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

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

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.

 

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.

The Wild Card Is Awesome…Even When Your Team Loses

Welcome to a post-Wild Card wrap-up on ShoesOnSports. The Mets didn’t get the result we were hoping for, but take a step back and think of that game before Jeurys Familia left that pitch up in the zone to Connor Gillaspie. Before that ball was smoked into the Mets’ bullpen…man, that game was fucking fun, wasn’t it?

You had two aces on the top of their games, mowing through the order like nobody’s business knowing full well that the first team to make a mistake probably loses.

It was drama of the highest form and – with the championship dreams of both teams hanging in the balance – we were treated to brilliance from the up-and-coming Noah Syndergaard and pure dominance from the postseason living legend that is Madison Bumgarner.

Over the past few days, the amount of talk that has gone on concerning the Wild Card format has been unreal. From what I see in my social media feeds and the blogs and articles that I read, there’s a minority of people who approve of the single-game play-in, while most would prefer some kind of series like a 2 of 3.

I’ve always been in the minority since this change was made to the Wild Card. Put more emphasis on winning the division and give the team with the best record an advantage since – in theory – the Wild Card winner would be burning their ace pitcher in the Wild Card game just to get through to the Division Series. You can say all you want that that’s not fair, to which I reply, it’s not supposed to be! If it bothers you that much, you should have won your division to not put your season on the line in one last game.

But if after watching both the AL Wild Card game be won on a walk-off homer by Edwin Encarnacion and then the NL game go to the 9th before the Giants were finally able to push across a marker, how can you possibly say this wasn’t awesome? Sure, you’re apt to have some stinkers in there, but you’ll get even more of them by adding more games. Plus, we’re in a period now where there’s already a shortage of pitching to handle all the innings for a team making a deep postseason run so adding more games to a schedule already overloaded isn’t exactly the best idea.

Either way, the one game format provides drama and excitement that we rarely get with divisional races anymore at the end of the regular season. Outside of the famous “Game 162” day of the 2012 season which was just bonkers, we probably hadn’t seen such a meaningful final day since the 1993 season where the Giants won 103 games, but didn’t make the postseason finishing a game behind the 104 win Braves.

These Wild Card games give us a dose of the drama while not sacrificing the integrity of the regular season. Teams now have a vested incentive in winning their division whereas before this play-in game, they make use the final weekend as an opportunity to align their rotation to play in the Division Series. And I say that as a fan who just last night saw his team get bounced from potential postseason play in the Wild Card game.

It’s not fair. But it’s not supposed to be. And it’s perfectly summed up in this tweet:

To next season, we go.

Collins Puts Mets At Strategic Disadvantage

You can say that Terry Collins has players wanting to play for him. You’d be right. You’d can also say that with the sheer quantity of impact injuries the team has suffered that them even being in this spot tonight is incredibly unlikely. You’d also be right about that.

One thing you cannot say, however, is that having Terry Collins calling the shots on your bench – in what is assumed to be a pitcher’s duel tonight in the NL Wild Card game – inspires much confidence in a late-game situation where he would need to outmanage Bruce Bochy.

Collins rode a historic hot streak by Yoenis Cespedes to get into the postseason and then hopped back on the horse to ride Daniel Murphy’s historic hot streak to get into the World Series where he was completely exposed as a dumpster fire of a tactician who trusted history over current results (Michael Cuddyer), was unable to identify when a pitcher in a big spot was gassed (Steven Matz) and was unable to deviate from the script he had written for himself in regards to managing a bullpen that led to him using his closer in less than optimal situations which led to two “blown saves”.

Add that to everything we’ve seen this year. Wilmer Flores is unavailable for the remainder of the season because of an injury sustained in a home-plate collision because Terry Collins admitted he forgot to pinch run for him. The decision early in the season to destroy Jim Henderson. Also, he’s been a mad man using every single player available to him since rosters expanded in September and, should tonight’s game be close in the late innings, I’d be shocked if he’s able to use ONLY 25 players.

The Mets are only carrying 9 pitchers tonight which – in theory – is plenty for one game and maximizes your bench options. But with the way Collins has grown accustomed to playing musical match-ups over the past month, I genuinely have to question if Collins will have the foresight not to burn through all his players and put himself at a disadvantage should the game go into extra innings like last night’s AL Wild Card game.

One thing I can promise is that Collins is no Showalter and won’t be questioned for NOT using a certain player. In a perfect world, the Mets jump on Madison Bumgarner early and take the game out of Collins’ hands. But should Noah Syndergaard give up a couple of early runs and Collins has his hand forced, this could be an ugly game for the blue and orange.

Strasburg Injury Reinforces Playing For Now & Not The Future

The window of opportunity is a fickle thing. Sometimes, what looks to be a budding dynasty gets one shot at winning and then crumbles in the aftermath.

In 2006, the Mets ran roughshod over the rest of the NL East, but injuries to key starting pitchers and horribly timed slumps from impact hitters led to the Mets dropping a heartbreaker of an NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in a season where the Mets SHOULD have not only beaten the Cardinals, but steamrolled the AL Champion Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

In the days that followed, the sadness turned to optimism as many fans pointed to the emergence of young stars Jose Reyes and David Wright as well as continued excellence from veteran Carloses, both Beltran and Delgado added to a pitching staff featuring a “healthy” Pedro Martinez, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and young fireballers John Maine and Oliver Perez who had both performed admirably in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, it would be nine years before the Mets even reached the playoffs following the disappointment of 2006. They had their chance. And they blew it. You don’t always get a second chance in sports.

The Atlanta Braves and NY Yankees both had runs of sustained success in the 90s and early 00s, but the Braves were only able to win one championship (in the strike-shortened season of 1995) proving that even if you have a fistful of lottery tickets, your number may still not come up.

This week, Nationals pitcher Stephan Strasburg was removed from a game and it was feared that he may have needed a second Tommy John surgery. The Nationals sit comfortably atop the NL Eastern division right now and – barring a monumental collapse – are pretty much guaranteed to see postseason play. But the loss of Strasburg for the postseason would have been a huge hit to their World Series chances.

The diagnosis was that he just had a strain of the flexor tendon, but more than that, it was a harrowing reminder of how you need to seize your opportunities when you have them. Strasburg was probably the most hyped draft pick in history when he was taken first overall by Washington in the 2009 draft and his talent and potential was on full display when he made his debut in 2010 in a 14 strikeout performance against the Pirates that was carried nationally on ESPN.

Unfortunately, for Strasburg and the Nats, he would need Tommy John surgery and missed most of the 2011 season before returning for a cup of coffee in September. He was ready to go for the 2012 season, but with a strict innings-limit that would force him to be shutdown in September while the Nats were thought to be a favorite to win the National League and potentially the World Series.

Without Strasburg – Washington’s clear-cut ace – they lost a five-game series to the Cardinals and, though they have always defended the organizational decision to sit Strasburg in his first full-year back from surgery, the questions and “what-ifs” have never gone away.The Nationals haven’t been in a position to make another such run until this season where they almost lost Strasburg again.

The Mets were faced with a similar issue with their ace, Matt Harvey, last season. They decided to peel away from their pre-season, self-imposed innings limit and let Harvey pitch until the final game of the World Series, by which point he had accumulated more innings than any other pitcher in history fresh off TJ surgery.

There’s a fine line between use and abuse and the Mets – while clearly pushing Harvey – didn’t abuse the right-hander. They simply tried to seize an opportunity both the player and team knew wouldn’t present itself very often.

It’s unenviable situation for an organization to be put into with how we value young, power arms in this day and age of baseball, and to risk long-term damage to such a valuable asset for a short-term gain is borderline irresponsible, but there has been no definitive proof showing exactly what causes pitchers to break.

Until there is, the cases of Harvey and Strasburg will keep presenting themselves with new faces and new names and new coaching staffs and front office executives who are forced to make the decision of whether to try to protect and asset or put the pedal to floor and go for what may be your one chance to get through a window that is eternally closing.

If you ask Mets fans, I guarantee they agree with going for it as 2015 was a magical season that evolved out of thin air and fell just short of possibly being miraculous. Nationals fans may have agreed with the decision to sit Strasburg at the time, thinking it was just the beginning of a long run of Washington dominance, but that never did materialize. They’re left with the what-ifs and the realization that you need to capitalize on legitimate championship opportunities when they present themselves because there is zero guarantee that there is another one waiting behind it.

There’s no sport as fickle as baseball when it comes to injuries and the impact they can have on expectations. Losing a starter of the ilk of a Harvey or Strasburg long-term usually means postponing expectations until they’re able to return. Which is why when you have them and when they’re able, you go for it. Every time. Because by the time you’re back in that position, you’re just a flexor tendon away from not being close again.

 

 

TV Review: ESPN 30 For 30: Doc & Darryl

ESPN continued its phenomenal 30 for 30 series the other night with “Doc & Darryl” directed by Judd Apatow.On paper, you’d think this was made for me. In execution? Eh…kinda.

When this was first announced, I was obviously interested, but skeptical at the same time. It’s one of those stories that – as a Met fan – you know all too well. You’ve heard all the scenarios, the fables, the what-ifs. I imagined that this was it was like for a hardcore comic book fan to see a new interpretation of a Spider-Man movie.

My biggest fear was put to rest in the first minute when Apatow states during his introduction of the film that, “This is not a story about 1986.” That genuinely worried me. I say it way too much, but the Mets are a franchise with very little in terms of great players and history so it becomes tiring to keep going back to 1986. Especially this year when we’ve been besieged with the 30th anniversary of that last Mets championship team. I’m kind of 86’d out.

Which, by proxy, means I’m kind of Doc and Darryl’d out too. So yes, this wasn’t a story about 1986, but it was still a tragic tale that was all too familiar to those of us who lived through the rise and fall of two of the most talented players the Mets have ever had.

Even though I saw pretty early on that I probably wouldn’t get any new information out of it, I still enjoyed it for what it was and think people with only a casual knowledge of the subjects would like it even more.

I do have a major problem, however. It has nothing to do with the movie, really, but the ease of making a “what-if” story about two young, black kids in the 80s who lost what could have been legendary careers when alcohol and cocaine ran rampant throughout all of not just the major leagues, but society in the 80s.

Yes, it’s sad that Doc blew the chance for a few more Cy Youngs and 300 wins up his nose. It’s sad that Darryl drank away 500 homers and the chance to be as revered in Queens as Reggie Jackson in the Bronx. But it’s equally as sad to see someone like Steve Howe (the 1980 NL Rookie of the Year) be suspended 7 times and die at 48 with meth in his system. Or Darrell Porter, a first round pick and multiple time All Star who was one of the first players to be open about his use die at 50 from what an autopsy revealed was “toxic effects of cocaine”.

The focus on Doc and Darryl is because it further pushes the narrative of the black community immersed in drug culture. Sure, it serves as a cautionary tale for those learning their stories, but it also scapegoats them as the posterboys for an epidemic which isn’t fair.

The movie is good enough. I’m sure there will be stories and factoids that people will be surprised to learn, but if you’re a big Mets fan or of either of these two players, there’s probably not much in here that you haven’t heard before.

I do hope that finally we can let these two be, though. Dragging them out every few years to write a new book or TV piece where they have to come up with some new scandalous story to keep things fresh is kind of tired.

If you haven’t yet caught this, “Doc & Darryl” can be caught streaming on the WatchESPN app.

Contact on Twitter: @MaximusSexPower or e-mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com