New York Mets: A Training Camp Unlike Any Other

The New York Mets are in the opening stages of their Summer Camp at Citi Field, but it looks more like a shelter in an apocalypse movie. There are masks, hand sanitizers, and every one social distancing from each other.

A usually crowded batting cage is empty, there are marked off sections in the outfield, and the baseballs go through a thorough cleaning after use. Each player and media member also went through screening, and aerobics moved to a well-ventilated room. This is the new normal for baseball in 2020, and even Wilson Ramos said, “It’s hard right now to be here.”

Get Used to It

Because of COVID-19 running rough shot throughout Florida, the Mets have to make something out of every inch of Citi Field. This forces the Mets to have longer days since they are down six fields from their Port St. Lucie complex. They put an extra pitching mound in right-center field, the right field party area is the aerobics room/third weight room, and the exclusive bunting station is down the third base dugout.

There are hand sanitizing dispensers by every station, and conversations were long distance. Reporters are only allowed in the press box, and the stands are empty, which leaves no one to eavesdrop on any discussions. The feeling seemed more like a long ride in an elevator. Music low and everyone keeping from distant from each other.

It is weird to get used to, but at least baseball is beginning to return.

New York Mets: Luis Rojas is the perfect man to lead the team in the short season

The minute he was appointed as the New York Mets‘ manager after the Carlos Beltran fiasco, a myriad of players, coaches, managers and baseball personalities praised the team decision and said Luis Rojas was the right man for the job.

Now, given the unique circumstances of the 2020 MLB season, and Rojas’ experience managing in the Winter Leagues – among other things – we can probably say that he is the perfect man for the job of leading the Mets to the postseason – and maybe more – in the COVID-19 shortened calendar.

Rojas is young at 38, yet he has loads of experience managing groups and practically grew up in a baseball field, being the son of Felipe Alou.

At 38 years old, he has already managed the Savannah Sand Gnats, Class A ball in the Mets’ system; Binghamton Rumble Ponies in Double-A; and the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League.

As it turns out, the 2020 MLB season is a lot like a regular Winter League season. There, each game is crucial, as the calendars are short. At Escogido, he played a 50-game season. He knows what it’s like.

“There will be challenges on a daily basis,” he said to MLB.com about playing in this environment, filled with coronavirus, uncertainty, and fear, not to mention empty stadiums and little rest.

“Every time you sit down,” Rojas said on Thursday, “you think about the shortness of the season.”

The Mets’ skipper has what it takes

The Mets’ skipper says he speaks a lot with his father, especially since MLB action was halted in mid-March. Alou also knows a thing or two about strikes and bad blood between owners and players, as his Montreal Expos were cruising along in the 1994 short season.

There is a feeling around the Mets that Rojas is ready for anything that this year may throw at his team. Oddly enough, the team he managed in Winter League is known, in English, as the “Chosen One Lions.”

Rojas has already acknowledged how “similar [the 2020 season] is to the winter league … in terms of the length of the season”.

In addition to the already mentioned challenges for the New York Mets and Rojas, they will have to play games in a tough NL East division and also against difficult foes in the AL East, such as the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. Yet, he projects the calmness and the confidence that lets Mets fans know that they will have what it takes to compete.

New York Mets are counting on Drew Smith for the 2020 season

The New York Mets‘ relief corps appear to be in much better shape this year than last. Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia are looking to rebound to some degree, and they have the talent to do so. Seth Lugo is the highest floor option, but Dellin Betances gives the unit an amazing ceiling and Robert Gsellman, Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes and Brad Brach are excellent complementary pieces.

However, a name that may sneak up and contribute for the Mets later in the season is Drew Smith, the talented right-handed reliever that hasn’t had any luck with injuries so far.

The 26-year-old is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but according to MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, he has been throwing off a mound since March and could be an option for manager Luis Rojas later down the road despite the fact that he is unlikely to be quite ready for the start of the season.

The Mets have plans for him this season

The New York Mets included Smith in their 60-man player pool of alternatives for the season, which means that the chances of him appearing in 2020 are quite high.

Smith had his Tommy John surgery in March 2019, so he certainly has time on his side. The third round selection in the 2015 draft pitched in 27 games as a rookie out of the Mets’ bullpen in 2018. He had a 3.54 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 28 innings.

The Mets had acquired Smith from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for first baseman Lucas Duda in July 2017. He has had impressive short stints in the minors and was even considered a top 30 prospect by the team at some point until he blew up his elbow.

With teams looking at a very short and compressed calendar of 60 games in 66 days, the Mets may be looking for fresh arms at some point in the summer, and Smith has shown the talent to warrant at least an extended opportunity in the bigs.

Yankees and Mets’ stars played “secret” games in recent weeks to stay sharp

New York Yankees, Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Coronavirus forced MLB to suspend the start of the season, which was scheduled for March 26, indefinitely. Uncertainty then broke into the scene, and players had to figure out ways to keep themselves in shape in case baseball came back eventually, which it did. That’s why a group of stars, including some in the New York Yankees and New York Mets, found creative solutions.

According to Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic, New York Yankees’ outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and New York Mets’ pitchers Robert Gsellman and Michael Wacha took part in “underground” baseball games in recent weeks to stay sharp with the start of the season in mind. Other known players to participate were aces Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander of the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, respectively.

The group of players was led by Eric Cressey, who the Yankees hired this season to supervise their training, strength and conditioning programs. His wife Anna worked alongside him, and they all trained at Cressey’s gyms while eventually playing games.

“If people knew what we were doing, we would have had 10,000 people at Palm Beach Gardens High School to watch us,” Cressey told Ghiroli.

The Mets had several players taking part

The games featured strict social distancing rules that forbade sliding and included the use of up to 56 different baseballs. In one of those games, per SNY.tv, the Mets’ Gsellman started opposite his now-teammate Wacha.

Also in attendance were New York Mets’ hurler Noah Syndergaard, who was present to rehab his surgically-repaired right elbow. He will miss the 2020 season but will come back in 2021 in what will be his final year of arbitration eligibility.

Training camps are opening and all teams, including the Mets and the Yankees, will start hosting “Summer Camp” in preparation for the season that is slated to start on July 23.

New York Mets: July 9 set as the date for interested parties to bid on the team

New York Mets, Jeff Wilpon

We may be reaching the end of a very long saga. According to Charles Gasparino of Fox Business, Allen & Company set July 9 (a week from now) as the date for every interested party in buying the New York Mets to submit their bids.
Allen & Company is the firm in charge of managing the sale of the Mets. Gasparino said that among the people interested in bidding appears a familiar name: Steve Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire that came very close of acquiring the team from the Wilpons just a few months ago.

Talks between Cohen and the Wilpons broke down in February.

The bidding heated up recently after a few cold weeks, with other groups in, like the one formed by former Yankees’ star Alex Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez and Mike Repole; and the one fronted by sports entrepreneurs Josh Harris and David Blitzer.

Seven groups want to buy the Mets

In total, there are at least seven groups interested in bidding for the New York Mets, who pushed to qualify for the playoffs last season but ultimately came short of their goal.

Scott Soshnick of Sportico reported that the Mets are hoping to complete the sale by the end of the year.
Last week, it was reported that brothers David and Simon Reuben were also interested in the Mets, but Soshnick said that they may seek the enhanced real estate opportunities around Citi Field rather than the team itself.

Current New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon last updated the situation on June 11.

“The team will have some kind of transaction,” Wilpon said during a panel for the UJA-Federation of New York, per Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report. “I can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to be and how it’s going to look, but we’re working towards a transaction and there’s four or five suitors that are out there to do something with and a bunch of philanthropic planning and family planning that my dad and my uncle want to do. And it’s totally fine. And when we have something to truly announce and tell you about, we’ll do that. Not going to play the speculation game or get in any kind of competition with Page Six or Variety Magazine.”

New York Mets: How is Dellin Betances doing?

New York Mets pursuing Dellin Betances.

The New York Mets made a splash on Christmas Eve by signing one of the most talented relievers in the free agent market. They announced that Dellin Betances, who had spent all of his career with the New York Yankees, would now play in Queens and join what is shaping up to be a very solid bullpen, despite last season’s blunders.

However, Betances suffered a partial Achilles tear back in September and also dealt with diminished velocity during spring training. The question, then, is: how is he doing? Will the Mets clear him for summer camp?

The normal approach by the New York Mets, given the time he was away and how slowly he progressed back in March, would be to say that they will bring him along step by step and we won’t know for sure if he’s fully healthy until we see him pitch. But the team, per Anthony DiComo, seems to be hyping their prized reliever.

The Mets are excited by his current physical state

“We are extremely excited about where he is physically,” said general manager Brodie Van Wagenen this week. “He’s been one of the players that has been off a mound and able to face real hitters here over the course of the last couple weeks in live batting practice, simulated games, however you want to describe it. He’s had multiple sessions where he’s faced Major League hitters over the course of the last couple weeks, and he’s encouraged. Our performance staff evaluated him over the last couple of days, and we’re ready to see what he looks like when we start going here.”

Back in Spring Training, he got treatment on his left Achilles every day, suggesting that it was still an issue. That’s why, in part, his velocity remained in the low-90s when we are used to see him in the mid-to-high 90s. But the truth is that it is normal for him to start around that velocity, only to ramp it up in a few weeks.

The Mets’ wild card reliever (he can close or come out to put any fires given his strikeout ability) has had three more months to recover and looks ready to roll.

New York Mets: Hitting Coach Chili Davis to Work Remotely

The New York Mets announced their first member to stay away from Citi Field during summer camp. While it is not a player, it is their hitting coach Chili Davis who will not report to Citi Field for full team workouts on Friday.

Davis is a resident of Arizona, a state that has seen their positive COVID-19 cases rise over the last few weeks. While he does not have the virus, Davis is deciding to stay home as a precaution to keep others in the organization safe. Players who reported to Citi Field on Wednesday were also awaiting results of their COVID tests to make sure they were good to go.

Remote Learning

Thankfully technology is at a point where instruction can efficiently work through a phone or computer.  Assistant hitting coach Tom Slater is going to work with the hitters in person during Davis’s absence.

Davis will work much like teachers throughout the country did. He will review hitting footage and conduct Zoom meetings to stay active with the players. It will be as simple as setting up a tripod with an iPad connected directly in the batting cage where Davis can give immediate feedback.

Davis may not be the first one to opt-out as Brodie Van Wagenen still waits for confirmation from the rest of Luis Rojas staff. Rojas will hold a Zoom meeting with his coaches on Thursday to figure out a plan for summer camp.

Jared Hughes signing could be huge for the New York Mets

New York Mets

I apologize for the not-so-funny headline. However, I need to point out that the Jared Hughes addition by the New York Mets on Tuesday night has the potential to pay dividends in a big way in what is shaping up to be an odd season.

The New York Mets’ bullpen is already a strength, as incredible as it may sound. Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia could be poised for rebound seasons, and if you want sure things, you have Seth Lugo, Justin Wilson and Brad Brach. Robert Gsellman and Dellin Betances (who, if healthy, could be the best relief arm in the team) complete an impressive group.

However, there is not such a thing as too much depth, and Hughes signing could be more than just that. The deal, per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, is worth a prorated $700,000, or about $260,000, so the righty isn’t expensive at all.

Yes, he is on the wrong side of 30 (he will turn 35 during the season) but the Mets are getting quality here. He has a 2.88 career ERA in 524 games and 519.0 innings, a fantastic arm that puts him among the most consistent relievers of the circuit.

The Mets could have a key bullpen contributor in Hughes

Hughes had a somewhat down year in 2019, pitching to a 4.04 ERA and a 5.29 FIP in 71 1/3 frames, but that has been about his worst performance since 2013, when he had a 4.78 ERA. Look at his yearly ERA marks since that season:

2014: 1.96

2015: 2.28

2016: 3.03

2017: 3.02

2018: 1.94

2019: 4.04

Hughes signed with the Houston Astros in the spring but requested to be released after the COVID-19 caused the shutdown in the industry. If he is healthy and pitches up to his skills, he will surely have a spot in the New York Mets’ middle relief in 2020.

He will be an asset for manager Luis Rojas, thanks in large part due to his ability to keep the ball on the ground: he has a career 61.5 GB percentage, which helps him somewhat offset his lack of Ks (6.07 K/9.)

Jared Hughes Signs With The New York Mets

Simeon Woods-Richardson

The New York Mets continued adding to their veteran reserves as they sign veteran reliever Jared Hughes. He agreed to a one year deal worth a pro-rated $700K, which equals about $260K in the modified 60-game season. Hughes will also join the Mets 60-man player pool at Citi Field.

Hughes turns 35 in a couple of days and is heading into his 10th season in the big leagues. The 6’7″ right-hander is known for his hard, diving sinker and his comical antics off the field. With the track record Hughes has, he could end up being a huge steal for the Mets. He could earn an extra $300K in incentives should he spend a set amount of days on the active roster.

Bounce Back Season

Baseball is a game all about “what have you done for me lately?” Hughes struggled in 2019 with a 4.04 ERA and a career-high 1.6 HR/9 with the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies. He pitched even worse during Spring Training with a 6.35 ERA in 5.2 innings with the Houston Astros. They released Hughes about a week into the postponement of the MLB season.

Before 2019, Hughes pitched to a 2.69 career ERA, a 0.6 HR/9, and averaged 56 games per season. He was one of the most underrated relievers in all of baseball. His antics of sprinting from the bullpen and wacky photos overshadows his quality pitching.

The move is the best insurance policy the Mets have from any veteran they have. Hughes fits right into the bullpen should Drew Smith require more time to recover from Tommy John Surgery. He also is insurance if Edwin Diaz or Jeurys Familia continue their poor pitching from the 2019 season.

Spring Training 2.0 Has Arrived and The New York Mets Are Back

Throughout all of the back and forth of a difficult negotiation, Major League Baseball can finally open up Spring Training 2.0. The New York Mets and their pool of players embark on their restarted journey towards a World Series championship.

There are not many details based on how camp will operate, but health is their priority. Brodie Van Wagenen said the designed workouts keep players as socially distant as possible. Luckily only one player on the 40-man roster tested positive for the COVID-19 and is recovering fine. Holding their Spring Training at Citi Field allows them to train in a safer area compared to the COVID-19 epicenter that Florida has become.

One Field, For 50-Plus Players

The Mets have to make use out of their limited space at Citi Field. Unlike their Port St. Lucie facility, they only have one field to use. Outside of the main field in the stadium, the Mets have four mounds in the bullpens along with the home/away hitting tunnels. Extra mounds could set up in the outfield and foul territory as well. If the Mets needed additional space for pitchers, they could also use the walkways and parking lost of Citi Field as well.

MCU Park in Brooklyn is another option for the Mets to transport players. Any thought of that is just talk right now and would only happen if things became too hectic at Citi Field. The Mets have stayed quiet on the topic of how things will run, but we will get a good idea of it within the first few days. Simulated games could happen as soon as this week for pitchers who were throwing before July 1.

Exhibition games are a tougher question for the Mets. The only local team is the crosstown Yankees, who they will see during the regular season. To prevent extra travel, the Mets might be better off with intersquads before the season beginning.

The top things Mets fans want to see are a healthy Yoenis Cespedes, Dellin Betances, Michael Conforto, and hopefully Jed Lowrie. On the pitching side, there is Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, along with how Edwin Diaz looks in a potential rebound season. Hopefully, the Mets answer most of the questions regarding the restarted Spring Training during day one and if not during week one.