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February 2010

Jose Reyes Met With FBI on HGH


Port St Lucie, Florida--The FBI paid a visit to Port St Lucie this past week and it was not to escape the wintry weather--it was to question Jose Reyes about his involvement with Dr. Tony Galea whom the Mets shortstop used for a unique blood spinning treatment when he suffered from a torn hamstring tendon last year.

Galea, who is under investigation for drug violations, has treated numerous athletes including ex-Met Carlos Delgado and the embattled Tiger Woods.

"The FBI is talking to every player who went to that doctor and they told me everything with me was fine. I was cleared. They asked me if I was ever injected with HGH and I said no" said Reyes.

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Still, this is a story that might have some legs especially when you consider that Tiger Woods could be involved in the investigation as well. "Now that I talked to them I am free," continued Reyes,"they just took my blood out and did the PRT treatment (platelet rich therapy) and I guess it did not work because I had to get the surgery."

The Mets confirmed that they were aware of the FBI inquiries.

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Kelvim Escobar Will Not Be Ready On Opening Day


Port St. Lucie, Florida-- When Omar Minaya signed Kelvim Escobar to a one year $1.25 million contract in the off-season, the Met general manager envisioned that he would be the perfect set-up man for Francisco Rodriquez. According to Jerry Manuel, shoulder issues will likely force Escobar to the sidelines far too long for him to be counted on so the team must look at other options for that important 8th inning role.

It is interesting to note here that the Mets signed Escobar to his deal after just a 2 inning stint in winter ball and he has complained about shoulder issues from the day he arrived here in Port St. Lucie. "If he had been healthy we felt it would be a tremendous fit for us because we would have had that covered, but now with the injury we have to have someone else step in and handle that role," said Manuel during his daily briefing with the media.

Escobar, though disappointed, remains confident he can help the team. "Hopefully, my shoulder responds in 3 to 4 weeks as everyone is hoping so I can help this team get to the World Series --that's our goal," said the injury riddled Met righthander.

So, where does Jerry Manuel go from here? Clearly, Ryota Igarashi would seem to be the odds on favorite showing a real explosive fastball coupled with an improving splitter in his early bullpen sessions. But do not count out Fernando Nieve who might get a look if he ends up being the loser to Jonathan Niese in the 5th starter sweepstakes.

The problem here for the Mets is this 8th inning spot will help shape other roles in the pen as Jerry Manuel was counting on the combination of Pedro Feliciano and Sean Green to carve out the 7th inning but without a bona fide 8th inning candidate, their roles will be up in the air until he decides on K-Rod's set-up partner. Bobby Parnell could be a dark horse candidate as well who certainly has the stuff but showed last year he needs to fine tune his command before he is given greater responsibility from Manuel.

It is very early in spring training but this 8th inning issue has quickly become the biggest early season challenge for Jerry Manuel--bigger than his lineup tweaks, bigger than his CF battle, bigger than his starting rotation because in the long run, a bullpen is a powerful force in the success of any baseball team--a good one covers up weaknesses but a bad one makes every little blemish look like an eyesore.

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Jerry Talks Opening Day Lineup


What would a day in Port St Lucie be without Mets Manager Jerry Manuel talking about tweaks to his proposed Opening Day Lineup? Hell bent on batting Jose Reyes third, it is now a question of whether David Wright or Jason Bay get the cleanup spot?

I must say this about Jerry Manuel's daily press conference--the sessions are never dull. In his mind, he is already penciling in Jose Reyes as the third hitter in the order which many people, including myself, have questioned ad nauseam. But very much intertwined in the equation is how the rest of the lineup will be constructed with Manuel pontificating that is will look something like this:

  1. Pagan
  2. Castillo
  3. Reyes
  4. Wright/Bay
  5. Bay/Wright
  6. Murphy
  7. Francoeur
  8. Barajas
  9. Santana
It seems the only question the manager has is whether to put Wright behind Bay or Bay behind Wright but to me Reyes is the rub here. You have a player that is working hard to be healthy and now you added the burden of placing him in an unfamiliar spot in the order while potentially returning him to the leadoff spot once the injured Beltran returns.

Simply put, Jose Reyes is the MOST important offensive player on the team and batting him third takes away that initial threat that will allow the Mets to score in the first frame of a game strictly on the power of his legs. More importantly, it will prevent the team from setting the tone early in a game--an asset the Mets so desperately lacked in 2009.

Furthermore, your best "all around hitter" should bat third and that is clearly David Wright, who despite last year's numbers, provides that on a day in and day out basis. And once Beltran returns, you have the option of batting him 4th or 5th with Murphy 6th and Francoeur in a much better spot for him at #7. The lineup would not be susceptible to righties or lefties and would look something like this:
  1. Reyes
  2. Castillo
  3. Wright
  4. Beltran
  5. Bay
  6. Murphy
  7. Francoeur
  8. Barajas
  9. The Pitcher
Notice in Positions 1-7 there are no successive hitters who bat from the same side of the plate because of the 3 switch hitters coupled with Murphy being sandwiched between Bay and Francoeur which insures the most advantageous sequence. Without Beltran, it gets a little tricky but Manuel needs to bite the bullet and go this way:
  1. Reyes
  2. Castillo
  3. Wright
  4. Bay
  5. Murphy
  6. Francoeur
  7. Pagan
  8. Barajas
  9. The Pitcher
Wright and Bay are back to back but that's unavoidable and your 5-8 hitters provide enough lefty-righty diversity to counterbalance the 3-4 spots. It also allows you to keep Reyes focused on his greatest strength: jump starting the game and it is a manager's job to put their players in the best possible situation they can in order for that player to succeed--not to satisfy that manager's stubborn craving just to be proven right.

The best possible situation for Reyes and for the Mets is for him to bat lead off no matter what Jerry Manuel might believe. If he continues to insist on doing it his way, he may in the long run make it much tougher on himself should the team get out of the gates slowly in 2010.

Jason Bay Expects Big Things This Season

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Port St. Lucie, Florida-- Jason Bay arrived in Port St. Lucie today and made it very obvious that he will not only be a great addition on the field but off it as well as he engaged with the beat reporters in a lively, informative and sometimes humorous 15 minutes. Clearly, Bay was well prepared to handle all of the questions and did it with the expertise of a grizzled veteran.

There are some people who contend that the Boston media is in many ways tougher than the New York media and when you add in the fact that Bay replaced a Boston icon--Manny Ramirez--when he was traded there you can understand why he handled today's situation easily and comfortable. The new Met left fielder touched on a number of subjects including the expectations of Met fans.

"I don't know if it is just a fresh perspective but I think there is a lot of talent on this roster and I know last year things did not go well but there is no reason to believe things will not go a lot better this year," said Bay when asked about all the negativity surrounding the Mets.

He also had some strong words for columnist Peter Gammons who attributed a quote to Bay that he would rather play in Beirut than at CitiField. " The one thing that really bothered me was the Gammons comment," said the Met left fielder, "because I never spoke to him at all. If it had been portrayed as his opinion, fine but it was portrayed as he had some inside scoop--and I didn't think that was fair."

There were also some real humorous moments in the media session as Jeff Francoeur began to give Jason Bay grief on the U.S. Hockey team's defeat of Jason Bay's Canada team in the Olympics. But the real impressive part about Bay is he was very comfortable in conversing with the media and being honest about a plethora of tough topics such as the rumors coming out of Boston about his health.

But in reality we should have known Bay would handle everything so well. Earlier in the day when I asked former teammate Alex Cora about Bay he said, "Rich, you guys are going to love him--he plays hard and he is always accountable."

Imagine that--a high priced baseball player that understands his responsibilities.

Mike Pelfrey: New Year, New Attitude


Port St. Lucie, Florida-- Like most of the New York Mets in 2009, Mike Pelfrey experienced a year that he would like to forget. It forced the Met righthander to do a lot of soul searching this winter in order to insure that he rebounds from the worst year of his professional career. In order to do that, he needed to get leaner--shedding 20 pounds in the off-season and as a result, he has come into camp focused and determined to prove his critics wrong.

When you travel with a baseball team all year as I do, you get a chance to spend time with players away from the park and sometimes you get a glimpse of what is really going on inside their heads. It was late last year and we were in Denver with Pelfrey having another one of his uneven nights in which his command was nowhere near where it should be. We walked together from the park to the hotel but to be honest, I did all the listening and very little of the talking.

He was very upset about the game but even more upset about the season. He said to me, "This year was not supposed to be this way. We were supposed to be better and I have not held up my end of the bargain Rich. I can assure you I will do a lot of thinking this winter because I want to be a winner and with THIS team." Life is all about timing and I just think looking back I was in the right place at the right time to witness one of those A-HA moments that many professional athletes have but more importantly, Pelfrey took that level of disappointment into the off-season and worked hard at becoming better both physically and emotionally.

"I took some time to really decompress and then I thought about 2 things--getting leaner and keeping everything on the mound simple," says Pelfrey. The first part was easy--he immediately embarked on a rigorous off-season weight program that helped him shed about 20 pounds. But the emotional make over was a little more challenging. He talked to pitching coach Dan Warthen a lot about pitching philosophy but also decided he needed to trust his stuff--and more to the point his sinking fastball needed to be the pitch he relied on more often times than not. But in order to do that, he had to be more consistent with his location and so most of his off-season workouts involved location of that 95 MPH sinker.

"I think last year I was trying to get out of jams over thinking things when I should have relied on my stuff and I really believe that is the biggest hurdle I overcame in the off-season," says Pelfrey. He also thinks the talent level on the Mets staff is top-notch and Maine and Perez can also rebound nicely this season. "You look up and down our roster", says Pelfrey, "and we are as talented as anyone and so it is just a question of putting it all together. We are the same guys that everyone was predicting a World Championship for last season and I think its actually funny that people are now predicting doom and gloom."

If Pelfrey rebounds the way is predicting, he may get the last laugh on his critics and in the process push his career to the next level. It may also push the Mets into the playoff hunt.

It Is A Wide Open Competition In Centerfield


Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

Port St. Lucie, Florida-- With Rod Barajas all but signed, sealed, and delivered and with Daniel Murphy the more than likely first basemen, centerfield remains the lone everyday position battle in camp. And the Pagan/Gary Matthews Jr. tug of war is one that might have far reaching implications for Jerry Manuel. 1050 ESPN's Met beat reporter Rich Coutinho tells us why.

With Carlos Beltran out until at least May 1, the Mets will need to put a capable replacement in centerfield and their decision of which man will be entrusted to that important defensive spot will be no easy decision. Angel Pagan certainly showed flashes last year but if the Mets were so sure about him, they would not have gone out and obtained Matthews who provides more experience but likely less offensive sizzle.

And offense will play a huge part in which way this battle goes for a number of reasons. First of all, without Beltran's bat in the order, the team will need the centerfielder to provide at least a little offense. But more importantly, that bat will likely be inserted in the leadoff spot so Jerry Manuel can execute his decision to bat Jose Reyes third in the order. There really is no other option for him unless you consider Luis Castillo a candidate whom I do not because he is simply not the base stealing threat he was earlier in his career.

So, this battle will have a boomerang effect on many of Jerry Manuel's plans to tweak his lineup card in the wake of the Carlos Beltran's injury. That makes me believe Pagan will be the guy unless he absolutely tanks it in spring training. This will also allow Jerry to have three switch hitters (Pagan, Castillo, Reyes) at the top of the order which would be an enticing proposition.

So where does this leave Gary Matthews Jr.? Likely the fourth outfielder heading into Opening Day and a 5th outfielder once Beltran returns. Too many outfielders you say that will need playing time? Let's not forget what we learned last year--you can never have too much depth on your bench.

Beltran Ready To Move On From Off-Season Controversy.


Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

Port St. Lucie, Florida-- Carlos Beltran strolled into the Met training facility around 11:30 and talked to the media about an hour later. The Met centerfielder, who was embroiled in a he said, she said off-season battle with the front office about his knee surgery, said his focus is strictly on his rehab and he has no hard feelings towards the organization.

Clearly, Beltran had decided to take the "high road" and that was reinforced by his mere presence in Port St. Lucie as he has decided to rehab here with the team. But still you wonder if there are some scars that might still be there based on how contentious the story got in January. Even Beltran admitted, "It took me about a week to forget about everything and now I am focusing on what is important for me and that's being with the team and getting ready to be on the field as soon as possible."

Beltran also told me that he is very excited at the prospect of being in an outfield that will house Jason Bay to his left and Jeff Francoeur to his right and is anxious to get into "Phase 2" of his rehab which will slowly bridge him into "baseball activities" towards the end of spring training. He is right on schedule to begin those activities 12 weeks to the day after his surgery--sometime in late March.

So what do we make of all this? As many of you know, no beat reporter is closer to Carlos Beltran than I am and I will say that all of this back and forth about the surgery perturbed him greatly but above all, Beltran loves to play the game and cares about his Met legacy. To him, getting back on the field is the end that justifies the means.

Many experts point to this and that about Beltran but the bottom line is pound for pound he might be the best baseball player on the team. He has put up numbers, played hurt, and at times carried the team offensively. If the Mets are to rebound in 2010, they will need the 2007 and 2008 Beltran that performed at an All-Star level and if healthy, they will indeed get that. Lets remember in 2009 the Mets actually held it together and were within striking distance of the Phils but when Beltran got hurt in late June, the season went down the chute.

On this day, he took the first important step in his rehab--answering the questions about the muck of the off-season by telling everyone he is ready to move on. He did it in a lucid, believable tone and that will help everyone--himself, the team, his manager, and the front office--repair the wounds of a botched process. At this point, that is all you can ask from a player who is recovering from knee surgery.

Fred Wilpon Feels Optimistic After A Torturous Off-Season


Port St Lucie, Florida-- Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who labeled the off-season as torture, spent his morning answering questions from the beat reporters. He talked among other things how he expects his team to turn it around in 2010.

2009 was a year Fred Wilpon would like to forget as his team went through their worst season in the Omar Minaya era coupled with the backlash from the Madoff scandal--all in a year that the team was supposed to enjoy success in their new home-CitiField. Instead, it was a season filled with land mines making the off-season "torture" for the owner of New York's National League franchise.

Still, Wilpon feels energized by spring training because he senses a "new attitude" in this year's camp and in speaking to many of the players, he feels that are committed to turning it all around. However, he would not comment on the job security of both his manager and general manager who many feel will be on a short leash come April.

So what about the finances of the team? Wilpon said that the Mets are a strong franchise and he sees his family owning the team for many years to come reiterating his payroll is one of the richest in baseball (as of today it is actually 5th behind the Yanks, Red Sox, Phillies, and Cubs) and off-season baseball decisions were made by his baseball people. More specifically, he went on to say as a group those baseball people decided there was more of an upside to what the Mets already had here than what could have been here had they inked one of the free agent pitching options to a contract.

As far as the fans are concerned, Wilpon feels their pain and understands all they want is a winner vowing that the organization is committed to that. He also spoke glowingly about Johan Santana whom he feels is taking a bigger role in helping players this season. If the truth be told, Santana has been very visible in the mentoring of both Ollie Perez and Mike Pelfrey so the Met owner's observations seem right on target.

I have been around this team since 1984 and never quite ever understood the grief the Wilpons gets for their payroll levels. $120-130 Million dollars is more than enough to put a winning product on a baseball field and the Wilpons have always been committed to that level of economic responsibility. If you want to be critical of HOW they spent that $, that is a reasonable criticism but their level of restraint in a down free agent market that they showed this year, will benefit them in the long run. That benefit could show up as early as this year's trading deadline. And lets not forget they did rope in one of the top 3 free agents even in that down market.

Still, many people "in the know" contend the Mets are out of money as evidenced by the lack of off-season activity with the exception of Jason Bay. And I will say what I have been saying for the past 12 months. The Madoff scandal had little or no impact on the financial infrastructure of the New York Mets.

What I think happened this off-season is in a down market the Mets looked at their roster and said to themselves: We have one of the sport's best starting pitchers, the league's best closer, the league's best center fielder, and a left side of the infield that many organizations would like to possess so why not roll the dice on health because the 2010 off-season free agent crop will be fertile with some of those players actually being available at this year's trading deadline. It is not a strategy I expect everyone to agree with but at the least everyone should understand it.

And for those Met fans who yearn for new ownership, be very careful what you wish for. More importantly, ask yourselves if the fans in Florida and Atlanta, for instance, might want a man owning their team who consistently commits over $120 Million to his payroll every single year?