A Toast To David Wright

On Tuesday, the Mets released the news that we’ve all been expecting, but were hoping to avoid: David Wright had another setback and won’t be ready for Opening Day. After the spinal stenosis diagnosis last in 2015 and the neck surgery last year that has limited him to just 75 games over the past two seasons, this latest news very much has the feeling that we may have seen the last of the beloved captain and owner of most of the career records in team history.

Simply said: this sucks. Since Wright arrived in the majors in 2004, he’s been everything you could have asked for on the field and seems like a genuinely good dude off of it. David grew up a Mets fan, was drafted by the team that he and we love and made his way through the system to become a 7-time All-Star, team captain and have the greatest career of any position player in Mets history. To see his career cut short by these kinds of injuries in such a quick and definitive fashion would be painful enough, but then to continue to bust his ass and try to come back, putting in the work the way he has and seeing him have to re-learn how to move, stay in shape and keep up his fitness just to have it continually pulled back away from him is devastating to see.

He still has four years and $67m to go on his contract and nobody in their right mind expects him to just walk away from that. He’ll always be around in some fashion, hopefully, as an ambassador for the team meeting with VIPs, doing charity work and other things. He’s already not the David Wright we knew and loved physically – as even those of us who aren’t super-scouts could tell how much of a struggle it was for him defensively and how long his swing had gotten in his limited time last season – so if this is the capper on a fine career, then obviously we wish him the best. I understand not being ready to give up something you love and basically the only thing you’ve known since you were a kid, but – genuinely – I want David Wright the person to have as healthy and fulfilling a quality of life as possible and hope he doesn’t risk some kind of permanent disability trying to hang on just a bit longer.

I’m happy he did get the chance to play in a World Series and that he hit that homer in Game 3 at Citi Field. Though the injuries may have curtailed his push to get his numbers into Hall of Fame territory, there should be no question that some day we’ll be seeing his number 5 being retired by Mets. He was the block of stability during some very lean years for the team and made the commitment to staying at a time when he could have easily played out his deal and chosen to go elsewhere.

So, if this is it, thank you, David. It’s been a pleasure to cheer for you over the years and you’ve set a very high standard for future Mets to live up to.

Strasburg Injury Reinforces Playing For Now & Not The Future

The window of opportunity is a fickle thing. Sometimes, what looks to be a budding dynasty gets one shot at winning and then crumbles in the aftermath.

In 2006, the Mets ran roughshod over the rest of the NL East, but injuries to key starting pitchers and horribly timed slumps from impact hitters led to the Mets dropping a heartbreaker of an NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in a season where the Mets SHOULD have not only beaten the Cardinals, but steamrolled the AL Champion Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

In the days that followed, the sadness turned to optimism as many fans pointed to the emergence of young stars Jose Reyes and David Wright as well as continued excellence from veteran Carloses, both Beltran and Delgado added to a pitching staff featuring a “healthy” Pedro Martinez, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and young fireballers John Maine and Oliver Perez who had both performed admirably in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, it would be nine years before the Mets even reached the playoffs following the disappointment of 2006. They had their chance. And they blew it. You don’t always get a second chance in sports.

The Atlanta Braves and NY Yankees both had runs of sustained success in the 90s and early 00s, but the Braves were only able to win one championship (in the strike-shortened season of 1995) proving that even if you have a fistful of lottery tickets, your number may still not come up.

This week, Nationals pitcher Stephan Strasburg was removed from a game and it was feared that he may have needed a second Tommy John surgery. The Nationals sit comfortably atop the NL Eastern division right now and – barring a monumental collapse – are pretty much guaranteed to see postseason play. But the loss of Strasburg for the postseason would have been a huge hit to their World Series chances.

The diagnosis was that he just had a strain of the flexor tendon, but more than that, it was a harrowing reminder of how you need to seize your opportunities when you have them. Strasburg was probably the most hyped draft pick in history when he was taken first overall by Washington in the 2009 draft and his talent and potential was on full display when he made his debut in 2010 in a 14 strikeout performance against the Pirates that was carried nationally on ESPN.

Unfortunately, for Strasburg and the Nats, he would need Tommy John surgery and missed most of the 2011 season before returning for a cup of coffee in September. He was ready to go for the 2012 season, but with a strict innings-limit that would force him to be shutdown in September while the Nats were thought to be a favorite to win the National League and potentially the World Series.

Without Strasburg – Washington’s clear-cut ace – they lost a five-game series to the Cardinals and, though they have always defended the organizational decision to sit Strasburg in his first full-year back from surgery, the questions and “what-ifs” have never gone away.The Nationals haven’t been in a position to make another such run until this season where they almost lost Strasburg again.

The Mets were faced with a similar issue with their ace, Matt Harvey, last season. They decided to peel away from their pre-season, self-imposed innings limit and let Harvey pitch until the final game of the World Series, by which point he had accumulated more innings than any other pitcher in history fresh off TJ surgery.

There’s a fine line between use and abuse and the Mets – while clearly pushing Harvey – didn’t abuse the right-hander. They simply tried to seize an opportunity both the player and team knew wouldn’t present itself very often.

It’s unenviable situation for an organization to be put into with how we value young, power arms in this day and age of baseball, and to risk long-term damage to such a valuable asset for a short-term gain is borderline irresponsible, but there has been no definitive proof showing exactly what causes pitchers to break.

Until there is, the cases of Harvey and Strasburg will keep presenting themselves with new faces and new names and new coaching staffs and front office executives who are forced to make the decision of whether to try to protect and asset or put the pedal to floor and go for what may be your one chance to get through a window that is eternally closing.

If you ask Mets fans, I guarantee they agree with going for it as 2015 was a magical season that evolved out of thin air and fell just short of possibly being miraculous. Nationals fans may have agreed with the decision to sit Strasburg at the time, thinking it was just the beginning of a long run of Washington dominance, but that never did materialize. They’re left with the what-ifs and the realization that you need to capitalize on legitimate championship opportunities when they present themselves because there is zero guarantee that there is another one waiting behind it.

There’s no sport as fickle as baseball when it comes to injuries and the impact they can have on expectations. Losing a starter of the ilk of a Harvey or Strasburg long-term usually means postponing expectations until they’re able to return. Which is why when you have them and when they’re able, you go for it. Every time. Because by the time you’re back in that position, you’re just a flexor tendon away from not being close again.

 

 

No Move May Be Right Move For Mets

David Wright is done for at least the remainder of 2016, Lucas Duda is waiting for his back to regenerate into one piece again, Travis d’Arnaud always seems a strong gust of wind away from another extended stay on the DL, Neil Walker has battled back spasms, Michael Conforto is nursing a tender wrist, Juan Lagares has hit the DL because of a bum thumb and Wilmer Flores just took an up-and-in fastball off his hand and wrist and is day to day.

The Mets are and have been dropping like flies except flies seem to have a longer life-expectancy these days.

Following up a World Series appearance, the Mets were expected to once again compete for the National League crown and now find themselves in a state of limbo, not knowing who will flush out a lineup or in what position they’ll do it in.

While there’s always a need to have quality depth players on your bench, it is simply impossible to stock the quantity of depth needed due to the volume of injuries the team has suffered. Maybe you think Sandy Alderson and company should have had a better feel for just how affected David Wright would be by his spinal stenosis and should have had a better fallback option, but truth be told, there’s not a team in all of baseball that would have sufficient stock in the cupboard to replace all the of the names listed and not miss a beat.

Fans and media alike have clammored for the team to make a trade, but not just any trade. They want the same type of impact deal that brought Yoenis Cespedes here from the Tigers last year. The cost was a steep, but fair price of a couple of prospects headlined by Michael Fulmer who – now in the Detroit rotation – is currently turning in one of the strongest rookie campaigns in the league, but it’s hard to get upset over a trade that, essentially, got you to the World Series.

So, it’s easy then, right? Make a few calls, get a brand new superstar to Queens and get back to the World Series. Not quite.

While fans are salivating over the possibilities, the Mets are hamstrung but a combination of roster construction, contracts, availability and a thin amount of desired minor league prospects due to the dual-barrel end game of major-league promotions and trades over the last 12 months.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at New York Mets
Kelly Johnson: the super-utility player the team hoped Wilmer Flores could be. Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Truth be told, the Mets may have to settle for another player cut from the Kelly Johnson cloth in lieu of the superstar the fans want to see. Johnson isn’t the sexy, game changer you necessarily want, he’s a solid major leaguer, familiar with the team after last season and provides flexibility of being able to play multiple positions while swinging a left-handed bat.

Let’s go over some of the options being bandied about to see which, if any, make sense for the Mets:

lucroy

Jonathan Lucroy, C Milwaukee Brewers

With Travis d’Arnaud looking more fragile every minute and Kevin Plawecki being unable to hit or throw at the big league level, the case for Lucroy has gone from “not even a thought” in March to “you know, that would be a nice upgrade” now. The problem is that Lucroy would be a huge upgrade for a lot of teams and is signed through the end of next year at a very reasonable dollar figure. The Brewers are going to want a huge return on him and it would start with the names “Syndergaard” or “Matz” and not “Wheeler” as a lot of people seem to think. The Mets are out of this before it even begins.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Longoria is the face of franchise no matter how unstable.

Evan Longoria, 3B Tampa Bay Rays

Longoria is basically the only homegrown player in Rays history that hasn’t been traded before hitting his arbitration years which makes him the all-time greatest Ray ever. After down years because of injuries and declining power numbers, Longoria has had a bit of a resurgence this year. Longoria’s quiet, confident demeanor, bat and plus glove would be a perfect replacement for recently-deceased David Wright. Except for a few things: Wright isn’t dead, Longoria has already shown signs of decline, the Rays would expect a hefty haul back and Longoria begins a contract extension next season that has him signed through 2023 at a cool $100m. With Wright sure to attempt to return next season added to the cost in players and dollars, Longoria is a certain pass.

bruce

Jay Bruce, RF Cincinnati Reds

Whereas the slugging outfielder made a lot of sense of the Mets when they were supposedly close to landing him last year, the same cannot be said for him now. Bruce has had a terrific 2016 thus far, but with Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares (now injured, but we’ll wait to see if he’ll need surgery as well) already in the fold, the Mets don’t have an obvious spot for Bruce to play. The Reds will most likely move Bruce this season and his value hasn’t been this high in a while. Another case where the cost would be prohibitive for the Mets with a thinning farm system.

reyes

Jose Reyes, SS Colorado Rockies (only in name, will be a free agent in a few days)

Look, I get it. We all used to love Jose Reyes. Remember we all did that “Jose, Jose, Jose” chant? So good. Remember when Professor Reyes taught us Spanish between innings? AZUCAR! That is not Jose Reyes anymore. As much as we would all like to think we’d be getting that fun loving, top of the order sparkplug from yesteryear back, Reyes is a slowed, flawed player at this point who probably shouldn’t be playing shortstop any longer. Oh, and there’s that whole beating up his wife thing hanging over him now too. So, no. No, no, no, no, no, no. No.

trout

Mike Trout, OF Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

We get Trout for a package of like Eric Campbell, TJ Rivera and Eric Goeddel. Who says no?

But seriously, the point of this is that the Mets are lot more likely to see a deal for a Luis Valbuena or Yangervis Solarte than they are a game changer. Even then, are those the types of players worth deal prospects for? In my opinion, we may be better off playing the cards already dealt and hoping the team can just stay close while guys work their way back.

I’ve emphasized all season about how important it is to stay close and beat the teams you’re expected to beat because of the huge discrepancy between good and bad in the NL. Last year, the Mets had a chance to pull away in a weak division and the front office went out and got Cespedes who single-handedly carried us through the remainder of the regular season and turned it into a race we won by quite a few strides.

I’m not protesting against a deal, merely stating that the costs may be prohibitive against making one. Either way, with Sandy’s history and track record, I do believe that if there is a deal out there to be made, he’ll do it. He understands the pulse and sees that the Nationals can’t just be expected to fall apart this year. Right now the team has done a pretty impressive job of keeping their heads above water despite the weak lineup they’re sending out on most nights and it’s a wonder that they ever thought they’d be able to have a chance this year without Cespedes in the middle of the order.

Hopefully, they can keep that up until Lucas Duda returns and then make a good evalution of where things stand going into the deadline. The window for the Mets to be a top-level team is open now and they need to capitalize while they can. But they shouldn’t empty out what’s left of their farm system to plug a square peg into a round hole.

 

Contact: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com, Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

Game 7: Thor Can’t Defend Midgard Alone

Noah Syndergaard is really good at baseball. We can agree on that, right? The rest of the Mets right now, however, are not on the same level of performance.

The team dropped their fourth straight last night – this one by the score of 2-1 to the Miami Marlins – and wasted an absolutely scintillating performance from the 23 year-old fireballer in the process. Thor went 7 innings, allowing just one run and striking out 12 Marlin hitters in the process.

Syndergaard was on fire right out of the gate, sporting his trademark high 90s fastball and his array of low to mid 90s breaking and offspeed stuff. Two starts into the season and you can already see the dramatic improvements he’s made since last season. He hasn’t sacrificed velocity, but has refined his complimentary pitches which include a 95 MPH slider that is just absolutely unreal. It’s even more impressive when you realize that Thor didn’t really have a slider at all last season.

He was dominant, but got into trouble in the 4th inning thanks to our old friend, BABIP. If you’re reading this, odds are that you’re my mom and don’t have a clue as to what BABIP is. It stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play and is exactly what it says it is. Obviously, you have a better chance of getting a hit if you actually make contact and the Marlins did exactly that. They hit nothing solid off Syndergaard, but a couple of soft grounders JUST out of the reach of infielders and a lobbed dinker into right field led to a run that would be the only one Noah would surrender.

Unfortunately – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – the Mets weren’t able to do anything with the bats despite having Miami starter, Jose Fernandez, in plenty of trouble early in the game.

They got on the board early with a run-scoring single from Lucas Duda, but ran themselves out of a potentially big inning when Duda was thrown out at second trying to stretch said single after a bobble in right field by Giancarlo Stanton. They followed up the first inning by loading the bases in the second, but David Wright hit a routine fly ball to Stanton ending the threat.

Fernandez then settled in and retired ten in a row before being removed after 5 innings and 90 pitches by manager, Don Mattingly, as he is still in the early stages of recovery from Tommy John surgery and isn’t being overextended especially on a particularly chilly evening in Queens.

Bottom line, the Mets haven’t been good. You can say it’s early and you can say the schedule was odd, but at some point, you can’t just keep making excuses. The Royals (the same Royals that beat us in the World Series last November) had the same schedule to start their season and they’re 5-2. Every day that goes by means we’re one more day removed from it being early. Seven games turns into 15 in the blink of an eye. And before you know it, 15 turns into 50 games. They need to get their shit together and quickly.

Remember, we’re not just competing against the Nationals here. In a short, postseason series or even a one-game Wild Card play-in, the Mets have a great chance because of the pitching staff they’ve assembled, but first, they have to get there. They currently have the second-worst record in the National League and, though I obviously expect that to change, we’re looking at an expected seven teams (Mets, Nats, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers and Giants) competing for five playoff spots. That doesn’t even include any kind of Cinderella team or a better than expected season from a team like the DBacks that could throw even more chaos into a race.

The point of this? While it may not yet be time to jump off a bridge, this is not something you want to see for very much longer. After the getaway game with Miami this afternoon, the team heads out on a 9 game road trip. They cannot still be playing this brand of baseball by the time they return home.

It’s not like it’s one player’s fault either. The offensive ineptitude is a complete team effort as there hasn’t been anybody in the lineup that has established anything resembling and consistency through the first 10 days.

If you’ve read my stuff back into last season, you know my feelings on Terry Collins. I don’t like him. Players have to play, but it’s his job to put those players in the best situation to succeed. I don’t believe for one second that he does that and can point to numerous examples (in just the World Series alone [and no, I actually give him the benefit of the doubt on the Harvey call in game 5; he was screwed no matter what he decided]) where he’s made very questionable tactical decision that have cost runs, innings or games.

While I’m not going to kill Terry quite yet, I do question the lineup he’s rolling out everyday right now. It comes off awkward and inefficient to me. Right now, this is what TC seems to be attached to:

  1. Granderson (L)
  2. Wright (R)
  3. Cespedes (R)
  4. Duda (L)
  5. Walker (S)
  6. Conforto (L)
  7. Cabrera (S)
  8. d’Arnaud (R)

I’m not a fan of that construction. Neil Walker is not a prototypical run-producer and seems out of place in the five-hole. By the same token, Travis d’Arnaud has shown an ability for power and potential and we all came into this season expecting him to take the next step in his growth by becoming the impact bat he’s been projected to become for years.Burying him in the 8th spot in front of the pitcher isn’t doing anybody any favors right now especially when there’s nobody on base in front of him. If I had my way, I’d roll out the following:

  1. Granderson (L)
  2. Wright (R)
  3. Conforto (L)
  4. Cespedes (R)
  5. Duda (L)
  6. d’Arnaud (R)
  7. Walker (S)
  8. Cabrera (S)

You’ll notice that the first thing I did was go lefty-righty-lefty-righty the whole way through. I don’t swear by that manipulation, but I do think it’s appropriate for the talent we have available.

I assume that most people would question my usage of Michael Conforto in the three-hole most. He’s young and while he LOOKS like a future star, he doesn’t have the track record to back it up yet. It’s a fair point, but Conforto has a good understanding of the strike zone, handles the bat well and does have pop. Plus, hitting in front of Cespedes should give him an opportunity to see more fastballs with men on base. I don’t think of Conforto as a 30 homer guy, but a consistent 15-20 is a very real possibility and with his gap-power could become a 100 RBI guy in the mold of – wait for it – Keith Hernandez. Keith was an MVP and a case can be made that he should be a Hall of Famer and I’m not saying Conforto is a future that, but their swings and ability to split gaps with some pop seem comparable.

I also like Walker and Cabrera near the bottom. Both are consistent, professional hitters. At this point, you’re not projecting anything with either of them. You’re getting what’s on the back of their baseball cards. They’re steady. Walker’s talents are put to better use in the 7 where he’s not expected to be an RBI man. Asdrubal Cabrera can be useful in a few spots (I wouldn’t hesitate him to use him at 2 depending on other players’ days off and such), but in the 8, he rounds out what looks to be a balanced lineup that takes advantage of the talent at hand.

We have a few hours to go before the getaway game with Miami. Hopefully, we’ll pick one up before hitting the road.

Also, the NHL Playoffs start tonight: LET’S GO PENS!

Contact: @MaximusSexPower or elshoeshatemail@msn.com

 

Game 5: Don’t Worry, It’s a Long Season

I hate being the negative guy. I genuinely do. And usually, I never am. I’m always happy and excited for the season to start and have found ways to enjoy even some really bad seasons on the field.

This year is supposed to be different. Like I’ve said multiple times, there are real and genuine expectations for this team this season. And a pair of lifeless, flat performances against a shitty team aren’t exactly encouraging signs.

If you’re reading this, you know what happened. The Mets lost in a very similar fashion to the way they did yesterday. Matt Harvey wasn’t amazing, but he wasn’t horrible either. The bats are still stuck in a deep, winter slumber.

Yoenis Cespedes did hit a two-run homer to make it a one-run game in the sixth and temporarily wake up the crowd, but that was as close as they would get as they went down quietly and without fanfare.

With that being said, here are some notes and takeaways from a game I can’t wait to forget:

  •  Curtis Granderson has had an awful start to the season. He’s now 1 for 20 with that singular hit coming last Sunday night in Kansas City. He did look to have a few good swings today so maybe he’s getting his timing back or whatever, but this team leans heavily on Granderson who single-handedly kept them afloat offensively last year when he was pretty much the only competent big leaguer in the lineup until the end of July.
  • There is one more year left on Grandy’s deal after this season and, while some regression is expected as he gets older, you hope it’s not too drastic. The lineup isn’t perfect (although, it is improved from even the end of last season), but Granderson does represent their best option in the leadoff spot. With the roster as currently constructed, I don’t even know who you would in that spot should some kind of shake-up be required.
  • David Wright had a couple of hits today giving him 1750 for his career and moving him into a tie for 413th on the all-time hits list with the immortal Deacon McGuire. That’s kind of nice. I think we’re pretty much all cheering for David, but watching him – even on a good day – makes you wonder how much longer his body will allow him to continue to do this. He did make a nice play barehanding a dribbler early in the game, but his throw had zero zip on it. The team has a lot invested in him between dollars, history and future marketing, so he’ll be given every opportunity to do as much as possible, but it’s not crazy to think that his time as an everyday player may be coming to an end a lot sooner than any of us had expected.
  • Addison Reed did a helluva Mel Rojas impersonation today.

Look, losing two of three to the Philthies isn’t the end of the world. But I expected more from these guys coming out of the gate. Maybe it’s the scheduling or the cold weather, I don’t know, but you have to take advantage of the – as Keith would say – second-division teams. Last year, the Mets took 8 of 9 from the Phils at home. They’ve already given away two.

This is going to the theme for the season. There is absolutely no excuse to lose a series to these horrible teams that are doing their best to tank as hard as they can this season.

Life and baseball shall go on, however. We welcome the Marlins to Citi tomorrow in yet another series that they Mets should win. You want to be a contender? You have expectations. Time to meet them.

Feel free to reach out: @MaximusSexPower on Twitter or elshoeshatemail@msn.com