Monday, March 31, 2014

Heart

 2014 begins in earnest for the Mets this afternoon at Citi Field, where for the 10th consecutive year I will make my New Year's voyage to Flushing and join 41,999 of my brethren to hear Howie Rose welcome us to the National League Season in New York, and kick off Baseball 2014 with a ceremonial blow of the Shofar. 

The six intervening months between my last trip to Citi Field on September 29th and now have been somewhat turbulent, and that's not taking the Mets into account at all. By comparison, the Mets offseason was rather placid. Perhaps too placid when you consider that 2014 was supposed to be The Year, at least as far as the Alderson regime would have us believe. True, there's some new, somewhat flashier faces that will grace the field this overcast Monday afternoon, but whether it's the quantity or the quality of the new names, I know some Mets fans seem to want more. 

Given the way the past five versions of the Mets have played out, that's understandable.

Certainly, not having Matt Harvey around to take some hapless opponent's lunch money every 5th game is kind of a buzzkill. I do expect he'll be around to stand on the chalk and wave hello to everyone, but that's about all we'll get from him for a while. Other young, sexy names like Syndergaard, Montero et, al. won't be in Queens at all on Monday, leaving the Mets with an Opening Day roster that at first glance seems kind of perplexing. I'm not sure what to make of it other than to keep reminding myself that every Opening Day roster is littered with names that don't last the season. Remember how we hailed Collin Cowgill after last Opening Day?

So, without saying too much about what I expect, I'll offer up this: I expect that the following players will make meaningful/impactful contributions to the 2014 Mets (impactful, inasmuch as they will be as impactful as can be expected of players of their caliber):

I expect that the following players probably won't surprise us very much:
Jonathon Niese

I have no idea what the hell to expect from the following players:

I expect the following players won't be here very long (and in many cases wonder what the hell they're doing here altogether):
Valverde
Andrew Brown

Not much else new can be said about Citi Field this season. Even the concession stands weren't made over, so if I want Blue Smoke, I've got to go downstairs, and if I want Pat LaFreida, I better be prepared to wait on line because the concessionaires at the Promenade level stand never really got it together from an expediency standpoint. And if I want Nathans Chicken and Hot Dogs? Well, I don't have to look too far. And if I'm feeling like a high roller, there's always the Promenade Club and their bucket of wings (part of me is hopeful that maybe they've expanded the food options there).  So there's not much I can expect on that end. It all comes back to the product on the field to provide something better.

I wrote, in my NL Preview, that the Mets needed an awful lot to go right this season if they expect to contend late into the season. The fact that there are 10 names comprising these last two lists (and yes, Valverde is a duplicate) says a lot, but again, rosters turn over quite a bit during the season, and the Mets have a number of players that are going to be kicking around AAA Ball this year that probably deserve a shot just as much as any of the fringe guys that actually made the team. Point is, the fringe guys that just snuck on here, well, don't get too comfortable (That means you, Quintanilla/Brown/Torres/Lannan). Come midseason, these names are going to be replaced with names like Syndergaard, Montero, den Dekker, Leathersich, Black and others, names that have made the Mets organization so highly regarded of late and names that will be counted on to return the Mets to a prominent level of play.


The rest? Well, it's going to require a lot of heart to make this team into something more than what everyone expects them to be. For whatever reason, I found myself thinking of this particular song, and of this particular recording (the musical it comes from need not be mentioned), because if there was ever a team that had heart, and the kind of insatiable heart that could be looked to for inspiration generations later, it would be the '69 Mets. What other team could get away with not only recording this song, but then going on the Ed Sullivan show and singing it after winning a World Series Championship? 

It's 45 years later, and if there's one thing this group of Mets has gotta have, well, They gotta have Heart.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Je Me Souviens

 Baseball, in some marginal form, returned to the Great City of Montreal Friday evening, when the Mets squared up with the Toronto Blue Jays in the former home of the Montreal Expos for the first of two exhibition games. The second came this afternoon. For the teams involved, at least, they're just two exhibition games. For the city of Montreal, a city I've visited twice in the past year and each time come away with an even more enhanced opinion than I entered with, these are Exhibition Games, with capital letters for the entire city.

The results of the games, both Mets losses, were sideshows to the fact that the games were happening at this locale at all. It harkened back to an era where the Mets would come to Montreal for no less than 9 games a season, my formative years as a fan when Montreal was a vibrant Baseball town, the Expos always boasting the kinds of players that would give the Mets trouble. What happened to the team doesn't need to be revisited, but ten years after the city of Montreal was dismissed as a wasteland for Baseball, over 96,000 fans showed up and packed Stade Olympique for these two games. 


These were less Mets/Blue Jays exhibitions as much as they were celebrations of the city of Montreal and a tribute to the Expos and the players that played there. Friday night, Gary Carter was honored in a ceremony that included his former teammates Tim Raines, Steve Rogers and Warren Cromartie, in a nod to a wonderful era of Expos teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s that ultimately ended heartbreakingly short of greatness. This afternoon, the marvelous Expos team from 1994 was given tribute, with many members of a team that seemed destined for a deep October run before the strike hit, on hand.

It's easy to forget, particularly when you consider just how much of a disparate wasteland Montreal became for Baseball in its final years, just how good a Baseball town Montreal can be. I don't believe that fans of the Expos can be blamed for the failures of Ownership and Provincial Government to invest in the Expos. Perhaps they can be blamed for not showing up, but it's never good for fan morale to have to continually go out and see a team that its own ownership won't support. I think as Mets fans we can slightly identify with that sentiment (though our team isn't going anywhere, fortunately). The stadium itself was one of many problems; Stade Olympique was miscast as a Baseball stadium in its heyday, and now age and years of deferred maintenance have turned it into an outdated, leaky relic. But for the return of Baseball this weekend, Montreal didn't care. They showed up anyway.

It's proof that although the Expos are gone, they are certainly not forgotten. When I visited Montreal last Summer, I was a bit taken aback at how little the Expos appeared to be remembered. Not so. The passion lies within the hearts of the fans. I returned to Montreal in early March, knowing that these games were going to be played at the end of the Month (and although I would have loved to have the chance to go to these games, timing was not in my favor), and the city seemed to have a buzz for the impending return of Baseball. Where I barely saw any Expos representations in the Summer, it was much more prevalent around the City in March. Montreal was excited to have Baseball back. A faction of fans, the appropriately titled "Expos Nation," seemed to treat these exhibitions as a crusade to put Montreal back on the MLB Radar. Sunday, they've teamed up with many former Expos Players, led by Cromartie, to hold a rally in support of MLB returning to Montreal.

Expos Nation is not alone in their crusade. Many former Expos, among them Tim Raines and Larry Walker believe Baseball can thrive in Montreal. Keith Olbermann has gone so far as to float a particular proposal to move the Tampa Bay Rays there (and I strongly considered listing the Rays as the "Montreal Expos" in my AL Preview, but decided against it). Certainly they, or the Mickey Mouse Marlins ought to be likely candidates to move to Montreal—their current fan support is about as miserable as any of the Expos' worst seasons. That's not to say moving a team there would be easy. Much needs to happen, most notably a new stadium and an ownership group that can adequately fund the team. But I'd like to think that these two games this weekend helped to serve notice that there is a place for MLB in Montreal. At worst, perhaps, these Mets/Blue Jays exhibitions can become an annual event. Certainly, 96,000 voices proved that there remains an audience and a voice for Baseball in this wonderful city.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Who The Hell Are You?! (2014 American League Preview)

Yesterday, my 2014 National League Preview pretty much laid out a predictable holding of form just about across the board, not much in the way of surprises. And I know much more about the NL than I do the AL. Generally, I try to keep the NL preview sort of well-informed, while the American League, I have the tendency to get a little crazy and outlandish with my predictions (Case in point: In 2008, I picked the Cleveland Indians to win the pennant. In 2009, the Minnesota Twins). The point, as usual, is that I don't like the American League, their lack of strategy, their paucity of quality pitching or their Designated Lucas Duda. So, just take this with a grain of salt. Of course, watch my predictions work out.

AL EAST
1) Tampa Bay Rays (93-69)
The best team that nobody watches seems primed to take The Leap this year, and it's probably not a moment too soon as rotation anchor David Price is about to hit Free Agency. Although, for what it's worth, when has losing a key piece ever seemed to bother these guys? Last year, they lost a pair of pitchers and barely blinked, thanks to guys like Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb, and this year can add another stud in Rookie Jake Odorizzi. Offensively, for as much as you sleep on their lack of star power, that's how much a guy like Ben Zobrist or Desmond Jennings will bite you in the ass, and a full season of Wil Myers should provide even more protection for Evan Longoria.

2) Boston Red Sox (91-71)
The Beard Boys shall ride again, after mostly keeping the nucleus of their World Championship roster together. A far cry from the mess that they were, now they're a never-say-die team built around scrappers like Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli, and toolsy Rookies like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. Pitching-wise, they remain first-rate, returning all their key starters and continue to boast a deep bullpen. My pick to take one of the two Wildcards.

3) Baltimore Orioles (88-74)
The Orioles seem to be kind of like the Rays with less pitching. They have a young, scrappy team that gets in your way and is generally annoying to play most of the time. This year, they figure to have more thunder after bringing in Nelson Cruz to complement Chris Davis, and adding Ubaldo Jimemez to the rotation gives them some sorely-needed rotation depth.

4) New York Yankees (84-78)
Recently, I've enjoyed going up to Yankee fans and saying to them, in my best Mad Dog Russo voice, "YER TEAM STINKS!!!" and just watch as they melt into an apoplectic shit-fit. They spent their usual boatload of money on guys like Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian Roberts and Masahiro Tanaka, but this team is old. And not only are they old, but they're boring. The entire season is basically built around the Derek Jeter ass-kissing party, which kind of covers up this fact. McCann is 30 and missed loads of time with injuries over the past few seasons, Ellsbury is a speed-based guy on the wrong side of 30, Roberts is 36, innings are starting to catch up with C.C. Sabathia, and the rest of their pitching staff seems to be trading high based solely on the fact that the Yankees have an endless pimp machine on their own players. Mariano Rivera isn't around to pull their asses out of the fire anymore and it's only a matter of time before the curse of the closers finally strikes the Yankees.

5) Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)
I've noticed something strange about the Blue Jays: All of a sudden, Jose Reyes is the face of the franchise. When the hell did that happen? I thought Jose Bautista, Canada's #1 Pizza Pimp, was the main man on that team, but no no, now Reyes is getting all the ink. And rightly so, because Jose Reyes is a good, boisterous guy. Meanwhile, the rest of the team still has a lot of holes. Even the presence of R.A. Dickey can't save them.

AL CENTRAL
1) Detroit Tigers (90-72)
Mostly the same group that went to the World Series in 2012 and the ALCS in 2013, less Prince, and they're still a tough team to beat on a day-to-day basis. They'll probably have their usual lull at some point during the season, but then Miguel Cabrera will catch fire and newly-acquired Ian Kinsler will give them a little more OBA, and Justin Verlander and company will continue to pitch well, so while I think they might be slightly challenged by another team in this division, I highly doubt they will be overtaken.

2) Kansas City Royals (88-74)
It's time. 29 years after their last Postseason appearance, it's time for the Royals to make The Leap and get over The Hump and make their way back into prominence. They, like Tampa, seem to be trying to stuff victories into a window that always seems to be closing, but they've got a nucleus of guys like Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer that have been trading high on potential for too long. Now they've got to meet it and back up their pitching staff behind James Shields and Luke Hochevar. You wanted a ballsy pick, well, here's a ballsy pick. Royals to the Playoffs.

3) Cleveland Indians (82-80)
They have youthful pitching and sporadic offense, and that tends to add up to not much good. The offense seems woefully boring, even taking into account the surprisingly strong year Jason Kipnis had last year and ultimately it boils down to how dependent they are on the aging chucklehead Nick Swisher. They snuck up on a lot of teams last year and rode a pillow-soft September schedule into the Wildcard game. I don't think things will break that way for them again.

4) Chicago White Sox (70-92)
Poor Robin Ventura...

5) Minnesota Twins (65-97)
That never ending Minnesota Twins cycle theory is still cycling upwards, so it's likely going to be another long season for the Twins. Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer are still a year away and √úberprospect Miguel Sano is lost for the season with an elbow injury, leaving little at the top level to get excited about. Even Rock of Gibraltar Justin Morneau is gone, leaving Joe Mauer sticking out as the veteran among a bunch of kids. The season highlight may end up being the entire team banding together to prank Mike Pelfrey during March Madness.

AL WEST
1) Texas Rangers (89-73)
I think the Rangers will get their act together enough to win a rather paltry-looking AL West. Just a hunch. They suffered through some key losses but they built themselves back up, acquiring Prince Fielder via trade and Shin-Soo Choo via Free Agency, to go along with a strong lineup of returning players and a pitching rotation that's better than it might appear at first glance. They're not on the level of their two World Series teams, but they're good enough to contend.

2) Oakland Athletics (87-75)
I would have picked them to win the division, but it seems like they've lost too many bit pieces and in the Billy Beane Moneyball line of thinking, the team is comprised of the bits. Brett Andersen was dealt away and Jarrod Parker is lost with an elbow injury and the rest of the team is what it is. That being said, it seems like the hallmark of the A's is that you figure they're no good and write them off, and then sit back and watch them hang around and be outliers for 4 months, and then catch fire and run off a 35-13 streak in August and September and somehow end up in the Playoffs, behind some unsung hero like Sonny Gray or Stephen Vogt.

3) Anaheim Angels (83-79)
Look up and down the Angels roster and one thing jumps out at you: This is a team that's loaded...with a bunch of guys that have ridiculous-sounding names. Come on, you want to tell me that guys like J.B. Shuck and Buddy Bosher are going to carry the Angels back to prominence? Things like this tend to get lost in the shuffle of their 4 players with ridiculously large contracts.

4) Seattle Mariners (72-90)
The Mariners problem is that out of all their recent prospects, be it Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero or whoever, none of them have panned out. So, the story of the Mariners season will once again be Felix Hernandez continuing to pitch well in often hopeless situations. On the upside, Robinson Cano did indeed deliver on his promise to bring a World Championship to Seattle. Unfortunately for Cano, it was the Seahawks and not the Mariners.

5) Houston Astros (58-104)
Fortunately for the Astros, the comically putrid hell hole that this team has had to endure over the past 4 years is starting to swing back towards the upside as many of their prospects are just about ready to hit the Major Leagues. But it's going to be a painfully slow upswing, because the names are going to surface in fits and starts. It seems like Meat Mountain Jonathan Singleton is just about ready, but others like Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Lance McCullers, Jr are still a few years off, which means that the Astros have to deal with a season of guys like Collin McHugh and will still have to take their lumps for another season. However, they can't possibly be worse than their 111-loss effort in 2013, when many, myself included, thought they might have overachieved by winning 51 games. By the way, in case anyone is still paying attention by then, the Astros will actually find themselves closing out their season against the Mets, in an interleague matchup that is sure to captivate everyone's minds.

AWARDS
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
AL Cy Young: James Shields, Royals
AL ROY: George Springer, Astros

PLAYOFFS
Wildcard Play-in Game: Royals over Orioles
AL Wildcard Game: Red Sox over Royals
ALDS: Rays over Red Sox, Tigers over Rangers
ALCS: Rays over Tigers

So, there you have it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Get It Right This Time (2014 National League Preview)

Only five days now until Opening Day, although you wouldn't be able to figure that out if you went outside, since it feels like January (or, more appropriately, any April night at Citi Field), but nonetheless, it's as good a time as any to share my convoluted thoughts on how the National League standings are going to break out this upcoming season. Last year (and in general), I was nowhere close to correct. I'll try to do better this year, but I really can't promise anything other than providing some mild amusement. As always, figure these records to be a general approximation of the final standing, plus or minus a 5-win margin of error. Or not.

NL EAST
1) Washington Nationals (91-71)
Last year, I picked the Nationals all the way to the NLCS, and of course they promptly came out and laid an egg for the first 4 months before finally getting their act together, sort of. By the end of the season, though they were out of contention, they were earning the label of "The Team Nobody Wants To Play." It's mostly the same group of guys this season, minus Dan Haren, who was ineffective, and plus Doug Fister, who was procured from Detroit and can be sneaky good. The bullpen is solid, assuming Tyler Clippard continues to be annoying and Drew Storen has his act together, and the offense is pretty damn solid. The keys, in particular, are the health of Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, and a return to form from Ryan Zimmerman. Regardless, they stack up as substantially better than their competition and I have a feeling they can run and hide if they get off to a fast start.

2) Atlanta Braves (83-79)
Say it with me now...
Over-Rated (clap-clap-clapclapclap)
Over-Rated (clap-clap-clapclapclap)
OVER-RATED (clap-clap-clapclapclap)!!!
I'm truly baffled by the continued fascination everyone has with this Paper Tiger team. They fattened up on a weak division and lucked out because Washington couldn't get out of their own way last season, masking the fact that toolsy B.J. Upton hit .200 all season and Awesome Andrelton Simmons struggled to bat his weight. Guys like Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward can shoulder some of the load, but they lost Brian McCann to Free Agency and Flathat Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to elbow injuries and at some point Craig Kimbrel is actually going to show that he's not worthy of the Mariano Rivera treatment he continues to get. Luis Avilan is apparently their Opening Day starter and Aaron Harang is involved in this picture, as is stone-handed strikeout machine Dan Uggla and that adds up to trouble in the long run. I'd pick them lower but there's a reasonable enough amount of talent there to prevent the ship from sinking completely. Expect them to be outliers that get a courtesy display in the Wildcard standings despite being 6 games out with 12 to play.

3) New York Mets (79-83)
In spite of the fact that management has spoon-fed us the "contend in 2014" mantra for a few years now, this team doesn't look like it's ready to make that leap yet. I've gone through it a bit already, but while anything's possible and the Mets could put it all together and be relevant in the Wildcard race, there's too much that needs to go right in order to say that with any kind of confidence. Both Ike Davis and the train wreck that is Lucas Duda are still prominently involved, and neither has taken charge or shown any kind of sign that they'll be what we hope they'll be. Ruben Tejada has been basically given the Shortstop job for reasons I clearly am not meant to know. At least the Outfield, with the additions of Chris Young and Curtis Granderson, is of Major League quality this year. Pitching, well, while the horses are in the organization, they're not going to be in the Major Leagues on Monday, save Zack Wheeler, who will get the nod in the season's 3rd game. Jonathon Niese has been a big question mark and it seems Daisuke Matsuzaka will make the team if what I'm hearing is correct. The bullpen is once again suspect, particularly since Bobby Parnell has struggled in Spring. That's all to say nothing of the fact that Matt Harvey isn't around, but even his presence on this team might not be enough to offset the lacks on offense and in the bullpen.

4) Philadelphia Phillies (74-88)
Nothing like a nice decaying dynasty, isn't there? After carrying the club through probably the greatest era in team history, now the Phillies are left with the bloated, untradeable contracts of the now well past-their-prime Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. A youth movement would have been nice, to find some pieces to complement Domonic Brown, but instead, the Phillies went out and signed Marlon Byrd (36), Wil Nieves (36), A.J. Burnett (37 and was set to retire) and Roberto Hernandez (33 and still hasn't sunk in that he's not Fausto Carmona anymore) to team up with Cole Hamels, who's injured, and Cliff Lee, who's looking more and more like very expensive trade bait to a contending team. We all knew this day would come, and man, it's going to be great to see these guys crash and burn.

5) Mickey Mouse Marlins (67-95)
Last year, the Marlins caught lightning in a bottle and the emergence of excitable 20-year old Rookie Jose Fernandez put some starch in an otherwise miserable season (that, annoyingly, was punctuated by the fact that they continually manhandled the Mets). They have some interesting youth projects on their roster right now in Henderson Alvarez, Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick to placate Giancarlo Stanton, but they're all completely unproven and most of the roster is filled with marginal players like Ed Lucas, Casey McGehee, Brian Bogusevic and Garrett Jones. Basically, you can expect another season of the Marlins getting run over by most teams, and somehow winning 11 of 18 from the Mets again.

NL CENTRAL
1) St. Louis Cardinals (95-67)
Why fight it. No matter how many players they lose, no matter how many Managers they change, the Fucking Cardinals will still somehow manage to win 90 games, many of them in the most annoying way possible.

2) Pittsburgh Pirates (89-73)
After finally making it back to the Playoffs for the first time in 21 years and winning the Wildcard Game, the Cardinals ended up spoiling the Pirates party. But the good vibes generated from that season shouldn't be erased. Though they did not gain much by way of offseason moves (unless you count Edinson Volquez and Jaff Decker key additions), this group, led by reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, should continue to perform well, particularly since they'll be getting a full season out of Gerrit Cole. Finally proving they can win and getting past that 20-year losing streak can help build a boatload of confidence in a young team, and though they won't sneak up on teams anymore, they still should be able to finish the job and make it back to the Wildcard game once again.

3) Cincinnati Reds (85-77)
I have a hard time figuring out the enigmatic Reds. On paper, they look like a team that really ought to run away with this division, and for all I know they may yet do that, but it's always something with this team, like Johnny Cueto having a meltdown, or Ryan Ludwick underperforming, or Brandon Phillips mysteriously aging, or Homer Bailey coming down with some bad vibes that morning. Whatever it is, a team that looked to be on cruise control in September kind of petered out at the end and eventually got bounced in the Wildcard game. Gone are longtime stalwart Bronson Arroyo and OBP machine Shin-Soo Choo, replaced by hotshot Rookie Billy Hamilton. Hamilton gets justifiable hype because of his speed, but it's an interesting experiment. Hamilton certainly has the skills to swipe 90-100 bases, but offensively, he's shown himself to be on par with, say, Joey Gathright. It's difficult to steal bases if you can't get on base first. That could be the Red Herring in the Reds season.

4) Milwaukee Brewers (78-84)
The addition of Matt Garza to this roster and the return of Steroid Pariah Ryan Braun give the Brewers a little bit of intrigue, but this team still has a number of holes not easily filled by the pieces in place. Carlos Gomez had an outstanding season last year, but they're also still trotting out Aramis Ramirez, who's aged about as well as Scott Rolen did, and never-will-be Rickie Weeks, to go along with a bunch of guys you've probably never heard of. Also in the mix are Pirate Castoffs Tom Gorzelanny and Zach Duke, never a good sign.

5) Chicago Cubs (69-93)
Help is on the way for the Cubs, but it's still a couple of years off. After throwing money around willy nilly for years, the Cubs are now sort of trying the Houston Astros model of rebuilding, although not quite at the dramatic level that the Astros did it. Regardless, there's a number of interesting, intriguing prospects that are kicking around the Cubs Minor League system. Unfortunately, these prospects won't do the Cubs a damn bit of good this season, so instead they're looking at another long, unexciting year.

NL WEST
1) Los Angeles Dodgers (96-66)
The Dodgers are like everyone's darlings since they managed to out-Yankee the Yankees this season, and it certainly will translate some wins, because the lineup and the pitching staff are loaded, but man, these guys are going to piss you off. They're two games into the season and already Yasiel Puig has managed to piss off his manager and Adrian Gonzalez and everyone who likes to write about violent stuff. So lord only knows what the rest of the season has in store. Zack Greinke mouthed off on Australia, Matt Kemp mouthed off on something else, and we haven't even gotten to Brian Wilson yet. Plus they have old friends Justin Turner and Mike Baxter kicking around their roster. They're going to win, this is unavoidable. Just try not to get too hot and bothered by it and then enjoy it when they inevitably shit the bed in October.

2) San Francisco Giants (86-76)
The Giants hit a wall for one reason or another last year, but for the most part this is the same team that's won two World Series Championships in the past 4 years, and that's not something that can be easily overlooked. As much as you'd like to think that their low, leaky offense that consists of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and nobody else in particular, the pitching, behind Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and the Artist formerly known as Tim Lincecum, was bolstered by the signing of Pro's pro Tim Hudson and is still capable of carrying the team to a higher level. You can fall asleep on them but there they are, contending for a Wildcard and making things difficult for other teams.

3) San Diego Padres (81-81)
San Diego seems to be getting an awful lot of "sleeper" talk this Spring, for reasons I can understand, because they're banking on a Chase Headley rebound and a Jedd Gyorko ascension, and other guys like Yonder Alonso and Will Venable had decent years last year, and maybe if Josh Johnson and Ian Kennedy can get their respective shit together, then maybe they've got something here. But maybe. Much like the Mets, they need a lot to go right in order to be a serious contender, and too much needs to go right for them to seriously contend.

4) Colorado Rockies (79-83)
The Colorados are one of those teams that I don't think knows what they are just yet. They added Brett Anderson, Boone Logan and old friend LaTroy Hawkins to a pitching staff that included nobody noteworthy, and on the other side, they certainly will hit, but the Colorados are another one of those teams that ends up getting killed by injuries and guys like Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez end up being replaced by guys like Charlie McCharlieman and D.J. LaNosehair, and that's not good for business.

5) Arizona Diamondbacks (76-86)
I don't necessarily think the D'Backs are a last place team, but they're probably the least together team in a particularly good division. Losing Patrick Corbin for the season kind of takes the starch out of their season, and although the addition of Mark Trumbo in addition to Paul Goldschmidt certainly puts a ton of feast-or-famine thunder in the middle of their lineup, there's also a little too much Cliff Pennington/Eric Chavez/Didi Brontasaurius going around to make things too exciting. Also, Oliver Perez.

AWARDS
NL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
NL ROY: Travis d'Arnaud, Mets

PLAYOFFS
NL Wildcard Game: Pirates over Giants
NLDS: Cardinals over Nationals; Dodgers over Pirates
NLCS: Cardinals over Dodgers

Again, why fight it. But maybe since I'm predicting it, it won't actually happen.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Enter The Hammer

For the third year in a row, the Mets are poised to add a prized pitching prospect to their starting rotation in the middle of the season, in spite of heavy debate as to whether or not said pitching prospect should be in the Minor Leagues at all. But so far, this has been the plan the regime has stuck to, and as such, Noah Syndergaard was sent down to Minor League camp earlier in the week. This was mere formality; in spite of the Mets need for some juice in the early going this coming season, it behooves them not to rush Syndergaard too much in the name of a team that's still not quite ready to contend. Plus, to this point, he hasn't pitched above AA, and, sure, while the Marlins shit a diamond with Jose Fernandez in this instance last season, the Marlins were grasping at straws (and given the Marlins state of affairs, he'll end up getting traded to Detroit that much sooner). The Mets appear to have a much more measured approach to this end.

That being said, we can expect to see Syndergaard dropping his hammer at Citi Field some time around June or July, and the Mets seem to be prepping for him to be able to extend himself once he gets called up. It's a bit of a bizarre plan that Paul DePodesta laid forth on Wednesday, but, hey, it might just work. The idea is that the Mets will potentially carry a 6-man starting rotation on their AAA team, in addition to a 5-inning/60-pitch limit until he's called up to the Majors. This isn't optimal when you take durability into consideration, but maybe the plan will be relaxed to give him more innings/more pitches just to get him stretched out shortly before he's recalled.

The hard cap on Syndergaard's innings this season is 150, which is certainly a low number for a guy who's going to be 22 at the end of August. But given his career path to this point, it's probably smart. Syndergaard, for all his hype, only threw 117.2 innings in the Minors last year, and in 2012 only 103. The thought process is to try to extend by about 20 or so innings each year, so it may yet be a few seasons before we really get to see just how durable Syndergaard can be. He's built in a similar mold to Mike Pelfrey, sort of a large (6'7"), loafy (240lb) type, and that certainly served Pelfrey well as an innings-eater for a few seasons until he fell victim to the dreaded elbow reconstruction. Of course, Pelfrey had large innings jumps early in his career with the Mets due to the team being in a pennant race and the lack of other options, and ended up with a 40+ inning jump between 2007 and 2008, which could have contributed to later troubles. But that theory only works if you really believe in it, and aren't convinced that elbow injuries are just random things that happen frequently if you repeatedly use your arm to continually repeat an action that the human arm isn't necessarily designed to do.

Point is, the Mets are once again being excessively cautious with a young arm, which is fine for now. We can expect a nice soupcon of Syndergaard some time this summer, and I'm sure it will be tantalizing, just as Harvey in '12 and Wheeler in '13. And it's nice that the Mets are sort of thinking that saving his innings for when he's called up will get the fans juiced up that much more. But in the larger scheme of things, it's not going to make much difference until these three guys are performing up to the expectations everyone has for them.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Try To Go To Rehab

I'm sort of baffled as to why there's any news whatsoever in regard to Matt Harvey beyond him rehabbing his elbow and things going good or bad as such. But since this is the Mets, an organization where the team's General Manager once called out a reporter for intentionally attempting to get his batshit crazy assistant fired so he could angle for the job, I suppose nothing's shocking anymore.

That's why I suppose it makes sense that the news out of the Mets today involved Harvey getting into an argument with management about his speaking with a Daily News reporter. I'm not sure why the Mets want to put this media blackout on Harvey. It seems to me that when you have a star player who enjoys the public attention, he ought to be allowed to embrace that, even if he's injured and doesn't have much to discuss beyond his own rehabilitation. Ultimately, Harvey met with Sandy Alderson and cleared things up, but once a story like this catches on, it's easy for it to blow up. In the NFL, players are fined if they don't make themselves available to the Media, but here, the Mets are trying to squelch one of the few players that inspires genuine fan excitement. This baffles me, but whatever. I'm a bit beyond trying to figure out what goes through the heads of upper management.

This ties in neatly to the reason Harvey was airing his general gripes to Andy Martino in the first place. Harvey was initially miffed that his locker was moved away from the rest of the players on the team. I suppose that's neither here nor there, but as he's out for the season, this apparently is standard procedure. Harvey was also under the impression that the Mets didn't want him to do 1-on-1 interviews with the media. Alderson contends that this wasn't quite the case; the Mets wanted him to hold group interviews for ease of PR, which, you know, really is the first consideration of a 24-year old superstar in the process of recovering from major surgery.

The larger issue here is the age-old disconnect between what Mets Management thinks is best and what the player thinks is best, and in this instance it's where Matt Harvey should be allowed to rehab. Ultimately, Harvey has final say, and if his preference is to rehab in New York with the team, then he should be allowed to. Why not? This is his comfort zone, he'll be in his element with his teammates and his coaches, and not out in the wilderness that is Port St. Lucie. The Mets want him in Florida where he's away from distractions and able to focus solely on getting himself ready to pitch come the opening bell of 2015.

Alderson's stance on the matter makes sense from a logic standpoint. Harvey happens to disagree. In a vacuum, this issue is probably very easily solved; just sit down in a room for half an hour and work out a schedule that makes everyone happy. I'm sure that this is exactly what's going on with the similarly rehabbing Jeremy Hefner. This snafu gets all the ink because this is Matt Harvey we're talking about, and Matt Harvey is a headline-grabber, even when he's hurt.

Ultimately, though it may not be the best idea, it's probably the wisest idea to just let Harvey rehab where he wants to. By foisting a particular option on him, you run the risk of alienating him, and this could prove problematic, particularly considering the fact that Harvey is well aware of the rights afforded to him by the Player's Union. Going further, this could be problematic come contract negotiations if Harvey feels that the Mets don't respect his wishes. So, fine. In the long run, an issue like this is really much ado about stuffing. If it's a bad choice, it's a bad choice, and just like any 24-year old that makes a bad choice, he's got to have that experience in order to realize it's a bad choice and not make the same mistake the next time around (hopefully there is not a next time around in this particular instance).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Back In Playing Shape

Once again, I had these great grand ideas about keeping up with things to talk about here and there through February and bridging things in to Spring Training as opposed to last year where I didn't write anything for a month, and, of course, I did none of it. And now Opening Day is less than two weeks away and I'm out of condition for the daily grind of Blogging after several months of Football and not much to write about, at least as it pertains to the Mets.

The new faces in camp, a majority of whom I'm only vaguely familiar with, don't merit great amounts of discussion, or at least not until I see them lining up along the first base line at Citi Field on March 31st. Other, bigger names were either discussed (Granderson), or not, because I could say everything that needs to be said about Chris Young and Bartolo Colon in a few sentences. Chris Young: Get your act together and show what you are, otherwise you're gone (and on a 1-year deal he's got a lot to prove). Bartolo Colon: Lay off the clubhouse spread. Or not, if that's what's doing it for you.

Young and Colon aren't going to make or break the Mets this year. I had, in February, some blind thought that maybe there was something to the 90-win talk. But a lot had to go right for that to happen. Based on what little I've seen (and lots that I've heard) from Spring Training, it seems like things are already off to a bad start. Jonathon Niese, the de facto Opening Day starter, is suffering from some sort of general malaise that's caused him to pitch poorly and return to New York twice for MRIs that have proven inconclusive. Ruben Tejada, who's in every Mets fan's doghouse, has done nothing to inspire any confidence that he'll return to the form he showed in 2012 that had us all excited. Regardless, it seems he'll be handed the Shortstop job, over Wilmer Flores, who if nothing else is a change of pace, or Free Agent Stephen Drew, probably because a move like that makes too much sense. Travis d'Arnaud, in spite of taking control of the pitching staff, hasn't hit like we hoped he would. Laverne and Shirley (or, more appropriately, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda), haven't even set foot on the field. And the back end of a rotation that was supposed to be pretty damn good is now looking like a mishmash of retreads because nobody among John Lannan, Jenrry Mejia and Daisuke Matsuzaka has stepped up. So, you know, we can look forward to Mejia ostensibly being wasted in the bullpen while Lannan pitches to a 6.34 ERA in 5 ill-advised starts and Matsuzaka only does slightly better.

Add this all up, and this Spring Training hasn't exactly shown much for me to get incredibly excited about. And that sucks, because I was actually starting to believe that the corner had been turned. And that may yet be the case, but after 5 lost years, I think I can be excused for being a little impatient. The upshot is that by 2015, the Mets hold the potential to have some seriously good pitching at the top of the rotation, if Wheeler builds on last season, Noah Syndergaard ascends as advertised and Matt Harvey returns strong, leaving a back of the rotation that features Jonathon Niese (if he can get his shit together) and Dillon Gee, no slouch in his own right. The best part about this equation is that it means no rotation spots will be wasted on John Lannan-types. The downside is, of course, that this is at least a year away, and that's assuming things go right.

Unfortunately, for the Mets, things going right has been a dicey proposition in recent seasons.