- The Mets are hoping for fourth outfielder Juan Lagares to soon recover from the oblique strain he suffered this weekend, and therefore do not seem overly interested in Drew Stubbs, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo tweets. The veteran Stubbs opted out of his minor-league deal with the Twins yesterday. Assuming he’s healthy, Lagares seems set to back up a Mets outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce.
Mets right-hander Matt Harvey continued to allay concerns regarding his early spring velocity dip on Sunday. For the second straight outing, Harvey’s fastball sat in the 92 to 94 mph range and topped out at 97 mph, per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. “I couldn’t be happier than where I am now and ready to start the season,” Harvey said after throwing six innings against the Braves and allowing two runs on five hits (via MetsBlog). Harvey’s progress is obviously a positive development for the Mets, who found out Sunday that they could begin the season without the injured Steven Matz. If they do, either Seth Lugo or Zack Wheeler will open the year as their fifth starter. The club has already decided that Robert Gsellman will get a rotation spot, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link).
In unwelcome news for the Mets, left-hander Steven Matz is dealing with elbow irritation and won’t make his scheduled start Monday, Anthony DiComo of MLB.com was among those to report (Twitter links here). Doctors have assured Matz that he doesn’t have ligament damage, per DiComo, and the 25-year-old insists he’s fine and will throw off flat ground Monday. However, general manager Sandy Alderson is concerned about Matz. “It’s worrisome that he continues to be injured,” said Alderson. Matz’s stellar rookie campaign last year ended in August because of a “massive” bone spur in his elbow, which led to October surgery. Before that, he logged a 3.40 ERA, 8.77 K/9, 2.11 BB/9 and 51.1 percent ground-ball rate in 132 1/3 innings. Fortunately for the Mets, they do have enviable rotation depth to fill in for Matz if he should miss regular-season time. “This is why we have (Robert) Gsellman and (Seth) Lugo,” a team source told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News (Twitter link).
- Juan Lagares left today’s Spring Training game with a left oblique strain, according to Newsday’s Marc Carig and other reporters. The former Gold Glove winner is slated is slated to play a valuable reserve role for the Mets this season, particularly since Curtis Granderson is a defensive question mark in center field. While the severity of his strain isn’t yet known, oblique issues can tend to linger, putting his Opening Day status in jeopardy. If Lagares has to miss time, the Mets would be left with inexperienced center field options like Michael Conforto and Jose Reyes backing up Granderson.
- 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.