Springtime Storylines: Are the Mets going to be able to get anyone out?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Mets. Truthers, please queue up on the right; Self-hating Mets fans please queue up on the left.


The
big question: Are the Mets going to be able to get anyone out?

Johan Santana got pounded yesterday, but he’s Johan Santana so you know he’ll be OK.  Ollie Perez, John Maine and Mike Pelfrey have been pounded all spring and they don’t have any Johan Santananess about them to inspire similar optimism.  Make no bones about it: Mets fans should be worried about their rotation. The upside of their non-Santana starters is decidedly “meh” and there hasn’t been a lot of reason to bank on upside this spring. Maine is a health concern and his strikeout rates have gone down for three straight years. Perez was simply abused yesterday and has an 8.66 ERA this spring.

But it didn’t have to be this way. The Mets knew they had rotation problems that they needed to address way back in October, but they spent the winter doing just about nothing to improve matters.  Randy Wolf, Joel Pinero and any number of other available starters got nothing more than a sniff from Omar Minaya. We can talk about team health and PR and all of that, but the Mets’ biggest problem entering the season is borne of the front office’s utter failure to address the team’s biggest need: starting pitching.

But before anyone accuses me of simply being a hater, I’ll say that I like Jon Niese and think that he could be a perfectly decent major league starter this year. Perez, Pelfrey and Maine scare the bejesus out of me.

So what
else is
going on?

  • I think the offense will rebound this year. David Wright is too good to have another punchless season. The Mets “babying” him not withstanding, Jose Reyes will play games for the Mets very soon and will provide a nice upgrade over all of the non-Reyes shortstop options. Same goes for Carlos Beltran. Sure, the Mets only scored 671 runs last season, but that really wasn’t the Mets.
  • The injury story has been beaten to death, but the beatings have focused mostly on the issue of whether they were a function of horrible bad luck, organizational incompetence or some combination of both. What’s been less noted is just how poor Omar Minaya was at finding fill-ins for the injured players last season. Alex Cora is bad even for a backup, and bringing in guys like Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews don’t inspire a lot of confidence. If the injury bug bites this team again it will be an ugly summer in Queens.
  • I don’t like the idea of Jenrry Mejia in the bullpen to start the season. This is Joba part deux. He won’t get any chance to work on his secondary pitches in that role, and given the sorry state of the Mets starting pitching I have no idea why they would go out of their way to prevent the develop one that could be pretty spectacular.
  • If the Mets don’t contend — and I don’t think they will — I think it’s highly likely that both Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel will be canned, the Wilpons will talk about starting fresh and the Mets’ chances of competing in the near term will disappear.

So how
are they gonna do?

Contrary to the sheer amount of ink spent criticizing the Mets, they are not a horrible team (a horrible organization, maybe, which is a different thing). If they stay healthy they can be perfectly respectable. But I really can’t stress how little I like this rotation, and I think it will ultimately sink them.

Prediction: Fourth place in the NL East, though if things break just so they could easily pass the Marlins for third. I think there’s about zero chance that they’ll compete with the Braves and Phillies, though.

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Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.