Quietly, the Mets have won six of their last nine games entering this week's two-game set in Chicago. And that's not even the good news for their fans. The good news is that Zack Wheeler will pitch Tuesday, making his second start of the season.
What's interesting is that when Wheeler takes the mound, the team behind him will have quite a different look than the one he saw in Spring Training, due to injuries, inconsistencies and other issues. It won't even be the same team he pitched in front of last week in Atlanta, thanks to the presence of a new leadoff man: one Eric Young, Jr.
What do the Mets have in Young? I like that he gives us that leadoff-man element we haven't seen since Jose Reyes.
-- Kristen P., Islip, N.Y.
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That is exactly what the Mets are trying to figure out right now.
Through five games with the Mets, Young is batting .364 (8-for-22) with three doubles, three runs scored and five RBIs. He is doing, in other words, pretty much everything except for stealing bases. So it's not exactly a defining sample for Young, whose career history suggests that he is a speed-first player who relies on his legs.
Young's defensive versatility also means he can play multiple positions as the Mets shift other pieces around him, while his switch-hitting ability means manager Terry Collins can be comfortable batting him leadoff every day. The Mets have not really had that sort of consistency at the leadoff spot since Reyes left, and Young at least gives them the potential for it.
That's not to call Young a long-term solution for the Mets. The Rockies designated him for assignment earlier this month, after all, allowing the Mets to acquire him effectively for free. His defensive reputation is decidedly average, and his track record over 313 games with the Rockies carries far more weight than his five games with the Mets.
But if Young can give the Mets a jolt for a few months -- or even a few weeks -- while they work to improve their offense, he may prove to be a shrewd acquisition.
Could Jordany Valdespin be considered at shortstop in case Ruben Tejada's offensive weaknesses are exposed?
-- Norm H., Kingston, N.Y.
This email was sent earlier this season, before Tejada's offensive weaknesses were, well, exposed. Tejada hit .209 with a .529 OPS over his first 50 games, and was every bit in line for the Ike Davis treatment in Triple-A Las Vegas had he not strained his right quad, landing him on the disabled list. Just like last year, Tejada's recovery from injury is taking longer than expected.
Once he returns, the Mets will have an interesting decision to make. Though Omar Quintanilla is playing well enough, he is not performing so well that he clearly deserves to supplant Tejada at the position -- mostly because at 31 years old, Quintanilla does not factor into the Mets' long-term plans. So without another obvious option at the upper levels of their Minors, the Mets have every reason to hope Tejada salvages something out of this season.
Though Valdespin has shown the Mets flashes of potential throughout his two seasons with the club, his offensive limitations are no longer a secret (a .281 on-base percentage in 338 career plate appearances does not exactly scream for more playing time). And the Mets decided long ago that shortstop is not a viable long-term home for him.
Put simply, the club does not feel Valdespin has the defensive chops to play the premier position on the diamond, which severely limits his options, given his offensive shortcomings. Though he remains capable of subbing at shortstop in a pinch -- with Tejada and Justin Turner both disabled, Valdespin is currently the backup -- his long-term future lies elsewhere.
With Frank Francisco on the shelf and a bloated ERA last year of over 5, any chance the Mets can bring in Brian Wilson or Jose Valverde as a closer? You really can't hand this job to Parnell, I mean, really!
-- Chris C., Port Monmouth, N.J.
This is another older email, which I saved to highlight the stigma against so many setup men in today's game -- that is, that the ninth inning is somehow a different animal.
I don't personally buy into the sabermetric philosophy that the ninth inning is exactly the same as the eighth -- these guys are human, after all, and the pressure is real. But it's close enough that if a pitcher excels as an eighth-inning setup man, he would probably do just as well in the ninth, given a fair chance to succeed.
Parnell has received that chance this season and has not simply developed into an effective closer, but one of the better ones in the National League. Though he has blown three saves in 15 chances, he might only have blown one with better defense behind him. And it is worth noting that his stats in save situations (2.25 ERA, 18 strikeouts, two walks) are actually better than his numbers in non-save situation (2.81 ERA, 11 strikeouts, six walks).
So let's give him his due: In a job many believed he did not deserve, Parnell has thrived.
With David Wright at third, what do we do with Wilmer Flores? Move him to second and trade Reese Havens, trade Flores, or trade both Flores and Havens and sign Daniel Murphy long term?
-- Ken G., Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Don't count on Havens being a part of the future in any shape or form -- at 26 years old, he remains an injury-prone player and hasn't been effective even when healthy, making him most likely a career Minor Leaguer at best.
As for Flores, it is telling that he has been playing almost exclusively second base at Triple-A Las Vegas this season. That's not a knock on Murphy, who has actually become quite adept defensively over the past two seasons. It's just a nod to the fact that, if Flores is to play in New York, it will certainly not happen at third base, where Wright is entrenched for the next seven-and-a-half seasons. Moreover, if Flores proves adept at second, that would only increase his trade value should the Mets pursue that route.
I don't think signing Murphy to a long-term deal is a realistic expectation at this point, so there is still room for Flores to overtake him on the depth chart in future seasons.