ARLINGTON -- Adam Rubin, who covers the New York Mets for ESPNNewYork.com, was kind enough to answer some questions about the Mets heading into this weekend's series with Texas. Here goes:
Q: What's the latest with Jose Reyes and his contract talks? Do you think the Mets might trade Reyes at the deadline? What do you expect the team to do at the deadline?
AR: GM Sandy Alderson approached Reyes’ agent, Peter Greenberg, last week trying to initiate contract talks, if only to make a more informed decision about whether to trade Reyes on or before July 31. Greenberg was in Japan at the time and met with his client Monday at Reyes’ house on Long Island. The two resolved that no talks would take place in-season, and relayed that information to Alderson.
Given the Mets’ challenging schedule during the next month (at Texas, at Detroit, vs. Yankees, at Dodgers, at Giants, vs. Philadelphia), fading from even wild-card contention is widely expected. So the Mets should be sellers. Carlos Beltran, in the final season of a seven-year, $119 million contract, is most likely to be moved. Francisco Rodriguez should be shopped too, but the complication is that K-Rod has a vesting option for 2012 at $17.5 million if he finishes 55 games this season. He is currently on pace to exceed that total. Otherwise, Rodriguez gets a $3.5 million buyout in addition to his $11.5 million salary for 2011. Rodriguez does have a 10-team no-trade clause. Jason Isringhausen, who has closing experience and a modest salary, would be an easy piece to trade, too.
As for Reyes, Alderson indicated his situation is different from the others -- meaning it’s not contingent upon whether the Mets are in a race or have faded. My expectation is the Mets will retain Reyes for the remainder of the season unless they are bowled over at the trading deadline. They then will make a run at signing him next offseason, probably come up short in dollars and years on their offer, and then collect the draft picks.
Q: Speaking of Reyes, he's having another solid season. What makes him so productive?
AR: Health is the biggest factor. Early in his career (which, by the way, began with his debut in Texas in 2003), Reyes was tormented by leg issues. Last season, Reyes had a thyroid scare in spring training and opened the season on the disabled list, then dealt with a lingering oblique issue during the summer. Reyes still does not walk nearly enough for a leadoff hitter, but his high batting average this season is masking that deficiency. Also, the dimensions of the Mets’ stadium, Citi Field, which has a big gap in right-center, is ideal for Reyes’ speed and flair for triples.
Q: Jason Bay was moved to the cleanup spot on Wednesday. Do you think he'll stay there? How has he been this season?
AR: Bay has endured a miserable two seasons with the Mets. He did not play after July 25 last season because he suffered a concussion at Dodger Stadium crashing into the outfield wall. Even after homering Tuesday against Oakland, he still had only nine long balls in two seasons as a Met -- not the production the organization sought when it signed Bay for four years, $66 million two winters ago. Tuesday’s homer off Josh Outman snapped a 104 at-bat homerless drought, the second-longest streak of Bay’s career without a long ball. After three hits Tuesday, Bay almost moved to the cleanup spot by default. Daniel Murphy had been hitting fourth, but he was 3-for-his-last-29. And the Mets simply lack other candidates with Ike Davis (ankle) and David Wright (back) on the disabled list.
After going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in his return to the cleanup spot, Jason Bay found himself back in the No. 6 hole for Thursday's matinee. We'll see what the Mets decide to do with Bay with two left-handed starters expected to go for the Rangers.
Q: How do you think the Mets will utilize the DH spot this weekend?
AR: In the Friday game against Matt Harrison and Sunday game against Derek Holland, righty-hitting Scott Hairston should be the extra bat in the lineup. In Saturday’s game against Alexi Ogando, lefty-hitting Lucas Duda should get that assignment. Who is the DH? That will largely be contingent upon Carlos Beltran’s preference. Unpredictably, because he has been tormented in recent seasons by trouble with an arthritic right knee, Beltran has played more games than any other Met this season. Manager Terry Collins will give Beltran the option to DH or continue to play right field, where Beltran shifted this season after previously playing center field. If Beltran wants to give his knees a mild break, he’ll DH and Hairston or Duda will play the outfield. Otherwise, vice versa.
Q: Which Mets have surprised you the most -- both good and bad -- this season?
AR: Rookie right-hander Dillon Gee, a former 21st-round pick from Texas-Arlington, who was raised in Cleburne, has been the most pleasant performer. And that’s not pandering to the crowd. Before walking a career-high six batters and suffering the loss Tuesday against the Angels, Gee had raced to a 7-0 start to the season. That was the second-best beginning to a season in Mets franchise history by a starting pitcher. The only better: Dwight Gooden’s 8-0 start in 1989. It also was the best start to a season by a rookie in the majors since Jered Weaver opened 9-0 in 2006. Beltran’s durability, even if his mobility has decreased at this stage of his career, also has been a pleasant surprise.
On the negative side, Bay’s continued power outage has been surprising. Usually players struggle in their first season in New York after signing big contracts, but they tend to blossom after that adjustment period. Bay has not.
Q: Anyone under the radar that Rangers fans should keep an eye on this series?
AR: Justin Turner’s production has slowed as other teams make adjustments and he deals with a thumb injury, but he was the NL Rookie of the Month for May and has filled in well for the injured Wright at third base. The Mets had five second base competitors in spring training. Luis Castillo was released late in spring training, as the Mets ate his $6 million contract. The organization went with Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus as its regular starter in April. He flopped and was returned. Murphy, one of the second base competitors, initially made the team as a lefty bat for the bench and is now the primary first baseman with Davis on the DL (except against certain left-handed pitchers). Turner and Ruben Tejada originally were dispatched to Triple-A Buffalo. Now both are starting in the infield -- Turner at third and Tejada at second.
Q: Give us a brief scouting report on the starting pitchers the Rangers will see.
AR: Right-hander Mike Pelfrey is coming off a complete game against the Angels, and his pitch counts have been low of late. That’s because Pelfrey has been throwing a ton of strikes. Being around the zone so much has made him susceptible to the long ball, particularly when he throws a four-seam fastball. Pelfrey already has allowed more homers (13) than he did all of last season (12), which is mildly surprising since his bread-and-butter pitch is a sinker. Pelfrey is a candidate to be traded, although more likely after the season. He has two more years under the Mets’ control but is already making $3.925 million and is arbitration-eligible.
Left-hander Jon Niese stumbled in his last outing, but before that had been 4-1 with a 1.58 ERA in a six-start stretch. Niese’s signature pitch is a big-breaking curveball. He also employs a cutter to try to keep righty batters honest.
Gee, whose father Kevin is a Fort Worth firefighter, relies on his changeup. His fastball only averages 89 mph, but it’s deceptively fast. He also has a curveball. Look for Gee to use the curveball more in Texas, since he only threw it two or three times against the A’s. Terry Collins criticized the lack of use of the breaking ball after that start.
Q: How has the Mets bullpen done this season? Rangers are looking for setup relievers. Anyone there that you think could be traded?
AR: K-Rod will be on the block, with that onerous vesting option. Isringhausen, who has 293 career saves, could be useful. He is filling the eighth-inning role with the Mets, but is a threat to break down because of his injury history and age (38). The lone left-hander is Tim Byrdak, who could be pried away.
Q: Anything else Rangers fans should know about the Mets?
AR: We got this far and have yet to mention the team’s financial woes. The owners are being sued for more than $1 billion by the trustee trying to recover funds for victims of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The owners announced plans to sell a minority share of the team to hedge-fund guru David Einhorn, although the sale has yet to be made official. The terms ESPNNewYork.com has reported are highly favorable to Einhorn and suggest how cash-strapped the Wilpon family that owns the team is. Essentially, Einhorn is buying one-third of the team for $200 million. He has an option to up his share to 60 percent in three to five years. The Wilpons can block Einhorn by returning his $200 million and allowing him to keep one-sixth of the team. Essentially, Einhorn’s worst-case scenario is to have made a $200 million loan and own 16.5 percent of the team for his trouble. His best-case scenario is he’s majority owner of a major league team in a few years.