New York Mets: 20 Questions

20 questions: Why did Harvey improve?

February, 8, 2013
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Scouts said Matt Harvey looked like a middle-of-the-rotation starter while pitching in Triple-A last season. Heck, even Buffalo manager Wally Backman told Terry Collins for a month that Harvey was not ready.

So how do you explain the difference between Harvey’s showing in the International League and in the majors, when Harvey posted a 2.73 ERA and struck out 70 in 59 1/3 innings during what was considered his rookie season?

Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports
Matt Harvey.

Boredom in the minors, Collins believes.

And Harvey does not disagree.

“I read all the minor league reports,” Collins said. “I read about Matt Harvey and talked to Wally once a week and heard, ‘Hey, look, he’s got to get better at this. He’s got to get better at that.’ And this guy came up and what I got in my reports and what I saw were two different animals. And I told Matt, ‘You might have been here a month ago had the reports been what we’re seeing.’

“Wally, when he came up in September, said, ‘I never saw this.’”

Said Harvey: “I’ve always wanted to be in the big leagues. Getting drafted out of high school, it was big leagues, big leagues, big leagues, big leagues. And then the minor leagues was kind of like that. ‘What do I got to do to get there? What do I got to do to get there?’ Once I was there, it was, ‘All right, let’s go. Let’s get the guys out. Let’s pound the zone.’ I don’t have to worry about anything but getting that guy out. It just seemed like everything took off.

“I think it was just the mental side -- not wondering what I had to do to get to the big leagues. All of a sudden it was, ‘What do I have to do to get that guy out? I don’t care about anything else. I don’t care if I’m throwing a changeup or if I’m throwing my curveball for a strike.’ No matter what I do, if I get that guy out, I’m doing my job. That was the different mindset, which I wish I had in Triple-A. If there was any advice I would give, especially to Zack [Wheeler], it’s: ‘Don’t worry about what’s up here. Worry about getting that guy out. That’s your job.’”

As for his 2012 introduction to the majors, Harvey added: “I look at the win and loss record and 3-5 is not ideal for me, but getting up there and giving the team a chance to win is also my job. I feel like I did that quite a bit, and that’s what I want to keep doing. We’ll see what happens, but I’m going to try to go nine innings every time I take the ball. If I don’t then I don’t feel like it’s very successful for me. I strive to be one of the best. I strive to be the best. I’m not going to settle for anything other than that.”

Read the full set of 20 questions here.

20 Questions: Is d'Arnaud's knee ready?

February, 7, 2013
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, who arrived in Port St. Lucie on Monday, has recognized a few familiar faces with his new employer. D’Arnaud and John Buck were acquainted from when Buck was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010. And Ike Davis and d’Arnaud were part of a group that worked out a couple of offseasons ago at Fischer Sports in Phoenix.

Adam Rubin
Travis d'Arnaud participated in voluntary drills Thursday in Port St. Lucie.

D'Arnaud's other curiosity this week, aside from meeting new teammates? Getting back on a baseball field to confirm his knee is fine.

D’Arnaud’s 2012 season ended at Las Vegas on June 25 when he partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during an aggressive slide at second base. No surgery was required. His first bona fide baseball activity since the injury came this week.

“Baseball-wise I shut it down, just rehabbed and made sure my knee was 100 percent,” d’Arnaud said Thursday morning. “I’m really antsy right now to get on the field. I caught a bullpen. I felt fine. I felt really good, actually. I did some blocking drills, footwork and everything, and it all felt good. I knew it was going to be fine. I worked all offseason to get it right. It’s good.”

Mets bench coach Bob Geren worked with the catchers again Thursday and continued to offer a favorable early review of the ballyhooed return in the trade for R.A. Dickey.

Geren spoke for an hour on Wednesday night with Don Wakamatsu, the Jays’ catching instructor and Geren’s former bench coach with the A’s, about d’Arnaud.

“He’s just real athletic,” Geren said about d'Arnaud. “Surprising power. I knew he had power, but it was even more than I envisioned. I haven’t seen him throw yet, but I’ve heard great things. He’s going to be a good one. He’s very athletic.”

Geren doesn’t think last year’s knee injury will prompt the Mets to treat d’Arnaud conservatively this spring training, but he’s awaiting official word.

“I’m sure we’ll touch on that Sunday or Monday when we go over it in our meetings -- what the medical advice is,” Geren said. “They go over each player. I asked him that personally. He said he had no restrictions. But that’s what he says. Obviously you always get cleared the medical end of it first, but it doesn’t look like it’s setting him back.”

20 questions: When will Mets spend again?

February, 6, 2013
Mr. Met (Money Issue) Illustration by Remie Geoffroi
The Mets became the final team in Major League Baseball to sign a free agent to a major league contract this offseason when Shaun Marcum recently came on board. And the payroll is a very un-New York-like figure -- less than $100 million, even if money deferred from Jason Bay’s buyout and from David Wright’s extension is still counted as part of 2013 spending.

So when will the Mets reengage in free agency and spend?

Sandy Alderson makes it sound like that point is coming soon -- heck, even potentially with Michael Bourn still this offseason.

For now, though, Frank Francisco remains the largest free-agent contract to which Alderson has committed in three offseasons as general manager -- two years, $12 million. The Mets are entering the second season of that deal, with Francisco due to make $6.5 million in 2013.

Alderson has now suggested on multiple occasions that the lack of spending is on him, not ownership. The reality of the situation is it is probably a blend of the two.

The GM clearly is averse to being super-aggressive in free agency, so you have to wonder if the Mets will ever land a premium free agent, given there seems to always be at least one super-aggressive bidder, and it’s hard to picture Alderson becoming that GM.

Still, clearly there would not have been hesitancy to sign players such as Scott Hairston to two-year deals at relatively modest sums if the overall payroll was hovering in the $140 million range, as it has in the past.

“I don’t think we intended to ‘make the market’ on free agents at the outset of this offseason. We were focused on David Wright and R.A. Dickey,” Alderson said. “Those were guys that got most of our attention with respect to multi-year deals.

“And I think there is a general hesitancy, given where we are as a team, to become too active too early in free agency. We’ve got a lot of money coming off the books next year. However, there are targets of opportunity as well. And you have to be prepared to take advantage of what emerges from the market if you can where there’s a fit both in terms of performance and position, and finances.”

“What I think was interesting about this offseason is that so much money was spent on starting pitching that relief pitching almost became an afterthought as opposed to, let’s say, the market for relief pitching last year. What we’ve tried to do is be somewhat patient but, at the same time, take advantage of what the market afforded us. So that’s why we’ve added some relief pitching.”

20 questions: Plan for platoon in outfield?

February, 5, 2013
Associated PressUnless Michael Bourn comes on board, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill are slated to platoon in center field.
Platoons are not anything new with the Mets.

There have been celebrated ones such as Wally Backman and Tim Teufel at second base, which contributed to a championship.

And not-so-celebrated ones, including Shane Spencer and Karim Garcia in right field. Or, more recently, Mike Jacobs and Fernando Tatis at first base, which stalled and led to the mid-April promotion of Ike Davis two years ago.

Will the Mets be using that arrangement to an extreme in 2013 in the outfield?

Barring the signing of free-agent Michael Bourn to man center field, apparently so.

Lefty-hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis and right-hitting Collin Cowgill otherwise are projected to platoon in center field. And lefty-hitting Mike Baxter and righty-hitting Marlon Byrd or Andrew Brown should platoon in right field.

Terry Collins even will experiment with righty-hitting infielders Justin Turner and Zach Lutz as outfielders during spring training. While lefty-hitting Lucas Duda should get semi-regular duty in left field, perhaps either Turner or Lutz chips away at Duda’s time against southpaws.

Duda’s splits are not overly dramatic average-wise, although he has shown considerably more power against right-handed pitching. For his major league career, he has hit .261 with 25 homers in 571 at-bats against righties. He has hit .242 with four homers in 215 at-bats against southpaws.

“Well, it could be more productive,” Sandy Alderson said about the platoons. “It also creates an opportunity for more than one person to get playing time -- and through that playing time earn more playing time. It’s a way of being productive. It’s also a way of seeing what we have. There are positives.

“No one establishes a major league reputation until they get an opportunity to play, and maybe play consistently, at the major league level. We’re going to get a chance to see a number of players. And they’re all motivated because they all believe they have a chance to make the major league roster. In that sense it’s a positive.”

20 questions: Will Parnell get closing act?

February, 4, 2013
Sandy Alderson has made little secret of his concern about Frank Francisco’s ability to capably close in 2013. And the GM pursued free-agent Jose Valverde with an eye toward unseating Francisco as closer for the upcoming season.

So is Bobby Parnell potentially the next closer for the Mets?

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports
Bobby Parnell was dominant this past September.

Very possibly.

Alderson even acknowledged during last week’s Hot Stove Show on SNY that if a closer was not added before Opening Day, Parnell would at least compete for the closer’s role with Francisco during spring training.

The 28-year-old Parnell has been considered the closer of the future for a long time.

In fact, he has vied for the role a couple of times in the past and flopped. Those auditions included late in the 2011 season, after Jason Isringhausen had notched his 300th career save. In 15 appearances that September, Parnell had more blown saves (four) than saves three).

So the Mets went out and signed Francisco to a two-year, $12 million contract that offseason. Francisco will earn $6.5 million during the upcoming season as part of the modestly back-loaded deal.

Isringhausen did teach Parnell a knuckle-curveball during the 2011 season, which Parnell incorporated into his arsenal last year. Also, instead of always rearing back and firing his fastball, Parnell took a little velocity off the pitch in order to better harness his control. (His four-seam fastball velocity averaged 95.8 mph last season -- down from 97.2 mph in 2011.)

The result: This past September, Parnell produced a 0.60 ERA and .191 batting average in 15 appearances. He notched three saves with no blown opportunities. And Parnell reasserted himself as a consideration to handle the closer’s role.

20 Questions: How low will attendance go?

February, 1, 2013
The New York Mets have finished in fourth place in each of their first four seasons at Citi Field, failing to produce a winning record in any of those campaigns.

They went 70-92 in the inaugural season at Citi Field in 2009, then 79-83, 77-85 and 74-88.

Courtesy of New York MetsHow many people will join Mr. Met at Citi Field in 2013?
Attendance has steadily declined during that span as well. After drawing 4,042,045 in their final season at larger-capacity Shea Stadium in 2008, the attendance figures since:

2009: 3,168,571
2010: 2,559,738
2011: 2,352,596
2012: 2,242,803

That’s declines of 21.6 percent, 19.2 percent, 8.1 percent and 4.7 percent.

The Mets ranked 17th in the 30-team majors last season in attendance.

How low will it go in 2013 if the losing persists?

"My thoughts are that Citi Field is still in the honeymoon period of a new facility that can last anywhere from three to eight years," says Old Dominion University assistant professor of sports management Stephen Shapiro, who soon will release a study of the Mets’ dynamic ticket pricing in 2012. "Attendance has not dropped below 2.2 million since the ballpark opened, despite slight drops in winning percentage over the past three seasons. This is probably due to strong fan support in a large market.

"Assuming a similar trend in on-field success and the novelty of a new ballpark wearing off, my best guess would be another 5 to 8 percent attendance drop, similar to the last two years -- around or slightly below 2 million."

The Mets should benefit this season from the All-Star Game carrot. Fans needed to purchase season tickets in order to be assured the right to purchase All-Star Game strips that include the Futures Game, Home Run Derby and Mid-Summer Classic.

The Mets seemed to slow the recently steep declines in ticket sales last year by offering several late-season promotions, including one adult ticket entitling the spectator to get three youth seats for free. (All the tickets are counted as sold, presumably, at a fraction of their actual value -- meaning the ticket-sales decline likely is exacerbated by a revenue decline.)

The Mets have not had a sub-2 million attendance since 1997, when they drew 1,766,174.

This much is clear: The Mets are not in danger of setting any franchise records.

The 1979 Mets hold that distinction. They drew 788,905 while Joe Torre led them to a 63-99 record.

20 questions: What's pen state for Mets?

January, 31, 2013

Getty Images
Frank Francisco, Josh Edgin and Bobby Parnell are holdovers in the 2013 bullpen.
Sandy Alderson told season-ticket holders Wednesday night that the bullpen will be as "deep" as any he has employed with the Mets.

Barring the addition of Brian Wilson, whom Alderson has suggested he likely would watch audition a second time, what will it look like?

Alderson recently had added right-hander Scott Atchison and left-hander Pedro Feliciano, both of whom have the pedigree to be effective. But both come with question marks, too. The agents for LaTroy Hawkins then announced a minor league deal in the wee hours Thursday morning.

Despite putting up a career-best 1.58 ERA last season with the Boston Red Sox, Atchison missed two months with a ligament tear before returning in mid-September without undergoing Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, Feliciano has not pitched in the majors since his last tour of duty with the Mets, in 2010. And Hawkins is 40 years old.

So each has some gamble associated with him -- albeit at a far cheaper expense than last year's bullpen pieces such as Jon Rauch ($3.5 million) and Ramon Ramirez ($2.65 million).

Frank Francisco still has the distinction of receiving the largest contract in Alderson’s three offseasons as GM -- two years and $12 million. So count Francisco as a lock for somewhere in the back end of the bullpen in 2013, when he will earn $6.5 million.

Right-hander Bobby Parnell should be a primary set-up man. And Josh Edgin’s generally solid showings after a mid-July promotion likely lock him in as a southpaw to count on.

If the Mets carry two left-handers in the pen (and Terry Collins could want as many as three, considering the heavy presence of lefty hitters in the division), Robert Carson, Scott Rice, Aaron Laffey and Darin Gorski presumably would be compete with Feliciano to join Edgin.

Tim Byrdak has re-signed on a minor league deal, but he will not be ready until the second half after undergoing Sept. 6 surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder -- the same procedure Johan Santana previously underwent.

If Francisco, Parnell, Edgin, Atchison, Feliciano and Hawkins end up being on the Opening Day roster, and there is no other notable signing such as Wilson, that leaves one slot remaining.

One typically goes to a long man, which is where Jeremy Hefner or Laffey might fit. Collin McHugh would be far more likely to end up in Triple-A Las Vegas’ rotation than that long-relief role, since organizations typically like to have their prospects -- even second-tier prospects -- regularly pitching and developing.

If, say, Atchison or Hawkins falters or becomes injured during spring training, or the Mets go without a bona fide long man, a live young arm such as Jenrry Mejia or Jeurys Familia could claim a spot with a solid Grapefruit League showing -- with the other heading to Las Vegas’ rotation.

Another option: Greg Burke, whom the Mets signed to a minor league deal very early in the offseason. Team officials then put Burke on the 40-man roster to protect him from being eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Burke went 3-3 with a 4.14 ERA in 48 relief appearances for the San Diego Padres in 2009. He has pitched in Triple-A each of the past three seasons.

Also in camp: ex-White Sox/Rockies reliever Carlos Torres.

20 questions: Who's up first for Mets?

January, 30, 2013

Getty Images
Ruben Tejada, Collin Cowgill and Daniel Murphy are the primary leadoff candidates for Terry Collins.
If the Mets somehow land Michael Bourn, this discussion will be over. But if the team heads to camp without any additional outfielder, which appears the likelihood, who will lead off for the Mets in 2013?

Terry Collins has not firmly decided. But Ruben Tejada, Collin Cowgill and Daniel Murphy would get the most consideration, along with “maybe” Kirk Nieuwenhuis, according to the manager.

None is an ideal choice.

Tejada looks the part, as a shortstop with a slight frame. But he has stolen only 11 bases in 18 attempts over 288 career major league games, isn’t quick and actually is not a good baserunner, either.

Improving his skills on the bases will be a point of emphasis during spring training.

Regardless, Tejada may be the most likely among non-optimal choices.

He had a .333 on-base percentage last season. That actually is 15 points higher than the league average for the leadoff spot in 2012. Only five NL teams had a better OBP out of their leadoff men in 2012 -- the Chicago Cubs (.346), Colorado Rockies (.344), Atlanta Braves (.342), St. Louis Cardinals (.337) and San Francisco Giants (.335).

One complication with Tejada being the full-time leadoff man: Tejada has a far higher OBP against lefty pitchers than righties: .367 versus .316 in 2012.

Mixing and matching Tejada and Cowgill wouldn’t really work for that reason. Cowgill, during his brief major league career, has an even-more-pronounced difference: a .379 OBP versus southpaws and .273 versus righties.

As for Murphy, he had a near-identical overall OBP to Tejada in 2012 -- .332.

Murphy might work in a platoon with Tejada as the leadoff man, if Collins is not wed to sticking with one player.

Murphy’s OBP against righty pitching last season was .341. Couple that with Tejada’s .367 versus lefties and that’s a more-than-acceptable tandem from an OBP perspective.

Of course, Murphy would be the anti-Jose Reyes -- someone who is a no threat to steal.

Who historically fits that category? Well, Pete Rose, Tony Phillips, Derek Jeter and David Eckstein are among the leadoff men over the past half-century who had the most games in a season in which they reached base multiple times without stealing.

Last season, Nick Markakis hit .335 with a .390 OBP in 221 at-bats in the leadoff spot for Baltimore and did not produce a steal.

Chris Coghlan in 2009 with the Marlins had a .336 average and .397 OBP in 446 at-bats in the leadoff spot, while swiping only seven bases.

Cowgill started three games with Oakland last season in the leadoff spot. In 61 games with Triple-A Sacramento in 2012, he batted first in 19 games. He stole 11 bases in 101 games between the majors and minors.

One complication is that the righty-hitting Cowgill may not be a full-time player for the Mets. In fact, the most likely scenario has him platooning in center field with Nieuwenhuis.

So what about a center field and leadoff platoon of the righty-hitting Cowgill and lefty-hitting Nieuwenhuis? That clearly would produce the most steals.

The primary issue with Nieuwenhuis is that he strikes out often. He fanned every 2.88 at-bats in 2012 -- the highest rate ever by a Met who had at least 300 plate appearances in a season. Nieuwenhuis also had a .315 OBP during his rookie season (.324 versus righties).

So Collins has his work cut out for him making the leadoff position work, unless Alderson somehow delivers his manager Bourn.

20 questions: Is Bourn really an option?

January, 29, 2013
The New York Mets desperately need outfield help. They also need a leadoff hitter.

So Michael Bourn, still a free agent and linked to the ballclub, is a no-brainer to sign, correct?

Not quite.

There are two complications in bringing Bourn to Flushing: the contract that would be required to land him, and the draft-pick compensation.

Each of those obstacles looks formidable, much less the combination of the two.

Bourn’s agent is Scott Boras, who rarely finds himself in the position of miscalculating the market and taking a below-market deal on behalf of a client.

Case in point: In mid-January 2011, when it seemed Rafael Soriano had nowhere to go as a closer, Boras wound up working out a deal out of nowhere with the Yankees -- working over Brian Cashman’s head, in fact. The contract would pay Soriano $35 million over three years. (Soriano opted out this offseason and landed a big deal with the Nationals.)

So while general manager Sandy Alderson’s patience in waiting for the right trade proposal for R.A. Dickey eventually landed a haul of Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra, it’s unlikely that patience will result in Bourn landing with the Mets on a sweetheart deal with the club. The Mets would have to pony up in terms of dollars and years. And the recent track suggests that ain’t happening.

Then, there’s the draft-pick compensation issue.

Even if the Mets could agree to a contract with Bourn and Boras, Alderson has publicly acknowledged the Mets have virtually not interest in forfeiting the 11th overall pick in the draft to do so. And right now that would be required.

A team has to forfeit a draft pick to sign Bourn because Atlanta made a $13.3 million qualifying offer after last season, which he declined.

The new collective bargaining agreement very clearly states that the first 10 picks in the draft are protected -- not the picks of the teams with the 10 worst records during the previous season.

The Mets had the 10th-worst record in 2012, but are pushed from the top 10 in the upcoming draft because Pittsburgh failed to sign its top pick last season and was awarded a compensatory pick this June at No. 9.

If the Mets were on the verge of signing Bourn, the Players’ Association would go to bat for the club and try to get the interpretation changed to protect the Mets’ pick at No. 11. But MLB would be just as forceful in trying to keep the Mets’ pick unprotected, and appears to have the language on its side.

There likely would not be any fight until the Mets were close to signing Bourn. So it’s entirely possible the battle over the CBA language never takes place.

Why do the Mets prefer not to lose the draft pick?

For years they signed high-priced free agents and forfeited top picks, and it left them in their current predicament where they don’t have outfielders from the system to introduce to the major league club.

And why wouldn’t Major League Baseball just give in to the Mets and protect the pick?

MLB owners like it when teams are reluctant to give up draft picks and therefore become hesitant to bid for a top free agent. That limits the bidding, and therefore helps to keep salary costs contained. The more picks that are protected, the worse collectively for the owners. Which is why they would fight any attempt to alter the language.

20 questions: Has Alderson been effective?

January, 28, 2013
With glaring holes in the outfield and bullpen and Mets pitchers and catchers officially reporting to Port St. Lucie, Fla., in two weeks, it’s worth asking: Has Sandy Alderson been an effective GM?

Well, even Alderson recently acknowledged that this is not where he envisioned the Mets as his third offseason at the helm nears completion.

William Perlman/US PresswireSandy Alderson
The Mets may be headed for their fifth straight losing season in 2013, which would be their third straight under Alderson. And the current GM no longer has what he inherited from Omar Minaya to blame when Alderson quips, “What outfield?”

Of course, Alderson has done well in his two biggest trades.

A scout said that 30 of 30 GMs would approve of the haul in the R.A. Dickey deal -- catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, right-hander Noah Syndergaard and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra. Similarly, Alderson held out for a difference maker two years ago at the trading deadline. His patience was rewarded by landing Zack Wheeler from the San Francisco Giants for Carlos Beltran.

But ...

Perhaps a strict commitment to rebuilding from the outset of his regime that included trading Jose Reyes -- rather than letting him walk as a free agent -- would have put the Mets in a better position now to be on the brink of a return to contention. Imagine what might have been ready to come through the pipeline alongside Wheeler and d’Arnaud if that had happened.

Meanwhile, Alderson’s touch when auctioning off veterans has not matched the results in other trades. Case in point: last winter’s deal of Angel Pagan for since-departed Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez.

Alderson failed to add a piece when the Mets climbed to seven games over .500 in early July last season. Alternatively, as the Mets faded, he failed to sell off Scott Hairston to continue to build for the future.

Make no mistake: Alderson has worked under extreme constraints. The largest contract he has awarded to a free agent in three offseasons as a GM is Frank Francisco's two-year, $12 million deal.

Yes, Alderson may view some of the wild spending around baseball on free agents as insane. But there is no way he would, of his own volition, have spent this conservatively in the market had he been permitted a payroll more reflective of a New York team.

It will be fascinating to see what happens next winter, when Johan Santana’s contract has expired.

Alderson has unearthed some cost-effective free-agent signings during his tenure, such as Chris Capuano, Chris Young and Hairston. But we’ve already mentioned the Francisco deal, which hasn’t panned out. And you may also recall three of the newcomers on his 2011 Opening Day roster: Chin-lung Hu, Brad Emaus and Blaine Boyer.


The long-range plan of building through the farm system remains intact. And Paul DePodesta maintains the Mets’ minors are as deep in pitching as has been the case in any organization with which DePodesta has been affiliated.

Fans do sense a better future and many seem somewhat forgiving right now.

But that's easy with a 0-0 record. In the midst of the upcoming season, if the Mets stumble early, Alderson is unlikely to escape the ire of fans, even if better days may be ahead.

20 questions: Who's on bench for Mets?

January, 25, 2013
What’s the state of the Mets’ bench?

The answer is partially a product of whether the Mets can add an outfielder such as Michael Bourn. But assuming the Mets do not import a starting-caliber outfielder, which seems a reasonable possibility, here is how things look:

The infield could feature Justin Turner as one backup infielder. And former Oakland Athletics infielder Brandon Hicks likely will take over free-agent Ronny Cedeno’s role as the backup to shortstop Ruben Tejada.

Who are considered the bench players in the outfield should depend upon whether the Mets are facing a right-handed or left-handed starting pitcher.

Against a righty, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter might start, pushing Collin Cowgill and whomever emerges for the final roster spot -- potentially ex-Rockies/Cardinals player Andrew Brown -- to the bench. Against southpaws, it’s Nieuwenhuis and Baxter who would be considered the bench players.

As for catcher, that was discussed in Thursday’s “20 Questions” edition. But assuming highly regarded prospect Travis d’Arnaud opens the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, which is the expectation, John Buck would be the primary catcher. The likelihood is waiver-claim Anthony Recker would serve as the backup in April over Landon Powell, since Recker already is on the 40-man roster -- although ostensibly there would be a spring-training competition.

Regardless, with the departure of Josh Thole, both Mets catchers at the major league level likely will be right-handed. Powell is a switch-hitter, but the other three bat righty.

If this entire scenario plays out, which in part presumes the Mets stay injury-free in spring training, Jordany Valdespin and Omar Quintanilla would open the season at Las Vegas, alongside d’Arnaud.

Valdespin, of course, set a franchise single-season record with five pinch-hit homers in 2012. Quintanilla, who was traded to the Baltimore Orioles midway through last season when the Mets needed to clear a 25-man roster spot for Jason Bay coming off the disabled list, rejoined the Mets on a minor league deal. But in part because Quintanilla is not on the 40-man roster and Hicks is, Hicks would have a decided advantage.

Quintanilla still could sneak onto the roster if Turner is counted as an outfielder and Brown fails to make the Opening Day roster. Terry Collins said Thursday that like Turner, rookie infielder Zach Lutz will get a look in the outfield during spring training.

20 questions: Who squats where for Mets?

January, 24, 2013
Getty ImagesJohn Buck, Anthony Recker and Landon Powell (left to right) are part of an entirely new catching corps for the Mets.
All four of the catchers who squatted behind the plate for the Mets last season have departed -- Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas in the R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto, and Kelly Shoppach and Rob Johnson via free agency.

So Mets coaches will have their work cut out for them during spring training, trying to get an entirely new catching corps introduced to the pitching staff.

Four newcomers are expected to occupy the highest catching slots in the organization. The most likely scenario has ex-Marlin John Buck starting the season as the Mets’ primary catcher, with waiver claim Anthony Recker as his backup. Highly regarded prospect Travis d’Arnaud would get the primary April duty at Triple-A Las Vegas, backed up by former Oakland catcher Landon Powell.

“It will be a fun spring training,” said bench coach Bob Geren, who doubles as the team’s catching instructor. “There will be a little bit of a learning curve. They’ll have to learn our pitchers.

“Dan Warthen does a really nice job of that with game preparation and letting everybody know what guys throw. We had good meetings last year in spring training. We talked in pitchers-and-catchers meetings what each guy on the staff has -- ranking the order of control, order of dominance. Last year it was to get guys to call better games. They were kind of inexperienced. It’s going to be the same method this year. Experienced or not, they have to learn a whole new staff.

“We’ll have a little longer this year because we start earlier [because of the World Baseball Classic]. It will all get done. And you’ll get good catching this year. That’s for sure. And in the future.”

Why does d’Arnaud likely start at Las Vegas? From a pure baseball standpoint, he probably needs more seasoning. His inaugural season in Triple-A last year ended June 25 with a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

It makes even more sense from a long-term standpoint.

By spending the first 20 days in the minors, d’Arnaud’s free-agency eligibility would be delayed from after the 2018 season until after the 2019 season since he would not be credited with a full year of major league service this year.

Keeping d’Arnaud in the minors could keep his future salary down, too.

If d’Arnaud remained in the minors until, say, June, he would avoid becoming a “Super Two” after the 2015 season and save the Mets substantial money.

Ike Davis, because he was called up in April of his rookie year, this offseason was among the top 22 percent of players with two-plus years of MLB service time. So Davis is arbitration eligible a year earlier -- and for four years instead of the standard three. He just settled for $3.125 million. Had Mike Jacobs and Fernando Tatis done a better job at the start of the 2010 season with the Mets at first base and Davis’ promotion been delayed a couple of months, Davis now would be making a lot closer to $500,000 because he would not have qualified for arbitration.

As for d’Arnaud, Geren says he received a scouting report from Don Wakamatsu, Geren’s former bench coach in Oakland, who has served as the catching instructor for the Blue Jays.

“I talked to ‘Wak’ a lot about Travis, and I spoke to Travis,” Geren said. “He’s going to be a good one. He’s going to be quality on both sides of the ball -- offense and defense. He’s smart, a hard worker, tough. He wants to learn, wants to work. And he has the ability. When you have the ability and the desire, that’s a pretty good combination. I’ve just seen him on video, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Geren offers these breakdowns on the projected Opening Day major leaguers:

“John Buck is an All-Star [in 2010]. He’s got a great arm. He’s got power. He’s got obviously some ability to call a game, some leadership, some experience.

“Anthony Recker is another guy we had in Oakland, who I’ve known for a long time. They asked me about him, and I spoke highly of him, too. He’s a real strong offensive player with a lot of power. His catching has improved a lot over the last couple of years. I’m actually anxious to see him play, because I haven’t seen him catch in a couple of years, and I’ve heard that he’s made pretty good improvements there.”

20 questions: How good is R.A.-less staff?

January, 23, 2013
USA Today SportsDillon Gee, Jon Niese and Matt Harvey will have to pick up the slack with the departure of R.A. Dickey.
Twenty-game-winner R.A. Dickey has departed, leaving the Mets with a rotation of Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Johan Santana, Dillon Gee and a to-be-signed player -- potentially Chris Young.

So is the rotation still a strength of the Mets? After all, the Mets are now getting a full year of Harvey. And top prospect Zack Wheeler should be up this summer.

Mets starters had a 3.83 ERA last season, which ranked eighth in the 16-team National League.

“I think the starting pitching will be good,” said a National League scout.

Actually, the scout added, the concern is about how the bullpen and fielding up the middle will affect the starting pitchers’ output.

“I’m mostly concerned about their bullpen and defense,” the scout said. “Their outfield defense is very suspect. And their middle-infield defense is OK, but it doesn’t have a lot of range.”

What should be expected from Santana, who had a solid first half, but who posted an 8.27 ERA in 10 starts after his historic no-hitter before being shut down?

“I think that no-hitter really took a lot out of him,” the scout said. “I don’t think it injured him. I just think it took a lot out of him. If he’s hurt, we’ll find out. It won’t take long to find out. I don’t think he ended his season injured, though. I really don’t.”

Harvey had a 2.73 ERA in 10 major league starts last season. He allowed 42 hits, walked 26 and struck out 70 in 59 1/3 innings.

“I wouldn’t put too much stock in the strikeouts per innings pitched,” the scout said. “It’s way too early. The whole league hasn’t seen him. He hasn’t had to make adjustments to them. The hitters haven’t had to make adjustments. It’s too early. He just needs to take the ball every fifth day, get 30 starts and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’ve got. I think he’s going to be good. I like him.”

Can Niese ascend into the upper echelon of southpaws in the NL?

“There’s a lot of scouts that like him. A lot of scouts would love to have him,” the scout said. “He’s got really good stuff. He hasn’t taken it to the next level yet. It’s kind of like the (NFL’s) Harbaugh brothers. You know they’re good, but they hadn’t got to that next level until Sunday.

“So everybody is waiting for him to stop being a No. 4 starter and become a No. 3 or a No. 2.”

20 questions: Captaincy next for Wright?

January, 22, 2013

Getty Images
David Wright appears poised to join Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and John Franco as the only captains in Mets history.
David Wright signed an eight-year contract in December. He also became engaged.

What honor is next for the 30-year-old third baseman?

Very likely becoming the fourth team captain in New York Mets history.

Jeff Wilpon said last month that he would let Wright’s teammates nominate the third baseman for captain during spring training if they felt compelled rather than dictate the honor. Wright’s coronation nonetheless appears a formality.

"I think David already is the captain," Wilpon said during the winter meetings. "It doesn't need somebody to say you're the captain.

"What David has shown is leadership without having to have a 'C' on his chest, or somebody having to name him captain. I think what Terry [Collins] and Sandy [Alderson] and I have talked about is if the players come in spring and say, 'Hey, listen, we really want David to be the captain, and be named the captain,' then I'm sure Terry will bring that back and we'll do something like that."

With the retirement of career-long Brave Chipper Jones and the trade of Michael Young to the Phillies, Wright now will rank fourth among active players in games played while only appearing for one team, at 1,262. He trails only Derek Jeter (2,585 games with Yankees), Todd Helton (2,123 with Rockies) and Jimmy Rollins (1,792 with Phillies).

“Two years ago he should have been captain,” said John Franco, the last Met to serve in that role. “David is the team leader. He’s been there for a long time, and he’s going to continue to be there for a long time. He’s a good player. He’s the face of the franchise. Why not have the face of the franchise be the leader of the team? He deserves it.”

Wright would join Keith Hernandez (1987-89), Gary Carter (1988-89) and Franco (2001-04) as the only players to have a “C” on their jerseys in Mets history.

One Mets historian recalled Carter actually became co-captains with Hernandez because Carter originally felt slighted by Hernandez getting the honor.

As for Franco, his ascendance came after Turk Wendell presented the idea, the southpaw recalled. Franco felt doubly honored because it’s not an honor customarily bestowed upon a reliever.

“Turk Wendell was the one that started it. He said, ‘You should be captain of this team. Everybody respects you,’” Franco recalled Monday. “I felt honored. First, you have to clear it with the manager and the general manager.

“For all of your teammates to think of you in that position as the team leader, I felt very honored being named team captain.”

20 questions: What's state of Mets' farm?

January, 21, 2013
The Mets’ farm system has improved in recent years, although Baseball America still recently ranked it in the lower half in the majors.

Regardless, it’s indisputable that the system has benefited from the trades of Carlos Beltran and R.A. Dickey, which combined to yield Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra.

So what is the state of the farm?

Adam Rubin
Paul DePodesta reviewed the state of the farm system with

“First, I think the system when we first arrived was underrated,” Paul DePodesta insisted. “It included current big leaguers like Dillon Gee, Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, among others. Our job is to just add as many talented players as we can each and every year, while graduating the more advanced players to the big leagues, and we're very happy with what we've been able to do both domestically and internationally over the past two years.

“We never get caught up in the rankings, because ultimately, it's about producing quality big leaguers. There are no rings awarded for the best ranking, and guys like Tejada and Gee were never ranked terribly high anyway.

“That said, we're very pleased with where our system is right now. Thanks to both our scouts and our development people, this is the most talented and deepest group of pitching prospects that I've been a part of in the past 20 years, and I've been fortunate to have been around some good ones. Our teams finished first in the league in ERA, WHIP and K/BB ratio -- a good trifecta -- in the Florida State League, the South Atlantic League, and the New York Penn League, and we did that with six-man rotations at each spot. Further, those staffs didn't include guys like Wheeler, Familia, Mejia, Harvey, etc. The best part, in my mind, is that our guys aren't just touch/feel guys who are old for their league and are good performers. Rather, these guys have stuff, command and performance. Of course, not all of them will make it, but we have enough of a mass to believe that some of them should.

“Admittedly, our position players are behind our pitchers -- our pitchers led all of minor league baseball in ERA -- but we think we added some key guys in last year's draft, and some of our international players continue making progress. There are some position players we're very excited about. But, collectively, it's not as deep as the pitching.

“All in all, more than a dozen of our players who haven't appeared in any top-10 list have been asked about this winter in major league trades, so other teams out there certainly like our depth. Then you add in the players we have acquired via trade, and we feel the system is close to reaching the level of being a true feeder system for the major league team.”

It is true that the new collective bargaining agreement has slowed the restocking of the system. The Mets originally aimed to go over slot in the draft and be more aggressive internationally, but the new rules that cap spending largely prevent that.

“Certainly the new CBA caused us to reevaluate the mechanics of what we do, but it didn't change our approach, which has been to find and acquire the best players possible, regardless of high school or college, domestic or international, or big-dollar or small-dollar demands,” DePodesta said. “We continue to focus on the talent. Signing a guy like German Rosario this year was a perfect example of that. We felt he was the best prospect on the board internationally, and we paid top dollar to acquire him ($1.7 million). Sure, we'd like to sign even more guys, but we're happy with what we were able to acquire this past year under the new restrictions.”



Daniel Murphy
.289 9 57 79
HRL. Duda 30
RBIL. Duda 92
RD. Murphy 79
OPSL. Duda .830
WB. Colon 15
ERAJ. Niese 3.40
SOZ. Wheeler 187