Wednesday, March 26, 2014

N.Y. Mets Preview: In Search Of The Elusive .500 Record

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Back To Queens!

NEW YORK METS: Entering 2014, they are now a team about to venture out from their cave.  They will either adjust to the light, and continue forth with Amazin' confidence, or hide their eyes from the light, and venture back into the safety of the shade.

On Monday, a truck filled with Mets stuff started driving north on I-95, back towards Flushing. The question is, who's stuff will the last truck out of Florida be hauling?  With less than a week to go before the Mets season and home opener against the Nationals, the 2014 roster is starting to finally take shape.  Few questions remain, but, not all the answers are quite exactly to Mets fan's liking.

I'm not trying to beat a dead horse, but as we know, the Mets have not posted a winning season since Citi Field replaced Shea Stadium as home of the Mets.  That's five straight losing seasons.  I think finally however, the 2014 season begins the turnaround in Flushing.  While the upcoming season will still require patience on behalf of the fans, which also includes pleas for their increased patronage, I believe finishing .500 or better would certainly be an affirmative step forward for MetsKind.

I'm not greedy, 81 to 84 victories would do just fine.  The Mets posted a 74-88 record last season. In order to finish .500, they need a seven game swing.  That's considerable.

It's hard to tell if Sandy Alderson's 90 win projection was just more of his acidic humor, or if it was said after one too many, or came from the bottom of his heart, or was just simply wishful thinking on his part.  Some of it was unmistakably pom-pom shaking, and trying to drum up interest in the team, and entice ticket sales.

Memo to front office: Only winning will do that.  And through that, attendance will go up.

If the Mets compete for anything this season, it will be thanks to the new Wild Card set-up.  That still joins them in stiff competition with several quality teams.  But, with a good, sustained start to their season, if the Mets can indeed make a compelling case for Sandy Alderson to make additions, all eyes will be on the Wilpons for approval.  That's when they will be revealed as either players, or pretenders.  Of course, should the Mets flop in the first half of the season, they're off the hook until the following year again.

Sorry, no Mets preview is complete without calculating the effect ownership's situation still
has on team operations, or Alderson's real autonomy.  Any potential roster enhancements will increase payroll, and any REAL addition, will cost considerable money.  Remember, over the winter, Sandy Alderson didn't exactly go on a won-ton spending spree.  He merely gave different people the same money he was already operating with.

There is no doubting that Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, and Bartolo Colon made for a curious shopping list.  But, grading Sandy Alderson's off-season is something best attempted much later in the season.

The Mets outfield had long been ridiculed as an AAAA outfit.  Sandy secured two outfielders.  One is a proven MLB caliber slugger, while the other is a huge gamble.

Chris Young was the first of Alderson's winter signings.  The timing was bad, because, his signing came rather early in the free agent process, but nevertheless followed a standard procedure in recent years.  Let the alpha predators feed first, then make due on the left-overs.  Preceding him were Marlon Byrd and Scott Hairston.  If Chris Young provides similar productivity, I guess the signing will reflect well.

What Sandy Alderson didn't do was, acquire an MLB level catcher to back-up d'Arnaud, like he said wanted to back in October, nor did he acquire a shortstop, which he stated as his top priority at the onset of the free agent period.  Lastly, Sandy Alderson stood by while the run on quality relief pitchers took place in December, and only very recently addressed the bullpen with rolls of the dice on Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde.  In the big picture, that tells me the money wasn't there.

All that said, let the games begin!  The influx of young talent may save this organization yet.


Unlike Matt Harvey, who is noisily trying to exercise his CBA right to be the rehabbing Dark Knight of Gotham, Zack Wheeler is quietly going about his business this spring.  That wasn't always the case. While still in the minors, Wheeler was involved in a few incidences that drew attention his way.  He now appears to be approaching his 2nd MLB season, and 1st full season, very confidently, and with maturity as well.

If you're interested in the truth, then there is only one way to view Zack Wheeler - as the ace of this staff.  In the grand scheme of things, Bartolo Colon and Dice-K do not factor deeply into the Mets future.  And without really proving himself over a full MLB season yet, the expectations placed upon him already surpass those placed on Dillon Gee and Jon Niese anyway.  So, real or imagined, why don't we just call an ace an ace.

Dillon Gee has had his share of ups and downs.  He was already a good pitcher, but now seems even more in command of himself than ever.  With health, Gee is poised to become a 15 game winner.  I believe that.  Due to Jon Niese's recent arm development, Dillon Gee has been named this year's Opening Day starter.  He will become the Mets 23rd different pitcher bestowed with the privilege.  His selection was also well deserved.  He's been a good soldier.

Bartolo Colon has looked sharp this spring.  He remarkably remains unfazed by age and girth.  It's a long season though, but early indications say he's ready to challenge National League line-ups. The balance of power is currently tipped towards the American League, and if you also consider that he will no longer be facing the DH nearly as much, Bartolo Colon could have a very good season.  The Mets would benefit handsomely if Colon can secure 15 victories this season.

The Mets paid Dice-K $100,000 in order to retain him, yet temporarily keep him off the roster.  To start the season, the Mets can therefore utilize an extra bench player, until the fifth starter role comes into play.

Sandy Alderson said Jenrry Mejia will not be pitching in the bullpen.  So, either Mejia makes the starting rotation over Dice-K, or spends time in Las Vegas.

I left Jon Niese last, believing he will pose a potential problem for the starting rotation at some point this year, if not soon.  He suffered a partial tear in his rotator cuff last season, which he rehabbed without surgery.  So far this spring, he's been flown to NYC for two different MRI's on his shoulder and elbow, with negative results.  However, I fear all is not well.

Niese is the lone left-hand pitcher in the rotation.  Lefty John Lannan could be utilized to back fill Niese's spot.  Or, Jenrry Mejia could very well find himself right back in the rotation mix.

STARTING FIVE: Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Daisuke Matsuzaka
POTENTIAL DEPTH: Jenrry Mejia, John Lannan,
POTENTIAL 2014 CALL-UPS: Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom


I don't know that Mets fans can exhale with confidence, but they can certainly sigh with relief.  On the one hand, Bobby Parnell has looked fine this spring.  On the other, unfortunately, Vic Black has not.  That should not preclude Black from coming north though.

Scott Rice is the known lefty in the bullpen.  A second lefty still remains a questionable item.  John Lannan will most likely join Rice in the bullpen.  Josh Edgin, who will begin the season with Las Vegas, can, and should be an option.

After a shaky stint in the Arizona Fall League, followed by decent work pitching in winter ball, Jeurys Familia is having a fine time in the Grapefruit League.  He has regenerated high expectations for himself.

Jose Valverde and Carlos Torres seem likely to round out a bullpen of seven pitchers.

TOP SEVEN: Bobby Parnell, Vic Black, Jeurys Familia, Jose Valverde, Carlos Torres, (LHP) Scott Rice, (LHP) John Lannan
REINFORCEMENTS: Josh Edgin, Germen Gonzalez
POTENTIAL 2014 CALL-UPS: Jack Leathersich, Jeff Walters, John Church, Joel Carreno


Catcher - Travis d'Arnaud's defensive skills, and handling of pitchers are apparently up to snuff. But, his Grapefruit League production is starting to give people the jitters.  He was short circuited last year by an injury to his foot.  He returned to post a .304 average in 56 at-bats for Las Vegas. He then only managed a .202 average over 99 at-bats during his call up to Flushing.  This spring, he is batting .154 over 36 at-bats, with three extra base hits.  At 25-years of age, there is a measurable amount of pressure being placed on d'Arnaud to produce respectable numbers in what is officially still his rookie season.

For the last two seasons, I've been wanting the Mets to sign A.J. Pierzynski to a one or two year deal.  He'll be with the Boston Red Sox this season.  I digress.  Anthony Recker will once again be the back-up catcher in Flushing.  I'm cool with that.  You either like players, or, you don't.

First Base - Sandy Alderson stated the Mets will head north with both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda on the roster.  I guess the Mets have no current available alternative, but what a broken situation this has been, and for quite some time may I add.  Josh Satin will serve as the right hand bat in a platoon situation, and come off the bench.  It is believed Ike Davis will get the season's first crack.

It's hard to envision Lucas Duda's bat not in the line-up on days he does not play first.  His at-bats in the outfield will bleed into Juan Lagares' and EYJ's playing time.  Odds are, Ike Davis is being showcased with diminishing hopes of still trading him.  Lucas Duda was said to be the team's preference at first base some time ago.

Second Base - Daniel Murphy is going to be 29-years old this season, and I'm expecting big things from him - not gargantuan numbers, but very productive, well rounded, balanced numbers.  The only thing I feel that can derail him from having an all-star season is injury.  Otherwise, I look forward to a stronger, wiser, Daniel Murphy taking advantage of an improved line-up behind him.

Sandy Alderson sent Wilmer Flores to minor league camp.  I understand the GM wants Flores playing 2B and SS everyday while in Las Vegas.  I can't say I'm happy about it though.  I wanted Wilmer Flores heading north with the team.  Instead, Omar Quintanilla once again seems to be this year's utility infielder up the middle.  I also wonder whether Sandy Alderson still has lingering ideas of trading Flores.

Shortstop - Ruben Tejada has the unrealistic demands of others to thank for his employment this season.  Jhonny Peralta priced himself out of the Mets pocketbook early in the free agent process, while Stephen Drew and his agent Scott Boras, continue to reside in outer space with their contract requests.  With no one of quality, ready, available, or otherwise, to step into the position from the minors, and no trade prospects on the horizon, Ruben Tejada wins the shortstop job by default. To date, he has done little to change the minds of Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson, or reverse his falling out of the club's favor.

Omar Quintanilla may get more starting time than any of us anticipated, unless Sandy Alderson strikes an in-season deal.  In truth, Wilfredo Tovar would still be an inconsequential addition to the mix.

Third Base - The Captain of the Mets has not been impervious to injuries.  They've hampered him throughout his prime years.  He's provided enough evidence however, to prove he is far from through.  At 31-years of age, David Wright appears poised to strike back.  He finally has the line-up protection he sorely lacked over recent years.  With health, a renaissance season seems in order.

He is entering his second decade with the Mets.  He's been here for down times, good times, and down times again.  He is still in prime position to lead the team into the next good period of Mets history.  There are also 20 million other reasons why David Wright needs to have a good season.

For now, Josh Satin will also serve as the back-up third baseman.

THE STARTERS: Travis d'Arnaud, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, David Wright
BACKING-UP: Omar Quintanilla, Josh Satin, Anthony Recker
REINFORCEMENTS: Zach Lutz, Wilfredo Tovar
POTENTIAL 2014 CALL-UPS: Wilmer Flores, Juan Centeno


Since Sandy Alderson insists both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda will be on the opening day roster, Lucas Duda's presence in the outfield means a number of things.  In an effort to keep Duda's bat in the line-up, playing time will be taken away from Jaun Lagares and EYJ.  On a second tier, players like Andrew Brown, Matt den Dekker, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are forced to start the season in Las Vegas, as the fifth outfield slot now belongs to Duda.

The only major question remaining is whether the Mets find Juan Lagares' defense more preferable to Eric Young's speed potential.  Both factor into the lead-off role, and to date, there is no clear answer as both need improvement at the plate.

While I believe Curtis Granderson certainly possesses Pepsi Porch power, I do not think he'll be achieving 40+ home run levels again.  Tiger Stadium and Citi Field have more in common with each other, than either park has with Yankee Stadium.  But, if Granderson can still hit 25+ home runs hitting behind David Wright, he will be well worth the investment.  His addition should ideally have a domino effect throughout the line-up, and help get overall scoring up.  The Mets ranked towards the bottom of the N.L. in runs last season.

Chris Young may be the biggest question mark the Mets have.  The team has been through the circus hoops with Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada, but Young is the truly unknown commodity.  So far, so good - Chris is fine, and doing well in Grapefruit League action.  More so than Travis d'Arnaud, or either left handed first baseman, Chris Young is the true X-factor in the line-up.  If he can somehow recapture his home run and RBI totals he posted from 2007 through 2010, the Mets can make more noise than anyone anticipated.  He is also being counted on to provide line-up protection for Curtis Granderson.

STARTING THREE: Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, Juan Lagares
4th AND 5th OUTFIELDER: Eric Young Jr., Lucas Duda
REINFORCEMENTS: Matt den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Andrew Brown
POTENTIAL 2014 CALL-UPS: Cesar Puello, Dustin Lawley


Wednesday 3/26 - Vic Black sent to minor league camp.  Jose Valverde added to 40-man roster.


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