The Greatest Sports Day Of My Week

Saturday, April 29th began like any regular Saturday. I woke up, made coffee and dropped off my laundry. Cleaned up around the apartment and settled in to watch the Mets because, in the words of Apu, the NY Mets are my favorite squadron.

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As recently as this past Thursday, the Mets’ season looked to be on the brink of complete and total implosion after injuries to Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard and, with a weekend showdown against the division-rival Washington Nationals on the agenda, it wasn’t hard to think the Mets could have three feet of dirt shoveled on top of them by Sunday night.

To the shock of everybody, the Mets stormed into the nation’s capital on Friday and defeated defending Cy Young Winner, Max Scherzer thanks in large part to catcher, Travis d’Arnaud’s monster two-homer, five RBI game. It was a nice, surprising way to start the weekend and you hoped – but didn’t expect – for things to continue on Saturday when they’d be pitted against Stephen Strasburg.

Early on, it looked as if it’d be another one of those days for the Metsies, but, in the 5th inning, they finally broke through against Strasburg and hung a 3 on the scoreboard, topped off by Michael Conforto’s two-run homer. Shockingly, they never relinquished the lead and even added a couple of insurance runs thanks to dingers from Jose Reyes (who is apparently back to being a Major Leaguer) and Conforto who added his second of the day as the team held on to a feel-good 5-3 win in DC that, at the very least, gave them the series win with a chance to sweep on Sunday.

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Even better, as if the mood around the Mets hadn’t already done a complete 180 since Thursday, Noah Syndergaard will be starting, says he feels fine and just needed a couple extra days to get himself back together. Now, I never give the Mets the benefit of the doubt on anything when it comes to injuries because of their well-documented track record, but I am willing to buy Thor telling me he’s fine since he hasn’t burned me yet. By 5PM on Saturday afternoon, everything was right in Metsville.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m also a very big hockey fan. While you would think, I’d be a Ranger fan based on where I grew up, that’s simply not the case. I’m actually a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and, yeah, there’s some front-running involved in that.

When I was kid, I didn’t have cable, so I never watched hockey. I didn’t become interested in the sport until the original NHL Hockey game came out on Sega Genesis. My cousin, Mike – a Devils fan – was the first dude I knew with a Genesis and – him growing up on Long Island – was very into hockey since the afterglow of the Islanders’ dynasty was still alive and well. When I’d go over to his house, I’d play the game and just ask who the best team in the game was since I didn’t know any better. It was, obviously the Penguins who were the defending Stanley Cup champs and, the more I played, the more I familiarized myself with their players and – voila! – I was a Pittsburgh Penguins fan for life.

Over the course of being a Pens fan, I certainly have hatred for the Flyers and I think comparing Sid and Ovi is absurd, but I have a genuine dislike for the New York Rangers. And that, obviously, is because of where I grew up. All my friends were Rangers fans and after winning the Cup in 94, the Rangers were the absolute bee’s knees around town. So it was a constant shit-talking situation between all of the kids I went to school with and myself.

To this day, some of the supreme sports shit-talking in my life is over hockey and I take a genuine delight in the Rangers failing just as my friends love to bust my balls when the Pens shit the bed.

I had the Rangers/Senators game on my second TV while the Mets were on Saturday and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see the Rags blow a two-goal lead in the last three minutes of regulation before sealing the deal with a loss in double-overtimes after JG Pageau put his fourth goal of the game behind Henrik Lundqvist to close out a 6-5 win and have the Senators in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 lead in the series.

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I’m not willing to say that this series is over, but four goals in a playoff game is hella impressive and you can’t imagine the joy I get from watching the Rangers fans having a meltdown on my social media timelines.

What a time to be alive.

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get better, the Penguins had the night game against the Capitals in their Game 2 matchup in Washington. I’ve said from the beginning, never bet the Caps against the Pens in the playoffs. I don’t care how good they were during the season, I don’t care how much they upgraded their roster. Until they actually finally get over that hump, don’t believe it will ever happen.

The Pens had won Game 1, but you had to figure it would be tough to take both games on the road, especially when the Caps came out flying in the first period and thoroughly dominated all aspects of the game…except they couldn’t score.

They skated complete circles around the Pens, but after 20 minutes, the game was still scoreless thanks to a great effort from Marc-Andre Fleury, the greatest goalie in Penguins history who had been relegated to backup duty late last year after the team called up wunder-prospect Matt Murray to take the reins in net.

Murray backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup last season and was expected to do the same again, but was injured during warm-ups before Game 1 of the Pens’ first-round series against Columbus forcing Fleury back into the starting role. Fleury has been even better than you could have hoped and once the Pens got rolling on Saturday, the man we lovingly call “Flower” was able to make the lead stand up as the Pens took Game 2 with a 6-2 victory.

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As opposed to the Rangers/Senators series, I am willing to go out on the limb and say that, for all intents and purposes, this series is done. Washington looked defeated and you can tell they have that “here we go again” mentality taking over. They threw their very best at the Pens in Game 2 and came away with not only nothing to show for it, but had their doors blown off on the scoreboard to go with it.

I was drinking Tito’s Vodka pretty casually throughout the day and by the time this game ended, I was in a terrific mood. It was simply the greatest sports Saturday I’ve had in…jeez, I don’t even know.

It may never happen again when all the ducks lineup in a row like this, but for one day, it was perfect. Although, now I do need to make a run to liquor store since I’m all out of Tito’s and – let’s be honest – Tito’s is fucking fantastic and you should never be without it.

I doubt very many people got the same enjoyment out this day that I did, but if you did, let’s pretend we watched it all unfold together as things just continually got better as the day got older. Raise your Tito’s and let’s toast to many more happy Saturdays.

Salut.

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

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It’s Not Early, It’s A Blown Opportunity

The calendar still reads April, but the games count just the same as the ones in September. Through the first 19 games of the season, the Mets sport a record of just 8-11 and while the season certainly isn’t over, the team has already failed to capitalize on what was a golden opportunity to take the reigns of the division in the early going and dictate the tempo going forward.

In a strange bit of scheduling, the first 32 games on the Mets’ calendar this season are all played against their division rivals within the NL East. A strong start would have gone a long way to building a cushion at the top of the standings or, at the very least, fatten up on wins against the lesser competition of the Braves and Phillies.

When you come into a season with the expectation of being a World Series contender, you have to beat the bad teams. When those teams play within your division, it gives you an even better chance to distance yourself from the pack that inevitably gathers and scavenges around the Wild Card spots because of the extra intra-divisional games provided by the unbalanced schedule.

Even taking to current rash of injuries into account, we’ve seen very quickly that what was supposed to be the “deepest roster” Terry Collins has had since managing the team is already as thin as a wet paper towel. And not even one of those nice Bounty paper towels.

With Jay Bruce already pressed into duty at first base due to injuries to Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores, the Mets are forced to keep underperformers Curtis Granderson (of the .145/.205/.254 line) and Jose Reyes (.104/.189/.134) in a lineup that is as desperate for warm bodies as it is for baserunners. Despite a performance in 2016 that featured a reliance on the long ball and routinely fell into slumps and cold streaks, the Mets did nothing to improve the lineup at the major league level and simply brought back an entire roster of players who were with the organization already and depended (hoped…prayed?) they’d all stay healthy.

Since that has already shown to be a pipe dream, the Mets are stuck in an already unenviable position of already hoping for players to get healthy, others to return to form and yet another group to hurry up and take the next step in their development. Despite all that, the biggest deficiency they have isn’t even on the 25 man roster, it’s the man who wears number 10 on the bench: manager Terry Collins.

Look. Terry Collins is one of those baseball-lifer guys you hear all about and respect and knowledge and blah blah blah. Fuck. That. Terry Collins is a half-witted hack and I don’t care how well him and David Wright get along because this is the same guy who has half his bullpen on pace for 200 appearances each in a 162 game season IN FUCKING APRIL!

He sits there after every game talking about how he has to protect the 4 guys in the rotation (I haven’t gotten the feeling that he gives a shit about Gazelle-Man yet), but has no problem making Jerry Blevins throw 2 innings a day. I’m sure he even called down to have Blevins warm up yesterday even though the game was rained out.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Collins sucks. He’s always sucked. Don’t start with that World Series run in 2015. If you paid attention you saw how lucky he was to ride a historic stretch from Yoenis Cespedes down the stretch, then to jump on the Daniel Murphy historic stretch in the postseason before was given enough rope to hang himself in the World Series. Am I saying the Mets would have beaten the Royals with a different manager? Not for sure, but would they have had a better shot with somebody different on the bench? Abso-fucking-lutely.

This idiot gave an already cold-bodied Michael Cuddyer three at-bats in Game 1 when, in all actuality, Cuddyer had absolutely no business even being on the postseason roster at that point. He’s the guy who had Jeurys Familia come into Game 3 to protect a goddamn six-run lead despite having pitched everyday for the previous three months. The same guy who gift-wrapped Game 4 by not pulling Matz after 5 innings and then wasting both of his long relievers in the sixth because Terry Collins has a script of what relievers get to pitch what innings and he’ll be goddamned if he ever alters his script.

I’ve said in the past that the Mets making that run to the Series was great and awful all at the same time. As a fan, all I want is for my team to win a World Series and they got close, but when they didn’t win, it ensured that Collins wasn’t going anywhere because you know a manager isn’t getting fired after an appearance in the Series.

I watch a lot of baseball, but obviously more Mets than anything else. It’s hard to think that there would be another manager in the Major Leagues right now that would be strategically worse than Terry Collins. He constantly refuses to give playing time to younger guys whether it be out of deference for veterans or just plain, old stubbornness. We’ve seen it with Wilmer Flores (who is still only 25 despite the feeling that he’s been a bench player on the big club for the past decade) and now we’ve seen it with Michael Conforto who has been good in the time he’s been given this season despite Collins’ insistence on continuing to run with Granderson because there’s a track record there.

Again, with the injuries that have befallen the team, there aren’t a lot of options to do otherwise right now, but there has never been any creativity or solid decision-making when it comes to filling out a lineup or managing an entire rotation during the Collins regime.

With the amount of free agents the Mets will have following this season and the question marks they will leave in the roster moving forward, the window for success for this team could be closing a lot faster than any of us want to believe. It would certainly behoove the team to find somebody better equipped at holding it open rather than forcing it shut.

It’s only been 19 games thus far, but to be three games under .500 at this point is certainly a failure in a season that was filled with great expectations. Even with the injuries, the team simply has to be better and has to capitalize on games against “second-division teams” as Keith Hernandez likes to say. Without doing so, it could get late awfully early this season.

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

Jose Fernandez, Statues & The Perils Of Being A Fan

When Jose Fernandez died near the end of last season, like everybody else, I thought it was a great tragedy to have one of the great, young ball players cut down as he was coming into his prime.

And then the police investigation concluded.

In my mind, this no longer was a tragedy, but a matter of pure stupidity. Alcohol and cocaine in his system while operating a boat at way too high a speed with way too little visibility which killed not only himself, but two other men as well.

Sure, it’s still sad to see three lives ended, but you can only feel so bad when the damage is self-inflicted. We all knew the Jose story about how he came over from Cuba. How he dove into the water risking his own life to save his mother who had fallen overboard. It was and still is an amazing tale of the lengths people without freedom will go to to be free. It’s inspiring. It also seems like a waste considering the manner in which he died.

I’m not a Marlins fan, but I am a baseball fan and, as such, truly enjoyed watching him pitch and perform on the baseball field. I also really loved when he hit a homer against the Braves and pimped it so hard that Brian McCann – the self-appointed sheriff of the unwritten rules of the game – took offense and the benches cleared. Because fuck Brian McCann.

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When the news came out last week that the Marlins were planning to erect a statue of Fernandez in his memory outside Marlins Park, I found it an incredibly hard pill to swallow. How could they possibly do such a thing to memorialize a man whose life was cut off so suddenly because of such a dumb decision that left a family without their loved one and an unborn daughter fatherless?

It seemed as if I was in the overwhelming majority on that as well. Most of the comments and reactions I read on articles posted by ESPN and Yahoo and various other sites seemed to convey similar arguments against the statue. I say majority because it wasn’t everybody. There was a noticeable contingent of people, be they Marlins fans, fellow Cubans or just plain, ole Jose Fernandez fans, who were very in favor of the statue because of what the player meant to his team, his community and his people. They were willing to, maybe not overlook the circumstances around his death, but accepting of that as just a footnote to a story of an otherwise beloved individual who impacted them in some way.

And that came off crazy to me.

Until…

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This is Jose Reyes. He came to the Major Leagues in 2003 with MY team, the New York Mets. From the day he arrived, I was a fan. He was young, exciting and seemed to be having the time of his life in every game. He became the best shortstop in the history of my favorite club and when he left for greener pastures as a free agent, I watched many slide shows of his finest Met moments to the tune of Adele’s “Someone Like You”. (Not even a joke.)

Reyes eventually returned to the Mets last season, but under very different circumstances. After the 2015 season, Reyes was involved in an incident while vacationing in Hawaii where he apparently got physical with his wife that resulted in injuries and her being transported to a hospital. There were never charges filed as Mrs. Reyes declined to cooperate with law enforcement, but something happened. Not the good kind of something either.

Jose Reyes was suspended by MLB from the beginning of the 2016 season because of this and – upon his reinstatement – was unconditionally released by the Colorado Rockies who chose to eat the remaining guaranteed money on his contract (a pro-rated $22M for 2016 and $21.46M for 2017) rather than have him remain a member of their ballclub. He was signed by the Mets, the team that raised him, where he had enough goodwill built up with the organization and fan base that it was probably the only destination he could go without the backlash being too severe.

A situation like Jose Reyes’ puts you in a tough position as a fan. You want your team to win. You want your team to get the best players available and, let’s be honest, Jose Reyes was definitely an upgrade on the roster for where the Mets were at the time of his signing. Baseball players – and athletes – in general are no saints. They get into all types of shit just like anybody else. But there’s a fine line between womanizing or partying and beating your spouse to the point where she needs to be hospitalized.

You don’t want to trivialize the situation by any means, but Reyes never had an issue before that. Maybe it was just a one-time thing. But a one-time thing is still very not OK. But remember when Jose was leading off during that awesome 2006 season? You loved him! Yes, but all the evidence seems to point to him beating his wife whether there were charges filed or not.

I want to be able to cheer for Jose Reyes, but every time I do, I catch myself and remember what he – allegedly – did. And that sucks because, as a fan, he’s brought me incredible joy for over a decade. It’s just something I’ll never be able to fully put out of my head while he continues to play for my team.

Which brings me back to Jose Fernandez. The idea that people would support such a statue seemed absolutely ludicrous to me. Until I remembered my own struggle with wanting, trying (choosing?) to remember the best of Jose Reyes.

I can just imagine a little kid in ten years walking with his dad and coming up to the statue of Fernandez and having the following exchange:

Kid: Dad, who’s this?

Dad: This is Jose Fernandez. He was on his way to becoming one of the best pitchers maybe ever before he made some bad decisions and died.

Kid: Oh…how are we supposed to feel about this?

Dad: I don’t know, son. I don’t know.

In this day and age, we know and hear everything about everybody. When it comes to the stories like these, it shows that it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes, you just want your heroes to stay your heroes.

Joe

ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

Yoenis Cespedes, Dingers & The Fun Value

I love baseball. I love the Mets. You know what else I like? Fun. I like having a good time. I like when my baseball is fun baseball and not a boring collection of strikeouts and grinding out walks in long, terrible at-bats no matter the strategic value of said plate appearances.

Enter Yoenis Cespedes.

When he came over to the Mets in the 2015 trade deadline deal from the Detroit Tigers, we knew he was an impact bat, but by no means did we expect this offensive juggernaut that we would embrace as one of ours even close to as quickly as we did and then demand he be brought back for the largest annual value contracts in the history of the team.

Which poses the question: why did we fall in love with Cespedes so quickly? Simple: he makes baseball fun to watch and his time at the plate is must-see, destination viewing. If you miss a Cespedes at-bat, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

We love characters, we love power, we love larger-than-life personalities and Yoenis checks off all of those boxes. When he launched his first homer last night off of Clay Buchholz to put the Mets ahead 3-0, we marveled at the sheer ferocity with which he swings. When his second of the game shot out to left field, we were in awe of just how hard he could sting a baseball. For most other players, that point of contact would have hooked the ball foul, but not Yoenis. He’s so brutally strong and slammed walloped that ball so viciously that he was able to keep it straight enough long enough before it was able to slow down its flight path and tail toward the wrong side of the foul pole.

How do you top that? Just hit a third one. In a game where it felt like the whole lineup was having a good day, Cespedes still found a way to be the singular person in the spotlight. Three homers. The second time he’s done that as a member of the Mets and the very first Mets player to ever have two such games in the history of the franchise.

For a team that is now in its 56th season, anytime you see a player achieve a “first” in team history is an impressive feat.

Cespedes is better than any of us gave him credit for when he was first brought over during that 2015 season. He single-handedly carried that squad through the last eight weeks on his back to a division title and then followed that with an equally impressive 2016 season even factoring in some time lost to injury.

When people questioned his level of dedication following a huge contract signing this offseason, he reported to spring training in absolutely ridiculous shape and reiterated his desire to not only win a championship (you have to say the political thing), but also to achieve a personal goal of winning the National League MVP award (which is something no Mets player has ever done). Personally, I love that.

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He’s got a flair. He’s got style. He wants to be the best. I don’t care how many different cars he shows up to work in. I don’t care how many horses he owns. I don’t care how often he plays golf during his time off. When it’s time to play, Yoenis Cespedes has always shown up ready to go to work. And he makes things exciting, entertaining and fun when he does. You can’t ask for anything more.

A Toast To David Wright

On Tuesday, the Mets released the news that we’ve all been expecting, but were hoping to avoid: David Wright had another setback and won’t be ready for Opening Day. After the spinal stenosis diagnosis last in 2015 and the neck surgery last year that has limited him to just 75 games over the past two seasons, this latest news very much has the feeling that we may have seen the last of the beloved captain and owner of most of the career records in team history.

Simply said: this sucks. Since Wright arrived in the majors in 2004, he’s been everything you could have asked for on the field and seems like a genuinely good dude off of it. David grew up a Mets fan, was drafted by the team that he and we love and made his way through the system to become a 7-time All-Star, team captain and have the greatest career of any position player in Mets history. To see his career cut short by these kinds of injuries in such a quick and definitive fashion would be painful enough, but then to continue to bust his ass and try to come back, putting in the work the way he has and seeing him have to re-learn how to move, stay in shape and keep up his fitness just to have it continually pulled back away from him is devastating to see.

He still has four years and $67m to go on his contract and nobody in their right mind expects him to just walk away from that. He’ll always be around in some fashion, hopefully, as an ambassador for the team meeting with VIPs, doing charity work and other things. He’s already not the David Wright we knew and loved physically – as even those of us who aren’t super-scouts could tell how much of a struggle it was for him defensively and how long his swing had gotten in his limited time last season – so if this is the capper on a fine career, then obviously we wish him the best. I understand not being ready to give up something you love and basically the only thing you’ve known since you were a kid, but – genuinely – I want David Wright the person to have as healthy and fulfilling a quality of life as possible and hope he doesn’t risk some kind of permanent disability trying to hang on just a bit longer.

I’m happy he did get the chance to play in a World Series and that he hit that homer in Game 3 at Citi Field. Though the injuries may have curtailed his push to get his numbers into Hall of Fame territory, there should be no question that some day we’ll be seeing his number 5 being retired by Mets. He was the block of stability during some very lean years for the team and made the commitment to staying at a time when he could have easily played out his deal and chosen to go elsewhere.

So, if this is it, thank you, David. It’s been a pleasure to cheer for you over the years and you’ve set a very high standard for future Mets to live up to.

Cespedes Is Back. So…What Next?

When the Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year deal last week it was a move that was as necessary for GM Sandy Alderson as it is to breathe. There was simply no way the Mets could have moved forward with improving their roster for the 2017 season without having the big, Cuban slugger back in the middle of their batting order.

The fact that they were able to get things done as quickly and painlessly as they did, however, is probably the nicest surprise of all. Last year, I think we were all convinced that Cespedes was as good as gone following the amazing run to the World Series, but once the market for him didn’t develop, the team was able to swoop in late and retain the offensive powerhouse for what was, essentially, an incredibly team-friendly one-year deal.

Letting him walk this year, however, simply wasn’t an option. Cespedes had an awesome 2016 and showed he’s the type of star attraction that can thrive in the New York market. For a team with over 50 years in the league, the Mets haven’t necessarily had a very long litany of truly great players as even filling out a top ten list can be so varied that there would be very little consensus amongst of group of people charged with making the list.

Cespedes gives the Mets exactly what they need right now. A genuine superstar, a dynamic offensive presence and someone who embraces the town of New York and what it offers all while staying away from all the negative stuff that has hampered athletes en masse over the last few years. If the worst thing about the guy is that he likes to play golf on his time off, you would take that anytime. The man got paid, let’s not pretend that he didn’t, but the team got him back on their terms too with only having to commit to him for four years through his age-35 season.

Besides re-signing their superstar, the team also got this done early enough in the offseason where they’re able to head into today’s Winter Meetings in Nashville fully ready to execute whatever the rest of their plan is for constructing their roster for next season.

Which begs the question: with Cespedes back, what’s next?

The team was absolutely hammered by injuries last season and, as much as I hate Terry Collins, he was able to get them to the Wild Card game in a year where nobody would have hammered him all too hard if they hadn’t gotten that far. What kept them in that spot, though, wasn’t really an incredible managing job, it was the fact that they played in an overall mediocre league and were able to take advantage of what was the strength-of-schedule over the final month to sneak their way in.

With the starting rotation on track to be ready to go for Spring Training, there is still some problem areas for the Mets to address in Nashville this week. Not the least of which is the outfield. At the beginning of last season, the Mets tried to fit Cespedes into center-field where he played admirably during the 2015 World Series run, but ultimately isn’t well-suited for over the course of a full season. This year, the team recognizes that, in order to protect their investment while maximizing the return they get from Yoenis, he has to play left-field, a position where he’s been a Gold Glove winner in the past.

An upgrade for an everyday center fielder is necessary and – internally – there isn’t a lot of desirable options. In a perfect world, Juan Lagares would be at a place in his career where he’s finally seized the opportunity and has evolved into a somewhat consistent hitter to go along with his excellence defensively, but he has yet to prove he can hit right-handers. Curtis Granderson is at an advanced age and no longer has the range to patrol CF with any regularity. The Mets are flooded with outfielders best suited for corner spots and it’s imperative to make a move somewhere.

The Ideal AKA Pipe Dream:

Trade Granderson AND Jay Bruce, Sign Dexter Fowler

I don’t think this has any shot of happening, but this would be the best possible scenario I can think of. It allows Michael Conforto to continue to develop as an everyday player in RF and gives you a legitimate everyday CF in Fowler who just played a key role on a World Series winner.

Jay Bruce was having a good season with the Reds before coming to the Mets, but whether it was just the adjustment of joining a new team for the first time since getting to the Majors or not being able to handle the pressure of NY, he became just the latest big name acquisition to be booed in no time by the Queens faithful. The Mets picked up his option for 2017 which gives him a price tag of $13M which makes him a rather good deal if he’s producing. That being said, he’s an atrocious defensive OF and, on a team loaded with corner OFs is the obvious trade candidate.

Granderson has been everything you want as a representative of your ballclub. After a rough 2014, he single-handedly kept the team afloat offensively in 2015 before they were able to trade for Cespedes. Last year started off mired in dreck, but he picked up considerably over the final six weeks. That’s all in addition to being a quality human being who is very active in charities and promoting the brand in the most positive of ways. He’s also been an incredible veteran voice to the younger guys as they’ve come through the system and the stories of players saying how helpful and supportive he is inside the clubhouse are endless.

That being said, there does seem to be quite a bit of interest in both him and Bruce and, in my mind, if you’re able to tandem these three moves together, you’d be enhancing your roster in the most optimal of ways.

The Likely:

Trade Bruce, Keep Granderson

From everything being reported, both players are intriguing to teams around the league, but the Mets would prefer to trade Bruce over Curtis. I get it. It makes sense. Grandy has had success here while Bruce, in a short sample, has not. If you’re set on trading one, please let it be Bruce. Granderson isn’t an everyday CF, but I suppose he’d be able to get some time there and in RF and still give Conforto the regular reps needed to continue his development. This isn’t a horrible option, it’s just not the golden ticket.

The Far Fetched but still has some talk around it:

Trade Bruce and Conforto

OK, so we’ve established the team would like to move Bruce. But would they really be open to trading their former first-round pick who a year ago looked like a cornerstone for the next decade? Sources say: no, but they are listening when people call. When Conforto was called up in 2015, he impressed enough to be penciled in as a starter going forward, but he started 2016 struggling and never really recovered after Terry Collins started benching him. He became pull-happy and was demoted to Triple-A to figure things out. He produced like gangbusters in Vegas, but upon being recalled to the big team, had a hard time getting off the bench again.

I’d say it’s still too early to give up on him and, apparently the team feels that way too as there’s no serious talks of moving him. They’re just keeping an open mind in case something intriguing does come through. That’s fair and smart, but with the year “Scooter” just had his value has to have plummeted and a return on him wouldn’t be anywhere close to as impressive as it may have been a year ago.

The Winter Meetings are just getting going and the word on the street makes it sound like the Mets have laid all the groundwork to be able to strike early this week. While it may seem that Jay Bruce is as good as gone, I never put anything past Sandy Alderson. I have the utmost faith in the man and he’s definitely earned it after 1 1/2 postseason appearances in the last two years.

What’s been interesting about all these rumors is that – while we’ve heard certain teams linked to these players – I haven’t seen one instance of what the return would be for any of them. It’s constantly bandied about that the Mets would want bullpen help or may look to replenish the cupboard of prospects as they’ve gotten thin in minor league depth, but there’s been nothing solid in terms of “here’s what’s being offered”. Obviously, that has me scratching my chin, but as I said, trust Sandy. He’s the baseball maverick, after all, and has built a roster that, in theory, has an open window to compete for at least a few more years.

Feel free to send me any feedback. I’m on Twitter, @MaximusSexPower or can be emailed at ShoesOnSports@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading.

 

IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

Being a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America is pretty cool. It’s opened me up to finding out about scores of great writers and bloggers who all cover the game from different angles. As someone who is a baseball nerd, I love reading as much about the game as I can.

But the best part of membership is being able to cast votes for year-end awards and Hall of Fame.

It’s something I take seriously because these awards and achievements always mattered to me as a fan and to be involved in a process to recognize the players in the greatest game on Earth is an honor, no matter how small my role in it is.

I received my ballot for the IBWAA Hall of Fame last week and already had a good idea of who I’d be voting for, but still took a couple of days to go over everything once more just to be sure. I know this doesn’t change the world, but like I said, I do take this seriously because I know very well that 11 year-old me wouldn’t accept anything less.

With that being said, let’s go over my choices. First off, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines weren’t on the IBWAA ballot because all three have been elected in previous years.

Now to those actually on the ballot.

Players I Voted For Last Year Who Remained on My Ballot:

  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Trevor Hoffman
  • Jeff Kent
  • Billy Wagner
  • Larry Walker

Players Appearing For the First Time Who I Voted For:

  • Vladimir Guerrero
  • Manny Ramirez
  • Ivan Rodriguez

Players I Dropped From My Ballot:

  • Curt Schilling

Not Receiving A Vote:

  • Casey Blake
  • Pat Burrell
  • Orlando Cabrera
  • Mike Cameron
  • JD Drew
  • Carlos Guillen
  • Derrick Lee
  • Fred McGriff
  • Melvin Mora
  • Mike Mussina
  • Magglio Ordonez
  • Jorge Posada
  • Edgar Renteria
  • Arthur Rhodes
  • Freddie Sanchez
  • Gary Sheffield
  • Lee Smith
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Matt Stairs
  • Jason Varitek
  • Tim Wakefield

All told, I voted for nine players this year. We are allowed to vote for up to 15, but, obviously, I didn’t feel the need for that this year.

On The Issue of Voting For the “PED Guys”:

At first, I was completely against those who had ties to PEDs. As time went on, I saw players with nothing but the suspicion because of how they looked being punished because of the cloud over the era. That caused me to change my tune. Also, this isn’t life or death and the Hall of Fame isn’t exactly filled with choirboys. So, if it’s all or nothing, I’d rather go for “all”.

Manny Ramirez is a different case, I get it. He was actually caught and suspended twice. But it is impossible for me to know just how much of his career was played while taking PEDs, so I feel like I have to include him under the same criteria as the others.

Curt Schilling:

I voted for Schilling last year with my final pick. At no point did I ever feel like he was a no-doubter, but I felt like his extraordinary postseason performances were enough to sway me over to a “Yes” since his regular season numbers don’t exactly jump out at you. So what changed this year? This is where I confess to being a hypocrite. Whereas I felt it’s not my place to be the judge on the PED guys, Schilling’s social media performance over the past year has completely worn on me and I just want him to go away. He’s a stretch vote to begin with and this year I just decided his whole act negated what was able to sway me last year.

Others:

Jeff Kent is arguably the greatest offensive second-baseman ever. To me, what really hurts him is not being easily identified with a single team since he bounced around quite a bit over the course of his career. I wasn’t necessarily the biggest Jeff Kent fan, but it’s hard to ignore the numbers he put up at the position.

When it comes to Larry Walker, you vote based on what you think of the Coors Field effect. Personally, I’m not going to punish someone for where he played and the man was a damn good hitter as well as an elite defensive outfielder.

Vladimir Guerrero was simply a joy to watch. A player who had as much raw talent as anybody I’ve ever seen and was able to turn it into a great career.

On Players Left Off:

The one player I kept going back and forth on was Jorge Posada. Incredibly solid at a difficult position, but I’m still inclined to lean toward “Hall of Very Good” on him. I don’t know if my feeling on that will change going forward, but if I did “snub” somebody, I think he would probably qualify as the most notable.

Other than that, I feel like there was quite a bit of filler on this year’s ballot. Not to take away anything from these men and their careers, but pretty obviously, a lot of these guys just aren’t close to being Hall of Famers. Even then, I still voted for nine players and am happy with the ballot I submitted. Obviously, not everybody will agree and I’m OK with that.

IBWAA voting is still open until the end of the year.

Feel feel to let me know what you think.

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower

E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

Thanks for reading.

 

Podcast: Ahead of Their Time

I’m a baseball nerd. Ever since I was a kid, I was enamored with the history, statistics and strategies of the game. I know not everybody is as interested in that in-depth stuff as much as I am, but odds are, if you come to this page, you have more than just a passing interest in baseball.

Well, this is an episode of a podcast put out by FiveThirtyEight called “Ahead of Their Time” where the host talks about a singular topic and the impact it ended up having on the game. This one tells us the origins of the defensive shift as first popularized by then Cleveland Indians player-manager, Lou Boudreau as a way to stop Ted Williams from just killing them with the bat and how other teams picked up on it before it fell out of the game.

Eventually, the Tampa Bay Rays brought it back in the mid-2000s and it became the wonderful ruiner of baseball that people hate and/or love depending on how your team manages it, but the story of and about it was absolutely fascinating to me and I think you’ll enjoy it as well. Give it a listen.

It’s a pain in the ass to find a direct link because godforbid ESPN make it easy on you, but here’s the FiveThirtyEight podcast page where you can stream it; titled “Why Baseball Revived a 60-year-old Strategy Designed To Stop Ted Williams”.

The Outfield: An Awful Lot of Questions; Not Many Answers

The Mets need Yoenis Cespedes. That’s basically the simplest sentence I’ll ever write. There should be no debate of that point either. Once he decides to opt out of his current deal, re-signing the slugging left fielder should be the priority for Sandy Alderson and company.

But – should the team be able to retain Cespedes – that would open up a number of other questions in the outfield for the 2017 team. Mainly, what do you do – if anything – with Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and/or Juan Lagares?

That’s a lot of names vying for playing time in 3 spots and, as much as I’ve already gone over this, I still haven’t figured out a solution that would satisfy me going into next season.

That being said, let’s break down the possibilities on each:

1. Yoenis Cespedes

An absolute necessity.There is no permutation for next season that I will be happy with that doesn’t include Cespedes. He’s going to opt out and he’s going to get paid, but the team better recognize that you don’t let players of this quality just up and walk away because of money.

2. Curtis Granderson

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Grandy fan. I like him when he’s going well, but other times, not so much.He plays a serviceable RF, but has a wet noodle of an arm which constantly allows runners to take an extra base.

On the other hand, the man is an absolute pro. He doesn’t get too high or low and serves as a great example of what it means to be a big league ballplayer to the younger guys.

Granderson started 2016 in an absolute black abyss of a slump, but rebounded late to post decent numbers. He has 1 year left on his deal for $15M which may have looked like an impossibility to move in June, but he did show enough down the stretch that you’d think there has to be a team out there willing to take a shot on him for one year if the Mets are willing to eat some of that money.

He’s probably the player I’d be most interested in dealing, but I do worry about the effect such a move would have on the clubhouse as you constantly hear how beloved he is by his teammates. That being said, if there is a move to be made, you’d genuinely have to wonder about what kind of value you’d get in return for an aging, streaky player. I don’t know if anybody they would get in return would be anyone that would improve the current roster and you certainly don’t want to just give Grandy away for a nothing return. It’s a very complex situation. Which brings us to…

3. Jay Bruce

Acquired before the deadline for Dilson Herrera who was our 2B of the future, Bruce struggled mightily as he adjusted to a new team and city and was consistently booed for his collection of absolutely woeful at-bats.

Bruce has a team option for 2017 at $13M which you would think is a cinch to be picked up, but the issue becomes what you do with him after. Like Granderson, Bruce is a streaky, high strikeout guy and is comparatively just as bad if not worse than Curtis defensively.

With Cespedes making it clear that he’s no longer willing to play center field, it’s simply unreasonable to think the team can keep both Bruce and Granderson since having to play either one in CF is the equivalent of punting the position and will lead to balls dropping that should have been caught and runs scoring that never should have been on base.

Bruce is an interesting case because, if you feel you have to make a trade, he seems likely to bring back decent value because of his history and the fair dollar amount attached to him. But the idea of having a full-season of Bruce, Cespedes and Lucas Duda (which will be another blog in itself) is tantalizing for a team that had so much difficulty scoring runs down the stretch.

There has been talk of possibly moving Bruce to 1B (at least part-time), but as a lefty hitter, that’s basically waving goodbye to Lucas Duda while probably downgrading the position defensively. Once again, not an ideal situation.

4. Michael Conforto

What a weird year it was for Scooter. After a strong debut and solid performance into the World Series, Conforto looked like a lock to be patrolling LF for the next decade. Then a slump turned into a black hole which turned into a demotion to Las Vegas.

While in Vegas, he was able to get back to the things that had made him successful, but seemed to have lost every ounce of confidence from Terry Collins as it felt like he never played after rosters expanded in September.

Make no mistake: the Mets need Conforto to be successful. Besides just the on-field value he would bring, he offers a low-cost option in a lineup full of ever-rising salaries. While money should be less of an issue for the team coming off two reasonably successful seasons, they’re still not out of the woods yet when it comes the debts they built up due to the Bernie Madoff catastrophe and the restructuring of debt against both Citi Field and SNY.

Conforto, as with Granderson and Bruce, is not and probably should not be playing CF. He’s also been pushed from his natural LF since Cespedes took it back and only has limited exposure in RF. Once again, there’s been talk about getting him reps at 1B, but – as he also bats left-handed – that would once again force Lucas Duda off the roster or into a platoon that makes no sense.

Conforto had significant trade value, but it had to be impacted by 2016’s down year to where now you’d be selling low on a player that was looked at as a cornerstone just a few months ago. I can’t possibly see how you move him away at this point as there’s still so much upside should he get back to what made him successful in 2015.

5. Brandon Nimmo

The first draft pick under the Alderson regime, Nimmo made his major league debut this year and looked…eh, like a 4th or 5th outfielder right now. There’s obvious tools and he’s still young enough to put on some mass, but, at this point, Nimmo is probably ticketed to at least begin the season in Triple-A Las Vegas.

He was rumored to originally be included in the deal that eventually landed Jay Bruce, but that seemed to change at the 11th hour and he stuck with the team through September where he showed promise as a bench option with some key pinch hits while being able to provide a little speed late in the game as well.

Nimmo has a significant amount of experience playing CF in his minor-league career, but doesn’t project to be able to handle the position regularly. From what I’ve seen, I thought he looked adequate. Average at best, but it’s not like he was a tire fire out there.

Unless some kind of deal is struck during the offseason, I’d imagine he starts in Vegas where he had a breakout season in 2016. It remains to be seen how that will translate out of the high altitude of the Pacific Coast League or if he’d even be given an opportunity to contribute in Queens next season.

6. Juan Lagares

After a breakout 2014 season that saw him win a Gold Glove, Lagares signed a 4 year deal that provided him security and the team a friendly dollar figure should he continue to improve and build upon that terrific year. Unfortunately, for the Mets, he has failed to do so.

A combination of injuries and stagnation have brought Lagares’s development to a screeching halt and he’s been unable to refine his approach at the plate enough to make himself a genuine option to be an everyday player.

In a perfect world, Lagares learns to be respectable at the plate as his defense in CF would add significant value to his batting line and make this easy on the Mets where he would seize the position for himself and hold it down. Instead we’re left with the constant question of what we can reasonably expect from Juan and still patching in the Grandersons and Confortos of the world and hoping they don’t cost you a game with their defense while trying to jumpstart the offense.

It’s a tough situation and right now, you’d have to look at Lagares as the 4th outfielder until further notice. You hope he comes into spring training ready to go and really blows people out of the water, but he’s had the opportunity to do so for a couple of years now and has been unable to clamp it down.

He’s valuable as a late-inning defensive replacement and a RH bat, but he’s one of the few – if the only – players on this roster who could be classified as above average defensively and at a premium position – you’d wish he could get his game together enough where you can run him out there everyday to ease a bit of the burden on your pitching staff.

Which brings us to where we stand. Outside of the inherent need to hold on to Cespedes, the team looks to be playing musical chairs with the other two spots in the outfield with none an ideal fix. With a weak free agent class in the offing, Alderson and crew are going to have to be creative in making the necessary improvements needed in this roster while at the same time, not making a deal just for the sake of clearing a body.

It’s a very tough situation especially with the lack of seemingly obvious answers. Normally, I’m pretty certain about things I’d like to see, but this feels like a no-win situation. There are tons of possibilities and no real true answers. At the very least, the offseason appears as if it will be plenty interesting.

Podcast! Awards! Postseason! Mets!

Greetings! You may or may not be aware that I do a weekly pop culture podcast (The Car JoeMez Podcast) which is a lot of fun to do, but following the Mets’ Wild Card loss to the Giants, we recorded a special baseball only episode where I speak about my IBWAA awards ballot, postseason predictions and I even examine what the future could bring for the Mets’ roster. Oh, I shit on Terry Collins too. You know how I do. Anyway, I hope you’ll give it a listen and if you like, maybe check out some of the other episodes.