- The Mets’ show of faith in Travis d’Arnaud will be all the more interesting to watch now that Matt Wieters has agreed to sign with the division-rival Nationals, writes Dan Martin of the New York Post. The Mets weren’t impressed with Wieters’ defense, Martin reports, which is why the team never embarked on a serious pursuit of the longtime Oriole. Martin spoke to a number of Mets players about the feeling of watching an excellent catcher, Wilson Ramos, depart from the Nationals only to be replaced by another well-reputed backstop. “When you lose a guy like Ramos and back him up with a guy like Wieters, that’s pretty solid,” David Wright said to Martin. “It’s tough to replace a guy like Ramos. … That’s what good organizations do, whether it’s us getting [Neil] Walker immediately after losing [Daniel] Murphy [to the Nationals]. They find a Plan B and a Plan C very quickly.”
- The Mets have announced the signing of righty Wilfredo Boscan to a minor-league deal that does not include an invite to MLB camp. Boscan, 27, appeared in the majors for the first time last year — he had previously been on an active roster without being handed the ball — though he struggled in limited action. He did, however, managed 169 1/3 innings of 3.14 ERA ball at the Triple-A level, with 5.8 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9. Boscan’s broader track record in the upper minors suggests those results may have been something of an outlier, however; he has allowed more than four earned runs per nine innings over his 467 2/3 lifetime frames at Double-A and Triple-A. In any event, he’ll represent another depth arm for New York to call upon should a need arise this year.
- Speaking of the Tigers, the organization evidently considered quite a few other deals before largely holding pat. The Mets “seriously discussed” giving up Michael Conforto for the final season of control over star slugger J.D. Martinez, but ultimately backed down. While the Astros reportedly checked in on Miguel Cabrera, they were asking for “more than half of the $150 million remaining on Cabrera’s contract” to be paid by Detroit and apparently never offered enough for the front office to bring a deal to ownership. And both the Twins and Padres made inquiries on shortstop Jose Iglesias, but clearly nothing developed with either team.
With elbow health continuing to generate headlines, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports takes a look at the variety of new treatments — generally grouped under the header of orthobiologics — that pitchers, teams, and medical professionals have turned to in an effort to avoid the necessity of going under the knife. Stem-cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma treatments are now increasingly being deployed throughout the game, though it remains to be seen whether they’ll prove effective. You’ll certainly want to give this piece a full read to understand the state of the science. Those interested in the general subject will also want to read up on the surgical alternatives to the traditional Tommy John approach to torn ulnar collateral ligaments, as we recently discussed here.
Here’s the latest on some injury and health matters around the league:
- Veteran Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton is headed for a visit with his surgeon after feeling pain in his recently repaired left knee, as Jeff Wilson of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram was among those to report on Twitter. It’s unclear as yet how serious a concern the latest knee issue is, though it’s far from the first time that Hamilton has dealt with problems in that joint. The 35-year-old, who last appeared in 2015, is in camp on a minor-league deal. He has been expected to compete for a reserve role as a left-handed-hitting option in the corner outfield, at first base, or in the DH slot.
- There’s promising news on Orioles closer Zach Britton’s potential oblique issues, which came to light yesterday. He told reporters, including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (links to Twitter), that he’s not overly concerned with the issue and would still be available to throw were it the regular season. Britton’s comments largely echo those made yesterday by manager Buck Showalter, serving to further reduce the volume on the alarm bells. The key southpaw adds that he finds it encouraging that he has not experienced any pain while throwing.
- Mariners righty Steve Cishek has picked up a ball for the first time since his hip surgery last fall, as MLB.com’s Greg Johns reports. For now, he’ll only throw lightly off of flat ground every other day, though hopefully he’ll ramp up from there. “It felt pretty good, surprisingly,” said Cishek. “There’s some discomfort, but the joint has to get used to that motion again. I was surprised how good it actually felt.”
- Likewise, Mets third baseman David Wright is only beginning to throw the ball, though in his case too it represents an important first step. As Mike Puma of the New York Post reports, manager Terry Collins says it’s likely that Wright won’t take to the field until the middle of March as he continues to work back slowly from serious back and neck issues. Wright is expected to receive opportunities to hit, likely on the minor-league side of camp, in the interim. New York is understandably taking a cautious approach to the veteran. While it still seems unlikely he’ll be ready for Opening Day, the hope may be that he can return to strength in time for MLB action in a relatively early stage of the coming season.
- Mets righty Zack Wheeler is back on the bump and was able to throw thirty pitches today without incident, as Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News tweets. He, too, will surely be handled with kid gloves after a slower-than-hoped return from Tommy John surgery and some elbow discomfort earlier this month. It’s a good sign that Wheeler has been able to return to the mound relatively swiftly, though it remains anyone’s guess just how much the club will get from him in 2017.
- There’s some cautious optimism in Braves camp about the health of lefty Paco Rodriguez, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Though Rodriguez “has understandably shown occasional signs of rust” as he works back from his own TJ procedure, writes Bowman, the health signs have been encouraging. Atlanta agreed to a $637,500 salary with Rodriguez to avoid arbitration, seemingly leveraging the possibility of a non-tender to secure a deal that fell below MLBTR’s projection of $900K.
- Likewise, Braves righty Dan Winkler is attempting a return, though in his case it’s from a somewhat scarier elbow fracture, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains. The 27-year-old, who had already battled back from Tommy John surgery, faced a much different recovery process after his second procedure. Now, he’s working on refining his delivery to avoid future problems. Because of the time he’s missed, the 2014 Rule 5 draftee still must stay on Atlanta’s active roster for about two months in order for the organization to take full control of his rights.
- Twins righty Kyle Gibson is also seeking to make mechanical changes this spring, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports. The 29-year-old, who’s set to earn $2.9MM through arbitration, is seeking to tamp down persistent shoulder problems. As Berardino writes, a new training regimen has been designed in order “to teach Gibson’s arm to pronate properly at the end of his delivery” and thus “keep the humerus from rubbing on the shoulder’s connective tissues.”
- Meanwhile, Wieters’ agreement bolstered the confidence of an NL East rival – Mets backstop Travis d’Arnaud – because it ended speculation that the former would end up in Queens, writes Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. “For them to back me up like that means a lot,” d’Arnaud said. “I definitely worked harder to prove them right, to show them that I do care about it. I want to be here, to help this team get to the World Series and win it all.” The Mets didn’t seriously pursue Wieters, according to DiComo, and manager Terry Collins explained Tuesday that there’s plenty of belief in d’Arnaud within the organization. “If you’re a player and your front office and your manager support you and believe in you, you’d better have a good feeling about yourself,” Collins stated. “When you talk to Travis, you say, ’Hey look, when you first came here, everybody talked about potential, potential. We’ve seen it in action, so we know it’s in there. We’ve just got to get it back out.'” The 28-year-old d’Arnaud is a former high-end prospect who was terrific as recently as 2015, though he has an extensive injury history and is coming off a highly disappointing season.
12:10pm: The Mets believe their extension talks with Walker are “probably dead,” Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets.
10:21am: Mets GM Sandy Alderson has recently met with Neil Walker’s representatives to work out a contract extension, but talks have recently “hit a snag,” Newsday’s Marc Carig writes. The issue, it seems, is the second baseman’s already-in-place $17.2MM 2017, which he locked in when he accepted the Mets’ qualifying offer last November. It appears the Mets wanted Walker to restructure his 2017 salary as a condition of the extension, in order to free up funds for this year’s club.
Recent reports have suggested an extension for Walker could be in the three-year, $40MM range. If such a deal were to include 2017, that would essentially amount to an extra two years and $22.8MM for Walker. That’s a significant commitment from the Mets’ perspective, but the price also seems reasonable given that Walker’s $17.2MM is already on the books. Walker had season-ending back surgery in September, but as Craig points out, the Mets’ willingness to extend him, and to give the qualifying offer in the first place, reflect confidence that Walker’s health won’t be a major hindrance going forward.
Walker hit a strong .282/.347/.476 in his first season with the Mets after arriving from Pittsburgh in a trade in the 2015-16 offseason. His defensive numbers also took a turn for the better in New York after years of average to below-average showings with the Pirates. If Walker were to continue to perform well in the coming year, he would enter the 2017-18 offseason as one of the most valuable free-agent infielders available. 2017 will be Walker’s age-31 season, however, and both his age and health record will surely be considerations as the Mets ponder extending him.
- The Mets aren’t engaged in trade talks about their outfielders, GM Sandy Alderson told reporters (including Newsday’s Marc Carig). Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares and Jay Bruce have all been mentioned in trade rumors this winter, with Bruce generating the least buzz though he seems to be the player the Mets would be most eager to move.
- Even with Bruce’s salary still on the books, the Mets were able to make moves to upgrade their bullpen later in the offseason. With the club’s 2017 payroll now estimated to be just under $154MM according to Roster Resource, the Mets have vastly increased spending since beginning the 2014 season with a payroll over less than $85MM. Alderson described the organization as being “all in” in pursuit of a championship, and he said he has the flexibility to add at the trade deadline if necessary.
- A pair of high-profile Mets took small but encouraging steps in their injury recoveries Sunday, manager Terry Collins announced (via MetsBlog). Third baseman David Wright threw for the first time since he underwent neck surgery last June, accumulating 30 tosses from 60 to 70 feet, and “felt good” (Twitter link via Matt Ehalt of The Record). Right-hander Zack Wheeler, meanwhile, threw his first bullpen session since he he felt “tenderness” in his surgically repaired elbow earlier this week and didn’t report any problems afterward. Wheeler didn’t pitch in the majors in either of the past two seasons – and totaled just one minor league inning, at the High-A level, in that time – on account of a 2015 Tommy John procedure. Health permitting, Wheeler could slot back into the Mets’ rotation this year, but assistant general manager John Ricco told MLB Network Radio on Sunday that it’s too early to determine whether they’ll use the soon-to-be 27-year-old as a starter or reliever (Twitter link).
Major League Baseball’s investigation into domestic violence allegations against Mets closer Jeurys Familia could be nearing a conclusion, according to Ken Davidoff and Matt Puma of the New York Post. The Mets excused Familia from their pitchers and catchers workout Saturday (and he won’t be in attendance Sunday), which is related to the league’s case, two sources informed Davidoff and Puma. Mets manager Terry Collins doesn’t expect Familia to miss any more time this spring beyond Sunday, but the league could hand the reliever a 30- to 50-game regular-season suspension in the coming weeks, Davidoff and Puma suggest.
- With Sean Rodriguez set to miss most or all of the season, the Braves are trying to find an in-house backup for star first baseman Freddie Freeman, details David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Right fielder Nick Markakis, utilityman Chase d’Arnaud, infielder Jace Peterson and catcher Tyler Flowers are all candidates to slot in behind Freeman – who missed just four games last year and has appeared in no fewer than 147 contests five of six full seasons. If Atlanta doesn’t settle on any of those four as a reserve first baseman, it could turn to free agent Kelly Johnson, as he and the team are still in touch, tweets O’Brien. Another go-around in Atlanta would be the fourth for Johnson, whom the Braves drafted in 2000 and then signed as a free agent in each of the two prior winters. The club subsequently traded the journeyman to the Mets during both the 2015 and ’16 seasons.
- The Mets have placed Zack Wheeler’s throwing program on hold after the right-hander experienced some “tenderness” in his elbow during a bullpen session this week, pitching coach Dan Warthen told reporters (via MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo). The Mets don’t consider it a setback, as Wheeler’s initial physical revealed his elbow to be in seemingly fine condition. Rather, the current belief is that Wheeler’s mild discomfort comes from scar tissue and won’t be a longstanding issue. Warthen said the Mets are treating Wheeler “with kid gloves” after he missed each of the past two seasons following 2015 Tommy John surgery. Even if he is fully healthy, Wheeler will be limited to roughly 100 innings in 2017, DiComo writes.