Sep 29

How Mets Answered 15 Key Questions In 2014

The Mets entered the season with 15 key questions facing GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins. Let’s examine how they were answered, and if they still need attention before spring training, 2015:

Q: CAN TRAVIS d’ARNAUD LIVE UP TO THE BILLING?

A: It took awhile, but d’Arnaud is coming and perhaps will be good for 20 homers over a full season. However, d’Arnaud’s future is far from settled with Kevin Plawecki emerging. Are the Mets better off trading d’Arnaud, who isn’t rated as highly by scouts? Can d’Arnaud play another position such as left field? If d’Arnaud can be moved to another position it could address both the outfield and catching questions. Status: Still undecided.

DUDA: A lot to cheer about.

DUDA: A lot to cheer about.

Q: WHO’S ON FIRST?

A: The decision between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda was answered quickly compared to 2013. The thinking in 2013 was to give Davis time to work on his myriad of flaws. When Alderson finally relented and sent Davis to Triple-A it was way too late. When Davis stumbled out of the gate this season, Alderson acted quickly – for him – and traded the non-slugger to Pittsburgh. Without the distraction of Davis, Duda emerged as a 30-homer slugger. With the fences to be shortened in right and right center, Duda might be even better in 2015. Status: Looks answered to me.

Q: WILMER FLORES OR RUBEN TEJADA AT SHORTSTOP?

A: To some, this is still an issue, but not for me. Unless the Mets obtain a top shortstop from the trade or free-agent markets, I believe Flores should get the job. He’s not great defensively, but showed promise. His lack of range can be made up with better positioning. Flores’ bat is better than Tejada’s and over a full season he could have double-digit power. Meanwhile, Tejada’s defense isn’t so superior that he must play. Status: Looks answered to me.

Q: WILL DAVID WRIGHT HAVE A BOUNCE BACK SEASON?

A: That question must be asked again next spring. Wright’s lackluster season was cut short by a shoulder injury. He subsequently said he’s learning how to better manage pain and injuries. We shall see. Wright hasn’t hit 30 homers since 2008, and only twice since then has hit 20. Wright played in just 134 games this year after playing in 112 in 2013. He’s a long way from his All-Star form. Status: To be determined.

Q: WHO WILL PLAY LEFT FIELD?

A: That’s still an unanswered question. Nine players were trotted out to left field: Eric Young, Chris Young, Matt den Dekker, Eric Campbell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Andrew Brown, Curtis Granderson, Bobby Abreu and Lucas Duda. That screams of being unsettled. The Mets want power from the position, but nobody currently on the roster is capable of delivering. A trade will cost a top pitching prospect and the Mets don’t want to spend big. Eric Young has the potential to provide the most because of his speed, but the Mets won’t play him full time because he has too many holes in his game. The best defensive option is den Dekker, but the belief is he won’t hit. How will we know if he doesn’t get a long look? Of course, they could always bring back Chris Young for another $7.25 million. Status: To be determined.

Q: IS JUAN LAGARES THE REAL THING?

 A: Definitely with his glove, but his bat is suspect. He needs to cut his strikeouts and improve his on-base percentage. Lagares showed the instincts to be a good base stealer, but he must get on base more to win the leadoff job. Status: To be determined based on offense.

Q: WHO WILL BAT LEADOFF?

A: Mets’ leadoff hitters finished dead last in the majors with a .235 average and .308 on-base percentage. They added just eight homers and 40 RBI from the top of the order. Their leadoff hitters had only 63 walks and stuck out 147 times. Eleven players tried, and failed, leading off: Eric Young, Chris Young, den Dekker, Lagares, Tejada, Granderson, Daniel Murphy, Nieuwenhuis, Abreu, Brown and Campbell. From a power perspective, Granderson hit seven of his 20 homers leading off. However, he strikes out too much to be considered for the position fulltime. Eric Young is the best base stealer, but 46 strikeouts in 210 at-bats and a .302 on-base percentage say he’s not the answer, either. If Eric Young isn’t brought back, Lagares might get it by default. Status: Not answered.

Q; CAN BARTOLO COLON REPLACE MATT HARVEY?

A: Not in the long term, but Colon logged 200 innings while winning 15 games at age 41. There’s still something in his tank. Harvey is penciled in at No. 1 if healthy. Colon should start the season in the rotation ahead of Dillon Gee, but might be traded at the deadline. If the Mets are as close as they say, they shouldn’t be so eager to trade Colon. Currently, assuming all are healthy, Collins must select five from the following: Harvey, Colon, Zack Wheeler, Gee, Jacob de Grom and Jon Niese. The Mets wouldn’t mind trading Colon, Gee, Rafael Montero and Niese – in that order. Status: Answered in the positive.

Q: WILL MATT HARVEY HAVE A SETBACK IN HIS REHAB?

A: Repeatedly saying he wanted to pitch this year was a minor annoyance. Giving in to him and sustaining another injury would have been disastrous. Alderson said Harvey is on track to start spring training on time and with no restrictions, and nobody could have asked for more. Harvey is 12-10 in parts of two seasons. Anything less than 15 next year will be a disappointment. Status: Answered in the positive.

Q: HOW MUCH BETTER WILL ZACK WHEELER BE?

A: Wheeler finished at 11-11 in 15 more starts than in 2013 when he was 7-5. Wheeler struck out 187, but walked 79. His pitch count was way too high as he exceeded 90 pitches in all but four of 32 starts. Wheeler continually works too deep in the count, which is taxing for him, and subsequently, the bullpen. To reach the next level, Wheeler must pitch more to contact and trust his defense. The shorter Wheeler goes in games means the bullpen must go longer. Status: To be determined.

Q: WHAT’S GOING ON WITH JON NIESE?

A: We still don’t know. Young, left-handed and signed to a reasonable contract, Niese has been attractive to the Mets and opponents seeking to trade. However, he’s won as many as 13 games once in seven years (13-9 in 2012 in his only winning season). He was 9-11 this year and left his final start with a rapid heartbeat, something he’s had in the past. Niese is signed through 2018 (club option). He could be valuable to teams believing he needs a change of scenery, but they don’t figure to offer a lot. His real value to the Mets is in the hope he’ll live up to expectations, but hoping isn’t much of a plan. Status: Anybody’s guess.

Q: WILL THEY FINALLY FIX THE BULLPEN?

A: That’s an annual question, but there were positives this season, such as finally settling on a role for Jenrry Mejia and emergence of Jeurys Familia. There’s also a lot to like about Carlos Torres, Vic Black and Josh Edgin. Daisuke Matsuzaka could finish his career in Japan and Montero could also be slotted in. The Mets love Gonzalez German’s stuff, but his command is suspect. He’s raw, but worth the wait. Status: Looks good so far.

Q: CAN THE METS IMPROVE THEIR RECORD IN ONE-RUN GAMES AND IN THE DIVISION?

A: The Mets were 26-29 in one-run games and 38-38 in the NL East. They were 34-42 vs. the East in 2013, but 29-28 in one-run games. The Mets were 7-12 against Washington in 2013, but regressed to 4-15 this year. That last record needs to change drastically. Status: Still needs work.

Q: CAN THE METS WIN AT HOME?

A: The Mets were better at 40-41, but still haven’t found a way to make Citi Field to their advantage. The belief is moving the fences in again will be the answer, but that’s folly as the opponents will also gain an edge. If the Mets learned anything in their best record in six years (tied at 79-83 with the 2010) is they can compete with pitching and defense. Assuming the healthy returns of Harvey and Wright, and progressions of Wheeler and de Grom, they should have a reasonable expectation of further improvement without tinkering with the dimensions of Citi Field. Status: Still needs work.

Q: ARE THE METS READY TO TAKE THE TOWN FROM THE YANKEES?

A: These things go in cycles. The Mets won’t ever equal the Yankees in career victories and championships, as the Pinstripes have been around for more than five decades as the Mets. That’s a quite a head start. But, the Mets wrestled the town away in 1969 and in the mid- to late-1980s. Although neither made the playoffs this season, the eyes in the Apple would be focused on the Bronx because: 1) the Mets didn’t have Harvey; 2) the Yankees are always more willing to spend, and, above all, 3) this was Derek Jeter’s last season. Next season could be different, as the Yankees are no lock to reach October with a multitude of pitching issues. Status: Time to seize the moment.

Mar 14

Questions Remain Throughout Rotation

The New York Mets had a vision entering spring training as to the makeup of their rotation. However, that’s not to say there aren’t questions. Name a starter and I’ll give you questions and issues.

The expected rotation is comprised of Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler and Daisuke Matsuzaka; none considered an “ace’’ in the traditional sense. Realistically, none would be higher than a No. 3 when their career numbers are examined.

NIESE: It starts with him. (AP)

NIESE: It starts with him. (AP)

Not really the stuff of 90-win teams.

There was to be competition for the fifth-starter role between Matsuzaka, John Lannan and Jenrry Mejia, but based on how he closed last year, Matsuzaka has the edge.

Mejia has thrown well and seems healthy enough to warrant the opportunity. That begs the question: If not now, then when?

Let’s take a look at the rotation and potential issues with each starter:

JON NIESE: He’s never won more than 13 games, and enters No. 1. Niese has a history of injuries and only twice since 2008 started as many as 30 games. He missed time last year with a rotator cuff issue, and a MRI this spring revealed weakness in his shoulder. He didn’t pitch well in his only start, and has thrown only two innings. The goal is 30 for most starters, but with three starts remaining, he won’t come close.

BARTOLO COLON: He’s 40, so there’s always the inevitable possibility of breaking down. Colon won 18 games and pitched 190.1 innings in 2013, but what are the odds of doing it again? I would say longer than an Ike Davis slump. He’s signed to a two-year contract. Breakdowns occur with 40-year old pitchers. Who is to say it won’t be this year?

DILLON GEE: He turned last season around in a May 30 start against the Yankees and finished 12-11 with 199 innings. However, he was close to being bumped from the rotation prior to that Yankee Stadium start. Gee’s career high was 13 victories in 2011. Gee is grit and guile, but is throwing hard this spring. Even so, his career numbers indicate a No. 4 starter. Assuming all works out with Matt Harvey’s recovery and the development of Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, aren’t we talking about him being out of the rotation next year?

ZACK WHEELER: He worked 100 innings last season before he was shut down. Ideally, the Mets would like to double that number. That’s a huge increase, even considering the 68.2 innings he pitched for Triple-A Las Vegas. Wheeler won seven games in 2013 and the Mets need him to double it, which is a lot. Wheeler has loads of potential, but they need proven production.

DAISUKE MATSUZAKA:  He won 15 and 18 games, respectively, his first two seasons in the majors with Boston in 2007-8, but never more than nine in the subsequent five years (2010). Pitching coach Dan Warthen got him to speed up his delivery, which lead to him closing the year with three strong starts, working at least six innings in each. That’s a small sample. What isn’t a small sample are the last five years, in which he threw more 60 innings only once.

Factoring all that, just what was Sandy Alderson thinking saying this was a 90-win potential season? Considering the fragility of Niese and Colon, Wheeler’s inexperience and Matsuzaka’s inconsistency, it isn’t hard to imagine it won’t be long before we see Mejia, Syndergaard or Rafael Montero.

ON DECK: Niese’s war on Twitter