Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Some Thoughts As Summer Training Looms

It's good to be back writing today. There's a lot to talk about with summer training starting this week. I think a good place to start is with Joel Sherman's article in the New York Post yesterday. Sherman voices a dilemma that I've been dealing with as a a startup becomes reality: while he believes that baseball should attempt to play a season, he still has doubts about it. I feel the same way. Baseball is by far and away the sport I care about. Any of my other sports allegiances are quite minor compared to how I feel about Major League Baseball and the Mets. I do want it back very much in 2020, but I do have some worries about the players and others involved in the sport.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

More Opportunity for Platoons in 2020

In writing my piece about Mike Vail yesterday, I noted the success Vail enjoyed in a platoon situation while with the Cubs. It called to mind a time when you were much more likely to see two players share a position in a platoon.

It definitely was a part of Mets history, including both world Series winners. In 1969, manager Gil Hodges utilized platoons at first base (Ed Kranepool and Donn Clendenon, second base (primarily Ken Boswell and Al Weis), third base (Wayne Garrett and Ed Charles) and right field (Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda). In 1986, manager Davey Johnson used platoons, also. Wally Backman and Tim Tuefel shared second base, Hojo and Ray Knight at 3B (not a strict platoon as Knight enjoyed a solid offensive year), and, particularly after George Foster was released, Davey Johnson mixed and matched in LF with Danny Heep, Kevin Mitchell and Mookie Wilson. Wilson would also spell Dykstra in CF occasionally against lefties.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Six Week Superstar

Following their improbable trip to the 1973 World Series, there was very little that was memorable about the 1974 season for the New York Mets. They lost over 90 games for the first time since 1967. They still featured a strong starting rotation headed by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and John Matlack, but fourth starter George Stone had come back down to earth after tearing his rotator cuff, the bullpen wasn't great, and the offense was terrible.

They made a couple of deals after the season to try and improve their offense. The big one saw the club ship 1973 hero Tug McGraw along with Don Hahn and Dave Schneck to Philadelphia in exchange for John Stearns, Del Unser and Mac Scarce. The other shipped out backup infielder Teddy Martinez to the Cardinals for utility infielder Jack Heidemann and a well regarded OF prospect named Mike Vail.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Baseball: Bruised, But Back

Ken Rosenthal had a nice piece in The Athletic today looking at some of the implications of the 60-game 2020 season. Rosenthal sees the chances of blockbuster trades as being less likely this year, given the threat of COVID-19 cancelling the playoffs, and the likelihood that many of the races will still be close by the August 31 trade deadline.

While I mostly agree with Rosenthal, I think the chances of a blockbuster trade will be tied to how many teams decide they just want to dump all of the payroll they can this season. I'd be surprised if no team decided to do a good old fashioned salary dump, particularly if a team considering the move got off to a bad start. Revenue sharing has pretty much put a stop to this over the past few years, but there is unlikely to be any revenue sharing in 2020. There will also be plenty of uncertainty over exactly how 2021 might go down.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

How Not To Take Responsibility

One of the lessons I had to learn for myself in life was about personal responsibility. It wasn't an easy lesson. While I was basically an honest person when I was younger, if I found myself in a tough spot through my own fault, all too often I found myself looking for any kind of loophole to escape personal responsibility on my part. It didn't matter if it involved lying my way out, I was quick to abandon my personal principles if it got me out of something that I didn't want to deal with.

What I learned the hard way over time was that the cost of evading responsibility in this manner was often higher than the cost of just admitting that something was my fault and dealing with the consequences. Plus, I could look myself in the mirror afterwards without cringing. It's never any fun to take personal blame, and it's not something I look forward to, but in the long run I think it matters. For one thing, you can't fix a mistake that you're not willing to admit to.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

So We Begin

After weeks of endless posturing and little accomplishment, we now find ourselves at the dawning of something new and almost unfathomably different: a 60-game baseball season beginning near the end of July, played in empty stadiums with a slew of odd health and hygiene rules and some basic changes to the structure of the game itself. I've been a baseball fan for over five decades, and nothing that I've been through in the past will in any way prepare me for what is to come.

There have been work stoppages and curtailed seasons before. Hell, there was a time when it almost seemed weirder to have a season unaffected by labor/management strife. Even when there weren't actual strikes or lockouts there always seemed to be the imminent threat of one looming over the summer game. That feeling that baseball was always on the precipice of being yanked away from us eroded our love of the sport.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Everyone Gets Their Blocks Knocked Off

So, the empty suit that carries the title of Commissioner of Baseball has decreed that there will be a 60-game season this year, provided MLB and the Players could agree on safety protocols this week. There was a genuine opportunity to come to some sort of negotiated agreement between MLB's 60-game proposal and the MLBPA's counter of 70 games, but that was just a bridge too far for MLB to travel to possibly erase a bit of the stain that baseball carries for staging an ugly 6 week dust-up over money.

We came close to real negotiating last week when Rob Manfred flew out to Arizona to meet with Tony Clark. Inevitably, however, there was a dispute over whether the fruits of that meeting was a definite agreement or the framework of one, and the idea of one last negotiation over the number of games played was the almost farcical immovable obstacle to being able to get some positive PR by actually coming to a mutual agreement.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Alex and Jennifer Still in It

A new report out today indicates that Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez have found a billionaire to back their play for the New York Mets. Citing a tweet by Darren Rovell of the Business of Sports Betting, the billionaire's name is Mike Repole, described as a lifelong Mets fans and a native of Queens, and he has joined the group that Rodriguez and Lopez are putting together.

It's funny, but the way this has been reported on, every time a week goes by without a mention, Alex and Jennifer are written off. It takes some time to put together the type of money that they're looking for, particularly since their vision is more ambitious than just owning the Mets. Their idea is to turn Citi Field and the area surrounding into an entertainment venue along with local shopping and dining options designed to make the area a "sticky" type of place where people would look to spend the day rather than just shooting in and out strictly to watch games.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Not So Very Big Deal

Yesterday I wrote a piece about one of the most significant trades the Mets ever made. When the Mets acquired Walt Terrell and Ron Darling in 1982, it would take a couple of years for most fans to realize what an important deal it truly was. It brought to mind another trade that was somewhat a mirror opposite of that deal, one that seemed important when it happened but, over time, proved to be much ado about nothing.

It was January of 2006. The New York Mets had completed their first season under Omar Minaya. The team had been able to compete until a disastrous 3-15 stretch late in the year emphatically stomped out all hope. The club struggled offensively at times, and the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation were weak for most of the year. However, the biggest weakness by far in 2005 was the bullpen.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Very Big Deal

The 1982 Mets were a very bad team. They lost 97 games, which would likely have been the sixth straight season of 90+ losses, had not the 1981 baseball strike cut the previous season down to 105 games. They finished at the bottom of the NL East standings yet again, a position to which they were becoming quite accustomed, having not finished above fifth place in their division since 1976. They had to endure another last place finish in 1983 before it would finally turn around.

Still, there were some consequential things happening for the New York Mets that year. After getting short looks the previous two years, second baseman Wally Backman had his first season as a semi-regular, appearing in 96 games and logging over 300 plate appearances. A young CF named Mookie Wilson broke out in a big way, solidifying the leadoff spot with a .279 batting average and 55 steals. A southpaw named Jesse Orosco saved 17 games and was pushing Neil Allen for the closer role, freeing the Mets to deal Allen for Keith Hernandez the following June. Oh, and a couple of young pitchers named Dwight Gooden and Randy Meyers were taken by the Mets in the draft.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Little Engine That Just Couldn't

Ten games apart. After these weeks of annoyingly fruitless negotiations, MLB and the union are a mere ten games away from getting a season underway. You would think that a compromise would be inevitable at this point, as just about every other detail has been worked out. And sadly, you would be wrong, as these negotiations are clearly being powered by the Little Engine That Just Couldn't. Those of us who allowed our hopes to be raised one last time are left shaking our heads and wondering if this is all some sort of sick joke.

At Hardball Talk, Craig Calcaterra thinks this is just a delaying tactic on the part of MLB, and they're looking to run out the clock until there is only enough time left to play the lower number of games that some of the owners are insisting on. He also thinks that Manfred is posturing somewhat to appease the hardline group of owners that would really prefer not to play at all in 2020.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Agree to Disagree

I guess it's just not possible for good news on baseball not to be tempered just a little with some bad news. Apparently there are differing opinions between Rob Manfred and Tony Clark on whether they agreed on the framework of a deal or actual deal. Manfred felt that he and Clark had agreed on a 60-game schedule, while Clark felt that a framework was in place, but submitted a counterproposal for 70 games.

Unbelievably, there is a real danger that being 10 games apart could still blow everything up, but I think we all could hope for cooler heads to prevail. Joel Sherman suggests that Manfred and Clark should consider inviting a stenographer to be the third person in the room. Perhaps we can just force both of them to take a lie detector test when they give their statements. It seems quite silly that the two sides couldn't find a middle ground to overcome that 10 game difference. I would hope that some of what we witnessed today was just posturing to appease the firebrands on either side. I'm sure we'll find out quite soon if a deal can be made or if that 10 game gap is really an unbridgeable chasm.

A Pyromaniac's Delight

As I've written other posts in my look back at the 2005 season it continually strikes me just how bad and chaotic the Mets bullpen was that year. Any starter who departed the game with a lead, even a pretty big one, did well not to count on that win until after the last out was recorded. Indeed, closer Braden Looper blew a save for Pedro Martinez on Opening Day, a deflating loss that would set the Mets on a 5-game losing streak before they finally notched their first "W".

What fascinates me the most about the 2005 'pen was that it could probably serve as a primer on how not to build a solid Major League bullpen. In all, 17 pitchers pitched relief innings for that club, and the vast majority were awful. Basically, the Mets would give any pitcher with a pulse and a working arm a chance to pitch out of their bullpen in 2005, and the vast majority only proved that they didn't belong in any major league bullpen. What follows is the story of the individuals who made up what was, with few exceptions, a bullpen that undoubtedly took years off the life of those of us unlucky enough to root for the 2005 New York Mets.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Just When I Thought I Was Out...

I honestly wasn't going to write about the negotiations between MLB and the union today, but the unexpected news that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark met face to face today seems significant. So, to borrow some words from Michael Corleone, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" We'll see if it turns out any better for me than it did for him.

While I do believe it's significant that Manfred got on a plane and flew out to Arizona to meet with Clark, I'm going to be careful not to allow myself to get overly optimistic. It's likely that Manfred's trip was driven by the incredible amount of negative publicity both he and MLB received after Manfred backpedaled on his statement from last week that a 2020 season was "100 percent certain." While it certainly is possible that Manfred and club owners are making a sincere effort to rekindle the moribund negotiations, it's just as possible that the purpose of this effort is just a feint to forestall a potential grievance by the players.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Rob Manfred Is Feeling the Heat

In yesterday's post, I made a point about the failure of Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to be a leader as the negotiations between MLB and the Union deteriorated into a debacle. The players are angry, of course, accusing Manfred of purposely putting off a decision on the schedule until enough time goes by to make the 50-game slate many of the owners desire a fait accompli. It's hard to argue against this charge, as Manfred quickly backpedaled from his "100 percent assurance" that games would be played once the players challenged him to set a schedule with enough time to easily fit in more than 50 games and still keep finish Playoffs in October. Even former GM Jim Bowden made the same accusation on Twitter:

Monday, June 15, 2020

Going Down With the Ship

Rob Manfred is no longer 100% confident that there will be a baseball season in 2020? Join the club, my friend. It's amazing how bad negotiations can go when the primary method of negotiating is by leaking stuff to the media.

Manfred did an interview with ESPN's Mike Greenberg today, and the optimism that he was exuding last week apparently has disappeared. He was asked about the optics of the ongoing squabble with the players while the country is trying to come back from the pandemic:
"It's just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn't be happening, and it's important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans..."
Manfred said the MLBPA's "decision to end good-faith negotiations" and the need for an agreement with the union on health and safety protocols "were really negative in terms of our efforts."

Sunday, June 14, 2020

When Money Is All That Matters

I enjoyed writing yesterday's post, because writing about prospects and the farm system is a fun subject to write about. As a writer, you're looking forward and anticipating something good happening. After missing my first day since I returned to blogging on Friday, I wanted to give myself a writing topic that gave me a good feeling. Now it's time to share some thoughts on the latest with the negotiations to get a season underway, and that just isn't as fun to write about.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Dreaming of a Fertile Farm

I'm not an expert in the area of baseball prospects. You'll never see me speculate before the draft on who the Mets might pick. I lack both the knowledge and the time to pick up that sort of expertise. Despite that, I've been interested in the areas of scouting and developing for a long time, particularly when it comes to the Mets. This interest dates back to the late 1990s, as my love for baseball slowly recovered from the 1994-1995 strike/lockout.

I began to realize just how lacking the Mets organization was in that area. and how much it hurt the club from remaining competitive for more than short periods of time. Steve Phillips was the GM at the time that I started paying attention. He always struck me as someone that cared more about churning up his roster in countless trades than the slow, difficult work of scouting and developing players. The Mets record in draft success under Phillips wasn't great, although they did pick up David Wright and Aaron Heilman in the same 2001 draft.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Ugly Fight and the Road Ahead

It was just about a month ago that I started writing about the beginning of the negotiations between MLB and the Players. At the time, although I knew there were significant differences between the two parties, I really bought into the hope that both sides would be able to put aside their differences and bring baseball back to the fans in early July. The last month has only proven to me how foolish and naïve my initial hopes were. Even the people who cover the game for a living, presumably much less naïve then I am, seem surprised and disappointed at how little sense of urgency has been displayed by both parties so far.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Will There Ever Be Real Bargaining This Season?

Another day in the ongoing dispute between MLB and the Players. The Players Association has responded quickly to MLB's latest offer with a counteroffer. The new offer lowers the regular season from 114 games in their last proposal to 89 in this latest one. Pay would still be fully prorated for the number of games played. The Postseason would extend into November if this offer was implemented. Since the owners insist they can not afford to pay fully prorated salaries for more than around 50 games, and they are committed to finishing the season in October, this offer is basically dead on arrival.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Someone Needs to Get Creative

I've been thinking and writing a lot about the ongoing negotiations between MLB and the Players. I'm not a fan of the way that either side has been negotiating, but I've been a lot harder on the owners for several reasons. I've been really turned off by their overall strategy going back to early May when this whole kerfuffle got underway. I detailed my suspicion that MLB purposely maneuvered us into this current space in my post last Friday. The gist of it is that I believe they wanted to have the negotiations drag along endlessly until we reached a place where the only possible resolution was a short season at full prorated pay.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Road to Nowhere

When I first read about MLB presenting a new proposal to the Players, I felt some guarded optimism. I thought that it was significant that MLB bothered at all to make a counterproposal after saying they weren't going to make one. Sadly, though, as the details continue to come out it became clear that this wasn't going to be a gamechanger for breaking the stalemate. It seemed like every new detail that leaked out over the course of the day made it clearer that this offer wasn't going to move the sticks at all.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Almost Perfect Comeback

I've been a Mets fan for over 50 years. I've seen hundreds of players come and go, some great ones, most quite forgettable. Some spend their entire career with the Mets, some only last for a little while. Some break your heart a little when they go, some depart unlamented. Every once in a while, a player comes along that appeals to something deep within me, making me root for them just a little harder. One of those players was a 36-year-old infielder that the Mets signed in December 2005 for some badly needed infield depth

Kaz Matsui was entering his third season with the Mets in 2006. After failing miserably at shortstop in 2004, Matsui had been moved to second base in 2005, allowing young star Jose Reyes to go back to shortstop. Matsui failed to improve his defense at 2B, and also slumped offensively. This poor production at the plate and in the field, along with a propensity for getting hurt, allowed Miguel Cairo to get over 350 plate appearances despite a batting line of .251/.296/324 on the season. While Cairo solidified the defense, that was offensive production that just couldn't be justified in that era.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

There Are No Good Guys Here

For baseball fans hoping to see live baseball by Independence Day, Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic has some unwelcome news for you. I think those of us who were paying attention saw the witting on the wall earlier in the week when MLB didn't even bother to make a counteroffer to the Unions' proposal of a 114 game season followed by expanded Playoffs.

As Rosenthal demonstrates, both sides seem dug in to their positions right now, with seemingly little hope for compromise. Rosenthal traces the current rancor between the two sides to the perception that union chief Tony Clark gave away too much in the 2016 negotiations. Among other things, the Luxury Tax and the stiff penalties for exceeding it has worked as a de facto Salary Cap. Other things that rankle union members is the way the service time of young players is allowed to be manipulated and the way young stars with 0-3 service years are forced to accept bargain basement wages.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Blink and You'll Miss It

Jeff Passan had an article on ESPN yesterday about the current status of negotiations between MLB and the Players' Union. Passan is reporting that MLB is targeting a regular season of around 48 games, presumably unless the Players are willing to compromise on salary beyond the prorated payments agreed to in March. It sounds as if they're really serious about that number, too. Apparently, there is no concern on the part of the owners as to the legitimacy of a season that is less than 30% of the length of a normal season. It's the equivalent of the NBA playing a 24-game season, or the NFL playing a 4-5 game schedule.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Bad Faith Bargaining

A couple of days ago it was being reported that MLB was going to propose to the Players a 30-60 game season at full prorated pay. I found some hope in this, as it seemed like the beginning of a bargain between the 114 games the Players had proposed and the short regular season the owners were pushing. Now it seems as if any optimism on my part was seriously misplaced. When will I learn?

The Owners flat-out rejected the Players proposal without offering anything in return. According to Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic, MLB told the Players' Union that they wouldn't be making another offer. They would only consider an agreement that included a very limited number of games and then Playoffs. MLB is interpreting the original agreement in March as allowing the Commissioner full control to set a schedule and, unsurprisingly, the Commissioner is prepared to set a short schedule that is exactly what the owners desire. I believe Rob Manfred has a chance to go down in history as the worst Commissioner in the history of the game, the man who blindly led baseball to self-destruction.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Greatest Fan

I've written previously about my unconventional upbringing. I grew up without a father at a time, the 1960s, when one-parent households were still uncommon, especially in a neighborhood full of working-class Catholics.

If you're a kid without a Dad, you don't have anyone to help you understand sports or guide you into rooting for a team. I pretty much had to figure it all out by myself. This was back in the days before cable TV, so you were limited in teams to follow. I started with New York Giants football because they were on in my area every week. Football was also an easy sport for a young kid to understand on his own.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

A Sliver of Daylight

I'm not ready to throw a party yet by any stretch, but I actually found a little glimmer of hope in the latest news on the negotiations between MLB and the players. In multiple reports, including this piece by Joel Sherman in the New York Post, we read that MLB has come back to the Players' Union with an offer to play a season of 30-60 games and pay the players their full prorated salaries. The essence of this offer would be that the players aren't asked to make a further concession on pay, while MLB would satisfy their objective of getting to the playoffs faster.

Don't get me wrong here. I know this offer isn't going to fly. The players are quite unlikely to agree to play such a limited number of games, and I'm sure that MLB understood that before making the offer. What I find slightly hopeful here is that there has finally been an offer that has some room in it for actual bargaining to take place.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Out of Nowhere

Sometimes a pitcher explodes onto the scene, as Matt Harvey did in 2012 or Doc Gooden in 1984, immediately staking his claim to glory. Some, like former #1 overall pick Brian Taylor, never even come within sniffing distance of the majors despite major hype as a prospect. Still others take a more circuitous route to major league success. 2005 Mets pitcher Aaron Heilman is a member of that third group.

Drafted #1 by the Mets (18 overall) in the 2001 draft out of Notre Dame University, Heilman put up decent numbers as he advanced from A ball to AAA by June 2003. Heilman was elevated to the major leagues after GM Steve Phillips was handed his walking papers that June, and it did not go well. Heilman was pummeled over 13 major league starts to the tune of a 6.75 ERA and a WHIP of 1.83. Over 65.1 innings he gave up an incredible 13 HR. It was clear that Aaron Heilman was not a major league pitchers at that point, and rather questionable that he would ever be one.

The Defense Doesn't Rest

A renewed emphasis on defense would be a good thing for the New York Mets. Mike Vaccaro had an interesting column in the New York Post  abou...