Apr 20

How Long Will Mets Play Reyes Charade?

Mets manager Terry Collins said Jose Reyes deserves the chance to turn things around, but that’s too simplistic an approach. In reality, Collins doesn’t have any choice for now but let Reyes try to flail his way out of this wretched slump to start the season.

Reyes refutes the notion he’s trying to do too much, which is often one of the first assumptions to explain a slump.

REYES: Not the same player. (AP)

REYES: Not the same player. (AP)

“When you try to do too much, it’s tough. You have to slow down a little bit and try to let it go. I don’t feel like I am trying to do too much. I am just trying to play my game,” Reyes said.

“My game.”

What exactly does that mean? Is it the style Reyes should be playing, which is to utilize his speed by being patient at the plate and hit the ball on the ground? Or is it the style he insists on playing, which is to hit the ball in the air and not worry about drawing walks or cutting his strikeouts?

For all his speed, Reyes has never been the prototypical leadoff hitter. He has always struck out too much, doesn’t walk and insists on hitting the ball in the air. Through 15 games he has 15 strikeouts and six walks with zero stolen bases. He’s hitting .094 with a .186 on-base percentage and has been dropped to seventh in the order.

The bottom line is for all his supposed physical skills, if Reyes isn’t leading off then he might as well not be in the lineup.

Wilmer Flores can play third base as well as Reyes, if not better. But, he’s off to a slow start, also, at .171. However, Flores’ main problem is he doesn’t play enough because Collins is married to the right-lefty dynamic and won’t give him the regular opportunity to hit right-handed pitching. Again, Flores will never hit right-handed pitching unless he’s given the opportunity.

Reyes’ problems are more complex and I offer several contributory explanations.

First, his mechanics are way off. He’s lunging at pitches he should take and is trying to hit everything in the air. He’s always had that style, but at 33 it is catching up to him. However, ten years ago he could get away with it because the Mets gave him free reign to do what he wanted at the plate. They did so because he gave them enough so they would settle.

Reyes will never be the work-the-count, slap-hitter, get on base and steal his way to third type of player. Reyes always wanted to play like Rickey Henderson, but he was never as good.

Now, it’s too late to transform, and I don’t think he has the discipline to try.

Secondly, I believe this slow start is weighing on him and he is trying to do too much. Reyes will get his money – the Colorado Rockies are paying it – but he could be thinking if it doesn’t work with the Mets this could be his last chance and what else does he know besides baseball?

Could Reyes’ slow start be partially explained by him being away from camp for the World Baseball Classic? This was an important year for Reyes and he could have used the work a full spring training provides.

Finally, and this hasn’t been mentioned in the mainstream media as a cause, but his double life – a mistress with a child and ensuing court case – has to be an emotional burden. Couple that with his domestic abuse suspension and he has a lot of toxic baggage.

Most teams would run away from Reyes, but the Mets aren’t because it isn’t costing them any significant money and they are desperate because they are afraid to go with Flores as David Wright’s replacement.

The only question is how long are they willing to play this charade?

Apr 02

Injuries Solidify Mets’ Opening Day Roster

It would have been great had Michael Conforto made the Mets’ Opening Day roster as a starter. That was the case last season, but a blistering April quickly sputtered and for much of the season he rode the Las Vegas shuttle and bench.

The Conforto whom manager Terry Collins said last April when the left fielder was hitting well over .330 was going to the Mets’ “No. 3 hitter of the future,” appeared to open the season in the minors this winter after Yoenis Cespedes was brought back and they were unable to trade Jay Bruce.

CONFORTO: How will they give him ABs? (Getty)

CONFORTO: How will they give him ABs? (Getty)

However, when Juan Lagares – the Mets’ only natural center fielder – strained his oblique that meant Conforto would need to stick.

“I feel good. Confident,” Conforto told reporters. “It’s a different role for me starting the year, but I feel great. I’m excited about the opportunity to just get in there and hopefully influence some games late and give some guys rest and do what I can to help the team win.”

Conforto always says the right things, so won’t say what should be said. Conforto needs to play and get regular at-bats. He needs more than one token AB at the end of a game he entered as a defensive replacement.

Hopefully, Collins will come up with a rotation with Conforto, Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and yes, Cespedes. Even if the Mets plan to option Conforto when Lagares is ready is a few weeks, I hope he won’t fly to Vegas with only six or seven at-bats on his stat sheet.

An injury also cleared the way for Rafael Montero to make the Opening Day roster over Seth Lugo, and prompt one wonder whether the World Baseball Classic was the factor. Lugo, who pitched superbly for Puerto Rico in the WBC, has struggled with fatigue and soreness in his arm and then conceded he pushed himself too hard to win a spot on the staff.

Maybe none of that happens if there was no WBC this year.

I understand players want to compete for their country, but their first obligation should be to the teams that are the source of their livelihood.

The key is for the Mets to give him the time he needs to heal and regain his strength, and for Lugo to not be thinking he needs to get back to the majors right away because it is a long season.

Mar 08

Syndergaard’s Command Off; Bruce Homers In Win

They might have tuned in to see Tim Tebow, but the Mets most worth watching were Noah Syndergaard and Jay Bruce.

Making his second start of the spring, the Mets’ Opening Day starter again had command issues despite throwing 2.1 innings. Throwing mostly fastballs and change-ups, Syndergaard threw 47 pitches to get those seven outs – six pitches per out – which isn’t going to get it done on most days in the regular season.

BRUCE: Has big day. (AP)

BRUCE: Has big day. (AP)

Meanwhile, Bruce, the player Sandy Alderson most wants to trade, had a big day with a two-run homer, RBI double and run-saving diving catch in right field in Wednesday’s 8-7 victory over Boston.

Syndergaard didn’t give up any runs, but that wasn’t the story.

“I threw about 85 percent,” Syndergaard said. “I pulled it back a bit to work on my mechanics. I wanted to close my shoulder on my way to the plate.”

In the regular season, Syndergaard’s pitch count put him on pace to throw 4.2 innings, which is not what he has in mind.

Syndergaard said he gained 17 pounds of muscle in the offseason – disputed by manager Terry Collins – for the purpose of being strong enough to work longer in games. However, what Syndergaard doesn’t realize is what kept him from going deeper into games isn’t a matter of losing strength, but losing command and running up his pitch count.

Syndergaard touched 100 mph. several times and threw mostly in the high 90s – frankly, I don’t see where he dialed it back – but pitching isn’t about velocity. A pitcher relies on location, movement of his pitches and velocity, with velocity the least important.

METS NOVELTY: With the Mets sending a large contingent to the World Baseball Classic and playing a split-squad game, they were in need of bodies and that opened the way for Tebow’s chance to play – as a designated hitter.

Tebow struck out in his first at-bat on four pitches, grounded into a double play in his second to drive in a run and produce a standing ovation, and was hit by a pitch in his third.

Mar 03

Syndergaard Impressive In Spring Debut

Another day, another 11 runs, but unquestionably today’s storyline was all about Noah Syndergaard’s first start of the spring. You don’t want to make too much of the first start of the spring, but the first impression of Syndergaard was a good one.

SYNDERGAARD: Focused. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Focused. (AP)

Syndergaard threw 20 of 29 pitches in two innings for strikes and consistently clocked in the high 90s. We all know Syndergaard throws hard, but his key pitch in today’s 11-3 mauling of Houston was a change-up that has the velocity of many pitchers’ normal fastball.

“It has the potential to be my best swing-and-miss pitch,” Syndergaard told reporters. “|It’s got a lot more deception to it. … I love throwing it. There’s nothing better to see than throwing a real wicked change-up and getting a hitter to ‘Tasmanian Devil’ into the batter’s box. It’s a good feeling.”

It probably wasn’t a bad feeling either that he was signed to an extension of $605,500 after the game.

There are a lot of things to love about Syndergaard, but what I really like about him is how he’s doing everything to make himself better. He’s a workout fiend and eschewed the World Baseball Classic to concentrate on getting ready for the season.

“I am a Met,” boasted Syndergaard. “Nobody makes it to the Hall of Fame or won a World Series playing in the WBC.”

Damn, how can you not love that?

Feb 27

A Plan For Using Reyes

On days Jose Reyes doesn’t play, who will hit leadoff for the Mets?

Asdrubal Cabrera was there today and homered in today’s 5-2 loss to Houston. Other reported candidates are Curtis Granderson, because he’s had success there before, and Neil Walker, because he has a decent on-base percentage.

REYES: A plan for him. (AP)

REYES: A plan for him. (AP)

Another option is Juan Lagares on days he plays center.

My first inclination is Granderson because of his success, but I’m also thinking of ways of getting Reyes more playing time. A healthy, productive Reyes still has the potential to be an impact player.

I’m projecting Reyes will play a lot of third base in April because David Wright is likely to stay back at the start of the season for an extended spring training, but what about when Wright is on the major league roster?

If manager Terry Collins does this the right way, he could conceivably give Reyes three starts a week, not including as the designated hitter or in the outfield.

Collins has three fragile infielders, four if you include first baseman Lucas Duda. I would think giving Wright, Cabrera and Walker rest at least once a week would be a paramount concern.

Start Reyes at least three starts a week, or rotate him with Wilmer Flores (who also homered today). That way, you’re giving Reyes and Flores enough starts to stay sharp at the plate, and you’re also giving everybody else at least one day off a week to keep them fresh.

However, Reyes will miss time this spring playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. In this case, if you’re the Mets and want to see Reyes at multiple positions, he’s not doing himself any favors by missing a lot of time in camp.

While the Mets made a deal out of emulating the versatility of the champion Chicago Cubs, it must be remembered they don’t have somebody like Ben Zobrist. Nor do they have a MVP caliber bat like Kris Bryant they can move around.