Browsing Archive December, 2006

Rangers Get McCarthy

The Chicago White Sox pulled a page out of the New York baseball spin book, drumming up unreal interest for an unknown quantity, then turning it into something else. Usually, though, the Mets will flip an Alex Escobar and Billy Traber for Roberto Alomar, or the Yankees will deal Jason Anderson for Armando Benitez.

No, instead of trading hype for established star, the White Sox traded Brandon McCarthy for more suspects … er, prospects. The seemingly untouchable McCarthy — the guy whose spot in the rotation was paved to and earmarked as a result of the departure of Freddy Garcia — has now bee dealt to the Texas Rangers for 2003 first-rounder John Danks, reliever Nick Masset, and Jacob Rasner. Essentially, the ChiSox obtained a lefthanded McCarthy in Danks, a guy who should be ready to contribute in 2008 — after Mark Buehrle and/or Jon Garland leave the team via free agency or trade.

This trade directly affects the Mets on two planes. First, it may well represent a white flag on the part of Texas in its pursuit of Barry Zito. Oh sure, getting a young, cheap, well-regarded pitcher should make the Rangers stronger, and would not affect their pursuit of Zito financially, and it might show Zito that Texas is serious about contending. However, it may also signal that the Rangers are not going to budge on their offer to Zito, which has been reported to be in the same 5-year/$75M range as the Mets’. Understanding that an equal offer means Zito goes to New York, Rangers GM Jon Daniel needed to find a more creative way to bolster his pitching staff.

The second way this affects the Mets, is in that GM Kenny Williams most likely is done dealing starting pitching, having already sent away the aforementioned Garcia for another young question mark, Gavin Floyd. Unless the White Sox are really high on the possibility of Danks and Floyd being ready to make significant contributions in 2007, they’ll probably stand pat from here on in to spring training. Though they might still consider trading Buerhle, Garland, and Vazquez, it would have to be for a Major League bat, in addition to a prospect along the lines of Mike Pelfrey. The Mets are not likely to trade Pelfrey and probably don’t have the bat the ChiSox are looking for.

So, on the one hand, the possibility of Barry Zito becoming a Met has just become more likely, with the Rangers all but announcing that they’ve gone to another avenue and made their highest bid. On the other hand, if Zito signs elsewhere, the Mets may have lost a trading partner for starting pitching — or at least, their main potential partner’s price has just gone up.

I don’t see the Mets trading away prospects for Garland or Vazquez, but I can see them dealing for Buehrle, who is a legitimate innings-eater and a potential #1 or #2. Other than the White Sox, there aren’t too many teams with starting pitching surplus — though many times the biggest deals are the most surprising. For all we know, Omar Minaya is a phone call away from extracting Johan Santana from the Twins. Or maybe the Marlins are hot to rid themselves of their newfound convict. It wouldn’t be the first time a huge deal came seemingly out of nowhere.

One way or another, Omar Minaya will find another starter. This deal between the White Sox and Rangers may have made the target a little closer.

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Sammy Sosa Comeback

He couldn’t just go away quietly … no, it appears that Sammy Sosa is making a comeback.

A year after declining a $500,000, non-guaranteed contract from the Washington Nationals, Sosa claims that he will now accept such an offer in order to get back into the big leagues.

Maybe it’s seeing all the crazy money being thrown at career journeymen such as Gary Matthews, Jr. and Mark DeRosa, one-dimensional outfielders such as Juan Pierre, and glass Joes such as JD Drew. Maybe he’s looking to clear his steroid- and corked-bat-tarnished image. Maybe he’s bored. Or maybe he really misses the game.

Whatever the case, he’s attempting a comeback, and it will be interesting to see if anyone bites.

It’s not that he isn’t physically worth taking a chance on … after all, he’s the only guy to ever hit 60 homers in three different seasons. Even an aging Sammy Sosa is probably worth about 20-25 dingers as a DH somewhere.

The issue, of course, surrounds the steroids question. Did he or didn’t he? Does baseball want this can of worms reopened?

It’s apparent that Rafael Palmeiro will remain in hiding, and doubtful anyone would be willing to give him a job after making a joke of himself and probably committing perjury. Mark McGwire has remained silent since his retirement, through the infamous hearings, and continues to avoid the spotlight. Jose Canseco was blackballed a long time ago, and many believe Barry Bonds would have earned the same fate had the Giants not re-signed him a few weeks ago.

Now what about Sammy? If indeed he can get himself back into shape, have a good winter in the Dominican league, will someone take a chance? Not on his performance, but on his image?

Why this is of interest to Mets fans is obvious — Sammy holds a special place in Omar Minaya’s heart. Omar, after all, was the scout who discovered the skinny Sammy so many years ago on a Dominican sandlot. Also, Minaya holds no age discrimination, and he is always happy to give a flyer to an aging veteran — see Jose Lima, Bret Boone, and Jose Valentin, for example. In fact, there was a lot of talk of Sammy coming to Shea back in the offseason preceding 2005 — not so long ago. The Mets might be able use a power-hitting right-handed bat off the bench, backing up the lefty-hitting Shawn Green in right.

Frightening thought, isn’t it ?

Please Omar, keep your heart out of this decision. The Mets don’t need to add any headaches.

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Zito (Boras) Speaks

For the first time this offseason, Barry Zito has spoken at length regarding his present and future.

The article opens with mention of Zito’s hardworking offseason, and the fact that he’s already trimmed his body fat percentage “by 4.5 percent”. There are several direct quotes from Zito, specifically addressing his publicly perceived value — which he more than hints at being lower than it should be. The most telling quote:

“Everyone wants to talk about how I’m not a No. 1 starter or how I’m getting worse, just so they can save some money,” Zito said with a laugh, in response to reports out of New York the past several months. “I’d expect all that. I wouldn’t be surprised if teams are putting this out to their media to create a collective consciousness, saying why should he get this or that? Everyone wants to buy low and sell high. But all we want is market value, and that’s been set the past six-eight weeks.

“When you look at value, what’s more valuable — keeping another $20 million in the bank when you already have hundreds of millions of dollars, or getting a player of value? But let people panic, let them talk about me, say I suck. We’ll see where the chips land.”

OK Barry, let’s get something straight: $100M over 6 or 7 years is NOT the market, and NOT what you’re worth. Roy Oswalt is a better pitcher than you (or rather, he sucks less than you do), and he does not have that kind of contract. On the open market, he MIGHT. But you’re not as valuable as he is.

Zito does a very good job of sounding like the good guy, the guy whose reputation is getting bashed, when all he wants to do is get what’s coming to him. A real nice ploy, until you step back and take a look at who this person is, and what he is saying.

HIS JOB IS BASEBALL AND HE’S BEING OFFERED $75 MILLION TO PLAY IT.

Yet that’s not enough, if you listen to him.

I want just one bank clerk, account executive, plumber, computer professional, or other “regular guy” to think about the opportunity to make $15M a year to play baseball, then re-read Zito’s sob story.

There’s more in the article about how he’s working so darn hard to get into great shape, how he wants nothing more than to win a World Series championship, blah blah blah. This is all designed to make us feel like he is “the real deal”, or a “great competitor”, or “really dedicated”.

Let’s get serious, folks. If YOUR JOB is to play a professional sport, and you are being paid TENS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to do so, you damn well better be working your ass off in the offseason, with the goal of winning a championship. From the article you would think that Barry Zito is the hardest working man in baseball, and the only pitcher with the desire and fire to win a World Series.

Yes, he works hard. Yes, he’s competitive. Yes, he wants to win a World Series. Those qualities are the reason he is one of only 750 people in the world who play Major League Baseball. To stay among that elite group, you must work hard, you must be competitive — because there are another 20 million people trying to take your job.

Look, I think Barry Zito is a fine pitcher. At one time he was an excellent pitcher. But I also think he’s on a downslide, and a contract in the 5-year, $75M range is more than fair for a guy who has probably seen his best years, and who probably will be a 15-17-win, #2-type starter. If he were coming off his three best years, and not his three worst years, it would be a different story. If he wanted to get a $100M contract, he should have thought about his body fat percentage this time LAST year.

Maybe I’m a pessimist, or a conspiracy theorist, but I’m convinced this SF Gate article is purely contrived by the Scott Boras camp. Every sentence carefully spun to project Zito as any team’s ultimate addition, and well worth the $100M asking price. The timing of the article was impeccable. Why today? Why not last week, before Zito met with five teams? Why not next week? And at least one of the quotes — the Sandy Koufax reference — was intended to hit the Mets and their fans directly.

Also note the Boras-sounding tidbits sprinkled throughout the story, such as ” … one of baseball’s most durable pitchers — Zito has never missed a start …”. That one comes straight out of the Boras player profile folder. This is less a news article and more a negotiation ploy.

Don’t believe my theory? Consider that his eventual signing means MILLIONS of dollars to both Zito and his agent. When there is this much money at stake, do you really believe that anything that might affect negotiations would be left to chance? If so, you’ll probably be waiting for an old fat guy in a red suit to come down your chimney in a few days.

Go ahead, read the article, enjoy it, but don’t get all fired up and excited and start demanding that Omar get this deal done and pay Zito and Mr. Boras whatever they demand. Zito is still the same pitcher he was before this article: a solid, dependable #2 starter who may or may not be on the downside of his career.

And if he truly means the words he says in the article, particularly “what I’m looking for is an owner who sees eye-to-eye with me in my goal to lead a team to multiple World Series championships,” then he’d be crazy to even consider signing with a team that has never made the World Series (Rangers and Mariners), or the Giants, who are obviously built for one more year of Barry Bonds and then shifting to a rebuilding / youth movement.

Don’t believe the hype. The Mets will make a very fair offer, and it doesn’t need to be anywhere near nine digits — not when the other teams in the bidding are right around the same numbers. Make the 5/75 offer, maybe go to $80M, then “see where the chips land.”

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Mets Do Not Take Riske

The Kansas City Royals are about to sign reliever David Riske to a one-year, $2M contract.

Granted, this is not the type of signing that is headline news. However, it’s alarming that they were able to wrap up a fairly decent, healthy middle reliever for so little money and only a one-year commitment in this insane market.

Now I understand that the Mets are focused on Barry Zito and/or other starting pitching options, but I’m a bit miffed that they didn’t consider making an offer to Riske — especially since he would be so cheap.

The 30-year-old Riske is no star, but a very reliable reliever who has worked in all bullpen roles at one point or another — long relief, situational, setup, and even as an emergency closer. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, but his career WHIP is excellent at 1.265 — and he did this in the American League. Had the Mets signed him, Riske would have stepped right into the departed Chad Bradford’s role, and would be a fine replacement if the Mets chose to trade Aaron Heilman or move Heilman to the rotation.

Personally, I’d like to hunt down Riske, get him out of that Royals contract before it’s too late, and become his agent. It’s unbelievable that a guy with his numbers, in this market, was unable to get a 2- or 3-year deal for somewhere in the $7-10M range.

More Boras Spin

The latest out of the Scott Boras propaganda mill is that FIVE teams have made contract offers to his client Barry Zito.

Ha!

C’mon, Scott, you’re really blowing your image now. Math may not be my best subject, but I can add things pretty well when the numbers are less than the fingers on my hands. And last I checked, the only teams interested in Zito were the Mets, Giants, Rangers, and Mariners. That’s four, and the Mets are adamant that no contract has been offered, so now we’re down to three.

Boras has already been caught in one lie … when it was “leaked” that the Rangers made a $100M offer. The Rangers not only refuted that offer, they called it “science fiction”. If Scott Boras keeps crying wolf, the GMs around the league will continue to gain leverage against him. Would be a nice thing to see.

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Heilman in the Rotation?

After writing my last post, and looking over the pitching staff, it appears that the Mets might be considering a move of Aaron Heilman to the starting rotation.

Yes, it could just be my wishful thinking overpowering the truth, but consider the offseason moves the Mets have made so far:

1. Re-signed Guillermo Mota, despite the fact he’ll miss the first 50 games of the year.

2. Traded starter candidate Brian Bannister for Royals’ closer Ambiorix Burgos.

3. Signed middle reliever Jason Standridge.

4. Acquired middle reliever Jon Adkins from San Diego.

Of course, a few other moves go against my theory, namely:

1. The trading of potential setup man Henry Owens, for potential starter Jason Vargas.

2. Allowing Chad Bradford to move to Baltimore.

However, when you look at the potential bullpen, you have to wonder where Heilman is going to fit in — especially with Mota arriving around June, the possible return of Juan Padilla, the presence of Burgos, and Willie Randolph’s obsession with sidewinders who “can bring the funk” and “give a guy a different look”.

Billy Wagner owns the ninth inning, that much is a given. Duaner Sanchez — if healthy, which he should be — owns many 8th innings. Considering the Mets’ investment in Mota, and in light of his performance in September of last year, you’ve got to believe that he is going to be the man in the 7th and/or 8th. Remember, Heilman was nearly forgotten once Mota got hot — and that was without Sanchez on the roster, and during playoff games that starters couldn’t get through fifth innings. Add Sanchez back to the equation, as well as Burgos and Padilla — who pitched quite well in 2005 — and where does that put Heilman? As a situational righthander, in Bradford’s old role? That would seem to be Padilla or Burgos territory — if not the role for newcomers Jason Standridge or Jon Adkins. Or a submariner who emerges (or submerges?) such as Steve Schmoll or Joe Smith.

Surely the Mets do not intend to waste Aaron Heilman’s talents as a ROOGY, or as a backup to both Sanchez and Mota. I also don’t see the Mets shortening their starter’s games to five innings — although anything is possible.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it appears that the Mets are going to see how Sanchez rebounds from his season-ending injury. If he looks as healthy and dependable as he was for the first half of 2006, then Heilman will finally get his shot at a rotation spot. Heilman has too much talent — and trade value — not to be providing a substantial contribution to the Mets’ pitching staff. If he’s not going to be the main setup guy, by all logic he has to be moved to the rotation. This concept is further supported by the signing of Mota and the trade for Burgos.

The flamethrowing Ambiorix Burgos is only 23 years old, but already has two years and 127 games of MLB experience. His walk rate (about 4 1/2 per nine innings) is higher than you’d like, but his strikeout rate is much higher – 9.02 per nine innings. A lot of pundits are already comparing Burgos to the Jorge Julio project — which was fairly successful — but in reality Burgos is ahead of where Julio was. Jorge Julio had — and still has — confidence issues, and major control problems. Burgos’ issues are more about youth, and his control is getting better each year. Plus, this is a guy who was the closer for the Royals. This may not hold much weight, but you have to take notice of a guy who saves 18 games in the American League, for a last-place club, at the age of 22.

The trading of Brian Bannister — Heilman’s roadblock to the rotation last year — in return for a guy with legitimate closer experience, is a strong indication that the Mets made such a deal with Heilman’s transition in mind. It’s hard to imagine the Mets sending Burgos to AAA after two solid years at the MLB level, and doubly difficult to comprehend sending away Bannister when the team’s most glaring weakness is the starting rotation — unless they had a plan to add another MLB-ready starter.

Meanwhile, the Mets very quietly brought in another hard-throwing closer product of the KC Royals’ system — a righthander named Jorge Vasquez, signed as a free-agent and invited to spring training. He saved 40 games in AA over 2003-2004, and has since bounced up and down from the minors as part of the Royals’, Braves’, and Pirates’ organizations. Like Burgos and Julio, he has put up big K ratios (10-11 per 9), but is at age 26 is nearing non-prospect status. He’s not unlike Henry Owens in that way, and might be the paint that sticks. Most likely, he’s destined for AAA, but he’ll get a good look in March.

While Opening Day — and pitchers and catchers reporting, for that matter — is a long time away, this is a conceivable 7-man bullpen on April 1st:

1. Billy Wagner
2. Duaner Sanchez
3. Ambiorix Burgos
4. Pedro Feliciano
5. Dave Williams
6. & 7. Combination of Juan Padilla, Jason Standridge, Jon Adkins, unknown flyer or funk-thrower.

Come the end of May, you add Guillermo Mota and delete one of the guys from the 6&7 combo. Then you have:

– Wagner closing
– Sanchez, Mota, and Burgos handling setup
– Feliciano and unknown in situational work
– Williams handling the Darren Oliver role

This is a fairly strong bullpen that most teams in baseball would love to have, and the roles are pretty clearly defined. So again, where does Heilman fit in ?

Of course, we’re assuming two things: first, that all of the above-mentioned arms are healthy, and second, that these acquisitions were not designed so that Heilman could be moved to another team. There’s been a lot of speculation regarding the second assumption, and, as mentioned in the previous post, I think that window of opportunity has been closed. Whereas Omar might have packaged Heilman and Lastings Milledge in a deal to land a Jason Jennings or Freddy Garcia, I don’t see him doing it for another back-end starter such as Javy Vazquez or Joe Blanton — not when there is every reason to believe that Heilman can be at least a #4 or #5, and might even develop into a #3 if given the chance. I also don’t see Omar sending away Heilman until he’s absolutely certain that Duaner Sanchez is 100% — unless a talent like Brad Penny or Jake Peavy is coming back to the Mets. But a deal like that is a longshot, considering the Mets would be expected to include Mike Pelfrey and/or Philip Humber.

The future remains uncertain for Aaron Heilman, but the way Omar is shaping things, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise if we see Heilman taking the mound at the beginning of a game, instead of the end, come April.

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Planning Without Zito

Let’s pretend that there really is a possibility that Barry Zito will sign with the Rangers, or some team on the Left Coast. What will the Mets’ pitching staff look like?

Well, here it is right now (we’re omitting Pedro because we don’t know when/if he’ll be back):

Potential Starters

Tom Glavine
Orlando Hernandez
John Maine
Oliver Perez
Mike Pelfrey
Philip Humber
Jason Vargas
Dave Williams
Alay Soler
Aaron Heilman

Bullpen

Billy Wagner
Duaner Sanchez
Aaron Heilman
Guillermo Mota (late May / early June)
Ambiorix Burgos
Pedro Feliciano
Juan Padilla
Dave Williams
Jason Standridge
Jon Adkins
Steve Schmoll
Joe Smith

Looking at the above group, you can understand why Omar is saying he is comfortable with his pitching. Sure, the starting rotation is lacking at the front end, but it was just as lacking during the entire 2006 season, when the Mets flat-out dominated the NL. And with the return from injury of Duaner Sanchez and Juan Padilla, coupled with the pickups of Burgos, Standridge, and Adkins, the bullpen is deep enough to withstand Heilman’s departure to the rotation (should that be in the plans).

Further, the Mets will surely add a few more arms before February. Some free agents still available include Joel Pineiro, David Riske, Mark Mulder, John Thomson, Jeff Suppan, Eddie Guardado, Keith Foulke, Dustin Hermanson, Tony Armas, Bruce Chen, Scott Schoeneweis, Jorge Sosa, Ron Villone, Arthur Rhodes, and Chris Reitsma. From that group, the Mets have a number of options. They could gamble on Mulder coming back from injury, and get Zito-like performance without the expense. Or they could go the safe route, and sign a guy like Thomson, Armas, Pineiro, or Suppan to be an innings-eater. Another possibility is to sign Riske, Guardado, or Rhodes, then move Heilman into the rotation. Most certainly, the Mets will offer a spring training invite to a guy such as Armas or Chen, and hope for a Darren Oliver type of epiphany.

There’s also speculation that if they don’t sign Zito, the Mets will pull the trigger on a deal for a pitcher in return for a package that includes Heilman and Lastings Milledge. I’m really not seeing that as a viable option. First, it’s been said by Mets’ brass that Heilman won’t be moved to the rotation because he’s too valuable to the team as a reliever. If he’s indeed that valuable in the bullpen, then why would they trade him away? Secondly, why would they trade away a pitcher as skilled as Heilman, in addition to top prospect Milledge, in return for a starter who probably won’t be much better than what Heilman can provide in the rotation? A few weeks ago, the Mets might have been able to land a #2 / #3 type of starter, but those rare commodities that were on the market — Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings, Horacio Ramirez — have already switched teams. The arms that remain available via trade are #4 / #5 types, of which the Mets already have an abundance. I’d think the Mets would rather take the chance that Heilman might develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, rather than trade him AND Milledge for someone like Javy Vazquez or Joe Blanton. And don’t believe that the Padres would be willing to give up Jake Peavy for those two, and not insist on Pelfrey or Humber (or both) in the deal. Same goes for Billy Beane, who was only shopping Harden and Haren to see if teams were desperate enough to literally give up the farm.

So, let’s say the Mets stand relatively pat, and maybe add a few arms via no-risk flyers. They’ll have at least 10 starters to choose from in order to build a 5-man rotation. In reality, El Duque and Glavine are set, so they need to extract three more from the other eight. Would it be so bad if the back end turned out to be Perez, Maine, and Williams? Or Perez, Maine, and Heilman? And then there is the outside chance that Pelfrey or Humber pulls a Justin Verlander and not only breaks into the rotation, but blossoms into a legitimate ace. And don’t be so quick to count out Soler and Vargas — two guys who were probably brought to the bigs before they were truly ready, and didn’t fulfill expectations. The Mets #2 playoff starter, John Maine, had exactly that experience in Baltimore before coming to New York.

All in all, I like the way the Mets pitching staff looks right now, and agree with Omar’s stance that he’s comfortable with it. Sure, he may be posturing for the sake of negotiations, but he has something solid behind his “comfort”, and he has plenty of options should Zito find greener pastures elsewhere.

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No Zito Under the Tree

Maybe Omar Minaya was on Santa’s “naughty” list, because it doesn’t look like there will be a signed contract from Barry Zito waiting under the Mets’ tree come Christmas morning.

In fact, it doesn’t look like Zito will be under anyone’s tree … unless, perhaps, they are celebrating Russian Christmas. Even then, the outlook looks bleak.

That’s because agent Scott Boras needs more time to spin, spread rumors, and dream up unsubstantiated contract offers from mysterious teams. Right now, all he has is a supposed $100M offer from the Rangers — that Texas denies — and paper thin theory that the San Francisco Giants are interested in his client.

The Mets, meanwhile, are calling the superagent’s bluff, holding still on a very fair, 5-year, $73M offer.

Boras says he wants six or seven years, and over $100M. Omar Minaya knows insanity when he hears it, and has basically told Boras to go ahead and find that deal somewhere else. And why not? The Mets’ offer is Roy Oswalt money, and Oswalt is one of the top five or six pitchers in baseball. Zito is maybe in the top 20.

It will be interesting to see where Boras intends to find a team willing to pony up more than the nearly $15M per year that the Mets are willing pay. The Rangers are a possibility, and in fact have supposedly made a very similar offer, but it’s doubtful they will go much further. Since Barry Zito is fully aware that Ameriquest Field is where pitchers go to die, and the Rangers a team that have yet to make a World Series appearance, it’s hard to imagine him signing there.

The comic relief involving the SF Giants is pure spin and posturing created by the Boras compound. First, the Giants — with our without Bonds deferring cash — do not have the resources to go beyond a 5-year, $75M offer. They MIGHT match it, but probably not. Boras is spinning the idea that Zito would be very comfortable staying in the Bay Area, and that San Francisco has the same opportunities New York offers in regard to his musical hobby. Yeah, right. Nice try, Scott. San Francisco is where the crooners left their hearts, so they could go to New York and prove they could make it anywhere. (Don’t get me wrong; SanFran is a beautiful, wonderful city — but it ain’t New York.) Please look me straight in the eye and tell me that a musician/athlete has equal opportunities in both SF and NY. That’s like saying an actor has as much chance to make it big by acting in Hollywood, Florida as he does in Hollywood, CA.

Most recently, Boras has instigated the Seattle Mariners, and again — are we really to believe that the Ms will cough up more than 5/75? No doubt we’ll hear more spewing from the Boras camp, such as what a wonderfully cultural town Seattle is, and how Safeco is a pitcher’s park that tends to favor lefthanded pitchers. Hmm … sure does sound like another direct comparison to artsy NYC / pitcher-friendly Shea.

It’s interesting to note that all of these West Coast teams are suddenly in the mix — jot this strategy down if you are interested in becoming a sports agent some day. The West Coast is Zito’s home, and Boras’ home base, and thus offers a double-whammy in negotiation strength. First, there’s the spin of Zito wanting to stay home, and secondly, there’s Boras working from HIS place — a position of strength. Open up any book on sales or negotiation and you’ll see that dealing in your home base gives you an immediate advantage.

Luckily, Omar has read all the books, and experienced all the tactics in his many years in the business. He’ll likely stick to his guns and wait it out. There’s no point in extending the Mets’ bid — at least not in dollars — as there really isn’t anyone who can go much higher. In the end, the decision will be up to Barry Zito, and where he really wants to go.

So, Mr. Zito, if the financial offers were identical, which team would you choose? It’s a question you should seriously ponder, as it’s likely to become reality.

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Mets Fans – Count Your Blessings

We are in the midst of the holiday season, and nearly everyone in MLB is clearly insane. I bring this up because, part of the end-of-year holidays is to reflect on the past year, and count our blessings.

The Mets made enormous strides over the last year, and before we condemn the Mets for signing, or not signing Barry Zito, or trading, or not trading Lastings Milledge, or not having the sense and decency to put Aaron Heilman back in the rotation, we must take a look at Omar Minaya’s actions and inactions and see that he has clearly shown more sensibility than nearly every other GM.

For example, consider some of the Hot Stove insanity over the last few weeks.

I sort of understand the Cubs spending loads of money on their manager, Alfonso Soriano, and journeymen such as Ted Lilly (OK, not really). Obviously the Cubs are just desperate to make a huge splash, after finishing last in a season they were expected to contend.

But then I see the Yankees and Blue Jays bidding fiercely against each other for a BACKUP CATCHER. Perhaps this was spurred by Bengie Molina receiving a three-year contract from the Giants, who were quite obviously bidding against themselves. Speaking of three-year deals, how the heck did Miguel Batista get one?

Of course, this is not nearly as insane as the $75M given to Japan for the right to negotiate with a couple of AAA pitchers.

And there are the five-year, $50M contracts handed to a fourth outfielder — Gary Matthews, Jr. — and a centerfielder who can’t hit nor throw (Juan Pierre). Seeing that insanity drove J.D. Drew to give away four years of guaranteed millions — a psychotic act in itself — to hit the open market.

But it’s not just the free-agent dollars being tossed around, it’s also the unbelievable trades being made. Were all the GMs slipped a “mickey” (pardon the pun) at Disneyworld during the Winter Meetings? How else do you explain the logic behind trades made recently by the Seattle Mariners and the Kansas City Royals?

The M’s, who have a number of affordable free-agent choices to fill their DH role — Aaron Guiel, Jeromy Burnitz, Craig Wilson, Cliff Floyd, Shea Hillenbrand, and Todd Hollandsworth are just a few that come to mind — instead send two live bodies to the Washington Nationals for Jose Vidro to be their DH. While Vidro was once one of the best all-around second basemen in the game, he’s no longer a guarantee to hit .300, and even in his best years would only hit maybe 12-15 home runs — hardly the type of hitter you entrench in the DH spot.

But even more mind-boggling was the recent deal done by the Royals — Andrew Sisco for Ross Gload.

To refresh your memory, the Kansas City Royals have not mattered since Bret Saberhagen, George Brett, and Buddy Biancalana were household names. In fact, they have stunk. There, I said it, and I’m sorry to y’all KCers but this isn’t opinion, it’s fact. The Royals have lost 100 games in each of the last three years, in four out of the last five, and have lost less than 97 only twice in the past eight seasons. It does not take a brain surgeon to understand that this is a team in need of rebuilding. And even your Aunt Tilly can tell you that rebuilding a ballclub begins with youth and pitching, preferably both put together. Andrew Sisco, by the way, is a healthy, 23-year-old, lefthanded pitcher (starter or reliever), who throws in the mid-90s. They traded this fine young specimen in return for backup first baseman Ross Gload, who will be 31 years old when the 2007 season begins.

This is not a joke, by the way.

Their justification is nearly as laughable, and I won’t directly quote anyone to protect the ignorant. Basically it came down to this: Sisco walked too many batters, and the Royals weren’t comfortable with Justin Huber as their backup first baseman (Mets fans remember Huber as the Aussie catching prospect swapped in the convoluted Kris Benson deal a few years back).

This was their public statement, anyway — that you have to give up something to get something, and apparently trading a young Randy Johnson type was necessary to obtain a good fielding, 31-year-old backup first sacker (again, I mention the names Aaron Guiel, Craig Wilson). The unpublic story (a.k.a., the truth) has something to do with a taco. That, also, is not a joke.

Even if the taco was the real reason behind trading Andrew Sisco, you would think a team like the Royals would try to get something of more value in return. Or at least more youthful. Or at the very least, a potential mid-July trading chip. This is dumber than the Scott Kazmir for we-forgot-who deal. At the time, the Mets were at least within striking distance of a Wild Card spot, and were desperate for an experienced MLB pitcher. How does Ross Gload fit into Kansas City’s rebuilding plans?

Apparently, the Royals are making it clear that the future is now. That’s why they opened the safe for Gil Meche and Octavio Dotel, and gave the Mets another young flamethrower, Ambiorix Burgos, in return for a pitcher who projects at best as a #5 starter. They’re committed to putting a Major League team on the field in 2007 — following the same plan they have, ever since George Brett retired after the 1993 season (their last winning season, by the way). In other words, they make a few mediocre splashes with third-tier veterans to fill out the roster, giving fans just enough of a flicker of hope to get them to renew their season tickets.

Again, I bring your attention to this smoldering franchise as a means to invite you to count your blessings as a New York Mets fan. No matter what players come and go between now and April 2007, you can be sure that Omar Minaya and the Mets brass will be committed to fielding a team much UNlike the Kansas City Royals.

Hallelujah!

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