Today pitchers and catchers will report to St. Lonseome and by Wednesday the Mets position players will start arriving as well and training camp 2012 will get under way. So what am I looking for this spring from our beloved Mets? I’m glad you asked:
Please Freddy, Uncle Saul and Jeffey I’m begging you guys, please stay away from camp. Can we please take the focus off your upcoming court case and your financial problems and let this camp be about baseball, baseball and more baseball. Can you give your manager, coaches and players a chance to get ready for this season and to prove the naysayers wrong about how non-competitive this club will be? Your team is in good hands with Terry Collins, Sandy Alderson and their staffs, so stay up here in New York and work with your attorneys to get your game plan ready for the March 19th trail. I’m sure Sandy Koufax will understand.
Got to love the work ethic of Terry Collins and the transformation he has made as a big league manager. Collins has been in camp with Johan Santana, working with the Ace and forming a bond with him like he did with Carlos Beltran. Just as TC earned the trust and respect of Beltran, he is working towards having the same relationship with Santana. There is more to managing a team than knowing when to double switch and Collins has realized that and has proven he is the right man to manage the Mets.
Ike Davis asked the question last week, “why does everyone think we’re going to suck” and this is the rallying cry the manager needs to use to his and the teams advantage. When he addresses the team he should make it known that the majority of media and fans do think the Mets suck and the only ones who believe the team is any good, are the guys right he in this clubhouse. If each and every player on this team doesn’t have the back of their teammates, they’ll fail as no one else will stick up for them.
With a year on the job, Collins knows who needs motivation and who is self-motivated and that’s a big plus. TC as well, has to push fundamentals this spring to the point that the players get angry. He needs to push the point that it’s not always the most talented team that wins but the most prepared team that is always right there. If the Mets continue with their poor execution on the field, it will be a long season.
The only starting pitcher I have any confidence in right now is R.A. Dickey. Everyone else has a ton of questions by their name. So many if’s with this group and the biggest problem is there isn’t much competition in camp for jobs in the rotation. Sure Chris Schwinden or Miguel Batista could swipe the 5th spot from Dillon Gee or Matt Harvey could just blow everyone away this spring to force his way into the rotation but that’s a long shot.
As far as Santana is concerned try to put his starting the season on the big league roster out of your mind. Even if he pitches well this spring there a couple of things that will hasten his return early in the season, The cold weather is one, especially the dumb move by MLB to pay April games in the East at night, and the other is the limited innings/pitch count that Santana will be under. No way Santana, even if he shows he’s ready to come back, pitches more than 80-85 pitches or 5 innings, those pitching restriction will put a lot of pressure on the Mets bullpen early in the season and with the unknown of the rest of this staff besides Dickey, the Mets and Terry Collins can’t risk burning the bullpen by Memorial Day. Best case scenario is Santana stays in extended spring training and makes a few minor league starts for St. Lucie and makes back to the big leagues by end of May early June and that’s being real optimistic.
As much as Mets fans are hanging on every Santana bullpen session the guys we really need to watch are Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese as it will be the performance of these two pitchers that will determine if this a season of surprise or of transition. For Pelfrey if he can’t be effective it will get very ugly for him this season with the fan base and with the front office. As for Niese, it’s time to put the big boy baseball pants on a prove that he has the makeup, conditioning and ability to be a solid major league pitcher. Niese doesn’t have to be an Ace but he has to show some stamina and guile to get to the 6th and 7th innings of starts.
It’s been revamped and the back end (Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch) is a huge improvement over last year’s relievers, but if Manny Acosta, Bobby Parnell or D.J. Carrasco (or someone playing the role of Carrasco) starts making frequent appearances, it will be a long season. The effectiveness of the Mets bullpen will depend on the Mets starting pitchers who again (I know I’m belaboring this point) have to step up.
Last season the Mets were one of the worst defensive teams in baseball, so for 2012 there is no place else to go but up hopefully. All the talk about David Wright has been about his regaining his offensive punch which missed the real story with Wright and that’s the steady decline of his defense. I know the defensive metrics are not the be all end all but according to Bill James Online and their defensive plus/minus rankings Wright has been an atrocious third baseman the last three seasons :
Not only has Wright cost the Mets runs at 3rd base but he has had trouble with balls hit to his right and his throws have been less than accurate to first base, again defensive metrics have their flaws but so does Wright at the hot corner.
The catching situation stinks as well. Josh Thole still has not mastered the art of catching especially blocking balls in the dirt and getting better footwork in attempting to throw out would be base stealers. Word is new bench coach Bob Geren will be working all spring with Thole on these aspects of catching. Mike Nickeas will be the Sunday (and presumably R.A. Dickeys personal backstop) catcher and should bat 9th in the order when he does play. Catching in the Mets organization is a disaster that Sandy Alderson is not only aware of put has tried hard to rectify, that was one of the reasons Jon Niese’ name was mentioned in trade talks this off season as the Mets were hoping a team with a solid young catching prospect (like the Blue Jays and their prize catching prospect Travis D’Arnaud) would take the bait
The middle infield will be securitized a lot this season as Ruben Tejada takes over the everyday shortstop job and Daniel Murphy will try again to master the second sack. Tejada should be stellar at short as he has very good baseball instincts and makes plays he should make. The question will be, as it seems to be every spring for the last three years, will Daniel Murphy play at least a respectable 2nd base. As long as he makes the routine play and is somewhat capable of turning the pivot at 2nd without getting maimed, his season will be a success.
Ike Davis is solid at 1st base, so no worries there.
The outfield should be markedly better with Andres Torres playing center field and a bit underrated Jason Bay in left. The question is will Lucas Duda play a serviceable right field. I’m trying very hard not to over use the word serviceable when talking about the Mets defenders but that’s how bad this team’s defense is when serviceable play would be an upgrade at 3rd base, 2nd base, right field and catcher.
Breakout star of the spring
I would love to see Kirk Nieuwenhuis have such a fabulous spring that he forces management hand to bring him North. Many scouting reports have Capt Kirk as a corner outfielder but I’m sure once or twice a week you could play him in centerfield. If Jason Bay continues to be awful against right handed pitching, the lefty swinging Nieuwenhuis would make a great platoon partner for Bay.
Of course the new BIG 3 of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jeurys Familia will be watched closely and who knows, if Harvey pitches lights out, he could take the 5th spot in the rotation from Dillion Gee but he’d have to be spectacular in order for the Mets to force the issue early in the season. Wheeler will not be in the big league camp by the way but over at the kids table for minor leaguers but as we’ve seen in years past sometimes the minor leaguers get a invite to join the big boys especially when there are spilt squad games so keep an eye out for that.