Sentiment cannot block the Mets’ necessary move with Jose Reyes

MLB, Uncategorized

Reyes

When the New York Mets’ list of players currently on the disabled list begins to trickle back to active duty, there will be a roster crunch that will finally give a large faction of Mets fans what they have been demanding in Jose Reyes being designated for assignment.

It is difficult to dispute the decision, if (when) it is made.

There is a catch-22 for Reyes and the club. He will not gain any consistency at the plate unless he plays regularly; there is nowhere for him to play regularly; nor has he given the club reason to find him at-bats. For players like Reyes – former All-Stars who have been the best player on their respective teams for essentially their entire lives – it is a difficult transition to adjust to a backup role and not know when or if they will get an opportunity to play. Some have adapted to it and some haven’t. In Mets history, two players who did so and did so well were Rusty Staub and Lee Mazzilli. Reyes has not. If he was hitting or retained the speed that made him such a dangerous weapon earlier in his career, then the Mets could swallow his shaky defense in exchange for expediency and what he does do.

He’s not, he hasn’t and the Mets can’t.

The .145/.203/.203 slash is bad enough. What is worse, however, is how overmatched he has looked at the plate. With the flamethrowers that every team trots out one after the other, Reyes’s lack of bat speed and that he will not get the playing time to get his timing down makes it cannibalistic for player and team.

Vulnerable to sentiment, the Wilpons have allowed affection, affinity and outside voices to influence how they operate. In some cases, there was a baseball-related explanation for rehiring Omar Minaya to serve as an assistant to general manager Sandy Alderson to shore up what has been an objective problem with the organization: the lack of minor-league talent. In others, the club doled out severance contracts to the likes of John Franco and Al Leiter when they were well past their sell-by date and the club should have cut ties with them two years earlier than it did. They blocked Alderson from firing Terry Collins when he wanted to make a change. And they have haphazardly jumped from one organizational philosophy to another without a full commitment to any specific one so they can have the option of going in another direction if immediate dividends are not paid or they are too harshly criticized.

If personal affection is seeping into cold business decisions and they are reluctant to part ways with Reyes due to some semblance of sympathy, the Mets can look at the circumstances under which Reyes departed as a free agent after the 2011 season to give them solace to do what must be done.

He wanted to stay with the Mets. There’s no doubt about that. But he also wanted his $100 million contract. In the dueling loyalties between finances and emotions, 99.9 percent of the time, finances win. Had his heart been so set on remaining with the Mets, at some point in 2011, he could have gone to Alderson or straight to the Wilpons and said, “Look, I really don’t wanna leave. Let’s work something out.”

He didn’t.

He knew the club’s finances were a mess. Taking the step to sign for $75 million or whatever the sides hammered out would have prevented the nomadic travels to Miami, Toronto and Colorado before ending up back with the Mets when the Mets gave him a chance no other club was prepared to give him after his domestic incident with his wife. Framed in the business sense, the Mets have every right to cut ties with a player who is providing no benefit.

The roster and club needs provides a greater motivation to make the move. It’s ludicrous to believe that Jose Bautista will continue the hot start he’s enjoyed since joining the Mets, but he will certainly maintain the ability to walk, pose a power threat and an ability to play third base that Reyes does not have.

Eventually, the Mets will come to the inevitable conclusion that Reyes is ill-suited for this role; that if something happens to Amed Rosario, they will not be any worse if they shift Asdrubal Cabrera back to shortstop than they will be if they put Reyes out there; and that the expected July return of T.J. Rivera gives them another alternative whose place on the roster is more deserved than Reyes’s.

Once it is accepted that the minuscule reason for Reyes remaining on the roster is not worth the resistance to cutting him, then the DFA will come. With veterans of greater importance edging toward their return, the club will have no choice.

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A stark reality about the 2018 Mets

MLB, Uncategorized

SyndergaardFor the Mets, as humiliating as Saturday’s 17-6 loss to the Brewers was, it’s more of a symptom than the actual illness. In the aftermath of the debacle, 30 percent of the way into the 2018 season, it’s abundantly clear that the Mets will have a good chance to win when Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard start; a reasonable chance when Steven Matz starts; and an “if this, then that” chance to win when Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas start.

Fortunately for the Mets, the entire National League is about as mediocre as they have shown themselves to be. That is neither something to aspire to nor to be proud of, but once the sausage is on the grill, few are asking how it was made. As the season moves forward and it becomes clearer that they’ll need to make some significant changes to rise to the top of the wide open National League, they must accept that stark reality and act with a sense of urgency and a (painful) plan to move forward if it does not work.

What does that mean, you ask?

It means that the Mets must shun the pretense of “now and the future” and go all-in for 2018. For example, one of the few prospects of value the club has is Peter Alonso. If he is a must-have for a non-contending team that holds a card the Mets need and is open for business – Chris Archer, Kelvin Herrera, Michael Fulmer – then they must go for it now and throw the bomb to win while deGrom and Syndergaard are at or near the top of their games; while they (presumably) have Yoenis Cespedes back healthy(?); while Asdrubal Cabrera and Jeurys Familia are singing for their free agent suppers; and while Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are successfully adapting to their extended innings as relievers.

If it works, great. If it doesn’t, this window the Mets very nearly burst through in 2015 and, to a point, in 2016, is closed and it’s time to move on with the preemptive decisions that competing clubs have made to proceed from popular and talented players for the greater good.

This differs from the reactive and silly demands that the Mets trade deGrom and Syndergaard during the season after they have lost seven out of 10 games in that it’s a viable and doable blueprint.

While fans are pushing for a change in the front office from general manager Sandy Alderson, the truth is that Alderson’s tenure with the club is ending sooner rather than later. The Wilpons will not fire him. He signed a contract extension of undisclosed length after 2017, but the increasing profile of assistant GM John Ricco and the rehiring of former GM Omar Minaya to be a special assistant make clear where this is headed. Once Alderson does depart, Ricco will take command as GM and be the objective leader who can handle the GM-speak, knows the contractual rules, is sabermetrically savvy and will implement the coldblooded maneuvers while Minaya does what he prefers in eyeball assessment and scouting.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is doing what needs to be done if the team goes all-in for 2018 and falls short. What that means is taking their most valuable assets – deGrom, Syndergaard, Cespedes and, to a lesser degree, Matz, and veteran guys they can get something for like Todd Frazier – and clean house to replenish the farm system and replace what they surrendered to go for it in 2018.

With deGrom emerging as a top five starter (or higher) in baseball and being under team control through 2020 and Syndergaard’s abilities and long-term team control through 2021, between them they should yield at least five blue-chip prospects as well as ancillary pieces.

Right there, they restart with long-term assets and money off the books to perhaps buy some players. If that includes trading top prospect Amed Rosario and signing Manny Machado – who’s a couple of months away from turning 26 and will still be in his prime when the Mets are ready to contend again – so be it.

There are no more in-betweens. Choose.

Accepting mediocrity as a matter of circumstance, presenting the excuse that the Mets are in the same boat as everyone else and hoping that everything breaks perfectly as it did in 2015 is over. Mets fans have a few rare seasons they can point to as peaks: 2015, 2006, 2000, 1999, 1984-1986, 1973 and 1969. What built the two World Series winners in 1969 and 1986 was homegrown talent, savvy trades, patience and some extremely good luck. They can jam their arm into the window as it slams shut in 2018 to try one last time to get through it. It will be painful, but one way or the other, they’ll need to get treatment after the fact if it fails. If it succeeds, it was worth the pain. Regardless, how much more agonizing can it be than what they’ll inevitably be forced to deal with if they stand pat, end up with a season result that hinges on the flaws of the rest of the National League, and stand by haplessly if they choose to remain as is?

So, you wanna trade Jacob deGrom, huh?

MLB, Uncategorized

degrom

Without bothering to link the offending article by the non-credible, click-seeking source, the concept of the New York Mets trading their most valuable assets Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard brought Mets fans back to the brink of the usual civil war, fighting one another as to the direction of the franchise and how it should proceed.

There’s a fine line between clickbait and a legitimate Rx based on the circumstances. That, however, is secondary to an evenhanded assessment of the idea of a reboot and to start by trading deGrom. Without saying whether they should pull the trigger on such a decision and when, there are certain foundational factors that must be in place if they do decide to head in that direction.

If you would like to or are grudgingly willing to trade deGrom, you need to accept the following realities:

  • No half-assing it.

If you’re pulling the trigger on dealing deGrom, there’s no accepting the nonsense of an unemployed and unemployable blogger saying the team “might as well listen” just to see what’s offered and decide from there. With the Mets being so cognizant and reactive to public perception, once it leaks that they gauged the market for deGrom, then they have to trade him. There’s no “let’s see.” It’s either move him or don’t with full commitment. Listening to offers is an admission that the product is available for sale. There’s no checking in, nor is there due diligence just to get a sense of what’s out there. It’s akin to a married guy (or girl) starting a Tinder account to see how many swipes he or she gets. The mere act of checking means there’s interest in following through.

Since it’s the Mets, the fallout from it becoming known that they were taking offers on deGrom would be so fierce that they would either need to pull him back from the market and do their familiar bit of clumsy damage control or admit they’re restarting and trade him.

And none of that refusing to trade him to the Yankees just because it’s the Yankees. Right there, holding to that line takes out one of the teams with the most glaring need for a pitcher of deGrom’s stature and the deep farm system to overpay to get it done. The best offer gets the player, period.

  • Sandy Alderson cannot be the one to make the move(s).

There have been situations where an interim or outgoing GM has been entrusted to oversee a housecleaning and has acquitted himself professionally, leaving his successor with a solid core from the trades he made. Jerry Dipoto with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Omar Minaya with the San Diego Padres, and Dave Dombrowski with the Detroit Tigers are just three examples of that.

Alderson is the one who made the trade to get Syndergaard in the first place when he was in the low-minors and was a secondary piece to the true object of their desires in the R.A. Dickey trade, Travis d’Arnaud. Alderson would know the names of the minor leaguers who would constitute an acceptable return on a housecleaning. There’s no doubt that he would acquit himself professionally and have the organization’s best interests at heart even if he won’t be around to bear the fruits of the trades.

But at age 70 with his tenure as Mets GM likely coming to an end in the not-too-distant future, it should fall on his likely replacement, John Ricco, to take the reins. Ricco has been with the Mets for 12 years. He’s the obvious heir apparent to Alderson. He has the business acumen and the intelligence to understand the coldblooded sabermetric components necessary to run an organization today. Since the Mets rehired Omar Minaya as an assistant to Alderson and Ricco was Minaya’s assistant when the Mets were at their title-contending heights during the Minaya regime, the two can easily work together with their roles reversed.

Minaya, a baseball rat, is more comfortable scouting and eyeball analyzing without needing to go through the daily grind of dealing with the media and falling all over his words when the time comes to be a disciplinarian and handle crisis control. Ricco is perfectly suited to that. He’ll know the stats and the projections for the players the Mets will receive and Minaya can use his scouting acument to either believe the numbers or say, “Forget the numbers, this kid can’t play.”

Alderson’s hiring deviated from the Wilpons’ history of insular “Mets blood only” front office personnel. At the time, it seemed that hiring Alderson was a precondition for Bud Selig to sign off on them retaining ownership as they sorted out the Bernie Madoff mess. Alderson was a competent and unflappable caretaker to ensure that the organization weathered the financial storm. Now, since he won’t be there three to five years from the time of the trades and will not be overtly invested in their outcome, he should not be the one to make the calls.

  • No tanking, but no sentiment either; and the Wilpons must spend.

If they’re trading deGrom and Syndergaard, then it makes zero sense to put up the pretense of moderate respectability in the near term as they did in the first four years of Alderson’s tenure.

In fairness, those years were about getting out from under the onerous contracts of Jason Bay, Johan Santana, et, al. as well as cleaning up from the fetid wreckage of the Madoff disaster. Since the club appears to be, in part, beyond its financial woes, it can’t stop at trading deGrom and Syndergaard. It must extend to anyone and anything that can yield a significant return of youngsters who are under long-term team control or are close to big league ready. That includes dealing Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins and anyone who has any value whatsoever to make a quick turnaround with the organization spending money on the big free agent class of 2018-19 and possibly some of the prospects they accrue in trades to turn the team around fast with younger, cheaper and more athletic players.

***

With the doom and gloom surrounding the Mets, it’s easy to forget that this same team started the season off at 13-2 and hit a rough stretch in which they have been one of the worst teams in baseball. They’re still above .500 – one of the benefits to a hot start – and it’s too soon to tell whether the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are for real and if the Washington Nationals have righted their ship. The National League is relatively parity-laden, so the Wild Card spots will be available should the Mets not jump back into contention for the division title.

The idea of trading deGrom and/or Syndergaard is the typical extreme reaction for a few weeks of bad play, but if they do eventually decide to do it, they must leap in with both feet or not even bother. Otherwise it makes zero sense and they’re better off just staying where they are and seeing what happens as the season moves along.

Ending the Joe Girardi vs. Mickey Callaway nonsense

MLB, Uncategorized

Girardi Callaway pic

Had the Cleveland Indians won one of the final three games of the 2017 ALDS and eliminated the New York Yankees while the crosstown Mets were still conducting their managerial search, I firmly believe that Joe Girardi would be managing the Mets right now.

After moving on from Terry Collins – not “firing” him, per se, but by not offering him a new contract – and the rumblings of Girardi’s likely divorce from the Yankees grew louder and louder, the Mets quietly acknowledged that they were “monitoring” the Girardi situation. As a proven winner who could handle New York and would have taken the job, it made perfect sense.

But the Yankees won the final three games of that ALDS and advanced to the ALCS before losing to the Houston Astros in seven games. Even then, there was uncertainty regarding Girardi’s future with the club. His contract had expired; his relationship with several players was reportedly strained; and the replay gaffe in Game 2 of the ALDS stung his reputation despite the silly, sentimentalist narrative that the same players who had grown tired of his constant intensity and tight as a drum style fought back to save him.

However, the 2017 Yankees arrived back on the big stage at least one year earlier than the front office reasonably could have expected. Every one of Girardi’s teams had either achieved what its talent said it should have or far surpassed it. As the club did its deliberations of whether it wanted to retain Girardi, there remained a chance that they would focus on the positive and ignore the negative by keeping him with a new contract.

Could the Mets have waited?

Mickey Callaway was not just on the Mets’ radar, but he was on the short lists of multiple other clubs who were looking for a new manager. Had the Mets not hired him – basically not letting him leave the building without making sure he would take the job – someone else would have. Now, fans who are displeased with some of the rookie mistakes that the neophyte manager is making tactically and verbally would likely say that the Mets, in retrospect, would have been better off. But that is neither here nor there. This is secondary to the reasons that speculation that the Mets would be better off had they waited for Girardi. There’s no answer to that question.

If the Mets sat on the sideline and waited out Girardi and the Yankees, they ran the risk of running into the similar conundrum to ones they have had in the past with Buck Showalter, Lou Piniella and Joe Torre.

Had the timing been right, Showalter could have been hired to manage the Mets after the Yankees dumped him following the 1995 season. Instead, after a relatively strong finish, the Mets had already given Dallas Green a contract for 1996.

When Piniella walked away from the final year of his contract with the Seattle Mariners after 2002 and the Mets had fired Bobby Valentine, Piniella wanted to manage the Mets and the Mets wanted him. The Mariners refused to let Piniella go without compensation and they demanded Jose Reyes. The Mets said no. Eventually, with nowhere else to go, Piniella went to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who were all too happy to surrender one of the best players, Randy Winn, as compensation for his services.

(A note on “wanting” Piniella: at least the Wilpons did; GM Steve Phillips, who knew that he would be mitigated with the presence of the handsome, charming, explosive and successful Piniella, preferred someone less threatening and got it in Art Howe.)

Following the team’s collapse in September 2007, there were some in the Mets front office who still blamed manager Willie Randolph for the 2006 NLCS loss and definitely held him responsible for blowing a seemingly unblowable division lead in the final three weeks of the season. Torre was let go by the Yankees after their ALDS loss to the Indians to be replaced by Girardi. Had the Mets fired Randolph, Torre would most certainly been interested in remaining in New York and ending his managerial career where it started just to shove it to the Yankees — an organization that shrugged off the work he did for them, never truly seeming to appreciate his contribution to their return to glory.

Girardi’s contribution could be viewed as similarly dismissed. How many managers could have handled the egos in the room when he took over even after having played with many of them as a teammate, extinguished the inevitable bonfires big and small that occur with so high-profile a team, and won? Girardi’s work when the Yankees transitioned from the Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera/Andy Pettitte years to a patched together group of journeymen and then youngsters he was entrusted to develop. The job he did was overlooked. Getting the mediocre-at-best teams from 2013 through 2016 in at above .500 when there was no justifiable reason for that to happen – and even making the playoffs in 2015 – was remarkable.

Girardi would have cost exponentially more than Callaway did and expected some level of say-so in the club’s construction. For all the talk of the cheapness of the Wilpons, they would have paid Girardi and likely given him some sway in the roster.

Girardi would not be making the tactical gaffes that Callaway has, but could any manager have gotten the Mets off to a better start than Callaway’s 13-2? Is that even possible?

The speculation is nonsense because the circumstances were not right for it to happen, eliminating it as anything more than an “if everything breaks that way” possibility. Unlike the previously mentioned instances when, had the Mets taken that extra-aggressive step, they could have gotten all three of those managers, they had to weigh the chances of Callaway getting another job and Girardi turning around and signing a contract extension with the Yankees, leaving them to again sift through the uninspiring remnants and hire their third or lower choice.

It’s easy to discuss as a “what if?” but there’s no definitive answer, so it’s pointless.

Matt Harvey: blame and absolution for his Mets Knightfall

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey Reds

As Matt Harvey prepares to make his first major league start Friday in Los Angeles for a team other than the New York Mets, insiders and outsiders have established their positons in the debate as to where it went wrong for him in New York.

In general, one side says that Harvey gave everything he could for the Mets and went beyond personal interests to help the team in its pennant-winning season of 2015. The other blames Harvey for his downfall, asserting that relentless partying, selfishness and arrogance did him in.

The Mets have taken the high road after designating Harvey for assignment and subsequently trading him to the Cincinnati Reds for Devin Mesoraco, thanking him and lamenting the disappointing end.

Harvey has been mostly silent but cryptic, implying that he holds animus against the Mets.

There will never be a meeting in the middle for Harvey, the Mets or those who provide outside assessments as to how it went wrong. What should be remembered, however, is that things in life are rarely so simple as to say one side is right and other is wrong. Without partaking in ignorant rumor, innuendo, gossip and the admittedly slanted positions of the participants, it’s possible for Harvey to be justified in his complaints about the Mets and for him to have sowed the seeds for his own collapse independent of the organization and its handling of him.

From the time at which he arrived on the scene as a young, handsome, gifted athlete, Harvey played hard on and off the field. The extent of his partying and lifestyle choices negatively impacting his on-field performance is known only to his closest intimates. It’s quite possible that he simply liked meeting women, seeing his name in the front of the newspaper as well as the back, and stoked the fires of his own reputation without engaging in truly self-destructive behavior. It’s also possible that he did allow his off-field interests to interfere with his preparation and performance. Or it could be somewhere in the middle.

The two extremes need not be mutually exclusive.

The same armchair experts who are analyzing his mechanics, making statements about his physical issues like they know better than the doctors for the Mets and for the Boras Corporation, and seek to know the unknowable are simultaneously engaging in pop psychological analysis regarding what’s really going on in his head.

Perhaps Harvey would have been better off on the field had he shunned a few late nights. But for some athletes, there is nothing worse than sitting home alone trapped in one’s own head and playing and replaying insecurities that can grow pervasive should they be allowed to fester. The same statements that it was Harvey’s nightlife that was the problem emanate from an arena that also blames his struggles on Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome and whatever else. There’s no way to know because there’s no alternative but speculation.

From the outside, it seems the Mets stretched the limited number of rules that today’s athletes live under as far as they have for anyone going back to the lawless days of the Davey Johnson/Darryl Strawberry/Dwight Gooden/Keith Hernandez underachievers and overindulgers of the 1980s.

Apart from preemptively trading him, what could they do other than put up with him and his act to maximize his marketability and production before his inevitable departure? The departure came sooner than expected and in circumstances few could have predicted. There’s more than enough blame to go around even if it’s uncertain exactly where to place it.

There are no Dave Duncans to fix a Matt Harvey anymore

MLB, Uncategorized

Duncan

Dave Duncan is still around as a pitching consultant for the Chicago White Sox. At 72, it’s unreasonable to expect him to put forth the time and energy necessary to repeat the wizardry that took unfulfilled talent, the injured, and reclamation projects and make them into Cy Young Award winners, All-Stars and Hall of Famers as he did with Bob Welch, Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, LaMarr Hoyt, Dennis Eckersley, Chris Carpenter, Woody Williams, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse and countless others.

However, that’s exactly what Matt Harvey needs. Yet there’s no one to do it for him.

Harvey, designated for assignment by the New York Mets on Saturday, is having his career trajectory dissected to determine exactly where it all went wrong. You can find these stories everywhere with all its authors thinking they and they alone have found the secret or basking in the glory of their innate lack of knowledge as to why he came undone.

There’s no definitive answer.

Fixing him is a different matter and that endeavor will be tasked to someone who will have theories as to how to move forward. In consultation with Harvey and his agent Scott Boras, a plan will unfurl. Either it will work or it won’t. Judging by the reality that every organization is essentially working from a similar playbook with pitching coaches no longer left to their devices and their individual instruction as was the case in Duncan’s heyday as Tony La Russa’s aide-de-camp, the odds are that it will make little difference in Harvey’s future.

The days of the Mr. Fix-It of Duncan are over as organizations make their plans in conjunction with medical recommendations, technological advances and the ever-growing group of individual handlers that seemingly all players have.

In the days of Duncan polishing his reputation as baseball’s preeminent pitching guru, he was largely left to his own devices and entrusted with overseeing the pitchers without interference from a phalanx of others. Pitchers often ended up with La Russa and Duncan because they had nowhere else to go and had reached the point in their careers where it was either listen to what Duncan had to say and implement it or no longer have a career. Desperation breeds sudden flexibility. Duncan’s reputation and the number of pitchers he could count as notches on his belt certainly gave him credibility with the egomaniacal and selfish entity known as the professional athlete.

Whether it was a mechanical adjustment, changes to the pitcher’s repertoire or a mental reprogramming, Duncan carried a reputation of fixing the heretofore unfixable. That he had the opportunity to do so stemmed from a confluence of events that are no longer in place. Teams will not entrust any investment to a single individual and that investment will likely have an army of advisors who are also seeking and demand input.

There are pitching coaches who are well-regarded in today’s game. Ray Searage is viewed as the modern Mr. Fix-It, but that has stemmed from a crafted narrative. His own results have fluctuated and if there were fallbacks or failures as was the case with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, the shifting of blame has been rapid and largely eliminated any positives his relationship with those pitchers created. There’s no credit for the good without blame for the bad.

John Farrell, Tom House, Dave Righetti, Mickey Callaway – all are well-regarded and have had success, but none will ever have the cachet that Duncan had of taking pitchers who were broken remnants of what they were and pasting them back together.

Duncan is still around and in baseball, but the landscape has changed. What worked before won’t work now, mostly because the outside influences for the likes of Matt Harvey won’t let it.

The real issue with Matt Harvey’s partying

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey Screenshot

Ninety-nine percent of you have no idea what professional athletes are doing with their downtime. 99 percent of the remaining 1 percent who do know keep quiet about it because otherwise they would not be able to do their jobs while serving as daily media members regularly around the players; doing their jobs as teammates, coaches and managers who need the players to contribute; owners who pay and hope to profit from them; and those – gossip columnists, public relations people, agents, handlers, cohorts, greenflies and flunkies – whose main function is to facilitate whatever the client wants.

Some athletes, like the Mets’ Matt Harvey, enjoy the nightlife. Some like playing golf. Others prefer to stay in their hotel room or at the ballpark playing Xbox. Still others bring their families with them everywhere they go and prefer as normal a life as possible given the circumstances.

With the size of their paychecks, their age and that they have so much free time on their hands, it’s unavoidable that players will try and find things to do. There’s nothing wrong with that…until the public perceives it as affecting their performance. Yoenis Cespedes’s golf addiction has been viewed as a negative. When R.A. Dickey told his intriguing life story, his sudden burst of fame and loquaciousness grated on some in the Mets organization. When Gary Gaetti became a born again Christian, his transformation from foul-mouthed team leader to evangelical was portrayed as the cause of a fissure in the Twins clubhouse.

This has gone on forever.

Stoked by a media which bases much of its reporting and response as a reverberation to public reaction, intentionally or not, it feeds the fire. If it’s viewed as a problem, it’s a problem even if it’s not the problem.

Harvey’s nocturnal activities have been under scrutiny since his big league arrival in 2012 when he was a relatively unknown and unhyped former first-round draft pick of the prior Mets front office regime led by Omar Minaya. Handsome, swaggering and incredibly talented, Harvey’s production on the field and his natural magnetism led to him quickly being adopted by the tabloids as an heir apparent to their aging former player of choice, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. As his stature on the field grew, so too did his nighttime exploits. He was celebrated for it.

And it was irrelevant because he was coming through on the field and showed the potential to be the next on and off-field star, more Joe Namath than Jeter.

Since 2016, his career has plummeted faster than it skyrocketed. Blame is allocated in multiple places with the latest being his penchant for late nights and poor optics. Harvey’s reported trip to Los Angeles to go to a nightclub while the Mets were playing in San Diego is another line in Harvey’s long list of “what are you doing?” moments not because he was partying, but because he’s pitching terribly, has lost his job as a starting pitcher, and is heading toward free agency as a reclamation project rather than a superstar acquisition.

The club shrugged off the trip to L.A. in part because it really doesn’t sound like a big deal and in part because what’s the difference? How much worse can he pitch? It’s difficult to envision his on-field struggles stemming from going out and having a few drinks the night before a game when the game isn’t set to start until the next night. It’s just that he’s not very good right now. If he was, the partying would be “Matt being Matt” circa 2015 and not “Matt parties as his career sinks.”

As organizations seek to turn their clubs into corporate structures with chains-of-command, orders being issued from the top down and carried out without question, the fundamental flaw that can never be excised from their version of an ideal structure is that the key employees – the players – are indispensable and paid multiple millions more than the decision makers.

The owner is not replaceable in a conventional sense because the property belongs to him or her until it is sold and they sign the checks.

Some interchangeable front office person, regardless of how good at the job, can be replaced with few noticing the departure over the long term. There are thousands of them using the same formulas. That goes for Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Sandy Alderson or anyone else. So there’s nothing they can do about a player choosing to stay out all night because they’re making too much money, have guaranteed contracts and are under no obligation to follow orders…until they cannot perform as they did before. But for five or six pitchers, the vintage 2013 Harvey was not replaceable.

The Mets sound as if they know he’s not part of their long-term future and it’s becoming increasingly evident that their season no longer hinges on him. If he gets to the point where the distractions outweigh any possible usefulness, he’ll be gone before the season is over and they won’t miss him.

This has nothing to do with his off-field life.

The odds are that Harvey’s partying is no worse now than it was when he started the 2013 All-Star Game. It’s a perceived problem because he’s no longer an All-Star; he’s figuratively carrying a mop out to the bullpen every day until he shows he deserves another chance at the starting rotation or he’s trustworthy enough as a reliever to be used in key situations and not when the Mets are far behind or far ahead.

It’s a natural human inclination to be nosy. In a culture in which everything is posted on social media, there’s a blatant or hidden agenda for everything, and failures make for more interesting viewing than successes, Harvey is a sideshow — one that will be canceled when it wears out its welcome. He is largely to blame for the attention he receives not because he makes the wrong decisions – who can say what’s right or wrong? – but because the same people who propped him up and turned him into the Dark Knight, lauding him for his style and female companions, are turning on him. None of it was because they liked or disliked him. It was because he was interesting.

In this Kardashian-infested world where talent is secondary to the ability to grab attention and no one admits to watching or paying attention to any of it simultaneous to knowing every single aspect about their lives, salaciousness sells. The shifting of the Harvey narrative does not emanate from a condescending disapproval of his lifestyle, but from his results on the field. When the Mets say it’s not a big deal, they’re not talking in terms of disciplining him or straightening him out. It’s because it doesn’t matter anymore.

Mets’ Harvey and Matz not used to manager Callaway’s tough love

MLB

Callaway pic

For different reasons, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz had rough days on Wednesday.

One day after his first appearance as a relief pitcher since his demotion from the starting rotation, Harvey was curt nasty with reporters who tried to talk to him.

Later that evening, Matz struggled again allowing 7 runs in 3 1/3 innings. 3 of the runs were unearned, but that stemmed from an error by Matz himself, after which he unraveled. Manager Mickey Callaway was cryptic as to whether Matz would make his next start.

Callaway’s tough love approach to Harvey, Matz, Zack Wheeler and everyone on the Mets roster differs markedly from how Terry Collins handled them.

Most athletes who make it to the highest levels in their respective sports are accustomed to special treatment because they were the best at what they did throughout their lives.

Of course, there are exceptions, but when an athlete is selected at or near the top of the draft as Harvey and Matz were, they are granted privileges that lesser players are not. Their role was never in question; their spot never in jeopardy; they always got the job done because they were better than their competition.

It’s not like that in the big leagues. For too long, the Mets treated these players as if it were.

For all the empty talk from managers and front office people about accountability and roles being based on need and performance, Callaway meant it and is acting on it. He doesn’t care what the players think and if they like it.

Seeing through the “player bullshit” and following through on warnings and/or threats is not easy. At times, Collins appeared reluctant to do it, presumably in part because he did not want to repeat the same mistakes that cost him two big league managing jobs, superglued the “raving maniac” label to his forehead, and kept him from another chance to manage in the majors for a decade. The players took advantage of that. Callaway, turning 43 in May, is under no such constraints. In fact, that may be part of the reason the Mets hired him. If the players don’t perform, the team will find someone who will. Draft status, name recognition and talent have nothing to do with it. It’s a change that needed to be made.

On Mike Francesa and his return to WFAN in New York

Broadcasting, MLB, NFL, Uncategorized

Francesa screenshot

Mike Francesa’s pending return to WFAN in New York caught many by surprise. An onslaught of criticism has inundated him and the station for the ham-handed way this was handled, that Francesa had his extended “farewell tour” only to stage a return four months later, and he usurped his replacements with little regard to anyone other than himself.

Francesa benefited from the poor showing in the first ratings book from his replacements, “The Afternoon Drive” with Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott, and that the station was still reeling from the firing of morning co-host Craig Carton after his arrest for allegations of being involved in a Ponzi scheme.

This was a perfect storm. The decline in ratings was one thing. The content for the Afternoon Drive show and that they lost to none other than Michael Kay appears to have been the tipping point. For Francesa’s  hard core listeners – of which were and are many – a shrieking storm alert text message on a loop is preferable to listening to Kay. Since there is no other sports afternoon radio talk show in New York, those who cannot stand Kay and didn’t like the Afternoon Drive show were left lamenting WFAN’s inability to keep Francesa from leaving and Francesa for abandoning them.

For Carlin, Gray and Scott, the die was cast early in their brief tenure during the New York Giants’ quarterback controversy when Gray launched into an extended rant as to how an NFL team should develop a quarterback as if she somehow knew more about it than experienced NFL front office folk. No, it wasn’t a Francesa rant when he raved like a lunatic with his ample flesh jiggling and his voice and internal organs straining like he was about to have a volcanic eruption with Diet Coke exploding from every orifice, but it was worse. Francesa was so cocksure in his statements – no matter how idiotic they could be – that he pulled it off. Gray tried a calm, rational approach that failed the “Who are you to be saying this?” test. Francesa’s credibility on such a subjective topic as developing a quarterback is likely not any better than Gray’s, but he sold it better and hand waved away the credibility question like one of his callers.

Carlin tried too hard to generate controversy with outrageous statements.

Scott clearly lacked conviction as he spouted memorized lines about sports other than football.

It didn’t work. Like the nightmarish experiment of David Lee Roth replacing Howard Stern, there were two choices:

1) Continue moving forward, refuse to acknowledge a mistake and let the audience wither away to nothing.

2) Cut the ties and make a move that was financially motivated to be sure, but was also adhering to what the audience wants.

The purpose of a radio show is to generate listeners. The listeners are gauged by ratings and the ratings are an overriding factor in advertising rates. Losing listeners means lower advertising rates and lower revenue. After the loss of Carton and the station’s apparent rudderless foray into the unknown, they had no alternative. It’s fair to criticize the station for how it was done, but arguing that it was not a sound business decision is putting what’s deemed to be “fair” ahead of what’s necessary to effectively run a business.

Francesa is not innocent here. It would not be the essence of Francesa if he didn’t try to spin his return into something he was “forced” to do as he made bizarre allusions to a conspiracy to keep him off the air as if he’s the last line of defense against a cabal of shadowy powerbrokers for which his return sabotages a quest for universal domination.

Somewhere inside him, when getting past the rancid soda, clogged arteries, calcified chunks of ego and goo, presumably he knows this. And he doesn’t care.

To say that he couldn’t find a new radio home is difficult to believe. He certainly could have gone to Sirius or gotten a job on a network talking about the NFL and college basketball. The motivation to go back to his radio home could have been the money; it could have been the exposure; or it could have been that he finally got what he wanted from WFAN and his wife was sick of him being around the house micromanaging her all day when she’d grown accustomed to him being gone.

It doesn’t matter. His fans don’t care.

Those rolling their eyes at the extended farewell tour and his subsequent return are ignoring the reality that Francesa has functioned for his entire career – if not his entire life – thinking that he was worthy of feting and fealty just for existing; simply because he granted his listeners the generosity of sharing his wisdom with them. By that metric, he should have been idolized whether he was retiring or not.

As for show content, this was a no-brainer. Like him or not, there are few voices in the media who have that cachet of “I wonder what he/she will say about this?”

Francesa has it.

Wondering about how Aaron Boone is using his bullpen for the Yankees?

What’s wrong with Matt Harvey and what the Mets should do?

If there’s a real chance that Tom Brady will retire and that a rift between him and Bill Belichick will sabotage the Patriots?

Whom the Knicks should hire as head coach?

If the Giants will select Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, a quarterback, or trade down with the second overall pick in the coming NFL draft?

What the New York Jets will do after having traded up to get the third pick?

Francesa will tell you. You’ll listen. You might agree. You might disagree. You might loathe his arrogance and refusal to admit to ever having been wrong about anything, ever. He’s heading back to WFAN because the station needs him and he needs the forum. How it was done is secondary and after all the conversation, nobody cares if they get the show they want. That show is Francesa’s show.

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.