Nov 30

Mets Blow It By Not Going After Phil Hughes

Since the New York Mets need pitching, it was discouraging to read reports they are not players for Phil Hughes.

Of all the players in the free-agent market I thought the Mets had a chance to sign, the 27-year-old Hughes was it, and with him, had the biggest chance to produce at minimum cost. Yes, he was 4-14 last season, but he is two years removed from winning 16 games.

HUGHES: Mets blew a chance.

HUGHES: Mets blew a chance.

Hughes wants two years, but the Mets will only guarantee one year. I’d give him two years in a second, maybe even two plus an option.

Hughes, who made $7.15 million last year, would have been worth the gamble.

Everybody has a bad year, and Hughes is no exception. When things are off, as they were last year – either mechanically or mentally – balls tend to fly when you get your pitches up in a bandbox.

Citi Field, with its spacious dimensions, would have been perfect for him. The same reason the Mets are willing to trade Ike Davis is the same reason they should take a run at Hughes – for the change of scenery.

Hell, last season when Mark Teixeira went down, I wrote the Mets should trade Davis for Hughes. It made sense then and it makes sense now.

What doesn’t make sense is not giving Hughes at least two years at the same time you give $7 million to Chris Young. What is going on here?

Frank Francisco got two years, but not Hughes?

When Citi Field was built, it was done with the idea of building around pitching and defense. The Mets currently say they want to build around their young pitching, but pass on a young arm that had success in New York and pitched in a World Series?

What is Sandy Alderson thinking about?

Hughes has never had an arm injury, which makes him even more attractive. With Matt Harvey not available until 2015 – and even then we don’t know what he’ll be – and the jury not out yet on Zack Wheeler and Rafael Montero, the gamble on Hughes turning it around would have been a good one.

The chance to sign a young pitcher, who is healthy, relatively inexpensive and who has tasted success in New York doesn’t come around every day and the Mets blew it.

What Alderson seems to be looking for is Justin Verlander to decide he wants to pitch pro-bono in New York.

The decision to sign Young was ridiculous and not well thought out, but the bottom line his Alderson thought he was worth the risk.

Hughes would have been a much better choice. The clock is ticking for Alderson and Young and Hughes have been bad decisions.

Really bad.

Jul 17

Mariano Rivera’s Light Burns Bright In All-Star Game

For the New York Mets it might have been “Matt Harvey Day,’’ but Mariano Rivera stole the night. It isn’t often you can orchestrate things in Major League Baseball, but that’s what happened. While no player is bigger than the game, there are some who define it by their presence and their greatness transcends the moment.

There was Ted Williams in 1999, surrounded by both teams in the Fenway Park infield. The Team of the Century Game, you might recall. They didn’t even need the game, they would have cheered Williams all night.

RIVERA: Stands alone.

RIVERA: Stands alone.

It was that way when Cal Ripken’s streak was broken and Joe Torre’s Yankees stood at the top step of their Camden Yards dugout in a long ovation. And, how about Ripken’s last All-Star Game, when he homered in Seattle?

Great theatre and it was such when Rivera ran out for the eighth inning and took his bows with nobody else on the diamond. That was symbolic as there is nobody like Rivera. For nearly two minutes they cheered the greatest closer in history. It didn’t matter he was a Yankee; all of baseball honored him.

“I didn’t know how to act,’’ Rivera said. “At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. It almost made me cry. It was close. It was amazing. I will never forget that.’’

As he often has, Rivera set the side down in order 1-2-3, and as he jogged off the field, Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder – whose father, Cecil, won a World Series ring with Rivera – pressed the ball in the modest closer’s glove.

Justin Verlander greeted Rivera first after the eighth with a long embrace. I couldn’t help but wonder if Verlander whispered in his ear, “I wish you had been on my team all these years.’’

Then again, there’s probably not a starter in the game who hasn’t wondered the same.

American League manager Jim Leyland is as old school as they come, but did a marvelous job planning the moment. Ideally, it should have been the ninth inning, but if the National League had taken the lead Rivera wouldn’t have gotten in the game.

“I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive,’’ Leyland said.

It was interesting to see Rivera’s peers – the opponents he has tormented over the years – respond to him. The Orioles Chris Davis could be seen shooting a video of Rivera on his cell phone. David Wright would tell Rivera how proud he was of how he handled himself.

“Things like that, that come from young boys like that, it is good,’’ Rivera said. “They know why you do it. That’s great.’’

While others had a bigger role in the game’s outcome, Rivera was voted the Most Valuable Player in a gesture of appreciation and respect.

With Rivera working the eighth, it was Joe Nathan who pitched the ninth to earn his first All-Star save. The ball will never make Nathan’s mantle as he gave it to Rivera.

“It showed respect to me,’’ Rivera would say. “It was a classy thing to do.’’

Classy and respect. That’s what Rivera has always been about.

NOTE: Please accept my apologies for the erratic posting lately. My server has been down and it was unavoidable. Hopefully, the problem has been resolved.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 23

Mets’ Matt Harvey Good, But Hold Off On Great

Matt Harvey is having a terrific season for the New York Mets, and the team and its fan base should be thrilled and excited about his future. But, can we have a little perspective please?

I read a blog post where the writer said he wouldn’t trade Harvey for any pitcher “on the planet,’’ which is an overused expression to begin with, one having cliché proportions.

HARVEY: Good, not great. (AP)

HARVEY: Good, not great. (AP)

Harvey will be making his 26th career start this afternoon, so that’s clearly jumping the gun. As good a season as he’s having, there are others having better years; others with better career numbers; and others with futures seemingly as bright.

Clayton Kershaw and Clay Buchholz, Patrick Corbin and Jordan Zimmerman, Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez. They are all good, young pitchers with bright futures as gleaming as Harvey’s. And, don’t overlook Stephen Strasburg.

There’s also the majors’ best pitcher this year in Detroit’s Max Scherzer, and his teammate, Justin Verlander, who is regarded as the best pitcher in the majors overall.

Twenty-five career starts is not enough of a sample to say he’s the best. Very good, but let’s have a reality check for a moment.

It is understood Harvey pitches for a bad team this year, but in the 15 starts he’s made he’s had eight no-decisions. That’s not a great ratio. Great pitchers, regardless of the quality of their teams, usually find a way to win.

Like most everybody else this spring, I am fascinated by Harvey and he is must-see for me, whether at the park or on TV. But, he’s not the best pitcher “on the planet.’’ He’s trying, which is the best thing to like about him, but he’s not there.

If Harvey is to become a great, franchise pitcher the way Tom Seaver once was, he must find a way to convert those no-decisions into victories. And, if you think I’m dumping on Harvey, he would be the first to agree.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Mar 16

Former Met Nelson Figueroa Is The Essence Of Baseball

I always regarded the WBC as Dancing With The Stars with spikes. It’s a manufactured competition, but with its roots in nationalism.

However, last night’s USA-Puerto Rico elimination was compelling, far more interesting than your average Mets-Marlins spring training game. That interest was generated by the passion in the stands. The WBC means more in terms of national pride to the teams and fans in Asia and Latin America than to the United States.

FIGUEROA: Remembrer him?

FIGUEROA: Remembrer him?

Puerto Rico is now in the international sports spotlight. The American players who are always in the spotlight can now return to their major league teams and big contracts.

Nationalism represented some of the motivational fuel for Nelson Figueroa, a journeyman pitcher who has toiled for six teams in parts of nine years – including the Mets – but pitched like a star last night in sending the United States home for the third straight time.

Figueroa was special, doing what he used to do at times with the Mets, which was burn innings. But, last nigh he gave Puerto Rico six shutout innings in his 80-pitch allotment. Working both sides of the plate effectively with everything but an electric fastball, he gave US hitters nothing to hit.

Putting on a show was the rest of his motivational fuel.

Figueroa told reporters. “It was motivation to show them what kind of pitcher I was.’’

Maybe he showed what kind of pitcher he can be to somebody with the power to make a decision on his career as so many other have done.

Figueroa was signed by Arizona to a minor league contract as organizational depth in December. If Figueroa were higher on the pitching food chain, but not good enough to be a given, he might have been better off in spring training.

However, in this case, showing what he could do against major league hitters should count for more points than a couple of innings against the Dodgers minor leaguers.

Sometime this year, the Diamondbacks or somebody else, will have a sudden need for an arm and think back at how Figueroa toyed with the US lineup.

Figueroa is not flashy. He does not have a great fastball or singular dominant pitch. What he has is command of the corners and guile. When both are on he’s tough to beat.

“I don’t throw very hard, but I pitch inside,’’ Figueroa said, giving us his personal scouting report. “It was a great exhibition of what can be done without a plus fastball. It was an opportunity to demonstrate that good pitching beats good hitting.’’

That’s the way it always has been and always will be. From a fundamental perspective, that’s baseball’s essence. From a human perspective, Figueroa is also the essence of the sport.

History has given us far more Figueroas in the game than Matt Harveys or Stephen Strasburgs. Harvey and Strasburg have power potential and will always get a shot. Things must break right for Figueroa to get his.

Figueroa has bounced around the globe in search of a job, last pitching in the major leagues with Houston in 2011. He’s been with the Phillies. Toronto and the Yankees released him without his cup of coffee. He has pitched in the winter leagues, for Mexico, for just about anybody who would give him the ball and a few dollars.

Figueroa pitches because that’s what he does. The sport is in his blood, rushing through his veins and consuming his soul. Until he’s physically unable, or run out of teams, Figueroa will pitch. It is players like him, perhaps even more than players like Justin Verlander, as the reason we watch.

Verlander is elite. Figueroa is more like us, who once dreamed of the big leagues. However, unlike us, he persevered through rough times, rejection and defeat to get the taste we will never.

Mar 13

Matt Harvey, Bobby Parnell Ripped As Mets Lose

Nearly flawless in his last start, Matt Harvey took his lumps today, but on a positive note rebounded and regained control.

HARVEY: Gives up homer to Harper.

HARVEY: Gives up homer to Harper.

Harvey gave up a three-run homer to Washington’s Bryce Harper in the first inning, but rebounded to throw three scoreless innings and strike out six in an 8-5 loss.

Harvey settled down to retire 11 of the final 12 hitters against him; a very good sign for any pitcher let alone a young one after a rough start.

“I struggled there in the first inning, obviously. I think I came out a little too excited and needed to tone that down a little bit,’’ Harvey told reporters. “I made one bad pitch and it cost me three runs.’’

Harvey said he came out pumped in trying to atone for a three-homer rocking by the Nationals last year in spring training.

Bobby Parnell had a rough outing, giving up four runs in the seventh inning, which included a run-producing error by left fielder Lucas Duda and RBI single by Harper.

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