The Subway Series Is The Talk Of The Town

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We’re only 16 games into the season and the buzz surrounding this weekend is that usually reserved for September/October baseball. The Rangers, Islanders and Nets might be in the playoffs – but the subway series is the talk of the town.

When the schedule was first released I was disappointed to see the first part of the subway series would be taking place in April. I felt it was too early in the year and would be lacking any real excitement during this normally dull period in the season. Luckily I could not have been more wrong. We might not have kicked the cold weather just yet in New York but both of these teams are red-hot.

The Mets (13-3) come into this series as the hottest team in baseball – riding an 11-game winning streak. Their hot start has already given the Mets a 4.5 game lead in the NL East. Despite players dropping like flies due to injury (and suspension) the team has maintained this football like mentality as “next man up” seems to be their mantra. Terry Collins has his ball club playing with a type of grit and resilience that hasn’t been seen in Queens in years. The fan base has responded in a big way to this early success. Attendance is soaring and Citi Field, dare I say it, is beginning to rock like Shea. Maybe not quite on that level, but it’s a noticeable atmosphere change. Every night a different player seems steps up and comes through with a key walk, sacrifice fly, strong start, clutch hit or defensive web gem on the way to a win. It has been a complete team effort early on for the Metsies.

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Friday: Michael Pineda (2-0, 5.00 ERA) vs Jacob DeGrom (2-0, 0.93 ERA) 7:05 p.m. WPIX/YES/MLB Network

Saturday: CC Sabathia (0-3, 4.35 ERA) vs Matt Harvey (3-0, 3.50 ERA) 4:05 p.m. SNY/YES/Fox Sports 1

Sunday: Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 3.12) vs Jonathon Niese (2-0, 1.50 ERA) 8:05 p.m. ESPN

After getting off to a 3-6 start it appeared the Yankees (9-7) were in an early season tailspin. Things quickly turned around as the Yanks have since won 6 of their last 7 and now sit tied for first place in the AL East. There were questions swirling around some of this teams veteran players and what, if any, they had left in the tank. Mark Teixeira and A-ROD have been a blast from the past as each are producing at a high level. Chris Young, who was viewed as the team’s fourth or fifth outfield option, is among the hottest hitters in the game and has forced manager Joe Girardi’s hand for more playing time. The tag team of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller has been as good as advertised in the back-end of the bullpen. In just a week the Yankees have changed their outlook from bleak to optimistic in what appears to be a wide open AL East.

In years past this has been a no-win situation for the Yankees. They have long been the kings of this city and would never gain any real advantage from taking a series from the Mets. Even when the Mets have won this series in recent years it has garnered no real significance. Sure, it’s nice to beat the Yankees but no one really cares when you’re playing meaningless games by the middle of August.

This year feels different. The Mets, and their fans, have been quite vocal in pronouncing 2015 as the year they take New York back. This is the first time that I can ever remember the Yankees coming into the subway series with a little chip on their shoulder. I have a REALLY hard time saying any team with a payroll well north of $200 million is ever an underdog, but it sure feels that way. For the Mets, if they really want to surpass the Yankees as the toast of the town – it starts by sending a message this weekend.

The Mets have overcome plenty of adversity in only 13 games

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The Mets are 10-3 and off to their best start since 2006. Attendance is soaring and reaching figures the franchise hasn’t seen since Citi Field’s inaugural season in 2009. Take a look at the back cover of any local newspaper and the Mets will be featured on it. Listen to WFAN or ESPN radio (if you must) and odds are the Mets will be the topic of discussion for the majority of any given program. Matt Harvey has become the toast of the town. Simply put, the Mets are well on their way to taking the city back.

By all means things appear to be going just as planned, if not better, for the Mets in 2015. Yet they have already overcome an immense amount of adversity just 13 games into the season.

  • Zack Wheeler was diagnosed with a torn UCL in mid-March and has since undergone Tommy John surgery. He is expected back in 12-16 months.
  • Vic Black underwent an MRI late in spring training that revealed a herniated disc in his right shoulder. There was hope Black would return as early as this week until another MRI revealed only little improvement. He will rest another week before being reevaluated once again. A reasonable return date is unknown at this point.
  • Jenrry Mejia suffered stiffness in his right elbow on opening day and was placed on the 15-day disabled list following the game. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Just a week later he was suspended 80-games for PED use. Changes in the CBA ban Mejia from pitching in the postseason, should the Mets qualify.
  • David Wright was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 15th with strained hamstring. Wright has begun some rehab activities and Sandy Alderson expects the captain back when he is eligible to return on April 30. I hate to be negative about this positive news but hamstring issues are notoriously nagging injuries.
  • Travis d’Arnaud fractured his right pinkie finger and will be in a splint for three weeks. Rehab time still has to be taken into consideration on top of that. A realistic timetable for his return might be the end of May.
  • Jeremy Blevins fractured his forearm after being hit by a line drive and will remain in a splint for six weeks. He will then be reevaluated at that time and resume throwing when healed.

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When you think about what those players mean to this roster you’re talking about a front line starter, three prominent arms in the bullpen (closer, setup man and lefty specialist), an emerging catcher and the linchpin of this offense who is also the team captain.

The motto so far seems to be next man up. Nobody feels bad for you in professional sports. There is no pity for you when a player goes down. For opposing teams it can be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of your vulnerability. But as of now the Mets have been able to not only “hang in there” but succeed even with those gleaming voids.

Looking at that list reminds me of the 2009 season when it felt as if the entire roster suffered from injury at some point throughout that year. The difference in this team has been their resilience. Sure the Mets have gotten off to other strong starts in recent seasons – but this one feels different. It’s hard to explain. Similar to how you try to quantify how some people have that “it” factor. I can’t quite put words on it but I have a sense this team will be able to keep it together. I won’t go as far as to crown them World Series Champions, yet alone NL East Champions, just yet – but I do believe this team is well on its way to playing a meaningful 2015 season in its entirety.

A farewell to my grandparents

Yesterday I received the type of news that you know will one day come, but refuse to accept it will actually happen – my grandfather, or pop-pop as I knew him, had passed away. I found myself thinking about the time we had spent together, as I’m sure many of you have done yourself after losing a loved one, and baseball kept coming to mind.

If you couldn’t tell by the fact that you’re reading this on a blog dedicated to the game – I love baseball, and my grandfather had something to do with that. I am admittedly a die-hard Mets fan. A major reason, and possibly the sole reason, I still follow the Yankees so closely and decided to make a NY baseball blog is because of my grandparents (mothers side). I might be writing this due to the recent passing of my grandfather, but my grandmother, who passed away about 8 years ago herself, had just as much to do with my love for the game. They were the biggest Yankees fans I’ve ever met.  I know, everyone says that about their grandparents when it comes to the Yankees, but I truly mean that statement.

Growing up when I would visit their home it wasn’t uncommon to walk in and see a Yankees game on the TV. In fact it was weird to not see one on the TV. I’m not just talking a game that was being played in the midst of a current season. I’m talking about in January a Yankees game would be on the TV. You have to remember this is before the YES network was shoving Yankees greatest games down our throats. No, they would be watching one of their many VHS tapes (remember those things?) of recorded games. There was always a pile stacked up on the floor next to the TV ready to be popped into the VCR to relive their favorite moments in Yankees history at anytime.

I don't think he ever got around to wearing that one...

I don’t think he ever got around to wearing that one…

My grandfather drove a paper route in NYC for a living. He would deliver newspapers and magazines to the proper distributors before they hit the newsstands in the morning. This must have contributed to his encyclopedia like knowledge of sports and pop culture. He loved the tabloids and to his dying day would read several newspapers on a daily basis. Baseball cards were still abundant at many of his stops in those days. I’m not sure if he actually bought all of these cards out-of-pocket or if he had a bartering system of sorts but he began giving me more packs than you can even imagine at a very young age. I still have every baseball card he has ever given me carefully packed away in my closet and tucked under my bed. I’m sure a good 95% of those are worth nothing more than the paper they are printed on, but no matter how much space they occupy I can’t ever see myself parting with them.

I have a feeling there are still packs tucked away in his house that he probably never got around to giving me from his working days. That was always kind of our thing. Everyone has something they connect over and ours was baseball. When my grandmother passed away he began spending increased time at my parents’ house, as my mother became his caretaker of sorts. Even as his health began to deteriorate and his memory began to go – he always wanted to talk sports and most notably baseball with me. Those facts and memories seemed to never falter from his brain. He would walk in the door, and speed walk his way through the house against my mother’s wishes, to find me in the living room before pronouncing something along with the lines of “YOU SEE THAT GAME LAST NIGHT?” I have to admit, there were times I dreaded him coming over the day after a tough Mets loss. But I know he wasn’t trying to rub salt in the wound. He just really wanted to talk about the game with me. Looking back on it now I already wish I didn’t take those moments for granted so many times.

When it comes to my grandmother, I don’t even know where to begin with her. She was the strongest willed woman I’ve ever seen. Typical Italian in that she never shied away from letting her feelings be known or engage in an argument just for the sake of arguing. And she was good at it. I don’t think it was possible for her to walk away from a conversation before getting her two cents in. But for all that she always had this help others first mentality. Everything revolved around what she could do to help you before herself. That is something that I felt summarized her character more than anything else and will always be my lasting memory of her. I hope to have half the heart she had when it comes to looking after my family and friends.

She loved baseball every bit as much as my grandfather. The two of them were frequent listeners to the sports radio station WFAN. Their favorite program was the Mike and the Mad Dog show. My grandmother enjoyed it so much that she actually took the time to call in “Grace from Lindenhurst you’re on the air,” as Mike Francesa would say. How many of your grandmothers cared enough about sports to call into a talk radio show? I’m going to go out on a limb and say not many.

The two of them visited the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown when I was still very young. They brought me back this custom wooden bat with my name, hometown and birthday engraved on it. For years it was displayed hanging on my bedroom wall. As I got older it became my thinking bat. When I lay in my room that bat somehow always finds its way into my hands. No matter what’s on my mind, or what I have going on in my life, that bat seems to always help get me through it.

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I was the first grandchild they were able to sit in the stands and watch play baseball. As I got older I was lucky enough to be a part of a successful high school team. We had a very exciting two-year run and I know how much they enjoyed following along and coming to the games when they were able to. I grew accustomed to having my parents in the crowd and didn’t think twice about seeing them. But when I spotted my grandparents I would genuinely become nervous. I’m still not really sure why. I guess because I didn’t see them there as often and wanted to make sure I left the best impression I could on them in those limited opportunities. I like to think I did a pretty good job of that. On my teams way to winning the Long Island Championship I was named the county playoffs MVP. As much as that award meant to me on a personal level, I know how much pride that brought them both.

Shortly after winning the county championship

Shortly after winning the county championship

Last year on the final day of the baseball season my family and I took my grandfather to Citi Field. He had always told me stories about going to games at the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. I felt that it was important that he see firsthand the modern-day stadium that was built in those ball parks remembrance. It didn’t matter that the Yankees weren’t playing. He didn’t care about that. Just being at the game with us and seeing the stadium in person meant the world to him. Later that night he broke down in tears to my mother about how much he enjoyed the day and what it meant to him for us to take him there. The thought alone makes me water up. I take solace in knowing I was with him for his final baseball game.

My  grandfathers final baseball game

My grandfathers final baseball game

My grandmother always kept up with modern technology and frequently used AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), yes my grandmother, and would always put up the same away message. All these years later I still have it ingrained in my mind – “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” With opening day upon us I’m sure both of you are smiling ear to ear, along with the rest of us. Pop-pop is already complaining about a Joe Girardi pitching change. That’s if he’s able to get a word in over my grandmother.

R.I.P., I love and miss you both.

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Mets ownership should take a page out of the ‘Better Call Saul’ playbook

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Right as Mets spring training officially got underway this week an unwanted sight for Mets ownership erected – a billboard stating “Fred, Jeff & Saul – Ya gotta leave” went up on a nearby highway in Port St. Lucie.

It’s no secret ownership hasn’t been beloved by the fans for some time now. There is a strong disconnect between themselves and the fan base. And while it’s become quite clear they love owning the franchise, the feeling isn’t exactly mutual.

Mets fan Gary Palumbo took his protest one step further than most. He started a kickstarter campaign to raise money in order to create these billboards encouraging ownership to sell the team. When I first saw this on twitter I laughed it off. Figured it was just a guy who came up with this idea at the bar one night with his buddies and was probably half serious about it. Sure enough once the campaign started he quickly found out he wasn’t the only fan who shared these feelings.

With an original goal of raising $5,000 he has surpassed that with $6,714 to this point. Meaning fans will be seeing multiple of billboards surrounding Queens this summer.

It’s hard for Jeff, Fred and Saul to receive any sort of sympathy. After all, it’s hard for anyone to feel bad for a group of Millionaires. But, if they tuned in to ‘Better Call Saul’ a few weeks ago, they might have found a way to earn some goodwill…

Not that I would ever expect to see this happen. But I sure would love to see Saul Katz (has anyone ever seen this man do an interview?) give this a try.

The only real solution to this problem is to win. If the Mets are winning ballgames this season than this will become nothing more than background noise. Nobody hopes that is the case more than Jeff, Fred and Saul.

Daniel Murphy was doomed for failure yesterday

Yesterday former major league player Billy Bean, not to be confused with the Athletics GM, was invited to Mets camp as a guest of Sandy Alderson. Bean is the first professional baseball player to publicly come out as gay. He now serves as an MLB ambassador for inclusion in the game today. Alderson hoped his story and presence in camp would rub off on the team and help stress the point of inclusion for all as the team continues to bond this spring.

The thought was there and I tip my cap at Alderson for the effort. But, things took a turn for the worst when Daniel Murphy made headlines.

Murphy has become well-known, especially by the team beat writers, for his christian beliefs. His faith is a big part of his life and has never shied away from saying so in any interview. Thus making him the target of the media yesterday to get his thoughts on Bean and his sexuality.

Here is some of what Daniel Murphy had to say regarding Bean (NJ.com):

“I disagree with his lifestyle,” Murphy said. “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent.”

“Maybe, as a Christian, that we haven’t been as articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality,” he said. “We love the people. We disagree the lifestyle. That’s the way I would describe it for me. It’s the same way that there are aspects of my life that I’m trying to surrender to Christ in my own life. There’s a great deal of many things, like my pride. I just think that as a believer trying to articulate it in a way that says just because I disagree with the lifestyle doesn’t mean I’m just never going to speak to Billy Bean every time he walks through the door. That’s not love. That’s not love at all.”

Murphy was set up for failure yesterday. I understand it’s the media’s job to seek after these sort of quotes and headlines to sell papers. But what bothered me was that they chose to go after Murphy because of his well documented christian beliefs. They knew Murphy would not shy away from speaking on behalf of his faith. Murphy did what he has always done, and what the media hoped he would do, as he stood there and answered the questions openly and honestly.

We live in a politically correct world today. Especially on a topic as sensitive as homosexuality in America. These days if you don’t agree with someone, you’re the problem. No longer are we allowed to disagree or possess different beliefs. I mean what do you think this is – the land of the free?

For the record, I have absolutely no problem with Billy Bean and his sexuality. Good for him for living his life the way he wants to. Everyone should be able to do the same without fear of persecution.

Bean, who is a contributor on MLB.com, wrote a piece today regarding his experience with the Mets. It’s worth a read. This is an excerpt from regarding Murphy:

 “After reading his comments, I appreciate that Daniel spoke his truth. I really do. I was visiting his team, and a reporter asked his opinion about me. He was brave to share his feelings, and it made me want to work harder and be a better example that someday might allow him to view things from my perspective, if only for just a moment.”

“I respect him, and I want everyone to know that he was respectful of me. We have baseball in common, and for now, that might be the only thing. But it’s a start.”

This is why I have a problem with the backlash Murphy has received in these last 24 hours. The man stood there and reiterated his personal beliefs. He did not commit some hate crime. You didn’t see Murphy protest his presence and refuse to get dressed in the same locker room or participate in anything involving Bean. In fact, he did the complete opposite as he spoke with Bean and got to know him a little. If Bean, the man who was supposed to be offended the most by these comments, was able to walk away with respect for Murphy – why can’t everyone else?

We do not have to agree on everything in this country. That’s what is supposed to make America great. We have the freedom to differentiate ourselves from one another with our own personal beliefs.

Feel free to disagree with Daniel Murphy. You have every right to. But don’t hate the man for having an opinion different to yours. Billy Bean doesn’t.

 

Watch: Matt Harvey “The Dark Knight Rises”

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ESPN’s Baseball Tonight crew is spending the day in Port St. Lucie at the Mets spring training facility. To correspond with this E:60 has released the trailer for their upcoming feature “The Dark Knight Rises” starring Matt Harvey.

This doesn’t look like the run-of-the mill piece, as they have captured footage over the past several months of Harvey. I’m not so sure he wouldn’t have been a better choice than Ben Affleck to revamp the Batman movie franchise.

If you’re a Mets fan, there isn’t any way you can watch this and not feel those baseball juices flowing inside of you.

There can be only one: Who will reign as king of the back page, Harvey or A-ROD?

Matt Harvey (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images), A-Rod (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Photo from: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/02/12/mets-harvey-a-rods-return-good-for-him-good-for-baseball/

Matt Harvey (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images), A-Rod (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Image from: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/02/12/mets-harvey-a-rods-return-good-for-him-good-for-baseball/

New York City might be big enough for two professional baseball teams, but only one franchise, and in most cases one player, will control the back pages. Last season that man was Derek Jeter. Now that his farewell tour has ended, I wasn’t sure if it ever would, there are two men who will fill that void. Matt Harvey and Alex Rodriguez are poised for a back page battle in their 2015 returns. But as was the case in ‘Highlander’ – there can be only one.

In 2013, Harvey took the league, and city, by storm. You could find him featured in ESPN Magazine: The Body Issue, participating in skits for ‘The Tonight Show’, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Us Weekly (featuring his breakup with super model Annie V) and sitting courtside at Knicks/Rangers games. Oh, then there was the fact the he started the 2013 All-Star game at Citi Field. Almost forgot about his on the field dominance. Simply put, he was everywhere.

Unfortunately, Harvey’s rise to stardom was derailed by a season-ending elbow injury that led to Tommy John Surgery. Even while he missed the entire 2014 season recovering he grabbed more attention than his active teammates. Now, much of that has to do with the lackluster season the Mets put together. Nonetheless, Harvey has become a walking headline. Every interview, comment, appearance or tweet he made has become back page news.

Harvey’s combination of talent and brash have him on the cusp of taking the throne as King of NY. All eyes will be on him this spring as he returns to the mound.

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Matt Harvey will be leading the charge as the Mets try to take back NY.

Then there’s A-ROD. He is one of, if not the, most captivating figure in sports. Given where he stands in today’s media landscape, it’s easy to forget that A-ROD was once one of the most popular players in the game. That was long before he donned the pinstripes. As a young phenomenon he was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career and was on pace to break every record in the book. He earned the largest contract in professional sports history (he would later receive a second deal to top that). His little black book is filled with a “who’s who” of women in Hollywood. Then steroids came into the picture. Accusations occurred, denials were initially made and then apologies were ultimately issued.

A-ROD went on to become a World Series hero and all was forgiven. Or was it? Accusations of PED once again began to occur. A lot of them. Denials were once again made. Then a suspension was handed down. A big one (The largest in baseball history). And once again, an apology was issued. This time in the form of a handwritten note.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me. It was gracious of the Yankees to offer me the use of Yankee Stadium for this apology but I decided the next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.”

People love to see the mighty crumble. As bad as that may sound, it’s true. Think about every featured story on the news, magazine covers or website homepages. More times than not you won’t be seeing any feel good stories. It’s almost always regarding someones downfall. Hence why these A-ROD scandals have been so widely reported. Sure, his story has become kind of repetitive. He’s almost like watching a rerun on TV. You’ve already seen the episode. But you enjoyed it so much the first time around that you decided to watch it again. Sound familiar?

I don’t care how many monuments the Yankees give out this season. A-ROD is the only Yankee story people care about.

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Not so fast, A-ROD. I’m sure you have a few more back page covers in you.

The media aren’t the only ones excited for A-ROD’s return. Earlier this week Harvey himself said “If he is that dedicated and wants to come back then more power to him for going up to the organization like that, it shows a lot,” Harvey told the NY Post. “It will be exciting to see what he can do.”

No one epitomized a baseball player better than Derek Jeter. But I found myself becoming bored with him during those dog days of summer last season. I craved that polarizing figure. Someone who has a bit of a flair to him. I missed Matt Harvey. And at times, I can’t believe I’m saying this, I missed A-ROD..

Both The Mets and Yankees are projected to be in the playoff hunt this year, but neither are considered favorites. It’s been a while since these two were on roughly an even playing field. While winning is crucial in NY, it is considered almost equally as important to win those back pages. A-ROD, for both his on and (mostly) off the field actions, could be the Yankees only hope in this battle. While Matt Harvey will try to solidify himself as the new face of baseball in NY.

WATCH: Josh Lewin on MLB Network talking Mets

Mets radio broadcaster Josh Lewin was a guest on MLB Network’s Hot Stove this morning to talk the upcoming season. Lewin sounded optimistic that the Mets will be able to ride this pitching staff into playoff contention in 2015. One interesting point he made was a reminder that Rafael Santana, the Mets shortstop on the 1986 champion team, hit .218 with one home run in that season. He was quick to remind us that he wasn’t comparing the rest of the everyday players to that roster but rather raising the point that it’s not the end-all and be-all if they don’t start the season with a premier shortstop.

Watch the segment in its entirety below:

Mets fail to retain Bobby Ojeda

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Bobby Ojeda has been with SNY since 2009

 

The Mets already lost one stable from their highly-regarded broadcast team with the departure of field reporter Kevin Burkhardt. Now SNY will also be moving on without Bobby Ojeda in the studio. Despite not being players, these are the two biggest losses the Mets have suffered this off-season.

Ojeda pitched for the Mets from 1986-1990. When his playing days were done he served as a minor league pitching coach within the organization from 2001-03. He left that position due to a disagreement with the front office regarding player development. He later joined SNY in 2009 as a pre/post-game analyst. Although he will always be loved in this city for his part of that memorable 86′ Mets team, a whole new generation of fans, myself included, grew to revere him as an analyst.

He quickly became known for his brutal honesty and unique insight.  He isn’t one of these company men who provided the generic boring commentary regarding the team he covered. You could count on him to give a real opinion and always held the players, coaches and front office accountable for their performance. That’s what I want from a studio analyst. There are enough empty suits who say all the right things to please studio executives on television, Ojeda is not one of them.

An excerpt from a Daily News piece regarding the situation:

“Bobby wanted to come back this season. He absolutely wanted to,” a source close to Ojeda said. “Even with some changes on the horizon in the studio he wanted to return.”

Other reports have stated that the difference of pay was “not substantial“. Which leaves us to assume it was once again a money issue, same old Mets. At least ownership is consistent with not spending money both on and off the field, you have to give them that.

There have been rumblings that former Mets reliever Nelson Figueroa is a candidate to be Ojeda’s replacement. Figueroa is a local guy who grew up rooting for the team and is well-respected by the local reporters. I can’t say I’ve ever heard, or read,  a negative remark about him.

Just last season there were rumors regarding former Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd joining the radio broadcast team. Although that never came to fruition, Floyd has done a nice job with the MLB Network this past year. He has sent out some tweets lately hinting that he will be announcing “spring plans” that have since been deleted. I can only speculate that he could be in the running for this position as well.

Regardless of who SNY hires to replace Ojeda, I will miss his presence during Mets’ broadcasts.

 

 

Nationals pitching prospect grabs top spot…Syndergarrd is #2

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Lucas Giolito (Top) and Noah Syndergaard (Bottom)

The release of the MLB.com pitching prospect rankings should have been a good day for the Mets, and their fans, to boast about their pitching depth. But you didn’t have to look any further than the number one spot to be reminded that the Mets are still playing second fiddle to the Washington Nationals.

The Nationals 20-year-old right-hander Lucas Giolito was named the top pitching prospect in all of major league baseball. Noah Syndergaard, 22, of the Mets followed him in the rankings. Both Syndergaard (6’6″ 240) and Giolito (6’6″ 255) have big frames and are known for their power arms.  Syndergaard is expected to start the season in Triple-A and could be promoted to the big leagues as soon as 2015. Giolito has never pitched higher than A-ball and is expected to start the year in Double-A. Although their timetables are slightly different, they will undoubtedly be compared to one another upon their arrival to the major league level.

Much has been made of the Mets young pitching. This is supposed to be the year they start to lead the organization back into relevancy and play meaningful games into late September, and then hopefully October.  Although I don’t question the potential in the Mets rotation, the Nationals signing of Max Scherzer not only solidified themselves as the team to beat this year, but for years to come.

Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon is likely to be the Mets opening day rotation. I excluded Dillon Gee from this list because all signs point to him being traded in the near future. Minus Colon, this group is as young and talented as there is in the game. Harvey, before undergoing Tommy John Surgery, looked like a premier pitcher in the game. DeGrom was the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year. Wheeler has struggled with his command but showed his potential as a front-line starter in the second half of the season. Niese is a consistent lefty who provides stability. Colon will be the staffs innings eater who GM Sandy Alderson will likely look to trade come the All-Star break. Thus opening up a spot in the rotation for Syndergaard to make his debut sometime this summer.

Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez are projected to be the Nationals opening day rotation. That has the makings to be Atlanta Braves 1990’s good. In the event one of these starters is traded before the season, a more than formidable Tanner Roark will step right in. Giolito might be the top pitching prospect in the game, but the Nationals feel he is a year away. GM Mike Rizzo is well aware of what he has in Giolito and could be the reason why he would be okay with trading one of his soon to be free-agent starters. One hole that remains on the Nationals roster is their bullpen. Don’t be surprised if Giolito, assuming he continues to progress, is promoted to bolster the pen down the stretch. The more likely scenario would be Giolito joining the rotation in 2016 when a spot opens up due to trade or free agency.

There is no shame in having the second-best pitching prospect in baseball. These rankings are nothing more than someones personal opinion. And at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is how these pitchers perform on the major league level. Despite many off-season rumors of teams asking for Syndergaard, the Mets were unwilling to part with him. They clearly view him as a big part of their future. Only time with tell if Syndergaard, along with the rest of the Mets young pitchers, will be able to out-duel the Nationals rotation in the years to come.

Recap of last night’s “Pitch Talks” event

Pitch-Talks-at-BB-Kings

Last night I attended Pitch Talks at BB Kings in NYC. For those of you unaware, Pitch Talks is a segmented event of national and local sports writers/personalities to talk baseball. This is the first one of their events I have attended but from what I gather this is a traveling show of sorts with the participants changing based on location. It’s events like this that remind me just how lucky I am to live in the most powerful sports market in the country. We were spoiled with some of the most prominent people in the industry to entertain us with baseball talk, in the middle of January.

Pete Abraham (Boston Globe) played the master of ceremonies role as he moderated all three segments. The night started off talking about the game on a national level with panelist Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports/MLBN), Buster Olney (ESPN) and Jay Jaffe (Sports Illustrated). Given the timing of the event it was no shock that the Hall of Fame was a focal point of discussion. It was made rather clear that all three have a problem with the voting process and it sounds like changes will be heavily discussed going forward. Whether it be the removal of the character clause, increasing the amount of players you can vote for or the amount of years players can remain on a ballot remain to be seen.

There was no argument that given any unforeseen event Mike Piazza will get elected next year. Rosenthal believes that this will open the flood gates to allow other suspected, but not proven, PED players to be elected going forward. I still want to hold out hope that Piazza is clean, but I understand the point. Jaffe refrained from using too many sabermetrics last night which disappointed me a little as I enjoy watching traditional writers debate new age thinking. I was happy Jaffe was quick to shut down the notion that Pete Rose is no different from the PED guys. As he said, it’s “Apples and oranges” – he broke the golden rule and should never be allowed in.

When it came to Rob Manfred taking over for Bud Selig as the new commissioner, no one felt much would be different. He was groomed for this position under Selig and is suspected to have similar beliefs on how the game should operate. One thing mentioned to keep an eye on was the pace of play. Olney believes that it is only a matter of time until a pitch clock is inserted.

All three of them wanted to see the game market their young stars better and they couldn’t be more right about this. I think the NBA might do this better than other league. They do a great job marketing players in the smaller markets and turn them into household names. Just think Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City) and Anthony Davis (New Orleans). MLB is doing terrific locally but they need to take a page out of the NBA’s playbook and promote their stars on a national level.

Next up was the Mets segment where Olney stuck around and was joined by Matthew Cerrone (MetsBlog) and Adam Rubin (ESPN NY). As a shocker to no one, the Wilpons and the SS position were the hot topics. Olney and Rubin reiterated that the Mets payroll is what it is. There is no reason to believe it will be changing anytime in the near future.  It was suggested that the Wilpons long ties with Selig will holdover with Manfred taking the reigns. You could see the genuine disgust in Olney, and Rosenthal in the previous segment, over the lack of Mets payroll and efforts to act like a major market franchise.

Every time Wilmer Flores or Ruben Tejada were so much as mentioned you could hear the snickers in the crowd, I chose just to shake my head. In order to become a real contender they believed the Mets need to pull the trigger on an Ian Desmond type of player. Although I have been hesitant myself to give up our pitching prospects, last night started to sway me. It is all but a given at least half of those prospects will either not pan out or go down due to injury. This where the highly touted minds in that front office need to earn their keep and decide which are the ones the Mets should be willing to part with.

It was mentioned that the feeling around baseball is that the Mets feel they have to win every trade. Of course I understand that to a certain extent, especially when you are in rebuilding mode. But if you are going to sell the fans on the fact that you are trying to win now, you have to take a chance once in a while and give something of value up to fill a void. That is the conundrum the Mets front office currently faces. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that the Mets will be above .500 this year, but no one saw them as anything more than “in the wild card hunt” as the roster currently stands.

The evening finished up with a “Bronx Banter” discussion when Jaffe returned with Sweeny Murti (WFAN) and Tyler Kepner (NY Times) filling out the group nicely. There wasn’t any “core four” talk and it was weird to think of the Yankees no longer having that face of the franchise player. A lot was made about who would take over as the new clubhouse leader. The belief was that it is only a matter of time until Brian McCann becomes that guy. I’ve always heard great things about McCann and that wouldn’t surprise me at all. Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira have spent a good amount of time in NY now and I would really like to see them step into that role as well.

Although no one had any real reason to believe the Yankees will make another big splash, they agreed to never count them out of anything. Given what GM Brian Cashman has done so far this off season, they believe he is relying heavily on his defense and the bullpen. The pen may be in great shape but Murti and Kepner both felt they need one, maybe two, more starters. Jaffe raised an interesting point that he could envision the Yankees making Andrew Miller the closer this season and keep Dillin Betances as the set-up man. His reasoning being that this will keep Betances cost down for another season as set-up men earn far less than closers. It’s hard for me to believe the Yankees would actually operate this way but maybe the times are a changing.

One thing that doesn’t change is AROD finding his way into the discussion. No one believes that the Yankees are ready to simply pay AROD to go away. Not yet at least. Murti stressed the notion that the Yankees received the lowest production out of the DH position in the American League last year. I was pretty shocked by that. He felt that if the Yankees want to maximize AROD’s production then he should be delegated as the teams full-time DH. I think Cashman all but assured us AROD won’t be playing much third base once he resigned Chase Headley.


Although I read/watch these guys do on a daily basis, it was great to see them interact in this type of setting. It’s fun to see their personalities come to life and get genuine emotion out of them. Rosenthal and Olney are two of the most recognizable figures in this industry. It was nice to see them loosen their tie up (bow tie in Rosenthal’s case) and just talk baseball in the bar as so many of us do. Jaffe even brought his beer on stage with him.

I strongly encourage fans to follow each of last nights panelist throughout the year.  They get to spend more time at home during the winter but there is no such thing as an off season for any of them. There is sure to be plenty more baseball to talk about on both a local and national level between now and opening day.

35 days till pitchers and catchers report. But who’s counting?

Hall of Fame thoughts

baseball-hall-of-fame

Yesterday we learned that the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be enshrining four players this year. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio will all be making the trip to Cooperstown. There aren’t any surprises in this group, as all four were expected to make the cut.

Despite this being among the largest groups to ever be elected, it can be argued a few others should be joining them. There are clear holes in the HOF voting process and I have some suggestions on how to improve them. They go for both the HOF committee and the writers themselves.

Allow the writers to remove players from the HOF

In fairness to the writers, I know the main fear many seem to have is electing a player into the HOF who is later found to be a known PED user. I understand this fear and feel something needs to be done to put their minds at ease. At the moment there is nothing in place for a player to be removed from the HOF. I believe an amendment (or whatever they would call it) should be asserted which would empower the same group of writers to vote players out under certain circumstances. I’ll leave the discussion as to what those circumstances would be for another time.

I know many would still vote skeptically and rightly so to a degree. But this ultimately should help both sides, as the writers know they have the ability to correct a mistake and a player will not be improperly punished. We already do this with such honors as the Heisman Trophy (think Reggie Bush) in sports, why not the MLB HOF? I know what a high regard the HOF is held in. It is the most prestigious in all of professional sports and this will allow it to remain that way.

Don’t limit votes

A problem many writers complained about this year was the inability to vote for all the players that they wanted to. Because the rules limit voters to no more than 10 players on a ballot some were forced to decide who to leave off. In my opinion, that rule is ridiculous. Either you are a HOF’er or you aren’t. There is no need to have a limit on something like this. I realize the ballots are crowded more than ever before. This is due mostly to inflated recent numbers and questionable past causing many to stay on ballots longer than expected (both problems caused by the steroid era).That shouldn’t be the case forever. But it will for be the foreseeable future.

It forces writers to make decisions that they shouldn’t be asked to make. This unfairly cost players who may be in their final years on a ballot to lose costly votes. Players like Alan Trammel, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines and Fred McGriff are borderline candidates who are not receiving their proper consideration because writers ballots are already maxed out. Time is quickly running out on them with the new 10-year limit.

In his first season on a ballot Carlos Delgado received less than 5% of the votes. This mean he falls below the requirement to remain on next years ballot. I’m not saying Delgado was a sure-fire HOF player, but his career numbers warranted him much more than one season of consideration. If a writer feels only one players deserves a vote, fine, vote for one player. But if they feel there are 15 players who deserve a vote then there is no reason they shouldn’t be allowed to vote for all 15. It’s hard enough to get 75% of the writers to agree on you, removing a maximum number of votes on ballots will not cheapen the HOF.

Vote consistently 

This one is for the writers. I have a problem with the way some went about using their votes. I’ll be the first to admit that the steroid era has put so much pressure to vote one way or the other for players in question. This has caused many to take a hard stance on letting these players (Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Sosa, Piazza, Bagwell, Sheffield etc.) into the HOF. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer. The only thing I ask is that you be consistent. If you want to vote a known/suspected PED user into the HOF, that’s your prerogative. But, you shouldn’t be making exceptions and only overlooking the past of some. You must do that with all or none of the players in question.

Bonds and Clemens will continue to be the poster boys for this conversation so long as their names remain on the ballot. Neither gained any real traction this year but that could change as next years class is nowhere near as strong. If you are going to use votes on these two then you should also be casting votes for McGwire, Sosa, Bagwell, Piazza, Sheffield and anyone else that falls under this cloud. Whatever stance you choose to take, at least fully commit to it.


The voting process is far from perfect and my suggestions don’t fix everything. But I do know that they help improve what is currently in place. Baseball has always resisted change, on and off the field, but I believe something will be done in the near future to help correct some of the flaws in the HOF voting process.

Yankees rotation still needs work

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knows he still has work to do this off season. Missing the playoffs once in the Bronx? Okay. Two years in a row? Say your prayers that you still have a job. Three years in a row? Let’s just say no one wants to find out the answer to that question.

For me, I would be most concerned with the starting rotation. The Yankees took another blow with the news of Hiroki Kuroda returning to Japan. Since joining the Yankees in 2011, Kuroda has been their most reliable starter. Just have a look at his three year breakdown with the Yankees:

2012: 16-11 (33 Games started) 219 Innings pitched 3.32 ERA

2013: 11-13 (32 Games started) 201 Innings pitched 3.31 ERA

2014: 11-9 (32 Games started) 199 Innings pitched 3.71 ERA

The Yankees also lost Shane Greene (Traded to the Diamondbacks), and David Phelps (Traded to the Marlins). While neither were expected to play an important part in the Yankees future plans, they both figured to be in the rotation mix at some point throughout the year, due to injury or promotion.

The 2015 Yankee rotation projects to be the following:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka –  The Japanese import quickly established himself as one of the games top starters. Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts. He was well on his way to winning AL Rookie of the Year honors and was going to be in the AL Cy Young award discussion before an elbow issue shut him down. After resting for two months, he was able to return briefly in September to show the Yankees he was good to go for 2015. If healthy, The Yankees have an ace for their staff. Tanaka has avoided the three ugliest words in the game, Tommy John Surgery, for now. 
  2. Michael Pineda – After missing all of 2012 and 2013 to injuries, he looked sharp in his 2014 return. Pineda posted a fantastic 1.89 ERA and looked to be a front-end starter in the makings. However, he was only able to manage 13 starts and 76 innings due to continued health issues and a notorious suspension. Hard to say what the Yankees can rely on getting out of a pine tar less Pineda.
  3. CC Sabathia –  2013 was ugly but 2014 was just down right forgettable for Sabathia, He was only able to make eight starts and posted a 5.78 ERA before suffering a season ending knee injury. The once ace of the staff is now a huge liability on the Yankees books. With three years remaining (The third being a player vesting option that is likely to be picked up) Cashman has his fingers crossed Sabathia is able to reinvent himself. I have him in the #3 slot but that is based on reputation alone. His recent results barely warrant him a spot in the rotation at all. We’ll give him the benefit of doubt that some of his struggles were injury based, for now.
  4. Nathan Eovaldi –  The trade for the young flame thrower was the most surprising move Cashman has made so far this off season. Eovaldi is among the hardest throwing starters in all of baseball. The Yankees desperately needed to get younger, especially in the rotation, and acquiring the 25-year-old helped solve that problem. This will be pitching coach Larry Rothschilds biggest project. Despite consistently clocking one of the hardest fastballs, he also gave up hits at an alarming rate. The Yankees hope that Rothschild can help fine tune this talent and that they found themselves a diamond in the rough.
  5. Chris Capuano –  In my opinion, the Yankees are in serious trouble if they are relying on a full season of Capuano in the rotation. I do like Capuano for what he is and the price was right to retain him. The 36-year-old lefty made 12 starts with the Yankees after being acquired from the Red Sox last year and posted a 4.25 ERA. I would prefer to see him fill the void left by the Phelps and Greene combination – becoming the teams swing man, spending time in the rotation as needed and the versatile arm in the bullpen.

In house help

Ivan Nova – After undergoing Tommy John Surgery last year, he is expected to be ready sometime in May-June. After posting a strong 2013 campaign, he struggled in 2014 before going down for the season after just four starts. It’s hard to have high expectations for a pitcher returning from surgery but he could provide a mid season boost.

Luis Severino – The 20-year-old has quickly made a name for himself and is now the organizations top-ranked prospect. Severino has a fastball that sits in the mid-high 90’s but will still need a little bit more fine tuning in the minor leagues. Although he won’t be with the Yankees come April, he is worth keeping an eye on throughout the season. It’s only a matter of time before Severino is on the mound in Yankee Stadium.

Outside options

Max Scherzer – The 2013 AL Cy Young award winner took a chance when he turned down a huge extension from the Tigers last off season. But it appears his gamble is going to payoff, he returned with an equally impressive 2014 season and remains the biggest name in this free agency class. Being the top starter on the market doesn’t come cheap these days. The 30-year-old is said to be seeking a 7-to-8 year deal north of $200 million.

James Shields – He has been the poster boy of reliability for starting pitchers. Since 2007, Shields has made 30+ starts and thrown 200+ innings in each season. Although he hasn’t lived up to the “Big game James” moniker in terms of his October performances, he is exactly what the Yankees are in dire need of. There is no injury history to speak of when it comes to Shields and given the question marks surrounding the rest of the staff, Joe Girardi desperately needs an arm he can count on to take the mound every five days.

Cole Hamels – Unlike Scherzer and Shields, he is not a free agent. But, the Phillies are set to go into full blown rebuilding mode and have put Hamels on the market. It has been reported that the Yankees are one of the teams on Hamels list that he would waive his no trade clause for. Hamels has made 28+ starts in eight straight seasons and posted a career low 2.46 ERA in 2014. The 31-year-old has 4 years and $94 million left on his contract with a fifth year option for another $20 million.


At the end of the day, I think the Yankees need to either sign Shields or try to trade for Hamels. Scherzer might be the sexy move, but that doesn’t make it the right move. He is a power pitcher who is now entering the wrong side of 30. The Yankees don’t have to look any further than within their own rotation (Sabathia) to see how the back end of a contract with that type of pitcher plays out.

Shields provides the type of stability that Kuroda gave these past three years. Although he might not have performed in October last year, he did help anchor a staff into October, something the Yanks haven’t done in two years. Given his age and the way the market seems to be unfolding – a 4-year-deal might be able to land him. Even if they have to overpay it’s better to do that than give out the years. That is something Cashman must deter away from doing.

Hamels would be the most ideal fit. He has proven to be as durable as anyone in the game today. Hamels would combine with Tanaka to make one of, if not the strongest, 1-2 punch in all of the American League. He already has a contract in place that while high, isn’t unreasonable given his production. There won’t be any questions about his ability to pitch in New York given he has already proved himself in Philadelphia, a tough town in its own right. Plus he has succeeded in Citizens Bank Park, a field as hitter friendly as Yankee Stadium. The fact that his contract doesn’t have him locked up too far into his twilight years makes him even more attractive.

I don’t know what the Yankees will do. But I do know there are too many questions surrounding that projected starting rotation for Brian Cashman to sit idle.

Beckham Jr. and Chavez made the greatest catches that never mattered

My rant in the Newsday Sports section today

My rant in the Newsday Sports section today

On Sunday night, Odell Beckham Jr. made one of the most incredible catches I have ever seen in the Giants loss to the Cowboys. The catch could be found within minutes all over the internet and will be sure to live on in highlight reels for eternity. After  watching the play for what felt like the thousandth time, I couldn’t help but feel a similarity to the Endy Chavez catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.

It’s not easy for me to think about the 2006 NLCS. Typing this post has brought back all sorts of bad memories. Game 7 was one of those nights where all Mets fans can tell you where they experienced that misery.  As for me, I watched at a bar called Reefers in Federal Hill, Baltimore while I was still attending Towson University. I remember it like it was yesterday. With the game tied in the sixth inning Scott Rolen tattooed a ball to deep left field, it appeared that would put an end to the Mets World Series hopes and dreams.

Endy Chavez tracked that ball at full speed all the way back to the warning track, leaped up and slammed his body against the wall while putting his arm out to its full extension. Somehow, someway, Chavez was able to snag it a few feet over the fence. When he landed, he had to take a double-check into his glove, as I think he was in as much disbelief as the rest of us that he had actually made that catch. He then quickly fired it back into the infield and the Mets were able to double Jim Edmonds off of first base for an inning ending double play. It was a surreal moment. There was no way the Mets were going to lose that game.

Then the unthinkable happened. It started with Yadier Molina hitting a two-run home run in the ninth inning off of Aaron Heilman, well out of Chavezs’ reach this time. As if that wasn’t heart breaking enough, the Mets went on to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth for Carlos Beltran. Beltran, had already established himself as a great postseason performer, earning his contract with the Mets after going on a tear just a few Octobers earlier with the Houston Astros. But wouldn’t you know the Mets luck, Beltran went down looking at a 3-2 curveball from rookie Adam Wainwright.

Although Beckham JR’s catch was made in the regular season for a flailing Giants team, it will still be remembered as an all-time great play. Chavez on the other hand, went from making arguably the greatest catch in postseason history, to making the greatest catch that also brings about the greatest amount of heartache to its fan base. I will always remember it as a bittersweet moment in Mets history.

Ultimately both the Giants and Mets lost those respective games. I do have to give the edge to Chavez simply because of the situation in which he made his. But the ultimate goal is always to win the game, after all, these are teams sports. For that reason alone, these will both be known as the greatest catches that never really mattered in NY sports.

Josh Lewin will be back alongside Howie Rose

Josh Lewin will once again be teaming up with Howie Rose on 710 WOR

Josh Lewin will once again be teaming up with Howie Rose on 710 WOR

Hidden in the news of the Mets yet again introducing new uniforms and hats into the 2015 rotation, whoop-dee-doo, it was announced that Josh Lewin will be returning next year. There were questions surrounding the radio booth last season when the Mets made the move over to 710 WOR, but they made that transition smoothly with the retention of Howie Rose and Lewin.

With everything that has gone wrong with this franchise for the past several years, the broadcasting crew on both SNY and 710 WOR are something the fans can count on. Few broadcasting teams around the game can keep fans tuned in the way the Mets do.

Radio is an overlooked part of broadcasting in the other major sports. But not in baseball. Games are played on a daily basis,  fans don’t stop everything they’re doing and arrange their schedules to get in front of their televisions for a game the way many do for football games. That’s the beauty of baseball. The pace of the game and the way a story can unfold is a perfect match for radio. This is why so many of us can stay tuned in by listening in our cars, enjoy the summer weather while we set up a radio or stream on an electronic device just about anywhere we might be where a TV is not. The key to this relationship is the right voice(s) on the other side to keep us entertained. (more…)

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