- Though Kelly Johnson remains unsigned, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo doesn’t feel there’s any chance of another reunion between he and the Mets, especially not as long as Johnson is still looking for an MLB contract. The Mets are satisfied with their current backup infield mix, and likely wouldn’t check in on Johnson (either via signing or a midseason trade if he signs elsewhere) unless he’s willing to take a minor league deal or if New York develops a need later in the year.
With the level of concern increasing throughout the spring, Mets righty Matt Harvey turned around the narrative with his most recent outing, as Marc Carig of Newsday reports. While the results weren’t stellar, Harvey was sitting at 93 to 94 mph with his fastball and reached as high as 96, putting him back in his normal range. Plus, manager Terry Collins said, there were improvements to the veteran righty’s mechanics and command. That appearance has at least temporarily halted any clear need to consider keeping the 27-year-old in extend spring training to open the season, though Carig notes that approach could still end up as an option given the presence of three intriguing alternatives in Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and Zack Wheeler.
Here are some more arms-related updates from the NL East:
- The division-rival Nationals, meanwhile, are sorting through their own pitching decisions. As Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com writes, skipper Dusty Baker would like to carry a long reliever, though it’s unclear just who’d take that role. Minor-league signee Jeremy Guthrie has shown life with his fastball, and he’s joined in camp by fellow non-roster invitees Vance Worley, Matt Albers, and Jacob Turner as well as former top prospect A.J. Cole. Of course, carrying a multi-inning reliever would mean leaving behind someone else. 42-year-old Joe Nathan might be one of the top alternatives; as Zuckerman further writes, the team seems to be weighing his possible inclusion, having given him nine innings of action. Nathan has allowed just three earned runs, though he has only four strikeouts to go with three walks. Unless the Nats go with an eight-man pen, keeping any of the above-mentioned pitchers would likely mean parting with either veteran Oliver Perez (who’s guaranteed $4MM) or out-of-options newcomer Enny Romero, both of whom are currently projected by Jason Martinez of MLBTR and RosterResource.com to make the active roster.
- Then, there’s the question of the closer spot for the Nationals. As MLB.com’s Jamal Collier tweets, Baker has trotted out Koda Glover for five-straight ninth-inning appearances, perhaps suggesting he’s testing him for the job. The veteran manager says he believes that the 23-year-old Glover has the arsenal needed to close, with the team assessing whether he’s ready to handle that spot at this stage. His top competitor appears to be Blake Treinen, who has been dominant in three spring frames (six strikeouts, no walks or hits). Glover has received a much more substantial showcase thus far, and has also impressed by allowing just one earned run on four hits and a single walk with 11 strikeouts over eight innings.
- For the Marlins, there’s increasing unease with the showing thus far from lefty Adam Conley, as manager Don Mattingly said yesterday. (Video via the Sun-Sentinel.) The long-framed southpaw has struggled to “sync everything up” thus far, says Mattingly, leaving the club with at least a “little bit” of concern at this stage. Noting that the club is still considering the form of its Opening Day rotation, the skipper says that one major concern is Conley’s inefficiency, which has been a problem in the past. Last year, he managed only 133 1/3 innings over 25 starts.
This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s Offseason In Review series.
For the second straight winter, the biggest offseason question the Mets faced centered on whether they’d re-sign outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. And for the second straight winter, the Mets managed to prevent Cespedes from departing in free agency. As a result, he’ll once again serve as the centerpiece of New York’s lineup as the club tries to log three consecutive playoff berths for the first time in franchise history.
Major League Signings
- Yoenis Cespedes, OF: Four years, $110MM
- Neil Walker, 2B: One year, $17.2MM (accepted qualifying offer)
- Jerry Blevins, LHP: One year, $6.5MM (club option for 2018)
- Fernando Salas, RHP: One year, $3MM
- Total spend: $136.7MM
Trades And Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
Aside from Cespedes, whom we’ll address on a more in-depth level later, the Mets brought back three of their other free agents in second baseman Neil Walker and relievers Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas. General manager Sandy Alderson didn’t do anything else of significance, meaning the Mets are essentially relying on the same roster they did last year. Considering the Mets fought through a rash of injuries to win 87 games and earn a wild-card spot in 2016, Alderson’s continuity-based approach could prove beneficial.
One of the keys to the Mets’ success last season was Walker, whom they acquired from Pittsburgh in December 2015 for left-hander Jon Niese. That trade has already gone down as a heist for Alderson, as the perennially productive Walker had yet another quality season. Niese, whom the Mets later reacquired from the Bucs for reliever Antonio Bastardo, scuffled with both teams last year. That made it an easy decision for New York to decline Niese’s $10MM option for 2017 in November.
Walker, meanwhile, slashed .282/.347/.476 with a career-high-tying 23 home runs in 458 plate appearances and registered a personal-best 9.3 Ultimate Zone Rating as a defender. Consequently, the belief was he’d test free agency during the winter. While MLBTR projected Walker would garner a three-year, $36MM deal on the market, he ultimately eschewed an opportunity to shop his services around the majors in favor of the Mets’ $17.2MM qualifying offer.
It’s possible Walker, 31, was leery of leaving a high guarantee on the table because of the season-ending back surgery he had last September. Regardless, it seems that issue is behind him. The Mets, after all, nearly awarded Walker an extension in the three-year, $40MM neighborhood last month before talks hit a snag over his 2017 salary. So, although Walker’s long-term future is uncertain, the switch-hitter is in place to function as a linchpin in the Mets’ lineup for at least another year.
Both Blevins and Salas are back for the short term, too, albeit at much lower salaries than Walker. The bigger prize of the two is likely the 33-year-old Blevins, who was quietly great last season. Blevins pitched to a 2.79 ERA with 11.14 K/9 against 3.21 BB/9 in 42 innings and 79 appearances, during which he dominated left- and right-handed hitters alike. Relative to both his 2016 performance and the larger guarantees awarded to fellow lefty setup men like Brett Cecil (four years, $30MM), Mike Dunn (three years, $19MM) and Marc Rzepczynski (two years, $11MM) in free agency, Blevins’ contract looks quite fair for the Mets. Each of Cecil, Dunn and Rzepczynski signed fairly early in the offseason, but Blevins had to wait until February. It’s now possible he’ll work as the Mets’ primary bullpen southpaw through 2018, as his agreement includes a reasonably priced club option ($7MM) for its second and final year.
Salas also went without a contract until February, when he accepted a modest $3MM after a near-flawless showing down the stretch with the Mets last season. The team acquired Salas from the Angels on the final day of August, and he then proceeded to allow just four earned runs in 17 1/3 innings and rack up 19 strikeouts without issuing a walk. The 31-year-old was far less effective over the first five months of the season as a member of the Angels, with whom he posted a 4.47 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 56 1/3 frames. Last year was a microcosm of the inconsistent Salas’ career, which makes it a gamble (an affordable one, granted) that the Mets are looking to rely on him in a prominent late-game role this season. While the Mets’ best reliever, closer Jeurys Familia, likely serves a season-opening suspension resulting from an October domestic violence incident, they’ll turn to Addison Reed, Salas, Hansel Robles and Blevins as their top end-of-game pitchers.
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As of now, 38-year-old Cubs right-hander John Lackey doesn’t expect the 2017 season to be his last. “At this point, I think I’m more likely to pitch next year than not pitch,” Lackey told Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. “But we’ll see at the end of the season.” Lackey will be a free agent next winter, and while the Cubs unsurprisingly aren’t ready to commit to bringing him back as a 39-year-old, they’re keeping the door open. “It’s not a decision that you make right now,” said general manager Jed Hoyer. “But certainly we love having him. I think his edge, his swagger is fantastic for our team. And we’re certainly glad that we signed him last winter.” In 2016, the first season of a two-year, $32MM deal, Lackey recorded a 3.35 ERA, 8.6 K/9 and 2.53 BB/9 over 188 1/3 frames for the World Series champions.
The latest on four other National League teams:
- All three of the Mets’ fifth starter candidates – Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo – have fared well this spring, leaving the team with “a pleasant puzzle to solve” by Opening Day, writes Mike Puma of the New York Post. “It’s a great problem to have,” manager Terry Collins said. “We came into this camp knowing we have depth in the rotation. We didn’t know where Zack was going to be, but we felt with the other four guys and Robert and Seth, we had some depth here. And they have stepped up and shown us we weren’t wrong.” Wheeler hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014 because of March 2015 Tommy John surgery, but he ran his fastball up to 97 mph on Wednesday. That “certainly” got the Mets’ attention, Collins noted. It’s possible Wheeler will open the season in extended spring training or the bullpen, though, as the Mets try to limit his workload. Lugo, meanwhile, is “a strong candidate” to begin the year in the bullpen, sources told Puma.
- Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang remains in South Korea, where’s waiting to obtain his United States visa, per Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kang, who received an eight-month suspended prison sentence on March 3 stemming from an offseason DUI in South Korea, is working out on his own, but he hasn’t faced live pitching. “He’s going to need some work, some game at-bats,” GM Neal Huntington told Nesbitt. “We can set up some sim games, we can set up a lot of at-bats for him in a short period of time. But it’s hard to say until we get him here.” Because the Pirates placed Kang on the restricted list last week, he’s not currently occupying a roster spot; further, he won’t receive pay for any regular-season action he might miss.
- Marlins third baseman Martin Prado suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain during Venezuela’s loss to Team USA in the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday and is likely to miss some regular-season time, per Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. While that’s disappointing, Prado is relieved that he didn’t receive a far worse diagnosis. “I was not sleeping,” he informed Frisaro. “I was like, so worried about myself, worried about the team, worried about the future and everything. After I talked to the doctors, it was a big relief for me.” Until Prado comes back, Miami will turn to Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas at the hot corner.
- The Giants entered the spring without a clear No. 1 option in left field, but Jarrett Parker has separated himself from Mac Williamson in the battle for the role, observes Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News. “Coming into this spring, he knew what was at stake and he’s doing the job,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the 28-year-old Parker, who the skipper believes is “maturing as a hitter” and “playing well on defense, too.” Last season was Parker’s first extensive action in the majors, and he batted an above-average .236/.358/.394 in 151 plate appearances.
- Major League Baseball has spent the past four-plus months investigating domestic violence allegations against Mets closer Jeurys Familia, but it appears he’ll escape serious punishment from commissioner Rob Manfred. While Manfred will hand Familia a suspension, the ban won’t be “very long,” reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman. That could rule out a potential 30- to 50-game suspension for Familia.
- Mets infielder Wilmer Flores isn’t pleased with his role as a part-time player, writes Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. Even if injured third baseman David Wright misses regular-season time, the Mets will still have a full complement of infielders in Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes. With those four on hand, the right-handed-hitting Flores is unlikely to play much against same-handed pitchers. “I’ve been comfortable (against right handers) since I started playing baseball,” Flores said. “I got a lot of opportunities against lefties (last year), but against righties, I feel really good.” Flores hasn’t made a strong case to face righties, having hit just .253/.287/.374 against them in 905 career plate appearances. Regarding Flores’ dissatisfaction, manager Terry Collins told Ackert: “The one thing about his situation is you don’t have to like it. You just have to accept it and be ready to play.”
- A poor 2016 spent with the Pirates and Mets forced now-Yankees southpaw Jon Niese to settle for a minor league contract during the offseason, leading the 30-year-old to tell Ken Davidoff of the New York Post: “It’s a tough business to be in, but at the same time, it gave me this opportunity here with the Yankees. I can’t totally be down on myself about it. I’m looking forward to embracing this bullpen role. Hopefully it can springboard my career.” Niese had been a quality starter from 2011-15, but he’d only crack the Yankees’ roster as a reliever. His new role comes with a different mindset. “Basically, I’m just treating those three outs as a game,” he added.
- Mets starter Matt Harvey isn’t showing his typical velocity levels this spring, as James Wagner of the New York Times writes, but that the import of that fact remains open to interpretation. The star righty, who’s working back from thoracic outlet surgery, was somewhat philosophical. “It is what it is,” he said. “It’s going to be there or it’s not. I have to go out there and pitch … .” Skipper Terry Collins, meanwhile, said that he’s focused more on whether Harvey is commanding his pitches than how fast they’re coming in. And as John Harper of the New York Daily News notes, pitching coach Dan Warthen suggests that it’ll likely just take more time for the velo to return. As things stand, Harvey is sitting in the 92 to 93 mph range with his fastball, which is around two ticks slower than he worked last year.
The Royals are pushing to contend in 2017 but if the team is out of the race in July, GM Dayton Moore has told outside executives that impending free agents Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar will all be available, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. Moore stopped short of completely confirming this report, though he did tell Sherman that “we would have to consider it [a fire sale] if things do not go right.” 2017 has long been seen as the last year of the Royals’ run of contention with this core group, though the team is considering pursuing a reunion with at least one or two of the quartet this winter once they hit free agency. As the Yankees did with Aroldis Chapman last season, K.C. could deal several of their free agents to reload on prospects or MLB-ready talent and then try to re-sign one or more of the traded players back onto the roster. Sherman figures the Mets will keep tabs on Cain and/or Moustakas given their uncertainty in center field and third base.
On Darryl Strawberry’s 55th birthday, here’s the latest from Citi Field…
- The Mets “couldn’t give [Rafael Montero] away” this offseason, a club official tells Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. “At one time, this kid’s name was the first one mentioned anytime we talked to a team about a trade and he was untouchable,” the high-ranking official said. Montero was seen as both a top Mets pitching prospect and as a top-100 prospect in all of baseball (as per MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus) prior to the 2014 season, though the right-hander’s star has since dimmed. Montero missed almost all of 2015 due to a shoulder injury and then battled control issues in 2016, so his MLB output consists of just 73 1/3 innings since the start of the 2014 season. He has been pitching well in spring camp, however, and trying to get himself in contention for a long relief job. Given Montero’s past prospect status, it seems surprising that no teams were considered him as even a buy-low lottery ticket in a trade, though it could be that any interested teams wanted to wait until Spring Training to scout his progress.
- Also from Ackert, she hears from Addison Reed that the reliever isn’t necessarily intending to seek out “a closer’s contract” in free agency next offseason, even though Reed may be in position to pick up some saves if and when Jeurys Familia is suspended. “It really doesn’t matter to me,” Reed said. “As long as it’s a good deal and a good fit. I am not really thinking about it [free agency] yet, but I am happy here and happy with my role here.” Reed has past closing experience with the White Sox and Diamondbacks, though he has thrived since joining the Mets in a setup role.
- Neil Walker has been taking ground balls at first base “just in case” he is needed at the position, the regular second baseman tells MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo. “I just need to get my feet back underneath me,” Walker said. “If I were to have to go over there, it would just take a couple days to get back in the flow of things.” The Mets were short-handed at first last year due to Lucas Duda’s stress fracture in his back, and with Duda missing more time due to hip stiffness in Spring Training, the Mets have taken the opportunity to get Walker and Jay Bruce some reps at first base. All signs still point to Walker as the everyday second baseman, of course, as New York would turn to Wilmer Flores, Bruce, possibly Jose Reyes and others before using Walker at first in the event that Duda misses time. Walker has only played 10 games at first in his pro career, all as a minor leaguer in 2009-10.
- Brandon Nimmo will miss a few weeks of action after suffering a Grade 1 hamstring strain while playing in the World Baseball Classic, Italy manager Marco Mazzieri told reporters (including James Wagner of the New York Times). The injury will likely end any chance Nimmo had of cracking the Opening Day roster, as he was already a longshot due to the Mets’ outfield surplus.
- While the Mets’ Sandy Alderson is both the oldest general manager in the majors (69) and in a contract year, it sounds as if he aims to continue with the organization beyond the 2017 campaign. “I haven’t thought about how much longer I want to do it,” he told Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. “But I’d like to do it a little longer.” The Mets had endured four straight non-playoff seasons before hiring Alderson in October 2010, but they’ve gradually turned around their fortunes on the longtime executive’s watch. New York is coming off back-to-back playoff seasons, including a 2015 World Series berth, for just the second time in franchise history.
Here are the day’s minor moves from around the league…
- Former big league right-hander Donovan Hand tweeted that he’s signed a minor league contract with the Mets earlier this week. The 30-year-old tossed 68 1/3 innings of 3.69 ERA ball with the Brewers back in 2013 and saw another brief stint in the Majors with the Reds in 2015. More recently, Hand spent the 2016 season pitching professionally in Taiwan as well as in the independent Atlantic League back in the States. The former 14th-round pick seems likely to open the season with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate, where he’ll serve as a depth option. In 372 1/3 innings of work in Triple-A, Hand has a 4.38 ERA with 6.2 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9.