win the NL Cy Young Award. Either Jon Lester or Hendricks could win it this year. They have one more season with John Lackey and Jason Hammel is the fifth starter.

Most of the pre-season pitching accolades went to the Mets’ young core of Harvey, Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz. Throw in Zack Wheeler and four of the five are coming off surgery. Bartolo Colon is a free agent, but the Mets want him back.

However, that’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Nothing is assured, including Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman picking up where they left off. They gave the Mets a brief, but an impressive window.

The bottom line is the Mets’ rotation can be terrific, but with the surgeries and relative inexperience, they enter spring training with a myriad of questions.

EDGE: Chicago.

BULLPEN

With Chapman on the free-agent market and Maddon’s obvious lack of faith in his bullpen, the Cubs have serious questions.

Mike Montgomery is 27 and worked a lot in the postseason. They also had Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards and Justin Grimm on the postseason roster. They are under 30, had decent seasons, but Maddon had little faith in them in Games 6 of 7. We’ll never know what Maddon would have done if Game 7 went longer.

The Mets have serious bullpen issues with Jeurys Familia facing at least a 30-game suspension and Addison Reed entering free agency. Honestly, they are in a world of hurt in their bullpen.

If you assume Chapman is gone, the same assumption can be made of Reed, left-hander Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas. They already decided against Jim Henderson. Josh Edgin had a short rebound season from surgery. Hansel Robles is coming off a hot-and-cold season, as did Logan Verrett.

Erik Goeddel and Sean Gilmartin also made appearances, as did Rafael Montero.

EDGE: Even.

CATCHING: Ironically, Maddon’s lack of faith in his bullpen prompted going to Jon Lester, and with him, his personal catcher David Ross. Ross homered to help win Game 7 and retire in style.

The Cubs still list Schwarber as a catcher, but after knee surgery, that won’t happen. Willson Contreras had a good year and enters spring training No. 1.

Travis d’Arnaud was hurt each of the last two seasons and still needs to prove he can hit. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera are back-ups. The Mets need a serious upgrade here.

EDGE: Chicago.

FIRST BASE: It’s Anthony Rizzo (.292/32 HR/109 RBI) for the Cubs against the Mets’ perpetually injured Lucas Duda, and possibly James Loney.

The Mets are also toying with the idea of experimenting with Conforto and David Wright at first. It is a reach.

EDGE: Chicago.

SECOND BASE: When Schwarber was injured, Ben Zobrist played more in left field, and that gave Javier Baez more time at second base.

The versatility of MVP candidate Kris Bryant, who can play the infield and outfield corners, enabled Maddon to keep Zobrist fresh at second.

The Mets were surprised by Neil Walker’s power, but he’s a free-agent coming off back surgery. The most they’ll extend is probably a one-year qualifying. They still have Flores, who they repeatedly showed a lack of faith, and the up-and-coming T.J. Rivera. Kelly Johnson, who filed for free agency. Will they trade for him for a third straight season?

EDGE: Chicago.

SHORTSTOP

The Cubs’ Addison Russell is one of the game’s rising stars, while Asdrubal Cabrera was arguably the Mets’ MVP.

However, Cabrera showed breakdown signs several times last summer. They have him for another year and Collins needs to do a better job of resting him.

EDGE: Chicago.

THIRD BASE

If not Rizzo, Bryant (.292/39/102) could be the NL MVP. He’s 24, terrific in the clutch and can play four positions.

The Mets don’t know if Wright will be back, and if he does, where he’ll play and how much are issues. If he doesn’t, they’ll go with Jose Reyes and Flores.

EDGE: Chicago.

LEFT FIELD

The Cubs have the combination of Zobrist – whom the Mets’ coveted after the 2015 season – and Schwarber. The World Series MVP, Zobrist is also one of baseball’s good guys as he signed autographs outside his Chicago home.

How many remember that Albert Belle chased down trick-or-treaters in his truck?

Zobrist is versatile, has power and hits in the clutch. Small wonder the Mets and Nationals both wanted him. Schwarber, meanwhile, thanks to the DH rule was a factor with awesome power.

The assumption is Cespedes will be gone, leaving left field to Conforto. Curtis Granderson could also get time in left with Jay Bruce brought back to play right field.

EDGE: Chicago.

CENTER FIELD: Dexter Fowler had a terrific season, but is a free agent. He said the Cubs are on his list, but as I did in left field with the Mets and Cespedes, I will assume he’ll be gone.

If the Cubs don’t bring back Fowler, and since there’s no way of knowing who’ll the Cubs will fish for, their internal option is 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr.

Ideally, the Mets wanted Cespedes in center, but he balked. Juan Lagares was injured for a good part of the season, but returned to play well.

Granderson will also get center field time in his last season with the Mets because of Bruce’s presence in right field.

EDGE: Mets.

RIGHT FIELD: The Cubs didn’t get $180 million worth from Jason Heyward. He has a tremendous glove, but his bat went into hibernation this summer.

Bruce struggled after coming over from Cincinnati, but picked it up at the end. Even so, it was a good pick-up, and he’s more economically feasible than either Cespedes or Heyward.

When Bruce isn’t playing, they can turn to Granderson.

EDGE: Mets.