Sunday, May 31, 2020

Let It Burn

A couple of weeks ago there was abounding optimism that an agreement would be worked out and we would see Major League Baseball in 2020. Recently, that optimism is deflating faster than a week-old Mylar balloon. Buster Olney is the latest baseball writer to express his incredulity that we don't seem to be getting any closer to an agreement between the owners and players.

Olney's main point is that both the owners and players must see that, if an argument over money is what keeps baseball dark this year, the fans won't forgive them whenever Major League Baseball does get around to coming back. It's a valid point, particularly if other sports manage to maneuver their way back into the public eye this year.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Return of Alex and Jennifer

According to the New York Post, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez haven't given up in their efforts to buy the New York Mets. The Post reports that the duo are now working with "senior  bankers" at JPMorgan Chase to put together the capital needed for the purchase. The article also states that they are putting hundreds of millions of their own wealth into the purchase.

Their thinking behind the purchase is interesting. Apparently they envision Citi Field as part of a larger entertainment and shopping venue. We've heard talk of something like that for years, but not much has really changed. The neighborhood around the ballpark is still pretty seedy. Unless your idea of entertainment is walking by rows of chop shops, there will need to be a huge investment involved in making the vision of Citi Field as an entertainment hub a reality.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Red-Headed Stepchild

Since my return to blogging about 2-1/2 months ago, I've written several times about Minor League Baseball. I've speculated on what might be involved in developing prospects when there will likely be no Minor League season at all. I've shared my concerns over the future of the Minor Leagues, and the implications of MLB's plan to eliminate some affiliated cities. I wind up writing about the subject so often because I've come to understand the true importance of Minor League Baseball.

I didn't always feel that way. When I started watching baseball I didn't even know what the Minor Leagues were. I was ten years old, and it didn't even occur to me to question where the players came from before they appeared on my TV screen in New York Mets uniforms. Over a period of time I saw players coming to the Mets from their Triple-A affiliate in Tidewater, and slowly came to an understanding about how players were developed.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Driving Off a Cliff

There has been quite a bit written the past couple of days about how the Player's Union has reacted to the rather outlandish proposal MLB dumped on them this week. As Jeff Passan wrote for ESPN yesterday, the extreme position taken by the owners had the opposite effect that MLB probably hoped would happen. Union moderates that supported reaching a compromise the most were alienated and more or less driven back into the arms of hardliners.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Not So Funny Money Blues

The big news of the day, which technically broke yesterday, is that MLB has finally made a concrete financial proposal to the union. Given the sense that a deal needs to be made fairly soon in order to meet the early July goal, I was honestly shocked that this hopeless proposal is what MLB decided to go with. It's fairly obvious that MLB doesn't expect the union to agree to the tiered salary structure they proposed. It's clearly meant to drive a wedge between the players and convincing a percentage of the public that the players are evil, greedy monster.

Let me get one thing on the record here. I don't think anyone should be paid what the top stars in baseball get paid. Being paid multi-millions of dollars per year for playing a game is insane. It's really hard for me to identify with someone making that kind of money, much less feel sorry for them taking a hit along with most of the rest of us during this pandemic. Then again, I feel pretty much the same way about the drastically overpaid company CEOs. It's just the way the world works today.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Walking the Ballpark

In March of 2005, Mets GM Omar Minaya was scrambling to find a starting pitcher to replace Steve Trachsel, who just had surgery for a herniated disk and would miss most of the season. He reached a deal with the Dodgers to obtain 31-year old lefty Kazuhisa Ishii in exchange for catcher Jason Phillips.

Phillips was an interesting story during his short time in New York. After very brief stints in the majors in 2001 and 2002, Philips broke out in a big way for the Mets in 2003 at age 26, batting .298/.373/.442 with 11 HR and 58 RBI in just over 450 plate appearances. The distinctive corrective goggles that Phillips wore became part of his legend, with some fans nicknaming him GGOG, or Greek God of Goggles, as I remember it. He was one of the few bright spots on an abysmal 66-win club, and Mets fans, including myself, prayed that it wasn't just a fluke.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Cutting Through All of the Nonsense

Today at The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich are reporting that MLB has backed away from demands for a revenue sharing plan, and is prepared to offer the players an alternative tomorrow. Given the limited amount of negotiating time available to get a half-season and playoffs started, this is very good news. Revenue sharing was always going to be an incredibly tough sell. Other than a silly, overblown controversy over an alleged "smoking gun" email, little of consequence came out of these last two weeks of PR wars.

As best as I can understand it, the new proposal might be a return to the prorated pay idea that the players want to keep, with the possibility that some of the money would be deferred to a future time when, presumably, the clubs would be under less financial pressure than they are during this pandemic. If that is the case, it seems like a reasonable accommodation on both sides. I'm looking forward to the release of more details as they come out.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Dark Cloud

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I've been writing a series of posts on the 2005 New York Mets. That was the year I began my original blog, and also it was a pivotal year in the history of the club. Besides, it was chock full of interesting things to write about, particularly when you find yourself in a year without baseball.

I've written nine pieces for the series so far, including a two-parter. I've written about heroes and goats, great games and a nagging enigma. I've written about significant players who take a piece of your heart with them when they leave, and others who fell short of eternal glory. I enjoyed writing every one of these pieces, and I look forward to writing more of them.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

One Tin Soldier

I made a decision a few days ago that I wanted to take a break from writing about the ongoing negotiations between MLB and the Players' Union. When I tried to analyze the bits of information that were trickling through each day I started to get the feeling that my brain was being led around in circles. It really didn't matter if MLB presented the most comprehensive set of safety protocols to the union. Without an agreement on the money, the rest was a lot of noise.

Still, although MLB Commissioner Manfred spent a lot of time throwing some dire numbers out in front of the public, it's been two weeks and we've yet to see a monetary proposal. What we have seen is two weeks of a propaganda campaign meant to portray the owners as reasonable and the players as greedy. Although the times are quite different thanks to the pandemic, the way this has proceeded is comfortably familiar to those of us who have been watching these negotiations for decades.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Closer to Home

I grew up in a very unconventional household. I don't retain the warm memories of home and family that most folks have. I don't live all that many miles away from where I grew up, but I honestly can't remember the last time I went back there. Sometimes I find myself driving through my old home town on an errand and momentarily think, if I take that next left and a couple of rights, I can check out the old homestead. Invariably, I find myself driving straight on to my destination. There's nothing there worth even a few minutes detour.

The last time I actually did go by the place was many years ago now. I was in a weird mood, and wondered what it would feel like to see it. It was evening and I was driving back from some errand that I can't even recall. I wasn't tired and didn't feel any urgency to get home. I found myself thinking of that house, which even back then I hadn't been inside of for years and, on a whim, found myself driving there.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

In The Athletic today there was a feature on Jose Lima by Pedro Moura. If you weren't around for the 2006 season, or you've successfully managed to block out all of the ugliest memories from that year, that name might not mean too much to you. For the rest of us, the words "Lima Time" can cause a cold sweat to break out along with strong feelings of impending dread.

When Omar Minaya was hired to be the GM of the Mets in the fall of 2004, he inherited a team that featured two young players with a future: Jose Reyes and David Wright. Besides those two, there was really very little upon which to build. Check out John Sickels' top prospect list from February of 2005 to see the state of the farm system. The major league roster was quite thin on talent, too. The rotation and bullpen featured a frightening potpourri of has-beens and never-weres, with only a sprinkling of potential useful pieces mixed in.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

About Time

I spent time today thinking about time.

I've had a lot of time to think about time over the years, particularly as those years have accumulated and piled up on top of each other. I've had the opportunity to look at time when the vast majority of my own time seemed to stretch ahead of me, filled with a sense of promise and vagueness. I've been on time, in time, out of time. I've watched time go racing by past me, powerless to even slow it down. At other times, I had way too much time on my hands and wished it would just start inching forward and transport me somewhere else.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Fun With Numbers

I was doing some reading late last night when I came across this post on FanGraphs, discussing MLB owners' claims of losses they would suffer in a hypothetical 82-game season played in ballparks without fans. Craig Edwards' look at the true numbers behind those dire predictions that have been bandied about this past week really clarified this issue for me.

One thing that was bugging me from all of the statements that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been putting out is how the numbers seemed so inconsistent. At one point we're told that MLB would suffer roughly $4 billion in losses if no games were played at all. Then we're told in another statement that playing 82 games while players were paid prorated salaries would cost... $4 billion?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Things Change

I'd like to start today's post with some good news, because we all know that's been in short supply lately. According to this article in the New York Times, real progress is being made on a possible vaccine for Coronavirus by Moderna, a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If you haven't seen the news yet, I have to caution that the results are still preliminary in the extreme. Still, here is the money quote from the article:
The findings are based on results from the first eight people who each received two doses of the vaccine, starting in March.
Those people, healthy volunteers, made antibodies that were then tested in human cells in the lab, and were able to stop the virus from replicating — the key requirement for an effective vaccine. The levels of those so-called neutralizing antibodies matched the levels found in patients who had recovered after contracting the virus in the community.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

It Ain't Going to Be Easy

The Post's Joel Sherman, who has been doing an excellent job all week breaking down all of the ongoing negotiations to restart the season, had another nice piece that came out yesterday evening. In summarizing the Operations Manual that MLB put forth to keep the game safe, Sherman noted how difficult it would be to keep everything as safe as possible and running through the playoffs.

As I read through some of the proposals myself, I was a little surprised at the lack of outright restrictions on the players or support personnel both at home and on the road. I share with Sherman sincere doubts that a system based on the voluntary compliance of young men to not do what comes naturally to them can ultimately succeed. Even if I was a player who followed the guidelines and kept myself safe, I would have concerns that not all of my teammates were falling into line.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Obstacles in Our Way

My post on this blog yesterday, Testing, Testing, posed some questions that came to me after reading the initial reporting on MLB's plan to get back to playing ball while, at the same time, also trying to make the players as safe as possible. Joel Sherman came out with a very interesting piece yesterday afternoon with really smart questions that he had about the potential season.  Well worth checking out.

Sherman also posed the question that I had about testing for PEDs. He says that MLB will continue to do PED tests out of the lab that will do their COVID-19 tests, and he speculates that the same people collecting those tests can also do PED tests. Still, given the ongoing shortage of all components for testing, PED testing would seem to be a much lower priority for this year. I'm curious to see how that turns out.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Testing, Testing

We're starting to hear more about MLB's evolving plan to get back to playing baseball. According to Commissioner Rob Manfred, frequent testing will be the key to keeping the players safe and the game going. They have invested in a lab in Utah that used to do drug testing and converted it to testing for COVID-19. MLB intends to test players and support personnel multiple times a week and process those tests within 24 hours.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Feel the Heat

I saw the comments that the Rays' Blake Snell made about not being willing to play baseball for less pay on top of the cut that a salary prorated for games played would entail. His words were certainly unartful, but I doubt if he's the only one feeling that way. The combination of being paid less money while risking your health, your life and your family is an equation every player will need to grapple with if baseball returns this season.

He's taking a lot of heat for those comments, although he later walked them back somewhat, but the basic question, why should I take on so much risk for a drastically reduced pay check?, is a valid question that many of us will have to ask ourselves at some point.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Tomorrow

I made several attempts at writing something today, but I had some ongoing sciatica issues turn extremely ugly. I'm on three different medications and they've only managed to slow the pain down, not stop it completely. I hope to feel better enough tomorrow to write once the meds have more time to work.

It looks like from the reading I was able to do today that MLB is taking a slow approach with these negotiations, starting with just some general discussion on the protocols they will implement to keep the players and everyone associated with them safe. That certainly is an important starting point, but if the goal is to start in July they'll need to get down to specifics soon. If we proceed at this pace much longer it feels like the goal might be a later start.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Reaching Back into an Old Playbook

At The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich report that any revenue sharing plan is a no-go with the players. They note that the Players Association sees any plan that is based on revenue sharing as a de facto salary cap, a characterization of which, of course, MLB objects. No great surprise here.

The owners insist they're just trying to be fair by asking the players to agree to a pay cut in a year that revenue will certainly drop sharply due to COVID-19, and the revenue sharing aspect will ensure that the players get their fair share of whatever revenue there might be. As many commentators, including myself, have already noted, there has never been a discussion among the owners during banner years as to whether the players were making their fair share of profits. Also, when it comes to Major League Baseball, it is the skills of the players are what the people pay to see. No Mets fan shows up at Citi Field to see Fred or Jeff Wilpon (unless they snuck a rotten tomato into the ballpark).

Monday, May 11, 2020

Beware of Rich Guys Bearing Gifts

Numerous sources are reporting the MLB owners are ready to present a proposal to the players tomorrow to bring baseball back in July. According to Joel Sherman in the New York Post, the season would start in early July and consist of 82 games. Rosters would be expanded to 30 players with a 20-man taxi squad to cover for injuries and, we could presume, players that test positive for Coronavirus. There would be a DH in both leagues.

The MLB proposal calls for revenue sharing which, as we discussed yesterday, is a non-starter for the players. They look at revenue sharing as an unwelcome guest. Once he gets in your house, you're going to have big trouble getting him to leave.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Conflict Begins

I'd like to share some thoughts today on the upcoming battle between the clubs and the players this week as MLB looks to potentially start up in July.

Multiple reports say that MLB will be looking for salary concessions from the players for games played without fans. There is consensus among all the major sources about that fact. Not unexpectedly, we're also hearing reports that the players are not happy about this. Jesse Rogers at ESPN reports that players feel that the risk they are taking to their health should not come at a lower rate of compensation than the pro-rated salaries already negotiated.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Flash in the Pan, Part 2

In the initial installment of this post I offered up a definition of the phrase flash in the pan as someone who gets off the a promising start but can't sustain it.  The 3 players discussed in Part 1 of this post fit the most commonly used definition of the term. Víctor Díaz, Anderson Hernández and Juan Padilla all enjoyed a brief burst of success, but none of them lasted very long in the majors. All players in both parts of this post played for the 2005 New York Mets ballclub.

The 3 players I will write about in Part 2 were different than the 3 discussed in Part 1. All of them enjoyed longer major league careers than Díaz, Hernández, and Padilla. Even the initial success they enjoyed was bigger and lasted longer. Still, they all failed to live up to their initial fanfare, but were interesting stories none the less.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Bad Business As Usual

I'm about halfway through Part 2 of my Flash in the Pan post. I should have that up by late tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, there have been a few developments that seem worth commenting upon.

The first is the revelation that Alex Rodriguez' quest to buy that Mets appears to be over. I'm not shocked by the news. Alex Rodriguez and his girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, while certainly quite wealthy, fell far short of the kind of wealth that it would take to buy the Mets. They never seemed to have a partner with deep pockets that was all-in on buying the club. With all of the uncertainty created by the current pandemic complicating matters it would seem that a really tight, committed group would be required to pull off that kind of heavy and complicated transaction.

Flash in the Pan, Part 1

Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a definition of the phrase flash in the pan as "one that appears promising but turns out to be disappointing or worthless". The expression originated with the old flintlock muskets of the Revolutionary War days, when the small amount of gunpowder in the priming pan of the weapon ignited but the gun didn't actually fire. In baseball and in other uses the phrase describes someone who got off to a promising start but couldn't sustain it.

The 2005 Mets featured several players who, more or less, fell under this definition. In this 2-part post we're going to take a look at them. Before I begin, I want to specify that I am in no way making fun of or demeaning these players in any way. Anyone who makes it to the Major Leagues at all has overcome tremendous odds to get there. They have achieved reaching the top of their profession, even if it was for a brief time. They have my respect for their accomplishment, every single one of them.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Good Start

Jeff Passan from ESPN is now reporting that MLB is going to offer players a return to work proposal to the players "within a week." The proposed June resumption of spring training and July 1 start date are what were discussed in yesterday's stories.

The usual well-worn caveats from all previous reporting on this subject still apply, with Passan citing unnamed "industry leaders" that the dates are too optimistic. And there is still a matter of essentially asking players to risk health and possibly lives while likely taking a pay cut to play. Of course, as those of us who are out of work understand only too well, some money > no money.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

It's a Date - Or Maybe Not

A couple of pieces from The Athletic sparked my writing today. The first article I wanted to talk about was this one from Ken Rosenthal. He reports that the Cleveland Indians have notified their players of potential target dates of June 10 for a startup of Spring Training, the sequel, and July 1 as a potential Opening Day.

This comes with all the usual caveats I wrote about a week ago. There really isn't a plan right now, nor can there be until Major League Baseball "gains a clearer perspective" on the way the epidemic is playing out in different places where baseball is potentially going to be played. The plan will need to be "adaptable," and even the schedule itself might be "subject to frequent change."

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

It's Always About the Money

I saw this article from the New York Post today. Apparently the Mets had at least one offer for closer Edwin Diaz in the offseason, but have elected to try to "fix" him. First of all, I can only imagine at the offer(s) received, and wouldn't bet that there was much real value there. It's just the nature of baseball where other teams try to grab a damaged asset at clearance sale prices.

As bad as Diaz struggled last season, while certainly not endearing himself to Mets fans, he wasn't the "problem" from the Robinson Cano deal. The problem was the $100 million that Cano had left on his contract after the offset of the contracts the Mariners took on in return. Even if Diaz had lived up to expectations, handing that kind of money to a middle infielder for his ages 36 - 40 seasons, coming off a freaking steroid suspension, was bound to be a problem.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Monday Musings, My Aching Back Edition

I had trouble finishing yesterday's post on the apparently quite polarizing Steve Trachsel. I tweaked my ancient back a couple of days ago, and then really aggravated things lumbar-related yesterday by cutting my lawn. Didn't have a choice, really, all of the recent rain had turned my lawn into a mini jungle.

Today I'm still feeling the after effects of that choice, so I thought I'd do a few short takes that would require less sustained sitting and moaning on my part.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Stealing Wins

When I was writing my post yesterday about pitchers who who can compete without a blazing fastball in his arsenal, a guy who immediately came to my mind was Steve Trachsel. He managed to last 16 years in the major leagues without striking out a ton of guys, averaging a rather pedestrian 5.7 K/9 over his career.

Trachsel had some interesting career highlights. In 1998, while with his first MLB team, the Cubs, Steve gave up Mark McGwire's record-breaking 62nd Home Run. (Ah, those naïve days) It was one of an astounding 348 home runs Steve would allow. I often wondered if Trachsel's late-career back problems were caused by looking back over his shoulder so often, watching balls fly out of the park.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Maybe There's Another Way

I was catching up on some reading on The Athletic this morning, and came across a good article by Ian McMahan on the connection between fastball velocity and Tommy John surgery (subscription required). It's a good read, and it also got me thinking how much baseball has changed in my lifetime.

When I was young there was no such thing as radar gun readings of every pitch thrown up on the scoreboard. There were certainly some hard throwers in the game, but it wasn't anything like it is today. Tom Seaver, my first baseball hero, threw hard. Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and J.R. Richard were hard-throwing contemporaries. Later on I have many happy memories of a young Doc Gooden blowing high-90s heat past hitters. Still, the way I remember things growing up was that there were an awful lot of finesse pitchers back in those days.

Friday, May 1, 2020

The One That Got Away, Part 2

Yesterday I started a piece on the Kelenic trade. I never intended it to be a 2-parter, but I spent quite a bot of time writing about the way the New York media uses any young player traded by the Mets that goes on to enjoy success elsewhere to bludgeon Mets repeatedly. It's always been near the top of the list of things that really bug me about how the Mets are covered. I feel as if I made a reasonable case yesterday on how over the top this can be. Please read part 1 first if haven't yet.

Now that I've reached the part where I wish to share my thoughts on the deal, I just want to say one more time that comparing this deal right now to the Nolan Ryan trade is ludicrous and borderline insane. I understand the need to attract readers by putting something controversial out there, but the kid has just reached AA. I'd slow down on predicting a Hall of Fame career just yet. Still, as much as the hype bugs me, I agree that the trade was a really bad one.

Closer to Home

I grew up in a very unconventional household. I don't retain the warm memories of home and family that most folks have. I don't live...