NEW YORK -- If top prospect Zack Wheeler is back at Triple-A to begin next season, he will find the scenery has changed.
The Mets have officially agreed on a new two-year player development deal with the Las Vegas 51s, the team announced Monday, moving their top Minor League affiliate roughly 2,000 miles west. The Mets based their Triple-A squad in Buffalo, N.Y., for the past four years, but the Bisons severed that agreement reportedly to seek affiliation with the Blue Jays.
"We are excited about our new partnership with the Las Vegas 51s and the city of Las Vegas, one which values equally player development, winning and community involvement," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said in a statement.
The Mets have previous experience with a Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, spending 2007-08 in New Orleans after they were unable to renew their player development agreement with the Norfolk Tides. It can be a logistical hardship for East Coast teams, particularly when attempting to make a quick callup or send a player on a Minor League rehabilitation assignment.
But teams must pair with existing Minor League affiliates, so Buffalo's decision not to renew its agreement left the Mets with limited possibilities. A move to Las Vegas seemed inevitable for months.
One other complication is Las Vegas' reputation as one of the most dynamic offensive environments in all of professional baseball, making it difficult to evaluate players and their bloated statistics.
"What you do is you really use your scouts and your player development people to find the skills," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who managed in a similar offensive environment earlier in his career at Triple-A Albuquerque. "Sometimes you have to back off the results."
Dickey to make three more starts after Monday
NEW YORK -- Little is clear regarding Terry Collins' rotation these days, with the Mets planning on using as many as eight different starting pitchers over their final 16 games.
But Collins offered some clarity on that group going forward, confirming that R.A. Dickey will pitch three more times after Monday, saying that Collin McHugh will receive at least one more start and leaving open the possibility that Jeurys Familia could receive one, too.
The only starting pitcher still on a concrete schedule is Dickey, who started Monday's game against the Phillies and is in line to start every fifth game. Dickey will pitch again Sunday against the Marlins in his final start at Citi Field, then on Sept. 28 in Atlanta and Oct. 3 in the season finale in Miami.
In between, Chris Young and Jon Niese will continue to pitch regularly, while Collins sprinkles in work for Familia, McHugh, Jenrry Mejia and Jeremy Hefner, who will start Wednesday's finale against the Phillies. More innings should be available for everyone once rookie Matt Harvey, who is on a strict innings limit, makes his final start of the season on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Collins said that Familia would also make at least one start down the stretch, likely during the season's final week. Though Collins has wavered slightly on that plan in recent days, citing the rookie's strong work out of the bullpen, he did indicate that Familia should still make a start.
All the while, Collins will evaluate Familia, Mejia and McHugh for possible bullpen assignments in 2013. Many scouts have long pegged Familia and Mejia in particular as future relievers, though the Mets are wary of committing too many young arms to the bullpen at once.
"That's a lot of young guys to put down there at one time," Collins said of a potential Opening Day bullpen containing all three of those pitchers. "I'm sure somebody in that group will be starting somewhere."
Shoppach suggests he shouldn't catch Dickey
NEW YORK -- It's team first in Flushing except for once every fifth day, when the entire roster rallies around R.A. Dickey.
Before Dickey's last start, manager Terry Collins realigned his lineup card to support Dickey with his best possible defensive outfield. Heading into Monday's game, Collins planned to bolster his offense by starting Kelly Shoppach at catcher opposite Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee.
But Shoppach, who has never caught a knuckleballer competitively, nixed the idea, saying Dickey might be uncomfortable throwing to an unfamiliar catcher. As a result, Dickey pitched to Mike Nickeas as he continued his quest for 20 wins and the National League Cy Young Award.
"He was more concerned with R.A.," Collins said of Shoppach. "He brought up a good point, so we'll go with Nickeas."
Dickey entered Monday's play with a 2.18 ERA in six games throwing to Nickeas this season, vs. a 2.80 ERA in 24 games paired with regular catcher Josh Thole. Shoppach's only knuckleball experience came in 2005 Spring Training with the Red Sox, when he caught Tim Wakefield.
The Mets installed approximately 60 temporary seats down Citi Field's first- and third-base lines in advance of their final homestand. Enclosed behind a Plexiglas barrier, the temporary chairs are expected to seat fans during next summer's All-Star Game festivities.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to proclaim Sept. 20 "Knuckleball Day" in New York City, as part of a collaborative promotion with Boston mayor Thomas Menino and the makers of "Knuckleball," a documentary featuring R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield. More information on upcoming public screenings is available at knuckleballmovie.com/see-knuckleball.html.