This is Matt Harvey. Accept it and move on.

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey pic

Matt Harvey is trying to have a life comparable to that of Derek Jeter and Tom Brady sans the on-field production. With his latest foray into the gossip columns occurring simultaneous to his on-field future being in flux, it’s time for the Mets to accept that this is what Harvey is. There won’t be an awakening that he needs to focus primarily on his pitching and making as much money as he possibly can in his rapidly approaching free agency. There won’t be a more subdued off-field lifestyle. And there won’t be a “new” Matt Harvey in any way but as a statement that sounds good.

This is not to imply that he should stay home and watch TV, never leaving the house; but the intentional attempt to get his name and face in the gossip columns was growing tiresome when he was at his peak. Now that he’s trying to regain some semblance of what he lost, it’s growing offensive. The attention he gets from the images kissing models and partying late into the night is not a matter of circumstance. It’s intentional quid pro quo. Someone – whether it was the public relations representatives of Adriana Lima, Harvey or both – contacts the columnists and makes sure that the date will garner the desired attention and buzz. This is a fundamental reality of the trade-off between a famous person and the paparazzi. Harvey, however, does not need this type of attention just now. While spring training is essentially meaningless for a veteran player who is just trying to get in shape for the season, for a player – particularly a pitcher – like Harvey returning from a serious injury and two years away from free agency, it minimally behooves him to just show up, stay out of the limelight, do his work and party without the glare of the flashbulbs and the viral media attention endlessly shared in a hollow attempt to play the rock star when it’s unknown as to whether he can hit the same cords he once did.

Harvey has courted drama and the wrong kind of attention for much of his major-league career. The Mets looked the other way and shrugged because of his excellence on the field and that he was the clear star of their universe, for better or worse. Now, though, he’s their fourth starter behind Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Should Zack Wheeler prove himself healthy enough to start, Robert Gsellman replicates his surprising 2016 performance and Seth Lugo shows his workmanlike production, Harvey could find himself behind all of them.

The time for granting him passes, laughing and shrugging is over. He wants to be Jeter, but is turning into Bo Belinsky: someone whose fame is due to off-field pursuits rather than as a natural result of on-field performance. To make matters worse, Syndergaard has taken over as the man about town and is doing so in a more media savvy and salable way for himself and the organization.

Eventually, it gets to a point where the drama is no longer self-created as means to an end, but is just who he is. From the Scott Boras demands for Harvey’s innings limits to missing team workouts to the spate of injuries and talk-talk-talk of how he wants greatness but still pops up in the front of the newspaper rather than the back, the Mets are not motivated to placate Harvey or Boras any longer. Protecting him is not in their best interests because signing him to a long-term contract is not happening. He is not the type of person in whom a long-term, $100 million-plus investment is a wise one and every team that considers him will ask itself the hard question of whether he’s going to take the money and lose interest in being a baseball player. By now, it’s clear that the team that does it won’t be the Mets. With that, they need to wring him out, get what they can from him and move forward. Whether that parting of the ways is achieved through a trade or allowing him to leave as a free agent depends on his performance. Either way, he can be someone else’s distraction. It’s enough already.

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Jose Fernandez and politically correct delusion

MLB

Jose Fernandez

The only shocking part of the news that not only was Jose Fernandez on the speedboat at 3 a.m., drunk and high on cocaine, but that he was driving the boat is that there are a great number of people who are surprised.

In the initial hours after his death, there were the long-distance eulogies and lamentations over the unfairness of a life being snuffed out so senselessly and suddenly. After the toxicology report was released revealing that he had been using cocaine it evolved into a “yeah but” implying that he placed himself in that situation, but it does not diminish what a good person he was. Now the goalposts are moved again. Eventually, when it’s more palatable, there will be more and more voices saying that Fernandez did this to himself and, unfortunately, he took two others with him; that it’s lucky he didn’t kill any innocent bystanders who happened to cross his path amid his recklessness.

The cause and effect of his death places the onus squarely on Jose Fernandez. Had he not been on a boat, speeding over the coal black water, high on cocaine and drunk, he would not have died. It’s that simple. That’s not an indictment of his abilities or his overall good-heartedness and enthusiasm, but a bare fact that is being obscured within the attempts to make him into something more than what he was: a 24-year-old who did a stupid thing that a lot of 24-year-olds do and had the money to do bigger and riskier, stupid things that he’d probably done before and gotten away with, but didn’t this time.

Of course, there are teams that know their players are indulging in recreational drugs and fans will wonder why they don’t do something about it. The answer is simple and comes in the form of a rhetorical question: What are they supposed to do? Had the Marlins known or found out about Fernandez’s drug use, whether it was recreational or he was an addict, and ordered him to go into rehab, what if he said no? If the Marlins told him he’d be out of a job were he to refuse their order for him to get treatment, there would only have been 29 other teams for whom he could work and wouldn’t just give him a chance, but would fight over his services and pay him a lot of money to play for them, drugs or not.

Here’s a fact: Had Fernandez gotten through his wild night of partying unscathed, he would have done it again. And if the Marlins had known about it or his drug use, they would have shrugged amid the reality of not being able to stop it.

This is a concession in every sport and for every organization.

Sports is a moneymaking, performance-based endeavor. While there is a façade of uprightness and fan-friendliness, it comes down to winning and making money. If the players are performing in such a way that they can do their jobs and help the team make money – hopefully even playoff money – then the organization will turn its head and look the other way because it benefits them.

So after all the tears and the what might have beens about Fernandez’s career, it ends with him having been directly responsible for the crash that led to his death.

None of that diminishes the gifts he possessed and what the baseball world will be deprived of because he’s gone; that his newly born infant daughter will not have her father and she won’t even have a chunk of his fortune because of the wrongful death lawsuits that the family is destined to lose – and probably settle out of court – because of this new information. But it does place into context a fundamental truth that the mythmakers of the Spartan ideal of athletes would have the customers believe and openly promote while knowing what’s really happening behind the scenes, one that should have been discarded long ago.

Why a veteran player like Brett Lawrie would be released in March

MLB

brett-lawrie

The initial (over)reaction to the Chicago White Sox release of a relatively limited player with the known history of Brett Lawrie originates from the somewhat surprising nature of it, that he’s an “I recognize that guy” player, and that the club could have non-tendered him during the offseason and saved themselves the trouble of retaining him and then changing their minds.

However, there are several justifications for the club to have operated in the manner it did with Lawrie serving as a symbol for what an organization takes into consideration when mapping out their plans. Let’s look at the reasoning of a move not just as it pertains to Lawrie and the White Sox, but in general.

Money

Lawrie was set to earn $3.5 million in 2017, his final season under team control before free agency. In context, that’s not a lot of money. However, the White Sox are embarking on a long-overdue rebuild. For teams that are planning for an unknown future, there are categories into which players are placed:

  • There are the stars who are judged as to whether they will be useful once the background characters are ready to make significant contributions and if it is worth it to retain them or trade them for a large package of youngsters.
  • There are the young, unknown players set to be assessed and given opportunities to be part of that future.
  • Then there are the middling players like Lawrie who are useful on a good team as long as they’re not too heavily relied upon, but not integral nor indispensable.

Given the timing of the release, once Lawrie clears waivers – and he will – the White Sox are responsible for $570,000 of that $3.5 million. With the hamstring injury that shelved him for the final two months-plus of the 2016 season and that he’s still suffering from its lingering effects and has not played yet in 2017 spring training, it made no sense to move forward with him considering the twin realities between player and team. The money is better spent elsewhere or saved entirely.

This is not a decision based on cheapness, but one of frugality. There’s a difference. If a club releases the aforementioned “known” player in spring training who, if healthy, has moderate value, the dollars are a factor for every team including those that spend in the upper tier of baseball like the White Sox, at the top tier like the Los Angeles Dodgers, or the lower end like the Tampa Bay Rays.

His playing time was not guaranteed.

Veteran Todd Frazier is a third baseman. The White Sox have Matt Davidson, whose minor league numbers show that he at least deserves an extended look. Yoan Moncada, the centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade, has played some third base, but is primarily a second baseman.

In short, was there a benefit to keeping Lawrie?

Lawrie is intense and plays the game with an edge. In the past, he’s gone over the edge. There have never been known complaints about his attitude, but as he heads for free agency for a rebuilding team, there was no guarantee that he was going to get to play even if he was 100 percent healthy.

Players across the board whether perceived as “all about team” or “all about the me” have it in the backs of their mind that they want to get paid. For them to get paid, they have to play regularly.

Similarly, it’s a precarious situation for new manager Rick Renteria. Renteria is widely acknowledged a players’ manager, but he can still be sabotaged by circumstances as he was in his first chance at a big league managing job with the crosstown Cubs.

When a veteran player who has his own interests on the front burner, there could easily be an undercurrent of resentment that can infest a clubhouse and negatively impact young, impressionable players. As the video clip above indicates, Lawrie can explode. Even the most mild-mannered player can express his displeasure with numerous people – like the manager – caught in the crossfire.

This does not indicate that a player who is at least passively considering his future is to be reflexively labeled a “bad” guy, but that it could cause an issue when he’s sitting in favor of the unproven because the team knows what he is and needs to know what the other guys are.

Injuries and performance

Were Lawrie healthy, the White Sox could have held onto him and waited until midseason to see what they could get for him in a trade. If they were hell bent on playing Davidson, Moncada, et, al., they could have simply waited until the last few days of spring training, checked with teams who were weathering injuries on the infield, and moved him for a prospect.

But he’s not.

Teams who release a player at this juncture are doing so for a reason. Lawrie is precisely the player the White Sox thought they were getting when they acquired him from the Oakland Athletics for two low-level prospects. He’ll hit a few homers, play a solid second and third base, strike out a lot, post a low on-base percentage, and be a complementary piece. The problem for the White Sox is they they need frontline players, not complementary pieces. It took years for them to come to the acceptance phase of that reality and after annually spending, filling in and continuing to use the same antiquated playbook they did a decade ago when general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen won the 2005 World Series with a cast of reclamation projects, attitude issues and castoffs, they finally started to rebuild in earnest acquiring massive packages of prospects in trades of Sale and Adam Eaton. They’re doing so with the data-centric Rick Hahn making the decisions. The previous blueprint would likely have meant keeping Lawrie.

More trades are likely coming and the list of players who will yield notable prospects – Jose Abreu, Frazier and David Robertson – does not include Lawrie.

Courtesy.

The earlier he’s free to look for other opportunities, the better it is for him to find one. And he will find one. It certainly won’t be for the $3.5 million guarantee he had with the White Sox, but once he shows he’s healthy, he can get a million-dollar base salary with a multitude of incentives to reach and perhaps surpass that original dollar amount.

Players in Lawrie’s category of not reaching All-Star status, but being of some use will frequently ask the club to allow them to move on if there’s not a legitimate opportunity and clubs will respond by granting that request provided it’s not a player they can trade for value. Players know which teams are willing to be agreeable in this manner and which are unabashedly business-centric with the players functioning as little more than faceless chattel. The White Sox had multiple dustups with players over the past year over silly off-field issues and any amount of goodwill they can engender will only help them.

***

This decision might have seemed unusual, but it’s not. It’s going to happen again and with Lawrie as an example of why it’s done, the questions are not as necessary when it happens.