Feb 08

Something To Look Forward To From The Mets

As I watch the snow pile up outside my window, I am thinking of three of the best words in sports, “pitchers and catchers.’’

NIESE: Needs to take the next step.

                       NIESE: Needs to take the next step.

The official deadline for the Mets is Monday, but the lockers are already being filled in Port St. Lucie. I am hoping to get down there this spring and have already started looking at flights.

Most of the prognosticators have the Mets fighting the Marlins to stay out of the NL East. Many of them have them losing close to 100 games. I think they’ll finish ahead of Miami and I don’t see them losing that many games. I’d like to see .500, but I’m not ready to go there, yet.

For those thinking the worst, and as Mets fans I know you’ve all done it one time or another, I’d like to give you several things to watch for that could make this an interesting, if not exciting summer.

If you’re already writing off this season, here’s a few things to talk you down off the ledge.

The soundest road to contention is with young pitching. For those lamenting the lack of power and a weak outfield, just remember what the San Francisco Giants did in two of the past three years. Speaking of sparse outfields, was the Mets’ 2000 outfield all that good?

Hardly. It’s all starts with pitching and the Mets have three bright spots they are developing.

Jon Niese won a career-high 13 games last season and has the potential, if he stays healthy, to possibly win 17 or more. To reach that level he needs to win four more games in six months. That’s roughly one more every five weeks. That’s not that big a stretch with his stuff.

Niese had a nearly 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and 1.17 WHIP in 2012 while working 190 innings in 30 starts. If he makes four more starts over 200 innings and maybe 17 wins are possible.

The Mets jumped from habit and signed Niese to a long-term contract way before they needed to because he throws hard, is lefthanded, pitches with guile and has experienced major league success. For those reasons, any team would want him but the Mets continually say no.

Two other rising pitching stars are Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. The Mets have brought along Harvey at a good pace and he started ten games last year, showing overpowering stuff and more importantly, composure beyond his years. His is the type of arm franchises are built around.

While Harvey is in the Opening Day rotation, the timetable for Wheeler is later in the summer after more time in Triple A. There’s no rush to promote Wheeler early, but we’ll see him soon enough.

We should also see catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud before the year is out, and I like the idea he’ll get a lot of time with Wheeler. The key to the R.A. Dickey trade from the Mets’ perspective, d’Arnaud has power potential, but he’s also coming off knee and back injuries.

Should he pan out then the Mets can argue success in the trade of their Cy Young Award winner.

Also something to look forward to is Ike Davis’ power. Davis, skillful around the first base bag, clubbed 32 homers last year after a bad start. He’s healthy now and two good halves could make 40 homers a realistic possibility. That’s a little over one a month. He could get that, along with more walks and fewer strikeouts, with an improved plate presence.

Then there is David Wright, who played at a MVP clip in the first half before the pressures of carrying the Mets on his back became too great a burden.

I’m looking at .300, 30 and 100 from Wright, nothing less. He rarely talks about numbers, but he’d probably say the same if pressed.

No, I don’t know how the Mets will do this year. However, if these six players can play to what is expected of them, this has a chance to be an interesting summer.

Feb 07

Mets Matters: Johan Santana, Michael Bourn And Notebook

Santana13

JOHAN SANTANA PENCILED IN FOR OPENING DAY

Manager Terry Collins told reporters today in Port St. Lucie he expects Johan Santana to be ready for the start of the season and penciled him in to be the Opening Day starter, April 1, against San Diego at Citi Field. A healthy Santana is a no-brainer.

The Mets deny overworking Santana in his 134-pitch no-hitter, June 1, but there can be no denying his 8.27 ERA in his following ten starts, which included a career-high six-game losing streak.

He was shut down with lower-back inflammation in August. Collins attributed that to fatigue. Whether it was or not, it was another physical ailment for Santana, who is in his walk year. Santana will make $25 million this year and not expected to be brought back in 2014.

There’s little doubt if Santana is able he would be the ball. If not, look for Jon Niese, a 13-game winner last  year, to get the honor. Incidentally, Toronto already named R.A. Dickey as its Opening Day starter.

Nothing new with Bourn: MLB is not yielding on its position the CBA is clear the first 10 picks are protected and not the 10 worst records. The Mets were leapfrogged by Pittsburgh because the Pirates were unable to sign their 2012 pick.

The dispute is expected to go to arbitration to be resolved before the Mets make an offer to Bourn. The Mets’ stance is they shouldn’t be penalized because the Pirates failed in signing their pick, which is a plausible argument.

As of now, the Mets seem poised to using a largely inexperienced outfield, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center, flanked by Lucas Duda and Mike Baxter.

Mets Notes: The Mets are close to completing a deal for reliever Brandon Lyon, pending a physical. … The Mets’ spring training home is back to being called Tradition Field after being referred to as the non-catchy Digital Domain Park the last three years. That company is having financial troubles and is no longer able to sponsor the stadium. … Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Monday, but ESPN reports there’s already a full house. Early arrivals include: David Wright – who always shows ahead of schedule – Duda, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck, Baxter, Bobby Parnell and Nieuwenhuis. Ruben Tejada, who drew Collins’ wrath last spring when he didn’t show early is due in Saturday. That, of course, depends on the storm expected to slam the East Coast starting tomorrow morning and continuing until Saturday.

Feb 07

Mets Must Resist Temptation With Zack Wheeler

It’s no secret the Mets have concerns in their rotation, but that doesn’t mean they should rush Zack Wheeler, regardless of how good a spring training he has.

The Mets tooker a somewhat patient approach with Matt Harvey, waited to bring him up last summer and gave him ten starts in which he showed his potential. The Mets need to do the same with Wheeler.

I still maintain the Mets rushed former first-round pick Mike Pelfrey out of necessity when he clearly wasn’t emotionally or mentally ready. Pelfrey had the physical tools, but had trouble keeping his poise and concentration, struggled with pitch selection, and couldn’t put away hitters or innings.

Harvey doesn’t have those problems and is ahead of where Pelfrey was at a similar stage of his career. Pelfrey is trying to hook on with Minnesota, while Harvey has a place in the Mets’ rotation.

Wheeler is expected to open the season in the minor leagues and pitch with the Mets later in the season. How late, depends on the health of the rotation, but remember, the Mets had injury issues last year and utilized several options before turning to Harvey.

The Mets say they are building for the future with their young pitching, but when you look at the composition of the roster – notably the outfield and bullpen – it is obvious they won’t contend this season. So, the wise thing is to go slow with Wheeler until he’s ready.

The young arm I am most interested in seeing his Jenrry Mejia, but I probably said that last spring, too. Mejia is a prime example of force-feeding a prospect to the major leagues before he was ready. Blame Jerry Manuel for that one.

Entering his last year as Mets’ manager, Manuel knew his job was hanging thin, and with a weak bullpen lobbied hard with then GM Omar Minaya to put Mejia in the bullpen when he should have been in the minors as a starter.

Even worse than taking him out of his projected role, was the Mets didn’t know how to use him in the pen. After awhile, they used him in no-pressure situations. Then it was back to the minor leagues and in the rotation, where he subsequently injured his arm.

Previously, Manuel screwed up Bobby Parnell. He was supposed to get a string of starts at the end of the 2009 season. He was rocked in September, but with the Mets going nowhere, Manuel – presumably more concerned about getting a handful of wins then protecting Parnell emotionally – yanked him from the rotation.

Parnell hasn’t started a game for the Mets since, and it hasn’t been a smooth transition for him to the bullpen.

Pelfrey is gone, Parnell is still trying to make it in the pen, and Mejia’s role is still in question. The future is bright for Harvey. Hopefully, it will be for Wheeler, too. If he’s brought along the right way.

Jan 25

Mets Get Shaun Marcum; More Work To Do

Seven down, 13 more to go. That’s the math if you’re thinking signing Shaun Marcum to a one-year deal will replace R. A. Dickey’s production in the rotation.

Marcum was 7-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 21 starts last year with Milwaukee, good enough to be a reliable fifth starter. Dickey, of course, one year wonder or not, was an ace who won the Cy Young Award.

To make up the remaining 13 victories, the Mets need three more each from Johan Santana, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. Even so, it still puts the Mets 14 games below .500.

Once Marcum passes his physical and the ink dries on the contract, the Mets avoid being the only team not to have signed a free agent this offseason.

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Jan 24

Who Will Wright’s Teammates Be In 2015?

WRIGHT: Who will play alongside him in 2015?

WRIGHT: Who will play alongside him in 2015?

 

Let’s take a look at a bulk of the Mets’ 40-man roster and make some projections on what things might look at in 2015, the year cited by many as when the team will be ready for primetime.

Of course, there’s no accounting for injuries, trades or players leaving as free agents.

Johan Santana: Will be gone after this season as there’s no way the Mets can afford keeping him – even if he’s healthy this year – and think they can be a contender. The Mets will attempt to trade him, but even if they absorb much of his contract there will be few takers.

Jon Niese:  He’ll still be under contract and hopefully will have developed into a topflight pitcher. He’s lefthanded, throws hard and under cost control. All reasons teams covet him and why the Mets should keep him.

Matt Harvey: If he lives up to expectations, he’ll be a star. Should he have a big year in 2013, the Mets might consider wrapping him up as they did Niese. That’s the best way to have cost certainty.

Dillon Gee: Unless he steps up his game, he’ll be gone. There’s potential there, but unless he harnesses it, Zack Wheeler could push him out of the rotation.

Jenrry Mejia: Your guess is as good as mine. Starter or reliever? It can’t be both. Mejia has had limited opportunities because of how the Mets waffled with him. His stock has fallen and he could be gone in three years.

Zack Wheeler: He’s highly rated and barring setbacks should be in the rotation by then. How good he’ll be is anybody’s guess.

Bobby Parnell: Closer or bust. Parnell showed something at the end of last season. If he doesn’t win the closer job by 2014, he’ll likely be gone.

The bullpen: Never mind 2015, how about 2013? There’s such a turnover in bullpens in today’s game that it is hard to project. Do the Mets have a bullpen prospect that can be pegged as a potential closer? Nobody outside of Parnell will be ready by then, and even he is iffy.

John Buck:  Assuming he’s healthy, the job belongs to Travis d’Arnaud. Buck is a stopgap already making too much money by Mets’ standards. It is conceivable Buck could be supplanted by d’Arnaud by the second half.

Ike Davis: The Mets already avoided arbitration with him and if Davis hits another 30 homers, they should consider going long term with him. You build teams around 30-homer sluggers.

Daniel Murphy: Somehow, I can’t see Murphy still here. I see him being dealt to the American League where he can play as a DH. By 2015, the Mets will have added a second baseman, perhaps Wilmer Flores.

Ruben Tejada: The Mets have several shortstop prospects, but will they be ready by 2015?  They like Gavin Cecchini, but wonder if he’ll hit enough. Tejada is establishing himself offensively and if he keeps it up, he’ll stay around.

David Wright: His contract ensures he’ll be around, but like Santana will it be one they regret? Wright hasn’t taken advantage of the shortened fences at Citi Field and the Mets wonder if he’ll hit with consistent 30-homer power.

Lucas Duda: He’s a work in progress with time to develop. Perhaps it will happen for him as a left fielder. Duda is better as a first baseman, but what will they do with Davis? Duda is a guy I can see them dealing in the future.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis: He made a good first impression, but struggled with the breaking ball and ended the season injured in the minor leagues. If he becomes the fulltime center fielder, he could still be here. Working in his favor is he comes cheaply. But, if the Mets start spending in a few years they will go for more power in the outfield.

Mike Baxter:  He’s a role player now, and a projected starter because the Mets aren’t spending any money. No way he’ll keep that job in three years.

Of the 16 names (including the position of bullpen) there are only seven I can say with confidence will be around in 2015. So, assuming if the projections of 2015 are true, that makes 19 spots to be filled.

That’s a lot of work to do.