Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Spring training is underway (and nobody got hurt.)

Forget about the snow that’s falling as I write this. Spring training officially got underway this week. Mickey Callaway is excited about his new team, which is good because you know you’re in trouble if your first-year manager isn’t excited about his team in February.

Michael Conforto is taking part in baseball activities. David Wright is in Florida and progressing in his comeback attempt, though he’s not ready for baseball activity yet. Maybe (probably) Wright never plays another major league game… but I’ve gotta admire him for giving it every shot. It would be so easy to walk away, but that’s not how Wright wants to go out. That dedication is a big part of what made it possible for him to be one of the greatest players in Mets history.

Jason Vargas will be part of the 2018 Mets rotation, giving them a second pitcher on their roster who threw at least 150 innings last year. Hey, I was hoping for Yu Darvish (who finally signed with the Cubs last week). But at least we got an actual major leaguer who has been able to stay on the field for most of his career. I’ll call it a win.

Zack Wheeler may not be happy, but Vargas makes the Mets a better team. Now Wheeler gets to compete with Matt Harvey, Stephen Matz, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Chris Flexen and Rafael Montero for two starting spots and three or four bullpen spots. And when the inevitable injuries occur, the Mets should have better options to turn to than they did last year.

Since it looks like the Mets might only carry four outfielders to start the season, they’re talking about giving Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores some reps in the outfield this spring. Now let me go on record to say that Wilmer Flores, outfielder, is a terrible idea. Jose Reyes is probably not going to be a good outfielder at this stage of his career either. But if the Mets are determined to stick them there at some point this season, I hope they get the ‘experiment’ started this spring.

Let’s find out whether Reyes or Flores can play out there in meaningless exhibition games, and give them enough experience to let them be at least somewhat comfortable before that day game after a night game comes along when Juan Lagares is banged up and Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t feel up to playing. (Hey. at least the Mets brought back Matt den Dekker on a minor league deal so there’s somebody that can play centerfield in Triple-A.)

And guys? I’m not gonna say a word about who you choose to hang out with during your off hours. But is shark fishing really a good idea if the goal is to keep as many Mets healthy as possible this season?

Minor League Promo of the Week:

Get your Quidditch star Fungo bobblehead when the New Hampshire Fisher Cats celebrate 15 years of magic on July 20.

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Posted in Baseball, Baseball Cards, New York Mets

Baseball’s broken economic system & other thoughts

In less than a week, pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training…and there are still around 100 free agents who are looking for a team. Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas — some of the biggest names to hit the market this winter — are among the players still unsigned. The union is actually going to run a spring training camp for all of the players who are still looking for jobs.

It got to the point where some players are openly talking about the possibility of going on strike and others reportedly considered waiting until Feb. 24th’s mandatory reporting date to show up in spring training camps in a show of solidarity with the unsigned players.

While this off-season’s free agent market has worked out pretty well for the Mets, it’s clear that the the current system is broken. It’s pretty clear that no one is going to give J.D. Martinez the seven-year, $210 million contract he was reportedly looking for back in November. But it’s equally ridiculous that Martinez has only received two offers this winter, and that one of them was for a one-year deal to come back and try again on the free agent market next off-season.

I don’t think we’re looking at collusion, but we are looking at 30 front offices who are tired of getting burned by free agent contracts that make them look bad. Thirty front offices that are increasingly obsessed with young, controllable players to the point where they manipulate player service time to delay free agency and arbitration eligibility. A select group of owners who do not care about winning, at least in the short term.

And that means that even though MLB enjoyed record revenue last year, it’s not translating into more money for the players that we are paying to watch.

Now Martinez should not expect to earn $30 million when he is 37, but Jacob deGrom should be able to expect more than the $7.4 million he will earn this year. And even though he’s one of the most marketable players in baseball, the Yankees could get away with paying Aaron Judge the major league minimum salary.

Brandon Moss is right that players gave away too much in recent bargaining sessions with owners. Here’s hoping that the MLBPA and MLB owners figure out a way to get more of the game’s profits to the game’s younger players without totally turning off fans in the process. Because the current system is broken and is not good for players, fans or even owners in the long run.

Todd Frazier signs with the Mets

Todd-Frazier
A signed Todd Frazier baseball card from my collection

The New York Mets continued their bargain shopping this week, signing third baseman Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million contract. I think that Frazier strikes out too much and doesn’t get on base enough, but he’s a definite upgrade over Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes at the plate and a much better defender. So it’s definitely a win – this hasn’t been a bad offseason for Sandy Alderson’s crew at all.

If they could find a way to add a starting pitcher, I’d feel pretty good about the Mets’ chances to compete for a Wild Card spot. And if they could somehow land Yu Darvish, I’d start dreaming about them challenging the Washington Nationals for a division title.

Bartolo Colon is still playing

Colon
Bartolo Colon

The Texas Rangers signed 44-year-old Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract this week. I’d been hoping for a reunion with the Mets, but as long as gets a major league shot sometime this season I’ve got another year before I have to deal with a reality where all the players are younger than me.

So thank you, Bartolo… I will be rooting for you.

First 2018 Baseball Cards

I bought my first pack of 2018 Topps Series 1 baseball cards this week. Fittingly, a member of the World Series Champion Houston Astros was the top card in the pack. Michael Conforto was my first Met (yay!) while Aaron Judge was my first Yankee (boo!)

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I like this year’s design, but I think I will try to avoid buying more packs and just pick up a Mets team set from eBay.

Minor League Promo of the Week

Thirty years ago this June, my favorite Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America made its theatrical debut. The Fresno Grizzlies will celebrate its anniversary by playing as the Zamunda Lions for one night.

Posted in Autographs, Star Wars

A new addition to my Star Wars autograph collection & some thoughts on collecting

Earlier this week, I received a signed photo from actor Marton Csokas who’s in a Broadway play with Uma Thurman that ends in early March. Csokas is probably best known to genre fans for playing Celeborn in two of the Lord of the Rings movies and Trevor Goodchild in Aeon Flux.

In an uncredited role, Csokas provided the voice for Geonosian leader Poggle the Lesser in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. And that’s why I wrote to him to ask for an autograph. He responded in less than a week, and I have my first new Star Wars autograph of 2018. Pretty cool

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm released some footage of Solo: A Star Wars Story this week. Full disclosure: I did not want a “young Han Solo” movie, and I still do not think Alden Ehrenreich looks enough like Harrison Ford circa 1976. And it didn’t really help when the movie’s original directors were fired late in filming over “creative differences.”

But you know what? I’m coming around to the idea that a Star Wars caper movie could be really fun. And in the little bit we see of Ehrenreich in these clips, he seems like he’s got Han Solo’s mannerisms down.

So yeah, I’m looking forward to watching Solo on Memorial Day weekend… though I’m not sure how well it’s going to fare among all the summer blockbusters. (Avengers: Infinity War comes out May 4, Deadpool 2 is coming on May 18 and Ocean’s 8 will be out June 8.) But hey, that’s Disney’s problem.

New Star Wars Media

In other news this week, Disney announced that Game of Thrones show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will write and produce an entire series of new Star Wars films. This comes after the November announcement that The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson will helm a new trilogy of films to be released at some point after the as yet untitled Episode IX comes out next year. And Disney CEO Bob Iger told investors “We are developing not just one, but a few Star Wars series specifically for the Disney direct-to-consumer app.”

Am I alone in thinking that’s a lot of Star Wars?

Now I’m totally going to be there to watch all of it as long as it is entertaining. But as far as collecting goes? I think it’s time to re-evaluate.

I have literally hundreds of Star Wars action figures, and in a couple of months it will be time to buy new ones for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Except maybe I won’t.

I will get whatever comes out for Episode IX to finish the sequel trilogy… and then I’m definitely out. I can’t display everything I have now… and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Star Wars will probably still be going long after I’m gone. (Although, based on Hasbro’s fourth quarter earnings report, I’m less confident about the long-term future of Star Wars action figures.)

I’m not sure where I am with autograph collecting, either.

I have a nice original trilogy collection (no Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, Harrison Ford, Frank Oz or Ian McDiarmid, but I do have all of the other main characters and a lot of minor ones.) I have an interesting prequel trilogy collection (Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best and Temuera Morrison are the only main characters, but I have a lot of the minor Jedi and other colorful characters.)

I have no one from the sequel trilogy. Spencer Wilding is the only one I have from Rogue One. The principal characters either aren’t available or aren’t affordable. (Sorry, Felicity Jones, you were great as Jyn Erso but I couldn’t swing the $200 you were charging at New York Comic Con last year.)

So is it really worth pursuing autographs from the casts of these new films? Or am I better off trying to add more from the original and prequel trilogies? I haven’t really decided yet.

Posted in Books, Odds & ends

Recommended listening: “Cat Pictures, Please”

One of my favorite podcasts is Escape Pod, which brings a new science fiction short story every week. I particularly liked this week’s episode, “Cat Pictures, Please” by Naomi Kritzer.

Many stories that feature advanced artificial intelligence programs seem to focus on ones that want to destroy humanity, from Wargames‘ WOPR and Terminator‘s Skynet to The 100‘s Allie.

Kritzer imagines an A.I. that wants to be helpful… but her story also asks us to think about how much algorithms already control our lives.

Check it out if you have a half hour to spare.

Posted in Autographs, Baseball, New York Mets

Some recent additions to my Mets autograph collection

Last weekend, I went to MAB Celebrity Service’s Pinstripe Parade autograph show with my friend Bart. It was kind of overwhelming, really.

People bought around 300 tickets at $60 a piece for New York Yankees prospect Gleyber Torres’ autograph. Alex Rodriguez, in his first area autograph signing in more than a decade, might have been even more popular even though his autograph tickets started at $149 and went up depending on what you were getting signed. New Hall of Fame member Chipper Jones was doing his first signing since the election announcement, and he was also very in demand.

It didn’t feel like there was enough space for all of the people who were waiting for autographs, and I was thankful that I wasn’t getting any so I could steer clear of the densest crowds.

But I did come home with a selection of 15 bargain-priced signed Mets photos for a total cost of around what my friend spent to get one baseball card signed by Gleyber Torres.

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1517509133305-dcb1b45d-115d-4afc-93a2-7516ed80b0b8.jpgYesterday, I got a signed baseball card back in the mail from Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo, from a request I mailed to Mets spring training camp last February. Unlike the photo he signed for me at the Queens Baseball Convention last month, Nimmo personalized the card for me. Very cool.

Other odds & ends