Nov 08

Amazing Alderson Still Needs Clarity On Cespedes

I do not accept the term “undecided,” whether it be at the voting booth today or Mets GM Sandy Alderson’s stance on whether to bring back Yoenis Cespedes.

After all this time, you can’t honestly say you flipped a coin at the voting booth. Just the same, I don’t buy for a second Alderson needs more clarity on whether the Mets should bring back the high maintenance Cespedes.

ALDERSON: Needs to take control of Cespedes talks. (AP)

ALDERSON: Needs to take control of Cespedes talks. (AP)

The Mets didn’t reach an agreement with Cespedes last year until Jan. 26, and that resolution meant giving him an opt-out after one season.

Here’s what Alderson told reporters at the start of the general manager’s meetings in Arizona: “I think realistically, from our standpoint this year, things will probably have to resolve themselves a lot sooner than they did last year.

“But it’s hard to predict where things will go. Things could go quickly. Things could linger. But certainly, from our standpoint, between now and the winter meetings, and through the end of the winter meetings, would be the right time to get some of these issues resolved. But that doesn’t mean it will happen.”

What Alderson is saying is so far all the leverage in these negotiations belongs to Cespedes. These meetings will linger if Alderson doesn’t take control of the negotiations.

Alderson admitted he long thought Cespedes would opt out of the contract and test the market. Hell, he should have figured it when he signed him in January. Alderson is a smart guy. If he knew Cespedes was leaving, then he could also forecast the financial market for him and what teams might be interested. Above all, he should know by now whether the Mets can live with Cespedes’ antics and if they can afford him.

Alderson should already know the answers to the following questions:

* One, do the Mets want Cespedes back?

* Two, are they willing to put up with the negatives Cespedes brings to the table, which includes stunting the opportunity for Michael Conforto?

* Three, how much money are they willing to throw at him at the expense of their other issues?

If Alderson doesn’t know the answers by now, he’s not doing a good job. It’s not all that hard to figure out.

Alderson met with Cespedes’ representatives last week, but said salary was not discussed. Why the hell not? Alderson said the meeting was to inform Cespedes’ agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, of the Mets’ interest.

Reportedly, the Mets are concerned about giving a contract of more than four seasons because, 1) they aren’t sure Cespedes will give maximum effort after getting the security blanket, and 2) Cespedes’ injury history last year (only 132 games played).

If they are worried about injury and effort, they why are they going through this? Those are serious red flags.

If the Mets really want Cespedes back they have to assume control of the negotiations. They have to play hardball. The $17.2 million qualifying offer given Cespedes and Neil Walker was to assure receiving a compensatory draft pick. That’s the first step and it was to protect themselves.

The key to is for Alderson to get Cespedes’ demands now and not wait for the market to develop. Don’t dance with this guy. Alderson needs to set a deadline, tell the Cespedes camp what his best offer is, and other issues, such as playing center field, receiving rehab and golfing.

The Mets have a myriad of issues to address this winter and dancing with Cespedes into the new year will hamper those efforts. Fixing their bullpen which they must assume will not include Jeurys Familia for at least the season’s first 30 games; upgrading their catching; and ascertaining the health of their young rotation are all more important issues than Cespedes. They can always get a cheaper right-handed bat in the market and figure a refreshed Jay Bruce will fill the offensive void left by Cespedes leaving. That void can also be further filled with Conforto playing more.

Frankly, Alderson’s most important offseason decision is to decide just how good are the Mets. Was the World Series in 2015 a fluke or are they an 87-win team, capable of contending but not going much further than the wild card?

If you think the Mets can’t win without Cespedes, think again.

Cespedes was hot in August of 2015 and surely the Mets wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without him. However, it was Daniel Murphy and solid pitching that took them to the World Series.

Cespedes disappeared that posteason, much as he did for much of this September when he hit .214 with a .297 on-base percentage, four homers and 18 RBI. Unquestionably Cespedes had glittering moments, but it must be remembered in the second half of the season, with every game important, he hit .246 with ten homers and 34 RBI.

If you believe the Mets can’t win without Cespedes, ask yourself what have they really won with him? Is getting to the World Series and losing that big of a deal?

So, if Cespedes still is a Met priority, Alderson has to set the financial parameters early, making sure the numbers – both money and years – is in the form of a take-it-or-leave-it format. And, when the deadline date is reached – perhaps at the end of the Winter Meetings – walk away.

Like I said, the Mets have a lot of work to do and they can’t afford to let Cespedes impede what must be done.

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Nov 07

Encarnacion Best Bet For Mets

The free-agent shopping list is long, but who is the best fit for the Mets? With Yoenis Cespedes destined to land elsewhere – he could wait to opt out – I’m thinking Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion.

Here’s why Encarnacion makes the most sense and would work out better than bringing back Cespedes:

ENCARNACION: Best bet to replace Cespedes. (FOX)

ENCARNACION: Best bet to replace Cespedes. (FOX)

COST: Encarnacion made $10 million in each of the last two seasons and $51.7 over his career, so he’s looking for his biggest payday, but at 33, he probably could get had for three years and an option.

I’m thinking $17 million a season, but even if you make it $20 million, that’s still far less than Cespedes, who reportedly is seeking a five-year package north of $100 million.

The money saved by not keeping Cespedes could be used on Encarnacion; spent on their young pitching; keeping Neil Walker; shopping for a closer to replace Jeurys Familia; or on a myriad of other things.

In the end, Encarnacion would cost the Mets’ money, while a trade to fill the right-handed hitting void created by Cespedes will cost money and prospects.

VERSATILITY: Encarnacion can play both first and third base. When platooned with Lucas Duda, the Mets can rest David Wright – if he’s able to play – or Jose Reyes at third.

This would enable Reyes to play more shortstop, which would preserve Asdrubal Cabrera, who showed breakdown signs at the end of last season.

Conversely, Cespedes was initially brought back to play center, but that didn’t work as planned. However, Cespedes balked at center, and his refusal to play there complicated the Mets’ already over-stocked outfield. Not having Cespedes enables the Mets to play Michael Conforto.

RIGHT-HANDED POWER: Cespedes hit 30 homers in each of the last two seasons, but Encarnacion has 310 career homers, hitting 42, 39, 34, 36 and 42 over the past five years. In that span he drove in over 100 runs in four years, and 98 in the fifth year.

Encarnacion is 33 and has played at least 142 games in four of the past five years and 128 in the other. Meanwhile, Cespedes at 31 had trouble staying healthy, playing in 132 games while Encarnacion played in 160.

INTANGIBLES: Encarnacion does not have a reputation as being high-maintenance like Cespedes. … As a veteran with playoff experience, he would be a steady presence for some of the Mets’ younger players. … It’s possible I might have undervalued Encarnacion’s value, especially if Boston becomes a player to replace David Ortiz. However, I haven’t underestimated the cost of Cespedes. He’ll cost plenty, and the Mets have other areas of need.

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Oct 28

I Want Bartman To Throw Out First Pitch Tonight

Despite the years 1908 and 1945, can you really call the Chicago Cubs the “underdogs’’ or sentimental favorites in this World Series?

I don’t think so because the Cubs entered the season as heavy favorites to win it all this year. Their off-season shopping of Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey, not to mention their in-season acquisitions of Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, meant they were built to win.

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

In some ways, how this team was put together was reminiscent of the Yankees and Theo Epstein’s Red Sox. They played by the economic rules of the game, so I don’t have any problem with how they were constructed. When you consider the youth of their team and management’s willingness to spend, they should be good for a long time.

But, that hardly makes them the underdog. Cleveland’s budget, style of play and lack of fielding a winner since 1948 makes them more a sentimental favorite.

All season we’ve been bombarded with Chicago’s history, about curses and bad luck, but that’s not why they haven’t won.

They haven’t won because of how this team was put together. For decades, Cubs ownership and management – much like the Red Sox did – sold the experience of their quaint, historic stadiums over fielding a winning team.

Cubs’ fans, like Red Sox fans prior to 2004, relished the role of lovable, hard-luck losers.

Nowhere was that more emphasized than in 2003 when Steve Bartman did most any fan would have done when Luis Castillo’s foul pop came down on him. He reached for the ball.

We’ll never know if Moises Alou would have caught the ball. But, the bottom line is the Cubs couldn’t put away the Marlins in the eighth inning. Mark Prior went on to walk Castillo. Alex Gonzalez botched a potential double-play grounder and the inning unfolded and before it was over the Marlins had scored eight runs.

I’ll give you the Bartman play being bad luck, but championship teams have to overcome adversity and the Cubs did not. As the game slipped away from the Cubs, Bartman was showered with debris and threats. The Cubs public relations department had to sneak Bartman out of Wrigley Field for his own safety.

In case anybody forgot, the Cubs blew a 5-3 lead in Game 7. Bartman was in hiding at the time, so how could be be blamed for that one?

The Cubs, who once held a 3-1 games advantage, would be denied again. Bartman was vilified, made out to be the personification of 95 years of bad luck, much the way Boston fans vilified Bill Buckner for his Game 6 error in the 1986 World Series.

When a team loses in horrific fashion, there’s a lot of blame to go around. For Alou and Cubs manager Dusty Baker pin it all on Bartman was inexcusable.

For the past 13 years, Bartman kept a low profile. He did not benefit financially in any way despite the offers. He hasn’t sold his story to the press. Hell, he didn’t even come away with the ball.

Speaking through a friend, Bartman apologized profusely and said he wanted nothing more than his childhood team to win a World Series.

How Cubs’ fans – most whom would have reached for that foul ball themselves – treated Bartman through the years has been reprehensible.

Eventually, the Red Sox and their fans kissed and made up with Buckner. The Cubs could go back to being sentimental favorites once again if they invited Bartman to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before tonight’s Game 3 at Wrigley Field.

It would be a magnanimous and classy gesture. I don’t know if they’ll extend the invitation, and I don’t know if Bartman would accept, but it would put a very human face on this World Series.

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Oct 27

Today In Mets’ History: Knight Named MVP To Complete Series Win Over Boston

While we all remember the ball that got by Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, but sometimes we forget Game 7 also produced a memorable comeback.

Ray Knight's Homer Wins World Ser

                 Ray Knight’s Homer Lead Mets

Perhaps it is because after Game 6 winning the title seemed a foregone conclusion. The Mets steamrolled through the regular season – coming out of spring training manager Davey Johnson said they would dominate – much the way the Cubs did this year.

The Red Sox hardly seemed devastated from their meltdown as they took a 3-0 lead in the second against Ron Darling on back-to-back homers to lead off the inning by Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman, and Wade Boggs’ RBI single.

Meanwhile, Red Sox left-hander Bruce Hurst was on his way to being named Series MVP until the sixth, when the Mets pulled within 3-2 on Keith Hernandez’s RBI single and Gary Carter’s run-producing groundout.

Ray Knight tied the game, 3-3, when he lead off the seventh with a homer off Calvin Schiraldi. The Mets increased their lead to 6-3 later that inning on Rafael Santana’s RBI single and Hernandez’s sacrifice fly.

However, the Red Sox pecked away for two runs in the eighth, but the Mets responded in their half of the inning on Darryl Strawberry’s homer and Jesse Orosco’s RBI single.

While the Mets were tormenting Boston’s bullpen, one question hung over Shea Stadium, and that was why the Red Sox didn’t go to their Game 6 starter, Roger Clemens, for an inning or two?

It might have been pushing things, but Schiraldi spit the bit in Game 6, as did Bob Stanley. Boston used five relievers in the last two innings, so it really never had a chance.

Knight, who drove in five runs and hit .391 (9-for-23), was named Series MVP.

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Oct 25

Not On Cubs’ Bandwagon; I Want Indians To Win

While most of the free world wants the Cubs to win the World Series, my feeling is I hope they keep waiting. Maybe not for another 100 years or so, but at least until the Indians win this year.

The essence of the Cubs’ story of frustration is the angst doesn’t seem to end. What will happen if it does? You can make the case Cubs’ fans are identified by all those years of losing. Sometimes their season was over by May. Other times they lost in excruciating fashion. Mets’ fans cheered the collapse in 1969.

Chief Wahoo hasn't smiled since 1948.

Chief Wahoo hasn’t smiled since 1948.

The Steve Bartman game was simply cruel, but after learning of the viciousness of Cubs fans, my sympathy for them faded quickly. ESPN did a wonderful documentary of that incident, that included somebody from their public relations department smuggling him out of Wrigley Field in disguise. For you into trivia: Future Met Moises Alou had a play on the ball hit by another future Met, Luis Castillo.

My heart in this World Series goes to another frustrated franchise – the Indians. They were the team of my youth – Chief Wahoo and all – and their failures weren’t gut wrenching but quite simply they were victims of bad baseball.

When I was 10, I didn’t know anything about political correctness. I only cared about Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Larry Brown and Sonny Siebert. A half-century later, I still wish I didn’t know about political correctness. As if we don’t have other things to be interested in, The New York Times sprawled the tired issue of team nicknames across its sports pages today. Leave it to The Times to take a political stance on the day of the World Series.

My first Indians’ memory was watching them in April of 1965 on a black-and-white Motorola with the rabbit ears placed just right so I could see them beat the Angels on a Leon Wagner homer. “Daddy Wags” they called him. He always had a chaw of chewing tobacco in his cheek. Another thing not politically correct.

My mother saw how thrilled I was and told my dad, “Jim, you need to take John to a game.” He did later that summer, taking me to cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which was originally built to host an Olympics than never came.

It was July 19, when Lee Stange beat the Orioles, 5-0, and Chuck Hinton homered. Years later, when I was covering the Orioles, I got a photocopy of the box score and gave it to my father.

One of my overriding memories was sitting next to my dad in the middle of a long row. Back then the vendors didn’t throw their food, but simply passed it down the aisle and the money was sent back the same way. When my dad handed me the hot dog I had no idea I was supposed to pass it along, so I started eating it.

Look, I was nine years old at the time. How was I supposed to know?

And, how was I supposed to know the Indians would always lose? They won their first ten games to start the 1966 season, then went to Baltimore and lost a doubleheader, 8-2, 8-3. I listened to both games on the radio – the Indians weren’t on local TV often – and I started crying after the second game.

In an effort to console me, my father said, “you know, some boy your age in Baltimore is very happy.’’

That didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense all these years later.

They played a lot of doubleheaders back then, including twi-nighters that started at 5 and usually ended at 11.

On July 25, 1967, they played two in Chicago. I listened to both games and kept score at the kitchen table. The Indians lost the first game, 3-1, when future Met J.C. Martin hit a two-run homer off McDowell, scoring another future Met, Tommie Agee, ahead of him.

I wasn’t happy but decided to stick it out for the second game – all 16 innings.

I thought my patience was going to be rewarded with Duke Sims’ RBI double in the top of the inning. When Ken Berry hit a two-run homer to win, 6-5, in the bottom of the inning off Steve Bailey, whom I completely forgot about until now, I threw my pencil across the room to the background sound of fireworks going off at Comiskey Park.

If I gave it any thought, I wouldn’t have cared about some kid in Chicago being happy. And, sometime next week, I will be very happy if some kid in Chicago cries into his deep-dish pizza.

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