Feb 18

Mets’ Zack Wheeler Likes Low Profile

One of the highlights for the New York Mets last season was a double-header sweep of Atlanta anchored by future aces Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.

If you weren’t reading about Harvey last summer you were reading about Wheeler. This spring most of the ink is going to Noah Syndergaard, whom the Mets expect will be in the major leagues in June.

WHEELER: That night in Atlanta.

WHEELER: That night in Atlanta.

“That’s fine with me,’’ Wheeler told reporters Tuesday in Port St. Lucie when asked about the spotlight being on Syndergaard. “I don’t have to have all the attention.’’

Actually, in Wheeler’s perfect world, he would rather have little, if any. Wheeler is extremely quiet and shy, and if given the choice, he’d rather not talk if he didn’t have to.

Wheeler was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA last season in 17 starts. Manager Terry Collins doesn’t presently see an innings limit on Wheeler, and believes his composure and natural stuff will enable him to progress.

Collins said at the Winter Meetings Harvey showed he could make adjustments on the run and thinks Wheeler has that same capability.

Wheeler was matter-of-fact when asked today what he needs to do to improve: “Just being more consistent, throwing more strikes and stuff.’’

Ask any veteran pitcher and he’d say the same thing. That’s one of the things the Mets like about Wheeler.

 

Feb 17

Jeff Wilpon Defends Mets’ Financial Plan

Jeff Wilpon, New York Mets chief operating officer, addressed several financial issues with MLB.com as the club opened spring training.

The Mets’ projected payroll for this season is to be shy of $95 million, but Wilpon said it isn’t necessary to have a Yankees-like payroll to compete.

WILPON: Defending plan.

WILPON: Defending plan.

“I would point to the fact that you don’t have to have that kind of payroll to win,’’ Wilpon said of the $140-million plus payrolls the Mets had prior to bringing in Sandy Alderson as general manager.

Alderson’s first objective was to clear the books of the unproductive salaries of Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Bay and Johan Santana, all brought in under former general manager Omar Minaya. Alderson also traded Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler.

The Mets’ payrolls the past five seasons, all of which they finished below .500 were: $149.4 million (2009); $126.5 million (2010); $143 million (2011); $96 million (2012); and $94 million (2013). The Mets currently have $75 million earmarked for 12 players this season. Barring a surprise signing, they won’t break $100 million. That’s a reflection of Alderson.

“I think he’s put the plan in place, and we’re ready to see the fruits of that labor now,’’ Wilpon said.

The Mets were more active this winter than the past two, and at best are expected to challenge to be a .500 team. Even had they signed shortstop Stephen Drew as most Mets fans want the organization to do, it’s questionable how much better he’d make them.

Another free-agent the Mets passed on was outfielder Nelson Cruz. Alderson wasn’t interested in either, despite a need in those areas.

“If those one or two things were there, we would have expanded the budget for them,’’ Wilpon said. “Just to get a guy because the fans think that’s the right thing to do, that’s not part of the plan.

“Sandy’s not going to overspend for something he doesn’t see value in. The value that we see in those guys versus what their agents were asking for does not meet.’’

The Mets aren’t the only ones thinking that way as both Drew and Cruz remain unsigned.

The Mets are stockpiling young pitching, but have little position-player chips. Wilpon believes that’s their biggest weakness.

“I don’t think we have enough position-player prospects that are ready to compete for jobs at the major-league level right now,’’ Wilpon said. “We’d like to have more, like we have with the pitchers. We’d like to have that same stable of young guys competing for position-player jobs. The guys we have are a couple years away.’’

While Wilpon said it isn’t necessary to have a monster payroll to win, the Mets haven’t won with their $90 million payrolls the past two seasons, either.

The Mets did spend more this year, bringing in Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon and Chris Young, but counter those additions with the loss of Matt Harvey and several questions in other areas and what defines a successful season remains unknown.

One thing for certain, it isn’t anything less than a winning record.

ON DECK:  Matt Harvey faces frustrating summer.

Feb 01

Projecting Mets’ Rotation

New York Mets manager Terry Collins has already come out and said Jon Niese would be his Opening Day starter. No surprise there, as he was in that role last year.

Given that, here’s how I’d piece together the rest of the rotation and my reasoning.

NIESE: Opening Day starter.

NIESE: Opening Day starter.

Collins said Dillon Gee would be the alternative Opening Day starter, so logically he would go second in the rotation. However, I’d go with Bartolo Colon because of his experience and propensity for eating innings and save Gee’s innings for the back end.

Third, I’m thinking they’ll go with Zack Wheeler, but if he cracks the rotation, I’m wondering if they’ll instead slot in John Lannan to go with a left-right-left format.

Fourth would be innings eater Gee. This way I’m thinking there will be an even distribution of innings with the rotation.

Finally, the fifth starter will probably be Lannan because I don’t know how much stock Collins puts in my lefty-righty-lefty theory. If he does buy into it, then that could push Wheeler back to the fourth or fifth starter.

Probably not, but there are advantages to starting Wheeler fifth: 1) if there is an innings limit on him, fifth is where starts most get pushed back because of early-season off-days, which cuts the innings, and 2) theoretically there’s less pressure as the fifth starter.

So, if the Mets want to treat Wheeler with kid gloves, then fifth is where they have the best opportunity to do so.

Jan 30

What Would Define A Successful Season For The 2014 Mets

Some teams define a successful season by the pouring of champagne. The New York Mets are not one of them.

The Mets last tasted champagne in 2006, after beating the Dodgers in the NLCS. They last tasted the good stuff in 1986, and if a baseball hadn’t squirted between Bill Buckner’s legs, we’d have to back to 1969, the year man walked on the moon.

After five straight losing seasons, the Mets did enough adding this winter to warrant the thought this summer might be different.

It’s wishful thinking to think the Mets will play into October, but it isn’t premature to wonder what could define a successful season. After winning 74 games last year and finishing in third place, there’s room for improvement.

The Mets finished 22 games behind first-place Atlanta and 12 behind Washington, and it is unrealistic to believe they can make up those games.

However, it isn’t out of the question to think .500 can’t be reached. The additions of Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon – plus the anticipated improvement of Jon Niese, and dare I suggest, Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada – should be worth at least one more victory a month.

With the baseball season six months long, that’s six more victories. If the Mets could squeeze out one more win, that puts them at 81-81.

That’s plausible.

So, what’s it going to take for that to happen?

For one thing, Niese must win more than eight games and Zack Wheeler must continue to progress. They also can’t afford a setback from Colon. The Mets also need improvement from their bullpen, which was more than spotty last year. That begins with Vic Black adequately replacing closer Bobby Parnell.

Offensively, David Wright needs to approach the .300, 30-homer and 100-RBI levels expected of him. Granderson won’t hit 40 homers in Citi Field, but at least 25 shouldn’t be out of the question.

It’s folly to predict what Davis might provide, but then again, any improvement would be welcome. As for Chris Young, considering what he’s done the past few years, he falls into the Davis category of “anything is better than nothing.’’

Of course, slumps and injuries can’t be forecast. However, if most expectations are reached, I’m thinking .500 is possible, with 85 reachable in the best-case scenario.

It could happen.

Jan 26

Not Worth Risk To Push Matt Harvey’s Return

According to several published reports, Matt Harvey said he’s aiming to return at the end of the season, which would be a foolish decision by the New York Mets.

One might argue an advantage to having Harvey pitch in 2014 is it gives the Mets an opportunity to see where he stands in his recovery, but it’s a stretch because there’s no doubt he’s in their 2015 plans.

HARVEY: Don't rush him.

HARVEY: Don’t rush him.

Harvey is a given for 2015, but if there’s any doubt, that’s why Bartolo Colon received a two-year deal. Colon’s presence, coupled with the anticipated development of Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, gives the Mets flexibility in when to bring back their ace.

The normal recovery time from Tommy John surgery is a year. If the Mets really wanted Harvey back for 2015, they should have scheduled surgery immediately after the injury, but instead they messed around with the idea of Harvey resting in the hope in coming back for spring training and pitching this year.

That was a pipe dream and most people knew it, but the Mets opted to placate Harvey’s whims, which could have been disastrous had he been ready for the season but re-injured his elbow.

“When you see stories of guys coming back in 10 months, I’m going to think, ‘Hey, I can come back in nine,’ ’’ Harvey told reporters recently at an event in Boston. “Unfortunately, I don’t make those decisions. I can’t throw the uniform on and go back on the mound without the permission of higher-ups.

“That’s my personality –  I always want to be out there. Like I’ve said all along, I’m not a doctor, so I don’t have those answers. But of course I want to get back on the mound.’’

As much as Harvey wants to pitch this season, he said he doesn’t regret changing his mind about having surgery.

Early in his young career, Harvey has already established a reputation for pushing the envelope when it comes to his health. He said nothing after tweaking his back and ended up missing a start. He was again quiet when he developed tightness in his forearm, which led to the elbow injury and then surgery..

Then, there was his insistence in not having surgery and taking the resting route in an effort to be ready for spring training. GM Sandy Alderson said he wasn’t going to push Harvey toward the knife, but later acknowledged a sense of relief when he relented to surgery.

There will come a time this summer after a string of minor league starts when Harvey will be asked how he feels. He’ll undoubtedly say he feels good and there will be a buzz about bringing him back for a handful of starts.

The buzz would grow exceptionally loud if the Mets were over .500 and/or close to a wild card slot. In short: the better the Mets, the louder the buzz.

The Mets would be wise to ignore the buzz, as nothing can be gained by rushing back Harvey. The odds would be long – even if Harvey were to pitch in September– of getting into the playoffs. They are even longer without him, and to rush his return is foolish.

The Mets have waited a long time to return to the playoffs, but a little longer won’t kill them. Pushing the envelope on Harvey and having him getting hurt again would be devastating.

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