Inbox: Analyzing Niese's five-year contract
Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers Mets fans' questions
Daniel Murphy framed it best after the Mets completed their Opening Day victory over the Braves, moving them to a perfect 1-0 on the season.
"And we'll be 1-0 tomorrow, too," Murphy said.
That tomorrow is Friday, a scheduled off-day for the Mets, who have 45 hours or so to soak in everything that went well in their opener. Saturday will bring a new game and new challenges, which the Mets can afford to ignore for a day as they revel in their Opening Day win. Saturday will also officially bring a new contract for left-hander Jon Niese, which just happens to be the topic du jour in today's Inbox.
Is signing Niese to an extension a message to fans that the Mets are open for more extensions or possibly free-agent signings?
-- Giovanni C., New York
Let me preface this by saying I don't believe the Mets locked up Niese just to prove a point. Madoff or no Madoff, general manager Sandy Alderson has proven exceptionally prudent in handing out big-money deals; Niese's $25.5 million guaranteed contract was more than twice as costly as anything else the Mets have done in 18 months under Alderson's watch, and the GM has often spoken critically of free-agent megadeals in the past. So I find it hard to believe he would hand out an extension simply to flaunt the team's financial standing.
That said, I do suspect the timing, less than a month after ownership's court settlement, was not entirely coincidence. The Mets easily could have waited until after this season to strike a deal with Niese, at the slight risk of having to pay a premium if the left-hander responded with a strong summer. Completing the deal now sent the message that the Mets are officially open for business. The front office is smart enough to realize that.
But again, the most important factor was that the deal made baseball sense for the Mets. In his early days as general manager, Alderson drew a sharp distinction between what he called "first-generation" long-term contracts -- the type that Niese just signed, buying out early free-agent years at the expense of initially overpaying a player under team control -- and "second-generation" deals. Teams have a far better chance to receive value from first-generation contracts because the players who sign them are typically less costly and only just entering their primes. Players who sign second-generation contracts are often more expensive and trending toward the latter half of their primes, if not beyond.
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In this particular case, Niese also entered the season perhaps a bit undervalued, given the favorable picture that advanced metrics paint of his abilities. He has struck a balance with his repertoire after self-admittedly falling "in love" with his cutter in 2010, and he appears to have matured as a person off the field. In a way, Niese has developed into the homegrown horse that the Mets thought they were getting with Mike Pelfrey, and never did.
Niese's five-year deal is a risk, as are all contracts of that length. But considering the factors at work, it seems like a risk worth taking. And yes, Niese's deal comes with a built-in marketing campaign, with the Mets shouting to the world that after several years of fiscal conservatism, they are again willing to spend.
Wouldn't it be better for everyone if the Mets started Mike Nickeas at Triple-A Buffalo and had someone like Lucas May or Rob Johnson serve as the backup catcher -- or at least for some of the year -- so Nickeas could develop?
-- Jacob R., New York
Nickeas has already developed as much as the Mets expect him to. The team is under no misconception that Nickeas will suddenly develop into an offensive-minded catcher -- that's not his skill set. He is on the team because the Mets believe he is the best defensive catcher in their organization, probably by a significant margin.
Pitchers rave about his ability to call a game, which Nickeas backed up with statistics in limited playing time last year; his 3.01 catcher's ERA would have led the league had he amassed enough innings to qualify. Given how much Josh Thole struggled behind the plate last summer, it was critical for the Mets to break camp with a strong defensive catcher on the depth chart. Nickeas is clearly that guy.
The Mets have four hitters with 20-plus home run potential. Which of them is the strongest? And who will hit the longest one?
-- Bill B., Medford, N.Y.
Short of proving it in a bench-press competition, most everyone on the team will tell you it's Lucas Duda. His batting-practice sessions are something to behold, with Duda commanding the attention of teammates, fans and executives nearly every day in Spring Training.
One morning in February, I was walking a few dozen feet behind the right-center-field wall of Field 7, the practice diamond modeled after Citi Field. The outfield wall there is high enough that you don't have a clear view of home plate, nor can you see balls coming until they are nearly upon you. So it was a harrowing few seconds when one batting-practice homer landed on the sidewalk, a foot or so in front of me.
Knowing only a few people in camp could hit a ball that distance, I asked Ike Davis later that day if it was him. He scoffed and told me only Duda could hit it that far.
So there you have it.
Pelfrey has been inconsistent throughout his career with the Mets. This spring, I have not seen anything convincing of a good year from Pelfrey. Why won't management just cut him from the team?
-- Juan T., Orlando, Fla.
If a dynamite alternative existed for the Mets, they might have cut Pelfrey already. But Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia are not ready for the big leagues yet, and no one else at the upper levels of the system has proven any better than Pelfrey on a consistent basis. So the Mets figure they might as well keep plugging along with a guy they know can give them 200 innings.
That said, Pelfrey's leash is nearly nonexistent at this point. The Mets are hoping that Harvey and Familia will be ready by September, if not sooner, meaning the club will have legitimate alternatives if Pelfrey continues to struggle. He knows it. They know it. So in that sense, the early months of this season will be telling.
In Mets history, have they had many captains? I can think of John Franco, maybe Gary Carter or Keith Hernandez?
-- Ralph G., Rahway, N.J.
You named them all. The Mets did not name a captain until Hernandez in 1987, who shared the captainship with Carter from 1988-89. Franco was captain from 2001-04. The Mets have not had one since, though David Wright has served as sort of a de facto captain for most of his tenure in New York.
What role could Jordany Valdespin have in the Mets' future plans?
-- Jonathan D., Flushing, N.Y.
Despite Valdespin's exposure to center field at the end of Spring Training, the Mets are committed to developing him as a middle-infield prospect. His first game with Triple-A Buffalo this season was at second base, where Valdespin could see more time given the uncertainty of that position at the big league level. The Mets know that Valdespin can hit, so the more defensive versatility he develops, the more likely he is to stick in the big leagues.
Where is Reese Havens? We haven't heard any reports of his injury. Is the team keeping it quiet because of his history or is he really making no progress?
-- Amod V., Montclair, N.J.
Havens made little progress after experiencing a bout of lower back stiffness early in camp, and he began the Minor League season on Double-A Binghamton's seven-day disabled list.
I have yet to meet a talent evaluator inside or outside the organization who does not believe Havens can thrive offensively at the Major League level. But at some point, the injuries began consuming him. Now 25 years old, Havens is hardly young for a prospect. He is running out of time to prove he can stay healthy over a full season, and the more time he misses this summer, the more difficult his path will be.