The Mets have 3 viable options with Matt Harvey


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.


Adrian Gonzalez fools those who pushed for his release

MLB, Uncategorized


Adrian Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the Mets really blackballing Wally Backman?

MiLB, MLB, Uncategorized

backman-picWally Backman is asserting that the New York Mets in general and general manager Sandy Alderson in particular have blackballed him in an effort to prevent him from getting another job with a major league organization, something he has yet to do in any capacity since he left the Mets in September. With that the case, Backman accepted a position to manage Monclova in the Mexican League this season.

Backman alleges that he has inside information from a friend in the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office who informed him of what Alderson is doing. In addition, he disputes the “resigned” narrative that was presented at the time of his departure even though it was he who stated that he walked away.

Backman also claims that Jeff Wilpon “betrayed” him. This ignores the reality that it was Wilpon who essentially forced Alderson to accept Backman as a minor league manager for his entire tenure as GM. Had Alderson been granted his wishes from the start, Backman would not have played an upfront role in the organization, particularly not as the steward to the team’s best young players.

While Alderson is an easy scapegoat, what seems to have happened is that Backman, understandably, had grown weary of languishing in Triple A and wanted to be moved up to Terry Collins’s coaching staff and the Mets refused. Had the Mets been willing to do that, it would have happened after the 2015 season when bench coach Bob Geren departed for the same job with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead, Alderson chose Dick Scott. Again, after 2016 with Tim Teufel being removed from the coaching staff, the Mets selected Glenn Sherlock to serve as third base coach and catching coach.

There was no opening for Backman and one was not forthcoming. Yet his decision to leave was done in a typical Backman fit of pique without understanding that it was not the Mets holding him back, but holding him up by giving him a job when no one else would have. There’s no doubt that Backman is an intense competitor, a good and wizened baseball mind, and fearless enough that he might be exactly what a team in the need of a kick start could use. But there’s a reason no one will hire him whether it’s his past, his reputation as a loose cannon, or something else. This has nothing to do with the team that did give him a job, the Mets.

Is it possible that Alderson is bad-mouthing Backman to prevent him from getting a job with the implication that a successful run from Backman with another organization and a chance at managing in the big leagues could end up embarrassing the Mets?

Anything is possible. However, a better question to ask is whether it’s likely. The answer is no.

In what is expected to be his final season as the everyday GM before retiring, moving to a senior role, or doing something else entirely, Alderson certainly has better things to do at age 69 than to orchestrate a whisper campaign against Backman, whom he clearly considers a non-entity. The likelier scenario is that the other MLB teams know Backman’s history and there are behind-the-scenes reasons for which he’s not getting hired. If asked for a recommendation, Alderson’s not going to give him one. As a professional, Alderson would presumably give the positives and negatives of Backman and leave it there without going to the energy-sapping lengths to overtly interfere with a job offer from another team.

What this appears to be is Backman leaving the Mets and thinking his work with the organization for six years and his on-field success was sufficient to cover up the warts before gauging the job market and if he was a candidate for any open position in MLB or the affiliated minors. Since his on-field baseball credentials are good enough to get a job, his inability to do so creates the image that there’s something up, true or not.

With his statements against Alderson and the Mets, he didn’t do himself any favors. Like most of the problems Backman has had in his attempts to manage in the big leagues, they’re predominately of his own making and the blackball explanation is another diversionary tactic that few will, and should, believe.

Terry Collins sounds like he’s had enough


Before he was fired as the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Paul DePodesta was preparing to hire Terry Collins as the new Dodgers manager to replace Jim Tracy. Tracy and DePodesta were never on the same page either philosophically or personally and the veteran manager Collins was DePodesta’s first choice as Tracy’s replacement. That plan was upended when DePodesta was also fired. So it was no surprise that when Sandy Alderson took over as the GM of the New York Mets after the 2010 season and brought DePodesta in as his assistant that Collins – already working for the Mets as their minor league coordinator – was at the top of the list to become the team’s new manager.

Collins would be able to stand a drawn out rebuild, keep the team in line off the field, and work in tandem with the front office without having to be treated as the functionary that the people in the Mets front office want their manager to be. Resistance to the plan is the bane to the existence of front offices that think like the Mets. It’s been evident with the Chicago Cubs as Theo Epstein is now on his third manager since taking over as team president. It was clear with Alderson himself when he pushed Bruce Bochy out the door as the San Diego Padres manager in favor of the cheaper and more pliable Bud Black. Bochy is on his way to the Hall of Fame with three World Series wins in the last five years as manager of the San Francisco Giants. Black, the epitome of mediocrity as a manager and a holdover with the Padres who’s somehow survived four regimes, may be on the verge of finally losing his job.

Collins has a superior resume to Black, but he too may be rattling his cage to the degree that Alderson finally pulls the lever and opens the trap door. It’s even possible that Alderson has his eye on the Padres situation with an idea that it will be Black replacing Collins.

The reasoning behind Alderson wanting to get rid of Bochy was in line with his belief system of what the manager should be. Bochy was resistant to the stat-based tactics that Alderson’s front office prefers and he understandably chafed at the interference and audacious interlopers who had never been in uniform or picked up a baseball, but felt they were qualified to make suggestions to someone who’s been in baseball for his entire working life as a player, coach and manager. In addition, Alderson didn’t want to pay Bochy what he was making at the time. Rather than fire him, he simply let him interview for other jobs. It was a mutual parting of the ways with everyone getting what they wanted.

Most managers have a survivalist instinct. In today’s game, part of that is following orders from GMs and their assistants when, in years past, they could tell their “bosses” to get the hell out of their office and get away with it. That won’t fly today.

Collins, while an old-school baseball man whose roots and sensibilities are similar to those of his former boss with the Pittsburgh Pirates Jim Leyland and Leyland’s longtime buddy (and Alderson’s former manager with the Oakland Athletics) Tony La Russa, was willing to implement the new metrics into his strategies. Whether he did this because he knew he had to to get the job or because he really believes in them is in dispute. Regardless, the cage rattling is something that bears watching as the Mets move forward into the summer with an injury-plagued roster and a clear shot to steal a division title with the reeling Washington Nationals betraying no resemblance to the prohibitive favorites they were prior to the season.

Collins was faced with a choice and for a long time he bowed to expediency. Knowing that this is more than likely his last chance to manage a big league team, he took the meddling with a shrug and did as he was told. He accepted that he was going to be saddled with relatively short-term contracts and, in 2015, the status as a lame duck. He tolerated the open statement on the part of his GM that he was on the verge of being fired in 2014.

But now, as the team is half on the verge of being quite good and half on the verge of suffering another second half spiral because of a lack of hitting, injuries and a failure to secure competent reinforcements, Collins is showing the “enough of this” attitude having reached his breaking point and no longer cares about the consequences. His attitude is that of knowing he’s probably going to get fired unless there’s a deep playoff run and he’s letting that seep out in his statements to the media and a clear disconnect between what he says and what the front office does.

Whereas he was once accommodating with the media and tamped down on the intensity that got him ousted as the manager of the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the feistiness is returning with Collins openly telling the media that they don’t know what they’re talking about and that he’s been doing this job longer than they’ve been alive. Collins made his displeasure with the current state of his roster known in a telling chat with John Smoltz that Collins himself related. The latest is that Collins stated that the Mets brief foray into using a six-man rotation was over after one turn and one poor start from Dillon Gee, only to see his proclamation undone by Alderson with Gee slated to start against the Braves on Sunday.

This situation is such that the manager took the job with a promised payoff years down the road. He would have an opportunity – one that he was not going to get anywhere else – to redeem himself. But like most “just wait” scenarios, the promises or allusions to promises do not appear to be written in ink on the blueprint. How much castration is he supposed to take? At what point does he say that he’s not going to go out as a baseball man with the entire world thinking that he was a faceless puppet or, worse, an incompetent?

The Mets front office is making their manager look like a fool by undermining him at every opportunity. With the new way in which baseball managers are treated, the majority of teams will never allow a manager to have the power that a Joe Torre, LaRussa, Whitey Herzog or Lou Piniella demanded and received. If that is unsaid and there’s still a façade of importance in the manager’s office, then it’s possible to get away with the front office dictating the on-field decisions. If, however, there’s so open a disdain for the manager that something he said a week before is suddenly undone with a total disregard for his perception in and out of the clubhouse, then what’s the point of keeping him?

Collins has been a good soldier hoping for that last shot. Now it’s becoming abundantly clear that there is a yawning chasm between himself and his bosses and it’s incrementally coming out in public undertones of displeasure. By mid-summer, if this continues, Collins might just dare Alderson to fire him. And Alderson will. Professionally, it won’t benefit Collins to do this, but at the very least he’ll salvage a portion of his baseball man self-respect because he’d reached his limit and did what he had to do to retain some sense of dignity.

The 6-Man Rotation: Its Wisdom And Its Flaws


Had the Washington Nationals implemented a 6-man starting rotation in 2012, there’s a very real chance that they would have won the World Series that year. The predetermined innings limit on ace Stephen Strasburg that led to him being shut down in mid-September of that year could very easily have been avoided had the Nats taken the lesser of evils by implementing a 6-man starting rotation. They chose not to do that, sat a submissive Strasburg down, and lost in the National League Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

There’s no guarantee that the Nats would have won that series with Strasburg. Ace pitchers are generally hit or miss when it comes to the post-season – just look at Clayton Kershaw. For the 2012 Nats, it was the bullpen that betrayed them as they were set to close it out. But having Strasburg made the Nats a better team and they didn’t have him not because he was injured, but because they were paranoid and they did something absurd to feed that paranoia and shield themselves from criticism in case he got hurt. That he’s never fulfilled that massive potential is a secondary negative to his career. The protection was, basically, useless.

In hindsight, the Nats still insist they did the “right” thing because admitting to anything less is seen, in the macho and stupid world of sports, as a sign of weakness. Then-manager Davey Johnson was out of the Earl Weaver school of managing and wanted nothing to do with babying his players, but was overruled on the matter. Suffice it to say that had Strasburg been available, Johnson would have been happy to have him on the mound for game 1 or 2 of that series.

Many pitchers dislike the 6-man rotation, but given the dueling agendas of front offices and on-field staff, there are few other options that make sense. Currently, there’s an ongoing debate as to what the New York Mets should do with their enviable surplus of starting pitching. Veteran Dillon Gee is the low man on the totem pole and had a conveniently-timed groin injury. Rafael Montero had a shoulder injury. These issues allowed the club to recall Noah Syndergaard slightly earlier than planned. Syndergaard has nothing more to prove in the minor leagues and has been dynamic in all aspects of the game since arriving in the majors, even hitting a tape-measure home run against the Philadelphia Phillies while tossing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in his Wednesday afternoon start.

They could send Syndergaard down, but he’s earned his position in the big leagues. The Mets would like to be rid of Gee, but don’t want to give him away. Clearly what the Mets are doing for the foreseeable future is giving extra and unwanted (from their perspective) rest to Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon while simultaneously showcasing Gee to try and get something of value for him when they trade him. It’s easy to say “just get him outta here,” but sometimes it makes sense to wait for teams to grow desperate as general manager Sandy Alderson did when he pried the Mets’ future second baseman Dilson Herrera and righty reliever Vic Black from the Pittsburgh Pirates for rejuvenated journeyman outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck. While it’s unlikely they’ll get anything of use for Gee, they might if they wait. The subpar deals that they can make now will still be there a month from now barring an injury or terrible performance.

Akin to the 6-man rotation, pitching once a week is the norm in Japan and it could be the change in scheduling that has negatively affected Masahiro Tanaka as he’s battling numerous injuries with the New York Yankees. In Japan, their workloads are heavier, but they get more rest. In North America, with all the medical expertise and studies that are used to decide how best to keep pitchers healthy, there are still an alarming number of injuries sabotaging these plans and schemes that look retrospectively ridiculous when the foundation of the decision was to keep them healthy and it’s not working.

Suffice it to say that the Mets five main starters want nothing to do with this arrangement, nor would there be any chance of a Strasburg-like shutdown of Harvey if the Mets are in playoff contention down the stretch. Both pitchers are represented by Scott Boras, but that’s about where the similarities end. Boras had a hand in the Strasburg shutdown with an eye toward the future contract his charge is set to command. If he had his choice with Harvey, he’d probably prefer the pitcher take a similarly acquiescent route as Strasburg did, listening to orders and acting like Boras’s brainless dummy, but that’s not going to happen. Strasburg meekly agreed to the shutdown, only resisting in a perfunctory fashion when he saw the public and professional backlash he faced for the perceived selfishness. If the Mets tried that with Harvey, he’d simply tell them that either they let him pitch or they trade him. No pitcher in baseball wants the playoff spotlight and accompanying attention that comes with it more than Harvey and he’s not going to shun that for the protective embrace that the innings limits are supposed to provide, but rarely do.

These are the options:

A) shutdown at X number of innings

B) ignore the research and let them pitch regardless of the workload

C) go with the 6-man rotation

Which is best?

The Nats and Strasburg are headed toward a parting of the ways after the 2016 season as his free agency beckons. They might trade him before that. His talent has been largely wasted at the time in his life when he should have been at the top of his game and pitching for his team in the playoffs. Other teams noticed how badly that situation was botched and are trying to find different ways to protect their young pitchers, adhere to medical recommendations, and still have them available for the entire season without blowing off the innings limits and placing themselves under the microscope for “abusing” their young arms. Some teams simply don’t care what others say and live by the old-school credo. That worked for the San Francisco Giants. The Mets aren’t doing that, but they don’t want to shut down their pitchers either. With all that in mind, the best option of all the questionable options is to go with a 6-man rotation for a few turns to naturally keep the innings down while trying to move Gee. They really don’t have any other viable choice.

What separates Matt Harvey from the “I wouldas”


Perhaps the most appealing thing about New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey isn’t his dominating stuff and his coolest guy in the room attitude, but that he’s the guy in reality that other guys try to portray themselves to be when there’s limited chance of being called on it. He dates bikini models; he threatens giants (Jon Rauch); he effectively straddles the line between obnoxious arrogance and overwhelming confidence; and he’s a gifted talent.

Tuesday night’s victory over the Philadelphia Phillies was indicative of what Harvey is.

So many use the “I woulda” as an example of what “woulda” happened if “I” was in the area when (insert incident here) happened without any basis of truth. In most cases, the “I wouldas” “woulda” done absolutely nothing. That’s what separates Harvey from the rabble inside and outside of baseball.

Harvey is liked and respected throughout baseball, but he doesn’t let that interfere with him doing his job and adhering to the code of what has to be done independent of personalities. There’s no false bluster or empty threats. Chase Utley didn’t appear to be all that bothered about taking one in the back as clear retaliation for his pitcher, David Buchanan, popping two Mets hitters. No one thinks that Buchanan was intentionally throwing at Wilmer Flores or Michael Cuddyer, but that matters only in a very minimal way. The message was sent not just to the Phillies, but to the rest of baseball and the Mets as well: we’re not taking this crap. Utley gets it because he’s old school and essentially plays the same way Harvey does with little bits of gamesmanship like hard tags, quietly snide comments that only the target hears, and take-out slides. Other players might glare or even charge the mound. If that’s the case, Harvey’s attitude is, “Hey, let’s go.”

For too long, the Mets roster was permeated – or pockmarked – with nice guys; guys who think about consequences too much before acting; guys who don’t realize that the long-term benefits of action sometimes outweigh the short-term sanctions that can result. It’s been an issue for years. In 2000, Mike Piazza was hit in the head by Roger Clemens in a mid-season game against the New York Yankees after Piazza had repeatedly demolished Clemens at the plate. The Mets’ retaliation was Glendon Rusch hitting Tino Martinez in the backside.

The Yankees weren’t sufficiently terrified nor all that impressed after a soft-tossing lefty like Rusch hit Martinez in the one place where hitters would prefer to be hit if they’re going to be hit – his butt.

Manager Bobby Valentine debated whether or not to have the next day’s starter Mike Hampton drill Derek Jeter and ultimately decided against it. In a typical Mets moment of in the intervening years from the “street gang/don’t screw with us or else” years of Keith Hernandez, Ray Knight and Darryl Strawberry, the Mets were viewed as cerebral wimps whose lunch money – and postseason money – was there for the taking from baseball’s bullies like Clemens. That’s a long way from 1986 when Knight punched Eric Davis in the face and invited Dave Parker to step into the the next day with Parker (nicknamed “Cobra” for reasons that had nothing to do with baseball) backing down.

Piazza had every right to attack Roger Clemens for flinging the broken bat handle at him in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. Few doubt Piazza’s ability to wring Clemens’s neck if it came down to that, but rather than acting instinctively, Piazza weighed the possibility of getting ejected from a World Series game and chose not to fight. In the moment, it’s understandable. In retrospect, would Piazza pounding Clemens have spurred the Mets to win the series? There’s no way to know, but the series couldn’t have gone much worse than the Mets losing in five games.

The Mets have been justifiably viewed as soft. That might be why when there’s a gut-check game – Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS; the last games of the season in 2007 and 2008 against the Florida Marlins – they always lost. Even when they tried to retaliate, it was done in a manner that elicited eye rolls and laughter at the Mets being the Mets. In 2002, when the Mets had the opportunity to finally retaliate against Clemens, Valentine had Shawn Estes – who wasn’t even on the Mets when in 2000 – throw at Clemens. And he missed. When David Wright was beaned by Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants in 2009, Johan Santana tried to retaliate by hitting Pablo Sandoval…and he missed too. Then Sandoval hit a home run. That was the pre-Harvey Mets.

The Mets were laughed at because they deserved to be laughed at. They were considered soft because the evidence showed that they were soft. Teams felt they could be pushed around because they could be pushed around.

Matt Harvey’s not soft; he won’t allow his teammates to be soft; and he won’t be pushed around. The message is clear to the other pitchers like Jacob deGrom as well. This is how you protect the hitters.

Reminiscent of former Mets greats Dwight Gooden, Tom Seaver, and even Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman, he’s going to throw at you if it has to be done. In 1985 Gooden threw a high-90s fastball over Montreal Expos pitcher Bill Gullickson’s head after Gullickson threw one over his former Expos battery mate Gary Carter’s head. Carter wasn’t popular with his former Expos teammates and nodded knowingly after the Gullickson pitch. Gooden responded.

In the 1969 stretch run, Koosman drilled Ron Santo after Bill Hands knocked Tommie Agee down. Koosman responded.

Two Mets hitters were hit by pitches. Harvey responded. If teams want to fight over it, he’s ready to do that too. Because he’s not an “I woulda.” He’s an “I would.”

And he did.

Matt Harvey vs. Stephen Strasburg: who’s actually better and why?


The answer lies not in their stats, but in their swagger.

In 2009, Stephen Strasburg came out of San Diego State University as the consensus number one pick in the nation. The Washington Nationals, at the time, were fortunate in that there was very little brain work that needed to be done to find the player they were going to take with that first overall pick. Comparing and contrasting that with what happened to the Houston Astros with Brady Aiken and it’s not to be disregarded how the appearance of a once-in-a-generation talent can help a club to make the decision. When there is debate as to who the number one pick should be, it’s not only about their performance as their careers move along, but how making the wrong pick can cost people their jobs. Had there been another, less heralded prospect available and the Nationals had felt strongly enough about him to shun Strasburg, then it would have been a big story that could either have exploded in their faces or turned into a massive victory. Looking at the 2009 first round, the Nationals might have chosen to take Dustin Ackley – a bust – first overall. Or they might have fallen in love with a player who’d fallen to number 25, Mike Trout.

With hindsight, whom would they prefer? The answer is simple and it’s Trout.

Obviously any team with a conscientious scouting staff and general manager who’s in tune with the realities of developing players will perform due diligence before making the pick. Factors such as physicality, makeup and ability will dictate that “this is the player we want.” It certainly helps to have that consensus number one sitting there so there’s a built-in excuse if he doesn’t make it: “Anyone else in our position would have picked him too.”

The Nationals were lucky to be in that position two straight years in 2009, the year they selected Strasburg, and 2010 when they took Bryce Harper.

Along with that consensus number one status comes a lot of pressure on both the player and the club. That and the combination of recommendations from supposed experts, formulas and paranoia is what led to the Nationals babying Strasburg to the degree they did. He wound up getting hurt anyway, missed a large chunk of the 2011 season after Tommy John surgery, and, in what is now known as a notorious decision, he was shut down at a prescribed innings limit in 2012 as the Nationals were heading toward the playoffs.

Strasburg acted as if he was upset about the shutdown, but he went along with it through the prodding of his agent/puppeteer Scott Boras as well as the Nationals’ staff. Had he truly demanded that the shutdown not have occurred and demanded to pitch, what could the Nationals have done?

Matt Harvey, on the other hand, was a known prospect but wasn’t as obvious a star. Picked seventh overall in 2010 by the New York Mets former front office regime led by the unfairly maligned and savvy talent evaluator Omar Minaya, Harvey was drafted before recognizable names Chris Sale and Christian Yelich. Even as he made his way through the minors, no one knew he’d develop into a pitcher whose attitude and stuff are comparable to a young Roger Clemens.

Amid all of Strasburg’s obvious talent with a searing fastball, knee-buckling curve and superior changeup, there’s a wishy-washiness to him that indicates a troubling lack of intensity and that he’d be just as happy working as a stockbroker making big corporate bucks as he is being a star athlete. To him, baseball appears to be his job and he’s out to maximize the amount of money he makes from it. His agent, that his free agency is pending after 2016, and that the performance hasn’t lived up to the expectations – in large part because of injury and babying – make him a trade target. He’s allowed the subjugation of his personality and career to his agent and bosses. He lets that agent be the hatchet man and his bosses dictate to him how he’ll be used when a true competitor would stand up for himself in ways that Strasburg has been reluctant and unwilling to do.

To Harvey, baseball is not only his job but a means to be famous and recognized as the best at what he does. There’s an attention-whore aspect to Harvey that is irritating many in the Mets organization and leads to public embarrassments after which the team has to do its best to clean it up, but it’s also a way to make the organization money with the now ubiquitous “Harvey Day” promotional device. While it’s Derek Jeter who Harvey purports to emulate, his behaviors have been compared to Jeter’s nemesis and bizarro counterpart, Alex Rodriguez.

Like Strasburg, Harvey needed Tommy John surgery. Strasburg accepted it as a matter of course in a cold, analytical way. Harvey demanded to try and rehab it without surgery so he could pitch. That’s not just a medical plan of action, but an insightful indicator of what makes the two young stars tick.

It isn’t a matter of “Which one’s better?” but of “Which one would you rather have?” It’s not connected to contracts, agents (both are represented by Boras), age, team control, and ability. It’s about who you want on the mound in a big game. Strasburg had more hype coming out of college, but Harvey has the “it” factor in that he would neither allow himself to be shut down as his team is charging toward the playoffs, nor would he let the glare of the post-season spotlight shock him into terror.

Harvey’s nickname is the “Dark Knight of Gotham” and he’s embraced that nickname. He loves being the center of attention in New York, relishes the love and lust he engenders (on and off the field), and wants heads to turn when he struts by. Strasburg’s nickname is “Stras” and his only apparent interest in darkness is that it be dark enough that no one’s able to see him. He’s allowed himself to be co-opted by his agent and organization and hasn’t fulfilled the promise he showed when he was drafted and everyone knew who he was and what he could be.

This isn’t about stuff, WAR, and draft status. It’s about the individual. Going by those factors, there isn’t one team in baseball – including the Nationals – who wouldn’t pick Harvey over Strasburg.

Sandy Alderson and the Mets’ new reality


This is not a premature crowning of Mets general manager Sandy Alderson as the strangely timed and even more strangely titled Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets tries to do. Nor is it a random act of rage for Alderson’s seeming inability to make the aggressive move a large segment of the Mets’ impatient fan base – most notably Mets Twitter and their beat writers – has been demanding along the lines of Troy Tulowitzki.

This is about the current reality of the team in an objective assessment of what Alderson’s done and what he clearly plans to do. As notoriously inscrutable as Alderson is, it’s no secret what his underlying sentiments are beneath the corporate terminology, skillful verbiage and lawyerly subterfuge.

The book written about Alderson is, at best, premature. At worst, it’s a bizarre alteration of current truths that might eventually be true, but currently are not. The title of the book takes the tone of hope that Alderson’s supporters will read it and believe every word in spite of the fact that his Mets teams have finished under .500 in every one of the four years he’s been the GM of the team.

On the other side are those who don’t even have the basest understanding of what it was Alderson was facing when he took the team over. The farm system was in better shape under the previous regime led by Omar Minaya than popular perception suggests, but there were horrendous contracts on the books and many of the prospects were still years away. No one even knew who Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Juan Lagares and Lucas Duda were. Ike Davis was expected to be a centerpiece and there was a desperation that Jose Reyes would sign a long-term contract. He had to slash payroll, wait out those contracts, try to maximize the value he did have on the big league roster, and wait.

In short, with the Bernie Madoff financial disaster still in full swing and the Wilpons facing the bleak prospect of possibly losing the team, Alderson was the front man who had to take the hits for the sins of ownership. His even tone and outward calm turned out to be exactly what they needed as a spokesman. His ruthlessness and fearlessness was also what the club needed as he set about implementing a rebuild that was a long time in coming.

For so long, the Mets patched over their holes with veterans and largely ignored the farm system with an adherence to fan and media demands because Minaya and Jeff Wilpon heard the reverberating echoes for instant gratification even if it was doomed to be the baseball equivalent of the subprime mortgage crisis.

While Alderson’s accomplishment might have had more to do with the financial realities that the Wilpons were dealing with, he was still able to convince them to take the heat for failing to make a sound offer for Reyes; for trading National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey; for dealing away Carlos Beltran; for retaining manager Terry Collins when the fans and segments of the media made abundantly clear their desire for him to be replaced. It was a combination of warding off the interference of ownership to try and tamp down on the criticism, ignoring the media and fans, and rebuilding the team properly under financial constraints that are difficult to fathom for a big market team.

This spring, Alderson’s actions and his tone have changed from conciliatory and parrying to aggressive and challenging. Clearly it’s because he thinks he’s in a better position to be combative since the team has a legitimate chance at contention.

His acquisitions of two veteran lefty relievers Alex Torres and Jerry Blevins within hours of each other was another example of him staying silent and waiting for a deal to present itself rather than panicking to quiet the critics. This wasn’t the first time that Alderson acted without the media having the faintest idea as to what he was planning because his front office doesn’t leak information to drop pebbles into the water to see what the reaction is going to be. When he traded Beltran to the San Francisco Giants, the reports from supposed insiders as to what the return was going to be focused on then-Giants’ top prospect, center fielder Gary Brown. That was almost four years ago and, ironically, the Giants just lost Brown to the St. Louis Cardinals on a waiver claim after he contributed nothing to the big league club. Instead, he acquired Zack Wheeler who, in spite of needing Tommy John surgery, has far better career prospects than the plummeting Brown.

He traded Dickey for a catcher, Travis d’Arnaud who will at worst be a 15-18 homer bat, and what many believe is the best pitching prospect in baseball, Noah Syndergaard.

Simultaneous articles in the tabloids were written about the Mets lack of action to bolster their starting rotation after the loss of Harvey to, again, Tommy John surgery in 2013. That very day, he struck without warning and signed Bartolo Colon to a two-year contract leading the likes of Joel Sherman to do what he usually does after being embarrassed by his own lack of insight and information: try to explain away why he’s almost always completely wrong.

That’s not to say there are no negatives to be lobbed at Alderson. While the Kettmann book wasn’t written with Alderson as a manifesto for his ego and legacy, he did take part in it in a vast number of brutally honest interviews. Much of it seemed to be an attempt to place himself at the forefront of how baseball is run today as a father figure to be placed on the sabermetrics Mount Rushmore.

For all the talk that it was Alderson who ushered in the Moneyball revolution and that it was he who trained Billy Beane leaving the foundation for what became Beane’s faux aura of “genius,” Alderson’s teams with the A’s had basically surrendered to the fact that they didn’t have the money they did in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they were the best team in the American League. They had accepted their lot in life as a team for whom everything had to go right for them to show some semblance of competitiveness.

When he became the CEO of the San Diego Padres his teams were consistently solid, but the front office was in disarray with warring factions whose dueling battle lines were fostered by Alderson himself in a clear tactic to keep all loyalties to him. It also can’t be ignored that the success he experienced in Oakland and San Diego were accomplished with one manager, Tony LaRussa, who’s in the Hall of Fame, and another manager, Bruce Bochy, who’s going to make the Hall of Fame. His other managers have been questionable hires whose job status was based more on their willingness to listen to front office edicts regarding how to run the team on the field than their actual competence.

The narrative that it was Alderson who brought the stat-based theories into baseball is undermined by him having had limited success as the man in charge of those organizations. Perhaps that’s part of the reason he took the Mets job – he does have an ego and desire to receive credit for his work. It might also be part of the reason he signed the contract extension to stay on as Mets GM through the 2017 season. Maybe that’s why he decided to go through with participating in Kettmann’s book. Although Kettmann’s book jumps the gun on crediting him, he wants to be there to get the accolades from the wider audience instead of having his legacy debated and contextualized as to how much of it he’s responsible for and how much of it was due to circumstances.

Daniel Murphy and the cloak of Christianity


It’s ironic that the general manager of the New York Mets, the former Marine officer and – presumably – conservative republican Sandy Alderson welcomed the openly homosexual former Major League player Bill Bean to Mets camp as Bean tours baseball in his role as Ambassador for Inclusion while one of the Mets players, Daniel Murphy, made it a point to openly state that he disagrees with Bean’s lifestyle. Murphy used his standing as a Christian to bolster the point and shield himself from any and all negative connotations surrounding his position. If he’d come out and said, “I ain’t interested in havin’ no faggots ‘round here,” it would’ve been equally as offensive, but it wouldn’t have been as cloudy with so many openly defending him for his supposed beliefs.

Only Murphy knows if it’s homophobia of not wanting a guy looking at him in what he thinks might be a sexual manner in the locker room or if he’s truly adhering to the tenets of the sections of the bible he purports to read and follow. But here’s a question: If Murphy’s beard wasn’t out of a stylistic choice but was, in fact, a religious necessity; if he had a skullcap and prayed five times a day as a devout Muslim and said that Bean’s homosexuality was an affront to Islam, an insult to Allah and that he would face judgment one day in a deserved fashion for his disgusting proclivities, would there be anyone defending him? What would the Christians who are nodding approval or shrugging off his comments say? Would he even be in the big leagues? What if he referenced Shariah law and advocated the harshest punishment possible for those who offend the tenets of his beliefs – that which he sees as completely tangible and real? Would the Christians who have so avidly come to his defense be saying the same thing they’re saying now?

What if he were a Jew? A Buddhist? A Scientologist? How would his comments be framed then? There’s a safety in numbers argument to the “I’m not a bigot, but…” tone of Murphy’s comments. Because so many follow the same religious he supposedly does, he can say whatever he wants and have it disappear into the scrum of ambiguity as to how these biblical passages are interpreted.

These arguments are similar to those that kept baseball segregated until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. “Yeah, ‘they’ can play, but it’s probably not right for Major League Baseball to integrate at this time.” “It’s got nothing to do with racism, but I don’t see America as being ready for black players in Major League Baseball.” “Maybe someday, but not now.” “It’s not about race – I’ve got lots of black friends – but there’s something not right about mixing races.”

That some didn’t use the word “nigger” didn’t serve to lessen the racism.

For a long time, Japanese players weren’t able to come to North America for a multitude of reasons, including that their league was viewed as the equivalent to a Triple A affiliate at best and the idea that many of their cultural preferences, skills and techniques wouldn’t translate.

On and on. Keeping the black players and the Japanese players out, albeit in vastly different ways, doesn’t look all that bright now. Actually, it looks retrospectively stupid. Those who truly want to justify their belief systems can find a way to do so. Some of these will be treated as the absurdities that they are; others will spur widespread agreement because it’s based on a bastardized interpretation of the teachings of a man of flesh and blood – Jesus – whose feats have somehow morphed into him being Superman.

I don’t want to hear about Jesus. I’m sure there are a large number of players, media members and fans who agree with me but are afraid to say it in order to keep the peace. When a player references God or Jesus, they roll their eyes, nod their heads sarcastically, take a small deep breath of derision, act as if they’re taking it seriously keeping their mouths shut. That some of these same players go boozing, drugging and whoring a few hours after bible study and condescending self-righteousness only renders the hypocrisy more pronounced and jades the secular observers further.

It’s masked bigotry disguised as belief.

A ludicrous assertion regarding Murphy’s statement was that he didn’t volunteer it, but was asked the question and simply answered. So because he didn’t place a couple of boxes in the center of the clubhouse, hold up the New Testament (or the Koran or the Old Testament or Dianetics) and start bellowing about how Bean is heading for eternal damnation for his lifestyle “choice,” it’s fine that Murphy’s presenting opinions on matters that have nothing whatsoever to do with him?

Bean is treading lightly as he finds the right tone in dealing with players who might not understand or want to hear what he has to say; who will ridicule him and call him names after he leaves. He undoubtedly knows this. If he wasn’t trying to educate and enlighten without offense, he’d point out the reality that the players who are petrified of homosexuals have definitely played with and dealt with homosexuals for their entire lives without even knowing it. Some might be gay themselves. If he were more aggressive, he would be entirely justified in replying to Murphy’s comments by saying, “I don’t give a damn what you approve or disapprove of. It’s none of your business.”

Because it’s none of Murphy’s business. It’s not my business. And it’s not your business. The idea that an openly gay player might alter the team chemistry is not something to ignore, but when it’s folded into some bizarre religious recipe to hide the taste of Murphy’s brain dead comments, then it is an issue because it’s a feeling that many share and will try to expand upon because the end result will justify the means by which it was achieved.

The fact that he was asked and didn’t volunteer the statement makes it even worse because the sentiment remains and no one will call him out on it because he’s using Christianity as a foundation to protect himself from biases that are present and validated because it’s a religion that a vast majority share, making it somehow okay.

Michael Kay’s Diet Coke Stunt: Just For The Lack Of Taste Of It

History, Management, Media, Players, Television

Michael Kay’s first show as the new simulcast of his ESPN radio show on the YES Network replacing Mike Francesa’s WFAN show began with an act that is indicative of what we can expect moving forward. Hopes that Kay would alter his sycophancy, self-promotion, pettiness and pretentious ridiculousness were dashed immediately after 3 p.m. EST on February 3. As the show began, on display in front of Kay was a bottle of Diet Coke. After their introduction, Kay’s flunky/partner Don La Greca lifted a garbage can up for all to see and Kay theatrically tossed the bottle into the trash.

For those not familiar with the reference, Francesa always has an open bottle of Diet Coke in front of him from the beginning of the show to the end. It’s become a running joke known to frequent viewers. In a misguided attempt at humor; to flaunt the fact that he’s replacing Francesa; or simply because he’s obnoxious, Kay’s childish, poorly planned and blatant moment of flamboyance did little more than validate the reputation he’s carried with him since his rise to prominence on Yankees broadcasts first on the radio then for the YES Network. Constantly fighting battles that only he sees or cares about, Kay’s penchant for carrying out personal vendettas over the smallest perceived slights has blurred the line that he himself created as he portrays himself as an objective sports analyst while simultaneously being an employee of the Yankees rooting for, promoting and self-righteously “protecting” the brand.

Lest anyone believe that his new gig with his show being on YES in lieu of Francesa’s would lead to an altering of that template that he’s crafted. The Diet Coke stunt—and that’s what it was, a stunt—clearly indicated that it’s going to be more of the same from Kay. In fact, it might get worse.

What was the purpose of it? It wasn’t a knee-jerk idea that they did without thinking about it. If it was, where’d they get the bottle of Diet Coke? Saying something stupid can be done in a split-second. To put forth the effort to go and find a bottle of Diet Coke, strategically place it in front of him for all to see knowing that Francesa-watchers would understand the symbolism and have his partner pick up the trash can to dispose of it in such florid fashion took planning. It wasn’t well-thought out, it wasn’t funny and, unless Kay’s intent was to say, “Hey, I’m still a jerk!”, it wasn’t necessary.

And that’s the key. If Kay was truly trying to go mainstream and stake a claim for his show as a nationwide entity, he’d have to tone down his act from a Yankees shill who behaves as a petulant infant using his forum to promote his own agenda and alter his persona and content. Whether that was ever a consideration is known only to Kay. Or perhaps he thinks he is toning down his act which would be even more disturbing considering his initial move on the open of his show on YES.

Kay has his shtick that he’s used ad nauseam since he arrived in the Yankees radio booth. From the over-descriptive “interlocking N and Y” as if he’s painting the word picture for someone who’d never ever seen the Yankees hats and uniforms; to the lame catchphrase of “See ya!!!” on a home run; to the “Lllllet’s do it!!” at the first pitch; to the recitation of Billy Joel lyrics to conclude each and every radio show as if he’s doing something different from the rest of the radio talk show world, it’s all about him and what he believes people want to hear from him.

If asked about it, Kay would undoubtedly say, “The fans expect it from me.” It’s irrelevant whether or not he’s aware that the expectation lies more in the reality that he’s the goofy, annoying guy at the party with the lampshade on his head thinking people are laughing at his antics when the truth is they’re laughing because he’s making an idiot of himself and they’re too used to it to tell him to leave.

He enjoys hearing his own voice and insinuating himself into the moment as if the treasured memories of fans extends to his voicing of the narrative. Derek Jeter hits a home run for his 3,000th career hit? The moment has to be endured rather than enjoyed with Kay’s voiceover reading from a prepared and sickening speech about Jeter’s greatness. The Yankees win game 1 of the 2010 ALCS in a startling comeback over the Rangers? Kay takes that as his cue to pronounce the series over after the first game against a very good team that eventually wound up dumping the Yankees in six games. Joe Torre takes on Kay during his tenure as manager? Kay treats it as a personal affront and kicks Torre on the way out the door following his ouster claiming that he “protected” the former manager as if that was part of his stated job description.

His claims of objectivity are exposed as transient when the sets of rules by which he purports to base his analysis are conveniently ignored when the Yankees violate his principles. If it’s the Red Sox or Mets, there’s a “right” way to do things and for the most part, they don’t adhere to it. With the Yankees, there’s a separate, superior plane on which they walk because of their “rich tapestry of history.” Jose Reyes is removed from a game to win a batting title, and the Mets have gotten it “wrong” from “day one.” Bernie Williams does it and it’s glossed over for no reason other than he’s a Yankee.

You can’t be the objective analyst on the radio, then walk into the Yankees booth and blatantly push an organizational perspective as if he’s the game time front man of their PR department. You can’t be a friendly and nice guy off the air and then behave like a buffoon on the air when taking shots at the supposed competition.

That’s another dichotomy with Kay that is difficult to reconcile with the fool who took his pathetic and uncreative shot at Francesa: everyone who meets Kay off the air says he’s one of the nicest and most accommodating media people you could hope to meet. He’s friendly; he takes the time to talk to people; and is likable. Is that the real person? Is the radio personality staged? Or is it both? There are plenty of people in the media—in the New York market especially—who create an image of the generous, nice person and off the air they’re arrogant, condescending, dismissive and hypocritical.

Kay may believe that he got the YES gig because of his talents. In truth, he replaced Francesa because the organization wanted someone who was more in line with the club mandate of showing the Yankees in a positive light on the broadcast arm of their ministry of propaganda. Even with that, he could have begun the show in a positive manner. He could have said something to the tune of, “I know there are people who would prefer the other show to be seen in this timeslot; that many don’t even like me. But I’m here now and I hope you’ll give me a chance. I put on a good show. It’s a different show, but it’s good. The only way you’ll be able to decide is to listen objectively without any preconceived notions.” How would that have been viewed rather than tossing a bottle of Diet Coke in the garbage? He got attention he wanted, but it’s been universally lambasted. It wasn’t clever and it was gutless. Francesa himself summed it up when he replied to Newsday’s Neil Best’s query about it by saying, “Classless, loser move from two guys I have been burying in the ratings for over a decade.”

Like Francesa or not, he hit it right on the button.

If Kay’s intention was to give the new listeners and viewers a summary of what to expect from his YES show and wanted to do it in one brief and ill-advised move, mission accomplished. If YES isn’t already regretting their decision to choose brand loyalty over business, then they will be soon as Kay’s act destroys ratings and ruins what they built with Francesa over the course of his twelve years having his simulcast broadcast on their network. They won’t admit the mistake, but they made one. That became clear by 3:10 p.m. on February 3. Ten minutes after the start of a new era on the YES Network.

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