Urena-Acuna shows the right way and wrong way to send a message

MLB, Uncategorized

AcunaUrena

The Marlins’ Jose Urena drilling the Braves’ Ronald Acuna on the elbow with the first pitch of Wednesday night’s game was clearly intentional and it was done because Acuna had hit home runs in five consecutive games and leadoff home runs in three straight. Four came against the Marlins.

That was the catalyst of the benches clearing and the ejections of Urena and Braves manager Brian Snitker. Immediately, the outrage began on social media eagerly followed by columnists and analysts staking out their positions of the propriety or lack thereof of Urena’s act complete with proposed penalties for Urena and Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Despite attempts to frame it as a matter of right and wrong, it is anything but that. It was a misapplication of how to handle these specific situations in a competitive atmosphere. The circumstances dictate how to do it properly.

The simple way to categorize what Urena did and why it was wrong is to point out the difference between retaliation and a message. Urena retaliated when he really should have sent message.

There’s a difference.

With retaliation, had there been an exchange of beanballs and pitchers throwing at hitters – for any reason – then, to put a stop to it or bring matters to a head by lighting the fire for a bench clearing brawl to get the bad blood out in the open, the pitcher should drill a hitter. Doing so is part of inside baseball competition that most non-playing analysts, observers and fans have about as much of a concept of as they would what it’s like to walk on the moon. There is a primordial, instinctive, animalistic nature to sports that cannot be transferred to a series of numbers or boardroom machination. The heat of competition will sometimes start a blaze. Anger, irrationality and that ingrained sensibility will take hold. Were the Marlins truly angry at a transgression no matter how legitimate or trivial – a bat flip; a slow trot around the bases; a hard slide; untoward comments directed at a player or the organization; a beanball war – then Urena’s method was appropriate, like it or not.

But that wasn’t the case. What Urena did was punish Acuna for doing well by hitting him on purpose. And that is blaming the opposing player for the Marlins’ faults in not being able to get him out.

To do what Urena should have done – send a message – there should have been a first pitch slider that was so far out of the strike zone that not even Vladimir Guerrero would have swung at it, much less hit it. The next pitch should have been a fastball that was so far inside that it was either going to get Acuna to move his feet or hit the dirt, but was not high and inside to the degree that there was the risk of him getting hit in the area above the neck.

That is not a “we suck and you’re killing us, therefore I’m gonna injure you” pitch. It is a strategic maneuver akin to a hard slide. It is part of the game. Sometimes, when a pitcher does this, the ball will get away from him and the batter will get hit. Provided it isn’t in the head, most professionals will understand that. Of course, some will get angry and react. So be it.

It must also be remembered that Urena is one of the rare pitchers in baseball today who is unafraid of pitching inside. He led the majors in hit batsmen in 2017 and is leading the National League in 2018. It’s part of his game.

The question of whether throwing at Acuna was part of a coordinated strategy from inside the Marlins clubhouse is where we get into the fog of allusion and plausible deniability. Internal discussions from postgame Tuesday to pregame meetings Wednesday were likely lamenting how comfortable Acuna was and that he needed to be made less so. That’s something that is spoken of among the players, sometimes with and sometimes without a winking nod from the coaches and manager. Pregame team meetings would not have openly said, “We need to pop this guy” as they might in a series with lingering tensions and the need to retaliate. As a preplanned decision to get him off the plate and break the lock of his current hot streak, there’s no doubt the Marlins decided to throw inside with a “we need to buzz this guy.”

Buzzing and drilling are on totally different sides of the spectrum. The Marlins just chose the wrong pitcher and the wrong way to do it.

It’s not old-school, grunting meatheadedness as some will reactively suggest. It’s a tactic. With tactics, whomever puts it into action is key. Like Urena, they might not be very adept at it and there is occasionally collateral damage. That, more than the act itself, is the problem.

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The Mets’ embarrassment could spark real and necessary change

MLB, Uncategorized

Ricco

The Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Braves Thursday could be viewed as “another day, another loss” in a season of promise that devolved into a disaster at stunning speed, even for them. But with each passing day, it grows clearer that the solution to repair what ails the club cannot come from inside the organization. For the duration of Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager, assistant GM John Ricco was rightfully viewed as his heir apparent. He preceded Alderson with the organization and his private sector resume largely mimics Alderson’s when Alderson was plucked from a law firm that was representing the Athletics and, with no baseball operations experience, was named the club’s GM. Ricco is also an attorney and worked in the MLB commissioner’s office before joining the Mets.

The transition would have been relatively seamless and moved forward whenever Alderson decided to leave had the Mets not disintegrated in consecutive years as they did in 2017-18.

Alderson has left the club, ostensibly to treat his recurrence of cancer. Seated next to Jeff Wilpon at the press conference to announce that news, Alderson himself essentially said that if it were up to him, he’d fire himself for the club’s downfall following their 2015-16 postseason appearances. So, Alderson is out and not returning. In his stead, they have a tri-head GM of Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya. This is unworkable in the short and long term. With clubs looking to deal with the Mets not knowing whom they should call and how long it will take for them to reach a consensus, the team is in stasis. Since the Mets made their highest value targets – Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard – off-limits barring a loony offer, the changes they did make are cosmetic.

The biggest problem for the Mets has morphed from the appearance of disarray to actual disarray.

On the bright side, the Mets are somewhat lucky in that they’re getting an in the trenches view of how Ricco would function as the fulltime GM. That trial run as the club spokesman and potential final decision maker is not helping his case to be given the job. With every press conference in which he serves as the organizational front man, he goes from “the guy whose voice we never heard” to “the guy whose voice we hope to never hear again.” It’s irrelevant whether he’s been a competent and evenhanded voice behind the scenes. He lacks the infectious personality that will automatically make it seem like he at least has a plan and believes in it and can get others to follow him. It’s clinical. He sounds like a doctor telling a patient that tests reveal a sexually transmitted disease. That is not going to work, especially in New York and specifically with the Mets.

Part of the search for the new GM goes beyond any blueprint he or she presents in an interview. It must be a person who can be sold to the fan base and media simply by mentioning the name. Listing potential names is generally a waste of time and more of a function of market research than anything else. Hiring a person who seems to check all the boxes and serves to placate the fans and media is not enough of a reason. Mickey Callaway has proven that.

Alderson is being blamed for the roster construction and the perceived dilapidation of the organization in general, but Ricco and Ricciardi were present and had a significant amount of sway for the entire time Alderson was there. Minaya was the GM who oversaw the rise and fall of the Mets from 2005-10. Can any one of the three make a case that he is the one who should be entrusted to fix this?

This goes beyond picking a new GM who is salable to the fans and has a background and clearly delineated plan. Because they have already stated their intention to contend in 2019, a new GM who might have wanted to trade away deGrom, Syndergaard and any other player of value to boost the farm system, clear some salary and reboot has already been told before interviewing that there will not be a rebuild. Right there, it puts a potential GM at a disadvantage as he will be walking in with parameters and residue from past failures rather than a clean slate.

Wilpon is another issue. He trusted Alderson enough to leave him alone as much as Wilpon leaves any of his underlings alone, but he had two decades of experience in the game from about every perspective a front office person can have. He’d earned the benefit of the doubt. While Ricco is liked within the organization, the first instinct Wilpon will have is to tighten his grip, not loosen it. Add in Ricco’s poor showing thus far as the team spokesman and it cannot work.

The beneficial aspect to the Mets slide toward what will be close to 100 losses is the urgency to act and willingness to change. It will spark the necessary action of hiring a veteran baseball man with experience and flexibility to adapt. Working the owner is part of the job. With none of the three current baseball men running the club capable of doing it, it is vital they find someone from outside – someone to be the baseball CEO; someone who knows what the hell he’s doing.

No replacing Yoenis Cespedes, so here’s another idea for the Mets

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

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Yoenis Cespedes, set to have surgery on both heels and expected to miss up to 10 months and perhaps more leaves the New York Mets in a predicament of how to replace his production. He has been riddled with injuries since signing his four-year, $110 million contract to remain with the Mets and the team’s fortunes have spiraled in direct proportion with his absences. When he’s played, they’ve been good; when he hasn’t played, they’ve been bad.

The positive aspect to the announcement is the end to the ambiguity. The Mets had functioned with a daily dread that even when he was deemed healthy, he was one step away from another injury that would keep him out for three months.

So, now they know.

Replacing him is a separate matter, especially considering the uncertainty in the front office with the departure of Sandy Alderson, the current tri-head GM of John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi, and the club’s unknown strategy and payroll going forward.

There are calls for the Mets to tear down the entire structure and rebuild, but such a position is absurd. Trading the likes of pending free agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Devin Mesoraco and Jerry Blevins is obvious. Players under team control through 2019 – Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores – should be moved if there is a sufficient return, albeit steeper than what they will get for those approaching free agency.

Regarding the idea of trading Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, what sense does that make when there are three different people who are vying to get the top job and no set plan in place?

If the Mets are truly thinking about trading deGrom or Syndergaard, that is a decision that must be made by the new permanent head of baseball operations, whoever that is.

That brings us to how best to move forward if the Mets truly intend on competing in 2019.

Given the structure of the club being built around pitching and the opportunity to get younger, a spin from Alderson-led strategy of slow-footed, feast or famine players who played station to station and did little other than hit occasional home runs, the Mets have an opening to do something that has not been done full tilt since the Whitey Herzog St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s: build a team based on speed and defense with the pitchers to back up that strategy.

The Mets have been notoriously slow in recent years. They have been lacking athleticism, devoid of versatility, and shoddy defensively.

The words “small ball” have been largely extinguished if not outright excommunicated from the game like they’re a toxic disease that only anti-vaccination fanatics fail to see the damage they can do, but with deGrom getting losses or no-decisions in 12 starts in which he pitched at least six innings and surrendered 3 or fewer earned runs, would the Mets not have been better-served to get runners on base in the early innings, push the envelope by stealing bases, bunt them along when appropriate, get a lead and force the other manager’s hand to make desperate moves because they cannot fall behind by one run?

This is contingent on starting pitching – something the Mets have in comparative abundance.

Some have indulged in delusional speculation that with the money the Mets will save via insurance payments for David Wright and now Cespedes, they should go big in this winter’s free agent market by pursuing Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper. Hypothetically, if the Mets were willing to make that level of expenditure, why would players in demand like Machado or Harper want to join the Mets with the club’s reputation for disarray, dysfunction and injury?

More to the point, the type of players who would fit into the aggressive style of play are available should the club be willing to eschew the glossy signing and go for an actual planned construction with players who can do more than one thing.

Ian Kinsler may be 36 and struggling at the plate in 2018, but he remains a superlative defensive second baseman with speed to steal 15 to 20 bases and hit 20 home runs. He’s a free agent, won’t cost a draft pick, nor ask for a long-term contract.

Billy Hamilton is available and despite his poor OPS, he’s a defensive stalwart in center field who, if turned loose, could easily steal 80 to 100 bases.

With Amed Rosario playing better and more aggressively, Brandon Nimmo’s skill at getting on base, the remaining potential in Michael Conforto, hackers like T.J. Rivera and Jeff McNeil who might not bring the precious walks that sabermetrics advocates pine for, but collect hits, would this type of team have a better chance at competing than the ones the Mets have put on the field in 2017-18?

When the club is slumping offensively and is not hitting home runs, what do they do to score? There’s no stopping speed; there’s no viable defense for the panic that ensues when there’s a runner on base who might steal at any moment and the team is aggressively forcing the action with hitting and running, exhibiting derring-do on the bases and showing fearlessness. In games where they’re not hitting or getting on base, their defense will be a contribution.

Since the Mets have failed in every other attempt to fill in and replace costly players who are hurt; with their annual strategies imploding as if that was their intent, how much worse could they be if they did something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1980s – and worked – with their most hated rival at the time that twice sabotaged the dominant Mets teams of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?

Those Cardinals ran wild on the bases, caught the ball, and won three pennants in six years. This is a preferable strategy to the Mets trading their cost-controlled faces deGrom or Syndergaard for “Random Prospects X, Y and Z” and the team couldn’t be any worse than it is now. They’d certainly be more interesting.

The Nationals, players’ only meetings and automaton managers

MLB

Martinez RizzoWith the Washington Nationals reeling and desperately trying to turn out of their accelerating death spiral, the club held a players’ only meeting after yet another loss. As manager Dave Martinez faces scrutiny for the underachieving club whose championship window is not just closing but is about to be blown out of its frame, he seems at a loss for words with the following comment:

“We were a pretty good team in May. Not very good in June, but we’ll get better.”

“I know we’re going to get better. We’re going to continue, and we’re going to win a lot of games.”

This while the inevitable and perfectly reasonable question is being asked as to whether the Nationals would be in this position right now had they not decided to move on from Dusty Baker for the younger, more pliable and cheaper Martinez.

This is a repeat of the Nationals’ previous attempt to hire the cookie-cutter manager who did what he was told, Matt Williams, to replace the veteran and somewhat headstrong Davey Johnson. To compound the growing sense of “what might have been?”, Johnson came out in his book saying that he was basically an unwilling accomplice to “Incident X” in the Nationals downfall from would-be dynasty to historic underachiever: the 2012 shutdown of Stephen Strasburg.

Even more troubling is Jim Riggleman, the manager who Johnson replaced because he was a veteran caretaker manager whose role was to oversee the rebuild and keep the young players in line, is enjoying a renaissance as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, having turned the club from 110-loss oblivion to playing around .500 ball under his stewardship following their atrocious 3-15 start under Bryan Price.

Martinez epitomizes the preferred manager in today’s game where collaboration takes precedence over competence and experience; where following orders is at or near the top of the job description when it wasn’t even included in the list of requirements before front offices took center stage as the hub around which entire organizations orbit.

To blame Martinez, Mickey Callaway or Paul Molitor for the poor seasons of their clubs and to credit Dave Roberts, Aaron Boone or Gabe Kapler for a club’s success misses the point of how managers are handled – not hired – handled today.

Martinez merely serves as the latest case study of why these new-age managers are largely interchangeable. His statement above is indicative of not knowing what to do while knowing what he’s allowed to do. He’s a figurehead and the players know it. The team meeting is a signal that they’re taking matters into their own hands to stack sandbags and prevent the flood from worsening because, judging by their history with Williams, they’ve seen this natural disaster before and are acting before it’s too late.

This is a grand distance from a Billy Martin explosion with the food table being flung across the room; a Lee Elia expletive-laced rant; or even Jim Leyland screaming at the players and telling the GM – his “boss” – to get the hell out of his office and stop telling him how to do his job and getting away with it.

Don Zimmer once started a team meeting by screaming at his players before coming to a dead stop and telling them that it wasn’t their fault that they stunk and couldn’t play, so there was no reason to yell at them for it.

None of this happens in today’s game even with the remaining veteran managers like Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter and Ron Gardenhire who have a certain amount of leeway in dealing with the players.

Disposable managers with entry-level contracts know their place. Martinez appears devoid of passion not due to natural stoicism, but through borderline catatonia that was drilled in as a prerequisite for the job. That’s essentially the logical conclusion of hiring a manager whose role is to take orders and who, should he deviate from that, will be replaced by another manager who takes orders. When the Nationals caved and hired Baker, it was because they could not afford to hire another Williams and Baker was willing to take short money for the opportunity. After two years, two division titles, and two close-call Game 5 losses in the NLDS, the Nationals felt sufficiently emboldened in their arrogance that they were talented enough to win on cruise control and could hire another manager like Williams. The results are eerily similar not just on the field but with the players’ action and reaction.

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.

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 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.

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.