Dec 31

Saying Good-bye To 2012; Saluting The Giants And Dickey And Farewell To Carter

With 2012 in the ninth inning, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting and important baseball stories of the year.

There were many to choose from, ranging from the feel-good, to the sad, to the historic, to the inane. There are dozens that will fall into the category of being a trivia question answer, but let’s settle on ten:

1) GIANTS WIN THE SERIES:  This might be my favorite because I like the way they play the game. Their blueprint is pitching and defense, which is always the best way to build a winner. The Giants simply play the game the right way. And, when they lost their best hitter, Melky Cabrera, to a suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, they declined to bring him back for the playoffs when it would be tempting to do so. And, when ace Tim Lincecum struggled and was taken out of the rotation, instead of crying he shut his mouth and went to the bullpen.

2) SELIG STRONGARMS DODGER SALE: There’s no denying Frank McCourt wasn’t a terrible owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was still his team and he was on the verge of negotiating a contract with FOX that would ease the team of its financial problems. For some reason, this wasn’t good enough for Commissioner Bud Selig, and certainly not an exercise in fair play when other ownership groups have been as miserable, or worse. The sale was to a group headed by Magic Johnson, and one of their first moves was the horrible acquisition of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. Meanwhile, the baseball team in Flushing …

3) THE YEAR OF THE PITCHER: There were three perfect games thrown in 2012, by former Mets prospect Phil Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez. There were four other no-hitters last summer, including the first by a Met in Johan Santana. It took a blown call to change a hit into a foul ball. Perhaps the best performance by a pitcher was the yearlong mastery of Mets knuckleballer R. A. Dickey who won 20 games and the Cy Young Award and for his efforts was traded to Toronto.

4) THE BIRDS FLY AGAIN: After 14 straight losing seasons, including the previous four in last place in the AL East, the Orioles flipped their record from 69-93 to 93-69, with 29 of those victories coming by one run. The Orioles also won 16 straight extra-inning games, and took the Yankees to the limit in the AL Division Series. They did all this with a patchwork rotation and losing their best player, Nick Markakis, for most of the last month of the season.

5) COMEBACKS IN ALL FORMS:  The Oakland Athletics came from 13 games behind to overtake Texas to win the AL West. They closed the season with a six-game winning streak, including a three-game sweep of the Rangers to win the division. St. Louis also rallied to beat Washington in the playoffs, and San Francisco came from behind to beat Cincinnati and the Cardinals.

6) MIGUEL CABRERA WINS THE TRIPLE CROWN: For the first time since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did it for Boston, there was a Triple Crown winner in Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBI.

7) WASHINGTON SPITS ON BASEBALL:  For the first time in over six decades, there was a playoff team in Washington. The Nationals played inspired, team baseball for much of the season and were led by young ace Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals,  trying to protect their investment, opted to shut him down after 159.1 innings, which gave the arrogant impression they believed they’d be back again. More than a few baseball executives were pleased when the Nationals’ pitching collapsed in the playoffs against the Cardinals.

8) THE MARLINS BLOW IT UP: Speaking of bad ownership groups, the Dodgers had nothing on the Marlins, another example that pennants aren’t won in the winter. The Marlins moved into a monstrosity of a new stadium with Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and new manager Ozzie Guillen. It all fell apart in June and the Marlins finished in last place. Guillen was fired and Reyes, Buehrle and Josh Johnson were traded to Toronto. The Blue Jays also added Dickey and Melky Cabrera to raise the question: Are they the 2013 version of the Marlins.

9) THE LOCALS FALL:  The Mets collapsed in the second half to finish with their fourth straight losing season. The Mets have done nothing this offseason – save signing David Wright – to indicate things will change. Meanwhile, the Yankees got a brilliant season from Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle in the playoffs. Also, while their season was sliding away, Alex Rodriguez was trying to pick up women from the dugout.

10) SAD LOSSES:  I Googled the list of baseball deaths in 2012 and was staggered by the names I recognized from my youth. The most important name was Marvin Miller, the former head of the Players Association who, more than anybody, was largely responsible for today’s economic structure in the game. Then, there was Gary Carter, whom Mets fans will always remember.

Nov 26

Bar Set For David Wright Negotiations

Whatever you hear about what David Wright might be asking or the Mets might be offering, just understand the bar has been set by his contemporaries Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman, Both are close to Wright in terms of age and production. Just not salary.

The Tampa Bay Rays, long known as a team with low payroll agreed to a contract extension over the weekend with Longoria for $100 million over ten years. The deal includes the same terms of his current contract through 2016, then adds an additional ten years. There is an option for 2013.

LONGORIA: Sets the bar for Wright (AP)

Who knows if the Rays will be in Tampa by then, but wherever they go, Longoria will be with them.

Then there is Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals, who, after moving into their new park have become big spenders. Zimmerman, who is a long-time friend of Wright’s, signed an extension before spring training last year for $100 million over six years, including the final two years of his current deal plus four more seasons.

Arguments can be made both are better recently than Wright, who after two down seasons bounced back in 2012.

Longoria is the face of the Rays as Wright is to the Mets, but has better power numbers. He is 27 and Wright will be 30 five days before Christmas. Zimmerman is 28.

Remembering Wright is roughly three years older than Longoria and a year older than Zimmerman, he has 204 career homers with an average of 26 a season. Longoria has 130 with an average of 33. If he maintains his current pace, by the time he reaches Wright’s age, he could have 230 career homers.

Zimmerman has 153 career homers, averaging 25 a season.

The Mets maintain re-signing Wright is their priority, but seem close vested as to what they are willing to spend or how long a deal they might give. A ten-year deal like Longoria’s puts Wright close to 40 at the end, and likely well into the downside of his career, much like Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees.

The last four years have been below Wright’s standards and include trips to the disabled list for a variety of injuries, all sustained by playing hard. That includes lost time from the Matt Cain beaning, which can’t be termed an “age related” injury.

All that will be considered in the Mets’ offer.

Statistically, the three are fairly even with Longoria having the highest upside. Given that, I don’t see how the Mets could justify anything less than $100 million and six years, although recently I suggested they go $100 million over five years.

The years might vary, but $100 million appears to be the ceiling. Do you see the Mets setting the bar higher?

I didn’t think so.

Longoria’s contract will be argued as the bar for third basemen. It shouldn’t vary by much. The only real question is: Do the Mets want to spend the money?

 

Nov 24

Making Cases For Pelfrey And Torres To Return

After writing about Jon Niese and untouchable Mets yesterday, I thought I’d take a different approach and consider those Mets believed to be out the door.

Say hello to Mike Pelfrey and Andres Torres. Both long thought to be gone, but upon further review cases can be made for their return.

PELFREY: Making a case for his return. (Daily News)

The 28-year-old Pelfrey made $5.68 million in an injury shortened 2012 and is expected to hit the market with a career 50-54 record. He is arbitration eligible with Scott Boras as his agent, all which should make the Mets deathly afraid.

Quite bluntly: Even at 20 percent off his 2012 salary, the Mets think that is too high, which is why they won’t tender him and say good-bye after a disappointedly short-lived career in Flushing. He had a couple of solid seasons, even All-Star worthy in 2010, but regressed in 2011 and was hurt last year.

He never reached the level expected of a first-round pick while others, such as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain sprinted past him into elite status. Unquestionably, Pelfrey has the physical tools to excel, but dramatically underachieved. A combination of a lack of poise – who can forget the three-balk game? – poor pitch selection, mechanics, and although he’ll deny it – spotty confidence – lead to mediocrity.

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Nov 19

What Should The Years Limit Be For David Wright?

I like David Wright and want the Mets to sign him to an extension.

However, the question is: For how long?

The other day I wrote the Mets should get going and sign him and R.A. Dickey. What I should have said is they should put their best offer on the table, and if nothing else, be creative. My thoughts were the longer this drags on – especially after saying they wanted to get something done quickly – the more their price rises, as does the chances of losing them.

WRIGHT: How much? How long?

Contracts over five years are in vogue for superstars, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Alex Rodriguez all received them based on past and future performance. However, most of these teams have, or will, regret the decision. The Yankees certainly do with Rodriguez. Pujols likely gave his best to the Cardinals.

These deals are precarious, as evidenced by the contract Johan Santana signed with the Mets. Then again, the Mets regretted four with Jason Bay. Injuries are always a risk, but seldom do players produce as they did in the seasons leading up to the payday.

The Mets didn’t want to give a long-term deal to Jose Reyes because they feared him breaking down physically. The Mets had plenty of signs about Reyes’ durability, and are now getting the same indicators with Wright.

From 2005-2008, when the Mets played in Shea Stadium – and for the most part he was surrounded in the line-up with sluggers Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado – Wright was an offensive force, never hitting below .300 and never having an on-base percentage less than .388. He never hit fewer than 26 homers, drive in less than 100 runs, or have a .912 OPS.

Those numbers would have been worthy of a $100-million plus deal.

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Oct 13

Can’t Turn Off Television When Cardinals Are Playing; Great Storylines In Final Four

Their streak is now six for victories in elimination games, tying a major league record. Both the Cardinals and Giants have been studies in resiliency during these playoffs, and wouldn’t you know it, they’ve done it with pitching, timely hitting and an emphasis on team.

That’s a formula that always works.

Both are fundamentally sound and are compelling examples of how the Mets should model themselves. Both have stars and a healthy payroll, but both have home grown talent and haven’t broken the bank to reach their levels of excellence. The NLCS should be a dandy and I’m betting seven games.

Not surprisingly, they are the last two World Series champions.

The Giants, who don’t have a great offense but the best pitching in the game, and the Cardinals, who simply know how to survive when it counts, are better stories than the Tigers or Yankees.

When I don’t have a dog in the fight, I root for close games and great story lines. Each team faced elimination and won on the road. The Giants’ main story is whether one of their aces, Tim Lincecum, can regain his form after being sent to the bullpen. The story enveloping around the Cardinals is their ability to defend their title after losing their manager, Tony La Russa, and franchise bat in Albert Pujols.

I wonder what Pujols is thinking these days as he counts his millions.

He probably has some demons and regrets, but they are miniscule compared to what’s haunting Alex Rodriguez. Frankly, I’m bored with the soap opera and all that swirls around the Yankees. They bid against themselves to give him over a quarter of a billion dollars, and he, who conceivably could be breaking down after steroid use, is but a shell of his former self. Don’t forget being torn down by age and injury. I don’t give a damn where he bats in the order.

The Yankees’ pitching has been superb, but their hitting has disappeared and it is annoying listening to their fans clogging up talk radio with their sense of entitlement and nipping at Joe Girardi. Then again, I guess I don’t have to tell you about annoying Yankee fans.

Considering their age and injuries this season, Girardi has done a great job getting the most from his team. He’s pressed all the right buttons so far.

The Tigers, meanwhile, have arguably the game’s best pitcher in Justin Verlander. Him against Chris Carpenter or Matt Cain could be a legendary match-up. Pitching duels in the World Series are always thrilling and intense. I was too young to enjoy Koufax-Ford, but I got to see Lolich-Gibson, Seaver-Palmer and Gooden-Clemens. The Smoltz-Morris duel in Game 7 of the 1991 Series might be one of the greatest games ever played.

The one-two hitting punch of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder isn’t Mantle-and-Maris, but it is the best in the majors. But, it isn’t enough to sustain me this October. Regardless of who comes out of the National League, I’ll go with them.