The A's are rolling. There's nothing left to say. They had a 7-3 homestand, they have the best record in baseball (47-29), they score the most runs, and they allow the fewest. If they're leading they will close you out, and if you're leading then they will stage a late-inning comeback. This is awesome.
These are the expected pitching matchups for the series:
Tue: Scott Kazmir vs. Bartolo Colon
Wed: Buck Mills vs. Zack Wheeler
The opening matchup is a dream come true. Not only do we get to see our beloved Bartolo Colon, the departed star and darling of the 2013 season, but he faces his immediate replacement, Scott Kazmir. It's the guy who left against the guy who was signed to replace him. They are pitching on essentially the same contract (two years, a hair over $20 million), and now they will go head-to-head to see who is superior (never mind that Colon will face a much tougher lineup). Also, Colon will hit, which is fantastic. On Wednesday, Buck Mills will get his second start for the A's opposite young phenom Wheeler, who was once a top prospect for the Giants. Wheeler threw a shutout in his last start, so he's totally due to give up a bunch of runs against Oakland. You may notice that this is not the A's normal rotation; due to the pair of off-days this week, Sonny Gray was skipped to get him some extra rest. He's scheduled to start on Saturday.
1. Former A's general manager Sandy Alderson is now at the helm for the Mets. How would you rate his job performance since 2010 -- a savior for the franchise, simply an upgrade from the clueless Omar Minaya, or a step in the wrong direction? What did you think of his big move from last winter, signing the aging/declining Curtis Granderson to a big deal on a rebuilding team (and losing a draft pick in the process)?
SS: Alderson inherited quite a sticky situation, so I tend to go a little easier on him than some. If you want to go strictly by the moves he's made, I'd say he's been merely average. He's made some really nice trades selling off veterans (Beltran for Wheeler, Dickey for d'Arnaud/Syndergaard, Byrd/Buck for Black/Herrera) and his front office has done a pretty solid job of drafting, signing international free agents, and building up the farm system into what looks to be a very strong foundation. Where they've lacked, however, is in their major league acquisitions. They've had a few good ones -- LaTroy Hawkins and Marlon Byrd last year, Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson have been solid so far, and guys like Jeremy Hefner and Carlos Torres to name a couple have proven to be solid cheap pickups. They have whiffed on some big-money signings and with the lack of cash to spend, it's a killer when you get little from the $12 million over two years to Frank Francisco or the $7 million to Chris Young or when you deal Angel Pagan for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez.
In the end, I'll say the grade is incomplete because there are so many questions about how frequently ownership changes Alderson's budget. Because of this, there's always sort of a built-in money excuse, which makes it hard to clearly rate the job they've done. Overall, I'd say they've been strong on trades, promising in prospect acquisition/development, and a bit subpar in major league acquisitions. It seems like they're a little apprehensive about making moves but I also don't see them doing anything really dumb, which is nice.
2. Last year, Chris Young hit .200/.280/.379 for the A's. This year, he's hitting .201/.284/.313 with four homers in 201 PA's. Anything else we need to know, or has he been the same disappointment for you that he was for us?
SS: Pretty much, yeah. CY had a huge spring for the Mets, which he credited to his offseason work with Rod Carew where he learned how to take the ball to the opposite field. He looked pretty great but then injured himself in the spring training finale and ended up aggravating the injury on Opening Day and hitting the DL for a couple of weeks. Since coming back, he's been mostly atrocious, outside of a big home run in the Subway Series last month. The only (minuscule) saving grace has been that he's handled center field while Juan Lagares has been out but he's still a clear downgrade out there defensively and his bat has been terrible. I didn't dislike the signing at the time but clearly, the Mets were hoping for a lot more than they've gotten from him.
3. Time to address the elephant mascot in the room. Thanks to the help of thousands of "baseball fans" in southeast Asia, David Wright edged out Eric Sogard for the title of Face of MLB this spring. Fair or foul? And, Sogard jokes aside, why does Wright make sense as the face of the sport? (Feel free to be a home-fan homer if you have love for Captain America!)
SS: To be perfectly honest, if it was any other non-Mets player going up against Eric Sogard for Face of MLB, I would've been voting for Sogard. I love a good troll and Eric Sogard winning that would've been a fantastic troll job. But alas, it was David Wright who won and while I was kind of surprised that he ended up winning it, I think he's a worthy choice. I mean, come on, take a look at that face! David's had an excellent career, potentially a Hall of Fame career if he can keep hitting into his mid to late 30's, and he's a charismatic guy playing in the biggest city in the country. For most Mets fans, it's been a pleasure to watch him play since 2004 and considering the trashy teams the Mets have put around him since 2009, he deserves a lot better.
The literal Face of MLB. -- Photo credit: Elsa
4. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud (dar-NOH) has been a top-50 prospect for years, and he's been involved in two high-profile trades -- from the Phillies to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay, and from the Jays to the Mets for R.A. Dickey. However, he's back in the minors after poor MLB performances the last two years (.546 OPS). What's wrong with him, will he figure it out and become a quality player, and who is currently replacing him behind the plate? (Spoiler alert: it includes another former Athletic!)
SS: Travis recently said that a lot of issues were mental, which comes with the territory of being a young catcher and having all of the responsibilities of a young catcher in the majors. Between learning the pitchers, learning the opponents, calling games, blocking pitches, monitoring baserunners, etc., there's a lot that a catcher has to focus on before he can even think about working on hitting. D'Arnaud has had his issues but I think he'll figure it out at some point. This is a guy who has hit at every level and for all of the issues he's had, the physical tools are still there. I think a reboot along with some small mechanical adjustments will get him going (and for the record, he's hit .453/.491/.943 in 57 plate appearances at Triple-A since the demotion. PCL or not, 6 home runs and 8 doubles in 13 games is not Vegas inflation).
I believe the Mets expect to recall d'Arnaud in the coming days (possibly even for this series if they haven't done so already) but if they do not, they've had the combo of former A's farmhand Anthony Recker and former Rangers top prospect Taylor Teagarden doing the catching. They're both basically the same dude -- older guys who strike out a lot, hit for low averages, pop an occasional home run and play decent defense. They're both not very good. The big difference between the two is that Recker looks like a male model and has probably the greatest ass in the major leagues (seriously, if MLB had an #AssofMLB competition, he'd win it pretty easily).
5. Is Bobby Abreu seriously still playing baseball? And is he still good at it?
SS: Seriously, Bobby Abreu is still playing baseball and he's actually been pretty good. At .281/.359/.416, he's been one of the Mets' better hitters (I agree, it's very sad) and he's gotten way too much time in the corners due to Chris Young's struggles and injuries to Lagares and Eric Young. He's a shell of himself in the field (he's got an old man gut nowadays) but the guy can still work a count and hit line drives. He's been a nice little under-the-radar minor league signing and would probably be a solid pinch hitter for a contending team.
6. What's second baseman Daniel Murphy (.298/.353/.417, 1.7 bWAR) doing around the middle of July? No reason, just curious.
SS: I believe the man known affectionately as the Irish Hammer will be playing in the All-Star game in Minnesota if all goes well. From there, who the heck knows. Murphy's such a tough call for the Mets because he's really the type of player they need more of, yet he's probably their best trade piece this July. Push comes to shove, I think Sandy Alderson will get an offer that he can't pass up and pull the trigger on a trade. While Murph's a really nice player, he has his shortcomings (subpar defense, wonky baserunning mistakes, long cold spells in years past) and the Mets probably don't have enough payroll room to lock him in at $10+ million along with Wright's $20 million, Curtis Granderson's $16 million, Bartolo's $11 million, etc. If Billy Beane would like to be the proud owner of an Irish second baseman, I'm curious to see what he has to offer.
7. Bartolo Colon. Oh, how I miss thee. Just ... talk to me about him. Don't spare a single detail.
SS: Ah, Bartolo. We love that man and how could you not? Hey, did you hear that he hit a double against the Cardinals last week and then scored on Eric Young's double? It may be one of the top five highlights of this Mets season. How about the few times he swung and his helmet fell off his head? Priceless memories. Bartolo's been pretty great on the mound, outside of a stomping at the hands of the Angels, Rockies, and Yankees in late April, early May. He's fun to watch firing fastball after fastball and if he keeps going, he'll probably be solid trade bait for the Mets, who likely won't need him next year with the return of Matt Harvey and the promotions of Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero.
8. Zack Wheeler (Wed starter) threw his first career shutout last week. He was acquired from the Giants as a top prospect for a two-month rental of Carlos Beltran in 2011 (it didn't work out well for SF). Where does he fit in to the future of New York's rotation, and what do you think is his ceiling?
SS: The hope for Wheeler is that he's the 1B to Matt Harvey's 1A (and Noah Syndergaard's 1C). Will he get to that level eventually? Who knows, really. Does he have the stuff to get to that level? Yup, he does. It's all going to be about developing his command and learning to get quicker outs so he doesn't have to waste a ton of pitches. When he's on, you get gems like that shutout against Miami. He was outstanding that night. But you still get the stinkers every now and again, which is something you come to expect from a young power pitcher. Many Mets fans were spoiled by Matt Harvey, who had many of the same warts and immediately figured them out in the majors. As I'm sure you realize, that's rare. Hopefully Wheeler can put it all together soon but if he doesn't, I bet he'll still comfortably be a No. 3 starter, which would be great.
9. There's yet another familiar face in the Mets' bullpen: Dana Eveland, who's given up one run in 8⅓ innings (1.08 ERA) with excellent peripherals. Can he find new life as a short reliever? What other important names should A's fans look out for in the Mets' pen?
SS: The Mets called Eveland up from Vegas a couple of weeks back after they'd played a few consecutive extra inning games in Philly and needed an extra arm in the pen. I'm not sure I believe in him yet as a legitimate option going forward but he's certainly been pretty solid in limited use. What's somewhat promising about the success is that at Triple-A, he'd seen a huge jump in his strikeout rate this season and that appears to have translated in a small sample in the majors. He's also using his slider way more than ever before and it's worked thus far, as the Mets kept him over incumbent lefty Scott Rice.
Outside of Eveland, the Mets bullpen has changed a lot from earlier in the season and for the better. Jenrry Mejia has taken over as closer and though the overall numbers don't look impressive, he's been strong in relief after starting the season as the Mets' fifth starter. He's got a mid-90's cut fastball and an impressive slider that developed out of nowhere last season. Jeurys Familia (pronounced Jay-your-iz) has probably been the team's best reliever since the beginning of May, pitching to a sub-2.00 ERA and 2.55 FIP. He's had control issues in the past but has really put them aside over the last two months. He features a hard 95-97 MPH sinking fastball and a nasty slider. Vic Black is another young flamethrower, sitting mid-90's with his fastball along with a nasty curveball. Black, who has kind of a funky delivery that uses a glove tap, has had control issues of his own but his stuff is tough to hit. Carlos Torres has been excellent all year out of the Mets pen as their workhorse, as he uses a low-90's cutter with tons of movement. Lefty Josh Edgin and righty Gonzalez Germen round out the pen and they both throw mid-90's fastballs. Edgin has a quality slider and Germen has a nasty changeup.
10. Can you please write us a limerick about Bartolo Colon? (I usually ask for a haiku, but I don't think 17 syllables is enough space in which to fit him.)
There once was a man named Bartolo
At 40, he pitched because YOLO
He chewed gum quite a bit
And even once got a hit
His contract was paid for in Rolos.
Thank you, Steve, for participating in the Q&A!
The series starts this afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m., Kazmir vs. Colon. This might be the coolest possible matchup in all of MLB -- the departed star against the guy who replaced him.