Mets Merized Online » Gerry Silverman Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:59:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In-House Options Remain The Best Bet For Mets Offense Wed, 01 Jul 2015 16:25:53 +0000 lucas duda

If you told most Mets’ fans during the long, cold, winter recess between October and the start of spring training that halfway through the upcoming season their team would sit within a few games of first place in the division, most would be thrilled.

To have simply achieved a legitimate level of competitiveness following six consecutive losing seasons should do much to lift the spirits of the typical Metophile, but the frustration level linked to the appalling offensive output of the 2015 club is doing much to temper the overall enthusiasm of the fan base.

A look at the numbers tells the story: as July arrives, the Flushing crew has fleshed out a starting rotation largely populated by young, drool-worthy arms whose collective abilities have undoubtedly inspired a wave of dynasty-related fantasies amongst the faithful. With good reason, too, as despite the loss of one member of the projected arsenal to surgery and the uncertainty that accompanies the arrival of rookie talent, heralded or not, the team’s mound staff has performed brilliantly to the point of registering as fourth best overall in the league and fifth best in MLB.

Ah, but that pesky offense. Following a spring training where fans were teased into thinking that a secret juggernaut was lurking, the Met offensive story has been one of injuries and underperformance.

While no one expected Michael Cuddyer to necessarily maintain the elevated level of slugging he displayed in Florida (6 HR’s in a month), most did not expect a repeat of that output to stretch out over half a season along with a jump in strikeout rate and plunge in OPS to well below typical career numbers.

Nor did one foresee the loss of David Wright for who knows how long, or for the injury bug to seemingly focus on whoever was most productive while actually in the lineup. Ultimately, the result has been that the Met offense now sits next to last in the league with only the joke that the Phillies bats have become to act as a buffer.

Predictably, the calls for action on the part of the front office to DO SOMETHING and import some bodies that can inject a degree of firepower into a collection of orange and blue popguns have been loud and insistent. Even the talking heads on the various sport shows on TV and radio have begun to seemingly lose any sense of realism with regard to what might actually be accomplished in an age when their simply isn’t much to be had on the trade market for a team with the financial constraints of the Mets.

Troy Tulowitzki? Don’t be ridiculous. Even if the team could somehow shoulder a significant enough portion of his titanic contract to interest the Rockies in making a deal, there aren’t many examples of players with his injury history suddenly becoming more durable as they move into their 30′s. Not to mention the talent that would have to be surrendered in return. You ain’t getting something like that done for Niese, Montero, and a couple of pieces from A-ball.

No, with the division being what it is, essentially the weakest in MLB, the Mets don’t need to think about making huge moves to stay in the hunt. With pitching being as dominant a component as it is, the team needs only to find a way to move closer to league average on the offensive side to have a good chance of punching a ticket for the postseason.

Those who remain skeptical of this are advised to examine the records and stats of the mid-1960′s editions of the LA Dodgers for a good example. Yes, those teams had Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale leading the way, but they also generally had lineups where no one approached 100 RBI or 100 runs scored in a season. But between 1959 and 1966 they made it to the World Series no fewer than four times, winning three of them.

So, if the Mets can somehow get Daniel Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud back in the lineup and keep them there for the bulk of what remains of the season, odds are that this would serve better than any desperation trade that might be accomplished in terms of future value and present return. Why? Simply because these two have consistently shown a knack for that most rare of accomplishments in the realm of Metdom: the timely hit.

Compare their rate of runs driven in per at-bat to the rest of the regulars and you will see what has been missing. Granted, we are working with a small sample size with D’Arnaud, but his performance reflects the character demonstrated last season after his return from a mid-season exile to Las Vegas, so it should be regarded as more than a statistical outlier.

Perhaps adding to these a useful bat from outside the organization would provide enough of a makeover to make dreams of October a reality (my personal wish is for a player along the lines of Ben Zobrist who can fill in all over the diamond and generally be counted on to hit better than the average Met).

If you need more encouragement from a scenario such as this, keep in mind that it is a long season and that players who have underperformed to date often wind up closer to their career numbers when the dust settles. In the Mets’ case, this would suggest that better things lie in store for players like Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer, the current heart of the order which has shown signs of cardiac arrhythmia.

It is said that patience is a virtue. Well, if so, Met fans are certainly a virtuous bunch.

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Amazin’ Moments: Rusty and the Rundown Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:21:02 +0000 tom+seaver+rusty+staub

Here’s an Amazin’ Moment I won’t soon forget because it involves one of my favorite Mets of bygone days, Rusty Staub.

During his first go-round with the Mets, Rusty provided more in the way of consistent offense and heady play than fans had come to expect from a Mets team that relied primarily on the arms of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Tug McGraw and whatever offense could be scrounged from the day’s lineup.

In 1973, two years into their second decade of existence, the Mets had still not had a player produce a 100 RBI season. The team would make its second trip to the World Series that year, but would wind up second to last in the NL in runs scored with a paltry 608.

As a result, defense was a key component to go along with that vaunted pitching staff. In June of that year, the Mets were playing a series at Shea against the Dodgers. The Saturday game of that set (on June 9th) was Old Timers’ Day and a good crowd was on hand. The offensive heroes for the day were Staub, with two doubles and 3 RBI, and Willie Mays who homered for the other run in what would be a 4-2 complete game win for Jon Matlack.

However, it wasn’t Rusty’s offense that made this game memorable for me, but his defense- specifically, his role in a play that took place in the top of the seventh inning.

By virtue of a pinch-hit double by future Met Tom Paciorek and a bunt single by Davey Lopes, the Dodgers had runners at the corners with no one out and Bill Buckner (of all people) coming to the plate. The Mets were clinging to a 3-2 lead at this point that looked to be in jeopardy. Buckner was an up-and-coming young batsman of 24 at this time, but was coming off a season where he had hit .319 and shown a penchant for making contact. With Lopes dancing off first, Matlack made a successful pickoff throw and a rundown ensued.

rusty staub squareRundowns always make me nervous if it’s my team trying to execute one. We’ve all heard how, if properly done, only one or two throws should be needed to nail the runner. Invariably, as the number of throws involved in the play increases, so does the percentage that one will ultimately wind up in the stands, the dugout, or the outfield while the runner advances.

On this particular play the infielders involved, Bud Harrelson, Felix Millan, and John Milner, were no slouches with the glove  but Lopes was fleet and managed to elude a tag. A number of throws were made, back and forth, with Paciorek looking for a chance to score from third. Ultimately, with the middle infielders out of position, Lopes dashed for second, seemingly uncovered until…Rusty Staub, having run in from his position in Right Field, took the throw at second, slapped a tag on Lopes diving for the base, then fired a strike to the plate to catch Paciorek trying to sneak in with the tying run. Double play! Buckner flied out to center and the inning ended with no damage done.

As a mere 16 year-old at the time, my depth of baseball knowledge was not substantial, but I had been bitten by the bug at a young age and had read more about the game’s history than many of my peers. Nowhere had I come across an account of a similar play, which, while not the weirdest thing to happen on a baseball field, was without a doubt the most heads-up piece of fielding I had ever witnessed.

Rusty went on to play heroically in the LCS (3 HR’s and a great catch where he badly injured his shoulder), and World Series that year (hitting .423 with a 5 RBI game while playing hurt). In 1975, he became the first Met to reach the century mark in RBI while setting a club record with 105. Management rewarded this by trading him to Detroit for a washed-up Mickey Lolich and fans were left to pin their hopes on Mike Vail. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work out too well.

Regardless, Rusty’s place in the annals of Metdom is assured, but is just that much more deserved, in my opinion, because of that nifty double play.


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Which Players Are Vulnerable On Mets 40 Man Roster? Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:33:04 +0000 eric young jr

Heading into the off-season with a full 40 man roster, the flexibility needed to make any hoped-for-yet-unlikely personnel additions of a significant nature will require Mets team management to make some choices that may signal the end of several players’ association with the organization. While this situation is a regular occurrence following the end of each season, many teams start off with a few slots already available, granting the ability to stave off making what may be some hard decisions until the spring when the composition of the roster has largely been determined.

This time around, the Mets find themselves in a position of having to make several of those decisions earlier in order to protect some highly-touted minor league talent ahead of the Rule 5 draft in December. While some of these choices appear largely self-evident, others will likely depend on a variety of factors including the always mysterious element of “organizational sentiment” and other such types of voodoo.

Certain moves are already of a de facto nature, as with the removal of two of the more veteran members of the squad – Daisuke Matsuzaka and Bobby Abreu- as a consequence of their contracts expiring. In concert with these transactions come the offsetting moves of reinstating both Bobby Parnell and Matt Harvey from the 60-day DL, thus keeping the roster at capacity. So, if the team were interested in retaining the services of Dice-K for next season as say, a swingman at the major league level, someone will first have to be jettisoned from the 40-man to make room. A look at the roster as it now stands yields a list of those likely to be on the bubble:


  • Jeff Walters – Moved into the closer’s role at Binghamton in 2013, Walters thrust himself into the picture by recording a minor-league best 38 saves. Largely ineffective this year at Las Vegas, he was ultimately shut down for the year after being diagnosed with a torn UCL and slated for Tommy John surgery. He will join Jeremy Hefner in rehab limbo for the next year or so.
  • Scott Rice – Another victim of “Perpetual Pedro” syndrome (systematic overuse of a LOOGY), Rice had elbow surgery in July to remove a bone spur. With Josh Edgin likely to retain his spot as a lefty bullpen option, Rice will face competition from scrap-heap prize Dana Eveland, minor league reclamation project Dario Alvarez, and up-and-coming K-meister Jack Leathersich for the role of “lefty number two.” After toiling for as long as he had to in the sticks, you gotta root for the guy to prevail but those are long odds.
  • Gonzalez Germen-He and his occasionally effective changeup have bounced around this year, but with Parnell returning, the emergence of the Black-Familia-Mejia triumvirate, and the somewhat surprising success of Buddy Carlyle, there isn’t a whole lot of room left for a guy who basically looks to duplicate Carlos Torres’ role.
  • Erik Goeddel-A good enough arm that the team felt compelled to protect him, but he hasn’t shown anything particularly exceptional in terms of performance last year at Binghamton or this year at Vegas. Another case of the numbers game at work as was the case last year with Collin McHugh only with less reason to expect a breakout success like McHugh has scored since leaving the organization.


  • Josh Satin-This is pretty much an annual occurrence at this point as Satin continues to play the role of good soldier and organizational filler. He can play a couple positions and swing the bat a bit, but he’s clearly been supplanted by Eric Campbell at the big league level for the role of supersub. He has passed through waivers without a hitch before and likely will again.
  • Wilfredo Tovar-As one of the few “true” shortstops at the upper levels of the minors and one that has shown a degree offensive progress this year, I would expect him to stick around. With the Mets’ infield picture getting increasingly crowded by virtue of the Dilson Herrera/Daniel Murphy question, the need to apportion a slot to Wilmer Flores and the possibility of Matt Reynolds entering the picture in the spring, Tovar is likely ticketed for AAA but could also replace Reuben Tejada for the varsity if the latter is dealt.
  • Andrew Brown-He is a good bet to make the move to Japan where his power may translate better than it has in his limited trials with the Flushing crew. He would have gone already but was held to his contract as Vegas roster filler and insurance for the big club. He homered on opening day against Stephen Strasburg, remember? How soon they forget.
  • Cesar Puello-Seemingly a prospect after a big year at Binghamton in 2013, he came tumbling back down to earth after a suspension for PED’s and had his numbers basically halved in a comparable number of at-bats this year at the hitter’s haven that is Las Vegas. In light of these circumstances, he could likely be exposed to waivers and wind up staying with the organization.
  • Eric Young, Jr.-With his primary role seemingly reduced to that of a pinch-runner and with Juan Lagares being auditioned as the new leadoff hitter (and flashing his new base-stealing chops with abandon), his time as a Met is likely drawing to a close. Still, someone has to play the role of 25th man and his ability to play an infield position, provide solid outfield defense, speed, and switch-hit may earn him a reprieve. We’ll see.
  • Matt den Dekker-He and Kirk Nieuwenhuis profile similarly, both 27-year old left handed hitting outfielders who can play center and flash a bit of speed and power. Nieuwenhuis has apparently adapted to the role of bench player and den Dekker’s trial as the regular left fielder appears to be primarily a showcase. The lineup would likely benefit more from a right handed hitter with some pop to occupy the position next year but a platoon is always a possibility.

With no indication that the team will be increasing payroll significantly beyond the amount needed to meet the anticipated raises due a number of regulars next season, we will likely see a relatively quiet off-season in terms of personnel acquisition characterized by the usual bit of bargain hunting that has become SOP for this management group.

Still, as many have noted, the development of certain players in key positions (e.g. Duda, Lagares, d’Arnaud) and the fruition of a number of pitching prospects into solid (and sometimes spectacular) regulars in both the rotation and the bullpen have poised the Mets for the long-awaited breakthrough to contention we’ve all anticipated.  One can only hope that if any shifts made with the roster as destined to be minor ones, that they will be the right ones and put an end to a fallow period that has gone on far too long for a so-called “big market” team.

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Amazin’ Mets Moments: Fonzie Goes Six for Six! Tue, 09 Sep 2014 18:43:29 +0000 Edgardo Alfonzo remains one of the most beloved Mets alumni, both for his post-season heroics (e.g. 3 HR’s including a ninth inning grand slam in the space of two vital 1999 playoff games against the Reds and Diamondbacks), and his role as part of the “Best Infield Ever” as dubbed by Sports Illustrated.

edgardo alfonzo white jersey

His flexibility as a player made him an invaluable asset to the team which moved him from his original spot at second base over to third, back to second upon the signing of Robin Ventura, and then to third again with the trade that brought Roberto Alomar into the fold. Despite a modicum of grousing due to all the defensive shifts, he provided consistent quality play during one of the upswing periods in Mets history.

As a batsman, Fonzie developed in almost textbook fashion before the delighted eyes of fans. Coming up, he had a reputation for a good eye at the plate, some evidence of moderate power, and the ability to make contact. Following his major league debut in 1995, the young Venezuelan worked diligently to refine his game both in the field and at the plate. By 1999, he had blossomed into one of the league’s premier middle infielders, hitting over .300 and slugging over .500 for the first time in his career. His peak game, and likely the peak offensive game by any Met, came in late August of that year as the Mets were heading toward a post-season berth under the guidance of Bobby Valentine.

The team was in Houston for a series against the Astros during their last go-round in the vast dimensions of the Astrodome. The following year, the team would move to the bandbox originally known as Enron Field (or “Ten Run Field” to fans for its propensity to produce high scoring games) and now dubbed Minute Maid Park. In stark contrast to the home run haven the Astros now inhabit, the ‘Dome was a pitcher’s dream and a slugger’s graveyard. Not only was the field characterized by expansive proportions, the roof insured that the very atmosphere itself was endowed with what batters swore was a deadening effect. But it was in this most unlikely of settings that the Mets’ version of the Fonz chose to put on perhaps the greatest display of slugging in team history.

edgardo alfonzo

Ah, 1999 was a bumper year for runs scored by the Mets as they pushed 853 across the plate, good for 5th in the league and still the club record for a single season. Even 40 year-old leadoff batter Rickey Henderson was having a renaissance year, batting over .300 for the first time since in four campaigns. On the night of August 30 of that year, the team would rack up a run tally that was impressive even by the standards of that era, blasting the Houston squad by a score of 17-1.

The key figure in the onslaught was Edgardo Alfonzo who began his evening by rocketing a solo home run his first time up to give the Mets an early lead. After the Astros were retired in order in the bottom of the first, the New Yorkers erupted for six additional runs in the next inning with Alfonzo contributing a single and a run scored in the process. He then homered in his next two at-bats registering a two-run shot in the fourth and another solo round-tripper in the sixth. After collecting his second single of the game in the eight amidst another rally, he came up for a final time in the ninth. Urged by his teammates to shoot for the elusive 4-homer mark, he banged a shot off the right field wall for a run-scoring double, missing another 4-bagger by a matter of a few feet.

All told, Fonzie had recorded 6 hits in as many at-bats including 3 HR’s and a double. In the process he set Mets club records for hits, runs, and total bases in a game as well as collecting 5 RBI. Naturally, his performance set off the stat freaks at Elias who determined that the only other player to accomplish a comparable feat was none other than Ty Cobb some 74 years prior when he also recorded a 3 homer, 1 double, 2 single game against the St. Louis Browns.

Fonzie and Cobb, Cobb and Fonzie. A rather exclusive club with one member a Met.

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Who’s A Keeper and Who’s A Trade Chip? Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:45:38 +0000 MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets

Will the Mets still be with 28 in 2015?

Now that we’ve “officially” moved into the 2015 audition portion of this season (a circumstance apparently triggered by the loss of single game-the rubber match of this past week’s series vs. the Nationals), Mets management has vowed to take an extended look at certain candidates for regular roles on next year’s roster.

Chief among these are Wilmer Flores at shortstop and Matt den Dekker in left, but clearly the construction of the 2015 lineup will depend on a host of factors beyond the numbers that those two can put up over the next seven weeks.

With the extent of the financial constraints imposed by ownership ever a subject of speculation on the part of a hopeful (and generally unrealistic) fanbase, the likelihood of the importation of game-breaking  talent along the lines of a Troy Tulowitzki remain a low-percentage possibility. Consequently, it makes sense to assume that while nothing should be ruled out if certain bats are made available on the trade market this winter, the expected course to be taken by the front office will hew close to the established pattern of searching for buy-low options to complement a group of young, cheap, controllable talent.

Not that such an approach cannot meet with success – we all console ourselves with reminders of the triumphs of small market dynamos like the Bay Area’s brace of seemingly perennial contenders, the A’s and Giants, but as this year’s squad heads inexorably toward a sixth straight losing finish, most of us are looking for something of a more radical departure from the standard practices of the front office and ownership to help jolt the team out of the doldrums.

The Curtis Granderson signing of last winter aside, big-ticket free agent signings still don’t appear to be the order of the day despite the returns on investment enjoyed by those partaking in the influx of Cuban talent over the past few years (the news that the cross-town Yanks are already moving toward negotiations with Rusney Castillo, the latest of these imports is both predictable and galling). No, it is clear that now that the Mets organization is in possession of a farm system that could be said to be at least somewhat “brimming” with talent, the trade market will likely hold the key to providing whatever quick fix can be found for an anemic lineup desperately in need of a supplement.

So the process of evaluation begins in earnest: who stays and who goes? Who qualifies as an “untouchable” and who is clearly an interchangeable part? Opinions will vary of course, but some assumptions can be made as to what designations are likely to be made. Accordingly, some thoughts on the subject:

ROTATION:  If the apparent starting five for next year is comprised of Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, Gee, and Niese, then the parts in play to either be dealt or used as replacements in the event of the trade of a member of the projected rotation are Bartolo Colon, Noah Syndergaard, and Rafael Montero. Naturally, outside of keeping Harvey and dealing Colon, the relative merits of retaining or dealing any member of this group (depending on the proposed return) could be debated endlessly. Clearly many would support the idea of dealing one of the finesse arms (Gee/Niese) to obtain a bat, but it is young, power arms that tend to be demanded in return for the most desirable offensive components on the market. Consequently, Messrs. Wheeler, deGrom, and Syndergaard would appear to be the most likely chips to be included in a deal that returns some legitimate thump. With all the recent scuttlebutt regarding scouts from the Cubs and Rockies watching Thor’s latest outing, it seems clear where their interest is focused. Still, I am nowhere near convinced that ownership is prepared to assume the Tulo contract and frankly, the home/road splits and health issues of Carlos Gonzalez concern me, so my hopes with respect to the implications of this interest rest with what the Cubs have to offer. Here we can be specific: Javier Baez or Addison Russell. The areas of need and areas of surplus talent match so well between the two teams that a swap seems only logical, but we can only cross our fingers here and hope. Because the Chicago Northsiders are more than an arm away from contention, they will probably look for more than a straight-up swap of top prospects, but I imagine that something could be worked out to the satisfaction of both sides. For the Mets’ part, Baez can now be considered major league ready while Russell has yet to play a game at AAA, but I would jump at the chance to obtain either. Naturally, the Cubs would likely prefer to deal the talented but defensively erratic Starlin Castro than either of the aforementioned duo, but I would certainly expect the Mets to insist on one of the two prospects.

INFIELD:  As Daniel Murphy continues to rack up one multi-hit game after another, one wonders how a team starved for offense could even consider trading the most prolific bat in their lineup.  Still, the contract considerations going forward as he approaches free agency in 2016 may push the Mets to make him available and open up the second base slot for an eventual long-term successor from within the system (numerous candidates exist as detailed in a previous post). One of those candidates, Wilmer Flores, is currently being given an audition at shortstop (or so the team claims), but also is being showcased as a versatile infield bat. In fact, one could rightly regard both Murphy and Flores as displaced third-sackers on a team whose primary veteran face occupies that position. Flores’ youth and record of having hit at every minor league stop makes him a worthwhile gamble for any team, in my opinion, but if he actually manages to establish a degree of legitimacy at short during the remainder of this season, he may provide enough of a fallback option for the front office to pass on a deal for a replacement if the demands are judged to be too high. After all, we all know you can’t have too much pitching, right?

CATCHER: Travis d’Arnaud is starting to resemble what was advertised and Kevin Plawecki will remain a valuable commodity at AAA for at least another season, so unless something very desirable is at stake, I don’t expect either to be moved, at least not yet.

OUTFIELD: If Matt den Dekker’s audition proves a success, the Mets will have another interesting chip to dangle during the offseason in the form of a legitimate center fielder, whether that is den Dekker himself or the human highlight reel known as Juan Lagares. One could probably toss Kirk Nieuwenhuis into that mix as well, although the team’s decision to assign him the role of fourth outfielder and bat-off-the-bench speaks somewhat to their regard for his abilities as a full-time player. Curtis Granderson’s presence on the waiver wire this past week, while not unusual in terms of typical moves by a front office in August, suggests that the Mets might well regard either den Dekker or Capt. Kirk as comparable replacements for the level of play the team has received from Grandy this season. If this is the case, they would also not hesitate to make him available during the winter, one would expect. But, 34 year-old players (as of the beginning of the 2015 season) with $47 million in contractual obligations need to produce at a higher level than this year’s tally to generate much interest. I expect he’ll be here for a while.

BULLPEN: Now that the Mets have finally established a mostly-reliable relief corps, it’s time to break them up, right? Not really, but it does make sense that other teams would be attracted to the contingent of hard-throwing righties at the back end of the NY pen. Mejia has warmed to the closer spot and even established a signature move (not a requirement but it does score some style points), while Familia and Black loom as potential ninth-inning men in either another setting or an alternate Mets’ universe. The return of Bobby Parnell next season, assuming he displays a return to form during spring training, creates the potential of a surplus of power relievers. Since teams don’t generally deal players coming off surgery during the off-season, one would expect that one of the proven and presumably healthy commodities could be had for the right price. Personally, Familia strikes me as the best bet for closer going forward as his WHIP (a stat more significant for relievers than starters, in my opinion) is much better than Mejia’s.  Same case with Vic Black, whose expressed preference for the closer’s role speaks to his temperament as well. Am I making a case to trade Jenrry? You decide.

As we all look for signs that the move into a “Golden Era of Contention” has arrived, we have all had to deal with the fatigue of yet another losing slog toward an off-season of dreams. Maybe this time around a few of those dreams will come true. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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Amazin’ Moments: Willie Comes Home Sat, 12 Jul 2014 14:00:10 +0000 As we all know, the Mets were created fill the gap left after the departure of the Giants and the Dodgers from the city of New York following the 1957 season. In the four year period before the advent of the Amazin’s, Gotham’s National League fans were left to follow their teams as best they could from afar (remember, no cable TV at this time nor webcasts, and radio coverage was spotty at best if you were following a west coast team). 

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For die-hard fans, and there were many, this was a hardship that was duly noted by the fledgling Met ownership which sought to assuage (or exploit, depending on how you look at it) their feelings of abandonment by bringing in notable Dodger greats like Gil Hodges and Duke Snider for a last go-round in a Met uniform.

But for fans of the “New York baseball Giants” as they were once referred to, there were no remaining links to the glory days of the team. Instead, they were left to scan the box scores or change their allegiance to the Yankees. The latter choice was anathema to most of the Giant faithful, including my father, who had regaled me with stories of following the 1951 pennant race by radio as many had done, and had exulted with much of the city as Bobby Thomson’s  “Shot Heard Round the World” was broadcast. His favorite player was not Thomson, however. It was the Giants’ wunderkind, Willie Mays.

Mays had a place in New York baseball folklore as part of a triumvirate of great center fielders along with Mickey Mantle and the Duke, but had a penchant for near-mythical displays that seemed to supersede his contemporaries. Who could forget “The Catch” where he tracked down Vic Wertz’ missile in the 1948 World Series or “The Throw” where he ran to catch a shot in the right field gap and spun on the dead run to unleash a throw like no one had ever seen to catch the Dodgers’ Billy Cox at the plate? Not to mention an MVP season in 1954 and a 1955 season where he clubbed 51 homers, a feat that was downright uncommon in the pre-steroid era.

willie2Mays would go on to more glory with the Giants, including a pennant in 1962, another MVP in 1965, Gold Gloves, perennial All Star appearances, and all the things that fans bask in when their team and their favorite player are in the limelight. But Mays was San Francisco’s now, even if those fans more readily embraced Willie McCovey. New York fans were left with their memories…and the Mets.

So, when the buzz began in May of 1972 that a deal was in the works to bring Willie back to the east coast, the “sleeping Giant” so to speak, of 1950’s New York baseball fandom began to stir. And lo, so it was, for a mere $50,000 and a middling right-hander named Charlie Williams, the Mets finally obtained what may have been the most symbolic link to the city’s baseball legacy.  And, largely symbolic it was, because at 41 years of age, Mays was clearly a shadow of his former self as a player. Still, his mere presence in a Met uniform was enough to drive fans into a state of excitement usually reserved for visits from the President or the Pope.

Fans flocked to Shea for the series against Mays’ now former employers the Giants. Willie was set to make his debut as a Met in the Sunday game on May 14th, but when the team needed a pinch hitter in the Friday game prior, fans began clamoring for manager Yogi Berra to send him to the plate. When John Milner emerged from the dugout instead, he was booed roundly “for not being Willie Mays” as I recall the announcer Lindsey Nelson reporting. Finally, the big day arrived and Mays was in the lineup, leading off and playing center field.

willie-mays2My dad and I watched the game together. He had been a fairly hard core NY Giants fan but had come over to the Met side of the dugout for the most part as his kids had “caught baseball fever” as a MLB marketing campaign had urged and gotten swept up in the championship run of 1969. But today was all about number 24 and his return to the fold.

If you are familiar with the game, you know that it began auspiciously for the Mets, with Giants pitcher Sam McDowell walking the bases full and then surrendering a grand slam to Rusty Staub. By the bottom of the fifth however, the Giants had tied the score and McDowell had been lifted in favor of right hander Don Carrithers. Mays led off the inning and unloaded on a fastball. As the ball cleared the fence in left and Mays trotted around the bases for the 647th time in his career, my father stopped grinning long enough to tell me “That’s the way it should be.” Cornball, but I swear it’s a true story.

That homer provided the winning edge as the Mets prevailed 5-4, and even though moments like that would be few and far between for the balance of Mays’ Mets career, the memory of that triumphant return and its near-poetic climax (hitting the homer in the bottom of the ninth would have clinched the poetic part, but let’s not squabble over details) remains indelible. The Mets and Mays had helped the New York branch of Giant fans to reclaim at least part of their legacy and gave the team that abandoned them a swat in the process. For that day, it was enough.

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Mets’ Farm System Has A Bumper Crop At Second Base Wed, 09 Jul 2014 19:44:49 +0000 Much has been made of the Met organization’s penchant for accumulating shortstop prospects in recent years, a strategy that has paid dividends for many teams in the past. Generally speaking, players capable of handling what is considered the most demanding defensive slot on the fair territory side of the field are usually judged to be able to make the move to any other non-battery position if needed at a later time. If their bat looks to be enough of an asset to justify a starting role, it is assumed that they will find a place on the field where their glove will play effectively enough to hide any shortcomings that may have emerged over time.

Second base, interestingly enough, often seems to be a position in professional ball that is the repository for players who possess those shortcomings, either defensively, as with suspect range or a “fringy” arm, or if their bat won’t play at a more offensively oriented position such as corner infield or outfield. Naturally, there are many examples of second sackers who play brilliantly on both sides of the ball such as Chase Utley, but for every one of these there are a passel of “good glove-no stick” utility types or error-prone keystoners whose power (it is hoped) can offset their deficiencies in the field, a la Dan Uggla. Factors such as the tendencies of the pitching staff (flyball vs. groundball), the team’s home park (bandbox vs. pitcher’s haven), and the makeup of the rest of a team’s active roster can influence what type of players draw the 4 position assignment as well.

Second base has not been a storied position in Met team history. Clearly, Edgardo Alfonzo ranks as the best all-around player on the list, and some past-their-prime luminaries have filled the slot for a time as well (Carlos Baerga, Roberto Alomar), but generally, the Mets have run out a group of players there who could do something offensively and provide enough in the way of defense to keep the word “liability” from being mentioned in the same sentence with their name on a too-regular basis. Of course, the greatest offensive powerhouse to have played second in a Met uniform was Jeff Kent, but he saved his MVP-level performances for his future employers.

Interestingly, now that Daniel Murphy has established himself as one of the better offensive options in the league at the position, many are looking for him to be traded. While the merits of this idea can and have been debated, I thought it would prove insightful to look at the backlog of candidates to replace him that the team appears to be accumulating throughout its farm system.


Triple-A Las Vegas

Wilmer Flores continues to make it known that his time has arrived. Yes, his prodigious recent power display has come in the hitter-friendly parks of the PCL, but at age 22 (turning 23 next month), his apprenticeship looks to be overlong. He needs a spot in the big club’s lineup. Murphy’s bat has necessitated his reclassification as a shortstop, but his future appears to be elsewhere in the infield. His minor league numbers may be enhanced by the rarified air of Las Vegas, but he still profiles as at least a .270+ hitter with 15+ HR potential. If that type of production comes with passable defense, most clubs would be thrilled.

Matt Reynolds, while not a name that has been listed among the team’s top prospects, has nonetheless hit his way into consideration over the past season and a half. Another ostensible shortstop, no scouting report projects him there as a regular. He lacks power or elite speed, but having hit above the .350 mark across two levels over half a season and posted a combined OBP of .424, he at least merits some consideration as at least a candidate for a spring training tryout in the leadoff spot.


Double-A Binghamton 

Dilson Herrera, who arrived last season from the Pittsburgh organization as part of the Marlon Byrd/John Buck deal that also netted current bullpen component Vic Black, may be relatively small in stature at 5’10” and 150 lb, but has also hit at every level, tallying a .312 career mark across rookie, low A, high A, and now AA levels. At only 20 years of age, his stroke is precocious enough (along with a hint of occasional pop) to intrigue.

T.J. Rivera, another “non-prospect” who went undrafted and signed as a free agent out of college, has done nothing but hit since joining the organization in 2011. In stints at Kingsport, Brooklyn, Savanna, St. Lucie, and now Binghamton, he has batted a composite .346 with an OBP of .392. Like Reynolds, he lacks the added dimension of plus power or speed, and at age 25 is older than is typical for his level, but his numbers demand consideration as a utility player if nothing else. Anyway, even Mike Piazza was only drafted as a “courtesy.”


Advanced-A St. Lucie 

L.J. Mazzilli, he of the pedigree, has shown a bit of his Dad’s hard-nosed style and a tad more power than the typical middle infielder in the Met organization. The 23-year old is in his second year of pro ball, now manning second for St. Lucie after a mid-season promotion from low A Savannah. Drafted in the fourth round last year out of the University of Connecticut, he had a respectable showing with short-season Brooklyn last year and has improved across the board this year with better numbers in average, slugging, and OBP. Definitely one to watch.

Single-A Savannah

Jeff McNeil, taken 8 rounds after Mazzilli out of Long Beach State, was assigned to Kingsport of the Appalachian League and hit .329 over the course of 164 AB while showing some base-stealing ability with 11 bags in 13 attempts. After showing similar numbers at Savannah this year (.332 with 15 steals in 18 tries over 232 AB) and making the Sally league All-Star team, he was promoted to St. Lucie where so far, he is demonstrating a need to adjust to elevated level of play.

While we all may find ourselves waiting a bit for Messrs. Evans, Cecchini, or Rosario to lay a claim to the shortstop position in Citifield, it appears that at least with the other half of the middle infield combo, a plethora of candidates may thrust themselves into the picture relatively soon. Competition at positions is said to be a good thing. In any event, it appears that the Mets should have no lack of supply of it at second base for years to come.

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Abreu, Colon and the Alderson Strategy Sun, 15 Jun 2014 13:08:23 +0000 bobby abreu mets win

Mid-June has arrived and with it another unfortunate dose of reality: for all the public pronouncements of 90-win expectations and suggestions that the franchise had at last “turned the corner,” it is clear that the strange territory staked out by Mets management – that of “betwixt and between” a full-fledged rebuilding and a half-hearted attempt at competitiveness – remains the order of the day. Without the aid of a legitimate big market bankroll to attract a difference-making bat or two, and lacking the rapid enough development of key position players from within the farm system, the Mets’ offense remains a stubbornly unbalanced proposition, adept at getting players on base (witness the league leading team walk totals) but chronically inept when it comes to driving them in. Add in the self-imposed sabotage of Terry Collins’ futile attempts to wring production out of the likes of Chris Young while alternatives that might actually plug one of the gaping holes in the lineup (at least to a degree) rot on the bench, and there is nary a light to be seen at the end of this particular tunnel.

The team’s 6-2 victory over the Padres on Friday does shine some illumination on what the likely scenario is for how this season will play out. As many have noted, it was the performance of the most senior members of the roster, Messrs. Abreu and Colon that had the most to do with adding another increasingly rare tally to the “W” side of the board for the Futile Flushing Faction this past Friday. And while Abreu’s four-for-four at the plate and Colon’s string of 18 straight retired Padres likely brought a smile to anyone who appreciates veteran players showing their younger counterparts how it’s done, it is hugely obvious that the greatest value both of these two have to the Mets at this point is as trade bait for teams that are actually going somewhere this season. So, could it be that this was the strategy all along? The answer here is “of course,” and clearly the intent was the same with Chris Young as well had he performed at a level closer to “thoroughbred” than “glue factory denizen.”

Brought in on behalf of the Wilpons by Bud Selig as much for his temperament as his baseball acumen, Sandy Alderson has managed to embody the adjectives “enigmatic” and “circumspect” about as well as anyone faced with the scrutiny of the NYC press corps can do. Charged with implementing a successful small-market strategy in the face of the fiscal restraints the Wilpon family continues to obliquely treat as “the late unpleasantness,” Alderson has had the unenviable task of having to carry out his mission while maintaining the façade that somehow, the process at hand is different than that conducted by his counterparts in Minnesota, Kansas City, and Oakland. Because of the need to placate the Met fanbase and the omnipresent press/blog/sportstalk presence that hovers continuously, he has become a master of suggestion and innuendo merely to provide grist for various mills while consistently underplaying the idea that anything of real substance with regard to the evolution of the on-field product he oversees is imminent.

Other than this well-deserved credit for walking a public relations tightrope with the skill of a Wallenda, perhaps the thing that Alderson has done best since taking the reins in Flushing is wrangling prospects from other organizations in return for whatever assets the team possesses that embody the type of immediate and transitory value that contenders are willing to pay well for. Beltran, Byrd, Buck, and Dickey become Wheeler, Black, Herrera, Syndergaard, D’Arnaud, and Becerra, and before you know it, a dynasty is born! Well, in our dreams, perhaps, but while every Met fan’s patience has been tried mightily, the farm system has evolved to at least provide a source of solace if not productive hitters. So what now awaits the Mets’ 40-somethings? With veteran starting pitching perhaps the most sought after commodity for team’s entering a legitimate pursuit of post-season glory, one would have to guess that once the bidding wars over Jeff Samardzija and David Price have subsided (and from the looks of it the Cubbies are getting things started already with Samardzija), Bartolo Colon will look mighty good to a number of teams, particularly those in the AL where fans will be deprived of the admittedly entertaining sideshow that comprises his at-bats. The case with the rejuvenated (or perhaps “resurrected”) Abreu is similar, as his skills, while primarily that of a DH, appear to be sharper than anyone could have expected at this point in his career.

Colon’s contract, while seemingly an overpayment to many at the time, now appears to be, while not a stroke of genius, at least a surprisingly positive aspect with respect to his value as a bargaining chip. Granted, he remains the oddity that he is – an aging, pear shaped, PED-tainted apparent risk that seems liable to break down at any given moment. But as long as he continues to stay in the groove he’s found and set down batter after batter with the ease of a seasoned professional, teams in search of pitching will not be able to barter down the Mets’ position based on his status as a “rental.” Abreu, by virtue of his “scrapheap” pedigree will likely command less in the way of a return in trade value, but considering that Marlon Byrd and John Buck returned both a useful bullpen arm and an apparently legitimate infield prospect, one has to expect that if a worthwhile return is to be found for the veteran bat, Alderson is the one to find it.

As for the many Met fans clamoring for the exchange of some of the team’s youthful pitching depth in return for some much needed offensive sock, they would all be well advised to wait for the off-season for such a trade to materialize. This is simply not the kind of deal that generally occurs in the heat of battle when teams are trying to arm themselves to the teeth for a post-season run. Better to wait until December and hope for the kind of lightning to strike that put a 24-year old Miguel Cabrera in a Tiger uniform in exchange for…who? While this type of result may only be a fantasy, we may at least see what the impending return of Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell to the mound staff do to the team’s willingness to use some of its seeming embarrassment of pitching riches as ransom for a batsman or two that come from somewhere other than the bargain bin.

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Chris Young Strikes Out Four Times, Now Batting .196 Sun, 15 Jun 2014 01:17:53 +0000 chris young bp

Chris Young may have had one of his worst games as a Met today, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and failing to hustle on a line drive into the outfield that got by him.

Young saw his batting average drop to .196 with a .283 on-base percentage. The fans at Citi Field let him have it, booing and jeering Young after each long walk from home plate to the dugout.

“You’re out there busting your butt. You’re trying to do your best,” Young said. “As a player, that’s all you can do. You can’t control anything else. There’s a lot of negative energy coming my way.”

“You have to be a professional and continue to keep pushing and playing hard for this team. And you hope that some of it can turn that negative energy into positive energy to support us and help us fight through this.” 

The situation with Young continues to deteriorate and the losses that are mounting for the Mets only make his constant presence in the lineup more glaring.

June 8 – The Chris Young Conundrum

As the baseball season moves into its third month, we have received a fairly representative sample of what to expect from the Mets’ offense going forward. While most of what we’ve seen has largely been disappointing, there have been some encouraging signs that have emerged since the firing of Dave Hudgens – a move that appeared largely symbolic of the overall frustration with the moribund Met lineups that have failed time and again to produce anything resembling a consistent level of run production. With the presence of Wilmer Flores to spur him on, Reuben Tejada, while still hardly a terror at the plate, nevertheless appears to be playing like a man on a mission and has shed the strangely apathetic approach of last season and actually swung the bat with a measure of consistency. In the past few weeks, Lucas Duda has started to look something like the run producer that team management has been waiting for and Curtis Granderson appears to be getting closer to a more typical level of production than what his anemic first month in a Met uniform seemed to portend.

The veteran sticks of Wright and Murphy seem to be well within their expected ranges of offensive output (albeit with a bit less power than one might expect from Wright), and while Travis d’Arnaud’s failure to hit much of anything to this point is problematic, it is important to remember that the young backstop is still a rookie, and one that comes with enough of a hitting pedigree that perhaps a greater degree of patience than one would prefer to exhibit is called for. Until he was sidelined by injury, Juan Lagares was holding up his end at the plate satisfactorily as well.

So all this leaves Left Field up for consideration, a position which by its very nature has developed as an “offensive” placement. While whatever fielding prowess brought by  those who draw the assignment there is certainly appreciated, weak throwing arms and lumbering gaits are largely tolerated in exchange for a hoped-for degree of sock. During the off-season, Met fans clamored for a signing or trade that would fill this very real need, and the success (to this point) of available free agents Nelson Cruz and Michael Morse with the teams that chose to sign them makes the team’s decision to go with Chris Young look like a gamble gone wrong.

Yes, we can understand the thinking, to a degree. Cruz was originally seeking a much larger contract than what he eventually settled for with Baltimore, and neither he nor Morse could be considered a viable candidate to fill in as an occasional center fielder, a professed consideration in the signing of Young. And yes, we get that this represented an attempt to repeat the “lightning in a bottle” scenario that was the unexpectedly positive result of installing Marlon Byrd in right field last year. But at this point, with the season as far along as it is, it is becoming increasingly apparent that what the Mets have in Chris Young is very likely the same as the A’s had last year: a low-average hitter with a bit of speed and a bit of power but not enough of either to justify his receiving the majority of at-bats from among the available candidates.

Of course, there is no certainty that given the opportunity, either Andrew Brown or Eric Campbell would bolster the lineup to a greater degree than Young, but wouldn’t you like to at least see one or the other get an extended look? The problem of course, is Mr. Young’s contract and management’s apparent need to justify it. Terry Collins continues to talk about getting Young “going,” but barring a sudden and unexpected turnaround, this would appear to be nothing more than dutiful, yet hollow words of support. Young looks to be exactly what he is, and not much more. Another rookie flash who faded after a promising debut a la Joe Charboneau.

So, burdened with one of the one of the least productive lineups in baseball, will the Mets continue to run Chris Young out, albeit with occasional but increasingly more frequent benchings in favor of the much older but much more productive Bobby Abreu or the AAAA-labeled but potentially productive Brown/Campbell tandem? My guess is yes, at least until the amount remaining on his $7.25 million contract has eroded enough that releasing him has becoming palatable to the Wilpon/Alderson brain trust. While I bear Young no ill will, as a fan I find myself in that strange position of craving team offense but dreading any minor hot streak on his part contributing to it as it will have the effect of, to paraphrase Bill James with respect to an aging Gary Gaetti, keeping his useless carcass in the lineup.

With no consistent source of power and almost uncanny ability to waste scoring opportunities, this Met lineup cannot afford to keep slotting a player of Young’s abilities into the left field position. The question is, at what point will team management acknowledge this and move on? I, for one, hope it is sooner rather than later.


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Eric Campbell Rates A Closer Look Sun, 18 May 2014 12:00:00 +0000 eric campbell

OK, call me a front-runner if you must, but based on what I’ve seen of Eric Campbell so far (and with a mere handful of at-bats it ain’t much), he looks to have qualities that would do much to inject some sorely needed jolt into the Mets’ lineup. I speak not so much of numbers, as the vast majority of his stats are those of the minor league variety, but rather the look he possesses at the plate – that of a discerning hitter with a good eye and a quick bat, a more “mature” hitter if you will. At age 27, Campbell appears to have reached that developmental sweet spot where game experience and youthful reflexes meld to create what is often the beginning of the prime of many players’ careers. When a hitter looks as relaxed yet as potentially lethal at the plate as Campbell has, it sticks out in a lineup like the Mets typically field where the only comparable component is Daniel Murphy, who just happens to be the best hitter on the team at this point.

Naturally, finding Campbell more playing time would cost someone else theirs, and profiling basically as a corner infielder his slot would be most likely at first base. So is it poor Lucas Duda’s fate to be relegated to the bench again just when he thought the matter was finally settled with the trade of Ike Davis? Maybe so. An examination of the numbers of both players over their minor league careers reveals relatively similar figures with respect to average and OBP, with a slight edge toward Duda in slugging percentage. What is more revealing are the walk to strikeout ratios of the two, particularly over the last few seasons. Duda’s composite numbers in this area covering 2012, 2013, and the first six weeks of this season (including both minor and major league appearances) show a K/BB ratio of .48 based on 147 walks to 306 strikeouts over the course of 1034 AB’s. Conversely, Campbell’s K/BB ratio over the same period registers an eye-opening .92 based on 145 walks to 157 strikeouts over the course of 883 AB’s. In other words, nearly an identical number of walks despite 151 fewer AB’s, and a strikeout rate about 40% lower than Duda’s. For a team that professes to follow a hitting philosophy that’s all about getting on base, you would think that Mr. Campbell’s numbers would rate some attention.

None of this is to say that Eric Campbell is the answer to fixing what has become one of the most maddeningly impotent lineups Met fans have had to endure in a while. It is just that if legitimate power isn’t really part of your game, you have simply got to be able to string some hits together consistently and Campbell’s game plays better toward this end than Duda’s. And yeah, Campbell may be more reminiscent of Dave Magadan at the plate with his heavy topspin than the kind of slugger we all daydream about in a typical first sacker, but as we’ve hardly seen much more than the usual in the way of longballs from the Dude (a rate of about 1 tater per 29 AB’s), the give-up in terms of slugging would not appear to be a deal breaker.

Would a straight platoon be in order? I think not. This would still have the effect of giving the majority of at-bats to Duda over Campbell, and based on his minor league batting splits since 2012 (.293 vs. RHP and .365 vs. LHP), the team would still appear to be better off giving the Soup Man the lion’s share of hacks. When a team with the generally anemic offense that the Mets have finds a possible means of augmenting their lineup from within the organization, can they really afford not to explore it? After all the Duda vs. Davis nonsense fans had to endure while the team’s management fiddled with the roster to seemingly little effect, would it not be fitting that the answer for first base turned out to be someone other than either of the apparently anointed candidates?

Regardless, Campbell’s apparent batting prowess deserves a more extensive trial. Hopefully his versatility and continuing contributions will compel Terry Collins to find a way to shoehorn him into the lineup on a regular basis.


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Gee and Niese Are A Quietly Effective Tandem Thu, 08 May 2014 12:26:14 +0000 jon niese

2014: 1.82 ERA – 1.01 WHIP – 1.3 WAR

Flashy. Fire-balling. Intimidating. Adjectives like these are not the kind of descriptors one generally associates with either Dillon Gee or Jon Niese, but since others along the lines of “intelligent,” “consistent,” and most significantly, “effective” can be accurately applied, perhaps the rest simply do not matter.

As the steadiest members of the Mets’ 2014 rotation, at least to date, the two represent a left/right tandem of workmanlike reliability that has been the primary factor in a start that has been reasonably solid for a team that flat out hasn’t hit a lick.

Representing 40% of the starting corps, the pair, who share a similar professional profile – that of a relatively young (late twenties) veteran with essentially major league average stuff – have formed a backbone for a coalescing staff that will ultimately be better known for featuring arms along the lines of the qualities referenced at the beginning of this piece. But while fans continue to daydream about a rotation that could eventually feature the trio of drool-worthy blazers that includes a healthy Matt Harvey, a more experienced and consistent Zack Wheeler, and an established Noah Syndergaard, the arms that will likely be most responsible for keeping the Mets a viable force in the NL East are the two that are plying their trade at the top of their game right now.

If one were given to flights of hyperbole, comparisons to the Braves vaunted lefty/righty tandem of control specialists, Messrs. Glavine and Maddux, could be evoked, and while it would be quite a leap to place the Met hurlers in the company of that HOF-bound duo, at least some stylistic similarities can be noted. Like the Atlanta pair, both Gee and Niese have honed the art of varying the speeds and locations of their pitches to remarkable effect, and have now reached a point of consistent quality from start to start such that they are in danger of being taken for granted for merely being excellent rather than spectacular. Their recent outings against two of the most formidable clubs to face on the road this season are indicative of their value as steadying forces. Gee’s six innings of shutout ball against the Rockies’ explosive lineup on May 4th allowed the Mets to salvage the final game of what proved to be a brutal series for much of the rest of the staff, and Niese’s brilliant effort against the Marlins the next night (seven scoreless) was marred only by the bullpen’s inability to hold the fort after he left the game.

dillon gee

2014: 2.51 ERA – 1.05 WHIP – 1.2 WAR

While team management has demonstrated their recognition of Niese’s longer term value by signing him to what will likely prove a team-friendly deal prior to the 2012 season (5 years at $25.27 million with team options for 2017 and 2018), Gee’s contract status remains year-to-year at this point. If his performance remains at or near its current level however, it is likely that as he enters his arbitration eligible years the Met brass will move to secure his services under a more clearly delineated arrangement. At the same time, with the likes of Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero, and the near-mythic Syndergaard all looming on the Met pitching horizon, the sheer reality of numbers comes into to play and raises the ever-present possibility (and inevitability) of a deal being made to both relieve what looks to be a future logjam and to address the ongoing team issues of offense and the bullpen. While both Gee and Niese would be highly attractive trading chips for all the reasons previously described, it seems unlikely that the organization would look to deal its only left-handed starter, leaving Gee as the likely asset to be moved if a veteran were to be dealt.

From my standpoint, I would rather look to deal one of the younger, more potential-oriented arms as the Mets look to be moving into a period of what should be consistent contention. While Gee may not evoke the comparisons and projections that some of his harder throwing roster mates do, his low-key, consummately professional approach is likely to prove an important asset for years to come. For now, the potential of all those great young arms remains just that – potential. If the Mets ever get around to addressing their need at shortstop by way of a trade, it is likely that the attraction of one of those arms may prove necessary to getting a deal done (are you listening Arizona?).

For now, with the season really just underway, we should expect the usual personnel shuffling to occur as the kind of fine tuning that teams typically engage in after a month or so takes place. Perhaps we will see Jenrry Mejia move to short relief or possibly the closer’s role and Dice-K shift back to the rotation. Possibly Jeurys Familia will be given a greater role and the patience needed to establish himself as a more primary relief option. Maybe we will hear more of efforts to give a couple of the young guns some bullpen exposure at Las Vegas in anticipation of a mid-season move to fortify the big club’s relief corps. Regardless, the team should be able to at least continue to rely on their two models of consistency to act as the glue holding staff together.

Looking ahead to 2015, adding Matt Harvey back to the starting pitching mix by itself goes a long way to setting expectations on a higher level than we as fans have become accustomed to in the last few years. If we add to this the Niese/Gee factor, that of a core of, well, taken-for-granted quality pitching, then much of what remains to be considered in respect to the starting staff becomes playing with various combinations of the “great young arms” element. A luxury, to be sure, and one afforded to the Mets primarily by virtue of the presence of two of the least flashy components of their staff.

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Featured Post: Pitching is Still the Best Path to the Postseason Tue, 11 Mar 2014 00:15:07 +0000 When asked to describe the Mets’ biggest need to be addressed in the coming offseason, most of us would almost automatically talk about the team’s offense first.  To be sure, after coming in 23rd out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored, there can be no doubt that the myriad of offensive woes bandied about throughout this past season will need to be redressed if the Flushing squad is to have any realistic chance of competing in 2014. But an examination of league and MLB stats for 2013 is revealing when isolating what has separated the playoff-bound squads from the rest of the pack.

The top five teams in the NL in pitching all reached the postseason this year, and not coincidentally were the only teams in the league to reach or exceed the 90-win plateau. By contrast, two of the top five finishers in NL runs scored, Colorado and Arizona, finished well out of the running, finishing with 74 and 81 wins respectively. In the AL, the top pitching team was Kansas City, but the Royals fell short of the championship rounds by virtue of an anemic offense that wound up scoring more than 200 fewer runs than the league champion Red Sox. Outside of this exception, the remaining top six finishers in league ERA all made it to at least a Wild Card slot.

bobby parnellOn the offensive side, Baltimore was tied with Cleveland for 4th in the league in runs scored but failed to notch a playoff slot as their 10th-best rated pitching proved too big an obstacle to overcome. The Indians, a few notches better at 7th in the league, were able to get a brief taste of fall competition before being bounced by Tampa Bay in Wild Card play.

The takeaway? Pitching wins pennants, to repeat an old saw, although we should throw in the added condition of having at least a league-average offense. This being the case, how much would the Mets have to improve to achieve a top-five quality mound staff to go with at least a middle-of-the-pack group of batsmen? The answer is maybe not as far as you would think.

The Mets finished the season with a 3.77 team ERA, good for 8th in the NL. A more revealing set of stats are those for Quality Starts, where the team total of 94 was tied for 2nd in the league (with Cincinnati), and relief ERA where the team’s figure of 3.98 was good (or bad) for 12th in the circuit. Clearly the ongoing Achilles’ heel of the bullpen was to blame for much of what proved to be yet another go-round of mediocrity for the Orange and Blue.

While addressing the absence of Matt Harvey will be foremost in the minds of many when looking at the team’s mound-staff for next season, clearly finding someway to finally shed the albatross of an underperforming bullpen simply MUST be achieved for the team to have a real chance to compete.

On the offensive side, the Mets finished with a total of 619 runs scored, 30 below the league average and good for 11th in the NL. While this is decidedly uninspiring, it should be noted that the Pirates also finished below the league average in scoring with 634, but were boosted to their first postseason slot in decades by a pitching staff that finished 3rd in league ERA, due in no small part to their bullpen which led the league in saves and trailed only Atlanta in relief ERA.

So while looking to boost offensive production remains an important goal, it would seem that by putting even greater emphasis on pitching, particularly on the relief corps, Sandy Alderson and crew would be doing more to actually move the Mets closer to 90 wins and postseason play.

Building a solid relief corps has clearly been a challenge for this organization, but there’s reason for hope. With the development of Bobby Parnell into an apparently solid closer, promising arms like Vic Black, Gonzalez Germen, Scott Rice and Jeurys Familia, and the improvement of the ‘pen over the second half of the 2013 season, there will hopefully be enough of a foundation in place to make it less of a daunting task than usual.

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With Mike Baxter Gone, Who’s The Mets’ Primary LH Pinch Hitter? Wed, 08 Jan 2014 13:00:17 +0000  mike-baxter

Ah, the bat off the bench. Perhaps not the foremost thought in most minds when it comes to roster construction, but one that ends up being a major consideration at times, particularly when a game is on the line in the late innings. Bill James has held that the prototypical pinch hitter is a left-handed line-drive producer, able to take advantage of the natural excess of right-handed relievers in the game. He says that possessing a swing designed for hard, consistent contact when putting the ball in play is of the utmost importance.

For the past two seasons (and a small piece of 2011), Mike Baxter was the primary source of that element for the Mets, turning in a spectacular performance in 2012 with 11 pinch hits and 8 BB’s in 32 PA’s, good for a .458 batting average and an OBP of .559. While he dropped to a more pedestrian, but still respectable .286 average in the role in 2013.

Baxter’s overall numbers remain impressive: 21 hits and 11 BB’s in 71 pinch hitting appearances, good for a .350 BA and a .451 OBP. In addition, he knocked in 11 runs and struck out 11 times (guess there was something about the number 11) while also providing plus defense when being inserted into the game. Had he possessed a greater element of power or been able to play around the infield as well, the team might have considered retaining him as a utility player rather than allowing him to be snapped up off waivers by the Dodgers.

So who will take on the role now that the Whitestone kid has moved on to Chavez Ravine?

It would be safe to assume that another left-handed hitting outfielder will occupy a spot on the Mets’ 2014 bench, but with 2 ½ months or so to go until opening day and rumor of machinations involving Messrs. Davis, Duda, and Murphy still floating around, the composition of the roster that is fielded come April 1st may still provide some surprises.

eric young jr 2

Regardless, if we go with the most likely configuration based on current personnel, the Mets should field a team with 13 position players, and among the 5 reserves will be one catcher (Anthony Recker most likely), 2 infielders and 2 outfielders. With Josh Satin and Andrew Brown seemingly in line as RH bench players, and with Sandy Alderson avowedly searching for an additional backup middle infielder, Eric Young emerges as the likely candidate to succeed Baxter.

This is assuming that Juan Lagares prevails as the choice to man CF going into the season, and that Daniel Murphy remains at 2B (and likely becomes the default leadoff hitter). While these conditions are certainly not a lock considering the team’s desire to get EYJ and his league-leading SB total into the lineup, it may still shake out thusly unless moves are made. If so, Young possesses some desirable elements as a late inning option. Chief among these is his speed, something that can turn a dribbler into a hit easier than for most, and decrease the odds of a rally-killing DP being turned off a grounder. Additionally, as a switch-hitter and defender capable of playing both outfield and infield, his versatility can provide Terry Collins with an important element of flexibility. As a starter, his less-than-stellar OBP has drawn criticism in past years, but as pinch hitters are generally encouraged to be aggressive at the plate, this dimension of his game may be less of an issue going forward.

If circumstances conspire to rearrange the Mets’ roster to the point that Young is made a starter in the outfield or at second going into the season, the next candidate as the “new Baxter” will likely come from a group including Lucas Duda (if he is not traded or installed at 1B following a trade of Davis), Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Matt den Dekker. Of these, Nieuwenhuis has had the most experience and a surprising amount of success, registering 9-for-26 in the role over the past two seasons, good for a .346 tally. His 3-1 ratio of K’s to BB’s (12 K/4 BB) is the only cautionary mark, but one would hope that with Capt. Kirk’s history of adjusting to levels after advancement, we could anticipate a smaller percentage of whiffs if he finds himself on the big league club again.

As with many things with the Mets at this point, this role remains TBD. And while it is on the surface perhaps a minor element of the team, I’ve always valued a reliable bat in the pinch. Go get ‘em, Mike B., I’m sure the Dodgers will get your best effort. I just hope the Mets don’t have too much trouble finding a suitable replacement.

Presented By Diehards

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Sometimes The Best Trades You Make… Mon, 06 Jan 2014 18:56:40 +0000 Ike DavisDespite the seemingly non-stop buzz surrounding the Mets’ attempts to trade Ike Davis, something tells me that if they fail to consummate a swap, it may turn out to be the best overall result. Power, as we have been reminded repeatedly, has become a progressively scarcer resource throughout baseball since the tide of steroid use has receded.

The Met organization has never been a particularly plentiful source of longball threats in the course of its draft history, so when events conspire to produce an actual 30+ homer threat of the home-grown variety, you would think that the managerial mind trust would be loathe to part with that asset, ugly stretches of non-production or not.

And yet, here we are with Ike Davis being basically hawked to all comers like a Sham-Wow despite representing what a team like the Mets generally looks for: a relatively young power threat coming into his prime years, under team control, and looking to prove that he belongs. Wildly inconsistent or not, based on the additional factor of defense and the likely in-house alternatives, doesn’t Ike represent the best chance for this team to field the type of power threat generally associated with his position?

A few other factors suggest to me that selling low on Ike at this point could be a major mistake. One would be his almost extreme selectivity last season upon returning to the big club from his Vegas exile. While many decried his seeming transformation into a high OBP, low power type as evidence of a lack of aggressiveness, we can certainly contrast it with the early-season version of Ike who swung at nearly everything and see it as a stage in the evolution of a more polished hitter. Lest we forget, Ted Williams always emphasized the importance of getting a good pitch to hit, and while I am not suggesting that Ike is about to morph into the second coming of the Splinter, I would say that we should take his emphasis on improving his pitch recognition as a good sign.

Another factor that should enter into this picture is the addition of Curtis Granderson to the lineup and the clubhouse. While Granderson’s high strikeout totals are nothing to look to emulate, his consistent ability to produce hard-hit, long fly balls (which will likely clear the fences with less regularity in Citi Field), still reflects the approach of a hitter with a plan, something that could very well rub off on the Met first-sacker. Add in Curtis’ sunny disposition and you have a formula for a mentor that may be able to get through to the notoriously stubborn Davis.

Finally, with Ike entering his age 27 season this year, he will be at the age when many players begin to hit their stride and hopefully enter a period of peak production. With the Mets showing signs of emerging from their long dark tunnel, but still perceived to have a ways to go to achieving something other than purely Dark Horse status, rolling the dice one more time on Ike and his frustration-producing “potential” would seem a reasonable thing to do. I’m actually rooting for it.

Presented By Diehards

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The Fastest Path To The Post-Season Is Still Pitching Fri, 25 Oct 2013 13:02:02 +0000 When asked to describe the Mets’ biggest need to be addressed in the coming offseason, most of us would almost automatically talk about the team’s offense first.  To be sure, after coming in 23rd out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored, there can be no doubt that the myriad of offensive woes bandied about throughout this past season will need to be redressed if the Flushing squad is to have any realistic chance of competing in 2014. But an examination of league and MLB stats for 2013 is revealing when isolating what has separated the playoff-bound squads from the rest of the pack.

The top five teams in the NL in pitching all reached the postseason this year, and not coincidentally were the only teams in the league to reach or exceed the 90-win plateau. By contrast, two of the top five finishers in NL runs scored, Colorado and Arizona, finished well out of the running, finishing with 74 and 81 wins respectively. In the AL, the top pitching team was Kansas City, but the Royals fell short of the championship rounds by virtue of an anemic offense that wound up scoring more than 200 fewer runs than the league champion Red Sox. Outside of this exception, the remaining top six finishers in league ERA all made it to at least a Wild Card slot. On the offensive side, Baltimore was tied with Cleveland for 4th in the league in runs scored but failed to notch a playoff slot as their 10th-best rated pitching proved too big an obstacle to overcome. The Indians, a few notches better at 7th in the league, were able to get a brief taste of fall competition before being bounced by Tampa Bay in Wild Card play.

wheeler harvey

The takeaway? Pitching wins pennants, to repeat an old saw, although we should throw in the added condition of having at least a league-average offense. This being the case, how much would the Mets have to improve to achieve a top-five quality mound staff to go with at least a middle-of-the-pack group of batsmen? The answer is maybe not as far as you would think.

The Mets finished the season with a 3.77 team ERA, good for 8th in the NL. A more revealing set of stats are those for Quality Starts, where the team total of 94 was tied for 2nd in the league (with Cincinnati), and relief ERA where the team’s figure of 3.98 was good (or bad) for 12th in the circuit. Clearly the ongoing Achilles’ heel of the bullpen was to blame for much of what proved to be yet another go-round of mediocrity for the Orange and Blue.

While addressing the absence of Matt Harvey will be foremost in the minds of many when looking at the team’s mound-staff for next season, clearly finding someway to finally shed the albatross of an underperforming bullpen simply MUST be achieved for the team to have a real chance to compete.

On the offensive side, the Mets finished with a total of 619 runs scored, 30 below the league average and good for 11th in the NL. While this is decidedly uninspiring, it should be noted that the Pirates also finished below the league average in scoring with 634, but were boosted to their first postseason slot in decades by a pitching staff that finished 3rd in league ERA, due in no small part to their bullpen which led the league in saves and trailed only Atlanta in relief ERA.

So while looking to boost offensive production remains an important goal, it would seem that by putting even greater emphasis on pitching, particularly on the relief corps, Sandy Alderson and crew would be doing more to actually move the Mets closer to postseason play. Some solid pieces are in place or potentially available in players such as Bobby Parnell, Carlos Torres, Scott Rice, Vic Black, Jeurys Familia and (hopefully) LaTroy Hawkins. Improvement will be needed from those who play the role of workhorse middle men a la Scott Atchinson and David Aardsma, and abysmal showings along the lines of what was obtained from the inconsistent Greg Burke and the now-departed Robert Carson and Brandon Lyon will have to be eliminated as much as possible.

Building a solid relief corps has clearly been a challenge for this organization, but with the development of Parnell into an apparently solid closer and the improvement of the ‘pen over the second half of the 2013 season (3.68 ERA, down from a first half mark of 3.83), there will hopefully be enough of a foundation in place to make it less of a daunting task than usual.

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Rockies Have What We Need In Tulo and CarGo, But Do We Have What They Need? Fri, 20 Sep 2013 16:36:47 +0000 sad mets benchAs the season draws to a close, Met management may be flicking the occasional glance west toward Denver, home of a team with a similar won/lost record but with notably dissimilar team stats. While the Mets sit in the middle third of the league in both runs scored (10th) and pitching (8th), the Colorado Rockies present a study in contrasts sitting 3rd in the league in scoring but dead last in pitching. Strangely, some of what is being written about the Rockies’ off-season trade targets suggests that they are interested in young position players rather than pitching, but based on their stats this conclusion makes little or no sense to me. Accordingly, they seem a logical trade partner for the Mets, a team with a wealth of pitching prospects.

The Rocks have had an asset the Mets have reportedly lusted after for some time in the person of one Carlos Gonzalez, the oft-mentioned “slugging outfielder” that fans have longed for to fill a corner position. But to ratchet up the level of wishful thinking even higher on this trade fantasy, indications are that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki could be had for the right price as well. With the New York squad apparently considering an import at short as well as the outfield, are the ingredients for a mile-high blockbuster in place?

From a business perspective, this would represent a big leap back into the high salary pool for the team as Tulo is now entering the megabucks part of a contract that runs through the 2020 season (with a team option for 2021). After pulling down $10 million this season at age 28, his compensation is set to rise to $16 million next year and then to a cool $20 million per for the following five seasons. His pay then drops to $14 mil in his walk year but with a team $15 million option for the next season with a $4 million buyout. At a price of at least $134 million for the next seven years it’s not exactly chickenfeed, but not unlike the kinds of contracts common with other big market teams. The 27-year old Cargo carries with him a somewhat less burdensome pay package as he is scheduled to pull down $63.5 million over the next 4 years.

troy tulowitzkiOutside of the expense, the biggest concern with these two is their health issues.  Both have missed a fair amount of action in the last few years, particularly Tulo who appeared in only 47 games in 2012 after groin surgery ended his season early. Having suffered a broken wrist in 2010 and a fractured rib this year, one couldn’t accuse him of dogging it, but “injury-prone” is still not a descriptor that gets anyone excited.

Gonzalez will likely require surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right middle finger this winter and has missed time in the past with a wrist injury. As players age, they generally don’t recover as quickly, so keeping these guys on the field enough to justify their contracts would be a challenge that any team dealing for them would have to accept.

So, a couple of major concerns right off the bat. Still, what a couple of bats! Cargo boasts a batting championship (2010) and a couple of Gold Gloves to go with a Silver Slugger award while Tulo checks in with a pair each of Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves. Cargo’s left-handed sock would fill the space neatly between the righty bats of Wright and Tulo in the lineup that has already started appearing in my fevered mind. In Cargo, the Mets would add the type of all-around threat that outfield has lacked since the departure of Carlos Beltran.

With Tulo they would also add their own Jeteresque presence to the infield, an offensive force at short the like of which has never seen steady duty in a Met uniform.  Would their numbers translate from the rarefied air of Coors Field to the somewhat pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field? Possibly, albeit with a likely adjustment downward in power numbers. Of course, Tulo has already demonstrated his ability to launch the ball in Queens during a memorable four game series sweep in April of 2011 where he went 10-for-16 and homered in each game.

Now, assuming management and ownership would be willing to pony up the considerable scratch to assume their contracts, the next question would focus on what would need to be sent in the other direction to convince the Rocks to make the deal.  Given the dearth of effective pitching currently on the Colorado staff, you could probably put any number of packages together that would feature a combination of veteran and up-and-coming arms, but here is where one upside to Matt Harvey’s troublesome UCL makes itself known: while it is virtually impossible that the Mets could have been persuaded to include their young stud in any deal, his arm concerns now make the matter a moot point.

Potential trade partners will more likely focus on the two most prominent system arms – Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard – but it is likely that the Rockies will look for a proven youngish veteran along the lines of Dillon Gee or Jonathan Niese. Expect a bat to go as well, with the most likely being Daniel Murphy (who has been “dealt” in so many hypothetical trades at this point that it’s becoming routine to include him) and Ike Davis as Colorado looks to fill the slot vacated by Todd Helton’s retirement.

Could they? Would they? Other organizations have gambled on “big fix” deals recently and the results have not always been pretty. Certainly Toronto’s big swaps with the Marlins and Mets did not produce anything near the results projected during the past off season, but on the other hand, the Dodgers enormous salary/talent grab involving multiple deals and free agent signings appears to have paid off. While a deal of this type is not the sort normally associated with a Sandy Alderson organization, we might see a smaller version of it become reality at least now that a goodly portion of contract money is coming off the books. Anyway, we can always dream, can’t we?

Thoughts from Joe D.

There’s nothing I would want more than to give this roster a heart and brain transplant. As one reader wrote this morning, the faces on this team are becoming a blur. We have no star quality veterans that can pair with what the youth movement we have going on. There’s an excitement for the future, but it’s tempered with the doubts that the money to fill in the gaps won’t be spent.

Adding Tulo would be something else, adding CarGo would be just as incredible, but the Rockies are not gambling either of them for pitching prospects and they want MLB ready bats in return – something the Mets can’t provide. Slumping and low-performing players like Ike Davis and Lucas Duda are more like throw-ins and not players to build a mega-deal around. Dillon Gee will have to produce at this level for another year before teams will be ready to break the bank for him. The point is we don’t match up and would need a third team to get involved if we were to try and go after either of these players.

The tough part here is that almost everyone believes CarGo will be traded and some say if he goes then Tulo will go too. Considering the impact each would make on the Mets, it’s tough facing the realization that we don’t have a chance to deal for either of them at this time.

Maybe if a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s or Kansas City Royals were to become involved, there’s a chance we can move Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero to them for the pieces to acquire one of CarGo or Tulo. Sending Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores to Colorado may also be part of the deal.

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Featured Post: Balancing Growing Pains With Search For Run Production Fri, 09 Aug 2013 22:13:02 +0000 wilmer floresThe long-anticipated arrival of Wilmer Flores to the Mets’ big league roster highlighted two areas of concern for the organization going forward: first, the dearth of viable position player prospects at the upper levels of the system, and second, the need for a modicum of patience on the part of fans and management alike to allow those few prospects that emerge sufficient time to develop and adapt their skills to the majors.

With most satisfied that the team’s pitching is an area of strength by virtue of both the talent level and the sheer number of young arms at or near the big league level, more attention is being focused on addressing the long-term needs of the offense.

With the addition to the lineup of Flores and Juan Lagares, fans are getting a look at what may be two main components of the Mets’ future. When Travis D’Arnaud finally makes his debut, most likely as a September call-up, another important piece will be added to the mix. The question now is, how will the development of these players and others in the organization be handled in light of the team’s pressing need for more consistent run production?

A closer look at the Met offense reveals a startling disconnect: although the team ranks a surprising 7th in the league in runs (ahead of division rivals Washington and Philadelphia, as well as division leaders Pittsburgh and LA), it ranks near the bottom in average, slugging, and OPS, leading only the Marlins in each of those categories. While this suggests that the Mets have made the most of the offense they do have, it also suggests that they have been the beneficiaries of a large degree of luck.

To be fair, it should be noted that the organization’s emphasis on getting on base seems to have had an effect – the team is ranked 3rd in the league in walks, trailing only the Reds and the Braves. Interestingly enough, the team OBP (a mere .307) ranks 12th in the NL, indicating that without all those walks, the Mets would really be starved for scoring chances.

And so the quest continues for more offensive firepower to supplement what many hope is an emerging pitching powerhouse. To put that in perspective, it is important to remember that there is still significant work to be done before anointing the construction of the Met mound staff as a fait accompli. At present, the team’s pitching ranks 9th in the league with a respectable 3.76 ERA. But a glance at the leaderboard shows why Pittsburgh has been so dominant despite scoring fewer runs – their team ERA of 3.07 along with 14 shutouts and 40 saves leads all of baseball, suggesting that the road to the postseason can be traveled primarily on the strength of a team’s arms rather than its bats.

Still, it seems that most of the frustration expressed by fans and the organization this season has been related to the team’s inability to score runs, particularly late in games. Winning does much to quiet such grousing however, and if the team winds up on the right side of the score in most of its games, even if it’s a comparatively low score, most everyone will be satisfied. Of course, this is easier said than done, and management will be expected to address production issues at certain positions (i.e. first base, shortstop, outfield) during the upcoming offseason. Given that some of the organization’s most promising young players will figure in the discussion, where will management look to supplement or possibly replace these players heading into 2014 and beyond?

OUTFIELD: While the sample size is relatively small, the current outfield configuration of Young, Lagares, and Byrd seems to have given the team a consistent enough balance of offense and defense to merit consideration of leaving this crew more or less intact. I say “more or less” as Byrd’s status for next season is certainly up in the air given his age, the outlier characteristic of his numbers, and the fact that his position is the preferred one of Shin-Soo Choo, a likely free agent target. Additionally, not all are convinced of Young’s legitimacy as an everyday player, but unless there is a drastic drop-off in his production between now and the end of the season, it is likely that the team will regard him as the incumbent leadoff man heading into next year. This leaves Lagares, whose defense alone has endeared him to both fans and management. That he has started to hit a bit, and shown a penchant for gap power has helped to solidify his case. If he can continue to develop and hold his own along the way, there would seem to be little reason to seek an upgrade. Thus, the most likely of this group to be replaced looks to be Byrd, despite his surprising 2013 production.

INFIELD:  If young Mr. Flores is to stick, it will be at either first or second base. Whether he will hit enough to merit the corner slot remains to be seen, but if the organization deems his potential as a second sacker sufficient, they will have to weigh the merits of allowing him to supplant Daniel Murphy. Personally, I’m a Murphy fan and would just as soon see him stick around at second and let Flores try his hand at first, but obviously there are numerous possibilities for juggling this situation. While it is possible that the infield could revert to an earlier incarnation if Reuben Tejada and Ike Davis manage to re-establish themselves, I think most of us sense that a change is likely. One possibility for the offseason here might involve a deal for a more offensively capable shortstop, and though clearly a longshot, a semi-blockbuster involving the Rangers’ Jurickson Profar would be a good use of the tradeable assets at hand. Dream on you say? Fine. Stranger things have happened. The oft-discussed possibility of signing Corey Hart for first remains an option which would put a decision regarding second base at the forefront of trade possibilities and unleashes a host of discussion topics regarding left/right lineup balance, contract status, defensive metrics, etc. That will have to wait for another time.

CATCHER: As long as Travis d’Arnaud can remain healthy (no small matter, so far), this should be a no-brainer. What interests me is whether or not Terry Collins will let him get enough breaks during the season, something that has clearly benefited John Buck when it has happened, and something that, in my opinion, hasn’t happened enough.

As the roster takes shape going into next season, I foresee an improvement over this year, although not a quantum leap by any stretch. With the possibility of rookies and second year players occupying three or more positions in the field, “development” will continue to be a keyword for the Mets during the upcoming campaign. As a longtime fan, I’ve learned to be patient and appreciate the thrill of a homegrown player blossoming. If this kind of philosophy remains pervasive enough throughout the fan base to help carry the team through the likely growing pains that remain is debatable. Still, I feel the day that all that patience pays off is growing ever closer.

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Who’s On First? A Look At A Mets Position That’s Still Up In The Air Sun, 28 Jul 2013 02:10:16 +0000 Ike Davis not doing wellOutside of third base, there aren’t a lot of positions on the Mets that one could consider truly “locked up,” but first base is one that many felt had had a flag planted by Ike Davis by the end of last season. True, this would have been an assumption primarily based on 1 ½ seasons of decent play at the big league level, but players who have produced 30+ home run seasons along with an elite level of defense have been few and far between in club history. When one appears in the form of a first round draft pick who seems to be following a predictable course of development, the natural inclination is to pencil that player in for the next several seasons, at least. Now, in the face of two consecutive years characterized by lengthy and untenable dry spells, the team is now forced to look ahead to the option of non-tendering Ike if he fails to rebound sufficiently during the second half. Considering the very real possibility of this happening, what strategy should the Mets employ in finding a replacement?

IN HOUSE: There appears to be at least a few reasonable options if the team decides to go with players who are already part of the organization. At the major league level, the pending return of Lucas Duda will create a bit of a logjam now that left field has effectively been ceded to Eric Young. If Davis is not offered a contract by the team, Duda would be his logical replacement, either full time or as part of a platoon with Josh Satin. At AAA, it would appear that Wilmer Flores’ bat should earn him a shot at one of the slots on the right side of the infield, something that may have an impact on Daniel Murphy’s future as well. At the AA level, Allan Dykstra’s offensive emergence will probably ticket him as heir apparent to the first base slot in Las Vegas, but he will likely earn a spring training invite and at least get a chance to show if his apparent blossoming is for real.

FREE AGENT MARKET: The group of upcoming free agent first sackers (as presently comprised) is a mixed bag of mostly older spare parts or stars past their prime (Todd Helton, Eric Hinske, Xavier Nady, Paul Konerko, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Kevin Youkilis) mixed in with a group of 30-ish types of varying talent levels who could provide some intriguing alternatives (Corey Hart, Mike Napoli, Casey Kotchman, Adam Lind, James Loney, Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, Mike Morse, Mark Reynolds). Of this group, Hart, Loney, Kotchman, and Morneau can all acquit themselves well in the field while the rest are best regarded as DH candidates. Hart, despite missing this season with a knee injury, projects as a steady25-30 HR type who can also cover a corner outfield position if needed.  He will be 32 at the start of next season but with the right deal could be a decent choice to plug the gap during the next 4-5 years. Loney and Kotchman have been primarily regarded as good glovemen (who both seem to hit well in a Tampa Bay uniform), but don’t stand out as the kind of productive bat the Mets need to add. Morneau has had great years in the past, but is brittle and appears to be on the downside of his career.

The trade market always remains a possibility but there are no obvious fits here. Unless a fire sale of the type that netted Carlos Delgado from the Marlins ahead of the 2006 campaign happens, I wouldn’t expect the team to be able to import an established slugger via this route. If the long-term answer is expected to come in the form of recent draft pick Dominic Smith, the Mets will still need to fill the likely four-year span until his arrival with an eye toward competing well before that happens.

As a team that plays in what still must be considered a “pitcher friendly” park even after recent renovations, the Mets can certainly follow a model of an earlier, successful incarnation, that of the ’86 champions. That team, of course, featured Keith Hernandez at first, a fine hitter but certainly not the kind of prototypical masher that most envisioned manning his position. Yet he figured as a central force on two championship teams and won an MVP while finishing in the top 20 of that award’s voting on six other occasions, all without ever hitting more than 18 home runs in any given season. The key to his success lay in his ability to hit in the clutch but especially in his ability to get on base, as evidenced in the nine seasons in which he played at least 100 games and walked more than he struck out and in his lifetime OBP of .384.

While the Mets do not have anyone who projects as a Keith clone waiting in the wings (who does?) many of the organization’s first base candidates mentioned before profile in some ways as sharing some similarities, at least from an offensive standpoint. Duda, Satin, and Flores have all been lauded for their ability to get on base, and Dykstra flaunts a gaudy OBP of .462 as of this writing (albeit in AA).  While none of these players project to be the overall defensive/offensive package that Hernandez was, they may yet surprise with what they can bring to a lineup. We have already seen an uptick in the team’s run production over the past month thanks in part to changes at leadoff (Young) and the contributions of Josh Satin.

The situation at first for the Mets will continue to evolve during the balance of this season, into the offseason, and may not be resolved until the end of 2014’s spring training. I’m sure we will all be watching with interest.


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Mets Player Moves With An Eye Toward 2014 Thu, 11 Jul 2013 16:26:35 +0000 sandy aldersonAs the trade deadline nears, the debate grows more intense every day as to the approach the Mets should take with respect to their more marketable players. Should they approach next year with an expectation to contend and hold on to all key components of what appears to be a newly energized roster? Or should they be taking a hard look at the big picture for holes yet to be filled that may best be addressed by the trade market? It is an interesting conundrum that they find themselves in: showing real improvement in the past few weeks and playing some of their best ball of the season, but leaning heavily on outlier factors like a career season from a 35-year old journeyman (Marlon Byrd), a string of fine starts by a seeming scrap-heap pickup (Jeremy Hefner), and surprising production from a motley crew of mid-career role players (Josh Satin, Omar Quintanilla, Andrew Brown). Is this team whole greater than the sum of its parts? Possibly. If so, what represents the soundest course of action going forward?

Baseball is filled with examples of players who developed into regulars or at least steady, contributing major leaguers once they found the right opportunity at the right point of their development. I believe that this could certainly be the case with players such as Hefner and Satin. Hefner seems cut from the same cloth as former Met Rick Reed, whose career staggered along for years as he bounced between the minors and the bigs for various organizations before he found the right situation at age 32 in New York and subsequently reeled off 6 creditable seasons as a rotation regular for the Mets and Twins. Hefner may have found his niche at an earlier age (27) but displays a similar mix of the kind of pitches and guile that made Reed successful during his career peak. Satin may not have a position per se, but in a short time has impressed many with his strike zone judgment and ability to put the fat part of the bat on the ball.

Players such as Satin and Hefner represent one type of organizational development for the Mets: the ability to produce and/or collect useful players who, while probably lacking star-level abilities, still contribute enough to help push the team closer to contention. The surprisingly effective Carlos Torres fits in this category as well and has been a highlight of the suddenly stingy bullpen.

Gratifying performances from role players aside, the team as presently comprised still poses plenty of questions going forward, particularly for next season.  Catcher is certainly a position slated for change, as hopes remain for Travis D’Arnaud’s recovery and eventual ascension to the role presently held by John Buck. If the apparently brittle D’Arnaud can stay healthy and give a reasonable showing in September, he will be anointed as the new starter behind the dish. Given his lack of experience and checkered track record of durability, is it not reasonable to expect a period of adjustment for both him and the Mets’ mound staff before they get into the kind of groove that typically coincides with a winning record? Will the infield remain in a state of flux as answers are sought at short and first? What shape will the outfield take if management seizes the opportunity to deal Marlon Byrd for a useful future component? Now that the Tigers have apparently found a closer they can live with in the person of Joaquin Benoit, will the Red Sox come calling after Bobby Parnell and will the Mets listen?

eric young pointsBecause the Mets’ pitching staff has started to flash the potential so many have looked for and the offense has picked up since the arrival of Eric Young Jr., hopes and expectations are high both for the near-term and the long run. Odds are that the second half will prove more successful than the first, but ultimately, the team that takes the field for the 2014 campaign should still have some significant differences from the current edition.  Byrd’s production has been just the ticket for an offense that cries out for someone to provide support for David Wright, but would it be wise for the organization to commit further to a player of his age having what has become an atypically big power surge? Granted, there have been recent examples of older players putting together a string of good seasons (see Raul Ibanez circa 2006-the present), but as Byrd’s season seems to be an anomaly based on his track record, would the Mets be wise to bet on repeat performances at ages 36, 37, and beyond? This is the type of gamble more usually taken by clubs with deep lineups in need of a complimentary player to help put them over the top. Despite the recent uptick in run production, the Mets wouldn’t seem to qualify as one of those teams quite yet.

It is this state of “betwixt and between” that so many fans find frustrating. The team appears to be on the right path and looks to be nearing a period of where they will be able to consistently vie for a playoff position, yet still has so little certainty with respect to a number of crucial positions. Second half performances on the part of some key players such as Ike Davis may help resolve some of the the questions going forward, but some choices will need to be made soon that will clearly influence the look of the 2014 roster.

Having spawned what is now referred to as the “Zack Wheeler effect,” Sandy Alderson has shown that he is loath to surrender a desirable commodity for less than what he considers a major piece for the future. With that future getting ever closer, how should fan expectations be tempered for next season if a similar trade opportunity presents itself this year?  One really couldn’t accuse the Mets of punting 2014 if a trade for Byrd or Buck were made but if a someone closer to what might be considered a “foundation” player were moved, say Parnell, would fans accept it as the right thing to do?

For the team to contend consistently in the years ahead, they must replicate on a larger scale what they have done in microcosm these past few weeks-combine effective pitching with a consistent offense. Much of the malaise that affected the team in the downdraft that comprised most of this season’s earlier going can be linked directly to paltry run production. Yes, the bullpen certainly contributed its fair share of nonperformance, but no one is going to win regularly scoring 3 runs or less per game. The Mets have a pitching foundation in place, and in another year it will be stronger. But a steadier level of run production is not implied based on the pieces presently within the system. If the chance to obtain a needed long term boost for the lineup comes along, they will need to take it.

Although many might be tempted to view the team’s recent spate of success as a harbinger of an immediate pennant pursuit, a more reasoned approach will keep things in perspective and be willing to take a step back, if necessary, to take two steps forward. Slow and steady might not be a popular approach to contention in the New York market, but it may be best to maintain it at this point with the transition to a balanced, perennial contender so close.

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Why The Mets Should Consider Trading Bobby Parnell Mon, 01 Jul 2013 13:54:41 +0000 bobby parnell

As the calendar turns to July, GM’s around the league will be stepping up their assessment of available options to strengthen their rosters. As a team that has publicly announced it will look to be more of a “buyer” than a “seller,” the Mets nevertheless find themselves in an interesting position where choices may become available that could push Sandy Alderson to make  a move that would otherwise appear somewhat counterintuitive.

When taking into account the combined factors of the state of the team’s farm system, the overall strengths and weaknesses of the roster, and the potential trade chips held by contending teams in a position of need, some truly intriguing possibilities arise that should not be dismissed as wishful thinking. The one that seem most interesting and realistic to me is as follows:

MiLB: APR 5 - Flying Tigers at Yankees


Having finally developed what appears to be a legitimate home-grown closer after years of having to rely on imports, one would think that the Mets would have to be nuts to deal him away just as he enters what is likely to be his prime. But this is precisely why a trade of this nature could command a premium return to address an area of greater need for the future. Granted, there is no obvious heir apparent to step in to Parnell’s shoes immediately, but with prospects like Jeurys Familia, Jack Leathersich,  and the unheralded Jeff Walters in the system to go with what the free agent market may offer, the Mets would have to consider dealing the NC native if the prize to be gained in return were great enough.

The most obvious candidate here is the Detroit Tigers who, after attempting to assign the critical role to the untested Bruce Rondon, ultimately wound up sending him down and even resigning Jose Valverde, the cause of so much late inning agita who was deposed during last season’s run to the Fall Classic. Rondon has been recalled, but has yet to show any consistency at the big league level and predictably, Valverde proved ineffective again and has been sent down to AAA.  The Tigers are offensive world-beaters with a lineup featuring the incredible talent of Miguel Cabrera, but as everyone knows, in a short series pitching rules the day and the memory of the Giants’ Sergio Romo shutting them down last fall while they were forced to rely on journeyman Phil Coke as their stopper is still fresh in their minds.

The prize to be had here is outfielder Nick Castellanos, a 21-year old converted infielder whose offensive skills are well beyond any comparable talent currently in the Mets’ system. After a slow start, Castellanos has begun consistently spanking AAA pitching, showing real power and a good eye at the plate. As Detroit’s number one prospect and one of the better hitting prospects in baseball, it would likely require a somewhat expanded trade package to get the deal done, but Parnell’s relative youth, experience, and controllability make him just the type of component that could get Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski to pull the trigger. Offense wouldn’t seem to be a problem in Motown, anyway, so given the opportunity to solve what has been an ongoing problem with a feasible long-term solution, one would expect him to jump at the chance. The Mets’ brass has already stated that they intend to keep Parnell, but teams don’t generally advertise the fact that they might be willing to deal a valuable asset. If this deal was on the table, it would have to be considered.

Now, we could certainly anticipate some “sweetening” or expansion of the deal to make it more palatable to the parties involved.  If Parnell were headed to Detroit, one could see Rondon headed back to New York as well as an outfield prospect such as Cesar Puello going to Detroit as part of the package.  On its face, it would probably take more than Parnell and Puello to pry away the Tigers’ top hitting prospect and a AAA level pitcher who can regularly hit 100 mph, but I think the ingredients are likely there.

This is a simple case of dealing strength for strength. The Mets have a plethora of pitching prospects coming up through their system and are still unlikely to legitimately contend for a title before 2015. The Tigers have offense to spare, a top-notch rotation and a need to strike while the championship iron is hot. All they lack is a legitimate, reliable closer. The Mets have one, but can’t create enough opportunities for him to be truly valuable to them. This deal simply makes too much sense to ignore.

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