The Mets have 3 viable options with Matt Harvey

MLB

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey’s mechanics are a mess and his confidence is shot. This sounds like a recurring theme because it is a recurring theme.

After another objectively terrible outing against the Braves in Atlanta – six innings, eight hits, six earned runs – Harvey was defiant to the mere suggestion that he might be headed to the bullpen.

Short of that, it’s a mystery as to what else they can do with him. This is the third consecutive year in which the results are identical despite injury excuses, changes, tweaks, new voices, new training tactics and other attempts to recreate some semblance of what he was from 2012 to 2015. It’s not working. Unlike past years, the Mets have major league arms to replace him and are no longer kowtowing to him and his agent Scott Boras. It’s either produce or…what? That’s the question.

It’s silly to say that Harvey is “done” when he can still hit the mid-90s with his fastball. To say that he’s done with the Mets as an effective and useful pitcher is not. Repairing him will take time and work that the Mets, in their current construction, do not have.

The idea of the minor leagues has been floated, but given Harvey’s veteran status and that his approval would be needed for him to be sent down, that will not happen.

As things stand now, the Mets have three alternatives:

1) Give Harvey another start.

2) Send him to the bullpen.

3) Come up with a phantom injury (hamstring tweak; tired arm), disable him while they figure out where to go next, and save him the embarrassment of a demotion.

One thing is certain: if this team has any serious aspirations for 2018, they can’t keep putting this version of Harvey out on the mound.

This is where the situation grows complicated. In the immediate aftermath of Thursday night’s game, Harvey’s insistence that he’s a starting pitcher sounded more plaintive than confident. With manager Mickey Callaway saying that the club is unsure as to whether Harvey will make his next start, this can quickly spiral into a familiar fight between player and club with the main difference being that Harvey’s leverage is gone. If he reverts to the same diva-like behaviors he exhibited in his heyday – behaviors the Mets had no choice but to grit their teeth and accept – and he refuses a move to the bullpen, won’t go to the minors and is openly challenging the new manager and pitching coach, then they must get him out of the clubhouse.

Harvey and agent Scott Boras are smart enough to realize that this situation goes beyond his remaining time with the Mets. He’s auditioning for a job with another team in 2019. Whereas as recently as 2016, he and Boras were expecting a nine-figure bidding war for his free agent services, he’s now staring into the abyss of a one-year contract rife with incentives or even a minor-league contract. With that being the case, the overwhelming likelihood is that Harvey will publicly backtrack on his “I’m a starter” rhetoric, be a team player and say he’ll do whatever is best for the team.

But what’s best for the team? That’s what they’re trying to figure out and there’s no easy answer…if there is one at all.

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What’s next for the Reds after firing Bryan Price?

MLB

Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Bryan Price (38)

The Reds firing manager Bryan Price should come as no surprise. Their won/lost record of 3-15 is terrible in any context, but it’s incidental when determining Price’s fate. As discussed in my post for FanRag Sports here, Price had little chance of retaining the job beyond this season and if things went badly, it made sense to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.

Price was in a bad spot from the get-go when he got the job in 2014. Replacing Dusty Baker and taking over a team that made three postseason appearances under Baker and never gotten beyond the first round, hiring Price was change for its own sake. He just happened to be the guy sitting next to Baker who was not a Baker acolyte and got the opportunity for a limited level of continuity to see if the same core of players would have different luck with a new manager. They didn’t. In Price’s first year, they finished at 76-86. Then the housecleaning started in earnest. From there, he was a “bridge” manager who would oversee a rebuild and whose expertise – pitching – was the area in which their new foundation was to be built. Acquiring talented young arms Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo among others was the basis of the rebuild. They had some decent power bats and could build around veteran star Joey Votto as the linchpin of the offense.

No one, least of all the Reds, were expecting the club to vault into contention in 2018. In a National League Central with the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers, there was essentially no chance of that. But when the season began and the Reds found themselves buried after three weeks even with those three competitors struggling, what was the purpose of delaying the inevitable and letting Price twist in the wind?

Jim Riggleman has been named as the interim manager. The club made certain to emphasize the word “interim.” This is familiar terrain for the veteran baseball man Riggleman having been the guy sitting next to the guy who got fired and taking over in similar circumstances as manager of the Padres, Mariners and Nationals.

For those scoffing at Riggleman and pejoratively labeling him as an old-school retread, he’s a good baseball man who will, at minimum, stabilize the situation as they decide on their direction.

And what direction is that?

Immediately, speculation centered around three names: Barry Larkin, John Farrell and Joe Girardi.

Larkin is a Reds icon and baseball Hall of Famer. He was a great player and is a good, well-spoken person. He’s expressed an interest in managing. Owner Bob Castellini likes “name” managers – that’s how Baker got the job in the first place – and Larkin fits that criteria.

However, there are dangers with this kind of hire. First, what exactly are Larkin’s managerial credentials? Being a great player does not imply that he or anyone will be a great manager. In fact, it’s generally the opposite. The better players are often terrible managers because they grow frustrated with players being unable to perform as easily or as intelligently as they did. “I did it, why can’t you do it?”

The problem with hiring Larkin goes beyond his inexperience. Placing a young president of baseball operations and general manager, Dick Williams, in a position where he has foisted upon him a manager who is clearly not of his choosing figuratively castrates him. If Larkin doesn’t work out as manager, the club will be confronted with the choice of firing and creating a rift with a popular player and personality who happens to be from Cincinnati; or retaining him not because of his work, but because they don’t want to create a rift with a popular player and personality. Hiring someone who is bulletproof from being fired is not a good thing and there’s no guarantee he can do the job. Fans don’t go to games to see a manager manage if the team is terrible, so why risk it?

Farrell was mentioned in the FanRag post as the obvious successor. The Reds hired him as a scout. Perhaps the implied hesitation of the Riggleman interim hire is so Farrell can gauge the organization before taking over on the field. He’s not great, but he does come with a certain cachet after winning the World Series with the Red Sox and is a good pitching coach. While Price is also a good pitching coach, the pitchers have stagnated, regressed or gotten injured under his stewardship, so maybe a different voice is all that is needed.

The idea of Girardi might be alluring to Castellini, but this is not a good fit for Girardi. He won’t want to go to a team that is still in need of retooling. As the Yankees struggle without him, it would be understandable if he sits on the sideline, does some broadcasting, and has his Yankees tenure look better and better as the team tries to find its footing with new manager Aaron Boone. Two jobs that immediately that immediately come to mind as better fits for Girardi are the Cardinals and the White Sox. For him to jump back in with the Reds smacks of desperation to take a job, any job, and that’s something Girardi neither needs to do nor should do.

Price was not the problem, but he was not the solution either. Therefore, firing him was justified.

The clock is ticking on Matt Harvey

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey pic

After Matt Harvey’s performance on Saturday night, the clock is ticking on his time in the Mets starting rotation. The days of placating him, giving him rope, hoping and waiting for him to regain what injuries and perhaps self-abuse and age-related decline took from him ended when the club moved on from manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen. Mickey Callaway, Dave Eiland and the new staff are taking no prisoners and are not letting sentiment interfere with doing what is best for the team and organization. Should Harvey continue to show the same stuff he has in his first three starts, this does not bode well for him.

Brave fronts and sunny assessments aside, Harvey was serviceable and lucky in his first start against the Phillies, mediocre in his second start against the Nationals, and poor at best in his third start against the Brewers. The same relentlessly positive statements about his first start were said whenever he didn’t get blasted in 2016 and 2017. It’s forced and subjective. Certainly, injuries are a part of that, but he has not been consistently good since 2015. He’s bluffing and trying to get by when a pitcher with his talents never needed to do so. As he approaches 30, learning to survive rather than effortlessly dominate will take time and dedication; two things the Mets do not and should not have regarding their erstwhile marquee star.

Ironically, Harvey’s final glorious moment with the Mets was Game 5 of the 2015 World Series when he convinced Collins to allow him to try and finish the complete game shutout, and was left on the mound as the Royals staged a rally to tie the game. The Mets lost the the World Series that night. Since then, for Harvey, it’s been a plummet with that moment, arguably, the first step off the cliff.

But none of that matters now.

The time for blame and search for explanations as to what happened to the guy who looked like a carbon copy of the mid-1980s Roger Clemens and has degenerated into someone’s 2019 reclamation project is over. The Mets are not blameless in what’s happened to Harvey and pinpointing exactly where he and they went wrong is impossible. However, it is inaccurate to absolve him of any role in the affair simply because he’s gutting his way through as best he can and he maintains that level of competitiveness as his abilities have declined so markedly. The late nights, diva-like behavior, inexcusable tardiness to the park, needless disputes between the club with agent Scott Boras as his frontman, endless tabloid drama that he seemed to foster intentionally – and that’s just the stuff that was reported and became public – were all Harvey. If the club bears any responsibility for it, it’s that they let it pass without telling him enough was enough and they weren’t protecting him, nor were they letting him slide because he was “special.”

Eventually, they did suspend him in May of 2017, but by then, what difference did it make? Suspending him earlier in his career would have been for his own good. Suspending him in 2017 was for the club’s own good because then at least he wouldn’t be pitching – and that’s with his replacement for his scheduled start, journeyman Adam Wilk, getting pummeled by the Marlins.

Fortunately for the Mets and not so much for Harvey, the club does not need to keep putting him out there every fifth day, hoping for a miraculous return to glory. They don’t have to concern themselves with getting something from him at any juncture beyond this season. Most importantly, the Mets are no longer stuck in the “we don’t have anyone else” trap. They do have someone else. In fact, they have two someone elses. Zack Wheeler’s encouraging performance against the Marlins on Wednesday could have been an anomaly, but when comparing his stuff to Harvey’s, Wheeler might be able to get away with missing his spots and being the same scatterarmed entity he’s been for his entire career and still be more trustworthy. Jason Vargas will eventually be ready to pitch and he’s entering the starting rotation, period.

Something’s got to give. Someone’s got to go. If, under Callaway, the Mets are adhering to the meritocracy template that Collins often spoke of but rarely followed through upon, then Harvey will need to become a third multi-inning reliever along with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, help as much as he can, wait for the clock to run out on his time with the Mets when both sides can move on.

With Harvey’s pending free agency and the percentage of Harvey and the Mets remaining together beyond this season comparable to the chances of Jennifer Lopez leaving Alex Rodriguez for Michael Kay – theoretically, it could happen, but it won’t – there is no reason for the Mets to put forth any pretense of fixing or showing reverence to Harvey for what he was three-plus years ago. And if this is what he is, a team with the rising expectations that go along with an 11-2 start cannot waste games with Harvey, whose reputation was built long ago with the club not under any obligation to be beholden to it anymore.

For the Nationals, it’s early…but

MLB, Uncategorized

Harper pic

Like any rivalry, the barking between fans of the New York Mets and Washington Nationals descends into the absurd, truthful though it may be. Repeatedly referencing the Nationals four shots at the playoffs and four first round playoff losses in the Bryce HarperStephen Strasburg years is undoubtedly accurate, but it’s not as if the Mets have won a championship during that time to accord them an unassailable argument to validate the mocking.

Still, the Mets won the pennant in 2015. The Nationals are saddled with not just the inability to get beyond the first round, but also the 2015 implosion that allowed the Mets to pass, lap and embarrass them, and a dwindling amount of time to make good on a cycle of seven years in which they had the most talent in baseball, all the pieces in place for a dynasty and are on the verge of letting it slip away. If it comes completely undone in the first month of what could be Harper’s last season as a National is more apropos than tragic.

The same Nationals fans who roll their eyes at Mets fans’ ridicule and seek to dismiss the Mets’ searing start as if order will be restored in due time are eliciting a sense of “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Already being six games out of first place after two weeks is not something to cavalierly dismiss. It’s not just that the Nationals have fallen so far behind so fast, but the way they’ve done it should be especially worrisome with a rapid spiral an increasingly possible outcome.

Even with a hedging halfway projection in the five games between Saturday and Wednesday, the Nationals could find themselves nine games out of first place with two weeks remaining in the first month of the season.

The Nationals have reason to reference injuries as a cause of their early-season struggles – a cause, but not the cause. The Mets had the same justification, well, forever and the Nationals showed no sympathy in beating them brutally. Why should the Mets not reciprocate when their rival is bruised and bleeding?

Daniel Murphy is still recovering from knee surgery and Adam Eaton has a bone bruise. Those are two key components from their lineup who are missing. Their starting pitching has been predictably excellent. The bullpen has been mediocre. What accounts for their 6-8 record at this writing is their offense. Ryan Zimmerman’s lack of game action in spring training was shrugged off as a tactical decision, but a .424 OPS and a 16 OPS+ after 47 plate appearances indicates that, yeah, maybe at-bats in minor-league games to keep him healthy for the regular season was not the best idea in the world.

Trea Turner has a slash of .208/.333/.283; Michael Taylor is at .160/.192/.180. Without Murphy and Eaton, not even a megastar like Harper and the embarrassingly underrated star Anthony Rendon can make up for that.

There is no answer to the question as to whether this would be happening to the Nationals had they not retreated to their familiar template of blame and cheapness with a key factor in success and failure — the manager — and given Dusty Baker the contract extension he earned not only with back-to-back division titles, but by cleaning up the mess left behind by the manager he replaced, Matt Williams.

Williams’s resume is eerily comparable to that of the manager they hired to replace Baker, Dave Martinez. Sabermetric advocates loathe Baker and love Martinez due largely to his longstanding affiliation with Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and his familiarity with the numbers-based, new age style utilized by the Cubs and before that the Tampa Bay Rays. Baker’s strength was never strategic. His strength is running the clubhouse and gaining favor with the players because they knew he had their backs and would let them do their jobs without constantly being in their faces. Results are what they are. Baker got them. Martinez is not.

An overriding concern should not be falling so far behind this quickly, but players like Harper, Murphy and Gio Gonzalez seeing where the season is headed and thinking of their pending free agency rather than salvaging what could be a lost cause by May. Harper in particular could have as much as half-a-billion dollars riding on this season. Does a desperate run and the work necessary to salvage a Wild Card justify risking that by diving, running into walls and busting on every play?

Yes, it’s early. No, the Mets and their fans should not be gloating. But that does not dispel the concerns that should be reverberating for the Nationals, because they are very real even in mid-April with 90 percent of the season remaining.

On Jason Heyward, the Cubs and Theo Epstein’s philosophy

MLB, Uncategorized

Heyward

Baseball general managers have their philosophies that frequently blur the line between belief systems and biases. The struggles of Jason Heyward are indicative of how Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein relies on that foundation to repeat similar mistakes made in the past — mistakes he should have learned from. Now the club is essentially trapped in the current situation with few alternatives but to accept and adapt.

The defenses and excuses for Heyward have run out. In 2016, his dreadful first season in Chicago was camouflaged by the Cubs run to the World Series and “saved”€ by the folk tale of his inspiring rain delay speech that roused the reeling Cubs from their punch-drunk stagger after the Indians had tied World Series Game 7 with an eighth inning rally. In 2017, the afterglow of that championship and Heyward’s supposed role in winning it saved him from the deserved vitriol that otherwise would be directed at such a monumental bust.

Although it’s still early in the 2018 season, the number of fixes, repairs, glitches, hitches and flaws that have befallen Heyward and their attempts to return him to some semblance of the player the Cubs thought they were getting have grown moldy, repetitive and tiresome like that preposterous story from the World Series. Two-plus seasons of popgun offense and admittedly still superlative defense have settled into the acceptance stage of the grieving process. This is what he is. Maybe he’ll give them 10 home runs and a .710 OPS –€“ if they’€™re lucky. Apart from that, there is a reasonable argument to say that he should not even be an everyday part of the lineup.

For all the statements about objective analysis as the driving force in decisions made in today’s game, Heyward’s 8-year, $184 million contract is the only thing saving him from being a defensive replacement in the late innings as the Cubs hope to get something of use from him apart from his glove and his “leadership” — something that, in most cases, the sabermetric community scoffs at.

When the contract was signed, the non-SABR community was bewildered at why a good but not great player with a history of injuries who didn’€™t appear to like baseball very much was so in demand. This is not to blame the Cubs. The Cardinals, Nationals and Yankees had interest in Heyward. Had the Cubs not paid him, someone else would have. That a player who was never mentioned as elite got to that point speaks to the overemphasis on statistics, projections and the intangibles — the latter of which SABR advocates downplay when it is inconvenient to their argument.

Heyward was a cumulative player whose age and widespread talents accrued enough production that his wins above replacement (WAR) was high enough to assuage any legitimate concerns about him.

He didn’€™t hit a lot of home runs, but he was a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder who could also play center field. He didn’€™t hit for a high average, but he walked a fair amount. He stole double-digits in bases and had a solid success rate when he did run. He was 26. It’€™s doubtful the Cubs or any team is planning on the worst-case scenario when paying a player so lucratively, but in Heyward’€™s worst-case scenario, they’d get great defense, some speed, some pop and an overall good player who would contribute to what they were building.

But now it is the worst-case scenario in that €™they’re stuck with a minimally productive player who’s in the lineup almost solely because of his salary.

This is wedded in Epstein’€™s theoretical-based way of constructing his teams. He attaches himself to certain players and won’€™t let go. In Boston, it was Hanley Ramirez who was traded while Epstein was in time-out after a tiff with Larry Lucchino and who he repeatedly tried to reacquire once he returned to run the Red Sox. Ben Cherington –€“ an Epstein acolyte — eventually made it happen once Epstein was gone and the results have been up and down. In Chicago, he’€™s had John Lackey, Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo –€“ all of whom were or are successes in Chicago. However, that attachment has also led to players like Heyward being hopelessly overpaid for what they provide amid embarrassingly transparent excuses continually proffered as to what the unseen contributions are with cherrypicked numbers used as justifications for his undeserved playing time.

Epstein’€™s resume will get him elected to the Hall of Fame. He’ll have earned enshrinement. Breaking two longstanding curses€ and winning long-awaited World Series in both Boston and Chicago accord him an impenetrable shield. That does not mean he can do no wrong and that he doesn’€™t make mistakes. Heyward is one of them and the Cubs will be paying for it through 2023.

Adrian Gonzalez fools those who pushed for his release

MLB, Uncategorized

 

Adrian Gonzalez

The fundamental idea behind sabermetrics is to come to objective assessments about players. For a great many who promote themselves as “experts” based on their command of stats, there remains a reactive – and admirably natural, albeit unadmitted – response when players are not performing. Such was the case with Adrian Gonzalez throughout spring training with the New York Mets. After his grand slam Sunday night in Washington and now that Gonzalez has performed reasonably well both offensively and defensively in the admittedly very early going of the regular season, there is no longer the demand that the Mets release him and do something different (Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, Dominic Smith) at the position.

On one level, it was fully understandable for there to be so visceral a response to Gonzalez’s weak spring. He batted .207 in 58 at-bats with 1 home run and 2 doubles. He looked old and slow. Were he fighting for a job, he would certainly have lost.

But he wasn’t fighting for a job. That’s the key point.

Even at age 36, given his history as a former superstar player and that he cost the league minimum of $545,000 after his release by the Atlanta Braves, multiple teams were interested in him. Like a marketable free agent, the key for the player is what is best for him personally. Gonzalez was marketable for different reasons than a top-tier free agent would be, but he still held certain cards that allowed him the freedom to choose where he wanted to go based on the key factor at this juncture in his career: playing time. The Mets offered it without him needing to earn his way onto the roster. If that was not the case, he would not have signed with the Mets, relegating completely irrelevant his spring training performance and how rickety he looked.

Gonzalez’s spring training was not about getting hits and earning his way onto the roster or into the lineup. A “hands” hitter who relies on his reactions and his discerning eye at the plate, Gonzalez was simply getting his timing down and preparing his body and bad back for the grind of the long season. He was not trying to make a team. While it might be reasonable to think that a player who is well past his prime – regardless of how great he was during that prime – could contribute nothing of note after that ghastly spring training performance and how terrible he looked, it should not be forgotten that Gonzalez was very good as recently as two seasons ago and his 2017 season was sabotaged by that bad back.

He has not been vintage Gonzalez, but his .805 OPS, patience at the plate and solid defense are still in place. Should he be unable to maintain that or get hurt, the Mets have numerous options to replace him, so they can maximize his production for as long as it lasts and figure something else out as the season moves along.

It was preposterous to think he was “done” and the Mets should release him when the options they had were also rife with questions. Gonzalez serves as a prime example of the fundamental flaw of armchair expertise: there are unknowns such as what the player was told when he signed and what he was doing with his at-bats during the spring.

Had he not been given the clear promises that he would get every opportunity to play based on his regular season performance, he would not have signed with the Mets in the first place. The team is currently benefiting in a way they would not have had they adhered to the ignorant calls to release him in the spring. It may not last, but considering his cost, any contribution he makes is worth it.

Gabe Kapler and his bad start for the Phillies

MLB, Uncategorized

 

New Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has had a rough first week. With the strategic and technical bullpen gaffes, meandering explanations for those gaffes, and an arrogant attitude that is off-putting, he has done himself no favors, especially in a city like Philadelphia.

Compounding his situation is that the Phillies’ opportunistic aggression in the free agent market by signing Carlos Santana, Jake Arrieta, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter created unrealistic expectations for the season, some of which suggested that they were a playoff contender.

In context, it’s only a few games and he is a rookie manager who is coming at the job from a different viewpoint, one in which the numbers take precedence and the manager has his thumb on everything the players do. However, there are worrisome signs that could place his position in jeopardy even at such an early stage in his tenure.

His style comes across as stifling, going beyond the basics of being the boss when in the clubhouse and on the field to player nutrition and what seems like an attempt at 24/7 influence on the players’ conduct.

It’s notable that Kapler’s sole managerial experience came in A-ball as he took a break from his playing career and worked on the Boston Red Sox organization. In the low minors, it’s necessary to keep a tight rein on the players for disciplinary purposes. In the majors, even with a young team, it is not. Certainly, discipline and teaching are important with a young major league club, but this is not a group of pure rookies who need to have the manager constantly on their asses. The Phillies free agent signings should preclude such an overbearing attitude as Santana and Arrieta are both high quality people on and off the field and come from winning organizations with managers in Joe Maddon and Terry Francona who should be the ideal for all new managers not in their strategic maneuverings, but in how they give the players room to breathe, something Kapler has yet to learn how to do.

Kapler is intense and highly opinionated. He wants things done his way. But it’s not “my way or the highway” as much as it’s “my way, you’re a moron.” It’s the difference between philosophical disagreements and outright derision of the other perspective.

There’s a learning curve to managing in the majors and Kapler has quickly veered onto the shoulder of that road. There are six months to get it back under control. However, it does not take long to lose support not just of the fans and media – that’s to be expected no matter who the manager is – but of the players and the front office. Phillies GM Matt Klentak undoubtedly expected some growing pains and given his stat-centric style, is willing to give Kapler time to grow. Team president Andy MacPhail has literally been in baseball since birth and has adapted to the current generation as a means of survival. For someone who has seen everything in baseball, it is thoroughly understandable if MacPhail is watching Kapler and asking, “What the fuck is this guy doing?”

Initially, Kapler will get a break on that. If it continues, he won’t. That can be a negative influence not just on the young players the Phillies are trying to develop, but for the veterans in the clubhouse who, like Santana and Arrieta, have played for managers who do know what they’re doing and can see the signs of those who don’t. It can impact players wanting to come to Philadelphia as free agents and be a hindrance rather than a help.

Smart men have failed and stupid men have succeeded based on nothing more than their handling of people and adapting to the situation. If Kapler fails to adjust and fast, he could be the former and be out of a job before he realizes what happened and what went wrong, even if it’s clear to everyone but him.

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.

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.