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 delivery — a 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.