- 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.
9:10pm: While a long-term deal with Walker remains possible, it doesn’t seem likely that the Mets will pursue extensions with any of their young starters, Carig reports in a full column. None of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz or Matt Harvey has approached the team about a long-term deal, and the Mets haven’t been especially proactive in initiating talks given recent injury issues for most of their young arms.
With the exception of Syndergaard, who reportedly pitched much of 2016 with a small bone spur in his right elbow, each of the other three arms is fewer than nine months removed from notable surgery.
Harvey underwent an operation to remove a rib in order to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome last summer, while deGrom had his ulnar nerve repaired shortly thereafter. Matz went under the knife to remove more significant bone spurs than the one that briefly troubled Syndergaard, and he had shoulder issues late in the 2016 season as well.
10:54am: When he accepted the Mets’ $17.2MM qualifying offer last fall, second baseman Neil Walker resolved his status for the coming season, but both he and the club left open the possibility of reaching a longer-term accommodation. While there’s no agreement as yet, the sides have continued to discuss a new contract in the ensuing months, Walker told reporters including MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo (Twitter links).
Citing the “potential” for a long-term accord, the 31-year-old switch hitter seemingly suggested that there will be an ongoing effort over the course of the spring to pursue a deal. As Marc Carig of Newsday notes on Twitter, it appears that the “situation looks favorable” for the sides to come together and once again keep Walker from reaching the open market. Indeed they almost reached a three-year pact when Walker was weighing the qualifying offer, according to a report from Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. And the sides continued talking later in the offseason, Carig adds via Twitter. Both reporters peg the general contract chatter in the three-year, $40MM range.
The veteran second baseman also noted that he’s preparing to try out some other infield positions this spring. He’ll spend at least some time at both third and first base, it seems, which could expand his and the organization’s options in the near term and beyond. With David Wright’s health still a question mark moving forward and Lucas Duda set to hit the open market after the 2017 campaign, Walker could conceivably become a factor in the corner infield at some point.
Beyond those two spots, the Mets are largely unsettled in the middle infield beyond the coming season. The club holds an option over shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and will hope to see continued strides from prospects Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini, though it’s still possible to imagine a need at that position in 2018. Both Walker and Jose Reyes are slated for free agency next fall, and the club dealt away one possible replacement in Dilson Herrera. Though Wilmer Flores remains an option around the infield, he has mostly been utilized in a part-time role, and it’s likely that the organization sees other possibilities such as T.J. Rivera and Matt Reynolds in a similar light.
Given that mix, it’s not surprising to hear that New York has interest in retaining Walker for the future. He has a lengthy track record of steadily above-average offensive production, drew some of the best grades of his career for his fielding in 2016, and says he’s feeling better than he has in quite some time since undergoing season-ending back surgery late last season. Of course, the sides will need to settle on a price and term of years; the single-season QO value is a lofty target for an average payout, though perhaps Walker could command something approaching that level over three or (much less likely) four years. Recent deals that could provide guidance include those reached between Justin Turner and the Dodgers (four years, $64MM), Daniel Murphy and the Nationals (three years, $37.5MM), and Ben Zobrist and the Cubs (four years, $56MM).
- The Mets announced today that infielder Ty Kelly cleared waivers after being designated for assignment last week. Kelly was outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas and will head to camp with the team on a non-roster invite. The 28-year-old switch-hitter made his MLB debut last year and hit .241/.352/.345 in 71 trips to the plate. Kelly’s a lifetime .275/.382/.383 at the Triple-A level and could again play a depth role for the Mets in 2017 with myriad injury questions throughout New York’s infield.
- Mets third baseman David Wright has yet even to throw a baseball since his season-ending neck surgery, Marc Carig of Newsday reports on Twitter. Though the club has seemingly given some consideration to trying him out at first base this spring, it seems that there are plenty of prior hurdles to clear before any position change is attempted. It remains unclear just what kind of timeline the veteran will take this spring, or whether there’s a realistic chance he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
- Meanwhile, the Mets are hoping that bone chip surgery for righty Erik Goeddel could help him return to the solid former he showed as a rookie in 2015. As Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reports, the reliever feels healthy after recovering from the procedure, which was performed to help relieve aching that wouldn’t go away. He’ll compete for a pen role this spring.
Cuban left-hander Osvaldo Hernandez has been declared a free agent and can now sign with any team, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports (via Twitter). Several teams are already interested in the 18-year-old southpaw, including the Astros, Braves, Mets, Padres, Rangers, Reds and Red Sox.
Due to Hernandez’s young age, his signing is subject to international bonus pools. (As a reminder of how the international signing system has been altered by the new collective bargaining agreement, check out this refresher from Baseball America’s Ben Badler). One factor that hasn’t changed is that teams who exceeded their international spending limits in the last two July 2 classes are still serving their previously-mandated penalties, i.e. limited to spending no more than $300K on any pool-eligible player. By waiting until this July 2 to sign, Hernandez could open his market up to teams like the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Angels, Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, as those six clubs would no longer be held to the $300K limit. Boston, it should be noted, can’t sign Hernandez at all until July 2 since the Sox were banned from signing any pool-eligible players whatsoever during this signing class.
With significant interest in Hernandez’s services already, however, the young southpaw may not feel the need to wait. Also, since the old CBA’s rules are still in effect until the 2017-18 international signing period begins, Hernandez probably stands a better chance of scoring a richer contract now than he will when the stricter pool rules are instituted after July 2. Of the teams connected to Hernandez already, the Braves, Astros, Reds and Padres have already surpassed their bonus pools for the 2016-17 international signing period, so they would be paying a 100 percent tax on Hernandez’s signing bonus if a deal was reached.
Hernandez didn’t appear on any of the top prospects lists from Baseball America, Fangraphs or MLB.com for the current international signing period, though BA’s list didn’t include players who weren’t already eligible to sign. The 18-year-old does already possess a fastball clocked between 92-94mph, according to Sanchez.
- The Mets “absolutely” believe in corner outfielder Michael Conforto, GM Sandy Alderson told Steve Serby of the New York Post, but the executive didn’t mention the 23-year-old when discussing the club’s outfield. “If Bruce is in right and [Curtis] Granderson and [Juan] Lagares in center, Cespedes in left — Cespedes is an excellent left fielder, Granderson did a nice job for us in center last year, Lagares is excellent, and Jay Bruce I would say he’s league average at least,” said Alderson. Given the amount of major league-caliber outfielders the Mets have, Conforto’s status is “something we’d have to work out in spring training,” Alderson acknowledged. “I don’t think that Michael is the kind of player that we want to be sitting on the bench.” Conforto has two minor league options remaining, so he could again go to Triple-A Las Vegas after embarrassing opposing pitchers there last year (.422/.483/.727 in 143 PAs). The Mets will give the left-handed-hitting Conforto some reps at first base and center field this spring, tweets Newsday’s Marc Carig, though they already have an established, lefty-swinging option manning first in Lucas Duda. And Granderson and Lagares will occupy center, as Alderson mentioned.
The Orioles have acquired right-hander Gabriel Ynoa from the Mets in exchange for cash and designated catcher Francisco Pena for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, per a team announcement. The move opens a spot on the Mets’ 40-man roster, which the team still needed to do in order to make the re-signing of Fernando Salas official.
The 23-year-old Ynoa made his MLB debut with the Mets this past season, tossing 18 1/3 innings with a 6.38 ERA. His 17-to-7 K/BB ratio, 49.2 percent ground-ball rate and average fastball velocity of 93.5 mph were all more encouraging numbers than the unsightly ERA in that small sample. In 154 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level this past season, Ynoa posted a 3.97 ERA with 4.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 48.8 percent grounder rate.
Ynoa ranked among the Mets’ top 20 prospects each year from 2012-15, with BA’s most recent report calling him a “control artist” and a potential fourth starter if he can make improvements to his secondary offerings. Also noted, though, was that while Ynoa has a knack for throwing strikes, he doesn’t hit his spot within the zone often enough, so honing his command could also be an area of focus moving forward.
“Our scouts feel he can develop into a Major League starting pitcher by developing a consistent breaking pitch,” said Orioles GM Dan Duquette of the newly acquired Ynoa. “We look forward to his contributions to the Orioles this season and beyond.”
Ynoa will give the Orioles some much-needed rotation depth beyond the quintet of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez. He has a minor league option remaining, which was likely a key factor for the Orioles, as there doesn’t look to be an immediate spot in the rotation for Ynoa, barring a spring injury to one of the previously listed rotation members. The 154 innings that Ynoa threw at Triple-A last season represent his only experience at that level, so it seems likely that he’ll head to Norfolk to open the season for further development. Should things pan out for Ynoa, he’ll be under club control through the 2022 season in Baltimore.
Pena, 27, appeared in 14 games and hit .200/.238/.275 across 43 plate appearances for the Orioles last season. He was expected to compete with Caleb Joseph for the backup catcher role this spring and may still do so if he clears waivers. The defensive-minded backstop was out of minor league options, which undoubtedly played a role in the Orioles’ decision to designate him. In parts of four Triple-A seasons (1188 plate appearances), Pena has displayed good power but struggled to get on base, as evidenced by his .248/.294/.453 batting line. He’s thrown out 32 percent base base thieves in his minor league career and routinely draws considerably above-average framing grades from Baseball Prospectus.
The Mets announced that they’ve designated infielder Ty Kelly for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for left-hander Jerry Blevins, whose one-year deal to return to the Mets is now official.
The 28-year-old Kelly made his Major League debut with New York last season, hitting .241/.352/.345 in 71 trips to the plate. Originally drafted by the Orioles in the 13th round of the 2009 draft, Kelly has spent the bulk of his minor league career playing second base and third base, though he does have more than 1000 innings of experience in left field as well. The switch-hitter has a lifetime .275/.382/.383 batting line in 397 games and 1586 plate appearances at the Triple-A level.