Feb 03

Weighing In On Collusion Issue

Baseball’s owners were found guilty of collusion once, so is it unreasonable to think they won’t try it again? After all, they’ve slowly implemented a salary cap with a luxury tax and restricted free agency with compensatory draft picks.

Also, not beneficial to the integrity of the game – at least in my opinion – are such things as scheduling, interleague play, screwing around with the All-Star Game, playing in ridiculously cold and wet weather, not having any day games during the World Series, not resolving the designated hitter issue, and an almost neurotic obsession about the length of games [see pitch clock].

These things are made possible because the agenda of the owners and commissioner’s office is almost rubber-stamped by the Players Association because its interests lay with salaries and not the issues surrounding the game. This is, in part, because in exchange for not giving the owners a hard time on drug testing the salaries keep spiraling upwards.

So, it’s reasonable to assume something could be going on behind the scenes. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen of Creative Artists Agency said the behavior of the owners “feels coordinated, rightly or wrongly,’’ but didn’t use the word collusion.

Let’s give the owners some benefit of doubt and think there are other reasons why players such as Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Cobb, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez, Carlos Gomez, Logan Morrison, Neil Walker, Lance Lynn, Jonathan Lucroy, Greg Holland and Jon Jay remain unsigned.

What could those reasons be?

• Next year’s market: It’s loaded with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Carrasco, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, David Price, Daniel Murphy, Joe Mauer, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller. It’s far deeper than this year’s market and we’ll be talking about landmark salaries next winter. There’s also Matt Harvey, but I digress.

• Owners getting smarter: Seriously, some of them are learning most long-term contracts don’t pay off because they get little return at the end as the Mets have with David Wright, Jason Bay, Johan Santana and are on their way again with Yoenis Cespedes, and the Yankees have with Alex Rodriguez.

• Trading expensive contracts: To get out of paying long-term contracts, Marlins part-owner Derek Jeter helped sabotage the market when he traded Dee Gordon to Seattle; Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees; Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis; Christian Yelich to Milwaukee; and Pittsburgh dealt Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco.

• Salary arbitration: Although arbitration has been in play for a long time, it’s origin stems from the owners’ refusal to grant unrestricted free-agency. As a compromise, the owners adopted arbitration where the two sides each submit a salary figure that an arbitrator must pick without establishing something in the middle ground. This process caused salaries to spike more than if there was conventional free-agency. To bypass the arbitration and free-agent players, the owners outsmarted themselves by offering longer and longer contracts. That obviously hasn’t worked so the owners are trying to again manipulate the system. The economic system the owners don’t like is netting them billions, but it’s not enough.

Not all of these reasons explain the slowness in the market, just as collusion isn’t the sole explanation. But, combined they explain why the market has changed and won’t be normal for a long time.

Nov 05

Cespedes To Opt Out Today

By midnight today, Yoenis Cespedes will tell the Mets he is opting out of his contract to pursue the riches of free agency.

The Mets have expected him to leave since they gave him the opt-out clause after one season of a three-year, $75-million contract. In reality, they never him to come back after he was close to signing a five-year, $110-million deal with Washington.

CESPEDES: Where is he running to? (AP)

    CESPEDES: Where is he running to? (AP)

Somehow, Cespedes eschewed that contract for the Mets. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the World Series experience.

I’ve written several times how the Mets would be better off letting Cespedes go and spend the money elsewhere. I know that it is an unpopular position because we’re supposed to be enamored with Cespedes’ power, but frankly, he’s too high-maintenance for the money.

I’m annoyed he hustles when the mood strikes; that he played golf when he should have been rehabbing his quad; and he couldn’t play centerfield, which pretty much ended Michael Conforto’s play in left field.

If he comes back and has to play left, it stunts Conforto’s development. I certainly don’t want the Mets to fool around with Conforto at first base just to placate Cespedes.

The Mets will make a qualifying offer, which Cespedes will reject to accept a $100-million package with somebody else.

There are a handful of teams Cespedes where could land, but remember the Nationals were the only team to make an offer last year.

The Nationals could go after Cespedes again, which would entail Bryce Harper moving to center and Jayson Werth going to right. An outfield of Cespedes, Harper and Werth could be imposing.

San Francisco, which needs offense and with left fielder Angel Pagan to become a free agent, could be a player. Another possibility is Toronto, which might lose Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, will certainly have the money.

Another option could be the Yankees. They have long-term outfield commitments to Jacoby Ellsbury and Bret Gardner, but with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez gone, they have a designated-hitter opening.

Conventional wisdom has Cespedes seeking a five-year contract, but last year’s leg problems must concern the Mets, and a DH position has to be appealing to him.

Aug 09

No Need To Rush Wright

When it comes to recovering from injuries, David Wright has often been his worst enemy. Too often he tried to play through pain to stay on the field for the Mets.

He missed over four months last year dealing with spinal stenosis. He will miss the rest this year following surgery, June 16, to repair a herniated disk in his neck. I know this drives him crazy, but knowing he won’t come back is a good thing because he can’t force the issue.

WRIGHT: Take it slow. (AP)

WRIGHT: Take it slow. (AP)

Wright, speaking to children at the Coleman Country Day Camp Monday, said he’s been making steady improvement. Although, his reply of “I hope not,” when asked if his playing career could be over, spoke volumes about the seriousness of the injury and its possible ramifications.

“I’m feeling very good,” Wright said. “Now it’s just a matter of time taking its course and allowing the bone to heal. It’s been explained to me like a broken bone, it just takes time to heal. I feel good. I still don’t have the range of motion that I did before the surgery, but that’s why it takes three, four months for a full recovery.

“Now it’s just a matter of being patient and allowing the screws and the plate to [get in] place and fuse together so that hopefully there’s no more problems in the future.

“Hopefully” is a big word. So is “patient.”

The agreement Alex Rodriguez reached with the Mets Sunday reminds us of the fragility of careers and how quickly they could end.

Wright is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. I’m sure a lot is going through his mind, especially at two in the morning when he’s up feeding daughter, Olivia Shea, or changing diapers. Wright is a genuine guy who does real things, and I’m betting he lets wife, Molly, sleep.

Of all the athletes I have covered, Wright is one of my favorite. I miss seeing him play and believe he’ll come back. I really do.

But, there’s no rush to see him, so it doesn’t matter if he’s ready for Opening Day 2017, or needs another month or two.

Wright is a family man now. He doesn’t need the money. As much as he wants to play, he also knows he’ll be playing with house money the rest of his career.

Hopefully, he’ll finish healthy and walk away on his own terms, something Rodriguez will not do.

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Aug 07

What If The Mets Signed Alex Rodriguez In 2000?

Alex Rodriguez’s career has less than a week remaining following today’s announcement he will stop playing Friday to become an adviser/instructor for the team with whom he fought, embarrassed and will pay him $27 million to walk away.

Whatever you think of Rodriguez – he’s a polarizing figure both ways – I will always attach two words to his career: “What if?”

RODRIGUEZ: What if? (AP)

RODRIGUEZ: What if? (AP)

What if he didn’t use PEDs? What if he never left Seattle? What if he went to Boston instead of the Yankees? What if he wasn’t such a distraction off the field? What if he didn’t break down physically at the end?

Regarding the Mets, I wonder “what if Rodriguez signed with them instead of Texas after the 2000 World Series?”

It was the winter of that year and the Mets were among a handful of teams interested in signing Rodriguez. Some had him as the front-runner. The Mets’ GM at the time, Steve Phillips, cited several factors in backing away, including reportedly a refusal to meet Rodriguez’s non-salaried demands of a private plane and luxury box; an office with four employees in Shea Stadium; and a billboard presence.

Phillips made a point of saying he wasn’t going to turn the Mets into a “24-plus-one-roster” and destroy the chemistry of the team. Then, of course, there was his salary. The Mets were willing to go over $120 million, which is what Cleveland’s Manny Ramirez signed for with Boston that year.

However, the Rangers’ ten-year, $252-million contract was beyond comprehension.

What if the Mets were willing to give Rodriguez what he wanted? What if?

The Mets were coming off a World Series appearance and obviously a good team. Adding Rodriguez to a lineup that already included Mike Piazza could have devastated the National League, and it wouldn’t have been hard to envision another World Series. Maybe two. Maybe more.

If that was the case, might Bobby Valentine survived, and in doing so, the Mets avoided the parade of Art Howe, Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel and now Terry Collins?

Would we have ever seen the Sandy Alderson era?

With Piazza and Rodriguez hitting back-to-back, how many more homers could each have hit having the other for protection?

In 2000, the Mets were nine years away from moving into Citi Field. If they signed Rodriguez, would that have delayed or sped up the plans for Citi Field, which hit the drawing board in December of 2001?

On the field, what would Rodriguez have prevented or enabled the Mets to do?

For one thing, signing Rodriguez would have delayed bringing up Jose Reyes, unless they were intent on playing him at second base. They certainly would have had no use for Kaz Matsui with Rodriguez at shortstop.

Then again, if the Mets’ thinking at the time were to move Reyes to third, would that have delayed the arrival of David Wright?

The Mets went back to the playoffs in 2006, but how far might they have gone with an infield – from third to first – of Wright, Rodriguez, Reyes and Carlos Delgado?

With Rodriguez, would the Mets have been in position to go after Delgado and Carlos Beltran? As pricey as Rodriguez’s contract was, if his presence put the Mets in the playoffs several times, how would this have impacted the Wilpon’s financial situation?

Reyes, Rodriguez, Wright, Delgado and Beltran would have comprised a formidable offense, and if they still added Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, then Johan Santana, could the Mets have been a dynasty in the 2000s?

There are no guarantees in sports, but it’s fun to speculate how different things might have been. Mets’ history and overall baseball history would surely have changed had Rodriguez ended up in Shea Stadium during the winter of 2000.

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Mar 04

Mejia Cries Foul; He’s Clueless

When you don’t have any cards your hand, you might as well bluff. That appears to be the strategy of Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia, who became the first MLB player to be permanently suspended after he failed three drug tests.

MEJIA: He's reaching. (AP)

MEJIA: He’s reaching. (AP)

Mejia told The New York Times that MLB is out to get him, that he is a victim of a witch hunt. Huh? Seriously?

After tangling with the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun – two MVPs that are big names – why would MLB go outside the lines to nail Mejia? In the grand scheme of things, who is Jenrry Mejia?

Mejia told the Times he was only guilty of the first offense, but the second test wasn’t accurate and that he was pressured by MLB for information on his drug connections. I have to ask, if what Mejia said was true, why didn’t he cry foul at the time? Quite simply, you don’t complain about the second test shortly after failing a third.

I’m always skeptical of stories involving Spanish-speaking players because things get muffled and lost through an interpreter. I mention this because Mejia told the paper, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Seriously? Nothing? You failed three drug tests and wouldn’t change anything?

If nothing else, he might try a different drug as he was caught twice for stanozolol and twice for boldenone.

Sure, MLB resorted to dirty tricks with Rodriguez, so you can’t say it is above doing such things. But, if that’s the case, would you do it against Mejia? Hardly. Like I said, he has nothing.