Nov 21

Dodgers Could Be Major Players For Cespedes

Regardless of how fast the Mets and Yoenis Cespedes wants this process to go, nothing will be resolved until the Los Angeles Dodgers are heard from. If the Dodgers are able to deal Yasiel Puig – reportedly linked to the While Sox in a proposed trade involving Chris Sale – they will put on a full-court press for Cespedes.

CESPEDES: Where is he running to? (AP)

CESPEDES: Where is he running to? (AP)

It could come down to the Mets vs. Dodgers for Cespedes, and if that’s the case, Los Angeles has deeper pockets and a greater willingness to spend than the Wilpons.

They aren’t without their holes with the prospect of losing closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner – although they will talk to both about coming back – but they have a clear need for a right-handed bat.

Who knows about the Yankees, whether they are just posturing with their interest or are sincere in bringing Cespedes to the Bronx? It could be either, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they really wanted him. Cespedes, of course, is made to be a DH.

The Dodgers are more likely to acquiesce to Cespedes’ reported salary demands of up to $129 million over five years. Meanwhile, the Mets are in at four years and up to $100 million. Remember none of these numbers have been confirmed by the prospective teams or Cespedes’ agent.

The Mets, fearing a physical breakdown, don’t want to give the fifth year. Actually, I don’t think they want to go four, but three would force Cespedes to hop on the next flight to LA.

If Cespedes really loves New York and the Mets, he’ll sign for far less. However, if it is all about the money, he’ll go West.

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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.

Nov 04

How Mets Compare To Cubs

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won their World Series. The curses are over, so perhaps they can do the right thing and invite Steve Bartman to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2017.

It would be a classy gesture, akin to the Red Sox making up with Bill Buckner – who, by the way – felt the curses of both the Red Sox and Cubs.

REED: A priority. (AP)

                    REED: A priority. (AP)

I doubt it would happen, but I always root for the good story. Meanwhile, our Mets have a title drought of our own – 30 long years.

The Cubs won 103 games this summer and the Mets won 87, but is 16 games the real separation between the two teams? The Mets can’t go back to their four-game sweep of the Cubs in last year’s NLCS or a sweep of them this summer at Citi Field.

The Cubs roared past the Mets, and here’s a position-by-position comparison between the franchises:

FRONT OFFICE: Theo Epstein had a plan when he took over in 2012, and it was only four years before he lead a parade in Chicago. Like was said of the Yankees’ Brian Cashman over the years, he better win that payroll. ($171 million and license to spend).

Meanwhile, Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s mission statement when he was hired in 2010 was to get rid of burdensome contracts – Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez to name a few – and cut payroll, which he did.

The Mets’ payroll was $126 million in Alderson’s first year and jumped to $142 million in 2011 because of existing obligations, but from 2012- 2014 had sub-$100 million payrolls.

It subsequently jumped to $135 million this year for Opening Day.

Unlike Epstein, Alderson does not have free reign to spend because the Mets are still recovering from the Ponzi scandal.

EDGE: Chicago.

MANAGER: Joe Maddon is regarded as one of the game’s best minds, but in all fairness with his moves in Games 6 and 7, it would be accurate to say the Cubs won in spite of him and not because of him.

He abused reliever Aroldis Chapman in the last three games. It was absurd he sent Chapman out for the ninth with a huge lead in Game 6. I was stunned he sent him out for the ninth, but it also showed extreme confidence in Chapman but also underscored an overall lack of faith he had in the rest of the bullpen. That’s something Terry Collins would never have done.

I thought he pulled Kyle Hendricks way too soon, something we’ve seen of Collins frequently.

The bunt call with Javier Baez was foolish. There were other moments, but those stood out the most.

But Maddon caught some breaks. The last two games in Cleveland allowed him to use Kyle Schwarber as the DH. Think about that Cubs fans when you rail against American League baseball.

The Cubs also caught a huge break with the rain delay that gave them a much-needed timeout. It also took steam from the Indians.

Since Collins replaced Jerry Manuel, he was initially hamstrung with a limited payroll and Alderson’s domineering hand of calling the shots.

Collins’ in-game managing can be head scratching, especially the use of his bullpen and bench. He has shown questionable loyalties to his players, notably Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Yoenis Cespedes.

He has been let down numerous times, but his players hustle for him.

EDGE: Chicago.

ROTATION: Jake Arrieta won 22 games in 2015 to win the NL Cy Young Award. Either Jon Lester or Hendricks could win it this year. They have one more season with John Lackey and Jason Hammel is the fifth starter.

Most of the pre-season pitching accolades went to the Mets’ young core of Harvey, Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz. Throw in Zack Wheeler and four of the five are coming off surgery. Bartolo Colon is a free agent, but the Mets want him back.

However, that’s no guarantee he’ll be back. Nothing is assured, including Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman picking up where they left off. They gave the Mets a brief, but an impressive window.

The bottom line is the Mets’ rotation can be terrific, but with the surgeries and relative inexperience, they enter spring training with a myriad of questions.

EDGE: Chicago.

BULLPEN

With Chapman on the free-agent market and Maddon’s obvious lack of faith in his bullpen, the Cubs have serious questions.

Mike Montgomery is 27 and worked a lot in the postseason. They also had Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards and Justin Grimm on the postseason roster. They are under 30, had decent seasons, but Maddon had little faith in them in Games 6 of 7. We’ll never know what Maddon would have done if Game 7 went longer.

The Mets have serious bullpen issues with Jeurys Familia facing at least a 30-game suspension and Addison Reed entering free agency. Honestly, they are in a world of hurt in their bullpen.

If you assume Chapman is gone, the same assumption can be made of Reed, left-hander Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas. They already decided against Jim Henderson. Josh Edgin had a short rebound season from surgery. Hansel Robles is coming off a hot-and-cold season, as did Logan Verrett.

Erik Goeddel and Sean Gilmartin also made appearances, as did Rafael Montero.

EDGE: Even.

CATCHING: Ironically, Maddon’s lack of faith in his bullpen prompted going to Jon Lester, and with him, his personal catcher David Ross. Ross homered to help win Game 7 and retire in style.

The Cubs still list Schwarber as a catcher, but after knee surgery, that won’t happen. Willson Contreras had a good year and enters spring training No. 1.

Travis d’Arnaud was hurt each of the last two seasons and still needs to prove he can hit. Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera are back-ups. The Mets need a serious upgrade here.

EDGE: Chicago.

FIRST BASE: It’s Anthony Rizzo (.292/32 HR/109 RBI) for the Cubs against the Mets’ perpetually injured Lucas Duda, and possibly James Loney.

The Mets are also toying with the idea of experimenting with Conforto and David Wright at first. It is a reach.

EDGE: Chicago.

SECOND BASE: When Schwarber was injured, Ben Zobrist played more in left field, and that gave Javier Baez more time at second base.

The versatility of MVP candidate Kris Bryant, who can play the infield and outfield corners, enabled Maddon to keep Zobrist fresh at second.

The Mets were surprised by Neil Walker’s power, but he’s a free-agent coming off back surgery. The most they’ll extend is probably a one-year qualifying. They still have Flores, who they repeatedly showed a lack of faith, and the up-and-coming T.J. Rivera. Kelly Johnson, who filed for free agency. Will they trade for him for a third straight season?

EDGE: Chicago.

SHORTSTOP

The Cubs’ Addison Russell is one of the game’s rising stars, while Asdrubal Cabrera was arguably the Mets’ MVP.

However, Cabrera showed breakdown signs several times last summer. They have him for another year and Collins needs to do a better job of resting him.

EDGE: Chicago.

THIRD BASE

If not Rizzo, Bryant (.292/39/102) could be the NL MVP. He’s 24, terrific in the clutch and can play four positions.

The Mets don’t know if Wright will be back, and if he does, where he’ll play and how much are issues. If he doesn’t, they’ll go with Jose Reyes and Flores.

EDGE: Chicago.

LEFT FIELD

The Cubs have the combination of Zobrist – whom the Mets’ coveted after the 2015 season – and Schwarber. The World Series MVP, Zobrist is also one of baseball’s good guys as he signed autographs outside his Chicago home.

How many remember that Albert Belle chased down trick-or-treaters in his truck?

Zobrist is versatile, has power and hits in the clutch. Small wonder the Mets and Nationals both wanted him. Schwarber, meanwhile, thanks to the DH rule was a factor with awesome power.

The assumption is Cespedes will be gone, leaving left field to Conforto. Curtis Granderson could also get time in left with Jay Bruce brought back to play right field.

EDGE: Chicago.

CENTER FIELD: Dexter Fowler had a terrific season, but is a free agent. He said the Cubs are on his list, but as I did in left field with the Mets and Cespedes, I will assume he’ll be gone.

If the Cubs don’t bring back Fowler, and since there’s no way of knowing who’ll the Cubs will fish for, their internal option is 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr.

Ideally, the Mets wanted Cespedes in center, but he balked. Juan Lagares was injured for a good part of the season, but returned to play well.

Granderson will also get center field time in his last season with the Mets because of Bruce’s presence in right field.

EDGE: Mets.

RIGHT FIELD: The Cubs didn’t get $180 million worth from Jason Heyward. He has a tremendous glove, but his bat went into hibernation this summer.

Bruce struggled after coming over from Cincinnati, but picked it up at the end. Even so, it was a good pick-up, and he’s more economically feasible than either Cespedes or Heyward.

When Bruce isn’t playing, they can turn to Granderson.

EDGE: Mets.

 

Oct 10

Revamping The Playoff System

The Mets are gone, but I’m still watching the playoffs. I can’t help it as I am a baseball team first and foremost. The Division Round hasn’t been pretty with one series over and possibly another two ending today.

Only Dodgers-Nationals is assured of lasting beyond today. I have no animosity towards the Nationals and Daniel Murphy. The Nationals are a rival now, but what about in two years? The Mets’ rival changes from year to year. Next season it could be the Braves again … they are a lot better than people think and almost knocked the Mets in the end.

I’m sure MLB is already thinking of ways to liven up the wild-card game and Division Series. It’s only natural to assume something is wrong, but in what ways? Can you really say the wild-card drains the teams? The Blue Jays swept the Rangers, and if Madison Bumgarner does it again tonight, the Giants could tie the Cubs tomorrow.

Here’s what I would change:

Wild-Card Game: I’m not crazy about the wild-card game, but since it is a money-maker, it will continue. My objective would be to shorten the playoff format to avoid playing in November. We don’t need one with a month that has baseball in the beginning and Thanksgiving at the end.

Some want the wild-card to be a best two-out-of-three, but that practically guarantees November. If you go there, with possible rainouts you are assured of playing baseball in November.

One thing I would change about the wild-card game is the way it is telecast. With the networks having sub-networks, have a national feed and one using the announcers of each team. I would have liked to have heard Gary-Keith-Ron do a playoff game. I would have also liked to have listened to the San Francisco feed of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper.

When NBC had the broadcast rights years ago it sometimes used the team’s announcers for an inning each.

Division Series:  I loved the first Friday of the Division Series when there was baseball from noon to midnight. It reminded me of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I understand the networks want a game every day and don’t want the games to conflict, but MLB needs to do away with the present format.

Let all the games of the Division Series be played the same day. Play both wild-card games on the Tuesday after the end of the season (Monday left open for tie-breaker games). Wednesday would be a travel day for the NLDS, with all four series starting Friday. Games 1 and 2 would be Friday and Saturday, with Sunday off as not to conflict with football. (MLB shudders at the idea of competing with the NFL). Sunday is a travel day, with Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday would be travel with Game 5 on Thursday.

Championship Series and World Series formats: Both go with a 2-3-2 format, which I don’t like. It gives the lower seed a distinct advantage and neutralizes the benefits of having a better regular season record. If there’s going to be a home field advantage, then make it a real one.This year’s World Series gives the American League the added advantage of not only having the extra game at home but getting the three middle games.

This year’s World Series gives the American League the added advantage of not only having the extra game at home, but the three straight middle games on the road. One more time: Get rid of the All-Star Game gimmick of the winner having the home field advantage in the World Series.

MLB tried to emphasize the element of fairness when it had all of Sunday’s games start at the same time. So, why not carry the premise the whole way?

Go 2-2-1-1-1. This year there are two California teams that could make for up to four cross-country flights in both series. It would mean extra travel days for both series, but do it in the interest of putting the best product on the field. Players always play tired and injured, but doesn’t the public deserve to have rested players whenever possible?

This year, if the World Series goes seven games, it could end – barring rainouts through – November 2. Either do away with the wild-card round or shorten the season, but playing into November is ridiculous. I understood it in 2001 as the playoffs started later because of the September 11 terrorist attacks. I knew then that when the World Series touched Novermber that was no turning back.

Here’s how MLB can shorten the season by one week and move up the playoffs: The system is out of whack because of interleague and the unbalanced schedule. Since that won’t change, I would schedule one doubleheader a month for each team.

But, John, the owners don’t want to give up the extra gate, so what then?

Glad you asked. Schedule one day-night doubleheader a month with a division opponent. Since you’re playing your division 19 games each year – also backwards because of the uneven number of home games against that opponent – there’s plenty of wiggle room.

With six months in a season, that’s six extra days. If done correctly, that would mean for extra off days during the season. The players I spoke to don’t like day-night doubleheaders,  but would go with this plan because of the extra off days during the season.

That’ not the only tweaking I would do.

Umpiring: There are six umpires during the playoffs but only four in the regular season. Playing under different conditions than in the playoffs make no sense. MLB has plenty of money to afford six-man crews during the regular season. MLB wants to do it, as they say, to get it right? But, isn’t getting it right important during the season, also?

Can you imagine there being two additional refs for the NFL or NBA playoffs? I’m against inconsistency.

Instant replay: There are still flaws that need to be worked out. I’d rather have an umpire in the press box who can signal down he is reviewing a call. In could save some time. Along those lines, the reviewing umpire has 90 seconds to either confirm or overrule a play. If he can’t decide after 90 seconds, the original call stands. It’s not all that hard.

Rules: Tell me, does it make sense for the leagues to play by different rules? Of course, that brings us to the designated hitter. Play with it, play without it, I don’t care. Just make it the same for both. Again, it’s not all that hard, especially with the DH being used in high school. Does anybody know it they have the DH in Tee Ball?

I spoke with an American League general manager who hates interleague. He said the fastest and surest way for change is to have an American League manager in a National League park say he’ll use the designated hitter, and if the umpires don’t like it he’ll forfeit the game.

Sure, it is drastic, but pushing the issue is the only way it will be solved. When it comes to talking about it, we’ll have the same conversation in ten years. We’ve had the DH since the 1970s – take a bow, Ron Blomberg – but it was supposed to be a three-year experiment. I think interleague was supposed to be an experiment, too.

One edict Commissioner Rob Manfred could issue is to tell both teams in an interleague game that the American League team play by whatever rules it is comfortable with.

Of course, the AL team would opt for the DH, but can you imagine the NL team – that doesn’t have a Noah Syndergaard or Bumgarner – letting their pitchers hit just for the sake of the rule? I surely wouldn’t put a weaker team on the field if I didn’t have to.

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Aug 15

Ten Things To Happen For Mets To Turn It Around

It’s a logical question: Have the Mets survived the undertow that was dragging their season out to sea After consecutive well-pitched games – and they were sterling efforts – from Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, the temptation is to say yes.

However, you know what they say about temptation.

CESPEDES: Must hit when he returns. (AP)

CESPEDES: Must hit when he returns. (AP)

It’s an oversimplification to say after winning won two straight over the weekend against San Diego – a team they should beat at home – all is right with the Mets.

Frankly, that’s not enough to be writing a check for playoff tickets. The Mets will have turned things around when the following happens:

Yoenis Cespedes returns healthy and in center field: Cespedes begins a rehab assignment today as a DH in Port St. Lucie. He’s expected back when the Mets are in San Francisco. When Cespedes comes back I don’t want to hear anything about him not playing centerfield. The Mets signed him to play center. From left to right, the outfield should be Curtis Granderson, Cespedes and Jay Bruce.

Granderson and Bruce need to hit: The Mets haven’t gotten much from Granderson all season (see 18-31 HR to RBI ratio) and Bruce hasn’t hit since coming over from the Reds. Both hitting will take pressure off Cespedes and return Alejandro De Aza to the bench.

Paging Syndergaard: Noah Syndergaard has lost four of his last five decisions, increasing speculation the bone spur is taking a toll. His pitch count limits him to around six innings, and they haven’t been effective.

Leave Flores alone: Just let Wilmer Flores play and be done with it. Give him a chance against right handed pitching because the platoon isn’t working.

RISP must improve:  Yes, we know the Mets can hit home runs, and the expectations of more will rise with Cespedes. However, they are dead last in the majors hitting with runners in scoring position. It might be too much to expect that will turn around with six weeks remaining to the season, but that’s a priority.

Cabrera’s return important: His contributions can’t be understated, and they include more than taking off the helmet of the home run hitter. Yes, there was that long stretch when he didn’t hit with RISP. However, he gave the Mets a lot of clutch hits and played solid defense in the first half.

Need Niese: Jon Niese is now the No. 5 starter. The Mets aren’t in the position where they can afford to lose every fifth game.

Run Reyes Run: The Mets signed Jose Reyes for what he can do with his speed. Yesterday it paid off when he singled, went to second on a short wild pitch and continued to third on a throw into center. He then scored on a wild pitch. Reyes isn’t going to steal 60 bases anymore, but his speed is a threat and we haven’t seen it much since he came back.

Bullpen stability: Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have been lockdown in the eighth and ninth. Hansel Robles was going well for awhile, but lost his composure in Yankees game and really hasn’t been the same. They should get more help when the rosters expand, but for now they need Jerry Blevins and Erik Goeddel to pitch well as a bridge to Reed.

Somebody has to step up: Somebody other than Neil Walker has to step up. James Loney has done it; so has Kelly Johnson. But, there will be games down the stretch when Walker and Cespedes and Bruce don’t hit. In those games, they’ll need Flores, or T.J. Rivera, or how about one of the catchers? They’ve gotten little from Travis d’Arnaud all year.

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