Mar 30

Mets’ Spring Training Booms And Busts

It is the same in every spring training camp with winners and losers. Booms and busts. With camp ending today, the Mets had their share of both.

THE WINNERS

Jon Niese: With Johan Santana a question going in, Niese entered camp No. 1 in the rotation and pitched deserving of that title. Not surprisingly, he was named Opening Day starter. With Santana gone for the year, he’s the de facto ace, at least until Matt Harvey takes over.

NIESE: A good spring.

NIESE: A good spring.

Matt Harvey: He took some lumps, but was far more good than bad. Most importantly, he didn’t show any signs of being overwhelmed. With Shaun Marcum hurting, Harvey is now No. 2.

Zack Wheeler: He strained an oblique muscle, but when he pitched he showed a glimpse of things to come. Wheeler was never going to make the Opening Day roster, but should be in Flushing soon enough.

Jeremy Hefner: Reported as a contender for the Triple-A rotation, but with Santana’s injury is now scheduled to be the No. 4 starter.

Jordany Valdespin: Here’s a guy who wasn’t in the Mets’ plans, but took advantage of injuries to Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis to earn a spot on the roster. That is, unless something dramatic happens today.

Marlon Byrd: He was a spring training pick-up who not only won a spot on the roster, but in the Opening Day lineup.

Travis d’Arnaud: He was always going to open the season in the minors, but stayed healthy and opened a lot of eyes. He’ll be up before the All-Star break. The pitchers like throwing to him.

Lucas Duda: Surprised, aren’t you? Duda had a miserable start with an extraordinary number of strikeouts, but finished strong to give him confidence going into the season.

LOSERS

Johan Santana: It was a rocky spring for Santana, who responded in anger at criticism from GM Sandy Alderson about not being in shape by throwing off the mound ahead of schedule. He never got on the mound again and it is possible he never will.

Shaun Marcum: He didn’t endear himself to the Mets by showing up to camp in poor shape and could open the season on the disabled list.

Frank Francisco: He has not responded from elbow surgery and will be on the disabled list. Francisco might not get his closer role back if Bobby Parnell doesn’t spit the bit.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis: He was penciled in as the leadoff hitter in center fielder, but missed most of camp with a bruised knee. Amazingly, because of the Mets’ dismal situation in the outfield, he still has a chance despite hitting less than .100.

Dillon Gee: He came to camp a health question, and while he says there are no complications from surgery to repair an artery in his shoulder, he had several rough starts. He had a good one toward the end, but wasn’t consistent, especially with his change-up.

Ruben Tejada: He hit better than expected last season, and didn’t hit at all this spring. In most camps, hitting less than .100 would be a ticket to the minors, but the Mets have little alternatives.

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

Mets’ Triple-A Rotation Takes Shape

DARIN GORSKI: Is he officially a reliever now?

DARIN GORSKI: Is he officially a reliever now?

Adam Rubin of ESPN New York took to Twitter a short while ago and began posting his projections for the Mets Triple-A roster.

Included in his Las Vegas 51’s rotation he has: Zack Wheeler, Aaron Laffey, Collin McHugh, Chris Schwinden and Carlos Torres.

A month ago I projected the rotation as follows:

  1. Zack Wheeler
  2. Collin McHugh
  3. Mark Cohoon
  4. Darin Gorski
  5. Aaron Laffey

That was what I had once I removed Mejia, who has been shutdown for at least a month, and Hefner who won a job in the Mets rotation. The biggest difference between what I project and Rubin is that he has Carlos Torres in the rotation and Darin Gorski is nowhere to be seen.

When I posted my projection back on February 21, I did speculate that both Familia and Gorski may not even make the cut and could be relegated to the bullpen because of a numbers crunch:

Jeurys Familia is looking more and more like a reliever now and even Darin Gorski is beginning to trend in that direction lately.

I’m not that surprised that Schwinden makes Rubin’s cut even though I personally saw him as a numbers casualty as well, but the Torres thing surprises me.

The Mets signed the 30-year old free agent back in November and I remember thinking at the time how confusing an addition it was – even as minor league fodder.

Last season, Torres made 31 appearances for the Colorado Rockies and posted a 5.25 ERA and 1.415 WHIP in 53 innings pitched. All of his appearances were in relief. He’s having an awful spring for the Mets, posting a 8.54 ERA in 5.1 innings with nine hits allowed and five runs. I don’t see the value in pushing aside a younger pitcher with higher upside just to give Torres a job. It makes little sense to me.

I would also think that Mark Cohoon was more deserving of a spot on the Vegas rotation, especially after his solid season in Binghamton where he posted a 3.62 ERA and 1.207 WHIP in 23 starts, 18 of them quality starts.

And while I did speculate Gorski would go to the pen, my thinking at the time was because he’d be squeezed out because of the numbers crunch and not because a determination would be made that he was finished as a starter.

If we can give Gorski another season in the rotation, I’d be all for it. I would most rather see that than to push him aside because of someone like Torres.

Update: Right after I posted this Adam Rubin DMed me and said that yes, Familia is now officially a reliever.

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.

Mar 21

Shaun Marcum Added To Mets’ Injury List; Long Season Already Here

The worst-case scenario seems imminent for the Mets.

They faced a myriad of pitching questions entering spring training, including: Johan Santana’s availability after shoulder surgery; Dillon Gee coming off surgery to repair an injury to his shoulder; and injury-prone Shaun Marcum.

All three have been answered in the negative.

One would think a free agent would report to camp in shape, but Marcum didn’t and insisted a long-tossing program was what it took instead of the normal routine pitchers use in spring training.

Marcum said all he needed was four starts, and he might not even get that as he flew to New York on the off-day to have his shoulder examined.  He was diagnosed to have an impingement and received a cortisone injection.

Marcum will not make his start today against St. Louis and Jeremy Hefner will get the ball. Marcum is penciled in as the No. 2 starter, but if he isn’t ready left-hander Aaron Laffey is the likely candidate to replace him.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship develops between manager Terry Collins and Marcum if the pitcher misses several starts. Collins, who doesn’t have a contract after this season, already is dealing from a short deck and doesn’t need another injured pitcher.

While the Mets hope Marcum will miss just today, there’s no doubt they will indefinitely be without Santana, who hasn’t thrown in weeks and has no timetable to return. Forget Opening Day, the Mets might now be thinking May 1.

Think about it, it takes six weeks for a pitcher to get ready for the season with two weeks of long-toss and bullpen work prior to the games where he’ll get six starts to build up to 100 pitches. Santana has had none of that preparation. So, at age 34 he’s going to be ready in a few days? Hardly.

Meanwhile, Gee says he’s fine physically, but his last two starts have been painful to watch. Gee gave up five earned runs in last night’s 7-5 victory over Houston. Gee gave the Mets length last night, just not results. He insisted he’s had no setback and his mechanics are off. He might get two more starts to refine them.

The Mets hoped Jenrry Mejia could be a replacement for Santana and possibly evolve as a fifth starter if Marcum flamed out. However, Mejia has forearm tendinitis and isn’t close to being ready and will open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas.

All this leads to the inevitable question of when Zack Wheeler could be called up. Wheeler is working himself back into shape after straining an oblique muscle, so it isn’t imminent. Alderson is adamant about not rushing Wheeler for two reasons, 1) to not hindering his development, and 2) to not put him on the clock for his service time, thereby delaying the arbitration and free-agent process.

The bullpen hasn’t been immune from injuries, either. Frank Francisco has not progressed following elbow surgery last December to remove a bone spur and inflammation.

Everybody’s injuries are different and there is no set formula to handle them, but you can’t help but wonder why Francisco, who did not finish the season, waited for December to have the surgery. Having it in late September or October would have given him more time for rehabilitation.

As for Santana, he took it easy over the winter after two off-seasons of rehab. Alderson said he didn’t come to camp in shape, prompting Santana to take it upon himself to throw off the mound the first week of March when it was thought he was ten days away from throwing.

The Mets pitching is currently a mess. Thankfully, everything is all right elsewhere. Oh, wait a minute. David Wright and Daniel Murphy will likely open the season on the disabled list and the outfield remains a house of cards.

It’s only March and it is already seems a long season for the Mets.