Mar 22

Chipper Jones – Mets Killer – to retire.

Some opponents you loathe. You watch with venom in your heart for how they destroy your team. Or you despise their arrogance and swagger.

Other opponents you respect and admire, and salute for their longevity and talent. Such is the case with the Braves’ Chipper Jones.

JONES: His Topps' Rookie Card.

You figured it was coming soon, but it became official this morning when Jones announced this would be his final season playing third base for Atlanta and tormenting the Mets.

Jones will be one of the rare players, something I hoped would be the case with David Wright and Jose Reyes, to play his entire career with one team.

I covered Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter through the prime of their careers, and respected what they accomplished. Both had opportunities to leave for more money, but recognized the importance they represented to their team and cities. They are special players.

Don Mattingly and Kirby Puckett were that way, too. It was a shame it wasn’t the case with Tom Seaver and Reyes. I hope it isn’t that way with Wright.

Jones thought about retirement two years ago, but changed his mind. Now, after 18 years and a string of injuries the past two seasons, there’s no longer fighting time.

Early in camp, Jones told reporters: “Never in my mid-20s would I have given myself a snowball’s chance to be in camp and have a job at 40 years old.  But I like to think I’ve kept myself in pretty good shape over the years. The skills are still there to go out and get it done. I don’t know for how much longer, but we’re gonna ride it as long as we can.’’

I wish for him a full and healthy season, one with numbers that will have him leaving with pride and not frustration.

It was obvious watching Jones the past two years that he slowed. You could tell his range was declining and he wasn’t the same on the bases. Still, when he came to the plate in the late innings, he was showed respect from the Mets’ pitchers.

Since 2004, Jones underwent two knee operations and dealt with several other nagging issues that deprived him of 500 homers – he would have been the third Brave to reach the milestone, joining Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews – which has been an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Jones, the 1999 NL MVP, joins Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray as among the games’ greatest switch hitter, which is an unappreciated skill. Jones takes a .304 career average, 454 homers and 1,561 RBI into this season.

Of his 454 homers, 91 came in August and 74 in September, during the heat of the pennant race; 213 were hit in the seventh inning with the Braves tied, ahead by one, or had the tying run on deck.

And, against the Mets, Jones’ numbers would represent a MVP season: He hit 48 homers, with 154 RBI and a .318 career average.

He hit 19 homers at Shea, which is what he named his son. Any player who would name his child after Shea Stadium is worthy of a salute.

I’ve covered well over a two thousand baseball games, and as a reporter found Jones to be accommodating and thoughtful. His appreciation for the fundamentals and ability to perform under pressure made him a privilege to watch.

Some day, I’ll get to say I saw Chipper Jones, Hall of Famer. He’ll get my vote.

 

Mar 21

Defense up the middle weak

Traditionally, winning teams are built for strength up the middle: catcher, pitching, second base and shortstop, and center field.

That’s not looking good so far for the Mets, especially with center fielder Andres Torres sidelined with a strained calf muscle.

With minor league prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis suffering with a strained oblique, manager Terry Collins will experiment with infielder Jordany Valdespin and Jason Bay in center. I can see Bay, but Valdespin is total desperation and an indictment on the Mets’ lack of depth and foresight to bolster the position.

Second base is a concern because of Daniel Murphy’s lack of experience at the position. He’s awkward around the bag and doesn’t have consistent footwork. Meanwhile, there’s no doubt about Ruben Tejada’s defensive prowess at shortstop, but there is the matter of playing a full season.

As for the pitching, both the rotation and bullpen are deep with questions and concerns. This isn’t a strikeout staff and still walks more hitters than it should. As for the bullpen, it is patchwork with no proven lefty.

Josh Thole came up with a lot of potential, especially at the plate. He’s still relatively new at the plate and it shows with his ability to call a game and block pitches. He is still far away from being proven.

 

Mar 20

Wilpon needs to take Wright stance

Yesterday was a good day for the Mets. Not only did they receive a favorable settlement in the Madoff case, but completed the sale of 12 minority ownership shares at $20 million a shot for a total of $240 million.

WRIGHT: This has been a frustrating time for Wright.

The Mets claim to have lost $70 million last season, and the new money will pay off loans to Major League Baseball ($25 million) and Bank of American ($40 million). They should be able to sustain their operating expenses for this season.

The Mets have a three-year break before they required to pay any of the $162 million from the settlement, so there is some sense of relief in clarity as they attempt to budget until that time.

What then?

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Mar 19

Settlement favors Mets. Will it change things?

Whenever a mediator – in this case New York Gov. Mario Cuomo – brokers a settlement between two warring parties, despite the agreement and presumption of peace, there is a winner.

Cuomo said, “nobody gets everything they want in a settlement,’’ but the Wilpons got what they needed in Irving Picard’s “Battle for the Mets.’’

Sure, Fred Wilpon wanted to come away unscathed, but in the end the settlement was kind to him and the Mets. Wilpon gets to keep his team and could be on the hook for just $162 million, far more palatable than the initial $1 billion lawsuit, and later the $380 million ceiling ruled by Judge Jed S. Rakoff.

Picard saw earlier decisions going toward Wilpon; the Mets saw a long and costly trial.

“The closer you get to trial the closer you get to the reality of trial,’’ Cuomo said.

The reality of it is Wilpon could owe less than $162 because the settlement allows him to go after the $178 million they claim to have lost in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scandal.

Of the $178 million, Picard has already recovered $10 million. So, in essence Wilpon and Picard have formed an odd partnership.

On top of a shrinking settlement, the Mets don’t have to pay anything for three years. While this settlement eases the financial burden on the Mets and possibly offers more a sense of economic clarity, it doesn’t assure the Mets a climate of  “normalcy,’’ as suggested by Cuomo.

Since Carlos Beltran took that curveball from Adam Wainwright to end the 2006 NLCS, normalcy for the Mets has been blown division leads in 2007 and 2008, a shoddy bullpen, a string of injuries, a line of incomprehensible and suffocating contracts, two managerial changes, a front office overhaul and a slashed payroll of $50 million.

The Mets’ austerity forced the trading of Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez, and free-agent departure of Jose Reyes. It could also lead to trading David Wright.

What happened Monday was a victory for Wilpon, but it doesn’t immediately change the state of his team of the field. The Mets are projected to finish last in the National League East in their fourth straight losing season.

That is what normalcy has been recently for the Mets and that isn’t about to change. The three-year relief from making payments is likely to be the same window before the team becomes baseball relevant again.

This was a stressful and expensive ordeal for Wilpon, who saw the very real possibility of losing his team. This settlement gives him a second chance. Hopefully, he’ll make the most of it.

 

Mar 18

Some things to mull over

The Mets are off tomorrow, which is a good thing, and gives us some time to look at what is going on for the Mets so far this spring.

Most encouraging has been Johan Santana’s progress through three starts. He’s been healthy and his velocity is gradually increasing.

Jon Niese has been solid and showing all signs he’s on the mend. If Santana isn’t ready for spring training, then Niese is the No. 1 as Mike Pelfrey hasn’t shown he’s capable in that role.

Pelfrey is still an enigma and has shown nothing to prove he’ll go into the season on a role. There’s still something missing in the Mets’ biggest question.

Health questions Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy seem as if they sound, but the latter still has his shaky moments at second base.

Andres Torres had a fast start in center field, but there’s not a reliable backup.

David Wright remains a health question, as does lefty reliever Tim Byrdak. With a hole in the bullpen, the Mets have four candidates vying for the role, with Garrett Olson seemingly having the inside track.

Ruben Tejada has a hamstring problem which was a temporary setback, but those types of injuries have a long recovery period.