Springtime storylines: Will the Mets look the same in September?

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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 2011 season. Next up: The Sandy Alderson-led New York Mets.

The Big Question: Will the Mets look the same in September?

There are many questions facing the Mets this season, but this is probably the most relevant one. In addition to the tenuous ownership situation and the pending Madoff lawsuit — more on that later — the Mets have a number of players who may find themselves in different uniforms before the end of the season.

Jose Reyes, now the longest-tenured Met, is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career this winter. New GM Sandy Alderson has repeatedly said that he would like to see how the shortstop performs before discussing a potential contract extension, but there is some risk attached to a bounceback season. Reyes doesn’t turn 28 until June, so taking into account his dynamic ability at the shortstop position, he could find $100 million on the open market, potentially pricing the Mets out of the bidding.

If the Mets are out of things this summer, Alderson may seriously have to consider trading Reyes before the deadline. While it would be a bold and polarizing move — in fact, it would probably define Alderson’s tenure as general manager in New York — many projected contenders (Red Sox, Reds, Twins, Athletics, Giants) would likely have interest.

And now we move to Carlos Beltran, who is also in the final year of his contact. This is a pretty simple one to understand. If his knees hold up with the move to right field, he’ll be an attractive piece for a contender, especially in the American League, where he could be used at DH. The no-trade clause could allow him to decide his destination, but I think he’s more likely to go than Reyes.

Perhaps the most interesting situation to watch is how the Mets will handle Francisco Rodriguez, whose $17.5 million option for 2012 becomes guaranteed if he finishes 55 games. While the Mets would be wise to limit his appearances to just save opportunities, you can bet that the MLBPA will be watching their every move. K-Rod can block deals to 10 clubs, but the best solution might be to trade him to a situation where he will not be saving games, thus ensuring that his new team will not be on the hook for 2012.

Of course, none of this will matter if the Mets can hang around in the standings. Expectations are pretty low right now, but if Reyes and Beltran stay healthy and Jason Bay can return to form, new manager Terry Collins will field one of the better lineups in the National League. Reyes, Pagan, Wright, Beltran, Bay, Davis. That’s a pretty good top six. Remember, on-base blackholes Jeff Francoeur, Rod Barajas, Gary Matthews Jr. and Alex Cora combined for 966 plate appearances last season, so it might not take much for them to be better, at least offensively.

So what else is going on?

  • Oh yeah, the starting rotation. That might not be as good. Johan Santana hasn’t even pitched off a mound yet and the best-case scenario is that he’ll return somewhere around the All-Star break. That leaves Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Chris Young and Chris Capuano holding things down for the foreseeable future. While offseason additions Young and Capuano have looked pretty good this spring, it’s hard to rely on them given their past injury issues. Dickey has quickly become a fan favorite, but there are questions about whether he’ll be able to repeat his success from last season. Do they have the potential to surprise? Yes. But this staff is no match for the Phillies and Braves or even the Marlins.
  • Following the release of Luis Castillo, the Mets appear poised to give the second base job to Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, someone who has never played in a major league game. He put up some solid numbers with Triple-A Las Vegas last season, but played his home games in Cashman Field, a place that is known to inflate offense. The options aren’t great if Emaus falls flat on his face — Daniel Murphy, Chin-lung Hu and Justin Turner, among others  — but it’s a nice change of pace to see the Mets take a chance on a young, cheap asset as opposed to repeating past mistakes.
  • The new front office let Type-B free agent Pedro Feliciano walk over the winter, which netted them a supplemental draft pick in June’s First-Year Player Draft. While it will be darn near impossible to replace Feliciano’s durability in the bullpen, his exit was met with overwhelming approval from a fanbase that would like to see the Mets build through the draft. Alderson has indicated a willingness to go overslot in order to sign draft picks — a strategy used by many other clubs — so it will be interesting to see how they spend, especially given the current ownership situation.
  • Did you hear the Wilpons are having some cash flow issues and are trying to sell a minority part of the team? OK, cool. Thought you may have missed it. I don’t want to speak for too many Mets fans, because I’m sure there are those who obsess over it, but I can tell you there’s already some Madoff fatigue going on here. I have no idea where this situation is headed — the Wilpons might have to sell the team completely before long — but the games will be a welcome distraction, at least for a little while.

So how are they going to do?

If all goes well with the big “ifs” — Reyes, Beltran, Bay and Santana — the Mets could be in the conversation for the Wild Card. That probably won’t happen, though. I tend to think they’ll be right around .500, finishing ahead of the Nationals, but only good enough for a third straight fourth place finish.

Clayton Kershaw’s initial prognosis: 4-6 weeks on the disabled list

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Some seriously bad news for the Dodgers: Ken Rosenthal reports that the initial prognosis on Clayton Kershaw is that he will miss 4-6 weeks with his bad back. A final determination will be made after he gets a second medical consultation.

Kershaw exited Sunday’s start against the Braves with back tightness after just two innings of work. He was seen talking with trainers in the dugout after completing the top of the second inning and did not return to the mound for the third. Kershaw has a history of back problems. Last year he missed over two months with a herniated disc in his back.

Assuming the preliminary schedule holds, Kershaw would be on the shelf until late August at the earliest, but more likely early-to-mid September. The Dodgers currently hold a 10.5 game lead in the NL West so they can withstand his absence. But if they have any hopes of advancing in the playoffs, they’ll need a fully armed and operational Clayton Kershaw to do it.

David Price was a complete jackass to Dennis Eckersley

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In late June, Red Sox pitcher David Price confronted Hall of Famer and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley during a team flight to Toronto. The circumstances of the argument were not clear at the time and at least one report said that it was a “back and forth,” presumably about some critical comments Eckersley made on the air about Price. We learned a few days after that it was less of a “back and forth” than it was Price merely berating Eckersley.

Now, via this story from Dan Shaugnessy of the Boston Globe, we get the true flavor of the exchange. It does not reflect well on Price or his teammates:

On the day of the episode, Price was standing near the middle of the team aircraft, surrounded by fellow players, waiting for Eckersley. When Eckersley approached, on his way to the back of the plane (Sox broadcasters traditionally sit in the rear of the aircraft), a grandstanding Price stood in front of Eckersley and shouted, “Here he is — the greatest pitcher who ever lived! This game is easy for him!’’

When a stunned Eckersley tried to speak, Price shot back with, “Get the [expletive] out of here!’’

Many players applauded.

Eckersley made his way to the back of the plane as players in the middle of the plane started their card games. In the middle of the short flight, Eckersley got up and walked toward the front where Sox boss Dave Dombrowski was seated. When Eckersley passed through the card-playing section in the middle, Price went at him again, shouting, “Get the [expletive] out of here!’’

Assuming this account is accurate, Price’s behavior was nothing short of disgraceful. Disgraceful in that Price was too much of a coward to take his issues up with Ecklersley one-on-one. Beyond that, it’s classic bully behavior, with Price waiting until he was surrounded by lackeys to hurl insults in a situation where Eckersley had no opportunity to effectively respond.

But it’s mostly just sad. Sad that David Price is so painfully sensitive that he cannot handle criticism from a man who is, without question, one of the best who has ever played the game. One of the few men who has been in his shoes and stood on that same mound and faced the same sorts of challenges Price has attempted to face. And, it should be noted, faced them with more success in his career than Price has so far.

No one likes criticism, but David Price is at a place in his life where he is, inevitably, going to receive it. And unlike virtually every other person who may offer it to him, Dennis Eckersley knows, quite personally, of what he speaks.

Shame on David Price for acting like a child. Shame on his teammates for backing him up. Shame on John Farrell and the rest of the Red Sox organization for not sitting Price down, explaining that he messed up and encouraging him to apologize. And, of course, if he apologizes now, it’s not because he means it. He’s had a month to reflect. It’s simply because his disgraceful behavior is now all over the pages of the Boston Globe.

What a pathetic display.