Aug 02

Three Mets’ Storylines: Welcome Jay Bruce

The reception was cordial and polite – reserved actually, as if the crowd was guarded about their expectations – when Jay Bruce went to the plate for the first time Tuesday night in a Mets uniform. You might even say it was business as usual, because after all, the trade that brought him to New York from Cincinnati has been brewing for a long time.

“I feel like I’ve been getting traded to the Mets for over a year now,” Bruce told reporters in his introductory press conference prior to Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over the Yankees. “You never know what’s going to happen until it actually happens. Last year there was some crazy stuff during the deadline. I try not to jump to conclusions or assume anything. So I waited until I got the call.

“And when it happened, I was very, very excited.”

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

DE AZA: Home run swing. (AP)

Bruce joins the Mets as the NL leader in RBI with 80 built on a .360 average with RISP. Conversely, the Mets are last in the majors with a .205 average with RISP. Bruce had an uneventful 0-for-4 as he flied out to left in the first; grounded out to first in the fourth; and struck out looking in the sixth and seventh.

It might have been jitters, but no worries on the night. The trade was the right move and the Mets will be beneficiaries soon enough.

“I know he was nervous, even though he’s an established star in the big leagues and is trying to fit in,” manager Terry Collins said.

As expected, Bruce’s first game was the primary storyline. Here are the other two.

DE AZA SHOULD GET SHOT IN CENTER: When the Mets signed Alejandro De Aza – prior to signing Yoenis Cespedes – they did so with the intent of platooning him with Juan Lagares. But, with Lagares on the DL – where Cespedes should be – why are the Mets still in a funk about who can play center field?

After a slow start and was on the brink of being released, De Aza started getting more playing time and since July is batting .342, including a two-run homer Tuesday night.

“I just want to keep working and help the team win,” De Aza said. “I’ve been working hard in the cages to shorten up my swing.”

THE MYSTERIOUS MIND OF COLLINS: Jacob deGrom was superb, but what I will take out of this game most – outside of Bruce’s debut – was Collins’ decision to pinch-hit Cespedes for De Aza in the seventh.

The Mets were up by five at the time, so why bat for the player who homered and is your best defensive center fielder? Cespedes’ RBI infield single was a moot point and foolish risk.

“I just wanted to get him an at-bat,” said Collins, as if Cespedes would forget how to hit before starting as the DH Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

“I felt a little discomfort running down the line,” Cespedes said. “But once I got back in the dugout it felt better.”

No, Cespedes didn’t get hurt, but what if he reinjured his strained quad? Why take that chance with the game seemingly out of reach?

Sometimes, Collins makes me scratch my head and wonder. Other times he makes my want to throw a shoe at the TV.

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Aug 01

Mets Get Bruce From Reds; Raises Questions

Updated to include quotes from Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins.

You can still find Brandon Nimmo with the Mets. Nimmo had been traded to Cincinnati for Jay Bruce, but that changed when he reportedly failed his physical and had to be replaced by second base prospect Dilson Herrera. Minor league lefty prospect Max Wotell was also included in the trade.

BRUCE: Running to Mets. (AP)

  BRUCE: Running to Mets. (AP)

The Mets added Herrera after the Reds found something they didn’t like with Nimmo’s physical. Nimmo had a foot injury earlier this year.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson would not confirm it was Nimmo who had the medical issue, but that’s not hard to figure out since he was pulled and Herrera was added.

The 29-year-old Bruce is expected to offer the punch that has been severely lacking, hitting .265 with 25 homers and a league-leading 80 RBI, and perhaps most importantly, a .360 average with RISP. Bruce has been on the Mets’ radar for over a year when they offered Zack Wheeler last July before landing Yoenis Cespedes.

“We haven’t had time to talk about playing time will be broken down,” Alderson said. “He’ll provide a big presence in the middle of the lineup. … One player could have a significant impact. Somebody like Jay Bruce can be a catalyst.”

Q: What is Bruce’s contractual status?

A: Bruce is in the final months of a six-year, $51 million contract, which includes a $13 million option (or $1 million buyout) for 2017. Bruce is making $12.5 million this season. Alderson said the club option was essential.

“We would not have done the deal without the extra year of control,” Alderson said. “We would not have done the deal as a rental.”

Specifically, this gives the Mets a safety net should Cespedes opt out and leave after this season.

Q: Where will Bruce play?

A: With Cespedes insisting on playing left field, Bruce could go to right field with Curtis Granderson moving to center.

Q: How does the deal impact Cespedes and Michael Conforto?

A: If there is a time to put Cespedes (strained right quad) on the disabled list it is now (actually, it should have been three weeks ago). Having Bruce gives the Mets the flexibility of placing Cespedes on the disabled list now, which is preferable to risking an injury and losing him in September. What Bruce does is offer the Mets a safety net should Cespedes opt out after this season.

As for Conforto, he’ll stay up here if Cespedes goes on the DL. However, there’s a strong chance they’ll send him back to the minors and bring him up again in September unless there’s an injury before then.

Q: What about the long-term future with Granderson?

A: It’s all fluid now as Granderson has one more year on his contract and the Mets can choose not to bring back Bruce for 2017.

Q: Does it matter that even with Bruce the Mets don’t have a conventional outfield?

A: Not in the least, simply because the Mets don’t have a conventional outfield now. Bruce will report to the Mets tomorrow. Beginning Wednesday, the Mets will have five games in American League parks (two with the Yankees and three in Detroit), where they can buy some time with Cespedes.

Unbelievably, Collins said the Mets hope Cespedes might be able to play center field by the end of the week.

Q: What is the fallout with Herrera?

A: The sticking point in getting Lucroy from the Brewers was them not wanting to give up Herrera. This could enhance their chances of keeping Neil Walker, who can opt out if he wants after the season. Of course, that could mean giving him more money. Part of the reason why Alderson let Daniel Murphy walk was in part because of Herrera. Alderson said the Mets have some infield depth for next year with Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes.

Q: Anything else?

A: Right at the deadline, the Mets reaquired Jon Niese from Pittsburgh for lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo. Niese will be used primarily out of the bullpen – “I didn’t forget the job he did last year [in relief],” Collins said – but could be slotted in if another starter needed a day of rest.

Jul 31

Mets Wrap: Limping Into The Dog Days

Just as the Mets closed June so too did they end July by winning at home in the month’s final game to snap a four-game losing streak.

WALKER: Is he back? (AP)

   WALKER: Is he back? (AP)

It’s an oversimplification to suggest the Mets kept their playoff aspirations alive with Sunday’s come-from-behind, 6-4, victory over the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Sure, they could go on to win ten in a row, even if their reported trade offer of Travis d’Arnaud and Brandon Nimmo – plus a third player – for Milwaukee’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy falls through.

In avoid being swept by the Rockies, the Mets salvaged Mike Piazza Weekend in time for their four-game stretch with the Yankees. What they couldn’t avoid was losing another player, this time it is shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with a strained left patella tendon when he awkwardly twisted his knee rounding third.

“I’m very concerned about it,” manager Terry Collins told reporters.

With the trade deadline extended a day, the Mets have until 4 p.m., Monday to decide whether to go for it or pack it in for another year. There are compelling reasons in support of both positions. On the go side, at 54-50, they are in fourth place in the wild-card standings behind Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis, but only 2.5 games behind the Marlins for the final spot. On the nay side they trail NL East leader Washington by seven games, plus have a long list of injuries.

Plus, despite winning Sunday and Neil Walker suddenly hot again, the Mets’ offense has been in a three-month slide.

Who cares if the Mets are third in the NL in homer with 132, when in the 15-team league they are 11th in on-base percentage (.305), 13th in RBI (365), 14th in runs (375) and 15th in average (.238). And, if you’re into the new-age numbers, they are 11th in OPS (.714).

There’s still time for the Mets to make a run, even if they don’t make a splash at the deadline.

JULY MVP

James Loney has been a terrific replacement for Lucas Duda, whose return timetable is uncertain. His defense has been magnificent, and he’s been a presence at the plate, hitting .282 with six homers, 21 RBI and a .337 on-base percentage. And in July, when both Yoenis Cespedes and Walker struggled, Loney hit .291 with three homers and 11 RBI.

PITCHER OF THE MONTH

Addison Reed has arguably been one of GM Sandy Alderson’s best acquisitions. He leads the NL with 26 holds, including 10 for July along with a 0.00 ERA for the month. He struck out 16 in 12 innings, and gave up only four hits. Overall, he has a 1.81 ERA and 0.45 WHIP.

KEY GAME OF THE MONTH

There have been several significant games, and but I’m leaning toward Friday’s 6-1 loss to the Rockies in which the Mets had two on with nobody out and reliever Scott Oberg entered to get three outs on three pitches. I could have gone with any of Jeurys Familia‘s two blown saves, or even Sunday, but I chose this one because of Collins’ post-game message.

“We have a good team,” Collins said. “We’re going through a rough time right now. We’re not dead. We’re still in the hunt. We need to lighten it up and have some fun. … We have to stop worrying about some of the bad things and concentrate on some of the good things.”

KEY MOVE OF THE MONTH

When Walker was in the midst of a horrid slump, Collins opted to sit him down for a couple of games. The turnaround wasn’t immediate, but he is 12-for-22 so far on the home stand., including a three-run homer Sunday.

RED FLAG ENDURED

Both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have been pitching with bone spurs in their elbows. Both have had rising pitch counts, but so far they haven’t missed any time, although Syndergaard was scratched from the All-Star game.

Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen are experimenting by cutting their between-starts sessions and pre-game warmups. So far, so good.

KEY ISSUE RESOLVED

I don’t know what Alderson will do Monday, but to date, he’s done a good job of plugging holes with Loney, catcher Rene Rivera and Kelly Johnson. Jose Reyes was a temporary fix, but he’s on the disabled list.

HEALTH ISSUES

Look for Cabrera to go on the disabled list and replaced by Matt Reynolds. He’ll join Reyes and Juan Lagares, who went on the DL last week. … Yoenis Cespedes has a strained right quad. Frankly, I’d put him on the DL now and see what two weeks rest might do, rather than have him go at half-speed and risk losing him at the end of August or September. … Syndergaard and Matz are dealing with bone spurs and bear constant watching. … Matt Harvey is gone for the year and nobody knows when Zack Wheeler will return. … We see David Wright watching games from the bullpen. … The speculated return date for Duda keeps being pushed back, … Remember reliever Jim Henderson? Still no word when he’ll return.

SIX QUESTIONS RAISED

Will the Mets make a deal at the deadline?

How long will Cabrera and Reyes be out?

How long will Matz and Syndergaard hold up?

How long will the ride last with Loney?

After coming back, will Nimmo and Michael Conforto start hitting?

Is Bartolo Colon slowing down?

BY THE NUMBERS

2: Blown saves by Familia after converting 52 straight.

3: Players put on the DL (Reyes, Lagares and Harvey).

13: Games during the month in which they scored three runs or less.

8: Victories by a starting pitcher for the month.

LOOKING AT AUGUST’S SCHEDULE

It doesn’t get any easier for the first week with four against the Yankees, who are now without Alrodis Chapman and Andrew Miller, then three in Detroit. From there they have six games against Arizona and three with San Diego, then four at San Francisco and three at St. Louis. They close the month with three at home against Philadelphia and three with Miami.

 

 

Jul 23

What I Will Always Remember About Piazza

PIAZZA AND SEAVER

                                         PIAZZA AND SEAVER

In thinking of my favorite Mike Piazza memory, I always go back that one swing against the Braves, Sept. 21, 2001, in the first professional sports event in New York City following the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center.

I was in Baltimore at the time, covering the Yankees and Orioles, and in the back of the press box was a television tuned to the Mets and Braves. The pregame ceremonies were moving, and like most of the Yankees writers, my eyes kept darting back to the game at Shea Stadium.

After all, this was our city, and history was being made at the stadium whose parking lot a few days before was used as a staging ground to shuttle food and other supplies to the hundreds in need in lower Manhattan.

During such times it is cliché to say sports are insignificant, but they also have a way of diverting our attention and making us feel good when things are black. Piazza’s dramatic home run off the Braves’ Steve Karsay didn’t heal New York’s pain, but for one moment it made things seem normal.

It wasn’t the greatest moment in franchise history, but it definitely was one of the most significant. For that reason, it is my favorite Piazza memory.

The following are my other most memorable Piazza moments:

Piazza vs. Clemens: This was more a soap opera than a singular event and the first domino was a grand slam the one-time 62nd-round draft pick Piazza clubbed off Roger Clemens in June of 2000.

A month later, in one of the classic punk moves of all time, Clemens hit Piazza in the head with a fastball in a night game at Yankee Stadium.

Then, in Game 2 of that year’s World Series, Clemens’ broke off Piazza’s bat, and grabbed the barrel end and disgustedly threw it at the Mets’ catcher.

A few days ago, former Yankees manager Joe Torre said he doesn’t believe Clemens threw the bat at Piazza intentionally.

I covered that game and couldn’t believe not only what I saw, but that Clemens wasn’t ejected. Knowing what I know now, a case can be made for steroid rage.

Of course, Torre wouldn’t throw a former player of his under the bus. However, as somebody who oversees disciplinary cases for Major League Baseball, what Torre would do if faced with a similar incident?

In the end, Piazza’s career numbers off Clemens were 8-for-22 (.364) with four homers.

A footnote to all this was Shawn Estes’ lame attempt at payback when he lobbed a ball behind Clemens’ back. To this day when I think of that pitch, I just shake my head.

Mauling Mendoza: The year before Clemens, on July 10, 1999, Piazza hit a three-run homer off Yankees’ reliever Ramiro Mendoza that measured 482 feet and hit a party tent behind the visitor’s bullpen at Shea Stadium.

Piazza’s swing uncoiled into a ferocious crack when bat met ball. This might have been one of the hardest hit, if not longest, of the 427 homers Piazza hit during his career.

Letting go – twice: Funny, considering the debate as to which cap Piazza would have on his plaque – Dodgers or Mets – is both teams let him go.

Piazza was in the prime of his career, and there was already talk of him being the best hitting catcher of all-time, when the Dodgers foolishly traded him to the Marlins in May of 1998.

The Dodgers and Piazza were in negotiations to keep him from leaving after the season as a free agent. That a contender such as the Dodgers would trade a marquee player like Piazza was beyond stupid. However, in hindsight, it must be remembered Piazza was traded not by the O’Malley family, but News Corp., which helped run the team into the ground.

A week later, the Marlins, in a salary dump, traded Piazza to the Mets for Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall.

Piazza’s good-bye at Shea: On Oct. 2, 2005, it was clear Piazza’s eight-year run with the Mets would not be extended. As it usually is with the Mets, it was about money.

He went 0-for-3 in his final game with the Mets, but we all knew he wasn’t going to return and finish his career in New York. The crowd would not let him go and gave him standing ovations throughout the game.

Really saying good-bye at Shea: On Aug. 9, 2006, the Mets were on their way to the playoffs, but the sellout crowd couldn’t resist showing its love for Piazza one more time.

In a 4-3 victory over San Diego, the crowd roared the way it used to for Piazza when he hit a pair of solo home runs off Pedro Martinez. It was fun to see Piazza unload off Martinez in the fourth, but to see him do it again in the sixth was surreal.

Setting the HR record for catchers: Piazza set the record for most home runs by a catcher with 396. The former record was 351 by Carlton Fisk, which Piazza passed on May 5, with a blast by San Francisco’s Jerome Williams, at Shea.

Saying good-bye with Seaver: The Mets know how to throw a party. There was that sensational night against the Braves, and there was also the final Sunday afternoon of the 2008 season when they closed the doors at Shea forever.

All the greats were trotted out, but watching Piazza walk through the center field gate with his arm wrapped around Tom Seaver is something I will never forget.

Treated unfairly by the press: I covered Major League Baseball for over 20 years, and usually support that profession.

However, two things made me ashamed.

The first was the crass and obnoxious articles questioning Piazza’s sexuality, which is nobody’s business.

The second were the persistent, unfair attacks and insinuations of PED’s.

My basis in voting for the Hall of Fame is: 1) Has he ever failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball? 2) Was he ever named in an official document such as the Mitchell Report? 3) Did a player, manager or coach ever accuse him on the record?

The answer to those questions have always been NO.

Piazza was again asked that question by long-time New York baseball writer who has an unreasonable vendetta against Piazza based on a few pimples. It was embarrassing to hear the issue raised again, but Piazza answered with class, as he usually did.

That he would be treated so shabbily by the New York press, and yet still want to be inducted representing the Mets is a testament to how you treated him for eight wonderful years.

I only wish it could have been longer.

I hope you’ll share your favorite memories and thoughts about Piazza.

Jun 22

Mets Need To Be Cautious Regarding Gourriel

The Mets working out Cuban defector Yulieski Gourriel is one thing. Signing him to a multi-year, exorbitant salary is another, regardless of Yoenis Cespedes‘ endorsement. The Mets are among a half-dozen, major league teams interested in the 32-year-old infielder. The group includes the Angels and Dodgers, Giants, Astros and Yankees.

Gourriel is MLB’s latest flavor of the month in its voyage into international waters. He’s a hot name, but that doesn’t mean he’s the right fit for the Mets. It also doesn’t mean he isn’t the right fit.

“We’re going to do our due diligence on that player,” Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters. “So we’ve made arrangements to do that. At the same time, this player hasn’t seen live pitching for weeks if not months. It’s not clear how long a player in that situation would take to be ready. And, of course, there is the investment and all the other issues – and making an evaluation currently of the player based on workouts and not game competition. But we’re going to go through that process.”

Here are the red flags in signing Gourriel:

* The Mets are without David Wright for an undermined period, and while Gourriel could plug the hole at third base, a quick sign smacks of panic. Nobody knows if Gourriel is the right answer. By the same token, nobody knows if Wilmer Flores won’t develop into the right answer.

* Regardless of what numbers Gourriel put up in Cuba, it wasn’t against major league pitching. Nobody knows for sure how good he can be. To compare Major League Baseball to leagues outside the United States falls under the guise of political correctness. It’s baseball, so isn’t it all the same? Not even close. On that note, that’s why it is insulting to suggest Ichiro Suzuki should be the all-time hit leader. Nope, that’s Pete Rose. Period.

* As good as Cespedes has been, remember the world was once Yasiel Puig‘s oyster, too That quickly soured. There are no sure things when it comes to Cuban shopping. Speaking of Cespedes, what’s his endorsement really worth if he’s able to walk after this year? If he said, `Sign him and I’ll stay,’ that would mean something more.

* Gourriel is listed as 32, but as often the case with Latin players reported age is often not accurate as there are widespread incidents of them lying about their age, stating they are younger as to not scare away major league scouts. Birth records, when available, aren’t always accurate.

* There’s been nothing reported as to Gourriel’s salary expectations, but we can assume it won’t be cheap. If the Mets are willing to shell out big bucks, I would rather they spend it in two ways: 1) to lock up some of their young pitching, and 2) on proven bats in the free-agent market on players with proven talents.

Clearly, there’s a lot for the Mets to consider in signing Gourriel. In the big picture, I don’t know how good Gourriel can be. Nobody does. Signing him is akin to walking down a flight of stairs in the dark. Better be careful.