Nov 05

Only One Player Given Qualifying Offer Interests Mets, Who Should Be Wary Of Shin-Soo Choo

Early speculation of whom the New York Mets might consider in the free-agent market could turn out to be pricey as 13 free agents received qualifying offers from their respective teams. Not surprisingly, no Met free agent was given a qualifying offer, but three Yankees – Robinson CanoHiroki Kuroda and Curtis Granderson – were given the $14.1 million offer.

CHOO: Mets Should Be Cautious.

CHOO: Mets Should Be Cautious.

That figure was derived at averaging the top 125 salaries from 2013, and each player offered that amount regardless of his salary last season.

The list includes Carlos Beltran, Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Granderson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kuroda, Brian McCann, Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli and Ervin Santana.

Numerous media outlets at one time had linked Beltran, Choo, Cruz, Drew, Ellsbury, Granderson and Napoli to the Mets, but only in speculative terms.

The players have until 5 p.m., next Monday to accept the qualifying offer, and if they do will have agreed to a one-year, $14.1 million contract. If the player rejects the offer his former team will be awarded either a first or second-round draft pick as compensation.

The Mets’ first-round pick – tenth overall in the draft – is protected and determined on their 2013 record of 74-88, but general manager Sandy Alderson said losing a second-round pick would not be a deterrent.

You’ll recall the compensation issue is why the Mets did not go after outfielder Michael Bourn last season. Bourn eventually signed with Cleveland and the Mets eventually settled on minor leaguer Juan Lagares in center fielder.

Of the players on the list, the Mets appear to be the most serious about the 31-year-old Choo, but reportedly won’t go beyond four years. The Mets’ needs at shortstop and outfield had them thinking about Drew and Ellsbury, but $14.1 million would be too high for Drew, but palatable for Ellsbury.

However, in many cases with qualifying offers, the team signing them does so as a mechanism to buy negotiating time to work out a multi-year deal.

The Mets are expected to swim in the middle depths of the free-agent pool, which is what Boston did last year in building its championship team with the signings of Drew, Napoli and Shane Victorino.

Choo fits into that category, but he’s not one to build around. He has averaged 20 homers and 81 RBI during his nine-year career with Seattle, Cleveland and Cincinnati. However, those are hitters parks and he was surrounded by better line-ups than what he’d have with the Mets in Citi Field.

Choo hit .285 last year – 24 points below his career-high of .309 in 2009, but drew 112 walks in compiling a .423 on-base percentage, his most important statistic.

If signed, Choo would slot into center leading to a competition in right between Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker.

Red flags for Choo are 133 strikeouts and only 54 RBI for his 21 homers (conceding he hit at the top of the order). He averages 146 strikeouts a season during his career, something the Mets have had far too much of those. Frankly, his production doesn’t warrant the strikeouts.

Choo made $7.3 million last year from the Reds, and during his career earned a total of $17.5 million, so the qualifying offer represents a huge raise for him. However, the market doesn’t work where the Mets can make a take-it-or-leave it offer. Especially, with his agent being Scott Boras, known to not leave money on the table. It is highly likely the qualifying offer will be rejected and Choo will enter the market.

Considering he has played in 150 games only four times during his career, his career .288 average doesn’t seem like much to warrant giving four years. If I am giving four years on a player with a qualifying offer, I’d overpay for Ellsbury and know I would be getting a star. I would also rather bring back Beltran for a couple of seasons.

The most I’d give Choo is two years for $28.2 million (two years of the qualifying offer) plus an option. Anything more would be excessive considering the Mets’ other needs.

 

Oct 28

Will Fate Choose Adam Wainwright In World Series’ Game 5?

Nobody knows where October’s spotlight will fall. Sunday it shined on journeyman outfielder Jonny Gomes, the unlikely slugger of a game-winning three-run homer for Boston in Game 4. Gomes is proof October doesn’t always belong to the marquee names.

The previous night it shined on the umpires, who correctly ended Game 3 on an obstruction call.

After Gomes’ blast on Sunday, fate chose to bite the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong, who became the first player in history to be picked off to end a playoff game. Fate is often cruel come October.

WAINWRIGHT: What will fate give him?

WAINWRIGHT: What will fate give him?

Earlier in the night Clay Buchholz produced despite a tired arm, giving the Red Sox four innings. The Cardinals had a two-on, one-out threat in the second and two-on, two-out in the fourth, but Buchholz survived both.

The Cardinals later stranded two runners in the seventh. St. Louis, a beneficiary the night before, was the ultimate giver Sunday.

Gomes provided the heart and David Ortiz gave us a made-for-TV moment with a pep talk to his teammates in the dugout in the fifth inning. Ortiz, who is having a marvelous Series and has always had a flair for the dramatics, had to know the nation was watching. It made for good television, but Ortiz couldn’t do anything to help for Gomes or Buchholz, who produced when the Red Sox needed it most.

Emotion can carry a player in football, basketball and hockey, but not so much in baseball.

Everybody contributed for the Red Sox, who, like the Cardinals have been a resilient team this season. Both teams, each of whom won 97 games this season, are on the cusp of giving us a classic World Series.

The definition of classic has to be seven games. For that to happen, Adam Wainwright has to find it for the Cardinals tonight. If the Cardinals fall behind in games 3-to-2, I don’t see them beating the Red Sox twice at Fenway Park. Wainwright, whom fate blessed against Carlos Beltran in 2006, has lost his last two playoff starts. He was routed in Game 1.

It has been a sloppy Series, which only fuels the drama. Outside the Game 1 blowout, the Series has been complete with unlikely heroes, game-turning plays, managerial decisions and tension. There has even been the unfolding saga of what Jon Lester has put on his glove. The composite score of Games 2-3-4 has been 11-10 in favor of St. Louis. It can’t get much closer.

We even saw Red Sox manager John Farrell second-guess his Game 3 decision to not hit Mike Napoli for reliever Brandon Workman. Credit Farrell for being stand-up enough to admit his doubts. You don’t see that often from a manager, especially from one the day after losing a World Series game on the most bizarre of calls.

There is a flurry of statistics to ponder over the first four games, but Ortiz going 8-for-11 is the most glaring. The Cardinals would do well to repeat the Angels’ strategy in the 2002 World Series to pitch around Barry Bonds. Having Ortiz in the field has not hurt the Red Sox, and for that they are fortunate. The Cardinals are also lucky he hasn’t hurt them more.

Despite the interesting numbers and Sabremetrics, this is still a game played by humans, and there was no number to project Gomes’ homer or the obstruction call. No stat could have projected Buchholz’s guile in pitching out of trouble. Things just happen in baseball nobody can predict.

So far, these humans – from both sides – are giving us a World Series that could be for the ages.

We can only hope.

 

Oct 24

Game 1 Of World Series Overcomes Bad Call, But Raises Issues

Maybe Jon Lester cheated in Game 1; maybe he did not. It makes for an interesting fodder and falls in line as to what is reviewable and what is not regarding expanded instant replay beginning next season.

Overturning a call by replay such as Dana DeMuth’s horrible one last night is not allowable within the current structure, and the Cardinals would have a legitimate beef had the umpires convened to watch the replay on a monitor.

Getting it right. (Getty)

Getting it right. (Getty)

However, one umpire – in this case, five – overturning a bad call is permitted and the umpires absolutely handled it properly in agreeing with Boston manager John Farrell for DeMuth to get a second opinion. Umpires should be applauded for seeking help. They shouldn’t think they are being shown up, but that the crew is working in concert.

Raised from last night’s first inning is the method of a manager challenging a call. Currently, the challenges are limited, but that’s not an efficient or fair format.

Whether a central monitoring system established in New York similar to how the NHL’s format is in Toronto, or have a fifth umpire in the press box who can buzz down to the crew chief seems preferable than the manager challenging from the dugout.

For one thing, an executive monitoring upstairs has an immediate picture of the play and can contact the crew chief. The manager, in this case Farrell, instantly knew it was a bad decision and bolted from the dugout as if he had a jetpack.

All plays won’t be that way and it is easy to envision a manager challenging based on his player’s reaction to the call. Players aren’t always right, they often go by emotion, and challenges could be wasted early. Presumably, this could be offset with a direct link to the dugout from the press box, similar to how a NFL coach is buzzed to throw the challenge flag.

Having an immediate set of fifth eyes would likely take less time and improve the flow of the game. Major League Baseball is always moaning about game length and this method is better. Presumably, under the new system everything but balls and strikes would be under review, which is the way to go.

Today’s umpiring is flawed, but I don’t know if it is any worse than what we had 10, 20 years ago. However, the technology is so much better and points out things missed in earlier decades. That should lead to a system that in the interest of fairness, the camera/review format should be the same for a Tuesday night June game in Milwaukee as it is in the World Series. Granted, there are more cameras for the Series, but having a designated number of cameras in specific locations can alleviate this.

More cameras and establishing a better review system costs money, but I don’t want to hear it. This is a multi-billion a year industry. There’s plenty of money to invest in getting it right.

What would have been fascinating was to mike the umpires the way FOX did Joe West in the ALCS. To hear that conversation between the five umpires in Game 1 would have been priceless television.

Fortunately, they got the call right, which is the ultimate objective. I can only imagine DeMuth assumed Pete Kozma made the transfer and was only watching his feet. That leads to a fair criticism about umpiring and assuming the outcome of a play. DeMuth was in position and looking at the call; he just didn’t make the proper decision.

If the intent is to get the play right, then why is there such thing as a neighborhood play, which surfaced earlier in the playoffs? If it is allowed in the interest of player safety, then modify the sliding rules. We also see too many instances of a runner called out simply because a throw beat him to the bag. These calls frequently show an umpire out of position.

But, and this is most important: Baseball is more black-and-white than other sports. Either a player is safe or he is out; it is either a strike or it is not.

That purity should be emphasized in spring training as it is in the World Series. I’m tired of hearing the phrase, “you just don’t make that call in the World Series,’’ just as I was Sunday when I heard “you don’t make that call in overtime on a 56-yard field goal attempt.”

Why the hell not? Out or safe; fair or foul. Just get it right. If it is a rule, then apply it equally regardless of situation.

That should also include balls and strikes, as the idea of each umpire having his own interpretation of the rules is ridiculous. This isn’t figure skating in the Olympics when the Russian judge screws the American skater with prejudice. The rulebook lists a definition of what is a strike. Just get it right.

Luckily, regardless of how the play was ruled, Mike Napoli doubled in enough runs to where it wouldn’t matter to the helpless Cardinals. The Cardinals played a terrible game, and fortunately for all involved, DeMuth’s call added drama but did not decide the outcome.

As for whether Lester used a substance on the ball or not won’t be known. Under expanded replay we could only hope the observer in the press box would have the authority to order the crew chief to examine a pitcher’s glove if he sees something on the monitor. Presumably, the umpires will have their eyes on Lester when he pitches next in St. Louis.

The fans have the right to believe what they see on the field is legitimate, which is why MLB has such stiff penalties on gambling and performance-enhancing-drugs. There should be a similarity when it comes to on-the-field cheating. Doctoring the ball isn’t gamesmanship, it is cheating and the penalty should be severe.

 

 

 

 

Oct 22

Would Boston’s Free-Agent Building Approach Benefit Mets?

Yesterday, I suggested what the New York Mets could learn from the St. Louis Cardinals in building their team. Today, let’s examine how the Red Sox were built and what the Mets can take from their approach.

The Cardinals’ philosophy of first building from within followed by judicious trades and free-agent signings has always been the traditional and preferred method.

Throwing millions and millions into the free-agent market is costly and risky. The Mets don’t have the resources of the Yankees or Dodgers to throw good money after bad.

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

There’s pressure to win in both markets, but there’s a greater intensity in Boston – and New York – while there’s a degree of patience in the Midwest. That explains in part why St. Louis has 17 homegrown players on its roster, while the Red Sox have ten.

There was a venomous culture in Boston last season as the Red Sox, burdened by several cumbersome contracts – similar to what the Mets faced when Sandy Alderson took over – and a few cancerous personalities in the clubhouse.

“Say, could you pass some fried chicken this way?’’

The Red Sox cleared nearly $200 million in salaries when they unloaded Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers midway through last year’s disastrous 69-93 summer under Bobby Valentine. They did so because even in a lost season the Red Sox were thinking about this summer. That’s something the Mets never fully explored when they had Jose Reyes and others to dangle.

The Red Sox were far quicker and more decisive than the Mets have been in ridding themselves of too costly and ineffective players, such as Oliver Perez, Ike Davis, Francisco Rodriguez and Luis Castillo to name a few of close to numerous bad deals since 2006, the last time the Mets saw October.

Rather than sink their savings into different long-term, costly signings, the Red Sox signed a handful of productive, yet cost-effective, players in: Shane Victorino (three years, $39 million); catcher David Ross (two years, $6.2 million); first baseman Mike Napoli (one year, $5 million); shortstop Stephen Drew (one year, $9.5 million); outfielder Jonny Gomes (two years, $10 million); and dynamite closer Koji Uehara (one year, $4.25 million plus option).

None bowl you over; collectively, they helped the Red Sox win 97 games.

Boston also extended by two years and $26 million the contract of its own free agent, designated hitter David Ortiz. They also avoided arbitration by offering Jacoby Ellsbury a one-year, $9-million deal. Some signings, such as pitcher Ryan Dempster’s two-year, $26.5 million deal, didn’t pan out. He’s now in middle relief and would be a starter for the Mets.

The Red Sox also hit it with trades, including pitcher Jake Peavy, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and and former Mets first-base prospect, Mike Carp.

Boston’s success in the free-agent and trade markets was overwhelmingly successful. Although Alderson said he could have the leeway to offer a $100-million contract to one player, he would be better off in taking Boston’s approach and attempt to patch several of the Mets’ many holes.

Alderson knows the success the Red Sox enjoyed is rare and shouldn’t be expected, especially since the Mets won’t offer similar deals. However, the idea of pursuing players with playoff success – Napoli and Victorino – is a sound way to augment their present composition of youth and few proven major leaguers.

The Mets are unsettled at first base, but are kidding themselves if they think they could get Napoli by offering a slight raise. Napoli was to get a three-year, $39-million deal, but that fell through when a degenerative hip condition was discovered. He’ll likely get his three years this winter.

As for Victorino, the Mets had their chance to sign him, but now it is too late. They must consider between Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, what they might each cost, and their various baggage.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox attempt to retain Ellsbury, but there are already reports the Tigers are interested in either him or Choo, the latter who is reportedly seeking four years.

The Red Sox took a shotgun approach last winter, and still wound up with a $155-million payroll while hitting most of their targets. It worked because their scouts did their homework; they got lucky; and they already had a core to build around. The Red Sox were also forced to be aggressive last winter because of their restless and demanding fan base. Every year it is the same motivation for them and the Yankees.

The Mets’ fan base is already looking at 2015 when Matt Harvey returns. Few are expecting a contender next summer without him. The Mets also don’t have as good a core as Boston had and won’t come anywhere close to what the Red Sox spent, but could go as high as $100 million, maybe a little more.

Everybody in the division save the Miami Marlins will spend more. If the Mets are to emulate the Red Sox, they’ll have to dig deeper and that’s not something they’ll be inclined to do.

Oct 18

Mets Wise To Pass On Cuban Abreu

Several people I spoke with and greatly respect said they were disappointed the Mets didn’t make a run at Cuban free-agent first baseman Jose Abreu, who signed a six-year, $68-million contract with the Chicago White Sox.

Considering the success of Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes and the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, all of a sudden tapping the Cuban market is the hot thing. Teams get burned touching hot objects.

Abreu, 26, last played on an international stage during the World Baseball Classic this spring and batted .360 with three homers and nine RBI. Prior to that, he batted .453 with 33 home runs and 93 RBI in 63 games in the 2010-11 season, but sustained a shoulder injury. The previous season, he batted .399 with 30 home runs and 76 RBI.

No doubt, impressive numbers, but the obvious question is: How good was the competition. Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw don’t pitch in Cuba.

The eye-popping number for Abreu isn’t his power against questionable competition, but the $68 million, which is very real money.

That is a lot of money on a question, albeit an important one for the 2014 Mets. They already have two first basemen in Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, but both have greatly under produced and the Mets aren’t happy with either.

The White Sox traded Jake Peavy and Alex Rios to free up money for Abreu, and now have to deal with their own free-agent in Paul Konerko.

It has been suggested in this corner the Mets might be better if they eschewed big-money free agents and go the route Boston did, with veteran free agents who would command less money and would contribute a winning presence, such as Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino.

The Red Sox will play Game 6 of the ALCS Saturday night.

Yes, Konerko is an older player, but he can’t do any worse than Davis or Duda. If nothing, his work ethic might benefit some of the younger players.

The Mets have been down this road before, but Konerko could add something while Abreu was a passing fancy.

We know very little about Abreu as a player against quality competition, but there are many questions when deciding to go the international route. Mainly, do the Mets want to sink in $68 million in a player they know precious little about?

After freeing themselves under Sandy Alderson of the contracts of Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez, Johan Santana and Jason Bay (there’s still some deferred money there), but last thing the Mets want to do is sink money in another long-term deal, especially with the possible results so precarious.

Maybe Abreu will pan out for the White Sox. If so, good for them. But, the last thing the Mets need is another long-term headache.

The Mets were wise to sit this one out.