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Game 1 of 162- Mets vs. Nationals (3-1 Mets win)

Here are 10 observations from the Mets Opening day 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals.  This win ran their Opening Day record to 35-19 which gives them the best winning percentage on Opening Day in the history of the majors.

1. No win early in the season is small or big….but you have to think for the Mets, winning this game was huge.  First there was the uproar over Bartolo Colon starting.  Then there’s the fact that the Nationals are missing their leadoff hitter (Denard Span), possibly their best hitter (Anthony Rendon) and their highest salaried position player (Jayson Werth).  So take this win with a grain of salt.  But beating a team that absolutely owned you last season in a tight contest is huge.  Consider that last year in games that were decided by 3 runs or less in which the Mets and Nationals played the Mets were 2-10 and overall were 4-15.  Don’t discount how big of a win yesterday was considering your two best pitchers haven’t even pitched yet.  A series win over the Nationals will help open the season the kind of way that can legitimize all the talk of playoffs and taking the town that the Mets have been doing.

2. The Bartolo effect- When Terry Collins named Bartolo Colon the Opening Day starter the fans reacted as if the Mets had given the fan base a big middle finger.  But the more I watched Bartolo yesterday afternoon, I began to understand the reasoning behind the decision.  Harvey would’ve been way too pumped up and his aggressiveness may have backfired big time.  The only other candidate that could have pitched was Jacob DeGrom the 2014 Rookie of the Year and he is the right guy to start the CitiField home opener.  He deserved it.

Colon faced jams in the first and sixth inning and like a true pro never wavered.  Using his ability to paint the corners and pitch inside and mix in his slider to keep hitters off balance, Colon was able to limit damage despite the error by Murphy in the first. He went on to strike out Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman and I don’t know that Harvey who would’ve been pitching with so much juice could’ve navigated that first inning or DeGrom not experienced enough to handle the jitters that come with Opening Day.  I will keep trumpeting Colon’s presence in that clubhouse.  You saw his value when he worked his way around jams.  Don’t think that the other pitchers weren’t watching and studying and trying to soak in as much knowledge from this almost-42 year old pitcher who has seen it all.  He’s also seen another Opening Day win for the Mets- his first since 2006 when he went against, wait for it, 42 year old Jamie Moyer.

3. Lucas “The Duda”- Its one game so let’s not overthink this.  But the Mets were talking long term contract with Lucas Duda  which means his 30HR season last year is considered by Mets officials to be legitimate.  The one thing about the analytics folk, they give up their hand when they voluntarily try to lock up a player before they have to.  Yesterday Duda broke up the no-hitter in a way that shows that he may be able to improve upon last year’s season by becoming a better hitter.  Against a pitcher that was serving him fastballs, daring him to muscle one out Duda put a level headed swing on a pitch belt high in the sixth with two in scoring position after Ian Desmond’s error.  He may hit only 29 HR’s but his batting average and on-base percentage will most likely go up if he continues to embrace the approach of situational hitting.  His season is probably one of the most important and critical to the Mets success.

4. Curious lineup for the Mets- Where to begin?  How about David Wright hitting 2nd.  Or Juan Lagares, having spent the entire Spring Training, being told he was going to hit leadoff and getting valuable reps there batting sixth.  Or the talk of hitting the pitcher 8th yet putting Colon 9th.  The Mets made some very curious decisions that ultimately worked but messing with a player’s head like Lagares who you’re hoping will elevate his game is a dangerous game to play.

5. Jenry Mejia’s elbow tenderness- 

Speaking of which, one of the reasons cited for bringing up 8 relievers was perhaps the Mets, having been warned of Mejia’s tenderness by Mejia on Saturday, made the decision that in the event Mejia’s condition worsened they would be prepared.  But this is another short sighted decision by Mets brass, almost putting their chips in the middle of the table for the first series of the season- tipping their hand on how important this series was for them internally.  Why not put Mejia on the 15 day DL to start the season?  Why insist on having Mejia there if there’s even a hint that he’s not 100%.  There’s a reason why Rendon and Werth and Span, who were seen prior to the game hitting line drives, weren’t in yesterday’s game.  Just goes to show how organizations who truly are in it to contend operate as opposed to the wannabe’s.  Mejia flying up to get an MRI is just a procedural thing but having seen four pitchers go under the knife and get Tommy John- there’s a general sense of trepidation that for the second year in a row- the Mets will lose their Opening Day closer for the year ON Opening Day.

6. Bullpen solid-  Colon left after six great innings almost-matching $210M import Max Scherzer striking out 8 in 1.2 innings less of work.  Colon probably would’ve came out for the seventh had the Mets not been threatening in the top of the 7th when Travis D’Arnaud tripled to score Juan Lagares and the pitcher’s spot came up.  The Mets then turned to their bullpen who after years of putting scares and mixing general discomfort into the fan base and the team, turned into a legitimate strength.  Before we even knew about Mejia’s injury (it was only reported in the bottom of the 9th when Jerry Blevins came in to match up against Bryce Harper) the Mets were likely going to go Carlos Torres for the 7th, Jeurys Familia in the 8th and Mejia in the 9th.  During Spring Training while Harvey and DeGrom were dominating, and the offense was producing, the bullpen was anything but ready.  But again, let’s not read too much into one game. While we won’t know much about Mejia today, expect the Mets to use their bullpen extensively especially when you consider they want to limit Matt Harvey’s innings and know that Bartolo Colon is 41 years old and if they bring up one or two of Steven Matz or Noah Syndergaard- they will need a bullpen to perhaps come in on the 5th or 6th inning.  A nice touch for the Mets to get Buddy Carlisle his first save after pitching so well for them last year.

7. Travis D’Arnaud’s effect-  You will only appreciate D’Arnaud’s effect on the pitching staff if you are a big fan of pitch framing and the general analytics that go into it.  But that’s where D’Arnaud shines.  He is one of the best at locating pitches that are borderline strikes and moving them ever so slightly to occupy an umpire’s strike zone.  Especially yesterday when he works with Colon its a thing of beauty.  Colon knows where to throw it and D’Arnaud knows where to keep it for both the hitter to think twice and for the umpire to call a strike.

But when his offense wasn’t justifying his framing talent, and he was demoted to Triple A something else happened.  D’Arnaud became less the patient hitter and more the opportunist.  So many folks mistake the Mets approach as simply to get on base.  The Mets primary objective on offense is to attack pitches in the zone and wait those pitches out.  D’Arnaud did a great job yesterday in locating the belt high slider that when he got it, he made the Nationals pay and scored their third run, the very necessary insurance run to give the Mets a lead they never relinquished.  D’Arnaud’s projections all point to him contributing close to 20 HR’s which if that is the case, will allow the Mets to have lineup protection everywhere.

8. MLB’s rule changes taking effect.  By my count, only four players didn’t take at least one opportunity to step out of the batter’s box.  The Mets played a 2 hr 35min game which is pretty good if you’re hoping to keep the games shorter than 3 hours.  I’m all in favor of keeping 9 inning games shorter by forcing the player to stay in the batter’s box.  Some hitters like to wander the earth before settling in for each pitch which unnecessarily drags out at-bats.  No need.  Smart move Rob Manfred.

9. Future Met shortstop Ian Desmond and the disastrous sixth inning-   I often wonder how the Mets would be perceived heading into the season if they had pulled off the rumored trade for Ian Desmond involving the Tampa Bay Rays that they were going to pull the trigger on.  Consider yesterday as a reminder why you hesitate.  The contract year Ian Desmond’s error in the 7th (a bounced throw to first time 1b Ryan Zimmerman which he couldn’t scoop up) was not like the boneheaded mistake he made in the 6th which ultimately lost the game for the Nats.  Desmond raced over to shallow right field and called off Dan Uggla who would’ve presumably made the play had he not been called off in the last second by Desmond who gave up on it in the last second.  Before that Scherzer was cruising and throwing a no-hitter and was about to get out of the inning had they made that routine play.  After that Duda hit a game deciding single driving in two giving the Mets the lead.  That play was the turning point of the game.  It kept Scherzer in one batter too long in the sixth and Lucas “The Duda” made them pay with a bases clearing single and the Mets went on to win.  This is not the first time Desmond has lost concentration or made a boneheaded mistake.  But you will take all of that when you consider that he’s one of the few shortstops that can both hit and hit for power if need be as evidenced by his three consecutive years of hitting 20+ HR’s.  He has the highest home run total of shortstops in the last three years, a position where if you have a guy with power you are ahead of the curve.  In fact, he has the three best home run totals since 2012 which is ultimately why he figures he can fetch  more than the reported $107M the Nationals offered over 7 years.  The fact is, the Nations have some tough decisions to make and with the Mets uncertain over Flores’ future at short, they may be in the market for a shortstop and may spend money on Desmond IF they contend this year and the dollars make sense.  Remember, while the Mets may have a New York zip code, they are still making decisions like a ball club mindful of limited resources with which to work with.  I wonder if some of the mistakes Desmond had weren’t of his own doing- trying too hard to make a positive impression on future employers.

10. Look ahead- Tomorrow’s game features an excellent pitching matchup as the defending NL Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom faces up against the contract year Jordan Zimmerman.  DeGrom has looked excellent all spring and has again been relegated to second status in a city caught up in Harvey-mania.  I admit that I haven’t given DeGrom his just due, but many within the Mets organization and in the press that cover him feel DeGrom is on the path to greatness as well having been a converted shortstop only five years ago and now the reigning NL Rookie of the Year.  None of this is lost on DeGrom, as he displays a maturity that tells you that he isn’t caught up or content on just the rookie of the year nod.  He went from unknown to mainstay in this vaunted rotation- another arm that is making the Mets stable of young pitching that much greater.  The contract year Jordan Zimmerman is another underrated pitcher overshadowed by a flame throwing teammate of his own.  He is of course entering the final year of his contract and many wonder about what Max Scherzer’s commitment means to Zimmerman’s future and how that decision will relate to Stephen Strassburg’s future in a Nationals uniform.  Keeping all three may be too difficult but they have an old owner desperate for a world series and he may be willing to spend, but keeping those two and contract year Ian Desmond may prove difficult.  Zimmerman’s first start of the season will be one of hopefully for their sake a 30 part tryout for a big contract.  Don’t think homegrown players didn’t sit up and take notice of Scherzer’s contract.  They will want similar deals.  Its interesting given the expectations surrounding this team whether it won’t prove to be a distraction all summer long.

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Lessons learned: MLB Trade Deadline 2014

Yesterday, baseball went on the kind of run that everyone in Las Vegas hopes to go on.  When the morning began those of us unfortunate enough to be tied to our Twitter accounts were awakened by Alex Speier’s report that Jon Lester had been traded to the Oakland A’s.  A moment passed before I read the next tweet which read “…for Yoenis Cespedes”.  It was the kind of swift kick in the butt that the trade deadline needed.

What followed over the next 7 hours were teams responding, teams waving the white flag, teams staying pat and teams deciding that they weren’t going to dip their toe in these crazy waters.

We will get to the New York teams in a minute.  But there’s much to learn about the changing landscape these days when Detroit and Oakland are the two teams waging war and raising armies in the North and the South, shooting out warning shots undoubtedly in preparation for their matchup in the ALCS.  After the Lester trade was finalized, I imagine Detroit CEO, GM and overlord of the car making province Dave Dombrowski reading the report on one of his sports apps and looking up at his team and muttering some phrase equivalent to “let’s get busy boys.”

The Tigers then made a huge trade in a three team swap to pick up the ace that had a reported 8.9% chance of being traded.  The Tigers picked up their Scherzer insurance.  The Mariners got an everyday center fielder.  The Rays got their bundle of team controlled prospects that will undoubtedly lead them on their second run.  Much of the surprise is somehow on the Rays side.  Most thinkers of baseball believe they could’ve received an equivalent trade in the offseason.  Why settle now in the midst of a race the Rays are quickly getting themselves back into?

One can never seem to doubt Andrew Friedman, but looking at the landscape this move can only lead one to believe that he saw his team incapable of sustaining such a run over the month of August and September and decided to cash out now.  But did they cash out with the biggest hand they could’ve had?  Who knows?  Drew Smyly has produced the best numbers of his career.  Nick Franklin has been shuttled between Triple A and the major leagues but has potential.  A most dangerous adjective that can lure GM’s into a trap.  Then there’s Willy Adames, the SS who is 18 years old and has shown an advanced bat for his age.  Those three shouldn’t net a David Price but this is the reality in which the Tampa front office operates in.  They must always keep an eye to four years from now while maintaining what they have today.  In a market that is not advantageous and doesn’t offer the revenue stream to change their thinking, they must always look ahead rather than gaze at the now.

But not Billy Beane.  Ol Billy decided when he traded away his best prospect to land two starters from the Cubs that this would NOT be the year that he stands pat and looks ahead.  This year he was putting his chips to the middle of the table.  Ultimately these moves will be judged by the end result in October but one can only applaud Billy as he makes his run at that championship he has so cleverly tried to get by selling his home made lemonade in his stand while he competes with the big boys in all things beverage.  By trading Addison Russell his star SS, he made an announcement to the world that he was going for it.  When he traded Jon Lester for home run darling Yoenis Cespedes he made sure to remind us that he was dead serious about his aspirations.  Lester represents about as sure a thing in the playoffs as you can get.  A hired gun bought for a single reason: to pitch those games that the Oakland A’s have never been able to win.  The Game 5’s and Game 7’s that Oakland has had to rely upon lesser talented players.  Now they have a bona fide tried and true ace that has been there and done that.  Again, his trades will ultimately be looked at through the prism of October results, but we should all applaud Billy the kid for deciding to take out the twin guns and fire away.

Of course if you’re Dave Dombrowski and you have a pitcher who decided to reject a 6 year $144 million deal the writing is in the stars.  When Max Scherzer decided to say no to an extension offer, the wheels had to start turning for GM Dave Dombrowski.  He has an aging owner who wants to win now and is willing to spend money but doesn’t have the endless pockets the Yankees do and at some point you get the sense that with each start, Scherzer is pricing himself into a different stratosphere.  Don’t take for granted Mike Illitch’s will to spend to keep a championship capable roster.  But with David Price in tow, they can weather Scherzer’s departure.  But this is also about  Rick Porcello’s advancement as a pitcher.  The Tigers bet on Porcello getting better when they dealt Doug Fister to the Nationals.  Now that his stats have all shown a major jump, one has to wonder if Detroit looks at those stats as an unsustainable leap from a pitcher who doesn’t project as a front line starter.  For me, this is also a Rick Porcello insurance move.  In case these stats are unsustainable, they have enough frontline starting pitching to help Porcello toil away and figure things out.  The Tigers have been stubborn about his development and it seems as though they will see this to the absolute end before they give up on him.

The Red Sox are an interesting case.  They sent away Jon Lester and John Lackey in separate deals that netted them serviceable major league players.  So it wasn’t a total destroy and rebuild like in 2012, but it bears a striking resemblance.  When the Red Sox traded away all their horrible contracts to the Dodgers they took advantage of a team with new ownership desperate to make a splash.  Now, there are no bad contracts, but a ton of young players the Sox brass are hoping will develop enough to become a core that can be competitive at a decent price while having the financial flexibility to add star players to support them.  I can’t be totally sure that the two moves were with an eye toward the future or making sure to have pieces in 2015.  The A’s were smart to trade Cespedes, a star borne out of the Cuban craze that has produced two legit superstars in Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu.  Cespedes, if you will remember had the amazing scouting tape that made him a cross between Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio and Ken Griffey Jr.  But he hasn’t had the kind of career that Puig and Abreu have.  Aside from the two home run derby titles and the occasional amazing display of the gun from the outfield, Cespedes has been a clean up hitter in name only.  Yes, he has a year left on his contract, but if the Sox catch lightning in a  bottle, they have inserted themselves into the Cuban pipeline of talent by bringing in one of their better prospects.  We won’t get a good idea of where the Sox’s thinking is until the offseason.  If they make a run at Lester, who can be a free agent and is well liked by both Boston’s fan base and by the ownership group, this will be a huge win for the Sox.  But based on earlier negotiations, the Sox have a price in mind for their staff ace and won’t go beyond that number.

The NL East all made incremental moves with one team making the most interesting one.  I’ve always been jealous of how ruthlessly efficient the Miami front office is.  Historically, they haven’t mastered sustained success, rather banking on their scouting and farm development to give them a good nucleus and then building through some major splashes, much the way they attempted to do so in 2012.  Then as soon as they win, they get out blaming a public that doesn’t support the team to give them revenue streams to spend.  But when Miami sent a few well thought of prospects for Jared Cosart, it was the kind of low level go for it move with a look towards the future for both teams operating with a time frame in mind.  Cosart is a former number one pick and no matter what the circumstances are that led to his trade from the Astros, its always a good bet to trade for talent.  Changing his surroundings may allow Cosart to start over and reach his potential.  If they manage to tap into Cosart’s potential, they could have added another frontline starter to a rotation that includes Jose Fernandez.  In a vacuum let’s presume that when Fernandez comes back next year, he will need a majority of the season to get back into the form we saw from him last year.  Cosart will enter a rotation with Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi, gives them enough young talent to slowly build the same way they built their championship teams.  This is the kind of move that won’t immediately pay dividends but ultimately is the kind of forward thinking move that sets the table for a major run in a year or two.  Smart.

So what if anything can the local teams learn from all of these moves?  The Mets and the Yankees operate in two different tax brackets.  The Yankees, did the smart thing at the trade deadline.  Rather than sacrifice their top prospects, they dealt from their endless welt of cash.  Nowadays, prospects are the currency of choice for GM’s, but that’s a matter of circumstance.  It just so happens that the Yankees can and can’t be begrudged for operating from that advantage.  So rather than make earth shattering moves which GM Brian Cashman is expected to always do, they made incremental moves to add depth.  If the A’s taught us anything its that having depth at IF and OF can always be a plus.  Having multiple options for a roster that is riddled with older players who are getting injured way too often, how is adding Martin Prado, Chase Headley, Chris Capuano, Jeff Francis,  Stephen Drew, David Huff, and Brandon McCarthy for cash, Vidal Nuno, C Peter O’Brien, Yangervis Solarte, Rafael DePaula, Kelly Johnson and a player to be named later.  To recap, they got a guy who was asking for $15M a year this offseason, a former Gold Glover, a player who was the centerpiece of the Justin Upton trade, for a guy they were going to option, a guy who’s hot start they parlayed into someone useful and a bunch of other pieces that were ultimately expendable.   That’s called making the most of what you have and more importantly recognizing what you don’t have.  They have enough talent, that once healthy, they know they can piece together a run.

But the Yankees also operate in a changing landscape.  There aren’t enough legit superstars in mid prime entering the free agent market that the Yankees can devour like they used to.  Teams are starting to be smarter about the Super-2 status and convincing prospects with potential to give up one or two years of their free agency in exchange for financial security.  Thus, free agents are entering free agency on the opposite side of 30.  Not only that, the Yankees aren’t the automatic suitors for the in their prime stars, anymore like they used to be.  The Dodgers with their new ownership group, the Tigers with an owner who’s advanced in both age and desperation to win a title, the Angels with a threatened Artie Moreno, and of course the Boston Red Sox.

Playing in New York comes with its advantages and disadvantages.  Cashman operates from the must do something mandate where its not just about the number of moves but the number of moves that make a splash.  So every offseason the Yankees will be linked with the biggest free agents and during the trade deadline the best trade chips are also somehow linked despite the Yankees not having the treasure trove of prospects with which to deal from.  The Yankees will never be in rebuilding mode.  Not with a new stadium that needs to be paid for.  Not when the team seems to be entering a deep decline with the final member of the Core Four retiring.  If anything this calls for an even more aggressive show of force by the Yankee front office.  A moment to puff out the chest and remind everybody who the Yankees are.  So naturally for those fans who looked at the Yankees tenuous position and thought they would just pack their bags and call it a season, just don’t know how the machine works.  It never stops. Or rests.  It continues manufacturing a relentless mentality to chase what may be out of their grasp.

The Mets however, have had to operate from a different point of view.  Though they call New York home as well.  Though they have a brand new ball park as well.  They compete with the monolith Yankees and against a reality they would rather not admit to the public because of what the feared reaction from the public is.  However, the Mets have always made the mistake that the public won’t understand: they’ve been with you this long stupid, they will continue to ride with you through this crap too.  With their finances a big question mark to everyone but the Wilpons’ accountants, the Mets have cut costs, and payroll since 2006, their last playoff run, to sit comfortably in the middle of the pack; a weird place for any team from NY to be in.  The Mets do however have something the Yankees don’t: young, high end, cost controlled pitching.  The Mets could have made a move to send a signal to the landscape that they were ready to overtake the Yankees but one thing is clear: they aren’t ready.  Not that they couldn’t make a run to the postseason or the 90 win goal GM Sandy Alderson set.  But the Mets also didn’t make a panic trade to make a run that nobody thinks is a guarantee.  What the Mets can take away from this deadline from the other teams is this: that they aren’t ready to trade for a David Price or Jon Lester.  But they are also close enough to be realistic.  This may not be the year, but they are close to making the kind of moves that send shockwaves throughout baseball and announce themselves as legit contenders.

 

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Headlines 1/11/2013

copelandThe Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony last night in Indianapolis and predictably the offense faltered.  Tony Williams of the Star Ledger writes that that’s either glass being half empty or half full if you’re a Knicks fan. Frank Isola of the Daily News writes about the exercise in futility that was the Knick offense last night.  George Willis of the Post writes that maybe the Knicks have lost their swagger entering a seven game home stand.  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that it wasn’t just the missing Carmelo Anthony and his 29 points per game and his usual brilliant late game shooting, but it was just the Knicks missing in general.  Jared Swerling of ESPNNY.com writes among his notes about Marcus Camby’s injury that sidelined him for most of the game.

There was a time in that game that the Knicks were capturing some of that momentum.  They were up 4 after being down most of a very sloppy game, and then the Pacers went on a 13-2 run and it felt like a 28-2 run.  It felt like an enormous lead that this team just could not overcome because they didn’t have their best player on the court.  But let’s add on, that the Knicks haven’t had their best players on the court all season.  Their best team is still sitting on the bench wearing tailored suits.  Yes, Carmelo Anthony wasn’t in the building last night but also consider that primary point guard Raymond Felton is out for another four to five more weeks.  The Knicks best perimeter defender Iman Shumpert is now only beginning live practices.  Rasheed Wallace, another veteran center, was out because of a recurring foot issue that has him day to day.  Amar’e Stoudemire is only beginning to round into form.  

Last night people began wondering if the Knicks were as good as the early season start or if this recent rough stretch was in reality who the Knicks were.  I am willing to say that the Knicks are somewhere in the middle.  One thing I will say is that when healthy this team can go against anybody.  They have the veteran leadership.  They have the bigs to control the paint.  They have the defensive mindset in a half court game.  They play the style of basketball that wins in the postseason and in the end, that’s what this team’s ultimate goal is.  To win in May and June.  Playoff seeding be damned, had the Knicks not gotten off to that fast start, who knows where in the standings they would be.  Thanks to Miami losing they didn’t lose any ground so they remain a half game back of number one seed Miami, but Indiana has to be a real threat.  They added a ton of size to their team and the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is Paul George.  

It makes the alpha dog status of this team an interesting one when Danny Granger returns.  The Pacers don’t have a top 10 player on their team but they have several excellent pieces.  George is showing signs that he could be their go-to guy.  He still doesn’t have a consistent enough shot, but his perimeter d and his otherworldly athleticism make him a candidate with further room to grow and improve.  He’s the kind of guy that will only get better and oh by the way he’s only turning 23 this May.  

A line up that I saw last night that worries me is the Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, JR Smith and Steve Novak.  While Novak isn’t a terrible defender, Amar’e has been a liability on that side of the ball and Kidd gets beat consistently by the quicker point guards.  Its only his hands that make him a threat to poke the ball away from an offensive player running right by him.  He still has the quickness and strength to poke balls away when they aren’t secured.  I understand its to give the Knicks the most amount of shooters, but Amare and Tyson can’t create their own offense so teams play zone and never have to stray too far away from their guy.  If you were to replace Novak or Smith with Prigioni, this gives you two ball handlers who can run dual pick and rolls.  A play they may want to run is Pablo/Kidd coming from the top of the arc and working their way down while getting two screens from both Amar’e and Tyson, as soon as the bigs start to roll, only one big can rotate back to their original man leaving one guy with the point guard while allowing a big to have a mismatch.  Either a lob to the open big to set up a roll to the basket or a bounce pass would suffice.  Now, what happens if someone else rotates to the basket to prevent the easy dunk?  You now have whomever was standing at the corner three locations running behind their man and the big can quickly pass it to him for the easy lay up.  That line up needs as many ball handlers and offensive creators as possible due to the limitations of Chandler and Amar’e to create offensively.  

Once Amar’e gets his stuff together (ie: his 15-18 footer that he was routinely knocking down in 2010), and gets more acclimated to the pace of the game (which he should be by now), the Knicks won’t feel as crippled by the fact that both are primarily pick and roll players.  The Knicks just can’t let Amar’e play center and allow teams easy buckets in the paint and offensive rebounds by the dozens.  Amar’e just does not box out well (he admitted he was never taught), and you can’t let a defensive liability to be left out there without any protection.  Funny thing is, if Rasheed Wallace had been in both games, I think the Knicks win both.  Not kidding you at all.

With the blank entry list to the Baseball Hall of Fame thanks to the suspicion of steroids use by many of the first timers on this year’s ballot, baseball followed that announcement with this: the Players Union and Major League Baseball agreed to expand HGH testing.  Andy McCullough of the Star Ledger writes that the plan is to monitor testosterone levels to note any changes to them in players.  Michael Schmidt of the New York Times writes that this is another way for baseball to argue that it has the strictest testing of all the four major sports.  Both stories spoke of the NFL’s hesitation in blood tests for HGH in season.  This comes a day after a story revealed that Junior Seau was in fact diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease named CTE that is caused by repeated blows to the head perhaps due to his years playing football.  According to this NYTimes report, out of 34 cases that the researchers at Boston University have examined where the subject died, 33 were found to be linked to CTE.

Dr James Andrews, Mike Shanahan RGIIIIt was an unusual day for science in the sports landscape.   I wouldn’t describe baseball as reeling from the aftershock of not inducting anyone to the Hall of Fame, but the numerous empty ballots certainly created a buzz in the sporting community.  Performance enhancing drugs are an ever changing market.  One day its anabolic steroids, the next its something more subtle that alters a player’s ability.  Tomorrow it will be a substance that is virtually untraceable.  I’m willing to bet that every year we will read about two or three more athletes that continue to feel that they can cheat the system and get away with it.  Until the sports world has universal Olympic testing prior to every competition, how can a team not feel they were cheated by somebody who came into a game all “juiced up”.  Obviously that kind of testing will never happen but baseball will always have this stigma attached to it thanks to the almost two decades long period of not caring to do anything about the problem.  

Football on the other hand has a very very serious problem.  I’ve said for years now that Roger Goodell’s legacy will be linked to how he contains or doesn’t contain the concussion issue and player safety.  Those who think that he’s not doing enough will ask for more measures of reeling in the violence.  And there will always be those who feel he has done too much to risk the primal nature of the game that makes it what it is.  I’m of those that believe that you play football knowing the risks.  The hits just keep getting harder and tougher the bigger the players get and the faster they come to hit.  But players continue to compete knowing the risks.  There’s no place in the game for HGH considering how big these guys are and how physical this game is, but don’t try and convince me that Goodell’s stance on this issue isn’t driven by his fear that if he doesn’t do anything the lawsuit by former NFL players contending that the NFL does very little for its former players will make the NFL pay a huge hefty sum.  Goodell has implemented rules and barriers to use in court to say that the NFL is doing its level best to not compromise player safety.  One of the biggest issues that I saw in a report for HBO’s Real Sports series was a story done by Andrea Kremer in which the NFL was asking players to sign a waiver agreeing to free the NFL of any kind of lawsuit before taking a painkiller called Toradol which acts as a numbing agent.  The Players Union is asking players NOT to sign the waiver which continues the back and forth of this issue.  Neither side is willing to be fully on board with the player safety issue as the NFL is trying to lead everyone to believe and its being done with the intention of trying to avoid any further legal hassles in the future.

My opinion is, the NFL is a dangerous sport.  Junior Seau’s case is one that will never change.  Players play injured.  Players go in when they aren’t supposed to, ask RGIII.  The sport almost demands a player to play through and to show the teammates their individual toughness.  The fact is, the risks aren’t being explored in game situations and are only being asked after the fact.  After a game has been played and the player has taken a few extra lumps on top of the lump that caused the injury.  Players do this all the time in the NFL but they do so under their own recognizance.  That’s where team doctors or medical officials need to step in and be authoritative when they demand a player’s removal from a game.  If Dr. James Andrews, the most renowned name in orthopedics, can’t have his professional opinion taken seriously enough then what shot does any other medical official have.  Its a dilemma that won’t go away and good for the NFL that it doesnt!

Hal Steinbrenner calmed Yankees fans fears a little in this Ken Davidoff report saying that the $189 million figure is just a number and doesn’t represent an end all figure if the Yankees aren’t seriously contending for a World Series in 2014.

Sammy Sosa is just weird, on his Pinterest page.

John Clayton of ESPN.com writes that several teams will have a difficult time in reshaping their roster, especially the Jets who are currently $19.4 million over the cap and Dallas who are currently $18.2 million over.  The Giants sit at $4.7 million over.

Gary Meyers of the Daily News writes that Tim Tebow doesn’t have a prayer of having a starting gig in the NFL.

 

 

 

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Ya Gotta Believe- in the plan

I will never look forget the look on Terry Collins face as pitch number 134 of Johan Santana’s no hitter disappeared from the reach of Cardinals 3B David Freese. SNY cameras caught the reaction of Collins as a historic moment unfolded: relieved. Exasperated. Thankful it was over. Eager to find out whether his de facto ace’s arm was still in one piece.

Terry Collins was a manager of the year candidate in large part thanks to that performance and his club’s play throughout the first half. But since June 1st Johan Santana has gone 3-5 and has seen his ERA jump a full run and a half to 3.98 from 2.38. Winning 3 out of 8 decisions isn’t crippling but in his last 3 decisions ranging 12.2 innings he has given up 28 hits and 19 earned runs. He landed on the DL with a leg injury but most observers look back to that 134 pitch effort and the extra rest Terry Collins gave as the fault.

Santana’s swoon has coincided with the Mets scheduled second half meltdown. That’s 12 losses in the last 13 games and 6 in a row now, two sweeps included. There seems no end in sight to the bleeding and most consider the patient to be dead. Fans are accusing GM Sandy Alderson of being asleep at the wheel, not making a move when a move needed to be made.

Most have fixed the gaze of blame on the bullpen and they would have every right. The Met bullpen has the worst ERA. They don’t have the fewest wins or the most losses, yet if you had to rank a more horrendous bullpen you would be hard pressed to find one from the limited scope of New York fans.

But Collins admits fully that the bullpen isn’t the only one to blame: the offense hasn’t shown up either. They have scored 3 runs or fewer in 6 of their last 12 games and essentially turned themselves from fringe contender to sell candidate at the July 31st deadline. But am I worrying? No and neither should anyone else.

I submit all the preseason signs that the Mets weren’t making an effort to field a competitive team. They didn’t even make an offer to Jose Reyes, their homegrown superstar SS despite playing in the biggest market in the world and fielding a payroll north of a $100 million forever. Their biggest signings were Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco. They stubbornly refused to bench Jason Bay despite his 2.5 year struggle. They brought up Kirk Nieunwheis and kept Lucas Duda in right to play everyday roles and announced to the world that their opening day starter was Johan Santana- a year removed from arm surgery and with the bubble wrap barely off his arm. It sounded a lot like a rebuilding year.

That’s until the players didn’t play like it was a rebuilding year. That’s until David Wright played MVP caliber ball. Until R.A. Dickey became the best pitcher in baseball. Until Ruben Tejada made every Met fan forget Jose Reyes.

But as the magic has fully worn off this team and it’s become what every Met fan feared, suddenly outrage is fierce and fervent. Contending was never part of the plan. There were clear holes in the lineup and with the bullpen and issues with the starting staff that it seemed like the front office just waited long enough for things to fall apart before admitting that they were sellers: their true intention prior to the season.

I felt as though the Rauch, Ramirez trade an Francisco deals were all done with the intention of eventually moving them to contenders. The second wild cards adds the list of teams who feel they have a realistic chance at a playoff berth probably two fold. The chance to keep filling their farm system was too enticing. Thus the news that they have quietly shopped Scott Hairston and Tim Byrdak to teams interested. I thought it was funny when Met officials dismissed the notion that they were shopping Hairston earlier because he was such a good influence in the clubhouse. I wonder how many teams were scared off by that statement. God forbid they went harder after a good clubhouse guy who just so happens to be an excellent situational hitter against lefties.

As bad as things have gotten in Gotham city, sorry Queens, I’ve had zero problem with the lack of activity from the front office to proactively go after one or two relievers by dealing prospects as if that would solve everything ailing the Mets.

It won’t and the Mets are wisely sticking to the plan. They overachieved in the first half and are now falling back down to earth and the typical shoot first ask questions last fan base is in revolt over the front office not setting the organization back another few years by dealing for middle relief and a big bat.

They haven’t just now quit on the season- they were waving the white flag before the season began with a series of moves designed to keep the organization looking and moving forward. So it’s in it’s typical late summer swoon; so what? What’s different about this team is that there is legitimate excitement over its prospects, starting with Matt Harvey’s first major league start. He is one of a few pitchers the front office feel strongly about moving forward and refuse to deal for any short term fix.

If these last 13 games have proven anything, it’s how less talented the mets are and how much growing up their stars have left to do. There is one great player (Wright), three good players (Tejada, Valdespin; I know in a limited role, and Davis) and a bunch of stiffs. To be competitive the Mets need to get better and become a more complete and deep team and that won’t happen this season, the sooner Met fans admit that, the better it will be.

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Daily Rounds 12/23

Last night was the Knicks second and final preseason game, both against the New Jersey Nets soon to be of Brooklyn, and the Knicks won 88-82.  Frank Isola said that the Knicks will need their BIG 3 to step up all year long in order for them to be successful.  Mike Vaccaro likes this Tyson Chandler and says that Tyson Time (my own unique-but-not-really nickname) is off to a rousing start.  Barbara Barker wrote about the newly renovated frontcourt making its debut in the newly renovated MSG.

Just a few quick notes that I took from this game:

– Sloppy.  Its to be expected though considering that the Knicks barely had a training camp AND had to work in several new players including two rookies and a new starter.  Amar’e Stoudemire’s shot was off and he didn’t even play a single second in the second half which shows you how concerned D’Antoni is in keeping him healthy throughout the season.  What that means in the regular season will be interesting but Amar’es shot wasn’t falling and yet he basically sat throughout the second half while Avery Johnson kept his entire starting 5 out on the court for the final quarter.  Carmelo seemed to be the only one with a semblance of a good, consistent game.  Pick and rolls need to be worked on and so does alot of the defensive spacing but I like in general where the Knicks are going.

– Defensive prowess-  I’m not trying to use Clyde lines but you can’t help but try and talk like him after a Knick game.  There was definitely more effort on the defensive front.  My All-Defensive Knick team would be Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony (yes,), Renaldo Balkman and Tyson Chandler.  I love the effort these guys give on defense and Carmelo when he’s into it, can DEFINITELY excel at it.  How much effort he wants to give is completely on him.  As long as during crunch time he shows forth that effort to lock down his guy I’m ok with him giving not max on other plays.  Sounds like I’m advocating for taking plays off but for guys as talented as Melo, it can appear he’s taking plays but he’s still giving more effort than less skilled players.

Alot of that communication came from….

– The Tyson Chandler Effect.  Chandler has been a revelation on the court.  On the bench.  In warm up.  In practice.  Just his whole demeanor and leadership that he’s brought to this team is awesome.  It reminds me of….Amar’e from last season when he came.  Amar’e was a vocal leader prodding his underachieving, underrated line up.  The Knicks were a legit threat with all their supposed “non-talent” they didn’t have to trade for Carmelo Anthony.  What Tyson does is bring a presence in the middle of the paint which has long been a freeway for opposing offenses.  He’s so good at keeping communication open while he’s on the floor AND EVEN on the bench.  HIs biggest thing is keeping confidence up and keeping everyone loose.  I LOVE Tyson Chandler and I’m ready to get his jersey.  He looks like the real deal and a great fit.

– Questions about the bench are going to rise but I LOVE our bench.  One major bit of news that came out of D’Antoni’s post game presser, is that he’s going to use a rotation of 10,11 maybe even 12 guys to keep everyone fresh.  That would be awesome.  Aside from the starting five, expect minutes from Iman, Jorts, Balkman, Devin, Novak when he arrives, Baron Davis and Mike Bibby.  It would be completely out of character for D’Antoni and maybe he goes back to his old ways of riding his 8 man rotation out during the course of a season but you have to take a man at his word.  I believe that things like a good supporting staff are important as having superstars on your front line.  That’s why the Mavs won the title and the Heat didn’t.  If you’re top heavy its almost impossible to win titles because eventually the tops wear out because they are human.  The Knicks need to get alot of production from their bench and eventually their second unit is going to have to play above and beyond the call of duty.  I like that Jorts does NOT hesitate shooting that three and I’d like to ask Renaldo Balkman to NEVER chuck up threes like that.  I think Balkman’s cutting to the hoop is underrated and teams need to be wary of that especially if Carmelo is handling the ball.

– Knick rookies stepping up-  Jorts and Iman are the two guys who will have a large hand in determining how far the knicks go.  Jorts is definitely just an energy guy off the bench meant to spell Tyson Chandler and also provide defense and rebounding.  He still needs to work on getting proper boxing out techniques but I think he can improve.  Iman is a combo guard and for him that means chucking up the shot every five seconds.

One of the best bit of reporting I heard was that Baron Davis went up to the neophyte and told him that Deron Williams is laying off him on purpose to bait him to shoot.  Iman listened to him and began driving to the hoop which really helped the Knicks.  I would like for Iman to drive and kick out and pass.  He has a nice stroke but he has to know when he has the hot hand and when he doesn’t.  Last night’s 2 for 10 meant he didn’t.  At one stretch he began chucking up shots at the beginning of the 24 shot clock.  That’s not effective nor efficient if you’re not making them.  Toney Douglas began heating up after going a whole half without scoring.  Iman should’ve looked for Toney on some of those plays but instead tried to find his own shot.  I get that he is listed as a combo guard and I get that his athleticism makes him an excellent one AT THAT, but he needs to know WHEN he’s on and when he’s not and I think at 6’5 if he can make the transition to point guard it would be the best thing for the Knicks in the long run.  I dont want OJ Mayo 2.0 on my team.

Don’t get me wrong, on the defensive end the man is a tireless worker and trust me that jump shot is going to come, but I’d like for him to really work on driving and passing and understanding that.  I realize it may not happen this year and the shortened schedule will force the Knicks hand in giving him a ton of playing time, add into the equation that Toney Douglas may struggle a bit going forward and Knick fans will want Shump to play but I see that as a good thing.  Hopefully the Knicks move forward trying to push the idea to Shump that he needs to find the open man.

– Melo as a passer-  Man am I excited to see him run the point at times on this squad.  He’s such a gifted passer/scorer/everything offensive that we sometimes undervalue how good he is.  I mean the guy can do it all.  He had probably the best assists and he’s got the mind of a savant when he’s playing basketball.  His ability to pass will throw defenses for a loop and he’ll give his teammates really easy baskets and once the defense lays off him, this will give Carmelo tons of easy possessions and plenty of one on one opportunities which he’ll certainly take advantage of.  He’s really a pleasure to watch.

– Toney Douglas and Landry Fields worry me-  I realize they didn’t have terrible games but they disappeared for stretches throughout yesterday and it has to bug you that both of them are NOT having great training camps but nobody really is.  Everyone’s struggling and coming to grips with the fact that the NBA season is beginning Sunday, a measly two weeks after training camp started. They will need to work hard because Iman Shumpert is there and gathering steam.  He looks like the more active athlete, and the guy they want eventually taking over either spot (my vote is for point guard), but I think that D’Antoni would rather have these two succeed.  In the end, I think both of these guys would benefit coming off the bench instead of starting but that’s all depending on how quickly Baron Davis recovers and if the Knicks have anyone to play shooting guard.  Again, I’d rather Shump NOT pick up habits like wanting to score all the time like he already does, but hey, there’s always the hope that he picks up better habits like using his slashing, driving style to dish the ball out.

– Why all the hate towards Kris Humphries- Gotta love New York fans.  That’s all i’m going to say.

– Clyde Frazier is already in midseason form- “The only green I like is money” and “Where’s the Kardashian guy?” I’m ready to go!

Here is today’s list of Knick stories including Marc Berman’s contention that the waiting for a team to be built is over for the Knicks.  NOW is the time for Knicks to go out and win a title.  Amar’e Stoudemire says that the Heat are not ready to climb for the title but the Knicks are ready to contend against Miami or whatever that means.  Frank Isola of the Daily News tries to explain.  Speaking of the Heat, Tom Haberstroh of TrueHoop did an excellent report on Erik Spolestra going to Oregon to study the offensive scheme of the Ducks, the college team who made it to the national championship game last year and have been perennial contenders under the guidance of Chip Kelly.  Also, Seth Walder gives you the low-down on pricing of MSG tickets if you wanted to sit courtside.  

Not lacking confidence is a good thing and frankly a welcome thing in these parts.  For years the Knicks and its fan base have had to be very quiet, patiently waiting for a winner to be built.  Well, the Knicks told everyone to open their eyes.  The Knicks are here and this is what the contender looks like.  Sure, there are still a few pieces to be added midseason.  The Knicks still have the $2.5 million room exception which can be used on someone like, say, a Kenyon Martin, but the Knicks know that in order for them to compete they have to go through Miami who almost certainly WILL get that number one seed.  Speaking of the Heat, that article scared me because of what it contained.  It looks like Spolestra was determined to make an offense that was part Showtime, part Amoeba, part crazy offense where Lebron and Co. will be playing a lot of smaller line ups to take advantage of their quickness and elusiveness.  Again, I dont know how it will work but I expect this shortened season to REALLY be the best thing for the Heat because if anyone is built for this kind of crazy schedule its young teams with very capable superstars.  Do I think the Heat will win the East this year?  Yes.  Do I think the Heat are better than the Knicks?  yes.  Do I think Lebron is the best player in the East?  Yes.  Do I think Dwayne Wade is better than Carmelo Anthony?  No.  I think its a tie but that’s only if Melo comes to play on the defensive end because Wade does.  Again, for the Knicks to contend I think Berman put it correctly, that Melo playing Point Forward HAS to work out and Melo has to play at an MVP like level.  I expect Amar’e AND Melo to bring 50-52 PPG and about 18-21 RPG.  I really hope that all goes well and they remain healthy and D’Antoni IS serious about a heavy rotation of players.

The Mets are officially in trouble says a brand new book by Mets blogger Howard Megdal who recently released an E-Book titled Wilpon’s folly.  According to Jeff Bradley of the Star Ledger, it talks about how much debt that the Wilpons have and how even with the investors they claim will purchase the necessary amount of shares to make $200 million that the Wilpons will be forced to sell the team.  Josh Kosman of the Daily News says the book made a claim that the Wilpons used their friendship with Bud Selig to make him look like the bad guy so if David Einhorn, who wanted to invest in the club and in effect take majority ownership SHOULD the Mets not be able to pay him back, ever tried to sue him the Wilpons could say that it was Major League Baseball’s decision not to approve ownership and not his.  According to Anthony Reiber, the Mets are cutting their GCL team in a cost-cutting move further developing fears within Major League circles that the Mets are indeed in a very seriously dire financial situation. 

Look, I’ll say it again: The Coupon family WILL NOT sell this team willingly.  It will take a bank robber and a ski mask and a machine gun to sell and even then they may take a few minutes to weigh death.  I hate what they have done to this team but in the back of my mind I believe they have had good intentions the whole way.  Have they made some poor investments?  Sure.  Have they embarassed the Mets enough?  Hopefully.  Is it the darkest before the dawn?  Scientifically I have no idea.  But I do believe that the Wilpons are true fans.  Unfortunately the team they root for no longer occupies Brooklyn but Southern California and they have been trying to get Jackie Robinson to play second base for their team for years and just can’t find a suitable contact number for him.

The Coupons are major league owners which should give the rest of us some hope that one day we could be total fuck ups and still enjoy the luxuries of owning a Major League franchise.  I think that the Mets are in a deep shithole and won’t be able to get out of it and this season’s ticket sales will be an issue.  Do I think the Mets can get enough investors to make the $200 million goal?  Yes.  Unfortunately business people will look at the Mets as a great investment considering they play in the biggest market and having an ownership stake in a franchise is huge for guys who are rich but not wealthy.  Remember kids there’s a difference.

But how much longer before they are asking those guys to invest more money in and how much longer before the math comes back to the Coupon family that they no longer own a majority share?  Again, these are questions that the Coupons really hope they don’t have to answer in the long run but its impossible to ignore.

A semi cool thing.  Ok its a major cool thing.  If you haven’t heard about Louis CK you’re living under a rock but if not check this article out on the New York Times about his come up- and his new comedy special which is coming out in a very unique way.  

Howard Beck of the New York Times also looks at how Brook Lopez’ stress fracture could ultimately deal a very big blow to the Nets chances at landing Dwight Howard.  Self explanatory but for those who want the elaborate answer.  

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Sports Roundup 12/4/2011 and Week 13 Picks!

Bill Simmons of Grantland.com is bringing you Day 1 of a 12 day series in which he covers the frantic NBA Free Agent Experience and makes the simple yet honest point: Even though the lockout was meant to stop dumb contracts, we’re about to get even MORE dumb contracts in the coming days.  Gentlemen, start your paychecks.  Speaking of which, Vishnu Parasuraman of Grantland explains the new deal in a comprehensive yet simple way.  Ok fine, so I got an Indian sports writer in there.  SUE ME!

I’m a huge Bill Simmons fan so you’ll be seeing alot of his posts linked for sure.  He’s a huge basketball junkie thus his opus titled the Book of Basketball which went through his thoughts and long held beliefs of the game so you knew he would have something for basketball junkies as the NBA was coming out of the lockout.  His point?  the deal could’ve been struck five months ago but players held stubbornly and owners were too dick headed to admit their faults.  Now, we have a 66 game season in which the league and its elder statesmen will be subjected to AT LEAST one back to back to back set of games.  NBA fans won’t care but remember that teams with older players will be rested more to survive the grind.  An interesting point that Simmons made was that this proved how vital the NBA views its slate of games on Christmas Day.  Its their Thanksgiving.  They didn’t want to lose it and couldn’t afford to do so and Simmons argued that it made sense and the NBA should consider making some cosmetic changes to their schedule in order to not get in the way of football and therefore step on their own toes.  Not many people pay attention to basketball on Sundays while the NFL is still pumping out its product.  And now with the NFL set to have a Thursday game every week and then some Saturday games starting on Christmas eve, you can bet that the NBA will be keeping a close watch on games.

By the way, here’s the updated schedule of games that will kick off the NBA season:

Boston AT New York (Rondo vs. CP3?), Miami AT Dallas (the banner will be unveiled but the rings apparently won’t be given out), Chicago AT Los Angeles (Who’s going to be the wingman for Derrick Rose this year?), Orlando AT OKC and Clippers AT Golden State.  Got all that?  That’s TNT for Knicks Celts followed by ABC for the next two games with the NBA Finals rematch and Kobe vs. MVP Derrick Rose and finally ESPN gets the last two games.  When’s the last time the NBA went out of its way to put the Clippers in a marquee NBA television night?  Ahh, the power of Blake.

I would make the argument that the NFL will have a tough slate to take away from the NBA but it appears Roger Goodell has paved the streets clean of NFL football, even disposing of Jay Cutler to make the Sunday night game with the Packers and Bears less interesting unless Caleb Hanie’s body gets possessed by a better QB.  Maybe he needs to bring the stache back?

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News is breaking down the wishlist and rumor mill stuff of the Winter Meetings.  For those that don’t know, this is where all the action happens and deals get done.  Oh, and so does Ken Davidoff of Newsday and Joel Sherman of the New York Post believes that the Yankees are going to be quiet for once and that’s because they are trying to cut costs.  Meanwhile here is Jon Heyman of SI (and soon to be CBS Sports) and Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports gives us the skinny on Yu Darvish the sought after pitcher from the Nippon Ham club in Japan.  

The Winter Meetings are interesting because fans are under the impression that this is MLB’s way of getting all 30 GM’s and player agents under one roof to make deals and sign contracts with players but its not.  Its a convention for GM’s, kind of like one of those training seminars your company sends you to and oh by the way every other power broker in the sport ends up in the same hotel (what are the odds?) and winds up swinging deals.  There’s only enough Public Safety Seminars one can stomach apparently.  Blackberries will be used and this is the week that cell phone companies see a spike in calls made and received from certain phone lines.  Either way, plenty of rumors to get to.

The Sherman article interests me because this is not the first time we’ve heard that the Yankees are tightening up their belts.  They ALWAYS say that and like Sherman points out seemingly always spend more and shrug it off because they can.  The Yankees are being more judicious with how they spend their money and they are right, CJ Wilson is NOT worth a major contract.  He’s a third starter in my opinion and NOT a number one.  His cost has been inflated because there’s no other marquee pitching talent available unless the Mariners somehow decide to put King Felix on the block but that’s a long shot especially if the rumors are true and they are going to make a run at Prince Fielder.  Jon Danks could be an interesting option seeing as how Kenny Williams has all but put the Rebuilding notice on his White Sox club and may part ways with their best pitcher to start collecting young assets.  The Yankees won’t trade their Killer B”s for anyone outside of Felix in my opinion.  They still could dangle Jesus Montero and get a pretty good return so the Yankees always have that.  We’ll see how it goes.

As for the Mets, I’ve always been in the trade David Wright Camp.  If the Mets were really interested in rebuilding and trying to maintain a level or status of a long term winner, they would look to trade Wright and I think it would be mandatory should Jose Reyes leave for another team.  One team he may be leaving for are the Miami Marlins who are now facing charges from the SEC about possible violations in how they got their majority-taxpayer-funded brand new ballpark.  Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports writes that free agents looking at Miami may be scared off by the investigation which has real legs and could possibly end up costing the Marlins a lot.  This is part of a bigger problem that baseball is facing as this will only make the SEC open every single team’s books about how they are getting local governments to raise money via taxpayers to fund these new stadiums.  Baseball is largely guilty of strong arming these local branches on a yearly basis that some in the industry view it as an “about time” investigation.

Back to the Metropolitans.  Sandy Alderson vows that the Mets will be fun to watch and reportedly have a gentleman’s agreement with them and Reyes where Reyes will bring back the final offers to the Mets and the Mets will either allow Reyes to walk or the Mets will match.  Of course that doesn’t mean Jose will take the first genuinely intriguing offer the Mets have.  He will most certainly take it back to other teams and given the state of the Miami Marlins with this pending investigation, Reyes may think twice about taking a multi-year deal to stay there.  The Marlins are willing to give Reyes a 6 year deal, something the Mets are rightfully reluctant to do.

I get Alderson’s hesitation with Reyes.  No one doubts the skill, but the injury history gives prospective employers pause and makes Reyes’ suitors that much smaller.  Marlins have been effectively ambitious this offseason finally inking a player with some star power to let baseball know they are serious, in Heath Bell who was given a 3 year deal worth $27 million which is a lot for a 34 year old closer.  That gives everyone but the Mets an effective end of game solution.  The Braves have Craig Kimbrel who won the Rookie of the Year award in the NL.  The Phillies signed Papelbon.  The Nationals have young Drew Storen ready to go.  So the Mets are looking to add a prominent closer themselves without breaking the bank given their other litany of needs which begs the question: if you’re not going to go after Reyes, why not turn your attention elsewhere and spend that 16-20 million you had slotted for Jose on the relief market and mid level starter market?

The interest in Reyes is real but the Mets have two budgets for the upcoming season: one that HAS Reyes on board and another that doesn’t have Reyes on board.  The on that has Reyes on board ranges from $100-110 million and one can only figure that the one that doesn’t include Reyes is somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million cheaper.  So the Mets won’t just spend the money to spend it and Alderson is cautiously spending the money because let’s face it, without Reyes or any kind of prominent free agent signing, the Mets will have a much lower draw at CitiField effectively eliminating any chance of turning a profit for the year.

Unless the Mets miraculously turn competitive.  Which isn’t impossible but highly improbable given the state of the other teams in the division and the current state of the Mets.

My prediction on Reyes?  He resigns with the Mets for 5 years and $95 million with a 6th year option based on games played over the final two guaranteed years.  Most fans have this idea that the Mets won’t spend but I don’t think the Wilpons are that frugal and that stupid.  They are stupid but not cheap.  They will spend and they know the ramifications of trying to field a Reyes-less team in 2012 to their bottom line.  Alderson and Co. know the skill set of Reyes and what he means to the franchise.  The fan base is almost unanimous that they want him back.  But at an effective price.  I think the fanbase more is about the rebuilding process and know that any exorbitant price tag given the state of the franchise’s finances would be crippling to any long term repairs the Mets hope to do.  Let’s be honest, we don’t know how much the bill will be on the Madoff case but reports indicate that it won’t be as high as one wished   thought.  Either way, the Mets will need all available space to sign their superstars if it is indeed their wish.  Let’s say Reyes leaves, David Wright will most certainly be discussed and presented as a carrot for any team to make deals but given his status being lowered, they won’t get back what they hope.  I think the Mets wait till the trade deadline so that with the new changes to CitiField can help build back up Wright’s status and then trade him.

Though, in either scenario, I think the Mets should trade Wright.  Not only for the Mets, but for Wright.  I admit he’s a very good player but he’s NOT a superstar and the Mets have treated him as such while other teams have looked at his last three years and seen a lower tier player.  Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals is a better defensive AND offensive player and has been for the last two years at the very least.

Here’s hoping that Reyes decides to take a hometown discount.

Now, on to Sunday’s picks:

BILLS (-2) over Titans-  This is pretty much must win territory for Buffalo.  The Bills, now looking at their schedule again with clarity provided for us by the last few weeks of action, face a pretty tough schedule.  Where once the Chargers and Patriots were looking like the toughest tests on the schedule, the Chargers look like they have given up on the season and Norv Turner, and the Patriots may basically be resting their starters by Week 17 .  The Dolphins are competitive and nobody’s patsies and the Broncos are Tebow’s Team and look virtually unbeatable.

BEARS (-7) over Chiefs-  I’m not saying that this is a slam dunk.  The Chiefs CAN play as evidenced by their near upset win over the Steelers who looked old on Sunday night.  But unless Caleb Hanie plays mistake free football the Bears season is effectively over.  Which brings me to the QB carousel that took place this week and left one very famous name without a seat.  Donovan McNabb is no longer an employed member of the NFL.  Its a sad ending to a very good career which had its ups and downs.  Mostly, I think he benefited just as much as he faltered by playing in a demanding market like Philly.  McNabb has such thick skin that after being released by the Vikings citing his lack of a work ethic and weight gain, he was marketing himself as a STARTER for any franchise who wanted him.  A STARTER.  This is a guy who was traded IN DIVISION by the coach who constantly made excuses for him and was shown the door by an organization so messed up and screwed up in the head like the Redskins that he was replaced early in the season by a rookie who nobody expected to sniff the Metrodome turf.  I couldn’t believe how quickly he fell out of grace and now out of touch with his own ability.  McNabb’s biggest liability at this point is what made him famous in Philly: his unquestioning belief in himself.  As much as TO loves him some me, McNabb really loves him some me and not being picked up on waivers and TO’s inability to get anyone to even bother showing up for a private workout is fitting for two players who once were considered elite at their position yet many had lingering questions about their make up.

Oakland (+2) over DOLPHINS-  I think this game is going to be fantastic.  No lies.  I have to admit that trading two number one picks for Carson Palmer in my mind STILL isn’t a defensible trade but he’s been paying off these last few weeks and IF and WHEN Run DMC joins the fold the Raiders could end up being a very dangerous team moving forward.  Teams are now beginning to respect the pass which is opening up lanes for their rushing attack.  Michael Bush is lining up a very nice pay day for him next year.

Bengals (+6.5) over STEELERS-  How old did the Steelers look as compared to the hyped up KC Chiefs who field one of the youngest teams in the league?  Pitt’s moxie and veteran know how to pull out the W helped them but the Bengals are much more talented and with a full game from AJ Green should easily beat the Steelers IN Pittsburgh.

Ravens (-7) over BROWNS-  Classic let down game for the Ravens considering their season.  The one remaining question they have left to answer is if they can maintain their level no matter the competition.  That question must be answered with a win today.  MUST.

Jets (-3) over REDSKINS-  This is closer than many people think but I see a HUGE win for the Jets.  I mean a dominating performance.  I smell it coming.

Falcons (-1.5) over TEXANS-  Would’ve been a good game had even Matt Leinart played.  But some people love TJ Yates and believe he will be their starting QB moving forward and some are even giving him a small chance at Tom Bradying the Texans this year to a Super Bowl.  Hold your horses.  The defense has playmakers and the offense getting Andre Johnson back is a huge plus but let’s hold your horses and let them play today’s game and then we’ll fast lane them into the Super Bowl.

Bucs (-2) over PANTHERS-  Cam needs a strong finish to the season to secure that once locked up Offensive Rookie of the Year award he had giftwrapped back in September.  Last week was a good start in beating a Colts team he HAD to beat.  But looking at his stats they tell you something.  Since throwing for 422, 432 and 374 in three out of his first four games in the NFL, Cam doesn’t have a single 300 yard passing game since and only thrown north of 250 three times only one resulting in a win.  Its when he’s thrown for less than 220 (158 and 208) when he’s won so there’s that to consider for Ron Rivera and co as they move forward with Cam’s progression.  I wish ONCE in a team’s life that they unleashed a QB like the Falcons did Michael Vick and Eagles did until he got injured.  He puts not only defenses in such a bad way, but also referees who have problems knowing when to call late hit penalties and can sometimes get confused and make a huge call that can tilt the game in the team’s favor.  Cam has one thing going for him that Vick never had: he’s built like a tank.  Vick is injury prone not because of his style but because he’s built like a receiver.  Not Desean Jackson skinny but enough where one good pop as he’s going full speed can really hurt him.  Cam loves contact and can bring the lumber as grown folk would say.  If the Carolina offensive coaches can devise a way to have Cam throw 20-25 times and run 8-12 times and then run the football with their two headed beast at running back HOW is that a bad thing?  Some of you will say well Swith, isn’t that what they are doing already?  Yes.  But their defense doesn’t stop anyone.  I’m saying, don’t start making Cam chuck the ball.  Stick to the plan.  Stubbornly if you have to.  In his first year of development you have to let Cam know that the game plan that the coaches have set up is the right way to go and should NEVER be abandoned.  Teams that have trust and faith in their coaching staff to put them in the right place always wind up winning games.  Faith and patience go a long way in the NFL.  Look at the Super Bowl run the Giants made in 2007 and then their first 11 games of 2008.  They stubbornly stayed with the running game even when teams were beating them and they always won because they forcefully displayed their will against their opponents.  That’s what winning teams do: impose their wills on other teams.

PATRIOTS (-20) over Colts-  Two more reasons that Peyton Manning should get some MVP consideration this year: this outrageous line and the fact that NBC chucked this game so far out of its rotation as quickly as it could because Peyton wasn’t playing that they almost tripped over themselves getting to the league office to try and get Giants/Packers (Fox protected it) or Lions and Saints which will now be flexed into Sunday Night.  By the way, here’s a theory for all you conspiracy nuts:  Have you noticed the crappy schedule ESPN got this year for their Monday Night Package?  It appears ex- ESPN chief was in charge of not only giving NBC its incredibly lucrative flex scheduling deal but also giving ESPN its latest which is not to say that its payback for his fall, but let’s just say its kind of dicey the way it all went down.

SAINTS (-9) over Lions-  Speaking of which, the Saints looked unstoppable on Monday night but that’s because the Giants defense were looking fifty different directions and never knew where to line up or where to go.  They were a hot mess the whole evening and trust me, the Saints didn’t do them any favors with the way they ran up the score.  That last touchdown was meant to send a message and let’s be honest, anyone who is crying about how disgraceful and unsportsmanlike it was needs to chill.  If you can’t STOP a team from scoring then get somebody who can.  The Saints were right to never take the foot off the pedal.  That mentality will be the ONLY thing that helps them beat the Packers if and when they meet again down the road in the playoffs.

As it relates to the Lions and mainly Ndamukong Suh.  Look, he had a dirty play which reminded NFL fans of his earlier shady plays.  Then his post game press conference was NOT an apology I don’t care WHAT he says.  Does he need counseling?  No.  He lets his emotions show during games which is a good thing.  BUT, this young man’s recent car crash shows that there is a very dizzying pattern that seems to be playing out.  The Lions need someone to talk to him.  They were IN that game against the Packers until Suh stepped on that Packer line man and then the Pack ran away with that game.  They need Suh long term to be the rock and the NFL wants Suh to be a prominent wheel in its promotional cog.  There’s a lot at stake and the NFL hopes that the Lions will take care of it.

Also is Roger Goodell trying to get a consulting job on the side? First he advises Michael Vick where to go and now he advises Suh to appeal?  Even though his appeal magically met earlier in the week and he lost it making him ineligible to play against the Saints after some furor broke out about the commissioner’s shady appeal for Suh to do so.  Hmmm.  You would think his 10 million salary would be enough, no?

Broncos (-1) over VIKINGS-  This game is a lot closer now that Von Miller is a game time decision.  With no AP though, I can’t give the Vikes an edge here and no matter what, you can’t go against Tebow right?

49ers (-13) over Rams-  Finally, a team that plays consistently across the board.  I know they will show up against the Rams who have been playing SLIGHTLY better these last few weeks.

Cowboys (-4.5) over CARDS-  You know that Patrick Peterson touchdown is coming.  You can feel it like I can, can’t you?

Packers (-6) over GIANTS-  IF the team that wore the Giants uniforms the last two weeks against Philly and the Saints show up, forget about this game and the season.  Those last two Cowboy games are for naught.  IF the Giants show some fight, and this is basically Custer’s last stand here for the G-Men, then they have a shot.  They certainly have the offense, with Bradshaw back, to score points.

Chargers (-3) over JAGUARS-  Barely.

Enjoy Week 13!

 

 

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Meet the Mess part 5020304?

Consider Friday’s news about the Mets as a good thing.  A sign that things are finally improving for the better.

A year ago, I may not have been so forgiving but at this point, who really cares?  At this point, the Mets are so far along in the punchline scale that its very difficult to see them recovering.

As a Met fan, I must admit the next few hundred or maybe thousand words (who knows where this will go and it may be fragmented arguments and a lot of run on thoughts about the Mets) may sound very redundant on the point I’ve been making about the Mets: the ownership situation has been the liability.

I”ve been pretty much anti-Coupon* family for a long time.  After 2006 in which everything went right for the Mets and there was actual hope within the organization the Mets began basically deconstructing a very good team in hopes that they could strike lightning in a bottle again.  For some time I, like many Met fans began putting it all on the lap of the General Manager Omar Minaya.  Usually the GM is the first people blame.

*= Coupon= Wilpons

But as I began reading more and more reports it became obvious that there was a higher power involved in personnel decisions.  Rumblings of GM’s complaining about Jeff Wilpon’s inclusion in the decision making process led many to believe that Minaya was more of a worker bee- given instructions by the Queen Bee and ordered to make it happen.

Many of the decisions that followed were done to improve the bottom line more so than the actual product on the field.  Many of their decisions had very little on building a good team as much as it had to do with building a good product.  The Mets became obsessed with big ticket items surrounded by middling salaried players.

I always felt that the Mets, in their minds, were competing with the Yankees.  They defended their decisions and poor results by saying that they were one of the Top 5 payrolls cluelessly not realizing that it was in that very argument that they were being made to look like fools.  A top 5 payroll and these are the results?

But nothing made me more aware of their absolute lack of common sense than when the Madoff Ponzi scheme came to light and rumors began swirling about the Coupon family’s involvement.  They weren’t in collusion with Bernie Madoff- they too were swindled for sums of cash.  That figure was kept under wraps but became fodder for writers to discuss and ponder over.

I would never suggest that the Coupons actually reveal the figure they lost, but their continued refusal to accept that it would affect the day to day operations for the Mets was comical.  How in the world could you stand to lose anywhere between $250-$700 million and insist to the fan base that this would NOT affect payroll?

It was then that the $145 million payroll became a burden than a badge of honor for the Wilpons.  The situation became even more dire when according to multiple reports Bud Selig, the Commissioner of baseball, had to get hands and “suggest”* that the Coupons hire Sandy Alderson who was at the time working for MLB in the Commissioner’s office coincidentally cleaning up another mess- the baseball academies in the Dominican Republic

*= read demand

The thing that always irked me about the Coupons was their insistence in pushing this myth of fiscal security down our throats.  While the Madoff scandal was breaking before our very eyes, it became clear that Sterling Equities, the Coupon family owned corporation and majority holder of the Mets, had taken a dent thanks to Bernie and Co.

They continued to insist to the fans that nothing would change and repeated so everyone could hear, that the Mets had one of the highest payrolls in baseball which to them may have sounded great but to me or any other fan with a clue sounded like a cop out.  An excuse that a major corporate CEO should never have to use to justify anything.  That’s like Terrell Owens’ financial adviser saying that he had $25 million reasons to live in response to allegations that he tried to take his own life.

Are you serious?  That’s what you’re going to say?  The Jason Bay signing was a mirage.  A move intended to shift the focus off of darker days ahead.  The day when the lie was no longer going to work.  That day came Friday.

Friday, like a kid who had no excuse left, tried one last ploy to ease concern.  Except like every move since 2006- it only created a bigger sense of worry.  The Mets announced Friday that they would look to sell 20-25% of minority stake in the Mets.  Which naturally begs the question: why would anyone go through such a risk?  They’d be paying to help ease the cost of bills when the truth behind the Madoff scandal comes out.

And this decision can make one assume that there is more revelations to come.  The Mets were seen as winners in the Madoff scandal when it was revealed that they had withdrawn somewhere between 40-50 million dollars.  Irving Picard, the man in charge with collecting money to pay back investors burned by Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, is going after the Wilpons and truth is no one really knows what he does.  In fact, it stands to reason that one should only assume the worst: that the Mets will owe between $700 million to $1 billion when all is said and done which will lead to the greatest thing this Met fan can ever hope to hear:  The Coupon family must sell the Mets.

To say that someone wouldn’t be interested in minority stake would be foolish.  If there is more bad news, whoever buys the 25% would stand to gain from the windfall as only Sterling Equities would be held accountable for the Madoff mess and would automatically give the minority owner exclusive rights to negotiate a purchase which is very appealing.

Let’s not forget that the Mets have several things going for them.  They are located in the world’s number one market, they have their own television network which is a cash cow.  They have a brand new stadium which, under the right ownership group and situation could make it a very lucrative building.  Also, more importantly, baseball will not allow the Mets to fold.  They have the might and backing of the league office which always helps.

Organizationally the Mets are headed in the right direction.  They are trimming payroll and refusing to get involved in long term contracts that make no sense.  Its incredible that GM’s get paid ridiculous sums to go out there and sign free agents to ridiculous deals but if there is ONE thing that’s very clear nowadays its this: most sports franchise owners have Jerry Jones syndrome.

They’d rather spend more time figuring out how to maximize their profit potential by building these crazy state of the art stadiums than actually go the time-tested formula of building a perennial contender that will actually draw fans into said building.  How is that such a difficult formula to go by?

The gift and curse of today’s society is technology.  Now that we’ve been given all this technology and ability to have all this information at our finger tips we’re now complaining that we have TOO much information as if that’s a bad thing.

Nowadays, you can Google anyone and find something about them that five years ago may not have been possible.  The biggest problem, the fastest rising tech company today (Facebook) faces is privacy concerns.  People are so scared that they will be found out on the internet for their weird tendencies that they don’t want anyone to know about.  Of course, that information ends up on the internet and it is very difficult to keep that from happening unless you’re like Mikhail Prokhorov and hate technology and computers and don’t believe in them like they are some myth concocted by teenage geeks who made everyone believe their fantasy world of Warcraft was some realistic universe that somehow NORMAL people are slowly becoming a part of.*

*= I have  very good excuse for that weird run on sentence.  A few days ago I had a conversation with a tech friend.  I’ve recently been on Engadget, CNet and other techy blogs and like any person who found this vast amount of information I naturally brought it up to friends who I felt would be versed in such things so I could know even more.  Needless to say, telling tech geeks about their own world is somehow insulting to them and they make this very earnest attempt to make you feel and sound stupid.  Its in the looks of bewilderment like for instance bringing up IPAD 2 and Iphone 5 rumors.  I read up on what NFC is and as a sports geek myself I made the joke about how before two weeks the only NFC I knew was in football.  There were crickets at night that were louder than the silence that I got on that joke.  He went on to tell me that this technology is the future but that word has been floating around for the last couple of years and most new products will include this technology which by the way is basically a way for you to pay for your Starbucks treinte with your cell phone.  But you get what I’m saying.  And before anyone makes the counter argument that sports geeks are the same way let me remind you that the stereotype is that we’re stupid morons with pot bellies and we’re in the beer and wings crowd and not the wine and cheese.  We don’t snub our noses at the novices, we merely detest people with ten thousand questions while the biggest game in the universe (that being whatever we’re presently watching) is going on.  Please don’t do that, there is a time and place for such things and THAT is not it.

But the idea that TOO much information is somehow bad is not true in every sector of society which includes sports management.  I’ve long been a fan of learning how championship teams are built.  There isn’t a formula involved that is true but there are a few maxims that General Managers hold on to: you need guys who keep the clubhouse loose- because when the going gets tough, they are the ones that will calm your superstars down by coming into the clubhouse and farting real loud.  They are as important to a team as the superstar.

A few years ago I wrote an article about what I felt was missing from the Mets and what changed in the locker room dynamic between 2006 and 2007.  How could the Mets go from being a dominant contender in 06 to a bunch of choke artists in 2007?  For one, David Wright who was their cornerstone player, did not have Cliff Floyd who was both mentor and best friend on the team.  He played a valuable role in teaching Wright, then a novice, on all things baseball related and always kept him comfortable even under the duress of the media maelstorm that is New York.  Most notably I remember a TRL appearance by David Wright where he brought along Cliff Floyd.  For some the guessture was nice but many stories after that intimated that Wright needed Floyd there to get over the nerves of being on national TV because he was only now coming into his own.

Missing players like that have been the Mets problem.  Which of course makes the entirety of the Mets product look shoddy.  Reyes, Wright, etc are not built to be leaders who can motivate a group and get them out of the doldrums of a losing season.  That attitude needs to be built in and come from somewhere which is why the Mets needed a Terry Collins type.

But that we’ll get to.  The Mets need more than just a fiery manager.  They need a culture shift which is what Sandy Alderson and staff hope to do.  They’ve spent pennies in comparison to the old regime and it doesn’t automatically invite parades but its nice to see business done in other ways.  That throwing money at a situation doesn’t make it ok.  That telling everyone about how much money you are spending isn’t going to make anyone respect you anymore.  That its about how you spend that money and not how much.

If this episode has taught us anything its this: the Coupons lie is finally coming to bite them where it hurts.  It is no longer a secret.  The Mets ownership group has to continue their coming clean act.  They have to be forthcoming in the next few months in order to put any rumors to rest.

What does that entail?  If the situation is as bad as everyone’s assuming, cut the crap Coupon family.  Just sell.  Don’t sell minority stakes and stave off the eventual: cut your losses and let go.  Their stubborn refusal is still evident when they made it a point to emphasize that this is NOT about them selling the team.

Its clear they know more than they are letting on and will allow the system to leak the information.  That eventually we will learn what they already know.  But here’s what I’ve known for a while now: the Wilpons are what’s wrong with the Mets.  They have never been completely honest about anything.  Its all coming back to haunt the Mets and honestly its about time.  The Mets ownership group needs new blood and not a moment sooner.

The front office looks solid and sounds like they know what they are doing, but given the Coupons history of being honest maybe they had no idea what they were getting into and the promise of reinvesting that 50-70 million that will come off the books may not be realistic.  We will get into that in part two of this.  But for now the message is clear: Sell Coupons.  Save yourselves and just sell the Mets and be on your way.  You’ve done more harm than good.  If you love the Mets as much as you say you do then just sell the team to people who will do something with them.

 

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Risky Equation

The Mets announced Mike Pelfrey as their Opening Day starter this week to the surprise of no one. No one was surprised because no one probably cared.

The Mets are not expected to go very far this year. If you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t have a direct feed of ESPN- the Philadelphia Phillies fresh off losing the NLCS, the third consecutive Championship they went to and the first they lost during that span, went and decided that 3 aces weren’t enough, they needed another one. Thus the Cliff Lee saga, which had dragged the Yankees and Rangers for far too long had revealed itself as one big con job, dragged long enough to bring in the team he had always wanted to be on- the Phillies.

While downtown Philly is preparing for what should be the most exciting summer in ages and quite possibly a very historic one- down the turnpike things were uncharacteristically quiet.

While the Yankees were licking their wounds and spending their money like spoiled trust fund babies (see signing of most expensive set up man- Rafael Soriano), the Mets went a separate route altogether.

The Mets finally decided that in order to win and defeat the Yankees they couldn’t go about it the same way they always had: trying to go dollar for dollar with them. If you bring your payroll to $150 million they will go up to $200 million. They have the history and mystique that not many teams in all of SPORTS have.

They needed to be successful going a different route. Call it smalll market mentality with a big market budget. More emphasis on amateur scouting. Shorter contracts that would give the team flexibility in the future. A deeper statistical analysis on players to assign a dollar value to any potential free agents. A team run as a corporate business basically.

From the day that Sandy Alderson took over he spoke about how much the Mets had to spend given their current budget entering the year. Their eyes were fixed on 2011 when almost $60 million would come off their budget.

His honesty was like a breath of fresh air. For a long time, the Mets front office- perhaps instructed by the Wilpons- were told to be as evasive as they could be about what ability financially they had to make moves leaving Met fans to come to the conclusion that while charging high ticket prices and concessions the Mets were not doing everything possible to be a winner like the Yankees did. If they had the money, and continued to charge the fans what they did, why not put that back into the team?

Make no mistake, their sudden change in philosophy has PLENTY to do with the still unclear Bernie Madoff scandal. Only the Wilpons know what amount was taken by Mr Madoff but it doesn’t take a genius to see that even the Wilpons couldn’t keep stretching the lie that the Mets were unaffected by the Madoff scandal.

But this is a natural step if the idea was for the Mets to be more fiscally responsible. In the present economic climate, being able to save is key and the Mets are now employing three of the more well known names who pushed the whole statistical model long before it became status quo.

Sure the Mets are late to the dance but better late than never right? But like I said before its no koinky dink that this suddenly financial stinginess was a necessary attribute in the next GM after the cloudiness of the whole Madoff situation.

So the Mets are more careful about who they spend their money on. So its relievers on one and two year (max) contracts. Minor league contracts for players they are taking shots in the dark on. That’s wise decision making on the Mets behalf. Its about calculated risks and no one has geekier calculators then Alderson’s gang.

So what’s the consensus on this group? It could be a wild success or what every Met fan feels will happen: the Mets will be a third place team at best and maybe a last place team at worst.

But here’s what we do know: they aren’t giving up the farm for anyone. They promised to use the big market dollars on the draft so they are saving up their pennies by signing the Chris Young’s of the world. Offering carrot-on-stick incentives to players so there isn’t terrible risk and, if things go well, a whole a lot of reward.

I suppose in the end, the Mets 2011 season is just one big risk or reward scenario. I just hope our set of stat geeks have the right formula for success.

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Thoughts on the manager.

I listened to the interviews. I read the analysts. I spoke and heard the opinions of the fans. Then Sunday, I got the news alert on my cell phone: Terry Collins, 61, named 20th manager in Mets history.

I saw it, and moved on. That’s it.

Not to sound like a buzz kill, but I was muted in response for a reason. I often find myself reacting to every single bit of Met news like its personal. When its your favorite team, ideas like family, loyalty etc begin to over take any bit of reason. Which is why I’m happy these last few seasons happened.

Like a girl who gets walked all over by her man, one day I woke up and decided that I wasn’t going to take it anymore. Not that I don’t care anymore, no. But I won’t be suckered into anything anymore. I refuse to be reeled in.

So the Mets couldve hired a manager who hadn’t managed in over a decade, alienated almost every team he had coached, and was seen as too high strung for a high profile job like one in NYC. And the Mets couldve overlooked the overwhelming fan favorite in this managerial search, a member of the 1986 world champion Mets*, a fiery personality who certainly would have had people coming back to Citi Field considering the last few seasons and especially since new GM Sandy Alderson has said over and over again that they have no plans to dip into the top end of the free agent pool meaning no Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford.
*= the 86 Mets are remembered like no other team in the history of sports. They won the world series and had a cast of characters that, if you add the fact that they played in New York, makes them larger than life.

The Mets hired the former, taking their chances on the guy with major league experience while holding onto the fan favorite as an escape clause in case the Terry town experience doesn’t go as planned.

And what’s planned? Let me take a crack at it. Collins was given a 2 year contract. Wally Backman will likely be given a promotion in the minors and stashed away for a later date. In baseball terms, think of Terry Collins as the starter in the 8th inning, with runners on 2nd and 3rd protecting a lead. The manager has made his trip to the mound and given him a chance to get out of the inning. Backman is the closer. He will come in at some point and end this game.*
*= here’s your analogy key
Game= win a championship
Manager= Sandy Alderson

But its clear the Mets front office brought in Collins to clean the operation up and sets up Backman very well. Collins major selling point was teaching and his major role over the next two years is to motivate the Mets and create a new clubhouse culture that is more conducive to winning. And you need a Type A personality to fight those battles with players who may be used to getting their way too often.

Backman will enter his first managerial position with a team full of young homegrown players, taught to play the game the right way and his job will be to manage, which he’s shown he’s pretty good at already.

But that’s just an opinion of a clear headed Met fan who now can see the light. I’m removed from the B.S. of it all which sapped my energy.

Aldersons job is to get a fan like me back into the fold. The Mets have one of the most passionate fan bases. We aren’t devoid of bandwagoners, because if we’ve learned anything, its that America loves teams with tortured histories (They gravitate to them like leeches for God knows what reason) but we aren’t as bad as some.

Butt I like being here. I’m not at happy hours watching the Mets lose on a summer night. I’m not checking scores on my phone during dinner. I’m not on Metsblog.com everyday hitting refresh just to see if the Mets are trading for/linked to a free agent.*
*= I’m going to act like I never wrote this paragraph in about 6 months, I know it.

I’m not even negative nancy waiting for the Mets to screw up. I’m just here, void of feelings, still in love but a lot more cool about it.

Maybe I’m just writing to convince myself. Maybe its easier for me to tell myself this to save myself the misery. Maybe I had to write it down in order for it to stick. Who knows?

What I do know is this: the Mets are operating under a new vision. It may not be what we want, but I suppose having a plan is a good thing. A plan that accounts for the organization. A plan that looks to the long term. All I can do is believe that that’s what’s happening. If it doesn’t happen, just know I won’t be crying in my room. I will be living my life. Life goes on.

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Ken Griffey: Hall of Fame Player and Person.

It figures that Ken Griffey Jr, the best pure* slugger of our time, would end his career as a controversial subject was sweeping Major League Baseball.

*= We really don’t need to get into the asterisk.

After 22 seasons, Ken Griffey Jr called it quits and everyone was too busy looking somewhere else and its a shame. When he came up he was THE phenom. Nineteen years old, getting asked questions by reporters, hat turned backwards and smacking homeruns like it was a video game. That is quintessential Junior.

No one in baseball was cooler. No one since Willie Mays was more athletic. No one had his talent oozing from his pores. He was going to dominate baseball for a long time.

But something funny happened. His career took a tragic turn. He aged like you and me. Heroes aren’t supposed to decline at the “prime” of their career. Heroes aren’t supposed to be injured the way Grifffey was. His signing with the Reds was supposed to be the homecoming of all homecomings. His father after all played for the Big Red Machine and Griffey grew up in the Cincinatti area where he played baseball and football.

But it didn’t happen like that. Griffey’s knees began to hurt, his back began to ache, his legs gave way and his career did the same. From 2002-2004, Griffey missed 260 of a possible 486 games. He missed significant time during his tenure as a Cincinatti Red, something that diminished his reputation.

But it shouldn’t have. For all his injuries, for all the decline there is something heroic and just in the decisions that he DIDNT make. For instance, while its impossible to absolutely know for sure whether he did or did not do steroids, given his injury history, he either took the worst kind of steroids out there or he didn’t take them.

While his peers were dabbling in steroids, Griffey got by with natural talent and allowed nature to take its course. He wasn’t going to allow himself to cheat and disgrace the game his father had taught him. He wasn’t going to go back on his responsibility as an ambassador to the game and a role model to kids everywhere, like me.

I was a young 9 year old the first time I ever saw Griffey on tv. The good thing about TV for a sports beginner is that the camera always fixates on one player and thus the viewer is able to immediately recognize the star. Naturally it was fixated on Griffey and eventually covers of magazines, Wheaties boxes and Nike shoe-lines only confirmed what I learned that day.

More so, I remember 1995 during the ALDS, I was a New York fan back then*, and my favorite baseball player was Don Mattingly so naturally I was rooting for the Yankees. As you know the Mariners rallied back to tie the series after being down 2-0 and they won the fifth game in 11 innings when Griffey scored on a double by Edgar Martinez, all the way from 1st. It was one of those iconic moments that you will always remember because it was the final game as a Yankee for Mattingly and it shouldve marked the beginning of a Mariner dynasty, but it never came to be despite fielding a team with Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and a young Alex Rodriguez over the next few years.

*= how far I’ve come as a human being don’t you think?

Let’s not forget how important that ALDS was to the overall reputation of Major League baseball which was recovering from the strike in 1994.
A team that was constantly on the list of teams for contraction, Griffey saved Seattle from the fate its basketball team suffered. Griffey and the Mariners overall emergence made Seattle-ites (yeah I know), ok a measure to raise funding to build Safeco Field which is widely known in the greater Seattle region as the “House that Griffey Built.”

In the end when his career didn’t go the way he liked in Cincinatti, a place he got traded to so he could be closer to home and raise his kids (who could argue with that logic), Griffey came back to the franchise that made him famous. Last year during their final game after finishing with an improbable 85-77 record, they took laps around the stadium and even hoisted Junior on their shoulders in tribute. Griffey always had the reputation of being a wonderful clubhouse presence and many Mariners vouched for him in that respect.

He had gracefully aged with the game. He never sought steroids to make him be the best he couldve been. Perhaps in a moment of absolute honest he will look back at his career and think, what if I never had terrible luck with injuries? What if I were healthy?

He leaves the game with 630 homeruns but not the home run title like many had assumed he would. But, he leaves with so much more than that. He leaves the game with his head held high and honor intact. His career headstone and hall of fame plaque should read: Here lies Ken Griffey Junior, the real Ken Griffey. Never a cheater, gave his all to the game and all the fans who ever cared for its sanctity. Though nature robbed him of his peak years it never robbed him of his integrity.

Thank you Junior.

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