Monday, January 9, 2023

Here Comes the Sun

Spring training is mere weeks away now, with longer, warmer days and exciting New York Mets baseball soon to follow.

While we all await the final resolution of the Carlos Correa saga, we're rapidly approaching the start of spring training. I've always enjoyed the return of baseball, even in years when I knew the Mets would stink. Of course, that's hardly the case for 2023. Although there are indeed questions about a Mets roster full of new faces, including many older ballplayers, it will be a great team to watch — no matter who is manning third base. Although it will undoubtedly be more fun if the Mets and Correa can come to terms.

As someone who's lived in the northeast his whole life, I've learned to tolerate the winters, mainly because I enjoy the other three seasons here very much. I played a lot of pond hockey in my younger days, but other than that, I never really embraced winter activities. My most common winter activities, weather permitting, are the same as my warm-weather ones: walking and hiking with my dogs. Even before the official start of winter with the solstice, I'm already noting the checkpoints that signal the eventual end of winter.

The first occurred on December 9. It was the earliest winter sunset, almost 2 weeks before the solstice, thanks to the elliptical shape of the earth's orbit. Even as the days continue to grow shorter until the solstice, the evening sunset starts to get incrementally later. Then on December 20, we had the solstice. Yes, the sun is furthest away from us in the southern hemisphere, but now every day, it comes back a bit closer. As I write this piece, we've already seen the sun set 17 minutes later than on 12/9. Before the end of January, it will finally set after 5 pm. The days will continue to grow longer and longer as we approach spring.

As a lifelong baseball lover, the start of spring training is the event that has come to signify the true beginning of the end of winter for me. This March features a new World Baseball Classic from March 8-21. With all due respect to anyone who loves it, I mostly ignore the WBC, only checking on how any current Mets perform. But I owe the Classic thanks for moving spring training a bit earlier this year. I am still looking for an official report date for pitchers and catchers in Port St. Lucie, but it will be a couple of weeks before the first scheduled games: split squad tilts against the Astros and Marlins on February 25. That should be around Valentine's Day in just over five weeks. I can't wait.

Of course, I'll be bored with spring training games by the end of the slate, but then the games start for real on March 30 in Miami. The Mets won't have to travel far or deal with winter weather for those games against the Marlins. Then, the newly balanced schedule has them going north to Milwaukee, where a domed stadium awaits. The Mets come home to face the Marlins and Padres, then head west to face the A's, Dodgers, and Giants. A 10-game western swing in April will feel really weird, but it certainly beats another frosty trip to Colorado. This year, the Mets head out to Denver at the very end of May. Hopefully, winter will be over even in the Rockies by that point. Certainly, by late May, I will no longer be giving any thought to winter in these parts.

In the meantime, I will continue to deal with whatever winter can throw at me with a northeastern stoicism honed over more than six decades. The weather has given us a real break over the last couple of weeks, but I don't fool myself into thinking that winter won't be back. Either way, we're just over a month from the return of baseball.

Getting back to current happenings, things took a turn this week. While the prevailing attitude coming into the week was that the Mets would likely finalize their deal with Carlos Correa, word started getting around that there was some trouble in paradise. SNY's Andy Martino came out with a piece quoting a source that "the Mets [had] grown 'very frustrated' with Carlos Correa negotiations" and were "considering walking away altogether." Former not-so-great baseball GM and current pundit Jim Bowden said on his Friday Sirius XM show, "There is a possibility the Minnesota Twins come in and pick Correa out from under the New York Mets' noses."

But then yesterday on his show, Jim Bowden said:
I am being told from a friend that's very close to Carlos Correa, that he will be a New York Met, uh, and that they're finishing up the language right now. Uh, and this thing is going to get done.

That's transcribed by me directly from a recording of the show. Assuming that Bowden isn't exaggerating when he describes his source as a close friend of Carlos Correa, it sounds as if we'll not only have a resolution to this drama soon, but it will be a happy resolution for Mets fans. And then we can look forward to seeing if this very, very expensive team that Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler put together can gel as a truly great team.

The target on the Mets' backs will be large this season, whether or not Carlos Correa eventually signs. It will be a bit bigger if Bowden's source is correct. In fact, it won't be just fans of other teams who will be gloating if this team falls flat. The Braves are the darlings of many in the pundit class, and you can sense that many of them would like nothing better than to be able to position the corporate-owned Atlanta club as "good," while the Mets, with their very wealthy hedge fund owner taking the part of "evil." 'Cause, you know, corporations are better than wealthy guys. On top of that, many would love to recycle all of their "LOL Mets" material.

Of course, the reason there will be a target on the Mets' backs this season is that they finally have an owner who is unabashedly committed to winning. He's also willing to commit the financial resources to do that. While signings like Correa, Justin Verlander, Brandon NimmoDavid Robertson, and Kodai Senga are the most evident and outward-facing examples of this commitment, so much of what the Mets are doing with their investments in technology, player development, and analytics matter as much, if not more so. Because the long-term health of the Mets franchise will depend on those things that garner much less publicity.

I'm actually comfortable with the Mets' bullpen right now. I think that the additions of Robinson and lefty Brooks Raley, along with re-signing Edwin Díaz and Adam Ottavino, give them a nucleus to mix and match around with some of the less expensive acquisitions and guys already on the roster. I know some would argue for one more experienced late-inning reliever, but a smart, winning club should be able to derive some value from bullpen arms that don't require multi-million dollar investments. While I certainly wouldn't be unhappy to see them bring in someone else, it shouldn't be necessary.

While today's signing of Tim Locastro seems like a good pickup of a potential extra outfielder in the role that Travis Jankowski filled pretty well early last season, I'm still convinced that the Mets absolutely have to add one more outfielder to the mix that they're comfortable with starting games for a decent stretch when other guys inevitably get hurt. I guess it's possible that Jeff McNeil could play more OF, especially if they plan on keeping Luis Guillorme and/or Eduardo Escobar.

It's also conceivable that, if the Mets don't trade Brett Baty, that ABs as a LF might be in the cards for the young prospect this season. If Baty starts the year in Syracuse, it will be interesting to note whether he starts spending more time in the OF. If he continues to play mostly at 3B, it would probably be an indication that he's a trade chip rather than a piece of the Mets' future. All of this, of course, is predicated on the Mets signing Carlos Correa.

We'll talk about all of that more in future posts on this blog. I want to see how the Correa situation resolves before I start writing about other things. I hope this week brings a final resolution, but I understand how complicated this is. After all, I never doubted that there were potential future health issues with Correa when the Giants backed off of him. They're a smart organization for which I have respect. And I can't fault the Mets for not being willing to finalize the deal with Correa if their long-term risk isn't mitigated.

Be well and take care.

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  1. I guess you don't want to hear about my air conditioning bill then :)

  2. Not too much worry about snow where you live now, anyway


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