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, 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

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets, Trenton Thunder

Talking about two ex-Mets who fell short in the Hall of Fame vote

The Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman this summer.

Jones is the best third baseman I’ve ever watched play (I hope he thanks the New York Mets for helping him get elected 😜) Thome was one of the most productive hitters of his era. Guerrero could do unbelievable things with pitches that were nowhere near the strikezone. Hoffman pitched effectively as a closer for a really long time. All four men are deserving of the honor, though some are more worthy than others.

Former Mets closer Billy Wagner will not be headed to Cooperstown anytime soon, though — he received just 47 votes, 290 fewer than Hoffman.

And that is interesting.

  • Player A finished a 16-year career with a 2.31 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 11.9 K/9 innings, 6.0 H/9 innings and 3.99 SO/W.
  • Player B finished an 18-year career with a 2.87 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 9.4 K/9 innings, 7.0 H/9 innings and 3.69 SO/W.

Player A was a six-time All-Star, received MVP votes twice and Cy Young Award votes twice.  Player B was a seven-time All-Star, received MVP votes four times and Cy Young Award votes four times (once finishing as high as second.)

Based on those career numbers, you’d figure both players would garner a similar amount of support for Cooperstown, with Player B maybe having a slight edge based on previous awards voting.

Player A is Wagner, Player B is Hoffman and it seems like a lot of voters must have been swayed by one mostly useless stat that I left out: saves. Hoffman has 601, while Wagner only has 422.

Bright side, Wagner got enough votes to stay on the ballot and maybe voters will take another look at him next year.

Johan Santana was not as fortunate, receiving just 10 votes. He fell short of the five percent minimum to remain on the ballot, so his fate will be left to the Veterans’ Committee.

Does Santana belong in the Hall? That’s a question that’s worthy of discussion. But for a five-year period, he was the best pitcher in baseball. Between 2004 and 2008, Santana won two Cy Young Awards, finished third twice and finished fifth once. During the two Cy Young campaigns, Santana also finished in the top 10 in MVP voting. That sure seems like too good a career to be off the ballot after one year….

Odds and ends…

  • The Mets have reached an agreement with Jose Reyes on a one year contract to bring him back as a utility infielder. Leaving aside off-field issues of character, this is not a bad move… provided Reyes doesn’t get handed the starting second base job through front office inertia.
  • The Trenton Thunder will play as the Trenton Pork Roll on Fridays this year, which seems like a fun marketing idea until you go look at the uniforms they will be wearing. No. Just no. So very much no.

I remember 1992 and 1993 too well to believe that a big payroll guarantees a winning season, but Fred, Jeff and Saul need to understand that money is going to be a sore spot for fans until the Mets are winning.

Posted in Autographs, Baseball

A surprise from Clay Parker

1516642684853-f71d3fec-70b7-40b4-88e3-90ddf20f637e.jpgI used to be very into mailing baseball cards to current and former players to see if they’d sign them for me. It used to be fairly common for all but the biggest stars to respond.

As time went on, responses from current players grew less common and I’d already gotten many of the former players that I remembered watching when I was younger. So I’ve cut back on mailing.

It was always fun to get a surprise in the mail beyond the standard advertisements and bills, and that’s the part that I miss now that I might send out five or ten letters during the year instead of five or ten dozen like I used to.

But every so often I’ll still get one of the old ones back. On Monday, I got an envelope postmarked from Chattanooga, Tenn. I figured it must be someone who was taking care of last year’s fan mail before they left for spring training.

I opened it and found a 1990 Fleer card from Clay Parker, and I had to check my records at SportsCollectors.Net because I didn’t remember writing to him. Turns out I tried twice, in 2011 and 2012. Yup, my card had been out for at least six years.

Now I think it’s pretty cool that former players will actually bother to open and respond to fan mail from strangers, period. And considering that my likely response to finding a pile of letters from 2011 or 2012 would be to get rid of the clutter, I’m happy Mr. Parker decided to sign my card and mail it back.

While I root for the Mets, I consider myself a baseball fan… and I had a soft spot for the not-very-good Yankee teams of the late 1980s/ early 1990s. (We didn’t have cable, so we tended to watch whichever team had a game on broadcast television on a given night.)

As a rookie with the 1989 Yankees, Clay Parker won four of nine decisions and threw two complete games in 17 starts. He also made five relief appearances, posting a 3.58 ERA.  The next summer, he was shipped the Detroit Tigers with Lance McCullers Sr. in exchange for catcher Matt Nokes, who had been an All-Star three years before. I thought he’d have a solid MLB career, even if he never became a star.

By 1992, Parker had thrown his final MLB pitch. I’m not really sure what happened, whether injuries derailed a career or whether MLB hitters proved to be better at making adjustments… or maybe just bad fortune.

Regardless, I’m happy Mr. Parker took the time to bring back some memories for me.

Odds & ends

I’m not sold on the pitch clock either, and Manfred’s plan to limit mound visits doesn’t go far enough to suit me. Want to speed up baseball games? Get rid of all of the trips to the mound! We know that most of the time, the manager, pitching coach and catcher are going out there to stall for time… and that it’s boring! Forcing managers to have relievers ready and making quicker decisions about bringing them in will have less of an effect on the integrity of the game than Manfred’s pitch clock, and would do more to get rid of dead time. Another pace-of-play improvement I’d like to see is to force managers to make an instant decision on whether to ask for replay review – no more consultations with replay coordinators.

Posted in Autographs, Baseball, New York Mets

Queens Baseball Convention recap

We got a hint of early spring weather this weekend, and the Queens Baseball Convention brought us a taste baseball. Current Mets Brandon Nimmo and Chris Flexen and former Met star Todd Hundley told stories about their careers and signed autographs for a couple hundred fans who packed the Katch Astoria on Saturday.

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I really want to compliment the event organizers for putting together a fun event that allowed us to celebrate being Mets fans for an afternoon. Flexen and especially Nimmo made new fans with their humble and genuine natures, and Hundley told some great stories about his playing days, like the time Gary Carter stole a base against him or how Hundley thought he’d been traded when he got the news he’d gotten his first MLB callup.  (In 25+ years, Hundley is the first Mets player I remember saying that Eddie Murray helped him to be a better hitter.)

Other odds & ends

I hope Wright is able to leave the game on his own terms. He says that he’s listening to his doctors and will walk away if they tell him that continuing to try to play will harm his long-term health, and that’s the only reason I’d want him to give up on his comeback attempt.

I’d be happy to have Colon back on a minor league deal, if he’s willing to go to Las Vegas as an insurance policy if one of the Mets’ starters gets hurt or underperforms. But at age 44, Colon is as much of a lottery ticket as Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, only with a much lower upside. So if Colon needs a major league guarantee, I’d pass.

Tebow has played better than I would have expected and I’ve heard a number of stories about how good he’s been interacting with fans. But by the same token, he’s a 30-year-old Single-A player who can only be counted as a prospect by the most charitable definition. So what kind of message does this to the organizational veterans in the Mets’ minor league system? Probably not a good one.

The Mets are getting better with the “Free Shirt Friday” designs, although there are still some clunkers. At the QBC we learned that Marvel is designing the TBD shirt… odds are it will be Thor-related, but given the weekend I think a David Wright Captain America design could be fun too.

Seth Lugo joined the group of Mets’ players getting married this winter

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

January thaw

Like the temperatures in the Northeast, Major League Baseball’s frozen hot stove season experienced a brief thaw late last week.

The New York Mets got things started by signing Jay Bruce to a three-year, $39 million contract Wednesday, and added Adrian Gonzalez over the weekend. The Pittsburgh Pirates shipped former Cy Young Award contender Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros for a package of four middling prospects. We finally have some actual news to discuss instead of just rumors.

The Mets’ moves are not exciting, but they should help the team.

Bruce is a consistently productive hitter with inconsistent defensive ratings, though the eyeball test is going to tell you that you’re in trouble if you ever consider him one of the best defensive players on your team. He can help provide power in the middle of the batting order and buy time for Michael Conforto to fully recover from last year’s shoulder injury, even though Conforto will likely be forced to play center field when he does return. And Bruce proved versatile enough to play first base, if there is a need.

Gonzalez is a low-risk, moderate reward signing. With the Atlanta Braves on the hook for all but $545,000 of his $21.5 million contract, Gonzalez can provide spring training competition for Dominic Smith. He can be a veteran bat off the bench if Smith wins the first base job, and Gonzalez can be released if he shows he can’t play at a high enough level to help the Mets.

After all, neither Smith nor Gonzalez had good seasons at the Major League level last year. Gonzalez hit .231 / .287 / .355 with three home runs in 231 at bats in an injury shortened season that saw him lose his job to rookie Cody Bellinger. As a late-season call-up, Smith hit .192 / .262 / .395 with nine home runs in 167 at bats.

For a rebuilding team, it would be an easy call to see if Smith could grow into a starting role. A team that sees itself as a contender needs a fallback plan. fans can’t be criticized for hoping that plan would be more ambitious than Gonzalez. But Gonzalez makes the Mets a better team and shouldn’t preclude them from continuing to shore up their infield by adding a second baseman or third baseman join Asdrubal Cabrera and Amed Rosario and the winner of the first base competition.

Here’s hoping that infielder is coming…and I wouldn’t mind another starting pitcher. Even Bartolo Colon on a minor league deal wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The Cole trade is more of a head-scratcher. Sure, it’s a easy win for the Astros — the defending World Series champs add to an already-good starting rotation that includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton.

Even if pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, infielder Colin Moran, who was Houston’s No. 5 prospect and outfielder Jason Martin, who was Houston’s No. 15 prospect, pan out for the Pirates, the Astros made a move that helps them defend their title with minimal impact on their 2018 roster.

The Pirates are getting young, Major League-ready talent… but no one who projects with enough upside to be a star. Their fans are still left wondering if Cole was the first step of a full rebuild or an attempt to reload for another run with Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison. And they’ve got to be coming to the realization that if the return for Cole – a 27-year-old with two years of team control – was disappointing, McCutchen – a 31-year-old in the final year of a seven-year contract – may not bring back anyone of note at all.

With less than a month to go before players start reporting to spring training, hopefully we’ll get some more actual baseball news to talk about instead of rumors created for the sake of page clicks.

And hey, if we don’t? Those “Player X is in the best shape of his life” stories might be a little more interesting if Player X is still looking for a job when they run.