Oct 27

Today in Mets History: Pop the corks.

I was driving this morning when I heard Bob Murphy’s call: “He struck him out. He struck him out. The Mets win the World Series.”

It was a chilly Monday night. The Giants were at home to the Redskins, but the real show in town was Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. Game 7′s are usually always a gem, and this was no different, as for the second straight game the Mets rallied to beat the Red Sox.

Everybody remembers Game 6 for the Bill Buckner play, and the conventional wisdom was the Boston would be devastated and fold like a cheap tent. Not so.

A rainout Sunday gave the Red Sox another day to get over the lost and give Bruce Hurst another day of rest. What people forget was the Red Sox taking an early 3-0 lead on Rich Gedman’s homer.

But, the Mets scored three in the sixth and seventh, and two more in the eighth to put away Boston, 8-5.

It was after this game when The New York Times’ George Vecsey became the first to mention a Babe Ruth curse. He didn’t phrase it, “the curse of the Bambino,” but he was the first to associate a curse with the Red Sox.

This was a Mets’ team full of brass and it was supposed to win a string of World Series, but it never happened. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry had drug problems, Mike Scioscia’s homer off Gooden in the 1988 NLCS derailed the Mets that season, Len Dykstra was traded and the team started to unravel.

What was going to be a dynasty never happened and the Mets wouldn’t reach the World Series until 2000 when they were beaten in five games by the Yankees.

Even so, Murphy’s call was the soundtrack for Jesse Orosco striking out Marty Barrett for the game’s final out. Orosco throwing his glove in the air and falling to his knees as he was mobbed by his teammates has been one of baseball’s most enduring images since.

There was no middle-of-the-road with the 86 Mets. You either loved them or hated them. That was the year I moved to New York from Ohio and started following the Mets. They were a cocky bunch which I didn’t like at first, but they grew on me. I loved how Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra played, and grew to admire Gooden’s dominance. Strawberry, I remember, was a player you couldn’t take your eyes off when he came to the plate. After hitting the scoreboard clock in St. Louis, with every at-bat you wondered how far he’d hit the ball.

Some would say this was the Mets’ last great moment, but I dispute that with their pennant run in 2000 and Mike Piazza’s homer after 9-11. The Piazza homer, Endy Chavez’s catch and Carlos Beltran taking a called third strike to end the 2006 NLCS all provided enduring images.

But, 1986 was the zenith for the Mets, and it is true that they haven’t been the same way since. Makes you wonder if the Buckner play started another curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 26

The shifting market for Reyes.

Reports out of Boston are the Red Sox are close to picking up the $6 million option on shortstop Marco Scutaro, and are content to live with him until top prospect Jose Iglesias is ready.

If the Red Sox go that route, it would preclude them from pursuing Jose Reyes.

With Iglesias at least a year away, holding on to the 35-year old Scutaro seems a prudent choice for new GM Ben Cherington.

While the Red Sox collapsed in September, Scutaro remained a productive player, hitting .387 with a .438 on-base percentage for the month. He finished the year at .299.

With the Red Sox saddled with two $100-plus million contracts in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, Cherington said they will be prudent in their off-season spending.

Boston learned yesterday it has a pitching hole to fill with John Lackey to miss the 2012 season after he undergoes Tommy John surgery.

These are all variables which would make Reyes not a fit for Boston.

The Red Sox have been speculated as a potential landing spot for Reyes, and there were reports they might be interested at the trade deadline, but that was before he went on the disabled list.

The Yankees and Chicago Cubs are two big-market teams that can afford a $100-million plus contract, but they already have shortstops, and the latter is expected to make a big play for Prince Fielder.

The Angels and Giants have the resources, but San Francisco is also expected to talk with Jimmy Rollins. Should Rollins leave, that would leave the Phillies open as they have declined the options on Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge and have an offensive need with Ryan Howard’s Achilles injury.

 

 

 

 

Oct 14

Examining the market for Reyes.

In examining the potential market for Jose Reyes, we must first realize there are no concrete numbers. There’s “Carl Crawford Money,” as Fred Wilpon so eloquently called it. The $142 million over seven years given the Boston outfielder is the fuel behind speculation of Reyes’ reported quest of $100-plus million over seven years.

But, it is 0nly speculation, and we won’t have a frame of reference before the first offer is made and Reyes’ camp presents a counter. Until then, every number – including mine – is only an opinion. Reyes’ agent has not publicly stated any contractual demands.

What we do know is few teams can afford a $100 million contract, so the pool is pretty shallow.

So, let’s take a look at some of the teams reportedly in the mix for Reyes, their needs and what might be holding them back.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Boston: The Red Sox are a franchise in turmoil and realize they must do something dramatic to win back their emotional fan base. They have a need for a shortstop, leadoff hitter – Crawford doesn’t prefer that role – and, of course, to keep pace with the Yankees. They have the resources, even though they are burdened with several huge contracts, notably Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett. Plus, they’ll have to pay Jacoby Ellsbury in arbitration.

However, change should take money off the books in the form of David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and J.D. Drew.

The Red Sox are not a stagnant organization. They made overtures for Reyes before and will likely do so again.

New York: As a matter of course, you have to list the Yankees because, well, afterall they are the Yankees. We know they have the money and could have even more of it if they don’t retain C.C. Sabathia.

However, pitching is their priority, and if they don’t bring back Sabathia they will throw it at C.J. Wilson or a cast of thousands.

The obstacles in signing Reyes will be in getting Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez – both with huge contracts and egos – to change their positions. That won’t happen. Jeter will not give up shortstop to move to third, even though Rodriguez will get more and more DH at-bats, especially with Jorge Posada not coming back.

A wild thought is would Reyes be willing to come to the Yankees to play the outfield? I don’t think he’ll do it, but what if the money was too good?

Just a thought.

Anaheim: Owner Arte Moreno has the money and shown to be a progressive owner. The team missed the playoffs the last two years and he’s not one to sit tight.

First things first, the Angels need to name a general manager, who’ll decide the team’s identity. One thing for sure, Reyes is better than Erick Aybar.

Chicago: I wouldn’t label the White Sox serious contenders, but with new manager Robin Ventura they are a team in transition. As a large market team needing to compete with the Cubs, they can’t be overlooked as they have g0ne after high profile players before.

Their current shortstop Alexei Ramirez tailed off last season, but has enough of a track record to where there isn’t a compelling need to move him.

The White Sox have several decisions to make, including pitcher Mark Buehrle, but I can see Reyes’ camp approaching them, if for no other reason to widen the pool.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Mets: We’ll see how serious the Mets are about Reyes when they have their exclusive negotiating window following the World Series. They say they’d like to keep him and have the money, but at the same time GM Sandy Alderson is talking about shaving $30 million off the payroll.

Alderson said the Mets would like to keep Reyes, he didn’t say they want to keep him, and there’s a difference. There seems to be so sense of urgency from the Mets on Reyes. That indifference could push him out the door.

When you big picture things, the Mets haven’t won with Reyes, and with their current financial situation might be better off using that money to fix several other holes.

Philadelphia: Shane Victorino will have to just accept Reyes. The Phillies, if they lose Jimmy Rollins, should come after Reyes hard. Ryan Howard’s injury would make it more compelling to add offense.

Remember when Andy Pettitte said he wouldn’t sign with the Red Sox because they are the Red Sox and he would always be a Yankee at heart? Nope. Reyes doesn’t have those feelings.

Philadelphia has the money and certainly doesn’t want to waste all that pitching with a stagnant offense. The Phillies will be players in this.

Milwaukee: Reyes has a supporter in Ryan Braun, and the Brewers seem resigned to have Prince Fielder leaving. If the Brewers lose in the playoffs, then have Fielder bolt, they’ll have to do something to keep the fan base.

Normally, you don’t think of the Brewers as a spending team, but things have changed with Miller Park and the franchise, while not crazy, is a little more liberal than it had been.

St. Louis: I have seen the Cardinals mentioned several times, but I don’t see the fit. St. Louis is committed in re-signing Albert Pujols, which is one reason they threw a lot of money at Matt Holliday.

Tony La Russa might be just the manager to get Reyes to reach his potential, but the Cardinals aren’t likely to add a third $100-plus million package.

Chicago: We know the Cubs have the money and a new regime, but they also have an excellent shortstop in Starlin Castro and their eyes on Fielder.

It won’t happen here.

San Francisco: Reportedly, the Giants don’t have, or want, to spend the money on what it would take to get Reyes, but I’m not buying it. There’s a sense of urgency for the Giants to return to the playoffs after winning the World Series in 2010.

They definitely have the pitching to take them there, but are lacking offense. Maybe, they’ll re-sign Carlos Beltran, but their need is a shortstop and speed. Reyes will still be a triples machine in that park.

Over the next couple of seasons, the Giants will have several contracts off the books, including Barry Zito’s in two years (no way will he get the innings for his option to be picked up in 2014).

Los Angeles: This is a team in worse financial straits than the Mets. Small wonder Joe Torre left.

 

Oct 04

Quit the charade and say good-bye to Reyes.

If the Mets are to become the team hoped for them, general manager Sandy Alderson has some tough decisions to make in the coming months and years, and it begins with Jose Reyes.

REYES: Let him slide on out of here.

And, that decision is to say good-bye to Reyes now and quit the charade.

If history is an indicator this process will get drawn out by Reyes and his agents to drive up the bidding price the Mets already know they won’t meet.

The Mets know what their price is – Alderson calls it “our choking point,’’ – and it is no where the money offered Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, players who wilted this summer under the weight of their wallets.

Unless they are counting on a hometown discount from Reyes – which won’t happen – the Mets already know their shortstop is gone. For public relations purposes Alderson won’t say so, at least not before the Mets’ exclusive negotiating window opens five days after the World Series.

But, we know it is true and Alderson is posturing. We know the Mets will offer a credible offer in comparison to Reyes’ past performance, injury history and prospect he’ll break down long before his contract expires.

We also know Reyes is in it for the money and about himself – his self-serving act of backing out of the batting race at .337 tells you what you need to know – and he will jump at somebody else’s through-the-roof offer.

San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia (assuming Jimmy Rollins leaves) will be in need of a shortstop and have the money. San Francisco and Boston, particularly, are desperate to make splashes after their disappointing seasons.

The Mets won’t compete financially with them, and can’t compete with them as far as immediate postseason prospects are concerned.

The way Reyes left the season finale was reminiscent of how LeBron James stripped off his Cleveland Cavaliers’ jersey before getting into the locker room. James was gone and the free-agent process was for show. It’s the same with Reyes and the Mets should make a take-it-or-leave-it proposal with a deadline and move on.

They don’t need to dance with Reyes; don’t need to let him hold all the cards.

Reyes can be a dynamic player when he wants to be, which he was at times during his walk year. No surprise there, is it?

Even so, Reyes missed 36 games with two stints on the disabled list. He hasn’t played a full season in the last three. In nine seasons, he’s played in at least 150 games just four times.

Reyes is a speed player, yet hasn’t stolen 50 bases in three years. He barely made an attempt when he came off the DL, and that was to stay healthy for the market. His career on-base percentage is .341, mediocre at best for a leadoff hitter with his projected production. He still strikes out more than he should, walks less than the prolific leadoff hitters, gives away too many at-bats and has lapses in the field and on the bases.

Reyes has always been more about potential than production, and you have to wonder if this year was all about the contract and he’ll regress again after he gets what he wants. Based on his history, it isn’t hard to project he’ll break down during this next contract, whether it be seven, six or five years, all which have been speculated and are all too excessive.

He should get no more than $85 million over four years, which will be denied. The Mets already have $55 million in salary commitments in 2012 to Johan Santana, David Wright and Jason Bay. Add $20 million for Reyes and you have $75 million of the Mets’ projected budget of $110 million tied into four players.

Never mind winning, you can’t compete with such an unbalanced payroll.

For all those Reyes apologists out there that say the Mets will be nothing without him, ask yourself where they are now. What have the Mets won with Reyes?

The Mets are five years removed from their last playoff appearance. They are a sub-.500 team over the last three seasons and have been below .500 in five of Reyes’ nine years with the team. Sure, he’s been injured much of those five years, but that’s not an argument for him as much as it is one that he’ll break down again.

Alderson does have some tough decisions to make, but come to think of it, keeping Reyes isn’t one of them.

It is time to say good-bye. Time to quit fooling around and start rebuilding this team for good.

Sep 29

Beautiful history … and Reyes.

It was stunning to see the Red Sox and Braves collapse over the past month, then finally crumble last night. We witnessed two of the great finishes in history, and the nature of it reminded us again of baseball’s magical power and hold on us.

It told us again a game and season are never over until the mathematics dictate it to be true. The winters will be long in Boston – which they are used to by now – and in Atlanta. Both teams seemed givens a month ago, only to turn around and give it away.

Maybe, there will be a new curse in Boston.

A pennant race is the best baseball has to offer, and heading into September there seemed no suspense, not much to make us curious. But, as it has for generations, the sport inexplicably grabbed us by the scruff of the neck and shook us awake.

It made us scramble in the morning to find the scores, to force us to take a peak at the television in bars and restaurants, to ask a stranger if he knew what happened. I was in a restaurant last night that was pro-Boston. It was raucous early in the evening, but a deathly Buckner-like quiet at closing time.

As ugly as it was in Boston and Atlanta, it was beautiful to see in St. Petersburg and St. Louis, and magical throughout the rest of the country. It was truly something historic and made us realize nothing should be taken for granted.

As I thought about the grand scale, I recalled  of how earlier in the day Jose Reyes took his place in baseball history for granted. He got his hit, a bunt hit, then decided to pack it in. He figured the odds were in his favor, Ryan Braun wouldn’t catch him and he’d have is own secure spot in history.

He figured right, but didn’t count on how he’d be remembered. For those of us who follow the Mets, he is the franchise’s first batting champion. But, he backed in. One of the great stories in baseball lore is how Ted Williams refused to sit on his average and insisted on playing both games of a doubleheader in 1941, went six-for-eight and finished at .406.

Williams’ .406 is one of baseball’s magical numbers and we’ll forever remember him. But, there’s nothing magical, or special, about Reyes or his .335. He’s somebody history will forget, and fittingly, take for granted.

The Mets finally have a batting champion, but he’s no champ.