5 Early Warning Signs from Port St. Lucie

1. Johan’s Elbow

Make no mistake — Johan Santana has a problem with his elbow and it is going to be an issue for the entire season. Santana is a throwback, a tough guy who takes the ball, sacrifices himself for the team, and pitches through pain.

I’m a former player myself, and I can tell you firsthand that badasses such as Johan and myself go to the trainer to complain about an injury only when it’s become unbearable, and only as a last resort. The fact that Johan not only went to the Mets’ training staff to bring up an issue, but that it became public knowledge, throws up a dozen red flags.

I have two conspiracy theories. One, that Johan continues to pitch with pain, but feels he needs to earn his obnoxious contract and grin and bear it. Two, that the Mets won’t send Johan for an MRI because they’re afraid it might show damage, and they’ll have to shut him down. No Johan means no chance in hell that the Mets make the postseason, which in turn means season ticket sales grind to a screeching halt in an already depressed economy, and Citi Field doesn’t enjoy a record-breaking debut.

2. John Maine’s Shoulder … and Mechanics

Maine developed scar tissue and eventually, a cyst, on his shoulder due to a minor mechanical flaw in his deliverya flaw that can be corrected. However, neither the Mets nor Maine did anything to correct the flaw, which by the way also adversely affects his command. Unless someone wakes up and tells Maine to break his hands in the middle of his body instead of behind his right hip, we’ll watch another inconsistent season of 5-inning outings and 12-pitch at-bats.

3. JJ Putz’s Fastball

When the Mets acquired Putz, the scouting report was that this was one of the top closers in all of MLB, with a “filthy” breaking ball and 95-96 MPH heat. In his first appearance as a Met in Port St. Lucie, Putz was barely able to break 89 MPH, and reached that only a few times. He had a similarly underwhelming debut for Team USA. Now, we know it can take a while for a flamethrower to build up his strength, but the fact he’s struggling to reach 90 MPH is a major concern.

4. The Back End of the Rotation

Normally we wouldn’t worry too much about the #5 spot in the rotation. However, we’re looking at the possibility of chronic elbow issues from the ace, and inconsistency from #4 man John Maine — which means the back end needs to pick up the slack. So far, Freddy Garcia has looked awful, Livan Hernandez even worse, and Tim Redding has yet to take the mound due to a shoulder injury. The next men on the totem pole — Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell — are at best average prospects and have less than 20 big league innings of experience between them.

5. Jerry Manuel’s Mouth

The honeymoon is nearly over. Manuel has reigned as a media darling ever since taking over the Mets last June. However, comments and cajoling that previously were presented as “zen-like”, charming, and “a breath of fresh air” are starting — though ever so quietly — to be questioned. Manuel has always been known as engaging with the media — much to the chagrin of his players. His loose lips helped sink the ship in Chicago, as his constant calling out of players eventually created a tense and resentful clubhouse.

A similar pattern began in the initial days at Port St. Lucie, when Manuel told reporters that Daniel Murphy was a “better hitter” than Ryan Church. Even if that statement were true, it’s not the type of thing you go around boasting about. Only a week later, NY Post writer Bart Hubbuch compiled a long list of Manuel’s missteps with the media (interestingly, the post was generally ignored by the rest of the media and most Mets blogs). It’s not even mid-March yet, and Manuel’s already marred his managerial tenure with his mouth.

Go ahead, paint me the negative Nelly. But the above five issues could be pebbles in one shoe of the Mets, leaving them hobbling around on one foot through the 2009 season.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. mikes_mets March 7, 2009 at 1:11 am
    Joe, negative Nelly thing aside, you know that I like you and respect your opinions, but sometimes I read your posts and wonder if you really ever just let yourself really enjoy being a fan anymore.
  2. CatchDog March 7, 2009 at 8:00 am
    Joe; I have been reading this site daily since I found the link back in November. I have to absolutely agree with Mike on this subject. Why the doom and gloom? You have a few good points but Jerry is better than Willie any day. And let’s give Putz, Maine and Johan the benefit of the doubt as we still have a ways to go until opening day. In addition, with the market the way it is, Omar could probably bring in five more serviceable pitchers on minor league deals, not to mention the last week waiver wire and trade possibilities. Personally, I prefer to look at the glass half full. We have a solid core and a great mix of veterans and youngbloods coming up through the system. When in the past have we ever been able to say that since Reyes, Wright and Pelfrey, the Mets could conceivably add some good to excellent players to the squad each year? With Neise, Murphy and Evans this season, to F!Mart, Parnell and Holt next year, then onward to Thole, Flores, Marte, Gee, Havens and Puello. We haven’t had this much potential since the Generation K days. I’m sure I’m sounding like a homer but I just wanted to balance out the equation. It’s still early and anything can happen. Enjoy the ride.
  3. sincekindergarten March 7, 2009 at 9:50 am
    Joe, I hate to pile on here, but Johan’s elbow is a non sequitor. The last time he had elbow problems in ST was ’04. He went 20-6 with an ERA just a bit over 2.6 that year, and won something called the “Cy Young Award,” for the first time.

    Maine’s shoulder and mechanics . . . no argument here. Warthen should do something along the lines you suggest, and I’m not being sarcastic.

    Give Putz some time, as you suggest.

    It’s the first week of March. Give Garcia time, as well.

    Hey, Manuel probably knows exactly how to fire up Church. I’d take a flyer on Manuel’s comment.

  4. joe March 7, 2009 at 11:38 am
    Mike – it’s been tough enjoying being a Mets fan since the Wilpons started referring to the team as “the product” and “our brand”. We all know baseball is a business – big business at that – but to come right out and tell us that the goal is to put “a good product on the field” rather than “winning the World Series” just doesn’t sit well with me.

    CatchDog – thanks for reading and thanks for joining the conversation! First: this isn’t “doom and gloom”, these are “warning signs”. Most of the Mets’ perspective in the media and the blogosphere lately is being delivered with pom-poms and a marching band — I’m trying to deliver the other side of the story, and present the possibility that all is not peaches and cream. What’s the fun if I write the same things that everyone else is writing?

    Also, why are you bringing Willie Randolph into the conversation? Every time I write something mildly critical of Jerry Manuel, people immediately let me know how much better he is than Willie.

    Well first of all, Willie is long gone, and isn’t coming back. Secondly, from what I’ve seen of Manuel, he’s actually very similar to Willie, other than being a media darling. He is equally oblivious when it comes to bullpen management, remarkably predictable with his “by-the-book”, in-game “strategy”, claims to put a premium on fundamentals and defense, and encourages aggressive baserunning. As far as his relationship with the players, no doubt there are those who like him and those who don’t — but, we won’t see/hear about the ones who don’t if/until the Mets start tanking. And the bottom line is this: both managers blew a first-place lead in the last week of the season.

    SK – Johan Santana had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow prior to that Cy Young season of 2004. From what we’ve been told, the offseason surgery he had over the winter was for his knee. Had it been for his elbow, and it was cleaned out again, maybe I’d be with you on that point.

    And why would Church need to be “fired up” in the first place? Last April / May he was one of the few Mets with a pulse. If anything Church should be firing up Mets management for being so irresponsible and incompetent in the handling of his head injuries.

  5. upson March 7, 2009 at 11:49 am
    Joe, I am really not worried about Johan. I have my own conspiracy theory about this. (Actually, it is not originally mine, but I totally agree with this.)… The whole tendinitis thing seems to be me just a way to save Santana’s (and Mets) face in the eyes of Venezuelans fans.
  6. isuzudude March 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm
    Well, Joe, please allow me to run to your defense. I think you have accurately pinpointed the 5 most glaring issues that the Mets are being presented with, and the list could have easily been doubled in size. How about a lack of an additional lefty in the bullpen aside from Feliciano? How about the left-handed heaviness of the Mets projected bench? How about the overwhleming amount of players that have elected to play in the WBC and will undoubtedly cause some type of distraction or retardation in the cohessiveness and fluidity of the start of the season? All of these things are going to drag this team down like cement blocks in water, and to simply overlook them is irresponsible for even the most optimistic Met fan – let alone a professional blogger who’s agenda is to provide analysis and insight, not sugarcoating.

    Mikes Mets: Have you “enjoyed being a fan” over the past 2 years, watching the Mets routinely collapse at the finish line and make one bone-headed decision after another? That said, I think it’s completely possible to be hard on your favorite team and provide criticism while still watching the games with enjoyment, cheering on the players, and reveling in success when it is achieved. Otherwise we’d all be Braves fans – you know, the type that are happy if your team wins or loses. “Hey, we’ll just get’em next time. Good try guys!” When the Mets are one of the richest teams in the sport and insist on charging 2 arms and a leg just to watch their team play in person, we have every right to be critical and negative when it looks like they aren’t giving it 100%.

    Catchdog: Can you really be serious when you have gone through the last 2 years and ask the question, “why the doom and gloom?” What has being optimistic and faithful gotten you or the team? Nothing. As I tell my friends who are also fans, it’s better to keep expectations low and forecast a turbulent season, because then if the Mets make the playoffs they over-achieve and we’re all pleasantly surprised. Otherwise, it becomes another season of writing the Mets into the playoffs by default and then pulling our hair out in September when they let us all down again. Also, you are way too jubilant about the Mets’ prospects. Every team has at least a dozen Neise, Murphy, and Evans in their system. They are nothing special. The only reason they look like gold in your eyes is because the rest of the “prospects” the Mets possess are mostly trash. And most every scout and baseball expert will concur with that. You can look through the ruby colored shades all you want, but you’re only going to be fooling yourself and setting yourself up for a letdown. You are right that it is early and that anything can happen, but if you use objectivity rather than subjectivity you will come to the realization that things aren’t as rosy as you paint them to be in Metsland.

    SK: Your Johan reference is 5 years old. Add 5 years of wear and tear to Johan’s elbow and understand the need for concern. I think anytime when one of your star players who is being counted on for no less than a Cy Young caliber season simply whispers something about being in pain, it should throw up immediate red flags. Because if Joe or the rest of the media decided to pander to the Mets and brush the story under the carpet like they want, the reaction to a Johan injury in the future would not be pretty. At least now we are forewarned.

    It’s more fun to be positive and upbeat and ignore the issues that might make us worry about the upcoming season. But this isn’t kindergarten class. The real world presents the Mets with a plethora of problems and obstacles, and it would be remiss for any Met fan with half a brain to overlook the team’s shortfalls. Have we not learned anything from the past 2 season?

  7. joe March 7, 2009 at 2:03 pm
    upson, I like your conspiracy theory! both because it makes too much sense and because if true, then we don’t have to worry about Johan. Nice.

    isuzudude, your point about 90% of the team being away at the WBC is also an interesting point, particularly since all we’ve heard about is how the Mets’ clubhouse is segmented by clicks and has neither leadership nor chemistry — not to mention the new faces that need to get assimilated. It’s hard to develop any “chemistry” when everyone is in a different place.

    On the other hand, you can look at from the point that everyone participating in the WBC presumably jump-started their preparation for the season a few weeks earlier, so when Opening Day arrives, they should be raring to go and set up for a quick start out of the chute.

    12 of these, a dozen of that.

  8. CatchDog March 8, 2009 at 9:04 am
    Joe; I live in Palm Beach (Florida) and regularly blast up to St Lucie to watch ST. Over the years I have developed a good relationship with a number of the players. In fact, over the years, many MLB players have been to my home and hit in my cages in the offseason as well as graciously spent time teaching the baseball travel team for which I coach. That said; I can absolutely testify that more than a few Met players this spring feel that the team is as good as it’s been in a while and are very optimistic about this season. I understand that you are delivering the “other side of the story”. But it is hard to not share in their enthusiasm. Therefore, it my opinion that the Mets have a great opportunity to be successful this season.

    Isuzu; LOL –you are extremely predicable. You are a very bright guy but you flip flop worse than a politician. Had the first three posts agreed with Joe, you would have gone the other way for sure. That is your fallback position and you have mastered that skill, along with talking down to other bloggers quite well. Let’s just say that Dan Murphy and Jon Neise’s success (or lack of) will now be the official measuring tool of your credibility. They come with a free pair of rose colored glasses…

  9. isuzudude March 8, 2009 at 9:56 am
    Catchdog, I’m sorry that you have to attack my character when I offer you some criticism. I think if you have been hanging around this blog since November, as you allude, you would have seen that I don’t always disagree with the whole and when I take a position I stick with it, and freely admit when I have been wrong. My prediction for this year will be that the Mets finish in 3rd, win somewhere around 83-85 games, and that the major holes that faced this team in the offseason (starting pitching, LF, 2B) will come back to bite them in 2009. I’m not saying Murphy and Niese will turn out like Herm Winningham and Bill Pulsipher, but they certainly aren’t going to be Wade Boggs and Randy Johnson, which many Met fans who live in a box are predicting. I’ll make another bold prediciton too: when you have been proven wrong about the Mets prospects for this season, you’ll disappear faster from this blog than the Mets from the 2008 NL East pennant race. Prove me wrong.
  10. Micalpalyn March 8, 2009 at 11:18 am
    Guys: As a regular, I see no huge departure from your tone or content. What you say is valid, even the JM stuff, although I take SK’s side on that.
    However, as an Omar defender I will say I am HUGELY disappointed in his stubbornness that has lost opportunities to add O-dog and a legit OFer in fact the whole OF is a mess. While you all know I don’t particularly like Putz , I also think Ryan Church has a lot to prove also. Everyone in the universe knows I-rod could easily platoon with Brian, while Ramon is hardly a fixture.
    But like several others I am waiting to see how the month pans out and who goes north.
  11. CatchDog March 9, 2009 at 5:26 am
    Isuzu; Rest assured, I’ll be here; if only to remind you exactly what you have posted.
  12. […] today, Ben Shpigel asked Omar Minaya if Johan Santana’s elbow issue was related in any way to the discomfort he felt back in February. Minaya was stunned by the question — he had not remembered the elbow problem, stating that […]
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