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February 2010

Manuel Looks To Put Reyes In Third Spot....Again

 

Port St.Lucie, Florida-- Met fans must feel like they were in an echo chamber as Met Manager Jerry Manuel floated the idea in Port St. Lucie that he would like to bat Jose Reyes third in the team's Opening Day lineup just as he did 12 months ago. Will Jerry Manuel finally get his wish in 2010? 1050's Met Beat Reporter Rich Coutinho explores this complicated issue.

He missed most of the season with an injury that finally required surgery and has worked at a fever pitch in his rehab efforts to get to spring training healthy-- ready to reclaim his leadoff spot in the Met order. But Jerry Manuel now indicates he may want to bat Jose Reyes in the third spot because he wants him to begin to evolve into a run producer rather than merely a run-scoring threat.

Just 12 months ago, Manuel thought about this idea because he felt Reyes could benefit from batting third and just as importantly, Luis Castillo could use the leadoff spot to jump start his offensive game. But the switch made very little sense at that time because the middle of the Met lineup already had 3 potent bats--Delgado, Wright, and Beltran--and switching positions was a risky move especially given the fact Reyes has to miss several weeks of spring training while playing at the WBC.

Because of the injury to Carlos Beltran and the fact that the Met power bats are all right handed hitters, it might makes sense to move Reyes down and insert Angel Pagan in the leadoff spots in the order giving Manuel three switch hitters in the top third of their lineup. It will also allow him to separate some of the right handed power bats in the order by going Wright-Bay-Murphy-Francoeur until Carlos Beltran returns.

So how does Reyes feel about the switch? On the surface, he is saying all the right things but you get the sense he perceives himself as a lead off hitter that catalyzes the Met offense. And the last thing you want from Reyes is a notion that he needs to hit homers in his new home in the order. Then there is the issue of what to do once Beltran returns? If Reyes is hitting well in the 3-hole, do you leave him there and where do you bat Beltran? It seems to me that's the real fly in the ointment here as the last thing you want to do is define the role of Reyes and then have to redefine it 30 games into the season.

In many ways once the Mets obtained Jason Bay the Reyes experiment should have been abandoned and I think it was until Carlos Beltran went under the knife. But the value of Reyes lies in him leading off the game--getting on base and moving around the bases with as little as 2 smartly placed outs putting the Mets on the scoreboard in the game's first inning. That was the equation in 2006 when they scored the most first inning runs in the sport and by the way, won the NL East. That initial tally put real pressure on the other team and put the Mets in early control of the game. And in a big ballpark like CitiField that's a pretty good strategy.

It is not so much I disagree with the theory of moving Reyes to the third spot during the absence of Carlos Beltran as I do in the long term effect on the Met offense once the sport's premiere center fielder returns. The only question is whether a manager on a "very short leash" can afford the luxury of patience in a season where ownership might be anything but patient.


Santana Ready And Raring To Go

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Port St Lucie, Florida -- On the first day of spring training, Mets ace Johan Santana proclaimed he is 100% healthy and hinted that his team might surprise some people in the wake of an off-season in which Omar Minaya and the Mets were criticized for failing to bring in pitching reinforcements.

For Johan Santana, 2009 was a season he would like to forget but the 31 year old southpaw says he is ready to put that all behind him and focus on a championship--that right Met fans he used the "C" word. I have had the chance to cover Santana every step of the way since he came to Flushing and I can safely tell you he says what he means and means what he says. In fact when asked who the best pitcher in the division is, he provided the answer "Santana" without even a split second of hesitation.

Still, the Mets ace is acutely aware that he will need help on the days he does not pitch and he firmly believes that assistance resides inside the Met clubhouse. "Ollie looks great and that's important for him because last year he was so unhealthy at times he could barely walk let alone pitch and I do not know if you guys noticed but Pelfrey lost 20 pounds and in talking to these guys, I know they will be ready", said Santana.

If yesterday was any indication, Santana was on target about Ollie. For a first session of the spring, he looked very sharp and more importantly, his control was impeccable--always a cause of concern for the enigmatic southpaw. But it was only one day and for Perez, consistency has always been the most elusive part of his game. However, Santana indicated he is here to help him. "We all talk about approach and preparation but I still want Ollie to be Ollie because he should be excited and passionate on the day he pitches but he also needs to find the consistency that will help us win games."

In many ways, the fortunes of the Mets lie more on the shoulders of Perez than they do on Santana's left arm. His injury notwithstanding, Johan is a given--pencil him in for 15-18 wins at the very least and a 3.20 ERA or lower. Ollie's numbers are much more of a gamble and those stats could very well make or break the season for the Amazins.


David Wright Steps Forward

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Port St Lucie, Florida -- For the past few years, Met fans have been waiting for David Wright to step forward as the leader of the Mets. And on the day before pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, David Wright stepped to the front of the class indicating that he is ready to be the leader of the Mets and more importantly, willing to demand effort from every player in the Met locker room.

"From the outside in, there are certainly some different expectations but honestly the expectations we have for ourselves have not changed. We feel like we're going to go out and win the NL East and that's the expectation I have for this team", said the Met star third basemen at the Mets Minor League sports complex while visiting with the Met beat reporters.

The words are not exactly dramatic but the message is clear--Wright is telling his teammates that a lack of expectations from both the media and their own fan base should not be motivating them. What should be motivating them is the talent on their roster and their resolve to stay healthy so they can return to being at the very least playoff contenders.

Now, Wright does readily admit that their quest for a championship will be far from easy. He said, "We have to find a way to dethrone the Phils but it is not just them. I think the Braves have made some good additions and the Nationals have had a tremendous off-season. And then you have the Marlins who go out there and play loose and dangerous baseball. That being said, I don't think anyone should be counting us out before the start of spring training."

It is very important to note that Carlos Delgado is not in the Met clubhouse for the first time since 2005 and his presence as a leader, curtailed Wright's evolution as the voice of the team. Two of the other core bats, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, have made it known that kind of leadership is not something they would feel comfortable with. Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriquez are both very vocal but it is really hard for pitchers to take that kind of role--it really needs to come from an everyday player. Jeff Francoeur and Jason Bay will become 2 players that most will trust and will be very supportive of David Wright's role as leader.

And so the face of the franchise took a giant first step towards becoming what many people have always expected him to be--the strong yet supportive voice that is so desperately needed inside the Met clubhouse.


A Sit Down with Omar Minaya

In his latest edition of The Mets Spring Training Podcast, 1050's Met Beat Reporter Rich Coutinho sits down with Mets General Manager Omar Minaya to talk about the state of the team heading into the 2010 season.

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Santana Ready And Raring To Go

February 18, 2010, 3:55 PM

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Port St Lucie, Florida -- On the first day of spring training, Mets ace Johan Santana proclaimed he is 100% healthy and hinted that his team might surprise some people in the wake of an off-season in which Omar Minaya and the Mets were criticized for failing to bring in pitching reinforcements.

For Johan Santana, 2009 was a season he would like to forget but the 31 year old southpaw says he is ready to put that all behind him and focus on a championship--that right Met fans he used the "C" word. I have had the chance to cover Santana every step of the way since he came to Flushing and I can safely tell you he says what he means and means what he says. In fact when asked who the best pitcher in the division is, he provided the answer "Santana" without even a split second of hesitation.

Still, the Mets ace is acutely aware that he will need help on the days he does not pitch and he firmly believes that assistance resides inside the Met clubhouse. "Ollie looks great and that's important for him because last year he was so unhealthy at times he could barely walk let alone pitch and I do not know if you guys noticed but Pelfrey lost 20 pounds and in talking to these guys, I know they will be ready", said Santana.

If yesterday was any indication, Santana was on target about Ollie. For a first session of the spring, he looked very sharp and more importantly, his control was impeccable--always a cause of concern for the enigmatic southpaw. But it was only one day and for Perez, consistency has always been the most elusive part of his game. However, Santana indicated he is here to help him. "We all talk about approach and preparation but I still want Ollie to be Ollie because he should be excited and passionate on the day he pitches but he also needs to find the consistency that will help us win games."

In many ways, the fortunes of the Mets lie more on the shoulders of Perez than they do on Santana's left arm. His injury notwithstanding, Johan is a given--pencil him in for 15-18 wins at the very least and a 3.20 ERA or lower. Ollie's numbers are much more of a gamble and those stats could very well make or break the season for the Amazins.


NY Baseball Tonight

 
Hello Met fans,
 
On NY Baseball Tonight we go from 7-10 as I will sit down with Mets General Manager Omar Minaya to talk about the state of the Mets heading into spring training.  Also on the line up is an interview with Jose Reyes. You will also hear Johan Santana in his first day at Spring Training as well as clubhouse reports from both Andrew Marchand in Tampa with the Yanks and myself live from Port St Lucie with the Mets
 
Only on 1050 ESPN Radio and 1050 ESPN.com

Issues To Ponder In Camp Manuel

As the Mets begin to assemble for their first Port St Lucie workouts, Jerry Manuel has a bunch of issues facing him in his second spring training as Met manager. 1050 ESPN's Met beat reporter Rich Coutinho gives us a glimpse of what those issues are and how Manuel should proceed in solving those problems.

Spring Training 2009 is distant memory to Met manager Jerry Manuel who was forced to endure the most disappointing season in his managerial career when you consider most experts picked his team to be at least a factor in the playoff chase when all was said and done. Instead, the Mets endured their worst season in the Omar Minaya era. And as Camp Manuel opens its doors in 2010, the manager is a man faced with a plethora of issues that he must tackle and he must solve them in short order.

Issue #1: Health, Health, Health: The injury issues the Mets suffered through in 2009 was beyond description as they had more salary sitting on the disabled list than most baseball teams had on their active rosters. And the injured players were key core contributors that could not be replaced. So, the first order of business is getting healthy and with Carlos Beltran on the shelf until at least May 1, the team is not off to a good start as far as that is concerned. But Jose Reyes seems not only healthy but hungry to prove his detractors wrong and that is a great sign for the Mets. Johan Santana is coming off surgery but is way ahead of schedule while Oliver Perez is in great physical shape but the worries for him circulate about his health from the neck up.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Issue #2: Lingering Doubts Because of 2009: When the Mets broke camp in 2009, they were a confident bunch that honestly felt they were the best team in the National League. By the time the sport convened in St. Louis for the All Star Game, the Mets were done and emotionally scarred because of injuries and poor play. And for David Wright, it was the worst season of his career as he was forced to shoulder the offensive burden while adjusting to a new ball park. Jerry Manuel needs to repair those emotional scars early in spring training making sure everyone is on the same page which was not always the case last year. ( Remember Manuel calling Ryan Church, "that guy.") The manager's first order of business is to make sure the players understand 2009 is over and mistakes were made by everyone, including himself, but they must turn the page and not play scared or afraid especially in the case of players who missed significant time due to injuries.

AP Photo/Richard Drew

Issue #3: What Will The Rotation Give Manuel After Santana?: The answer to this question will decide the fortunes of the 2010 Mets. Between Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, and John Maine, the Mets MUST get 2 of them to return to their pre-2009 form. The case of Oliver Perez is the most interesting because he changed his off-season regimen and has finally lost the extra weight he gained while at the WBC. Still, Perez needs an emotional makeover and hopefully did a lot of soul searching in the off-season in terms of his professional development. Mike Pelfrey also shed some pounds--25 to be exact--but more than that in talking to him, he is hell bent on proving his critics wrong while John Maine feels healthy for the first time in 18 months. Simply put, if 2 of these hurlers give the Mets a good season (good not great) the Mets will be serious playoff contenders and if not, they're a .500 team.

Issue #4: Do The Mets Have Enough Offense?: The addition of Jason Bay gives the Mets a serious bat in the middle of their order to go along with David Wright and Carlos Beltran when he returns. Add in the fact that Jeff Francoeur will be with the Mets all season and you have a pretty good offense. Daniel Murphy, Angel Pagan, Omir Santos and Luis Castillo are all purely complimentary players whom may or may not be central figures in the offense but even if they do not perform, the Mets will score enough runs provided their starting pitchers do their part.

Issue #5: Defense, Defense, Defense: The Mets threw at least 10 games in the garbage can last year because of shoddy base running coupled with an overall defensive malaise. Some of that was due to missing injured players but honestly most of it was due to a lack of preparation when you consider players missed bases, consistently got picked off, failed to back up bases, and were positioned poorly to make even the most rudimentary of defensive plays. This MUST change if the Mets are to have a successful 2010 because all good teams need to grind out wins. And in those games, 1 or 2 defensive plays could make the difference. The return of Jose Reyes will have a positive effect on the infield and will help ground ball pitchers like Mike Pelfrey and Sean Green. Defensive drills need to be the priority in spring training for Jerry and the coaching staff.

See you all in Port St Lucie! Goodbye snow!

 


NY Baseball Tonight on ESPN Radio

 
Hello baseball Fans,
 
I know its gonna snow tonight but here's something to warm you up--the return of NY Baseball Tonight on 1050 ESPN with a special 3 hour show beginning at 7PM and what a show it will be.  Johan Santana and Randy Winn will be guests as well as my exclusive interview with David Wright.  Andrew Marchand will break down the Yankees and I will analyze the Mets--All hosted by Bill Daughtry
 
So warm up and get ready for Sping Training where 1050 ESPN will be with you every step of the way with exclusive interviews, daily content, clubhouse reports, and breaking news.  I become a honorary citizen of Port St Lucie beginning Thursday as I will be providing daily reports through March 31...And I also become your ticket to the Met clubhouse every single day....
 
Don't forget--7PM on 1050 ESPN the baseball season gets underway tonight
 
Rich
 
 
 
 

What Will The Mets Get Out Of Oliver Perez in 2010?

Omar Minaya signed him to a 3 year $36 million contract in 2009 that many felt was a huge leap of faith. And after a disastrous 2009 season, many of those experts said, "You see I told you so." But Oliver Perez is hell bent on proving the experts wrong so the question remains can the Mets enigmatic southpaw do just that?

If the New York Mets are to rebound in 2010, they will need bounce back seasons from Jose Reyes and David Wright as well as a Carlos Beltran speedy recovery. It would also help if both Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur provide the corner outfield production the Mets are expecting from both of them. But even if all those things come to pass, the team needs a reliable #2 starter to sit behind Johan Santana. Simply put, Oliver Perez needs to start earning his $12 million per year contract.

Ollie's 2009 season was a disaster from the moment he went to the WBC and returned from it in such poor physical condition an accelerated rehab caused him to hurt his knee seriously enough that he was forced to undergo season-ending surgery. But as we all know, his physical conditioning is the least of his worries as focus has always been an issue. On the other hand, stuff has never been the issue--that is until last year. His 92 MPH fast ball suddenly became a 88 MPH flat straight heater and that decrease in velocity also made his slider easier to detect even to left handed hitters.

The winter of 2009 was unlike any other off-season for Perez who did a lot of rehab and should have done a lot of soul searching as well. I remember the first time I saw Oliver Perez pitch and I was intoxicated by his stuff but in baseball talent is only 80% of the equation and the other 20% is usually the issue in question for him. That is until last year when his stuff was not as good. And I think he recognized that because his routine changed this off-season. And many feel he can rebound because he FINALLY has learned that talent is not enough. But do not just take my word for it.

Met ace Johan Santana said recently, " I see a different Ollie--he is hungry and I expect a lot from him. He stills needs to be his fun-loving self but I see him more positive than last year. Remember he was hurt last year and there were times his knee hurt so bad he wasn't even able to walk on it." And just to give you a little perspective, Santana is a player who means what he says and says what he means. He is honest--to a fault. Remember his early season criticism of Daniel Murphy's shoddy left field defense in the season's first week last year.

I will also say this--I have spoken to Ollie a few times this off-season and I have to admit he handles media questions better than he did a year ago. Now, that will not help him on the mound but may speak to his focus and taking all of his responsibilities seriously. In many ways, Perez may be the most important Met because if he returns to his 2007 form, the rotation gets a serious jump start. Knowing how crucial he is to the success of 2010 is a responsibility that should motivate Perez every single day. How he embraces that responsibility will define his season and ultimately how successful his team is in 2010.


What is the Real Story with the Mets Payroll?

What Is The Real Story With The Met Payroll?

February 10, 2010, 11:50 AM

Flushing, New York-- The facts are clear--The New York Mets will have a significantly lower payroll in 2010 than they did in 2009. Just one year ago, the Mets committed about $149 million to player contracts while the team currently has about $122 million committed in 2010. With that figure likely to expand to $126 million or so by opening day with the addition of some minimum salary contracts, the question remains why are the Mets scaling down payroll?

There are a number of theories being floated around to explain why the Mets have taken this off-season approach especially considering Jeff Wilpon and Omar Minaya both indicated after the season the team would be very active in leaving no stone unturned to improve the team. One of those theories is that the Madoff scandal had a debilitating impact on the organization's cash flow position. My contacts indicate that is not the case and the Madoff impact on the Mets have been overstated. And if that were really the case, Jason Bay would not have been so hotly pursued by Minaya.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In fact, inside sources indicate to me Bay was not the Mets first choice because the organization decided John Lackey would be their #1 target. But they were blindsided by how quickly the Red Sox swooped in and feel to this day if they had the chance they would have signed him. Once that ship sailed, then and only then did they turn to Bay whom they actually thought was a better fit for them than Matt Holliday and maybe more importantly, allowed them to avoid dealing with Scott Boras.

After Lackey was taken off the board, the Mets were also shocked when "B-level pitchers" began getting outlandish contracts and particularly when Randy Wolf signed a 3 year $30 million contract the team felt that overpaying for that type of pitcher was not the proper course to take. That made it easier to devote most of their money to the pursuit of Bay and that prompted them not to overpay for pitching that they felt was not much better than the trio of John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey. I do not know if I agree with that approach especially in the case of Jason Marquis who signed with a division rival, the Washington Nationals.

But in the long run, this off-season might help the Mets going forward costing them some in 2010. Next year's free agent class could include players like Derek Lee, Josh Beckett, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Brandon Webb, Adam Dunn, Manny Ramirez, Javier Vazquez, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera. Add in players like Prince Fielder who will be one year from free agency and players like Jayson Werth who have burst onto the scene and you can see deep quality in next year's off-season.

Honestly, I do not think that was the Met strategy going into the off-season but as the market evolved or in this case, deteriorated, they felt their money would be better spent either next year or this year at the trading deadline when some of these teams might get a little trigger happy when considering they want to get something for these soon to be free agents. It might also give the Met prospects another few months in the minors to make them more attractive options for potential trade partners.

There is an old baseball adage that says "sometimes the best deals are the ones you do not make." And I know Met fans feel beaten down right now but the organization may ultimately benefit from not making a deal for overpriced and overrated talent this off-season. Of course, Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya may not be here to reap the rewards of the strategy if the current cast of characters cannot rebound from a dismal 2009 season.