Leiter, Franco join Mets front office
Former Mets pitchers join Wright as baseball operations advisors
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In instructing the future generation of Mets, the team is dipping into the past. The club on Monday named former pitchers Al Leiter and John Franco baseball operations advisors, adding them to a front office that already includes ex-third baseman David Wright.
“We’re really excited to have both,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “John has been with the organization for a long time. He’s been very active in community service. But to be able to bring him into the fold and [have him] become an advisor in the baseball operations department, we’re excited about. And Al has a unique energy. For those of you who have met Al in the past, he brings an energy every day.”
Leiter spent the past 12 years as an Emmy-winning broadcaster calling Yankees games for the YES Network, after beginning his television career at ESPN and FOX Sports. Although he will retain a foothold in that industry through his work as an MLB Network analyst, Leiter will also spend significant time serving the Mets’ scouting and player development departments.
A Major League pitcher from 1987-2005, Leiter spent a larger portion of his career with the Mets than any other team, winning 95 games for them over seven seasons and posting a 3.57 ERA over seven playoff starts.
“He feels a connection to the organization,” Van Wagenen said. “He had a lot of success here. Being a local guy that had success with the Mets, this seemed like the right time in his life to where he was interested in being involved with one organization.”
Van Wagenen went on to say that both Leiter and Franco will be more than “just a name on a business card or a token hire.” The Mets intend for them to receive special assignments throughout the summer, beginning later this month in Port St. Lucie.
That means an expanded role for Franco, a Mets Hall of Famer who has served as a team ambassador since 2010. Previously, Franco’s involvement had been limited mostly to appearances for the club’s community relations, marketing and media relations departments. He will now serve in a scouting and player development capacity, as well.
Wright, who played his final game in September, joined the front office two months later as an advisor to Van Wagenen. He attended the Winter Meetings to offer his perspective on personnel decisions.
Back on the chicken train
Since spending a miserable morning fighting illness last week, Brandon Nimmo has received two digital meat thermometers in the mail (one of them from an anonymous benefactor), various business offers from personal chefs and a product offer from Dude Wipes, a personal care company that markets directly to men. None of them, apparently, got the memo that Nimmo did not undercook his chicken dinner, but instead contracted a stomach virus from which he is still recovering.
“It’s nice to be vindicated and know that my cooking wasn’t the culprit,” Nimmo said. “We have chicken every day over there. So I’ve already gotten back on the chicken train.”
Monday, Nimmo also got back on the baseball train, leading off and going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in the Mets’ 9-3 loss to the Red Sox. He said afterward that after dropping a few pounds and missing nearly a full week of games and workouts, it felt like he was starting fresh. But unlike in years past, when the lost time would have had him stressing, Nimmo -- coming off a breakout season that saw him post a .404 on-base percentage over 140 games -- feels confident in his ability to ease back into Grapefruit League play.
As for potential off-field opportunities, time will tell.
“I don’t think I need a digital thermometer endorsement,” Nimmo said. “But we’ll see. Maybe. Maybe that might be someone to look into.”
The Mets agreed to contract terms with 25 of their 26 pre-arbitration players on Monday. The lone exception was closer Edwin Díaz, an All-Star who led the Majors with 57 saves last season. Because Diaz did not agree to a contract, the team renewed his deal at close to the league minimum.
Renewal is essentially a silent protest from players with less than three years of service time, who have little leverage over their teams. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard also renewed their deals in years past, before reaching arbitration. According to Van Wagenen, the Mets use a statistical formula to determine salaries for pre-arbitration players.
“In some cases, the formula may be fair,” Van Wagenen said, explaining why players choose not to agree to terms. “But when you’re talking about when somebody has significant contribution that can’t properly be measured in pre-arbitration salaries, you exercise the right to renew.”
Diaz will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next winter, at which point he can expect a sizeable raise.
The great first-base race
At the dawn of camp, the Mets’ most intriguing roster battle promised to play out at first base, with Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith and Todd Frazier all jockeying for reps. Although Frazier has been sidelined due to an oblique injury, neither Alonso nor Smith has done anything to hurt his stock.
Monday, Smith rapped out two more hits to keep his average level at .500, while Alonso homered and doubled. Their OPSs, respectively, are 1.265 and 1.356.
“I hope they make the decision or decisions as hard as possible on us,” manager Mickey Callaway said.
Off the schneid
Tim Tebow’s hitless spring is a thing of the past. In the fourth inning Monday, Tebow dunked a fly ball single into shallow right-center field for his first hit of the Grapefruit League season. Two innings later, he added a line-drive single to left to finish 2-for-3.
Tebow is now 2-for-9 on the spring, after going 1-for-18 last year while playing on an injured ankle.
Rain delay … sort of
Midway through the Mets’ loss to the Red Sox, play stopped due to a sudden rain shower at First Data Field. Before the grounds crew could even race out with the tarp, the rain stopped. Both teams filtered back onto the field and play resumed after an official delay of three minutes.
After allowing a leadoff homer in his first spring outing, Jason Vargas struck out three of the final seven batters he faced. He’ll look to continue that momentum Tuesday against the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla., starting opposite right-hander Sandy Alcantara in a 1:05 p.m. ET game at Roger Dean Stadium.