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New York Mets: Will Frank Francisco Lose His Closer Job to Bobby Parnell?

Watching Mets‘ closer Frank Francisco pitch is like playing Russian Roulette. On the one hand, he can fire bullets right past hitters.

On the other, he can blow a lead and make you want to blow your own brains out.

Doubts about Francisco’s closing ability have been common all season. It’s not so much that he blows saves. He’s got 18 saves on the season, and 3 blown saves.

But, every outing is an adventure.

Look at his 17th save of the season, for example. Francisco preserved the Mets’ lead as they beat the Baltimore Orioles, 4-3. Looks good on paper.

Here’s the reality. Francisco saved his own skin as much as the game. The Mets went into the ninth leading 4-2. Francisco faced seven batters, threw 33 pitches—closers who throw more than 20 pitches an inning are usually in trouble—gave up two hits, two walks and an earned run before getting the third out.

That’s not a closer’s performance, and it wasn’t Francisco’s only shaky outing of the season.

Francisco is now on the 15-day DL after suffering a left oblique strain. Manager Terry Collins has named Bobby Parnell the closer until Francisco’s return.

Question is, will Francisco still be the closer when he returns?

That depends on Parnell’s performance, of course. He’s already proven to the be the best of the worst bullpen in baseball.

I’ll acknowledge that being a closer is a specialized, high-pressure role. And, by definition Francisco has a tougher job.

But that, as the cliche goes, is why he gets the big, big bucks.

Yet, Francisco has been anything but closer-like, even with 18 saves. He’s given up 32 hits, 14 walks, and 16 earned runs in 29 innings. That’s too much of everything to sustain over the course of a season.

Parnell hasn’t been setting the pen on fire, either. In 31 innings, he’s given up 33 hits, 8 walks and 11 earned runs. Both pitchers have given up 3 home runs, and both have struck out 31 batters.

With such a minor margin of difference, what’s the deciding factor?

That shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. The deciding factor will be who’s on the trade market.

Neither Francisco nor Parnell have the chops to last the season as a closer. Remember, Parnell was given a shot at the closer role late last year, and he didn’t impress.

The reason that Francisco has drawn more ire, apart from his cardiac-inducing pitching, is he’s paid a lot more.

Francisco has a two-year, $12 million contract. In a period when the Mets are preoccupied with financial matters, they need maximum return on their investments. Francisco is not exactly coming off as the $6 million man.

Parnell is better suited to where he is now—late-inning relief.

The Mets may not be acknowledging it publicly, but with a bullpen that has a 5.17 ERA and a closer—Francisco, that is—with a 4.97 ERA, they have to be looking for help.

When it comes down to Parnell versus Francisco in the closer sweepstakes, the winner is a “Pitcher to Be Named Later.”

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New York Mets: Why Daniel Murphy’s Starting Job at Second Base Is in Jeopardy

Imagine you’re at work, and your boss walks up to you and says, “You look like you could use a day off. In fact, take two days off. Relax. Watch a couple of ballgames.”

Sounds great to most of us. Sounds like the voice of doom to a Major League baseball player, especially one who’s the starter at his position.

New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy has heard that voice, and it likely spells doom for his starting role.

Perhaps the most telling indication that Murphy’s job is on the line came in the Mets’ sweep of the Baltimore Orioles a couple of weeks back. The O’s are having their best season in dog years, and the Mets wanted their front line players in the lineup.

It speaks volumes that manager Terry Collins sat Murphy for two of those three games.

It wasn’t a matter of pitching matchups. Murphy and Jordany Valdespin, who spelled Murphy at second, both bat lefty. It was a matter of hitting: Valdespin has been and Murphy hasn’t.

His batting woes are a bit of a mystery. Every player has slumps, but Murphy has been in free fall. Murphy’s bat has sparked the Mets many times in the past, and in fact, he was a dynamo at the start of this season.

Six weeks ago, he was hitting in the neighborhood of .335. So far in June, he’s batting .187, and his overall average has dipped to .269.

By contrast, Valdespin batted .300 over 10 games this month, before he was sent to Triple-A Buffalo.

Don’t let that demotion fool you. Valdespin wasn’t sent down because of poor performance. It’s true that he had a slow start, but his production has been rising steadily.

Valdespin is in Buffalo because the Mets needed to make room for shortstop Ruben Tejada, who’s back in the lineup after missing seven weeks with a strained right quadriceps.

With Ronny Cedeño also back from injury, the Mets have an abundance of middle infielders (Justin Turner and Omar Quintanilla are also on the roster).

Manager Terry Collins wants Valdespin to get regular at-bats, and that’s more likely to happen in Buffalo than Queens.

The crowd up the middle doesn’t bode well for Murphy. Collins has too many alternatives available to cut Murphy any slack for much longer.

There are several other reasons to bench Murphy for a while.

He’s played a full schedule of games, he’s got as many if not more plate appearances than anyone on the team, but he hasn’t gone yard yet this season. That’s a stark contrast to previous seasons, when Murphy was always good for a dozen or so homers.

Murphy’s fielding has gone south right along with his batting average. He’s got nine errors so far this season. The most he’s ever had in an entire season is 10.

Add all that together and it would seem that Murphy is bench-bound, if not bound for another team.The Mets were in desperate need of bullpen help even before closer Frank Francisco went on the DL this week.

Murphy could be an attractive player for a team looking to plug an infield hole. While the emergence of Valdespin has made him seem like a grizzled old veteran by comparison, he’s only 27. 

Even with his protracted slump, he’s still a proven hitter. His mental lapses in the field may be more of a reaction to his troubles at the plate than a deterioration of his fielding skills.

Perhaps most important, the middle infield is the only place where the Mets are fat. If GM Sandy Alderson traded any of the other starting position players, it would just create another hole to fill in the lineup.

With Murphy’s track record, it’s reasonable to assume there are some hitting coaches out there who would love to help Murph climb out of his bottomless batting pit.

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New York Mets: Why a 2012 Playoff Run Depends on Acquiring a New Closer

The New York Mets have done surprisingly well so far this season, and as June nears, there are whispers of a playoff run.

They have the tools at the plate. David Wright has an all-multiverse batting average of .373, and the Mets have been pleasantly surprised by the output of Mike Baxter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Daniel Murphy and others once considered little more than fill-ins.

Props also go to the starting pitchers. Any lingering concerns about Johan Santana’s surgically repaired shoulder were erased in his complete game shutout of the San Diego Padres last week. R.A. Dickey is having an All-Star season.

Props are also due to closer Frank Francisco—for his last few outings, anyway. A change in his bullpen sessions has improved his pitching tremendously after a very shaky start to the season. At one point, his ERA was above 8.00 and he was consistently throwing more than 20 pitches an inning. That is not a winning formula for a closer.

Still, Francisco has 13 saves this season—one off the National League lead. Concerns that he was tipping his pitches seem to have abated.

Here’s the rub: Francisco’s recent success has come against underperforming teams. The Mets are into their toughest stretch of the season so far, with series against the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and the surging Washington Nationals. Then comes their interleague series against the Yankees, always a tough slog for the Amazins no matter how the Bombers are performing.

With the recent adjustments to his mechanics, it’s possible that Francisco will be up to the task, assuming that the Mets can hold at least a few leads into the late innings. But Francisco has a troubling characteristic: It doesn’t take much to get him off his game.

Take his blown save against the Miami Marlins earlier this month: Francisco was angered by a few close calls on pitches and was eventually tossed from the game by the home plate umpire after blowing the lead.

Solid hits by opposing players have also rattled Francisco. On those occasions, he’s acted like he’s been possessed by Armando Benitez. When his cool evaporates, so does his control.

That leads to another concern: high pitch counts. Francisco has kept his pitch count down the last few games, which is an encouraging sign. But if he resumes throwing upwards of 25 pitches an inning, it won’t be long before his stamina is played out.

The Mets would do well to seek out a quality reliever who could step into the closer role in the event Francisco falters. That won’t be easy this year. Injuries have bedeviled bullpens everywhere, and a number of closers are having disappointing seasons. The competition for healthy closers is bound to be fierce as the trade deadline gets closer.

Brett Myers, anyone?

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New York Mets: Pitchers Who Have Come Closest to the Team’s First No-Hitter

The Mets reached a dubious milestone on Friday night against the Miami Marlins. A first-inning triple by Jose Reyes thwarted the possibility of a no-hitter for the 8,000th time in Mets history.

The no no-no’s streak is surprising not just for its 50-year span. The Mets have had any number of pitchers capable of blanking an opponent for nine innings.

In fact, seven pitchers have thrown no-hitters after leaving the Mets, according to, a website that keeps a running update of the Mets’ futility. Another 10 came to the Mets with no-hitters under their belts.

Nolan Ryan, of course, posted seven no-hitters in his post-Mets career. Tom Seaver threw one for the Cincinnati Reds in 1978, the season following his departure from New York. Dwight Gooden and David Cone added further insult by pitching no-hitters for the Yankees.

Hideo Nomo and Mike Scott also chalked up no-hitters after leaving the Mets. The most recent Mets alum on the list is Philip Humber, who pitched the 21st perfect game in major league history for the Chicago White Sox last month.

The Mets have come close to breaking into the no-hit club. There have been 35 one-hitters in team history. In some of them, an early inning hit was followed by pitching perfection.

Many others were denied in the late innings. Here are six that were stopped in the eighth and ninth innings.

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New York Mets: Is Rubén Tejada a Long-Term Solution at Shortstop?

Jose Reyes returned to CitiField Tuesday night for the first time since he sold his considerable shortstop talents to the Miami Marlins. He heard more boos than cheers, and he continued to struggle at the plate.

His replacement, Rubén Tejada, had a boo-worthy night himself. He struck out three times and failed to execute a sacrifice in the last of the 8th with the score tied at 1. The Mets ended up scoring in the inning and won the game, 2-1.

Going into the 2012 season, the Mets knew that Tejada was not going to be another Reyes. He’s not as speedy and he’s not likely to overtake Reyes as National League batting champ. Tejada is, however, off to a much better start at the plate than Reyes, who went hitless in four at-bats Tuesday night. His batting average dropped to an astonishing .215. His slow start aside, losing a player of Reyes’ caliber leaves a big hole in the Mets infield.

That’s no knock at Tejada. So far in his young career, Tejada has been a serviceable shortstop. He’s good with the glove, he usually gets on base on way or another, and his batting average will continue to hover in the .250 to .270 range.  He’s calm and measured beyond his 22 years, and his teammates praise his demeanor and determination.

So barring injury or a trade, Tejada is the starting shortstop for this season. But is he just a stopgap shortstop, or can the Mets rely on him for the foreseeable future?

It depends on what the Mets expect and are willing to accept from Tejada.

He’s big-league material for sure. But he has yet to live up to the predictions of scouts who touted him as exceptional when he joined the Mets two years ago.

Many baseball observers and fans have urged patience. Tejada might still develop into a quality shortstop.

But the Mets did him wrong by bringing him up to the bigs too soon. The Mets would have been neither hurt nor improved two years ago had they allowed Tejada another season of seasoning in Triple-A. Now Tejada has to do his post-graduate work in the New York spotlight.

At Tejada’s age, Reyes was already firmly established as a premier shortstop, and he was an All-Star at 23. The Mets say there’s no pressure on Tejada to match Reyes’ early career achievements, but it’s hard to shake the sense that the Mets are expecting too much too soon from Tejada.

Whatever happens, Tejada is the Mets 2012 shortstop, if not by talent, then by default. Ronny Cedeño is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a strained chest muscle. He’ll be back to spot Tejada when needed.

Unless the Mets acquire another infielder, it looks like Tejada will continue at short beyond this season, again, by default. Wilmer Flores, who was being groomed as the shortstop of the future when he joined the Mets organization three years ago, hasn’t panned out. He’s still a top prospect, but it appears that his future (if he has one in the majors) is at first base.

Beyond that, the Mets’ farm system is filled with question marks. Jordany Valdespin, who has been called up from Triple-A Buffalo while Cedeño is on the DL, has shown promise, but he’s also been inconsistent, and he’s more of a second baseman than a shortstop. Other prospects in the system are a least a couple of years from being ready for New York.

Look for Tejada to stick around for a while. While it’s unlikely he’ll develop into a Reyes-like All-Star, he’s got the tools to keep the infield from falling apart.

In other words, he’ll do.


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New York Mets Pitcher Mike Pelfrey Gets off the Trade Bait Hook, for Now

Mike Pelfrey‘s name popped up in the trade rumor mill even before spring training began. After a couple of horrendous outings for the Mets, the question wasn’t so much about Pelfrey as trade bait. It was more about whether Mets manager Terry Collins would fish or cut bait.

Pelfrey started in horrendous fashion. The 28-year-old right-hander gave up 20 runs in his first four spring starts. Still, he remained optimistic.

“Every spring training I’ve had, I don’t know if I’ve had a good one,” Pelfrey said after being tagged for eight runs by the Houston Astros. “So it doesn’t necessarily concern me that much, but at the end of the day, I threw 80 pitches. I feel good.”

But the front office didn’t. Collins went to Pelfrey with a warning: The brass is not impressed. There was talk that he would be released before Opening Day if he didn’t step up.

Pelfrey responded. His final two starts of the spring were outstanding. On Tuesday, he struck out five New York Yankees in four innings and gave up just one run.

So Pelfrey will travel north with the team. But were two good outings enough to secure his future?

Unlikely. Of all the Mets starters, Pelfrey remains the most expendable.

Pelfrey had his chance to emerge as a mainstay of the Mets pitching staff last year while Johan Santana sat out the season recovering from surgery. Instead, he posted a disappointing 7-13 record with a 4.74 ERA.

Now, Santana is back, and Jonathon Niese is on the verge of signing a five-year contract. R.A. Dickey is a workhorse; he led the team in innings pitched last year and often lasts late into games, saving the Mets from dipping into a suspect group of middle relievers. Dillon Gee still needs seasoning, but the Mets seem committed to him for the future.

Whether Pelfrey or Gee will be the fifth starter hasn’t been announced. Either way, Pelfrey remains the most likely Mets pitcher to end up on the trade block.

Pelfrey, though inconsistent, could prove a useful fifth starter on a team making a run for the pennant. There’s no financial downside in unloading him; only $1 million of his $5.58 million contract is guaranteed.

Even if Pelfrey starts throwing like a batting practice pitcher again, he retains value as part of a package. Toss him in with David Wright, and the Mets could lure a promising young player.

Don’t look for a superstar, though. The Mets are still too financially strapped to take on a big contract. Almost any trade would have to be of equal value or less than the combined contracts of Pelfrey and Wright, or Pelfrey and any other player who could push a better team to a title.

Prediction: Pelfrey will be gone by midsummer. The mystery is, who will go with him?

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Mets Injury Update: 5 Reasons to Expect a Slow Start for David Wright

David Wright sounded optimistic after his first spring training game on Monday.

“I feel good,” he told reporters after his four innings of play. “I feel healthy. I got a chance to dive around a little bit, run the bases a little bit, see some pitches, get some at-bats. Now it’s just a matter of getting reps.”

That isn’t a small matter.

The Mets third baseman sat out most of the spring recovering from a torn abdominal muscle. Now he’s got just two weeks to get ready for Opening Day.

For a player of Wright’s caliber, that’s not too much to expect. But there are other factors that are likely to slow Wright’s progress.

Here are five reasons why Wright may not have the right stuff in April.

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