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Assessing The Market For Jose Reyes

Jose reyesI hear from Met fans a lot via texting and Twitter and they all ask me the same thing--will Jose Reyes be back? I have never wavered in my viewpoint from early in the year and my sense is he will be back. That being said, the process has barely begun and as with any business deal, a myriad of factors can either catalyze the process or slow it down. For example, does the Ryan Howard injury make it more or less likely the Phillies might take a run at Jose? From everything I am hearing, the Phillies desperately want to keep Ryan Madsen who is a free agent and have to deal with Jimmy Rollins as well. Those talks with Rollins and Madsen could have a big impact on any pursuit of Reyes especially if, for instance, Rollins might cost less than they thought or Madsen cost more than they expected.

Then there is the CC Factor--if he opts out of his Yankee contract, I would expect the Red Sox to enter the sweepstakes which could preclude them from getting serious with Reyes. My hunch is they will look for pitching first even if CC is not on the open market and the Crawford 7 year deal might make them reticent to tip their toes into the Reyes sweepstakes. As far as the San Francisco Giants are concerned, my sources tell me that they would rather re-sign Beltran than go for Reyes for a few reasons. First of all, they traded one of the top pitching prospects out there for Beltran and secondly on the heels of that trade, to then lose 2 draft picks to the Mets might make them skiddish. In addition, they have to think about re-upping Matt Cain at some point whom I believe is a more important piece for them considering their team is built around pitching.

So, I consider the Red Sox, Phils, and Giants as long shots but I do think the Mets will get competition from both the Nationals and Brewers and I expect both teams to be serious bidders. In the case of the Nationals, they have some good young pitching both in the rotation and in the bullpen and could use another bat at the top of the order. Reyes could enhance their OBP which was really poor last year. The only fly in the ointment here is the Jayson Werth contract was criticized heavily and he did not really perform up to expectations and so if they do commit to huge dollars, it might be for a big RBI bat like Prince Fielder. Which brings us to the Brewers.

Milwaukee had a great season getting to the sport's Final Four with improved pitching and 2 absolute superstars in Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Their payroll was around $93 million last year and I get the sense they might increase it to a little over $100 million this year. The big question is will they commit that money to Prince Fielder or more properly do they have enough to foot the bill? If not, they might enter the Reyes sweepstakes especially if Fielder goes to the Nats. Now, in Fielder's case there is always the chance a team like the Cubs might swoop in which case keeps Reyes in play for both the Nats and the Brewers. The problem for guys like Fielder and even Pujols to a certain extent, is first base is a position that most of the high spending teams like the Phils, Red Sox, and Yankees have great first basemen on the roster already committed to heavy dollars.

I do see this as a game between the Brewers, Mets, and Nationals with the Red Sox, Giants, and Phils as long shots. However,I do firmly believe that the Mets are the favorites at this early stage but I must warn you it is still very early and things in the off-season can move as fast as a Jose Reyes triple.


Why Doesn't Anyone Care About The World Series?

BaseballI walk around the streets of New York and nobody cares about the World Series.
It is sad to see, because if you love baseball, you have to love this series. I know the Mets had a rotten year and the Yankees made a quick exit in the first round but this Texas/St. Louis series has some juice. It is a shame New Yorkers don't see it.
You know we all say the New York baseball fan is smarter and more perceptive than any other fans in the country, but if the truth be told we're as provincial as any of those other fans. When our baseball teams are out, we shut down and I guess what that means is we are really not baseball fans. The NY football fan still had interest in the Super Bowl after the Jets were bumped by the Steelers and the NY NBA fans were certainly mesmerized by Heat/Mavericks last year, but if we don't see Yanks, Mets or Phils or Red Sox (only because we hate those last two teams) we shut down.
But this is an interesting series and one that will go the distance. It features a team that had to inch their way into the post-season party and one who is returning to the Fall Classic in a year most thought the Yanks, Red Sox, Rays, and even the Verlander-led Tigers were better bets than then they were. The Texas Rangers are an interesting case because Nolan Ryan had to endure losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies and instead of brooding about it, they went out and signed Adrian Beltre - making an awesome lineup deeper. When you consider that the core bats of Beltre, Cruz, Hamilton, Young, and Kinsler are tough enough, try pitching against a lineup that features a sixth bat in Mike Napoli that crushed 30 homers. Quite simply, it is the most potent lineup in baseball and has the Rangers on the brink of their first-ever World Championship. Texas could actually get by with less starting pitching because of their high-octane offense coupled with a very efficient bullpen that was heavily reinforced with the addition of Mike Adams at the trading deadline.
Standing in their way is the St. Louis Cardinals who also endured losing their ace when Adam Wainwright got hurt in spring training. Couple that with a bullpen that stumbled through most of the summer, the Cardinals were put to bed by the experts in early August, but a slumping Braves team left the door open a crack which the Redbirds kicked in during the season's final week. And oh by the way, they had to beat Cliff Lee in Game 2 and then Roy Halladay in a Game 5 do or die matchup in Philly and then proceeded to take 2-of-3 in Milwaukee where the Brewers were nearly unbeatable this year. And like the Rangers, the Cardinals made some under the radar moves at the deadline obtaining both Rafael Furcal (who saved Game 5 with a defensive gem) and Octavio Dotel who got some real big outs for Tony LaRussa in the ALCS.
A series like this is good for baseball -- it is nice to see different teams in the mix who really had to fight to get here. So why the indifference by fans? What they tell me is it has no juice -- there is no yapping by the players, no wild predictions, these teams respect each other too much.
Is that the world we live in?
The game is not enough anymore -- the back story complete with nasty tweeting is what sells. For me, the game has always been enough and this series is a great matchup of 2 teams that have struggled to get here and that is what sports is all about -- the games that have everything on the line. Not how many twitter followers you have.

Jose Reyes #1 Mets Off-Season Priority

By Rich Coutinho
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Mets For an organization that has now gone five seasons without a playoff appearance and possesses one of the sport's biggest payrolls, there are many challenges for the New York Mets. But the issue that Sandy Alderson must tackle first is re-signing Jose Reyes. Sure, this team has other problems like a leaky bullpen but the Reyes decision will impact greatly the path Sandy Alderson will take this off-season. And not signing Reyes could have far-reaching implications for this franchise both long-term and short-term.
I think readers of this blog know how I feel about this situation and it is not necessarily how most beat writers feel about it. Jose Reyes is as much the face of this organization as David Wright and both players are part of the solution-not part of the problem. Reyes had a great season, and aside from the two stints on the DL, his year was just about perfect. He is a game changer with the way he approaches every at-bat and the way he runs the bases. But often times we forget how good a defensive shortstop he is--in my view the best in the sport because his speed allows him to get to balls other players don't and his arm allows him to make throws others can't.
Jose and I have talked a little about next year even though he was clear he did not want to tackle the subject until after the season. But he made it crystal clear he wants to be back here next year because he loves playing here and his family loves living here. Sandy Alderson had admitted to me that he acknowledges what an important player Jose Reyes is both on the field and off the field. "The fans love him and that has to enter the equation", says Alderson. The pressure on the Mets will be enormous to sign Reyes because I could picture the criticism they would receive if they let a player go who became the first play in the team's 50 year history to win a batting title and who is still very much in the prime of his baseball career.
But ultimately I think both parties want it and this is an organization, despite the shots the media takes at it, that generally retains a player if they really want him. Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, and John Franco are examples of that fact and much like Piazza, the departure of Reyes won't happen in my opinion. If you remember the Piazza case, it is very similar to the case of Reyes in that both were having great seasons in their walk years. Both also did not want to talk contract until the season was over. Both also said they would give the Mets every opportunity in their exclusive negotiating period. Piazza told the Mets what he wanted and after a few phone calls back and forth, a deal got done BEFORE the free agency period.
What I would give Reyes is six years at $17 million per for a total of $102 million with a vesting option in year seven if he plays in an average of 150 games for the duration of the six year deal. He would deserve that seventh year if he reaches that benchmark. Is that a lot of money? You bet it is, but the simple truth is Jose Reyes deserves it because he is the best leadoff hitter in the sport and plays an important defensive position better than anyone has in the history of the franchise. Better than Buddy. Better than Ordonez. Better than anyone.
Signing him would be Step 1 towards getting back the trust from your fan base. It is an important first step for Sandy Alderson.

The Bay Day For Yankee Fans--Oh What A Shame!

Ny_yankees_logo031908071053 I know...I know...The last person a Yankee fan wants to hear from is Rich Coutinho...noted Yankeehater but a lot of my friends are Yankee fans and as a follower of the Mets, I feel their pain today. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm elated the Yanks lost but I did feel compelled to write something about the Evil Empire's season coming to an abrupt end last night.

This is the thing about the high payroll teams in baseball--it generally gets you through the regular season grind but the short series is the great equalizer and a 5 game series is the ultimate equalizer. For the New York Yankees whose payroll is off the charts, the ALDS has been a very painful experience since 2002. When you consider the Yankees have been in 9 ALDS series since the 2001 season and have only gone 4-5 in those series and that all of those 4 series wins came against the Minnesota Twins, you really scratch your head because certainly the Yankees were better than most of those teams.
In fact, since Game #3 of the 2004 ALCS the Yankees are a very ordinary 22-23 in post-season and that includes an 11-4 post season record in their World Championship year of 2009. People will point to many factors when breaking down the latest Yankee playoff meltdown but I really believe it is a complex issue. On first glance, the hitters will get much of the blame but the bottom line here is a simple one. The one year the Yankees won the World Series their pitchers performed at a high level and although the team got creditable performances from their bullpen and a shocking lights out night from AJ Burnett, the team was relying on a rookie pitcher to get them to the finish line in a deciding Game 5. Nova should have been a #3 starter behind CC Sabathia and a second banana in the rotation. That "second guy" was supposed to be Cliff Lee and the team got real lucky with Bartolo Colon and Freddie Garcia in the regular season but the inherent problem is guys like that are generally exposed in the post-season and on a team with a payroll in the stratosphere they should not be starting any game in October.
I firmly believe this series was lost in Game #2 when the Yankees (because of a rain out) went with Freddie Garcia and instead of dropping the hammer on the Tigers, that game opened the door for them. Verlander outpitched CC in Game 3 and despite a gift from Burnett, it was too much to overcome. CC was not exactly CC in this series but that had as much to do with circumstances rather than talent--he never pitched with the proper rest but that is even more the reason to have a #2 behind CC and in front of Nova. I still think that guy could be Phillip Hughes.
Ok that is enough Yankee talk for me on this day--I must know go back to my real job of covering the Mets.

Ruben Tejada Credits Jose Reyes For His Turnaround

Ruben tejada It is sometimes very difficult to pinpoint the exact moment a player stops being a prospect and starts being a major league-ready player but clearly Ruben Tejada had that moment during this past season. Injuries forced him to play both second base and shortstop and despite playing well, he was sent down during the season when those injured players returned simply because he had options. But Tejada never sulked-he simply worked at becoming a better player and once he returned to the big leagues, Jose Reyes was there to help him every step of the way.

"Jose taught me so many things about defense and putting yourself in the best possible position to make a play", says Tejada, "and spent so much time with both Justin Turner and myself on how to be prepared to make the right play."

Certainly, Tejada has a smoothness to his defensive game that few young players possess and has the arm strength to turn the double play in very much the same way Edgardo Alfonzo did for the Mets a decade ago. "Tejada has the knack to do that," says Alfonzo, " but more than that, he has a confidence in his defensive game that you need at this level."

It was the offensive part of his game that needed to improve and for advice on that, Tejada went to the NL Batting champion. "Reyes told me to always be aggressive at the plate", says Tejada, "but don't be foolish. I learned that with two strikes you can foul off tough pitches and maybe the next pitch will be easier to hit. And when you are ahead in the count, you must be ready to attack the ball."

When you look at the season Reyes had, that piece of advice he gave Tejada illustrates why Jose has become such a better hitter and he wanted to impart that advice to Tejada at a time when he was learning on-the job at the big league level.

So where does Tejada think he will be playing next year? Shortstop? Second Base? First and foremost, Tejada wants Reyes to stay but does not take anything for granted. "I want Jose to be here next year but whether he is or not, I have to continue to get better. Turner is a very good player and deserves playing time as well but I must be focused on making myself a better player -- getting stronger so I can hit for a high average as well as help with my glove."

The thing that impresses me most about Tejada is that he is mature beyond his years. He is a confident young player but is not afraid to ask for help and has a high degree of humility when talking about himself. I do think the Mets discovered that he is as good as any other NL second basemen defensively and a DP combo of Reyes/Tejada would really help a pitching staff that, for the most part, pitches to contact. Offensively, he is a work in progress but showed real flashes this past year in two specific areas. He was an outstanding 2 strike hitter and very good with runners in scoring position.

Clearly, Ruben Tejada is the Mets second basemen of 2012 and could be the shortstop if Jose Reyes leaves. But my sense is Jose Reyes and Ruben Tejada will be the double play combination for the Mets for years to come.

What's Tejada's role on the 2012 Mets? Leave a comment below.

What Can Mets Expect From Jason Bay?

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For Jason Bay, 2010 was a year he'd like to forget.  In fact after crashing into the wall at Dodger Stadium and suffering post-concussion syndrome, he might have been forced to forget alot of it.  It was not supposed to be that way for Bay who signed a multi-year contract with the Mets amid speculation he really did not want to sign here.  That was a notion Bay later refuted but the sense was there the Mets were not his first choice.  And talking to Bay in spring training last year, he really felt there was talent on the Mets and thought the team could surprise.

And the team did surprise in the season's first half topping out at 11 games over .500 at one point before the second half meltdown after the All Star break.  But Bay never seemed to get untracked offensively while ironically proving to be a much better defensive player than advertised.  You also got the sense Bay got a little spooked by the dimensions of CitiField as his power numbers were not up to snuff.  He was starting to feel better at the plate by mid-season but then that fateful day in Los Angeles ended his season prematurely.

Bay spoke to me at the end of last season and expressed regret that he got to play so little alongside Carlos Beltran.  "We were like ships passing in the night this year-just when he got back I got hurt and so I do not think we ever got a chance to get things going.  I still feel in 2011 with myself, Beltran, and Pagan we have a real good trio of outfielders."

If the truth be told, there may not be a better trio in the league if they are all healthy and producing.  The back of Bay's baseball card indicates the Mets can expect big things from him in Year 2.  In fact, a middle of the lineup featuring Beltran, Wright, Bay and youngster Ike Davis could be pretty productive even in the spacious alleys of CitiField.

My thought is Bay will return to his 90-100 RBI efforts of seasons past and 2010 will just be a speed bump for him.  If that is the case, the Met offense could have a much different look than it did in 2010.

 

Tomorrow: Beltran and Reyes in Contract Years--Good Or Bad For The Mets?


Court Documents To Be Unsealed: Litigation Ahead For Mets?

Wilpon-395 

 

 

So, the next step in the Madoff scandal has begun to come into focus: Both sides have dug in and settlement talks are, at the least for the moment, done.  The defendants in the case have agreed to drop their motion to keep lawsuit documents sealed and so they may be unsealed as early as Friday morning. 

What does it all mean?  In the short term, not much as most of this stuff has likely been revealed with the apparent leaking of information to members of the media.  Rightfully so, the Wilpons felt what's the point since most of what is inside the documents have already been unveiled for the world to see? But now the real chess match begins as the sides seem destined to be embroiled in a long court case that could take years to litigate. 

My sources indicate that the Wilpons have cooperated fully with the Madoff investigation from jump and have provided hundreds of pages of documents to aid in the inquiry.  What you must remember here is the documents that will be unsealed are merely contentions of the plaintiff and should not be construed as evidence until they are presented in court just as the defendants refuting the claims are contentions as well.

Ok enough legal babble--what does this mean for the Met fans? Well, a couple of things.  First and foremost, this issue will not go away any time soon as a court case of this magnitude could drag on for 2 years or more.  Secondly, it makes the prospect of a minority owner a remote possibility because they will not need the money until this case is settled (unless of course they re-enter settlement talks) and more importantly, any minority owner will want this resolved before he jumps in. 

The biggest thing though is this will hang over the Mets like a dark cloud every single time they don't make a trade or not sign free agents or shy away from a top draft pick because he is represented by say, Scott Boras for instance.  The litmus test might very well be if the Mets are in contention by the All Star break are they buyers, sellers, or neither?  Whatever words are said, their actions will speak volumes as to where their finances are at that crucial point in the season.

Sandy Alderson's track record is to do more with less so he may desire to take that route anyway but the public perception will be that he may be hamstring by the organization's cash flow or lack of it.  The ironic thing is if the Mets are out of contention by July 31, the proper course would be to become sellers which will send flares up that the Mets are dropping salary to curb costs.

The moment these documents are unsealed, it will set into motion a series of events that could have this case linger in the minds of Met fans for years to come and that is why I think the Wilpons wanted to settle.  And the plaintiff in this case might have missed a window of opportunity because you get the feeling the Wilpons just wanted this to go away but with the contents of the lawsuit leaked, the repuation of Fred Wilpon is at stake making him more apt to take this to the finish line in court.

My question remains this: If the Mets made $ off the Madoff scandal, why would they hold salary this off-season and why would they be seeking a minority owner to bail them out?  Secondly, how could the Wilpons be held accountable to have known the true story behind the Ponzi scheme if the SEC, who is trained to spot these issues, missed it?  And the fact that the Mets fully cooperated with the authorities by providing over 700 pages of evidence would refute the statements that they knew what was going on? All good questions that will now be answered in court in the next 30 months or so. That is unless a settlement alternative can still be reached.


Are The Wilpons Getting A Fair Shake From The Media?

Wilpon-395 

I know all about the media in this town as I have both been a New Yorker all my life and have covered the Mets for over 20 years but it must be said the hatchet job being done on the Wilpons is both unfair and misguided.  I can not say I am surprised but enough is enough already.

Is it so hard to understand that a lawyer in a lawsuit brought against the Wilpons would try to exert pressure by leaking details of the lawsuit in order to either extract a settlement or a much richer one?  Yet, until this morning no one in the media even entertained that notion.  I know very little about the legalties of this case but it would be hard for me to believe that the Wilpons would get a fair shake in court if those sealed documents were released on February 9.  They are high profile public figures and as such, it would be hard to try this case in court after it has been litigated in the "court of public opinion."

So, the question remains why would Wilpons offer to settle here?  Simply put, these stories are damaging their ability to do business because of all the negative publicity.  It stands to reason this has hurt their ability to pursue players, sell tickets, and even generate revenue for advertising both inside the stadium and on SNY.  I am sure they want this resolved for those reasons and a variety of others including the care and concern for families affected by this.

The offer to pursue minority ownership is to defray the cost settling these cases might have on the Mets ability to conduct business in the way a New York franchise should.  While we are on that topic, lets be clear that the Met payroll is still one of the highest in baseball and while you may quibble on how they spent it, make no mistake their payroll levels are more than enough to win.  This notion that the Wilpons do not invest in their team is pure nonsense fabricated by people who never let facts get in the way of a good story or have an ax to grind with either the Wilpons or the past general manager who was treated very unfairly in many corners of the media as well.

My sense is the Mets tactic of letting a new general manager advocating a wait and see approach once he can truly evaluate his players is a sound strategy.  And more to the point, it is a strategy that would have been employed whether the Madoff case wreaked its ugly head or not.  But if you hear the media tell it, the case has been tried and completed before we even have all of the facts.

I wrote in this blog just a few days ago that we should all take a wait and see approach whichever side of the fence we sit on and let the evidence guide you once it comes out.  You can not do that when info about the case is leaked to the media by a lawyer who has a hidden agenda and because of that, so much is being assumed before we know all the facts.

And that is just flat out wrong.

 


2011 Mets Might Be Better Than You Think

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When you bring up the topic of the 2011 Mets,most baseball experts say they are a .500 team at best and were even picked to finish last in the NL East in some circles.  I say stop the insanity--they were pretty much a .500 team last year without some of their core parts and with a new manager, you have at least give Terry Collins a chance to put his stamp on this team.  Sandy Alderson has assembled a very impressive roster in the front office whose baseball acumen might very real re-define the "mission statement" of the team.

The team does have question marks and will reside in a division that houses some of the best pitching in the sport.  The strategy to stay put, evaluate what you have, and wait until you have more economic flexibility is a sound one which should not be surprising knowing what a solid baseball man the new GM is.  And my sense is there is serious talent on this roster--I mean All-Star caliber talent like Wright, Reyes, Bay, Beltran and K-Rod and budding stars like Angel Pagan and Ike Davis.  This team will hit plenty even in spacious CitiField and so the 2 big questions will be: Is there be enough starting pitching and who is the bridge to K-Rod?

One scout told me, "If Young does for them what Dickey did last year, they will be OK especially if Pelfrey duplicates 2010 and Santana returns for the second half.  They will hit and they are pretty solid defensively."  The 8th inning question is a tough one but not an uncommon issue around the league--that is why the Yankees paid so much for Rafael Soriano.  So, the rotation is the rub here and more specficially, how they perform on the road where the Mets lost in walk-off fashion too numerous times to mention a year ago. 

Many experts pinned that on the bullpen but you could make the argument that an anemic offense put the team in those positions due to the loss of injured players.  And then there is the question of in-game managing.  It is no secret that I was very critical of Jerry Manuel and the way he handled this team but let me be very clear--I personally liked him alot and always said that I'd want him to manage my son in high school or college but at this level, I think he misstepped quite a bit.

 Terry Collins will do a better job of communicating roles to the players and will do less tinkering with the lineup.  This is a group that needs that and needs to play with passion.  My sense is that Jerry sometimes tried to think too much "out of the box" when a simple approach would have served the team better.  Trying to bat Jose Reyes not once but twice indicated to me his stubborness clouded his judgement and in the 2009 season his opposite field hitting drill proved counter productive especially with his big power hitters.

When I look at this team its pretty simple, Reyes is the catalyst, Wright is your fulcrum, Beltran when healthy is your best all around player and Jason Bay, aside from last year has been an RBI machine.  Pagan and Davis are great complimentary pieces and so what will decide the Mets fate is health and starting pitching.

Which makes them very similar to a handful of NL teams aside from the Giants and Phils.  Lets remember the Mets were 10 games over .500 midway through the season last year before that fateful West Coast trip after the break which for all intents and purposes, ended their season.  With a little luck, (which they are overdue to receive) they just might surprise the naysayers.


Francoeur Credits HoJo

Jeff Francoeur is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise sluggish Mets start as he has pounded National League pitching to the tune of a .438 batting average. For a player who was practically thrown out of the Braves clubhouse, it is a rather remarkable turnaround which the Mets right fielder credits to the way Howard Johnson handled the situation.

“From the moment I got here," says Francoeur, "Howard Johnson just told me that I needed to get into better hitting counts, whereas in Atlanta they kept pounding home the fact I would never get any walks.” Things got so bad in Atlanta that Bobby Cox buried Francoeur on the bench and the team was more than happy to send the troubled player to a divisional rival.

“It was a real awakening because it was the first time I played anywhere else other than my hometown but the New York situation intrigued me because I knew there was talent on the roster and real opportunity for me to play every day," says Francoeur. He got that chance and really excelled at the plate hitting over .300 after coming over here, consistently pounding extra base hits in spacious Citi Field.

According to Johnson, he was a quick study. “Very early on we realized that he was not a player who was ever going to draw a bunch of walks but we did think he could get into better hitting counts by being a bit more selective. Being ahead in the count would then allow him to use his aggressiveness at the plate to his advantage," says the Mets batting coach.

That approach has allowed Francoeur to drive the ball much more consistently, making him look more like the hitter that had back-to-back 100 RBI seasons in Atlanta a couple of seasons ago. “Pure and simple, none of this would have happened without Howard Johnson and he deserves a lot of the credit,” says Francoeur.

Whatever the reason, Francoeur has become a valuable Met both on and off the field, and if we are to be fair, Omar Minaya deserves the credit for swinging a swap of outfielders during a year in which not much went right for the Mets.